Monday, November 9, 2015

Quick Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies

These last few weekends I've felt so satisfied. I've realized personal goals of mine, and after coming to the realization myself, I shared them with Billy as well. I realized in order to feel fulfilled in my personal life, I want to be able to paint as often as possible, as well as bake two or three times a month. 

I had been denying myself these things, because I wanted to make sure my house was clean, and that dinners were perfectly planned. This took up so much of my time during my days off, that when evening came around, I would be too tired to paint or bake. With Billy's help and my determination, I've finally chiseled out some time for myself to do these things. 

It had been bothering me for awhile. I was beginning to think I wouldn't ever find time to do them again on a regular basis. Probably due to inspiration from a class I'm taking, and getting older, realizing life is short (turning 30 next year is really making me think I guess), has really motivated me to make sure I'm expressing the gifts I have been given. The class I'm taking is called Finding Purpose (for designers and artists), just in case you were curious. 

Yesterday I painted and baked! I hadn't even been thinking about baking, but after I was done painting, I thought a chewy cookie would be pretty rad. I looked at the clock, checked on my ingredients, and made it happen. These cookies are my go-to (for the past 6 years). They are hand-mixed, and very quick to make. 

The process of making these cookies is kind of philosophical. It's a form of meditation in a way. I noticed myself getting tense a lot when doing something I love, because I almost feel guilty that I'm enjoying myself. So, I have been consciously slowing down, taking deep breaths, and enjoying the moments when I'm doing something like, for instance, baking. This life change, is really that, a huge life change. Besides my personal story with facing fast-paced culture, I also want to share with you the actual process of making these cookies too. I hope you enjoy. And even if you think I'm a wee bit crazy, at least it can hopefully be a bit entertaining. 

So here goes.

I like to mix my cookie dough by hand, especially when it's for a quick batch that I'm making on a whim. I tried mixing by hand about six years ago, and ever since find it hard to go back to using a mixer. The ingredients are so vibrant, and as you add each item, you can be really in-tune with what each ingredient needs. You can tell if each granule of sugar has been incorporated. You can tell when the egg begins to make the dough shimmer. You can see the baking soda almost give lift to the batter. You can make sure that you're not over mixing the flour, keeping the tough gluten strands away. 

The dough will be light in color as well as texture. When you portion out your dough, it will feel sticky. Don't compress it too hard into the scooper or spoon, but let it be true to its own form. Putting too much stress on the dough, whether by over mixing, or by compressing when forming the balls, will cause the cookies to be dried out and tough. Go easy on it, and on yourself. Cookie making should feel very natural each step of the way. 

I have streamlined this recipe to be a one-bowl job. Also, if you haven't tried it yet, try out my sifting trick I mentioned in my last post. Reminder— put a little amount of the dry ingredients, at a time, into a small metal sieve over your mixing bowl. Tap the side. This method will make your dry ingredients like powder, and will help them to assimilate very smoothly into the wet ingredients. 

Again, remember to not rush it. Just go with the flow, and your cookies will turn out like little clouds of succinct flavor (salty-sweet) with a slightly-resistant texture (chewy!). 

Enjoy! Do you have any cookie tricks you'd like to share?

Quick Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Apartment Therapy Total Time: 30 min Yield: about 12 cookies
Kitchen Tested
Cook's Note: Remember to use a light colored cookie sheet when making baked goods. If a tray is too dark, it will more likely than not, tend to burn your cookies, or cause what's baking to have a darker bottom than desired. Another tip is to let your oven heat for an adequate amount of time. After it indicates that it's at the right temp, don't bake right away. Give it another 15 minutes or so before putting anything in to bake.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter, softened
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp packed brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar, I use organic pure cane
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract, I use organic
1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour, I use non-GMO flour
1 cup chocolate chips, I use Ghirardelli 70% dark

How To:
Preheat oven to 375º F. Line a light-colored cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

Cut butter into approximately even chunks or slices. Add it to a large mixing bowl (I use a glass bowl that is narrow on the bottom and wider on the top. This helps incorporate ingredients well).

Add in brown sugar. With a metal spoon (I use a soup spoon), mix together butter and sugar until no more butter streaks are visible. Add in granulated sugar, and mix until there are no visible granules. The mixture will seem like a paste.

Add the egg into the butter-sugar mixture. Stir the egg in, starting with smaller swirls, working up to larger swirls. Continue until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, scrape sides of bowl. Mix again until the batter has a slight shimmer to it (about another minute or so). 

Add vanilla and salt. Mix, scrape sides of bowl, mix again.

