In my opinion, one of the most underrated components of any meal is the sauce. Gravy, pan sauce, alfredo, tomato sauce, cheese sauce — they can make or break a delicious meal. Today, we’re going to learn all about how to make sauces that are balanced, bold, not overpowering, and, most important of all, delicious.
The 5 Mother Sauces
There are thousands of different sauces out there, but most of them can be connected back to the 5 “mother” sauces. The concept originated in the early 1800s, but they were modified and updated in the early 1900s to become the delicious sauces we know and love today. And yes, these are all French sauces, but the same principles apply across much of the culinary world.
Velouté: translates to “velvety,” it’s light in color and in flavor, and made from a roux and a light-colored stock (chicken, vegetable, fish, white veal)
Béchamel: classic white sauce, ultra creamy, made from a roux and milk
Espagnole: a richly flavored brown sauce made from a dark roux plus brown veal or beef stock, sometimes with tomatoes
Tomato: or “sauce tomat” if you want to be fancy, it’s exactly what you think it is (the traditional French version is thickened with a roux, but that’s become rare)
Hollandaise: melted butter and egg yolks, cooked gently while whisking until it thickens up, brightened with a squeeze of lemon
If you’re new to cooking, that might not have made much sense. That’s okay! We’re here to learn. If you can understand these 5 sauces, then you can make any sauce with ease. Pretty much everything else is just a derivative of one of these mother sauces.
What’s a Roux?
First off, you need to know how to make a roux. It’s the ultimate sauce-maker. It can turn beef stock into beef gravy. It can turn chicken soup into a chicken pot pie. It’s basically just flour and fat, usually in equal amounts, whisked together until smooth and cooked in a saucepan until it’s thick. You can modify which fat you use and how long you cook it to make a whole variety of different flavors that will form the base of your sauce. The most common (and versatile) version uses equal amounts of all purpose flour and butter. Other commonly used fats include bacon fat, olive oil, vegetable oil, and ghee. A whisk is really helpful here, because it will help to break up any lumps. Cook it, stirring constantly, until it’s thick and the color you’re looking for, then SLOWLY add your liquid (milk or stock) while whisking constantly. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of adding your liquid slowly. The roux will soak up the liquid and slowly start to thin out, turning itself into a creamy thick sauce. If you go too quickly, the roux won’t be able to soak up the liquid evenly and you’ll get a soup with pasty lumps of roux. Gross.
When you’re making your own roux, I recommend 1-2 tbsp each of flour and butter for most applications unless the recipe you’re following says otherwise (I like to wing it). A small amount can thicken a lot more liquid than you think. You can thicken or thin it down later if needed.
If you’re making a derivative of a velouté or béchamel sauce, you’ll want to cook your roux until it’s thick, and then add your liquid. If you’re making an espagnole sauce, you’ll want to cook the roux until it’s a dark golden color before adding liquid. Alternatively, you can toast the flour in your saucepan until it turns golden brown, then add your fat and continue cooking until it’s the color you want.
What Does It All Mean?
So that’s cool and all, but what can you do with this knowledge? What kind of meals can you use these sauces to make? Fear not! We’re going to learn how to use these base sauces to create an amazing meal. Many of these aren’t even used as a “sauce” so much as they’re used as a base for the whole meal. So what can you make with these base sauces? Here are some foods you’re likely familiar with that come from one of the mother sauces:
Velouté: white wine sauce, pan sauce (for chicken), chicken/turkey gravy, chicken pot pie
Béchamel: mac and cheese, alfredo, croque monsieur (a delicious grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich with a béchamel sauce), cheese sauce, biscuits and gravy
Espagnole: pan sauce (for steak), demi-glace, red wine reduction, beef gravy
Tomato: pasta, pizza, shakshouka (a tasty breakfast dish of eggs cooked in tomato sauce), vodka sauce, BBQ sauce
Hollandaise: eggs Benedict, béarnaise sauce (a creamy, herby sauce usually served with steak)
So do you need to know the exact recipe to make a classic French Espagnole sauce? No. Absolutely not. Do you need to know that you can make a roux, cook it until it’s dark gold, add beef stock, and get a delicious sauce? For sure. When you know that, you can add other ingredients for flavor. A sprig of thyme? Delicious. Shallot? Yes. A little red wine? Yum (just be sure to cook the alcohol out for the best flavor). If you make it in the same pan you used to cook your steak, you’ll get the added umph of beef from what’s stuck to the bottom of the pan. Taste it as you go, and don’t forget the salt. You’ve just made a delicious pan sauce for your steak dinner!
If I’m making a chicken pot pie (a family favorite — it was even tasty that one time I forgot to add the chicken 🤣), I never use a recipe. It’s not because I have the recipe memorized, it’s because I know how to make a velouté sauce. Sauté your veggies, cook your chicken, pour everything into a bowl, then make your velouté in the same pan. Toasting the roux to get a little color improves the flavor, but feel free to cook more or less depending on how you’re feeling. So long as the roux is thick and you add the liquid slowly, you’ll get a tasty sauce. I like to add a little white wine to my roux first, let the alcohol cook off, then add my chicken stock. Pour all your ingredients back in the pan and see how it looks. Does it need a little more chicken stock to cover all the veggies? If it’s too soupy, let it cook down a little. Taste it. Does it need something? Salt? Herbs? Add something and taste it again. Maybe a splash of heavy cream to give it some body. I like to put a single pie crust on top of the cast iron pan I cooked everything in and bake until it’s golden brown, but you can certainly cook it in a traditional pie pan with a double crust. You do you!
Do you get it? It’s not about the recipe, it’s about using the idea of a mother sauce to create something that’s entirely your own. We’ll get into the weeds with specific sauces later (eggs Benedict, anyone?), but for now I want you to get out there, use what you know about balancing flavors, and get saucy!
I get a lot of questions about the items I sell, so I’d like to take the time today to answer the most frequently asked questions I hear when I’m at vendor shows.
What’s the difference between a sugar scrub and a salt scrub? Salt and sugar scrubs exfoliate skin by removing the outer layer of dead skin cells and leaving behind oils to keep the skin soft and hydrated. Salt scrubs generally use big crystals, like coarse dead sea salt and Epsom salt, and do a great job of exfoliating really rough, calloused skin. They’re great for feet, hands, and elbows. Sugar scrubs use granulated sugar (and sometimes brown sugar) to exfoliate more gently. They’re great for arms, legs, and lips. Both sugar and salt scrubs should only be used occasionally (usually weekly at the most). All sugar and salt scrubs can be customized with different oils, colors, and scents upon request.
