Curing the Winter Blues
Grey days. Cold winds. Snow drifts. Slippery sidewalks. Expensive lettuce at the grocery store. These are all reasons I don’t like winter.
The good thing about winter is that I have time to do more cooking and baking. I read cooking magazines and try new recipes. I bake bread more often. Perhaps because it seems to be a winter theme, all this foodie time can be a slippery slope – one needs to also work out more often if one is going to eat more often. Otherwise one could end up like Winnie the Pooh at Rabbit’s house, stuck with legs being used as towel hooks.
The one thing I’ve discovered about the plethora of food information available online is that much of it is not to my taste. Some of it I would say is even inedible. I once made an olive oil cake posted by a spice company that has great products, but their recipe turned out horribly. The cake was like an oily hockey puck. That was an expensive effort, I’ll tell you. And, I ended up with nothing to have beside my coffee! Talk about NOT curing the blues.
This past weekend I made Alton Brown’s chocolate chip cookies. I had seen not one but 2 posts about “the best chocolate chip cookie” and figured I was armed with all the necessary ammunition to really knock one out of the park. I blazed a trail, and I’m here to tell you that it took some perseverance but I was able to come through the other side and offer up a possible solution for those winter blues.
First, trusting the article that said “don’t use chocolate chips as they don’t melt well; use chopped semisweet chocolate instead”, I bought some quality chocolate.
I looked for New Zealand butter as well, as the article also informed me that Canadian butter has a lower fat content and so less of a rich flavour. I’m afraid that $15 per pound was out of my budget, so instead I decided to brown the butter in the recipe (this works well for a brownie recipe I love.)
Vanilla extract is the other ingredient that has become more dear in recent months. I use it more sparingly now, so I planned for just a wee bit to heighten the chocolate taste, and then a good sprinkle of cinnamon to carry the cookies all the way to the finish line.
Loaded with good ingredients, I set out to bake. The other article had tested cookie recipes from various famous chefs, and Alton Brown’s recipe was voted unanimously as the winner. So, I downloaded a copy and got out my equipment. I’ve watched Mr. Brown’s Food Network show about cooking techniques and he seems like a knowledgeable and trustworthy fellow…
Well, perhaps his scribe is hard of hearing or can’t read Alton’s writing. I used my instinct and cut down his 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to 1/2 tsp. Turns out that probably 1/4 tsp would be plenty with a coarse salt. The butter is to be melted, so browning it didn’t change much in the recipe. However, I found that creaming the butter and sugar only happened once the butter had cooled a bit. I put my mixing bowl’s bum in a bigger bowl of cold water to make that happen as I mixed it.
One thing I’ve learned over the years – that was not mentioned in either article – is to make the best cookies of any kind is to shape them and freeze the dough. Then you can bake a few whenever you want them, and have them still warm.
(My chef hubbie is quite a discerning cookie eater; he doesn’t like “leftover cookies”; I’ve tried warming them up and they often end up drier and a bit overdone, even. Word to the wise: save yourself the disappointment and cook them fresh. You can probably even do it in your toaster oven, instead of using the full oven and all its energy.)
I posted my adapted recipe for future reference – Almost Alton Brown’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. I like texture in my cookies, so I added nuts and candied fruit, but if you’re a purist I won’t hold it against you.
My mom used to say there wasn’t much a cookie couldn’t cure.
On our return from our winter holiday in Jamaica, we had to layover in Toronto due to weather delays. The Doubletree Hotel at the Toronto Airport gives out warm chocolate chip cookies when you check in; I have to tell you that cookie went a long way to ease my disappointment from the day. Their marketing manager must be a Mom.
Here’s hoping you have access to a good cookie if your winter is making you blue.