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!

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Lemon Coriander Pancakes

In attempt to not apologize for the infrequency of my blogging regimen (again), let’s talk about books.

I am or used to be an avid reader. I remember well completing series after series of children’s books- The Boxcar Children, Babysitter’s Club, Animorphs, Goosebumps, etc. I also recall seeing every episode of Rugrats, and really most Nickelodeon shows, created, so I’ll also make a point of the seemingly endless free time afforded to my childhood. As I got older, books became more complex, profound. Their meaning expanded beyond a simple story: soon, the very characters became references for identity, and the settings became imaginative worlds to which I could draw parallel my own experiences. Favorite books became more important than television, than movies, than soccer practice. I defined myself by introversion, by my ability to sit down and read for hours without fatigue. The books I read and loved were compared and contrasted to the literary lists complied at the beginning of the school year, and I felt some odd sense of shame when I hadn’t yet read a classic “every one else had.” I read through high school, I read through college, I even read voraciously on breaks in graduate school.

So what do I read now?

I’ve belonged to book clubs and made friends of people who love to read equally. I talk at length about the purpose and intention of novels with my brother, who likely now balks at the slow pace of my consumption. A book a month now seems challenging, not for the objective time to complete the reading, but for the procrastination and/ or schedule demanded of the remaining 28 days. I’ve been reading the same book since February, that I argue I enjoy, but will I finish by June? Seeing as it’s May 31, unlikely.

The list of novels and short stories I have set aside to read is growing and growing, and I compel my passion for completing them by my sense of identity that still includes “reader.” In fairness, I read news, blogs, trivial headlines, and biased and purportedly unbiased articles on a daily basis. But with every intention I plan to invigorate anew my love for fiction, in hopes that this phase of my life is one of the only in which novels have demoted their position.

Anyways, here is a great recipe for lemony and herbal pancakes, to mix up your Sunday morning. Maybe you’ll follow the stack with a few enjoyed pages of your favorite book.

Lemon Coriander Pancakes

Serves 3-4

1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 all-purpose, 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground coriander

 

1 large egg, room temperature

2 tbsp. melted butter, slightly cooled

3/4 cup milk

1 lemon, juiced

Zest of 1 lemon

Butter and maple syrup to serve

In a graduated cup measure 3/4 cup of milk, then add the lemon juice and stir. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl stir together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter in a small bowl. Add the egg and whisk together. Add the butter and egg mixture, as well as the lemon zest, to the milk and stir. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Heat a griddle to 350 degrees. Pour out 1/4 cup of batter to make 8-10 pancakes. Cook until small bubbles appear on the surface, then flip (about 2-3 minutes). Cook an additional 2-3 minutes until the center is set.

Plate the pancakes and top with butter and maple syrup. Enjoy!

 

Pho’nomenal Soup

It’s been warm in North Carolina for several weeks, but recently the trees, flowers, and fauna have agreed to come alive and welcome Spring. The collective attitude of this area, the state, probably most of the country is lightened and optimistic, and everything seems fun and exciting. It’s almost hard to sit at home when you see the bright blue skies out of your window and know full well that the sun is warm and the breeze is light and soothing. I’m endlessly thankful that blending into life in Durham has been fluid and inspiring. It’s not without effort that I’ve made this community home, but the effort is easy to succumb when the opportunities are so prevalent. Durham shares features of Chicago that I loved, the primary being that it becomes so vibrant and positive in the warm weather. Everywhere it seems people are out, active, and socializing. Every restaurant and brewery offers the option to dine in the open air, and the myriad trails winding through this area are overflowing with people. It’s so fun to be happy and warm.

The above paragraph does not segue appropriately into the recipe at all. Rather, I’m blogging because I think I’ve exhausted my outdoor experiences for the weekend, and since the sun is setting, I find myself anxious for something new to do besides read quietly or numb to TV. So I’ll use this blog post as a way to believe I’m talking to someone since my dogs insist on napping and not engaging with me at all.

I want to call this recipe pho, because it is, I presume. However, I hesitate to comment on a culinary genre so profoundly outside of my personal experience and, in doing so, cheapen the years of creativity and influence that eventually inspired what is now appreciated as pho. It seems that in becoming a trendy- or at least well-known- food, there are of course a variety of manipulations that may stray egregiously from the original source. But I’ll attempt to throw my recipe into the forum, not to promise authenticity, but to encourage expansion of this beautiful and flavorful dish into even the most benign kitchens. This is truly one of the most straightforward meals I’ve made, with such outrageously delicious results. The ratio of effort to pay-off is trending towards infinity. So I call this soup, with a heavily obvious pun- pho’nomenal-  because it is phenomenal and it, for lack of a better descriptor, is pho!

