Archive for October, 2012

Why Mess with Perfection?

October 10, 2012

In the 28 months that I have been making what I consider to be the best chocolate chip cookie in the universe, I have rarely considered making another.  Recipes come my way all the time, via books and the internet, and the only time I was tempted to stray was for this recipe.  We liked that one very much too.  But after they cleared out of the cookie jar, I went back to my favorite.  I make a lot of cookies and I have many that I like, but Ashley’s are my the tippy top favorite.

So why stray?  Why mess with perfection?  I am a recent subscriber to Saveur and it only comes out 10 times a year so it feels like a pleasant surprise when it arrives in my mailbox.  The most recent issue is terrific, 101 Classic Recipes.  Of course there is a chocolate chip cookie.  I would have just turned the page, chuckling that they got their recipe so wrong.  But when I saw how different it is from any other I have made, I decided to give it a try.  Unlike Ashley’s there is only one kind of sugar and unlike the New York Times (another very good cookie), there is only one kind of flour.  But there are four egg yolks and a completely different method for shaping the cookies.  Rather than scooping the dough out of the bowl and onto cookie sheets, you essentially roll out three sheets of dough, sprinkling chocolate in between them, and then use a biscuit or cookie cutter to cut them out.  Revolutionary or ridiculous?

I’m on the fence.  I found the method to be a royal pain in the butt.  I don’t like rolling out cookie dough.  The only cookie dough I roll out on a regular basis is for holiday cookies and that is because there would be a coup in my house if I didn’t make them.  There is a lot of chocolate and not a lot of dough in this recipe which means they make for lovely eating but are a little difficult to manhandle while you are stamping them out.  I like a cookie with some height and those three layers of dough work wonders for the height of the cookie.  They are soft in the middle and crisp around the edges and if I had remembered to sprinkle sea salt on top of each one, I might have been tempted to introduce this cookie into our family permanently.  Why don’t you bake up a batch of Ashley’s and a batch of these and bring them both over for an official taste test.

And at the end of this post, I have to say one thing.  As I was sitting here, writing about dough and cookies and the quest for the best, I pulled away to get inspiration.  It is something I often do when I get stuck.  I go to my favorite blogs to check in.  See what they are cooking, photographing, and writing about.  I read this post and I laughed and sobbed in the space of a few paragraphs.  And I came back here, feeling silly that I was writing about cookies.  My kids are growing so fast – why am I writing about cookies??  But in the end, cookies are important, especially to my little guys who love them so deeply.

One Year Ago:  Corn Chowder with Coconut Milk, Cocoa Nib Brownies
Two Years Ago:  Savory Rugelach, Ratatouille, Mushroom and Herb Polenta, Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding Pie
Three Years Ago:  Smoky Chard over Grilled Bread, Asian Coconut Noodle Soup, Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Arugula, Almond Praline Scones
Four Years Ago:  Five Lentil and Chard Soup, Quick Olive and Cheese Bread

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

The recipe suggests you use a hand mixer, I used my stand mixer.  It also suggests you roll the dough into the desired shape, I thought it was easier to smoosh (technical term) and pat it into shape.  I kept patting the scraps out over and over again to maximize the number of cookies and they lost their height but not their taste.

2¼ cups flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. kosher salt
16 tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside.  Combine butter, both sugars, and vanilla in a large bowl; beat on medium-high speed with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add yolks two at a time, beating after each addition; add dry ingredients; beat on low speed until just combined.  Transfer dough to a work surface; divide into 3 equal pieces.  Flatten each into a 4″ x 6″ rectangle; wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill for 30 minutes.

Place one dough rectangle on flour work surface; sprinkle with half the chocolate.  Top with another rectangle, sprinkle with remaining chocolate, and cover with last rectangle.  Using a floured rolling pin, flatten rectangles into a 9″ x 6″ x 1½” rectangle.  Using a 2″ round cutter, cut out cookies; transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spaced 3″ apart.  Gather scraps, reroll into a 1½” thick disk; cut out more cookies.  (See headnote.)  Bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through cooking, until lightly browned and set, about 15 minutes.

