Sage vs. SAGE: You be the judge

Nothing the world likes better than a good fight.

I’m sure we’d all like to say that fighting doesn’t solve anything, but it sure seems to be damn entertaining. Otherwise we wouldn’t be watching reality TV, there would be no market for televised MMA fighting and the debates wouldn’t get such high ratings. Competition, tension, and –maybe a little blood—is exciting. If it bleeds, it leads…right?

As the middle child and only girl, I was bred to be competitive and to be fueled by the fire of a fight. So waging a war between my ingredients makes cooking a little more interesting.

In the right corner: fresh sage. Officially salvia officinalis, sage is a perennial, evergreen ground hugging shrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and purplish flowers. It is a member of the family Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean region. Flavor-wise, it’s the aftertaste of gravy at Thanksgiving—earthy, woody and slightly bitter.

In the left corner: SAGE, another fantastic herbal libation from Art in the Age. It has the perfumey, piney, minty notes that remind me of gin but lack the throat-closing elements that keep us apart (juniper berries and me–we don’t get along).

I decided on a simple soup where the dueling dragons could really stand out—as one of only 6 things, they didn’t have a choice. Pumpkin, apples, chicken stock, some salt and pepper rounded out the posse in the fight. The battle would determine which was best: fresh, authentic flavor or the doctored, essence.

The chopped sage gave the apple, pumpkin mixture a tastier look while roasting and when they met the blender, produced a richer, darker broth that fit the toasty flavor of the soup. SAGE caramelized on the fruits as they browned under high heat and allowed the vibrant orange of the Cinderella pumpkin to sing. The sweetness of the liquor, pumpkin and apples had to be quelled (for me anyway) with a little extra pepper to become ass kicking…but once it was there, this stuff was incredible.

In the end, if there could be only one, my vote went to the booze (surprised?) since I didn’t have to dig that out from under leaves in my mom’s garden. It was a good, clean fight though and I’ll happily to pit them against each other again soon…just for fun.

Pumpkin Apple Sage and SAGE Soup (as adapted from EatingWell.com)

  • 4 lbs. pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 4 lbs. sweet-tart apples, such as Empire, Cameo or Braeburn, unpeeled,      cored and cut into eighths
  • 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • freshly ground tri-colored pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1/4 C Art in the Age SAGE
  • 6 C chicken broth
  • 1/3 C chopped hazelnuts, toasted

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Seed, peel and cut pumpkin into 2” chunks. Be sure to buy a pumpkin that weighs in at 5-6 lbs to yield 4lbs of pumpkin (the junk has weight too!). Core and cut unpeeled apples into eights. Separate pumpkin and apple evenly into two roasting pans. Toss each with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (2 T = 1/8 C, 4 T = ¼ C) and pinch of salt. Roast, uncovered, stirring once, for 30 mins.

Pull one pan from the oven and cover—setting aside so the competitors don’t mingle. In the second pan, toss in fresh sage. Roast 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and transfer one-half of the pumpkin and apples to a blender along with 1 ½ cups broth. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a stock pot on low and repeat for second batch. Season with salt, pepper and heat through over medium-low heat, stirring to prevent splattering.

With first batch of resting pumpkin and apples, add 1/4 C of SAGE and roast in oven, uncovered for 15 minutes. Blend with chicken broth and heat in second stock pot.

Chop hazelnuts and place small dry skillet. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Top competitors with chopped nuts and you be the judge.

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Not Your Mamas (or Grandma’s) Chocolate Chip Cookies

The first time I baked chocolate chip cookies in my own kitchen with my own pans and ingredients I purchased with my own money, I panicked. I’d gone too far, was instantly way too independent and far from home. Baking cookies was a family thing. Something we did together and only at holidays and there I was on a Tuesday (or whatever day it was) in my crappy little West Philadelphia apartment surrounded by the thick scent of old paint and industrial cleaning products, throwing tradition to the wind and doing it because I needed chocolate.

It was wrong.

But…I really wanted chocolate.

So I reverted to the exact mechanics of Christmas Eve baking in an attempt to make it right—holiday apron tied tight, The Waitresses blaring, I flipped spoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheet, carefully making sure that I had four blobs across and six blobs down on each tray per my grandmother’s strict training. She always said that if you couldn’t fit 2 dozen cookies on a pan, you were no baker—a sentiment that my mother loved to reiterate if my spoonfuls grew too generous.

When cookies are that small, they break all the laws of baking time and temperature–I must have missed something in the kitchen when it came to making these adjustments. My resulting cookies were black bottomed and stunk of burning chocolate.  

So, I made them bigger. No one was there to smack my hand with a spatula or pinch off the extra dough or tell me I was doing it wrong. And they were better (I’m sorry, Gram). I started messing with other things—chip type, Crisco in place of butter, size of eggs, dark and light brown sugar—until I found a way to make my perfect cookie.

Perfect is really boring, by the way. Dependable and delicious…but boring.

Ruth Wakefield took a chance when she made the first chocolate chip cookie at the Toll House Inn in 1930 and in celebration of National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (May 15th), I got to baking.

I searched out a substitution for the traditional ingredients from my standard recipe on the yellow chip bag. I’ve had a bottle of ROOT—a Pennsylvania brewed, root beer flavored liquor that dates back to the 1700s—sitting on the top of my refrigerator for about a year collecting dust so I decided to work with that instead of the traditional vanilla that the Toll House calls for. The sweet, herbal combination of birch bark, cinnamon, wintergreen, cardamom with hints of vanilla were the perfect substitution, giving the resulting cookie a taste that was more herbal than sweet vanilla.

It wasn’t quiet enough of the in-your-face Root Beer flavor I was going for, so a little paint brush (new, of course) full of booze painted the top of each cookie was the little extra “oomph” these guys needed.

I’m not a big dunker–milk just isn’t my thing–but a glass of CRW (read: cheap red wine) was the perfect pairing for this late night treat…no need to share with any kids.

Root Beer Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 1/4 C Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 C Crisco
  • 3/4 C white sugar
  • 3/4 C packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 2 t ROOT (+ 2 T for brushing)
  • 12 oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Pre-heat oven to 350. Combine flour, salt and baking soda — be sure to stir!–in a bowl and set aside. Cream the Crisco, dark and white sugar until fluffy. (about 1 minute on high).

Add in the eggs and 2t ROOT–beat again on high for about 1 minute until completely incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients into the sugar/Crisco/egg/Root in 4 parts–mixing between each addition until flour is incorporated. Add in chocolate chips — mixing by hand so the chips don’t get annihilated.

Spoon or roll into balls and place onto cookie sheet — allowing space between dough balls for cookies to spread (I do 15 on a sheet). Place in oven for 5 minutes — rotate the pan–and cook for 5 more minutes. *I only do one pan at a time so they cook evenly.

Remove cookie tray from the oven and allow cookies to settle for about 1 minute on the tray before removing (onto a cooling rack if you are so inclined or a kitchen towel).

Once cookies are cool, brush remaining ROOT onto the top of each using a pastry brush (or small, clean paint brush). Put all dishes in sink, pray that someone else does them, pour large glass of red wine and enjoy!!