Vegetarian Pho

Serves 2

(Inspired by this recipe)

Broth

  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 large knob of ginger, cut in half
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix-ins

  • 1/2 block tofu, diced into 0.5 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp. canola, sunflower, safflower, or other high-heat oil
  • 2 bunches bok choy
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 3-5 oz enoki (or other interesting) mushrooms
  • 3 oz rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Sriracha and soy sauce to serve

To prepare the broth, halve the onion and ginger and place in the broiler. Broil until a dark golden color but not quite burnt. Flip and broil the opposite side. Watch carefully- this takes 2-3 minutes per side.

In a large stock pot, add the broiled onion and ginger, lemongrass, and whole spices. (Buyer’s note: I purchased all of these spices from the bulk bin at whole foods for approximately 25 cents… some were so light they were free! So don’t be discouraged by a long list of potentially expenses cabinet-dwellers… just buy what you need!). Add 6 cups of water to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 90 minutes. I actually prepared the broth entirely ahead of time, cooled it, and stored prior to reheating when I was ready with the mix-ins the following night. But, alternately, prepare mix-ins while the broth is simmering. Once an appropriate amount of time has elapsed, strain the broth. It should be a deep, rich brown color. If needed, add a bit more salt.

Prepare the tofu by cubing, tossing with oil, and placing in the broiler for 5 minutes. Toss and continue to broil for 5-7 minutes longer, until lightly browned and crisped on the edges. While the tofu is cooking, prepare the rice noodles. Most packages ask for them to be added to boiling water then sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy, mushrooms, and sliced jalapenos to the bowls. Once the tofu is done, add that as well. Top with the rice noodles.

To serve this in a pretty way, present the bowls with mix-ins then pour the steaming broth over the top. (My photos look a little low on broth, and that’s because I split it into 3 servings so I could get more food out of it [still living cheap], but this would be more substantial/ characteristic of massive pho bowls just split into 2 servings). Top with as much sriracha as you dare, as well as a splash of soy sauce. Serve with large spoon and chopsticks!

Hello, and Risotto Primavera

I seem to have entirely neglected, if not per perception left entirely, this website. And, truly, the perception was my own, as I had decided, in moderate intention, to stop posting and let my recipes slowly fade into the infinity of the Cloud. But as everyone in my life knows, I finally moved from Chicago to North Carolina. Durham, more specifically. And in leaving, I was interested again in keeping this up, bolstered as well by the encouragement of several friends. So the blog will be resurrected from its really-dusty-kitchen, dishes-haven’t-been-done-in-weeks level disregard. And it seems I’ll need to change my subtitle.

I was told from some people that possibly this should no longer be titled “Dinner for Brian,” as the motivation for the title originally- that I was posting recipes in Chicago for my brother to try at home- is now less substantiated. If I want, I can go see Brian on any weeknight, make him dinner (or go out together), and receive immediate feedback. The internet no longer is a necessary medium. But, if I’m being honest, I mostly like the idea of cooking for a tangible (if now much more available) person. Yes, I usually eat alone. And yes, these recipes are often to serve my palate more than my lovely ginger brother’s. But I do take credit for expanding significantly his culinary horizons, and it’s still with his review in mind that I write. (Not to diminish the influences of my other brothers, who are easily as important and definitely more interesting than I am).

The real reason I’m posting tonight, as opposed to a lazy Sunday (my usual date), is because romanesco broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods today, and it looks so super cool, and I wanted to use it. And then, in doing so, I was thinking that everyone I know needs to cook with romanesco broccoli- mostly for the fun shape- and I must provide a recipe. Also, this is really, very delicious, and it is also incredibly easy to put together. I had never made risotto with actual arborio rice before, always favoring risotto from barley (also, where would I find arborio rice?). But in an attempt to have really quite pretty jars full of grains to hide in my cabinets (in the ideal of someday having this beautiful kitchen with open and exposed shelving), I bought a bunch of grains from my neighborhood co-op, and at that time I found arborio rice sneaking among the quinoa. I determined it must be tried.

Well, this has been a lengthy composition… Here’s the recipe.

Risotto Primavera

Serves 2

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, diced finely

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 head romanesco broccoli, chopped into small florets

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan

Salt & pepper

Basil, sliced, to serve

Heat the stock in a small quart pan until just boiling. Lower to low heat and keep warm.

