vrai-lean-uh

Cooking, eating, making sweeping pronouncements

Posts tagged living your best life

9 notes

Let’s speak about cookies.

A number of years ago I was visiting my older brother. My sister-in-law was making cookies, and saying how my brother insists on having cookies in the house at all times, and if it was up to him he’d just buy a big thing of Oreos, but that she thinks Oreos are gross (agreed) and so she makes cookies.

I wanted to laugh at my brother, and I probably did, but here is the thing: my brother was a childhood chess prodigy and then a lacrosse playing frat boy and is currently a well-regarded professor in economics with a smart and beautiful wife and two lovely little boys. He manages to do his entire job in 3/4 of my workday. And then he hangs out at the beach because he is currently living in Barcelona. Which is to say that my brother is living his best life all the time. My brother lives his best life the way Oprah does. If he is not willing to live an existence that doesn’t include cookies at home, frankly, I think we should all reconsider our stance towards cookies.

So then we had Bear and I found myself buying the store-made chocolate chip cookies at Whole Foods because they’re pretty good for store-bought cookies and I needed that in my day. We spent an outrageous amount of money on those cookies. In an effort to cut back on costs, I decided to start making my own cookies. It turns out they are noticeably better homemade and also much cheaper.*

Here is my secret: room temperature butter.

I have been making cookies since I was in grade school and I never have room temperature butter. But it’s so much easier to actually cream the butter when you start with room temperature butter.** So I take the butter out of the freezer when I think I want to make cookies and then it lives on the counter for a few days before I get my act together and then I make cookies with room temperature butter. According to Real Simple and the University of Missouri Extension, your butter will be fine on the counter for a week.

Okay, back on track. I use the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe Cookbook recipe. It’s very good. It might be best even.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

(The Best Recipe cookbook calls them “Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies,” but my postmodernist heart prevents me from calling them that)

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon water (this feels ridiculous to me every time I add it, and yet I add it and the cookies are good)
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • (I leave out the 1 cup of chopped walnuts because of Bear’s allergy, but I’m sure they’d be delicious)

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. With an electric mixer (they suggest by hand, but my god that seems so hard), cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. About 3 minutes. Here is a moment to be honest with yourself. Does the butter and sugar look light and fluffy? Really? Keep going, we’re developing good moral character here. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the eggs, vanilla, and water. Beat until combined.

3. Whisk the dry ingredients together (flour, salt, baking soda) and add to the butter mixture. Beat at low speed until just combined.

4. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts, if using.

5. Drop batter by tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes (in my oven it is exactly 9 minutes). I don’t bother switching the sheets halfway through cooking because it doesn’t make much difference in my oven, but ovens vary and you certainly could. The cookies will be light brown and the edges beginning to crisp. Let cool for a minute on the cookie sheets, then transfer to cooking racks.

* They are too much work if you are a new parent. Absolutely and I for one am not going to judge the decisions you make if you are also keeping a newborn alive.

** I am told this is not an issue if you have a Kitchenaid mixer. I am out of counter space and out of cabinet space and there is a small part of me that feels like baking shouldn’t be TOO easy, that having my arm get a little bit tired has some value in terms of personal fortitude and industriousness. I understand that that’s insane, but my puritan stock runs deep.

Filed under cookies living your best life

14 notes

Apple crisp, to me, is the highest and best use for apples.
I like an apple, so I don’t say this lightly. But crisp is magic in a baking pan: the rich flavor of the cooked apples, the way the oat and flour topping becomes buttery and a little chewy when combined with the apple juices and a little bit crunchy where it browns at the top, the slight tartness. I would take a good apple crisp over an apple pie any day. And the beauty of the whole enterprise is that it’s so much easier to make than apple pie and you can legitimately eat it at any meal.*
I want you to go make a crisp right now. Or today. Or this week. I want this happiness for you.
Which means you might be buying apples soon, so we have to pause for a moment to discuss apple purchases. Cooking with apples is both complicated and easy.
Complicated: According to my apple cookbook** (don’t look at me like that), there are some six thousand known apple varieties, and they vary a lot. They vary in flavor, texture, the way they stand up to heat, the level of juiciness, and more. Some apples fall apart quickly when heated, some retain their shape well, some fall apart but their skins are basically indestructible. Some get kind of bland when cooked and others develop flavors that aren’t in the fresh apple. There are apples that are really well suited to crisps and those that really aren’t. I tend to like apples that retain their shape well when cooked, that are a little on the drier side (but not totally dry), that are well balanced in terms of sweet and tart flavors.
Easy: All that said, it’s hard to fuck up a crisp. I’ve had good luck getting a variety of apples and throwing them all in together. Some will fall apart during cooking, some will hold up. Some will be tart, others sweeter, the drier ones will mostly balance the softer ones. Even if you get only one variety of apple, and it’s an apple really not suited for crisps, you might end up with a somewhat flat crisp with a little less flavor, but it’s not going to be terrible.
Most recently I used a mix of Sharon and Wealthy apples from my apple CSA and it was amazing.
This is my recipe, based on Mark Bittman’s in How to Cook Everything.
Apple Crisp
The pan I use, the one in the picture, is about 8 x 10. The original Bittman recipe calls for an 8 x 8 square pan, so I’ve increased the recipe in places. I also play pretty fast and loose with the measurements. Again, it’s hard to fuck this up.
2 1/2 - 3 pounds of apples, cored and cut up into wedges roughly an inch big. I do not peel my apples. Bittman calls for 6 cups of apples. Mostly I just cut up apples until they fill my casserole dish almost to the top.
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Ground cardamom (not in Bittman’s recipe, maybe 1/4 teaspoon?)
Ground ginger (not in Bittman’s recipe, maybe 1/4 teaspoon?)
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 - 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar (Bittman calls for 2/3 cup for the smaller batch, I like it a little less sweet.)
7 tablespoons cold butter cut into bits, plus more for greasing the pan (which I remember to do half the time). Bittman calls for 5 tablespoons.
3/4 cup rolled oats (Bittman: 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (Bittman: 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup or so shredded unsweetened coconut (Bittman: 1/4 cup)
1/2 or so cup walnuts (Bittman calls for 1/4 cup chopped nuts, I measure out 1/3 - 1/2 cup walnuts unchopped and throw them into the food processor)
Dash salt
Preheat oven to 400.
Toss the apples with half the cinnamon, the cardamom, the ginger, the lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Spread it into a lightly buttered baking pan. You can also throw the apples into the baking pan as you cut them up, stopping when it the pan is almost full, and then mix them with the spices, lemon juice, and sugar directly in the pan.
Combine all the other ingredients— including the remaining cinnamon and sugar— in the container of a food processor and pulse a few times, then process a few second more until everything is well incorporated but not uniform (I look for pieces of butter the size of a grain of rice or lentil).
Spread the topping over the apples and bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the apples are tender. You may see the apple juices bubbling around the edges. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature (or, my personal favorite, cold from the fridge).
* I can hear you forming an argument and I just say, shhh. Open your heart to joy. Live your best life.
** An Apple Harvest: Recipes & Orchard Lore by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva.

