Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beer and Cookies? I Dunno...

I am there, in the trenches, with all the rest of you when I say this:  I hate admitting when ideas - amazing as they are in theory - crash and burn, hold me to shame - whatever it is.

It seemed to me - in some moment of what should have been brilliant innovation - that if my 2 favorite vices, sweets and beer, were worth a regular routine of indulgence - why was I experiencing them apart?  We should all be fairly aware of the beauty that is melding stout and chocolate.  So there it is - beer and sweets.

My boyfriend throws a ridiculous Oktoberfest party every year.  The brewery boys brew 100 gallons, slaughter pigs for brats, grow potatoes and cabbage - the whole 9 yards (and about 900 more).  Of this hundred gallons, is roughly 20 gallons of a personal favorite of mine - hefeweizen, or unfiltered wheat beer.  Its hearty without being heavy, cloudy like any good mystery, and smells like clove and banana.  Thus, sending me off on a mental tangent.

After days of storms brewing in my mind, the skies cleared and the, fingers crossed, greatest idea of my life came to light.  A hefeweizen cookie.  If all went the way it was supposed to, it could be the next great afternoon treat.  If delicious beer had a flavor profile like a delicious cookie, they must be married into one.

Or not so much.  In defense of this recipe, I may have possibly (maybe) taken a few too many liberties in substitutions - but here is where I jumped off.  I should be honest and admit that I began with taking out the oats - I wasn't sure that was a texture I wanted - and replaced that with half the amount of flour (totally pulled that one out of the air), added brewers' malt powder, left out the walnuts, added ground cloves, and replaced the chocolate chips with Whoppers - whafers (just like the Christopher Walken "whafer thin mint" sketch) according to a dear friend's dear, sweet child.

In the end, what I ended up with was a banana muffin top with the addition of Whoppers - nothing of the chewy, malty, just a bit spicy, banana laden - without tasting like Laffy Taffy - hand-held face melter I was hoping for.  Its not that it wasn't delicious, it was just unimpressive.  They said nothing of OHMYGODCOOKIELADYPLEASEDON'TEVERSTOPMAKINGTHESE!!  Part of me feels a bit guilty for the trays that went into the trash, but with so many cookies to eat in the near future - we have to save our expanding waistlines for the top notch stuff.

Back to the drawing board.  I like it here though - its quiet and smells like home.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Very Own Dr Frankenstein

With the major success of what may have been the best chocolate chip cookies of my torrid 29 years - and with so much time for number crunching, research, thinking - I've been left feeling a little like Dr. Frankenstein.  Gathering all my parts - don't worry mom, none of my parts are remains of any kind - ideas, information, and getting ready to hole myself up in the laboratory, or, uh, kitchen for the winter to build my monster - in hopes that I can unveil something fantastic next spring.

While I'm on this mission for cookie glory, why limit myself to the basics?  I love a good sugar cookie - peanut butter cookies make my knees weak - nothing says, "hey, kid.  I was thinking of you, and how ridiculously awesome you are" like a chocolate chip cookie and a glass of milk after school.  Everyone does them - some well, some acceptably, some not so great.  Why make that the source of competition?  A new arm, or, errr, ingredient makes everyone feel new and shiny.  New eyes make things look better.  Adding a little jolt of electricity (I'm thinking corn flakes and candy corn) livens the party.  You probably catch my drift...

The first time I fell in loved with Baked, in Red Hook, Brooklyn - it was for their (practically world famous) brownie.  I have to shamefully admit that I've never actually had it from the shop - just the straight-up super chocolate awesome recipe version - it really is the best one around.  My only decent excuse is that there was just too much to choose from!  I got a little overwhelmed.  The second time I found myself swooning - yes, I know, its a pattern - was for their monster cookie.  An enormous amalgamation of peanut butter, oats, chocolate chips and M&M's.  It turns out my beast-son - he'll grow out of the beast part soon, I hope - is enamored with them when I switch it up with peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, and M&M's.  We don't do anything cookie-related halfway, and we're all about the heft of these monsters.  He says, "You know mom, they're ok normally, but epic the way you make them."  So here is where we jump off...

