Sous Chef

There is undoubtedly a yin yang-type vibe going on when it comes to having your house on the market. It’s über clean, which is exactly awesome. And when you have to repaint your walls, a process I like to call “borifying”, it appears less like your own home and thus easier to say goodbye to, when the time comes.

At the same time, it makes having company, which is one of our favorite things in the world, a little bit trying. It makes cooking in your kitchen, the one that got you loving cooking in the first place, even more daunting. What it doesn’t do is stop us from doing either one of the above – we embrace the challenge, our guests embrace the challenge, and we charge ahead.

It helps when you have an organized sous chef at your disposal – just ask my friend, Caroline. One of my favorite sisters-in-law and her two girls managed to squeeze in a trip to the Windy City prior to our inevitable, not to mention fast approaching, departure, and while we braved the cold a few times, we also managed to find plenty to do indoors as well.

In the event that you’re a little slow to catch on today, one of them involved cooking. And while I didn’t have anything fancy planned since cooking for kids isn’t my specialty and kids don’t seem to like fancy food but rather things like plain chicken and rice, it ended up not being the finished product that was so awesome this time – it was all the help along the way.

Our dinner consisted of a recipe similar to this gem, but sans recipe and preparation, and with cheese stuffed into the middle, along with soup that reminded me of this recipe, but with some sweet potatoes tossed alongside the squash. A salad finished, or rather started the meal off. As far as the adults were concerned, it was a good meal thrown together in a couple of hours, mostly courtesy of my sous chef, Lee Ann, who I have yet to figure out how to permanently steal from her mother.

We decided our meal was only lacking in one small item: dessert. A quick hand-off of cleaning duties and a few page-turns later we were set, once I managed to find a recipe that wouldn’t involve a grocery store run (this part was actually pretty easy, since a stranded family of 10 could survive on our kitchen inventory for weeks).

Not only can this newly acquired (or rather, soon to be kidnapped) sous chef of mine successfully bread chicken with the skill of a Southern housewife, but she’s also more organized than a high school librarian – a quality of utmost importance in chef-world. She labeled each item in her mise en place, her ordered by step mise en place, including (how cute is this!) “needs 2 b melted” on the stick of butter. She (almost) read all of the instructions before starting to bake, and we only forgot to read the step that said “let chill overnight”, which we decided wasn’t going to happen, and it worked out just fine.

I realize now that my goal in life (aside from the B&B in Napa) is to procreate. Not just procreate any ol’ kid, but one that will measure flour and peanut butter with me, and one that will wear my apron (or her/his own, I reckon) and read my cookbooks. One that will carefully plate our peanut butter cookies and serve them to guests with a smile on her face. One that will insist on changing a recipe no matter how good it is the way it’s written because really, what kind of cookie isn’t better with chocolate chips?!

Yep, that’s the plan – one day. For now though, I’m going to settle for kidnapping.

Peanut Butter ‘Surprise’ Cookies
Adapted, barely, from Ready for Dessert; makes 30

time commitment: 1 hour + 2 hours chilling the dough (we skipped this part…)

printable version

my niece decided that 1 cup of peanut butter just wasn’t enough for dessert, so we found some chocolate chips in the pantry and added those. it was her decision to change the name to “peanut butter surprise” given this new ingredient. you could definitely leave them out, but why not toss ’em in?!

1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 c unsalted butter
1/2 c sugar, plus more for coating cookies
1/2 c light brown sugar
1 c creamy peanut butter
1 egg
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

in a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. set aside.

using a hand mixer, beat together the butter, sugars, and peanut butter in a large bowl, on medium speed until smooth. beat in the egg. add flour mixture and mix until dough comes together. knead in the chocolate chips, if using.

cover dough and refrigerate for 2 hours, if possible. remove and let come to room temperature.

preheat oven to 350 F and position racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven. line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silpat, and pour a little sugar in a small bowl.

roll pieces of dough into 1-inch balls and roll them into the sugar. place on baking sheet and repeat to fill. flatten cookies with a fork, making a cross-hatch shape. if dough comes apart a little, just squeeze it back together – no biggie.

bake until cookies begin to brown around the edges but still look raw – about 10 minutes. remove and let cool on sheets, then on wire rack.

World Peace

Did any of you ever watch the Miss America pageants? I say did because I like to assume that they aren’t watched any more, but I do know that to be untrue. Either way, did or do you? Hand raised, I admit with only an ounce or so of trepidation that I most certainly did watch many a pageant, picking my favorites alongside the judges, and always including Miss North Carolina in the top three, no matter how ugly (or truthfully, how busted, or how fake) she may have been.

At the time I watched those contests, I was much younger and I probably didn’t understand all the answers to the Q&A section (although now that I think of it, the contestants certainly aren’t rocket scientists now, are they?!), but I remember the frequent response to the “What do you want in life” questions being, “I want, like, nothing more than, like, World Peace”.

That’s it?! Without getting political, or even philosophical, let me just say here that that was probably the dumbest answer imaginable, because really – who doesn’t want World Peace? But if you really thought about it, would you say that you think it’s attainable? While I do believe that most “bad” people are inherently good but corrupted by the world around them, I do think that a subset of said “bad” people are just that – bad. Rotten eggs, if you will. So can you have World Peace in a world in which those who are hard-wired to be ‘unpeaceful’ exist? I think not. Just call me Debbie Downer ;).

