homemade almond butter cookie recipe | writes4food.com

Crunchy almond-butter cookies.

My love of peanut butter runs deep, twined in the double-helixes of my DNA. I know this because my beloved grandfather never turned down a handfulorthree of peanuts. Family lore has it that he favored peanut butter-and-horseradish sandwiches. (I firmly draw the line at that one.) Dad keeps a 55-gallon-drum of roasted peanuts in the pantry. Me, I drove my mother nearly to madness by requesting a PB&J sandwich for my school lunch. Every. Single. Day.

Her: Chicken salad, maybe?

Me: PB&J.

Her: Ham and cheese?

Me: PB&J.

Guess what I’m having for lunch today? Youbetcha.

Now, while I’m committed to the nothing-but-roasted-peanuts peanut butter we get from J.E. Gibbs at Findlay Market, I’ve been casually dating other nut butters. Almond butter and I have enjoyed a little fling (I’m just as much a sucker for roasted almonds as I am for dry-roasted peanuts). And this almond-butter cookie recipe is inspired by the classic peanut butter cookie, taken in a slightly different direction.

almond-butter cookie recipe

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (but not too soft)
1 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup almond butter
2 eggs
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup whole toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; place a sheet of parchment paper on two cookie sheets. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter until light. Add sugars; cream until fluffy about 3 minutes. Beat in almond butter, then add eggs, one at a time, and mix to blend. Add vanilla and mix. Add dry ingredients (about 1/3 at a time) and mix slowly to thoroughly combine. Stir in chopped almonds.

Scoop generous teaspoons of cookie dough onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 14–15 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets halfway through, until set and lightly brown. Cool a bit on the cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack. Enjoy with a glass of ice-cold milk.

beautiful homemade pea ravioli recipe | writes4food.com

Spring pea ravioli with asparagus butter.

About 2 weeks ago, I was in New York City for the Edible Institute—a meeting of fellow editors and publishers of Edible magazines across the country, followed by a public conference of food advocates, chefs and producers. (Including Mark Bittman, about whose presentation I wrote here.)

One of my Edible Ohio Valley magazine colleagues and I stopped into Mario Batali’s Eataly food emporium, just for grins. It wasn’t the complete and total madhouse I’d expected, so we put our names on a waiting list for dinner at the pasta counter and browsed around.

Sure, it’s kind of a tourist trap. And yes, it’s pricey (though our dinner was no budget-buster). It might be easy to rail on Mario because of his celebrichef status. But damn, the place was amazing, and the food even better than you’d expect, given the sheer quantity the kitchens must turn out. Jennifer and I enjoyed a lovely salad of arugula and fennel (my new favorite combo), and a plate of springtime ravioli with the most luscious butter sauce.

The ravioli was, at its essence, such a simple dish that I figured I could re-create it at home. And I did. Mario’s butter sauce was better than mine, but it’s really hard to go wrong with just a drizzle of melted butter on any kind of pasta. I used wonton wrappers to contain a simple filling, cooked them quickly, garnished them with sweet and tender pea shoots from Kentucky Roots Urban Farm, and fixed a fancy dinner with minimal fuss. Plus, making your own ravioli is a whole lot of fun. (And my freezer is now well-stocked with homemade pea ravioli.)

spring pea ravioli with asparagus butter recipe

1 1/2 cups frozen peas
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta
1 Tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped
salt and finely ground pepper
1 pkg wonton wrappers
1 egg white, beaten
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 fat asparagus spears
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Pea shoots or microgreens, for serving

Cook the peas in a saucepan of well-salted boiling water, 5–6 minutes. Drain and return the peas to the pan. Add the ricotta and mint; use an immersion blender to puree the mixture (or put everything in a food processor). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. Place one wonton wrapper on a cutting board; use your fingertip or a pastry brush to apply a stripe of egg white to all 4 sides of the wrapper (be careful to get the corners well-covered). Place a teaspoon of the pea-ricotta filling in the center of the wrapper; fold the wrapper in half diagonally to form a triangle. Press and seal the edges completely, then use your fingers to gently "burp" out any air trapped in the ravioli. Repeat with remaining filling.

