Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I awoke, early on Sunday morning, to the click-click-clicking of our heat turning on and the sssshhhhhhhhh of the steam going through the pipes.  I immediately snuggled a little more under the covers and let out a contented sigh only to realize that I had dislodged Newt from his spot on the bed.  He would subsequently meow in our faces for the next 45 minutes until he finally went back to sleep.  He's lucky he's so handsome.

Thus starts the season of coziness.  I immediately want to cook and bake anything that requires me to turn on my oven and wear my adorable oven mitts.  These mitts usually hang dormant in the warmer months because my little oven that can just barely hold a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish is actually a larger-than-normal space heater.  And you don't want to run that on days that are even slightly humid and over 72-degrees unless you plan on running your air conditioner as well (hello, energy costs).  

Cooking, and general day-to-day living, in NYC is all about balancing wants and needs, it seems. You get the apartment on the fifth floor of a walk up because you want the more-desired location.  You take the longer, local train to work but at least you can sit down and finish that book you've been lugging around for three weeks.  You have that third cookie because you just went down to the basement to change a load of clothes only to realize you left the detergent which means you have to go back up the stairs an extra, unanticipated time and therefore deserve it.  Just like Newt, this city is lucky it's so handsome. 

Another New York-city centered blogger that I enjoy following is Sydney from Crepes of Wrath.  Not only does Sydney seem to appreciate good food and restaurants as we do (and recaps her adventures with each post), but I adore her literature inspired blog name (being the English major that I am). Now that is how you name a blog.  (Not 'Bless your Tart' - which was my initial idea and now seems to be a good example of what not to do.)  Sydney, according to Anderson Cooper, has the best chocolate chip cookie recipe around.  Naturally, I had to make them.  

And the silver fox was right -- these are delicious and perfect with your first cup of coffee in the morning or your warm cup of tea at night or your Big Gulp of Diet Coke in the middle of the day.  I've had them in all instances and can't say I have a favorite setting -- just make these as soon as it is cool enough to turn on your oven.  Or, don't wait and find the balance of oven heat and counter-effective air conditioning.  The checks and balance system applies just as easily to ConEdison bills as it does to other life moments.  

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted (barely) from Crepes of Wrath

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate, roughly chopped (I used a mix of semi-sweet chips (unchopped) and a dark chocolate bar chopped up.  The use of chopped bar chocolate creates all the chocolate flecks you see in the finished product as well as the larger-than-chips bites you get throughout.)
Optional - sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahreinheit.  In a mixing bowl, beat your butter and both sugars.  Add in the whole egg and mix until combined.  Add the egg yolk and mix until combined.  Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined.  In a separate bowl, mix your flour, baking soda and salt.  In equal parts, add it to the sugar mixture until just combined.  Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Fold in your chocolate.  Line baking sheets with parchment. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons worth of dough into balls and place on your sheet.  Sprinkle with sea salt if using.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes until just lightly golden and set.  Cool on the sheets for a few minutes before removing.  

According to Sydney, these keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week, or frozen for up to 3 months.  Be sure to thaw them before you eat them!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Texas Road Trip - Part Two

On Friday morning, we left Austin (see Part 1 for a recap of that leg of the trip) and headed about an hour Southeast to La Grange, TX.  La Grange was absolutely precious.  Less than 5,000 people live there but they have a beautiful, wide town square and nestled in the Southwest corner of that square is Prause Meat Market
La Grange Town Square - Are there more pick up trucks or Texas flags in this picture?
We walked in, clearly "not from around here," and gingerly walked up to the counter of fresh meat.  One lovely gentleman behind the counter welcomed us and walked us back to where they had their smoked meat (he clearly knew what we were there for). I appreciate that they keep the tradition of being a meat market front and center while the lunch place is a secondary (albeit very popular) destination.  He loaded us up with sausages, pork shoulders, and brisket.  When we saw it was cash only we got worried (we only had about $30 on us) but the final price, including soft drinks, was $13.  We further showed our naivete by laughing hysterically with relief at such a great deal then sheepishly went and sat beneath some mounted deer heads to eat.  
They don't lie in La Grange.
Their pork shoulder had almost a sweet skin on it and their brisket tasted like pot roast (which must mean they keep it in some liquid during the smoking process or prior to serving - to be determined on the next visit I guess).  It was delicious and, like I said, an incredible bargain.  We departed La Grange to head back to Houston for the last two days of our trip.  

We stayed with our dear friends Amanda and Steve and their puppies Daphne and Otis. I have known Amanda since elementary school and they were gracious enough to let us take over their guest bedroom.  Our first night there we saw the Yankees beat the Astros (and a fireworks show!) and Saturday we had a lazy day of football watching.  We grilled out Saturday night and enjoyed some delicious cajun pork ribs and stuffed pork loin from Hebert's before heading out to a real-live country music concert.  
Amanda & Steve! (This better be your Christmas card photo.)
Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley entertained us for the next few hours before we made it back home to some Apple Spice Cake (recipe to come!) and Blue Bell ice cream.  Side note - I am now obsessed with the oversize gallons of Blue Bell ice cream.  Someone needs to get these in NYC immediately. 

Daphne - wise beyond her years.

