The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is a bold but truthful title. I’ll write that sentence without adding, “I think,” or, “in my opinion,” because of course it’s what I think, and you’re reading my blog, so what other opinion should I endorse? Also, I read this article once about how women tend to write with caveats, making their arguments sound more of opinion than fact and, consequently, weaker. I think that’s interesting, because I definitely find it difficult not to write that way. It only seems fair to underscore that I only write from my own perspective, which is of course limited by my little version of reality that may be missing great bounds of information that would otherwise change my mind. But, maybe this is something that should be understood of everyone? Maybe we should always assume opinion of words, not facts, and cross-check our references until we make up our own minds. But, that’s all neither here-nor-there. The point is, I made some very good cookies for my dad when he came to visit.

To me, these cookies are the best because of their height, fluffy centers, chewy yet soft texture, and chunks of chips and nuts. I don’t like thin cookies nearly as much, and I certainly don’t want overly crunchy ones. It seems everyone agrees that a cookie should have a crisp bite followed by a soft middle, and while I share that belief, I am a big proponent of an overly full, overly soft middle. I want the perfect balance of a crumbling to creamy texture inside. And, mostly, I want my cookie to be really big. I’m pretty done with small cookies. They never achieve as much.

These are a derivation of the classic Tollhouse recipe, because, honestly, those are the ones that have always been best received by my cookie tasters (namely, my brothers, friends, and classmates). There are many articles regarding trials between various cookie “bests,” so, by all means, research your favorite techniques. However, in trying a few myself, most I find to be fairly indiscernibly improved. I employ a few little tricks to my cookies, but in truth, a cookie made is better than a cookie conceived. So if extra time stops you from baking, please just make them in the way you find most approachable.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 24-30 cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 sticks/ 8 tbsp. butter

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 bag Ghirardelli chocolate chips (or other favorite brand)

1/2 cup pecans and walnuts, chopped

Heat the oven to 385 degrees.

In a stand mixer or large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together until paling and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and stir.

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

Add the dry mixture to the wet batter on a low mix speed. Mix together until the flour is just absorbed into the batter. Add the chips and nuts and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the dough for 30-60 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop the cookies in 2-3 tbsp. mounds, shaped lightly into balls. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and, after 2-3 minutes cooling in the pan, move to a cooling rack.

Enjoy!

Apple Spice Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s not peak season, but the leaves are changing. The yellows are overtaking previously verdant branches, and maples everywhere have the audacity to already be shouting in bright red hues. Outside of windows you can catch glimpses of autumn, and you can almost breathe the crisp air you know is surrounding the building in which you’re settled, begrudgingly, for the next 8 hours. There is truly nothing more joyful than an afternoon walk, especially when flanked by two peculiar and curious dachshunds, while leaves fall around you as the wind persistently brings in cooler and cooler air. Mornings are darker and definitely chilled, and the afternoons gather sunshine and tempt their way towards 70 degrees. It is, without a doubt, perfect. I don’t mind rain in autumn. I don’t mind wind. I don’t mind darker evenings. I don’t mind fallen leaves. Fall is the perfect sort of melancholy that contributes a wholeness unachievable by other seasons. Sure, summer may have happier moments, drenched in sunshine and warm water. But autumn understands you, fills you up, and makes you calm again. It’s the energy you’ve needed after four long busy months, and it cools you off just pleasantly enough that even winter starts to sound acceptable. I may not be ready for Christmas (even though Target is), but I’ll take the holiday changes if it means the leaves transition also.

So, to celebrate, I offer to you hear a cake synonymous with the fall transition: apple, cinnamon, spice, and… bourbon. This cake was made for my mom on her 51st birthday (in September, actually), and it floored me. Bundt cakes can be dry, crumbly, and under-flavored. But this cake is moist, dense, aptly-spiced, and wonderfully coordinated with glazes and frostings. I know that almost every one is apple picking these past and next few weekends (I wish I will join), so this cake should certainly be added to your list. I may even prefer to it apple pie (and would really hate to offend America).