Trim the asparagus and slice it very thinly on the diagonal. In a small skillet, warm the butter over medium heat; add the asparagus and cook, stirring, until the asparagus is bright green, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of well-salted water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the ravioli (about 1/4 batch at a time, if you're cooking all of them) and cook at a simmer, for 3 minutes. Transfer the ravioli with a slotted spoon to serving plates; spoon some of the asparagus over each serving and drizzle with butter. Top the ravioli with shaved Parmesan cheese and a few pea shoots for garnish.

classic lemon chiffon pie in no-roll pie crust recipe | writes4food.com

The Clara Project: lemon chiffon pie.

My goodness: This is such a classic lemon pie recipe, it’s a wonder it’s taken me so long to show it off as a featured recipe in The Clara Project. Tart, fluffy, pretty—and totally make-ahead-able—this pie recipe is an instant favorite.

This recipe in Clara Shenefelt’s collection comes from The American Home magazine. These old recipes are written in such a style that it took me several read-throughs (and several more) to intuit the preparation instructions. I’ve clarified them here so you can easily make this at home.

I started with my favorite No-Roll Piecrust recipe, which produced fantastic results. The crust stayed crisp and light even after several days of refrigeration. Because I made this pie for my Mom—who loves a lemon pie that’s so tart it’ll roll your eyes backward—I tripled the amount of lemon zest called for.

Think of this pie as a sort of lemon-meringue mashup, with the lemon custard and meringue topping combined into one pillowy, lemony filling.

old-fashioned lemon chiffon pie in no-roll piecrust

serves 8

1 prebaked single-crust no-roll pie crust

1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin powder
1/4 cup cold water
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided use
1 tsp.–1 Tbsp. (or more) freshly grated lemon zest

In a small bowl, stir together the gelatin powder and cold water until the mixture resembles applesauce; set aside to soften the gelatin. Place the egg yolks in the top of a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl); place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. In the double boiler or heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of sugar and the salt until the mixture is smooth. Place the double boiler or bowl over a pan of simmering water. Cook the custard, whisking constantly, until it becomes thick and pudding-like, about 8 minutes. (The mixture will foam, and then the foam will subside as it thickens.) Scoop the softened gelatin into the custard and whisk until smooth, then whisk in the lemon zest. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, whip the egg whites using a stand mixer or hand mixer until foamy; add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and continue whipping until firm peaks form. Use a rubber spatula to transfer about 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to the cooled and thickened custard and fold in gently. Add the remaining egg whites to the custard, and fold gently to thoroughly combine. Transfer the filling to the prebaked pie shell. Refrigerate until serving.

bacon pepper cheddar cheese straws | writes4food.com

Bacon black pepper cheddar sticks.

As you become a more experienced cook, you become a more confident cook. You learn that it’s OK to substitute ingredients for what you happen to have on hand or to accommodate your family’s likes and dislikes. You realize that recipes are suggestions rather than absolutes (with the exception of baking recipes: those you need to follow closely). And you start hacking some of your favorite recipes, playing around with different variations.

That’s how I came up with this recipe for bacon black pepper cheddar straws. I started with my older recipe for cheddar cheese straws. Then I figured, you know, bacon and cheddar are pretty much BFFs—and pepper is never a bad sidekick for those flavors. I threw the ingredients into my food processor, hit ‘Pulse” a few times, rolled out the dough and baked off a batch of these golden cheesy breadsticks. Tasty!

black pepper bacon cheddar sticks

1 cup flour
1/4 cup crumbled cooked bacon
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
3/4 stick (6 Tbsp.) cold butter, cut into 1 Tbsp. pieces
1 1/2 Tbsp. cold milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and place racks in the top and bottom third of the oven. In a food processor, pulse together flour, salt, pepper and bacon, until the bacon is chopped fine. Add the butter and cheddar and pulse until very coarse meal forms. Add the milk and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. Be patient; it takes several pulses for this to happen, but add a dribble or two of milk if needed.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board, counter or pastry cloth. Divide dough in half; working with the first half, shape into a rough rectangle with your hands. Roll out to 1/8-inch thick, keeping the rectangular shape as much as possible. You’ll want to make the straws 10 to 12 inches long, so trim the dough with a pizza cutter if the rectangle is too long on one side. Using a straightedge or your rolling pin as a guide, cut long strips, 10 to 12 inches long by 1/3 inch wide.

