Three Decades and Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies I simply don’t know where to begin. It’s been thirty-years of life here on this earth, breathing in this air , writing down my thoughts in books with tattered and torn edges. Thinking about ways to make life one big coffee break on a patio in a foreign country, or maybe just in my own backyard? What is age truly? Simple numbers on a piece of paper awaiting to be marked off in a brisk motion lined with disdain and contempt for yet another year of aging? Or maybe I’m being a bit dramatic?

It’s been thirty years, and in those thirty-years were born my insatiable love for food–I mean chocolate. I’m not sure what to share with you. I feel as though at times my life has been such a roller coaster ride–one in which I wanted to get off of many-a-time. But I can truthfully say that “I wouldn’t change a thing.” And yes, I’m fully aware of how cliché that statement is but it’s too late to drink coffee and wait for fresh phrases to surface.

If you look back over your past and find that there are things that you desire to change. You end up living a life stuck in the past and you become a victim of your past mistakes–living like this can be debilitating and you’re worth more than that, I’m worth more than that. Life is to be learned from and we are only to focus on the future not the past. I’m looking forward to what the next three decades will bring. I mean, just in the last ten years, I found my beautiful wife, we fought cancer, moved to Nashville where we have successful careers and purchased our first home. Now, I’m not insinuating that life has been idea, there’s a whole slew of bumps in the road, grey skies and unplanned events that are meant for another post. But that’s enough ranting for now, let’s talk cookies.Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

My wife, Jenna, is no baker and she refuses to pretend to be and I’m ok with that because if need be, my girl can bake break-apart cookies like a champ. She’ll tell you that her mom tried to get her in the kitchen and she declined with pleasure every-time. So I wasn’t surprised when she walked in the door with one of my favorite desserts, chocolate chip cookie cake! Ahhhh, it’s a beautiful thing and has been one of my favorite birthday gifts since I can remember and oh yeah, I occasionally get a jones for Pillsbury funfetti or strawberry cake. Guilty!…judge away!(#noshame).

I feel like I have been blessed beyond all that I deserve. God has been so good to me despite my constant neglect of Him in my life from day-to-day. You know, when you feel as though life is just too busy to stop and pray or simply tell Him thank you for that brisk wind beneath your chin. Life is a thing of beauty and I look forward to another three decades of taking it all in, appreciating the little things more often and stopping to say, thank you for a life I never could’ve created.

So clearly, my wife and I are fans of chocolate. It’s safe to say if dessert comes up in conversation, we’re typically on the same page unless I’m having a gummy candy craving. But these chocolate chip cookies have been taunting me from Food52 for quite some time now. I’m always keeping my eyes peeled for the perfect chocolate chip recipe that doesn’t need a ‘secret ingredient’, just the perfect balance of sweet and savory as it should be. There’s not a whole lot of things more satisfying than a well-executed textbook chocolate chip cookie and I know–I know, we could go around and around about salty over sweet and dark over milk, crunchy over chewy. But the truth is–for me, the ‘perfect’ chocolate chip cookie gives a little when you apply pressure with your finger, like a ripe avocado. The edges shatter and leave a trail of salty and bitter tip-toeing around your palate and last but certainly not least–the chewy center. I remember as a child eating the edges of the cookie first and the slow destruction of that chewy center always left me longing for one. more. cookie.

And this recipe I’m sure will leave you with the same nostalgic feeling of course, you must change some of the wording and make the story your own, so on and so forth. Enjoy these as much as I did last night. The last. day. of twenty-something.Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

Salted Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups French Broad Bar Chocolate (coarse chopped)
1 cup large bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup salted & toasted whole almonds, coarse chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
2 River Cottage Farm eggs
2 teaspoons Nielsen Massey vanilla extract

pre-heat oven to 375° F. Sift flour, baking soda, and kosher salt. Set aside. Mix together coarse chopped chocolate and chopped nuts. Set aside. On medium speed in a standing mixer, with the wire whip attachment, cream the butter and sugars until well mixed and light (you’ll notice a change in color). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add one egg. Mix for a few seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add second egg. Mix for a few seconds. Scrape down the sides. Add vanilla. Mix for a few seconds. Scrape down the sides.

