The greatest cookie of all time, in my opinion

I’m sure there’s a lot of sentimentality that goes into why I believe Nestle Tollhouse’s chocolate chip cookie recipe is the greatest of all time, but I don’t care. I have never, ever made this recipe and had it turn out bad. It always works, it’s always wonderful. And there’s something about that crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, slightly salty but very sweet flavor that makes me go ga-ga for these cookies. I always will. They’re just that good. Even the legendary New York Times fancy schmancy cookie can not beat this one, if you ask me. So there.

Last year I wrote a story about how you could take this recipe and make 6 different versions of it. I didn’t consult any other recipes to create those, by the way, I just threw in this or that, and because this recipe is so incredibly flawless, it worked every time. Well, almost. The coconut one managed to not taste enough like coconut. Maybe it needs an extract? But anyway, here’s what I made, and I’d encourage you to break out of the mold and try it too. I don’t recommend making six batches of this dough in one day, though. Yeesh.

-Good old chocolate chip
-White chocolate chips, dried cranberries and chopped walnuts
-Add cocoa to the dry ingredients, mint extract and swirled mint chips
-Split the dough in half, add cocoa to one half, chill the doughs, then roll them up and slice them for swirl cookies
-Add a cup of coconut and chocolate chips and bake as a bar cookie

And my favorite of the bunch, red velvet sandwiches with cream cheese frosting.

After you’ve mixed up the dough, leave out the chocolate chips and add a whole bottle (that’s right, a whole bottle) of red food coloring. Skimp on this and you will get pink cookies. The liquid will thin the dough, so add a little more flour and chill the dough before you bake them (you could also use gel paste food coloring, which wouldn’t affect the consistency).

Make the cookies smaller, maybe a teaspoon of dough at a time, and let them cool before you put a swipe of cream cheese frosting in between two cookies. I have no problem with store-bought frosting, if it means I don’t have to clean the mixer again.

See, so pretty. And tasty.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Hello, lover.

I was looking for a new Christmas cookie to make, and I remembered I saved this recipe I had come across checking Web sites for my freelance work. I think I saw the name Todd English, and after going to his restaurant, Figs, in Boston, thought instantly of one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. Just simple and good food, and so I hoped his recipe for Chocolate Sandwich Cookies would be simple and good cookies.

They are. Yum.

I did have one issue with the recipe — the dough was way too loose, even after I put it in the fridge for much longer than the 30 minutes it called for. I would just recommend using less water at the end, lest you end up with overly chocolatey fingers.

I also skipped the homemade frosting (I really hate getting out the mixer and washing all those components if I don’t have to) so bought a can of Pillsbury cream cheese frosting and called it good. To cut out the circles, I actually used a little biscuit cutter. If you wanted to do a less messy cookie day with little kids than the elaborate sugar cookies we used to make, this might be a good substitute.

Hello, fall: time to make apple crisp

I wanted to make an apple pie because I’ve never made one before. But pies are a tad involved, so I took a shortcut and made an apple crisp instead.

My rhubarb crisp recipe was so successful I just used it as a guide, substituting apples for the rhubarb and strawberries. You could do this with just about any fruit. But it is deeeelish with apples this time of year.

Apple Crisp
adapted from Simply in Season (click here for the exact recipe)

Preheat oven to 350. Peel, core and chop 6 apples.

Heat them with sugar and vanilla until they start to boil.

Then mix up a little cornstarch and water, add that to the fruit, and continue cooking until the mixture is thick and bubbling.

In a big bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, pecans, salt, cinnamon and butter. I used a pastry cutter to get perfect chunks. When the mixture forms clumps in your hands but still separates, you’re good to go.

Spread 2/3 of the crust in the bottom of a greased 9X13 casserole dish. Add the fruit.

Sprinkle the rest of the crust on top. Bake for 40 minutes.

Eat with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The cookie to end all cookies

After letting the dough sit overnight I finally got to bake my super famous hoity toity New York Times chocolate chip cookies.

I made just a couple of adjustments. To avoid another trip to the store I used all-purpose flour and skipped the sea salt topping. I found the cookies to be even saltier than most so I’m not sure why it needs more. I also used Nestle dark chocolate chips from the grocery store, which were fancier than usual, but nothing boutique-y.

The dough was a thing of beauty. After I whipped it in the mixer for several minutes it was light and fluffy (and of course I had to have a taste, too).

I had a heck of a time finding an appropriately sized cookie scoop. Martha, of course, came through with her version at Kmart. But it failed pretty much instantly and really only helped me shape the dough into balls. I had to dig most of them out of the scoop with my fingers. I guess some items require you to spend more to get a better product.

