Double Chocolate Pretzel Cookies

As my first step away from the computer into the blogger community, I'd say my first year as a cookie swapper was a success.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap of 2012 was the brainchild of Julie and Lindsay, which must have been a huge undertaking. Each food blogger is matched with 3 other bloggers, each of whom receives one dozen cookies from 3 other bloggers. This year, there was a charity contribution and a match from OXO to Cookies for Children's Cancer. Cookies for a great cause near the holidays - who could resist?

Not wanting to get too crazy or inventive with my cookie ingredients, I stuck with a pretty classic play on salty and sweet. Next time I'll use a darker cocoa powder and a bit more salt in the cookie as it didn't quite turn out as rich as I'd envisioned. I also may have overbaked a couple of the cookies which were sent to my matches (sorry ladies!), Kim, Rebecca and Kelly. You really do want to make sure they're taken from the oven when they look a little underdone. Lesson learned - this was also one of the first several cookie recipes I developed on my own, without a recipe.

In return, I received the following delicious cookies in the mail:

Cherry-almond/chocolate-walnut cookies from Nora
Saffron-vanilla snickerdoodles from Kathleen
Salted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from Morgan

I can't wait for next year and I really hope my matches enjoyed their cookies.


1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 and 1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup crushed pretzels (I used waffle pretzels)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat together on medium-high speed until fluffy.  Blend in the eggs one at a time. Add the cocoa powder and mix until well blended.  Add the flour, salt and baking powder to the bowl and mix on low speed until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips with a wooden spoon, then add the crushed pretzel pieces and mix.

Drop onto a baking sheet and bake for approximately 11 minutes. The cookies should appear slightly underdone; do not overbake!

New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp

First of all, let me say that these barbecue shrimp will never see a grill. Instead, they are covered in Creole seasonings and cold butter, then quickly broiled until they are slightly charred. Don't ask me why they're called barbecued when they're not - what they are is easy, spicy and it's far too easy to eat a pound by myself.

You will need:

2 pounds medium shrimp, unpeeled but deveined
1/2 stick cold butter, cut into slices
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Black pepper

Rinse shrimp and place in a large bowl. To the shrimp add Worcestershire, lemon juice, hot sauce, garlic, cayenne, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to coat thoroughly.

Transfer shrimp to a rimmed baking sheet. Position oven rack in the top third of the oven and turn broiler to high. Distribute butter slices over the top of the shrimp and place pan in broiler. Watch closely - shrimp will turn pink after about 2 minutes. Remove from oven, and stir/flip shrimp. Place back in oven. As soon as the shrimp begins to brown, remove from oven to turn again, return to oven, and allow to brown on the other side. Remove from oven immediately. Serve with crusty bread.

Classics: Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have to be honest here.

Part of me chastised myself for a moment for even considering posting what has become known as my signature chocolate chip cookies, often complimented among my circle of friends as the best they've ever had (which is the best compliment you can give, in my opinion).

But then I thought - this recipe is not all that different from most chocolate chip cookie recipes out there. There's nothing secret or earth shattering about the ingredient list. There is, however, the inclusion one step that is usually neglected by impatient cooks and PMSing women who must have chocolate rightnow.

You must let the dough refrigerate for quite some time before you bake the cookies. A good 24 hours in the fridge or overnight in the freezer changes the texture of the final product. I'm terrible at explaining it, but somehow the cookie tastes less...something. Raw, perhaps. Or young. Like a baby cookie. Refrigerating the dough matures the flavors and texture noticeably.

But what about when you NEED A COOKIE RIGHTNOW? It's not going to help you immediately, but if you can wait for the first 24 hours, I've successfully frozen bags of the dough for weeks. Perfect for when the craving hits. And as evidenced above, baking it right away isn't necessarily bad, it's just not the same.

You will need:

2 sticks softened butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbs pure vanilla
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (I prefer kosher)
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 oz bag chocolate chips

Combine butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl. With the paddle attachment of your mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add one egg and beat until combined. Add second egg and vanilla; beat until combined.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda. While the mixer is on low, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in thirds, combining after each addition. If you like your chocolate chips intact, mix them in with a wooden spoon. To break them up a bit, add to the mixer bowl and combine with your paddle attachment.

Transfer dough into a gallon ziplock bag and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or freeze for at least 8 hours.

