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A jar full of Double Chocolate Cookies topped with sparkling sea salt.
Lucia's To Go in Minneapolis sells luscious double chocolate sea salt cookies.  I live an hour from said cookies.  I've fiddled around with recreating them at home and actually the pastry chef who bakes them is always kind and generous with her recipes.  But finally I was forced by tragic circumstances to develop this cookie recipe myself.

My mother makes fantastic double chocolate cookies.  Her old recipe uses vegetable shortening.  I won't use that anymore because it's nasty stuff that's bad for me.  However.....it does make nicely shaped, soft cookies.  Mom doesn't use it anymore either.  She just switched in all butter.  If you are a very experienced baker, like mom, you can fiddle around and add a bit more flour and pull the cookies out early when they are still gooey.  These kind of adjustments are often done without even really thinking.   The butter swap can make them a bit too crispy and prone to spreading.  I hadn't thought about them for years.

Fast forward to Christmas 2015.  My business partner's wife needed a good easy chocolate cookie to round out her holiday baking. I remembered my mom's good cookies and shared the recipe.....without testing it myself.  I know better.  When a professional cook with eons of baking experience who also happens to be a friend gives you a recipe, you assume it will work....right?
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not good cookies........too spready....
The above photo was texted to me with the question, "is this right?"  The answer is no. I was horrified.  I tried to figure out what happened.  Insulated pan, light flour measure,  the butter..... What ever it was I need to fix it.  Today I fixed it and added the sea salt topping....like Lucia's.  
Tips and Tools for Great Cookies
  1. Use aluminum baking sheets with no edges--not insulated
  2. I love a baking sheet with a pebbled surface.  It gets an ugly patina after a while making it almost nonstick.  
  3. I love baking parchment--you can pull an entire sheet of cookies off the sheet to finish cooling on the counter in one swift tug--no pans to wash
  4. Use a small metal spatula with an angled "blade" to lift cookies from the pan
  5. Take cookies out of oven when cookies are just set and the center looks still looks a bit wet
  6. Let cookies stand on baking sheet 2 minutes before removing to cool on racks or waxed paper
  7. To measure flour, dip your cup into the flour and sweep off the excess with a flat blade of a knife
Double Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour
3/4 cups cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 (12oz.) pkg chocolate chips
large flake sea salt, if desired
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  
  2. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and eggs.
  3. Add flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, mix until well combined, scraping sides and bottom of bowl once.
  4. Stir in chocolate chips.  
  5. Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets.  flatten slightly by pressing dough with your hand.  Sprinkle each cookie with a little sea salt.
  6. Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until just set.  DO NO OVER BAKE. 
  7. Cool on sheet for 2 minutes before removing to waxed paper to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen
 
 
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Minnesota in January....sigh.....
It's a cruel joke that the coldest, bleakest days of winter come right after the new year's bright shiny promises of eating better and exercising.  How about a compromise?  This luscious egg dish is really just reverse engineered scrambled eggs.  The milk and herbs are mixed into the already hard cooked yolks.   
Jaque Pepin's mother's Eggs Jeanette taste rich and decadent, but are actually quite sensible and perfect for our Sunday Brunch.  I'll be making these more often.  I resolve to keep a half dozen or so hard cooked eggs on hand.
Eggs Jeannette
based on a recipe by Jacque Pepin
Serve this up with a bright citrusy tossed salad for a satisfying brunch or supper.

6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs (parsley or chives are classic but cilantro and bit of chopped jalapeno are very good)
2 Tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 to 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
SAUCE
reserved egg filling
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. good olive oil (flavored or nut oils are great here too)
salt and pepper
  1. Halve eggs and pop the yolks into a small bowl.  Mash yolks with a fork.
  2. Add remaining ingredients except oil.  Use fork to mash all the ingredients together.  Reserve 2 Tbsp. for sauce.
  3. Spoon filling back into egg, spreading top flat.
  4. Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add egg, flat side down, and let cook, undisturbed, for 2 to 3 minutes or until well browned.  Arrange on serving plate, browned side up.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine all sauce ingredients.  Beat until smooth and spoonable with a fork or small whisk.  Add more water if it is too thick.  Taste and add salt and pepper to correct seasoning.
  6. Immediately spoon sauce over warm eggs

Makes 3 to 4 servings

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HLR Cellars guesthouse in Calistoga, California.
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In a couple of weeks, I'm running away from the snow to HLR vineyards in Calistoga, California.  This Minnesota family has wisely relocated to warmer climes and are making wonderful wines.  Their Hella licious is my favorite.  Start by buying a well-priced case and after three you can run away to their guest house, too.  It's a hella good deal.

