Chocolate Chunk Cookies of Your Dreams

Theeeeese cookies… I completely love a classic chocolate chunk cookie. The new thing is salted this and that, so a sprinkle of salt keeps them up to date, I suppose. Salt or not, they are everything you want when you reach for a chocolate chunk cookie. A slight crisp around the edges, with a soft center and big globs of chocolate.

Adapted slightly from NYTimes Cooking (David Leite).

  • 17 ounces flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 10 ounces butter
  • 10 ounces brown sugar
  • 8 ounces white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pound of chocolate chunks (I chop Valrhona Guanaja discs, but you can go wild with this part -white, caramel, milk chocolates…)

This is a completely basic cookie recipe. Cream the butter and sugars until fluffed. Add eggs, beating until fully incorporated. Slow the mixer speed to low and add the sifted flour mixture (flour, salt, baking soda). When almost entirely combined, add the chopped chocolate chunks and mix only until evenly dispersed.

At this point, I scoop out my cookies onto a sheet tray, cover with plastic, and put them in the fridge for at least 2 hours (ideally until the next day). I prefer to portion them out before the dough is cold and hard, but that is personal preference.

When you are ready to bake, give your cookies a slight smush and sprinkle with a pinch of salt if you like.

Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes, turning the tray halfway through.

Enjoy at least one cookie while they are fresh from the oven. You must!

Chocolate chunk cookies

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Brownies

I am forever in search of the perfect brownie recipe. What is the perfect brownie? I think that’s a very subjective question, and I don’t even know what majestic qualities my perfect brownie would have, but I’m sure I will know when I find it. That said, these are delectably fudgey brownies that I have made repeatedly. Who doesn’t like to have a nice plate of chocolatey goodness at the table for friends on the weekend? They also freeze very well, so you can stow them away and not feel like you have to eat all of them at once. You know, because… January diets and the new sugar guidelines.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 8 oz butter
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 8 oz brown sugar
  • 5 oz cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 oz flour

 

Method

Heat oven to 350F.

Butter, flour, and line an 8×8″ pan. Set aside.

Put the eggs and white sugar in the mixer bowl and whip until fluffy. About 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, and cocoa powder over a double boiler on medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let this cool until it is warm to touch before adding the eggs.

Fold the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture until fully incorporated.

Finally, fold in the flour.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes.

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Waste: Supply and Demand

Forty percent of edible food in the United States goes to waste. This includes over fifty percent of all available produce. Even as someone who works in the culinary industry, this seems like a LOT of waste. Especially when we consider the amount of people who don’t have enough to eat. But what is the root of this problem? Unfortunately, consumers are to blame.

We only want the most perfect fruit and vegetables from the market. When purchasing from farmers, the buyer has a standard level of quality and expects a certain amount of it. To ensure they can fulfill their contract, the farmer over plants the crop. When the time comes to harvest, the farmer may or may not be able to afford to cover all of the fields after the major buyer’s purchase is satisfied, so the surplus may not get harvested at all. If they can afford the labor, they will certainly make efforts to sell their remaining stock, but unfortunately, much of the remaining produce is turned over.

At the grocery, naturally, we pick the prettiest peach. And what happens to produce that is approaching its expiration point? It is still edible. But if no one buys it, these fruits and veggies are considered loss and discarded. The market wants to keep everything fresh. Understandably, there is a mission to avoid fruit flies and other pests, but is there really a risk of that from giving a few more days?

France is actually passing a law making it a crime for grocery stores to dispose of edible food. They are bringing hefty fines to store managers who disobey and are encouraging markets to cooperate with charities. This is a huge step forward. In the United States, there are tax deductions for donations to shelters, but it seems that many stores and restaurants don’t see the effort to be worth the time. It’s quite sad. We should take more responsibility for our communities if we have the opportunity. It seems something is amiss when we are perfectly able to help others with very little effort and choose not to. Is the corporate structure so rigid that is does not allow time for a few employees to take a few minutes to be caring members of the community while on the company clock?

I was recently reading an article on NPR about a couple who lived for six months on food that was considered inedible. They made a film about it: Just Eat It. This food that they primarily found in dumpsters was essentially never past the sell-by date, but only close to it. On that note, a sell-by date is not an expiration date. The only truly serious date on packaging that is strictly regulated is baby formula. Everything else is variable and not uniform across the board from company to company, state to state. We need to pay more mind to common sense and discretion, rather than arbitrary and subjective systems. A mushy spot on an apple doesn’t mean the whole piece of fruit deserves to be chucked.

