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Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

Studies in Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes I crave different aspects of chocolate chip cookies, resulting in a situation where there is no *perfect* recipe for me.  But I want to know which things to change in order to get what I want. So I’ve been experimenting.

~ I live in Colorado, not in the mountains, but considerably higher altitude than sea level.  If your altitude is lower, you might want to reduce the amount of flour you use.

~ Parkay margarine makes Stephannie cookies.  She’s my sister, and around our friend circles, they are famous.  But I don’t like margarine.  I want my cookies to have butter.  This brings up problems.  Because butter makes cookies flat.  In any case, Parkay is saltier than unsalted butter.  Use salted butter and/or add extra salt.
~ Use enough salt.

~ Adding flour does not fix flat cookie recipes.  I mean, if you add enough, they’re not flat anymore.  But they’re barely cookies anymore.

~ I read in some awesome cookbook at a friend’s house one time, and it has changed my baking forever, that it is very useful to add other forms of fat than butter.  Go figure.  My first attempt has been to add an extra egg *yolk* (I think the recipe book suggested this).  I’ve tried a bit of coconut oil, which is supposedly a dough conditioner anyway.  I can’t tell a difference.  I’m starting to wonder if I use a higher-quality butter if it would yield better (fluffier, but still tender) results.

~ If you brown at least some of the butter before using it, it adds a nutty and/or caramel dimension to the flavor.

~ Play with adding just a hint of spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg.  Add some flavor and warmth.  Everyone I know experiments with vanilla amounts, too – that is, they splash it instead of measuring.  Some brands of vanilla extract have a funny flavor; use a vanilla that you like.

~ Use a good kind of chocolate.  Dark, semi-sweet, and bittersweet, are by definition basically the same thing; different companies apply the terms to distinguish their products, but they don’t have a definite meaning.  Different companies use varieties of ingredients.  I don’t know what you like.  If you’re a normal American, you might just want to go with Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips for the comfort of familiarity.  I read recently that Guittard melts very smoothly.  70% bitter is not sweet enough, I know from my most recent experiment – especially when you’re experimenting with reducing the sugar.

~ Don’t reduce the sugar.  1 1/2 c. sugar (brown and white mixed, in different proportions), 3 c. flour, 2 sticks butter.  Those are the basics.  Don’t skimp.

~ Use enough chocolate.  Chocolate helps the cookie to have structure.  Don’t let your dough be too warm when you mix the chocolate, or it will melt.

~ Other firmer ingredients can also help the structure of the cookie, like other kinds of chips – toffee, for instance.  Or you can add dried fruit.  I also like some recipes that have uncooked oatmeal mixed in.

~ I’m curious, based on an article I just read whether the darkness of the brown sugar affects raising.  Does darkness describe levels of acidity?  If you added just a touch of a different sweetener, could that help?  Particularly, I’m thinking about a tablespoon or less of molasses.

~ Leavening: the Toll House recipe calls for baking soda.  My favorite oatmeal cookie recipe has baking powder.  My most recent attempt had both.  The jury’s out, but I suspect baking powder gives a better rise, especially if you’re letting the dough rest in the refrigerator for a while.

~ You must refrigerate your dough.  It enhances the flavor mixtures.  But the main reason is that it keeps the cookies from spreading too quickly.  Flat cookies mean all sorts of unpleasant things like crispiness, only one layer of chocolate chunks, or not fitting as many on a pan without them running into one another.

~ I’ve learned that baking powder, at least, responds quicker in a slightly hotter oven.  I’m considering starting hotter (425??) for a minute or two, then reducing the heat (350).  It’s all about helping the rise.

~ The pan you use matters.  I think the metal, the shape, the color all contribute to how your cookies bake.  I don’t know your oven or your pans, but if something works for you, take note and keep using that!

~ Do *not* over-bake.  Take your cookies out when the centers aren’t jiggling, and the edges are beginning to brown.  Do not wait until the tops of your cookies are brown if you want a soft gooey cookie.  You can let the cookies rest for a bit on the pan before removing to cool.  Another thing you can try is to squish the edges of your cookies towards their centers after removing from the oven, to keep them from setting so flat.

~ If all else fails (and sometimes just because), supplement your cookies with cheesecake dip, ice cream, salt, milk, hot drinks – to complement the tastes.

~ Also if the cookies get stale for some crazy reason, carefully re-hydrate using steam (or butter?).

~ Try freezing extra cookies, and remove about 15 minutes before eating, for a cold chewy treat.  You can freeze the dough, too, but I have very little experimentation with that.

~ To reheat in a microwave, make sure you use power settings below 5 to prevent crunchy burnt spots.  I find that about 30 seconds on power 3 works best in my microwave.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Soda Pop

Where to begin?

