Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The best chocolate chip cookies

Last Friday was my last day at a job I have worked at for 10 years. A job I love, where I have met many people I have loved. It is time to go but that doesn't make it any easier. 10 years. I grew up in these stores and found my confidence. I met important people. Great, wonderful people with whom I had so much fun. I was very happy there and I'm thankful for the whole dang adventure. I'm also pretty darn thankful for my next adventure, which I have been working towards for years. Life is good and unexpected.

My staff was pretty fantastic my last week with their kind words. Our production crew made me a feast of epic proportions. All the things I wanted to say to them were inadequate. So I made them chocolate chip cookies.  At time when words fail me, I find a chocolate chip cookie holds so many answers. But not just any chocolate chip cookie, the best chocolate chip cookie. I have references. I shared a chocolate chip cookie recipe when I started this blog that I swore was the best but after 100s of batches and tweaks, these have ousted them. I think they are cookie perfection.

These cookies taste a little caramelized from the brown butter. They have loft and chew. Refrigerating them for an hour or more is key and really helps enhance the flavor. Why? No idea. We will call it science. A pretty hefty pinch of salt takes them over the top.

I made them for my staff to say a million thanks. I made them for a little comfort in an emotional week. A chocolate chip cookie can be a powerful thing.

The best chocolate chip cookie
Makes about 18 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.

In a large sauce pan over high heat, add 10 tablespoons of butter. Watch the butter carefully. It will start to bubble, once the bubbles subside some you will see little brown flecks on the top. Pull off the heat. Add the rest of your butter and swirl to melt. Add an ice cube to cool the butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk your cooled butter with both sugars. Whisk in your egg and egg yolk until the surface of the batter looks shiny. Finally, whisk in the vanilla extract. Add your dry ingredients to this bowl and stir with a spatula to combine. Add your chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed.

Cover bowl and put in the fridge for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment. Spoon about 3 tablespoons worth of dough onto the parchment and repeat. Put the cookie sheets on the upper racks of your oven. Bake for 10-14 minutes. You want the edges just a little golden brown.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Cacio e Pepe

I forget the exact context but Blake and I were at our favorite restaurant the other night talking about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. The usual. I'm of course going on and on about all the things I want to do this year. Small thing. Big things. Things of happiness. 

And my husband, the ever practical, looks at me and comments that we may not be able to all those things this year. And my response to him, "why, not". Why can't we hit the road in Utah for 10 days, go to Yellowstone to see the wolves, eat at Denver's top 10 bakeries in a day, go to Red Rocks for a concert or 2, fish, and spend weekend trips in about 40 different wilderness areas. Apparently practically is not my thing, which is why we are good for each other. This conversation occurs while I am enjoying a rather large pizza and flight of beer. Clearly I'm not in the habit of denying myself the things that make me happy. 

So when a cheesy, peppery, noodle recipe keeps popping up in all my food magazines, I'm all in. Cheesy noodle delights are my jam. Cacio e pepe is a traditional Italian dish. It contains four ingredients that when combined create the most wonderful comfort dish. Simple to make and utterly enjoyable. 

Cacio e Pepe
Adapted from Date Night In, serves 4-6, 25 minutes to make

2 teaspoon salt
16 ounces spaghetti
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons pepper
1 1/2 cups parmesan 

Add salt to your pasta water and cook your pasta according to package directions. Before draining your pasta, remove a 3/4 cup of pasta cooking water and save. 

While the pasta cooks, melt butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Once melted, add the pepper. Let pepper infuse for a minute. 

Once the pasta has cooked, add reserved pasta water to butter and pepper. Let simmer 2 minutes over low heat. Add drained pasta to the pan and 1 cup parmesan and toss with tongs or a fork until cheese has melted. Serve with remaining parmesan sprinkled on top.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Fried cinnamon sugar bread

Sunday night's dinner this week consisted of corn beef and cabbage and fried cinnamon sugar bread for dessert. Maybe not the most likely of combos.

This is really like a big donut. And who doesn't want a big donut? I think you could make it for breakfast. A decadent breakfast but breakfast nonetheless. Or you could do as we did and make it for dessert. Or you could make it because it's Wednesday and Wednesdays call for fried sugary doughs.

I know most people fear frying. I'm here to tell you this is extremely simple and in my eyes quite fun. A very simple dough, a little oil in the pan, and loads of cinnamon sugar. It puffs up and becomes a chewy delight.

