Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know everyone has had one of those really rough, awful, no good, exhausting, all around bad days. Today was one of those for me - I won't whine about it here though. But after a day like that, there is only one thing that can make me feel better: gooey, warm, delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies, hot out of the oven. So today when I got home feeling utterly dejected and defeated I put on my apron and started eating the second the cookies came off the cookie sheet.

Now, I promise that this won't be the only chocolate chip cookie recipe you see on this website (as a matter of fact, there is already a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie recipe a few posts back). I love chocolate chip cookies, and I have at least a dozen more recipes that look promising. But here is a good one to start with (from SmittenKitchen no less). I don't have many photos of this because my camera battery went dead, but that doesn't lessen the deliciousness of the cookies.

Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. (I have a seriously amazing pan that is completely nonstick so i didn't bother with the parchment, but if you don't have an awesome pan like me, you might want to go ahead)

2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.

3. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

4. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand (i used my trusty rubber spatula). Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time (for giant cookies) or a tablespoon at a time (for smaller cookies) onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

5. Bake larger cookies for 15 to 17 minutes, or 10 to 12 minutes for smaller ones (check your cookies before they’re done; depending on your scoop size, your baking time will vary) in the preheated oven, or until the edges are just brown. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

And like magic, a bad day seems just a little bit better.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fall Foods

I have to apologize for my lack of posts in the last couple weeks. We finally moved out of our 404 sq foot studio apartment into a place with doors and a real bedroom and everything! It is just about the most amazing thing ever. And, our kitchen is incredible - granite counter tops and a gas stove! But back to what I was saying, to make up for my lack of recent posts, I'll try to post quite a bit over the next few weeks. Thankfully, it's getting cool outside and it's time to start making my absolute favorite fall foods, and even better, doing fall kinds of activities! Today we picked out and carved a pumpkin. Elvis (our dog) tried to help with the carving and found out that he doesn't really like eating chunks of pumpkin.

We loved that our pumpkin has warts!

I've got two recipes here for you, both from SmittenKitchen. Firstly, you should know that pumpkin flavored baked goods are pretty much my favorite things ever... expect a lot of pumpkin-related posts in the coming months. And the second thing you should know about me is that i LOVE baking bread. I'm not an expert at it, by any means, but it is just so good when it turns out right. So, here's what I got:

Pumpkin Muffins:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15 ounce can)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice*
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

*I didn't have pumpkin pie spice so i just put in a little bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves.

Preheat the oven to 350 and line muffin cups.

Whisk together the flour and baking powder. In a second larger bowl stir together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

Stir together cinnamon and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another bowl.

Divide batter among muffin cups, then sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack five minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack and cool to warm or room temperature. Or, you could do what Justin and I did which is to eat them immediately and burn your mouth pretty badly (it was so worth it).

I also told you I love homemade bread. It make the whole house smell good, tastes a million times better than store-bought bread, and it has to be healthier without all those preservatives. I don't often have time to make it, but every time i do get the chance I end up vowing to myself that I will find time every weekend. Unlikely. But really, it's easy, you just have to be able to spend the day at home since it takes so long.

Light What Bread (makes one two-pound loaf)

2 1/2 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons powdered milk*
1 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature

1. Start by mixing together the bread flour, whole wheat flour, sugar (if using), salt, powdered milk, and yeast. Add the shortening, honey (if using), and water. Stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until the ingredients form a ball. My ingredients never exactly form a ball, but they do come together quite nicely. If there is leftover flour in the bowl drizzle more water in slowly (i usually have to add about 1/16th to 1/8th of a cup - really not much). The dough should feel soft and supple but not too sticky. However, it is better for the dough to be too soft than too tough. Last time my dough was too tough it never rose and I had to throw the whole thing out.

2. Sprinkle high-gluten or whole-wheat flour on the counter, and transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Add more flour if needed to make a firm, supple dough that is slightly tacky but not sticky. Kneading should take about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The dough should register at 77 to 81 degrees F. I found it helpful to kneed by hand for about one minute to form the dough into a ball, then use my bread hook for another 5 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a slightly warm area.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl and press it by hand into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick, 6 inches wide, and 8 to 10 inches long. Form it into a loaf by working from the short side of the dough, rolling up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotation to strengthen the surface tension. It will spread wider as you roll it. Pinch the final seam closed with your thumbs. Place the loaf in a lightly oiled 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch bread pan; the ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise. Mist the top with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap.

