chocolate chip zucchini muffins

chocolate chip zucchini muffins

Let’s face it, zucchini is one of those things that, by itself, doesn’t really produce much of a wow factor. [You certainly won't catch me sitting down to a bowl of shredded raw zucchini anytime soon.] When incorporated with other flavors and seasonings, though – zucchini can be one of the most versatile elements to work with to produce both deliciously sweet and savory dishes. One of my favorite pairings with zucchini is chocolate, as the richness works really well with the light earthiness of the vegetable. To be expected, this flavor profile makes a wonderful backbone for a muffin.

I use both semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chunks in these muffins to really add a pop of chocolate to each bite, but make it your own and use whichever chocolate is calling you. I love the sweetness to come from the chocolate and not so much from the muffin itself, so I dialed down the granulated sugar, as well. The result is an seemingly indulgent muffin that works well for both snacks and desserts.

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chocolate chip zucchini muffins

A well-balanced treat, I particularly enjoy these muffins because they combine the subtle earthiness of garden-fresh zucchini and the divine indulgence of chocolate. I like to use both semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chunks, but feel free to stick with your favorite baking chocolate or combination of your liking. As a note, I use only 1/2 cup granulated sugar in this recipe, as the chocolate contributes a decent amount of sweetness. Feel free to increase to 3/4 cup sugar, if you prefer. You can even skip the chocolate, or substitute chopped pecans, if you’d like; the zucchini muffin itself is quite fabulous, but I suggest increasing the granulated sugar to a 3/4 cup if you’re still going for a dessert-like effect.

Makes 12 large muffins
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar [can increase to 3/4 cup if you prefer a sweeter muffin]
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated zucchini, squeezed of excess moisture
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or dark chocolate chunks, or a mixture thereof [I used 2/3 cup semi-sweet and 1/3 cup dark]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners (important, because these muffins tend to stick.)

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, eggs, olive oil, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the dry ingredients. Don’t be alarmed when the mixture appears very thick, like a cookie dough. Keep stirring until the mixture is thoroughly blended, but don’t over-mix. Add the zucchini and chocolate chips/chunks, and stir until well combined. You’ll see the mixture loosen up again, resembling a standard muffin batter.

Divide amongst the 12 lined muffin tin cups. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin tests cleanly. Serve warm, or let cool completely and then store in an air-tight container. The muffins will keep well for a few days.

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macaroni and cheese

macaroni and cheese

Part of capitalizing on life is gaining an appreciation for dining alone. Granted, I’ve always had this, but it never really came in handy until I graduated from college, moved hundreds of miles away, and started my career in a town that I didn’t know. I’ve lived both by myself and with roommates since, but inevitably, many weeknight dinners are accompanied by your favorite show on the DVR. Sure, there are hurried meals before evening yoga classes or meeting up for drinks downtown, but whenever Macaroni and Cheese is on the menu, I like to slow things down for one of the ultimate comfort foods.

There are many variations out there, but this recipe is simple: it starts with a roux, which is transformed into a cheese sauce, coated over al dente pasta and baked to bubbly, golden brown perfection. My twist is adding ground cayenne to the sauce, as it provides a backbone of warmth to the entire dish. I then garnish mine with fresh minced hot peppers, which add a pop of color and little flecks of heat. Classics are even better when you add little touches to make them your own.

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macaroni and cheese

Classic and heart-warming, it’s an ultimate comfort food. I add a dash of cayenne into the sauce, which provides a wonderful warmth to the entire dish, without overpowering it.

4 tablespoons butter, melted

4 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

6 cups milk [I used almond]

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Ground cayenne pepper, to taste, optional

1 pound curled/spiral pasta of choice, such as elbow [I used Cavatappi], cooked

Fresh hot peppers, minced, for serving, optional

Preheat the oven 375 degrees F. Butter or mist a large [at least 8 1/2-by-11-inch] casserole dish, and set aside.

In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour until a thick paste forms. Switch to a wooden spoon, and stirring constantly, slightly brown the roux to a warm golden color to develop the flavor. Add the milk, and stir until combined. Once the milk mixture is completely smooth and starts to thicken, add a generous dash of black pepper and a dash of sea salt [remember, you can always add more later.] Stir the sauce again, and add the cheese. Stir until the cheese is completely melted. Taste the sauce, and add any additional salt and pepper, if needed. Add a small dash of cayenne, if desired [I love this, it brings such a gentle warmth to the sauce.] Add the pasta, and stir until all of the pasta is well-coated in the sauce.

Transfer the pasta to the prepared casserole dish. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown on top. Garnish with minced hot peppers, if desired. Serve hot.

