chocolate chip cookies

Dear Megan,

Thank you for being obsessed with chocolate chip cookies with me. They’re the one thing in this world that can bring a smile to so many people. The soft chewy center and lightly crisped edges are just a delight of texture.

I write this as you’re a cookie master. I still remember the days at Sauble Beach where I first got to try your caramel cookies and peanut butter cookies. I think of them fondly and wonder when you’ll make them again. I was so naive back then, thinking I could just ask for your family’s cookie recipes. Ha! I understand now why people guard their secrets.

Which brings us to our (slight, small, tiny) obsession with Craig’s Cookies this year. I was first introduced to them when someone brought them in at work. Then they started popping up at Nordstrom on the weekend. Now, they’ve opened a second location (yet, so far downtown). I knew I had to secure you a dozen for your birthday this year. And as expected, they didn’t disappoint. Together we scoured websites and YouTube for any hints we could find. You courageously tried this recipe with high hopes, only to find out it was erroneous. The results were not the same! Then you showed me this video where we found out that each cookie dough was 45 grams. The bakery’s oven is set at 380°F for 6 minutes, but 12 minutes in his home oven.

While we are no closer to finding out how to make those cookies, I relied on a cookbook based on the restaurant we went for your birthday. Earth to Table Every Day has been my go-to cookbook this year (I’ve made the brownie, upside-down cake, Irish stew, and piri piri chicken from it) and there’s a wonderful entry for a Chipwich, a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich that I’ve made over a dozen times now without the ice cream.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from Earth to Table Every Day
Makes 24 cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lay out parchment paper on your baking pan.
  2. Using a mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar together on medium speed for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add in the eggs one at a time and mix until fully combined.
  4. Then include the vanilla extract, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix until incorporated.
  5. Finally, add the flour and mix on low speed and when it’s about combined, add in the chocolate chips to the batter and mix just until you don’t see the whites of the flour anymore.
  6. Using a 2-inch wide ice cream scoop, portion out the dough on the parchment paper.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes and then let the cookies cool before transferring them to a wired rack.

The chocolate chip cookie dough also freezes beautifully. You can save your scoops on a small tray and put them in a zip lock bag. I would recommend baking them for 16 minutes from frozen.

I also discovered that if you bake the cookies as is from scooping, they come out with more jagged peaks and cracks. But, if you take the time to roll the cookies between your palms so it’s all smoothed out, they come out like soft rolling hills. This is all just about how they look of course and doesn’t affect the taste!

Then, in December I bravely joined my company’s Makers Market to sell my version of chocolate chip cookies with candy bars. You get slightly more cookie since they’re all over 45 grams of dough, but they’re not as soft and chewy as Craig’s. I spent all afternoon and evening baking the night before, I might have finished 70 cookies by 8:30 pm? I actually only had 69 cookies in the end because I dropped a Twix one on my kitchen counter and had to eat that one myself.

They were well received and I managed to sell out of cookies, but that’s probably just my colleagues being super supportive and ever so kind in my first pop-up shop. They all had the nicest things to say! Caramilk and Reese were the first cookies to go and the last ones were Mr. Big and Wunderbar. My personal favourite is the Rice Krispies because the marshmallows turn golden after being baked for that extra nice flavour.

I hope that together, we’ll come up with an unstoppable chocolate chip cookie recipe in the new year!

Sincerely,
Syl

raspberry nectarine clafoutis

Dear PRHC Cooks,

Thank you for introducing me to clafoutis. It’s a genius dessert. Easy to assemble. Easy to bake. Easy to serve. And just fulfills all my flan and custard cravings. Plus there’s fruit. I brought this dish to a family gathering – a family that thinks that everything I make is too sweet. Well, guess what? They loved this because it was at the right sugar level for them.

Raspberry Nectarine Clafoutis
Recipe adapted from Bake the Seasons

¾ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup raspberries
4 nectarines, sliced

Note: The original recipe in the cookbook calls for apricot and raspberries, and 6 apricots for that. I swamped it out for nectarines!

  1. Butter a 9-inch round baking dish. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
  2. Pour the heavy cream, milk, vanilla extract, eggs, sugar, flour, salt, and nutmeg into a blender. Mix until combined. Let the frothy batter sit for half an hour.
  3. Wash the raspberries and nectarines. Slice the nectarines. You can keep the skin on the nectarines if you want.
  4. Pour one third of the batter into the baking dish and bake for 15 minutes. It’ll be puffy when it comes out of the oven, but that’s okay!
  5. Add in the fruit, you can even push some down into the batter at the bottom.
  6. Pour the remaining batter over. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the edges are golden brown.
  7. Take it out to cool, the clafoutis will deflate a little bit, but that’s normal. You can also sprinkle with icing sugar before serving if you’d like.