To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop spoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Do not overbake - it is better to remove them from the oven while slightly undercooked and let them stand on the cookie sheet for a few minutes than to overbake in the oven.

Alternative: spread dough into an 11x17 baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes (watch it!) to make cookie bars. Cool completely and turn dish onto a cutting board or platter. Cut into squares.

Baked Brie with Candied Walnuts and Caramelized Onions

My mom typically serves various versions of baked brie around the holidays, so I essentially grew up eating it. It's a classic appetizer with limitless variations. Different jams work well for a salty/sweet appetizer, or you could make it more savory with roasted garlic.

I served this during a long-overdue girls' night in this past week. All three of the ladies I spent the evening with are "food people," so just as I expected when I put this together, nobody turned their nose up at baked cheese with onions and sweet nuts. It's a surprisingly perfect combination, and not surprisingly at all, I didn't come home with any of it. Maybe I ate most of it, maybe I didn't...

You will need:

1 wheel Brie cheese (double cream is the meltiest in my experience), rind intact or cut off
1 sheet puff pastry
1 small yellow onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Caramelized onions

To a hot pan, add olive oil and once the oil shimmers, add onions. Season with salt and cook over low heat until the onions are soft and caramelized. Remove onions to a plate, cool.

Candied walnuts

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Once the butter is melted and just barely browned, whisk in the brown sugar. Add a pinch of kosher salt and remove from heat, stirring every so often to keep the butter and sugar from separating. While the butter cools, lay walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast in a 350 degree oven. Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until you can just smell them - be careful they don't burn (it will happen quickly).

Add hot walnuts to butter/sugar mixture, and, working quickly with a wooden spoon, coat all the walnuts evenly. Still working quickly, spread the coated walnuts back onto your baking sheet. Using a fork, separate the nuts from each other, sprinkle with kosher salt, and allow to cool completely. Note: you may want to line your baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick mat. I stuck my whole pan in the freezer to cool them quickly.

Baked brie

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the top rind off of the wheel of Brie (optional - your toppings will melt into the brie more if you remove the rind, but it is totally edible).

Lay your puff pastry on a baking sheet and place the Brie on top of it, cut side up. Spoon caramelized onions over the top of the cheese, then layer on cooled candied walnuts.

Wrap the cheese in the puff pastry by lifting each corner of the pastry toward the center of the Brie and pressing gently. Cut off any excess dough. If you'd like, you can make something decorative (like leaves) with the excess and place them on top of the dough.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. Serve hot with sliced apples, crackers or baguette slices.

I'm Back!

It feels good to be writing about food again! But before that, I guess I should explain where the hell I've been for the last 8 months.

My last blog post was way back in February. In March I started low-carb dieting like a crazy person and stopped cooking or eating anything fun. I told myself I'd give myself a month, then start cooking more regular food and posting again. I continued to low-carb myself into boredom through April, then gave up all together and just started counting calories again.

Eventually we got to early May...the most exciting month on record of 2012 up to this point. Josh proposed! It was a perfect proposal here on this bridge (we returned to take engagement pictures).

So, through the summer and today, I am planning a wedding. And working out like a lunatic.

In August we bought a house, which is right up there with getting engaged in terms of excitement and distraction and endless to-do lists. My kitchen had zero purple elements for a while, but that was one of my first projects. I now have a purple island and built-in pantry.

In September, there was a slew of bad news, a death, and general sadness. I also turned 29.

Suffice it to say that for the better part of the year, not a whole lot of cooking had been going on, and when it happened, it was unimpressive. I was buying a lot of frozen items for dinners and liking it.

But now I'm out of the honeymoon phase with the new house, and though I'm still planning the wedding, all the big stuff is behind me. It's time for me to start cooking again and posting again, if only for the fact that I need my arsenal of "stuff I've cooked" to refer back to on those nights I can't come up with dinner ideas. My  house also has a tremendous amount of natural light, which means no more shooting food pictures in front of my barely-opened apartment door, light filtered through a filthy screen door, and I'm inspired to improve my photography.

Also, not that anybody remembers (I didn't until I re-read some of my old posts), but I challenged myself to complete a 30x30 list last September, and now I have 11 months to complete it!

I'll have my first recipe in ages up next week!