Transfer strips onto two ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 7 minutes, then switch the baking sheets between shelves and rotate them 180 degrees to even baking. Bake another 6 to 7 minutes, until straws are lightly golden. Remove sheets from the oven and let cool a few minutes. Gently loosen straws from the sheets and carefully transfer to a wire rack for cooling.

best tip for making the perfect salad | writes4food.com

The best tip for making a perfect salad.

Here’s the first thing you need to do to make a perfect salad: season your greens with salt.

Before you toss the salad with dressing, sprinkle a good pinch of salt—preferably quality sea salt—over the lettuce and other vegetables. Use your hands to gently fluff the greens to incorporate the salt.

It’s a step that most home cooks overlook when making salad. If you think of salt not as a flavor in itself but as an enhancer of other flavors, then you’ll understand how a few grains can completely transform even an ordinary salad. Plus, if your greens have flavor, you’ll need less dressing.

Speaking of which: Here’s how to dress a salad. Put your greens and vegetables in a big salad bowl. Season with salt and toss gently with your hands. Then drizzle a thin stream of dressing, just about a tablespoon, down the inside of your salad bowl so it settles in the bottom. Then toss the salad gently to distribute the dressing. (And here’s a simple homemade vinaigrette dressing recipe. Skip the icky store-bought stuff.

Dressing your salad from the bottom up keeps the lettuce from getting soggy and globby. You’ll use less dressing. And if you’ve seasoned your greens, you’ll have a perfectly flavorful salad, with less fat and calories.

arugula pesto recipe

Easy spring arugula pesto.

Back in chilly February, on the 21st to be exact (according to the garden journal I’ve started in Evernote), I sowed arugula seeds in a large pot in my driveway. I covered the pot with this handy popup greenhouse and waited. But I didn’t have to wait long.

As any home gardener knows, arugula provides instant gratification. Despite the freezing temperatures (though my mini greenhouse was snug), the arugula sprouted in about 10 days. By mid-March, we were cutting baby arugula for salads, and by the end of April, I had taken three cuttings, filling the produce drawer in the fridge with home-grown arugula.

This early spring arugula was delightfully mild; sometimes I find that arugula takes on a sharper flavor once the plants mature or in summer heat. When that happens, I like to do two things with larger arugula leaves: either cook it (like in this recipe for pasta with arugula and mushrooms) or make pesto.

This recipe for arugula pesto is super easy, and the result is delicious tossed with pasta and Parmesan or spread on toasted bread with goat cheese.

easy arugula pesto

4 cups (lightly packed) fresh arugula
1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
1/2 cup (lightly packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
3 small cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to combine, until the mixture is as smooth or as chunky as you like.

Photo_On an Ohio Farm

The cooking revolution: Are you in?

This past weekend brought a huge infusion of information and inspiration (and, to be honest, a little bit of depression and resignation) into the way I think and write about food and cooking. As the editor of Edible Ohio Valley magazine, I joined my lovely colleagues in NYC for several days of business meetings. Then on Saturday, the open-to-the-public Edible Institute brought together speakers and experts from all around the country, people who are deeply involved in and passionate about healthful, sustainable, local food. The issues are enormously complex, and yet we are making progress toward a healthier food system.

I hauled out of bed early Saturday morning because I was most excited to hear from Mark Bittman. I’d read Bittman’s “Minimalist” recipe column in The New York Times for years, and have followed his work now that he writes about the politics and practicalities of food and nutrition. I’d heard that Bittman can be a bit bossy in both his material and in his presentation, so I was braced to be put off a little, even though I’m certainly among the converted to whom he was preaching. Instead, he surprised me by saying, “We need to NOT be dogmatic about eating healthfully.”