I mean, how easy is this? You only need a blender … or you can do this with a bowl and whisk. Easy clean up!

You might need a pot holder or pot trivet since the dish will be hot from the oven before you add the fruit and the rest of the batter.

Umm, I tried to do a pattern with the nectarines so that each slice would get one. I don’t know if you can see the spiral with all those raspberries in the way.

I love me the puffy golden brown edges. It’s like a pancake or cake or tart or pudding or flan or custard dessert all in one.

Sincerely,
Syl

San Antonio, TX

Dear San Antonio,

What a treat it was to visit you in April! The weather was perfect and things were budding and blooming along the river for spring. I’m trying to recall if this was my first time in Texas and I think it was.

Places to stay: I had the chance to stay at the Grand Hyatt for work. If you’re primarily there for the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, it is the best hotel to at as it’s a very short walk over. And it connects to the Riverwalk so you’re not far from other restaurants and attractions. I felt like it was a great location for downtown. Hotel Emma on the other hand was farther away in the Pearl district. However, it is also surrounded by great restaurants and scenic river walks! This hotel was absolutely stunning and beautiful, even if you’re not staying there, it’s worth a visit to look around.

Places to eat: Breakfast at Supper in Hotel Emma was delightful, we ordered cinnamon waffles, ricotta pancakes, and French toast and they were all delicious. Everyone wanted to return for lunch and dinner. If you want barbecue in Texas, we’d recommend The Granary. For the atmosphere alone, visit Mi Tierra, it’s open 24 hours! Plus, you’re going to visit Market Square, so you might as well stop by for something from their bakery or dining room. There’s so many more places, but we didn’t get to try them all. Sometimes it’s nice to save them for the next visit.

Places to see: I’m pretty sure the number one attraction is the Riverwalk and I must say that I’m charmed by it. Take a quick river cruise and do the stroll along the winding pathways during the afternoon or evenings. The Alamo is free, so you can go see and read about the history. Walk to Market Square and the Main Plaza. As I mentioned above, the Pearl district is a must see – it reminded me of the Distillery District here in Toronto.

I’ve been recommending San Antonio as a long weekend trip for everyone. If you go in April, you’ll get to see and participate in Fiesta!

Sincerely,
Syl

cheddar and chive pretzel knots

Dear PRHC Cooks,

I love that there’s a cookbook club at work! If you don’t know, I work in a publishing company, mainly on children’s books but we have imprints that produce these amazing cookbooks. A few colleagues at work decided it was time that we cook from these cookbooks and bring them in for Monday lunch potlucks. There, we get to sample multiple dishes from the cookbook and then chat about what worked and what didn’t. Mainly, I love that I learn about new dishes and any troubleshooting for future recipes.

The cookbook that was voted in for this time was Bake the Seasons: Sweet and Savoury Dishes to Enjoy Throughout the Year by Marcella DiLonardo.

When it was time to sign up for a recipe, I knew I wanted to try the pretzel knots. I’ve been searching for a pretzel recipe to use with my Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning blend. So I thought this would be a good test, plus I love the combination of cheddar and chives!

Cheddar and Chives Pretzel Knots
Recipe from Bake the Seasons

1 ½ cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar (original recipe calls for turbinado sugar)
1 teaspoon fine salt
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese
½ cup minced chives
½ cup baking soda
1 egg, whisked for egg wash

