Cookies

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

During the holidays, one of my favorite things to do is baking.  It's this beautiful meditation as baking takes a patient heart, a careful eye and most certainly a sweet tooth.  When the weather is cold outside, the kitchen becomes my favorite place of solace -- as it's always been my most sacred spot to relax.  I always believe that homemade gifts are the ones people remember, so what better way to spread the love than baked homemade gifts?  For years I've searched long and hard for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, the kind that you can't stop eating, the ones with just the right about of crunch, chewiness and chocolate.  I've tasted some great chocolate chip cookies in my lifetime but never found a home recipe to match.  But ALAS, right in time for the holidays I've finally stumbled across the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever tasted.

Jacques Torres, Mr. Chocolate himself was kind enough to share his chocolate chip cookie recipe via the NY Times.  Thanks to the Master Pastry Chef, this recipe will now become a family tradition for me and I can hardly wait for the memories that'll surround these cookies.  I'm not sure if the magic lies in the combination of cake flour and bread flour in the dough, or that it HAS to be refrigerated for a solid 24 hours -- but whatever it is, don't change a thing.  I haven't tasted a better masterpiece.

(If preferred, you can add a whole vanilla bean in place of the extract as I've done.  Just simply scrape the seeds and mix into the dough!)

The best part about cookie dough is it's simple to make and you can portion ahead.  What I did was quadruple the recipe, freeze overnight, slightly defrost the next day and portioned out around 75-65 3 ounce cookie balls using a cookie scooper.  Then I refreezed for an hour and placed half a dozen to a dozen in individual ziplock bags.  Don't forget to write the date!  Then you can simply bake a batch whenever needed as they take only abou 10-12 minutes in the oven and VOILA!  The best chocolate chip cookies will be ready for delivery :).  Whether its for a party, a gift for family or friends -- this recipe will leave any loved one with a happy tummy and full heart.  Thank you Jacques Torres for the genius recipe and NY Times for sharing the love.  Happy Holidays!

Snickerdoodles

It's a common belief that only children tend to be awkward, many times introverts and apparently always selfish.  Well whoever said that was obviously jealous- speaking from personal experience being the only child was pretty freaking awesome.

Sure I'm weird (I prefer quirky), and on some days I'm definitely one of the most introverted people you'll ever meet and when it comes to food, you bet I'm selfish -- DONT YOU BE TOUCHIN MY BROWNIES. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of days when I'd feel so painfully lonely -- until the age of 7 most of my friends came in stuffed animal form.  Laugh it up chuckles but it really forced me to explore my creative side as a result. Plus it was nice to be king like all the time and to this day I love nothing more than spending time alone by myself, with my books, my words and my imagination.  It's a beautiful thing folks, that is until your life is turned upside down and suddenly the 2 people you love most in the world sadly drift apart.

It was hard.  My parents' divorce that is.  And at the time when it happened (I was 18) I remembered feeling my heart had been torn in half.  To make matters worse, I go off to college and the first Summer back both my parents had moved on and SURPRISE!  I suddenly had a new mom, a new dad AND a younger sister?  NOW HOLD ON A MINUTE.  I do not share my throne of greatness and especially not with this weird little bugger that was 9 years younger than me.  What the hell does a 18 year old and a 9 year old have in common?  Oh right.  Nothing.

It was awkward.  Everything felt all out of whack.  I'd hang out with mom and her new beau and then have to switch to dad and his new family.  Trust me, I wasn't amused.  I've never felt so uncomfortable and out of place.  It's as if they both started brand new lives but without me.  *Enter pity party here*

But with time, comes change and eventually acceptance.  I now had 2 moms, 2 dads and a little sister TT.  In my mind I was convinced she was evil.  Out to steal my reign as the favorite and eventually my awesomeness would be replaced by this little bugger with beady eyes, I'm on to you TT don't think I don't see your tricks! Yet no matter how hard I'd resist, year after year she'd grow on me.  She made me this really sweet card for my birthday this one time and would climb into bed to cuddle with me in the mornings.  Trying to tug on my heart strings I see, well played TT, well played.