Can scrubs be used on the face? Yes! But you have to be sure to use only scrubs that have been specially formulated for the more delicate skin of the face. Sugar can be used, but usually at a lower concentration than in a traditional sugar scrub. Exfoliating alternatives include things like jojoba beads (pronounced “ho-HO-ba,” these beads are made out of wax derived from the oils produced by the jojoba plant, and they’re completely biodegradable), and dried flower petals. Because these scrubs are more gentle on the skin, they can be used up to three or four times per week. Face scrubs also tend to contain oils that are absorbed by the skin more quickly, and are less likely to clog pores. Customization is available upon request.
What’s cold cream? Basically, it’s a moisturizing face wash that you don’t need to wash off. Massage it into your face so it can pick up all the excess oil and dirt on your skin, and then wipe it off with a clean tissue. It can even remove waterproof makeup! Any oils left behind by the cold cream work great as a moisturizer. The standard formula I use contains fractionated coconut oil, which is recommended for most skin types. If you have particularly sensitive or acne-prone skin, I can customize the ingredients used to match your skin type. I also use rosewater in my formula, which helps calm red, irritated skin. If you don’t like the scent (or would prefer another scent), that can be customized as well. For more information about cold cream and why it’s so awesome, check out this blog post.
Can bath bombs be customized? In short, yes! But there are limits, because most of the ingredients in a bath bomb are needed to keep the bomb together and to help it do its thing in the water. But if you want a different scent, a different color, the addition of glitter, or no scent or color at all, the sky’s the limit!
Cuticle cream and heel balm…. is there a difference? Does it matter? This is a bit of a tricky one, because technically it doesn’t really matter which one you use where. They’re both great moisturizers. But they are different products, and they have different ingredients that make them more specialized to certain parts of the body. Cuticle cream contains jojoba oil, which is known for absorbing into the nails and cuticles quickly without feeling greasy. It also contains lanolin, which helps to lock that moisture into the nails so that it’s long-lasting. The original formulation contains lemon essential oil, which is added to help whiten and brighten the nails, but a scent-free option is also available.
Heel balm is made with a calendula-and-lavender-infused olive oil. Calendula is a variety of marigold that, together with lavender, is thought to have skin-soothing, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. Perfect for feet. Olive oil is absorbed well even through calloused heels, and helps to lock in moisture. Apply before bed, cover with cotton socks, and wake up in the morning to soft, moisturized feet.
Welcome to your second cooking class! Last lesson, we talked about the most important part of cooking — flavor. Today, we’ll learn about the next most important thing — the tools you’ll need to get the job done.
If you don’t know how to cook — or the only things you cook come out of a box or the freezer — you likely don’t have much in the way of kitchen tools. This can make the process of learning how to cook seem much more daunting (and expensive) than it needs to be. While it’s true that there’s a kitchen gadget for pretty much everything, most of them are a waste of money (and precious kitchen space). Today we’re going to go over the essentials — things you need, things that are nice to have, and things you should think about getting as you become more experienced.
When you’re first starting out, there are a few essentials that you really can’t do without. If your kitchen doesn’t already have these things, you should get them ASAP. It will be next to impossible to make any sort of “real” food without these essential tools:
cutting board (wood or bamboo is gentler on your knife and perfect for fruits and veggies, and plastic is better for meat because it can go in the dishwasher – I have one of each)
mixing bowls (glass or metal is ideal)
small sauce pan with lid (1.5 qt or smaller)
large sauce pan/small soup pot with lid (3 qt or larger)
parchment paper or silicone baking mat
sauté pan (10-12″ is the most versatile)
wire cooling/baking rack
If you have nothing more than these items, you’ll be able to make almost anything. As far as quality goes, that’s entirely up to you and your budget. If you want to spend a little more you’ll be able to buy tools that will last a lifetime, but if you don’t have that in the budget you can still find decent tools that will get the job done.
If you’re able to find it at a price you’re comfortable with, I recommend purchasing heavy-bottomed stainless steel cookware for your pots and pans. Many of them are dishwasher safe (though they’ll last longer if you wash by hand), if there’s no plastic on the handle they can usually be used in the oven as well, and a heavy pan will heat more evenly and hold the heat better than a thinner metal. Avoid non-stick for your day-to-day pans — non-stick has its place, but it’s prone to scratching, often can’t go in the dishwasher or oven, and many types release toxic fumes at high temperatures. If you’re afraid of sticking, don’t be — we’ll learn how to properly use a stainless steel pan in a future lesson. When it comes to bakeware, aluminum is the superior material because it heats quickly and evenly in the oven. The downside is that it’s not dishwasher safe, but I promise it’s worth it.
If you’re only going to splurge on one item, make sure you have a good chef’s knife. You’ll use your knife every day, and you need something that will stay SHARP. Dull knives slip on food and lead to injuries. Sharp knives will cut through any food like butter, and will never slip.
Not Essential, but Helpful
Next, let’s talk about common items that are helpful for making certain foods, but not a requirement for general cooking. Once you’re feeling more comfortable in your kitchen, I recommend picking up these items:
rolling pin (I prefer a metal French pin, and I have my reasons, but there are pros and cons to every type)
serrated bread knife
fine mesh strainer
aluminum bread pan
8-9″ square baking pan (aluminum or nonstick)
8-9″ round cake pan (aluminum or nonstick)
glass pie plate
bench scraper (I have a plastic one with a curved edge for getting dough out of bowls, and a stainless steel one with a ruler on it – both are essential in my own kitchen)
squeeze bottle for olive oil (I bought a clear, empty bottle intended for ketchup from the grocery store, and I keep it right next to the stove for quick, easy access)
cast iron skillet (10-12″ is the most versatile)
nonstick frying pan (look for ceramic and steer clear of Teflon)
9×13″ glass baking dish
roasting pan with rack (for roasting whole chickens or turkeys)
enameled cast-iron Dutch oven
We’re beginning to enter tricky territory with the type of bakeware you choose to purchase here. Whether you go for aluminum or nonstick will depend on its intended purpose. Personally, I have both types for all my bakeware (apart from my baking sheets, which are all aluminum). In general, aluminum conducts heat better and gives your baked goods a beautiful color – perfect for breads and cakes. Sticking is not an issue if you properly grease your pans (or grease and flour for cakes). But nonstick has its place here if you’re cooking anything sticky or wet that might not come out of a regular pan easily (think sticky buns and pineapple upside down cake). Buy what you think you’re most likely to use.
