February 19, 2017

My Blue Apron Experience

I had the good fortune of being gifted a week of Blue Apron for Christmas this year! I had been interested in trying a meal delivery service like this for a while now. My first impression was really positive. I clicked on the link from my gift email and easily got setup and chose the meals I wanted for the week. My box arrived right on schedule and well packed. It was easy to sift through everything and get it laid out to cook when ready. All of the meals were really tasty! I give Blue Apron credit for coming up with new and interesting meals each week without repeating things.

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The three meals I received were Baked Ricotta Cannelloni, Chipotle Vegetable & Farro Salad and Vegetable Fried Rice Bowls. In all three cases, the instructions were easy to follow and the ingredients were very fresh. I am a pretty practiced cook and the first thing I noticed was that it took me MUCH longer than the estimated times to complete these meals. While that didn’t matter on the days I was cooking, it would have been a bummer after a long day at work. If I had another set of hands, we may have gotten it done quicker. The other thing is that these recipes required ALOT of dishes; more than I think is really necessary. For example, in the vegetable fried rice, the recipe had you roast the cauliflower. While that tasted good with a nuttiness coming from the roasting process, however, if you cooked all of the veggies in one pan (like a wok), you could cut both the time and the dishes. They also wanted you to fry eggs for the top of the dish in a separate pan, which I skipped all together to cut calories, but I have just whisked and then cooked the egg in the same wok as the rest of the meal in my own version. I am certain the texture adds dimension, but as a home cook, I really want a way to find that dimension without making a mess of my entire kitchen. Same with the farro salad, you needed one bowl for the pickling of the shallot and radish, a pan for roasting veggies, pot for farro, bowl for mixing and mice en place bowls for all of the pieces. I have often made giant messes in my kitchen, but these recipes gave me a full dish washer everyday and for just one person, that is a lot to tackle.

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Chipotle Vegetable & Farro Salad

Tucked inside the little bags labeled “Kick Knacks,” were the nutrition facts for these recipes. One things that really surprised me was that the Cannelloni had the least calories at 710 the Farro Salad & Fried Rice were both 760. That is way more calories than I regularly want in a meal. I usually target closer to 500 calories per meal. As I mentioned before, I left some things out to cut some calories.

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Leftover Items – Plenty of Flavor, Less Calories

There were some things that were provided that you really didn’t need to use all of that were really high in calories (ie- sesame oil, cashews, eggs, and extra sauce). Some of those things really add a lot of punch without needing a lot of volume. The Cannelloni really was 2 servings, but I do think the other two recipes will stretch further, so I can save myself on some calories and get an extra couple meals for the week!

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Roasted Vegetable Fried Rice

I will reiterate, I really enjoyed these meals! They gave me a new twist on things I have made in the past and got me cooking things I wouldn’t usually make. I learned to cook farro, which I love and have not made at home before. I can see Blue Apron being a great fit for a couple wanting to try some new things. I think I am a bit critical of recipes to begin with and am usually lucky if I follow it 80%. In these cases, I stuck pretty close to the recipes since I had all the ingredients. I might think about trying this again, but would really prefer something with healthier options.

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Baked Ricotta Cannelloni

I think my favorite was the cannelloni and meyer lemon salad. The salad was the perfect compliment to the pasta dish. It felt fresh and comforting all at the same time. I also think that was the easiest of the recipes, though it did take me about an hour start to finish. Everything was enjoyable and it got me back in the kitchen and inspired again. I loved getting to try it out and may look for another version to compare. Let me know if you have tried it!

~Kelly

February 17, 2017

Kitchen Staples: Frozen Chicken Stock

We all have things that we always have on hand. The things that we can’t imagine cooking without. For me, I always have good olive oil, multiple kinds of salt, fresh pepper, balsamic and red wine vinegar, and homemade chicken stock. In fact, I even made stock one day when we were in the middle of moving just so I wouldn’t waste the bones and veggies I had in my freezer saved for stock. My BF loves to tell the story of the day I lost it making stock surrounded by boxes. 😉

I really can’t imagine being without homemade chicken stock. It is one of those things that does not even resemble canned stock. But, keeping it fresh is impossible. So, what do you do? Chicken stock freezes very well. I have tried it in many kinds of containers: take out containers, Ziplocks, etc. I always want to know what serving I have frozen, so I can throw it in to a recipe without thinking. I recently found a great solution for this. We have all seen silicone ice cube trays that are made for fancy big ice cubes for cocktails. It is the perfect thing for stock! Mine holds about 1/2 cup of stock and I ended up with a gallon Ziplock full of them for my freezer. I still like a gallon Ziplock to give me the option to make soup at a later date, but smaller portions make a difference for things like quinoa, sauce, or adding depth and flavor to anything. Try it out!