Of course, we are all entitled to our opinions on the matter, and the great thing about them (opinions) is that we can change them as often as we like. Recently, I saw a recipe for Dorie Greenspan’s ‘World Peace Cookies’ in a Bon Appetit magazine. And let’s be clear – I’m definitely a fan of Dorie. I just gave her newest book to a friend for her (belated) birthday present, and I died a little on the inside when it left my hands. Fortunately, I left it on my Amazon wishlist, so I’ll be grabbing my own copy soon, even if I have to purchase it myself. But seriously, cookies that suggest World Peace? Really, Dorie?

But as it turns out, she might be on to something.

These cookies here are definitely special – cocoa, chocolate chips, and enough butter to make a slip-n’-slide, they are chewy, crumbly, and decadent. Truthfully, all evil thoughts that ever entered my mind disappeared for at least a few hours after eating a couple of ’em. To promote said peaceful existence, I shared the wealth and passed them along to a few who were deserving of such tastiness: a student leaving my rotation (remember? it’s a tradition), another student who is stuck in rehab due to a spinal injury, and a regular reader who just happens to work four floors above me.

The eternal question though – is it the cookies that promote serenity, or the sharing of said cookies? Maybe next time I’ll eat them all by myself, and compare the results…

World Peace Cookies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan via Bon Appetit, September 2010; makes 4-5 dozen

ok, true. this makes a lot of cookies. it’s because i doubled the recipe. why? I was making these for a lot of people, but even if you aren’t, might I suggest making the dough and freezing any unbaked dough until you do want to use it? oh, the joy of slice n’ bake cookies! thanks, Dorie!

as for adjustments, i didn’t change much. I did cut back on a little butter since I didn’t have enough after i doubled the recipe, and I think 2 sticks is fine (doubling would actually mean 2 sticks + 5 more T if you want to add the extra 5 T, go for it!). I also added 4 oz butterscotch chips instead of another 4 oz of chocolate chips, but you do what you want. heck, white choco chips or peanut butter would also be tasty.

printable version

2 1/2 c all purpose flour
2/3 c natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 c (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t fine sea salt
4 oz extra-bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 85% cacao), chopped (no pieces bigger than 1/3 inch)
4 oz butterscotch chips (optional – I like butterscotch, or double the amount of chocolate)

Whisk flour, cocoa, & baking soda together into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth but not fluffy. Add both sugars, vanilla, and sea salt; beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended (mixture may be crumbly). Add chopped chocolate & butterscotch chips (if using); mix just to distribute (if dough doesn’t come together, knead lightly in bowl to form ball). Divide dough into four pieces. Place each piece on a sheet of plastic wrap. Form each into 1 1/2-inch-diameter log. Wrap each in plastic; chill until firm, about 3 hours (I actually froze the dough for an hour b/c I didn’t have 3 hours to chill it. It seemed to work fine that way). You can do this in advance, or as I suggested, you can freeze some of it too! Just keep the dough chilled until you’re ready to use it.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using thin sharp knife, cut logs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Space 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies appear dry (cookies will not be firm or golden at edges), 11 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let firm up a bit, then transfer to rack; cool. Store airtight at room temperature.


There is something so entirely comforting about brown sugar. I know that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the sticky buns and the cupcakes, or the fact that a ‘tag search’ takes you to a handful of other brown sugar-containing sweets and savories. Like waking up in my own bed after a long vacation of hard mattresses and wimpy water pressure, brown sugar is home to me.

Home, and knowing that anything you make with it can’t go wrong, and that it probably has something to do with the simple fact that brown sugar is just sugar with, you guessed it, molasses.

And since I’m currently making my way down the Oregon & California coasts, likely acquiring something similar to the bed sores the old folks at rest homes get, I figured it’s the least I could do to provide a little droolworthy treat and some comfort to you fine folks. And don’t get me wrong – I’ll take the sores, the early morning awakenings, and the creaky springs any day you let me if those days position me directly in front of the Pacific Ocean, its crashing waves, my hair blowing valiantly with the wind, and the sunset view from the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’ll also be happy to take a meal at The French Laundry, or maybe even a slice of toast from Bouchon.

Though I could possibly eat spoonfuls of brown sugar for breakfast, something tells me you might prefer a few more ingredients in the mix, and to remedy that, cookies seem fitting  – do you agree? These aren’t your average chocolate chip cookie, I can promise you that.

Do ya’ll remember me talking briefly about this lovely little book, inside of which I found some lovely little tarts? At some point, I hinted about some other recipes I’ve tried, and this was one of them. And while it’s nearly impossible to compare these to a rhubarb tart, or a buckwheat pancake, or even a scone, these would certainly rank as my number 1 from the book so far, and all they are are chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies that are quite likely the best ones I’ve ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my 30 years. They are firm enough to provide good structure, but ooey and gooey on the inside so that they practically melt in your mouth with each chew. Darker than your average choco chip cookie, they are loaded with whole wheat flour and dark brown sugar, and what I like is that the flour is more nutritious than standard flour, so after eating 4 or 5 in a row I liken it to jogging a few miles, and I call it a day. While eating them, I find myself making those noises that are reserved for only the best of foods – the constant mmmmmm’s in differing tones and decibels that if made behind closed doors may be mistaken for something other than eating.