Sift dry ingredients over the wet ingredients. Use a sifter, or place a small amount of dry ingredients into small metal sieve placed over the bowl. Tap the side of sieve. Repeat until all dry ingredients have been added to bowl. With the metal spoon, mix the batter in large strokes. Cut into the middle of the dry-wet mix, and incorporate slowly. It will seem really shaggy at first, but in time it will come together. Cut through the mix, do a circular stroke, and repeat. Do this until the mixture doesn't have dry ingredients left at the bottom of the bowl. Scrape the bowl.

Add chocolate chips. Cut through the dough with the spoon, and mix around. Repeat 3 or 4 times. Remember to be gentle with the dough.

The dough will be a light color, as well as very tacky/sticky. 

With a baker's scoop (or small icecream scooper), portion out dough on to prepared tray. Don't pack in dough, but be gentle as you portion it out. Leave about 3-4 inches between each cookie. Bake for about 8-11 minutes. I like to keep my oven light on, so that nearing the end of baking, I can keep a close eye on the cookies to pull them when they're the right amount of golden-brown. Oven temps always vary, so be vigilant! 

Place the remaining batter in fridge while the first batch bakes.

When you remove the tray from the oven, let the cookies sit for one minute, and then remove them to a cooling rack. Cool for 2 hours before placing in an air-tight container, lined with parchment paper. They will keep great at room temperature for two-three days. Enjoy!

I have also done an oatmeal, raisin, chocolate chip version of this cookie. Add 3/4 cup rolled oats, 3/4 cup raisins, and 3/4 chocolate chips. Follow the same directions as above, and add in these ingredients together where it states to add the chocolate chips. Everything else is the same as above. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Pumpkin Carrot Muffins


Fall in the Phoenix area has finally arrived. It's a beautiful time of year to be here. I know some of you are probably already in the chilly time of year, and it's funny to think that we're just entering into the 80s and sometimes 70s. We've been drinking hot tea again, and I've been enjoying baking again as well.

For the past two months I had been wanting to bake something with pumpkin. Last week, I tried a Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Bread, which was delicious, but really more like a Chocolate cake, and really sweet. This week, still craving something pumpkin, I made these perfect little bites. Pumpkin Carrot Muffins. I enjoy the healthier options of using white whole wheat, carrots, and pumpkin. Yes, they probably still could be a bit healthier, but I have to say, they really hit the spot.

The muffins are very moist and packed with flavor. The blend of spices is dynamic and deep, bringing a hint of smokiness to the otherwise bright flavor. You could always add nuts if you'd like, or sprinkle the top of the muffins with Flax seeds for added nutrition. Regular flour would work just fine too if that's what you have on hand. I use white whole wheat, since it still has the nutrition of whole wheat, but it bakes a little lighter.

These are lovely for breakfast, or for an afternoon snack with your favorite tea.

Enjoy! What Pumpkin things have you enjoyed this Fall?

Food for Thought:
I recommend trying this trick. Sift your dry ingredients using a metal sieve over your mixing bowl. I've really noticed a superior texture and proper mix of ingredients doing it this way. Just add a little of the dry ingredient at a time to the sieve, and lightly tap the edge while holding it over your bowl. The result is powdery and light. I started doing this when I realized just whisking wasn't enough (biting into a slice of freshly made Banana Bread and getting a salty bite of baking soda is not what I call a pleasant experience).

Pumpkin Carrot Muffins
Time: 1 hr Yield: 14-16 Medium-Size Muffins

1 cup white whole wheat flour, sifted (I use Non-GMO flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
2-3 small-medium carrots, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
2/3 cup sugar, plus a little for sprinking (I use organic Non-GMO pure cane)
3 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

How To:
Preheat oven to 375ºF, with rack adjusted to the middle. Line a muffin pan with liners, or lightly butter.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. (I like to use a small metal sieve to sift pre-measured dry ingredients into a bowl.) Whisk ingredients, and set bowl aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add grated carrots, pumpkin puree, sugar, oil, and vanilla. Mix well with a spoon or spatula. Scraping the sides of the bowl. Add in one egg at a time, and incorporate well after each addition. Add in raisins (if using). 

In two batches, add the flour mix to the wet mix. Gently fold batter and mix until just blended and flour is no longer visible (do not overmix). 

Using a small baker's scoop (or icecream scoop), portion out batter into prepared pan. I fill each with about 1/4 cup batter. (I do it this way because I like smaller portions for my snacks. If you want a full size muffin, fill the cups about 3/4 full.) You may end up having extra batter for round two.