You’re going to add the sifted flour mixture in 4 rounds, stopping before adding the final round. For the first 3 rounds, mix at low speed just to combine, scraping down the sides between each addition. When you get to the final round of flour, add the chocolate chip/nut mixture. They will get a bit crushed. That’s okay. Mix until there’s barely a trace of flour visible. Don’t over-mix. Sometimes, it’s better to be safe and do the final bit of mixing by hand. Set up a sheet pan with a silpat or parchment paper. Bake one tray at a time or they will all cook at different rates. Make them spherical, not flat. The cookie size is up to you. I find the bigger they are, the better ratio you have between gooey interior and crisp exterior. 2 ounces is about right for that. Leave a few inches between the raw cookies. Place sheet pan in the oven. They cook relatively fast at this temperature. I didn’t bother setting a time. My internal cookie alarm is pretty good about keeping track. Somewhere around 8-11 minutes. Make some coffee and wait.

They’re done when they’re brown and crispy on the outer border and raw in the very center. Remove the sheet pan and allow them to cool for a few minutes, then, with a spatula, transfer cookies to a cookie rack to cool. And I must tell you the cookies are even better the next day, so if you can stand it, its worth the wait. If you’re not going to eat them right away, they should be frozen. If you’re not baking them off right away, portion them out with an ice cream scoop, place them on a sheet pan, and freeze them. Once they’re firm, store them in a sealable bag. Works great to bake them off when they’re frozen. Enjoy.

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Southern City Flavors Sweet Potato Butter

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Southern City Flavors Sweet Potato ButterAutumn here in Nashville is settling in quite nicely and I’ve enjoyed the few Indian Summers we’ve already experienced (keep those coming mother nature). I believe this season is going to be a busy one and I’m not afraid of the challenge. Sometimes I find myself straddling the fence when it comes to major changes in my life but change is what keeps life interesting.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating ways to bring you guys more blog posts because I seem to be consistently getting the same feedback from my readers, “We love the blog, but we want more.” and I truly want to give you that but you must understand that working in the kitchen full-time plus my side projects doesn’t make it easy to find the time to sit down and process my thoughts not too mention take photos. So here’s what I’m proposing–I’m going to bring you blog posts that are shorter in photography in order to bring you more posts. Because it just so happens that food photography is the most time consuming part of preparing a blog post. My self-diagnosed OCD kicks in and all bets are are off–I could food style for hours and still not be happy with the final product.

Chocolate Chip Pancakes  and  Sweet Potato Butter PancakesHere’s the first post that introduces this new format, less photos, more posts, boom! I’m sure it will work out better this way and I’ll be giving you more poetic posts about the seasons with still life and random food knowledge because that’s me in a nutshell–random, poetic, food-loving freak.

Enough about me, let’s talk pancakes! A couple of months ago I received an e-mail from Southern City Flavors asking if I would like to try some of their most popular products. I typically turn down these offers because the pressure of receiving a product and disliking it feels so overwhelming sometimes. The thought of people putting all their hard work into these products and for it to be wasted on me if I don’t like it, can be a little exhausting. But that’s not the case with these products from Southern City Flavors.Southern City Flavors, Franklin TN

I still have several items to dig through but I’m under the impression that if the sweet potato butter is any indication of what the other products are like then I’m sold. The recipe for these pancakes are an adaptation from Esquire Magazine and I’m pretty sure it’s one of my new favorite recipes. The texture of the pancakes are dense, not light which I like a heavier pancake–I like that it absorbs the syrup and still keeps body unlike light pancakes that fall apart due to syrup overload. I actually split the batter in half and mixed in three tablespoons of the sweet potato butter and the other half received half of a cup of mini chocolate chips. Those of course were for the Mrs., she likes chocolate in everything which is one of the reasons I married her. I’ll be sharing more about these products as I find time to test them out in the future. Now, make yourself some breakfast for dinner, you deserve it!

Sweet Potato Butter Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

1/4 tsp.. cinnamon
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 ½ cups milk
2 tbsp butter, melted
3 Tablespoons of ‘Southern City Flavors’ Sweet Potato Butter

Mix together first three ingredients with a wooden spoon. (typically you would sift it for a fluffier pancake but I didn’t for the more dense texture). In another bowl, mix egg and milk, then add it to flour mix, stirring until just smooth. Then stir in butter. Now is the time to add in your sweet potato butter, or chocolate chips. I used my Black & Decker griddle but you can use a non-stick pan with a little cooking spray if you wish. Heat griddle on medium heat (250 degrees) for about ten minutes. Ladle batter to form pancakes of whatever size you prefer. Cook first side until bubbles form on top, and there won’t be many bubbles because this batter is heavier than your norm so you’ll have to use your pancake intuition, probably about three minutes; then flip and cook other side until it, too, is brown, about two minutes. Serve immediately with butter and syrup or just dollop a little more sweet potato butter on top if you’re not a syrup fan. Serves four.

