Sunday, January 18, 2015

Black and White Cookies

This is my first try making black and white cookies.  I used the recipe at and I only had two problems with the recipe as it stands.  1: the cooking time was too short for my oven.  I extended the cooking time by at least 10 minutes, and they came out a little too hard.  2: the icing was too thick; it needed more water.  I used newspaper to catch the drips because it's cheaper than wax paper, otherwise I did it just as the linked recipe says.

My iced cookies don't look as pretty as store-bought, and the cookie itself isn't as spongy as the ones we get at the local market, but they taste very good.  They're so rich that you can't eat more than one, but they taste good.

Homemade Black and White Cookie

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Oatmeal butterscotch cookies

I was warming up dinner yesterday and bet myself that I couldn't make cookies from scratch before dinner was ready.  I ended up losing the bet, but came pretty close.  I was reheating frozen meat sauce and boiling water for pasta, so it wasn't a very complicated dinner, and I had already started it when this idea came to me.  I might try and make a habit of baking something whenever I'm making something simple for dinner.

I've had Nestle's butterscotch pieces in the cabinet for at least a year, and just haven't had cause to use them yet.  I would have followed the regular Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe adding butterscotch chips, but I had no regular chocolate chips.  Instead I used the Oatmeal Scotchies recipe printed on the package and made a few modifications.

The ingredients
The only oatmeal I had was leftover from the Oatmeal Raisin Cookies I made a few weeks ago.  It looked like it might be a cup and a half (if that) so I halved all the ingredients in the recipe.  It was a little tricky to eyeball 3/8 of a cup of sugar, but I wanted to have the cookies done quickly and didn't stop to measure more precisely.  

I didn't just cut the recipe in half, I also added two things: walnuts and cardamom.  I've been on a cardamom kick lately; I've added it to the recipe for the last two things I've baked.  I really added just a small pinch of cardamom, I didn't want to go overboard.

I mixed the butter, vanilla, and sugars with the whisk attachment, then added the dry ingredients.  First the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon, then chunkier ingredients later.  Because I cut the recipe in half, I only needed half the bag of butterscotch chips, but about 3/4s ended up in the batter.  Oh well.
Not enough room to mash

The walnuts needed to be broken up a bit, so I used a ramekin and a spoon as mortar and pestle.  Ramekin is a word I had never heard until I worked in a restaurant, but I don't know what I called them before I learned that word.  I guess if anything we called them custard cups.  I put too many walnuts in the ramekin here, they would overflow when I tried to mash them up.

I waited to preheat the oven until the cookies were ready to shape, otherwise the oven is ready way too early.  I don't know how much energy this wastes, but it makes me feel like an idiot when the oven beeps and I'm still assembling the ingredients.

Ready to shape

They took 2-3 minutes more to bake than the 8-10 minutes the recipe advised, and even then they were just beginning to brown around the edges.

The cookies are tasty and came out good considering how much scrounging I did for the ingredients.  They don't look much like the picture
Out of the oven

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Goat cheesecake with pistachio crust

I've been thinking about making a goat cheesecake for a long time, and today I'm finally giving it a try. I've made cheesecake once before, about 8 years ago.  I first became interested in goat cheese cheesecake as a joke, but over time the idea grew on me.  Today I finally baked one.

The original recipe comes from boyandtherabbit's blog, with a few minor changes.  I haven't explored boyandtherabbit's blog in depth, and while the blog's author uses the word "dang" much more than I choose to I found the recipe agreeable.

The ingredients

Premium quality almond extract

The ingredients for the crust are identical to those in the original recipe, except for the last one.

Pistachio crust:

8 oz dry roasted unsalted shelled pistachios

2 tsp almond extract
Adding 1/4 tsp cardamom

1/3 cup sugar

5 tsp butter, cubed

My wife suggested that cardamom goes well with pistachio, so I added:

1/4 tsp cardamom

I sprung for the premium almond extract, which was $12.99 for 4 ounces.  I think the best expression for a situation like this is YOLO.

