In desperate need of a mini-vacation, I packed an overnight bag and set off to visit one of my closest friends, M, in New York City. Seeing him and experiencing a change of scenery did a lot to ease my wandering mind, and goodness gracious was it good to be in New York City. My stomach is still thanking me for all the treats and delicious food. Let the gushing begin!

Levain Bakery

I may or may not have been summoned to NYC by pictures of these cookies floating around the interwebs. I may or may not have made a beeline straight to the bakery immediately after getting off the bus. I played it safe and ordered their famous chocolate chip walnut cookie, although they had other cookies and other pastries, along with a pretty decent beverage selection. In this situation, playing it safe was the way to go! This is one seriously good, and seriously big, cookie, packed with chocolate chips and HUGE pieces of walnut. I swear the cookie was at least two inches thick! Because it was so thick, the edges were perfectly crisp while the middle remained chewy and ever so slightly under-baked. Chocolate chip cookies number among my favorite foods, which means a disappointing chocolate chip cookie can break my heart, but an amazing one can be the thing that keeps me smiling like a goofball all week. This cookie did just that. My only qualm was the price tag – four dollars a cookie! Worth it when it’s a special treat on a much-needed mini-vacation, though I can see how that could be dangerous if you lived near one of their locations!

Jacques Torres Chocolatier

While eating my cookie from Levain Bakery on a bench, someone asked me if there was a famous chocolate shop nearby. Not being from the area, but wanting to be nice, I told her I wasn’t familiar with a chocolate shop nearby, that I was just there for the cookies (she politely declined my mouth-full-of-food cookie recommendation, which sounded a lot like “thish cooookie ish goooood YOU PROBABLY NEED ONE”). After finishing my cookie, I turned the corner onto Amsterdam Ave and, lo and behold, there was a Jacques Torres retail location right in front of my face. I felt like a jerk for not having noticed it on my way to the bakery, which turned into my not being able to help a poor lady who just wanted some chocolates, so I went in to cheer myself up. What better pick me up than the experience of picking out a few chocolates at a chocolatier?! I picked out four chocolates – dark chocolate covered dark chocolate ganache with honey, milk chocolate covered milk chocolate ganache with a touch of cognac, milk chocolate covered cinnamon hazelnut praline, and milk chocolate covered peanut butter and jelly (pictured). It was a big operation, which made me worry about the quality of the chocolate, but each piece was divine. I thought the cinnamon praline one tasted like chocolate cinnamon toast crunch (YUM), the cognac was perfect with milk chocolate, wildflower honey dripped out of the honey piece, and the PB&J truffle was too cute.

Murray’s Bagels

I’m not sure what needs to be said about Murray’s, because, from what I’ve read on the internet, this place is getting all the attention it deserves. I loved the fast paced atmosphere and the sounds of paper bags, slicing bagels, pouring coffee, people chatting, and newspapers rustling. It was an almost perfection amalgamation of my love of being around people, my love of good food, and my love of everything breakfast. My order was a pumpernickel bagel with scallion cream cheese and tomato, with an onion and an everything bagel to bring home, and M’s order was two bagels, one cinnamon raisin and one whole wheat everything, both with plain cream cheese. He received, instead of a whole wheat everything, a whole wheat bagel, which was kind of lame, but everything tasted so good and we ate breakfast sitting on the highline. You can make up for a lot with good company and pretty scenery. The thing I liked most about my experience at Murray’s though, was that they wouldn’t toast the bagels because they had come straight from the oven! Nuts!! You could tell, too, because the warmth of the bagel made the cream cheese all melty and delicious.

