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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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…

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.

Vanilla Pudding

I’m not sure if Brian likes vanilla pudding. Maybe he prefers chocolate or will only have chocolate or will have none, of it, thank you. But I love vanilla pudding. Actually, the real intention here was to try out a vanilla pudding recipe in thoughts of eventually making a super legitimately delicious banana pudding. I love vanilla pudding, but banana pudding is AMAZING. I thought it was literally banana-flavored pudding, but it’s actually vanilla pudding with sliced bananas and (usually) vanilla cookies. I’ll get there eventually, but in the meanwhile I had to try my hand at scratch-made pudding in general. Now, when I was a first-year grad student, desperate for some dessert, I actually whipped up chocolate pudding, mexican chocolate pudding, and mocha chocolate pudding a few times. I had no recipe to base it on, besides the forever internet influences, but I knew cornstarch was a thickening agent and pudding was basically milk, otherwise, so I went at the stove with a plan and actually got some really good results. But for vanilla pudding, and my eventual banana pudding, I wanted to know traditionally how it was done. I altered the recipe a bit, cutting some butter and sugar, just to make a tiiiiny bit “healthier” (I mean, pudding is basically breakfast foods, right?), but this still comes out like the classic. Indulgently creamy, cool, and smooth, and really not much more difficult that adding milk to a Jell-o packet, you should definitely try this at home.

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Vanilla Pudding

Based off this recipe

Serves 4

1/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. honey

2 1/4 cups milk

3 large egg yolks

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium pot, add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt, whisking to combine. While whisking, add 1/4 cup of milk to make a smooth paste is achieved. Add the honey and the rest of the milk, while whisking. Add the egg yolks and whisk to combine.

Turn the heat to medium and cook the pudding, whisking frequently, for about 5-10 minutes, until the pudding just begins to boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, begin to constantly stir the pudding. Continue to stir, making sure to scrape the bottoms and sides, for another 5 minutes, or until the pudding has thickened (a way to discern this is if the pudding drizzles atop the pudding without being absorbed into the pudding below). Add the butter and vanilla extract and stir to incorporate.

Pour the pudding through a mesh strainer into a bowl. Once strained, pour the pudding into separate ramekins. You can add plastic wrap to the top to prevent a skin from forming, but I love the skin, so I don’t. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours prior to serving (unless you want to eat it warm!).

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Polenta with Rosemary Mushrooms

So, this meal looks remarkably similar to my shrimp and grits post from a few weeks ago. And, I guess in theory, that makes sense, because polenta and grits are remarkably similar. They are, in fact, the same food- corn meal- ground to varying consistencies. Polenta is usually a bit more coarse; however, traditionally, they are really derived from distinct types of corn. But when it comes to grocery store shopping, can you really find a difference? Not usually. The more coarse, deeply yellow corn meal I purchased (from the bulk bins at Whole Foods) is labeled “polenta,” and is what I’d consider polenta to be. Contrastingly, when I make grits, I use a finely ground white corn meal, which cooks quite a bit more quickly and yields a creamier consistency. These are lot of fancy descriptions for ground corn. The biggest difference notable to the consumer is 1) cook time and 2) texture. If you want dinner on the table in under 15 minutes, finely ground corn meal, usually grits, are the way to go. If you want more deeply developed flavors, go with something more coarse and simmer for awhile, usually polenta. However, this can probably be reversed. (I believe some Southerners would turn their nose at the finely-ground, more-quickly-cooked stuff).

I purchased the polenta on a whim, eager to see what the difference really tasted like. I also wanted a classic Italian flavor profile (two Italian dishes in a row!? Too bad I actually made this a couple weeks ago), so I topped the polenta with delicate and bitter greens and rich and savory mushrooms. I pretty much love mushrooms made this way. The rosemary isn’t overwhelming, but does add to the savory-ness (that’s a word now).

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Polenta with Rosemary Mushrooms

Serves 1 (I eat alone… but this is easily multiplied)

1/4 cup coarse, stone-ground polenta

1 cup chicken stock

1/2 tbsp. butter

1 cup arugula

4 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 tbsp. flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

Pinch dried red chili flake

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the polenta, heat the chicken stock in a pot over medium-high heat until boiling. Once boiling, turn the heat to low, add the polenta, and whisk constantly, until the polenta has absorbed some of the stock and is thickened slightly. Cover the pot and simmer the polenta, stirring intermittently to avoid sticking to the pan. Cook the polenta for 30-40 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed and the polenta is creamy. It may seem “done” a bit before this, but cooking longer intensifies the flavor. Once finished, add butter and season with salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate and plate.

