May 15, 2014

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve been feeling pretty stuck lately. It has been one long school year, and I just know the finish line can’t be too far away, but I can’t quite see it yet.

You know how they say it’s “not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Referring to whatever grueling long-term goal one is trying to achieve.

I am at the part of the marathon where I would really really like to stop running and have some red Gatorade and a free hot dog.

I made these cookies to get myself unstuck.

Okay so I guess normally marathoners don’t eat spoonfuls of cookie dough as they jog along but I can only take these metaphors so far.

Don’t you feel better just seeing pictures of these little joy-filled treats between each of my sentences? I’m not trying to bring you down here. I’m lifting you up in the end. I promise.

I have posted about my go-to recipe for chocolate chip cookies before. Yup, it’s still the Nestle Tollhouse version. Yep, I still think it’s awesome and delicious.

Until I tried adding browned butter. Suddenly, I felt myself get a little unstuck. A little less exhausted.

The only thing better than a regular chocolate chip cookie is the kid of chocolate chip cookie that is just enough flat with crispy edges and a warm toffee crunchy taste with a gooey inside. That is this cookie.

Yes, it’s an extra bowl. Yes, it takes a few extra minutes longer to brown and then cool the butter. But come on folks, we are running a marathon here! It’s worth it.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Nestle Tollhouse

Ingredients:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or whatever odd assortment you have in your cupboard – mine had mini chips, milk chips, and semi-sweet)

Melt the butter in a pan, swirling it as it melts. Have a heat-proof bowl at the ready. You want to continue cooking the butter as it begins to crackle and foam. Don’t leave its side. Stick with it. Continue to swirl the pan often, keeping it close to the heat. The butter is browned as soon as it begins to smell nutty and you start to see little golden brown bits forming at the bottom of the pan. Let this continue for all of 5-10 seconds and then pour all the butter into the bowl, scraping all those delicious browned bits in with the melted butter. If you leave it in the pan or let it cook too long, it will burn. You will know if it burns. It will smell burned. Put the butter into the fridge for a while until it is pretty cool/lukewarm to the touch.

Meanwhile, mix/sift together the flour, salt, baking soda. In a separate bowl, cream the two types of sugar with the eggs. You want to use a hand mixer (or stand mixer) and beat these together a good long while until they become light and fluffy  – you want that sugar to get dissolved for that smooth toffee taste. Mix in the vanilla, and then slowly add the cooled brown butter, scraping in all the good browned bits at the bottom. If it is still a little warm, just pour a very small bit of the butter in to even out the temperatures, and then add the rest. Mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough onto trays  and pop in the freezer or fridge while the oven preheats to 350 degrees F. This helps the cookies hold their texture/shape in the oven. If you want, you can even store some of the cookie balls in a tupperware in the freezer to be baked off later.

Bake cookies in 350 degree oven for about 11 minutes for larger cookies (1 1/2 T size scoops) or 7 minutes for smaller cookies (1 1/2 t size scoops). They are done when the outsides are set and the tops are soft, but not raw and jiggly. Let cool on the pan for 2-3 minutes, and then cool on wire rack.

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May 12, 2014

Make-it-work Monday: Homemade Tacos

 

I used to have this little code that I would text to my housemate/co-chef Vinny. I would say something like “taco tuesday?!?” but I would really mean something like “I am exhausted and starving and have been working for 12 hours and have no plans of what to make for dinner can you pretty please with extra cheese make tacos tonight?”

Lo and behold I would walk in the door to the spicy smells of cumin and ground beef, finished to perfection and waiting for us to devour while watching Friday Night Lights/Dexter/So You Think You Can Dance. So two points here: tacos are a great comfort after a busy day and Vinny is basically the best friend ever.

Now I am the chief taco maker, although the Mr. is pretty handy on taco night too. The reason they are a great Make-it-work Monday choice is that they are quick, pretty cheap, and adaptable.