Madison Square Eats

My night at Madison Square eats was one of the most impromptu, most wonderful experiences of my life, no exaggeration. It was early evening and we were deciding on a place to eat for dinner, both of us being kind of tired (M from school and me from… life?) and not wanting to make a huge fuss but still wanting something new and delicious. Somehow I came across a few blogs talking about the Madison Square Eats that happened during the summer, and I silently lamented the fact that we totally missed it until coming upon this blog and reading that they had just reopened, and would stay open until October 21st. The decision was made and we made the long trek from the 190th Street station to Madison Square Park. It had just rained and was a bit chilly, so we basically had the place to ourselves and were totally overwhelmed by how pretty and homey and charming it was. There were lights strung over our heads, tables and umbrellas with chunky, bright colored patterns, vendors chatting each other up, the smells/sights/sounds of food sizzling and popping, and the sheer amount of food for the choosing sealed the deal – it was totally amazing. We had lamb meatball subs, hot dogs with kimchi and nori, pastrami sandwiches, steamed buns, mini cannolis, and cupcakes. There were also mini doughnuts, soft pretzels, pizza, tacos, crepes, liege waffles, and chocolate and wine pairings. I fell in love with everything that night, head over heels with M, NYC, food, people who love food, you name it. See what happens when I have good things, like PB&J mini cannolis and pecan french toast cupcakes? I’m just beside myself with the gushing… or is it the sugar talking?

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There are some recipes you make once and never make again. It’s not because you weren’t pleased with the end result, or because the technique was too time-consuming, or too this-or-that. You just don’t return to that recipe because there are so, so many other brilliant recipes floating through the world, either tucked away in the pages of books and magazines or floating through the waves of the interweb. I have folders, both manila and digital, bursting with recipes that I’ve made, loved, served, enjoyed, and will probably not make again in the foreseeable future.

When I’m deciding whether or not to file away a recipe there are lots of factors involved, both personal and otherwise. Was this recipe fun to make? Were my roommates hovering around the kitchen, lured by the smell of something sweet in the oven, waiting for the timer to go off? Did I enjoy eating the finished product so much that I completely ignored the chocolate smeared all over my face for at least half a day? Very serious questions, I assure you.

These chocolate chip cookies elicit an enthusiastic “yes” to not only the questions above, but also all the other questions I ask myself while baking. I might go so far as to say that these cookies might even have the answers to life’s questions outside the kitchen. After eating one of these chocolate chip cookies, all your existential questions seem to disappear. That’s how good they are.

I will definitely continue trying new recipes for chocolate chip cookies and will, most definitely, continue to research new and exciting ways to make a chocolate chip cookie recipe stand out from the rest. But when all is said and done, quite frankly, these will be the cookies I make when I am in need of the “real deal”.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

Notes: I made two batches on two different days, one of which followed the recipe exactly and one of which was slightly altered to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand. What does this mean? Instead of ¾ cup dark brown sugar, I did ½ cup packed light brown sugar and a heaping tablespoon of molasses. Instead of 1 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate, I used 1 cup chopped dark (72% cacao) and ¼ cup milk chocolate. The end results for each batch were each amazingly delicious, maintaining the ever-important balance of chewy-crunchy and chocolate-cookie.

Yields 16-18 hugantic cookies

Ingredients:

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons butter, unsalted

½ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 ¼ cup semisweet, or dark, chocolate, chips or chunks

Optional: 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted and cooled

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, making sure oven rack is in the middle. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda. Set aside.

3. In a skillet (preferably not non-stick so you can keep an eye on the color of the butter), heat 10 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until melted. Continue cooking and start to swirl pan constantly until butter has a deep golden color and starts to emit a warm, nutty smell (1-3 minutes), taking care not to burn the butter. Take skillet off heat and transfer melted butter to a large mixing bowl. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter to large mixing bowl and stir butter until completely melted.

4. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to butter. Whisk until mixture is fully incorporated. Add egg and egg yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth and no sugar lumps remain, not longer than 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds, repeating this process two more times – you’ll want to let the mixture stand for a total 9 minutes.

5. Using a rubber spatula or sturdy wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined. A few lumps of flour are okay at this point.

6. Stir in chocolate and nuts, if using, until there are no more visible flour lumps and mix-ins are evenly distributed throughout.

7. Drop cookies, in 3-tablespoonfuls, onto baking sheets, spacing cookies at least 2 inches apart. These babies will spread.

