Inquiring La Jolla foodies want to know

Cookie anyone?
Cookie anyone?

Chewy Chocolate Chunk Pecan Cookies

Adapted from the Neiman Marcus Signature Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate baking chunks

1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped

■ Method: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Cream butter with the sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add egg and extracts and beat for another 30 seconds.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together dry ingredients, and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in espresso powder, nuts and chocolate chunks.

Using a 1-ounce scoop, drop cookie dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread into a 2-inch circle. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispier cookie.

A case of the Halloween hungries

By Catherine L. Kaufman

With a chill in the air as fall blows in more people start to cocoon themselves in their kitchens, inspired to whip up treasured family recipes from comfort casseroles to scratch-made pies. Not wanting to waste precious time and ingredients with gustatory experimentation or mishandling, while trying to please family members who have assorted dietary restrictions, your questions are now being answered.

What are the best apples for pies and cobblers?

There are roughly 10,000 apple varieties around the world, yet not all of them are suitable for every use. While the crisp white-fleshed Pink Lady resists browning (oxidizing) when sliced, making it superb for salads and picky kids’ lunches, it’s a dud in pies and other baked treats as cooking zaps its flavor. Go for a heartier variety that maintains its apple essence with heat, like the sweet and tangy Fuji, the full-bodied Winesap, the crisp, sweet and sour Gravenstein, the popular Gala, and even the Granny Smith, although honey or brown sugar is needed to counteract its lip-puckering tartness. As a rule of thumb, the best baking apples are firm-textured with a nice balance of sweetness and tartness.

Are cheeses suitable for vegetarian diets?

A number of commercially processed cheeses contain animal rennet — an active enzyme added to milk to speed up coagulation and separate the curds from the whey. Rennet is extracted from the inner lining of the fourth stomach of newborn calves, lambs and goats before they are weaned. Rennet has also been manufactured through genetic “Frankenstein” engineering by tinkering with bovine DNA and inserting it into bacteria, fungi or yeasts.

For vegetarians and rennet-adverse diners, scope out cheeses produced from vegetable enzymes made from plant sources like fig, thistle, unfermented soybeans, safflower and dried caper leaves. Or choose non-dairy alternatives such as tofu, rice or nut cheeses.

My picks for dairy cheeses made from vegetable enzymes are Rumiano brand, some varieties of Organic Valley and Landmark.

How can I prevent mushrooms from spoiling so quickly?

Mushrooms are best stored in a paper bag rather than plastic, as the latter retains moisture, causing them to decay faster. Mushrooms must be handled with TLC, cleaned with a brush to remove sand and grit from the ridges and pits, never using water that will tamper with the flavor.

What’s all the hype about kosher salt?

Kosher salt is so named for its ideal use in koshering meats according to kashrut traditions of draining out blood from animals. Top chefs are enamored with kosher salt that is typically pristine without any additives including iodine, giving it a pure salty taste.

It is also a larger grain with a flat, platelet shape endowing it with a bigger surface area, making it easier to grip in the fingers and control the quantity when flavoring dishes. While kosher salt is superb for lining the rims of margarita glasses, sprinkling on homemade pretzels and grilled veggies, it is not suitable for baking as it doesn’t dissolve readily.

— For additional fool-proof recipes, e-mail