Chocolate Chip Cookies

May 31, 2011

Okay. So let's avoid all the flowery ho-hum and get right down to business, people. These cookies are A-MAZ-ING. They are so good, in fact, that I just might call them The Greatest Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever to be Invented by Man. Actually, I just decided - I will call them that. Here, before your lucky little eyes, you see The Greatest Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever to be Invented by Man. I know that's saying a lot. But seriously, you have to try these.

Everyone's got their favorite. These are mine.

By far.

Here is why:

1. They're BIG.
2. They're crispy and a little crunchy on the edges.
3. They're gooey and chewy in the middle.
4. They're mostly about cookie goodness - not so much about tooth-aching sweet.
5. You put salt on top, which sounds weird, but is so wonderful.
6. They have an amazing complex, caramelized, sophisticated flavor. Really.
7. They have lots and lots of delicious chocolate pieces inside them. Each bite is like a fantastic chocolate circus in your mouth. Amazing, right? I know, tell me about it.
8. And... Okay, I just love them. I could eat them all day long. And all night long, too. (If I could eat while sleeping, that is.)

So make them. (And please read the notes below. They are very important.)

Happy cookie making, cookie dough sneaking, and cookie nirvana eating.

Notes: I think there are three things that this recipe really has going for it: 1) The combination of bread and cake flours. The texture of these cookies is awesome. Most cake flours are bleached, which means lots of processing and chemicals. I use King Arthur's brand of cake flour, which is unbleached. 2) Let the dough rest for at least 24 hours, as the recipe states. It's amazing the transformation the flavors take on. So worth it. The resting allows the liquids in the dough to be absorbed, giving you a firmer dough that bakes up into thick, chewy, caramel-y, sophisticated cookies. And, 3) Please use some really good-quality chocolate here. I love Ghiradelli's 60% cacao bittersweet baking chips. They're find-able, affordable, and de-lish. I use about two cups of the chips as they are, and then I roughly chop the remaining 1/2 cup to distribute even more chocolate in each cookie. If you want to splurge, (oh man!) go for these. Or these. Oh, annnd also, sometimes I like to add about 2 cups of chopped, toasted walnuts or pecans. Your choice.

Adapted from The New York Times, courtesy of this gentleman. Let's just call him the Chocolate Genius, shall we?

This post linked to Real Food Wednesdays and Sweet as Sugar

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

May 29, 2011

Raise your hand if you like peanut butter. Ah, yes, I see. You all do. That's good. I do too. In fact, I really like peanut butter. I didn't always, though. You see, when I was little, the only thing "peanut butter" that I'd eat was Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. No PB & J sandwiches, no PB cookies, and certainly not a scoop right from the jar! The horror.

One time I remember I had the hick-ups and my sister told me that if I wanted to get rid of them I'd have to eat a spoonful of peanut butter from the jar. I must have been pretty desperate for a cure because I somehow summoned the courage and did that thing where you plug your nose so you can't taste what's in your mouth. As soon as the peanut butter was down, I unplugged my nose and remember immediately tasting what I then thought was a repulsive flavor. (Annnnd it didn't even cure my hick-ups! What a crock.)

I'm not sure what remedied my dislike of peanut butter, though I do remember an instance when I realized it might not be too bad. I was probably in the 5th grade when I came home from school one day to quite the surprise. Mom had just pulled fresh cookies out of the oven and there they sat, warm on the counter. I was so excited because this pretty much never happened. Mom said they were Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. Immediately I fell from pure elation at the fact that Mom had made cookies to utter disappointment that they were peanut butter. "She finally makes cookies for an after school snack and she makes peanut butter cookies?!" Well, I was somehow convinced to try one and lo and behold! I liked it. Loved it, actually. And that was that. Now I would eat Reese's and Mom's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. Progress...

Which brings us to today. I'm happy to report that I've made even more progress. (I feel like I'm reporting to some recovering addict group or something when I say that...) Though I don't find myself practicing restraint when a jar of peanut butter is near and I have a spoon in hand, I do like me some peanut butter. Preferably with a little oatmeal, flour, butter, and sugar. But that's the best way to have most things, wouldn't you agree?

I think it would now be appropriate for me to share the recipe for Mom's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. But we have a problem, because I didn't make them. Soooo, I'll make them soon-ish and then you'll all see why they cured me of Peanut-Butter Hate. But for now, these little sandwich treats are amazing. You're not receiving the short end of the stick by not getting Mom's cookie recipe today, I promise.

