I have this amazing friend (more like a sister, really). I’ve written about Alice before and told you how as a wedding gift she made a Gluten-free Thanksgiving + Rehearsal dinner when we got married. Now *that* is taking on A LOT! Cooking for 25 people you don’t know with the additional pressure of it being Thanksgiving AND a Rehearsal dinner… and then making it Gluten Free. Yeap. She rocks.
Her mom, Edith, who is in her 90s now is awe inspiring as well. Edith used to throw dinner parties for her girlfriends with some kind of exotic recipe or food (like fried crickets!). She published a recipe book for family and friends that is at least 3 inches thick and filled with great dishes – from the exotic to the fabulously comforting. At 90+, she still bakes, cooks, and ships homemade candies to my sisters, parents and I.
Thankfully, Alice and her mom have inspired me to always be on the lookout for something new. Even in the grocery store.
Once we drove north of Chicago toward Wisconsin to explore and shop at an outlet mall. To be honest, I don’t remember the original purpose of our trip. But what I DO remember is the pit stop on the way home.
While driving back to Chicago on the expressway, Edith spied a HUGE grocery store. One she had not visited *yet*. So, they turned the car around and we went grocery shopping. It was like a field trip for me.
Do you remember the wide-eye gazes of kids on field trips?
Half of the gaze is amazement and the other half is sheer fog from being uncertain about where they are?That’s a little how I felt when I saw both Edith AND Alice grab their own shopping carts and head off down the aisles in search of anything worth discovering. I’m fairly certain that until that moment, I had only ventured in to grocery stores to buy what I needed or to check out the freshness of the fruit and vegetables.
I had, of course, explored the numerous ethnic markets in Chicago. After all, the city of neighborhoods has so much to offer and many, many, MANY of the markets and local grocers cater to their own neighborhood. It made shopping for specialty items a breeze and exploring new spices or vegetables and fruits a dream.
I miss those opportunities now that I live in a town with less diversity and much less diverse market choices. And while I was accustomed to shopping in diverse markets differently, I had not truly appreciated the idea of shopping with eyes of exploration and discovery in a standard, traditional, monster grocer.
And the two women with whom I shopped? They were a hilarious duo of questions and nags (like only a mother/daughter combo can), and discoveries and screeches of delight. I learned from the best to take in what was right in front of you and try something new. We spent forever in the salad dressing aisle reading all of the bottles, thinking about all of the flavor combinations, looking for local brands or flavors… or specials. By the time we left, those two ladies had several bags of groceries each and I had a triumphant bottle of a raspberry-fig-balsamic salad dressing in my hands. “Oh, yes,” I thought, “Dinner is gonna be good tonight!”
I didn’t see passed dinner into my everyday. And now that I shop gluten-free (that escapade was pre-GF), I see joy in reading the labels and explroing the shelves and finding something new to further broaden my eating horizons. And no, I have not eaten a fried cricket. Although there is no guarantee that I won’t…. I just don’t see it happening any time in my near future, that’s for sure.
However, finding things like muscovado sugar – a deep molasses tasting, moist brown sugar made from sugarcane juice – and then wondering what I could make with it.
It’s my entertainment-on-a-budget plan.
For $5.00 for muscovado sugar, I have plenty for several recipes (probably 6-8 if I use about 1/3 cup in each). Several recipes = entertainment. And muscovado has a long shelf life too – even better! So far we’ve used it with Chinese recipes/marinades, cookies, teas/coffees, bread, scones, pancakes, crepes, strawberries, etc. Anything we thought might be good – we tried it. Why not? It’s cheaper than going to the movies. LOL
Recently I found maple butter. I know, I’ve seen it before, but it caught my eye this time around. Maple butter is not truly butter (although there are maple butters made from butter + maple syrup). This maple butter has the consistency of homemade peanut butter – creamy, smooth, and softer than regular peanut butter.
Coupled with the muscovado sugar, I knew I could try to make some killer cookies. I had been craving maple cookies like we used to get as kids. And these work nicely. If you can’t find maple butter, you can use hazelnut or almond butter in these cookies as well for a different but wonderful flavor as well.
Keep in mind that hazelnut or almond butter may be a bit thicker than maple butter and you may wish to add a tablespoon or two of more liquid.
Next time you are out in the grocery store and you have an extra ten minutes, take a stroll down an aisle of jams, butters, syrups, etc. Even if the items you see are not gluten free, you may just walk away inspired by new flavor combinations.
Maple Butter Cookies
Makes 2 dozen small cookies or 1 large dozen.
1/4 cup muscovado sugar (substitute brown sugar if you don’t have muscovado)
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons butter, softened or room temperature
1/3 cup maple butter (NOT maple syrup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups + 2 Tablespoons gluten-free flour mix (rice based)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raw sugar (turbinado) for rolling (omit this step if too sweet – but it adds greatly to the crunch of the cookie)
- Preheat oven to 350F
- Cream together sugars (muscovado, white sugar) with butters (butter and maple butter) for 3-4 minutes.
- Add egg and vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly.
- Add gluten free flour mix, xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt. Mix until even. Mixture will be a thick cookie dough, but still sticky and somewhat “wet” looking. The dough is soft, but not runny.
- For large thick cookies (more cake-like), dip a spoon in to water and scoop out 2 Tablespoons of dough. Form into a ball and roll in raw sugar. Place on a cookie sheet – 6 at a time about 3 inches apart. Press down with three fingers to flatten to about 1/2 ” thickness. Bake at 350 for 14-18 minutes or until browned and a finger touch does not sink the cookie. Allow to cool on the silpat/cookie sheet for 4 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. Cool on rack for about 10 minutes and then flip over as the bottom of the cookie may still be somewhat sticky. Once cool, store in an airtight container.
- For small cookies (crunchy), dip a teaspoon into water and scoop out dough. Form into a ball and roll in raw sugar. Place on a cookie sheet (a dozen or more) – about 1 inch apart. Using a fork, dip the fork into water and then press down as you would for peanut butter cookies. (Re-wet the fork after each cookie to avoid sticking.) Bake at 350 for 11-14 minutes or until browned and a finger touch will not sink the cookie. Allow to cool on the silpat/cookie sheet for 4 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. Cool on rack for about 10 minutes and then flip over as the bottom of the cookie may still be somewhat sticky. Once cool, store in an airtight container.