Then something strange happened.  I found myself actually enjoying having a sister.  What once was a foreign and uncomfortable feeling morphed into something bigger and definitely better and you know, it's pretty awesome.  I finally have someone I can put make up on, take shopping, go out to eat, give boy advice to and my favorite, bake cookies with.

Most importantly, life didn't feel as lonely anymore.  It was nice to have a partner-in-crime, someone to snicker with when the parents were being silly, someone to talk to when you were feeling a little sad and someone to love and accept whole heartedly and unconditionally.  Man, I should start writing Hallmark cards.

Plus being a big sister means I can boss her around anywhere anytime any day, AM I RIGHT?

Before TT started her last year of high school she came up to Dallas to visit.  We ate at Fearing's, Marquee Grill, Royal Sichuan.  I gave her $100 bucks and taught her the art of "bargain shopping" (she bought 3 dresses, jeans and a top) and I showed her some simple recipes that'd be perfect for her when she went off to college.  My mother in law gave me an antique cookbook from the 1930s where there was a recipe for Snickerdoodles.  Since cookies are one of the easiest things to make I opted to teach TT that one. 

These cookies are spectacular, with crispy edges and chewy centers it's one of those cookies that fill your tummy with warm fuzzies.  And what better way to bond with friends and family than with a large plate of freshly baked cookies washed down with tall glasses of cold milk?  Plus I told TT if you want a boy to fall for you hard and take you out on an epic date, these are the cookies that'll tug on his heart strings. :) Happy baking folks, until next time...

Snickerdoodles
 
Recipe Type: Dessert
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Total time: 30 mins
Crispy edges and a chewy center, these Snickerdoodles will be a hit with any crowd!
Ingredients
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. Cream together butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, the eggs and the vanilla. Blend in the flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Shape dough by rounded spoonfuls into balls.
  3. Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Roll balls of dough in mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
  4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until set but not too hard. Remove immediately from baking sheets.
 

 

Candied Ginger Cookies with Dark Chocolate Ganache

A few months an excerpt from the Wallstreet Journal caught my eye: “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” which was written about Amy Chua, a Chinese-American mother/lawyer/author about her controversial parenting guide titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.

While the general population took great offense to what her book had to say, in many ways I completely related to her experiences and even further, the excerpts lead me to a moment of clarity about the constant conflicting relationship with my father.    I was that girl who practiced piano an hour a day, attended summer school every year since I was 4 and when homework was done, there was more assigned work -- ranging from advanced math problems to memorizing new vocabulary words.

While my mom was mostly in charge of teaching me manners, how to maintain a household and how to cook, my dad was in charge of school work, piano and art.  I’d remember he’d be so intense about grades – “Straight As or nothing!”  Any time I knew I had a possible B coming up on a report card I’d cry on the way home, my stomach would be wrangled with anxiety. I remember one time I even tried to smudge my B with an eraser – “Joy what does this say?  Why can’t I see this letter??” I never got away with anything.

And that’s what it’d always felt like -- I was a constant disappointment and everything I ever did always felt like it was never good enough.  It was always “You know, Nancy’s son Michael, he’s going to Duke and making $70,000 a year from stock, how come you don’t do this?” or “You hear about Jenny?  She won 4 piano contests.  FOUR how come you do not win?” For the longest time I held that grudge against my father, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why he couldn’t be a positive parent like all my non-Chinese friends’ parents were.  It seemed as if my friends could do no wrong, if they made a B they never got grounded or yelled at – some even got money for Bs.  At school recitals the parents would always congratulate them on what a good job they did while my dad would point out “I heard that mistake towards the middle.”  They even didn’t have to practice, like ever – while I had to be stuck at home on weekends playing endless hours of scales, chords, and Bach.