For pie plates, I actually prefer glass. While I acknowledge that a metal pan would likely cook the crust better, a soggy bottom is about the worst thing you can have on a pie and I like to be able to visually see that it’s fully baked and golden brown rather than hoping it’s done, as you can’t tip it upside down out of the pan to check for doneness like you would for bread. Personal preference and paranoia on my part.
Not included in this list is duplicates and different sizes of the essential items from the first list. While you can cook with only one silicone spatula, I have at least a dozen in an assortment of sizes and shapes.
Essential Tools for the Experienced Cook
Finally, we come to the tools that are essential for the home cook who wants to cook like a pro. You may not need any of these items, but they sure do make it easier if you want to be able to make anything.
rolling pin rings (they allow you to roll dough to an exact thickness of your choosing)
4-6 oz ramakins
6″ aluminum cake pans (2-3 will make a perfectly sized birthday cake for the average family)
mortar and pestle (pronounced “pes-uhl”), or molcajete
pasta drying rack
mini blender (perfect for making small batches of marinade or sauces)
specialty baking pans to suit your purposes (I have special pans for making mini muffins, madeleines, mince pies, donuts, bundt cake, angel food cake, pain de mie/Pullman bread, baguettes, swiss roll/jelly roll, cheesecake, several other sizes of round cake pans, and both full size and mini tarts)
banneton proofing basket
piping bags and an assortment of tips
I’m sure that this list is not completely inclusive, and I continue to buy new kitchen gear as my cooking repertoire expands, but these are the items in my own kitchen that are here to stay.
In future lessons we’ll go over what some of these items are used for, and how to use and care for them properly. That said, if you simply can’t wait and need to know now why you should (or shouldn’t) buy a particular item, leave a comment below! Is there an item that’s indispensable in your own kitchen that you think I’ve missed? Share with the class!
It’s unfortunate that cooking isn’t really taught in most schools. When I was in middle school we had F.A.C.E. (family and consumer education) which was a type of modernized home ec, but it didn’t really teach any useful skills. I recall baking cookies once (half the class burned them), we made mac and cheese from a box, we sewed a pillow, and we learned that we weren’t allowed to call a metal spatula a “spatula,” and had to refer to it as a “metal slotted turner” if the teacher was in earshot. Not helpful.
Unless you have a parent to teach you when you’re young or the drive to teach yourself when you’re older, most of us never learn to cook more than the bare minimum. This is evident in the fact that most recipes you’ll see online are described with the words “quick,” “easy,” or “simple.” More complicated recipes are cast to the side due to the number of ingredients needed or the time they take to make. And when you can buy something ready-made in the store, most people don’t see the need to make it from scratch. My favorite example is pancake mix. While it’s easy to combine the mix with water and cook it on the griddle, it’s a bit of a one trick pony that winds up being more time consuming and expensive in the long run. Rather than buying and finding space for different boxes of mixes (pancake, brownie, cookie, cake, Belgian waffle, biscuit, muffin, coffee cake, pizza dough, pie crust, cornbread, etc), if you have the ingredients on hand – all fridge and pantry staples – then you can make any of those things on a whim with minimal time commitment.
I learned the basics as a child, but I learned how to be a good cook from watching TV. That might sound strange, but it’s true. Alton Brown (particularly on Good Eats and Iron Chef) taught me the basics and clearly explained why certain techniques and flavor combinations work and others don’t, which made cooking seem easy. Cooking competition shows (Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Guy’s Grocery Games) taught me that you can make delicious food with less-than-ideal ingredients so long as you know how to balance the flavors. Julia Child taught that mistakes are okay, and if you don’t succeed the first time you should get back up and try again. Essentially, once you learn how different flavors play off each other (and pick up some basic cooking techniques), you can make almost anything.
As I’ve grown as a home cook, I’ve found that recipes are more like suggestions – I get the general idea, and then I make what I can with what I have. I like to keep a full pantry, and buy shelf-stable ingredients when I see them on sale rather than when a recipe calls for them (a 20-ingredient recipe is so much less daunting when you already have 15 on hand). And when I see a weird ingredient on sale that I’ve seen used on TV or in a recipe that looked interesting, I buy it. My husband makes fun of me for it, but “What if I need it some day?” is practically my motto. There are very few items that I’ve purchased that I didn’t wind up using, and once you’ve used something in a recipe once it’s so much easier to incorporate it into your cooking in the future.
So if you long to be a better cook but don’t know where to start, here are some tips to get you going:
Don’t be afraid to try something new, or to try a new recipe for an old favorite.
Prep your ingredients before you begin – this is called “mise en place”. When I can, I like to chop my veggies (and whatever other prep is needed) in the morning so that I can jump right into cooking in the evening.
Taste as you go, and don’t be afraid to alter the recipe if needed – there are few things more disappointing than spending an hour or more making a mediocre meal.
You don’t have to follow the recipe exactly, and it’s okay to google “[ingredient] substitute” for ingredients you don’t have.
Baking and cooking are two very different things. A cooking recipe can be altered on the fly to suit your tastes, but a recipe for baked goods should be followed to the letter until you know what you’re doing.
When used properly, salt makes food taste more like itself (if you can taste the salt itself, then you’ve gone too far). If your food tastes bland, try adding a little more salt and taste again.
When you first start cooking, the thought of altering a recipe or going rogue without a recipe can be intimidating. Remember that cooking is all about finding a balance between different flavor elements. The ideal dish should have a little of everything, and if you taste a dish and find that it’s too sweet, too bitter, etc, then you can use other flavors to balance it out.
Sweetness can come from sugar, honey, fruit, and certain vegetables. It balances out bitter and sour flavors, and can help to cut through spicy foods (fun fact – the Scoville scale is a measure of how much sugar it takes to neutralize the heat in a pepper). It can also give savory dishes a bit more depth of flavor when used judiciously. If a dish is too sweet, you can cut it back by adding acid or spice.
Salt has a greater impact on flavor than any other ingredient. It can balance out bitter flavors, and can enhance the flavors of pretty much everything else. If you’ve gone too far and you’re actually tasting the salt (rather than tasting what the salt has done to the other flavors), then the only remedy is to dilute the dish with non-salty ingredients.
Bitterness isn’t a flavor that most people appreciate, but it does an amazing job of cutting through the richness or sweetness of a dish. It’s why we use bittersweet chocolate chips in cookies, and why bitter greens (like kale and collard greens) go so well with a rich steak dinner. It’s interesting to note here that children often dislike bitter foods, and that salt does a poor job of balancing bitterness for kids (even if we can’t taste it, they can). It’s hypothesized that bitter flavors are biologically associated with poisonous plants and children’s taste buds experience this flavor more intensely than adults, so your child’s tongue may literally be telling them that broccoli is poison. Don’t worry – they’ll grow out of it.