While the polenta is cooking, heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan and melt, then add the mushroom. Cook the mushrooms until browning and releasing their juices, about 5 minutes. Season the mushrooms with salt, pepper, and chili flake, and add the fresh rosemary. Mix to combine. Toss the flour over the mushrooms and stir to incorporate. Cook the flour over the mushrooms for about a minute, until the white powdery flour is no longer visible. Add the stock, which should bubble upon contact. Stir to incorporate the stock with the mushrooms, and allow the stock to thicken and reduce. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the liquid is quite thick and adherent to the mushrooms.

Top the plated polenta with a pile of greens. Add the hot rosemary mushrooms above the greens, which will cause them to wilt slightly and soften the flavor. Eat slowly and savor the deep corn flavor with the savory rosemary mushrooms.

I love grits, but polenta is seriously good.

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(Anyone notice my distorted reflection in the spoon of my first picture? Yes, these are iPhone photos. I love VSCOcam.)

Birthday Pancakes

I’m 26 today! It may be windy and cold in Chicago, but the sun is out, and I’m feeling the love from family and friends here in the city and far away on the East coast. Time to celebrate and start the day the best way I know how: with a mountain of fluffy pancakes.

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Birthday Pancakes (Chocolate Chip and Pecan)

Serves 1-2

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tbsp. sugar

3/4 cup milk

1 tbsp. butter, melted

1/2 whisked egg (sorry that’s inconvenient; double the recipe to make it “normal”

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. dark chocolate chunks

1 tbsp. pecans, chopped finely

Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, melt the butter. Add half of a whisked egg, 3/4 cup milk, and vanilla. Whisk together the wet ingredients and pour over the dry. Using a whisk or a fork, lightly mix the batter until just combined. A few lumps here and there are fine. Set the batter aside to rest for 5-10 minutes. It’s relatively thick batter; it makes them extra fluffy.

Heat a griddle to 350 degrees. Have canola oil, grapeseed oil, or butter available to lightly grease the pan.

Chop the chocolate and pecans and mix in a small bowl. Set aside.

Pour about a teaspoon of oil or butter onto the griddle and spread with thinly.

Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to pour the pancake batter onto the griddle. Use the bottom of the measuring cup to swirl the batter into a circle (the batter will be thick). I was able to make 4 5-inch pancakes. Sprinkle the chocolate and pecans onto each pancake, and press them lightly into the batter.

Allow the pancakes to cook for about 3 minutes, until the batter is just bubbling (since it’s so thick, it won’t be as obvious as usual, especially with the pecans and chocolate covering the top). Once the underside is done, flip the pancakes and cook another 3 minutes, until golden brown and cooked all the way through.

Top with a pat of butter, some sifted powdered sugar, and, of course, maple syrup. This was incredibly filling, but oh-so-fluffy and delicious. An indulgent breakfast for a newly 26-year-old, starting this year RIGHT.

Dinner for Dito

Ok, so actually this should be titled “Dessert for Oscar,” but I thought a dog-on-blog pun would be more appropriate. Dito is Brian’s dog: a Welsh Corgi with some serious attitude and spunk. Dito is always first, always in the way, and always a little bit on edge. He’s endearing, yet you’d be hard-pressed to isolate global “charms,” as his most memorable qualities include breathing heavily and insisting on jumping in the river every few minutes of his walk. But I find myself missing Dito, purely for his energetic confidence and irrefutable love for his family. Dito can most days be found upstairs with Brian, listening to music (he seems to share Brian’s alternative and classical taste) and happily napping or licking his feet. Oscar and Dito have a tumultuous relationship, as alpha dogs often do, but as Oscar is (probably unhappily) far away with me in Chicago, we have to remember our dog family with pleasant nostalgia.

Today Oscar celebrated his 8th birthday, with birthday go-ers including my roommate’s dog Lola and a wily boxer puppy named Bobbo. Now before this gets weird, yes, I do celebrate my dog’s birthday. No, I don’t think I’m crazy. And yes, he wears sweaters (it gets too cold in Chicago!). I’ve never before made Oscar a cake, or really acknowledged his birthday outside of insisting on a nice visit to the park, but as we’re stuck inside from the freezing Chicago wind, I decided a cake eating contest would be a hilarious Friday-night birthday activity. I searched the internet for a few dog-friendly cake recipes, eyeing several that seemed similar and inclusive of ingredients I already know Oscar enjoys: carrots, peanut butter, etc. I didn’t want to give him anything that seemed to be an ingredient purely for “human” tastes, as he doesn’t care about sweetener or vanilla flavor, I’m sure. I also didn’t want this cake to be the reason I have to get up at 3am, if you know what I mean. So I switched up the recipe a bit, and, no surprise, it was a huge hit for dogs all around. Oscar tenderly and steadily made through his miniature cake, licking the frosting then taking nibbling bites from the edges. He made through about 3/4 before deciding he couldn’t eat anymore. Lola, however, gobbled her entire cake in seconds, and she eagerly finished off Oscar’s plate when he signed defeat.

