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Archive for August, 2009

Not the most exciting or innovative food topic, but I contend that there is a reason many people spend their whole life searching for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. That being that no cookie has yet been able to edge out the delicious dominance of the chocolate chip cookie.  That’s not to say that we don’t all love a branch out into Chocolate Whopper, Oatmeal Lace, or Butterfinger Chunky Cookie land.  But we always come back, don’t we?

I’m not going to call these the *best* ever because then I’m sure I’ll be met with a mutiny of comments about which really is the best chocolate chip cookie.  All I’ll say is that about two summers ago I found a recipe that I decided to stick with.  It was large.  It was vanilla-esque.  It stayed chewy invariably longer than any chocolate chipper I’ve experienced.  It has now been edged out by this latest edition.

The merit of the latter recipe was in the lifespan of the chewiness.  This recipe took at least 4 to 5 days to turn crumbly and lose its bendable chew.  However, I consistently found myself adding extra salt to the recipe for flavor enhancement.  I also found myself unimpressed with the amount of spread to the cookie, ending too thin.  All of this has been corrected with this newest recipe.  It’s large and in charge, batting those little 2 inch numbers with a too-large ratio of crispy edge to gooey center out the window.  It cooks at a low temperature to stay delicately soft throughout with the slightest crispy around the edge.  And it stays delightfully puffy and full of all that great gooey chocolate and vanilla goodness in the center.  I’m just saying this one might be worth trying if you like a good chocolate chip cookie as much as I do.  But you’ll have to wait a whole 17 minutes, as opposed to the usual 9 before this one is ready to plate.

Felix K’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from allrecipes.com

Prep Time: 15 min.
Cook Time: 15-17 min.
Servings: 24*

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 cup butter, softened 
2 cups brown sugar 
6 tablespoons white sugar 
2 eggs 
4 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1 (12 ounce) bag chocolate chips

1.       Preheat an oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). 

2.       Gently mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a fork in a bowl. Beat the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla with the last egg. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips; mixing just enough to evenly combine. 

3.       Divide the dough into 24 3-tablespoon-sized balls. Flatten the balls slightly onto a baking sheet. 

4.       Bake in the preheated oven until the edges are golden, 15 to 17 minutes**. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet until the centers begin to set, about 20 minutes.

*Please, I beg you, do NOT be stingy and turn this into a 48 serving recipe.  Because you could do this.  But it would be wrong.  Sick and wrong.  It would leave you cheated of the goodness of the super-sized chocolate chip cookie that we all want anyway.
** These took 16 minutes on my air-bake cookie sheets (which I find take a minute or two longer than a regular baking sheet).  Whatever you do watch closely and don’t crispify your cookie.  Generally, cookies should be removed a good minute before you think they are done and allowed to cool on the pan.

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Nate has been waiting to do some of the classic, Chicago tourist attractions that we’ve just never made it to as residents.  For his birthday I gave him a coupon book filled with these types of activities.  This past Saturday he cashed in his first two coupons.  We started with beignets at the Grand Lux Café, simply because they are our favorite and the restaurant was three blocks away from the next stop.

Next we went on a Chicago River Architecture Tour by Wendella Boats.  It was a fantastic, one-hour boat ride through all the channels of the river with a knowledgeable guide pointing out almost every building along the river banks.  Both Nate and I enjoyed the tour immensely and couldn’t believe we had never done this prior.  Nate spent lots of time photographing along the way, but I felt enraptured by the tour guide and didn’t want to miss a second of the narrative.  I learned many new facts about some of the buildings.  Another fun thing was to have them highlight building projects that I worked on selling 3+ years ago that now are an actuality instead of a rendering on paper.

We did the 8:15pm tour and I would recommend it to anyone as a summer treat.  The only downfall was the fact that it was middle of August and only 60 degrees out.  I was definitely chilled by the end, not having brought a real jacket.  But it was well worth the opportunity to watch the sky go from dusk to night and turn the buildings into a glittering canopy.

(Photos courtesy of Nate)

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Chilaquiles with Chorizo

Lately it’s been like a Mexican fiesta at our house: carnitas, gorditas, burritos, Mexican lasagna, corn and avocado salsa and most recently chilaquiles.  I’ve been holding out on you I guess with the lack of photographs of these goodies.  But Nate urged me to record these chilaquiles in photographic history. 

This is a traditional Mexican dish that I’ve never put my hands into, but my co-workers’ love for it left me ready to try when the Mexican craving hit.  (These things always come in waves for me and Nate never complains when it’s Mexican I fancy.)  It turns out this is a perfect weeknight meal with all of its rustic ease of preparation.  And even more perfect because it’s spicy and it’s Mexican and I love both.