Sprinkle each muffin lightly with a little sugar. Bake for 16 - 20 minutes (oven temps always vary, so keep vigilant). The edges will be golden brown and they will have slightly puffed. Check with a toothpick for doneness.  Let muffins rest in pan for five minutes before removing.

Eat warm with a sliver of butter and a cup of tea. Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fried Chicken Tenders with Mash and Green Beans

This meal is an adaptation from an old family favorite. My Oma makes a lovely Fried Chicken meal, and it's something that's so comforting and satisfying. She always does the chicken first on the stove top, and then finishes it in the oven. She likes to serve it with mashed potatoes and green beans.

This adaptation of the chicken, introduces a little more crunch with a subtle spicy touch. The mash is done in the way my mom always did them, inspired by her mom (Oma). So all-in-all it's a meal with combined tastes and methods from three generations.

The chicken has a really great crunch from corn grits (you may also use cornmeal for a lighter texture). It also has a nice kick from the paprika, and the meat is very tender, but crispy on the edges. Delightful. I also use a combination of coconut oil and canola, because I like the slight sweetness added by the coconut oil, and using both makes it a little more cost effective. I use organic, cold-pressed oil to avoid GMOs and although yes, we're frying food, I still like to be conscious of this.

The mash benefits from a short time of drying. The drier your boiled potatoes are before you add the liquid, the better potential you'll have for fluffiness. If you have experienced gummy mash before, and wondered how that happened, it was most likely caused by too much water. The water will work with the potato starches in a way lending to gumminess. Maybe edible, but not the best mash. For a better result, after you finish boiling the potatoes, let them sit in a sieve or colander for a few minutes. Heating up the liquid mixture ensures hot mash to serve. More on this in the recipe.

The rosemary gravy is light and full of flavor. Trust me on the vegetable broth, it offers a great depth of flavor. One of my chef friends from Sur la Table once told me that chicken broth by itself won't offer that great of flavor, but if you combine it with vegetable broth it suddenly expresses huge amounts of flavor. She was right. Ever since, I have revisited vegetable broth (rejecting my previous belief that it was inferior broth) and now use it almost solely for when broth is needed. I had no idea what I was missing.

Anyways, I hope you're enjoying the long weekend, and I hope you enjoy the recipes. -R

Fried Chicken Tenders with Mash and Green Beans
Time : 1 hr Serves: 3 Gluten-Free

Simple Chicken Fingers
2 Chicken Breasts, skinless boneless, preferably organic
1/3 cup corn grits (or cornmeal for a lighter crunch), organic
2 tsp himalayan sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup coconut oil, preferably cold-pressed, organic
1/4 cup canola oil, preferably cold-pressed, organic

4-5 medium-large Russet potatoes, eyes removed but skin on, cubed, and boiled till fork tender
2 tbsp salted butter, cubed
1/4-1/3 whole milk, preferably organic
1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
1/4 tsp ground pepper, or more to taste

Rosemary Hinted Gravy
1/3 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp cornstarch (or flour if not GF)
1/4 tsp himalayan sea salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

Green Beans
Roughly about 3 cups of green beans, trimmed
1 tbsp butter, unsalted, preferably organic
1/4 tsp himalayan sea salt

How To:
Chicken Tenders:
Butterfly chicken (do this by laterally cutting the chicken, starting at the thickest part, into two equal top and bottom sections). Slice chicken into long tenders from top to bottom.

Combine cornmeal, salt, pepper, and paprika. Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet. Once hot, dredge chicken in the cornmeal mixture on both sides and slide gently into the hot oil. Cover skillet to prevent oil from splashing on you. Be aware that while cooking, the oil will probably foam up.

Use tongs to flip chicken once (use the lid as a shield if need be, keeping one side nestled on to the pan). Cook the first side for roughly 3-5 minutes, and the second side for roughly 2-3 minutes. If the cornmeal begins to turn brown before time is up, remove from oil. Some pieces will be darker and some lighter. 

Preheat oven to 200ºF. Assemble a baking sheet (with foil if you want an easier cleanup), then a cooling rack on top of that. This allows excess oil to drip off of the chicken rather than soak into your food. This equals less greasy and more crispy finish for your food. Add finished chicken tenders to the cooling rack. Place rack and sheet into the oven.This will help to keep your food warm while you finish cooking.

Drain cooked potatoes, let sit in sieve or colander for 4-5 minutes. In saucepan over medium heat, bring milk and butter to a simmer. At the first hint of it beginning to foam, turn off heat. 