Sourness comes primarily from things like vinegar and citrus fruits. Acidity in a dish is often overlooked, but it can help to cut through fat, add brightness, and counteract sweetness and heat. If a dish is too acidic, add a little sweetness to balance it out.
Umami is a difficult flavor to describe. It’s the savory taste we get from things like soy sauce, mushrooms, meat and cheese. It adds a certain “umph” to a dish. When a meal seems balanced but is still lacking, umami can add a depth of flavor that rounds it all out. Salt can enhance an umami flavor, and anything else (sweet, sour, spicy, bitter) will cut through it.
Fats can mellow other flavors and create a sense of depth and richness. They’re particularly good at toning down spicy flavors, and can be reduced by adding acid. Dairy products are the most commonly used fats (butter, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt), but you can also use coconut milk, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, or mayo to add fat into a dish.
Spicy foods add intensity to a dish. When used raw, the heat can often be overwhelming and unpleasant, but these flavors typically mellow out as they cook. We tend to think of peppers as being the only “spicy” foods, but horseradish, raw garlic, radishes, ginger, mustard seeds, wasabi, and raw onions can all be used to add to a dish’s heat level and complexity. If a dish is too spicy you can tone it down with acid, sweetness, or fat. Keep in mind when you’re cooking for others that everyone experiences heat differently – what’s pleasantly spicy to you likely feels like a chemical burn to me.
So what do I want you to take away from this? Cooking food people want to eat isn’t difficult. It’s intimidating in the beginning for sure, but you can do it. Cooking all comes down to flavors and technique, and once you understand how different flavors interact with each other then you’ve won half the battle. We’ll talk about technique next time, but for now I want you to get out there and make something delicious!
You (probably) already know this, but I’ve got 2 kids – a 9 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. Like all children, they love snacks. I also love snacks. But when you buy a box of granola bars at Costco, you expect it to last for longer than a week. A family-sized box of chip bags for school lunches should make it past a weekend, and the giant value-pack box of fruit snacks should last for longer than the other two put together. Unfortunately, that’s not the world I live in.
To make matters worse, they don’t just eat 5 packs of fruit snacks, 3 granola bars, and 2 chip bags (each!) before sunrise every day when given the chance; they also leave a trail of wrappers through the entirety of our home like some kind of demented Easter bunny. Sometimes they’re out in the open, but more often they’re stuffed between couch cushions, hidden under chairs, wedged under pillows, and stashed in bookshelves. Sometimes they’re uneaten (like the melting ice cream sandwich I found in my purse recently), sometimes half eaten and forgotten (like the stale Christmas cookie I found in the way back of the silverware drawer in May), but most often it’s just the wrappers that make their way into places they don’t belong. Our efforts to get the children to clean up after themselves have been ineffective, and there’s literally nowhere in the house that these little monkeys can’t reach. So, in an effort to stay (a little) sane, we’ve decided to ban individually wrapped snack foods until they learn that we don’t live in a garbage can.
This has had the unintended consequence of making me really sad that I don’t have any snacks for myself, and irritated that the kids are no longer able to get themselves breakfast or a snack after school without adult help to prepare it (you do NOT want Emmett pouring milk into a cereal bowl on his own). So, obviously, I decided I’d just make some granola bars and fruit snacks on my own. How hard can it be?
Granola bars are tricky, because you want them to be (somewhat) healthy for the kids, but they also need to be tasty enough that the kids will actually eat them. Also, you need a granola bar to fill you up so you’re not immediately hungry again when it’s gone. So not an insane amount of sugar, lots of fruits/nuts/oats, and they have to stay together in a bar form. As it turns out, that last bit is the hardest part.
There’s always room for improvement, but I think I came up with something pretty tasty. I recommend not altering the sugar/honey/peanut butter amounts too much because they help it stay together, but if you want to reduce the sugar content you can use no-sugar-added dried fruits. So here’s my recipe for:
(Almost) Perfect Granola Bars
2-1/2 c. oats
1-1/4 c. chopped nuts (I like 2 parts pecans to 1 part almonds, but use what you like)
1/2 c. pepitas (can also use half pepitas and half sunflower seeds)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 c. peanut butter
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg whites
1 c. chopped dried fruit (I’ve used strawberries, apricots, cranberries, raisins, blueberries, cherries, figs – it’s all good, just try to stick to 3 or fewer fruits)
Preheat the oven to 400o. Grease a 9″ square pan with cooking spray, line with parchment paper, and grease the parchment paper.
Combine the oats, nuts, and seeds on a cookie sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant. It should take around 15 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325o. In a bowl big enough to hold everything, melt the butter and peanut butter with the brown sugar. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved, then stir in the honey, vanilla and salt. Whisk in the egg whites until thoroughly combined.
Add the nuts/oats to the bowl along with the fruit, and make sure everything is covered in the sugar/butter/peanut butter/egg mixture. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.
Grease another piece of parchment roughly the same size as the pan and place it (grease side down) on top of the mixture. Using your hands or a clean spatula, press the granola mixture down into the pan. This will help it to stay in bar form after it’s baked.
If your top layer of parchment comes off easily (it should if you greased it well), then remove it prior to baking. If not, no biggie, you can leave it on until toward the end of the cook time.
Bake until light golden, around 20-30 minutes. Under-baked bars will be tasty but won’t stay together. Over-baked bars will be bitter and gross. Unless you’re feeling confident, err on the side of caution.
Let cool completely in the pan, then move the pan to the fridge until cold. Lift out and remove the parchment.
Slice into bars with a sharp knife (a less-than-sharp knife won’t go through the nuts easily, and your bars will crumble). I prefer to cut 9 squares for bigger breakfast bars, but you can get 12 if you cut in the traditional “bar” shape.
Individually wrap your bars in wax paper (like a little present), or, like me, stack the bars in two or three layers with a sheet of wax paper between each layer to prevent sticking.
Store in a zip-top bag in your pantry for about a week, or in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. If you under-baked them a smidge and they’re falling apart, they’ll stick together better if you store them in the fridge. The freezer works too if you make a big batch. Let a bar thaw on the counter overnight for a quick breakfast the next morning.
Fruit snacks have proven a bit trickier to master, but I’m getting there. More on that later.
One of the most common questions I get asked when someone inquires about my profession is, “Why did you choose to be a pharmacist?” My answer often strikes people as odd: “My high school chemistry teacher told me to.”
