February 7, 2012

Orange Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites

The other day in the grocery store, Jacob spied those little 'two-bite' brownies in the bakery department and pulled the please mom eyes on me. "Nope," I said. "We can make better ones at home."

When I went to make good on this promise, though, I realized we were out of a key ingredient (um, cocoa), and since there was no way I was going to the grocery store twice in one day during high tourist season, I suggested we make plain old cookies instead. We make chocolate chip cookies so often that it takes us all of 5 minutes to slap the dough together, and as I was about to begin dropping spoonfuls on the cookie sheet, I thought of the little mini muffin pan I'd been planning to bake the brownie bites in. And before I could think about it too much more, I'd greased 'er up and spooned cookie batter into each of the 24 little rounds.

And you guys. They were awesome. A little tricky to get out of the pan - you really have to grease each tiny tin completely (which is in all honesty kind of a pain in the ass) and then you have to make sure the cookies are cool before trying to remove them. I tried to take the first batch out too soon and they stuck to the pan and fell apart. But something about the little muffin shape works really well with this dough, forming a delicately crisp outer shell that houses a gooey, chewy, almost cake-like texture. They are little explosions of buttery deliciousness, and I confess I may have eaten five straight in a row. Maybe nine over the course of the day.

(which reminds me, I wanted to show you this hilarious refrigerator magnet my sister gave me for Christmas)

In this version, I added orange zest and fancy Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips, but you can easily customize this to your own taste and stir in nuts, white chocolate chips, candied ginger, spices, chocolate chunks, or anything else you think might go well with a lot of butter. Happy jiggling!

Orange Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites
makes 48 cookies
*please note this recipe is customized for baking at 10,000 feet elevation and has not been tested at lower elevations

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (please do not use 'vanilla flavoring' because ... blech)
Zest of one medium orange (about 2 tsp)
2 cups semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease a mini-muffin tin. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer or another medium bowl, cream butter until light (make sure the butter is softened). Incorporate sugars, then add eggs, one at a time, vanilla, and orange zest. Slowly stir in flour mixture until combined with butter mixture, and then add chocolate chips. Drop 1 generous tablespoon of dough into each mini muffin tin. Bake for 15 minutes and cool completely on a wire rack before removing from pan.

January 24, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner

Some nights I come home and I just ... can't. I've worked all day and it's late and I have nothing planned for dinner, and if I didn't have a kid I'd shove a handful of chips into my pie-hole and call it a meal. But I do have a kid, and feel it's important to feed him something relatively healthful every evening.

Tonight was FO SHO one of those nights. I started the day at 4:30 a.m. and ended at nearly 7 p.m. Exhausted, irritable, and hungry, I considered not cooking at all and ordering pizza, but that didn't sound very appealing either. So I turned to an easy fallback:  breakfast for dinner. Whip some eggs, add some chopped veggies, toast some bread, and voila - hot, quick, and satisfying (that's what she said).

I recently saw this recipe for "Better Scrambled Eggs" from former NYT food critic Ruth Reichl and was both intrigued and slightly grossed out (that is a LOT of butter). Honestly, I didn't have the patience tonight to follow all the steps and spend half an hour lovingly stirring scrambled eggs, but I did up the amount of butter I usually use (I used about 3 T for 6 eggs), and kept the heat low so they cooked slowly. The result was lovely:  fluffy, velvety, and creamy. I added some high-quality grated sharp cheddar, tossed in some chopped avocado and tomato, and served it with whole grain toast and veggie sausage patties. Thumbs up all around.

I also may or may not have had a double vodka on the side. Helps with the irritability.

January 16, 2012

Apple-Cinnamon Bread Puddings with Whiskey Caramel Sauce

This past Saturday, for the first time in about three years, I got a massage. It was luxurious. I asked the massage therapist to focus on my neck and back, and as she worked, the tension melted from my body, and I felt myself letting down in a way I hadn't in what seemed like months. "It's so nice to be taken care of," I said to her.

By dinnertime that evening, I felt the telltale tickle in my nose and throat, a slight burning behind my eyes. By Sunday morning, I had a full-blown head cold and was lumbering around like Shrek, all swollen nose and plugged-up ears. Why? Why did that lovely portal of relaxation also have to be a gateway for teh sick germs?

On Friday night, when I was still all tensed up and healthy, I joined some friends for a class on Thai street food: quick curries, fried spring rolls, chili-flecked beef. Thinking the chilis might help clear my sinuses, I made a few of the dishes again over the weekend, and they were really good. But I found myself still craving simple comfort, which in my world almost always translates to dessert, and as I flipped through some cooking magazines, I came across a recipe for bread pudding. Bingo.