5. Again, set your dough (in the bread pan) in a slightly warm area to rise for approximately 60 to 90 minutes (it generally takes me about 60 minutes), or until the dough crests above the lip of the pan.

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

7. Place the bread pan on a sheet pan and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the oven. The finished loaf should register 190 degrees F in the center, be golden brown on the top and the sides, and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

8. When the bread is finished baking, remove it immediately from the loaf pan and cool it on a rack for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours, before slicing or serving. My bread obviously never makes it to two hours of cooling, we're lucky to let it sit even one hour.

You can (if you don't eat it all in one sitting) pre-slice your loaf then freeze it to preserve freshness. Then, just take out slices and toast them up when you want to eat them throughout the week.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Perfect Cake

I had a really rough day yesterday. Just too many things went wrong - you know how those days are, right? So when i got home i thought to myself: "how can i salvage my day?". The solution: Put on some sweatpants, drink a glass of wine, and make a cake. Sometimes, sweets and sweats are the only thing that can make you feel better. The conclusion? Day was saved. And, SmittenKitchen really has found the perfect cake. It's just the icing I'm not completely sure about. But, if you don't mind things like sour cream, you might love the icing, plus, it really was the easiest icing i've ever made.

The truly PERFECT white cake:
It's light, fluffy, sweet, and divine in every sense of the word. This makes two 9" round cakes.

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Firstly, if you're like me, you might be the kind of person who doesn't always read the ingredients before you start making the cake. So, when i started this cake, i realized I didn't have any buttermilk, which, despite what my husband says, can be easily made. Just use 2 cups of milk and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. According to Joy the Baker ( you just need to top the lemon juice with with skim, low fat or whole milk. Stir and let sit for two minutes. After two minutes, your milk is both acidic and curdled. So there you go.

Now on to the cake, preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (I used a cooking spray the buttered the parchment paper). One tip for this is to spray your pan very well, then just cut the parchment in a circle to line the bottom of the pan, that way your cake doesn't come out all wrinkled.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Again... don't beat in your fork. It is NOT a good idea to try to get the flour off the top of the paddle attachment while it is mixing... At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated. I made a really big mess (as usual).

(this is a picture of my cool bowl scraping attachment)

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I, like smittenkitchen, enjoy dropping my pan on the counter from a couple inches up and making a lot of noise - i especially like doing this while i'm on the phone so i can be as disruptive as possible) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

The frosting is SO easy, but it tastes a little sour-cream-y to me. So i guess it depends on if you like sour cream or not.

This recipe makes 5 cups of frosting (more than enough to frost and fill a two layer 9-inch cake).

15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso (optional, but can be used to pick up the flavor of average chocolate - definitely good)
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Note: if your sour cream isn't at room temperature the chocolate will seize up when you add it.

Combine the chocolate and espresso powder in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. If you don't have a double-boiler you can always make do with a big pot and a slightly smaller pot on top, just make sure the top one doesn't fall off. Stir until the chocolate is melted. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, and then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is melted.) Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid.

(see the cool new trick i learned on photoshop? thanks dad!)

Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved. I added about 2 tablespoons.

Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. It took 20 or 30 minutes for me, and probably shouldn't take any longer than that. If the frosting becomes too thick or stiff, just leave it out until it softens again.

mmmm.... Day Saved

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pizza + Snickerdoodles

This morning while listening to "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've got love in my tummy" on repeat, I decided it was time to make Snickerdoodles again. The weather is finally turning cool, it's a little overcast, and it's the perfect day for something warm and cinnamony.

Of course, i turned to my favorite cooking-blog - SmittenKitchen for a recipe, and instead of simply starting my snickerdoodles, I started looking at the other recipes, and found one for pizza that I just couldn't pass up.

