The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

Photo via bettycrocker.com

Photo via bettycrocker.com

Every single time I make chocolate chip cookies, I am kinda disappointed. They taste pretty good, but the consistency is NEVER RIGHT. You know how mad I get when the cookie part spreads out really thin and crispy, and then you hit a burst of chocolate chip a couple times? I hate that. Or when they’re thick, but too hard? It’s so difficult to get it the way I like it!

So I’ve been experimenting for a while, combining different recipes and tips, and I’ve finally found it. The PERFECT (to me) chocolate chip cookie. The primary keys to this recipe are fiddling with the baking temperature, butter consistency, amount of chips, and size of the dough balls.

As I mentioned, I’m totally picky about my cookies. And Robbie doesn’t like sweets enough to eat something unless it’s awesome. But he gobbled these up. I really made them for us to munch on during our recent road trip up to North Carolina, and on the way back, Spencer (our little dog) was trying so hard to co-pilot from the middle console that he stood right on top of the cooler and crushed them into small pieces. Robbie’s response was, “Dammit, Spence! Is this the last bag?”

Unfortunately, it was, because I had left the rest at my parents’ house for them to enjoy. My mom is kind of a health food nut, so my dad is always pretty excited if anyone leaves him something to eat that is not a gluten-free rice cracker. So now we have one small ziplock bag of mostly broken cookies in the refrigerator that everyone is trying to avoid. So sad. Must make more immediately!

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 sticks melted butter
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 whole package chocolate chips
I also threw in about 1/4 bag of Heath bits just because I found it in the pantry.

Mix everything together with a spoon (not electric mixer! *hand smack*). Place ping-pong-ball-sized balls of dough on ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Or golf ball sized, or whatever your sport of choice for non-athletic people is. I don’t think the order of adding ingredients really matters, but I basically mixed all the dry stuff together and then added the wet ones, with the chips coming in last.

Here’s the important part: preheat the oven to 425, but as soon as you put in the pans, turn it down to 375. Bake 11-12 minutes. Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes before removing. If you have to bake in more than one batch like I do because I don’t have enough pans, turn the oven back up to 425 each time before inserting the pans, then turn it back down to 375 while baking.

I think this temperature tweaking is the secret to the crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside miracle! I didn’t invent it, though. Like I said, I have been reading and trying different things, and this temperature fiddling was suggested on another blog. And it totally worked magic!

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Easy Guacamole (No Measuring!)

Photo via chow.com

Photo via chow.com

Robbie makes tacos for dinner about twice a month, because he is the master of anything involving ground beef, and I just don’t prefer cooking with it for some reason. It’s not that it’s difficult. And I don’t mind eating it usually. I just think it’s weird. I don’t know why. We all have our quirks. For example, Robbie hates the way microfiber towels feel, and he can’t stand to touch loose change because it smells weird and is dirty. So, I am the change jar roller! And he is the ground beef cooker. And I no longer buy any type of microfiber towel. But anyway.

Robbie takes real pride in his secret seasoning combinations for steaks, burgers, taco meat, sloppy joes, and the like. And I find it totally impossible to cook refried beans properly, and he is actually very good at that, too. So, this is why he is in charge of taco night. Plus, I get to watch TV on the couch with my beer while he does all the work! Yassssss.

My ONLY job on taco night is to make the guacamole, which we use for dipping tortilla chips in while everything is cooking, and also for putting on our tacos as an extra condiment. Before he met me, Robbie had never had guacamole or avocados in any form (I KNOW!), and he claimed to not like it. He was afraid to try it the first time I made it for him. But I forced it into his mouth! Muahaha!

And he loved it. Now he asks for it any time we eat anything remotely related to Mexican cuisine. Sometimes I let him taste-test to make him feel like his opinion matters. Ha!

Funny story: Once, I tried to grow an avocado tree using the pit from an avocado I used to make guacamole. There are instructions on Pinterest for this. It started out really easy. Just skewer the pit with toothpicks and set it over a glass of water so it’s about half-submerged. It grows roots, then a stalk, then leaves, and then hopefully about seven years later you have fruit. Mine grew roots, and a stalk about three feet tall, but it never, ever grew any leaves. Everyone who came to our house asked why I had a stick in a flower pot. It did not make the move with us to the new house.

