“Extra-Special” Chocolate Chip Cookies

cookies1“What’s your favorite cookie?” is a question that will always get a mixed response. It seems as though there are a lot of die-hard peanut butter cookie lovers, a fair share of oatmeal-raisin fanatics, and a handful of sugar cookie devotees. Then there are those with the more unusual responses such as snickerdoodles, molasses crinkles, white chocolate-macadamia, and shortbread. And of course there is the chocolate chip cookie crowd, which may be the largest of them all.

Personally, chocolate chip cookies are several spaces down on my list of favorites, but I have lots of friends and family members who love nothing more than a “really good chocolate chip cookie.” That may mean thin and crunchy, thick and chewy, soft and cakey, or crisp-around-the-edges-chewy-in-the-middle depending on the person. Believe me, some people are pretttty darn specific when it comes to their cookies.cookies2

After my last class on Friday, as I stared out the window at sheets of rain, I deemed it the perfect afternoon to bake cookies. Knowing that many of my friends love good ole’ chocolate chip cookies, I set out to make just those. But then…stuff happened. It’s becoming clear to me that I am basically incapable of baking “good ole’ chocolate chip cookies” with no bells and whistles. I certainly have nothing against regular (delicious!) chocolate chip cookies, but because this is a baking blog and because I like to experiment, I had to add in my own little touches. And so commenced these “Extra-Special” Chocolate Chip Cookies.”

First of all, I found a recipe that used browned butter as the base. My obsession with browned butter is becoming somewhat comical–I honestly can’t remember the last time I made a recipe with regular butter. It’s just so easy to make browned butter, and the flavor is so phenomenal! Since browned butter+cinnamon=amazing, I spiced things up even further with a pinch of cinnamon. (<–Pun alert! Spice…cinnamon…ha.ha.ha?) And finally, instead of using normal chocolate chips like semisweet or milk chocolate, I pulled out the big guns, aka Milk Chocolate Morsels with Caramel Filling. Browned butter and cinnamon is fantastic enough, but adding caramel to the mix? Gah.cookies5

I was also quite impressed with the recipe I used for the base of these cookies. The extra egg yolk, extra vanilla, high brown sugar:white sugar ratio, and precise amount of flour made for super-thick, super-chewy cookies. I chose to make them a bit larger than your average cookie (think in between bakery-sized and mom-made sized) which was a good life decision. They ended up with that great crisp-around-the-edges-chewy-in-the-middle texture that seems to please almost everyone. The trick is to take the cookies out of the oven when they’re just barely done, so they can finish cooking on the baking sheets. That way the centers stay nice and soft!cookies3

If you’re like me and enjoy adding a little something extra to old-fashioned favorites, try out these Extra Special Chocolate Chip Cookies. They’re kicked up a notch in flavor and were loved by everyone who tried them! Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to bake a good old fashioned batch of chocolate chip cookies, but today is not that day. And honestly…who’s complaining?cookies4

“Extra-Special” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1.5 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg + 1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

10 ounces chocolate chips (I used caramel-stuffed milk chocolate chips)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the butter is amber-brown and fragrant (about 5 minutes). Be careful not to cook for too long, or the butter will burn!

Pour the browned butter into a large mixing bowl and let cool slightly. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

After the butter has cooled for a few minutes, beat in the sugars until smooth. Add in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, beating until well-combined. Gently stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into 2-tablespoon sized balls. Place on the prepared cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until edges are slightly golden and centers are set. (If making smaller cookies, decrease baking time.) Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheets before transferring to a wire rack.

(Recipe adapted from Take a Megabite)

Crock Pot Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew

Stew3It’s finally beginning to look like autumn in northwest Oregon. After a long, drawn-out summer of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s (not that I’m complaining), the mornings are getting chillier and the weather prediction for this week is rain, rain, rain. I have to admit that I love the crisp autumn weather, but after a day or two of rain I’m ready for sun again. I think I was spoiled with an unusually sunny summer at home in Washington, and I’m dreading all the the bleak, gray days to come.