I've made these little guys many, many times and they do not disappoint. Consider them a more-refined version of peanut butter cookies. These cookies are delicate yet full of peanut butter flavor. They are nutty and creamy and crumbly and they melt in your mouth like only a good peanut butter cookie can do. I don't really know what else to say about them except that they are SO good. And I really want you to make them because, as we have just established, we all love us some peanut butter, right?

Notes: I've made my regular substitutions to the original recipe, but if you don't have whole-wheat pastry flour or sucanat, you can use all-purpose and brown sugar in their place. The filling recipe makes more than I've ever needed for one batch, but I suppose it all depends on how much filling you like in your cookies. Try the whole recipe for the filling and if you have left-overs, hey, you've got an excuse to make more cookies, right? Also, I discovered that I prefer these straight from the freezer. They don't get rock-hard like most cookies do when you freeze them for some reason, they just get really good. How's that for vague? :) Of course, they're lovely at room-temperature, too. Enjoy!

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Spinach Strata

May 25, 2011

The garden out back is beginning to produce an array of beautiful vegetables. My dad is an avid gardener, and those vegies are like his little babies. He grows everything from seed - beginning in a make-shift "greenhouse" he places beside our grand piano. As the weeks progress, the little black tubs of plants begin to overflow and create a small forest in the front room. (Apparently this is the best space in the house for as much sunlight as possible. He says he needs the space until he builds himself a real greenhouse outside. Mom is very patient and goes along with it well... Happy to see the fruits of her husband's in-door jungle when she bites into a juicy, ripe, rosy-red tomato in August.)

We've been munching on crisp spinach leaves for several weeks now. The earthy, fresh flavor of just-harvested greens is hard to beat. To me, spinach + olive oil + lemon is a trio made in heaven. At dinner, I love the leaves dressed simply - with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. But at breakfast, fresh spinach decorated throughout a rustic strata and combined with a bit of feta and oregano is the perfect way to start the day.

I have been making this strata almost weekly since I first discovered it. It is hearty, moist, and extremely flavorful. The top gets nice and brown in the oven, creating a lovely crunch. I admit, I've been guilty of stealing extra crispy bits to put on my breakfast plate. With the subtle, light taste of lemon, a bit of olive oil fruitiness, and a little saltiness from the feta, this strata is wonderful. I might also add that it is a snap to mix up. You put it all together the night before you want to serve it, and then bake it in the morning. I think this strata is a perfect way to use some of the abundant spinach out back. Dad agrees.

Notes: I've increased the bread quantity slightly because I found the strata a bit wet with just the 8 ounces originally called for. If you don't have day-old bread, you can dry fresh bread in an oven heated to 250°F for 10 to 15 minutes. I've been making this with regular homemade whole-wheat sandwich bread, but any dense whole-grain bread will do.

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day

Barley & Millet Risotto

May 21, 2011

Arborio rice is an Italian short-grain rice that is traditionally used to make risotto. When cooked, the grains become creamy and chewy - perfect for a comforting dish like risotto. Here, instead of using the traditional arborio rice, I used barley, which still creates that creamy, chewy texture, but is a bit more wholesome. The addition of a little millet to this risotto is also nice - for added nutrition, texture, and flavor. This risotto makes for a lovely lunch or a nice side dish for dinner.

Risotto can be adapted a million different ways. The version I have pictured includes some quartered cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds, a bit of fresh oregano, and a drizzle of olive oil. You can use this risotto recipe as a springboard for all kinds of flavor combinations. I have included a few of my own ideas in the recipe below, but definitely experiment. And if you do, let me know what you like!

Notes: If you'd like to make this a full meal that is a little more substantial, you might try some grilled chicken or a fried egg on top. If you are lucky enough to find it, farro is a great and delicious substitution to the barley, but both work equally well.

Adapted from 101 cookbooks

This post linked to The Nourishing Gourmet

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

May 20, 2011

Upon first seeing this recipe, I thought it sounded a little... strange. Rosemary is a savory ingredient and chocolate is not, though I found the idea of combining the two intriguing. Sometimes opposites compliment each other, as this cake clearly demonstrates. I've found that in cooking and baking it's often these kind of unexpected pairings that bring complexity and intrigue to the final product. Such trials of seemingly-unusual flavor pairings make spending time in the kitchen so exciting and fun for me. Especially when the results promise such a stunning treat.