A Slice of My Life – Week 40

October 8, 2012

Art table, meet art

If you ever sat in my dining room in Seattle, you are familiar with this painting.  Now it has prime positioning over the fireplace.  I love having a bit of the Pacific Northwest in Oakland.

Waiting in the Berkeley post office.  And waiting and waiting and waiting…

Korean rice bowl.  All kinds of yummy things in there.

This plus

this equaled

this.  Recipe coming this week.

Hmmmmm.  What do the dishes drying in my kitchen say about me?

Lots of requests for a hair post.  Coming up this week!

Have I shown you these shoes yet?  I love them.  I bought them in Paris for half off and they are comfortable enough to wear all day.

White sale.  Sur la Table.  Bowls.

Do you make your own hummus?  You should.  I tell you about this week.  (Sense a theme here?)

I got the new Baked cookbook.  It is split into chapters by their ten favorite ingredients.  One was malted milk.  So I made Vanilla Malted Milk Milkshakes.  Recipe coming – you guessed it! – this week.

Neighborhood street fair.  Beads, pumpkins, sno-kones.  Like you do.

A sunset dinner in jammies.  Before you judge the adult beverage choice, that is rosé Lillet and you are supposed to drink it with ice cubes.  Just didn’t want anyone thinking I was a white zinfandel drinker.

Black Bean Soup with Avocado Salsa

October 3, 2012

To say we have been eating a lot of Mexican food in our new city would be an understatement.  We ate a lot of Mexican food in Seattle but most of it was coming out of my kitchen.  All four of us love it and it is a very veg friendly cuisine.  We knew a move to Northern California would greatly improve our Mexican dining choices and we have not been disappointed.  Mostly we have stuck to kid friendly and quick places, not the fancier ones, but every place we’ve tried has been terrific.

This bounty has not stopped me from continuing to make Mexican food at home.  Actually, I’m not sure this soup can really be called Mexican food because it comes from a British cookbook.  But there are beans and there is a salsa you put on top.  Close enough, right?

There is a time and a place for canned beans which, in my kitchen, is much of the time.  This is not one of those times.  If you wake up on the morning you plan to make this soup and realized you forgot to soak the dried beans overnight, do not despair!  Dried beans benefit from a soak of any length, even if it is just a few hours.  I have never needed to cook any bean more than an hour maybealittlemore, despite what packaging and recipes will tell you.  I will say that buying good beans from a reputable place means that they will be fresher and will take less time to cook.   I will also say be sure to taste your beans to make sure they are cooked through because no one likes a chalky bean.  I will also say (it’s public service announcement day – did you know?) that “don’t salt your beans until they are cooked through otherwise they turn out tough” is an old wives’ tale.  Like most things, beans need salt.

Oh, but how about that soup?  Warm, nourishing, a bit spicy, super good for you.  That is all well and good.  The salsa and garnishes make it into a meal so make sure you have something to put on top.  If you don’t want to take the extra step to make the salsa, just serve it with store-bought salsa, chopped avocados, and plenty of lime and cilantro.  Cheese is nice too.

One Year Ago:  Mexican Chocolate Cake, Pizza with Corn, Chantarelles, and Cilantro
Two Years Ago:  Braised Purple Cabbage with Apples, Pecan Molasses Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze
Three Years Ago:  Carrot Soup with Ginger and Lemon, Buckwheat Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms, Holly B’s Peanut Butter Brownies
Four Years Ago:  Dimply Plum Cake

Black Bean Soup with Avocado Salsa
Adapted from Plenty (not Ottolenghi’s book)
Serves 4-6

The cilantro stems is not a misprint.  Cilantro stems have a lot of flavor and are sturdy enough to stand up to a long cook.  You will be blending the soup, so they will disappear.  Save the leaves and use them to garnish the soup.