Pour a few tablespoons of the liquid mixture into a stand mixer, or high rimmed bowl. Add potatoes. Turn speed to low. Once potatoes start to incorporate, add the rest of the liquid (retain the saucepan for the gravy, no cleaning in between). Let it mix in a couple of revolutions, then turn to high for 30 seconds. Turn off, scrape bowl, add salt and pepper. Continue mixing until it reaches desired consistency.  

Rosemary Hinted Gravy:
For gravy, in the same saucepan used for the milk and butter, add vegetable broth. Turn to medium heat. Whisk well and bring up any bits from the previous mixture. Bring liquid to a boil. 

In a small cup, add cornstarch. Pour a little bit of the hot vegetable broth into the cornstarch. Whisk until smooth, pour back into main saucepan. Add salt and pepper. Whisk to incorporate, turn heat to medium low. Add sprigs of rosemary and let it simmer for a few minutes. Turn off heat.

Green Beans:
Fill a large pot with water to about a couple inches. Add green beans and turn heat to high. Let green beans boil for about 4 minutes or until green beans are darker bright green. Turn off heat. Drain, add back to pot. Add butter and salt. Let rest until ready to serve.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Green Curry with Chicken, Bell Pepper, and Potato

School is now in session. I have one more year with a hanging-on semester. I like to think of it like that so that it doesn't seem too far out. But who am I kidding? It really does seem like a far distance away. I am eager to just jump into work full time since I am in love with my new job. School seems so pale in comparison. I've also been really lucky lately with the people around me. They're my role models of sorts, and asking for their advice, or getting a book recommendation from them, seems so much more beneficial than a classroom setting.

I just got back from a camping trip with my highly adored company, and getting back into the swing of things has been sort of tough. To make dinners easy I've been making things that appeal to my gut, to time spent, and ease of thought-process. So curry it is.

Green curry is one of those things for me that really represents purity and restoration. Have a go at it. It's really easy and really satisfying. For curry paste, I highly recommend using Mae Ploy, if you can get your hands on it (if you're in the Phoenix area ask me for recommendations). Another thing that makes this dish wonderful is the simple essence of Kaffir Lime Leaves. We had not cooked with them much before, but got lucky in the fresh produce section at the Asian Market. I hope you'll have the same luck, because it is the magical touch that will put your curry over the edge. I hope you enjoy.

Green Curry with Chicken, Bell Pepper, and Potato
Cook's Note: For a Vegetarian option, replace chicken with tofu. Either add tofu at the end to steam with lid on, or bake tofu until firm and then add to mixture. For vegetarian, also omit the Fish Sauce. Yield: 4 large servings Total Cook Time: 45 min - 1 hr

2 tbsp coconut oil
1, 14 oz can coconut milk, divided
1 1/2 tbsp green curry paste (The brand we use is Mae Ploy, found at the Asian Market)
4 small red potatoes, cubed
2 chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise, from top to bottom, then halved
2-3 kaffir lime leaves, sliced (Purchased fresh at our local Asian market, or can be bought dried from Specialty stores like Whole Foods. If you can't find it, add the zest from 1 lime)
1 small onion, cubed
1/2 tbsp soy sauce (Or to taste. We use Gluten-Free, low-sodium Tamari)
1/2 tsp fish sauce (Or to taste. Omit for vegetarian option)
1/2 tsp sugar (Or to taste. I use organic, unbleached sugar. You may also use Palm Sugar)
1 green bell pepper, julienned

2 sprigs of fresh basil and mint, for garnish
Steamed Jasmine Rice, for serving

How To:
Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Add coconut oil. Quickly add coconut milk, and curry paste. Once mixture becomes fragrant, and starts to sizzle, add cubed potatoes. Don't immediately toss potatoes, but let them fry in the oil (avoiding burning). After a minute or two, toss potatoes, and add chicken. Let mixture sizzle for a few minutes.

Toss mixture and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the wok. Pour in the rest of the coconut milk. Add about 1/2 cup of water (depending on your taste, you may add more or less). Add kaffir lime leaves. Once coconut milk starts to boil, turn heat down to medium. Put lid on wok to allow the potatoes to steam for 7-10 minutes. During this time, add the cubed onions.

Add green bell peppers. Add soy sauce, fish sauce, and sprinkle sugar evenly over the surface of the curry. Stir well and replace the lid. Cook with lid on for another 5-7 minutes.

Remove lid, and turn heat down to medium-low. Let mixture continue to simmer without stirring it for another 6 or so minutes. This is to help thicken it. If you desire a thicker consistency, allow it to continue to simmer. Check for the tenderness of the potatoes and overall taste of the curry. Adjust to your preference if need be. Serve with rice and sprigs of basil and mint.
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