Everyone believes that cookies can be ok - why not make them "epic" or a little freaky (freaky delicious, of course)?  Lets be all about leaving people thinking, "I had no idea a cookie could be like this!"  Like I've always believed - cookies never get the play they deserve.  We're entirely too willing to settle for a plain Jane cookie - too often from a box - when in reality, they are compact, durable, and endlessly versatile.  So, whether its PB OD - a peanut butter cookie, peanut butter chips, and peanut butter Cap'n Crunch - or a Brewers' Banana - banana cookie made with hefeweizen syrup and malt balls - I can't wait to back slowly away from the kitchen, exclaiming, "Its alive!"

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Domesticated Goddess

In my attempt to keep this blog updated regularly, and find a focus - I've come up dry in the last few weeks.  Having lost my job - for whatever reason - which I loved and believed in more than I can say - my brain has been muddled.

I got lucky - that's all there is to it.  I - in the last 2 years - climbed to the top, found the next summit, and kept climbing.  I got a chance to come back to the place that felt most like home (cheers, Lincoln, Nebraska) - I got a little play in the NY Times - did a little stint as the Queen of Cake in-training - and landed (by the grace of whatever it is) on my feet, every. stinkin'. time.  I should give props to the kings of my heart, lest they think I've forgotten them.  I have the month of October - longer if I'd like - to think long and hard about who I want to be - personally, professionally, whateverally.  I get to take care of my beast-pre-teen-son, my boyfriend, and the most ridiculous pets.  I'm holding out for another summit - rather than finding out that I hit the ground and it took some time to shake myself into reality.  Thank you.

Lets not kid ourselves - I'm not kicked back eating bon bons in my bath robe.  All this thinking, re-evaluating, number crunching possibilities, parenting, housework, pet care, keeping 'em fed and entertained stuff is hard work.  I surprise myself sometimes - I love the domesticated goddess life.  Making pita bread from scratch, sewing curtains, long dog walks - I am by nature, a nurturer.

I spent the other afternoon baking cookies for my beastie's 6th grade social - I also learned this act is a significantly more socially acceptable gesture before age 11.  Although, we do relish any opportunity to "ruin" lives and be the "laughing stock" of 900 11-14 year olds - we gotta have something to look forward to.  Distractions aside - and with all this time to think - cookies never get enough play.  This became blatantly apparent to me during the Gourmet Cookie Project - the reason I started this blog in the first place.  So - I'll stick with it.  Cookies, cookies, and cookies.  There are cake people - I still defend that people who don't like cake have just had bad cake experience; dare to challenge me - pie people, tall people, funny people.  I've never met a single person who doesn't like cookies.  I will also defend that cookies are the most versatile, convenient, and under-played treats of the dessert world.

So, the cake thing didn't work out.  Is there a future in cookies?  Lets start - or restart - with chocolate chip walnut cookies, per request of the boyfriend.  Sorry, Eric - they don't have walnut extract in them - I've never even seen that anywhere - but the complex, yet homey, classic combination of tons of chocolate and walnuts will be sure to satisfy.  We'll eat them warm, with tall glasses of milk - just like when we were kids.  Please Jacques, King of Chocolate, don't lead me astray.  I still bake for him like a desperate plea for falling in love.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Walnuts

Recipe adapted from Jacques Torres, via Martha Stewart

Makes approximately 6 dozen, 2 inch cookies

  • 1 cup, 2 sticks, unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 3/4 cups + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups best quality bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla extract mixing well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add both flours, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; mix until well combined.  Mix in chocolate and walnuts.
  • Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, but still soft, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monsters, The Power Of An Over Easy Egg Yolk, And A Little Hope