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February 12, 2017

Green Smoothie Packs

I am always looking for ways to prepare for the week ahead and save myself some time. One of my biggest tips for success is making your morning as easy as possible with make ahead freezer Smoothie Packs. Our Vitamix is easily the most used tool in our kitchen. When both of us are home, we use it at least once a day. I like making green smoothies, but I hate making a mess in the morning. It always feels like a big to-do to get out a thousand ingredients, make sure things are fresh and pull it all together and then get it cleaned up before work. I was finding myself skipping it and opting for a yogurt that was quick and easy on my way out the door.

This is my solution; spend an hour to make 15 Smoothie Packs and stick them in the freezer. I find I don’t have to worry about wasting my fresh greens, I use almond milk or water and am on my way. Each pack makes two smoothies and I throw the extra in a Blender Bottle for the next morning. (Or great to share with someone else. :)) Let me tell you, that is VERY convenient on days when you need to be up and moving early. Those extra early days, I even grind my coffee beans the night before, set up my french press and fill the kettle with water to get myself a shot of caffeine without any fuss.

Now I know not everyone loves the idea of greens in their smoothie. I love that I can get a couple extra servings of veggies in before I start the day. We consider this about the Blue run version of green smoothies. My Green run starter version for newbies would use only spinach and ease into adding kale and other veggies. You will see that I include broccoli and carrots and I swear you will never know they are there. Sometimes I use the stocks of broccoli I am planning to cook and chop them into pieces, that way you are getting more bang for your buck. For a Black Diamond version, add Spirulina, Apple Cider Vinegar, or Cod Liver Oil (or all three!) This is a great way to hide healthy things in your diet, but beware, we have had a few versions that were a little too green.

In most cases, I hit up Costco and Trader Joe’s and get veggies that are already chopped to save some effort. One thing to pay attention to is trying not to let your frozen fruit melt as you build your packs. If you do, you end up with a giant fruitcicle in the bottom of your bags that can be tough to break up. (Trust me, I know!)

My mom makes her own non-green version, which we will share soon. Her’s are equally easy and super tasty!

Enjoy an easy way to get a healthy start to your day!

~Kelly

Green Smoothie Packs

Quart Size Ziplocks

Large Bag each Spinach and Chopped Kale

Variety of Frozen Fruit (4-6 Small bags)

Bananas, Sliced (Optional)

Bag of Broccoli Florets

Bag of Baby Carrots

Vanilla Protein Powder

Hemp/Chia/Flax Seeds (you can throw whole seeds into a Vitamix, for some blenders, use powdered versions)

Almond Milk

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Lay out all your ingredients (pulling one or two bags of frozen fruit out at a time). Measure 1 cup of mixed frozen fruit and add to the bottom of your quart size bag. Put a couple broccoli florets and a few baby carrots next. Then add one handful of each spinach and kale. Next add 1 T of your choice of seeds and 1 scoop of protein powder. Carefully remove some of the air as you zip them closed. I tend to measure the ingredients that are high calorie and higher sugar and not worry too much about being exact with my greens. They are a great low calorie way to get lots of great things into your diet.

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Put in the freezer as you complete them. (By putting the heavy ingredients on the bottom, when inverted into the blender, they will help push the greens down to the blades).

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As needed, pull one smoothie pack out of the freezer and add to the blender. Add 1-2 cups of your choice of liquid. I like almond milk or water. Blend until smooth. Split into two portions, put one in a Blender Bottle in the fridge to be used the next day.

