Monthly Archives: September 2011

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

What’s the sign of a good recipe?

When you make it twice in one week. (And kind of wish you had the ingredients to make it again as you’re blogging about it.)

My friends, this is that kind of recipe.

And it’s for chocolate chunk cookies.

Milk and dark chocolate chunk cookies

I didn’t think there was anything revolutionary about chocolate chip cookie recipes. (Barring, of course, the New York Times one that pretty much everyone has tried, except me. One day, I will try this. It’s the same day I have a fridge large enough to store a bowl of cookie dough for a minimum of 24 hours. One day.) I was mistaken.

These are chewy delights of soft cookie with melty bits of dark chocolate. They are cookie perfection.

Dark chocolate chunk cookies I

I just really wanted to make some cookies one night last week, but had not put any thought into what kind. I innocently tweeted out I had a hankering to bake and my friend Robyn suggested I make these cookies from Anna Olson. I was intrigued by the addition corn starch, which Olson says gives the cookies a chewy centre.

And, perhaps more importantly, I knew I had all the required ingredients, including an assortment of dark chocolate bars that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. One of the ones I ended up using was a more traditional thin, flattish bar, while the other was about a 1/2-inch thick.

I used my awesome cookie scoop to portion out the dough, which made these nice rounded, perfectly portioned balls of dough. What surprised me when they baked, though, is that there really wasn’t very much spread. They remain nicely thick and I’m sure that contributes to the chew.

I ate a couple that night, then took some in for work where people devoured them.

So, when it came to attending my first tailgate on Saturday (I know, I know, but I’m from Vancouver; we’re not really tailgate people), I knew exactly what I wanted to bring. And not just because I really wanted to eat some myself. But, yeah, that was part of it.

This time, I used two flat, thin bars of 70 per cent dark chocolate. I broke them into smaller pieces with my meat tenderizer. Let me tell you, that was oddly satisfying. And the end result was really nice. The pieces melted into strata of cookie and oozing chocolate. It was heavenly.

And for that, this is my new go-to cookie recipe.

Smashed chocolate

Dark chocolate chunk cookie dough

Scooped dough

Dark chocolate chunk cookies I

Milk and dark chocolate chunk cookies

Dark chocolate chunk cookies

Milk and dark chocolate chunk cookies

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

This is, essentially, exactly as Anna Olson dictates, but I’ve made a few changes to the instructions and called for dark chocolate instead of bittersweet.

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, cut or broken into chunks

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream butter and both sugars until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and blend in.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix until just blended. Fold in chunks of chocolate.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop cookie dough by spoonful onto the lined sheet and bake until just golden brown around the edges, between 8 and 10 minutes.

Portland a.k.a I went to Oregon to eat a burger

Warning: This is a photo-heavy post.

So, the story goes that I went all the way to Portland, Oregon for a burger.

Honestly, it’s not all that far from the truth.

And here’s where our story starts . . . .

Once upon a time, I came across a post on one of my favourite websites, A Hamburger Today, that talked about a burger in Portland. The headline was: Gruner makes a burger worthy of obsession. The photo that went with it? Worth at least 1,000 words. In one: mouthwatering. (Go on, check it out. I’ll wait here.)

So, when my friend Suzi and I were talking about taking a trip together, I pitched Portland. I had been interested in the city for a while because other friends had visited and raved on about it, the food trucks, Powell’s Books and the Oregon coastline (which, granted, is about 90 minutes away, but stunning). And Suzi was game. Especially because I sent her a photo of the burger.

Let me get right to it: it was JUST as good as I hoped.

Behold, the beautiful Gruner burger:
The Gruner burger

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Even though I knew exactly what I wanted, I checked out the menu.
Gruner Menu
And they brought us some beet-stained devilled eggs.
Beet-pickled devilled eggs
Although the burger was the main attraction, check out these yummy pickles. (Pickles, it would turn out, would be sort of a theme for the trip.)

The Gruner burger II

But the best part?

When I took that first bite and squished the burger down slightly and it erupted in a volcano of hot, delicious meat juices.

The photo doesn’t really do it justice, so just trust me on this.
The Gruner Burger III

It went very well with my Arsenic and Old Lace drink (Monopolowa gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, Rothman & Winter crème de violette, Kübler absinthe) with a fantastic housemade maraschino cherry.
Arsenic & Old Lace

After that we pretty much had to roll ourselves out of Gruner. Luckily, we were just a couple of blocks away from Powell’s. Semi-conscious in a meat coma, we trawled the shelves and picked up a few books before walking back to the hotel. (The fabulous Jupiter Hotel, which was funky and clean and close to downtown — something that came in quite handy.)

The plan for Day 2 was to pick up our rental car (a Prius, of course!) and head to the coast. The Prius, I have to say, was a bit weird initially. I mean, it’s so damn quiet. But I loved that we drove to the coast and back and tootled around town the next day and still only used a 1/2 tank of gas.

Before we set off, we stopped at Pine State Biscuits.