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Ahh, zucchini and tomatoes: vestiges from the passing summer

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Apple Spice Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Serves 16-20

Apple Spice Bundt Cake

3 sticks of butter, softened

1 cup of white granulated sugar

1 cup of brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

3 cups and 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground rosemary

1/8 tsp. garam masala

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch pieces

Bourbon Glaze

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

4 tsp. bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)

1-2 tbsp. water

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tbsp. butter, softened

4 oz. cream cheese, softened (half a block)

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. cinnamon

 

To prepare the cake:

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a stand mixer (or using a large bowl and hand mixer), cream the butter and sugars until lightened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs individually, mixing for about 30 seconds after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the all-purpose flour, baking soda, and spices. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the stand mixer and mix together on low until just starting to combine. Add the next 1/3, and repeat with the next 1/3, until there is just trace evidence of dry flour. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the diced apples and fold into the batter. The batter will be quite thick.

Butter and flour a bundt pan and pour the cake batter into the pan. Spread it evenly, knocking the pan against the counter to evenly distribute the batter. Bake at 325 for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake is pulling away from the pan and a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake. Remove the pan from the oven once finished and place on a cooling rack. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes. Remove the cake and cool on the cooling rack for at least 30 minutes longer.

Prepare the bourbon glaze by adding bourbon to the powdered sugar and whisking. Add 1-2 tbsp. water as needed to thin to the appropriate consistency (slightly looser than crepe batter). Pour the glaze over the cooled cake evenly.

Prepare the cream cheese cinnamon frosting by creaming in a stand mixture the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and mix until combined. Add the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing between intervals, until achieving the appropriate consistency. Use the frosting to decorate the cake as you wish- I piped small spirals along the bottom, but, admittedly, this used only about half of this delicious frosting.

Store the cake, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If longer storage is needed, wrap tightly, seal in a container, and freeze.

Coconut Banana Bread

I bought an oven thermometer to help me gauge the ineffectiveness of my current oven, but have not yet tried another quick bread (after the zucchini bread fail). I’m determined to make that recipe of zucchini bread again, because it was really delicious. I just had to toast it so as to “cook” thoroughly the bottom layer. So this recipe is definitely not from my new kitchen. I made it the week of moving, for the same reason that everyone makes quick breads: to use up ingredients and to snack on all week. I improvised a bit again, as obviously I was low on pantry stock, but this banana bread turned out amazing. Slightly sweetened, soft, the perfect balance between dense and fluffy. I ate the whole loaf in a few days. I wish I had another right now as I’m still alternating by cooking nice, healthy meals and eating cereal for more than one meal a day. Still in the throws of setting up my apartment and refinishing furniture, I could really go for this snack.

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Coconut Banana Bread

Makes 1 9 in. loaf

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened

4 tbsp. melted butter

4 tbsp. melted coconut oil

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 mashed bananas

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan with butter or coconut oil and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, coconut).

In  a large measuring cup, or other microwave safe bowl, melt the butter and coconut oil. Add the sugar and brown sugar and mix thoroughly. Add the mashed bananas, Greek yogurt, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk together.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir lightly and fold, using a rubber spatula. Don’t over-mix the batter; stir until all the flour is moistened (there may be a few dry patches). Add the batter to the greased loaf pan. Eat said batter out of the bowl and off the rubber spatula. Place in the oven and bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes, checking for doneness with a toothpick.

As I mentioned, this banana bread isn’t overly sweet, and is nice and subtlely coconutty. It was most delicious with a spread of peanut butter. Sigh. I need to buy flour…

Summer Squash and Potato Gratin

I’m mostly settled into my new apartment after an incredibly effortful weekend of plans and rearrangements and finishing touches. I’m actually sore, which is really embarrassing, and speaks to my otherwise level of inactivity for the past few weeks. My grandparents were here this weekend to help me finalize some things, namely things involving a drill and furniture building. And excitingly, my grandma, in her perfectly grandmotherly ways, brought me an entire picnic basket of fresh vegetables from her and her brothers’ gardens. Squash, zucchini, potatoes, green beans, beautiful tomatoes all rested comfortably together, simply begging for some preparation and timely enjoyment.

