Super Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Cookies

Today I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies. It has been too long since I last made them, and I’m glad I did. My recipe has some slight modifications from the traditional Nestle Toll House Cookie recipe, and it works for me.

I started by preheating the oven to 375. In a bowl, I mixed in 1 cup (2 sticks) of softened, unsalted butter, 3/4 cup of light brown sugar, 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Since I was not trying to rush things along today, I took my time and did the mixing by hand. There is quite a bit more effort that goes into it, but I needed the workout. Once the mixture was well combined, I mixed in 2 eggs (1 at a time), and 2 teaspoons of milk.

It was time for the dry ingredients. On top of this mixture, I added 2 1/4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. I combined everything until the dry ingredients were completely incorporated. Next, I added 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 3/4 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips, and 3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips. I spooned them onto a cookie sheet that was lined with parchment paper.

I cooked two trays at a time for 5 minutes, then rotated them and cooked for another 5 minutes. If your oven cooks evenly, then you should aim for 9-11 minutes. Mine took about 13 minutes total. Once the first two sheets were out, I had enough dough for one more cookie sheet. After they are out of the oven for about 3 minutes, it’s a good time to run a spatula under them to make sure they are loosened up. Once the cookies are completely cooled, they can be put away. This batch made a little more than 3 dozen cookies, but it would have been more had I made them smaller.

These cookies were delicious. There was a chocolate overload, which I was happy about. The chips were still melty, and the cookies were nice and soft. This is one of my better batches, and I’m glad I decided to make these today. I’ll have some good desserts for the rest of the week. It was a great way to end the weekend and a great way to get started for the work week ahead.

Fresh Bakery – Owings Mills, MD – 04/25/20

Although I was up in Westminster in the morning, I decided to go in a different direction at lunch time. It had been awhile since I had been to Fresh Bakery, and they were still open, so I decided to make my way to Owings Mills. They still had plenty of good options available, and it was just a matter of narrowing my choices down and then making my selections.

I decided to go with the Appalachian Cookies and Cream cupcake. I didn’t realize that this was only available on Saturdays, so I’m glad I was there. The cupcake was light, and moist. Perfect cupcake flavor and consistency. The icing was really good and was also the perfect portion. The cupcake was easy to bite through, was not too messy, and did not leave a bunch of crumbs all over the place.

I also ordered their Death By Chocolate Mousse. I’ve had this before, and I’ll have it again. It’s delicious. There is a chocolate baked layer, a mousse layer, another chocolate baked layer, another chocolate mousse layer, and then the topping. When biting through all three of these components, it is a happy feeling. Wonderful flavor without being too sweet. Each component on their own are good, but combined, they are even better. This was definitely a great way to end my day on a positive note!

Molli’s Cafe – Westminster, MD – 04/25/20

While I was up in Westminster, I not only got my coffee drink from Birdie’s, but I wanted to get something to eat. I have walked by Molli’s Cafe several times, but never actually went inside. I had decided last week that I wanted to go here, and I was able to do it today.

I was thinking along the lines of something portable, so I decided to go with their Biggins’ Breakfast. Egg, sausage and cheese on my choice of bread, and I decided to go with whole wheat. This was sort of a double sandwich. The sausage was sandwiched between two eggs, as well as the bread. So it was a nice surprise for me. The whole wheat bread was a nice change of pace for me, and it worked well with this sandwich. This was a good first visit to Molli’s Cafe, and I look forward to going back there again. They have some Waffle Sandwiches on their breakfast menu, and I would definitely want to give those a try. This was another continuation to a great Saturday morning and it continued to keep me in a positive frame of mind.

Birdie’s Cafe – Westminster, MD – 04/25/20

This morning I decided to make my way back up to Westminster, Maryland to support a couple of local small businesses. My first trip was to Birdie’s Cafe. I’ve been here several times before. It was nice to get there early in the morning, but it’s a very different experience when I’m the only one there. When the social aspect is taken away, people can’t sit and enjoy a coffee drink and breakfast.

I decided to go with a S’more Snowbird. The Snowbird is their ice blended coffee drink. The S’more is one of their specialty flavors, and it includes mocha, gingerbread, and toasted marshmallow. This was a sweet treat and it had a nice consistency to it. They always do a good job with their coffee drinks, and today was no exception. It was a happy way for me to start my day.

