Apr 202014
 

Oatmeal chocolate-chunk cran-pecan cookies

Do you remember that chain letter than went around in the wee days of the internet? The one with the recipe for Neiman-Marcus cookies? It’s probably still circulating, but I came across it almost twenty years ago (woah — time flies!) and every bloody time I walk into a L’Aroma Bakery in Anchorage I think of that email. You see, I’m difficult to impress when it comes to bakery cookies. Most are too huge and way over-baked. Plus, in what is likely a cost-cutting measure, the cookies are usually missing something delicious and they fall flat on their faces on the palate.

But L’Aroma is different.

I’m also not usually a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, but their version — which uses cranberries instead of the archetypal raisin — will sucker-punch you with their sheer deliciousness and you won’t even mind.

So, the point is that many of us have a list of “I want this recipe for my very own” from our various favorite haunts. L’Aroma’s oat-cran cookie is definitely on the short list. (Oh, the other stuff on the short list? The triple-berry scones from — of course — L’Aroma* and the chocolate-chip cookies from A Sweet Affair in Walnut Creek, CA.) Would I pay $250 for the recipe? Well, given that The Hubs and I are prone to taking foodcations to Anchorage every year and we certainly spend more than that on just getting there, it doesn’t seem unreasonable. And since we can’t go this summer (which is killing me), maybe I should just cajole them into selling their recipe instead — it would be cheaper than a trip up there.

Failing that, I have this recipe. No, it’s not exactly the same as my L’Aroma favorite since there are pecans and chocolate and the flavor is a bit different, but these cookies are almost as good. But let me tell you, this is almost the recipe That Never Was. For some reason, I had to do battle with these cookies FIVE TIMES before I finally got the better of them. I referred to one of my failures — attempting to make brown sugar at home — already, but the other failures generally had to do with forgetting how to read a measuring cup and over-baking (which really surprised me, given that these sorts of errors don’t usually happen in Cook’s Illustrated recipes, especially when they have an admonishment that says “Do not over-bake!”). But I have emerged on the cookie gauntlet successful, after learning to stock my freaking kitchen with the right kind of sugar, rembmering that fluid ounces and tablespoons are NOT the same thing, and pulling out every trick I know to maximize a cookie’s chew. Now that I’ve done the behind-the-scenes work, I implore thee: go out and bake these too!

* When we were last in Anchorage last summer, The Hubs and I pulled off The Great Scone Heist, in which we hit every singe location in the city that sold the scones and bought them out so we could freeze them and take them home with us. If you understand how quickly each morning the residents and tourists buy out those scones, you’ll be impressed by our feat. Also — and this is a total digression here — whenever I go to the Kaladi Brothers Coffee (Alaska’s far-superior answer to Starbucks) in Seattle, I’m always slightly disappointed that they don’t carry L’Aroma pastries like their more northerly locations do.

Click for the recipe →

Jun 092013
 
Crevasse cookies

Crevasse cookies: see into their depths!

I’m not much of an arm-chair athelte. Why would I watch a bunch of people on TV play a sport when I could go out and play it myself? There’s too much awesome stuff in the world to see with your own eyes. This helps explain my love of hiking and backpacking, but it leads into the one exception of my “I’d rather be a participant than an observer” credo: mountaineering.

Specifically, the crazy kind of mountaineering that takes you above 8,000 meters (aptly, however cheesily, called the death zone). I cannot get enough of reading, watching, and hearing about others’ experiences on the world’s fourteen highest mountains. As gung-ho as I am about getting into nature and not seeing but experiencing sights for myself, I am perfectly content to let other people climb these mountains for me, so long as I get to live vicariously through them. I think it has something to do with the insane death rate among the people who do. What possesses someone to climb a mountain that has a 37% death rate??? Or be involved in a day where twenty people try to summit and eleven of them die???

Crevasse cookies

No self-arrest with your ice-axe will save you if you fall into this crevasse.