Fried cinnamon sugar bread
Makes 4 pieces
Time: 30 minutes hands off, 20 minutes hands on

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup canola oil
Generous amount of powdered sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling over the top
Honey for dipping

In a medium bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the middle and add your water. Mix together with a spatula. When mostly combined, knead a few times with your hands, until a smooth ball forms. Let rest covered for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Flour your kitchen counter or cutting board. Divide dough into 4 pieces and roll out until about 1/4" thick. With a knife, make a small slice in the center of the dough.

Line a large plate with paper towels.

In a large saute pan over high heat, add your oil. You want the oil to be hot. Look for it to start glistening. One at a time add your dough rounds. Let cook about 2 minutes a side, flipping with a fork. Transfer to your paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Dip into honey. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The important places and trail mix cookies

Last week Blake and I attended Banff Mountain Film Festival. We have gone to this film festival every year, pretty much, since we started dating. In fact, the festival inspired our most recent trip to Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks in Canada.

As always, the festival inspires.  It's filled with films of people following their passions and accomplishing great feats. This year one film really got to me, The Important Places. In the film, a son is taking his 70 year old father back to raft the Colorado River, a trip his father had enjoyed many years ago. He shares the following poem his father wrote for him when he was born.

"Child of mine, come as you grow
You will learn the secret places
The cave behind the waterfall
The arms of the oak that hold you high
The stars so near on a desert ledge
The important places
 And as with age you choose your own way
Among the many faces of the busy world
May you always remember the path that leads back
Back to the important places."

Those words, backed by awe inspiring canyon scenery had me crying in the first minute of the film. Jeez. What a softy I am. Embarrassing. Not much makes me cry but wild places, you bet. Oh and the Broncos winning the Super Bowl.

The film was a gut check of sorts for me. It reminded me of all my important places. A desert arch towering out in the middle of nowhere. A chair next to a lake looking out over many glaciers. A magical mountain town where the flowers grow waist high. A secluded campsite in a labyrinth of canyons. My favorite mountain pass where columbines grow as far as the eye can see. The important places. That I have shared with my important person.

Point being. I think we should all go and go often to our important places.

And now to bring this back in a circle to food. Somehow we can always bring this back to food. In all those important places, all of those long desert and mountain hikes, food has sustained us. Blake and I are going back to Utah at the end of April. You should see our meal planning. It took almost as much time as planning the trip itself.

These trail cookies stemmed from the need (yes, absolute need) to have an energy boosting cookie on our long hikes. They are tweaked from my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with a little less sugar, a little less butter, and a little more emphasis on raisins, peanuts, and oats. Almost like a health food but not really, if you think about it too much. Don't worry we didn't forget the chocolate. Also, they are absolutely delicious. In my top favorite cookies list of all time.

Trail mix cookies
Makes 12-14 cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cane sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup raisins

First we are going to brown some butter. This is my key to the best cookies ever. In a large sauce pan over high heat, add 8 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter has melted, keep a close eye on it. It will start to foam. Swirl it occasionally. Once the foam subsides, you will see little brown specks. Turn off the heat. Add last two tablespoons of butter to the sauce pan and swirl until melted. Add an ice cube to the butter to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, whisk together brown butter and sugar until combined. Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk for 30 seconds. Let rest for a minute and then whisk for another 30 seconds. Whisk in vanilla extract.

Add your dry ingredients to the wet and use a spatula to combine. Add chocolate chips, peanuts, and raisins and mix in with a spatula until evenly distributed.

Now the part you are not going to like. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least an hour up to overnight. I know. Who wants to wait to eat cookies? I'm telling you this is key. It gives your cookies the loft and chewiness prized amongst chocolate chip cookie connoisseurs.

Preheat oven to 350 degree and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of dough onto the parchment and repeat. Bake for 10-14 minutes until cookies have browned slightly on the edges.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Avocado, fried egg, and lemony greens tostadas

I'm going to make it really easy on you today. If you need dinner in 15 minutes, this is it. You are going to look at the ingredient list and think these tostadas are too simple to be delicious, but I promise you won't be disappointed.

We made them two week in a row, we like them that much. In the midst of what has been a spectacular display of eating since Christmas, we needed a little break. Something a little lighter. Something with a vegetable involved. Avocado and egg are pretty spectacular especially when accompanied by a little citrus. The dressing I made for the greens is my go to vinaigrette for salads. The simplicity and ease of this dish have made it a new favorite in our house.

