(Almost) Perfect Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I refrain from calling things “perfect,” partly because nothing really is, and partly because I think that perfect is a dangerous word.

However, I am completely comfortable with calling these sea salt chocolate chip cookies *almost* perfect. They are light and fluffy, soft and chewy, sweet with melted dark chocolate chips, and slightly salty from flaky sea salt. I’m getting emotional even writing about them.

I baked these cookies at an ideal moment because my best friend Rachel just came into town. If anyone can distinguish between a real and a poser chocolate chip cookie, it’s Rachel. We both agree that the ideal chocolate chip cookie should be soft, not crispy, with a tender middle and slightly brown outside. If a cookie doesn’t meet this description, we don’t want to mess with it.

I’m looking forward to getting Rachel’s expert opinion on these cookies. I already ran them past one taste tester, my boyfriend, who said, “These are good,” in an appreciative but also surprised tone. I think it’s because he thought they looked like scones from the picture I sent him, which to be honest, they kind of do. But it’s only because I took the picture right as the cookies came out of the oven because I was so excited.

ANYWAY. Make these cookies as soon as possible. If you’re searching for an ideal chocolate chip cookie, these will satisfy your needs. Even if you’re not, they’re delicious as a treat or all-day snack. I think I had about five yesterday without feeling like I was having a sugar overload.

Here’s a song to get you started on your sea salt chocolate chip journey.

(Almost) Perfect Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine salt
2 cups dark chocolate chips
flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Beat the sugars and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium high until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat the mixture on medium until the ingredients are incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and fine salt. Add the flour mixture to the bowl of the stand mixer, and mix on low speed (working up to medium) until your dough comes together. Mix in the chocolate chips (you can also do this with a spatula if you prefer).

Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Drop a rounded tablespoon-full of dough onto the tray, spacing the balls about two inches apart.

Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they’re slightly golden brown on top and set in the center. Do not overbake. Remove the cookies from the oven and sprinkle them with flaky sea salt. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for a minute before removing them to cool the rest of the way on a wire rack.

Cookies will keep for a few days (or more) in an airtight container. Enjoy!

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Fudgy Flourless Brownies from Dolly and Oatmeal

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I made these fudgy flourless brownies a week ago and I’m still thinking about them today. That probably means I should tell you about them.

I’m usually wary of recipes that turn standard baked goods into something else. For example, a recipe that subs in spelt flour, xanathan gum, and agave syrup for all-purpose flour, baking soda, and sugar, will probably result in a pastry that does not taste like the one you ate when you were five. It’s the cold, hard truth.

However, I do stay open-minded about recipes that make small substitutions with more or less recognizable ingredients. Cue: these brownies.

This is one of the best brownie recipes I’ve tried, and I do not say that lightly. The brownies are fudgy, rich, chocolatey, and all around delicious. They taste great on their own, but they’re even better with a scoop of ice cream on top and some hot fudge. I guess the hot fudge and ice cream kind of defeats the purpose of the gluten-free, dairy-free aspect of this recipe, but I’m totally okay with that.

Some tips for making these brownies: Make sure to grease the bottom of the pan. This is key for removing the brownies later once they’re done baking (and not having one of those, “let’s use a butter knife to dig the brownies out of the pan,” situations…although that wouldn’t be the end of the world).

Also, make sure to take the brownies out of the oven when you insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out mostly clean. It took my brownies a little longer than the 20-22 minutes the original recipe called for, but it could just be my oven. Check and see to get the best results.

Here’s a song to get you started on your fudgy flourless brownie journey.

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Okra, Corn, and Tomato Sauté

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This is my favorite time of year at the farmers’ market–well, my second favorite, after strawberry season. Three of my favorite produce items, okra, tomatoes, and corn, are all in abundance, and I love thinking up new ways to combine them.

This dish was a product of walking around the farmers’ market and picking out what looked and smelled good. I already had the tomatoes from Tony White, my friend and a tomato supplier in St. Louis, but I found okra, corn, onion, and basil the market. The basil smelled so good, the guy who sold it told me he wanted to buy some. Hopefully he gets it for free.

I guess in many ways, this dish is similar to succotash, a Southern recipe with tomatoes, okra, and corn. The only difference is, I left out bell peppers and beans. If you want a heartier dish and you have some extra bell peppers and beans, you could go all the way and make succotash. Or you could opt for this recipe, which is super easy and relies on fewer ingredients.