In a larger pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and mix. Add the broccoli. Season lightly. Add 2-3 ladle-fulls of stock to the pan (it will simmer and deglaze slightly). Stir and stir until the rice has absorbed most of the stock. (It’s not ridiculous, you can take breaks from stirring; just don’t leave it for a long period of time). Add another ladle or two of stock. Stir. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. You may not use all of your stock. Once the rice is cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, add the peas, corn, and Parmesan. Stir to combine well. Taste and season again.

Serve and top with fresh basil. Admire the pretty broccoli. And eat!

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

I am not on my game. I somehow delayed posting again far longer than intended, as if Thanksgiving was 3 weeks long. Maybe it was, if you consider the brain space it occupied during those weeks. But here it is, December. The month of Christmas, the holiday season, whatever you’d like to call it. So I better catch up the pace.

Unfortunately, my brain is tired, and I haven’t even yet eaten. Sometimes dinner sounds like too much to do. As if the minutes laboring over the stove will exhaust me, I sit hungrily on the cough waiting for a bowl of mashed potatoes (that sounds really good) or pasta or cereal to appear before me, hot (or cold) and ready to go. Maybe even the spoon will elevate to my lips as in the Cheerios scene in the movie Matilda. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then please go watch Matilda promptly. I’ll hum the music- mmm hm mmm hm mm mm mmmm. No? The dancing? The flying, spiraling card deck? No? Bruce Bogtrotter? Someone feed me.

I made this soup a few weeks ago, in tribute to the dropping thermostat and the dog jackets now covering my closet floor. I’m already begrudging my winter coat, so a fair amount of time may have passed. In either case, I was really hell bent on replicating my favorite soup from Panera Bread, because it’s so creamy and delicious. I love creamy soup, but vegetably soup, and wild rice just makes it that much more interesting. I had tried making this soup once before, but failed in some capacity (I think I undercooked the rice), which left me forlorn. Maybe I couldn’t recreate the soup after all!? But winter encouraged me to try again. And this time: success!

This is a labor-intensive product, mostly in the manner of vegetable dicing and time spent waiting anxiously for rice to soften and stock to thicken. So, if you’re sitting on the couch at 7:30pm hungry, it’s not the time to make this. If, however, it’s blisteringly snowy, and an early Friday evening or even Sunday afternoon, go light your favorite fir-scented candle, turn on the Bing Crosby, and make this soup. I promise absolutely no disappointment. I actually promise joy. Holiday-laden, warm and comforting joy.

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Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Serves 6-8

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold)

4 carrots, diced

4 celery stalks, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

10 oz. mushrooms, sliced or diced

1 cup wild rice, uncooked

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. fresh or dried thyme

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. rosemary

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp. freshly-cracked black pepper

8 cups free-range chicken stock

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the chicken thighs in a thin coat of olive oil and place in a baking dish, something that allows even space but not too much. Bake at 425 until cooked through, approximately 30 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool. Once cooled slightly, shred with a fork.

Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the diced carrots, celery, and onion to the melted butter. Sauté until the vegetables have started to soften, about 10 minutes. To the softened vegetables, add the sliced (or diced!) mushrooms, and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are just beginning to release their juices.

Next, add the cup of wild rice as well as the spices and seasonings. Stir well so that everything is mixed. Add the chicken stock to the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is soft and tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the variety of rice.

In a mason jar, shake together the milk and flour (or whisk in a small bowl) to create a slurry. While actively whisking, add the thickening slurry to the soup. Allow the soup to simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened to your liking. This takes approximately 5-10 minutes in most cases. Once thickened, add the shredded chicken to the pot and stir. Remove from heat and serve!

 

 

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Now go put on your music, make yourself some soup, and bring some crackers for dipping. If you finish the meal with hot chocolate, I applaud you.

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes with Maple Cider Glaze

Is there anything more stereotypically fall than pumpkin? And by pumpkin, I of course mean pumpkin spice, because if you asked the opinion of tweens and young adults everywhere what their favorite fall flavor is, it would absolutely be pumpkin spice, but if you presented them with pumpkin puree, most would turn their nose up entirely. In fact, I think pumpkin is notoriously a missing ingredient in the infamous pumpkin spice latte (which isn’t that great, guys? like, it’s pretty good, but try one from a local coffee shop. way, way better). Now, don’t get me wrong: I LOVE PUMPKIN SPICE. I also love pumpkin, but particularly when it’s flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg. So you can hate me; I’m predictable. But I would say the best argument for pumpkin spice (outside of the aforementioned, over-popular latte) is pancakes.