1. Meat: They are great with ground beef or ground turkey (healthier choice). Either of these meats can go straight from the freezer into the skillet in a pinch, although it’s obviously better to thaw first. I used to use El Paso taco seasoning packets, but recently have started making my own seasoning (see below). This is a) more delicious b) lower in sodium and weird ingredients and c) cheaper.

2. Toppings: I usually chop up some tomatoes and lettuce (ice berg, romaine, whatever I have on hand) and then grab some cheese and sour cream and taco sauce/hot sauce for the Mr. For cheese, I really do like to buy the “taco” pre-shredded cheese… so sue me. I buy a big bag and then freeze it in little ziplocs – ready to pull out on any taco night and it will melt right away. Or you can grate some cheddar – whatever floats your boat. Feel free to add any other toppings that come to mind – like a little avocado or beans or whatever.

3. Vehicle: I usually use 6-8 inch flour tortillas. Right before serving, I heat up a dry skillet and flip flop the tortillas on the pan until they are warm. You can also microwave them, although that makes them a bit more limp. I have also been known to use taco leftovers in taco salad. Just flip flop the whole idea and fill a bowl with romaine and then dump all the above mentioned items on top. Serve with chips if you have some handy.

It may not be glamorous, but its dinner! MAKE IT WORK!

Taco Night with Homemade Taco Seasoning 

makes about 6T (enough for 3lbs of meat)

2 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons corn starch

Mix all ingredients together and store in glass jar in your pantry!

To use, brown ground beef or turkey in a skillet. Drain off excess fat. Add 1/4 cup water and 2 Tablespoons of seasoning mix and stir. Cook a few more minutes until mixture thickens.

Heat tortillas and assemble tacos with meat and whatever toppings you fancy, like cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. Enjoy with a Corona and a best friend.

 

May 10, 2014

The Pursuit of Perfect Pie: Part 1

 

As a teacher, I spend a lot of time thinking about kids’ strengths and weaknesses. Use the strengths, strengthen the weaknesses, you probably can imagine how it goes.

We don’t usually get to choose our strengths and weaknesses. Like, I would really like to be good at making bread. And I’m sure that if I really really stuck with it and practiced, I would get better (kinda like those multiplication facts, kids). But after several mediocre loaves have emerged from my oven, I am coming to realize that bread is not my strength. I would also really like to be good at running long distances, remembering directions, and not leaving the oven on all night, but that’s for another post.

I am choosing pie. Pie is going to be my strength. See, I can make a pretty darn good pie. It’s not bragging, it’s just a fact. Plus I had a really really good teacher –  my Grandma Snow.

But I am not completely satisfied. I am on the quest this summer for the perfect pie. My pie adventure will include a lot of golden brown crusts, juicy berries, and full tummies.

This apple pie is my basic go-to recipe. It’s mostly from Martha, not going to lie. I have been using her pie crust for a while and I am pretty happy. It is an all-butter crust that comes together pretty easily and always has pretty good results. My Grandma Snow is a champion of the lard crust, but we will discuss that another day. This butter crust is very flavorful and bakes up very flaky and crisp. I have used it for quiches too – it can definitely go sweet or savory with just a little dash of sugar in there.

So let’s call this apple pie my baseline. It’s really solid. But I’m going to step away from it now and try some new things. (Step away from the pie.) Join me in my pursuit of perfect pie!!

First a lesson in crust.

All-Butter Crust (Or Pate Brisee if you want to get fancy)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

In a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients together a few times. Then chuck the cold butter cubes in there and pulse some more until it looks like coarse wet sand. Drizzle in 1/4 cup ice water a little at a time until the dough starts to come together. In your food processor it might not come together but have faith. If you pinch it together, the dough should hold together. If it doesn’t, keep drizzling in a little water. Dump it out on a floured counter and work the dough into a ball. Try not to work it too much, just get it together. Split the dough in half and make two discs. Put them in a tupperware or plastic wrap (if you hate the environment) and chill them for at least an hour before using, or up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to go, take one of your discs out of the fridge and roll it out until it is an inch or so bigger than your pie dish. At first it will be very hard to roll but just put a little muscle in it and it will become your friend. As though dough spreads, make quick, short rolling motions from the center of the pie going out, rather than back and forth back and forth. It just is better, trust me. Slide the dough into your pie plate and use kitchen scissors to trim around the edge, leaving a mostly even 1″ overhang all the way around. If you have some uneven spots, feel free to get a patchwork thing going on. Stick it back in the fridge while you roll out the top crust.