 
 
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Hoppin' John, black eyed peas simmering with ham.
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A bowl of Hoppin' John, topped with short grained rice.
Hoppin’ John

1 lb. black eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 big Poblano, Hatch, Anaheim chile, Hungarian hot wax or banana pepper, seeded and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 to 3 carrots, chopped
6 cups broth (ham, chicken or vegetable), approximately
2 bay leaves
2 cups frozen chopped spinach or other green
1 cup diced ham
Hot cooked short grained rice
1.     soak peas in cold water overnight OR in a large pot, cover peas with water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and soak 1 hour.  Drain

2.     In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook about 3 minutes to soften.  Add chile, celery and carrots, sprinkle with a little salt and continue cooking about 3 minutes more.

3.     Add soaked beans, broth, and bay leaves.  Simmer about an hour or until beans are tender.  Add additional broth or water if needed.  Taste and add salt and plenty of pepper.

4.     Add frozen spinach and let simmer until hot.  Taste again and correct seasoning.  Serve topped with a big scoop of rice and plenty of hot sauce.

Makes about 3 1/2 quarts

Notes:

·      I use frozen spinach, because that’s what I have in the winter from my garden.  Fresh greens are really good.

·      Hoppin’ John is perfect for vegetarians—giving them a good way to get the elusive “perfect protein” from beans plus rice. This is also nice to have in the fridge in mason jars.   Add 2 tsp. smoked paprika to the sautéed veggies to give it that “hammy’ flavor that goes so well with black eyed peas.

·      Lots of people cook the rice with the beans, I like to keep it separate so it doesn’t turn to mush when you reheat a bowl the next day.

·      I like to use short grained rice because is sticks together as a nice foundation or topping for the stewed things like this. 

 
 
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Oyster Chowder with Crisp Prosciutto and Fresh Thyme
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big oysters in Oyster Chowder.
Landlocked midwesterners tend to fall into two camps when it comes to seafood.  Crave it and love it as a rare treat or loathe and fear it.  I fall squarely in the "crave and love" camp.  When we were lucky enough to have oysters in our house when I was a child, they were mostly made into oyster stew.  I love my dad's simple bowl of oysters poached in cream with a bit of celery.  My husband loves the briny broth, but not the oysters themselves.  This holiday season I found some very nice shucked oysters and decided to make a heartier chowder to satisfy us both.
PictureFresh Oysters near Petaluma, CA.
I must admit, I prefer my oysters here...on the deck of my cabin in a California vineyard, 3 miles from their watery home.

PictureWinter-time Oyster Chowder.
Curled on the couch in my cozy sunroom, my elbow brushing the fragrant fresh herbs on the windowsill, and snow outside isn't half bad.  Especially when the oysters are simmered in a savory chowder with potatoes, leeks.  I top the chowder with a crumble of buter-crisped prosciutto and fresh thyme leaves from the windowsill.  The thyme adds a couple of layers of flavor with some of it being long simmered from the start and then fresh leaves sprinkled on the hot soup.

Oyster Chowder with Crisp Prosciutto and Fresh Thyme

1 pint fresh oysters
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp chopped prosciutto (about 2 slices)
1 medium leek, chopped (white and pale green portions only)
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped, plus additional for garnish
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup fish stock (OR bottled clam juice)
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
Salt and Pepper
  1. Place a strainer over a bowl.  Dump oysters into strainer, so juices (a.k.a. liquor) drains into the bowl.   Check oysters for any bits of shell.  Reserve juices.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 Tbsp. butter over medium heat.  Add prosciutto and cook until crisp.  Remove prosciutto and reserve as a garnish.  Add remaining 2 Tbsp. butter to pan.  Add leek and celery, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and cook over medium heat until tender, about 3 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir until no dry flour remains. 
  4. Stir in reserved oyster liquor, fish broth, and half and half.  Add potatoes and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes or until potato is tender.  Add oysters and simmer, uncovered, until oysters plump and edges just curl, about 3 minutes.  Taste and adjust salt and add plenty of pepper.
  6. Top each serving with crumbled prosciutto, fresh thyme leaves and a little more freshly ground black pepper.   Add a few oyster crackers, if you  like.



Makes 4 servings


TIP:  I buy frozen pints of fish stock from Coastal Seafoods in the  Twin Cities.  I'm sure good fish markets across the country have the same.  I pop out the frozen stock and chop off what I need, then return it the rest to the freezer.  Otherwise, save up shrimp shells, fish bones, and other trimmings in a bag in your freezer to make your own stock. 


You can substitute bacon if you can't get prosciutto.  Cook the bacon and reserve.   The smokey bacon fat can overwhelm the sweet oysters so pour off the fat and save for another use later.  In the same pan, add only 2 Tbsp. butter.  
 