I am all about recipes that don’t require exact measurements. I’ve played around with different ways to make guacamole over the years and finally have a pretty good process that, in my opinion, is just as tasty (if not better) than the tiny $5 bowls you get at Mexican restaurants. The best part is that you don’t have to measure anything at all! Unless you are just very Type A and want to make sure it is totally perfect. I can relate to that, too.

Easy, No Measure Guacamole

2 avocados
2 tbsp salsa
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
On rare occasion, I also add a couple tablespoons of minced onion for a little crunch.
(All measurements are approximate!)

Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit. Use a spoon to scoop the meat out into a bowl. Mash with a fork until you reach the consistency you like. Some people like their guac a little chunky; some people like it smooth and creamy. If it doesn’t mash easily with a fork because the avocados are not quite ripe enough, you can use a fork and a knife to cut it up into tinier, mashable pieces.

Stir in the salsa and sour cream. I don’t use the tablespoon from my measuring spoon set. I just use a spoon from my eating utensil drawer — not the small cereal spoon, but the larger one. Like the one you would use to mix ingredients. I have no idea if that is actually the same as the measuring tablespoon or not. It seems close.

For the other ingredients, I just cup my hand as if I was trying to collect a handful of water from a faucet. I fill up the little divot it makes in the center of my palm with each ingredient and dump it in, stirring to mix well. That’s it!

Obviously, you can taste it as you go and adjust the amounts according to what you like. I don’t let Robbie taste-test it anymore, because he always asks for more salt than I normally add. But when I just present it to him already finished, he never mentions it needing more salt. SO. THERE!

The lemon juice seems to help it from turning brown so quickly in the refrigerator, and I can keep it for about 2 days after it has been made to use for leftovers. Be sure to cover it with plastic wrap, though! Enjoy on your own Mexican dinner night at home! Because who can even afford to go out to eat anymore?

Chocolate Caramel Heath Bar Cake

Photo via Taste of Home

Photo via Taste of Home

When Robbie and I were in North Carolina this past week visiting my parents for a few days, my mom had made this cake for us to munch on during our stay. She knows we are both big Heath Bar fans — I made Robbie a Heath Bar cheesecake for his last birthday cake and may have eaten more of it than he did.

I’m not sure where she originally found the recipe. There are several versions of it online, but I’m posting this one because she (of course) tweaked it to suit her better, and when I make it for us now that we’re back home, I am not going to change even one single thing! Robbie told her it was THE BEST CAKE HE HAS EVER HAD. We both raided the refrigerator every night around midnight, like teenagers with the munchies, tiptoeing around so we didn’t wake any adults, whispering, and giggling. Robbie’s tip for sneaking around: always walk on the balls of your feet!

Here is Vicko’s version (in her own words) of this amazing, gooey, chocolatey, candyriffic, moist, fluffy deliciousness.

Chocolate Caramel Heath Bar Cake

1 box Devil’s Food cake mix
1 1/4 c. diet Coke
1 egg (calls for 1 egg white, but I used whole egg)
Mix with mixer on low for 1 min. Pour into sprayed 13×9 pan. Bake at 350 25-30 min. until done.

6 oz. fat free caramel ice cream topping
1/2 can fat free sweetened condensed milk (OOPS! I used a whole can!!! No wonder it was SO gooey! Do what you want)
Bag of Heath Bar Bits
8 oz. Cool Whip Fat Free

Heat (don’t boil) over med. low heat, stirring until smooth. Do this about 10 min. before cake is done. You want it to be very warm as you spoon over cake. Poke holes in cake when you get it out of oven and pour/spoon this over as evenly as you can. I use Kebab skewers to poke. Sprinkle 1 c. Heath Bar bits over top. Let cool completely. Cover with 8 oz cool whip and sprinkle 1/4 to 1/2 c. heath bits over top. Keep in refrigerator. Such a good cake!