There are a zillion things that can kill you: unexpected weather, your body eating itself, hypoxia, hypothermia, hypoxic hypothermia (yes, the ailments are ganging up on your now), becoming incapacitated to the point you can’t descend, high-altitude edemas (pulmonary or cerebral: take your pick!), avalanches, getting crushed by calving seracs and glaciers, the common cold (your immune system is useless in the death zone), frostbite (on second thought, that’ll probably just maim you), falling off the mountain, or getting swallowed up in a crevasse. That last one is what happens when the glacier decides to eat you!

So, given the hazards, I think that these little confections are going to be the closest I come to summitting (or dying on) the likes of K2 or Annapurna. These chewy chocolate meringues are my attempt to make fabulous cookies sans dairy and soy and conveniently use up the egg whites left over from my aioli-making binges. You certainly couldn’t take them up the mountain with you because they would be smooshed in half a second (just picking them up can be enough to make them collapse) but their jagged, cracked-open surface would be a constant reminder of the perils you face. Their delicacy also serves to keep the fragility of those crevasse-coverings in the forefront of your mind. One must tread carefully in such an environment. Luckily, I’ve yet to hear of anyone killed while tackling these cookies, so if you’re like me and you like to leave the crazy mountaineering to other folks, these will feel right at home next to you as you’re curled up on the couch with your nose stuck in your favorite tale of disaster, bravery, and heroics above 26,000 feet.

Crevasse cookies: ready to yawn open at the slightest provocation

Crevasse cookies: ready to yawn open and swallow you whole at the slightest provocation

Click for the recipe →

Mar 242013
 

Browned-butter cookies!

The quest for the ultimate chocolate-chip cookie is a bit of a thing for people like myself. Sure, you could go with the back-of-the-chocolate-chip-bag one, but while there’s nothing wrong with it per se, there’s nothing special about it. And even though the chocolate-chip cookie is the standard, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. It appears that others agree, so a zillion recipes and versions abound, which leaves you with a conundrum: how do you find the best? And what are your criteria for the best? Some people like chewy cookies, some like crispy, some like super-sweet, others like excessively-chocolatey. And some weirdos even like nuts in them. And I certainly have more than one recipe that I adore. The point is: if you can think of a cookie characteristic, you can find someone who thinks that it’s absolutely necessary and a recipe that corresponds to that criterion.

Luckily, this recipe can please just about everyone.

Chewy in the center, a bit crisp on the edges, warm and gooey flavors of toffee throughout (and yes, you weirdos can add nuts if you please), this cookie is simply made of magic. The secret is in the browned butter and extra egg yolk, and the seemingly-fussy mixing-method gives results unlike any I’ve ever seen before. And in theory, these cookies are perhaps even better the next day, but really, do you think they’re likely to survive that long?

Browned-butter cookies!

Click for the recipe →

Dec 022012
 

Banana chocolate-chip bread

As I have said here before, there is something eminently comforting about a loaf of quick-bread. When one finds oneself in the throes of a Banana Corollary situation and is simultaneously in need of some comfort food, banana bread is an obvious choice. I previously only jonesed for a good loaf of quick-bread when battling a cold or some other malady, but in the final weeks of my pregnancy I could. not. get. enough of the stuff, which perhaps explains why Leah was a little yellow when she made her grand appearance.

There are two things that banana bread should be and a third thing that is awfully nice, but by no means required. They are, respectively: excessively banana-y, super-moist, and chocolatey. You’d be surprised how many recipes fall short in the required categories. So, at thirty-eight weeks along and sporting more than a few water-polo-balls’ worth of bulk in the front of my abdomen, you can imagine that I didn’t want to waste time on sub-par banana bread recipes. Another recipe I’ve tried (from Cook’s Illustrated) delivered on the banana front but was excessively fussy (don’t tell a woman who’s full to the brim with child that she has to microwave bananas and then reduce the juice on the stove-top: I can assure you that the last thing she wants to do is be on her feet longer than she has to. She just wants to eat banana bread) and it was frankly not as good as this recipe that I’m going to share with you.