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oatmeal raisin cookies

oatmeal raisin cookies

Guys, fall is coming. I know, I’m jumping the gun a little. My trip to the beach is still a couple weeks out, but I’m already getting a little antsy for fall. Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely in love with summer. But I’m in love with fall, as well, and must I really choose sides? Perhaps that’s why I love end-of-summer beach trips. Less crowded, seemingly endless amounts of beach to yourself, and the perfect opportunity to celebrate both the close of a successful summer and the autumn that lies ahead. The start of each morning this week has brought with it a cool crispness to the air, and I can’t help but well with excitement for traditional fall things like hot cider and of course – lots of oatmeal raisin cookies. They’ve always been one of my favorites, perfectly golden brown and chewy, seeming to always successfully close the elusive gap between satisfying a sweet tooth without going overboard. Cookies that make you feel good and warm the soul. Is there anything else you could ask of a cookie?

If you love oatmeal raisin cookies that are loaded with oats, warmly flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg, and thoroughly studded with plump raisins, you’ve come to the right place. Be careful to not bake them too long, as they will continue to bake on the insides for a bit even after your remove them from the oven. They’re hearty, though – so an extra minute or two won’t be a dealbreaker here. They’ll continue to soften up if they’re stored in an airtight container, as the moisture will work its way to the outsides and be absorbed into the golden brown edges. Because even if you want to, it can be overwhelming to know your recipe yields best results only on the first day, and if said results indeed aren’t enjoyed on day one, all is lost. Hence the satisfaction from this magical oatmeal raisin cookie recipe. It’s a beautiful thing, really. And if you can’t stop at one, or even two, don’t worry – I won’t tell anyone.

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oatmeal raisin cookies

A childhood favorite of mine and many of those I know, these cookies are easy to bring together. Fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg, these raisin-studded oatmeal cookies warm the soul.

Makes 4 dozen three-inch cookies
The Joy of Cooking

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar, optional, if you prefer a sweeter cookie [I skip this, and I think they turn out beautifully]
1 1/2 cups light or dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup raisins
3 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, chopped, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl.

Cream butter, sugar(s), eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment; alternatively, cream ingredients with a handheld mixer. Cream until well incorporated. With the mixer on a very low speed, gradually mix in the whisked dry ingredients. Once the flour is incorporated, stir in the raisins, oats, and walnuts, if using.

Drop 2 tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto a baking stone or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving generous space between the cookies. I prefer a 2-tablespoon-sized “ice-cream” style scoop for this, as it is incredibly quick and it ensures the cookies will be the same size. Bake the cookies about 12-14 minutes, or until the edges set and the cookies are lightly browned. Allow to cool on the stone/baking sheet for another two minutes, and then remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining batches of cookies.

Note: These cookies keep well for a few days, stored in an airtight container.

© Simple Pairings. All rights reserved.

lately

For someone who spent seemingly months on end waiting for summer’s arrival, it seems, at first, bittersweet to see back-to-school ads and pumpkin spice lattes on the horizon. That being said, it’s all good, and here’s why: autumn is constantly vying for the highly coveted position of favorite season. Sure, the connotations that summer carries of endless ocean waves, the slathering of sunscreen, and tangled, salty hair all rate quite highly in my book. But autumn brings wonderful new sensations like warm spices, crunchy leaves, and all things pumpkin.

Autumn makes things like sipping espressos on sidewalks, bundled underneath favorite wool sweaters and fedoras, quite picturesque. Blonde ombre locks grow a little longer, fading into the depths of slightly darker roots, conveniently, under said fedora. There are things to look forward to such as hosting football parties, which, to a chef, equates to opportunities to make things like beer cheese dip. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Let’s enjoy the last bit of summer. A few more Mai Tais, a few more picnic cobblers, and of course, a vast amount of sunshine.

One of my favorite candles, and way to celebrate summer even while indoors: Yankee Sun and Sand. Salty waves, sandy toes, and sunscreened-tans all weaved into one scent. Available here Side note, totally excited about this spray version Hope my roommate loves the beach as much as I do. I can practically hear the waves already.

Coconut doughnuts. Need I say more?

Mai Tais. A must. Paradise in a glass, really.

Farmer’s market strawberries and cherries. So lovely. I can get lost wandering throughout the rows at the farmer’s market, and this is one reason why. It’s almost like walking through an art gallery; so much beauty to take in.

Expansive blue skies emblazoned with summer warmth.

Air travel, sunset-style.

Evening wine and cheese dates on the balcony. Soaking in early-evening sun is one of my favorite ways to wind down from a day.

Afternoon lunching, New Mexican-style. Followed shortly with some of the crunchiest taquitos in town, which I re-created here.

To sunshine, and lots of it.