Like a lot of kids, I didn’t like school. I didn’t get the point of most assignments, and would frequently “forget” my homework at school, which got me into hot water on a number of occasions. I was, I’ll be honest, a pretty lazy student who was quite content to do the bare minimum. This continued to be an issue until I was about half way through high school. I don’t know if it was the knowledge that real life was fast approaching or if I just finally felt challenged and interested, but something finally clicked.
Obviously there were still classes I didn’t like and areas where I didn’t fully apply myself, but I found that science class was my happy place. Chemistry and biology were my favorites, and I took every class available to me, including an anatomy/physiology course offered at my high school by the local tech college. I was able to take advanced placement classes in most of these areas, which actually translated into college credit, so I was able to get ahead of the game. I still struggled with completing the assigned homework, but I managed to convince most of the teachers in my preferred subjects that I was skipping homework because it was too easy, not due to lack of ability. Somehow that worked more often than it should have.
I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sure, I dreamed about a lot of occupations, but I always KNEW I would go into medicine. I wanted to be a veterinarian, specifically. When I was around 9 years old I called every local animal shelter and vet clinic in search of one that would let me spend a day shadowing a vet or volunteering in some capacity. Most wouldn’t hear of it (apparently a 9 year old poses a liability problem), but I was undeterred. I was the type of child who was terrified of talking to strangers, so my insistence on cold-calling everyone in town was rather shocking. But I was determined to get my foot in the door, and finally found a clinic that agreed to let me spend the day with their veterinarian. She let me stay in the room when she examined the well-behaved animals, and showed me x-rays and patient charts (HIPAA doesn’t apply to animals, right?) to give me a feel for what she did every day. It was amazing, and I’m still so grateful to her and her clinic for taking me seriously and treating me like the little adult I thought I was.
As I worked my way through high school, I began to examine my future a little more closely. I realized that the tuition for vet school is insane, and they don’t get paid as much as they probably should. The general internet consensus is that it’s financially worth the cost of tuition, but just barely. Couple that with the fact that I don’t think I have it in me to euthanize a puppy, and I began to doubt the future in which I had once been so confident. But what were my other options? I still wanted to work in medicine, but could I be a nurse or doctor? To be honest, my dislike of physical human contact immediately turned those options into non-options.
It was in this moment of hitherto unknown indecision that my high school chemistry teacher said, “You should be a pharmacist.” I come from a family of relatively healthy people, so I honestly had no idea what a pharmacist did apart from handing you a pill bottle, but I trusted this teacher’s judgment. As I looked into it further, I became more confident that this was the occupation for me. From that point on, my mind was made up and it was just a matter of making it happen.
My high school advanced placement classes gave me a leg up, and I was able to test out of some of the prerequisite classes. I was accepted into pharmacy school after only 2 years of undergrad rather than the typical 3-4, which made me one of the youngest people in my pharmacy class (I was 20 but looked closer to 16). I still struggled with studying, but there was no plan B to fall back on so failure wasn’t an option. Four years later, I was a licensed pharmacist.
I’ve been a pharmacist for 12 years now, and I don’t think I regret my decision. I don’t enjoy my job the way I used to, but I’m happier now that I only work part time. I dislike what the profession has become over the past decade, but I still feel like I’m doing something worthwhile most of the time.
So that’s the question I get asked most often, but here’s the question I wish more people would ask: What does a pharmacist do?
A pharmacist is a doctor who specializes in pharmaceuticals. They are, quite literally, a “doctor of medicines.” I’ll add a caveat here that a PharmD (doctor of pharmacy) degree has only been a requirement since 2004, so anyone who was licensed before that time may not technically be a doctor, despite being an RPh (registered pharmacist).
The general idea is that a physician diagnoses an illness and prescribes a treatment, and the pharmacist’s job is to confirm that the treatment is safe and appropriate for that diagnosis. We verify that the dosage is correct for the patient’s age, weight, gender, and other health conditions, and that there are no contraindications or drug interactions with the patient’s other medications or health conditions. We also recommend alternative treatments when an insurance company refuses to pay for a drug, or when a patient can’t afford the medicine that was prescribed. Our technicians fill the prescription, and then we confirm that the drug in the bottle matches the drug prescribed. It’s also our responsibility to ensure that patients understand what drugs they’ve been prescribed, and have all the information they need in order to take their medication correctly. We warn patients of potential side effects or drug interactions to be aware of, and what they can do to manage minor side effects at home. We act as a sort of triage for minor injuries and illnesses, and spend a decent amount of time answering questions and instructing our patients about what OTC medications and treatments are appropriate for their situation, and when they should seek medical attention. We also administer vaccines to anyone over the age of 3 (age varies by state).
Because the American healthcare system is broken, our “real” job (everything in the previous paragraph) isn’t viewed as being very important by corporate America or the general population. Most of what we do isn’t seen by the public and can’t be monetized (patients seem to think their doctors don’t make mistakes, and I can’t charge someone for asking if they can take Motrin and Aleve together), so our corporate overlords have come up with other ways for us to be “useful.”
PBMs have sucked a lot of the profit out of dispensing medications, but we still need record-breaking profits every year so we’re being asked to do more with less. Hours get cut so that pharmacists have to do their own job as well as the jobs of technicians. We’re asked to do MTMs (“medication therapy management,” or in-depth 1-on-1 consultations with patients who take multiple medications to treat a multitude of illnesses) without pharmacist overlap or extra help, and corporate wants us to cold call people to badger them into signing up for additional programs and services that they don’t want. Don’t get me wrong – MTMs are incredibly important when done right, and auto-filling prescriptions can improve compliance, but we’re doing it all wrong. I can’t do a proper MTM while filling prescriptions at the same time, and we frequently auto-fill medications that people don’t even take anymore. It can’t be about the number of people we sign up for these services, but about how these services can best be utilized to serve our patients. As it stands right now, all the emphasis is placed on the number of prescriptions we can fill, MTMs we can do, and vaccines we give, rather than on whether we’re actually keeping our patients safe and healthy.