Apple crisp, to me, is the highest and best use for apples.

I like an apple, so I don’t say this lightly. But crisp is magic in a baking pan: the rich flavor of the cooked apples, the way the oat and flour topping becomes buttery and a little chewy when combined with the apple juices and a little bit crunchy where it browns at the top, the slight tartness. I would take a good apple crisp over an apple pie any day. And the beauty of the whole enterprise is that it’s so much easier to make than apple pie and you can legitimately eat it at any meal.*

I want you to go make a crisp right now. Or today. Or this week. I want this happiness for you.

Which means you might be buying apples soon, so we have to pause for a moment to discuss apple purchases. Cooking with apples is both complicated and easy.

Complicated: According to my apple cookbook** (don’t look at me like that), there are some six thousand known apple varieties, and they vary a lot. They vary in flavor, texture, the way they stand up to heat, the level of juiciness, and more. Some apples fall apart quickly when heated, some retain their shape well, some fall apart but their skins are basically indestructible. Some get kind of bland when cooked and others develop flavors that aren’t in the fresh apple. There are apples that are really well suited to crisps and those that really aren’t. I tend to like apples that retain their shape well when cooked, that are a little on the drier side (but not totally dry), that are well balanced in terms of sweet and tart flavors.

Easy: All that said, it’s hard to fuck up a crisp. I’ve had good luck getting a variety of apples and throwing them all in together. Some will fall apart during cooking, some will hold up. Some will be tart, others sweeter, the drier ones will mostly balance the softer ones. Even if you get only one variety of apple, and it’s an apple really not suited for crisps, you might end up with a somewhat flat crisp with a little less flavor, but it’s not going to be terrible.

Most recently I used a mix of Sharon and Wealthy apples from my apple CSA and it was amazing.

This is my recipe, based on Mark Bittman’s in How to Cook Everything.

Apple Crisp

The pan I use, the one in the picture, is about 8 x 10. The original Bittman recipe calls for an 8 x 8 square pan, so I’ve increased the recipe in places. I also play pretty fast and loose with the measurements. Again, it’s hard to fuck this up.

  • 2 1/2 - 3 pounds of apples, cored and cut up into wedges roughly an inch big. I do not peel my apples. Bittman calls for 6 cups of apples. Mostly I just cut up apples until they fill my casserole dish almost to the top.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Ground cardamom (not in Bittman’s recipe, maybe 1/4 teaspoon?)
  • Ground ginger (not in Bittman’s recipe, maybe 1/4 teaspoon?)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 - 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar (Bittman calls for 2/3 cup for the smaller batch, I like it a little less sweet.)
  • 7 tablespoons cold butter cut into bits, plus more for greasing the pan (which I remember to do half the time). Bittman calls for 5 tablespoons.
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats (Bittman: 1/2 cup)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (Bittman: 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup or so shredded unsweetened coconut (Bittman: 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 or so cup walnuts (Bittman calls for 1/4 cup chopped nuts, I measure out 1/3 - 1/2 cup walnuts unchopped and throw them into the food processor)
  • Dash salt

Preheat oven to 400.

Toss the apples with half the cinnamon, the cardamom, the ginger, the lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Spread it into a lightly buttered baking pan. You can also throw the apples into the baking pan as you cut them up, stopping when it the pan is almost full, and then mix them with the spices, lemon juice, and sugar directly in the pan.

Combine all the other ingredients— including the remaining cinnamon and sugar— in the container of a food processor and pulse a few times, then process a few second more until everything is well incorporated but not uniform (I look for pieces of butter the size of a grain of rice or lentil).

Spread the topping over the apples and bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the apples are tender. You may see the apple juices bubbling around the edges. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature (or, my personal favorite, cold from the fridge).

* I can hear you forming an argument and I just say, shhh. Open your heart to joy. Live your best life.

** An Apple Harvest: Recipes & Orchard Lore by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva.

Filed under fall apples living your best life