Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Chocolate Chip, M&M, and Double Chocolate M&M Cookies

I'm at my folks' house until this weekend, reading, relaxing, and running. We've gotten quite the heatwave here-- so oppressive that, were it not for the treadmill my parents' have, I would have fallen off the training bandwagon.

My dad thinks that the treadmill, when I'm running at my training pace, sounds like a washing machine. This morning, he called out from the kitchen "What're you doing in the washing machine?"

To which I replied, "Running in circles."

I'm pretty sure that my love of running is still a mystery to my family (though my mom gets it)-- however, it is no mystery that running means that I can have several of these beauties (I'm convinced, still, that that must be how it works, right? right?)

A while back, I was lucky enough to win the Secret Lives of Baked Goods, signed (!!!) by Jessie Oleson Moore (aka Cakespy), from Debbie at the Culinary Cellar (Thank you thank you thank you!!!), and only just recently got around to making the Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. Let me tell you-- this is, HANDS DOWN, the BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe I have EVER made. So good, that I played around with it, adding M&Ms, and then adding cocoa powder on top of it.

Seriously. You will never find a better classic chocolate chip cookie recipe (though I am still fond of this one and this one... and this one...).  I have no words for how perfect, chewy, crunchy, and wonderful these are. I just... I can't even...

I know it's hot. I know you don't want to turn on the oven. But if you can stand it, make these... and add some ice cream to beat the heat.

Thank you SO MUCH, Debbie, for selecting me as the winner of this drawing-- the cookbook is being treasured and loved more than you know!

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Basic Recipe

Adapted slightly from The Secret Lives of Baked Goods

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 pound semisweet chocolate, cut into chunks (~2 cups_

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

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

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars, and nutmeg together. Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between. Scrape down the sides as needed with a spatula.

Slowly add the flour mixture in in two parts, mixing well in between. Slowly fold in the chocolate chunks. For the best cookies, loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave the dough in the fridge for at least an hour.

Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, scoop dough out onto baking sheets, leaving plenty of room for spreading. Bake for 8-10 minutes; be sure to remove the cookies when they still look slightly underdone to maintain chewiness. Transfer to cooling racks and wait until cooled (if you can!). Devour with a tall glass of milk.

Variation 1: Swap out chocolate chunks for M&Ms, or add the M&Ms in with the chunks.

Variation 2: Add in 1/2 cup extra dark cocoa powder to the flour mixture; continue as before, but add in M&Ms and/or chocolate chunks at the end (I love the dark cocoa against the bright colors-- so pretty!)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pin there, done that: Minion Cake

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine called up one night and said, out of the blue, "Want to go see Despicable Me 2?" It was 9 at night, and the best/worst decision, considering I had a meeting the next morning. The movie was SO good...

[Why are all the kids' movies better than the ones for my age group?]

...that when my friend had a birthday roll around a week later, I had to attempt this idea from Pinterest.  I made Smitten Kitchen's yellow sheet cake and added a buttercream that was half butter, half vegetable shortening (to get the flavor, but be able to accurately tint the frosting colors. I'd say success, wouldn't you?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Farmer's Market Fridays: Chocolate Berry Zucchini Bread

So I'm in Chicago right now...


Yes, dreams do come true... A friend's wedding and my brother's graduation, spaced two weeks apart, were the perfect way to structure/sandwich some downtime in between. I'm still writing and working, but only halftime (ha!)

But before I left Minnesota, I had an abundance of zucchini in my fridge because, as usual, I couldn't help myself. Since I already have plenty blanched and frozen zucchini in my freezer, I decided to make a few loaves of tender zucchini bread to freeze and eat upon my return.

This one is inspired by Tracy Shutterbean, with a twist: strawberries instead of blueberries (it's what I had on hand!) and chocolate chips (because I can!). There's nonfat plain greek yogurt swapped in for some of the butter, to keep it moist, up the protein, and lessen the guilt.

Go forth, friends, and bake! I'm going back to sipping inordinate amounts of iced coffee and chatting with my mom...

Chocolate Berry Zucchini Bread

Adapted from Shutterbean

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
6oz plain nonfat greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups diced fresh strawberries

Preheat oven to 350F; butter and flour two loaf pans and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add in the lemon zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg and give it a whirl. Add in vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, beating well in between. Mix in the yogurt and then, in batches, the flour mixture.

Fold in the zucchini, chocolate chips, and strawberries; divide among pans, and bake 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes on pan, invert onto a wire cooling rack, and allow to cool completely (if you can wait that long!)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Eating Philadelphia: Old City Coffee

Two weeks ago, I flew to Philadelphia for two days for a meeting. It was a whirlwind-- almost every minute was planned, which is why, if I wanted to see anything, I had to be up before the sun came up.