I swear I was a southern belle in a past life. If only because I am completely obsessed with biscuits and sausage gravy. (On my Delicious right now, I have at least three recipes bookmarked for biscuits and gravy. This winter, it will be made. Stay tuned.) Also, fried chicken. So, the thought of fried chicken AND biscuits AND sausage gravy (not even mentioning cheese and a few slices of bacon) made this a priority stop for me.

We didn’t eat again for seven hours. You can see why:
Pine State Biscuits breakfast

I miss the ocean. A lot. If I don’t get a fix of that briny air and sharp coolness of the Pacific every few months, I start to feel a bit off. I was really looking forward to seeing the waves, smelling the salt air and checking out the rugged coastline I had seen in pictures.

Like the burger, I was not disappointed.
Cannon Beach

Windswept

That night we had dinner at Biwa, a Japanese restaurant known for its ramen. Like beaches and burgers, ramen has a special place in my heart. I ate a lot of it when I lived in Japan. In nice restaurants and little holes-in-the-wall. When I went back a few years after living there, I spent a few days in Kyoto and one fond memory really sticks out. I was eating ramen at a restaurant not much more than two meters wide — just enough space for a long counter, some bar stools and an aisle-wide kitchen. The one server had to scoot around the cook to serve steaming bowls of noodles, slurped up by a handful of men sitting hunched over the counter. While they concentrated on their ramen, I was reading Memoirs of a Geisha and trying hard not to get any of the rich broth on the book’s pages as I was engrossed in the scene when Sayuri meets the chairman in front of the Minamiza kabuki theatre. After I paid my bill, I walked outside to find I was standing across from the theatre itself.

A bowl of ramen was definitely in order, but so was a dish of pickles (adorable) and barbecued garlic (beautiful and the sharp flavour was mellowed by heat) and chicken karaage (essentially, fried chicken — and one of my favourite bar snacks in Japan).

Mini pickled vegetables
Barbecued Garlic
Chicken karaage
Ramen

It was like being back in Japan, but I got to drink bourbon sours the entire time, so that was a bonus.

To follow the theme of the night before, we went to the Portland Japanese Gardens the next day (after a less-than noteworthy breakfast not worth discussing).

The Pavilion

And then it was time for ice cream sandwiches from Ruby Jewel. I must give Suzi full credit for finding this gem. Soft housemade cookies sandwiched around soft and luscious ice cream. In this case, chocolate chip cookies with salted caramel ice cream. You get to pick the cookies and filling.
Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwich

By sheer coincidence, the weekend we were in Portland was just after the James Beard awards had been announced. One of the winners was Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, who claimed the title of Best Chef Northwest for 2011. Pok Pok had popped up a number of times when I was searching for good restaurants in Portland, so it was already on the list. When we caught wind of the award, we knew there was going to be a lot of interest and possibly a long wait. Luckily, Ricker is also behind Whiskey Soda Lounge, a more casual, bar-like drinks-and-snacks establishment just about kitty-corner from Pok Pok. You can put your name on the Pok Pok list, then head over to WSL for snacks and drinks. When your table comes up at Pok Pok, they come and find you, allowing you to settle the tab and wander across the street for round 2.

I started with a Tamarind Whiskey Sour (sours also being sort of a theme for the weekend), followed by another. And possibly another.
Tamarind Whiskey Sour

Then we dove in to some of Chef Chew’s Khai Luuk Khoei: deep-fried eggs with sweet-spicy tamarind sauce and fried shallots. Incredibly tasty, but one of them was so spicy, I drained my drink and ate all the vegetables on the table to try to quench the fire.

Chef Chew's Khai Luuk Khoei

One of the things I really love about Thai food is that the cuisine is all about complex flavours that come together in a fresh and light way. Salty, spicy, sweet, sour. These Miang Kham embodied all of that. Chilies, ginger, peanuts, dried shrimp, lime, shallot and coconut with a ginger sauce, all wrapped up in a betel leaf.

These were amazingly fresh and light, yet had complex flavours. I’m pretty sure if I’d had enough room, I could have downed another round of these. (And, as I write this, my mouth has started watering again.)
Miang Kham

For Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, the menu simply says, “Yes, these are the wings you have been looking for.” And it is right.

See above re: eating a second plate.
Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings

By the time we had eaten all of that, our server came over to say our table was ready at Pok Pok. We were pretty full, but went over anyway for some pork sate and a green mango salad. After all, it’s not every day you get a chance to eat at a James Beard-award winning restaurant.

Our plan for breakfast on Sunday was to go to one place. In the cab, the driver mentioned the Screen Door and how popular it is. At that point he may have also mentioned chicken and waffles. (You may remember I’m a fan.) We actually had him turn the taxi around. This place had a long line, despite the drizzle. But that first glimpse of their version of chicken and waffles was enough confirmation the decision was the right one.

This was an insane amount of food. Three fried chicken breasts atop a fluffy, tall sweet potato waffle. I barely appeared to make a dent in it. For scale, that is indeed a large steak knife buried to the hilt.

