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Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can’t say for certain, but I think the first from-scratch baked good I learned to make was chocolate chip cookies. If it wasn’t the first, it was certainly the most frequent recipes of my childhood. Naturally, my mom’s 1976 edition Betty Crocker cookbook automatically opens right to the page. We probably made them at least every other month.

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I don’t know what it is about chocolate chip cookies that makes them appropriate for pretty much any occasion. It doesn’t matter if I’m headed to the beach with friends, playing Chocolate Chip Cookie Fairy at the office, or packing a road trip kit for my best friend headed to a new job 700 miles away… they just work.

What I haven’t broken to dear Betty is that I switched recipes six years ago and have never looked back. The original appeal of the recipe was that they’re only 88 calories apiece (provided you follow the suggested cookie size). I stay with it because it’s a damn good cookie.

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A couple weeks ago, I made a batch and brought them to the office, just because. As always, the reaction was delightful. Sample email: “When I tell you that your chocolate chip cookie was THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE I have ever had, you need to trust that I am not just exaggerating with glee in some sugar high state of mind.”

I’m not saying that to brag — I’m just saying, it really is that good.

When your cookie isn’t overloaded with butter and Crisco, the brown sugar and salt really come out.  The dough will be very crumbly, but the texture of the baked cookie is perfect. There’s no extra butter to disguise sloppy measuring — so measure carefully, and use parchment paper.

Whatever you’re celebrating or trying to forget this week, I promise these cookies will make you smile.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

From Cooking Light
Yield: 4 dozen

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 10 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Parchment paper or cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

Combine sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg whites; beat 1 minute. Add flour mixture and chips; beat until blended.

Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on pans for 2 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

Strawberry Conserve

If early summer could be captured in a jar, Strawberry Conserve is how it would taste.

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Conserve is a fancy way of saying a jam made of fruit stewed in sugar. This one has just three ingredients: strawberries, superfine sugar and lemon. Pretty perfect for summer.With such few ingredients, it’s important to use the highest quality you can find, and not to make substitutes. Don’t fall for the large, watery berries from the grocery store (even at peak season). Get to a garden, farmer’s market, or pick-your-own farm. Superfine (caster) sugar is available at grocery stores, but if you can’t find it, you make it with granulated sugar and a food processor.

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Garden or farm-fresh strawberries are low in acid and pectin, which makes it tricky to preserve. That’s where the lemon comes in: the pith and rind are natural sources of pectin, which helps the jam to set.

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What does one do with a jar of summer? Why, just about anything you can think of. Spooned over ice cream or yogurt. Drizzled over pancakes. Spread on a biscuit or toast. On a picnic with crusty bread, Serrano ham and a little aged balsamic vinegar. Mixed into a cocktail. Folded into whipped cream. Eaten straight out of the jar.

Where did I leave my spoon?

Strawberry Conserve

From Bon Appetit

Yield: 2 cups

4 cups fresh strawberries (about 1 pound), hulled, halved
3/4 cup superfine sugar
Peel (with white pith) of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a heavy, wide pot. Cover; let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. (The berries will ooze and sugar will dissolve.)

Bring strawberry mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring gently, until strawberries are just tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries to 1 pint jar. Continue simmering liquid until it thickens into a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes. Discard lemon peel and pour syrup over strawberries; seal and let cool to room temperature. Chill for up to 1 month.

Tastes and Sights of Puerto Vallarta

Ah, vacation… that magical time to awaken, explore, immerse, unplug, and recharge, all at once.

I recently returned from six days in Puerto Vallarta. I’m not sure exactly what initiated my choice in destination, other than I was sitting on the couch one night cold night in January and decided I’d had enough of winter.

Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s western coast, and it feels like a coastal small town and a high-end resort destination rolled into one.

One of my favorite things about vacations is the food. I love wandering through the grocery stores and farmer’s markets, braving street carts and trucks, discovering new flavors, ingredients and cooking methods, and asking locals for their recommendations. All the while, I’m taking mental and sometimes physical notes, figuring out what I can incorporate into my own cooking (and eating!) back home.

After this vacation, I have a new-found love for “real” tequila, and and I can’t wait to recreate a couple of my favorite dishes, including tacos al pastor (“in the style of the shepherd”). I’ll be chronicling my efforts over the coming weeks.

For now, a few pictures to put you in a vacation mood.

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