A lot of people shy away from cooking with okra because of its tendency to become slimy. You can avoid this by being very gentle with the okra. Minimal cutting and stirring is key. The more you stir or toss the okra in the pan, the more of a chance you’ll end up with a slimy mess.

This sauté is delicious on its own, but it’s also good as an accompaniment to another dish. I could see it working really well with a good piece of fish or chicken.

If you’re not a basil fan (and if this is true, who are you, really?), you could always sub in another herb. I bet thyme would also work really well in this dish.

Here’s a song to get you started on your okra, corn, and tomato sauté journey.

Okra, Corn, and Tomato Sauté

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 pound okra, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 corn cobs, corn kernels cut off
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until it’s tender and almost translucent. Add the okra and corn, season generously with salt and pepper, and stir, trying not to stir too much because then the okra will get slimy.

Add the tomatoes and more salt and pepper to taste. Stir again, being careful not to disturb the okra. Cook for a few minutes more until the okra is slightly tender. Turn off the heat. Gently stir in the chopped basil. Serve warm over rice. Enjoy!

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Caesar Salad

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Historically, I haven’t been a fan of Caesar salad. If you took me to a restaurant and asked me to order a salad, and if Caesar was on the menu, I’d inevitably choose another salad.

There’s something about the thick, creamy dressing that always unnerved me. Plus, there aren’t that many sweet toppings. I like salads that make me forget that I’m eating salad, i.e., ones with lots of fruit, nuts, and other distractions on top. Or, it could be as simple as sliced tomatoes, olive oil, and sea salt. I eat that “salad” every Saturday during the summer for lunch with baguette.

However, I bought a huge head of romaine lettuce on Saturday at the farmers’ market and I needed to use it up. I thought about creating my own salad with lots of fruit and perhaps some other vegetables, but then I decided to give a homemade Caesar salad a chance. I shuddered a little at memories of restaurant Caesars with sprinkles of dried-out Parmesan cheese and lettuce drowning in dressing. I vowed that I would change my Caesar salad narrative starting now.

I succeeded. Granted, I felt like I wanted to puke in the salad dressing-making stage, but once I got past that, everything came together and was delicious.

The first step of making a Caesar salad is making the dressing. This is not for the faint of heart, or for people who hate seafood. To make the dressing, you have to drain six anchovies that are packed in oil, chop them with a head of garlic and salt, and then mash it together to make a paste. It looks as gross at it sounds. It smells even worse.

Then, you have to mix that paste with lemon juice, olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, grated Parmesan cheese, and egg yolks. Yes, you read that last part correctly. You use raw egg to make Caesar salad dressing, which might freak some people out but rest assured that I’m still alive and I ate huge helpings yesterday for dinner and today for lunch.

After that, the salad practically assembles itself. You cut up the romaine (or tear up, in my case) into bite-sized pieces, and then you top it with croutons, shaved Parmesan cheese, and dressing. The shaved Parmesan cheese makes a real difference in this salad. It adds a little heft and more flavor than shredded Parm.

You can make your own croutons but I opted for store bought because I wanted to eat the bread I have with the salad. I bet homemade croutons would also distract from the restaurant Caesar salad trauma, if you’re suffering from it.

As I’m reflecting on it, I think the real reason I hated Caesar salad so much before was because it obscured the ingredients’ best features. A poor Caesar salad masks crispy, crunchy Romaine leaves, which are one of the heartiest and most texturally-appealing salad leaves, and it can be underwhelming in terms of flavor.

I’d recommend using shaved parm, the crunchiest croutons you can find, and taking extra care with the dressing. Taste as you go along…although maybe not in the anchovy mash stage. I added more lemon to my dressing and it made a big difference.

Here’s the recipe I consulted for my Caesar salad. I followed it to the “t” except for homemade croutons.

Here’s a song to get you started on your Caesar salad journey.

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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Welcome to this edition of Dimanche (That Means Sunday), a roundup of things that caught my eye this past week.

I’m going to slightly gloss over this past week in favor of the one that came before it, because that week was more exciting. A couple weeks ago, I headed down to Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon, MO, to catch a trout for a Missouri Life story I was working on.

Luckily, I have a boyfriend who knows how to fish because I don’t really know anything about it. I’d never caught a fish in my life, even though I’d been fishing once before. He showed me what to do and got me set up on the river, and then I tried all day to catch a fish. I’m not going to give away the ending (you’ll have to check out the Missouri Life story for that), but let’s just say that the day exceeded my expectations.