Bread pudding is a perfect dessert for high altitude, because although it is somewhat cake-like, it doesn't have to rise and therefore is not subject to the challenges imposed by our freakish atmospheric pressure. I'd never thought I was much of a fan - bread pudding, blah, boring - but I was served some recently at a dinner party, and it was absolutely swoon-worthy. That version incorporated raspberries and white chocolate; on this cold day, I decided to go with warm buttery apples and cinnamon, and spiked the accompanying caramel sauce with some good old fashioned likker. I love the idea of preparing individual portions in muffin tins rather than a large baking dish - it just feels fancier to have such a cute, neat little portion all to oneself. And you know I'm all about the fancy.

Apple-Cinnamon Bread Pudding with Whiskey Caramel Sauce 

makes 12 servings

Grease a standard muffin tin with butter (use real butter, please. It makes a difference.)  Preheat oven to 350F.


For the pudding
Small loaf of crusty french bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 5 cups)
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 T unsalted butter
2 sweet-tart apples, such as Gala or Honeycrisp, peeled and diced

For the sauce
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
2 T whiskey (I used McClelland's scotch, which has an interesting smoky kick)
1 T water
1/2 cup half & half (or, if you're feeling decadent, heavy cream)
1 tsp vanilla


For the pudding, combine the milks, sugar, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and eggs in a medium bowl. Add bread cubes, mix, and set aside for about half an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure the bread is soaking up the liquid evenly.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add diced apples, reduce heat to medium-low, and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, then stir into bread mixture. Scoop mixture into prepared pan, dividing evenly between the 12 tins. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

While the puddings are baking, prepare the sauce. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, whiskey, and water on medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly-thick and deep brown. Reduce heat, slowly add half  & half and vanilla, and continue to simmer for a few more minutes, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. If it becomes too thick, add a splash more half and half.

Serve the puddings warm with a generous drizzle of caramel sauce. Feel fancy.

January 2, 2012

Playing with food

So it turns out, trying to write a normal-ish blog post after your friend dies is hard. What is there to say? It's awful and bleak and difficult and feels like a hard ping in your gut every time you think about it. It sucks. I haven't known how - or even really wanted to - write about that.

Last night I watched this video, and though I'm not one for rah-rah inspirational lectures, this one felt different - authentic. It resonated, and I felt inspired. It made me feel like writing again.

It's a new year, new season, new era. A reminder to stop and take a fresh look at what's working and what's not. I'm not making resolutions, but I am asking myself to do a couple things each day:  1) floss (because I am super lazy about flossing, and my kid is following suit, and there have been all these scary headlines about how not flossing! causes heart disease! OMG!), and 2) focus on choices, small and large, that foster positiveness, kindness, and nourishment.

In that spirit, I'm gonna write about food for a while. Preparing it, cooking it, eating it. Everybody does it (like pooping! sorry). Everybody needs it. It can be fun. It can be a creative outlet. It can even be therapy.

I've always enjoyed cooking, but I have had a relatively narrow repertoire of dishes. This fall I was finding myself dreading meals, sick of making the same old things (pastatacoschickencutletsBLAH) but uninspired to try anything new. A friend invited me to attend cooking class at the local college, and I thought why not, I  keep saying I should do that ... and I was genuinely surprised at how much I loved it. Like, LOVED it. I picked up the worn-in apron neatly folded at my place, tied it on, looked around at the mass of pots and prep bowls and industrial six-burner stoves and felt giddy, like a little kid. That first night, I learned how to properly cut up a chicken and how to braise it. The next class I learned some classic French preparations and also that you should never try to puree hot curried zucchini soup in a blender because it will blow up and stain the walls and make the chef clench his teeth at you. I've also learned how to hold a knife the right way and can now julienne the shit out of pretty much any vegetable. Yay!

My cooking mojo has been restored, and I'm allowing myself one class per month to keep it going. In between, I'm pushing myself to try as many new dishes as I can. I've gotten a little bolder in my cooking, not just following new recipes, but tweaking them, combining them, and sometimes making up my own. It's fun, it's creative, and unless I burn the dish or create some vile flavor combination (it's been done!), I'm feeding my family well.

Here's a little visual feast featuring some of the things that have inspired me lately:

the spread at the end of one of my cooking classes (and Chef Ian's hipster hairdo)
 cashew chicken made by my mom's Thai friend Paul

ridiculously delicious Tuscan Benedict at Snooze in Boulder
new dishes. Thanks, Mom!

gorgeous, authentic paella cooked by our friends Wayne and Julie

Back soon with tales of my experiments in deliciousness!