Anyway, the cookies turned out beautifully. Because of their size, I think, I didn’t worry so much about taking them out at the exact minute they were supposed to be done. When I felt like it had been close to 20 minutes, I checked on them, and they were usually ready to come out. I highly recommend a glass of cold milk with these bad boys, as they are extra large and fairly dense.

Mike said they were about as perfect as a chocolate chip cookie can get. I agree in terms of appearance. But I have to admit it would be tough to break my allegiance with the Nestle Tollhouse recipe I grew up with. It’s like that damn green bean casserole — it’s just something I can’t explain.

An exceptional use of a nectarine

I spotted this beautiful nectarine tart at Smitten Kitchen the other day, so when I found nectarines on sale at the grocery store I bought some and decided to give it a try.

It’s a fantastic recipe — super easy, but it looks like it must have been hard — and the combination of gingersnaps, butter and soft cheese is sort of like a less rich cheesecake. With fresh fruit on top it seems just a little less guilt-inducing.

This time I followed the recipe to the letter, leaving out the chrystallized ginger as she did, and using slightly larger nectarines (so I only needed one). I don’t have a cute tart pan with scalloped edges, either, but our springform pan worked just fine.

The mascarpone cheese I bought at Gateway Market was divine. It was definitely authentic — all the writing on the container was in Italian.

I also got some fancier than usual gingersnaps and some homemade peach jam from the farmers market.

Mmmm, this has not lasted long in our fridge.

Tiny pies!

I had one little ball of dough left over from making my strawberry-rhubarb pie, so I decided to experiment with some little pies baked in a muffin tin. I’d seen it on notmartha before, so I knew it was possible.

For the filling I just mixed some diced strawberries with white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch until it looked about the right consistency. I rolled out the dough with my hands instead of a rolling pin because at that thinness it was really sticking to the rolling pin.

The bottom line is, when you’re making a “pie” that small, it’s a lot harder to make it look good. The dough tears, your fingers are too big to shape it correctly… But overall I think they turned out great. I cut out some little heart shapes and made some little lattices. Then topped it with sugar in the raw.

I think they baked about 20 minutes at 375.

The best part? It’s hard to overdo it when your pie is tee-tiny. Even if you had two it still wouldn’t be much.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

This pie is a thing of beauty.

I couldn’t even eat a piece after I made it last night because it was too pretty to cut.

The recipe is from a recent post on Smitten Kitchen. The writer talks about how pies can “smell fear,” which I think is hilarious and true. I’ve only made pie crust by myself once before, and it actually went really well. But this time, using the food processor, everything clumped all together, and I think my ingredients were too warm. When I tried to arrange the lattice strips, a lot of them broke, so there was no chance I was going to get an actual weave out of it. Still, I think it turned out to be a damn good pie.

Maybe today I can bring myself to eat it. If I have to.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has really inspired me to start eating more locally and more seasonally. Those were both important to me already, but the truth is that unless you have a farm or a really fantastic garden, it’s hard to commit to eating that way. I’ve gotten really used to the availability of pretty much any food any time of year, but unfortunately I’ve also gotten used to how bad some of that produce tastes.

So, I’m trying to take advantage of our fabulous farmers market and the grocery stores that do carry Iowa-made products. One of the items we grabbed at Saturday’s market was a bundle of rhubarb. I’ve never made anything with rhubarb before, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a sugary, buttery rhubarb crisp.

I got the recipe from one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever had, called Simply in Season. I believe it was a gift from Mike’s grandparents. The recipes inside are really simple (as you might guess), and I think it’s that simplicity that makes them so good. The book is divided into seasons rather than type of food, so you can look up a recipe based on what’s at the market that week.

For this one I changed it a little bit, leaving out orange peel in the fruit mixture and using strawberries instead of sorrel. Feel free to go with the original.

**Warning: Do not make this recipe unless you are prepared to mow down a whole pan. It’s that good.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

4 cups rhubarb, finely chopped
2 cups strawberries, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla

Combine in large saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium and cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently.

1/4 cup water
3 T. cornstarch

Dissolve cornstarch in water. Add to rhubarb mixture and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.

1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

Mix together until crumbly. Place about 3-1/2 cups of crumb mixture into greased 9 X 13 pan and press to make an even layer. Pour in rhubarb/strawberry mixture and spread evenly. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over top. Bake in preheated oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Cut into squares.

Top with vanilla ice cream. Try not to get too much on your face.