Three Decades and Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies I simply don’t know where to begin. It’s been thirty-years of life here on this earth, breathing in this air , writing down my thoughts in books with tattered and torn edges. Thinking about ways to make life one big coffee break on a patio in a foreign country, or maybe just in my own backyard? What is age truly? Simple numbers on a piece of paper awaiting to be marked off in a brisk motion lined with disdain and contempt for yet another year of aging? Or maybe I’m being a bit dramatic?

It’s been thirty years, and in those thirty-years were born my insatiable love for food–I mean chocolate. I’m not sure what to share with you. I feel as though at times my life has been such a roller coaster ride–one in which I wanted to get off of many-a-time. But I can truthfully say that “I wouldn’t change a thing.” And yes, I’m fully aware of how cliché that statement is but it’s too late to drink coffee and wait for fresh phrases to surface.

If you look back over your past and find that there are things that you desire to change. You end up living a life stuck in the past and you become a victim of your past mistakes–living like this can be debilitating and you’re worth more than that, I’m worth more than that. Life is to be learned from and we are only to focus on the future not the past. I’m looking forward to what the next three decades will bring. I mean, just in the last ten years, I found my beautiful wife, we fought cancer, moved to Nashville where we have successful careers and purchased our first home. Now, I’m not insinuating that life has been idea, there’s a whole slew of bumps in the road, grey skies and unplanned events that are meant for another post. But that’s enough ranting for now, let’s talk cookies.Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

My wife, Jenna, is no baker and she refuses to pretend to be and I’m ok with that because if need be, my girl can bake break-apart cookies like a champ. She’ll tell you that her mom tried to get her in the kitchen and she declined with pleasure every-time. So I wasn’t surprised when she walked in the door with one of my favorite desserts, chocolate chip cookie cake! Ahhhh, it’s a beautiful thing and has been one of my favorite birthday gifts since I can remember and oh yeah, I occasionally get a jones for Pillsbury funfetti or strawberry cake. Guilty!…judge away!(#noshame).

I feel like I have been blessed beyond all that I deserve. God has been so good to me despite my constant neglect of Him in my life from day-to-day. You know, when you feel as though life is just too busy to stop and pray or simply tell Him thank you for that brisk wind beneath your chin. Life is a thing of beauty and I look forward to another three decades of taking it all in, appreciating the little things more often and stopping to say, thank you for a life I never could’ve created.

So clearly, my wife and I are fans of chocolate. It’s safe to say if dessert comes up in conversation, we’re typically on the same page unless I’m having a gummy candy craving. But these chocolate chip cookies have been taunting me from Food52 for quite some time now. I’m always keeping my eyes peeled for the perfect chocolate chip recipe that doesn’t need a ‘secret ingredient’, just the perfect balance of sweet and savory as it should be. There’s not a whole lot of things more satisfying than a well-executed textbook chocolate chip cookie and I know–I know, we could go around and around about salty over sweet and dark over milk, crunchy over chewy. But the truth is–for me, the ‘perfect’ chocolate chip cookie gives a little when you apply pressure with your finger, like a ripe avocado. The edges shatter and leave a trail of salty and bitter tip-toeing around your palate and last but certainly not least–the chewy center. I remember as a child eating the edges of the cookie first and the slow destruction of that chewy center always left me longing for one. more. cookie.

And this recipe I’m sure will leave you with the same nostalgic feeling of course, you must change some of the wording and make the story your own, so on and so forth. Enjoy these as much as I did last night. The last. day. of twenty-something.Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups French Broad Bar Chocolate (coarse chopped)
1 cup large bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup salted & toasted whole almonds, coarse chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
2 River Cottage Farm eggs
2 teaspoons Nielsen Massey vanilla extract

pre-heat oven to 375° F. Sift flour, baking soda, and kosher salt. Set aside. Mix together coarse chopped chocolate and chopped nuts. Set aside. On medium speed in a standing mixer, with the wire whip attachment, cream the butter and sugars until well mixed and light (you’ll notice a change in color). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add one egg. Mix for a few seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add second egg. Mix for a few seconds. Scrape down the sides. Add vanilla. Mix for a few seconds. Scrape down the sides.