 
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I love oatmeal.  I'm kind of picky and only really love old fashioned rolled oats.  Steel cut are ok, but a bit more like pilaf---I like these savory with sausage and a fried egg on top.  Quick cooking oats are rolled thinner and chopped up more.  They cook up sticky and icky.  The fat flat rolled old fashioned oats cooks in 5 minutes; that's quick enough for me.  They make soft hot breakfast with a bit of chewiness and creaminess.  A little pat of Hope butter from grass fed cows is always a nice addition.  

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Do have a freezer like this?  Neat packages of raspberries and tomatoes from my garden are nestled up with abandoned overripe bananas haphazardly tossed in to be used later.  Today I found a way to use them up beyond smoothies and banana bread.  Hot Banana Oatmeal.  Skinned bananas can be used right out of the freezer but they keep better if you freeze them in their own skin.  That skin can be a bit of pain to remove.  Be patient....let them stand at room temp while the oatmeal cooks, the skin will pull right off.  If it doesn't, run them under hot water for a few seconds.

Hot Buttered Banana Oatmeal
1 1/2 cups water
pinch of salt
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. butter
1 very ripe banana, peeled broken into chunks 
toasted walnuts, milk, and brown sugar for garnish if desired.

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil.   Add salt and oats, reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until thickened and creamy.  
  2. Remove from heat and add cinnamon, butter, and banana.  Stir together, crushing banana with the back of the spoon until creamy.  
  3. Serve immediately, topped with nuts, a little milk and brown sugar if you like.

Serves 2
 
 
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I was panicking.  MY FAVORITE ALL-CLAD COPPER SAUCEPAN IS FAILING!  Look closely by the handle and you can see black goo bubbling out between the copper and the stainless lining while I boil my brittle.  NOOOO!  Today I called customer service.  They want me to send them my picture of the defect and they will send me a new pan.  Not a pretty copper baby....they don't make these anymore...but a very nice copper core stainless replacement.  All-Clad has a lifetime guarantee and they mean it.  

People ask me all the time,  what is  my favorite cookware.  I always tell them to never buy a full set of one kind of cookware.  I love Le Creuset heavy French Ovens and bakers, All-clad saucepans can't be beat.  Vintage cast iron skillets are a treasure and naturally non-stick.  Add one medium quality nonstick ceramic omelet pan, and you're set.  

Let's play with fire.  Michael and I went to see Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by the Stages Theatre Company.  It was a fantastic show--I highly recommend it.  The candy land reception after the show was really fun.  The indoor s'more set up was brilliant.  A heavy wooden box held burning gel "sternos" packed in with attractive stones.  I loved the homemade marshmallows and tons of chocolate candy options.  At some point in my career I will  rip off this brilliant set-up.
 
 
Can you believe they are finally here?  Click on the icon below to download your very own copy of the Chef Demo recipes form the 2013 Minnesota Garlic Festival.  Do you know what is even more exciting?!  There are still more recipes to come!!  I just thought I'd put out what I've got so far and let you start enjoying them.  Stay tuned for the Garlic Stuffed Prime Rib Sandwich recipe from Restaurant Alma's own Chef Bryan Morcom.  I know I loved every bite of my sandwich at the Great Scape Cafe and look forward to recreating it at home.  Mmmmm.
 
 
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Deviled Eggs

8 hard cooked eggs, peeled
1/3 cup mayonnaise
 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

  • Halve eggs and pop yolks into a large bowl.
  • Add remaining ingredients and mash with a fork until smooth.
  • Spoon into reserved whites and garnish as desired.

Make 8 servings

Garnish Ideas
  • Fresh herbs
  • Smoked paprika
  • Black sea salt
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Smoked trout chevrons
  • Crumbled blue cheese
  • sliced salami
  • crisp bacon
  • radish slices
  • pesto drizzles
  • Smoked salmon or gravlax
  • Crumbled kale chips
  • French fried shallots
  • Trout caviar
  • Garlic scape pesto
  • Pickled milkweed buds or capers
  • Prosciutto, duck or pork



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Quick Cooked Mayo

3 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice OR vinegar
2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
Dash pepper
1 cup olive oil OR vegetable oil

  • Whisk egg yolks, lemon juice, water, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper in small saucepan until blended.
  • Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles in 1 or 2 places. 
  • Remove from heat immediately; use rubber spatula to scrape into blender.
  • With motor running on high speed, ADD oil slowly, in a thin stream; blend until mayonnaise is thick and smooth. Turn blender off occasionally to scrape down sides with rubber spatula. 
  • Refrigerate, covered.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups


 
 
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No, my garden is still not in.  I'm getting closer, though. and I have the makings outside of my garden for a perfectly lovely little salad.  the dandelion greens are perfect right now.  The whole reason we have dandelions in our yards today is because early settlers, probably French, brought them to plant in their gardens.  The French still love springtime pis en lit salad....which translates to pee the bed salad, by the way.   What with a dandelion being a natural diuretic, I guess it makes sense.  I'm glad they didn't apply those naming game rules to  stewed prunes.  Let's just stick with dandelion salad, shall we?

