This year, we began our Valentine’s Day the exact way we did last year: with a few cups of coffee, cozy in our home, Jay lounging on the couch and me photographing the many flowers I’ve arranged around our apartment like a crazy woman in a desperate plea for the gray days of winter to end.

I had grand visions of recipes I’d bake for us (and share with you) this Valentine’s Day — thoughts of sweet little winter cakes adorned with tufts of blood orange-stained frosting and dainty chocolate-dipped madeleines. However, instead of staying home to bake all day as we planned, the two of us decided to skip the sink load of dirty dishes and head to a bar for a few snacks and some day beers instead.

Therefore, rather than share a new recipe post, this week I share with you a handful of shots of the vibrant flowers that have helped make our home appear a bit more lively these past few days. 

I’ll be back soon with a recipe and a few words about our progress on the new shop location. Hopefully (magically) by the time I return, the cold weather will somehow be gone. Hopefully…

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

For years now, I’ve maintained a solid reputation of making the world’s worst chocolate chip cookies. It’s ridiculous, I know. There are children who can whip up better versions using an Easy-Bake. No matter what recipe I follow, mine either bake up into small cakes that in no way resemble a respectable, crisp-edged cookie or puddle into a mess of butter and half melted chips. What’s that saying? Something about insanity and trying things over and over again and expecting new results. Yeah…

Over the years, Tollhouse and their seemingly simplistic recipe have become my unspoken enemies. For the better part of 2014, Jay and I embarked on a sort of weird quest to locate New York City’s best chocolate chip cookie. For several months, we were addicted to the massive chocolate chip cookies from City Cakes, an epically tiny spot in Chelsea that works some kind of insane wizardry to produce their unrivaled signature, half-pound chocolate chip cookies that boast a consistently, satisfyingly under baked center and whose sheer size has time and time again solidified my status as “coolest adult in history” by virtue of my three year old niece. For a too-long stretch of time, we ended the day with a little bag from Breads Bakery that contained several of their distinctly crisp and deep golden brown cookies, which we devoured during our ritualistic late-night Netflix binge. Sadly for our waistlines, the list goes on…
One of my resolutions for 2015 was to finally face my culinary white whale head-on (notice the use of past tense, was) and to master this deceivingly simplistic recipe. (The fact that one of my yearly goals is rooted in butter and sugar should give you some indication of what sort of ship we’re running here.)
Like many of my culinary dilemmas, the resolution, of course, rest in the hands of Thomas Keller. I’ve baked three rounds of these cookies so far, one that Jay and I ate entirely by ourselves, one that we shared with our best friends, and one that made its way to a Superbowl party. So far every critic has agreed that they are, hands down, the finest chocolate chip cookies to ever debut from a home oven. Also, do not forget that chocolate help lower the risk of developing heart disease. More about it you can read here.

Keller’s recipe, like so many of his recipes, does not rely on wacky ingredients or unnecessary seasonings or spices to up the ante. Instead, it relies on quality ingredients and the most insane, obsessive attention to measurements for which we on the receiving end must all be grateful. Unlike many recipes, this one omits vanilla extract, which Jay noted eliminated that sometimes mildly artificial aftertaste you get with some cookies. Another change is the sugar ratio, which relies upon a greater amount of dark brown sugar, a change that leads to a more rounded source of sweetness and a much more amber-hued final product. 

The final baked cookies are a sort of enigma: the edges are crisp, while the center is soft and chewy. No matter how much time passes between the moment they’ve been pulled from the hot oven and the moment they reach your mouth — whether it is an hour or a full day — the chocolate chunks at the center remain mysteriously, magically gooey. 
It takes a lot for a girl who is married to a chef, a girl who spends about three quarters of her life either preparing food, considering her next meal, or reading about new food trends, to champion any food as the best. However, no matter how you want to spin it, these really are the best damn chocolate chip cookies around. 