You’re going to add the sifted flour mixture in 4 rounds, stopping before adding the final round. For the first 3 rounds, mix at low speed just to combine, scraping down the sides between each addition. When you get to the final round of flour, add the chocolate chip/nut mixture. They will get a bit crushed. That’s okay. Mix until there’s barely a trace of flour visible. Don’t over-mix. Sometimes, it’s better to be safe and do the final bit of mixing by hand. Set up a sheet pan with a silpat or parchment paper. Bake one tray at a time or they will all cook at different rates. Make them spherical, not flat. The cookie size is up to you. I find the bigger they are, the better ratio you have between gooey interior and crisp exterior. 2 ounces is about right for that. Leave a few inches between the raw cookies. Place sheet pan in the oven. They cook relatively fast at this temperature. I didn’t bother setting a time. My internal cookie alarm is pretty good about keeping track. Somewhere around 8-11 minutes. Make some coffee and wait.

They’re done when they’re brown and crispy on the outer border and raw in the very center. Remove the sheet pan and allow them to cool for a few minutes, then, with a spatula, transfer cookies to a cookie rack to cool. And I must tell you the cookies are even better the next day, so if you can stand it, its worth the wait. If you’re not going to eat them right away, they should be frozen. If you’re not baking them off right away, portion them out with an ice cream scoop, place them on a sheet pan, and freeze them. Once they’re firm, store them in a sealable bag. Works great to bake them off when they’re frozen. Enjoy.

Nanny’s Homemade Pickles

 

Nanny's Homemade PicklesThere’s a minimalist inside of me just screaming to get out. I want to be surrounded by less and somehow I continue to take in more. My affinity for food props and ‘old things’ that appear to tell a story continue to steal my heart with every visited estate sale. How is it these families of deceased loved ones could let go of such treasures. Sets of silver and hand-woven baskets, wood-working pieces and quilts consisting of fragmented memories. It’s a bit melancholy when I reflect on it. I know that some of the pieces I own were simply thoughtless purchases of a scrambling aunt who forgot a birthday or two but it doesn’t mean there’s no value…or maybe it does?

The thought of clutter and neglected things often cause me to yearn for simple things. You know the sandwich your mom used to make with a spread of mustard and a slice of ham nestled between two slices of white bread. Or maybe for you it was a cup of chocolate pudding and a glass of milk. What is it about simple prepared foods that often have our palates pleading for seconds and sometimes third servings? I mean, sure it’s nice to have a piece of smoked meat wrapped in something, suveed in something, cured, smoked again, sliced thin, piled high with a gastrique chasing the plates rim. But that isn’t how the typical person eats or at least I wouldn’t dare to think so?

homemade picklesI’ve run into this time and time again from the recollection of my childhood to the occasional venture to a new dining spot here in Nashville. The dish that has 5 ingredients as opposed to fifteen is the ‘last man standing’. Nothing annoys me more than a chef who over thinks their dishes. It’s often as simple as leaving off that hibiscus foam or random shaved vegetable that could make a dish shine. And leave an everlasting impression on that first-time or returning guests palate that could possibly ignite their passion for food. Not just eating it for necessity but also for sheer pleasure the enjoyment flavor profiles, local ingredients and textbook cooking techniques. My great-grandmother and grandmother were both skilled artisans at these simple things and I could go on and on telling you about some of the best meals I ever ate because they were so simple that they can’t be erased from my ‘food memories’. And I don’t think that I’d be willing to part with them. Nanny's Homemade Pickles by The Local Forkful

I’m sharing these pickles with you today because the farmer’s markets have been overflowing with them and I just couldn’t resist making you a batch of them the way my great-grandmother and her daughter made them. Sometimes I sit and long for the day when I could walk into her backyard and be greeted by the hung sheets on the line, being dried by the suns warm beams. Carelessly running across that fragile bridge that connected to her quarter acre garden in the middle of suburbia. It was perfection at its best and I still long for those days when life was truly simple. These pickles don’t involve a tedious collection of herbs and spices. No boiling of liquids or Ball mason jar’s, no, these pickles only require white granulated sugar and apple cider vinegar. I know you might be thinking, “could it really be that good, if there’s only two ingredients for the brine?” And I tell you, yes, yes they are. And if you aren’t a believer after trying them then back to your usual way’s and I’ll eat them for you.