This cake is one of my absolute favorites. Rosemary, chocolate, and olive oil create a memorable and interesting-in-a-very-good-way cake that is completely delightful. Each bite is flecked with rosemary shards and chocolate pieces. The olive oil brings a subtle fruitiness and keeps the cake extremely moist. Although the rosemary is not overpowering, it adds a subtle complexity to the cake that is most delightful.

So here I present my idea of a perfect snack cake, if there ever was one. I really hope you'll give it a try. You might be surprised just how much you love this cake.

Notes: I have baked this cake is several different pans. My latest favorite pan to use is a new, small, 6-cup bundt (as shown above). You can also bake it in a 9x5 loaf pan, a 9-inch cake pan, or a 9-inch flauted tart pan. The sugar sprinkled over the top of the cake adds a wonderful crunch. I left it off in the picture above because I planned on inverting the cake, but then decided that I liked the rustic look of the 'underside' and made that the top. And finally, if you prefer, you may substitute all-purpose flour for the spelt and whole-wheat.

Adapted from Good to the Grain

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Sage Croutons

May 19, 2011

Since Spring just can't decide if it's time to arrive in this part of the world or not, I've taken advantage of the wet, cold, totally-un-spring-y weather, and have been making soup. Lots of warm soup. You'd think it was winter or something.

Anyhow, this soup is my favorite butternut squash soup I've tried. I've made variations - some with apples, others with mascarpone cheese, and a few with curry. But this simple version I'm sharing today brings out the flavor of the butternut just perfectly so that it is the star. No distractions here - just sweet, earthy squash - accentuated by a touch of sage and a little garlic. Sage is a natural companion to butternut squash, to which pairing I am partial. It's one of my favorite fall flavor combinations. (Ahem... fall? I know, it's May, right?)

So if your neck of the woods is experiencing a delightful sun-shiny springtime, maybe bookmark this soup for use in a few months, and be looking forward to it!

Notes: I made just a few changes to the recipe - adding a little more garlic and adjusting the roasting method a little. The sage croutons are wonderful, by the way. They add a pleasant crunch. If you are running short on time, you can leave them off, but just plan to make them the next time around - you'll be glad you did.

Adapted from Cooking After Five

Oat Soda Bread

May 11, 2011

Do you ever crave fresh homemade bread but don't have the time or patience to wait a few hours for yeast to work its magic? I certainly do. And lucky us, I have the solution to our little predicament right here. It's called soda bread. Have you heard of it? Soda bread isn't made with soda - as in soda pop - no, soda bread is made with baking soda as the leavener, and when combined with buttermilk, wonderful things happen, like bread rises.

Soda bread is known for its very short ingredient list, usually going something a little like this: flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. Sometimes people like to add raisins or nuts to their soda bread, but I like to keep mine pretty simple. Here is a wonderful version of soda bread made with oats, which provide just a touch of sweetness and texture.

Delicious, warm, hearty homemade bread in less than an hour? Yep. I speak the truth. Serve this bread warm with a slather of salted butter, or alongside a steaming bowl of soup, even toasted with a shmear of peanut butter... you can imagine the possibilities. I told you I had the solution to our little predicament. And a pretty darn good solution it is, might I say.

Notes: This recipe calls for oat flour. If you are more likely to have some rolled oats on hand, I've included below the recipe how to make your own oat flour with rolled oats. If you already have oat flour in your pantry, go ahead and use it! Also, if you would like, you can use a full 2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour, instead of the whole-wheat pastry and all-purpose combo.

Adapted from 101 cookbooks

Quiche Lorraine

May 10, 2011

My dad is quite the cheese, bread, and pastry connoisseur. Living in southern Belgium and northern France for a couple of years can do that kind of thing to you, especially when you're a young guy spending your days on feet in the towns and cities. I wonder how many stops in the abundant patisseries and chocolate shops he took. (What a life!) Anyway, a few years ago, he took one of my sisters and me on a 2-week vacation to Europe. We visited France and Belgium during our stay and also took a detour through Holland, where our ancestors are from. If asked to choose my favorite place we visited during our trip, I wouldn't be able to. There are aspects about each country that I fell completely in love with. The windmills of Holland are incomparable, while Belgium boasts world-class frites. France, of course, with the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, is simply top-notch.

