Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gluten-Free Double Chip Cookies

The Setting: A toasty apartment in the snow-strewn Midwest.

The Soundtrack: Soft snores from the sweet toddler asleep on my lap.

On the Stovetop: Chicken stock.

The Scenario: Giving gluten the old heave-ho.

Okay, so I'm not actually giving up gluten (at least not at the moment).

I recognize, however, that more and more people these days are finding better health and happier lives avoiding  gluten-y grains like wheat, barley, and rye. So I thought I'd do a little experimenting to see how my go-to chocolate-chip cookies would fair from the gluten-free treatment.

I had both brown-rice and tapioca flours in my pantry from previous endeavors, so I threw a little of each into the mix.

The results were suburb. They looked and tasted like...well...chocolate-chip cookies.

If there were any downsides to my recipe's GF makeover, they would be these:

1) For some reason the butter and brown-sugar flavors seemed to be somewhat muted compared to my regular cookies, and I was missing a slight nutty flavor from the flour I typically use. Next time, I think I'd add chopped pecans and toffee bits to amp things up a little in the flavor department.

2) I felt like there was an ever-so-slight chalkiness in my mouth after eating these cookies. Nothing major, just the feeling that I needed to brush my teeth--I get the same sensation after eating an under-ripened banana.

3) The alternative flours tend to be more expensive, so people who do not find their health improved by avoiding gluten might want to stick to wheat flour.

Nevertheless, the cookies were delicious. Hoosband, whose nickname ought to be The Glutenator for his love of all things wheat-related, went back for seconds..and thirds...and fourths.

Gluten-Free Double Chip Cookies
1 stick (8 T or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup brown-rice flour
3/4 cup tapioca flour (aka tapioca starch)
1/2 tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Make sure your oven racks are in the two center-most slots.

Beat together the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy--this should take about 4 minutes on med-high speed.

Scrape down the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes or until the mixture is once again light, fluffy, and voluminous.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, and soda.

Add this mixture to the butter mixture and beat on med-low speed until fully incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the chocolate chips and beat on low just to distribute (alternatively, fold them in by hand with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon).

Use a medium-sized cookie scoop to distribute dough mounds between the two prepared cookie sheets, leaving at least two inches between each mound. If, like me, you (or someone in your house) like(s) to sneak spoonfuls of raw dough, you should end up with just enough dough for two large cookie sheets, or about 24 dough mounds. If there are no dough-devourers to be found, refrigerate any leftover dough and crank out a few more cookies when you have an available (and cooled) cookie sheet.

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 11-12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through for even cooking. The cookies will look slightly golden around the edges and very underdone in the middles--don't worry, they will set.

Allow the cookies to cool at least 5 minutes on the baking sheets before transferring to cooling racks to cool completely.

Makes 24-30 cookies.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cookie Dough Truffles

The Setting: Winter. Snow. Etc.

The Soundtrack: Gilmore Girls, season 6.

Sizzlin' on the Griddle: Blueberry pancakes.

The Scenario: Chocolate plus cookie dough equals happiness. And they say math isn't my strong suit.

Every now and then I get the opportunity to lead a cooking workshop (which I love, even though I'm always afraid I come off a little spazzy).

I've got a "cooking with kids" class coming up soon, so I've been furiously and excitedly brainstorming for the perfect kid-friendly recipes.

I thought it would be fun to make cookie-dough pops, little chocolate-enrobed balls of egg-less cookie dough on sticks.

Testing my recipe, I realized that while the kids would probably relish the chance to dunk balls of dough in melted chocolate, it was sure to turn into a much bigger mess than either I or the other parents would care to deal with (or, more importantly, clean up after), especially since most of the kids would be under the age of five.

The recipe needed some tweaking along the way as well. My first run produced a dough with a texture a tad bit too granular from the sugar, so I swapped out half the brown sugar for powdered sugar and used dark brown sugar instead of light to help maintain the characteristic chocolate-chip-cookie-dough flavor.

By the end of the day, I had ditched the sticks, come up with another idea for my kids class (more on that later), and ended up with cookie dough truffles pretty enough for company and tasty enough for midnight snacking.

These truffles would be a fun and easy project for older kids and patient parents to tackle together. For the little-kid version, stay tuned!

Cookie Dough Truffles
1/2 stick butter, softened slightly at room temperature (leave it out for about 30 minutes)
1/8 tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semisweet mini-chips
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips or choped chocolate
3 T chopped unsweetened chocolate
2 tsp coconut oil
1 T milk chocolate chips or white chocolate chips (optional)

In a small-to-medium-sized bowl, use a fork to combine the butter, salt, vanilla, brown sugar, and powdered sugar, raking the tines through the butter to break it down and distribute it evenly. You should have a very sandy-looking mixture.

Add the flour and use the fork to work it into the mixture.