The clear, cool days are my favorites. My college campus has a huge variety of trees, and this time of year is so beautiful. I love walking to class under a canopy of shocking red trees, or sitting on a bench and having a leaf fall onto my head. On my morning runs I like to look at all houses decked out in spooky Halloween decorations, and our little apartment is covered in pumpkin/ghost/witch/skeleton paraphernalia. Fall also signals the beginning of soup season, and I’ve been loving my little red Crock Pot more than ever!Stew2

This Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew is the most perfect fall meal. Despite being vegetarian, it’s packed full of hearty protein and fabulous flavor. The recipe makes about 8 servings, and since I’m only one person I got to enjoy it for 8 meals. You’d think I’d get tired of eating the same lunch and dinner for 4 days in a row, but not with this stew! I actually looked forward to eating it again and again and was sad when it was all gone. The combination of chickpeas, lentils, sweet vegetables, spicy jalapeño and warm curry spices is wonderful, and the longer you cook the stew the thicker it gets. It’s comfort in a bowl, I tell you!

Last Thursday my car battery decided to die, and after a long day of racing back and forth between Les Schwab and classes it felt awesome to walk into the door to a fragrant slow-cooker full of hot stew. Sometimes a good meal is all it takes to brighten up a hard day. Add this fantastic crock-pot meal to your dinner repertoire! It’s great any time of the year!Stew

Crock Pot Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew

Makes 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon garam masala (or curry powder)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 cup brown lentils

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

32 ounces vegetable broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cilantro, for serving (optional)

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, carrot, and jalapeño for 5-7 minutes or until tender. Add in the garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Stir in the garam masala (and cayenne pepper, if you like spice).

Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Add in the butternut squash, lentils, diced tomatoes, chickpeas, and broth. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 8-10 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and top with chopped cilantro if desired.

(Recipe adapted from Eat Live Run)

Banana Flaxseed Muffins

muffins1At the beginning of each October, my university has a so-called “fall break” which is actually nothing more than a 3-day weekend. I’m totally on board with the idea of this mini-vacation, but its actual application seems pretty half-hearted. If you’re going to call it a break, make it a break! Three days was just long enough for me to make the 7-hour journey home, collapse into relaxing familiarity for 40-some hours, and then tear myself away to drive all the way back to school. It felt more like a teaser than anything else, especially for a homebody like myself. Still, I’m grateful for my brief recharge at home, and I need to keep reminding myself that relaxation often morphs into boredom after too many days. Okay, maybe not 2 measly days, but let’s stay positive!

One of my projects during my time at home was to re-stock the freezer with easy grab-and-go breakfasts for my mom. She’s not exactly a morning person, and I know for a fact that breakfast is virtually the last thing on her mind as she gets ready for work. You know someone like that, too? Good. Make them these muffins!muffins2

These Banana Flaxseed Muffins are perfect for a quick, healthy breakfast. I like to make a full batch ahead of time and store them in the freezer for those busy mornings. They can be made gluten-free, but you can also use a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour if gluten isn’t an issue. Unlike so many muffins that are basically frosting-less cupcakes, these are full of healthy ingredients to give you an energy boost without the crash. Bananas serve as the main sweetener, and they also lend the muffins a soft, moist texture. Flaxseed brings in some heart-healthy fat, and warm spices give the muffins extra flavor. You can even make them vegan by using agave nectar and soy or almond milk!

I love knowing that my mom now has a few weeks’ supply of muffins for breakfast, settled right next to the chili I made for my dad (which he will most likely not eat for breakfast, just so we’re clear). I’m sure they’re capable of fending for themselves (after all, they managed just fine until I came along) but I also know how much they miss my cooking and baking! Make your own friends and family happy by baking them a batch of these Banana Flaxseed Muffins. There’s nothing like a pre-made, homemade, healthy, on-hand breakfast to show them that you care!muffins4

Banana Flaxseed Muffins

Makes one dozen standard-size muffins

1 & 3/4 cups gluten-free flour blend (or all-purpose flour)

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (if using gf flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup milk (I used soy milk)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup agave nectar or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons ground flaxseed

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line or grease a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, milk, oil, agave, vanilla, and flaxseed. Using a rubber spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until no flour streaks remain. Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tins.

Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 13-17 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

(Recipe adapted from Anecdotes and Apples)