Otis - Less wise, but I still want his hair color.
I left Texas, proudly wearing a few extra pounds and my new cowboy boots and giddy with the success of our Texas road trip.  In case you were interested, we looked at the following lists before planning where to go:  

Daniel Vaughn’s 10 Favorite BBQ Joints in Texas (Daniel Vaughn is the Barbecue Editor for Texas Monthly – yes, they have a Barbecue Editor)

I can't wait to do it again -- there are still so many other places we want to visit in the state -- John Mueller's in Austin, Kreuz in Lockhart, Salt Lick in Driftwood . . . now we have new ones to check off plus those we want to revisit (Louie Mueller's!) so I'm sure we'll be back.   The state of Texas should market itself as a culinary destination and, obviously, I would happily be an ambassador for that.  Texas, call me and we'll talk.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Texas Road Trip - Part One

Warning - The next two posts will be gluttonous posts about meat.  Be wary, vegetarian friends. 

Two weeks ago, Robbie and I were in the midst of our four-day vacation.  This was the longest vacation we had taken since our honeymoon that wasn't dictated by weddings and family so it was discussed, chosen and planned with much care and attention to detail.  In typical fashion, we brushed aside the usual options of an island paradise or a long-weekend in a European capital and zeroed in on one priority - food.

You already know I have a food blog but you may not know that Robbie and I eat out a lot.  We love keeping up (as much as we can) with interesting and new restaurants in New York City.  Since I am from North Carolina, and Robbie is a warm-blooded male, we often end up at the latest bbq restaurants in the city.  I have learned to never expect to find a typical North Carolina-style chopped and pulled pork sandwich up here but I have been exposed to some delicious Kansas City bbq rubs and even a few hybrid styles of 'que. 

That being said, the piece of meat that had me at first bite was Texas brisket. 

Last week, we decided to explore Texas and the barbecue places that inspired NYC restaurants like Hill Country, Briskettown, and Fletcher's.  You see, I am convinced that without these joints in Taylor, Austin, La Grange, etc., New York City wouldn't know a piece of brisket from a pumpernickel bagel.  

After an early flight into Houston, we drove about two hours to Taylor, TX.  Taylor is about 30 minutes north of Austin, TX and on a wide side street sits Louie Mueller Barbecue. This place was not for the faint of heart.  The temperature was 94 degrees outside at the end of September (this would be a common theme the entire weekend - heat and humidity were rampant everywhere we went) and the restaurant was basically two, high ceiling rooms with the smoker in the back of one of the rooms and no air conditioner.  
Their fan placement is exactly how we cool our apartment in the summer.
I walked in and immediately knew I was going to smell like a smoker for the next week.  We ordered, got our food and sat down to a table filled with sausage links, brisket and the biggest beef rib I had ever seen.  This beef rib.  Oh, this beef rib.  It was by far the best thing I ate the entire trip.  They season the rib with only salt and pepper before letting the smoke and oak wood do their thing.  It tastes like butter.  In a good way.
Beef Rib and other lesser meats. (Good effort pickles.)
We climbed back into our Nissan Versa (bless our hearts) and headed to Austin where we explored our neighborhood (SoCo!) and met some friends for dinner.  We headed to bed early since we had to line up for our next BBQ visit bright and early the next morning - Franklin BBQ.  

Franklin is repeatedly voted the #1 bbq place in Texas and it did not disappoint.  First order of business is to get there hours before their 11 am opening or else you risk not getting any food that day.  We got there about 9:15 in the morning and were told by the lovely staff (who brought out water, beer and soft drinks for those in line) that our spot in line meant we would eat about 12 pm.  We ended up sitting down with food around 12:30 pm.  The hour or so until opening went by pretty fast but then, once folks started moving, the anticipation (and hanger) had gotten to me.  One of the owners chatted with us about New York and our favorite restaurants while he chopped us some brisket and ribs - it turns out he was a Momofuku empire fan too which was good to hear.  
The line at Franklin BBQ right at opening time.

Franklin is known for their brisket and it was equal to, if not a little better than, Briskettown here in New York.  I was surprised at how many locals were in line (do people in Austin not work?) so it must be legit if folks keep waiting in line.  

After filling up on bbq, we visited the University of Texas, Austin (hook 'em!), the State Capitol (which is so big because they thought Texas would be its own country) and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential library (where I decided I would start going by Mary Jordan Lady Bird Samuel).  After a visit to a couple of Austin's famous food trucks (one of which was made for me), we headed back to sleep off the calories (ha) before the next leg of our trip.
I think I see a Longhorn up there.

They did a good job with their State Capitol Building.

LBJ Archives.  He clearly was a reader.

Overall, I loved Austin and its eclectic vibe.  I was surprised at how there weren't many people out and about for it to be the state capital (maybe because it was too hot?) and be home to a major university.  Our neighborhood was a delight -- nearby, there were cute antique shops and an old-timey candy store (which I unfortunately discovered on our last day) but I did find the 7-Eleven within the first hour.  Big Gulps are the essential travel companion.  

Next up will be a recap of our Houston leg of the trip which completed our country-fication via a Miranda Lambert/Dierks Bentley concert and the purchase of real-live cowboy boots.