This Snickerdoodle recipe makes three dozen 3 to 4-inch cookies.
Ingredients are as follows:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 stick or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs

Start by mixing together the dry ingredients (flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt). In a separate bowl (preferably in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle blade) mix together the butter and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar till light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add in the eggs one at a time, then stir in dry ingredients. After it's all mixed together cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

When the dough is ready preheat the oven to 400 and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Scoop the dough out with a ice-cream scoop or cookie scoop of some sort (this helps with creating cookies of a uniform size that will cook evenly). Roll the cookies in the sugar and cinnamon mixture and place on cookie sheet leaving plenty of room between them to expand. I flattened mine with the palm of my hand so they wouldn't come out too puffy.

The rest of my day basically ended up being a sort of catastrophe, but still - it all came together in the end. After I decided I needed to make the pizza for dinner I called a couple girlfriends and planned a dinner-date. Unfortunately, once I got to the store to buy my pizza-makings, I discovered that Justin had taken my ID to the deer-lease with him for the weekend. And, given that the recipe calls for white wine, it wasn't really a good start to my cooking. After I got home I realized that the pizza probably wouldn't be enough for three people by itself, so i went back to the store, in the rain, for a second time. By the time I got home one of my friends had called and said her car wasn't working, so I drove out to pick her up. All in all, the cooking didn't get started till around 6:45 after everyone had arrived at my apartment.

The spinach artichoke dip is delicious and amazingly easy to make, but my camera has been malfunctioning and I didn't get any pictures of it at all. So, i'll post that one another time - and believe me, I will make it again!

But wow. This pizza is incredible. I won't lie - i'm a completely pizza connoisseur. I'm very picky about how I want my pizza, and I won't settle for just anything. Before this pizza, I actually thought that I didn't like homemade pizza! I was wrong.

(we put extra red pepper flakes on half, in case you can't tell)

This pizza serves 1-3 people, depending on what you serve with it. I stretched it for 3 people but we had already eaten quite a bit of spinach artichoke dip as well as a salad.

It may seem like a lot of work to make your own dough, but in this case, it is well worth it. And really, this isn't too bad at all.

6 tablespoons warm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more water)
2 tablespoons white wine
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour

Cornmeal for sprinkling
Flour for dusting counter
1/2 pound torn-up mozzarella
Few leaves of torn-up basil

Whisk wine, water and yeast in a medium bowl until yeast has dissolved. I added the yeast to the warm water, then added the wine after the yeast had dissolved. Remember, yeast needs warm, but not hot, water to activate. Add honey, salt and olive oil and stir. Add flour (it will look very dry) work it with a spoon and your fingers until it comes together as a dough. Add more water one tablespoon at a time if you need, I added 2 more tablespoons, but I really don't think it was necessary, next time I probably wont.

Sprinkle some flour on the counter and knead the dough for a minute or two.

Coat the inside of a medium bowl with olive oil. Put the dough in, cover it with plastic wrap or a dish towel, and let it rise for an hour or up to two, until it is doubled. Take heed... do NOT put the dough on the top of your stove thinking that the dough could use some extra heat to help it rise. It will cook the bottom of the dough. Yes, I did do that. And guess what - it didn't even matter! STILL DELICIOUS!

While dough is rising, make the sauce.

The sauce requires:
4 roma tomatoes
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced (I used about a tablespoon and a half of pre-minced garlic)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Splash of white wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt

Bring medium pot of water to a boil. Poach the tomatoes for one minute only, and then drain them. As soon as they are cooled off enough that you can touch them, peel them. The peels should come right off. The easiest way to do it is to use a knife to just make a slit in the skins then peel from there.

Drain and dry the pot. Put it back on the burner over medium heat. Pour in olive oil and let it heat completely before adding the garlic and stirring it for a minute with a wooden spoon. Add the red pepper flakes and stir it for anther minute. You do not want the garlic to brown. Put the peeled tomatoes in the pot, along with the wine, sugar and salt. Break the tomatoes up with your spoon. Be careful when breaking up the tomatoes, you don't want to splash yourself with hot oil, it hurts. (Also, I bought a wooden spoon specifically for this - i think it was worth it, it's a really pretty spoon).

Let the sauce simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down. Carefully taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. I didn't find it necessary to adjust the seasonings.

