Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Extraordinary Cookies

Oh!  Look at this, a Thankful Thursday post and a recipe!  To be honest, I'm just thankful to have gotten through the week, almost.  I'm due at work tomorrow at 8:30am, so we'll see about that.  But before I (finally) go to bed, I'd like to share this extraordinary recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  You know, I haven't yet posted a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but it was not for lack of trying.  I like to think it was because I hadn't yet found my one, the cookie with which I was supposed to fall in love and bake for happily ever after.  I thought I did, but it was the one everyone else thought was right, not me (hey, that sounds like a sappy human love story).  I even thought I might have finally fallen in love after it had spent 24 hours in the fridge, but no, it was only a brief infatuation.

Aren't they pretty?  Cute speckles of chocolate, cradled in a sweet, mildly vanilla base.

Then this cookie came along, highlighted by Todd, half of the White on Rice Couple, written by Alice of Savory Sweet Life.  Despite the high recommendation and the extraordinary praise given by the author, the ingredient list looked humble to me.  Simple steps, like most chocolate chip cookie recipes.  Half didn't have any chocolate, as both of us are fans of the cookie part, uninterrupted by chocolate.  We made them small, perfectly sized for nibbling and stealing fresh from the cooling rack.  Small shards of chocolate scattered through the cookie, often concealing a nearly pure chocolate interior, dreamily molten when warm, solidly chocolaty when cooled.  The first bite blew me away.  Soft and chewy, toffee-sweet with slight undertones of salt, I was considering my second cookie before I finished my first.  I'm thankful for this chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Vanilla-toffee or chocolate chip?  Both, I say :)

Extraordinary Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from Savory Sweet Life
Makes about 2 dozen small (2" diameter) cookies

1¼ cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
¼ cup white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chunks/bits (we actually only made half the cookies with chocolate)

1 medium mixing bowl
1 large mixing bowl
1 rubber spatula
1 wooden spoon/mixer for creaming butter and sugar
¼ teaspoon measure
½ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure
1 tablespoon measure
¼ cup measure
1 cup measure
Cookie sheet/s for baking
Parchment paper to line the sheets
Cooking spatula (for lifting cookies off the sheets)
Wire rack (for cooling cookies)


1. In the medium bowl, gently mix together the all-purpose flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  Set aside.

2. In the large bowl, cream together the butter and both sugars until light(er in color) and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat until more light and fluffy.  

3. Gently fold in the flour mixture with the rubber spatula, using it to scrape down the bowl and your wooden spoon, if necessary.  When the flour is almost completely incorporated, toss in all the chocolate pieces and gently mix just a little more.  You can also make half the dough into cookies, and save the other half for real chocolate chip cookies, like we did :)

4. At this point, decide if you want to make the cookies immediately or chill them in the fridge for up to 36 hours.  Chilling the dough actually makes the cookies softer and a little lighter because the flour fully absorbs the liquid, but these cookies are still delicious baked right away.  If you decide to bake them right away, preheat the oven to 360°F.  Line your cookie sheet/s with parchment paper and set aside. 

5. Form the dough into balls the size of your choosing; we decided on little snack-sized cookies about 1" in diameter.  Lightly flatten each ball on the sheet, spacing them about twice the diameter apart.  Bake each tray about 7-8 minutes at 360°F for small cookies, and 8-10 minutes for anything larger.  Remember to check on them about a minute before they're supposed to be done and take your cookies out before they are entirely done, as they will continue baking on the hot sheet.  Let them cool at least 5-10 minutes, then gently lift them off with a cooking spatula and set on a cooling rack.  Enjoy!

Taken by my lovely suitemate and great photographer.  I'm thankful for her, too!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Afternoon Class Survival - Homemade Granola Bars

These bars quite literally get me through the week.  1 scholarship application, 3 homework assignments, 1 lab report and 1 research abstract due this week, robotics elections on Wednesday and I just spent 3 hours in the lab helping my supervising grad student with an experiment set-up that didn't work, my sanity is stretching this week (as it always does during the semester...).  I made a batch last weekend to share with my suitemate and was grateful all week.  But since you (yep, all 3 of you) probably don't come here to hear me ramble about the crazy schedule I set for myself, let me wax poetic about my favorite grocery store.