Last night, we sheepishly ventured into a neighbor's backyard with a ridiculous abundance of cheese, salami, crackers, and 2 trays of cookies (Smitten Kitchen's  Punition Sandwiches and David Lebowitz's Chez Panisse Gingersnaps sandwiched with lemon curd).  It was probably entirely too much for the small soiree, but it seems so socially inappropriate to skimp when meeting your neighbors for the first time.  I never do this for accolades about my skills or ideas (my apologies to the boyfriend for my stress about these things), but for the sake of giving my socially inept self a conversation topic.  People are always willing to chat it up about which markets carry the "best" cheese, or where you found a great recipe and the story behind it.  Otherwise I'm afraid you get me, staring into my beer - clueless about starting a conversation with a stranger.  Nice shoes.  What do you do for a living?  Which house is your's?  Sure - those are all a start, but I'm afraid that beyond that I fall flat.

Max, our resident taster, bottomless-stomached, challenge of a lifetime, 11 year old loves to talk about his favorite foods and why he thinks I'm the "most amazing cook" (sometimes).  He has, for the most part, been a fairly typical kid in his food habits (which I should clarify with the exceptions).  He doesn't do green, or other vegetables, and often requests "real food" when he has himself convinced that the current offerings don't please his palette.  He will eat pepperoni pizza or chicken nuggets 3 times a day - until its time to switch to burgers and anything he can put a slurry of honey mustard and barbecue sauce on.  Of course dessert in any form is always welcome in abundance.  Lets face it - his beloved magic sauce turns everything into a sweet, sticky dinner-dessert.  And then we have those exceptions:  Manchego and quince paste, wild mushroom truffle ravioli and potato gnocchi from Fairway Market in New York City are the nearest and dearest foods to his heart.  One of the first times the three of us (the boyfriend, me and Max) had dinner together, it was a wine, cheese, cured meats, fruit sort of affair - like the romantic picnic you take to the park with that guy you think you might really like.  Except this happened in my living room with a 10 year old, and far too much conversation about video games and money making schemes.  Max immediately started singing the, "Its terrific!" praises of Manchego and quince paste (the national dessert of Uruguay he learned from a Montessori project) - two things the boyfriend had never even known were an option.  I got several seconds of wide blue eyes and a lean in to say, "You've created a monster" in the grocery store aisle.  Yes, sir, I believe I have.  I love that about him.

I all too often find myself going into dinner with my guns half-cocked for that, "What do you mean I have to eat that?" conversation - I'm convinced that Max won't find the evening's menu suitable.  He really does have "surprising tastebuds".   It is shocking every time he takes a bite, looks around, and mumbles through a mouthful, "That's really good."

Last Saturday evening he encountered the Croque Madame; a classic French bistro sandwich, that I will be the first to tell you, is a lead bullet of rich delicious.  

I should preface my surprise with filling you in on what a Max sandwich is like - bread, salami, pepperoni, or cheese, never more than one filling, never a tomato, a hint of lettuce or a condiment.  So when I handed him the behemoth of Gruyere, ham, bechamel, more Gruyere, and an over easy egg - the last thing I expected was to check back in on him was to hear him mumble, "The ham and the egg are the best part!" (through his mouthful, of course).  It was date night afterall - we don't eat like this every night - so he got the luxury of dinner in front of the computer at his desk.  The way the egg yolk soaks into the bread and makes all its salty, warm, comfort you like nothing else, components that much better changed my life the first time I sank into one.  We were in a Belgian bistro - in Omaha, not really Belguim (do I ever wish!) - drinking this beer that knocked it over the top (what was that again, Eric?).  I took one bite and peered across the table at him with that look - the one that he knows says "My God, this is it!  This is food!  This is why we eat!  This is the exact reason why I rolled my tank out of bed this morning!".  Its a sandwich and some booze; its those moments that he knows he scored the win.  In my mind all is right with the world, and I'm on top.  I too easily forget how powerfully comforting and delicious an over easy egg yolk can be.  I feel like we had a moment (me and the sandwich, me and the world, and then me and the kiddo).  They are fleeting, but worth it every time.

