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!

Tasty Thursday: Stuffed Mushrooms

I don’t attend or host many events that require party food, but for some reason I make a lot of it for myself to eat. I make my own party, yo! LOL. This is a pretty tasty recipe that I modified from one I found in a magazine to suit my liking, so I am claiming it as my own invention. And look! I actually made a picture of THE ACTUAL dish! Pioneer Woman, I am not. I am the single, childless, broke version of her. So, actually not like her at all.

Stuffed Mushrooms, Megs Style

2 16 oz. pkgs of whole mushrooms (You can use portobello and be all fancy, but I kinda prefer the milder flavor of regular button mushrooms.)

8 oz. cream cheese

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar

1/4 cup crumbled feta

2 tbsp. bacon bits

1 quarter of a large onion, minced finely

1 tsp. garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave for a minute. Dump it with  everything else in a bowl (not the mushrooms) and beat together with a mixer.

Rinse the mushrooms to get the dirt off. Ina Garten says you shouldn’t rinse mushrooms, but just use a damp sponge to brush the dirt off. But that idea kinda grosses me out, and I seriously dislike unexpected grit in my teeth, so I wash mine. Pop out the stems and discard (or set aside to use in another recipe, like chicken and mushroom quesadillas, which is what I do). If the stem doesn’t pop out cleanly, use the tip of a case knife to carve out the rest.

Stuff each mushroom with about a teaspoon of filling. Put them in a baking pan. You can spray the pan to prevent sticking, but the mushrooms produce a lot of juice in the process of cooking, so it’s not really necessary.

Bake for 22 minutes at 375 degrees. Enjoy!

If you are not a big mushroom fan, this also makes a really tasty hot dip for toasted pita points or garlic crostini, or even just fancy crackers. Just put the filling in a baking dish instead of stuffing mushrooms with it, and bake as directed. You can even top with a bit of cheddar at the end and put it back in the oven for that to melt. Good served hot. Although I’ve also been known to eat it cold on various breads. Whatever. It’s cheese and bacon. It’s never bad.

Tasty Tuesday: Caesar Chicken

I am a big fan of recipes that don’t require exact measuring. This is a great chicken recipe I got from my friends, who made it the last time we got together for dinner. I am going to give you my slacker version instead of the exact one they provided. It’s easier and it works. Just to be clear, I used the really thin chicken breasts that are all the rage at the grocery store nowadays, so if you use the normal ones I’d probably double the cooking time. These would also be great as chicken fingers if you used tenderloins, or in bite-sized pieces as an hors d’oeuvre.

chicken

Caesar Chicken

1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Creamy Caesar salad dressing
Grated parmesan cheese
Caesar croutons, crushed
Butter, melted or olive oil (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Layer the chicken breasts in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Spread the salad dressing over the tops. Sprinkle a good layer of parmesan over that. Sprinkle a good layer of crushed croutons over that. (I used a large ziplock bag and a hammer to accomplish this. More sophisticated chefs might prefer a food processor. Did I mention cooking is a good stress relief for me?) If you like, you can drizzle a little melted butter or olive oil over them. Bake for about 25 minutes.

If you want to be all fancy, you could dip the chicken breasts (or pieces) in the dressing and then dredge them through the mixture of crushed croutons and parmesan, so that the entire piece is coated and not just the tops. That was too much work for me. But that would be better if you did bite-sized pieces for a finger food.

Tasty Tuesday: Oysters

I’ve discussed here previously how I’m on a quest to find the world’s best French Onion Soup. I should probably mention this week that this neverending pursuit also applies to another one of my favorite foods: fried oysters. I know fried foods are bad for you. But I am from the South, and I can’t eat oysters any other way. I’ve tried. As with the perfect French Onion Soup, I will not conclusively choose an absolute best place for fried oysters. But I can tell you the best I’ve had thus far. At Seel’s Fish Camp on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.

seels_800

I forgot to take my camera on vacation with me, so I don’t have a picture of these particular oysters to share with you. But they were huge, juicy, very lightly breaded (almost like tempura), and cooked to perfection. This is a really cool restaurant, too. The day we were there, they were having a pre-Mardi Gras celebration with a crawfish boil and a live dixieland jazz band. A little kid was break-dancing in front of them, and it was adorable.

kid

*My friend Jen took this picture.

Emeril’s Tempura Fried Oysters

1 egg, beaten  
2/3 cup flour  
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup cold soda water
1 tsp salt
2 dozen shucked large oystersPreheat the fryer. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg, flour, cornstarch, soda water and salt. Blend until smooth. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes, to rest. Season the oysters with salt and pepper. Dredge the oysters in the flour, tapping off any excess flour. Dip the oysters in the tempura batter, letting the excess drip off. Then place the dipped oysters in the hot oil, fry until slightly golden, about 2 minutes. Remove the oysters from the oil and drain on a paper-lined plate.