So the next time you find yourself in need of a quick-bread fix, I hope you’ll give this recipe a try. I think you’ll find — like we do — that it never lasts long!

Note: February 23rd is National Banana Bread Day in the US! Mark your calendars and use up those brown bananas!

Also note: dairy-free variation at the end of the recipe!

Banana chocolate-chip bread

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Oct 232009
 

I hardly ever make apologies for my cooking for any reason whatsoever. I take great pride in what comes out of my kitchen and get great joy from sharing that food with others.
With these delectable little cookies, however, apologies might be in order. Don’t get me wrong – they’re excellent, it’s just that they’re so rich that unless your ovaries have taken you hostage and are demanding nothing less than a chocolate IV now, indulging in more than, say, two, might be out of the realm of possibility. Even if you find yourself in the midst of a hostage crisis, a chaser of milk (preferably straight from the carton!) is still necessary.

Chocolate chopped up for cookie delights!
Nikon D50

Richness aside, these suckers are delicious. So sinfully delicious, it’s said, that if everyone in the world had these, conflict and war would no longer be issues. I’m inclined to agree – these cookies can cure what ails you. Well, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually at any rate, if not physically (unless butter and chocolate are agents of healing now).

Ready to go in the oven
Nikon D50

As for the world peace bit, I’m doing my part. I’ve sent these cookies throughout the world, including war zones, as gifts that are meant to bring comfort and happiness to those who needed it, whether it was because they were missing their families or because they had just had their hearts broken. They’ve also done good domestically, be it by bringing a bit of cheer to shift workers on a dreary Monday or by raising money for charities in need.

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

I should confess that I’m not totally altruistic with these cookies. Not every batch is for a good cause (see previous statement about ovaries taking a certain person hostage) – because, really, sometimes you just gotta keep some of the riches that flow from your kitchen to yourself. Even if you’re impeding world peace by doing so, I don’t think anyone will blame you!

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

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Feb 242008
 

Espresso. Brandy. Ladyfingers. Chocolate. Marscapone.

When you look at that list you may find yourself wondering, “What possibly could go wrong?”

And if you answered an enthusiastic “Nothing!” you would be so, so wrong. I sure as hell hope you didn’t bet the farm on that one.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

Tiramisu, at its best, is light yet rich, warm-tasting with brandy notes, with espresso to offset the sweetness, and because everything is better with chocolate, a liberal dusting of some Scharffen Berger. However, when executed improperly, it’s flat tasting, bitter, and soggy. Trust me, you don’t want soggy tiramisu.

It’s one of those dishes where everything has to go right. Because of that, I won’t order it in restaurants anymore, not even the one that Cory took me to for dessert on my birthday, because they screw it up and frankly, mine is a hell of a lot better (sorry Cory, I know you meant well!).

Luckily, if you have a good recipe, like the one I’m about to share with you, you can’t go wrong. Too many recipes for tiramisu are too vague and include verbiage like “stir a couple of times” or “heat until lukewarm” and that sort of imprecision, while maybe appearing a little less intimidating to the novice cook, is a recipe for disaster. For soggy, flaccid, bitter disaster. And you know I would never do that to you.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

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Jan 162008
 

I may have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with butternut squash. As soon as it hits the grocery store, I’m burrowing through recipes, writing down the weight of the squashes I’ll need in my upcoming cooking marathons, and re-inventing the stuff as much as I can.

Ready to face the heat
Nikon D50

Sadly, though, there are very few recipes for the stuff that don’t involve roasting. Not that I’m complaining – roasting is one of my favorite methods because it’s totally fuss-free and extremely adaptable – but sometimes I just want some texture with my squash!

Then the folks at Cafe Cacao (the erstwhile Scharffen Berger restaurant, now sadly defunct) came to the rescue: their first executive chef whipped up this recipe, which is just beyond flippin’ perfect. The nibs add not only just a bit of crunch, they also toss in a subtle chocolate flavor. Not a huge fan of unsweetened chocolate? Never fear, the squash provides that sweetness! This recipe is genius. Pure genius.