While staying in Paris, the three of us would grab a quick bite every morning at a little patisserie just around the corner from our hotel. This cute shop had it all: all kinds of baguettes, eclairs, tarts, mille feuilles, macarons, croissants, gateaus, and quiche. Oh, the quiche! I would order a quiche lorraine every morning and enjoy it on the park bench outside. The quiche at this little patisserie were perfect - a lovely buttery and flaky crust encompassed a rich, smooth custard that had just the right amount of bacon and onion. If only I could start every day just that way - sitting on a park bench in France with a quiche in hand.

Until I make it back to that French patisserie, I will have to do with my own version of quiche lorraine. Wait, did I just say "have to do"? Actually, I don't think this quiche merely "has to do" in place of an authentic French one, because it is wonderful, if I do say so myself. While enjoying our dinner the other night, I asked everyone's opinions of the quiche. In the words of my dad, "This is just as good as any I've had in Europe - if not better!" And then he helped himself to another slice.

It is so good.

Notes: Yes, the recipe is long. Yes, it takes time and a bit of planning ahead. Yes, it is worth it. Start the crust just after lunch and you should be prepared. Read the recipe through all the way before beginning, too, as is always wise. I made this recipe exactly as it was originally written, with exclusively all-purpose flour. I think I'll try it again using half whole-wheat pastry flour; I expect that it would work quite well. The authors note that to prevent the crust from sagging during the blind baking step, you need to make sure that it overhangs the pan's edge and use plenty of pie weights - about 3 to 4 cups. Also, it is important to note that this is a deep dish quiche, which is more authentic to the region from which it hails (France!). This recipe has been created for a 2-inch-deep cake pan to accommodate all of the filling - be sure to use the correct pan! I think you could easily use a 9-inch spring-form pan, too, because they tend to be at least 2-inches deep.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, July & Aug. 2010

Garlic-Potato Soup

May 6, 2011

I realize it is now the month of May and soup season has pretty much left us, but I just have to share this recipe. And anyways, the weatherman says that a storm will roll through our area this weekend, so that is my other excuse for talking about soup on this lovely, sunny, and 73-degree spring day.

This potato soup is similar to the typical kinds of potato soup: chunky, thick, and satisfying. BUT it is different because it is the best potato soup in the world (I know! Isn't that great!) and it is so very flavorful, thanks to the gracious amount of tasty garlic in it. It even has garlic chips! (Read on, they're fab...) If you haven't noticed, I have a thing for garlic. We're pretty much BFF, you know.

Notes: I slightly upped the salt in my version because I felt the soup needed just a little more kick to pronounce the flavors more clearly. The original calls for 3/4 teaspoon, but taste as you go and adjust to your personal preferences. I also used water instead of chicken broth, and either will work great. Lastly, if leeks are not available, you can substitute and equal amount of yellow onion.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, March & April 2007

Coconut Cake with Chocolate Chunks & Coconut Drizzle

May 2, 2011

I was a Girl Scout back in the day. You know, the signature green and brown vests with badges, camping trips, service projects, plenty of silly songs, crafts, and games... (the last three being essential life-saving skills, mind you). Wait, I'm forgetting something, you say? Oh yes. That's right. Girl Scout cookies. Silly me, to forget. I don't know how many boxes of cookies I sold during my scouting days, but it was a lot. I remember the Thin Mint cookies were always the most popular. My personal favorites were the Samoa cookies, though. Chewy, chocolaty, and nutty from the toasted coconut. A glass of milk was a must with these little treats - dunking was certainly necessary. Selling boxes upon boxes of the various signature cookies was always an exciting part of being a Girl Scout.

I was immediately reminded of Girl Scout Samoas when taking my first bite of this cake. Although there is no caramel in it, as there is in the cookies, this cake is very moist and has a perfectly subtle coconut flavor. The chocolate chunks are rich and the coconut on top is crunchy and barely sweet. The cake is best served with a tall glass of milk. (Though dunking is not necessarily suggested...)

Notes: I have made this cake several times, playing around with different ratios of flour types, and have found the following combination of whole-wheat pastry and all-purpose flours to provide the most appealing crumb. You may certainly use exclusively all-purpose, if you wish. Also, I love this cake best when made with coconut oil because it lends an extra kick of creamy coconut flavor. If you don't have coconut oil on hand, butter also makes a rich and delicious cake. Coconut milk is sold in cans, typically near the Asian foods at the grocery. Be sure to not use "light" coconut milk - it is too watery for the cake. You can play around a little with the flavorings for fun, if you'd like. I think next time I make this I'm going to try it by leaving out the orange zest, and instead of vanilla, use almond extract. Have fun and enjoy!

Adapted from Bon Appetit, also found here

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