Some pistachios are still whole

The recipe says to blend all the crust ingredients together at the same time in a food processor on pulse.  In the recipe they say you don't want the pistachios to be the same size, but I tried it this way and found that some were ground very finely and some were still whole.  Because of complications due to the size of the cheese packages I ended up blending some more pistachios in the food processor, but this time I did the pistachios by themselves to start.  It was much easier to blend them to a good size when I waited to add the wet ingredients.  The bits were still varied in size, but without the whole pistachios.
Pressing in the crust

I used the bottom of a small glass (spoils of the free Samuel Adams brewery tour) to press in the crust and make the sides.  I found that using a twisting motion helped keep the crust from sticking to the glass as I was pressing it in.

The crust puffed up a bit

The crust goes in the oven alone at 350° for ten minutes.  I thought it was strange that it puffed up a little, and I used the bottom of the glass to press it down against the pan when I took it out of the oven.  The crust must get to room temperature before you can add the filling, so be prepared for some down time.  I used this time to let the cheeses get to room temperature for ease in blending.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly when it came to the cheeses I used.  I bought two 8 ounce packages of regular cream cheese, one 8 ounce package of Trader Joe's Chèvre goat cheese, and one 8 ounce package of Trader Joe's Honey goat cheese.  The original recipe calls for 12 ounces of goat cheese and 12 ounces of cream cheese, so I thought I would play around and see what works best.  What I had, in all, was 32 ounces of cheese for a recipe that calls for 24 ounces.

I ended up putting all the cheeses together to make one large mix that became a cheesecake and 12 cupcake-sized cakes.  NOT because of the trendiness of cupcakes, cupcake vans, cupcake wagons, Johnny Cupcakes, or any other cupcake related thing that has people lined up at least 20 deep to buy.  Really I have nothing against any of the aforementioned cupcake related things, it's more the cultish phenomenon and hefty price tags that have sprung up around them.

This is how I made the cheese filling, again, mostly because of the package sizes.  I made more pistachio crust, approximating half the above recipe.

Cheese filling:
Ready for the oven

16 ounces cream cheese

8 ounces goat cheese

8 ounces Trader Joe's honey goat cheese

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

Remember, this is enough filling for 1 1/2 cheesecakes.  I filled the cupcake tin as much as I thought was reasonable then used the rest for the large cheesecake.

The big cheesecake cooks at 325° degrees for 50 minutes.  I cooked the cupcake sized cheesecakes for about 25 minutes, also at 325°.

I completely forgot to do a water bath.  It's in the recipe, and a water bath is supposed to help cook the cheesecake evenly and prevent the top from cracking.  I think I got so excited to finally put it in the oven that I didn't double check the recipe before putting it in.  I usually have a rule: if I need to look at the recipe at all, I need to look at it after every step.  I have this rule because, unless I know a recipe so well that I don't even need to look at it, I'll forget something.  In this case I forgot the water bath.

The finished mini cheesecakes
We'll see how it comes out.  The mini cheesecakes were made with the exact same ingredients and they tasted great, but they were hard to get out of the pan without mangling the crust.  Hopefully the big cheesecake does better, but next time I will absolutely try it with the water bath.  I won't get to try the big cheesecake  until Thanksgiving; I'm sure it'll taste good, but will it hold together?

They were difficult to remove from the pan

Almost ready to eat
Now the holiday is over, and I would declare the cheesecake a partial success.  I was up against a few obstacles at the Thanksgiving dinner; for one thing, not everyone tried it.  Some people just don't like goat cheese, and no matter what you do they will never like it.  I used to think I was one of those people, but it turns out I just hadn't tried it properly.  I weep for the years I lost thinking I didn't like goat cheese.  Secondly, we had approximately one pie per person at the Thanksgiving dinner, and favorites like pecan, apple, and pumpkin were the priority.  Thanksgiving dictates that we stuff our faces with the  delicious traditional dishes leaving little room for new things.