Pumpkin spice pancakes are little soufflés of joy. Cake-like and fluffy from the pumpkin puree, made expertly more delicious by the combination of cinnamon and maple syrup: they are the reason to be excited about breakfast in fall. (I’ll take a step to the side for a moment to say that pumpkin spice waffles are totally amazing as well, I just don’t have a waffle maker. Eh hem, future secret Santa). Instead of maple syrup, I made a maple cider glaze to top these pancakes to switch things up. It is delicious, although I’m usually partial to a traditional version. The glaze is simply outstanding when poured on top of some whipped, melting butter, though, so I’d advise you try it.

Ah, I just love weekend breakfasts. My next job will start after 10 am…

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Don’t worry; coffee makes its way into that mug

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes with Maple Cider Glaze

Serves 2-4

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup all-purpose, mixed)

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. sugar

1 cup organic milk, anything but skim

1 1/2 tbsp. butter, melted

1 egg

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Maple Cider Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp. maple syrup

2-3 tbsp. apple cider

 

In a mixing bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, melted butter, egg, pumpkin puree, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk lightly, until the batter is just incorporated. Allow to rest.

Prepare the cider glaze by mixing powdered sugar with warmed maple syrup and cider, adding in intervals to achieve a thin consistency.

Heat a skillet to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or a non-stick pan over medium heat. Lightly butter the skillet or pan surface. Add the batter and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until the underside is lightly browned and bubbles appear on the surface. Flip and cook an additional 2-3 minutes until the opposite side has browned and the pancake is cooked through.

Serve immediately, in a photographically-pleasing stack, with maple cider glaze poured over the top. Enjoy with coffee (maybe even a pumpkin spice latte).

 

 

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.

Best Ever Mac and Cheese

Sometimes the best meals are made impromptu, completely unplanned, on a hungry whim before a technologically-inept appliance. You grab noodles- the remainder of a folded and torn cellophane bag packed and moved from one home to another for this exact purpose. The whole bag gets dumped into a pot brimming with salted boiling water, because noodles are thirsty and you are hungry and time is of the essence here. A second pan is devoted to saucing this carbohydrate platter, but of what ingredient and what influence? Cheese, of course. You grab cheese, because you definitely don’t have tomato sauce, and you beyond a doubt don’t have the ingredients to make tomato sauce. Cheese- a Mexican blend, it turns out; half an onion; seasonings, why not?; the flour, the milk. It whisks together and the pasta finishes boiling. Approximately eleven minutes have passed. Something healthy, something healthy… you ponder. Ah, a bed of spinach. It’s moderately wilted, insistently structuring its cells with a dehydrating buoyancy, but serves the purpose of “vegetables” all the same. You add the pasta to the sauce, aggressively coating and stirring to achieve that drenching effect. Pasta is haphazardly strewn across spinach leaves, which defeatedly wither on contact, and the plate is dropped against the dinner table. Sit down, fork in hand, breathe once. And suddenly- the best ever mac and cheese to ever grace your lips. Is it hunger? Who knows. But the whirlwind memory stays in flashes; ingredients are marked duly in your brain. You’ll need to make this again.

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Best Ever Mac and Cheese

Serves 1 super hungry person, probably 2-3 reasonable people

3/4 cup whole wheat penne (or macaroni if you’re a traditionalist or otherwise prepared)

1 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1 tbsp. smoked paprika

Salt & pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. flour

3/4 cup milk, anything but skim

1/3 cup shredded cheese (I used a mexican blend from Trader Joe’s)

Spinach to serve

In a large pot of salted boiling water, add the noodles. Cook according to package directions, maybe just shy of their instruction (9.5 minutes instead of 10). Strain the noodles and set aside (ideally for minimal minutes).

Sauté the diced onion in the butter over medium low heat for 10 minutes, until softening and translucent. Add the paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir in the 3 tbsp. of flour until fully incorporated with the butter, forming a thick paste. Whisk in 3/4 cup of milk and bring to a boil over the same low temperature. Continue whisking until a thick sauce forms, almost the consistency of nacho cheese from a terrible baseball game. Add in the cheese and whisk to combine. The sauce will be quite thick, but consequently very adherent to the noodles.

Add the pasta to the cheese sauce. Stir and stir and toss until the noodles are adequately and evenly coated. Serve atop a bed of spinach.

Die.

Well, that’s morbid. But, it’d be ok. Because you’ve had the best ever mac and cheese.

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.