 

Oven Roasted Tomatoes & A Sweet Adieu.

ovenroastedtomatoescover.1I woke up this morning in our recently purchased home and decided to stop making excuses as to why I’m too busy to sit down and blog–because truth be told, I’m not. Though I do feel overwhelmed at times and all I want to do once I arrive home from work is wander aimlessly in my boxer shorts, turn the A/C down to some unbearable icy temperature and watch Netflix, it doesn’t make for the most efficient use of my time, but it’s what often happens.

Time is a precious thing and to squander it on frivolous things often convicts this ol’ heart.  Not to mention, home-ownership requires more discipline than I ever thought I’d need to exhibit since being forced to stay in my seat during elementary arithmetic. I actually have to live with greater intent to accomplish tasks by specific times, times I didn’t have to allot for with apartment living. The summer has been good to us. We found our new home after a long and tedious search. I can’t tell you the number of times my wife didn’t even get out of the car upon arrival to some potential residence, quite comical. But many disputes over more land, less land, more kitchen, less dining room have led us to our new home and we are elated. It’s not quite photo-shoot ready but I’ll slip you a few shots of our sacred space in the near future.

I’m rather in love with the natural lighting in my kitchen and if the truth be told–my whole kitchen would be made of windows if I could have my. My cooking space has quadrupled from that of our apartment where the kitchen was an afterthought but the dining and living room conquered all. Any-who, we feel blessed and overwhelmed with gratitude for what we believe was a gift from God after months of searching and losing homes to higher bids and ridiculous inspections.oven roasted tomatoes.2

oven roasted tomatoes.3I love the summer time. I love the warm weather, seeing people riding their bikes, families spending time together in backyards, and the smell of smoky meat funneling through your window. It evokes the free-spirit in all of us and we’re off to the lake on the weekend, mini road-trips pursue and we’re tending to our gardens on the patio. Just about every Summer I’m left feeling convicted that I didn’t quite enjoy it enough. I didn’t eat enough tomatoes, there’s not enough squash in my freezer and I didn’t can anything. I’m still dealing with that aching feeling this year but trying not to let it ruin taking advantage of  Autumn’s produce, I do love some root vegetables, figs, apples, winter squash and greens.oven roasted tomatoes.1

This recipe for oven-rooasted tomatoes is as simple as it gets and there is still time for some of you to gather from the summer’s harvest to make these. And if not, the recipe works just as well with slightly out of season tomatoes from your local grocer. The roasting process helps to concentrate the sugar so that tomato-y flavor is amplified and leaves you with this sweet, chewy little piece of ‘summer candy’ you won’t regret making.oven roasted tomatoes.7oven roasted tomatoes.8

I’m simply going to walk you through this recipe because it is so simple that it hurts. First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. I had two pints of grape tomatoes, Sungolds and heirloom Cherokee purples I got from the Franklin Farmer’s Market and some from Maxwell’s Produce on Nolensville Pike. I rinsed them off under cold water and patted them dry with a kitchen towel but paper towels will work just fine. Then, cut the larger ones in half and leave the smaller ones whole. I like the contrast of some juicy and some dryer. I generously coated them with about a quarter of a cup of evoo, two-teaspoons of kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Place the tomatoes on an ungreased sheet pan  and cook for three and a half hours or until the desired shriveled-ness is reached, you be the judge. Once tomatoes are done, allow them to cool and I stored them in my Weck Jars because I’m pretty much addicted to the aesthetic of their containers. This recipe also works fantastic with grapes and figs, though cooking times can be scaled back to about one hour and a half to two hours. And I want to hear how you used to tomatoes this Summer, so prey-tell?

What to do with them?

I’m guilty of eating a quarter of the tray once they came out of the oven. Some of the ones around the edge of the pan get really dry and crunchy and they have little bits of clumped pepper and salt. Those drive me crazy because their so good and barely make it into another recipe. But I have been using them in pastas which you will see if you follow on Instagram, as well as salads or just as a snack on bread and butter. I’m sure you’ll find your own creative use but I hope this helps! Bon Apetit!