On Saturday night, around 7pm, in a hunger-driven panic between Ikea trips and unloading of said Ikea trips and putting together of said Ikea products, I scarfed down half a slice of leftover pizza and a few cookies my grandma had also brought me. I ate said dinner in approximately 3 minutes, while refilling my silverware drawer, and, following this ingestion, realized I thankfully was no longer hungry, so I went upon my way. As things go, my house became a swarm of cardboard and cellophane before becoming marginally more cohesive. Around 11pm I fainted onto my (thankfully) put together daybed, recognized that I was famished, ate some Pringles leftover from last weekend’s bachlorette party, and went to bed.  Needless to say, my first “meals” in this apartment have not been very notable. Or admirable. Or even really food.

Today, I eased into the morning with a nice walk, some reading, coffee, and breakfast. A leisure I haven’t taken in way, way too long. Afternoon involved some more apartment work for a few hours, followed by some cleaning, but today I was going to be put together. Or, at least not eat Pringles for dinner. The vegetables stared at me, quietly reminding me that produce is really only “fresh” for so long. I whipped up a zucchini bread during afternoon projects, which turned out deliciously. However, I for the second time witnessed my oven cooking at clearly far too low a temperature, for while the bread was cooked through to the tip of the toothpick I stabbed it with, a quarter inch of batter-becoming-bread thwarted my product. In plans for dinner, I questioned that I was using the oven again at all. Completely archaic, without a clock, timer, or evidence that digital technology had actually been established at the time of its construction, I could indeed verify it lit and made the oven warm, but I could not know at all at which temperature it was cooking. Given this was my third attempt, I ramped up the temperature even further above recommendation, and, amazingly, dinner turned out beautifully. (Also idiotic, I spent at least 2 hours of today with the oven on, in summer, in an apartment without air conditioning. I’ve been lightly sweating (or profusely so) for 48 hours).

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Breakfast of my dreams: toast with garden tomatoes and over easy eggs, side of French press coffee

So, what did I make? Well, to use in a timely fashion the bountiful summer produce my grandma had provided, I found a recipe for a gratin comprised of summer squash and potatoes. I figured adding a few extra squash would only improve upon the product, and I followed the recipe nearly exactly, exchanging some of the methods here and there to suit my new kitchen. I had no intention of blogging about the final result, because I was moderately convinced I’d retrieve from the oven a soggy, undercooked mess of vegetables. But, as you can clearly tell, it was a huge success! These pictures don’t do justice to the absolute delicious nature of this dish. I already plan to serve this at Thanksgiving, bring it to book club, and somehow offer it to everyone I know. Really. And, better, everything in here is peak-season-perfect. Please, please make this (mom, it’s right up your alley). And for any goat cheese haters (you’re absurd), you could substitute another cheese if you wish.

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Summer Squash and Potato Gratin

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 6… I guess (serves me tops 4 times)

2 medium zucchini

2 medium yellow crookneck squash

1 medium yellow squash

3 medium red potatoes

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. freshly-cracked pepper

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 oz. goat cheese

1/3 cup milk, anything but skim

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (or 425 if you have an ancient oven).

Wash and dry your vegetables thorougly. Start by slicing the potatoes very thinly, about 1/4 – 1/8 inch thickness, taking time to make sure the slices are even. Add the sliced potatoes to a pot of salted water (I add about a 1/2 teaspoon). Bring the water to a boil and boil the potatoes for about 2 minutes, so that they are still firm. Drain the potatoes and add to a large bowl.

Continue slicing the remaining squash (you can use any combination of varieties; this is just what I had on hand) into thin, 1/4 – 1/8 inch thin slices. If you have a mandolin, that’d be great (I don’t). Add the sliced vegetables to the same large bowl. Pour 4 tbsp. olive oil over the vegetables as well as the salt, pepper, and thyme. Gently toss the vegetables to coat (some may break apart a bit, which is fine).

Lightly grease a large, 9 x 13 baking dish with olive oil, and add 1/3 of the vegetable mixture to the dish. Crumble half the goat cheese over the bottom layer of vegetables. Add another 1/3 of the mixture, and, again, top with the remaining goat cheese. Add the final layer of vegetables. Pour the milk evenly over the entire mixture. Sprinkle the top of the vegetables with Parmesan. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven.

Bake the dish at 400 degrees Fahrenheit covered for 30-35 minutes. Afterwards, remove the foil and increase the temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the Parmesan cheese top is bubbling and brown. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.