8. Bake cookies in preheated oven, one tray at a time, for 10 to 14 minutes. Cookies should appear golden and puffy with edges that have begun to set. The centers will appear soft but not to worry, they will set upon cooling.

9. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cookies are cool, store covered at room temperature up to three days.

I seem to be suffering from the never-ending cold, complete with new and different symptoms every few days. You know how when you are sick words on pages seem to dance circles around you? And the pictures seem to jump up off the page and wander? This made it very difficult for me to research my Variety Flour Thursday pick this week, but nothing is impossible. I gathered my blankets and shuffled to the kitchen to survey my cookbooks and ingredients.

I never tired of cookie dough landscapes, especially this one, flecked with blood orange zest!

Luckily for me, I had blood oranges in the fridge and agave nectar in the pantry. I can present a cookie that is a little out of the common way, containing significantly less refined sugar than your average cookie. My mother went on an agave nectar spree last year, either buying it for everyone she knows or convincing them it’s the miracle sweetener we’ve been searching for all these years. I was a grateful recipient and used it on pancakes and in tea. I hadn’t used it to bake before this recipe and now that I’ve seen the results, I’ll try using it more often.

And blood oranges? There’s nothing to be said about this extraordinary fruit. It’s my favorite and makes a wonderful addition to most baked goods (and my life).

Orange Agave Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Recipe adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar)

Yields 2 dozen generous tablespoon size cookies

Ingredients:

2/3 cup agave nectar

2/3 cup canola oil

2 tablespoons nondairy milk (or water in a no-milk emergency)

(Optional: 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds)

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon orange zest (grated zest of one orange approximately)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup, or 6 ounces, chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, whisk agave nectar, oil, nondairy milk, flax seeds if using, vanilla extract, and orange zest until smooth and homogenous.

3. Sift in flours, leavening agents, and salt. Stir to combine, until there are no flour streaks.

4. Add chocolate chips. Stir to incorporate.

5. Form cookies into generous tablespoon-sized disks. These cookies barely spread and rise only slightly, so how they look before baking will be how they look after baking.

6. Bake each sheet in the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until the edges are slightly golden.

7. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before removing them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Store these cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

See this recipe on Sweet As Sugar Cookies for Sweets for a Saturday #7!

A burst of blog inspiration hit me this morning, along with an unexpected sunbeam that hit my face through the window this morning. What if I did some sort of alternative flour recipe once a week, say Thursdays? I’m always looking for ways to incorporate new and different ingredients into my baking, especially flours. Until a year ago, it had never occurred to me to utilize all the wonderful and unique flours on the market in my baking. For some reason, ignorance mostly, I assumed you only used other flours to make bread. I’ll need to think of a catchy name, but count on a variety flour recipe every Thursday from now on, in addition to my tradition of Breakfast Tuesday.

I spent the better part of the morning researching cookie recipes that featured peanut flour, because my last peanut flour baking adventure failed miserably. Note to self, if you use even a TEENY bit of peanut flour in a pumpkin cookie, you will ONLY taste the peanut flour. I needed a complimentary flavor that could hold its own against any ingredient under the sun, and what better than dark chocolate?

There’s a note in the recipe, but I wanted to say again that I added an extra half-cup of peanut flour to my cookies, but the recipe called for just a cup. This is due to the fact that I really enjoy meaty, chewy, soft, almost-but-not-quite brownie textured cookies. If you decided to go with just a cup of peanut flour, eliminate the water or milk at the end. The dough will be manageable enough without it.

Peanut Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Recipe loosely based on this cookie, by the same name)

Yields about 2 dozen tablespoon-size cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup peanut flour (if you prefer chewy, thick cookies like I do, then add an extra half cup peanut flour)

½ cup all-purpose flour

Generous pinch baking powder

Generous pinch baking soda

Generous pinch salt

½ cup, or 8 tablespoons, unsalted butter, room temperature

¾ cup brown sugar, lightly packed

1 tablespoon molasses

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-2 tablespoons water or milk

1 cup, or 6 oz, chopped dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. If they are non-stick sheets, the only preparation you need worry about is getting them out.