  1. Using the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk the water and yeast together. Let is stand for 5 minutes so that the yeast activates. The yeast didn’t start to bubble in my mixture, but I had just purchased it, so I knew it was fresh. If you’re not sure, you might want to start over with fresh yeast.
  2. Next, add the sugar and salt and whisk it in.
  3. Use the dough hook for your mixer and on low speed, add 1 cup of the flour, followed by the melted butter. Mix until it’s incorporated.
  4. Add the remaining flour 1 cup at a time until the dough comes together. Let the stand mixer knead the dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes. The dough should look smooth and feel elastic, that’s your cue to stop kneading.
  5. Fold in 1 cup of the cheddar and all the chives.
  6. Shape the dough into a ball and cover the bowl. Keep the bowl away from any cold drafts. Let the dough rest and double in size for 2 hours.
  7. Dust your working surface with flour and take the dough out. Give it a quick knead and then divide all the pieces evenly. Make all the even lumps into rope shapes and tie them into simple knots.
  8. Pour about 8 cups of water into a large pot. Bring it to a boil on the stove over high heat. Add in the baking soda. This part was new to me and looks like all pretzel recipes have this boiling process.
  9. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  10. Working in small batches, put the knots in the boiling water for about 20-30 seconds. Quickly remove them with a slotted spoon or spider. Place them on parchment paper over a baking sheet.
  11. Brush the pretzels with the whisked egg. Then sprinkle grated cheese on it. The original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of coarse salt to also be sprinkled on top of the knots. That’s up to you!
  12. Bake for 15-20 minutes, the pretzel knots should look golden brown and have puffed up to double the size. Let it cool for another 15 minutes and eat! Or you can store them in an airtight container for 2 days.

One of my favourite tools to use when working with dough is a bench scraper. It helps you cut, shape, and move the dough from surface to surface easily.

I was able to make at least three baking sheets full of these baby knots. They puff up quite a bit after baking, so make sure you space them out well.

I used a hot pot spider (strainer scoop) to boil the pretzels in.

If you like your pretzels salty, definitely add them on at the sprinkling stage. I figured the cheese would be salty enough!

Gahh, I love the smell of baked cheese in the oven! These came out delightfully bite sized and addictive. They were also easy to bag, light to carry, and it was a breeze bringing them into the office. All important criteria when you’re commuting in!

Sincerely,
Syl

New Orleans, LA

Dear NOLA,

I freaking love New Orleans. This is my second time there and it feels as magical as the first. There’s just something about the spirits there. Am I veering too much into the supernatural? Well, can I talk about how great the people of New Orleans are? The locals are so friendly and give the best advice and tips. The hospitality in this city is unparalleled. And then there are the houses. Just swoon worthy architecture along St Charles Avenue.

Places to stay: I have been lucky enough to stay at the Hotel Monteleone and The Roosevelt for work. I don’t remember much of Hotel Monteleone, but I do recall my room being very tiny. And I hear there’s haunted rooms in this hotel too! The Roosevelt had great amenities, service, and the room was spacious. I was very grateful for the complimentary bottles of water they provided (you get thirsty in the NOLA heat fast). But personally, Cambria Hotel New Orleans in the Downtown Warehouse District is more my style and I really enjoyed our time there. I lucked out with a large corner room filled with celebrity portraits, cross-bone wallpapers, a lounge, table nook, and a bright bathroom. Other hotels I would look into staying at next time: Old No 77 Hotel & Chandlery, Q&C HotelBar, and Catahoula Hotel.

Places to eat: Geez, where does one start? Okay, a great place for breakfast is Stanley. You can’t go wrong with the eggs and poor boy sandwiches. I love going to Cochon Butcher for lunch. The goal is still to try every single sandwich on their menu. So far I’ve done the pork belly, le pig mac, moroccan spiced lamb, duck pastrami, and pulled pork. Other amazing spots for lunch or dinner: Compère Lapin (those biscuits and their desserts are worthy of repeating), Luke (still the best bread pudding I’ve ever had), Magasin Kitchen (for a unique take on pho), Herbsaint (for like everything), and Pêche Seafood Grill (everything and oysters). If you’re wondering about Commander’s Palace, I would go to sit in that beautiful garden room, the service, the experience, and their famous bread pudding souffle with whisky sauce. What about Brennan’s? I would actually not recommend the famous banana foster, but everything else I had for dinner was great. You’ve got to have seafood in New Orleans! I recommend getting a platter at Seaworthy and the wood-fired oysters with chili garlic butter at Cochon. You know what I do avoid in this city? The beignets. I just don’t get the hype! I keep trying in hopes of being proven wrong but I have yet to ever finish an entire order.

Places to see: Definitely ride the streetcars. I love the St Charles Avenue route and it circles back into the city. Go check out Magazine Street. Do a cemetery tour – during the day if you’re a scaredy cat like me. Go explore the French Quarters and see Jackson Square! At night, head over to Frenchmen Street for live music.

I hope you get the chance to visit the magic of New Orleans one day. It makes for a great long weekend trip.

Sincerely,
Syl