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chicken taquitos

chicken taquitos

Perhaps you’re like me, enjoying practically anything that signals summertime, and as a result, you drape patio lights around your sunroom or balcony. Regardless of rain, wind, or cold, those little glowing globes transform my little slice of townhouse life into an intimate little fiesta. It’s that wonderful ambiance that makes summertime Chicken Taquitos, one of my favorite meals, even better.

My sister and I, ever since we were little, absolutely loved the crunchy shells, stuffed with chicken, and all the garden-fresh ingredients loaded on top. And of course, with guacamole, because you already knew I was obsessed with avocados, right? Taquitos at restaurants can be a bit hit or miss, though, because they are either wonderfully crisp, or incredibly greasy. That’s why I love making them at home, because I can control the final result. Although traditionally deep-fried, I’ve found that a quick pan-fry [cast iron works beautifully here!] with only a hint of oil yields that perfectly crispy outer shell without all the added grease. Serve with all your favorite Mexican accompaniments: guacamole, Mexican crema (or sour cream), cilantro, queso fresco, chopped tomatoes, shredded iceberg, and so forth. The more fresh ingredients, the better. Note, best enjoyed with restaurant-style chips and salsa, friends and family, totally surrounded by patio lit summertime ambiance.

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chicken taquitos

Simple yet incredibly satisfying, taquitos are a superb celebration of contrasts; a crispy, golden brown shell around tender chicken, topped with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, sour cream, and more. A fantastic lunch or dinner, the meal comes together quickly and leftovers are surprisingly fantastic – just line the taquitos on a lined baking sheet in a 200 degree oven, turning occasionally, until crispy.

Serves 4-6
Adapted, barely, from Marcela Valladolid

1/4 cup olive oil
6 (6-inch) flour tortillas [you can use corn tortillas if you like]
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and shredded
Chopped tomatoes, for serving
Shredded iceberg lettuce, for serving
Queso Fresco, for serving
Sliced scallions, for serving
Mashed avocado, for serving
Sour cream or Mexican Crema, for serving
Chopped cilantro, for serving

Divide the shredded chicken evenly amongst the tortillas and roll them up tightly like a cigar, placing a toothpick through the middle of each to secure the tortilla. Set aside.

Warm the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Closely arrange the taquitos, as many will comfortably fit in the skillet, together in the hot oil. Fry the taquitos until golden brown, and using tongs, gently turn the taquitos by 90 degrees and cook until golden brown. Repeat two more times, until the entire surface of the taquito is golden brown. Drain the taquitos on paper towels. Remove the toothpicks.

Serve the taquitos hot, and garnish with tomatoes, lettuce, queso fresco, scallions, avocado, sour cream, and cilantro, to taste.

© Simple Pairings. All rights reserved.

potato salad

potato salad

Potato salad, the quintessential summer staple. Making its way onto nearly every cookout menu, I find it to be one of those things that seems to complement a wide variety of both lunch and dinner options. Whether it’s at sun-drenched picnics or backyard bar-be-cues, moon-lit patios or sandy beaches, it screams summertime to me. Refreshing and satisfying. Super easy to throw together, too – making it a perfect last-minute and low-stress option.

There are so many variations on potato salad that nearly no two are identical; some prefer mayo, some mustard; some spicy, some plain; some laden with herbs, onions, and so forth. The best thing about potato salad, perhaps, is that you can easily make it your own. Leave out what you aren’t crazy about, and amp up the things you love. That being said, don’t go all-out until the salad has a chance to meld together in the refrigerator. A quick taste after you’ve assembled it will ensure you’re headed in the right direction, but a final taste a few hours later is necessary to ensure it’s seasoned to your liking. Serve with sandwiches, burgers, wraps – whichever summertime meal strikes your fancy.

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potato salad

Everyone has their own twist on potato salad, and I’m no exception. To be expected, mine is one that has lots of fresh, savory ingredients, and a bit of heat. I use Russet potatoes here, but this potato salad would also be fabulous with red-skinned potatoes, as well. The sauce is vibrant and well-balanced with fresh herbs, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and cayenne folded together into a bit of creamy mayonnaise. This version is well-dressed, but certainly not overly so. The level of heat can be customized to your liking, so be sure to taste as you go. Remember to chill the salad for a few hours before serving to properly let the flavors meld.

Serves 3-4 as a small side; recipe can be easily doubled or tripled

2 medium Russet potatoes, diced into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup good-quality mayonnaise
1/4 heaping cup fresh chopped parsley [fresh is truly best here]
2 heaping tablespoons fresh minced chives
1/8 cup minced red onion
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Generous amount of hot sauce [I used Frank's; probably about 2-3 tablespoons]
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Heavy dash of cayenne, to taste
Small sprig of parsley, for garnish

In a large pot of boiling and water, add a pinch of salt, stir, and add the diced potatoes. Stirring every so often, cook the potatoes just until fork-tender. You want the inside of the potato to no longer be raw, but still to maintain their structure so that they hold up well in the salad.