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Run outside and cut yourself a bowlful like I did this morning.  Right now, the tender green leaves  have a pleasant herbal astringency.  You've chewed on rubber bands, right?  They have a bitter flavor because they are made of natural rubber...which is made from the same kind of milky sap, or latex, that makes dandelions bitter.  The rubber-band bitterness is still a ways off.  The latex doesn't start really running until after the plant blooms.  So go ahead and pick some, I'll wait.  

Grab some chives while your out there, would you?  They look good, too.

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Wash the greens in a big bowl of cold water and drain well.  Either in a salad spinner or on a towel.   If you have a puppy, like I do, be extra careful to pick your greens in a puppy free zone of the yard and wash in several changes of water.

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Parker, a valued member of my staff.
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Now make a vinaigrette.  I'm flavoring mine with garlic and fresh chives and sweetening it with a big spoonful of luscious local maple syrup.  A bit of sweet will balance that bitterness in the greens.

Whisk together:
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 finely chopped garlic clove
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper to taste

Drop some wafer thin sliced red onions into the dressing to marinate a bit while you finish the salad.

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For two hungry people, pile about 4 cups of the greens in a big bowl.  Top with the marinated onion.  Now cook 3 slices of chopped bacon and drain off the fat.  (save it for frying potatoes later)  Add the bacon to your salad.

Add a poached egg to this salad and you've got a dandy brunch.  Once upon a time, I had brunch at one of my all-time-favorite places, Lucia's Restaurant.  She served a perky green salad with the luscious biscuits and gravy I'd ordered.  I've been sold on salad for brunch ever since. If you'd like to add the egg, now is the time to get it poaching.  

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Pour about half of your vinaigrette into the pan you cooked your bacon in and stir it around to loosen the yummy bits from the pan. Save the rest of the dressing for another salad.

Pour the hot dressing over the salad and toss.

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Mark, in his PJs, at the crack of noon.
Lift the tossed salad onto a serving plate and top it with that perfectly poached egg.

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10 Ways With Dandelions
  1. cook like spinach, topped with a splash of hot sauce
  2. sautee with garlic and fold into mashed potatoes with plenty of Parmesan cheese.
  3. Toss with hot cooked pasta--don't forget the garlic and Parm
  4. scatter petals from the blooms onto salads
  5. add to your next stir fry
  6. add to spicy cooked pinto beans
  7. sauté with garlic in olive oil and top with lemon and crumbled feta cheese
  8. add crumbled dry petals to pasta dough for a pretty golden color.
  9. sauté with onions and mushrooms and serve atop a grilled steak with a crumble of blue cheese
  10. cut into slivers (chiffonade) and scatter over a rich risotto just before serving

 
 
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It's Saturday--we didn't get around to breakfast until around 10:30, so I decided to brunch it up a bit with some sweet peas.  

Last week I had a bite of pea puree at Tilia.  Since the Top Chef Pea Puree Scandal I've been seeing it everywhere.  When done right, like at Tilia, it is silky smooth, a gorgeous shade of green, and elevates the pure mild flavor of peas.  

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It's a snowy March in Minnesota and I welcome the fresh green sweetness locked in the lowly frozen pea.

I decided to go for a more rustic mashed pea to go with our bacon and eggs.  

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Cook about 2 cups of frozen peas in a little bit of water in a covered pan until just tender, about 4 minutes.  Drain, and add a tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of cream.  Then stomp your immersion blender around in the pot a few times until just mashed. Add more cream if it's too thick and season with plenty of salt and pepper.  That's it.  

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Oh look, a picture of my peas last summer---I wish I had frozen some, but we just ate them all as fast as they came off the vines.  I always plant snap peas and they mash up just as well.



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I had to include a picture of the beautiful eggs my friends gave me yesterday.  What a treat. Almost too pretty to eat.  Almost....

After I fried the bacon, I poured in some boiling water from the kettle (cold water can warp your hot pan).  The bacon fat flavors the poaching water that those pretty eggs are simmering in.

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And finally we eat.  I know for a fact, it took me longer to write this post than it did to make this brunch.  The puree was a huge hit.  It will make a reappearance on my Easter table to back up the leg of lamb, perhaps with a bit of fresh mint.  Mmmm, it would be nice with ham, too.  

Enjoy!