Cornbread Panzanella Salad

Cornbread Panzanella Salad via The Local Palate Magazine

When we think of summer, we often equate it with being stress-free or being able to worry less. We’ve planned our family vacation to the lake house and the quiet Sunday picnic in the park. We enjoy a glass of wine on our patio and relish at the sight of our blossoming tomatoes. It’s the perfect time of year to brush up on those culinary skills with the local farmer’s markets overflowing with produce and there’s no shortage of recipes on the inter-webs. You might even try asking your local farmer’s what they enjoy making with their own produce. I’m sure you’ll encounter an endless sea of inspiration for your summer cooking.

Oh, yes! While we were in the midst of discussing all this summer goodness, I forgot to share with you. I was selected as The Local Palate Magazine’s favorite blogger of the month which is the best form of flattery. TLP is a southern-based magazine that celebrates the food culture of the south. I delight in knowing there are people out there who enjoy my passion for food and I’m elated to be working with them this month. You can check their blog tomorrow for my post on comfort food in Nashville. I’d love to hear your thoughts on places you find dishes that remind you of home or simply take you to that ‘happy place’.

In my spare time, I enjoy surfing through recipes to find inspiration and challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone when it comes to meal preparation. We don’t typically eat a lot of salad around Casa de Hunter, we enjoy cooked veggies and sometimes there’s even cheese sauce involved. But I saw this recipe for Cornbread Panzanella Salad on The Local Palate Magazine’s website and I couldn’t resist the temptation to try it out. If you’re a fan of southern cooking, you should definitely check out their recipe archives for some of the best recipes from southern chefs. I mean, if cornbread is involved, then enough said.Cornbread Panzanella Salad

Cornbread Panzanella Salad via The Local ForkfulI’m often looking for ways to bring some southern influence into other genres of cuisine and I love the addition of cornbread to this Tuscan salad as opposed to the typical rustic country miche of some sort. If there’s a food that can take me on a stroll down memory lane, cornbread is definitely at the top of that list. I can hear the butter sizzle around the edges of the cast-iron skillet and smell that rich nuttiness erupting through the corridors of my childhood. And what better way to use those beautiful tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs than in such a simple salad with great layers of flavor.

The preparation doesn’t take too long and the best part is the ‘left-overs’ are even better, which is always a plus. As you make this recipe, remember that recipes are merely guidelines. You always have room to improve and with that being said, I added two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and about two teaspoons of kosher salt to this recipe and it was killer. It may even make a guest appearance at the Thanksgiving table wearing fall produce selections. It has such a clean flavor with those fresh vegetables and then a rich corny-nuttiness from the combination of the butter and toasted cornbread croutons. You’re family and friends are guaranteed to love it and if they don’t, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy.Cornbread Panzanella Salad on The Local Forkful Food Blog

I always recommend reading the recipe all the way through before tackling it. It ensures the least amount of mistakes made. No one likes to backtrack when hunger is involved.

Cornbread Panzanella SaladIngredients

1 pint teardrop tomatoes, cut in half
2 each cucumber – cut in half, seeded, cut into half moons 1/8-inch thick
2 each large red and golden beats roasted (*see below)
2 tablespoons chiffonade basil
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
2 cups toasted diced corn bread
1 tablespoon garlic
2 bunches frisée lettuce, rough cut
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup grated fontina cheese

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For Dressing

¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil

Directions

For Dressing:

1. Whisk the lemon juice and the oil profusely with a wire whisk until you form a temporary emulsion.This means the two liquids will look as though they’ve combined, but its only temporary.

Side Note: This is where I included the ounce of red wine vinegar and two teaspoons of salt into the original dressing recipe. Once you’ve emulsified the mixture, I add the salt and whisked until barely any crystals of kosher salt were left.

1a. Mix all ingredients, except the grated fontina, together in a large bowl. Add a little dressing at a time to the salad until to your liking. Salt and pepper to taste. Top with cheese and serve.

Cornbread Panzanella Salad

For Cornbread

8 ounces butter, softened (plus 2 tablespoons for pan and cubes)
2 ounces sugar
2 ounces powdered sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 ¼ cup milk

Sift together:

1 1/3 cups cornmeal
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10×14 inch square pan.