Ever since I was little, I’ve enjoyed pop.  My favorite (probably because that’s what my parents let me have) was Caffeine Free Pepsi.  When I got older, and started eating combos at fast food places, I began to enjoy the extra bite of regular Pepsi.  Coke doesn’t compare.  Caffeine Free Coke is even worse.  Cherry Coke is tolerable as a substitute.  Dr. Pepper is my second favorite.  I don’t touch Mountain Dew.  And Sprite is for treating illness or spicing punch.

There’s this boycott out about Pepsi, and I’ve reluctantly joined.  At first I figured I’d just ignore it, but Pepsico was so blatantly not sorry, so flaunting of its research endeavors, that I just had to write them and tell them that, sad as I am, I’m not buying their products anymore.  I even wrote my three favorite grocery stores to tell them about why I’m not buying Pepsi from them anymore.  And before you try to gently reassure me that drinking Pepsi is ok, Pepsi is lying to people who write to them.  There are legal documents establishing Pepsi’s connection with Senomyx, and what techniques that company uses to test its flavors.  Also, I know that Pepsi owns almost everything, and that I’m very unlikely to be boycotting all of Pepsi.  I’m focusing on not buying or consuming Pepsi drinks.

A few years ago I drastically cut back on my soda intake.  Late last year I fasted from it altogether for a few weeks.  I can do it.  When I get to craving pop, I know that I can substitute something else with lots of flavor – or preemptively drink so much water that I’m not even thirsty.

Soda is not so good for you, though it does have its tummy-settling uses, and it is a yummy way to consume caffeine (to treat headaches or heavy eyelids).  With government-run healthcare coming soon to a doctor’s office near you, I am starting to lean more towards a healthy lifestyle, avoiding the need for a doctor as much as possible.  So I have been trying to slowly cut back on my intake of things like high fructose corn syrup and other highly processed foods, eating fruits and vegetables and grains instead.

I went on a search for some inexpensive “natural” soda, for those days when I decide to do the less healthy thing and splurge.  Safeway’s Refreshe brand has a natural soda.  But it only comes in four flavors: Cola, Lemon Lime, Root Beer, and Strawberry Kiwi.  The Cola flavor is ok, but not wonderful.

 

So I have a plan.  I’m going to make Cherry Cola.  Natural.  I found bottled Black Cherry juice concentrate (not frozen) from Knudsen at Sprout’s this week.  And I bought some.  I figure a teaspoon or less per glass should sufficiently flavor my soda, but I’m going to start experimenting soon.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I first heard of celeriac because Harriet Smith mentions it in Gwyneth Paltrow’s film version of Emma.  To be honest I only looked up the vegetable because the scene was running in my head like a parallel to my feelings.  You can’t really find it in grocery stores, and even the farmer’s market, sell grains in bulk, entire sections devoted to vitamins and organic produce stores didn’t have it.  But when I happened to be at Whole Foods with a friend this week, I checked and sure enough, there was the knobby root with the cropped remnant of celery stalks on the top.  “Knobby” is actually an understatement.  Celery root (celeriac) looks like dirty brains.  Anyway, I chose one – a smaller one that was still heavy; denser is better.

 

After showing off my find to everyone in the house – my 81 year old grandmother has never even seen one – I sat down to find a recipe for what I’m impudently renaming “Irony Soup.”  Every recipe I could find had onions and leeks.  I don’t have either on hand.  Onions I usually leave out anyway.  Leeks I have never used and for that reason I was hesitant, besides knowing they’re in the onion family.  Ginger I had – for the first time I was going to try grating my own straight from the root, into some recipe or other.  So at the last minute, before heading to the grocery store to pick up leeks, I did a Google search for a soup with celeriac and ginger.  What I found, here: http://straightfromthefarm.net/2009/03/07/celeriac-and-ginger-soup/ is Irony Soup.

 

No onions even to be crossed off of the recipe.  An entire head of garlic.  Carrots and cream and potato and herbs, some of my favorite soup ingredients (you know – for the two or three soups I’ve ever made or eaten).

 

Chopping the vegetables and peeling the garlic took way longer than I expected, but this is just what one would expect from Irony Soup.  I chopped away.  I forgot the salt when I first started simmering the mixture, so maybe that’s why the vegetables took so long to soften.  I also improvised on measurements a bit and added celery just to enhance that edge of the flavor.  Making it up as you go following general guidelines is also apropos for Irony Soup.

 

The celeriac and ginger smells wafted through the house while the soup simmered.  Because I started late and the softening process took longer than expected, I had to interrupt the soup and go to a party.  I resumed this afternoon.

 

I paired my serving with buttered wheat toast, because you want to make sure you have something you like at your side when you’re trying something new.  The soup came out ideally creamy and thicker than most soups I’ve had.

 

And just like irony whose poignancy lingers, the ginger is strong, with a bite still felt after you swallow.  It’s full of healthy things, low in calories, so it won’t boost your energy all that much, and low in fat so you won’t end up regretting the experience.