He said that if we want to have any influence at all over the food system in America (and I hope to), we need to be OK with incremental change. He described a “spectrum of eating” that runs roughly from a diet of Big Mac and fries to a diet of celery and carrot sticks. No matter where you are on this spectrum, from wildly processed food to completely unprocessed plants, it’s important to move toward the healthy end, bite by bite.

Eat less generally, eat less of the bad stuff specifically
… and don’t worry about it.

He also said, “The most radical thing you can do is to cook at home.” And this idea is very close to my heart. “Almost everything you cook at home is better for you; almost everything you buy that’s been prepared by someone else is not. Cooking gives you control. We outsource decisions about what we put in our bodies to companies that don’t care. That’s reckless.”

When you look at nutritional or dietary claims about food without looking at the food itself, you’re missing the point. Oreos are vegan. Cheeseburgers can be organic. Potato chips are gluten-free. None of these are particularly good for you.

Cooking at home. I understand that cooking isn’t the joy for everyone that it is for me. Not everyone knows how to cook. (I’m hoping to change that, incrementally, with this recipe blog and its emphasis on seasonal and healthful recipes.) And there’s a small portion of our population that simply doesn’t have the resources—time at the end of a two-job day, or equipment other than a microwave—to cook at home.

Want to send the big agricultural concerns and the massive manufacturers who are churning out cheap, crappy food a HUGE message? Want to help small to midsize farmers and producers have a fighting chance?

Every meal that you prepare for your family, from whole ingredients (wherever your procure them, though local is ideal) is a win. Just when I feel disempowered and frustrated by the enormous influence of those companies cranking out sugary soda and artery-clogging frozen dinners, just when it all seems so hopeless … I realize that simply sauteeing some fresh spring vegetables is an act of defiance. We have more power than we think.

So, what’s on YOUR menu tonight? Will you join the Cooking Revolution with me? It’ll be delicious.

easy low-calorie roasted carrot-bell pepper soup recipe | writes4food.com

Moroccan-inspired roasted carrot-bell pepper soup.

Are you looking for an easy, healthful, make-ahead option that you can take to work for lunch? Soup fits the bill. A simple puree of vegetables, dressed up with a dollop of sour cream or flavored Greek yogurt and a few herbs, makes a tasty, healthy, satisfying lunch.

You can make this easy (and low-calorie/fat-free!) carrot-bell pepper soup recipe over the weekend and enjoy it for several days during the week. I went with a sort of Moroccan flavor combination for this soup recipe, inspired by a trip we took to Marrakech a couple of years ago. During that trip, I took a Moroccan cooking class and experienced the wonders of this cuisine: platters of roasted vegetables to begin a meal, flavors of cumin and ras al hanout (the local spice blend), scents of rose petal and orange flower.

This joins my pantheon of roasted-vegetable soup recipes, including winter vegetable soup and roasted tomato soup. It’s lovely chilled or warm, and it would be a perfect accompaniment to a classic grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. Scatter a few snipped chives, fresh parsley or cilantro on each bowl. For a real global flair, whisk together some Greek yogurt and a bit of harissa, the spicy Tunisian chili paste (sold in tubes at specialty grocery stores) and dollop on the soup.

Moroccan-inspired roasted carrot and red pepper soup recipe

serves 4

4 large carrots, peeled or unpeeled, cut into 1/3-inch coins
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 leek, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
3 cups vegetable broth
kosher salt and ground white pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
fresh herbs for serving

for the harissa cream:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Harissa, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, toss together the carrots, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the cumin and kosher salt. Transfer the carrots to a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, toss the bell pepper and leek in the same bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and kosher salt. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, move the carrots to one side and add the bell pepper and leek to the pan. Roast for another 25–30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a blender; add 2 cups of vegetable broth and puree for 2–3 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides of the blender, until the soup is smooth. Transfer the soup to a large bowl and stir in the remaining 1 cup of vegetable broth and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. For the harissa cream, whisk together the Greek yogurt and harissa to taste. Top each serving with a dollop of the harissa cream and fresh snipped herbs.


old-fashioned oatmeal raisin cookie recipe | writes4food.com

The Clara Project: Perfect oatmeal cookies.