As I digress, I have this tub of mascarpone in the fridge (leftover from this) that I can't possibly let go to waste.  I do believe it will turn into this.  I might be getting a little to much ruffle in my mama feathers thinking that I can get the royal 11 year old to eat cauliflower, but without a little hope, where would we be?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Now What?

I've been spoiled in the last few weeks at work.  With the holidays in full swing, travel, and special menus, I've managed to skip out on Thursday pizza prep, Friday pasta making madness, and the Saturday morning breakfast until 1:30.  This week, however, presented itself with business as usual. 

I was quite shocked when my better half called, in the midst of rolling pasta sheets for lasagna, on Friday afternoon.  I think he picked up early in our relationship that I really am not much for phone conversation, and we generally keep such communication fairly succinct, and most anything, short of an emergency, we deal with off the clock.  I immediately jumped to the conclusion that something terrible had happened, but was left stumbling my way through, "What?!", "No!", and lots of, "Oh, my god!" to learn about this.  I know that I received a lot of attention locally and among family and friends, but I never imagined that anyone in the rest of the world had any idea what I was up to, or was interested for that matter.

I think I fell in love with New York City long before I even knew of its existence.  I'll spare you most of the over the top, romantic notions I have of living in a city where I can eat anything I can imagine, or find any ingredient at practically any hour.  I will tell you though that the first time I tasted a real New York pizza (John's - on Bleeker St in the Village), and an evening I spent stuffing my face full of pastries and cafe au lait in front of the Balthazar Bakery changed my life forever.  The smoked sturgeon at Zabar's leaves me teary eyed, and it really is true what they say about the water.

Up until yesterday afternoon, I set the bar of accomplishment at getting a little play in the Big Apple.  Whether it be a chance to live and work there, recognition of some sort, or being a name that was familiar to its chefs and restaurant professionals.  Although this was not an interview or front page story, millions of people around the world will read my name tomorrow morning.  I'm just a girl from a small, Maine town, striving to be better than ordinary in Lincoln, Nebraska.  If this is what it means to me to "make it", then now what?

At least there are still Valentine's Day cookies to be ordered.  Feel free to contact me for details

Monday, January 3, 2011

Love Is In the Air!

I've spent the last few weeks in the flurry of festivities.  Working in the restaurant industry leaves me with a schedule generally opposite from the rest of the world.  When you have free time; nights, weekends, holidays, I'm busy creating the environment for you to eat, drink, and be merry.  Combined with the storm of cookies I baked and a lovely trip to Illinois, I've been left with little time to gather my thoughts on the Gourmet project.  As things head into the quiet winter months, I'll finish up the photos and my thoughts on that.

Spend enough time in my company and it doesn't take long to pick up on the way I bounce from project to project, often only half-finishing my tasks.  In classic form, but with a vow to finish what's left on the last adventure and keep a better journal in future endeavors, I'm on to something new.  I miss the warm, sweet smells of cookies filling my tiny apartment.  I miss anxiously waiting on timers, hoping that everything finishes as it should, or the silky texture of melted chocolate and royal icing.  So, with Valentine's Day right around the corner, what better way to get back onto the wagon I love than with another great variety of treats?

Lovebug Cookies (chocolate cut-outs, adorably decorated), Conversation Hearts (just like the classic candy, but on a sugar cookie), Peppermint Lovies (heart-shaped peppermint patties), Dulce de Leche Wafer Cookies, Sweet & Salty Brownies, and Cherry Linzer Windows (pecan and cherry sandwich cookies) will be available in boxes of 36 (6 of each variety) for $40.

Please place your order and pre-pay by February 1st.  I'm happy to ship anywhere in the US, my treat.  I can be reached via this blog, Facebook, or at

Lets keep the winter warm and delicious!