Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (According to Cookie Connoisseurs)

For years, I’ve been considering whether my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe was, well, wrong. That the whole time I’d pledged allegiance to the original Toll House classic, out there existed another cookie recipe that was superior in chocolate content, chewiness and cookie dough consumption potential.

For that reason, I decided to host a chocolate chip cookie tasting. I carefully selected the recipes and not-so-carefully selected the judges, culminating in an afternoon of sugary, buttery, chocolatey goodness and 120 cookies in my kitchen. (I know. I should have halved the recipes.) The judges were given index cards on which to rank each of the three cookie recipes on a scale of 1 through 5, 1 being the worst and 5 being the best.

The cookies were ranked on the following criteria:

  • Chewy-to-Soft Ratio
  • Cookie-to-Chocolate Ratio
  • Salt Content
  • Milk Dippability
  • Thickness
  • Taste of Cookie Dough

I also asked the judges what their favorite cookie was overall and, if each cookie was a celebrity, which celebrity it would be.

First, let’s meet the judges. In the interest of parallel structure, their biographies consist of where they attend(ed) college. (I like to think I achieved diversity by drawing from UNC and Duke. It’s reassuring to know that being in the same geographical area isn’t our only commonality. We all love cookies.)

Rachel: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: A

Ryan: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: B

Gwynne: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: A

Melissa: Duke graduate
Cookie preference: A

Lauren: Duke student
Cookie preference: B

Me, Meghan: UNC student
Cookie preference: between A & B (my blog, my rules!)

As you can see, the race was a close one. Cookies A & B were quite similar in their ingredient ratios, but not quite. Check out each cookie’s profile below.

Cookie A: The Tollhouse Original
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–3.9
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–2.8
  • salt content–3.1
  • milk dippability–4.2
  • thickness–4.6
  • taste of cookie dough–4
  • overall–3.78
Celebrity Equivalent: Julia Roberts

Cookie B: Martha Stewart Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–4.4
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–4
  • salt content–3
  • milk dippability–3.9
  • thickness–4.1
  • taste of cookie dough–4.1
  • overall–3.9
Celebrity Equivalent: Dakota Fanning

Cookie C: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–2.1
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–3.5
  • salt content–3
  • milk dippability–3.4
  • thickness–2.2
  • taste of cookie dough–1.6
  • overall–2.6
Celebrity Equivalent: Snooki

As you can see, our results were inconclusive. Cookie B won in rankings, but the majority of judges preferred Cookie A. I felt bad for Cookie C, because I wanted to believe that the extra step (browning the butter) would be somehow redeeming. Rachel said it was “trying too hard.” Naturally, I have to try making it again, just to be sure I didn’t mess up royally during the production process.

I’d say that if you like a chewier cookie, go for B. If you like a softer cookie, go for A. Melissa also wavered between A and B, but said that A had “some magical superiority” that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. If you like your cookie GTL-style, go for C.

As for the The New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe, I decided that, in the interest of maintaining some semblance of a budget on this blog and in my life, spending $20+ on Valrhona chocolate discs contradicted my food and finance principles  (food is worth the investment, but let’s not get crazy). Also, a lady I met while contemplating the Valrhona chocolate at Whole Foods declared the cookies “nothing special.”

Ultimately, I’ve learned that sometimes, all you need is a little tweak to the original to keep things interesting. Change the ingredient ratio, change the type of chocolate, bake the cookies a bit longer, etc. Like music. (“American Pie” album version versus live version is all well and good, but never, ever the Madonna cover.)

Like life, in fact. Tweaking ourselves in the quest for self-improvement, but still maintaining our original integrity, our core beliefs, our buttery-sweet goodness. Never compromise on that. (And always use real butter.)

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Black Bean Burgers

Why, yes, I’m still on an all-I-wanna-eat-is-vegetables (and legumes) kick.

I’m also on an all-I-wanna-do-is-have-some-fun kick (see: Crow, Sheryl). Like, suddenly, in my last two weeks of being between childhood and adulthood, being in a kind of maturity limbo where I’m accountable for my actions, but not entirely for my bank account, I’m ready to cram four years of college experiences into half a month.

It’s fun. Exhilarating, exciting, terrifying, promising, all wrapped up into one moment in my life.

And that’s where I’m at.

Black Bean Burgers:
Serves 10
2 cans (30 oz) black beans, drained
1 red pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 teaspoons cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil

1) Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Break up the black beans with a potato masher or your hands. (You could also use a food processor, a la green lentil burgers.) Cover bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2) Heat a pan over medium-low heat with several tablespoons of vegetable oil. Take a small fistful of black bean mixture and shape into patties. Place on pan.
3) Cook for three to five minutes on both sides. (Flip the patty when the edges begin to brown.) Sometimes I add a slice of cheese right after the flip. Or, after I put the patty on a bun, I spoon some sour cream on top.

Roasted Carrots

All I want to eat in this weather is vegetables. (And cheese, which is a year-round need. But mostly vegetables.) My favorite way to eat most veggies is roasting them. I think I’ve shared my love of vegetable roasting before, so this recipe is nothing new.

This recipe is also embarrassingly easy; I hesitated to post it.

There’s so much I want to say, folks, but no time to say it at the moment.

More Thursday.

Roasted Carrots:
Whole carrots, with stems
Olive oil
Garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Sea salt
Pepper

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the stems of the carrots, leaving about 1/2 inch of green stem. Sprinkle with olive oil, minced garlic, sea salt and pepper.
2) Put carrots in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until they’ve reached desired texture. (I like mine crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. About 25 minutes.)

Hummus

Surely you recall the hummus debacle that occurred in my kitchen several weeks ago. I’m happy to say that I’ve more than redeemed myself in the weeks since then, and I’ve managed to recover my favorite pot (and get rid of the burnt popcorn smell that pervaded our apartment).