Oh, Trader Joe's.  My eternal love and the bane of my weekends, why must you have such delicious food?  Available for such a reasonable price, organic options, pronounceable ingredient lists, and full of reasons to put down my money, a mere 2 and 3 dollars at a time?  Why do you have the ability to freeze fresh meals, dry unusual ingredients, and right now, most aggravating of all, roast nuts so perfectly?  I came in with a perfectly reasonable errand for cocoa powder and almonds, and emerged with over $20 worth of food, sweet ingredients that I swear that this time, will last more than a week.  

Alas, the almonds.  I have discovered the understated beauty of dry roasted, unsalted slivered almonds.  Blanched so they feel like a luxury and full of rich, toasty flavor, each small sliver crunches between my teeth willingly.  How can such a simple food satisfy and addict me at the same time?  Luckily, I put a cup into these granola bars before I started munching, or I may have left none for their intended purpose.  

Of course, later, I find out that I prefer these bars without the nuts and the fruit, and the almonds are best saved for snacking.  I love happy errors like that.  As a result, this recipe is without the almonds, although of course, feel welcome to toss in a few cups of dried fruits or nuts, if that be your vice.

I found these granola bars on Smitten Kitchen, during another spell of procrastination.  They adapt freely to whatever your taste may be and are quite addictive munched whilst taking notes on the Bernoulli equation (it's a fluids thing...).  The bars cut quite neatly when sliced still warm.  Otherwise, refrigerate them first.  Also, they taste a little like Honey Bunches of Oats, almond flavor.  That is, by the way, my favorite cold cereal ever.  I ate it in middle school and am still devouring it at a rate of almost 18 oz. per week.  Then I run out of milk, and wonder how it went so fast when I don't even like milk. 

They're wonderful and nourishing and addicting, and the sole
reason that I can stay awake through my 5:20-6:40pm class.

Homemade Granola Bars adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 1 8" x 8" block, or 12 good-sized bars

2 cups old-fashioned oats
cup white whole wheat flour (any flour works, oat, whole wheat, even all-purpose)
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (optional)
½ cup leftover cooked oatmeal (optional, makes for a slightly softer bar)
¼ cup and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or melted butter)
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
cup almond butter (smooth or crunchy)

1 medium mixing bowl
1 rubber spatula
¼ teaspoon measure (optional)
½ teaspoon measure
¼ cup dry measure
cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure
2-cup liquid measure
1 8” x 8” baking pan
Parchment paper for lining


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line the baking pan with parchment paper, leaving some to hang over the sides.

2. In the large bowl, mix the oats, flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and spice.  In the liquid measuring cup, mix the oil, honey and vanilla extract.  Just toss it all in; they don’t really need to be completely mixed.

3. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, then mix until the whole mixture is wet.  Add the almond butter and combine until you have a fairly uniform consistency.

4. Scrape the granola into the prepared pan and bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges.  Allow to cool until warm, then cut and enjoy!  

Oops.  All gone.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Cereal and Milk

Each time I think the words "cereal and milk" my head starts chanting this little song about how eating breakfast is healthy.  One of my roommates once taught me the song, and now it's stuck in my head, argh.  When she comes over for dinner tomorrow, maybe I'll take her to task for it :)

In any case, this week, I'd like to sing the praises of a college student's staple food.  Bearing the mixture of soft and crunchy, sweet milk at the end and a feeling of satisfying both a craving and nutritional deficit, I've gone through more 18 oz. boxes of my favorite cereal this semester than I care to admit.  Family size?  When one eats it for breakfast and dessert, and the occasional dinner (because I craved nothing but cereal!), family size becomes for a family of one.  For a single week.  Thank you, cereal and 2%, for always being there for me, even at 4:00am, 10:00pm and all times in between.

Bonus points if you can pick out my favorite brand!
Postscript:  It's been three Thankful Thursday posts straight!  Good heavens, my weeks have been packed.  A recipe post this weekend, I promise.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Unexpected Gifts

Kindly ignore the note where it says that I posted on Friday.  I'm still up, hence I classify today as Thursday, until the sun comes up again.  Besides, Thankful Friday doesn't have quite the same ring.