Chilaquiles with Chorizo
Adapted from foodnetwork.com
Cook time: 30 minutes   Yield: 4 serving

First make the Stovetop Salsa:

5 Roma tomatoes 
1 large yellow onion, root removed, peeled, and halved 
½ or 1 jalapeno, stemmed (depending on preference and heat of particular jalapeno)
2 cloves garlic, peeled 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems 
1 teaspoon salt 
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium stock pot, place the tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, and garlic and cover with 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil over high heat and let cook 5 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a blender and puree until smooth with the cilantro and salt. If the salsa is too thick (it should have the consistency of a very thick soup), add a little of the cooking liquid. Check seasoning and add additional salt, if necessary, and pepper, to taste.

While the salsa vegetables are boiling:

Remove 6 oz. Mexican-style chorizo from its casing by splitting 1 end and squeezing out the meat. In a large heavy-bottomed high-sided saute pan, fry the chorizo until it is grainy but still soft, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to break up the meat and prevent a crust from forming on the bottom of the pan. Set aside and keep hot.

5 c. Mexican-style tortilla chips
4 ounces Cheddar, grated 
4 ounces Monterey Jack, grated 
1/2 cup sour cream 
1 small red onion, finely diced 
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Once salsa has been blended, return it to the same stock pot and heat until boiling.  Add about half of the tortilla chips to the pot and stir to coat with the salsa, then cook until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add remaining chips, stir to coat with the salsa, and cook until beginning to soften, about 3 to 5 additional minutes. There should be a nice mix of very soft and still slightly crunchy chips when the chilaquiles are finished. Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon or tongs to heap generous portions into each of 4 bowls. While still piping hot, top with the grated Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, chorizo, a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkling of red onion and cilantro. Serve hot with Guacamole on the side.

*For added protein, we added a soft set egg to each plate.  From co-workers reports this is often a part of this traditional meal as well.

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Snow Pea & Avocado Slaw

Here is a perfect recipe for vegetable due-diligence.  You know, those times when you get really motivated to make sure you are getting your three servings a day; when you are trying to branch out from the usual salads, cucumbers, and tomatoes in your rotation.  Snow peas have never been in my regular rotation, but I’ve grown to acquire an occasional taste for them.  But who am I kidding?  I’ll eat almost anything if fresh avocado is included.

This is an endlessly adaptable salad.  I hate celery so I skipped that step completely.  And I only had almonds on hand, so I swapped those out for the walnuts. Also in the back of my mind is the sneaking suspicion that a tart granny smith apple slivered similarly to the snow peas would be a perfect tangy addition.  But that might tempt me to add some blue cheese and then things would just go downhill from there …

Snow Pea & Avocado Slaw
Originally from foodnetwork.com

Prep time: 15 minutes  Yield: 4 servings

Thinly slice 10 ounces snow peas lengthwise. 
Toss with 2 thinly sliced celery ribs (add the leaves, too) and some toasted walnuts. 
Dress with olive oil and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. 
Gently stir in a thinly sliced avocado and minced chives.

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Sunday Morning.

I had a really refreshing Sunday morning.  We had a guest speaker from one of the other New Life locations who gave the most motivating and personally convicting message I’ve heard in a long time.  Possibly one of the most refreshing aspects of his talk?  He brought with him a non-Christian friend to speak.  It truly made me wonder why we don’t invite that perspective up front more often. 

He interviewed this friend about his background with religion and Christianity and why that left him jaded now.  The interview covered their friendship and how they were able to start an authentic relationship where they could struggle together with the message of the gospel in a way that prized this friend and didn’t cause him to feel defensive or pressured.  I came away with a lot of respect for both the speaker and the friend.

There were two things that stuck in my mind to remember.  One is that for this non-Christian friend, one of the most effective ways to get them started with these deep theological discussions was to use a common language.  Both guys have a deep desire to be men of integrity and compassion and to fight for social justice.  Their desire might stem from different places but it was a common ground to meet over and then to talk about where compassion, etc. come from.

The most important thing about the message was this:  His friend still is not a Christian and truly does not believe he ever will be.  And yet, they remain strong friends.  He was vehement in stating that friendship evangelism does not work when the ulterior motive is evangelism only.  True friendship that does not abandon the relationship regardless of outcome is what we should all be engaging in with people who cross our paths.  I know I have been guilty of losing interest in a relationship when it hits a certain point, sometimes giving the excuse that there is a barrier to the friendship that can’t be crossed when someone doesn’t understand how all-encompassing and important the faith aspect of my life is to me.    In the meantime I do the same thing to that person by not respecting how important their beliefs are to them and to continue to try to understand and prize them as a person.