All of this is to say that our country wastes an unnecessary amount of sustenance. There is a huge obesity crisis because of how accessible processed convenience food is. I understand that giving away produce may seem, on paper, like it is reducing the value of a farmer’s hard work. Someone does have to pay for it. And it wouldn’t be fair to expect a grocery store to pay for an entire shipment of nearly rotten product. How can we arrive at an amicable medium? We certainly have the means to feed our population healthy food, but distribution seems to be posing a problem.

 

Almond Paste

You can make your own almond paste. It’s super easy and way more cost effective than buying the jar at the market. Keep it in the fridge like a log of icebox cookies and just slice off what you need. (I should note, if you are looking for a marzipan recipe, this is not it.)

Ingredients

  • 125g sugar
  • 40g honey
  • 50g water
  • 250g almonds (or other nuts)
  • 2T butter

 

To Make the Paste:

 

  1. Bring sugar, honey, and water to a boil for about a minute.
  2. Meanwhile, grind the almonds in a food processor.
  3. Add the hot syrup to the finely ground nuts in a steady stream.
  4. Continue processing for about 15 minutes or until the paste is very smooth. If it is too thick to continue, you can add some simple syrup to the bowl by the tablespoon to loosen the mixture just enough to keep moving.
  5. When you are happy with the consistency, form the paste into a disk on a piece of plastic wrap and chill.
  6. At the point when the paste is cool, you can knead in the butter until smooth. Do this directly on your work surface. It is sticky at first, but smooths out and cleans up easily.
  7. Roll your almond paste into a log and wrap in plastic for future use.

Lime Vinaigrette

After the holidays, my shelves are pretty bare. Let’s be honest… so is my bank account. I end up getting super thrifty and have to use what’s available. Make it work! (I just love Tim Gunn!) I had some limes because it was my birthday and I wanted to have key lime pie for dessert. Well, that didn’t happen since people order lots of party dessert type things from the shop for New Year’s Eve and I ran out of energy for my own birthday. Boo hoo. And now it’s the new year when you’re supposed to be extra healthy and whatever. So, salad with every meal it is.

Dressings from the supermarket tend to be loaded with unnecessary preservatives, coloring, and other junk you can do without, so it’s best to make your own unless you’re buying local. And it’s very easy. No excuses.

Homemade vinaigrette dressings are great because you can keep the flavor nice and light. This one is no exception.

Ingredients

  • 4 oz lime juice and associated zest (about 2-4 limes)
  • 4 oz oil (olive oil is ideal, but any kind would be fine)
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 2 tablespoons garlic
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

 

To Make the Dressing:

Let’s not try to make this more complicated than it is. Unless there is some super fancy vinaigrette technique that I don’t know about, you just pour everything into a jar and give it a good shake. Also, precise measuring is not especially important. If you know your jar is 16 ounces, by all means, guesstimate.

Switching up the juices and oils and adding other interesting spices makes for easy variations on a basic recipe.

 

Let’s Talk About Waste: Restaurants

Everyone hates to throw away food in their fridge. Wilted, nearly slimy lettuce or leftovers that have been in that Tupperware container on the back of bottom shelf longer than you would like to admit. It’s stressful to watch hard earned dollars go down the drain.

Waste in the food industry is rampant. You’d be hard pressed to find an eatery where the loss level is next to zero, even considering excess products as donations to shelters. And if you do find one, I’d like to meet the person who runs that kitchen! Food cost and waste reduction are top focus areas for staff. But do you know how much product also gets chucked in grocery stores because the shelf life is about to be fading? And what about products that the farmers deem unsellable because of minor cosmetic defects? A huge amount (approximately 40%) of produce is declared waste because it doesn’t match the average consumer’s ideal or it isn’t even harvested to begin with. This does not mean it is not edible. But as a general rule, when you shop at the market, you are basically conditioned to look for the prettiest peach, are you not? I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: No establishment in the restaurant industry would allow a less than rotting piece of produce go to waste without a fight. Find a use for everything. If there is in fact, say a crate of peaches that has the potential to spoil in the immediate future, a special will be made revolving around peaches, to be sure. This doesn’t mean that featured dishes are made from rotten ingredients. This means the chef is being conscientious about budget and ethics.

Many forward thinking chefs are doing what they can to maintain sustainable kitchens. The most basic way they do this is by sourcing locally grown organic ingredients. Some go as far as maintaining their own gardens, even if it is only a small rooftop planting of herbs. This endeavor is truly phenomenal because it also utilizes compost produced by the kitchen. The impact of ventures like these operations has the potential to conjure a staggering change. Buying from the regional community not only supports the local economy, it reduces unnecessary packaging (boxes, tape, styrofoam, plastic liners, et cetera) and shipping fuels, emissions, and time. And if you don’t care about any of those things, consider the money they cost. Who doesn’t want to save a dollar these days?