To serve, slice out a portion of the gratin (it slices fairly easily, although will slide around some). Sprinkle torn or chiffonade basil over the top. Wait 2 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth, then dig in.

Longest post ever. Worth it.

Hot and Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms

Oh, yeah. If you’re going to describe something as hot and cheesy, you’re probably not referencing mushrooms. You’re probably drooling over some mac ‘n’ cheese, or a pizza straight from the oven, or even a cheeseburger hot off the grill. Mushrooms are little fungi that have no clout with the hot and cheesy comfort foods of America. Not to say they don’t have their place- mushrooms can totally top that pizza or cheeseburger or even swim along side the melted cheese in your pasta. People respect them; they’re just not really that excited. But stuffed mushrooms deserve their place among the dinner parties and maybe even BBQs of your future. They’re poppable and flavorful and oh-so-endearing. The stuffing components have expansive, varied potential, but this recipe comes together in seriously 16 minutes and is a great place to start. I, in fact, invented this recipe on one of those I-haven’t-shopped-in-2-weeks-what-now kind of evenings, so you won’t find fresh herbs or obscure components this time. Not that they wouldn’t be delicious… but let’s keep things simple for now.

I used little button mushrooms for this recipe, because they’re what I always buy at the grocery store- they’re super versatile. But if you wanted a more substantial mushroom, you could easily up the ante by using adult creminis, which are portobellos (gasp!). I personally enjoy the ratio of filling to mushroom here, and also believe the diminutive size of these snacks to be a positive rather than an annoyance. To speak further to the possibilities here, you can of course adjust the amount of hot sauce you add to these to heat things up even more. Wow; it’s getting hot in here. All this mushroom talk… Just wait ’til you hear the compliments coming your way when you bring these to that block party next week.

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Hot and Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms

Serves 2 (or multiply for limitless servings)

10 baby cremini mushrooms, rinsed and de-stemmed

1/4 cup hummus (I used original, but play around with the flavors)

2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

2 tsp. hot sauce

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. bread crumbs, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare the mushrooms by rinsing and gently removing the stem (save for stock or toss it). In a small bowl, stir together the hummus, Parmesan, hot sauce, and spices until well blended. To easily fill the mushrooms, add the filling to a zip top bag and push into one corner. Snip the corner to make a 1/4 inch opening. Squeeze the filling into the mushrooms (about 1/2 tbsp. per mushroom). You may have a bit left over, depending on how much you add. Feel free to overflow these a bit; they’ll stay stable in the oven. Top the stuffed mushrooms with a sprinkle of bread crumbs.

Bake the mushrooms in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until golden and juuuuust starting to release their juices. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and serve.

These are an awesome quick dinner, a great appetizer, a perfect pot-luck accompaniment, and just an all-around good time. So easy, so good; you should certainly multiply this by about 10.

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yesterday was a nice day. A little chilly, but sunny. I was a little busy, but not too much. But then I came home from some work and errands and decided to make cookies rather than go for the run I need to do this weekend or clean the kitchen that was dirtily taunting me. (Except then I cleaned it while cooking… it was starting at me). I was just overwhelmed by the need to have cookies in the house, ASAP. I have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe that’s kind of a derivation from the classic Tollhouse recipe, and is actually a recipe I found on Food 52. But I wanted to doctor those cookies up a bit, because I had some shredded coconut I wanted to use and also because it sounded delicious. I was actually first interested in trying my hand at macarons before realizing I’d need almond flour. Hence the insight to use some coconut, a macaron classic. The coconut adds a delicious moisture to these cookies, keeping them intensely soft and chewy with nicely light-brown crispy edges. I maybe under-bake by 30 seconds or so as well. Another thing making these cookies awesome (and which makes my chocolate chip cookies better as well) is using chocolate chunks rather than chips. I actually just buy mini chocolate bars (or sticks, really) and dice those into 1/4-1/2 inch chunks before adding to the batter. It adds these delectably noticeable chocolate moments more so than the lost-at-sea chips ever will.

It’s kind of a strange time to be craving cookies. It’s warming up. People are outside, happier. Fresh fruit is finally coming into season. And it’s time to be “toning up for summer” or whatever. I don’t care though. Cookies are good all of the time. And if a craving strikes; go for it.