2. In large mixing bowl whip together the butter, sugar, and powdered sugar until in looks creamy. Add the eggs and continue mixing. While mixing add, a little at a time, the dry ingredients and then a little of the milk.

3. Continue by alternating both ingredients a little at a time until all ingredients are blended. Place in a buttered pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

4. Remove from oven and let cool. Cut into ¼ inch squares for salad. Toss together in a bowl with melted butter. Toast in oven on sheet tray until browned.

Roasting Beets:
*To roast beets, coat lightly in oil, place on a sheet tray, roast in oven at 375 degrees until fork tender. Remove from oven and let cool. Take a towel and remove the skin from beets. Cut into a medium dice. Set aside.Cornbread Panzanella Salad

Cornbread Panzanella Salad

 

 

 

 

Nanny’s Homemade Pickles

 

Nanny's Homemade PicklesThere’s a minimalist inside of me just screaming to get out. I want to be surrounded by less and somehow I continue to take in more. My affinity for food props and ‘old things’ that appear to tell a story continue to steal my heart with every visited estate sale. How is it these families of deceased loved ones could let go of such treasures. Sets of silver and hand-woven baskets, wood-working pieces and quilts consisting of fragmented memories. It’s a bit melancholy when I reflect on it. I know that some of the pieces I own were simply thoughtless purchases of a scrambling aunt who forgot a birthday or two but it doesn’t mean there’s no value…or maybe it does?

The thought of clutter and neglected things often cause me to yearn for simple things. You know the sandwich your mom used to make with a spread of mustard and a slice of ham nestled between two slices of white bread. Or maybe for you it was a cup of chocolate pudding and a glass of milk. What is it about simple prepared foods that often have our palates pleading for seconds and sometimes third servings? I mean, sure it’s nice to have a piece of smoked meat wrapped in something, suveed in something, cured, smoked again, sliced thin, piled high with a gastrique chasing the plates rim. But that isn’t how the typical person eats or at least I wouldn’t dare to think so?

homemade picklesI’ve run into this time and time again from the recollection of my childhood to the occasional venture to a new dining spot here in Nashville. The dish that has 5 ingredients as opposed to fifteen is the ‘last man standing’. Nothing annoys me more than a chef who over thinks their dishes. It’s often as simple as leaving off that hibiscus foam or random shaved vegetable that could make a dish shine. And leave an everlasting impression on that first-time or returning guests palate that could possibly ignite their passion for food. Not just eating it for necessity but also for sheer pleasure the enjoyment flavor profiles, local ingredients and textbook cooking techniques. My great-grandmother and grandmother were both skilled artisans at these simple things and I could go on and on telling you about some of the best meals I ever ate because they were so simple that they can’t be erased from my ‘food memories’. And I don’t think that I’d be willing to part with them. Nanny's Homemade Pickles by The Local Forkful

I’m sharing these pickles with you today because the farmer’s markets have been overflowing with them and I just couldn’t resist making you a batch of them the way my great-grandmother and her daughter made them. Sometimes I sit and long for the day when I could walk into her backyard and be greeted by the hung sheets on the line, being dried by the suns warm beams. Carelessly running across that fragile bridge that connected to her quarter acre garden in the middle of suburbia. It was perfection at its best and I still long for those days when life was truly simple. These pickles don’t involve a tedious collection of herbs and spices. No boiling of liquids or Ball mason jar’s, no, these pickles only require white granulated sugar and apple cider vinegar. I know you might be thinking, “could it really be that good, if there’s only two ingredients for the brine?” And I tell you, yes, yes they are. And if you aren’t a believer after trying them then back to your usual way’s and I’ll eat them for you.

There’s no need for me to write out a method for them. You simply rinse and slice 3 medium cucumbers about a 1/4 inch thick slices. Place them in a mixing bowl or storage container with 2 tablespoons of white granulated sugar, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and a smidgen of kosher salt. I gently stir them until I see most of the sugar is dissolved and be careful not to bruise the cucumbers. Let them sit at room temp for one hour stirring every 15 minutes to insure all cucumbers come in contact with the liquid. I like a bit of spice in mine so I added 1 1/2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes. They are ready to eat at the end of the hour but if you’re a chilled pickle fan then put them in the fridge for about thirty minutes. These pickles also taste fantastic on burgers, or just eat them when no one else is around. Nanny's Homemade Pickles by The Local Forkful