Add 1/2 cup mini-chips, mixing with the fork just until distributed.

Pinch off tablespoon-sized nubs of the dough mixture and roll each one into a ball between your hands. You should have about 10 balls. Place the balls on a parchment-paper lined baking pan and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the chocolate.

Place 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, making sure to redistribute the hotter chips from the bottom of the bowl. Microwave 30 seconds and stir again, this time trying to stir until smooth. If needed, microwave an additional 20 seconds.
Add the 3 T unsweetened chocolate and the coconut oil and stir until smooth, microwaving an additional 10 seconds if necessary.

Drop a dough ball into the chocolate and use a clean fork to coat it in the chocolate.

With the dough ball cradled on the tines of the fork, hold it over the melted chocolate and gently shake the fork from side to side so that the excess chocolate cascades off, forming a sleeker coating on the ball.

Lightly run the bottom of the tines over the edge of the bowl so that the excess chocolate on the fork stays in the bowl. Gently slide the ball off the fork and back onto the parchment. Repeat with remaining balls. Do not wash out the bowl with the melted chocolate.

Allow the balls to set at cool room temperature (60-70 degrees). Once set, add the milk chocolate or white chocolate chips to the bowl with the remaining melted chocolate (if desired). Microwave the chocolate for 30 seconds and stir until smooth. Use a fork to drizzle the lighter-colored melted chocolate over the truffles to create a design. Allow to set completely at room temperature before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

Makes about 10 truffles.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cream Tart Cookies

The Setting: A lovely Valentine's Eve in chilly Indiana.

The Soundtrack: Gilmore Girls, season 5.

Steaming up the Oven: Bread.

The Scenario: A bite-sized treat to make your V-Day extra sweet.

So I've been fantasizing about these little tarts for a while now.

Initially, they were conceived more as mini-tarts than tart-like cookies. The cream layer was conceived as pastry cream, and the jam layer was supposed to be homemade strawberry jam.

I'm not gonna lie, the original concept still sounds pretty darn good.

But when it came time to finally give these little guys a shot, I couldn't find my pastry cream recipe, and I was was all out of homemade jam. I considered making more jam and going from spotty memory on the pastry cream, but store-bought jam and a no-fool, no-cook cream just sounded, well, easier.

The end result was a more cookie-like creation that could hang out longer at room temperature and be eaten with a few fewer napkins. I'll call that a win.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cream Tart Cookies
These little cookie tarts use the same cream filling as my Homemade Oreos and Homemade Oatmeal Creme Pies. For a different twist, try adding the seeds of a vanilla bean to the filling and substituting orange marmalade for the strawberry jam. 

~tart shells~
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
7 T powdered sugar
1 tsp fine salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 T) unsalted butter, cut into cm-sized cubes and frozen for at least 5 minutes
2 T heavy cream
2-4 T water, milk, or coconut milk

1 batch Oatmeal Creme Pie cream, shaped into a log with a 1 1/2-to-2-inch diameter
3/4 cup strawberry jam

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 T coconut oil
1 T light corn syrup
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used Nestle)
2 T chopped unsweetened chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)

To make the tart shells, process the flour, powdered sugar, and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture is sandy-looking and the largest clumps are roughly pea-sized. Turn the processor on, remove the shoot insert, and gradually pour the cream through the shoot. With the machine still on, gradually add just enough of the remaining liquid to begin to bring the dough together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of very lightly floured parchment paper and press it into a disk. Wrap the disk of dough in the parchment and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Line three standard-sized muffin tins with paper liners and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unwrap the dough and sprinkle with a little flour if the dough seems too sticky. Place another sheet of parchment on top, and use a rolling pin to roll the dough out between the two sheets of parchment until it is about 1/8-1/4-inch thick. Use a cookie cutter or drinking glass to cut out 2 1/2-to-3-inch circles.

Press the dough circles firmly into the prepared muffin liners so that the edges come 1/4-to-1/2 inch up the sides, and prick the bottoms all over with a fork.

Bake one pan at a time at 350 for 12-14 minutes or till just cooked through and very lightly golden, rotating halfway through. Carefully transfer the tart shells to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To fill the tart shells, use unflavored dental floss to slice 1/4-inch-thick rounds of the Oatmeal Creme Pie Cream. Gently press the cream rounds into the tart shells, using your fingers to spread the cream out a little if necessary.

Top each cream-filled shell with a teaspoon-sized dollop of jam, using your fingers to spread it out evenly. If you decide to use my homemade jam recipe, the jam will be a little gushier and easier to spread with a spoon rather than your fingers.

To make the fudgy topping, place the cream and coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Add the chocolate and corn syrup, and stir until completely smooth. If there are some chunks of chocolate that still haven't melted after about three minutes of stirring, microwave  for 10 seconds and stir until completely smooth.