The great things about this is that you can use your favorite things! Whatever you prefer; throw it in! Get creative and adjust to your own taste. We started by replicating our favorite Whole Foods smoothies, and ended up removing the juice as we got used to drinking greens. If you prefer it, use a bit of juice too. All of these ingredients cost me about $25, that is less than $1.75 per smoothie! (The protein and hemp last through many more smoothies). Much better than the $8 Whole Foods versions. I always feel better and have more energy when I start my day with a green smoothie; I hope you enjoy too!

December 11, 2016

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Winter has come again to Colorado! A lot has happened over the last year and we will have a ton to update you on, but for now I thought I would share a quick dinner that doubles as a great leftovers for lunches for the week. When weeks get busy it is always nice to have something healthy that packs a punch and makes life easier and this fits the bill. My great grandmother had a fantastic recipe for Hungarian Stuffed Peppers that has long been a family favorite, especially great for a cold winter’s night. The thing about that recipe is that it is not the lightest food out there. Stuffed with ground meat and rice then simmered in tomato sauce makes for a hearty meal that “sticks to the ribs.” I found a way to lighten it up a little and still get a lot of flavor.

Our Whole Foods always has a ton of sausages with great flavors. I have found that one or two of these really pack a punch and add just enough flavor without adding too much bulk. When you spend a little more on something that adds lots of flavor, you don’t have to buy much and can get a lot out of it. I have used their teriyaki pineapple, or barbecue bacon sausages that add some interest without me having to do a lot of work. For the quinoa, I like to use a rainbow variety that adds some interest and color and cook it in some chicken stock that I keep in the freezer to add flavor. It helps a lot to take that one extra step rather than just using water. I always keep chicken stock in the freezer, but broth would work too. By sauteing spinach, you can get some extra veggies and all those nutrients in and it cooks down to almost nothing in no time, in the same pan you used to cook the sausage and then just toss in the quinoa. Make sure you like what you taste and stuff in the bell peppers. Bake for 15 min and you are done! I just throw them into tupperware for lunch and it is grab and go. The other great thing about this is that you can always use it to empty your fridge and use stuff up! Be creative; anything goes!

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1 Cup Rainbow Quinoa

2 Cups Chicken Broth

2 Sausages, Sauteed

1 Bag Spinach

1/2 Lemon

1 Shallot, thinly sliced

4 Bell Peppers, Tops & Seeds Removed

Prepare Quinoa in chicken broth. Saute shallot with the sausages (removed from casings and crumbled) until browned. Add spinach to the pan and squeeze lemon over the top and cover for 2 min. Stir the spinach into the sausage then add the quinoa. Taste and season as you like. Stuff the peppers and place upright in a baking dish. Bake at 375° for 15-20 min until peppers are tender. Enjoy immediately or as leftovers.

 

Enjoy the lead up to the holidays! One of my favorite times of the year! Happy cooking!

Kelly

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November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Wines

Thanksgiving is one of those meals that it can be tricky to find just the right wine to fit the bill. Do you try to please everyone? Do you try to fit the foods? But there are so many! There are a lot of ways to look at it but the most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what you are enjoying, you are doing it with those you love. That said, there are things you can do to make complement a great meal.

As many of you know, our family loves to cook. The wonderful man in my life has taken on the challenge of learning the nuances of wine to complement any meal and this year it was Thanksgiving. He decided to begin the meal with with Champagne to wake everyone up and start the celebration! In my opinion, it is a great way to begin any meal. We then have a white, a California Red, a French Red, followed by a number of Digestif options to round out the meal. It will be a fun experience to complement our lovely celebration.

If you are looking for a jumping off point to learn about wine I highly recommend Wine Folly. Both the book and the website are very accessible and very easy to read. I find a lot of wine resources very intimidating and over my head and this made me feel like I could understand and took my knowledge to the next level very quickly. Below you will find the pairings to accompany our menu described wonderfully by the aforementioned BF.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Kelly

Apertif

Jaquesson Grand Cuvée de Champagne, Cuvée N° 737, Extra Brut                      2009
Champagne, FRA

Champagne is a fantastic aperitif, and it helps to wake up the palate for other food and wine along throughout the night. Jacquesson is a special favorite of ours as it was introduced to us during a celebratory (and one of our earliest) date nights! This Champagne in particular is very dry and has intense structure and texture – but real talk: nothing gets things moving like the sound of a bottle of Champagne being uncorked to get a day of food and drink off to the right start.