Did I mention that they taste divine? Hearty, but not dense and sweet with a very noticeable molasses note from the dark brown sugar, and a piece of chocolate in every single bite. While the raw dough is every thing I’d want in chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, try to resist and bake these things up, because the smell of them baking is intoxicating, and once you realize how lovely they are dunked into a glass of cold milk, you’ll be hard-pressed to save any for anyone, or anything else.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce; makes ~24

printable version

3 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t kosher salt
8 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 c dark brown sugar
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 oz milk or dark chocolate, roughly chopped

position two rack in oven in upper and lower third. preheat oven to 350 F. line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

whisk all dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl. add butter and sugars in bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. cream butter and sugar together until blended. scrape down sides of bowl. add eggs, one at a time mixing with each addition. add vanilla. add flour and blend on low until just combined, about 30 seconds. scrape down sides of bowl.

add chocolate and mix on low until evenly distributed. scrape down sides of bowl. with a small ice cream scoop, scoop mounds of dough onto baking sheet, about 6 per sheet. bake for ~18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. let cookies cool on sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to cooking racks. repeat with remaining dough.

Oatmeal Cookies for the Soul

oatmeal chocolate chip cookie

Yowsa. What a rough couple of days. Being sick makes me so sad, and so bored. The worst part about being sick is when it kicks in right after a trip – you are stuck at home with absolutely nothing that can be eaten in a pinch. You’re out of meds, and you can’t quite imagine stepping foot out of your door for anything. So you suffer and hope that, when you wake up, it’s all over and you’re cured of the sniffles and sore throat. Maybe it’s just a bad dream, right?

Ppshya – so much for that idea. The more I slept, the more my eyes became sealed shut with crusties and the more it hurt to swallow. I’ll stop there, and I won’t talk about the icky mucous. I finally rolled myself outta bed and ….. onto the couch (the first day I was literally sleeping all day). After watching some really horrible daytime tv (when did Rachael Ray get a talk show?! and better yet, why?!), I took another nap and then proceeded to ransack the kitchen. I did find some Progresso chicken noodle soup that I ‘souped up’ with a vine-ripe tomato, some pecorino romano cheese, and a piece of toast. But a few hours later, I was hungry again. Hungry for chocolate.

fresh baked cookies

Now for many of you, I’m sure you could eat chicken noodle soup while sick until the cows come home. Sure, the warm broth going down your throat and the steam on your face are definitely soothing, and the noodles and chicken pieces fill you up for a while. But ultimately (for me at least), that craving for something sweet would. not. go. away. And I’d looked the kitchen and pantry up and down in alley-rat-fashion – there were no sweets to be found. So it was get over it, or get in there and make me some sweets.

cookies for dinner

I’m sure you could figure out, without my telling you, what I decided. I made me some cookies. Some damn tasty cookies. And yes, I washed my hands frequently, and despite the undying temptation, I did not lick my finger every time I put a dollop of dough onto the pan (and if I did, which I didn’t, I would have washed my hands then too).

These cookies are just what the doctor ordered. Made with minimal effort and ingredients I had on hand (otherwise they would not have been made..this week at least), they are probably perfect for anything that ails you. You know what else I liked about them? I had a couple of bananas in the fridge (trying to prevent them from becoming rotten rather than ‘extra ripe’), and you know I hate wasting food – I got to use them here! The bananas add great banana flavor to the cookie, especially if extra ripe, but they also allow you to cut back on the sugar a bit since the bananas are sweet as is.

milk and cookies

Oh, and I did gulp down that glass of milk too (and I think I did eat that many cookies that night – they were my dinner). Contrary to popular belief, milk doesn’t really cause an increase in mucous production. Not that it would have stopped me… but just so you know.

Banana-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Cooking Light; Makes 2 dozen (but is easily doubled)

Perfect cookies for any occasion – even the sniffles. Play around with substitutions. I even threw a few white chocolate chips in just to empty the bag. Raisins or nuts would also be great, or even other types of chips. But if you’re sick… please… wash those hands!

1/2 c mashed ripe banana (1 medium)
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c butter, softened
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 large egg
5.6 oz AP flour (~1 1/4 c)
2 c old fashioned oats
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c bittersweet chocolate chips
cooking spray (or silpat)

preheat oven to 350 F
combine first 5 ingredients in large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. add egg; beat well.

weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl, stirring with whisk. add flour mixture to banana mixture and beat on medium until well blended. stir in chocolate chips

drop batter by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheet with spray or silpat. Bake at 350 for 16-18 minutes, or until golden (mine were perfect at 16). Cool on pan for 2 minutes and then cool completely on wire racks.

Want more cookies? Click here for sugar cookies, here for homemade Oreos, and here for lime/white chocolate shortbread. Yuuuummmmmm.