I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

C is for Cookies!

I should be sitting on a bed in a hotel room in St. Louis, shushing my crazy ACFW roomies so I can finish the blog I should’ve posted before flying out this morning. Sadly, I am sitting on my bed. In my bedroom. In Spokane, Washington. One thousand, eight hundred and nine miles away from my friends at the Hyatt Regency in St. Louis. (I know this because I mapquested it. Pathetic, I realize, but somewhat comforting to know if I accidentally got in my car and drove straight through, I could be there in just under 27 hours.)

Amy summed it up beautifully in her blog on Monday: my heart aches to be there. But I have decided to stop pouting, and actively search for the reason God has me at home. There’s nothing like a little perspective. And several dozen chocolate chip cookies.

Before my car accident (and subsequently God’s call to return to writing), I flirted with the idea of starting a catering company. My love of cooking sprouted when I was 16 and a local cookie shop owner gave me my first job.Ultimately I ended up catering weddings and teas and formal Christmas dinners. Over the years I discovered how much joy I find in feeding people. This, and the fact we don’t have cable TV, led me to an full-blown addiction to the PBS show America’s Test Kitchen, or ATK as I like to call it. 

The show, hosted by Cook’s Illustrated editor-in-chief Christopher Kimball, is a 30 minute cooking class demonstrating the “right” way to prepare classic recipes. Kimball and his army of chefs and interns determine this “right” way using a combination of trial-and-error, science, experience and the feedback of a truckload of unbiased tasters. The ATK staff prepare everything from scrambled eggs to Poulet en cocotte (à la Julia Child) all the wrong ways so we don’t have to.

Since I spent my high school years baking and selling the absolute best homemade cookies on the planet, (and receiving all the owner's amazing recipes as a graduation gift!) I was especially interested when a recent America’s Test Kitchen episode featured the right way to make chocolate chip cookies. I was surprised to find their final recipe could not be more different than mine. They even recommended completely different chocolate chips!

So today, needing a diversion and curious how this new recipe stacked up against my own, I decided to stage my own taste test. I carefully followed each formula, and at the end of the day my family “tested” the finished products. My taste-testers made every effort to be impartial, but considering how long they’ve been eating my cookies, they totally knew which batch was Mom’s recipe. Let’s face it. They love the comfort of what they know. They love the warm memories linked to familiar textures and flavors. They love me. It was nearly impossible for them to not choose my cookies.

The professional chefs of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine and America’s Test Kitchen deemed their final recipe to be the perfect chocolate chip cookie, but my sweet family believed mine were better. So who’s right? 

I believe they are both right. I think we will almost always choose that which is familiar. And this might seem like a stretch, but I think it’s the same way with writing conferences. There is no one “right” conference for every writer. ACFW is my favorite, and right now it is the only place I want to be. But just because it is familiar and comfortable and packed with fond memories, doesn’t mean it must remain my only choice.

Today, after nearly three decades of being completely loyal to one chocolate chip cookie recipe, I branched out and tried something new, something different.  I used methods I would have never thought to try, with a delightfully delicious outcome. And I will definitely make them again.

I think you see what I’m getting at. Googling “chocolate chip cookie recipe,” will get you at least 3 million results. And while there probably aren’t 3 million choices for continuing your writing education, there are definitely enough for you to find your right one. Check out the blog post I wrote (almost a year ago today!) for just a few links to writing books, retreats, and conferences. If you do a little research, you will find something in the right location, spanning the perfect number of days during the right time of year, and easily within your budget. You just have to be willing to try something new.

If you are blessed enough to be in St. Louis, please give each other BIG hugs on my behalf! But if you are like me and staying home this weekend, I encourage you to try the ATK “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies.” Then eat them warm from the oven with a big glass of milk while you research your “Perfect Writing Retreat.”

Ingredients
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
  • 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)
Instructions
  1. With oven rack in the middle position, heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. 
  2. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Heat 10 tablespoons of the butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted (about 2 minutes.) Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma (1 to 3 minutes.) Remove skillet from heat  and with a heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
  4. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth w/no sugar lumps (about 30 seconds.)Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Stir in flour mixture until just combined (about 1 minute.) Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
  5.  Divide dough into 16 portions (about 3 tablespoons or a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)
  6. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.
 TIPS: Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter; the dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is browned. Use fresh, moist brown sugar instead of hardened brown sugar, which will make the cookies dry. This recipe works with light brown sugar, but the cookies will be less full-flavored. 

Wherever you are today, be sure to look for why God has you there!! And be encouraged that you are right where you HE wants you!!   ~Heidi

P.S. NaNoWriMo starts in  FORTY DAYS (and nineteen hours)!!  Don't miss it! 

7 comments:

  1. Heidi, what a great post. As usual. :) And thanks for sharing the chocolate chip cookie recipe. I've copied and pasted it so I can give it a try.

    I'm sorry you're not at ACFW either, but I hope your weekend with your family is priceless. Thanks for the reminder to check out other retreatsconferences. I haven't done very many yet, but I will check some out.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, Heidi!

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  2. Wow, Jeanne- looks like it's just you and me today, lol!!

    Thank you, for being such a faithful reader of our blog. I always look forward to seeing your face and reading your comments when I come here!

    I love my family, and I trust my husband, who like Amy's husband last year, felt very strongly that I should stay home. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that he's never wrong. And any time spent with my boys is priceless, but I believe this weekend could turn out to be pretty cool. There is a good possibility my oldest (15) will be suiting up for his first varsity football game on Friday night. And not just any game, but The Game...the Big Rivalry between University HS (us) and Central Valley HS, complete with a pep rally and a "trophy" (an old pigskin football.) The "Greasy Pig" game is the highlight of the football season.

    My boys have reached the ages when the "firsts" are a rare occurrence, making them all the more precious. Spencer's first varsity game (as a sophomore, no less) is not something I want to miss.

    I hope you like the cookies! If not, I'll send you my recipe so you can have your own challenge. The 60% cacao bittersweet chips are interesting...not too sweet with a more intense chocolate flavor. Next time I'm going to try them in my recipe.

    I really hope you and I get the chance to meet in person some day! Who knows, maybe next year at ACFW...

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  3. So funny how quiet it is around here. :) I'm glad you will have some special time with your family and that you get to celebrate a "first" with your man-boy. Enjoy your time. :)

    My honey wasn't ready for me to be gone this weekend. I broached the subject back in May and between the funds being short and being gone two weekends, it wasn't the time for me to go. I'm okay with that. :)

    I hope we DO get to meet. You are such an encourager!

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  4. Oh Heidi! I loved that post. I am really hungry for cookies now, and you totally made perfect sense in that we love the familiar!

    Love it. Love you more!

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  5. So sorry to post late, but internet and time have been sporadic. Believe me, there is a hole in the circle where the three of you should be! We are praying for you daily and lifting up your hearts to the Lord. I know the pain of being home when my friends are having a wonderful time together. God won't allow this to be wasted.

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  6. Heidi, love your post!!!! And the recipe for your cookies. Bryan will forever be in your debt. So wish all my friends could be at ACFW. You are all truly missed, but we are lifting you up in prayer. HUGS

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  7. Heidi, I had big computer problems in St. Louis ("confused" battery my Office Depot friends told me yesterday) so couldn't read this 'til today. But you were so much with us there, really. And Dallas--yes. Many hugs your way!

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