Where Everybody Knows Your Name…and They’re Always Glad You Came

There is a couple in our friend circle that everyone wants to be like: Sean and Kalli. They live in a communal house with a few other roommates. Kalli is an artist, and Sean is in a band. When you arrive, everyone hugs you. When you leave, everyone tells you they love you, just in case you A) didn’t know or B) die on the way home. There are big dogs to jump and kiss you when you walk in the back door, which is always unlocked in case anyone they know needs anything. Kalli’s artwork hangs in the hallway, and Sean has a music room with concert posters and carpet tiles arranged creatively on the walls.

They have turned a potentially awful back yard right beside the interstate into a weekend oasis for friends, drinks, and grilling, complete with twinkle lights, hammocks, and a water feature they made from an old trombone. Sean’s special secret recipe mojitos line the fridge in Sprite bottles, and you are to help yourself to that, as well as the honey mustard chicken he’s been grilling for two hours with his brother-in-law. Kalli will be wearing a piece of jewelry she has made, probably involving an owl and feathers, and telling an incredible story about ghosts in one of their childhood homes, or about Sean’s mom yelling at them through the door about condoms while they had sex in his room in high school.

There is much drinking and smoking, eating and talking, and laughing. Sean’s mom or brother-in-law or sister or some of Kalli’s brothers may be present. There is an iPod on the table playing the product of Sean’s band’s latest recording session of reggae. Someone with a generic name shows up, and you realize you know them, but you didn’t know Sean and Kalli knew them. Then you remember that Sean and Kalli know everyone. And maybe you keep randomly meeting people they know because it’s a sign that you both know good people.You may meet their friends from high school, because the group never really split up, even though they live in various places. Or you may meet someone who can eat a corn cob in 22 seconds, or someone who owns the local independent bookstore slash coffee shop. You will “know” them all, already.

I always say, “They’re good people” about those I really respect, admire, or connect with. But I think it’s just as much about being “real” as it is being “good.” So maybe I should say “They’re real good people.” Sean and Kalli are good people. They would be reliable emergency contacts in the event of a dead battery or your one phone call for bail. But they’re also real people. What you see is what you get. Take it or leave it. (But they love you anyway.)

We all talk about how we would someday like to have the Sean and Kalli house, where there is always something going on, everyone is always welcome, food and drink abound, love and kindness permeate, there is always music and laughter, and you are accepted — no, welcomed —¬† just as you are. We know they won’t be around forever — once Kalli finishes her program this fall, they may move away. And we want to continue their tradition of real hospitality on our own. I feel so fortunate to know people like this, who make you feel like you do when you listen to your favorite song.

Tasty Tuesday: Chewy Gobstoppers?!?

Leave it to your best friends to crack you up at all hours of the day…and night. I got an ecstatic call last night informing me that my friend had just bought every box of Chewy Gobstoppers at this one service station, because they are his favorite artificial fruity candy and terribly elusive…which is part of the fun of Wonka candies anyway. They are all sort of elusive. As a kid, the regular Gobstoppers were my favorite, back when I didn’t care if I broke a tooth because I didn’t have to worry about not being able to afford going to the dentist. Some of my best Saturdays were spent sprawled in my friend Alice’s floor, watching movies (or Duke basketball) and chomping hard candy. But I swear to you, I had never even heard of Chewy Gobstoppers until last night. I didn’t even know they made such a thing. And now I am on a quest! If you see them, grab some for me…and watch me turn violet, Violet!

Update: I still can’t find these here, but I was in Alabama recently visiting friends and got several boxes. They are everything I expected and more. ūüôā I’m thinking about buying a carton online.

Tasty Tuesday: Pumpkin Cheesecake

pumpkincheesecake

The perfect dessert for fall. So much better than plain cheesecake or plain pumpkin pie. And super easy to make. I make this almost every Thanksgiving. My family always requests it now. The first time I ever met Robbie’s family was for Thanksgiving a few years ago, and I made this the day before traveling to north Alabama. It made the trip just fine, and his whole family thought I was amazing. They had never heard of pumpkin cheesecake before. His granddad didn’t talk the entire time I was there, except to say my cheesecake was really good. ūüôā

Pumpkin Cheesecake

16 oz Cream cheese; softened
16 oz Pumpkin puree
5 Eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Frangelico liqueur (optional)
3/4 tsp Cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp Ginger, ground
1/4 tsp Nutmeg, ground
1/8 tsp Cloves, ground
1 tsp Vanilla extract

Beat everything together. Pour into graham cracker pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes.