Enough excuses.  I thought there was too much almost flavor in the crust, I would cut it down to one teaspoon next time.  I would also make a smaller cake, because unless you're at some kind of meeting of goat cheese enthusiasts most people are probably going to pass this dessert.  If you know of any goat cheese enthusiasts group please let me know how I can join up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Amaretto Cream Cheese Frosting

This cream cheese frosting was originally flavored with vanilla, but it works pretty well with amaretto liqueur.  When I used to make this I'd just pour the amaretto in and flavor it to taste.  Today I thought it was time to nail down a quantity of liqueur for an actual recipe.

There is nothing worse than the frosting on a supermarket cake.  It's way too sweet with a crunchy texture, usually gross.  I much prefer cream cheese frosting.  The texture is much smoother and I just like the taste better.

I first made this frosting for some cupcakes I made for a friend's birthday, and I'm not sure where the inspiration came from to use amaretto liqueur as flavor.  It could just be that I find amaretto delicious, but I'm sure I've had some dessert somewhere that used it for flavor.  So a year or two ago I found a recipe for cream cheese frosting, and instead of using vanilla I used amaretto.  I've never measured the amount of amaretto; I always just poured a little at a time and tasted as I went.  Amaretto is made from almonds or apricot pits, and is a good after dinner drink.  The name comes from "amaro," meaning "bitter" in Italian.  The liqueur isn't bitter, however, it is sweet and delicious.

My ingredients

Amaretto Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter
8oz cream cheese
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup amaretto liqueur (approximately)

After all that talk about measuring I still say approximately 1/4 cup of amaretto.  I did 1/4 cup and a little splash.  Just a quick little extra pour for good luck.

Leave the butter and the cream cheese out for an hour or so to get to room temperature.  I used the trusty ol' KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer KSM150PS - Contour Silver - KitchenAid (Google Affiliate Ad) with the whisk attachment to beat them together at medium speed.  I had to stop the mixer a few times to scrape the butter and cream cheese out of the whisk to ensure they mixed together completely.

Mixing the butter and cream cheese
When the butter and cream cheese are mixed and creamy, I add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time.  I do this in part so that I don't have to wash the 1 cup measure as well as the 1/2 cup (to achieve 2 1/2 cups), and also because last time I used the cup measure I accidentally dropped it into the mixing bowl while the mixer was running.  The mixer smashed it.  I was able to suppress the urge to try to grab it out  before it was destroyed and turned the machine off instead.  The mixer is a powerful tool; even if you're going to destroy the food don't put your hands or any utensils in while it's running!  When my cousin was young he was scraping down the sides while the machine was running and it pulled his fingers in.  Fortunately my aunt turned the machine off as soon as she saw what was happening so he wasn't seriously injured.

The frosting stays creamy after the sugar is added, and at this point I took a few spoonfuls of icing and set them aside.  I will color this frosting and use it to write a message on the cake for our baby, although of course he can't read yet.  I have a Betty Crocker Decorating Kit that has several squeeze tubes for decorating cakes, cookies, or whatever else you'd want to decorate with frosting.

Lucas wanted to know what I was making
I added about 1/4 cup of amaretto liqueur to the mixing bowl and mixed at low speed until the alcohol was blended in.  The frosting never gets cooked, so the alcohol never cooks off as it does in some recipes.  You might be asking, why would I give a 6 month old child frosting that contains alcohol?  Well, I'm not planning on giving any cake to the baby.  6 month old babies shouldn't eat cake.