Chicken and sweet potato waffles

So, perhaps it’s surprising I was hungry in time for dinner. Or not.
Just across the street from our hotel was Le Pigeon, a small and much loved restaurant whose chef, Gabriel Rucker, had also just received kudos from the James Beard Foundation; he was named the 2011 Rising Star Chef. Le Pigeon is also known for its burgers. They only make five a night (the other restaurant, Little Bird, does not limit the amount) and Suzi and I nabbed no. 3 and 4. First, though, there was a glass of gorgeous sparkling rose.
Rose at Le Pigeon
And a quick glance at the menu to determine what to start with.
Le Pigeon menu
Eventually I decide on an arugula salad with duck egg and apricot.
Le Pigeon - first course
Before diving into the burger.
Le Pigeon burger

It was very juicy, and very tall with some lovely coleslaw-like topping. The crispy potatoes were also a nice switch from the standard fries.

We had snagged spots at the bar (because we didn’t have reservations, we took what we could get. And we only managed to grab those by waiting by the front door as the restaurant opened for the night at 5 p.m. I mentioned it’s a popular place, didn’t I?) and had the chance to watch the kitchen in action.

Le Pigeon kitchen

And for dessert — vegetarians, avert your eyes and skip ahead — I could not resist the foie gras profiteroles. When I ordered them, I assumed simply they were filled with foie gras mousse. But overhearing a conversation between one of the chefs and another patron, it became clear there was more to it than that. I asked the chef for clarification. It’s actually foie gras three ways: fat from the foie is used to make the choux pastry, foie is used as a mousse-like filling and then more fat is used in the caramel sauce.

Dear god.

Foie gras truffles

And then we were down to our final morning.

Packed suitcases in hand, we went to Blueplate. It’s a little diner-like establishment downtown that features old-school fountain drinks (like egg creams!) and comfort food like grilled cheese sandwiches and, ahem, burgers. (Yes, I have a problem. I know it.) I had heard about Blueplate on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and had mentally added it to my should-try-if-ever-in-Portland list.

I love old-fashioned soda fountain drinks and the egg cream (containing no actual eggs nor cream, but milk, soda water and chocolate syrup) is one of my favourites. It went well with my wee burgers and mashed potatoes.

Egg cream at Blueplate

Blueplate burgers

Stuffed, we carried on to the airport where we went our separate ways.

It’s possible, I’m already planning a return trip.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream

It was my friend Dan Clapson’s birthday the other day.

As part of what turned out to be a long weekend’s worth of celebrating (for him, not me), on the Monday evening we had Monday Night Supper Club (head here for some play-by-plays of these weekly events) at Stanley Park. Dan laid out some ground rules for the potluck. OK, one rule: everything had to be shaped like a cake.

Since Dan seemed to be a very lucky birthday boy who got everything he hoped for over the weekend, who was I to deny this particular wish? So, leading up to the big day I was pondering ideas. And I was drawing blanks. I really just wanted to make cupcakes. What? I know my strengths.

Vanilla Cupcake with Bourbon Buttercream

And for some reason, I kept thinking about creating with some sort of bourbon-flavoured icing.

I thought it was pretty original, but a quick Google search showed recipes are out there. And that is a good thing because it gave me a great jumping off point.

It’s tasty stuff, I can’t lie. But it’s also incredibly boozy despite the fact there is very little booze in it. Three tablespoons, about 1 1/2 shots. And only half of that made it onto the cupcakes (it’s enough icing for 24 cupcakes, not 12; the remainder is sitting in my fridge and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it. Make more cupcakes seems the most logical answer.), so, really, it was 3/4 of a shot for the entire batch. You’re certainly not going to get drunk on them, that’s for sure.

People got pretty creative with the picnic potluck, including Chelsea who brought a sushi cake, complete with sweet potato “candles.”

Sushi "Cake"

Adria Britton with the very popular pizza pull-apart bread bundt.

Pull-Apart Pizza Bundt

Jamie Penno brought a savoury bacon-and-cheese cake.
Savoury Bacon and Cheese Cake

And Dan brought a potato salad “cake,” which was an intriguing take if not completely successful. Points for creativity!
Potato Salad "Cake"

I felt a bit non-creative for bringing straight up cupcakes, but I’m pretty sure the bourbon icing made up for that.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream I

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream II

Dan and his Birthday Cupcake

And it was a lovely night to be in the park. Perfect way to end a lazy long weekend.

Stanley Park

Vanilla Cupcakes
This is straight from Martha Stewart’s recipe for yellow cupcakes (though I rewrote the instructions a bit). They are yellow, but I prefer to focus on their flavour.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a muffin tin with liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In measuring cup or bowl, mix milk and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well each time. Turn mixer down to low, then add half of the dry ingredients, followed by the milk and vanilla and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Divide evenly among muffin cups.

Place tin on rimmed cookie sheet and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. (Martha suggests 20 to 25 minutes; mine were done by 18, so don’t be afraid to check early.) Cool cupcakes in the tin for 5 minutes and then remove to a rack and cool completely before frosting.

Top with bourbon buttercream.

Bourbon Buttercream
And I adapted this one from My Recipes.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 pound icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat butter until creamy. Add half of the icing sugar and beat, followed by the milk and bourbon and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add the remaining sugar and beat until thick and smooth.