1½ cups dried black beans
Olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
Stems from ½ a bunch of cilantro
1 small red or green chile, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp. ground cumin
3 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock (you can use water)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime, plus additional slices for serving

Cover the beans with cold water and leave to soak overnight (or for as long as you can).  Drain and rinse.

Place a soup pot over medium heat.  Pour in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot, then add the onion, carrot, celery, cilantro stems, and chile.  Also sprinkle in a pinch of salt.  Sauté until the onions browns a bit and the other vegetables are softening, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the cumin, and the garlic and cook for another two minutes.  Stir in the beans, then pour in the stock or water.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about an hour, or until the beans are tender.  Taste one to make sure.  Add lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper.

Carefully purée the soup either using an immersion blender or a regular one.  You can also use a food processor.  The soup should still have a lot of texture but make sure the cilantro stems are puréed.  Serve garnished with the avocado salsa, crumbles of cheese (Cotija is nice), cilantro leaves, and limes slices on the side.  Sour cream too, if you roll that way.

Avocado Salsa

1 garlic clove
½ tsp. kosher salt
8 ounces fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 avocados, diced
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 scallions, sliced
1 fresh chile, minced
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
Tabasco to taste

Place the garlic clove on a cutting board and chop it coarsely.  Sprinkle with the kosher salt.  Using the flat side of a knife, grind the salt into the garlic, using back and forth motions, until you have a paste.  Scrape this paste off the board and put in a bowl.  Add the rest of the salsa ingredients and stir to combine.  Allow to sit for at least half an hour so the flavors can meld.


A Slice of My Life – Week 39

October 1, 2012

Another week of trying to figure out where things are, being lost only 85% of the time (last week it was 90%), doing the last bits of unpacking and picture hanging.  I figured out how we can walk to school.  It’s only ten minutes and it includes this endless stair way.  The first day we did it, I subconsciously thought, “Oh too bad I figured this out just in time for rain to start”.  And then I remembered that I live in Oakland now and that season, the one that is dark and rainy for nine months, doesn’t exist here.

We put up the weather vane.

I made the chocolate chip cookie recipe that is in the latest issue of Saveur.  It was a pain in the butt.  The cookies were good though.  Will post soon.

I have this little window seat in the kitchen.  I bought these pillows this week.  When I miss my friends, I imagine them sitting right there while I cook.

Soaking potatoes for oven fries.  It’s a step you have to take.  Read all my tips here.

I bought fennel pollen and promptly bullied Ashley for her shortbread recipe that uses fennel pollen because it’s amazing.  Coming soon!


My hair and I have gotten to a previously unknown high in our lifelong relationship.  In other words, I am liking my hair better than I ever have.  Part of it is product, part of it is technique, and part of it is putting it in this ridiculous get-up every morning.  Interested?  Should I do a hair post?

Figs.  One of a very small handful of vegetarian things that I won’t eat.

I made this gigantic cake with them and plums and was careful to cut myself a piece of only plum.  The cake wasn’t as good as I thought it would be and who needs a 13×18-inch cake anyway.  Recipe NOT coming soon.

Awesome ice.

Picking lemons.  As you do.

This is my mom’s charm bracelet.  All of the charms were given to her by her grandmother.  When I was a child, I would ask her to see it all the time and she, knowing I would be gentle, let me.  A few years ago, she gave it to me and I wear it on special occasions.  I love the camera charm.  The charm below that is the Plaza Hotel in New York where my parents got married.  The anniversary date is on the bottom.

The special occasion of the week was getting invited to have brunch with Denise at her house.  Three years ago, I attended BlogHer in San Francisco and made some lifelong friends.  Cheryl, Tracy, Denise, and Allison all live in the Bay area and Denise put together a fabulous spread to welcome me.  I’m a lucky girl.

Saturday, we had two power outages in a row.  We ate dinner by candlelight out on our deck while the boys did a puppet show for us.

Farmers’ market avocados.  Heaven.

Today, Monday, is the clearest day we have had so far.  Also the hottest – 91 degrees!  Where did fall go?

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