Other popular advances towards green business in the food industry include in-house water filtration for both still and sparkling waters. Even for a 100 seat venue, this is a vast amount of potential glass and plastic waste reduction. Yes, recycling is great, but eliminating the need for it is better. Solar panels are increasingly popular as well because they eventually offset many operating costs from lighting to heating and air conditioning -people going in and out all day makes temperature control very inefficient. Not to mention behind the scenes energy required for refrigeration, cooking, and hot water.

Restaurants may not market themselves specifically as green kitchens, but if you keep an eye on the industry in your area, you can discern small details about the level of dedication to sustainable practice held by the establishment. For instance, a fine dining restaurant foregoing tablecloths is likely more eco friendly than one which uses linens that require a bleach and starch to appear upscale. There is a lot of work that goes under the radar. You may or may not be able to tell if furniture was locally produced or has been refurbished versus mass fabrication. Likewise, it is sometimes not possible to tell if dishes and glassware have been sourced from local artisans. Ocassionally, management personnel even go so far as to aim to hire people who live in the neighborhood to strive towards lower levels of congestion, fuel usage, and transit time. These are things that are also valuable quality of life perks for staff.

So, when you enjoy a meal at a business like this, you are not only consuming great food, you are supporting a certain kind of standard for the future. You can leave with a full stomach and a full heart. If that isn’t a great dining experience, I don’t know what is.

Pecan Macarons

Pecan french macaron with chocolate filling

Traditionally, macarons are made with almond flour. I did not have almond flour. Or almonds. So. I subbed in some pecans. Now I want to macarons try with all kinds of nuts. It will be an experiment, I guess. These came out perfectly chewy and delicious.

Shells

  • 5 oz pecans
  • 4 oz 10x
  • 2 egg whites
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Filling

  • 8 oz  butter
  • 8 oz 10x
  • 2 oz cocoa powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons espresso
  • 3 tablespoons whipping cream

 

To Make the Shells:

  1. Set up your sheet trays with parchment paper or non-stick baking mats. 2 trays should be sufficient. If you want to be exact, use a sharpie attached to a compass to draw 3/4″ circles one inch apart on each sheet of parchment and then flip the sheets over.
  2. Whip the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar until nice satin-like, stiff peaks form.
  3. Meanwhile, put the pecans and the 10x in the food processor and pulse until you have what resembles whole wheat flour in appearance.
  4. Sift the dry mixture onto a piece of parchment paper. You may have some bits of pecans about the size of nonpereil sprinkles that don’t go through and that’s okay. Dump them on top. The idea is just to make sure that you don’t have any sugar lumps or chunks of nut.
  5. When your egg whites are sufficiently whipped, switch to the paddle attachment and stir in the dry mixture on low speed until incorporated.
  6. Use a spatula to fold the mixture by hand for about a minute until it flows slowly like lava.
  7. Scoop your mixture into a pastry bag and pipe 3/4″ rounds from about a half inch tall at a distance of one inch apart. When the tray is full, smack it firmly on the counter 2 or 3 times to release air.
  8. Let your trays set for 15 minutes at room temperature while you are preheating your oven to 375 degrees. It seems arbitrary, but don’t skip this step. They need time to develop their skin.
  9. Turn oven down to 325 degrees and bake for 10 minutes, turning halfway through.
  10. Let them cool for a couple minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. If you are having trouble peeling them from the tray, try sliding an offset spatula underneath.

To Make the Filling:

Any kind of buttercream or icing consistency ganache, caramel, or other confection will work to fill macarons. When I made the ones in the photo, I was aiming to reduce waste and used a basic chocolate american buttercream with a pinch of espresso added for some kick, because I already had some on hand. You only need about a quarter of a cup of filling for this amount of shells, but you can store leftovers in the fridge for your next project. Just let it come to temperature before you try to whip it up again, otherwise condensation will give your anxiety a kick in the gut.

  1. Whip up the softened butter.
  2. Sift together the 10x and cocoa powder and add the mixture to the butter bowl with the cream.
  3. Mix on low speed until incorporated. Whip on high speed until fluffy.
  4. Scoop into pastry bag.

To Assemble:

When the shells are cooled, match them up in same sized pairs. If you did the reverse side template that I suggested, they should all go together pretty well. If not, this may be a fun game, depending how adept you are with pastry bags. 😉

Pipe the filling into the center of one side of the macaron. Do not let it go completely to the edge or it will gush out and look sloppy when you put the top on and take a bite.

pecan french macarons with pastry bag of buttercream

Ideally, macarons will sit filled for 24 hours before serving so that the shells can absorb moisture from the filling and get all nice and perfectly chewy. These were spot on in my opinion.

You can keep them at room temperature for several days or up to a week in the fridge. They can also be frozen. Just the shells or the assembled macarons last frozen for up to six months in an airtight container. Let them defrost in fridge then bring to room temperature.