New York J & P Pizza – Eldersburg, MD – 04/21/20

Well, today was the day that I decided to place an order for delivery. I was trying to decide between a couple of pizza places that deliver to me, and I ended up ordering New York J & P Pizza.

While looking over the menu a couple of times, the one thing that stood out to me most is the thing that I ended up ordering – Creamy Chicken Spinach pizza. This is their white pizza with chicken and spinach Alfredo on top. I’ll start with the pizza crust. I really enjoyed the flavor and the texture. It wasn’t too chewy , but it still had the nice crunch to it. As far as the toppings go, I was very happy. The spinach had a nice, fresh flavor to it. The chicken was good. But the Alfredo sauce really took it over the top. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. It did make for a messier slice of pizza, but it was worth it. I’m definitely looking forward to these leftovers for the next day and a half.

I asked them about their desserts, and they indicated that they had chocolate cake, so I went with that. The cake was moist, which is a definite plus. Whenever I order slices of cake, there is always the risk that the sides will be crusty and hard, but that was not the case with this at all. It was soft all the way through. It wasn’t overly sweet, and the frosting was lighter and more delicate than I expected. This was a good way to finish tonight’s meal.

Today was the perfect day to order pizza. I’ve got late meetings tomorrow, so not having to think about what to make and not having to spend a lot of time putting something together is a good way to set my mind at ease. I think this was a good way to still support the local small businesses. This pizza place may have a few locations, but it’s still a small business with local owners. And the employees are still able to work, so it’s good to support them as well. All in all, it was a very positive end to my day. Enjoy the week!

A Weekend of Appreciation for the Local Small Businesses

This past weekend, I went to quite a few of the local small businesses. These were all local to me, either in Sykesville or Eldersburg. There are other places I considered visiting, but last weekend involved the implementation of the face covering requirements here in Maryland, so I wanted to limit my interactions.

I was able to make a few basic masks for myself, which were better than using the bandana with an ever loosening knot. I purchased some socks and some gauze pads, cut the socks lengthwise, cut some earholes and used some safety pins to hold in the gauze pads. I’ll be trying those out next weekend, just to see how they hold up to the elements.

More importantly, on to the food.

My weekend started on Friday morning. As part of my new routine, I go to Kismet Cafe. They open at 6 AM, so I get there as close to opening as possible. There are no other people there, I can get my food and have plenty of time to eat before I start working. This past Friday, I ordered a Kismeccino, which is always good. I also ordered an egg and cheese sandwich on an asiago bagel, which was a really good way to start the morning.

When my work day ended on Friday, I decided to make the short trip to Big Belly Deli. I ordered the Rachel, which is turkey, Cole slaw, Swiss cheese, and thousand island on their toasted sourdough bread. Absolutely delicious. I would like to say that I can’t believe that I ate the whole thing, but I do it every time. It’s too good to stop eating.

The thing that made me really happy was that they were also selling loaves of their sourdough. This picture is taken from my house on one of my cutting boards, it’s not how it was handed over to me. I used this bread for the onion dip I made on Saturday night, and I used it a few times since then. It is a really good bread, so I’m glad that they had some loaves available.

I did not stop on Friday, though. I went out Saturday just before noon, and had two places that I wanted to visit if they were open and not too busy.

The first stop was at Smoky’s BBQ. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to get prior to walking in the door, but when I saw beef ends on the menu, I knew that I had to get that. They give you a choice of barbecue sauce, and I went with mild. The beef ends had nice flavor, but they also had really good texture. They weren’t too hard to bite into and weren’t too chewy. They were the right consistency and the smoky flavor of the meat worked well with the barbecue sauce. I had some of it for lunch on Saturday night, but left the rest for a sandwich to be made later. I knew that I would be making the onion dip on Saturday night, and had the idea to make a sandwich with the sourdough bread, the beef ends, and the onion dip.

After picking up the food at Smoky’s, I stopped off at Dandelion Bakery. It’s really close to my house, so it was on the way. They had window service and there was no line. I was able to park right in front and ordered a chocolate chip cookie. They run out of things fast, so I was fortunate to get them while I could. These are really good chocolate chip cookies. They are nice and soft on the inside, and they use a good chocolate. It was a great dessert!

When Sunday came around, I was able to make the sandwich I had been dreaming up. It was a perfect sandwich for the weekend. I had the bread from Big Belly Deli, the beef ends from Smoky’s BBQ and my homemade onion dip. This sandwich worked out much better than expected. I toasted the bread a little and heated up the beef ends, but kept the onion dip cold. The flavors all came together really well.

