Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

These were an experiment. About a year ago, I decided to make my first batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I ended up trying several recipes, and believe it or not, decided that I liked the outcome of the one on the bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips.  There is this episode of Friends, where Monica, the chef on the show, is trying to recreate Phoebe’s grandma’s incredible chocolate chip recipe. She tries dozens of recipes only to realize that Phoebe’s grandma’s recipe was the one printed on the Nestle Chocolate chip bag. Anyway, that’s how I felt.  Since then, I have been doing minor alternations to the original recipe I found.

This latest experiment resulted from two things:  My quest to make cookies that are a tad bit healthier, and my love of the combination of chocolate and orange.

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Cantal: Cheese of the Week

During the search for the Cinderella cheese, I stumbled upon something fabulous. You may remember that the mysterious cheese from Thanksgiving that I lost the label for began with a C and that it was similar to Gruyere. The cheesepert (cheese expert, yes this is now going to be a term I use weekly) originally thought I meant Cantal, which must mean that she thought I was an amateur to the cheese tasting world, because while Cantal is wonderful, I would never compare it to Gruyere.  When I tasted this fabulous cheese, I said, “No that’s not it, but I am going to get a piece of it anyway.” Why not?! This is how you discover new cheeses.

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Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Spice Squash Muffins (Another Almost-Fat-Free Recipe)

Healthy Squash Muffins

Healthy Squash Muffins

Breaking my toe has really put a damper on my baking recently.  Today, the withdrawals became too much to bear, and against my better judgement, I hobbled to the kitchen, preheated the oven, and scoured the kitchen for something out of which to make muffins.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to look far.  Finding half of a leftover roasted acorn squash from dinner last week, I was immediately inspired to create a pumpkin-pie-spiced squash muffin recipe.  With the mashed squash and a little unsweetened applesauce, there was no need to add any additional oil or butter, so like my zucchini bread recipe, the only fat these muffins contain is from the eggs.  I made them 100% whole wheat, but they’d come out beautifully with white flour too, if that’s what you prefer.

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Challerhocker: Cheese of the Week

"Cinderella Cheese"I FOUND THE CINDERELLA CHEESE!  Let me back up, those of you who read the Midnight Moon cheese of the week post two weeks ago, know that for Thanksgiving, I bought three cheeses, knowing that I would write the Cheese of the Week on the best one. Well, in my haste to put together Thanksgiving dinner, I threw away the labels for the cheeses and could not remember the name of my favorite.  Thus, it was named the Cinderella cheese, the beautifully flavored, mysterious cheese that got away.

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Potato-Leek Gratin with Gruyere and Thyme

If I could only eat one cheese for the rest of my life, it would have to be Gruyère.  Earthy, sharp, and complex, an aged Gruyère is the perfect addition to a nice macaroni and cheese, a gourmet panini, a creamy soup, or showcased in a fresh spinach salad.  It’s also ideal for one of Brendan’s very favorite dishes: potato gratin.

Potatoes gratiné, or “scalloped potatoes” as Americans know them, are made of up layers of cheese and thinly-sliced potatoes, covered in cream.  The starch released from the potatoes combines with the milk and cheese to make a custard-like filling that cushions the tender potato slices in a bed of yum.  It’s a dish that’s already impossible to dislike, but use a sharp Gruyère, sautéed leeks, and some fresh thyme, and you raise the experience to a whole new level.  Just be sure you serve everyone a piece that includes some of the crispy cheese “skin” that forms over the top — it’s everyone’s favorite part.

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Pomegranate Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables

Pomegranate chicken with polenta, spinach, and roasted root vegetables

Pomegranate chicken with polenta, spinach salad, and roasted root vegetables

A few weeks ago, Gabrielle complained to me of an attempt to make pomegranate chicken.  It wasn’t bad, she said, it just wasn’t pomegranate-y enough.  So I set out to create an easy recipe that would give her the flavor kick she was looking for.  The dish turned out deliciously, and accompanied by creamy polenta, fresh spinach, and roasted root vegetables, it made a pretty perfect autumn meal.

In this case, I used beets and carrots (and a stray turnip that somehow made it into our groceries), but you could use whatever root veg you prefer.

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Cheese of the Week: Vlaskaas Gouda

A tradition for Maddie and I started one night when, fairly early in our friendship, I came over for dinner and she made this incredible cheese sauce.  Now, we get together at her home a couple of times a month to cook dinner together, maybe share some wine, catch up, and play Mario Kart. It is always so therapeutic and the highlight of my week.

This week, we decided we were going to make our cheese sauce, so of course in preparation for this bimonthly ritual, I went to Market Hall for the cheese selection. I asked for a creamy aged Gouda, I almost mentioned something about notes of caramel, but decided that level of cheese pretentiousness does not need to be advertised. When I tasted the slice of Vladkaas I had been handed, I almost told the woman it wasn’t what I was looking for, but after I gave it a second, all of these different flavors started coming out. It started with more of a Swiss cheese taste for just a second and then rich, tart layers of flavors kept coming. It was really the most dramatic flavor growth I had ever experienced with a cheese. When Maddie and I tried it together, there were mutual sounds of delight and even a little dance on my part (which we don’t need to go into).

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The Best Zucchini Bread Recipe Ever

I know what you’re thinking.  But this time, it’s not me tooting my own horn.  It was Gabrielle who declared this recipe the “best zucchini bread [she’d] ever tasted,” after sampling a piece on our almost-weekly MarioKart-at-Maddie’s date.  This prompted us to discuss at length the common pitfalls of zucchini bread: notably, an oily texture that leaves napkin and mouth alike feeling greasy, or a loaf that’s shiny on the outside, but dry and crumbly on the in-.

The whole point of using zucchini in a cake or bread is to retain moisture, but this also means that you don’t need to go heavy on the fats.  My recipe (which Gabrielle now insists is all she needs for Christmas) uses unsweetened applesauce instead of oil, providing the springy, cakey texture you want without the oily mouthfeel.   I also use half whole wheat flour for more nutritional punch.  If you’re making this as a breakfast item, rather than a dessert, you could definitely use all whole wheat flour.  I also don’t bother peeling the zucchini, as the skin adds fiber and is grated up so finely that it makes no different texture-wise.

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Cheese of the Week: Midnight Moon

Originally, my plan for this week was to buy a bunch of new cheeses for Thanksgiving, and then write about the best one. However, on my quest to create the perfect meal, I was moving way too fast and throwing away all packaging… including the one for this FABULOUS cheese that I found at Whole Foods.  So, we will all have to wait another week or two while I go back to Whole Foods and try to find this amazing cheese again.

Midnight Moon cheese by Cypress Grove

Midnight Moon cheese, courtesy of paul goyette on Flickr

However, the featured cheese this week, Midnight Moon, is no slouch. Midnight Moon is an incredibly creamy, rich, hard goat cheese. This goat Gouda is moderately sharp with a caramel-like finish. Its texture is closer to a creamy cheddar, but the goat’s milk brings the flavors together very well. In my mind, if Chevrot and Gruyere were to have a baby, this would be it.

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