I had a whole post swimming around in my head this morning; I know I did.  It had to do with food, and unexpected gifts, and somehow, I'd end with a photo of my homemade poptarts and a promise to post them this weekend.  Of course, this was a good 15 hours ago, I was running out the door to catch the bus and completely forgot about this until now, just like the other 5000 things ricocheting around my mind, including companies getting back to me, unconventional homework, research, 3 hour-long meetings I have tomorrow (in a row!), etc.  And the only thing I remember is this, the last thing I did before coming back to my apartment to work and hopefully collapse into my bed, the bed from which I will pry myself less than 6 hours from now.  

Every Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, I play badminton with the school club.  This past week has been a singles tournament, held on both Tuesday and Thursday, and will continue next week.  I love badminton.  I've played it on and off for years.  I prefer singles because I have full control of the court, and having run cross-country for several years, I actually have the endurance for it.  I'm not very good, since my reflexes are almost nil and my shot placement is off from rarely having real lines for practice, but I do love it.  The only problem is, any time points are counted (i.e., a real match), I get nervous and start shaking like jello that's been pushed.  If an earthquake hit, I might be steadier.  Sometimes, to try to calm myself down, I wonder how I'd play if drunk.

Despite my quivering, though, it is then that I remember why I play.  When my opponent is matched against me, catching my every shot and I am able to dance over the court to return it, there's a certain beauty in feeling the constant change.  I am thankful for this gift, the gift of motion.  I am thankful to my research professor, who nonchalantly gave me a pair of brand-new badminton rackets left in one of his labs.  I am thankful for my new friend, who had the drive to start this club with a budget of $0.00.  I am thankful for my friend who played against me and somehow, for an 11-point game, we went overtime to 18-16.  I am thankful for the faint lines drawn in the building where we play, the cheap net that is our usual practice court, the plastic birds we can borrow, my brace that keeps my ankle intact.  I am thankful that I can play. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Scheduling Luck

Although I intended to post on Thursday mornings, I had a lovely reason not to this morning.  Friends of mine and my boyfriend were over for breakfast!  One of them had brought me a half a loaf of bread the day before, and I was able to whip up a not-so-boozy version of this delightful creation.  I took no pictures, didn't worry about the composition, simply tossed it into the oven at 9:30am and 25 minutes later, pulled out a puffy, fragrant dish that was consumed enthusiastically.  Cheerful conversation, orange juice and a happy, lazy hour later, all of us were fed and heading off to start (in one case continue) our days.  We need more of these mornings.  

The reason I was able to do this was my incredible luck this semester.  Two days of the week, my earliest class begins at 11:20am.  Two other days, my only class begins at 3:50pm.  Fridays I have completely class-free (although not commitment-free, ahem, robotics and research).  My day ends rather late, but when I'm leaving the apartment at 11:00am most days, I simply breathe a sigh of gratefulness that it's not another semester laden with 8:30, 8:20, 8:05am classes.  

Postscript:  May I add a note to say how stunningly beautiful the weather was today?  Blue skies, light breeze, warm enough to skip the second coat, and maybe the first.  It's uncannily spring!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Good Morning to You - Coconut Banana Muffins

Last week was a long week, full of ups, downs and in between.  This week?  A biofluids exam coming up, homework due a week earlier than usual, a meeting with a professor about robotics and of course, the never-ending stack of articles to be read for research.  Luckily, these muffins may just fortify me enough to scrape the remains of myself off the floor and press on.

I made these the Thursday morning that I suddenly had free.  That was one of the better times of the week. I've been trying to procrastinate less and condense my workload to reduce exhaustion, similar to sprinting, then resting fully, then sprinting again.  As a former cross-country runner, I usually find a long, steady run to be easier, but it seems that my mind is sharpest in bursts.  Since I am attempting to radically overhaul my working schedule, I'll let you know how it goes.  Hopefully, if it goes well, I'll be able to show you the homemade poptarts from a couple of weeks ago next Saturday :)

From Deb of Smitten Kitchen comes these incredible muffins.  Soft and moist inside, topped with toasted, lightly caramelized coconut shreds and hinting at the flavor of banana, they brighten up your day.  Deb actually suggested banana as a good flavor variation on the original coconut muffins, but apparently I didn’t read her entire post carefully.  She was right :)

Neatly lined up, by the dozen.