This time, I decided not to soak the chickpeas overnight because I wanted hummus that day. I’d still recommend overnight soaking to preserve more of the nutrients that hours of cooking can leach out, but it’s your call.

Also, I roasted the garlic because I could. Next time, I’ll also roast a red pepper to throw in there. If you decide not to roast the garlic, you might want to add fewer cloves. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

By the way, don’t forget to RSVP if you’re a judge for the cookie tasting! I’m stoked to have another excuse to eat cookies.

Hummus:
Makes about three cups
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, roasted and peeled
1-2 lemons, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin

1) If you’re cooking your chickpeas, follow these directions, otherwise, skip to step 2. You only need one cup of dried chickpeas since they’ll expand so much. Place them in a pot with three times as much water. If you’re soaking them, add more water before cooking. Otherwise, bring the chickpeas to a boil, then let them simmer for about four hours on medium-low heat. I put a bay leaf in the pot for additional flavor. Let the chickpeas cool and save the chickpea cooking water.
2) Put the chickpeas, tahini, oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and process. Scrape the sides and bottom several times to make sure all ingredients are well combined.
3) Add water or the liquid in which you cooked your chickpeas to make the hummus thinner. The hummus might need additional spices, depending on your taste. Add as needed. Serve with pita chips and veggies. (I garnished mine with more olive oil and some paprika for color.)

And the Judges Are…

Can I just say that this decision was really, really challenging? You all love cookies–we’re kindred spirits.

Which is why everyone who commented is invited to my cookie tasting. I can’t deny you a love we share. That’s right; acruisingcouple, deMandy, Hannah, Courtney, Leah, Chelsey, Gwynne, Meghan, Andrea, Carly, Molly, Lauren and Melissa are all invited.

The tasting will be from 2 to 4 (approximately) on April 23rd. If you’re still interested in attending, please email me at nestmeg [at] gmail [dot] com by Monday, 4/18 at 9 p.m.

This is gonna be sah-weet!

Oh, and by the way, if you love me, or if you love when good things happen to good people, OR if you love love, you should click this link and give it a thumbs up (the icon is above the video).

Spinach & Tomato Tortellini Soup

It’s that time of year. Of life, actually. A point where I must begin to make decisions to secure gainful employment, financial security and a place to live that isn’t with, or funded by, my parents. So far it’s been rather anticlimactic. Moments of Zen-like calm precede 90-minute job-seeking marathons, followed by thoughts like, “Maybe I should just hang out in Europe for a bit.” And then, again, calm–most prevalent and seemingly illogical considering the state of “this economy.” (Cue dark organ music)

I often feel like the New York Times article “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” personified, the question mark perpetually superimposed over everything I see and touch, like those index cards my high school Spanish teacher stuck on every object in her room, identifying their Spanish names. “La television” and “el escritorio.” Except there’s no clear answer this time. I get to fill in the blank.

Impressively and patiently, my parents take it all in stride. Some days, I inundate my dad’s inbox with new plans of jobs and internships, of English-teaching opportunities, of I-want-to-be-Samantha-Brown aspirations. “What do you want to do [with your life] today?” is one of his common greetings.

What I want is an opportunity that will foster, rather than contain, my enthusiasm, cause a snowball effect where I stumble over my words and letters and phrases with the wanting, the craving to get them out fast enough so I can hurry up and do more and see more and say more and have my life be an endless run-on sentence instead of a question mark or, even worse, a period.

Yes, that’s what I want. Lots and lots of doing with only the most promising of punctuation.

So you can see what we’re dealing with here. My mind fluctuates more than spring weather in North Carolina. Speaking of which…

I made this soup when the weather was cold. (By my definition–we’re talking 50 degrees or so.) Now, the weather is warm. Miraculously, this soup is well-suited for both occasions, hearty with its bean backbone and springy with its fresh basil freckles.

This recipe is from The Italian Momma of pizza and pesto fame. It won’t be the last you see of her, not by a long shot.

Spinach & Tomato Tortellini Soup:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
16 ounces chicken broth
16 ounces of water (use chicken broth container to measure)
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
16 ounces frozen tortellini
16 ounces canned, diced tomatoes, with the juice
16 ounces canned cannellini beans
10 ounces spinach, washed and stemmed
10 basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

1) In a large pot (I used my Dutch oven), saute garlic in oil and butter for about two minutes on medium-low heat.
2) Add broth, water and bouillon cubes to the pot and bring to a boil. Add frozen tortellini and cook for half the directed cooking time written on the package. (Around five minutes.)
3) Add tomatoes and juice, reduce heat to simmer for a few more minutes. Stir in spinach, beans and basil, and simmer for another minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with grated cheese.

Desperately Seeking: Taste Testers / Cookie Connoisseurs

I think it’s been established that I have a thing for cookies. I love cookies. Love ’em. The combination of sweet cream butter, brown sugar and all manner of fixins’ improves the quality of my life tremendously. (Although its effect on my life span is significantly more questionable.)

One question, however, has caused me deep emotional turmoil these past few months:

What is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe?

Some claim Toll House got it right the first time. Others swear by The New York Times formula. Sometimes I like mine with oats. Which is superior?

That’s where you come in. I’m seeking three voracious cookie-eating appetites for a taste test of three cookie recipes–to be rated based on a variety of criteria.

The application process is simple: leave a comment telling me why you’re qualified to be a chocolate chip cookie taste tester.

Applicants must:
1) Live in or be willing to commute to Chapel Hill for an afternoon in one of the last two weekends in April;
2) Be comfortable eating raw cookie dough;
3) Be capable of consuming at least three chocolate chip cookies.

Qualified? Tell me why in the comments.