Remembering

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My mother was a force to be reckoned with. She would be up at the crack of dawn, bustling around the house ticking things off her “to do” list and living the Protestant work ethic she was raised on. She didn’t mind telling you, when you dragged yourself downstairs after a night out on the town, all that she had already accomplished while you were lazily counting sheep. Then she would vroom off to work leaving a cloud of dust and mixed feelings behind.

Among the positives that came from her driven nature was the gift of cooking. She had the chuzpah to host a dinner party for eight and cook a meal of recipes she had never tried before. She went to local farms and picked berries then made jars of jam, crafted pickles from homegrown cucumbers and put together chutneys with local tree fruit. She loved cookies and became, especially in her later years, a biscuit maven extraordinaire.

My mother created a cookie walk as a fundraiser for the adult day care center in her hometown of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. She had experiened this old fashioned event during stays in New England and loved the idea: volunteers donate platters of different kinds of cookies then customers come with their boxes, walk around the laden tables and fill them with the sweet bounty.  A cost per pound was charged at the end.

To get ready for the holiday rush she would begin in October baking tin upon tin of  different types of decorated and delicious cookies then tuck them into the big chest freezer in the cellar. In December, she and an army of volunteers would set up the local church hall with Christmas greenery and holiday clothed tables to hold all the pfefferneuse, Santa cut outs, Kris Kringles and other donated cookies. The event was even written up in one of the local magazines after gaining notoriety within the community.

 

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Mom getting ready for the Cookie Walk in Basking Ridge, New Jersey

She fueled my love for cooking by giving me cookbooks starting at age 7, teaching me baking to begin with then more involved recipes later and fulfilling her own passion for cooking in front of me with every meal she created.

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Mom gave me this very beat up copy of “Joy of Cooking” years ago. We always made the classic Butterscotch Brownie recipe on page 587, a Beeb Jackson stand by because they were quick and easy to make and delicious to eat.

Rest in peace Mom. I will always think of you every time I put my apron on and head into the kitchen.

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BUTTERSCOTCH BROWNIES

This recipe is very versatile and forgiving. You can add chocolate chips, dried fruit (golden raisins and finely diced apricots are a nice combo), any variety of chopped nuts, shredded coconut or a combination of any of these totalling 1/2 cup. It doubles easily in case you are baking for a cookie walk of your own.

1/4 cup butter plus more for the pan

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup AP flour

1 teaspoon  baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8X8 baking pan, line with waxed paper or parchment and butter the paper. Melt the butter over medium heat then stir in the brown sugar until it is dissolved. Cool slightly then beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until incorporated then fold in any of the extras. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Yield: 32 bars

 

 

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Daily Dose of Digestives

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Since my husband is British, I’ve been introduced to and grown to love many English ingredients and products. One of these is McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits, especially the ones with chocolate. If you aren’t familiar with them, digestives are the English version of a graham cracker, but infinitely more delicious than those cardboard things that Nabisco makes.

Digestives were created by two Scottish doctors in the late 1800’s to aid in digestion. It was thought at the time that the bicarbonate of soda used in the biscuits had a soothing effect on the tummy.

I’ve also read that they were promoted as a good source of fiber to the British public after WW2 – all that rationed white food causing numerous gastro issues.

Recently I ran across a recipe for digestives and had to give it a try. The cookies came out really well, in part, because of a couple key ingredients.

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English brown sugar has a deep, dark caramel flavor that adds a rustic sweetness. Find it in the English section of some grocery stores or on Amazon.com.

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Locally grown and milled wheat flour, Bolero, from Front Porch Farm in Sonoma County added a malty, homespun texture.

The recipe is very easy to make. First put all the dry ingredients and butter into a food processor.

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Pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal and the butter is evenly distributed.

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Add milk until dough comes together then lay a sheet of waxed paper onto your work surface and dump the dough onto it

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Form the dough into a 3″ wide roll, using the waxed paper to help you shape and smooth the roll. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

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Slice dough into 1/2″ thick rounds and place on a cookie sheet, leaving 1″ between cookies. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.

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Remove from the oven and sprinkle 12 semisweet chocolate chips evenly over the surface of each biscuit then return to the hot oven for about 30 seconds

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Using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate over the top of each digestive then refrigerate until chocolate has firmed. Enjoy with a cup of tea in the afternoon for that Downton Abbey feeling.

British Digestive Biscuits

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup Billington’s dark brown sugar

2/3 cup (11 tablespoons) salted butter, but in 1″ chunks

3 tablespoons milk

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Put flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar and butter chunks in the food processor and pulse until incorporated. Add milk through the feed tube with the machine running just until dough comes together. Scrape dough onto a sheet of waxed paper and form into a 3″ wide roll. Chill for one hour. Preheat oven to 350F. Slice dough into 1/2″ thick rounds and space on greased cookie sheets with 1″ between cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are golden brown and firm, switching tray positions in the oven after 6 minutes. Sprinkle 12 chocolate chips on the top of each biscuit then put back in hot oven for 30 seconds. Remove from oven and, using an offset spatula, spread melted chocolate evenly over the surface of each digestive. Chill in fridge until chocolate is set then store in a cookie jar.

 

Yield: 1 dozen