The problem with decorating a cake is that you want to add a design or message using bright colors, but food coloring is nasty, nasty stuff.  There are lots of types of candy out there that contain Red 40, and I can taste it when I eat those candies.  Red 40 is delicious.  The problem is, it and many other artificial food colorings can lead to all sorts of health problems.  The additive is approved by the FDA, so it probably hasn't been proven to directly cause any of these ailments, but proving something like that is a complicated and expensive proposition.  There is, however, a correlation between artificial colors and cancer and chromosomal damage and asthma and an endless list of health problems.  This website, Food Dyes: Some Health Effects, lists some of them.  It's worth reading, but to cut all artificial colors out of your diet requires some serious commitment on your part.  While it may take large quantities of these chemicals or prolonged exposure to cause the sicknesses listed on the website, things can add up quickly.  A little in your food, a little in your drinking water, a little absorbed through the skin, a little in the air we breathe, and pretty soon we have a whole cocktail of chemicals swimming in our bodies.  Ingesting these chemicals can have serious repercussions for children which may not manifest themselves later in life, but I've done enough preaching for one recipe, you get the idea.

The best way to get the colors you want is, imagine this, from food!  You may not get the unnaturally bright reds and greens and blues you're looking for, but with a little experimentation you can come close.  I've read about a few different options like beet juice, carrot juice, kale juice, spinach juice, and a few others that I'll explore more later.  Here's a fun website called Our Homemade Happiness that's all about doing things naturally (and at home).  It's worth checking out, lots of great ideas.  For now I'm using some blackberry syrup my mother-in-law made.  It was supposed to be jam but it didn't solidify really, so we use it as syrup.  It works well for purple, and gives a little blackberry flavor to the frosting.

Adding blackberry syrup

The frosting mixed with blackberry syrup
I added a little bit of the blackberry syrup at a time until the extra frosting had a dark enough purple, then poured the purple frosting into the decorating tool.  I put it into the refrigerator because if you try to decorate with frosting that's close to room temperature it won't stay where you want it; it'll run all over the place.  By the time the cake is frosted the colored frosting will probably be cold enough that you can write a message or add flowers or trim or whatever you like.  And don't worry if you make mistakes, they add character to the cake and of course a homemade cake always scores a few points over a store-bought cake because of the love and care that goes into making it.

All it needs are candles that spell "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" and it's ready to eat!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies!  Oats are a whole grain and are very good for you, so why not make them into something bad for you by adding butter and sugar?  They are delicious, and probably not as bad for you as most other varieties of cookie.

I've made chocolate chip cookies countless times, but to the best of my recollection I've never made oatmeal raisin cookies.  There are lots of recipes available online, but I chose this Quaker Oats recipe for a few reasons.  First, it uses twice as much oats as flour.  The point of making oatmeal cookies is to make them out of oats, and many of the recipes I found used more flour than oats.  Second, the recipe only uses 1 1/4 cups of sugar overall.  Some recipes used a cup each of white and brown sugar.  Finally, because when one thinks of a brand of oats, one normally thinks of Quaker Oats, and chances are the recipe they've come up with is a good one.  That last reason is a bit lame; I probably chose their recipe because over the years I've been brainwashed by their advertisements.  But the cookies are delicious, and I know Wilford Brimley would want me to use this recipe (see the bottom of this post for Wilford Brimley).

The thing is, I used the Quaker Oats recipe but I used Country Choice brand old fashioned organic oats.  They're the ones sold at Trader Joe's.  Apart from the brown sugar, granulated sugar, and baking soda, all the ingredients came from Trader Joe's, and almost all are organic.  

I always give this advice when using a recipe from the internet: download a copy of the recipe as a PDF immediately.  It's happened to me several times that I've found a recipe I really like and it comes out great, then when I try to make it again I'm not sure where I got the recipe.  Or the website no longer exists.  For a little while now I've been saving all my recipe PDFs to a folder on my computer so I'll have them no matter what, even when I don't have an internet connection.  Each browser has a different way of doing this, so I can't tell you exactly how to do this on your computer, but I'm sure google can tell you how.  

This is another recipe that lent itself well to our KitchenAid stand mixer.  I used the beater attachment because it does well with chunky ingredients like oats and raisins.  I followed the recipe almost exactly as it's stated on the Quaker website.  I combined the softened butter and sugars in the mixer, then added the eggs and vanilla.  