 

Entree

Domaine Louis Michel “Montee de Tonnerre”, Chablis 1er Cru                           2012
Chablis, Cote d’Or, FRA

Chablis has had a bad reputation thanks to some mass-produced varieties which usurp the name, but French Chablis is in a class of its own. Traditionally paired with seafood, Chablis is a surprisingly wonderful Thanksgiving white wine, especially with turkey! Although Chablis is a chardonnay, they are notably different from the oak-forward chardonnays. It might be more apt to think of Chablis as a different varietal altogether. These wines are made almost entirely in steel barrels, are often very flinty and crisp, and much more pale and dry than chardonnay. The Montee de Tonnerre in particular derives all of its power from the very essence of Chablis; if your family around the Thanksgiving table were buttery chardonnays, this would be the distant cousin who lives in the lighthouse by the ocean in Nova Scotia.


Williams Selyem “Westside Road Neighbors”, Pinot Noir                                   2013
Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, USA

Williams Selyem produces some of the best wine in California – a title not easily won but certainly deserved. Pinot Noir, in particular, is its forte – produced in a Burgundian style that will feature a lot of light body, high acidity, and explosive cranberry and cherry. This wine is fantastic for cutting through some of the rich flavors of Thanksgiving, and pairs extremely well with other meats beyond turkey. The Westside Road Neighbors is a knockout fruit-forward wine with aromas and flavors that ought to rival even the best side dishes (consider yourself on notice, stuffing).


Paul Jaboulet Aîné “La Chapelle”, Hermitage                                                           1998
Syrah, Northern Rhône, FRA

 

Richer foods demand a richer wine – and texture is something to consider in this kind of pairing, so it’s great to be offering a much more powerful red counterpart to the Westside Road Neighbors as represented in this Hermitage (or Syrah blend). Considerably more powerful with crushed berries and grill roasted flavors, this wine ought to be able to stand up to a second helping of that smoked turkey this year with relative ease. While other wines might lose out to rich dishes, this Syrah ought to bring them down to earth.

Digestif

Saison Dupont “Vieille Provision”, Belgian Farmhouse Ale                                 2015
West-Hainaut, BEL

Though you might not think it were true, one of the best pairings you can put together with pumpkin pie might very well be Belgian-style beer…if you have the room for it! The lightness of the beer ought to do a number to dessert stuck to the roof of your mouth – and its lightly bitter flavor acts as a capable offset to pie and other desserts.


Lagavulin 16 Single-Malt Islay, Scotch                                                                         NV
Islay, SCT

Figuratively liquid smoke without the fire in the strongest possible terms. If the smoked turkey hasn’t satisfied your smoke cravings, the Lagavulin will seal the deal. This 16-year old Islay will keep you intrigued even after the last dish clears from the table – as well as thankful for a Black Friday that doesn’t involve shopping.


Lorzenzo Inga “Gavi di Gavi”, Grappa Cortese                                                          NV
Piedmonte, ITA

A good digestif aids significantly in the process of digestion – so there’s more utility in this than you might realize! To reduce it down to its simplest terms, an after-dinner drink is anything following dessert and coffee, and grappa is really a standard-bearer of digestifs.


Amaro Montenegro di Bologna, Amari                                                                        NV
Bologna, ITA

For a lighter digestif, the Amari of Italy really will find room to spread its wings in the wake of a Thanksgiving meal. They help settle the stomach and start digestion well, and Montenegro is a light and citrus-forward way to finish without the bite of grappa or the smoke of scotch.

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November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Menu

I have been a bit wrapped up in work as of late with travel to both coasts and a bit in between. Lots of work, family and fun! Since we are settling at home for the holidays, I thought I would catch up with the blog and share some of the things we have been working on for Thanksgiving. You may remember our timelines from years past… (1 Day, 4 Days, 5 Days, 7 Days) Great references if you need them! Below are some new ideas. Look out tomorrow for some in depth ideas for wine pairings for the big day courtesy of BF. He has become well versed and done a ton of research on what is just right for each course. A very happy holiday season to you and yours. I am giving thanks for a wonderful family, friends and the freedom to share our days together.