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Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 16-20 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 stick of softened butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate, diced (or chocolate chips or chunks)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, coconut, baking soda, and salt. Dice the chocolate and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer to combine), cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until lightened and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat into the batter until well-mixed. Add the vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds, until well-combined.

Lower the mixer speed to stir and add in about half of the flour mixture. Mix into the batter until just combined, about 15-30 seconds. Add the chocolate to the remaining flour mixture and toss to combine. Add the chocolate and remaining flour together into the mixer bowl while mixing on low. Stir until the flour is just absorbed into the batter, about 15 seconds. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Stir a few more times with a spoon if there is a bit of dry flour in the bowl.

Use a small ice cream scoop (or fill one only about half-full) to drop cookies onto the parchment paper. Bake at 375 for 9-11 minutes, until lightly-browned at the edges and just cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Then, transfer the cookies to a cooling rack (I just slide the parchment paper over).

They will be droopy and soft until cooled, so you can eat them hot and melty or wait about 30 minutes. I’m pretty sure I know which you’ll do. Just prepare to have some sips of milk on the side.

Store at room temperature in a covered container for 2-3 days. Otherwise, freeze.

Carrot Cake

Happy Easter! I’m choosing to celebrate today with a delicious breakfast and carrot cake for dessert (which comes sometime in the afternoon, I’m predicting). I’m a little bit (read: very much) jealous of my brothers having fun together in North Carolina without me, and my dog prancing along (read: napping along) with them, but at least it’s a nice day here in the city. I also have a long run to do today, which is somewhat anxiety-producing, making the cake doubly necessary.

Now, per tradition, on Easter my grandma or mom would prepare a bunny cake, which is obviously named based on the appearance rather than the type of cake or flavor. I don’t even remember what kind of cake we usually used, but there was always white frosting, coconut, licorice whiskers, jellybean eyes and nose, and a bowtie of M&Ms. I begrudgingly removed most of these decorations, because licorice and jellybeans are not my candies-of-choice. The cake was good, but there was always too much, and with all of the other food and desserts (and CANDY) available on Easter, I don’t remember too much focus on the bunny cake outside of a few pictures.

As someone who enjoys dabbling in baking, and with the cake tradition arming my resolution, I decided to whip up my favorite carrot cake this weekend. I’ve made this cake once before, several years ago, and my roommate and I devoured it over the course of a week or so. It keeps well in the refrigerator (which is necessary due to the icing), and it tasted fresh and delicious that whole time. I’m not a big frosting person, in that I usually find it too saccharine or heavy or chemically (if that’s a word), but cream cheese frosting is THE BEST. Especially with some coconut. Cream cheese frosting makes carrot cake the divine, wonderfully dense cake it is. And all of the above prepared from scratch, with fresh carrots and walnuts? So good.

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Carrot Cake

Based off of this recipe

Serves about 16-20

9 inch round x 3 inches deep pan or 9×9 square pan

Unsalted butter, for the pan

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or whole wheat flour)

1 cup all-purpuse flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

6 medium carrots, grated

1 1/3 cup white sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

3 large eggs

2/3 cup vanilla yogurt (or plain yogurt)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup walnuts

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
  • 1/2 stick of butter (4 tbsp.)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, to top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the bottom and sides of your baking pan, and place parchment paper on the bottom of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.

In a food processor, grate the carrots. Or, alternatively, shred the carrots with a grater. Add the shredded carrots to the bowl with the flour and other ingredients. Mix together until the carrots are evenly coated.

In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream together the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Once smooth and creamy, drizzle in the vegetable oil while on a slow mixing speed. Beat until combined.

Pour the liquid mixture into the carrot-flour mixture. Add 1 cup of walnuts. Stir with a large spoon to just combine.

Pour the carrot cake batter into the prepared baking pan. Place the pan in the 350 degree oven on the middle rack and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, reduce the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake an additional 10-20 minutes, until the cake is cooked through. Test the cake’s doneness by dipping a toothpick in the center and ensuring that it comes out clean. Or use a thermometer to identify when the center of the cake has reached 205-210 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the cake out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool completely, at least 1hour.