I have a feeling I might be ordering delivery this week, but I’ll want it to be something local (either local small business, or local small franchise). I don’t know what the weekend will hold for me. I know how my Friday morning will start, but I’m not sure about the rest of the week. I will just have to see how things go.

Full disclosure: my initial title for this post was going to be Living La Vida Local, but I think quite a few people would probably be rolling their eyes at that. Stay positive!

Hot Onion Spread/Dip

Today, I decided to make a hot onion spread/dip that is a variation on something my dad likes to make from time to time. I had planned on making this for the past week, and I was just waiting to get some additional ingredients on the weekend. The best thing that I was able to get was a loaf of bread from Big Belly Deli last night. I ate this as a dip today while it was hot, but it can be used as a spread as well (goes really well on sandwiches, burgers, etc.).

I started by chopping one medium onion and 2 shallots. You can dice them as thin or thick as you would prefer.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt two tablespoons of butter. Add in the onions and shallots. Cook them until the onions just start to get translucent.

Next, add in 2 teaspoons of minced garlic and 1 teaspoon of chopped ginger. Continue to cook until the onions are completely translucent.

Stir in 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of paprika and 1/8 teaspoon of cumin. Continue to cook for another minute or two.

Add in 3/4 cup of plain yogurt (I used non-fat) and 3/4 cup of sour cream (I used light). Reduce heat to medium and continue to stir until mixture starts bubbling.

Once the bubbles started forming, I turned the heat to low and then toasted up some bread that I sliced from the loaf I got courtesy of Big Belly Deli.

This was an enjoyable meal for me. The bread was the perfect flavor and the right amount of crispness from the toasting. It held the dip very well. The dip was not as good as when my dad makes it, but it was still very good. I think that I’ll add less lemon juice and more of the seasonings next time, but it was still really good. I also tried it with some multi-grain tortilla scoops, and those were really good as well. I look forward to eating this again as both a dip and as a spread with some other goodies. I might be making myself a burnt ends sandwich and topping it with this spread, which I think would be an excellent combination.

I definitely had a good Saturday and this was a way to stay positive and productive at home. Stay safe!

Easter 2020

This has been an interesting year so far, to say the least. But Easter is here and I decided to do some cooking. I purchased a 3 pound leg of lamb last week, so today was all about cooking it. I already had some potatoes, but also wanted to have onions and carrots to roast alongside the lamb. I was craving some type of spinach dish as well, so I made sure I had everything I needed, and then got to prep work and cooking.

I started by setting the oven to 400. I could then start doing the prep work, and it would be ready by the time the oven was at temperature. I put 1/4 cup of apple juice in the bottom of a roasting pan. I then added four medium sized potatoes, cut up into chunks, two onions, cut thickly, and one pound of carrots, cut in large chunks. I decided to leave the skin on the carrots. I usually peel them, but I thought that the additional “earthy” flavor that the skin might have would work well with the flavor of the lamb.

Once the veggies were in place, I made myself a mixture for the outside of the lamb. I used one tablespoon of garlic paste, 1 teaspoon of dried mint, 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary, a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper, and one tablespoon of olive oil.

I took the lamb out of the package and patted it dry. I used a knife and made a few cuts along the bottom and top. I then added the paste all around the lamb, and it was ready to go.

I started by cooking the lamb and veggies for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, then I turned it down to 325 and let it cook for another 1 1/2 hours. Once the temperature in the middle was 160, I took it out. I think it would have been better if I had taken it out when it was 135, but I was not paying attention to the fact that my lamb was a bit smaller than usual.

When there was about 10 minutes of cooking time left, I started to cook the spinach dish. More on that to come.

After I took the lamb out, I let it rest for about 20 minutes (the time it took me to bake a batch of biscuits and start plating). The lamb was still good, even though it was not medium-rare to medium, which would have been my preference.

For my spinach dish, I wanted to do a variation of a recipe that I submitted and was one of the winners for a few years ago. It was for Rachael Ray and Dannon, and I even had my recipe and my name on some of the containers of Dannon yogurt. I still think it’s pretty cool.

I started by cooking chopping up 1/2 onion, and then adding 2 tablespoons of minced garlic and one tablespoon of butter in a pan on medium high.