Scharffen Berger to the rescue!
Nikon D50

Can you see why I wanted to have the wedding rehearsal dinner there?
Skeptical about chocolate and squash? I’d like to clarify and say that Scharffen Berger nibs and Hersey’s have about as much in common as apples and baseball bats. Hersey’s (and other mass-marketed chocolate) are all about the sweet, sweet, sweet. There is not much chocolate to speak of. On the other hand, the nibs have a very warm, complex, nutty, fruity, vanilla-y, and above all, pure chocolate-y flavor. So throw caution to the wind and give this recipe a shot while the squash is still in season.

Squash and chocolate - an unlikely match made in heaven
Nikon D50

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Jan 112008
 

Telltale scenario #538: How to know you married the perfect man:

Your hubby has come up for a visit and, alas, you have to go to a boring lunch for work. You’d pleaded to get out of it, and even your “but I only get to see my husband every three months” argument had fallen on deaf ears. So you go, you eat some awful food, and before long you’re back home and you find that not only has he mown the lawn, he has made you a batch of your favorite chocolate chunk cookies.

True story!

Sorry ladies, he’s off the market.

The stash: yummy yummy chocolate
Nikon D50

Now, these cookies that my wonderful husband made for me hold a special place in my heart. It’s not for any sentimental reason, it’s just because they’re so chock-full of really good chocolate. Perhaps I haven’t made it totally clear in this blog thus far, but I’m a total chocolate freak. Not for crappy mass-produced Hersey’s, but for the good stuff – as is evidenced by my chocolate stash (yes, all of those striped packages are Scharffen Berger). I’m by no means exclusive in my smittenness – I give my love not to just one but to a select few.

Chocolate all chunked up
Nikon D50

So, unsurprisingly, cookies like this that use good chocolate and a lot of it are right up my alley. I made these cookies last week and gave them away and have been tormented by their memory since – why oh why was I feeling so altruistic???

I wasn’t so tortured the first time I made them and they were part of the care package that I sent to Jeremy when he was studying for the Bar. He rated these as an A- and said “as plain old boring chocolate chip cookies go, they’re superb.”

Cookie says: 'I love you!'
Nikon D50

A-, in my mind, is about right. I’ve already made them better than that batch – I originally used Lindt Swiss bittersweet and Ghirardelli milk but in my most recent batch, Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet and 41% extra rich milk was the chocolate I chose. They’re still not absolutely perfect and they could use a small improvement. To give these cookies just a tad more texture and complex chocolate flavor (but not more sweetness), I think they would benefit from some cacao nibs being stirred in.

It could be that those little nibs will be the key to finally getting that A.

A most delectable bite
Nikon D50

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Oct 092007
 

Pumpkin spice cookies

This recipe is one that’s been near and dear to me for nearly my whole life. My Mom originally clipped it out of a newspaper and it’s grown up with me, going through different changes as I changed too.

Originally we made these cookies huge and round with little pumpkin stems and lavished icing and sprinkles upon them like festive, sweet, sticky jack-o-lanterns. Needless to say, they never lasted long.

My copy of the beloved recipeYears later as my brother and I grew out of the whole Halloween thing, these cookies stuck around (of course!) Now that having a good smooth icing canvas was no longer necessary, chocolate chips made their way into the cookies. They marred the formerly glasslike (well, for a cookie) surface but dude, it was chocolate. Yum! My parents would send these cookies to me in my care packages at college, and they brought back memories of childhood the way that only really good comfort foods can do.

Now that I’m all old, non-pumpkin-decorating, and out of college, it’s up to me to keep this yummy tradition alive. I’ve made them every year over the last couple autumns, but this year I discovered my favorite addition: The Squash Quad of Power. As in the Turkey Trifecta, this blend of flavors complements the flavors it’s enhancing so perfectly that I wouldn’t ever consider excluding them. Unsurprisingly, when you add cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and cloves to the cookies, they’re, well, uhm, wow.

They just might be the best cookie ever.

Click for the recipe →

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