Being at Bennett Spring reminded me of why I love nature. Even though there were other people around fishing, I felt a connection with the land that was intensely personal. It was just me, myself, and I, standing in an icy cold river. Eventually, the cold wore off and it felt pleasant to stand in the water. Yes, it was frustrating to try to catch a fish, but I’d look around, hear the rush of water from the dam, see the beautiful green trees swaying in the wind, and realize that even if I didn’t catch a fish, at least I had this experience.

I know not everyone feels the same connection to nature but I strongly believe that beauty is where you find it. I’d recommend a day or two in a remote or semi-remote area to anyone who wants to recharge and unwind.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

The morning after Bennett Spring, my boyfriend and I stopped at Elm Street Eatery to get one of their famous cinnamon rolls. It did not disappoint. Elm Street’s cinnamon roll is a veritable volcano with tons of icing dripping down all sides. We split it and surprisingly, I felt okay afterward. Check it out if you’re ever at the restaurant in Lebanon, MO. 55D2230D-7A36-4E7E-B46F-96BF2D334B13

I enjoyed this story about British culture and the traditional hot crossed bun. In the article, the writer makes the point that although the standard bun is becoming less common, new buns from different countries and cultures are making an appearance. British national identity if being reforged, so what is considered a “normal” bun has to change with it. Read more in Taste.

Apparently, a cat filter can get you into a lot of trouble. I had a good laugh at this story about a Pakistani politician live streaming a conference on social media with a cat filter after a staffer left it on. If only this would happen in America. Check out the story on CNN.

I love a good grilled cheese, and I had one of the best of my life a week ago at Druff’s in Springfield, MO. The restaurant specializes in out-of-the-box grilled cheese sandwiches and soups. I’d highly recommend the “Uncle Tatey” with goat cheese, pulled pork, and strawberries.550F517B-D5B5-4AE1-AD54-CA0415D84668

The Washington Post launched a new travel product and I’m very into it. “By The Way” includes city guides by locals, so you’re getting the most insider tips. I appreciate this because all too often, travel guides feel impersonal. Check out the product on the Washington Post‘s website.

This article saying that quesadillas are the best bar food is spot. on. When I lived in DC, I used to order a quesadilla every time I went to the dive bar down the street from my office. It was warm, crunchy, soft with melted cheese, and satisfying. Few other bar foods live up to this standard. Check out this Eater piece for more on why quesadillas are the best.

I turned the big 3-1 this past week and I celebrated by going to dinner at Bulrush. For those of you who don’t know, Bulrush is a foraging-forward restaurant that just opened in St. Louis. It celebrates traditional Ozark recipes and cooking traditions. Every course was better than the next. I left feeling completely satisfied, and more knowledgeable about Missouri culinary traditions. Visit Bulrush if you’re ever in town. DB1D3A21-983E-482A-873D-448A80D1BDD7

New Jersey is launching an official food trail in honor of Anthony Bourdain. The late TV host’s home state’s food trail includes 10 eateries that Bourdain visited on a 2015 episode of his series, “Parts Unknown.” Read more about it in this AFAR story.

Speaking of Anthony Bourdain… Bourdain’s friends, chefs Eric Ripert and Jose Andrés, are starting a scholarship in his honor that allows culinary students to study abroad. Get more details in this Eater article.

Last but certainly not least, an entire New York subway car started singing a Backstreet Boys song together recently. It’s the kind of story that gives you more faith in humanity. Read more about it and watch the video here.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started.

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Strawberry Mint Rose Agua Fresca

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A week ago, I ran a poll on Twitter asking people what I should make with my surplus of strawberries. Everyone voted for strawberry agua fresca. I ended up making a strawberry buttermilk cake.

Flash-forward to this weekend, when I decided to follow through on the voters’ choice and make a strawberry mint rose agua fresca. I’m so happy that I listened to everyone.

This drink is equal parts tart, sweet, tangy, and refreshing. It’s the perfect drink to have made up in the fridge, so all you have to do is get a glass, fill it with a bunch of ice, and fill it up with strawberry mint rose agua fresca. You can enjoy it while reading on the couch, while watching TV, or you can even take it to go. I bet it would be good at your desk in the morning on a Monday when you don’t want to be back at work.

Feel free to get creative with herbs and fruit for this drink. If you’re not a fan of mint, you could sub in tarragon. I’m thinking about doing a blackberry thyme combo this summer. Stay tuned.

Also, you can omit the rose water in this drink but I think it’s a welcome addition. It adds a subtle flavor punch to the water so it doesn’t just taste like berry juice. Orange blossom water would also work well.