Roll out the top crust the same way, but feel free to do something fancy like cut out cute shapes. At the very least, make a few slits in the top for air to escape. Save the cute shapes on the side – we will attach them later with pie crust glue (i.e. beaten egg). Chill all pieces until you’ve got your filling ready to go.

 

Apple Pie
adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients

Full recipe of pie dough (see above), rolled out and chillin’ in the fridge
2 Tablespoons flour
8-12 apples (I like a variety of sweet and tart – more research on this to come!), peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4-1/2 cup granulated sugar (do this to taste! I personally like a lot less sugar in my pies, and it also depends on how many apples you put in)
2 Tablespoons (a.k.a. a few squeezes) lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (or a little less if you are not a huge nutmeg person)
2 Tablespoons of cold butter
1 egg, beaten
sanding sugar for top of pie (optional)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees  F. Mix together the apples, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix em’ well so all the yummy elements get evenly distributed.

Pull your chilled pie crusts out of the fridge, and pour the apple mixture into the bottom crust. Sprinkle little chunks of cold butter across the top. Brush around the rim of the bottom crust with a little beaten egg. Carefully lay the top crust over. Tuck the top crust edge over and under the bottom crust edge and crimp all the way around. If you want to attach any little cut outs, use the beaten egg like glue. Then, brush the entire crust with a thin layer of beaten egg, and sprinkle coarse sanding sugar (or regular granulated sugar) over the top.

Bake in the 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes, then turn down to 375 degrees and bake until crust is golden, and juices are bubbling, about another 45-55 minutes. If the top starts to get to o brown, put some tinfoil around the edges or over the top. Let pie cool on a wire rack for at least 20-30 minutes before eating.

May 5, 2014

Introducing…Make-it-work Monday

When I started this blog I was a free-spirited college student living 5 minutes from home with nothing to do on the weekends but spend hours in my parents’ kitchen, creating magic out of all their flour and butter. I would sometimes spend an entire Saturday making 4 different creations with complicated steps and new techniques.

Oh, to be young again! My own grow-up kitchen is just as busy, and I’m still known to spend quite a few hours there on the weekends. The difference is that I am now in charge of actually feeding two humans and a little cat, so I can’t waste time on frivolities! Dinner’s gotta get on that table! And hopefully it should have some nutritional value beyond chocolate.

Disclaimer: I have the best human to cook for in the world. He will quite literally eat anything I put in front of him, with a smile and a thank you, and then do the dishes.

Second Disclaimer: I still waste time on frivolities. I can’t stop. I love dessert and I love kitchen adventures.

Anyways, I have been learning a lot about cooking real food over the past few years, and I think it’s time to bring that to this blog. So I am going to attempt a weekly series called Make-it-work Mondays, where I write a quickie blog post about getting a yummy, nutritious meal out on the table. I will focus on meals that can either be made ahead, or can be made in 30-45 minutes on a busy weeknight. No guarantee of glamour, or of perfection.

In case you missed the reference, “make it work” is a reference to the fabulous Tim Gunn, who always tells the contestants on the reality fashion design show Project Runway that no matter what, they have to make it work and send SOMETHING down that runway.

Cut to my kitchen. The garlic has burned. I’m out of rosemary. I forgot to thaw the chicken. I have make-it-work moments every day in my kitchen.

So for the first Make-it-work Monday, I bring you Creamy Tomato Tortellini with Sausage and Spinach. Oh gosh. That is SO not a glamorous name. But it sure was yummy, and so easy to make! I also, in true make-it-work fashion, barely had time to take pictures before we had gobbled it up. You could seriously play with this recipe – change or add more veggies, alter the ratio of tomato to creamy, whatever floats your boat. Just MAKE IT WORK!