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

from Ad Hoc

*The only change I made to this recipe is to the chocolate. Keller’s version calls for 5 ounces of 55% chocolate and 5 ounces of 70-72% chocolate. Here, I swapped them for a combination of dark and semisweet chips for no other reason than that they were, in truth, the more affordable option. Likewise, I doubled the quantity of each type of chocolate because, well, I am a balanced combination of disgusting and genius. 

– 2 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

– 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

– 1 teaspoon kosher salt

– 1 10-ounce bag of dark chocolate chips

– 1 10-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

– 2 sticks of cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

– 1 cup packed dark brown sugar

– 3/4 cup granulated sugar

– 2 large eggs 

Position oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside. 

In a medium bowl, sift the flour and baking soda. Mix in the salt. Set aside. 

In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat half the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter and beat for several minutes until the mixture is well combined, and the butter is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in the chocolate. 

Shape the dough into balls using two level tablespoons per cookie (hint: do NOT mess with this measurement; it produces the perfect-sized cookie). Bake for 12-14 minutes. 1 Like

Spicy Orange And Almond Dark Chocolate Bark

My first experience with spicy chocolate was when I was an undergraduate. I was living in Burlington, Vermont, and one of my roommates, Susan, worked part-time downtown at the most fantastic locally owned chocolatier. At the end of each of her shifts, she’d return to our apartment with a box of assorted chocolates – all the leftovers that were too old to sell but were still perfectly fine to eat. The two of us, and our six other roommates, would gather on her bed with bottles of wine and sample all the fancy, artisanal chocolates we couldn’t actually afford but completely craved. It was a broke college student’s dream.  

It was on one of those nights when Susan spoiled us with a box of miniature dark chocolate bars blended with cinnamon, pumpkin seeds and spicy cayenne pepper. While the crunch of the seeds and the fragrance of the cinnamon felt vaguely familiar, the slow burn of the cayenne on my tongue and the back of my throat felt like a revelation. Chocolate was suddenly so different, so open to the possibilities that lay hidden in my spice cabinet.  
One of my home cooking goals for the year is to cook more with healing spices that don’t typically make the rounds in my daily home cooking. These past few weeks, I’ve been beginning each day by adding a heaping spoonful of cinnamon to my normal breakfast smoothie (almond milk + ground flax + mixed berries + banana) in order to help ward off inflammation. I’ve been sprinkling a generous bit of turmeric on our vegetables, which is supposed to benefit everything from our bellies to our brains. I’ve also been experimenting with cayenne, which is rumored to be good for our hearts and our circulation.  
Since I don’t cook much with cayenne, I’ve been on the hunt for some good recipes that incorporate the spice. While scouring Pinterest and our cookbook collection for ideas, I was reminded of those happy days spent crammed onto a full-sized bed with my roommates, talking about books and boys and all our dreams for our then twenty-something lives, the quiet burn of cayenne lingering on our lips as we spoke. 
This Spicy Orange and Almond Dark Chocolate Bark is a bit of a homage to those nights. The cayenne in this recipe is subtle; it releases just enough of a burn to make it satisfying without feeling overwhelming. And like all barks, it requires the most basic of steps (melt chocolate, stir in a few goodies, let set), but looks incredibly impressive to guests. I like to store mine in an airtight container that I tuck into the freezer so that the bark stays good and firm. Despite its simplicity (no fancy kitchen equipment required), it is quickly becoming one of my most favorite recipes of the new year. 

Spicy Orange and Almond Dark Chocolate Bark

–       10 ounces dark chocolate

–       ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

–       zest from 1 orange

–       ½ cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped

–       sea salt

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the cayenne, ¾ of the orange zest and ¾ of the toasted almonds. Spread the chocolate mixture onto the prepared sheet, being sure to smooth it into as thin a layer as possible. Sprinkle with the remaining zest, almonds and a generous pinch of coarse sea salt. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.   

