Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cookies - Me vs. The Machine

Potbelly.  Who would have thought they would be my cookie-baking nemesis?!  I certainly didn’t.  I figured it would be some great artisanal baker, but no.  I’ve heard from several people over the years about how amaaazing their cookies and ice cream-cookie sandwiches are….blah, blah, blah.

Challenge accepted and nemesis no more, my friends.  I think I have finally conquered their most popular cookie – the oatmeal chocolate chip, of course.

Like a true professional, I did my research over time.  I made tweaks to a recipe I already know and love, I tried a couple new recipes from other blogs, I bought a Potbelly cookie and tried to figure out if there was some secret spice I was missing (Anyone see that Friends episode with Monica dissecting what turned out to be a Nestle Tollhouse recipe??  Yup, same.).  I even emailed Potbelly’s customer service and asked them about their recipe.  I’ll get to their response in a sec.  But finally, I got the golden ticket one day when a weekly email from King Arthur Flour showed up in my inbox featuring their version…bingo.  I should have thought to go to them first.

Here is their recipe:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt or 3/4 teaspoon regular table salt
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1) Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper, or lightly grease with non-stick vegetable oil spray.
2) Beat together the butter and sugars until smooth.
3) Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla one at a time, beating well after each.
4) Whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and add to the butter mixture in the bowl.
5) Mix until everything is thoroughly incorporated. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and mix briefly.
6) Stir in the chocolate chips.
7) Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2" to 2" between cookies.
8) Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, until they're a light golden brown, with slightly darker edges. Their middles may still look a tiny bit shiny; that's OK, they'll continue to bake as they cool on the pan.
9) Remove the cookies from the oven, and as soon as they're set enough to handle, transfer them to racks to cool.

As good as this recipe is, I still make my own adjustments to get the texture I want – I use jumbo eggs instead of large, I add some extra oats (about 1/2-3/4 cup), perhaps a pinch more baking soda or powder.  I will say that their use of a full tablespoon of vanilla is unique – don’t skimp on that, it makes all the difference.  And whatever you do, make sure its pure vanilla extract and not imitation.  Ick.

As for Potbelly’s customer service response….well first, I checked their website and it just says that a particular recipe is used and they are baked fresh daily.  Ok fine, but I wanted more than that.  I asked if the dough is actually made on sight or if they just get dough that they bake at each location.  I also asked if the recipe was Potbelly’s or from a third party bakery.  The response (which to their credit, I did receive within 24 hours) was, “They are baked fresh each day from dough which is made according to a Potbelly recipe.”  Hmmm, they get kudos for using their own recipe, but this is still vague enough, and I’ve watched enough “How It’s Made” in my day to guess that this dough arrives at each store in big gallon buckets (likely with added sodium and preservatives) and just gets scooped out and plopped onto baking sheets.  Nothing horribly wrong with that I suppose, but for all the hype they get, you’d hope that there’s at least some skill and passion involved.  Next time you get the craving, come to my kitchen instead….to borrow from Seinfeld – admittedly the context is a bit different – they’re real and they’re spectacular!!

Another batch laying in wait

**Note** – I made these for my Baking GALS Round 31.  While I would love to devour them all myself, I thought it best to get them out of the house immediately and spare my figure.  And no, I did not skip Rounds 29 and 30 – I made repeat cookie and scone recipes the past couple months and therefore didn’t bother boring you with the details.  No worries, the troops were fed!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Beef (and Snow Peas) - It's What's For Dinner

Recently, on a random Saturday morning, in a Food Network haze, I happened to catch an episode of Pioneer Woman.  She generally makes great looking food but it’s often so heavy and rich I can’t imagine making it unless I’m cooking for a crowd who will ensure no leftovers.  This time though, she made a recipe that looked so simple and supposedly it only took about 20 minutes to whip up…I decided to put it to the test.

Boom.  This dish was as quick as promised – I think the most time consuming part of it was slicing the beef and chopping the ginger.  Otherwise you just toss a few things together and sauté it up.  Dinner in no time, and since that’s pretty much what I have these days, I appreciate that!

What’s even more surprising is that something this fast to make is not at all lacking in flavor.  I added just a pinch of salt, some freshly ground black pepper and a few shakes of garlic powder (in my opinion, almost everything can benefit from garlic).

If you aren’t into snow peas, no problem – I think this would be great with several other vegetables – broccoli or green peppers for example.

I served the beef with quinoa – a pre-seasoned pack of sesame ginger quinoa to be exact.  It was okay, but I quickly remembered why I don’t buy those packets regularly….soooo salty, ugh!  And this is coming from a girl who loves some salt.  I hate to waste food, but I actually trashed the rest of the quinoa and cooked up some plain brown rice to have for next time.  I think it’ll be much better. 

Definitely give it a try – even you non-cooks can handle this one.  The recipe and step-by-step pictures can be found here:    The Pioneer Woman