After mixing the sugar and butter

Sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla

The recipe says to beat the sugar and butter together until creamy, but after a couple of minutes at medium speed it didn't seem very creamy.  I wasn't worried; a good oatmeal cookie isn't completely homogenous.  The batter got much creamier after adding the eggs and vanilla.  

I put the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a small bowl and gave it a quick stir before adding to the mixing bowl.  It was hard to get one teaspoon of cinnamon exactly, because I had to remove the shaker top from the jar of cinnamon.  I could have used a knife to level the teaspoon, but I decided to just wing it and err on the side of slightly more cinnamon than the recipe called for.  It wasn't a heaping teaspoon, but it was more than one teaspoon of cinnamon.

I added the bowl of dry ingredients slowly with the mixer on a low speed, then added the oats.  I didn't want to over mix, because I didn't want the oats to break down and blend too much with the batter.  Finally, I added the raisins and mixed until they were evenly distributed.  Occasionally I had to stop the mixer to scrape the ingredients off the beater attachment to ensure they all made it into the batter.  

Before the raisins

As with the chocolate chip cookies, I didn't preheat the oven to 350° until the dough was ready and then began to form the dough on the cookie sheets.  The recipe on the website always begins with preheating the oven, and it usually finishes preheating well before I'm ready to put the food in the oven.  We have three cookie sheets, and I formed exactly three dozen cookies from the batter.

Ready to go in the oven
The recipe says to bake for 8-10 minutes, but after 8 minutes the cookies weren't ready yet.  After 10 minutes they still weren't ready.  I gave the cookies another minute or two and they didn't seem ready, but I pulled them out.  They were only slightly browned around the edges and on top, but I removed the cookies from the oven.  It turned out for the best, because they came out perfect.  The cookies were all done to different levels, but each was in the oven around 11-12 minutes and none were burned.  The cookies came out great!  Good flavor, nice and soft, this recipe was a winner.

Only slightly browned
Browned slightly more than the other batches

In parting, here's a Quaker Oats commercial with Wilford Brimley:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Seeded White and Whole Wheat Bread

My latest attempt to make delicious whole wheat seedy bread was a success.  I used a mix of white and white whole wheat flour, and added oats and more seeds to make it airier and give it more flavor.  I'm still refining the recipe, but my wife and I think it's a winner.

I'm still chasing that delicious bread we had on vacation in July, and while the White Whole Wheat Sunflower Seed Bread came out pretty good I'm trying to get a fluffier, airier bread with a crunchy, flavorful crust.  I'm going to do three things differently; I'm using white flour along with the white whole wheat flour, adding more seeds to the dough, and using water to better stick the seeds to the crust.

In two years I've hardly touched the sesame
seeds; today I used half the bottle

I've decided to add whole golden roasted flax seeds, old fashioned oats, and sesame seeds to the sunflower seeds the recipe calls for.  I added 1/4 cup of each of the flax seeds and oats, and about 1/8 of a cup of sesame seeds.  I was going to use 1/4 of a cup of sesame seeds but it seemed like too much, so I just estimated half of the 1/4 cup measure and added them all to the dough when the recipe instructs you to add 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds.

After 30 minutes the sponge
has puffed up quite a bit
The recipe calls for making a sponge, or a starter to activate the yeast.  The sponge is made with all the ingredients but only 1 1/2 cups of flour, then left to rise for 30 minutes.  I decided to use white flour for this portion of the recipe, and use the white whole wheat flour for the remaining 2 cups of flour in the recipe.

When I tried this recipe the first time (found here), I had a hard time keeping the seeds on the crust of the bread.  There were several different methods I found online for sticking the seeds to the bread, but this discussion on was most useful to me.  One person suggested using an egg wash, which would definitely stick the seeds on there but somehow doesn't seem right to me.  It gives the crust a shine that is perfect for a sweet bread like challah or zopf, but I don't think the bread I'm trying to duplicate had a shiny crust.  Some recommended using egg whites, a little water, and a pinch of salt, but this would give the bread the same shiny crust.  I decided in the end just to spray the bread with water then sprinkle it with seeds right before baking in the oven.