But then that moment of clarity hit me like a ton of bricks: it was never about him being disappointed in me, it was his hope that his daughter could exceed what he felt were her own limitations.  He pushed me because he wanted me to reach my personal best and I was just too afraid.  Afraid of failure, afraid of disappointment, whatever it was, I often regret for not trying harder.  My parents came to the states at the end of the Cultural Revolution with one goal in mind: to succeed in this new country and provide a promising future for their child.  There was no time for fancy family vacations, birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese, or new outfits every season; instead the money was saved for my piano lessons, summer school and all the books I could possibly want.

Sure there were problems with some of my parents’ parenting styles, but what parent is perfect? They try with their best intentions with all the hope that their children will have a good future.  When Collin and I settle down to have kids, I hope to combine the best of our two cultures, The Eastern and the Western, into something beautiful.

I wished for my parents to adopt Western parenting so much as a child and I realized it was mostly for the constant open affection: the I Love Yous, the hugs, the kisses.  Whereas Eastern parenting mostly lacks such affection – for my dad to utter I love you would be like pulling teeth.  I remembered my mom being almost embarrassed when I’d give her hugs and kisses but after years of my constant coaxing she now hugs me so hard sometimes it hurts (she has ungodly strong arms).

With Eastern parenting it’s the constant push and discipline with just the right amount of negativity, enough to drive the child’s need to be the best and dedicate themselves fully to any tasks they commit themselves to.  I wanted to quit piano so many times as a child but my parents never let me until I left the house, I didn’t understand why until now.  My god do I thank them for it.  Dad might’ve been tough on me but now I understand why he’d accept nothing less, because his daughter has half his brain and anything with half his genes has to be damn smart because he is by far the most intense and studious man EVER (he really is).  But what I learned from him is to never settle for mediocrity and to commit every ounce of yourself to a task you’ve committed your heart to and excel at it.

This cookie recipe made me think of dad: a soft, crumbly ginger spiced cookie with a bold dark chocolate ganache.   Though during my childhood (especially during adolescence) we often butted heads, what started off bitter ended up sweet.  The heart mends itself when you allow it to feel compassion towards others and being able to relate to other perspectives besides your own.

Ingredients for Ginger Shortbread Cookies with Dark Chocolate Ganache (about 18 sandwich cookies)

Prep time: 15 minutes; Total cooking time: 1 hour

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger, plus ¼ cup for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar

Combine flour, sugar, spices and salt in medium bowl. Combine crystallized ginger and 1 tablespoon sugar on work surface; chop finely.

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light. Add orange zest and vanilla. Beat in crystallized ginger mixture. Beat dry ingredients into butter mixture in 4 additions. Transfer dough to floured work surface and divide it in half into two 6-inch logs. Shape each log into 2x1x6-inch-long rectangular log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets and cut 1/3-inch-thick pieces from each dough log.  Transfer the cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart (cookies will spread slightly during baking). Mix raw sugar and reserved ¼ cup of chopped crystallized ginger in small bowl, set aside. Place cookies in oven and after 10 minutes sprinkle sugared ginger mixture on top of cookies and bake until golden brown on edges, about 8-10 minutes longer. Cool cookies on baking sheets, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to racks. Cool completely and sandwich with Dark Chocolate Ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

  • 8 ounces of high quality dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling, about 3-4 minutes.  Immediately pour hot cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes.  Stir until smooth and allow to cool for 10 minutes before spreading.

President Clinton's Oatmeal Cookies

Last week someone extended a wonderful act of kindness to me that touched me in several ways; it reminded me the importance of helping and giving to others. In our busy world today it is easy to become wrapped up in ourselves and lose sight of the fundamental importance of doing good for others. With the media ramming the image of "Generation ME ME ME" down our throats, it's no surprise we've become so enveloped in ourselves. So many times we are caught up in our own lives where we find our time and money so valuable that we keep it to ourselves. Honestly speaking, it’s just the easier route – look out for yourself, save money to buy things you want, why not?