Bruschetta

bruschetta

Sometimes you follow recipes to make things and there’s just¬†a little something wrong.¬†A little something missing. I guess I always used to think that following a recipe would ensure that at least I wouldn’t be the one to blame if something was a little off. But lately I’ve had so many experiences with recipes being not that great that I’ve started just trying to make up everything as I go. For the most part. Unless it’s something I have no clue about, like bread. The last time I made bruschetta, I followed a recipe and it came out all wrong. Didn’t taste quite like I wanted. The bread was a little too soggy. And so on. So last night I decided to use up half a loaf of french bread left over from last weekend’s birthday festivities. I totally made it up as I went along, and this time it came out excellent! So I figured I should probably document that, at least for me in case I want to make it again, as much for the two people who read this blog.

Bruschetta

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice up some french bread and place slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle the slices with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle them with garlic salt and Kosher salt. Then sprinkle with some shredded colby jack cheese. I also added some very fine crumbles of feta cheese. On top of that, pile up some finely chopped tomato. Pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes. Perfecto! Just long enough and hot enough to get warm and melty.

Tasty Tuesday: Cupcakes in Jars

cupcake_in_a_jar

In full disclosure, I did not take this picture, nor did I come up with this idea by myself.

Recently BC moved in with Coocatchoo and became the newest¬†resident¬†in our building. And his birthday was on 9/11 —¬†same as my cousin, Nick. I decided at the last minute that I had to do something nice for him. But he’s a picky eater, and I only had an hour or so to put together a boy-friendly birthday-and-welcome gift. The solution: cupcakes in jars. Perfect for them to take on their trip to the mountains for the weekend, where they rented a house that turned out to be haunted and couldn’t do any hiking because of BC’s¬†unfortunate toe injury. Meanwhile, I was camping with the still-in-recovery Swamp and busy getting poison ivy all. over. myself. What is with everyone’s luck this summer? Man.

Anyways, about the cupcakes in jars…I think the magic of these cupcakes, which everyone says taste better than normal cupcakes, is the ratio of cake to icing. You get way more icing in there. I¬†made cupcakes (funfetti) and icing (cream cheese) like normal. Then I got out my half-pint jars with lids. I put a spoonful of icing in the bottom of the jar. Then I cut a cupcake in half vertically and iced the outside. I placed it in the jar on one side. Then I took the other vertical half of the cupcake and iced all the way around it, with a good thick layer on the side that would be in the middle. I also added some sprinkles to that layer. Then I slid it into the jar to form a whole cupcake again. It required a little tapping on top to get them secured. Added another spoonful (or two) of icing on top, and more sprinkles. Capped it, screwed on the lid, and added a circle of pretty paper on top. Voila!

Some people bake the cupcakes in the jars — they’re glass, it works fine. But I thought it was easier to bake them separately for better control over icing placement. If you give these as gifts, I recommend including a note about removing the lid by sliding it across instead of pulling upwards, so as not to remove the top layer of icing. I gave BC four of these because I had four jars, and I think it was a nice amount for two people. It’s a great gift idea, but it would also be a good solution for taking cupcakes to work (or school) with your lunch. You wouldn’t have to worry about the icing sticking to whatever it is you carried it in.

Coocatchoo is an admitted cupcake-a-holic, so she loved them. But my real joy came from hearing about BC, who is not even much of a dessert person, exclaiming that they were like the best cupcakes he’d ever tasted. Right before the haunted house made him dream it was kicking them out. ūüôā

Tasty Tuesday: Truffle Oven Fries with Pesto Dip

IMG_4648

Okay people, don’t freak out about the fancy-schmancy title of this recipe. Today we are going to take the gourmet out of gourmet cooking.

BlackTruffleOil

The other day I found some black truffle olive oil on sale, marked down to about 80% off the original price. It seems astonishing, but apparently people aren’t buying truffle oil in this economy. Go figure. So, lucky me that I happened to spot this lonely bottle on the clearance table! Me, who loves to make gourmet things but can never afford gourmet ingredients. Fortunately, this recipe is still good without the truffle flavoring in case you don’t have it, but if you’re lucky enough to find some on sale, it’s a delicious way to introduce truffles into your cooking in a fairly subtle way.