Pouring the seeds for the crust
For the seeded coating I mixed sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and sesame seeds in a 1/2 cup measure.  I meant to add some of the oats to the outside as well but when the time came, I forgot.  Then when I started pouring the seed I realized I had prepared too much, but it was too late to anything about it really, and I decided to go for broke and pour it all.  For the sides I put my hand next to the bread to keep the seeds from bouncing off and going everywhere; some were lost but a lot stayed on.  This is going to be some seedy bread.

Just before going into the oven
I tried to touch the loaf as little as possible before putting it into the oven, so I didn't push the seeds into the outside of the bread.  I didn't want to compress it at all for fear of losing the airiness given off by the yeast.  When I picked it up from the above cutting board to put in the oven my fingers left indentations in the bread, but in the course of baking they disappeared.  I followed the adjusted cooking time and temperature and steamed the bread to create a crunchy crust like I did with the Sunflower Seed Bread and on the Forno Bravo website.

Fresh out of the oven
Letting the butter melt a bit
before rubbing it into the crust

The bread came out good, better I think than the Sunflower Seed Bread, but still not as airy as the bread I'm trying to make.  I wonder if I should give it even more than the close to three hours it had to rise, like overnight perhaps.  But I did enjoy it more than the Sunflower Seed Bread; the extra seeds gave it a nuttier flavor and it was great with just butter or with honey.  My wife thinks it's the best one yet and that it would be really good for sandwiches, but next time I won't use any white flour.  It didn't seem to make the bread fluffier at all, so there was no real benefit but a loss of fiber and nutrients.  I think the most important thing for next time is to let the bread rise overnight, but at least it does keep improving.

Ready to eat

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies may be the first thing I ever made as a kid.  I've learned a few things about the process since then, maybe you'll learn something too.  I welcome any comments or suggestions, as always.

Here's a bit of chocolate chip cookie trivia for you: the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie originally thought the chocolate would remain molten or soft even after the cookies had cooled.  I think I learned that from the stupid trivia they show at the movie theater before the previews begin.  It seems like the kind of fact they would put up there to get you thinking about food so you purchase something at the concession stand.

Ruth Wakefield was that inventor, and the above story is only part of what happened.  I did some searching on the trusty ol' internet here, and found this article from, well, about the history of chocolate chip cookies.  They were invented right here in Massachusetts.  In the 1930's Wakefield and her husband ran a place called the Toll House Inn, and legend has it that she added the chocolate to some sugar cookies expecting it all to blend together.  Because she used Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate instead of unsweetened baker's chocolate the chocolate didn't melt; she worked out a deal with Nestlé and the Toll House cookie was born.  There is some disparity, however, in the reports of how she stumbled upon the recipe.  I learned from the Wikipedia page that the chocolate fell by mistake into the cookie dough, and only through the urging of one of her employees did Wakefield bake the cookies and not throw out the dough.  So says the employee who supposedly convinced her to keep the dough. Follow the links above to learn more.

You might be thinking, "there's no experimenting going on here, it's just the recipe from a bag of chocolate chips!"  And technically you'd be right, but I've been making chocolate chip cookies for so long I've got it down to a science.  I can make three dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies in under an hour with my eyes closed, especially now that I have the Kitchenaid stand mixer above.  This post fits under the category of tips and shortcuts, because if you follow the recipe as stated you'll waste both time and energy.

The recipe I used came from the package of Trader Joe's chocolate chips.  Every brand of chips has their own recipe and there are minor differences between each one, but there really isn't much of a  difference between the resulting cookies.