Since meals were included in the meeting (and I am a graduate student who never turns down a free meal), I decided to venture out in search of good coffee in Old City.

We're walking, we're walking...

Alas, Philly. I did not eat a cheesesteak (though I heard, later, about a great place that does a vegetarian cheesesteak with portobello mushrooms-- next time!)

Just because...

Finally, I came to Old City Coffee, recommended to me by my friend Elaine. It was tucked away in a side street, and could have easily been missed if I hadn't been on a mission! 

Housed in an old banjo factory, this little cafe is steeped in history.

The coffee was nice and strong (a light-roasted Yirgacheff), and the small indoor portion of the cafe was quiet and bright.

It was wonderful, peaceful, and a bit creepy being all alone with the baristas in an empty coffee shop at 6:30am. Still, with good cold press, I was more than satisfied.

I didn't try any of their pastries, but their muffins looked divine (again, next time!). I did go for seconds on their coffee, though, as I headed back to my meeting.

All in all, a cute, quiet little cafe, roasting their own coffee on-site. 

(My only complaint would be their limited internet-- one hour with purchase-- but that's nitpicking.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pin there, done that: Andes Mint Chocolate Birthday Cake

Confession: I'm hooked on Pinterest. I know everyone is, but my addiction seems to be borderline (okay, totally) bizarre. I even have a board for my dream fellowships... and the apartments that I'd live in if I got them.

Thank goodness for the "secret board" setting.

But I do have normal food-porn boards, craft boards, boards-for-the-home... And, specifically, a cake board, so I can be inspired for friends' birthdays and weddings, like this Andes Mint Chocolate Birthday Cake I found from Bird on a Cake. 

Sara's nuts about mint and chocolate (well, and peanut butter and chocolate), so this seemed fitting. I had leftover thin mint cookies in my freezer, so those had to get chopped up and thrown in between the layers and on top along with the creamy mint chunks.

I made some slight modifications to put my own twist on the cake, but remained loyal to the original pin as best I could. It was a hit, but it was so rich, almost everyone ended up taking cake home!

Happiest birthday  Sara day, dear friend!

Here's how I put my spin on the original cake/some tips and tricks:
  • I made the frosting using half unsalted butter and half vegetable shortening (which makes it easier to color); I also added 1 tablespoon meringue powder per batch of frosting to help it set up nicely.
  • I doubled the frosting recipe, since I'd rather have too much than too little-- buttercream can always be frozen for up to a year, and thawed and rewhipped when needed, so you should always err on the side of making too much!
  • I frosted each layer separately and placed them in the freezer before stacking and doing the crumb coat; this allows the frosting to set up so your cake doesn't slide around when layering!
  • I halved the chocolate ganache (otherwise, you could cover five cakes with the given recipe).
  • I bought the pre-chopped Andes Mint baking bits and chopped up some thin mint cookies to place between layers and top the cake.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Farmer's Market Fridays: Romanian Sweet and Sour Eggplant and Squash

Well, we've made it, friends. It's Friday. Friday. FRIDAY!

(Sorry. Had to.)

As of this morning I am on *semi* vacation for a few weeks (meaning I'll be writing, but no lab work or other analyses) and heading back to my hometown for a wedding, my brother's graduate school graduation, and some R&R with my folks.

I always overshop at the Farmer's Market, and had to restrain my self last Saturday. I made a giant batch of this Romanian-style sautéed veggie salad, and boy, was it good (though note to self-- eggplants can be deliciously hazardous to your health!)

The sauce leftover once I had consumed all the veggies single-handedly made for a seriously good salad dressing. I imagine that adding quinoa to this tart-sweet-acidic salad would make for a perfect complete meal. Hindsight is 20/20... I'll just have to make this one again.

In all seriousness, though, this salad will change the minds of anyone who says that they don't like eggplant. It is a bit more laborious than some other recipes, but it lasts very well in the fridge, makes a lot of food, and gets better with time. The garlic-based pesto mixture smells amazing, and will rock your world-- just don't eat it straight, unless you want to kill your tastebuds.

Make up a batch this weekend, and peg away at it through the week!

Romanian Sweet and Sour Eggplant and Squash

Adapted from Susan Feniger's Street Food

1 large eggplant
1 large yellow summer squash
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup roughly chopped basil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Canola oil
1 14 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Cut off and throw away both ends of the eggplant. Slice remaining eggplant into 1/4" thick slices, and lay on a paper towel. Repeat with squash. Sprinkle with salt, and allow to sit for 20 minutes to draw out the excess water. Pat the vegetable slices dry with a paper towel.

Place olive oil, garlic, onion, basil, paprika, and 1 tbsp salt into a food processor; pulse until mixture achieves a pesto-like appearance. Spread liberally over the vegetable slices.