Let the mixture cool for about two minutes, stirring occasionally to keep it smooth and fluid. Use a spoon to gently apply an even layer of the chocolate mixture on top of the jam layer. Allow the topping to set at room temperature for 1 hour before serving. Leftover topping can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks and eaten with a spoon whenever the chocolate craving strikes, or gently reheated and used as an ice-cream topping.

Makes about 36 cookie tarts.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Turn up the Heat this Valentine's Day with a Hearty Helping of Nashville Hot Chicken

The Setting: Blue skies, white, puffy clouds, and slightly above-frigid temps. Beautiful day!

The Soundtrack: Some sort of BBQ masters show Hoosband has discovered on Hulu.

Sizzlin on the Griddle: French toast.

The Scenario: When you think of a romantic Valentine's Day meal, the first thing that comes to mind is fried chicken, right?


What if it's spicy? Spicy food is said to be a natural aphrodisiac, you know.

Still no?

Well, what if it's so spicy it's literally red-hot?

Nashville-style hot chicken gets its fiery-red exterior and extra helping of heat fresh from the fryer with a brush of cayenne-and-paprika oil. While the spice runs deep (there's hot sauce in the brine and spices in the breading), this last-minute paint job is what truly sets Nashville hot chicken apart.

Let's just say you can't get this kind of spice in your favorite sandwich at Wendy's.

Still not convinced hot chicken is V-Day material?

Take things to the next level and make it a full-on theme night of heart-warming, cheeks-blushing Southern charm. What's not to love about that?

Suggested menu:

Vanilla-Bean Lemonade with cranberry-juice ice cubes

Oysters on the half shell 

Nashville Hot Chicken with White Bread and Pickles

Now roll out the checkered tablecloth, put on a little Zac Brown Band, and turn on the fan, 'cause it's about to get hot in here.

Nashville Hot Chicken
Nashville hot chicken, like Texas BBQ, is ALWAYS served with white bread and pickles. In fact, at a fancy restaurant on a recent trip to Nashville, Hoosband and I were even served a riff on Nashville hot chicken involving spicy crisped-up chicken skin, Wonder Bread puree, and dill pickle salt. Crazy...but delicious.

~for the brine~
3 cups buttermilk
1 cup hot sauce
1/3 cup honey
2/3 cup kosher salt

1 chicken, cut into breasts, thighs, legs, and wings

~for the "paint"~
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 T cayenne (or up to 2 T if you REALLY want to turn up the heat)
1/2 tsp honey

~for the dredge~
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp cayenne

peanut oil for frying

In a large bowl whisk together brine ingredients. Either add the chicken pieces to the bowl with the brine and press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface, or divide the chicken between two gallon-sized zip-top bags and pour the marinade over the chicken pieces before sealing. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

In a small saute pan or skillet, stir together the paint ingredients over medium heat until glistening and fragrant,  no more than one minute. Set aside.

Set up two cooling racks, both over rimmed baking sheets. One will be for the dredged chicken before it goes to the fryer, and one will be for the just-fried chicken.

In a shallow dish such as an 8-inch, round cake pan, whisk together the dredge ingredients.

Working with one piece of chicken at a time, use tongs to transfer the chicken from the brine to the dredge. Use the tongs to help coat the chicken completely in the flour mixture and transfer the coated chicken to the prepared cooling rack. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces.

Affix a candy thermometer to a cast-iron skillet or large, heavy-bottomed pan. Make sure the thermometer does not touch the bottom of the pan. Pour a depth of about 3/4-inch of oil into the pan. Heat the oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the oil is ready, use the tongs to dredge the chicken through the flour mixture one more time before carefully transferring the chicken to the oil. Work in batches as necessary so that you do not crowd the pan. I could fit 3-4 pieces in my skillet at a time, depending on the size of the pieces.

Fry the chicken for 8-9 minutes on each side, or until dark golden brown and cooked through. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a temperature of 300-325 degrees Fahrenheit. Use tongs to carefully transfer the cooked chicken to the other prepared cooling rack. Give the paint mixture a stir and brush the paint all over the fried chicken.

Allow the frying oil to come back to 350 degrees, and repeat frying and painting with remaining batches.

Serve right away with white bread and pickles.

Leftover Nashville Hot Chicken is best straight out of the fridge--it won't be as crispy leftover, but it's darn good cold.

Note: I got a bunch of great tips for this recipe from an episode of Cook's Country I saw a while back. Cook's Country members can find the Cook's Country recipe and watch a video of Nashville hot chicken in the test kitchen at

Traveling to Nashville? Check out the granddaddy, Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (123 Ewing Dr #3), the double-timer, Bolton's Spicy Chicken and Fish (624 Main St), or the tasty newcomer, Hattie B's Hot Chicken (112 19th Ave S) to see what's getting everybody all hot and bothered.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.