There’s no need for me to write out a method for them. You simply rinse and slice 3 medium cucumbers about a 1/4 inch thick slices. Place them in a mixing bowl or storage container with 2 tablespoons of white granulated sugar, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and a smidgen of kosher salt. I gently stir them until I see most of the sugar is dissolved and be careful not to bruise the cucumbers. Let them sit at room temp for one hour stirring every 15 minutes to insure all cucumbers come in contact with the liquid. I like a bit of spice in mine so I added 1 1/2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes. They are ready to eat at the end of the hour but if you’re a chilled pickle fan then put them in the fridge for about thirty minutes. These pickles also taste fantastic on burgers, or just eat them when no one else is around. Nanny's Homemade Pickles by The Local Forkful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sage Roasted Chicken with Israeli Cous Cous & Cabernet Mushroom Reduction

Sage Roasted Chicken : Recipe by The Local ForkfulI enjoy trying a vast variety of foods, never limiting myself to one regional cuisine or the next. My roots will always be southern-based and you’ll typically find the traditional ingredients somehow incorporated. Last year, I taught a cooking class at Williams-Sonoma and one of the salads I prepared contained tri-color couscous. I am a lover of couscous and why no one is really clear as to where it originated, that doesn’t keep me from indulging whenever it’s in my presence.

The general public may often confuse it for rice but it is not, but closer to a pasta of sorts. The tiny granules are actually bits of durum wheat, which is also the grain ground into semolina flour, which is commonly used for making pasta. Voila!CousCous

I prefer the Israeli couscous, which is a larger granule with a fluffier texture. Today’s blog post was inspired by my desire for something hearty but not heavy and that was perfect for this ‘sweater weather’ we’ve been experiencing in Middle Tennessee. Brrr! So when scurrying through the isles of the supermarket I discovered sage for a dollar, carrots are always cheap-er, and some button mushrooms that were just screaming to be picked-up, so I obliged. I typically always go for shallots when a recipe calls for onion. I love their mild sweetness with just enough of that sharp onion tang,and they won’t leave you with offensive breath. Score!

This dish may look and feel slightly overwhelming but don’t allow it to be. Read it all the way through before tackling and ‘mis en place’. You’ll be thankful you did. It’s 2014 and you’re conquering your cooking fears. There’s a chef in all of us just screaming to get out. Open the door.

Sage Roasted Chicken, CousCous, & Cabernet Mushroom Reduction

1 lb skin-on chicken breast
1 T. Olive Oil + 1 tsp
2 T. unsalted butter
2 stems fresh sage leaves
kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

1.5 peeled carrot medallions
4 medium shallots peeled & quartered
2 T. Olive Oil
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

5 oz. tri-color Israeli CousCous
1 cup chicken stock
1 T. unsalted butter
smidgen of kosher salt

1 cup quartered button mushrooms
1/2 cup cabernet sauvignon wine (or a syrah/malbec)
3 T. cubed, chilled unsalted butter
smidgen of kosher salt to taste

Method:

1. Pre-heat oven to 400. Rinse chicken under cold water and pat dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside. In a medium saute pan on medium-high heat, heat olive oil until it begins to spread, about 20 seconds. Add butter, allow to completely melt while swishing pan lightly in a circular motion. Once butter is melted and you have a nice sizzle lay the chicken skin side down gently. Snuggle the sage stems around the chicken. Let the chicken brown on the skin side checking it occasionally, as we do not wish to eat burned chicken. Once Chicken is ‘golden brown delicious’ flip it over and allow it to finish in the oven. Use a thermometer to check temp. 165 degrees is safe but I prefer 155 or so and allow for ‘carry-over’ cooking.

2. Get your water for the couscous on the stove. Rinse, peel and cut your vegetables accordingly. On a sheet pan toss your carrots and shallots in the olive oil and season with salt in pepper. Roast for about 15-20 minutes on 400 until they are fork tender. Simply follow cooking directions on the back of the box for couscous and set aside once finished. taste for seasoning. Once veggies are finished, toss them into your fluffly couscous and combine. If you have it, a little chopped parsley, leftover sage would be nice thrown in to this mix.

3. Using your oven mitt remove your chicken and sage leaves from the pan, set aside. Return your pan to a medium heat, if you need a little more olive oil to sautee the mushrooms add a little now. Toss in the mushrooms and just cook until they get a little color on them, about 2 minutes. Add in red wine and allow to reduce by half. If splatter is occurring then slightly reduce heat. Once wine is reduced, remove your pan from the heat and add the butter. Using a wooden spatula vigorously stir butter into the sauce until completely melted. The wine should begin to thicken and coat your spoon. Timing is very crucuial as your sauce will break if butter is not combined quickly. You are relying on the fat content to emulsify the sauce.

4. Spoon your couscous mixture onto the center of your plate, piling in a mole hill fashion. Lie your chicken breast vertically along the side of the hill and ladle your mushroom cabernet reduction across the chicken. Grab a glass of that Cabernet and the rest is history. This dish would be perfect for a dinner-for-two. Also known as Valentine’s Day. Enjoy!