Heat canola oil in a large sauté pan. Working in batches, place the veggies garlic-mixture-side-down into the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, spreading mixture over the undressed side before flipping. Remove to a plate to cool and cook the next batch. Once slightly cooled, slice veggie rounds into strips; set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the tomatoes, vinegar, and brown sugar until bubbling. Add the veggie slices, and stew for 12-15 minutes, until most of the liquid has cooked off. Serve dish piping hot, or room temperature (I like it over greens for a hearty dinner salad!)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cornmeal Lime Cookies

Do you ever feel like you are living your life as one giant to-do list? Or, in my case, a pile of post-it notes in a moleskin notebook whose binding is unravelling due to the sheer number of post-it notes of drafts of to-do lists?

Yes, friends. I actually draft, rewrite, and draft more to-do lists. The list that I'm staring at now is now in its third iteration. True story.

Earlier this week, I had to meet with my thesis advisory committee to share my progress with them. I was nervous as all get-out, so a to-do list was carefully crafted to ensure that I covered everything. On that list, I wrote "Bake cookies."

What it really should have read (had I chosen to use one of the larger sticky notes) was "Buy committee's love with a unique cookie that would result in more discussion about baking cookies than it would about my actual research."

These cookies, inspired by Shutterbean and Flour, are magical. They're off-the-wall, an usual flavor combination that sounds like it should make for a great savory cornbread (which it totally would!), but would not be at home in a cookie. It's strange, but it ends up being a tender, light, crumbly cookie with just a hint of sweetness. Definitely a great summery baked good that won't leave you weighed down!

Cornmeal Lime Cookies

Adapted from Shutterbean and Flour

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lime zest (~4 limes)
Juice of one lime
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow coarse cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the lime zest, and mix well. Add eggs one at a time, vanilla, and lime juice; mix well (it may look a bit curdled).

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Slowly, with the mixer running, add in flour mixture until just combined.

Scoop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving plenty of room for spreading. Bake cookies for 10 minutes, until they puff up and start to brown on the edges. Remove from heat, transfer to cooling rack, and allow to completely cool.

Note: These are delicate, crumbly cookies. While they taste good broken, I would highly recommend transporting them in a tupperware container.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Good Morning Muffintops

I've been MIA, dear friends, and for that, I apologize profusely-- it's been a heck of a couple of weeks!

Things are going full steam around here with my thesis work and wrapping up some projects, so I'm lucky to have time to breathe. I'm pretty sure that, at this point, my body composition is 90% cold press coffee, 10% protein and DNA.

To cut the caffeine/keep me from shaking like a madwoman, I've been baking and consuming muffins like they're going out of style. These are chock-full of wholesome goodness, like fruit, zucchini, and oat bran.

And dark chocolate. Antioxidants, right? Right?  (Wrong.)

I love you all, and will do my best to get back here posting more often-- things should be calming down soon enough!

Good Morning Muffintops

Adapted from Flour

1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup hot water
1 medium zucchini, grated
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup pecan halves, chopped
1 apple, diced
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a muffintop pan (or a regular muffin tin) with nonstick baking spray and set aside.

In a bowl, stir the oat bran and hot water together until mixed; fold in the zucchini, raisins, pecans, apple, and chocolate chips, and stir to combine.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the eggs and sugar together until the mixture lightens in color. Slowly drizzle in oil while mixing and vanilla.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in to the egg mixture until combined, then mix in the zucchini mixture. Spoon into muffin top pans or muffin tins until almost overflowing. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden and the muffin tops spring back when touched. Serve with a good cup of coffee on a summer day, then hit the trails!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Farmer's Market Fridays: Spicy Chilled Corn Soup

Summer finally feels like it's hit for me... and that's a bummer, since it'll be over soon enough.

But I'm hanging on tooth and nail. I'm hanging on to summer in any form I can get it in. Including soup.

I love making big batches of soups in the summer using fresh produce. Soups are easy, simple, and-- most awesomely-- can be frozen to eat in the winter for super quick meals!

This soup is simple, but so filling. It's creamy, with no cream added. Just sweet corn, a smidge of butter, onions, garlic, and serrano peppers.

I was so proud of myself... The pepper I used in this recipe was the first one off my plant! When I told one of the farmers I frequent about my plant being ready to harvest, his automatic response?

"It's still alive?!"

Such is my life.

Spicy Chilled Corn Soup

Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
8 ears of sweet corn, shucked
Kosher salt
1 serrano pepper, minced

Heat butter and oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook until translucent, about five minutes; add the garlic and serrano pepper, and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add the corn, salt, and pepper and sautee until the corn becomes soft and starts to brown, around 8-10 minutes. Add 5-6 cups water to the pot and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer for another 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Carefully (soup may still be hot!) use an immersion blender to blend the soup; alternatively, work in batches and cream the soup in a blender. Transfer to a bowl and chill at least two hours; serve cold with additional peppers and tortilla chips.