 

In this house, where we like to share things, the batch will probably serve more than four.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Gingersnap Chicken Fingers

16 gingersnaps, finely chopped

½ c. panko breadcrumbs

Salt, pepper, and paprika to taste (no more than ½ tsp. each)

 

1 egg, beaten

4 chicken breasts, cut into strips (3 per breast)

 

Heat oven to 425 F. Coat strips with egg. Press into breading mixture, turn over and press again. Place on greased cookie sheet. Cook 15 minutes. Turn. Cook 5-10 minutes more depending on thickness.

Serve plain or with honey mustard sauce. Makes 12 strips (4 servings).

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Based on a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, but modified to my taste!

 

 

Wash, peel, and chop 2 pears into pea-sized pieces.  Set aside.  Melt 1/4 cup of butter and set aside.  Start water boiling.  Line muffin pans with paper muffin cups.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Get out two bowls.

 

In the first bowl mix 1 and 1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of ginger, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

 

Whisk together 1 egg, 2/3 cup of molasses (I use a little less depending on what I have), 1/4 cup of melted butter, and 1/4 cup of brown sugar in the second bowl.  Then pour into the first bowl and stir thoroughly.  Add 1/2 cup of boiling water.  Once that is mixed evenly, pour in the chopped pears and about 1/3 cup of chocolate chips.

 

Spoon into 12 muffin cups.  Bake for about 18 minutes until toothpick inserted in center (not through a chocolate chip) comes out clean.

 

I like them best slightly warm, but cool enough to be firm.  Watch out!  They’re addicting!

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

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One of my friends has a family tradition of Oreos and peaches.  She shared it with us the other day, step by step.

First you buy canned peaches.  Then you buy Double-Stuf Oreos (because who buys any other kind?).  Take them home.

Open the can of peaches.  Drain.  Divide into bowls, each with its own spoon.  Hand one bowl to each person.  Give them a napkin.

Set the Oreos in the center of the table.  Open package.  (Name brand containers have instructions for peeling open the top instead of tearing or cutting open the ends like the old days.)  Have each person select two or three cookies and set them on the napkin, because Oreos must be on napkins.

Begin eating:  first a bite of peach; then a bite of Oreo.  Disregard normal procedures for consuming the chocolate wafer and cream.  Don’t worry about putting fruit on cookies or cookies on fruit.  Alternating bites works just fine.

Ration as you go, balancing the percentage left of peaches with that of the cookies.  As you near the end, you will have to make a choice whether you want to end on peaches or on Oreos.  There is no rule for this, and you can decide when you come to it, based on your mood and taste that day.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A year and a half ago I tasted the first soup I’ve ever liked.  It was Olive Garden’s Chicken & Gnocchi.  I decided to try making it someday.  I looked up recipes.  Discovered I would need to buy all sorts of things I don’t usually have around my house (spinach, celery, garlic, chicken stock).  But I didn’t.  Not until this week.

On Tuesday there was a snowstorm in Denver.  Actually, when I got off work at 5, there was only rain and the sun was still up.  So I went to the Sprouts “Farmer’s Market” grocery store across the street, spent a half hour, and found my car covered in snow.  But I couldn’t bring myself to purchase the high-priced chicken at Sprouts, so I would have to wait to make the soup, however good soup sounded during a blizzard.

After a breakfast-for-dinner during the snowfall, my dad who loves to drive decided to joyride through the snow.  We had fun.  And at the end of it he let me run in to King Soopers where I procured the needed chicken.  So I would make the soup Wednesday while snowed-in.

To my dismay, when I came upstairs at about 11:30 on Wednesday morning, the sun was shining and the roads were melted.  I was just about to cook chicken when my family asked if I wanted to go to Chick-fil-a with them for lunch.  Scrap the idea of a 2 PM lunch, and head for Chick-fil-a!

I prepared the chicken, celery, spinach, garlic, and carrots Wednesday afternoon, but didn’t put the soup together.  I waited for that until Thursday afternoon.  With almost all of the ingredients pre-sliced, the pouring and boiling and simmering only took about a half hour.  It looked like this:

And then I served myself a bowl of soup beside some fresh blueberry muffins (Betty Crocker with modifications: in the old days, she had us put water in the mix instead of milk, and though the instructions say milk now, I still just put in water; it tastes better!).  Pour out some grape juice and some water, light a candle, and Voila!


It was good.  I had some more several hours later.  My brother tried it.  He thinks it needs more chicken.  He is a chicken fiend.

The changes I made to the Chicken & Gnocchi recipe I found were:  I left out the onion and the cornstarch.  I used heavy cream instead of half and half.  And because I don’t know what I’m doing, I used several cloves of garlic instead of just one, but I like garlic, so I don’t mind.  The recipe doesn’t specify how much salt should be added, and I didn’t put enough in at first.  Next time I will pre-cook the chicken less; I grilled chicken breasts, which can still work if I watch more closely.  Also the celery needed to be cooked longer before I added the chicken and chicken stock.  Someday I may also try making my own gnocchi.

I made soup!

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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