Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Leaf" It To The Experts

Our new house is surrounded by trees, and after a windy weekend, they all looked like this:

I couldn't believe the sheer number of leaves in the yard.  Todd estimated that we had the equivalent of hundreds of bags of leaves.  Leaves filled the gutters, and several feet of replacements waited in line above.

Leaves gathered in every corner...

...and choked every path.

Leaves drifted calf-deep in places on the deck. 

And, when piled up, they easily hid a person.

Leaves covered all the stairs and matted in the bushes.

I stopped using the driveway behind the house because the leaves obscured it completely and I was afraid of driving off the road, or hitting a hidden stump.

For the first time, since we didn't have the requisite tool (a leaf blower) and are still getting settled in, we hired out our yard work.  A man came over and cleared off the front and side yards and the driveways.  We left the leaves under the trees to decompose and add nutrients back into the soil.  I must say that it made quite a difference, having those areas cleared!

In these late fall days, we're still seeing a lot of wildlife.  Daily deer...


...and little grey squirrels, which amuse me with their antics.

All of these creatures can be devastating to gardens, so it will be interesting to see how we're able to peacefully co-exist this spring!

Oh, and we've got some wild animals inside, too:

They may not look vicious, but they'll defend their sleeping spots to the death!

Several years ago, I worked at the City County Building in downtown Indianapolis.  Wednesdays were open-market days for local farmers, but some vendors had a permanent booth in the City Market, which was directly adjacent to my building.  Occasionally I'd have lunch there with co-workers, and I always got a toffee cookie from Just Cookies.  My homemade efforts paled in comparison.  How were their cookies so soft, rich, and buttery?  I've been looking for a recipe to beat or at least match theirs, and I think I finally found it.

Rich, thick, and soft.  Deeply buttery.  Easy to make.  One-bowl delicious.  I think I've shared this recipe before, but I'm going to share it again, because these make great neutral fillers for your cookie plates.  Leave out the chocolate chips and add white chocolate...or nuts...or caramel...or peppermints...or toffee...or all of the above.

The secret?  Brown butter.

Making brown butter (or beurre noisette) is easy, but it must be watched carefully.  Melt your butter over medium heat, stirring constantly.  First your mixture will foam white, and then clear.  Continue to whisk, and your mixture will eventually turn a deep amber color, with little dark brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Remove it from heat immediately and let it cool in a separate container before adding it to a recipe.  It have a rich, nutty flavor that just can't be beat.  

Perfect Base Cookie
How Sweet It Is

2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup of your favorite mix-ins

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and brown your butter, setting it aside to cool for a few minutes.  Once cool, add your sugars and beat.  Add your egg and egg yolk and mix well, and finally, add the vanilla.  Scrape down the sides of your bowl and then toss in the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Mix, and then fold in your mix-ins.

I like smaller cookies, so I make walnut-sized balls, flatten slightly, and bake for about 7 minutes.  However, you could make much larger cookies - say 2 tablespoons of dough - and then bake for about 13 - 14 minutes.

Cool, and eat.

 Brown butter, I love you.  Just Cookies, it's been nice knowing you!  :)

Have a great week!

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