A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

As it turns out, mercifully, all I had to do was make dessert for the Thanksgiving holiday this year. So, instead of giving you a lot to read – everyone’s time is short around the holidays it seems – I hope the pictures (along with some witty and helpful captions) will speak for themselves.

Pink Lady Apple Galette The ladies getting ready for action. I ended up using the peeled ones. Pâte brisée dough topped with a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, fresh ground nutmeg and a dash of salt. I think I added some allspice as well. And maybe ground cloves. I forget. Anyway, it’s up to you – add any spices you want!Layer the apple slices over the dough, brush them with melted butter, sprinkle some sugar on top and fold the dough over the apples. I’m giving myself some props on that design, but next year I think a turkey design is in the cards. Yes? No?Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, and, voila! The French answer to good, old-fashioned American pie. (What? We shouldn’t include the French in our Thanksgiving celebration? Now that’s not nice. We have much for which to thank the French…when it comes to dessert, anyway.)

Pecan Pie, Anyone?
Correction, all-American pecan pie straight out of the Joy of Cooking cookbook. It doesn’t get any easier or classic than that, people. (Okay, fine, if you are from the South, you might take offense to this statement, but I don’t have a grandmother’s grandmother’s recipe, so Joy of Cooking it is.)

Last, but not least…Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake. Bourbon. Pumpkin. Cheesecake. Really, need I say more?

Wait, one last thing.

Cookies and Chocolate Mousse

Correction, make that vanilla bean sugar cookies and dark chocolate mousse. Don’t you just love how good those sound together? Well, they were good together, and I have Thomas Keller (of Bouchon and The French Laundry fame) and his recipes to thank for it. Actually, I have my friends, Shelley and Brett, to thank because they suggested we focus solely on the recipes of Thomas Keller for dinner club this month.

Great idea! Except if you know anything about the venerable Mr. Keller, you know that his recipes can veer toward the detailed, and sometimes, complicated end of the cooking spectrum. But, I had neither the time nor inclination for detailed or complicated as I set about deciding on the dessert I would bring. I wanted simple and easy. I mean, really, isn’t that what we all want from life? It’s already busy and involved. I don’t see any reason to make it more so. Not to mention, I have yet to find that there is an undisputable correlation between complication and time consumption and a superior result. The greatest joys in life are often the ones that come about in the most carefree and unexpected ways.

I don’t own any of Mr. Keller’s esteemed cookbooks, so I harnessed the power of the internet to find some of his dessert recipes that wouldn’t require a lot of time, far in advance or last minute preparation, or a laundry list of ingredients. Enter dark chocolate mousse and vanilla bean sugar cookies from his book, Bouchon. If my dinner club friends read the recipes, I think I’m going to lose a lot of street cred when they realize just how easy it was to make these sweets.

The beauty of both recipes is they can be made the night before. (No one has to know this, though.) In fact, the mousse needs to refrigerate for at least eight hours and the sugar cookie dough needs to be refrigerated for a few hours until it is firm enough to slice. So, since you really do need to make them somewhat in advance, why not make them the night before and spend the day of the party focusing instead on your outfit?

If you’re worried that people will think you just threw something together last minute or didn’t try too hard, do what I did and up the presentation factor. Remember, packaging sells the product. I bought cute little four ounce Bell glass jars and put the mousse in the jars for individual servings. I then plated the jars on antique plates from my grandmother and placed a couple of the sugar cookies alongside. It brought out the rustic, yet sophisticated, theme that is present in much of Keller’s cooking and at his restaurants and bakeries.

All in all, the two together made for the perfect dessert for the perfect ending to a fabulous meal with great friends. Because life shouldn’t be complicated.

When Life Gives You a Hurricane

Make cookies, I say! Yes, of course, first make all the necessary arrangements, take all the necessary precautions, heed the advice of public safety officials. But after that, while you’re sitting around, tapping your fingers, waiting for Mother Nature to descend, get out your cookie ingredients, people. That’s what I did anyway.

I find that there’s something comforting about having a warm oven, a little jazz music playing and getting my fingers all doughy and sticky and flour-y when inclement weather is imminent. Mother Nature is saying, “slow down, do something soul satisfying.” At least that’s what I heard.

Looking for inspiration, I turned to smitten kitchen, which was a brilliant idea, really, as this site has loads of interesting and unique cookie recipes. I was looking for three or four recipes because I was in a baking mood, but I also wanted to make enough cookies to give to neighbors to munch on while they weather the storm. About 6 hours, 13 and 1/2 dozen (164, to be exact) cookies and five deliveries later, mission accomplished. Oh, I think the plumber who came by this morning to fix the sump pump was happy, too, when I handed him a baggie full of about a dozen as he was leaving.

My favorite of the four I made is this peanut butter cookie. The recipe calls for chocolate chips and peanut butter chips. However, peanut butter chips have always worried me a bit. I’m not sure what they are, really. Really, what are they? But, I adore the combination of peanut butter with milk chocolate, and I happened to have a Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Milk Chocolate bar hanging around, so, instead, I chunked up some of that into the mix. Think Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in a cookie. If only we could still hand out homemade baked goods at Halloween.

Second place ended in a tie between the oatmeal, dark chocolate chunk and pecan cookies (the dark chocolate chunk was my variation. Again TJ’s Pound Plus bar – keep those on hand, my friend) and the toasted coconut shortbread cookies. Very different, yet very delicious. I’ll be honest. I was a bit dubious about the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but somehow the spices all combined delightfully with the dark chocolate, oatmeal and pecans. The spices actually had the effect of giving the dark chocolate a Mexican chocolate-like taste and, of course, those spices always go well with oatmeal and pecans. So, why was I was so skeptical? Maybe I was having some pre-hurricane jitters.

I find that coconut is one of those things about which people feel passionately – they either love it or hate it. I’m suspect, though, of anyone who dislikes coconut. If the person has an allergy, fine. Otherwise, that person is not to be trusted. So, when I came across this recipe, there was no question I would be making it. How often do you see coconut and shortbread together? Never, that’s how often. I rushed the chilling process a bit (put it in the freezer instead of the refrigerator) because I was in a hurry to make my deliveries before the rain started. Trying to speed up the chilling process violates Rule Number One in Shortbread 101. I managed to get the dough rolled out, though. After resting for a day in an air tight container, these cookies were a contender.

Last, but not least, I went a bit wild and crazy with the traditional chocolate chip cookie. Ready for this? Milk chocolate chunk and dark chocolate chunk! Oh yea, I’m kooky. Hey, life’s short. If you like chocolate, this is the cookie for you, my friend.

Truth be told, an epic weather event unlike anything seen in ten years shouldn’t be the reason to slow down and make a few batches of cookies. Life is short, and cookies rock, that’s reason enough.