I wish I could say that it was just a single company’s problem, but it’s trickled down from the big 3 (Walgreens, CVS, Walmart) to include pretty much every pharmacy except the few independents that haven’t yet been bought by the chains. The emphasis placed on metrics and customer satisfaction surveys have meant that I’m no longer able to properly use my professional judgment to ensure the safety of my patients. We do the best we can with what we’re given, but we’re not given much. Patients care more about getting their medication quickly than safely, and don’t want to hear that it took longer than expected because their doctor accidentally prescribed clomiphene (for infertility) instead of clomipramine (for OCD or depression), or because they pushed the wrong button on their calculator and prescribed an overdose of an antibiotic to an infant. They don’t want to wait for the pharmacist to walk over and counsel them on how to take their medication (even though I’m legally required to talk to them) because “the doctor told me how to take it.” These are, inevitably, the people who call an hour later to ask what the drug they picked up is for, if they should take it with food, or who stop taking it entirely because it’s making them queasy. The introduction of the drive-thru has made us synonymous with fast food in the eyes of many, and the “$4 generic” program started by Walmart has made it clear that it’s the pill bottle they’re paying for, and we as healthcare professionals have nothing of value to offer.
There’s a saying in pharmacy that goes “You can get your medication fast, cheap, or safe. Pick two.” Unfortunately, safety has taken a backseat. I don’t regret my decision to become a pharmacist. I still feel like I’m making a difference. But if I had to do it all again, knowing what I know now, I don’t think I’d make the same choice. The question I keep asking myself now is this: “Is it better to keep working in retail and fight for the safety of your patients, or should you get out while you can before your employer’s reckless pursuit of profit causes you to make a mistake that causes serious harm?” I’m still working out the answer to that one.
Experts say that kids should be allowed to choose their own clothes, as it fosters a sense of independence and allows them to express themselves in a world where they don’t get much of a say in their day-to-day activities. I’ve been letting my kids dress themselves from a very early age, and it only sometimes backfires.
My son’s clothing choices are pretty standard. Jeans or khakis and a graphic tee are his go-to, though he’s been known to rock some brightly colored hair and nail polish from time to time. I pretty much only need to intervene when he wants to wear shorts in the dead of winter. And I love when he decides to wear a button down shirt over his T-shirt because he says it makes him look “fancy like Hamilton.” He’s such a handsome fella no matter what he wears.
My daughter is another story. She takes the whole self-expression thing to another level with her fashion choices. She once said, when she was barely out of toddlerhood, that she had “a passion for fashion – I would die for fashion.” Dramatic much? While I respect her autonomy and want to let her wear what she wants, sometimes I need to put the kibosh on her wilder ideas. Color clashing is fine, and a fancy dress at the park is okay by me, but a full-length ball gown with a giant hoop skirt is too extra for school. But as long as it’s not a safety issue or a distraction to her classmates, I honestly don’t mind whatever she wants to put on her body so long as she’s clothed.
I know some of the things she wears are silly; recently, she wore a fancy white dress (it was probably supposed to be a flower girl or first communion dress) to her cousin’s backyard birthday party. Impractical? Yes – she got black frosting on her white skirt. A problem? Nah, I can wash it. She also wore a pioneer-style bonnet to school recently. Did I think it looked silly? Sure. But she was confident in her choice, so whatever.
Basically, I think kids will have enough self-doubt, insecurities and peer pressure to be just like everyone else during their tween and teen years. All I want is to encourage them to be fully themselves while they still have the unbridled confidence of youth. When they finally emerge as young adults I want them to feel comfortable being weird again, and to heck with the people who try to crush their spirits. Weird people are my kind of people.
Last night, I came home from work and locked the chickens up. Usually they’re asleep on their roosts when I do this, but last night they were awake and pacing around their coop. I figured they were just cranky that I turned on the light. This morning when I let them out, I checked their nest boxes just in case (they have to start laying eggs eventually, right?). I got to the middle box and was greeted by this:
It’s an opossum, so the second it saw me it went into “I’m dead but I still have teeth so don’t touch me” mode. It was just frozen there, with its mouth open as wide as it goes and its eyes shut tight. Now what? The chickens were all unscathed – it appears that it was just looking for a warm place to sleep, so there’s that.
So how do you move an opossum that’s playing dead? Should I poke it with a stick? I didn’t want it to move further into the coop, because then it’s harder to get it out. Could I just pick it up? Probably not a good idea. But maybe? But no, not worth losing a finger.
I went back inside to see if maybe it would just leave. Wishful thinking, but that would be the ideal situation, right? When I was out of sight, he just turned around and went back to sleep. Damn.
I went into the garage to look for something to forcibly remove it, and settled on a pitchfork. I went back out there and tried to scoop it up. The pitchfork is just a bit wider than the nesting box, so I couldn’t angle it right to scoop under the animal. I tried using it like a rake to pull the critter out. It clung tighter to the wood and refused to budge. Apparently I wasn’t even worth showing its teeth to anymore, because it was keeping its back to me as it continued to death-sleep.
I went back into the garage and chose a shovel. This possum was about the size of a cat, so it was filling up the nest box pretty good. I did manage to maneuver the shovel under the possum, and I started to lift it out. It was surprisingly heavy. I was slowly walking with a possum on a shovel, wishing someone else was around to experience this absurd moment with me, looking for a place to put it. I wanted it out of my yard, but I couldn’t just chuck it over the fence. It’s terrifying, but I didn’t want to hurt it. I wanted to find it a warm place to sleep, but I didn’t want it to feel at home in my yard. As I was mentally working my way through this moral dilemma, this freaking possum is sitting at the end of my shovel, facing me, mouth open wide, frozen to the spot, but with a look in its eyes that says “I may be dead now, but one wrong move and I’ll eat your face.” In the end, it intentionally fell off the shovel while still playing dead, made sure I wasn’t going to eat it, and slowly waddled away into the forest.
It’s Wednesday, and I have a plan. But, as the saying goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Or, in this case, chickens.
So here’s what’s on my agenda – teach a class, go to work, pick up the kids from school, stop at home and start a batch of bread, let the kids grab a snack, head off to Em’s reading lesson, come back home, get the dough in a pan for its second rise, make dinner, bake bread, clean up, finish Madeline’s Halloween costume, watch a little TV, go to bed. It’s an excellent plan.
My morning class goes well. So far, so good. I go into work early to get a head start on the day, but then I look at the schedule and it’s just me (the pharmacist) and one technician until 1:00. That’s not good. Like, really not good. With vaccines scheduled every 5-10 minutes, it’s physically impossible to both vaccinate and fill prescriptions. Thankfully, another pharmacist can come in for a few hours to help me out. Even so, it’s hectic. Is it really so difficult to be kind when you can see people are struggling just to keep their heads above water? We’re not trying to make you late for whatever you need to get to, but we ARE trying to avoid making a mistake that will kill you.
I pick up the kids from school, and as we’re driving away Emmett informs me that he forgot his hat and his lunch bag at school. Great. Minor hiccup, it’s fine, we’ll get them tomorrow.