Kelly

 

Menu 

Wine Pairing – Stay Tuned for Details!!

Appetizers:

  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Relish Tray
  • Antipasto with Homemade Crackers

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Dinner:

 

Dessert:

  • Ginger Snaps
  • Pumpkin Pie
  •  Chez Panisse Almond Tart – A little note about this, I tested this ahead of time just to make sure I could do it and it wasn’t too “almondy” and got raves about it! Not too sweet and I think it will be a great complement to a rich meal. Almond Tart
July 26, 2015

Oatmeal Pancakes

We seem to have doubled down on our healthy eating lately and really focused everything on our nutrition. (Especially in light of the fact that I have a broken arm and working out is not really an option…) In doing that, we have been searching for creative ideas to keep us interested and on track. This is easily our new favorite! This very simple pancake gives you the feeling of eating a pancake while keeping the ingredients clean letting you walk away full and satisfied with a low cal, quick breakfast option. Based on our calculations, you end up between 170-250 calories per serving depending on how much oil you use. Not too shabby! We have already made it three times in a week and Ali has tried some variations also. In our house, we top it with a couple tablespoons of real maple syrup, but you could do fresh fruit or a lovely compote. Get creative and enjoy!

Kelly

Oatmeal Pancakes

1 Cup Rolled Oats

6-8 Egg Whites

1/2 Green Apple Grated

Cinnamon to Taste

Pinch of Coarse Salt

Olive Oil

Separate egg whites and add to a large bowl. Add oats, cinnamon, salt, and other seasonings if desired (we like to add some lemon zest and sometimes a bit of nutmeg). Beat with a whisk like batter to get froth in the egg whites. Allow to stand for ten minutes until quite thick. Heat oil over medium heat. Pour batter into the pan pressing into a round pancake shape. They will be quite thick. (About 1/4 inch). Fry until you begin to see small bubbles around the edges and golden brown on one side. Flip and cook until brown on the other side.

 

Top with your favorite and enjoy a healthy breakfast!

**The recipe makes about 3 pancakes, you probably only need one to one and a half since they are very filling.

If you are like us, it may become a weekend event with coffee under the umbrella on the deck enjoying all that summer has to offer!

April 3, 2015

Super Simple Easter Brunch!

Super Simple Easter Brunch!

Easter is early this year on April 5! If your menu isn’t planned yet, enlist some friends and get this easy brunch for a crowd together for Sunday!

Menu:

  • Ham
  • Egg Strata
  • Sweet Potato Tater Tots
  • Deviled eggs
  • Chilled Asparagus lemon salad
  • Fruit Salad
  • Sugar cookie and Dessert tray
  • Rolls for sandwiches
  • Biscuits
  • Condiments
  • Mimosas

Normally we purchase a Honey Baked Ham, of course you can’t go wrong there. Instead this year we are trying a ham from the famous New Braunfels Smokehouse). We’ll let you know how if it was a good decision!

HAPPY EASTER TO YOU AND YOURS!

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February 8, 2015

Specialty Coffee At Home

One of my very favorite parts of the week is our weekend coffee ritual. We pull out the special cups saved for weekends only and go through the ritual of making pour over coffee. BF really has taken on the art that is pour over. For those of you who have not tried it, pour over creates a very smooth cup of coffee that is not oily like you get with a French press. Really, you get all the best out of the beans. Though I usually let BF take on the coffee making responsibility, I am learning to do it myself and even managed to make my own coffee when he was out of town. Just ask my college roommate, I never really learned to make coffee even in a regular old Mr. Coffee, so this is a HUGE step for me!

If you have a few minutes and a few tools, you too can have an extra special cup of coffee at home. We have learned that the process is important, but it is only as good as the ingredients and tools you use. We got a Hario pour over funnel, pot and kettle. The kettle really is an important key because it lets you be very precise when pouring the water. We also have our favorite beans from one of the local roasters. After trying a few versions, we think the filters that go with the set from Hario really do fit best. You can make others works, but those are the most consistent. Even spending a little more to get this done at home is way cheaper than a daily habit of picking it up! BF finds the process a good way to ease into the day and I get to benefit from the product!