Creamy Tomato Tortellini with Sausage and Spinach
inspired by Everyday Reading

Ingredients:

16 oz bag of frozen tri-color tortellini
4-6 sweet italian sausage links
2 cloves garlic, peel still on
about half a jar of tomato sauce
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (original recipe uses half and half – but this is a GREAT tangy sub) several handfuls of baby spinach
handful slow roasted tomatoes**
**On the weekend, I slice up a large handful or two of cherry/grape tomatoes, toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of basil and roast them in a 250 degree oven for a few hours until they burst and wrinkle. They give a really nice pop of tart tomato taste. If you don’t have time, you could substitute jarred sun-dried tomatoes or even roasted red peppers.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the sausages out on a rimmed baking tray and also toss the two garlic cloves (peel still on) on the tray too. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning the sausages halfway through, or until sausages are no longer pink when you cut into the middle. Let cool 5 minutes or so, and then slice into half circles (bite size pieces). I actually made these ahead too and stored them (whole) in the fridge for up to a day before slicing and adding to meal.  Also slice off one end of the garlic cloves and squeeze out the yummy roasted insides. Use a knife to roughly chop/mash it up.

Meanwhile, cook the tortellini according to the package. Save about 1/2 cup of the pasta water for the sauce. Drain in colander and set aside.

Swirl a little olive oil in a large frying pan and add the sausage slices, garlic mash, and roasted tomatoes. Add in the tomato sauce, and then slowly stir in the greek yogurt. Add in the tortellini and spinach (pull off any large stems or tear any huge pieces) all at once. Add in the pasta water a little at a time until the sauce seems to be the right consistency – not too thick, not too watery. If it gets to watery, just let it cook a few minutes. Stir and cook until spinach wilts. Serve sprinkled with parmesan or just plain!

May 2, 2014

Sprinkle Sugar Cookies

 

These cookies are so many things for me right now.

The rainbow sprinkles are a blast of childhood nostalgia, the cookie choice of any kid. Oh wait. I still order rainbow sprinkles on every soft serve cone ever. And my blog is sprinkle themed. But still… childhood.

 

The soft-slightly-underbaked texture have that naughty ready-to-bake-Pillsbury-gold-crap thing going on. But they are also undeniably homemade.

The sweet vanilla sugar taste is seriously launching me into spring. There are sugar cookies for winter and there are sugar cookies for spring. Did you know that? I’m telling you that these are sugar cookies for spring.

I can’t claim much credit for the creation of these beauties. I pinned them on Pinterest from Averie Cooks, a blog I have admired for a long time but surprisingly haven’t mentioned here yet.  I followed the recipe pretty darn closely with just a few minor changes. I can however claim credit for those three that disappeared yesterday morning. Oops.

This is my new go-to drop sugar cookie. I like my roll out sugar cookies thin, crisp and buttery. I like my drop sugar cookies thick, chewy, and buttery. This recipe is so right it’s almost wrong.

Sprinkle Sugar Cookies
adapted slightly from Averie Cooks

makes about 25-30 cookies using a 1 1/2 T scoop

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 T vanilla extract
3 cups AP flour
4 t corn starch
1 1/2 t baking soda
pinch of salt (if you used salted butter – leave out)
about 1 c sprinkles – or more to taste

Directions:

Cream together the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until very light and fluffy. Don’t short-change this step – it takes a good 5-7 minutes with a mixer! Sift in the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Fold in the sprinkles with a spatula.

Scoop the cookies onto a baking sheet and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Just as noted in the original recipe, this step is super important to getting the right shape/consistency in the cookies. At this point you can either transfer dough balls to freezer or bake right away. I like to freeze them and just bake off a few at a time straight from the freezer since its just me and the Mr.

Bake cookies at 350 degree oven for about 8-9 minutes (plus a few if coming out of the freezer). Cookies should still be pale but the edges should be starting to set. These are best if they are still nice and soft in the middle, and they will continue to set as you let them cool on the pan for 2-5 minutes and then remove to a wire cooling rack.