While the cake is cooling, cream together the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixture, until smooth and creamy. Integrate the powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time, beating slowly after each addition, until thoroughly blended. Add the vanilla and beat until blended. Add the shredded coconut and mix until well distributed.

Once the cake has cooled, frost with the coconut cream cheese frosting. Top with shredded coconut. The cake will keep at room temperature for a few hours, but should otherwise be refrigerated between servings. It tastes really quite good straight from the refrigerator, but is slightly more flavorful once allowed to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or so.

*Just FYI, my cake is long a narrow because I actually sliced it in half and frosted each half individually, so I could give half the cake out to others. I can’t eat an entire cake! Awkward frosting due to me not having enough, really, to individually frost several miniature cakes!

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Also, you can feel so healthy, because this cake is really not too sweet, full of carrots and walnuts, and lightly frosted (note: if you want a thicker frosting coating, you may want to 1 1/2 the recipe. I find the thickness (about 1/4-1/2 inch) to be appropriate for the cake). And anyways, you should indulge all you want, it’s Easter! And nice outside! Celebrate.

Spotlight On: Tofu

Per the request of some readers (eh hem, mom), I wanted to start sharing ingredients I routinely use while cooking. Where to buy them, how to prepare them, good recipes to start with… etc. I thought the most appropriate ingredient to discuss was tofu, notably because I’ve used it for two recipes in the past week, but also because it’s probably my most frequent source of protein. I love tofu, and I think it gets a seriously bad rap as an easily-dismissed “vegetarian” food, that has no use outside of replacing steak or chicken. While vegetarians certainly flock to tofu as a substitute, it’s also a delicious, substantial, and, yes, flavorful ingredient on its own. While I probably eat vegetarian most of the time, I most nights prefer tofu to other options, simply for its adaptability, cost, and quick cooking time.

But, what exactly is tofu? Tofu is really coagulated soy bean curd (I guess you could almost compared it to a really pressed yogurt, to compare soy milk to cow’s milk), which, I know, sounds so appetizing. The soy curd is pressed firmly into a block shape, usually; however, there are many varieties of tofu that alter the consistency and flavor of the final result. One major difference to note is between silken tofu and firm tofu. Silken tofu is not pressed or drained, and thus has a very high moisture content. It’s best applied to dessert recipes, or can be used as a substitute/ almost thickening agent in pies and shakes and all sorts of vegan treats. I’ve never even bought silken tofu (although I’d like to try it), and you should probably bypass it if you’re looking to make a dinner recipe. Firm tofu, by comparison, is pressed. It is usually sold as firm or extra firm tofu, although I from time to time have seen “medium” varieties. Considering most recipes call for pressing the tofu further prior to applying marinades, I see the most value in buying the lowest moisture content variety- extra firm tofu. Extra firm tofu is easily pressed into a dense, sliceable, formed block that absorbs marinade incredibly well and stays together nicely when tossing in a pan. If trying tofu for the first time, I’d go with this variety, as it (in my opinion) has the best texture after cooking. While I could in theory go on for days about tofu and its varying components and varieties, I’m going to direct you to wikipedia if you want more information.

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My favorite place to buy tofu is Trader Joe’s. This is probably because Trader Joe’s is my favorite grocery store for price and varied (and interesting!) ingredients, but I love their extra firm tofu as well as their sprouted extra firm tofu (I especially love that the sprouted tofu comes divided in half, thus creating single serving sizes for this lonely dinner-eater). Tofu is available at nearly every grocery store now, usually located near the dairy section, and always labeled “extra firm” or whatever type it is. I can’t differentiate much between brands, so go for whichever suits your fancy. Usually tofu comes in 4-5 servings, which I think is laughable because I nearly always eat half a block at a time. As a single serving, it’s much less caloric than chicken or any red meat. If doubled up, it’s about comparable calorie-wise. (Of note, this Trader Joe’s brand is a bit more calorie-dense than most other brands).

And in case you’re interested, here’s a calorie and protein comparison:

1/4 block tofu: 9g protein, 80 calories

1/2 block tofu: 18g protein, 160 calories

4 oz. (1/4 lb.) chicken breast: 13g protein, 120 calories

3 oz. ground beef (85% lean): 16g protein, 180 calories

As I’ve prepared tofu time and time again, I have definitely come across my favorite cooking methods. I’ll share a few here, but my absolute, hands-down favorite is pan-fried/ sautéed tofu cubes. When prepared correctly, the tofu is delightfully crisp with a soft interior, perfectly dippable and easily combined in rice dishes of varying ethnic influences, stir fries, salads, and more.