Kelly

 

Pour Over Perfection

Begin by laying out all of your tools: the funnel, pot, grinder, beans, filter, scale, and kettle.


Fill the kettle with water and get it heating while you work on everything else.


Next, measure the beans to be ground. We use about 30g and have a measuring cup that is just right so I will admit we don’t use the scale every time. J Once they are measured, grind the beans and set aside. If you want to be really precise, you can also weigh the water as you make the coffee to keep you honest, but we have not taken to doing that regularly.


Take the filter and fold it along the seam so that it lays flat all around the cone, place the filter in the funnel.


Once the water is boiling, start by heating the pot with some hot water from the kettle and swirl it, then dump the water out to start with a warm receptacle.


Next, rinse the filter…this is one that took me a while to learn, but you just have to wet the filter with the hot water to remove some of the paper taste and prep it for brewing.


Add the ground coffee and use your thumb to make a small indentation in the middle. This allows the next step called the bloom to happen evenly. This is a step you don’t HAVE to include, but it helps focus your initial pour and get more constant in a hurry!


Pour the hot water right in the well you made just enough to cover the grounds. You will see bubbles start to form, this is the bloom getting the coffee started.


Now take a spoon and vigorously stir the bloom. This will help make sure there are no clumps in the grounds so you get an even brew.


As the water begins to drain, begin to pour again. Start in the center and work your way out in a spiral motion stopping short of getting all the way out to the filter. Add enough water to fill the cone about halfway. Allow to brew and add more water repeating the process before the grounds are completely dry.


One barista told me something I find helpful, think about controlling the kettle movement from your shoulder, not just from your arm and wrist…try it! It helps!


Once you reach about ½ of a brewed pot, you can take the water all the way to the top of the cone to finish it off.


Pour yourself a cup and enjoy!!



 

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September 1, 2014

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Happy Labor Day! I have been on a healthy kick of late, but everyone needs a treat now and again, especially on a holiday! If you have a cheat day coming up (or just want an amazing treat!), put these on your list. (BF and I actually ended up just splitting one cookie and sharing the rest with our co-workers just to satisfy the craving). I think it is hard to beat the original Nestle Tollhouse recipe but these take chocolate chip cookies to a whole new level! Start with disks of Valrhona Dark Chocolate, add it to perfect dough, then use a unique technique to get a cookie soft in the middle and crunchy on the edges…can you say YUM?! These cookies are generous in size, so you may only get a dozen or so out of a batch. We have been searching for this recipe for over a year. The idea came from a mix that has now been discontinued. Be prepared to be patient and prep the dough ahead to allow to cool. These really are worth the wait!

Kelly

 

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups minus 2 Tablespoons of cake flour

1 2/3 cups bread flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon coarse salt (we used kosher)

2 ½ sticks softened butter

2 eggs

1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk

2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Pinch of pink salt

~2 cups dark chocolate disks (we found ours at Whole Foods and used 60% dark and 64% Valrhona disks)

 

  1. Sift together both kinds of flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a small bowl. Stir in coarse salt.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and both kinds of sugar until fluffy.
  3. Blend in eggs, cream and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients.
  4. Break up some of the chips in a food processor. You will end up with a variety of sizes with lots of whole disks. Think about what you like, but those disks will give you pockets of chocolate and some pretty decoration on the top! It will look like A LOT of chocolate, but ends up being just right.

  5. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for 1-24 hours. Yes, 24 hours! We actually rushed it by putting this in the freezer for half an hour, but I think it is worth waiting the full 24.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°. Line two cookie sheets with a silpat or parchment paper.

  7. Scoop dough and form into disks (about 2-3″ in diameter). Stack a smaller disk on top of the bottom disk like you are building a snowman…the yummiest snowman ever! This is what really gives you the soft, gooey center with a crispy edge.
  8. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with pink salt. Chill another 10 minutes on the pan before baking.

  9. Bake one sheet at a time on the lowest rack for 13 minutes rotate 180° after 6 minutes.

  10. Look for a light blonde center with brown edges. (See the salt? That might be the biggest key to these!)

Grab a cold glass of milk and enjoy!