But what about the people that are less fortunate than you? Sure we can turn a blind eye, forget that they’re there, but a failure to fix the problem doesn’t make it disappear. When we choose to ignore the uneducated, the sick, the poor, it not only makes the world a more negative place to live in but it affects the future of humanity. I recently re-read Giving by Bill Clinton – with political views aside, one cannot deny the positive influences this man has bestowed for our nation and for the world. In this book, President Clinton teaches us the importance of giving – “how each of us can change the world” through the gifts of time, skills, things and ideas to promote positive changes to the less fortunate.

Since middle school, I’ve been active in volunteering for my community. One of my favorite volunteering jobs was playing piano for the patients of M.D.Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Though I may not have been a champion award-winning pianist, the patients sure made me feel as so. I felt fortunate to share my gift of music to the ones that needed it the most. Being able to provide a brief moment of solace in their world of stress and pain gave me a sense of responsibility and understanding that every time I sat in front of that piano, I had to play my best as if I were performing for a concert. One evening, a woman came up to me with a huge smile on her face after I played Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major and tightly held my hands in hers  “Thank you. Thank you for letting my mind rest and making me smile, it’s been awhile.” Even after 10 years, I still remember that moment and it made me realize how the simple gift of time can ultimately be priceless.

All around us help is needed – whether it’s helping to clean up a neighborhood park, or teaching low-income students how to read, or going even further and help educate the poor and build schools in third world countries – think about the effects we could make if each of us stepped forward and gave a little time to help those in need, think about the future it would create for our children, for our world. As a tribute to a great man, I found this recipe for “President Clinton’s Oatmeal Cookies” from Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard, the executive pastry chef of Spago. I love that this recipe calls for “fat raisins” and the addition of brown sugar gives these cookies a nice chewy consistency.

Here’s to you Mr. President, thank you for striving to make this world a better place, I leave you with this quote:

“So much of modern culture is characterized by stories of self-indulgence and self-destruction. So much of modern politics is focused not on honest differences of policy but on personal attacks. So much of modern media is dominated by people who earn fortunes by demeaning others, defining them by their worst moments, exploiting their agonies. Who’s happier? The uniter or the dividers? The builders or the breakers? The givers or the takers? I think you know the answer. There’s a whole world out there that needs you, down the street or across the ocean. Give.”

-President Bill Clinton

Ingredients for President Clinton’s Oatmeal Cookies (makes 48 small cookies or 24 large cookies):

• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour • 1 teaspoon baking soda • 7 ounces (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, softened • 1 cup sugar • 1 cup packed light brown sugar • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon • 2 large eggs, at room temperature • 2 ¼ cups rolled oats • 1 ½ cups fat raisins

Sift together the flour and baking soda and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter on high speed until lemony yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle or beaters. Add the sugar, brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Continue creaming the mixture on high speed until it is smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl and paddle after each addition. Beat on low speed for 15-30 seconds, until the eggs are fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. On low speed, add the sifted flour mixture, beating until all of the flour is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, mix in the oats and raisins.

With a rubber spatula, scoop out the dough and divide it in half. Center one half along the bottom of a sheet of parchment paper and roll it up in the paper, creating a log about 2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Fold over the parchment, creating a sausage. Twist the ends over and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough logs for a minimum of 1 hour. (At this point the dough will keep nicely, wrapped well, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or up to 1 month in the freezer.) You can also simply spoon the dough onto parchment-covered baking sheets and bake at once.

Place racks in the middle and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. When the dough is chilled, remove it from the parchment paper. Using a chef’s knife or an offset serrated knife, slice ½-inch rounds off the log. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spaced 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and from front to back, and bake for another 5-8 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove the cookies from the oven and carefully slide the parchment off the sheets and directly onto your work surface. Cool the baking sheets between batches. Wait a minimum of 5 minutes before eating, or allow to cool completely before storing the cookies in an airtight container. (The cookies will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature.)