The ingredients

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup softened butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped nuts - optional

Form dough into balls and bake at 375° for 8 - 10 minutes.  Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

The first step is to begin melting the butter.  This is one of the only things I'll use a microwave for, at the low or defrost setting.  I avoid the microwave whenever possible, but the two things I will use it for are melting butter and defrosting bread.  I microwave it for 30 seconds at a time then stir until the butter is almost completely melted.  While the microwave is running I prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Beater attachment

The dry ingredients set aside

Next put the flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl.  Not the mixing bowl, but a separate bowl.  Put the vanilla, melted butter, and sugar into the mixing bowl and blend together until creamy.  I use the beater attachment; it seems to work well with chunkier ingredients like the chocolate chips.  Add the 2 eggs and continue to blend.  Next, slowly add the dry ingredients from the small bowl until the dough is well mixed.  Finally, add the chocolate chips.  I chose not to add nuts, although the cookies are good with walnuts or macadamias or white chocolate chips or I will occasionally add Trader Joe's Pecan Praline Granola, which comes out pretty good.  This time I kept it simple with chocolate chips only.

After adding the reserved dry ingredients
Vanilla, butter, and sugar

Adding the chocolate chips

Usually at this point I make the mistake of throwing away the wrapper for the chocolate chips, which also happens to be where the recipe is printed.  Only recently have I started to remember to keep it out so I can refer to the cooking time and temperature without having to reach into the trash and wash my hands again.

Ready to form into balls

Now that the dough is ready it's time to preheat the oven.  The first step of the directions is to preheat the oven, but I find this to be a waste of energy because it's usually preheated before the dough is ready.  By the time you've got one sheet of cookies ready to go in the oven it will be preheated; it's time to preheat the oven to 375°.  Before you do so, make sure both oven racks are near the center of the oven but not right next to each other; this will help the heat circulate when cooking two trays of cookies at once.

Forming the dough into balls

As the oven preheats, form the dough into balls about one inch in diameter.  The chocolate chips don't mix evenly into the dough, and as you form the balls try to pack the chips in.  I use two spoons, as shown, to pack the dough together and scrape it onto the baking sheet.  This keeps the cookies about the same size, although it's almost impossible to make them uniform.  We have three baking sheets, and each sheet holds 12 cookies.  It is possible to get 15 on a sheet but the recipe yields 3 dozen cookies so 12 makes sense.

First tray, ready for the oven
At this point the oven is preheated and ready for the first batch.  I set the timer for 8 minutes, the minimum cooking time, and form the remaining dough into about 24 more balls.  Sometimes you'll end up with a few more, sometimes with a few less.  If I end up with extra dough I'll add it to the existing dough balls before they go in, or conversely take some to form more cookies.  We have three cooling racks to match the three baking sheets, and I get these set up before the first batch comes out.

When the timer goes off check to see that the cookies are ready to come out.  The edges of the cookies should be browned a bit.  If they're not, give them another minute but keep a close eye on them; they can go from undercooked to burned very quickly.  Pull the baking sheet from the oven and set it on a cooling rack.  Give the cookies at least 10 minutes before trying to remove them from the baking sheet; keep the baking sheet on the cooling rack the whole time.

Browned at the edges

The top tray is cooking faster
The second batch will have two sheets of cookies in the oven at once, which will affect how they cook.  Set the timer for 8 minutes again and use that time to clean up the kitchen a bit.  When the time is up check the cookies as before, but keep in mind that one tray will cook faster than the other.  This will vary depending on where the oven racks are and other factors specific to your oven.  I'll pull the tray that is finished, give the timer another minute, and turn off the oven.  It'll keep enough heat to finish the last tray and if you somehow forget about them the cookies probably won't catch fire.

Chocolate lost to the baking sheet

The final pitfall of baking cookies is removing them from the baking sheets.  The temptation is to dig right in and start eating delicious cookies while they're warm.  You run the risk of losing some chocolate to the baking sheet, even if it's nonstick.  Knowing this I'll still eat some right away, and it can help to give the cookies a little twist back and forth, like you're trying to get rid of the static on an old fashioned radio dial.  Twist it a little back and forth and if it's not sliding easily choose another cookie.

When the cookies have cooled enough to remove them, transfer the cookies directly to the cooling racks to finish cooling down.  Time to pour a glass of milk and enjoy!