April 2004

strawberries in balsamic vinegar

We are starting to get good fresh strawberries now. They are being shipped from places like Spain and Italy, which is not quite the same as the freshly picked ones that will be available from local sources in a few weeks. Still, they are much better than the real long-distance travelers from places like Israel and California with woody insides that are sold out of season.

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restaurant sign in Rennes, France, ©Ciprian Tutu

This great picture of a restaurant sign in Rennes, France was taken by my friend Ciprian. It naturally inspired me to contemplate that amour de pomme de terre —love of the potato.

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On Easter, we had a selection of cheeses, one of which was this very interesting Camembert soaked and aged for a while in Calvados. Since Calvados is an apple cider-based brandy, apples seemed to fit well. And, since it was Easter, the apple wedges were transformed into apple bunnies.

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I've mentioned our local organic farm where we buy our eggs several times before. They also sometimes sell some locally produced food items. We spotted this wild garlic, or bärlauch pesto the other day and had to try it. (Ironically it turns out it's made by one of our neighbors who lives across the street.)

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The usual image of homebaked chocolate chip cookies, at least in the U.S., is that of large, thick cookies with a soft, rather gooey center. The soft and gooey texture is so desired by many people that commercial cookie manufacturers even manage to maintain that in cookies that have been on the shelf for months. This to me seems very wrong. And, I don't think that gooey-soft necessarily indicates a good quality chocolate chip cookie either.

Sure, when you take the cookies out of the oven and eat them right away, they are sort of gooey and soft. But once they cool down, I prefer them to be rather crispy, even lacy, and delicate. For this reason I add a bit more butter than is normal in the traditional Toll House type of chocolate chip cookie. This makes the dough spread out more during baking, making the cookies thinner. Using slivered almonds instead of chunky nuts also makes them lighter and crispier.

If you prefer the gooey type of cookie though, use more flour or less butter.

I also use raw (light brown) granulated sugar instead of the fluffy dense brown sugar used in the traditional recipe. This is mainly because we can't get that "packed" sort of soft brown sugar here. Also, the dark brown sugar has a very pronounced molasses-like taste to me, which I don't think really fits for this cookie.

These are very adult chocolate chip cookies, because of the almonds and the dark chocolate chips. Of course kids love them also. I made these with the lemon bars in the preceeding recipe and meringue kisses for Easter, and boy were they popular.

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A while back I posted a recipe for lemon squares, a sort of cross between a cookie and a tart with a lemon-curd topping. Some people tried it out, and found it a bit too tart. I went back and fiddled around with the proportions of sweet to sour (lemon juice), and here is the result. There is more curd, which I think makes it even better. The curd is quite a bit sweeter with 1 cup of sugar, and the extra egg makes it creamier also.

I love anchovies. I can't get enough of them. They are the perfect salty flavor enhancer, on pizza, pasta, and so many other things. One of my favorite pizzas is a simple margarita base (that's tomato sauce and mozzarella), with calamata olives and anchovies.

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