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March 20, 2005

These cookies are the bomb. I am pretty picky about my cookies, and I searched long and hard before finding the perfect recipe for a thick, chewy chocolate chip cookie. (I’m not a fan of crunchy cookies, and I prefer big, plump cookies loaded with chocolate chips). I am willing to share this recipe with all of you, as long as you promise to make them someday!

A few notes: I only use one brand of chocolate chips for these cookies…the only brand worthy of this recipe, Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips. Sure, you could get away with another brand, or with milk chocolate chips, but they just won’t be the same. I also use a full 12-ounce bag of the chips, because I prefer three or four chocolate chips in each bite. Finally, it’s really worth it to watch the cooking time and turn the sheets in the middle of baking…it results in a perfect, chewy cookie. If they’re browned on the bottom, they’re overcooked. As long as the tops are not mushy, and the edges are even slightly golden, take them out of that oven! (Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who like crunchy cookies.)

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
  • 1 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in chips to taste.

Roll scant 1/4 cup dough into a ball. Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join halves together at their base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth dough’s uneven surface. Place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving 2 1/2 inches between each ball.

Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking (from top to bottom and front to back), until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 o 18 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets. When cooled, peel cookies from parchment.

Makes about 20 cookies.

Source: America’s Test Kitchen

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Strawberry Fields Forever

March 18, 2005

It’s almost time for strawberries! Last night at our family gathering Mom Esquivel made a strawberry dessert that was super-wow, and it reminded me that we haven’t been strawberry picking in a couple of years (which is why my hair is miraculously different in the above picture–wasn’t it pretty two years ago?).

We like to visit Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls for warm, ripe, off-the-vine berries. The berries should be ready for picking by the end of March (just in time for my birthday!), and I can’t wait. Last time we visited, we made spinach-strawberry salads, strawberry popsicles, strawberry smoothies, strawberry waffles, strawberries with balsamic vinegar with creme anglaise…you can never have too many sweet berries.

Hopefully the strawberries in grocery stores will be of better quality within the coming weeks, and you can try out a few strawberry recipes of your own. If we make it to the farm this year, I’ll post more pictures. Until then, here’s an idea to start your strawberry adventures.

Strawberry Pops

  • 1 1/2 pints strawberries, rinsed and hulled
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup water

Pulse strawberries, sugar, and water in a food processor until pureed, with some chunks of berries remaining. Pour half of mixture into a bowl. Pulse remainder until smooth. Stir puree into mixture in bowl. Pour into 3-ounce popsicle molds or plastic cups, insert sticks or wooden spoons, and freeze until solid, at least 8 hours.

Makes 8 popsicles.

Source: Everyday Food, May/June 2003

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Butterscotch Bars

March 15, 2005

I found this recipe in an old Cooking Light magazine, and it’s one of Justin’s favorites. All of the ingredients are usually just sitting in my kitchen, except for the butterscotch morsels, which last a long time anyway since you only need 1/2 cup of them. It’s an easy, non-chocolate dessert for you strange people out there who don’t like chocolate. Heck, I’ll even eat a few of these. Or most of them. Whatever.

Butterscotch Bars

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter or stick margarine, softened
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup butterscotch morsels

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat sugars and butter at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add egg whites and vanilla; beat well. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; beat at low speed just until blended.

Spread batter evenly into an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with morsels. Bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Makes 16 bars.

Source: Cooking Light, January 2000

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Real beauty

March 15, 2005

I’ve really been enjoying my time off from work. It’s only been a few days, but I feel so much more relaxed, so much more in tune with my little world. Why is it that we allow life to happen around us, and often are too busy to notice? Already, the trees are starting to bloom, there are bluebonnets along the highways, and Easter is fast approaching. Did I really take part in the winter we have just lived through? I didn’t play in the snow when I visited my family at Christmas. I didn’t make an apple pie or drink canela tea. I didn’t carve any jack-o-lanterns or listen to Christmas songs. I didn’t buy anyone a Valentine, and I missed several winter birthdays. Was my life that busy? Was I so consumed with work or homekeeping or cooking or worrying that I forgot to live, to be a part of the world?

So now spring is coming, and I am ready to take part in it. We fully immersed ourselves in nature and life this past weekend (see previous post), and I intend to continue. When I think of spring, I think of gardens and flowers, Easter eggs and chocolates, picnics and bike rides, sitting on the patio reading a book, taking walks and noticing the beauty of the world.

It’s funny how it takes something so drastic as the loss of a job to make us realize how precious life is. That the most enchanting smell is my husband’s cologne, that the prettiest sound is birds chirping in the morning, that the best feeling is a breeze brushing across my skin, and that one of the most beautiful things I can think of is the sight of my mom feeding her birds.

Life is too short not to live it.

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A typical Austin weekend

March 13, 2005
photo by justin

Whew! We tired ourselves out this weekend, traveling anywhere our little feet would take us. Our weekend really started Thursday night, with a dinner on our tiny patio with Chad and Lindsay. I made Portobello Mushroom Fajitas (from Cooking Light’s January 2005 issue) with cilantro black beans and whole-wheat tortillas. Lindsay brought an apple crisp made with oatmeal and Cabot cheddar cheese that was stellar.

Friday evening Chad and Justin took a bike ride while Lindsay and I cooked dinner, a fava bean stew, steamed vegetables, and multi-grain bread from Central Market. Afterward, we took a leisurely stroll through their neighborhood, stopping to marvel at an entire skate park set up in a neighbor’s backyard.

Saturday morning started with a walk to the downtown farmer’s market, where we met up with Andy (pictured above, with the awesome beard), and bought a baguette from Texas French Bread and some artisan string cheese. We walked back to our place, and I set off for a baby shower at Leti’s (see previous post for a full review) while Justin hiked the Barton Creek greenbelt and went for a swim at Sculpture Falls with Chad, Lindsay, and Andy.

Sunday morning we were up early to drive out to Rocky Hill Ranch, where the boys set off on a mountain bike trail, and Lindsay and I hiked through the pines. Then it was back to Austin for a walk to the Zilker Kite Festival, where there were hundreds of kites floating in the sky (and a few diving dangerously). We walked through the Town Lake trail back up to 6th Street for a stop at Amy’s Ice Cream (for you foodies out there, I had dark chocolate ice cream with Kit Kats, Justin had “The Rico”, which was Mexican vanilla ice cream with graham crackers, strawberries, and cinnamon, Lindsay had Mexican vanilla frozen yogurt with strawberries, and Chad tried the Grasshoppa flavor). It’s been a long, wonderful, sun-drenched weekend (and I have sunburned shoulders to prove it).

Hope yours was full of sun, too!

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