Pudding It Together (apologies to Sondheim)

Happy New Year! My first resolution of 2012 is to blog more often. Back when I wrote a monthly parenting column for Sesame Workshop, I had a great excuse to capture all the amusing and precious details of my children’s lives, and my often humorous struggles as a parent. While an archive of these columns lives on elsewhere on this website, it’s time for some fresh material. I decided to share a fun story about making rice pudding with my daughter Olivia, now 7.

Yesterday, on the last day of vacation before she and Finian return to school, Olivia said she wanted to “do an experiment.” My wife and I know that this is code for “turning the kitchen into a tornado of ingredients.” Getting Olivia to try an actual recipe is sometimes tricky. She’d much rather mix random stuff from our cabinets and see what happens. I love the freeform cooking approach, but I want her to see that she’s capable of making some of her favorite dishes.

A few months ago, at a local diner, Olivia discovered that she LOVED rice pudding. So that seemed  worth a shot. I consulted a few recipes online, rejected one by Alton Brown (looked delicious, but required some esoteric ingredients, such as caradamom), and settled on one by the inimitable Ina Garten a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa a.k.a. the one who makes her husband Jeffrey melt at the mere mention of roast chicken. But I digress.. Here’s the recipe we used (minus the rum, which didn’t seem appropriate for Olivia)

She got a big kick measuring the rice, running her hands through the grains (“You washed them, right honey?”), and pour the whole quart of half-and-half into the measuring cup. I even threw in a little science prediction: “Do you think the measuring cup with overflow?” When it was gone, Olivia proudly sprinkled cinnamon on each dish and served it to our family. It was DELICIOUS! (And I just realized there are leftovers in the fridge, and I’m the only one home… Hmm.. the possibilities are endless.

I’d love to hear any great  stories you’d like to share about cooking with kids.

Have a wonderful 2012. I’ll write again soon. Promise!

paper airplane and crumbs

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie!?

Hope you’re having a terrific summer so far. A few weeks ago, I was browsing through the New York Times when this picture caught my eye:

Being a devoted reformed chocoholic, I read the accompanying article entitled “Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret.” This article starts off by singing the praises of one Ruth Graves Wakefield, whose marvelous accomplishment belies her name’s bizarre and ominous anagrams–“Five deaths grew a lurk” and “A farted evil grew husk,”…whatever they mean. (Oops, sorry, just got distracted by a cool online anagram maker — back to the regular blog entry…)

As I was saying, this article starts by telling the tale of the fateful day in the 1930s when Ms. Wakefield, an owner of the Toll House Inn near Boston, invented the chocolate chip cookie. The reporter than asks a number of top NYC bakers some secrets to improve upon on the famous Tollhouse recipe, printed on the back of Nestlé chocolate chips. One easy but important secret, which I’ve discovered over the years, is to refrigerate the batter at least an hour before baking the cookies. Makes sense — a colder dough melts more gradually in the oven, so that when the cookies bake, the outside is crisp, while the inside remains soft and chewy. This NYT article reveals that while Ms. Wakefield’s 1953 “Toll House Cook Book” did instruct readers to “chill the dough overnight” this key step was left out of the recipe when it was transfered to the recipe listed on the bag of Nestlé chips. Another of the NYC bakers asked to improve the Toll House recipe, gave this rather surprising suggestion: Sprinkle sea salt on the cookies just before popping them in the oven. 

Best of all this article provided a recipe for the new and improved chocolate chip cookie. I was excited to try it out — but a little dubious. Toll House cookies are one of life’s most perfect food — how can you improve upon perfection? Plus, I was turned off by the recipe’s request to use both “bread flour” and “cake flour.” I just used the same unbleached all-purpose white flour I’ve always used. I was also wary of the extreme precision of some of the measurements: “2 cups of cake flour – minus two Tablespoons.” But I used all the measurements as requested.

Using Herculean will power, I let the cookie dough stay in my fridge for 24+ hours, untasted!  The recipe’s chocolate asked for “1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves (whatever a “fève” is). Instead I just used a bag and half of bittersweet chocolate chips by Ghirardelli, which I found at the local supermarket. (These chips were slightly larger than the usual Hershey or Toll House kind.) The only other addition I made was throwing in about a cup of chopped walnuts. Just before putting the cookies in the oven, I dutifully sprinkled some sea salt on top.

The resulting cookies were SPLENDID! While they took a bit more time than the usual Toll House variety, they are definitely going to be added to my repertoire. Perhaps some day soon, I’ll put together a little contest on my web site, and I’ll mail a batch of these cookies to the winner…

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My “Top Secret” Brownie Recipe

Psst! Yea, you. Get close to the screen. I’m about to spill the beans (cacao beans, in particular) on my favorite brownie recipe. If you are a, um, “reformed chocoholic” like myself, then you can leave this blog entry right now. But if you’re devoted to all things Hershey, read on.

In my senior year at Oberlin College, I asked the owner of a local restaurant if they would share with me the recipe for their scrumptious, out-of-this-world brownies. These amazing treats had helped fuel many an all-nighter, and were always just the ticket when I needed to boost my spirits. Anyway, the owner said “no” at first. She was worried that I might start selling these brownies on my own. I reassured her that I was much too busy to do such at thing, and would only bake up batches for lucky friends and family after I graduated. To sweeten the deal, I offered to trade the brownie recipe for my recipe for amazing chocolate chunk cookies that I used to include as part of my Groucho Gram singing telegram service. The owner was hesitant. So I went home and baked a batch of my chocolate chunk cookies and returned the following day, with the recipe as well. The owner enjoyed my homemade goodies, and finally agreed to share the brownie recipe.

Which I now pass onto you… (with some minor tweaks from experiments in the kitchen) Bon Appetit!


Yields: 2 pans of the most awesomely fudgy brownies you’ve ever tasted (about 32 large brownies in all)

8 oz. unsweetened chocolate squares
1-1/2 cups butter (3 sticks)
6 eggs
3 cups of sugar
1-1/2 cups of flour
3 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. instant coffee
1 cup nuts, chopped (walnuts or pecans)
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare two 8 x 8 inch pans by coating with butter, then coating with flour and shaking off the excess.

Melt butter and unsweetened chocolate in either double boiler, or in large bowl in microwave (but be careful not to burn chocolate in microwave). Cool the mixture to room temperature

With hand mixer (or strong arms!) eat eggs, add sugar, and melted butter/chocolate.

Add flour, vanilla, salt, instant coffee, chopped nuts, and chocolate chips.

Bake in 350 oven for 45 minutes. Do not overbake. Should be tender and fudgy. They will set up as they cool.

(By the way, feel free to respond to this entry with any of your own favorite recipes.)

paper airplane and crumbs