Oscar may not have been the winner, but if you’re looking to treat your pet (and not feel ashamed for doing so), I really recommend this simple cake, best served contest-style.

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Oscar’s Perfect-for-Pups Birthday Cake

Serves 6 hungry dogs

1 egg

1/4 cup peanut butter, preferably just peanuts and salt

3 tbsp. water

1/4 cup pumpkin puree (or sweet potato)

1 cup shredded carrots (about 3-4 medium carrots)

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp. baking soda

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 2 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg, peanut butter, and water until a smooth and even consistency is achieved. Add pumpkin puree and whisk to combine. In a food processor, pulse carrots until evenly shredded. Mix shredded carrots with the puree mixture. Add whole wheat flour and baking soda to the bowl and fold into the batter, mixing evenly, until almost no flour is visible (no need to over-mix).

Pour the batter into the loaf pan. The bonus of making this cake from scratch- the batter actually tastes pretty good. Kind of like an unsweetened carrot cake, with a more notable peanut butter flavor. The cake rises slightly in the oven, but is pretty dense.

Bake the cake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until cooked through. Rest the cake in the loaf pan on a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes.

In order to make a bone-shaped cake, slice a 3 inch slice of cake out of the pan. I threw the piece in the freezer for a few minutes since I was inpatient with waiting for it to cool. Using a paring knife, cut out an equilateral triangle at both ends of the rectangle. Then, cut a shallow half-moon shape out of the long rectangular sides.

Frost the cake with about 1-2 tbsp. of  frosting. Maybe your dog is 8 years old and you want to make an 8 out of a peeled slice of carrot. I won’t stop you.

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Oscar beginning to dive in. He flipped the cake over immediately with his voracious first bite. 

 

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Slowing down; he takes little bites and addresses the frosting.

The other family dogs have birthdays in the next few months, and this was really easy… just mentioning.

Brian’s Favorite Snickerdoodles

I didn’t make these snickerdoodles today. I didn’t make them a week ago, or a month ago. I’m actually not sure when I last made snickerdoodles- it may have been near the end of 2013- but when I make them, I use this recipe, every. single. time. They’ve been eaten at office parties, at friend’s homes, as Christmas gifts, for an indulgent snack, and in I’ll-eat-this-entire-recipe-at-once binges, courtesy of this blog’s namesake. Brian loves snickerdoodles, and he especially loves these snickerdoodles, so every time I make them I think of him. Today is a good day to ponder the life of my younger brother, because it’s a good day to be distracted from the stress which bookended my weekend and the many goings-on I have looking ahead for this week. It’s a good day to ponder things you love and care about, because Chicago doesn’t have a lot going for it right now, and I’m actually pretty sure the city itself is trying to break up with me. I haven’t given in yet, but I may be delusional. Really, I wish I could be sitting with Brian, stealing a snickerdoodle or two (as he gobbles down the rest, still warm), with some of his beautiful music playing in the background, losing sight of the fact that my life is very far away and very much more serious than video games and cookies. Every one needs a moment or two to just stop and eat a snickerdoodle. And if you’re going to give yourself the time, go for a good one.

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Brian’s Favorite (Unbelievably Soft and Fluffy) Snickerdoodles

Makes ~15-20 cookies

Based on this recipe

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. cinnamon

2-3 tbsp. milk

1/4 cup sugar & 1 tbsp. cinnamon for rolling

In an electric stand mixer at medium speed, or hand mixer, cream softened/ room-temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add egg and beat until incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. Add vanilla and mix again for ~30 seconds.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients- flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in 3 batches, beating on low until each batch is incorporated. If the last batch makes the dough seem too crumbly or dry, add in 1 tbsp. of milk at a time until cookie-dough consistency is achieved. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a shallow bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon for rolling. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Grab a small chunk of cookie dough, enough to form a golf-ball sized dough ball, and roll in your hand. Drop the rolled cookie dough into the sugar and cinnamon mixture and toss until covered. Place the cookie dough ball on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and repeat the process until all cookies are formed.

Bake the cookies in the oven for 10-12 minutes, erring on the longer side for larger dough balls. The cookies should be juuuust lightly browned on the bottom edges and still appear fairly raw in the middle. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, where they’ll firm up slightly and become delectably soft, fluffy, and chewy, with just the hint of a crackle-crunch when first biting in.

These cookies are the essence of cinnamon-vanilla wonder, absolutely perfect warm, but undeniably delicious at room temperature, even 3 days later. Keep fresh in a covered container for 2-3 days; otherwise, freeze to last longer. I promise you do not need to freeze these.

Brian deserves a batch today. Tell him they’re from me.