White Wine-Braised Chicken Thighs

I've been kind of a jerk lately. Josh has put up with a lot while I've been kind of a jerk. After spending a Sunday afternoon alone, in attendance at the maudlin movie "The Vow," once I regained control of my emotions I decided to stop being a jerk. And since I don't know how to apologize/celebrate/function socially without food, I also decided to make Josh a comforting, hearty meal to apologize with.

Front and center was this braised chicken, cooked in white wine and a mirepoix with a few other winter vegetables thrown in. The resulting sauce was a rich and lovely apology for this girlfriend's bad behavior.

I'm not suggesting you screw up as an excuse to make this chicken, but if you already have, this may be a good way to wipe the slate clean.

You will need:

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sauteeing chicken
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 leek, sliced into rings
4 cloves garlic, whole
Small handful Italian (flat leaf) parsley, roughly chopped
1/8 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
Enough chicken broth to cover chicken (about 1/2 cup)
Splash heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Have a 3-quart Dutch oven waiting on a burner over low heat. Heat butter and oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet. Once butter has melted, increase heat to medium-high and cook garlic cloves until browned. Add carrots, celery, onions and leeks and stir, seasoning with salt and pepper. Once the vegetables have softened slightly and have started to brown, add Herbes de Provence, thyme and cayenne, stir well. Transfer vegetables from skillet into Dutch oven. Add parsley to Dutch oven.

Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then sear quickly (2-3 minutes on each side). Once chicken is well-browned, transfer to Dutch oven. Wipe out the skillet of any excess oil with a paper towel, and reduce heat to low. Deglaze skillet with white wine, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, and pour into Dutch oven. Pour enough chicken broth to cover the chicken about 2/3 of the way up. Add in a splash of heavy cream and stir to combine.

Cook over medium-low heat for 60-90 minutes. Add more cream and/or seasonings if necessary at the end of the cooking time.

Oven-Fried Shrimp with Chipotle Dipping Sauce

Often, when I'm lacking inspiration for a weekend meal when we have Alyssa, I play to her nine-year-old sensibilities and ask her what she would like for dinner. I try to acquiesce her requests when reasonable, yet I always brace myself for "pizza." Lately as she's gotten older, however, her responses have been surprising me.

"Fried shrimp, broccoli and white rice."

After my momentary shock wore off, I got to work dreaming up a recipe and made a trip to Sam's Club, where we found the biggest shrimp I've ever seen in a freezer case. I waffled on whether to lug out the deep fryer or bake the shrimp in the oven, and I'm so glad I ultimately decided (at the last minute) to bake them. They were exceptionally crunchy thanks to their panko coating, and I didn't destroy my kitchen or ingest an additional 500 calories by frying them. Alyssa didn't seem heartbroken over the fact that I wasn't actually frying the shrimp, either.

I'll warn you, the prep time on these is a little steep if you don't buy your shrimp deveined. My shrimp were not deveined (and repulsively veined due to their size) and I probably spent 30 minutes at the sink, peeling, carving, disposing of the vein and rinsing them clean.

I couldn't fathom eating "fried" shrimp without a bit of dipping sauce, so I whipped up a quick dip using canned chipotles (look for these in the international or Mexican aisle of your grocery store), mayonnaise and a few of the same seasonings from the shrimp.

You will need:

2 pounds jumbo (16/20) shrimp, peeled, deveined and rinsed
1 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 teaspoon pepper, divided
1 teaspoon garlic powder, divided
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, divided
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
2 cups panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Set out 3 medium bowls. In one, add flour. In another, add eggs, milk, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne and 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Whisk to combine. Add panko breadcrumbs to the third bowl and season with remaining salt, pepper, garlic powder and cayenne.

Dredge shrimp in flour and when coated, move into the egg mixture with a fork. Coat shrimp in egg mixture then dip in panko, ensuring the shrimp is coated in panko crumbs. Move coated shrimp to a prepared baking pan sprayed with cooking spray.

Repeat with remaining shrimp. Spray shrimp with cooking spray, and cook at 425 degrees for 7 minutes. Flip shrimp over, spray again with cooking spray, and place under a low broiler for 1 minute or until  toasted (do not leave your oven!), and serve with chipotle dipping sauce (below).

Chipotle Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup light sour cream
Splash Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon (or more to taste, but it's spicy stuff) sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients until sauce is smooth. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to allow flavors to marry. Serve cold.