Avocado, fried egg, and lemony green tostadas
Serves 4, adapted from How Sweet It Is

Lemony vinaigrette
Juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 large eggs
1 avocado, halved and sliced
Head of butter lettuce
Flour tortillas
Hot sauce

In a small jar or tupperware that seals well, mix together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette and shake.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Once oil is shimmering add the eggs in batches. I can do about 3 at a time in my skillet. If you want to do this for a couple of nights, only fry up the eggs you are going to eat that night. Once egg edges begin to brown slightly (around 3 minutes), turn the heat off and carefully flip (so you don't break the yolk). Let the egg cook about 1-2 more minutes on this side in the hot pan with the heat off. If you like your eggs well done, leave the heat on for the last 1-2 minutes.

Spray another large skillet with nonstick spray and put over medium high heat. Once hot, add tortillas one at a time, crisping each side, 3-4 minutes a side.

Toss greens with the dressing. Over a tortilla layer greens, 2 eggs, avocado, and hot sauce.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Grapefruit olive oil cake with chocolate chips

It's February and I'm feeling good. Sure I'm not loving the 17" of snow that recently fell making for death defying morning runs. Snow and I are good for the year. I could go for spring.

But spring will come and until then I have this to hold onto: the Broncos are going to the Super Bowl this week! Super Bowl 50! We are going to eat buffalo chicken fondue fries and watch the Broncos dominate the Panthers. The combo of the two will probably give us heart attacks. I'm counting on my hero, Von Miller, to sack Cam Newton and his silly pants into the ground.

On the 14th, we are going to celebrate love at our favorite restaurant, Bru, at their beer paired Valentine's Day meal. Cue second heart attack.

While you may be worrying about our health at this point, we will also be snowshoeing lots. We are going to spend one weekend in February in Crested Butte cross country skiing (theoretically, because I don't really know how to ski) and snowshoeing around my favorite town. And eating fried chicken! Alright the food stuff may be getting a bit excessive.

Finally, February is the month of good citrus. I love oranges and grapefruit. Love! I also love to bake when it's cold. I have been eyeing this cake from Not without Salt for awhile. I was intrigued and uncertain. Grapefruit and chocolate chips? Delicious, that's the answer, delicious. Citrus and olive oil is already one excellent combo but the chocolate chips added a little bittersweet (if you will) touch I  really enjoyed. The batter is quick to make. You can justify eating it for breakfast and dessert.

On a final note, go Broncos!!!

Grapefruit olive oil cake with chocolate chips
Serves 8, adapted from Not Without Salt

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grapefruit juice (about 1 grapefruit)
1 1/2 tablespoons grapefruit zest
3/4 cup plain 2% greek yogurt
3 large eggs
2/3 cup olive oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven 350 degrees and butter a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together grapefruit juice, zest, yogurt, eggs, olive oil, and sugar.

Add the dry ingredients to your wet ingredients and stir with a spatula until just combined. Add chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed.

Bake for 50-55 minutes until cake is browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Chili garlic chicken with yogurt dipping sauce

I realize that we can't all spend 6 hours in the kitchen every day. Even I have recently become more practical in my kitchen endeavors. My kitchen marathons have become fewer and further between. I still make dinner 3 nights a week and once a week make us muffins for breakfast. But I have tried to make the dinners a little more reasonable. No more homemade pasta on Wednesday nights. No more making the pumpkin puree to then make the pumpkin muffins to then go on and make coq au vin.

This week for example, all I wanted was to make jagerschnitzel with braised cabbage and spaetzle (my husband's german family would be proud). This meal has four fairly labor intensive components. My goal was to do this on a Wednesday night but I then thought the better of it and decided to wait for the weekend, where I could put my husband in charge of part of the meal. Look how practical we've become. 

This meal is a perfect example of one of those nights where I needed dinner to be really easy but still tasty, always tasty. This does require you plan ahead and either marinate the chicken the night before or at least two hours before. The marinade only takes about 5 minutes to throw together. After the marinade, the dinner takes about 15 minutes to get ready. 

The chili garlic sauce gives the chicken great depth of flavor. The honey in the marinade gives the chicken a nice crisp in the pan. The yogurt sauce is simple but provides a nice tangy counterpart to the sweet garlic burst of the chicken. This has the making of a new staple in our household. 

Chili garlic chicken with yogurt dipping sauce 
Serves 3, adapted from How Sweet It Is

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1" cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons chili garlic paste (Asian aisle of the grocery store) 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil (to cook chicken)

Yogurt sauce
1 cup plain greek yogurt (I used 2%) 
2 tablespoons snipped chives
1 lime juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a large tupperware, whisk together olive oil, honey, chili garlic paste, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken a stir until coated. Marinade in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight. 

In a large saute pan over medium high heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil is hot add the chicken to the pan and cook until browned on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes a side. 

In a small bowl, mix together all the yogurt ingredients. Either dip the chicken straight into the yogurt or serve over the top of the chicken.