I once read an article that described truffles as tasting and smelling like sex or lust. Fascinatingly, black truffles actually contain a sex hormone related to testosterone that is also found in the underarm perspiration of the human male and the urine of females. That hormone is also similar to a pig sex hormone. So this explains everything! No wonder pigs are so good at finding them, and humans consider them an aphrodisiac. Perhaps you’re thinking you don’t want armpit on your fries. Oh, but just wait. Don’t judge until you taste! (I promise if you don’t like it, I’ll come over and eat them for you.)

Truffle Oven Fries with Pesto Dip

4 medium red potatoes
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp. truffle oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Slice your potatoes in vertical strips. Be sure not to get them too thin or they will be too floppy to dip when cooked. Between 1/4 and 1/2 inch is good. Throw the strips in a bowl with the olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Toss to coat. Spread onto a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or a mist of olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in pan to loosen and flip. Bake for 10-15 minutes more. Some will get pretty brown, so watch closely to prevent burning. Remove pan from oven. Transfer strips into a clean bowl. Drizzle the truffle oil over the top and toss again to distribute.

If you are nervous about the flavor, you can also add the truffle oil in the first step (with the olive oil)¬†before baking. This will result in a less pungent taste. Technically you’re supposed to use the oil on cooked foods as a finish, but it’s okay to break the rules sometimes.

Pesto Dip

1/4 cup basil pesto (I use jarred.)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Just mix this all together and put it in a pretty container. The extra ingredients make the jarred pesto taste a little more homemade. Serve with fries as a dipping sauce.

See? You don’t have to do it the Martha Stewart, sweating-over-your-mortar-and-pestle¬†way to achieve deliciousness. No one will ever know you didn’t grind that basil yourself. My lips are sealed!

Tasty Tuesday: Reese’s Pieces

hershey-reeses-pieces

There were a lot of interesting events in 1978. I was born, along with most of my closest friends. So that alone made it a good year. Johnny Rotten left the Sex Pistols.¬†Harvey Milk was assassinated. The Pope died. The¬†first solo trek to the North Pole occurred. Those poor people drank the Kool-Aid at Jonestown. Spain became a democracy. Ali won the title. And the world was introduced for the first time¬†to The Blues Brothers, Diff’rent Strokes,¬†Odie the dog, and Reese’s Pieces. All in one year!

et_l

I was four¬†when the movie E.T.: Extra Terrestrial came out. It was the first movie I remember¬†seeing in a theater. I did see The Empire Strikes Back first,¬†and I can remember¬†being fascinated by¬†the scrolling words at the beginning. But I was only two then, and I don’t remember anything else about the movie. E.T.was really scary to me because of the part when they come to take him away from the house and there’s all that crazy tubing and then he’s in the testing facility on the verge of¬†death. I cried. But I loved Drew Barrymore as a kid and saw all her movies. My parents met her at a party when she was in North Carolina filming Firestarter. My mom doesn’t remember if she was drinking at the party or not. Heh.¬†I still like her quite a bit, and I from what I can tell we have a lot of similarities personality-wise. She’s a free spirit. Some people have said I sort of resemble her at times, from certain angles. I think she looks more like pictures of my grandmother as a young girl than me.

me drew

So E.T.’s favorite candy in the movie was Reese’s Pieces, and some time after the movie came out I got a promotional E.T. toy candy dispenser, which for some reason I’ve had on my mind lately. It was a globe and the mechanism was one of those old kind with the small metal tab you had to slide¬†horizontally to push in your coin or whatever. It came with Reese’s Pieces. I can’t remember what made them dispense. I can remember sitting in the floor of my entirely yellow bedroom, methodically dispensing Reese’s Pieces and thinking about E.T. Wondering if he made it home. I lost interest in it when I ran out of Reese’s Pieces. Such is the attention span of a 4-year-old. But I was thinking I’d like to find one of those just to refresh my memory of it, or to see if my memory is accurate. I don’t necessarily want to own one, but I would like to see it again. I’ve looked all over the internet, but I haven’t been able to find any information on them whatsoever.

Anyone else remember those toys?

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