Here’s a song to get you started on your strawberry mint rose agua fresca journey.

Strawberry Mint Rose Agua Fresca

Ingredients

1 pound of strawberries, hulled
¼ cup mint leaves, plus sprigs for serving
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp rose water
lime wheels for serving

Directions

Purée the strawberries, 1/4 cup mint leaves, lime juice, agave nectar, and rose water with 2 cups of very cold water. Place the mixture in an airtight container and chill it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Fill glasses with ice and pour the agua fresca into each glass. This recipe makes about four glasses of agua fresca. Top with springs of mint and lime wheels. Enjoy!

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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I’m starting to get that almost-summer feeling, which is one of my favorite feelings to get.

This year has been super weird weather-wise in St. Louis, with colder-than-usual temperatures and lots of rain and storms, but now we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I always know summer is here when I go to Tower Grove Park and see the lotus blossoms (see above). They’re especially beautiful after the rain.

With summer comes lots of new activities and travel plans, as well as new recipes. I’m heading down to Southwestern Missouri later this week to catch trout for a story I’m working on for a magazine. In a couple weeks, I’m probably going to make my own birthday cake for the first time in a while. I have a yellow cake recipe with chocolate buttercream frosting and I’ve already been scouting out sprinkles to go on top.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to more relaxation this summer. I was at yoga the other night and my teacher was talking about how summer brings a lot of energy, which is true, but it’s important to balance that with some downtime. I’m envisioning many more afternoons with a good book and strawberry rose mint agua frescas (more on the those later).

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

When I was at Tower Grove Farmers’ Market yesterday, I stumbled upon a pop-up stand from a New Orleans jewelry maker called Lux + Orleans. I saw the pair of earrings in the below picture, walked away without buying them, and ended up coming back and buying them because I couldn’t stop thinking about them as I ran errands. I can’t wait to wear them with everything this summer. A4429DD8-CA7E-48EB-80ED-359A237478C6

This story about tupelo honey is from a couple weeks back but I’m still thinking about it. Hurricanes and encroaching developments threaten the livelihood of the small group of beekeepers who are still producing the honey, but they keep at it, year after year. Read more about tupelo honey and honey makers in this New York Times story.

Everyone needs to watch “Always Be My Maybe.” I watched the movie on Netflix last week and I loved it from start to finish. Ali Wong was great as an ambitious celebrity chef but in my opinion, Randall Park stole the show as a stoner musician living in his dad’s house with no plans to move out. Check out this review of the movie in Eater.

I’m loving this “Writers’ Fridges” column from The Paris ReviewI laughed out loud more than a few times at this one about novelist Kristen Arnett’s fridge. Read the full article in The Paris Review.

I went to Nippon Tei for the first time last night and I was blown away. My boyfriend and I ordered bluefin sashimi and it was so good, I had tears in my eyes. I can’t wait to come back to the restaurant and order more sushi and sashimi soon. If you’re in St. Louis and you haven’t been yet, I’d highly recommend making the trip out to West County.
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This editorial about food delivery services is spot on. I’m all for companies being able to deliver meals to residences, but I’m definitely against the growing phenomenon of meal delivery replacing real cooking. I agree with writer David Tamarkin when he says in the article that the companies are trying to convince us that cooking is more time-consuming and complicated than it actually is. Read the full op-ed in The New York Times.

Now that I’ve made a strawberry mint rose agua fresca once, I’m going to be making it all summer. I riffed off a recipe I saw online and it turned out really well. Stay tuned for my recipe later this week on the blog. BAF79A54-FFDE-426A-8EAF-59D9806569E9

This story about chocolate companies using child labor broke my heart. I already don’t buy from these companies very often, but after reading this story and seeing the photographs, I don’t think I ever will again. I’d encourage you to vote with your dollars and do the same. Read the story in The Washington Post.

I stopped by AO&Co. for the first time yesterday morning and I’m already scheduling my next visit. The market is new from Ben Poremba, the owner of restaurants in St. Louis including Elaia and Olio. Check it out for gourmet food items, specialty products, and a wonderful tea and coffee shop next door that sells the best iced tea of my life. It comes with almond and orange blossom syrup. 58E868CE-03A8-411E-887D-2CE7650D2E9D

Last but certainly not least, ice cream trucks are having a meltdown in New York. The city is cracking down on numerous ice cream trucks that never paid fines for violating traffic laws. Read more about the situation in this CNN article.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started.

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