In a large mixing bowl [or serving bowl], vigorously stir the mayonnaise, parsley, chives, red onion, Dijon, red wine vinegar, and a few dashes of hot sauce. Taste the mixture and season to taste with sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, cayenne, and additional hot sauce, to taste. Garnish with a small sprig of parsley. Cover and chill for a few hours, at a minimum, before serving.

© Simple Pairings. All rights reserved.

coconut brown butter cookies

coconut brown butter cookies

Big news – I’ve moved! As an apartment dweller for the better half of the last decade, I’m excited to take the next step into the world of townhouses. Just as many stairs, but essentially an apartment broken up into teeny pieces and separated by levels. It’s cozy and the change – as it often is – is utterly refreshing. Now that I’ve waded through all the boxes, I can really start to enjoy it, too.

Which brings me to these dreamy cookies. Post-move, now settled and comfortable, it’s time celebrate. What better way to celebrate than with seriously-contending-for-favorite-cookie-ever Coconut Brown Butter Cookies? With the first bite, this recipe easily transcended my highest cookie expectations. Perfectly sweet, floral, and richly flavored with nutty brown butter – these cookies are worthy to sit alongside exquisite bakery offerings. Absolutely divine.

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coconut brown butter cookies

Fabulously rich with coconut oil and browned butter, these cookies, absolutely packed with coconut flakes, are a tropical indulgence. They are two fabulous cookies made into one; the chewy, moist center of a drop cookie (think chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, etc.) combined with the buttery, lacy edges of a florentine. Have I sold you yet? With added notes of pure vanilla and sea salt, we’re talking cookie heaven.

Makes about 2.5 dozen 3-inch cookies (about 2 tablespoons dough each)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally adapted from The City Bakery, via The Martha Stewart Show

1/2 cup (1 stick or 225 grams) unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons water, as needed to bring the browned butter volume to 1/2 cup
1 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (175 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Slightly heaped 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt [ideal] or 1/4 teaspoon table salt [if you absolutely must]
1/2 cup cold-pressed virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (145 grams) packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups (240 grams) dried, unsweetened coconut flakes or chips [I used these]

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Stir frequently as the butter slowly melts, then becomes foamy, then clear golden, then starts to brown and smell slightly nutty. Once the butter gets to this stage, watch it carefully and stir frequently, scraping bits from the bottom of the pan; continue to monitor the butter until it is nut-brown and fragrantly nutty, remove the butter from heat. Stir the butter again, scraping the bottom of the pan well, and pour into a 1/2 cup measuring cup. Add 1-3 tablespoons water, as needed to bring the browned butter volume up to a full 1/2 cup [this will depend on the water content of your butter.] Transfer to a larger vessel and chill completely in the fridge until the butter fully solidifies. [You can speed this process up by doing this in the freezer, but be sure to check back every 5 minutes or so to stir the butter to ensure it solidifies evenly.]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

Thoroughly scrape the chilled browned butter and all the browned bits into a large mixing bowl, or bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add both sugars and cream the ingredients together until fluffy. Add the coconut oil and cream until well integrated. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until combined, scraping down bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture into butter mixture and mix on a very slow speed until combined. Add coconut flakes/chips, and mix slowly, until just integrated. Do not over-mix.

Scoop 2 tablespoons of dough and pack tightly in the palm of your hand, if needed, and roll into a ball. Place onto the prepared tray. Repeat with remaining dough, leaving a few inches between each ball on the cookie sheet. [The dough will be slightly loose, but don't fret.] Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are deeply golden. Note, if cookies have not spread as much as you see above, stir 2 teaspoons more water into cookie dough, mixing thoroughly, before baking off another tray. [See note at bottom for full explanation.] Once you’ve confirmed that you have the water level correct, roll and bake remaining cookies.

Let the cookies cool, still on the baking sheet, for another 5 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Note: Leftover dough balls can be frozen and then later, baked directly from the freezer. Without thawing first, add 1-3 minutes for baking time to each batch.

About the water: [a note from Smitten Kitchen] When you brown the butter, water volume is lost, but not all types of butter contain the same amount of water. Most American butters need about one tablespoon of water to bring the volume to the needed 1/2 cup. However, should you find that your first batch of cookies is too thick, a little extra water is all you’ll need to get the texture right. If you find this daunting, take a deep breath, and be assured that some of the best cookies of your life are waiting for you after the jump.

© Simple Pairings. All rights reserved.