NOTE: Instead of forming the logs and chilling, you can also scoop spoonfuls of dough onto the parchment-lined sheets. Spoon teaspoons for small cookies, tablespoons for large.

Ingredients for Fat Raisins (makes 1 cup): • 1 cup golden or Red Flame raisins • ½ cup dry white wine • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice • 1 tablespoon dark rum • 2 tablespoons sugar

Combine the raisins, wine, orange juice, rum, and sugar in a small heavy saucepan, bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring all the while. Lower the heat so that the liquid is at a bare simmer and poach for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover the pan with plastic wrap, and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Shortbread Cookies

Since I am still pretty jet-lagged I figured I'd soothe my insomnia with a post :).  I had actually meant to post this entry while I was in China but apparently they do not allow blogging websites there.  I was also unable to access Twitter and Facebook as well, thank god for the whole "Freedom of Speech" thing we have going for America eh?

Shanghai was a blast, I come to realize that I will always be a big city girl at heart.  I loved the energy, the endless amounts of delicious (and cheap) food, and the shopping -- oh my god, the shopping.  Surprisingly, it was Collin who lost himself this time.  Yes, you heard correctly, my fiance was completely out of control compared to me.  You see, in China you can always bargain for your price, it's like gambling, except the ultimate goal is to get a stinkin' good deal.

He made two custom fitted suits for a whopping $96 dollars each along with several custom tailored dress shirts for about $10 each.  He also purchased belts, watches, wallets, polos -- he literally came back with an entirely new wardrobe.  NOW the good child (me) had a tailored jacket made for $60 and had a custom wedding dress made for $85, the one I found here in the States was $3500.  This convinces me to never buy clothes in the States ever again, (okay not really because I love shopping) but it is amazing as to what you can have made there and for such a good price!

We didn't have enough time to visit HangZhou so that will be saved for next time, but we ventured all throughout Shanghai and stopped by Wuxi and ShuZhou.  I took over 1200 pictures while I was there, now that I am editing through them I am becoming a little regretful about my trigger happy finger.

Everytime I go back, I am always amazed as to how much changes around Shanghai.  Highrise buildings magically sprout out of nowhere, old restaurants replaced by new, and there always seems to be more people.  Always. The traffic is a constant clusterf*ck and you always think someone's going to die, yet there are minimal car accidents and pedestrians and bikers always seem to come out alive.

I shall save the many adventures of Shanghai for the following posts, seeing that I have thousands of pictures to go through as well as numerous information pamphlets to read I should probably get started... I would also like to pose a warning for the following cookie recipe: they are extremely addictive.  Collin ate about a dozen to himself in one sitting, these cookies will make you lose all self control so plan wisely :)

I found this recipe in Frank Stitt's Southern Table -- these cookies are melt in your mouth delicious and using only 4 simple ingredients they are not only easy to make but can be paired with any dessert and goes great with coffee.

Ingredients for Shortbread Cookies:

(Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies)

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.  Sift the salt and flour, then add to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined.

Form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter.  Wrap the log with plastic wrap and chill for 3 hours to overnight.  Freeze for up to 2 months.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap and slice the dough into 1/4-inch disks.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet 1 inch apart and bake until the bottoms of the cookies just turn golden, about 10 minutes, turning the sheet 180 degrees after 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool completely.

VARIATION: After removing the dough from the refrigerator, slice as above, then roll each disk into a ball.  Moisten a thumb and press into the center of each ball.  Fill each indentation with high-quality raspberry or other fruit preserves.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake until slightly golden, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

You can also use other preserves like apricot, cherry, strawberry -- and since Easter is this Sunday this would also make a delightful dessert to bring to any party.  Easy to make, delicious to the max, trust me these cookies will become the hype of any party :)!