Last week, I gave a talk about The Clara Project at Mt. Pleasant Retirement Village in Monroe, OH. The Clara Project’s matriarch, Clara (Claire) Shenefelt Williams, lived there until her passing just a few weeks ago. Last fall, I’d been invited to speak about the project and about my other food writing at Mt. Pleasant, as part of Miami University’s Institute for Learning in Retirement.

It was a neat experience, and I think things went over pretty well. Of course, I had to take cookies—preferably made from one of Clara’s 1930s recipes. I broke out this fantastic recipe for soft oatmeal-raisin cookies, which I first published here last August. I’d forgotten just how good these are: cake-like, not too sweet, with chopped raisins for a nice texture. It’s pretty much the perfect oatmeal cookie recipe.

old-fashioned oatmeal raisin cookie recipe

(makes about 46)

1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1 tsp. lemon juice and set aside for 5 minutes)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups rolled (quick or old-fashioned) oats
1 cup raisins, finely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl using a hand mixer, whip the butter until it's light and fluffy, a minute or two. Add the sugar and cream together with the butter. Add the eggs, mixing after each one. Mix in the oats and chopped raisins, then the buttermilk (or sour milk). In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger; add to the butter mixture and stir slowly to combine. Drop the dough in generous teaspoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until cookies are set and light brown around the edges.

a better wedge salad: with roasted tomatoes and roasted shallot blue cheese dressing | writes4food.com

Wedge salad with roasted shallot blue cheese dressing.

Don’t you love encountering an improved version of a recipe or dish you’ve enjoyed forever? Like, over the weekend, Rob and I had a remarkable deep-dish pizza—remarkable because the pizza crust had a golden hue and delightful crunch from a generous amount of cornmeal in the dough. Now, I’m inspired to try to create a cornmeal-flecked pizza dough recipe (and yes, of course, I’ll share it here).

Recently, I hacked a better-than-basic version of the classic wedge salad. It was partly out of necessity: The cherry tomatoes I purchased were hard as rocks, and about as flavorful. (Note to self: Yet another example of why it’s perilous to buy produce that’s not in season.) To improve the salad and keep from dumping these pebbly tomatoes right in the trash, I decided to oven-roast them. In the same vein, I roasted the small shallot that went into the blue cheese dressing. And I roasted a couple slices of prosciutto to add a little salty-porky crunch to my wedge salad.

The result of this little bit of improvisation was a new-and-improved wedge salad recipe that I plan to make again and again. The roasted tomatoes were a fine substitute for all but the most pristine summer tomatoes. Roasting the shallot added a smoky taste to the blue cheese dressing. And I think crispy prosciutto is better than bacon on a salad any day of the week.

What about you? Have you adapted a basic recipe and discovered a new favorite? Share your comments!

wedge salad recipe with roasted tomatoes, crispy prosciutto and roasted shallot blue cheese dressing

serves 2

1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cored and halved, ice cold
1 medium shallot, quartered
1 cup cherry or plum tomatoes, halved
olive oil
2 slices prosciutto
1/3 cup mayonnaise (can use reduced-fat)
1/3 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt (can use reduced-fat)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
fresh chives, snipped
kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees; line a small rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place the tomatoes and shallot on the pan, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and season with a generous pinch of kosher salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and slightly charred. Set aside to cool (keep the tomatoes at room temperature; don't refrigerate before serving). On the same pan, bake the prosciutto slices until they're crispy, about 15–20 minutes. Set aside to cool, then crumble. Finely chop the shallot. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream and lemon juice. Stir in the chopped shallot and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the blue cheese. To serve, place a wedge of iceberg on 2 serving plates. Scatter the tomatoes around the lettuce; drizzle everything with some of the dressing. Scatter the freshly snipped chives and crumbled crispy prosciutto over the salads; season liberally with freshly cracked pepper.