March 24, 2017

Black and White Cookies

One of the perks of spending time at home in Atlanta is being able to cook a ton of stuff and not have to worry about lugging groceries across campus, sharing a kitchen with four other people, or having roommates eat all the food you slaved away making. My roommates are generally very respectful regarding my culinary experiments, but they do love my baking. When I'm at home, I can make a batch of these black and white cookies without hiding them in my room afterwards, though I do have to worry about my sister stabbing me with a fork if the cookies are good enough (yes, this has happened before).

Black and white cookies are unique to New York (say that five times fast), so I don't blame you if you've never had one. Even if you do live in New York, good black and white cookies can be hard to come by; my grandma has been on a quest for the perfect cookie for years now. I'm not saying this recipe is as good as New York's best, but it's as good as it can possibly get outside the city.

Black and white cookies are more cake than cookie, so think whoopie pies and you're on the right track. They're essentially mini vanilla cakes, but the best black and white cookies have an additional flavor that's pretty hard to place. It's kind of lemony but not really, and it's definitely not just vanilla. I've figured out that the best replica is butter flavoring, which you can buy from specialty baking stores or online. It adds an extra richness that you just don't get with plain vanilla, but if you love vanilla as much as I do and don't feel like buying liquid fake butter just double up on the vanilla extract. I'm still trying to figure out ways to use up my giant bottle of butter flavoring, so if you think of any recipes besides poundcake or waffles comment below.

You get the cakey texture by making a very thick cake batter instead of a cookie dough. The main difference is alternating the dry ingredients with extra liquid ingredients instead of adding all the dry ingredients at once. Of course, it starts by beating the butter and sugar together then adding the eggs and flavoring; the flour mixture is then added with buttermilk in between. I always use buttermilk since the acid helps with the leavening and it just tastes better (my parents are sick of buying giant containers of buttermilk for small amounts like this disagree, but they don't have the little half-pints like I do in Wisconsin).

While vanilla cake cookie things are tasty, what makes black and white cookies special is the black and white glaze. It's a swipe of vanilla icing plus a swipe of chocolate icing that adds extra flavor and richness for cookies you can't stop eating. To make things easier, I make the vanilla glaze first, frost all the cookies, then add chocolate to the rest and frost the cookies again. This results in cleaner lines (chocolate on top of vanilla doesn't mingle like vanilla on top of chocolate) and much less work than making them separately.

The vanilla glaze is powdered sugar, water, and vanilla. You could use milk or cream for a more opaque icing, but then you have to refrigerate it, and lets be honest you're just after the sweet vanilla flavor anyway, not the creamy richness from milk. That's the job of the chocolate frosting. After you've used up about half your icing on the cookies, add some melted chocolate and corn syrup and voila you've got chocolate icing. You'll have to work quickly to frost the cookies before the icing firms up, but you can always microwave it for a few seconds to melt the chocolate again.

If black and white cookies aren't really your thing, you can go for an all-white or all-black cookie (no political statements here only extra frosting). You can also go naked or add other flavors to the batter, like orange zest. If you're really, really into chocolate, you can even add cocoa powder to the batter for a chocolate black and white cookie. This is brilliant work right here, people. The possibilities are endless and will surely satisfy your sweet tooth (and hopefully not those of the cookie-stealing freeloaders formerly known as your friends and family).

2/3 Cup Sugar
1 Stick Butter, Softened
2 Eggs
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
3/4 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Butter Flavor
2 1/2 Cups Flour
2 T Cornstarch
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/8 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
3 Cups Powdered Sugar
2-4 T Hot Water
1/4 Cup Chocolate Chips
1 tsp Corn Syrup

Heat oven to 375F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then add 1/2 tsp vanilla and the butter flavor. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk in two additions.

Scoop the batter onto the prepared trays and bake for 14 minutes or until the edges just begin to brown.

When the cookies have cooled, whisk the powdered sugar and 2 T hot water together. Stir in the remaining vanilla and continue to add hot water until it forms a thick but spreadable glaze. Spread half the glaze onto half of each cookie.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Add the remaining vanilla glaze and corn syrup and whisk until smooth. Spread onto the other half of each cookie.

Makes 20
Recipe Adapted from The New York Times

March 8, 2017

Thai Chicken

I know adults don't get spring break, but I'm still frustrated this week since it seems like all my friends are leaving for some tropical destination this weekend and I have to wait until the end of March. Wiconsin problems. Instead of a buildup to a relaxing vacation, my week has consisted of endless midterms and lab reports and general pain over said midterms and lab reports. I've survived off of free pizza, frozen meals, and magical recipes like this Thai chicken that require minimal prep time but can be scaled up easily to last for days. This recipe can also be dressed up for the few times I'm not wolfing down dinner between stacks of flash cards; if you plate it over rice and serve it with a nice salad you've got yourself a pretty nice dinner.

The chicken itself is very simple; I sear it in a pan to get it nice and golden brown (and to get drippings to start the sauce) and finish it in the oven. You could also pop it in a slow cooker for extra tenderness and let it run all day while you're at work (or taking 30 exams). I sacrifice the crispy skin for extra flavor by pouring the sauce on top and essentially braising it in the sauce to cook it through. To me, infusing the chicken with the addictive flavors in the sauce is worth it, but you could also roast the chicken plain and serve it with the sauce when it's done to retain the crispiness (just make sure to cook down your sauce in the pot for longer so it thickens properly). As always, I tend to go with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs for maximum tenderness, juiciness, and flavor, but any cut will do as long as you adjust the cooking time accordingly.

As with most Thai recipes, the sauce appears to include a long list of ingredients that don't really go together. I'll admit it's not really instinctual to pair chili sauce, vinegar, coconut, peanut butter, ginger, and lime, but it tastes fantastic. The sauce has sour notes from the vinegar, heat from the chili sauce, sweetness from a hint of brown sugar, creaminess from the coconut, nuttiness from the peanut butter, umami from the soy sauce, and brightness from the lime and ginger. All the ingredients serve a purpose and balance all the flavors. If you've never had sweet Thai chili sauce, you're probably shocked that I call for a full half cup of it, but it has a more mellow flavor than you'd expect from a true hot sauce. If you can't find it in your local grocery store, try exploring an international market (you'll be able to find better and cheaper versions of the other ingredients, too). The sauce ingredients are whisked together and simmered in the pot with all your chicken drippings. For a nice thick sauce, I pour it on the chicken and let it cook down, but you can always reduce it in the pot and serve it on the side. A sprinkle of peanuts and scallions add crunch and brightness at the very end, the perfect finishing touch to a quick weeknight meal.

8 Chicken Thighs (or other cuts or 2 lbs boneless chicken)
2-3 T Oil
1/2 Cup Sweet Chili Sauce
3 T Rice Vinegar
1/3 Cup Coconut Milk
3 T Brown Sugar
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Creamy Peanut Butter
1 1/4 tsp Grated Ginger
Juice from 1 Lime
1 T Soy Sauce
1/3 Cup Chopped Peanuts
4 Scallions, Sliced

Heat oven to 375F.

Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the chili sauce, vinegar, coconut milk, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, peanut butter, soy sauce, and the lime juice.

Heat a large oven-safe skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Sear the chicken for 2-3 minutes per side. Set aside and reduce heat to medium-low.

Add the chili sauce mixture to the skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly.

Place the chicken back in the sauce, tossing to coat. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Sprinkle the peanuts and scallions on top.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from How Sweet Eats