I then added in a one pound bag of frozen spinach that I kept in the refrigerator this morning. I cooked these together for about 10 minutes, which overlapped with the lamb and veggies being ready.

The final step was to add 3/4 cup of plain yogurt – I used Dannon non-fat yogurt. I put the temperature down to medium low and let that continue to cook until the rest of the meal was ready.

Once everything was ready, I started with my plating. The biscuit was from a box mix, and not from scratch, so no recipe for that one. The lamb was pretty good, but cooked just a little too long for my taste. The potatoes, carrots and onions were really good and tender. Not peeling the carrots ended up working well with this dish. They were still nice and soft in the center, but they weren’t overly sweet. There was some nice caramelization for the veggies that were on the bottom of the pan. The spinach dish was also really good. I wasn’t sure if I might have gone too heavy on the garlic and onions while it was cooking, but it was the perfect amount. The yogurt provided a nice balance and brought the flavors of the garlic, onions and spinach together really well.

Although I was the only one in my house, I was not alone. Many people were in my mind and in my heart. Hundreds and thousands of miles of physical space were mere millimeters in my mind. Happy Easter and stay positive!

Patapsco Valley State Park – Maryland – 04/11/20

I’ve been back in Maryland for almost five years, and I’ve lived close to Patapsco Valley State Park for all of those five years, but I’ve never actually visited. I decided to visit today. There weren’t many people around, and once I started walking on the trails, I didn’t see anyone. There were some moments where I couldn’t hear cars, planes or people. The only things I could hear were the birds chirping, the wind blowing, the leaves rustling and the dirt moving. It was a nice feeling, especially just being outside and enjoying the fresh air.

I hadn’t specifically planned on going to the Park today, so I didn’t have the proper footwear, but my sneakers did the job for where I went. After today’s visit, I plan on going again, so I will make sure to wear some trail shoes the next time, and I will also plan on walking for more than an hour, which is what I did today.

Spring is here, but the trees haven’t all been given the memo yet, so there was some nice scenery of leafless branches, and then there were some trees full of leaves, and some trees that were just starting to see signs of new life. I’m glad I went today, since it was colder, and there weren’t a noticeable amount of bugs around.

I started my walking by trying to get to some higher ground, which provided me with a nice view of trees upon trees upon trees.

Doing a 180 degree turn, and I went from seeing little or no leaves to some full trees.

I have no idea what the different types of trees are, what the different types of leaves are, or what the different types of flowers are. If I saw something that looked appealing to my eyes, I took a picture.

I went from seeing the nice shade of green to a nice pinkish hue.

I really liked this one. I don’t know what it looked like before this state or what it will look like after this state, but I’m glad I got to see how it looks at this moment.

For my first walk around the Park, this was really nice. I enjoyed not having a lot of people around. I don’t go out and about in nature all that often, but when I do, I would prefer that it be a more personal time for me. Not too many outside sounds, not too much commotion, just the essence of the moment with nature. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the feeling of the breeze as it hits my face.

It felt good to have a nice sense of calm and a momentary reminder that there is life outside of the bubble in which I live (figuratively speaking). It’s easy to stay positive in moments like this.

Roggenart – Columbia, MD – 04/11/20

This morning, I had some errands to run down in Columbia, and I knew that I wanted to make my way back over to Roggenart. I didn’t check to make sure they were still open, but luckily they were.

Fortunately for me, they still had plenty of items to choose from. Not pictured on here, they also had chicken pot pies and a few different types of quiche. All looked really good, but I had a craving for something sweet, so I decided to get the Brioche Nutella and the Pain Au Chocolate.

I decided to eat the Brioche Nutella for breakfast. The pastry was nice and soft on the outside, and had a really smooth texture to bite through. The Nutella flavor worked well with the pastry, and the bites where you got the nice, creamy texture and solid chocolate/hazelnut flavor of the Nutella were truly wonderful. It was a great start to the morning.

I saved the Pain au Chocolate for later, and it was worth the wait. I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to eat it, since it might dry out a bit. This was great. The crunchy exterior, the flaky and moist interior, and then the bites that had the chocolate all made for an outstanding treat. Each bite tasted good, whether there was chocolate in there or not. This is not the first time I’ve gotten the Pain Au Chocolate from Roggenart, and it will not be the last. This weekend was off to a much more positive start than last weekend, so I’m glad I was able to go out and support the local small business.