Coffee + Banana + Crispy Quinoa Quick Bread

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to spend less time sorting through the overwhelming amount of recipes available online and to instead dedicate myself to preparing old favorites (and new favorites) from our vast cookbook collection. In keeping with this resolution, I spent the first few days of January curled up on our sofa with a pencil, a fresh pad of post-it notes and the very first cookbook I ever owned: Mollie Katzen’s  Moosewood Cookbook. The book, which was a gift I received from an old boyfriend’s mom when I was nineteen and moving into my very first apartment, has since become a foundation for my home cooking (although our business is meat-centric, I balance that out by cooking an overload of veggies and vegetarian dishes at home during the week). I’ve pretty much committed her recipe for classic lentil soup to memory (her tip to add a splash of red wine vinegar to each bowl right before serving is my most favorite thing) and no matter how many detoxes or cleanses I commit to this time of year, her orange cake, which is the most simple and fragrant cake with the most gorgeous, cornbread-like texture, always makes at least one appearance in our home before January ends. 

While skimming through her cookbook last week, it occurred to me that I’ve never followed her recipe for banana bread, which recommends that you first soak your ripe bananas in room temperature coffee before you mash them into your batter. Genius. The bananas absorb the most subtle amount of the liquid, which ultimately lends the most delicate coffee flavor to the bread, a flavor that I only now realize has been completely missing from every other loaf of banana bread I’ve previously made. 
It wasn’t until I prepared the second loaf of her recipe when I decided the only thing the bread was lacking was something with a slight crunch. While walnuts are the obvious choice, I’m really anti-nuts in cookies or breads (personal pet peeve), and opted for some lighted toasted quinoa instead, which added just the right amount of crunch to every bite, as well a delicate, nutty flavor that played nicely with the nuttiness of the coffee. 
So that’s about where we are at the moment: a bit of a peaceful standstill, filled with casual baking projects and quiet nights binge watching TV (are you all watching Black Mirror on Netflix? We’re obsessed, in what is perhaps an unhealthy way) until we receive the keys to the new space. In the meantime, we’ve signed the final papers for our new Beer & Wine license (relatively easy, considering the absolute horror stories that circulate throughout the industry), reviewed and submitted our final lease contract, and finalized layout plans with our kitchen designer (a kitchen designer!?!? what a serious luxury, one we did not have when we opened our first shop, and one that makes us feel significantly more mature, established and accomplished than we actually are).  
I’ll be back in a few days with pictures of the raw space, some pictures of our plans for how we plan to layout and design the new space, and some thoughts on creating a new sandwich menu and a new menu full of bar snacks (the first time we get to do so, and we are both so thrilled!). Until then…

Coffee + Banana + Crispy Quinoa Quick Bread

– 3-4 ripe, sliced bananas

– 1 cup room temperature coffee (decaf works fine)

– 1 tablespoon olive oil

– 1/4 cup cooked quinoa (any variety)***

– 1/3 cup melted butter

– 3/4 cup light brown sugar

– 1 egg

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 1 teaspoon baking soda

– pinch of kosher salt

– 1 teaspoon cinnamon

– 1 1/2 cups flour

*** Cook 1/8 cup dry quinoa in 1/4 cup water in order to get a final product that is slightly undercooked.***

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 4×8 inch loaf pan and set aside. Add the bananas to a medium sized bowl and pour in the coffee, being sure the liquid covers the bananas. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil over high heat in a small skillet. When the oil is hot, add the cooked quinoa and saute for 2-3 minutes until the quinoa is dry and crispy (but not burnt). Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely. 

In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter and brown sugar using a wooden spoon. Mix in the egg, vanilla, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and quinoa. When all ingredients are well incorporated, add the flour and mix well. Drain the bananas from the coffee and gently fold the bananas into the batter. Using your hands, squeeze the bananas into the batter until it becomes smooth and creamy. Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan. 

Bake the bread for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool in the pan for a few minutes before transferring to a drying rack to finish cooling.