We arrive back home to see that the kids’ Halloween pumpkins have been knocked off the porch. Emmett is distraught, and on the verge of tears. Thankfully nothing was damaged by the fall, but it takes a bit of searching to find the lids and candles in the yard. I get my bread dough going.
After some coaxing, I manage to get the kids ready to go to reading class. We’re running late because Emmett wanted to keep playing his video game, but that’s fine. We’ll only be a couple of minutes late. On our way to the car, a police officer pulls up and gets out of her car.
“Did you lose a chicken?” “….. uh … I didn’t think so?” “I’ve got one in the car. I’ll bring it out and you can see if it’s yours.” “Okay… “
I look in the pet carrier, and sure enough, it’s my best hen. “Best” in the sense that she’s the only one who’s even remotely friendly (the others aren’t mean, but they’re very aware that I’m not opposed to eating them).
“She was found a couple of blocks away. She followed someone into their house.”
I don’t even know how to respond to that. I think I just stared at her with my mouth open like a fish as I contemplated how one of my chickens could have wound up in someone’s house a several blocks away. I keep my hens in the back yard, and they have a super secure chicken coop with locks on all the doors. I just finished redoing their run to make it more secure (it took forever) and I was sure there was no way a chicken could get out. For those of you not versed in chicken vocab, a “run” is a fenced in area where they’re allowed to roam. Their roaming area is penned off with 7′ high deer fencing (a super strong net designed to keep deer out of your garden) that’s attached to the ground with stakes and to the trees with zip ties. How could they get out?
“Mom, look! A chicken!” I think she’s talking about the one I’m holding, but then I see it. Staring at me, not 5 feet away, her head cocked to one side as if she’s confused about what I’m doing out here, is a chicken. I’m already holding a chicken, so I tell the kids to back up slowly so they don’t startle her, and I run to the back to put the chicken I’m holding back into the pen.
I run back to the front yard, and the chicken is still there. Madeline is jumping around like a crazy person, and it starts to back away. I tell Madeline to get in the car with her brother; I need to catch this chicken quick so we can get to reading class.
The chicken has decided that she’s not interested in being caught. She’s made her way over some rocks, down a steep incline into the wooded area next to our house, and I try to follow her (we don’t own it, and neither do our neighbors, so I’m free to traipse through). I’m getting nowhere with this. She’s managed to find a spot that I can’t reach, and settles in for a nice roost. I make a quick phone call to tell his teacher that we’ll be late for his reading lesson.
I go back inside and grab a beef stick to lure the chicken out of her hiding spot. I make my way back down the slope, and try not to loose my footing on the slippery rocks and loam. I manage to find a big stick, and I poke the chicken with it. I’m swearing at the chicken with reckless abandon. She finally starts to move up the narrow escarpment, giving me angry clucks for disturbing her. I find a safer area to climb up where I can still see her. She’s back on our lawn, and there’s no beef stick. Madeline comes running, and the chicken starts to turn around.
“Madeline! Where’s the beef stick?!?!” *blank stare* “What the fuuuuuu… Madeline!!! That was to keep the chicken up here so I can catch her!!”
*throws chips at me* ……. I don’t know why she thought that showering me with Dorito fragments would appease me, but I’m now slightly worried that my face may be turning purple.
“O@#U$##)@(#!U@*#U!@)(*)(# GET BACK IN THE CAR AND LET ME CATCH THIS G** D*** BIRD!!!”
After way too much effort, I manage to coax this mother fucking bird into following me, but she’s wary. I think I can get her into the garage, so I give it a go. Madeline is in the front seat of the car because of course she is, so I tell her to close the garage door when the chicken gets in. I’ve finally got her cornered. I caught her! Success!
I bring her back to the pen, and put her in with the others. I do a quick count, and there are … 5? That can’t be right. I open up the coop to search for the others, but to no avail. I’m missing 5 chickens. God damnit.
We were supposed to be at reading class a half hour ago. I call them to say that we won’t be able to make it. Our back “yard” is a jungle. They could be anywhere. And the two I just put back weren’t even in the yard. I’m at a bit of a loss, and don’t even know where to start looking. I tell the kids to get out of the car and go inside. Play, watch TV, I don’t care. This is going to take a while.
I find another one hiding out in that same rocky wooded area on the right side of our house, so I go through the whole rigmarole again. She was apparently watching while I captured her friend, and she wasn’t falling for it again. I manage to get her over to the left side of the house (the side with the gate leading into the back yard), but she decides to take another left and check out the neighbor’s side of the fence. I can’t even get over there, because the trees and forest debris are so dense. I try to come at her from my side of the fence. Maybe I can shoo her back toward the gate and get her in here. I can barely reach the fence through the mess of fallen trees and shrubbery, but I manage to poke her with a stick. She just backs up a few inches so I can’t reach her again with the stick. I say “fuck it” and walk away. She knows where I am, she can come when she’s ready.
I go back to their pen, and try to figure out how they all got out. I hear a car honking its horn, which is annoying. But it’s coming from really close. It’s my car. Why!?!! I run back to the front, and Madeline has the car turned on (the lights and radio, not the engine), the hazard lights are on, the brights are on, she’s honking the horn, music is blasting, and she’s eating another bag of chips. I suddenly know how volcanos feel right before an eruption.
I forcibly remove this child from my vehicle, turn everything off, and tell her to get her ass back in the house. Her chip bag is now empty, and I tell her that she can play or watch TV or whatever, but she’s done snacking. Emmett pokes his head out the front door and asks if he can have a snack. He hasn’t had one yet, so sure. Whatever. Go for it.
I head back into the yard, and see that the deer fencing has been ripped out of the zip ties on one of the trees, and is practically on the ground. That’ll do it. I attach it back to the tree in multiple spots for added security. Okay, we’re good. I hear Emmett scream crying. Did he crack his head open? A broken arm? Surely he’s severely wounded in some way.
No. Madeline is back in the car, and she has stolen Emmett’s snack. He’s sobbing hysterically, which seems excessive, but he can be an emotional child. She’s already eaten all of his snack. I’m ready to reign violence down upon this girl, but Emmett is already sad enough so I keep my shit together and summon the angriest mom eyes I can muster. It’s not difficult. Emmett gets a new snack, and Madeline gets threatened with a lifetime in solitary confinement if she doesn’t get back inside. She’s banned from all food until dinner.
I go back to the fence, and see that the netting has actually ripped through a lot of zip ties. What even happened here? I get a big roll of twisty ties, because I’m all out of zip ties. I make repairs where I can. I see another chicken. This one looks wily. I slowly make my way behind the bird, making sure to not make eye contact. I don’t think I can catch this one, because I have nowhere to corner it.