While your sauce is simmering turn back to your dough.

Preheat your oven to its highest temperature - mine goes to 500, I didn't use broil. Now, the directions I have say next "If you have a pizza stone, sprinkle it with cornmeal and put it in the oven. Otherwise, sprinkle a baking pan with the same." DO NOT DO THIS. I made a horrible stench of burned cornmeal - ick. Instead put your baking pan/ pizza stone in the oven, then sprinkle with corn meal just before putting your pizza on.

Once the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured counter and gently deflate the dough with the palm of your hands. Form it into a ball and let it rest on a floured spot with either plastic wrap over it (sprinkle the top of the dough with flour so it doesn’t stick) or an upended bowl. In 15 minutes, it is ready to roll out.

Do so on the floured counter until fairly thin (I think this can be done to taste), then lift it onto a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet or pizza paddle. Add the sauce, torn-up mozzarella and slivers of fresh basil. ** Note - I think it would be a good idea to blind-bake your pizza crust first. I like mine a little crispier so I will be doing so next time.

Bake for about 10 minutes, checking at 7. Slice and serve immediately.

Friday, October 2, 2009


My dad recently had a birthday, and I wanted to make him his favorite dessert - Flan. I was really really nervous about this. I've never made anything like flan. Luckily, everything went well and we came out with a perfect and delicious dessert! (I got this recipe from foodnetwork - its an Emril Lagasse one.)

Flan has relatively few ingredients.

1 3/4 cups sugar
1 quart milk (4 cups)
2 strips orange zest
2 strips lime zest
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise (i just used about 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
4 large eggs
6 large egg yolks

Start by making the caramel - in a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar with 1/4 cup of water, tilting the pot so that the water is evenly distributed. Cook over high heat (i used med-high), swirling the pan (but never stirring) until the sugar melts and turns to a deep amber color, 4 to 6 minutes. It takes a while to start looking brown, but once it starts it browns up pretty quickly. Immediately remove from the heat and, working very quickly, pour the caramel into a 2-quart porcelain casserole dish. Swirl the caramel to completely cover the bottom and partly up the sides of the casserole. Set aside to cool completely. I didn't have a casserole dish, though if you have one that's definitely best. I used a deep pie dish instead and it worked very well, though I did end up having a little extra of the custard that wouldn't fit.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the milk, remaining 3/4 cup of sugar, orange zest, lime zest, (i just used extra lime zest because i didn't have orange zest) and vanilla bean (in my case just plain vanilla) in a medium saucepan and bring mixture just to a boil. Cover pot and allow mixture to steep for 15 to 20 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs and egg yolks and whisk to combine. Add the hot milk mixture, little by little, and whisk lightly to combine. Be VERY careful when you temper the eggs or else you get custard with scrambled egg bits. If this happens you can use a fine sieve to strain out the egg bits.

Place the casserole in a larger baking dish or roasting pan and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the casserole. Again, I had to make shift, I only had a cake pan, so i balanced my pie dish on the sides of the cake pan. This is probably not safety-approved.

sorry it was really dark when i made the flan and my kitchen has terrible lighting.

Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the pan so that it is lightly covered and bake, undisturbed, until custard is just set, about 1 hour. (The timing may vary slightly depending on the baking dish used, mine took about an hour and a half) Remove the flan from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cool completely and transfer to the refrigerator and chill, preferably overnight.

If you want to serve this really decoratively you can run a sharp paring knife around the edge of the custard and shake the custard slightly to loosen. Invert an appropriately sized platter or serving dish over the casserole dish and, working quickly and holding both the casserole and the platter together, turn the casserole over and place the platter on a flat work surface. Gently lift the casserole off of the platter; the custard should gently fall from the casserole onto the platter. If not, tap the casserole and platter lightly on the work surface to help dislodge the custard. I have to warn you that this will not work if you use a pie dish with fluted edges. Either way, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to warm slightly before serving. Serve slices of the flan with some of the caramel sauce spooned over top.

Since I couldn't actually dump mine out I just settled for putting a candle in the top and then cutting slices out of it (like you would a pie)

My dad practically licked his plate!