Coconut Banana Muffins
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 12 muffins

1 cup white whole wheat flour*
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup + ¼ cup (1 cup total) sweetened shredded coconut
1 banana, mashed**
1 large egg
½ cup sweetened cream of coconut***
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (coconut if you can get it)

1 large mixing bowl
1 rubber spatula
1 whisk (optional, for mixing dry ingredients)
¼ teaspoon measure
½ teaspoon measure
¼ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure
2-cup liquid measure
12-cup cupcake baking tin
12 paper liners/parchment squares/butter or oil for greasing


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners, parchment paper, or simply grease with butter or oil.

2. In the large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt.  Toss in the shredded coconut and mix until thoroughly combined.

3. In the measuring cup, beat the egg.  Add the banana, cream of coconut and vegetable oil.  Note that the beaten egg will be around ¼ liquid cup, and you can just add the rest of the liquids from there. 

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and gently fold until there are no streaks of flour left in the bowl.

5. Divide the batter into 12 muffins, filling each cupcake dimple a little more than ¾ of the way full.  Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes, or a toothpick stuck into the middle muffin comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then enjoy!

Pick me, pick me!  I'm delicious!

* Deb’s recipe called for ¾ cup whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose.  I suspect that a mixture of just about any proportion whole wheat to all-purpose would work here, as long as the total is 1¼ cups, but I like the slight texture that comes with whole wheat flour.  Besides, Trader Joe's (and other places) sell a lovely white whole wheat flour that tastes and bakes up a little lighter, but still offers some of the structure and flavor of whole wheat flour.  Be aware that a completely whole wheat muffin will be rather denser than one made with only all-purpose flour.

** My banana was overripe and leftover from banana muffins.  I froze it for a while, then thawed it in a bowl in the refrigerator.  Warning!  Frozen bananas can leak quite a bit when thawed.  They essentially become mushy bags of sweet banana puree, which is perfect for baking, but perhaps less so for a snack.  Also, not a lot of fun to clean out of your roommate's fridge.

*** Substitute coconut milk or coconut cream with ⅓ cup sugar if you don't have it.  Originally, Deb's recipe called for 1 cup greek yogurt and ⅓ cup sugar, which I substituted with the cream of coconut and the banana.  Fun fact: a medium banana, when mashed, equals about a half liquid cup.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Study Hacks

I'm deciding to add a new item to my blog posts, Thankful Thursdays.  Based on the idea that Thanksgiving is always a Thursday by tradition, these posts will be brief and mention something that I'm grateful for that day or week.  Thanks to my schedule, these may be the most regular posts my poor blog gets.

I discovered the blog Study Hacks while reading Gluten-Free Girl.  I was directed to Jennifer Lawler's post about her daughter, which somehow, through the archives, led me to this informative and very interesting blog.  The author seeks to discover the secrets of a successful life, and finds several patterns that the most successful students and people tend to follow.  I was inspired by one of the stories and decided to try it, shutting off my phone for two hours to copy over my biofluids homework.  I was mildly amazed that despite interruptions, such as seeing some friends in the library, I managed to finish it all.  I had worked on the problems before and simply needed to redo them on a clean, presentable sheet of paper, but I am also notoriously easily distracted.  

With my biofluids homework done, I'm thankful for this morning.  Despite my 3:15 am bedtime, I woke up at 8:35 am and put some coconut banana muffins in the morning (soon to be posted!), made lunch for two, took some halfway decent photographs of said muffins and wrote this blog post.  For all of those who are gasping at my sleeping habits, these muffins are so worth it :)

This picture was almost accidental.  It reminds me of the photo below, which my dad encouraged me to take.
My dad mentioned how lovely the curve of the oyster shell was, and on a whim I tried to capture it.
I'm glad I did.  Oh, and I'm thankful for good-quality raw oysters.  I love them.