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As much as I’m not a leftovers person in general, some days I’m glad to leave work in the knowledge that 10 minutes in the microwave will lead to dinner on the table.  And yet as often as I’m glad about the timesaver leftover, I throw away any extra time I might have.   I decide that since I don’t have to spend much time on the entrée I’ll put my energy into a fabulous SIDE … or DESSERT!  (My vegetable-touting mom shakes her head at this notion of decadence.) 

Last night was one of those nights where I used leftovers.  By the time the canellones were heated, the cobbler was ready to go into the already hot oven.  And by the time dinner was done we had the fragrance of cinnamon and brown sugar wafting through the house.  I like to call this cobbler “country charm chique.”  Really that means it’s just a country-style cobbler, but my thought is that when you pair it with other, more gourmet dishes for the meal, it elevates the dessert and makes it forgivable in my house.  Regardless of what you call it, it tastes pretty decent going down. 

Cinnamon Biscuit Peach Cobbler
From Taste of Home, August & September 2009, p. 20

Prep: 30  min  Bake: 20-25 min  Yield: 12 servings

1.5 c. flour
1 T. plus 1/3 c. packed brown sugar, divided
2 t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
¼ t. baking soda
6 T. cold butter
½ c. milk
2 T. butter, melted
¾ c. chopped walnuts
¾ t. ground cinnamon
Filling:
1 c. packed brown sugar
2 T. cornstarch
¾ t. grated lemon peel
1 c. water
9 c. sliced peaches

Combine flour, 1 T. brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in milk just until blended.  Transfer to a floured surface and knead 10-12 times.  Pat into a 12 inch square and brush with melted butter.  Sprinkle walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon over dough to within ½ inch of edge.  Roll up jelly-roll style.  Seal dough and set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and lemon peel.  Stir in water until blended.  Add peaches.  Bring to a boil.  Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.  Transfer to a greased 9×13 baking dish. 

Cut biscuit dough into 12 equal slices.  Arrange biscuits over filling.  Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

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I haven’t figured out quite why, but I always get this insane urge to make whole roast chickens in August. I never roast a chicken in January when the heat from the long-burning stove would wrap the walls of our house in a comforting blanket of warmth. Instead I wait til August, when it’s good and hot already, and then crank up that stove to 450 while I simultaneously turn on the a/c to combat its effects. It happened this week again where I just couldn’t get that roast chicken out of my head, so after spending two days brining in the refrigerator I scorched that baby and my whole kitchen up last night.

These kabobs seemed a perfect summer side to my should-be-winter chicken. Hearty potatoes amidst fresh produce, basted with buttery, herby goodness. The best part was how these quick kabobs allowed me to get out of the kitchen til just the last 20 minutes or so of chicken roasting, saving me from the furnace for awhile. If I made these again, I’d do a few things different. First, I’d buy me some cute potatoes to make this dish pop. Unfortunately, I had a bunch of regular reds starting to sprout new potatoes so I had to use those up first. But more importantly than the aesthetics, I’d double the mushroom portion. They were some tasty creatures that seemed few and far between the big, bulky potatoes.


Smokin’ Hot Potato Kabobs with Rosemary-Chipotle Butter

From Midwest Living

Prep: 25 min.
Grill: 8 min.

1-1/2 lbs. small potatoes such as baby purple, baby blue, baby Dutch yellow, fingerlings, round red and/or round white
16 baby sunburst squash or 1 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch slices
8 medium fresh mushrooms
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 to 2 Tbsp. snipped fresh rosemary or oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary or oregano, crushed
1/2 tsp. ground chipotle chile pepper or chili powder
Coarse kosher or sea salt

    Scrub potatoes. Cut any large potatoes in half. In a covered medium saucepan, cook potatoes in a large amount of boiling, lightly salted water for 10 minutes, adding the baby squash and mushrooms for the last 1 minute of cooking time. Drain and cool slightly.

    On eight 10- to 12-inch metal skewers, alternately thread potatoes, squash and mushrooms, leaving a 1/4-inch space between pieces. In a small bowl combine butter, rosemary and chipotle chile pepper. Brush over vegetables. Sprinkle kabobs with coarse salt.

    For a charcoal grill, grill kabobs on the rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 8 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender and brown, turning and brushing occasionally with butter mixture. (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place kabobs on grill rack over heat. Cover; grill as above.) Makes 8 servings.

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