I’m slowly walking around the chicken pen, letting the chicken lead the way, and trying to keep it walking along the fence. If we can make it to the end of the fence, I can corner it where the fence meets the coop. Madeline bursts onto the scene shouting “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” The chicken realizes it’s being stalked and takes off in the opposite direction.
I’m about ready to lie face down in the dirt and stay there until nightfall.
Chasing this chicken is getting me nowhere. I’m just making it run farther away. Instead, I go to the fence “door” (the spot where I can get in and out) and open it. I tell Madeline to make herself useful, because she’s clearly going to ignore every order to go inside and behave herself. Her job is to stay at the entrance, make sure the chickens already inside don’t get out, and if another chicken comes close she should stand still and let it walk inside. Sometimes they just want to come home on their own terms.
The rogue chicken is in sight again. I figure I’ll try ignoring it, and see if it walks in on its own. Madeline starts shouting and pointing “THERE IT IS!!” After another reminder that her job is to stand there quietly and make sure chickens don’t escape, the bird starts to slowly make its way toward the entrance. We’re getting there! I start to walk behind it again, just to make sure it doesn’t change its mind and turn around. She’s on to me, and decides that she doesn’t want to play this game.
Change of plans. I’ll turn around. She clearly doesn’t want an audience. Madeline says “Hey, Mom! I’m in the chicken cage!” and yes, she is indeed in the pen, at the end farthest away from the entrance, and I can see a couple of curious hens inching toward the exit. I ask her how it’s even remotely helpful for her to be inside the pen when she’s supposed to be guarding the exit. She seems confused by the question. I feel like I’m in that Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene with the dad talking to his son’s guards in the tower:
“You stay here, and make sure the chickens don’t leave the pen.” “Right. I don’t need to do anything apart from just stop them entering the pen.” “LEAVING the pen.” “Leaving the pen, yes.” “Alright?” “Oh, if, if, uhhh, if uh…. if they…” “Look, it’s quite simple. You just stay here, and make sure they don’t leave. Alright?” “Oh, I remember, can they leave the pen with me?” “No, you just keep them in here, and…” “Oh, yes, I’ll keep them in here, obviously. But if they had to leave and I was with them…” “No, just keep them in here until I come back” “Right. I’ll stay here until you get back.” “And make sure they don’t leave.” “What?”
I decide that nothing about this is going to work, so I close up the exit and tell Madeline, with my head in my hands, to please just leave and clean her room or something. Obviously she won’t, but I can dream, right? I keep checking the zip ties, and make repairs as I see them.
The chicken is back, but I don’t even care anymore. There are 5 chickens in the pen. No, wait, I’m counting 6. What? And now, as I’m watching this god damn bird walking toward the side of the pen, it just walks through the fence. Oh my effing god. I have 7 now, but WTF just happened?
I go over to the part of the fence where a chicken just Houdinied her way in, and, sure as shit, there is a hole in this fence so big that I could walk through it. As I’m patching up this hole, another hen somehow appears in the pen. At this point, it’s around 5:00, and I’ve just about had it. I’ve gone around the entire fence and patched half a dozen big holes. Chickens didn’t do this – it must have been a predator of some kind. Raccoon? Opossum? Fox? Coyote? Chupacabra? Whatever it was, it tore this fence up bad.
It’s now 5:30, I’m done making repairs, 8 out of 10 chickens are locked in the coop, and the other 2 are nowhere to be found. I’m done. I’m not even emotionally attached to these birds. They don’t have names, I don’t even remember what they all look like. But this day has been a little too much. I decide to skip making dinner, and we order a pizza instead. I spend some time lying on the floor of a dark room and trying to pull myself together. I do, eventually, remember to bake the bread, and I finish Madeline’s costume, so the day’s not a complete loss.
That was Wednesday. It’s Friday now, and I’ve been working on building another fence outside the current fence with T-bars and heavy gauge chicken wire. It’s been raining, so it’s slow going. I’m about half way done, and I’m hoping it dries out enough over the weekend to keep working on it. I think the 2 I lost have probably been eaten, but I can’t say for sure. I might wake up one morning to find them clucking at me to let them back in the coop. It wasn’t a great day, but it’s kind of funny now in retrospect.
If you’ve been hanging out with me for a while, then you may remember that I wrote about foraging for wild hickory nuts way back in 2018. If you’re a more recent follower, odds are that the hickory nut post is what brought you here! It’s the most popular post on the site, and I get it. They’re delicious!
A word on hickory nuts, though – if you shell more than you’re going to use right then and there, keep the shelled nuts in the freezer. They keep basically forever when frozen, but they’ll go moldy pretty quickly at room temp or in the fridge because they have a high moisture content (ask me how I know). In the shell, they’re good for quite a while, so if you’re short on freezer space then don’t crack them open until you want to use them. You could also dry or roast them, but hickory nuts have a much higher moisture content than most other nuts, and I find that it’s easier to just freeze them.
So if you’re like me and you think found food is the best food, then I’ve got a recipe for you to try. While hickory nuts (a buttery-tasting relative of the pecan) are delicious in a variety of applications ranging from cakes to muffins to ice cream, my very favorite way to use them is in a shortbread cookie. It’s kind of like a pecan sandie, but better (in my opinion). Give them a try!
Hickory Nut Shortbread Cookies
30 min active, chilled overnight
1 c butter, softened
1/4 tsp fresh orange zest (optional, but delightful)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 c flour
¾ c powdered sugar
½ c hickory nuts
Cream together butter, zest, salt, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and powdered sugar. Add the flour/sugar mixture to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined. It’s going to look very crumbly. Finally, stir in the hickory nuts.
Dump out the cookie dough (it’ll probably seem too dry) onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and use the plastic to form into a log approximately 2 inches thick (you can also use parchment paper if you’re opposed to plastic). Make sure it’s nice and compact, with no air bubbles. Refrigerate overnight, or 2 hours minimum if you’re in a hurry.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350o and cut cookies into 1/4 – 1/2″ slices. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat, leaving about 1″ between cookies (they don’t spread much). Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until done to your liking. I like to cook mine until the edges start to turn golden brown but the main part of the cookie is still white.
That’s it! How easy is that?! I like to keep my uncooked “roll” of cookie dough in the fridge, and slice off a few cookies at a time to bake here and there when I’m feeling snacky. If I made them all at once, then I’d have to eat them all at once (well, I guess I wouldn’t have to eat them all, but I probably would anyway).