How To: Pressing Tofu

Pressing tofu releases excess moisture from the block, dehydrating the tofu further and thus making it extra thirsty for marinades. Pressing also improves the texture, allowing for a more toothsome, chewy yet smooth inside. I personally enjoy the flavor of tofu plain; however, if using a marinade, apply it immediately after pressing.

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  1. Remove tofu from packaging and drain off excess water
  2. Place a hefty pile (about 3 sheets) of paper towels onto a sturdy surface
  3. Place the tofu on top of the towels
  4. Top with another hefty pile of paper towels
  5. Top with another sturdy, flat surface, such as a small cookie sheet or baking pan
  6. Weigh down the tofu with light pressure, using a small can other 1-2 lb. item
  7. Keep compressed for 30 minutes
  8. Ready to prepare and use!

How To: Perfectly Pan-fried Tofu

This is my favorite way to prepare tofu, and really very easy. If you’re somewhat impatient, this may be tedious, as it involves flipping to every side of the tofu cube (yes, 5 times). However, it really does cook quickly, and if preparing the rest of your dinner at the same time, you’ll barely notice the process. If marinating, cube the tofu and marinate prior to cooking, then sauté directly from the marinade.

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  1. Cube tofu into blocks (if not already done)
  2. Heat a sauté pan or griddle over medium high heat (or 400 degrees Fahrenheit)
  3. Lightly oil the pan with grapeseed or other high-heat oil
  4. Place the tofu down evenly on the pan- I like to space them into rows so I can easily keep track of flipping
  5. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes per side (the first side may take a bit longer as the pan is still warming)
  6. I usually flip by turning towards me, towards me again, and towards me once more to get all 4 “middle” sides. I then flip all of them to the right, then flip it 180 degrees/ twice over to get the last raw side. Again, it’s easier if you just keep them all lined up. Alternatively, you could just toss frequently, although the sides will not be evenly browned.
  7. Season with salt, pepper, and other spices as desire and serve, either plain to dip or with your recipe of choice.

How To: Other Tofu Preparations

I’ve tried a few other methods for preparing tofu, and these are notable standouts (although not winners):

Baked Tofu:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Cube tofu, or, if already marinaded, remove from marinade. If not marinated, toss with 1 tbsp. oil
  3. Place evenly on a baking sheet
  4. Bake for 20-30 minutes, flipping once 180 degrees halfway through baking, until golden brown

This yields a pretty similar product to pan-fried tofu, so, if you’d rather be more hands-free, this may be a better option. I find the final product to be a bit more chewy and lacking in that truly crispy exterior, so if eating plain or in a dish in which tofu is highlighted, I’d spend the extra time with the sauté pan.

Broiled Tofu:

  1. Turn on the broiler
  2. Slice tofu into 1/4 inch slices and marinate… or not. If not, coat lightly with oil
  3. Place the tofu on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
  4. Broil for 5-6 minutes, until golden brown, then flip
  5. Broil for another 3-5 minutes, until the opposite side is browned to your liking
  6. Serve

Broiled tofu is quick, and does yield that good, crispy exterior. You lose the creamy middle, and I find it much less flavorful unless marinated because of that. It does make good dippers, though.

Sofritas:

See this recipe!

And finally, in case you want to enjoy your pan-fried tofu, and try out an easy recipe, here’s a delicious way to enjoy them, simply with a bit of Mexican flair.

Tofu Lettuce Wraps with Avocado Cream

Serves 2

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1 block extra firm tofu, pressed

1 tbsp. oil

8 romaine leaves

1 avocado

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Cholula chili pepper sauce

Prepare the pan-fried tofu as directed above. Mix together the avocado, greek yogurt, and seasoning into a smooth cream. Place a dollop of avocado cream on the lettuce leaf and top with 3-4 tofu cubes. Top with just a few drops of chili sauce and enjoy.

I hope something here encourages you to give tofu a try. Any and all questions or helpful facts are welcome!