2. Cream butter until smooth, then add the brown sugar and molasses. Cream butter and sugar until sugar is incorporated into the butter.

3. Add eggs, and stir dough until the eggs are combined. Stir in vanilla extract.

4. Add both flours, leavening agents, and salt. The dough will be very sticky, and you’ll need some elbow grease to mix it together. Add water or milk a tablespoon at a time until all the flour is incorporated.

5. Fold in chocolate until it is distributed evenly throughout the cookie dough.

6. Roll dough into tablespoon size balls, and flatten them with your hands so they look like little cookie flying saucers. Place them an inch apart on the cookie sheet (they won’t spread much at all).

7. Bake each sheet of cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tops are cracked and look dry. My cookies needed the full 12 minutes.

8. Cool on baking sheets for just a minute before removing them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Store cookies, once cooled to room temperature, in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

My roommates walked into the kitchen as I was preparing the dough for these cookies, and one asked me what I was making. When I responded with “pumpkin oatmeal cookies from Isa!”, she paused to think, and replied, “You just made these cookies a few weeks ago! What are you doing?!”. My first thought was something along the lines of “Oh no! There are so many things I have yet to try and I’m repeating recipes again?!”, and my roommates are probably sick to death of hearing about all the wonderful recipes I collect and read. It bothered me, until I thought about why I chose to make these particular cookies tonight. Firstly, I wanted to make something vegan, and turned to Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and stopped at these cookies. Stopped cold; I didn’t turn another page. There must be something about these cookies that makes me stop at them, and make them, without giving a thought to how many times I’ve made them before, or what would please people around me. That something is lurve, I believe. It’s the kind of love that makes you selfish, because you can only concentrate on your desires related to the object of affection. I might just be confusing love and lust. In any case, this love has definitely caught me by surprise, because I never really pegged myself for having a “favorite cookie”. You learn something new about yourself every day. Truth.

Last time I made them, I had to omit the walnuts and raisins due to a tighter budget, and therefore was only able to add the craisins I happened to have lying around the pantry. This time, I went a little crazy, adding both the walnuts and the raisins. I’m a walnut fiend, so the finely chopped nuts in these cookies adds a fantastic depth and makes them seem… more structurally sound? Scientifically, it probably doesn’t make much sense, but that’s exactly how it seems to me. For those who don’t prefer nuts in their cookies, since the nuts are finely chopped their presence isn’t overwhelming at all. I also added a half teaspoon of birch beer extract to see what that would do to the taste. It

wasn’t until a day after making them did I notice the birch beer extract in the cookie. My co-workers didn’t recognize the cookie, even after having it such a short time ago, so maybe that’s because of the extract? Part of me thinks that, and the other part can’t help thinking they didn’t recognize them because they are so yummy. That must be it.

Because I can’t avoid repeating it, I have to profess my love for Isa. You need to bake and cook from her recipes. Truth.

 

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

(Adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/3 cup traditional oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cups canola oil

2 tablespoons molasses

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used ½ teaspoon vanilla and ½ teaspoon birch beer extract)

(I tablespoon ground flaxseeds, optional)

1 cup chopped walnuts

½ cup raisins

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and prepare your cookie sheets either by greasing them or using parchment paper.

2. Mix together the flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and spices.

3. In another bowl, mix the sugar, oil, molasses, pumpkin, and vanilla (also add the flaxseeds at this point, if you decide to use them) until well combined.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, and fold to combine.

5. Fold in the raisins and the walnuts.

6. Drop the cookies onto the prepared cookie sheets, with about an inch between the cookies. Make sure you mold the cookies to look how you want them to turn out, before putting them in the oven. You can do so with a spoon, or get a lil’ messy and use your fingers.

7. Bake for 15-16 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets in the oven if you are baking two sheets at a time.

8. When you remove the cookies from the oven, cool them for two minutes on the sheet before moving them to a cooling rack.

The cookies taste great right out of the oven, but if you let them set, and cool off a bit, the cookie acquires a kind of hearty, more chewy texture. Right out of the oven the cookies are more cake-y, but still delectable.