Kitchen Captivated: The Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookie

by on Mar 7, 2014



When I fell in love with cooking and baking years ago, it was the humble chocolate chip cookie that first got me into the kitchen, splattering flour on every surface trying out recipes that I eagerly ripped from my mother’s magazines. I made hundreds of cookies, trying this or that. Sometimes they had oatmeal or peanut butter; other times the recipe called for melted butter, browned butter, Crisco.

And they were good. Of course they were. But they were never “the” cookie. Something was always missing. And so it went for years. My repertoire slowly grew, as I advanced into making other things, but that perfect cookie always alluded me.

Then one day a couple years ago, I read a New York Times article on the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The article interviewed several famous bakers in the New York area on their trade secrets. The recipe, at first, appeared a little fussy for a batch of cookies, but I saved it.

Finally, my curiosity got the best of me. I made the cookies. And they are “the cookie” — slightly crisp on the outside, with a soft dense center. The recipe calls for more chocolate than a typical recipe, leaving the cookie with ribbons of melted chocolate. The sprinkle of sea salt adds depth and texture. Quite simply, they are the best chocolate chip cookies. And if they are the best, then truly, the recipe must be shared.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Adapted from The New York Times/David Leite and Jacques Torres)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 oz.) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks (It’s important to use high quality chocolate for the best results.)
Coarse sea salt

Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Whisk well; set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Reduce the mixer speed to low; then add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips, and mix briefly to incorporate.

Using a standard-size ice cream scoop or a ¼ cup, scoop the dough onto a sheet pan or large platter, or anything that will hold about two dozen dough portions in a single layer. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and chill for 24 to 36 hours (up to six days).

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Place mounds of dough on the baking sheet, making sure to space them evenly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto the rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough.

One last note: don’t be intimidated by the initial fussiness of the recipe. You can easily trade out the cake and bread flour for all-purpose flour. But do refrigerate the dough. I’m convinced that’s what sets apart this cookie. To simplify, I typically cover my mixing bowl with plastic wrap and throw the whole thing in the fridge instead of scooping out the individual cookie balls. When I’m ready to bake a batch, I simply allow the dough to soften on the counter for a few minutes before balling up the dough and baking the cookies.

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Kitchen Captivated: Christmas Cinnamon Rolls

by on Nov 29, 2013

Andrea's Christmas Cinnamon Rolls. Photo by Jill St. George.

Andrea’s Christmas Cinnamon Rolls. Photo by Jill St. George.

Sometimes a memory tastes like food. And for me, holiday memories will always taste like a gooey warm cinnamon roll packed with raisins and nuts.

Growing up, one of my fondest memories was sitting on the kitchen counter, the Christmas tree glittering in lights, watching my father patiently roll out the dough for these special rolls, begging him to let me sprinkle the cinnamon or raisins.

In our family, this recipe is made only during the holiday season and can’t be tasted until Christmas morning. No exceptions.

My grandmother’s chicken-scratch handwriting is still barely legible on the three index cards she used to write down the recipe. Today, those cards are worn and tattered after years of being splattered with melted butter and flour.

I’ve taken over roll duty in my family. We call them cinnamon rolls, but purists might call them a sticky bun; either way the rolls are sweet and delicious, decadently buttery and oh so satisfying.

To make the dough:
• 1 cup milk
• 2¼ teaspoons dry active yeast
• ¼ cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 4 cups all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon salt
Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat until warm but not hot (about 105 degrees). Pour into large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast over milk and let sit until dissolved — approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Melt ¼ cup butter and let cool slightly. Whisk butter, sugar and eggs into milk mixture. Stir in the flour and salt, mixing the ingredients until well combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
Proof the dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for several minutes. Return dough to an oiled large bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel to let the dough rise to twice its volume — about 30 to 40 minutes.

To make the filling & form the rolls:
• ¼ cup butter, melted
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon
• ½ cup raisins
• ½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
Once the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a large, ¼-inch thick rectangle. Spread ¼ cup butter evenly over the dough using a spatula. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins and pecans evenly over the dough. Starting at one long side, roll the dough onto itself, forming a log. Pinch the seam and ends to seal. Use a serrated knife to cut the dough crosswise into 16 equal sections.

For the glaze:
• ¾ cup butter
• 2/3 cup brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon vanilla
Melt butter, brown sugar, salt and vanilla together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Mix together using a whisk. When sauce has congealed, divide sauce between two greased, 9-inch pie plates. Arrange eight rolls per pan. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size — about 45 minutes.
Once the rolls have risen, uncover them and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until rolls are golden brown and the glaze is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Invert rolls onto a plate so the cinnamon rolls are “glaze side up” and serve warm.

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A Mighty Good Time

by on Nov 29, 2013

A decorative bowl made of magazine pages sits among various wares at last year's Mighty Tieton Craft Bazaar. Photos by Lisa Woolcock.

A decorative bowl made of magazine pages sits among various wares at last year’s Mighty Tieton Craft Bazaar. Photos by Lisa Woolcock.

Nothing says the holidays like a craft bazaar. The smell of handmade candles and chocolates fill the air as eager shoppers browse booth after booth delighting in handmade Christmas tree ornaments, fine art pieces and funky one-of-a-kind vintage wares among many other items.

And in the Yakima Valley, there is no craft bazaar like the Mighty Tieton Craft Bazaar. Hosting more than 60 artisans, the two-day event on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 draws artists and vendors from all over the region.

“We have a really strong annual return,” Managing Director Sylvia Imbrock said. “The artisans love the event because the space is so flexible, but cozy at the same time.”

Drawing 1,400 people to the event last year, the Mighty Tieton anticipates an even bigger crowd as it celebrates its eighth year.

The bazaar features food vendors including Copper Pot Caramels, Tieton Cider Works, Tieton Farm and Creamery and Essencia Bakery. Live music is featured both days and craft demonstrations are hosted by the artisans throughout the event. The requirements to host a booth are simple: sell goods that are vintage, handmade or antique.

“I really enjoyed participating last year,” said Yakima local rock and gem expert Gilberto Trujilo, who creates jewelry from stones he cuts himself. “I met so many interesting and creative people and it was a wonderful atmosphere to sell my jewelry.”

“The bazaar features really beautiful, distinctive items,” Imbrock said. “Some artisans spend all year preparing for the event. Highland Community Church has been with us from the beginning, and all their proceeds benefit their church.”

New to the event this year, husband and wife duo Gene and Marge Dwiggins are looking forward to featuring their art. From Duval, Gene is a photographer and creates large-scale collages out of 4×6 photographs. Marge is a leather carver, focusing on the meticulous tiny details of Celtic crosses and knots.

“We were so impressed by the Mighty Tieton when we came out for a tour earlier in the year,” Marge said. “The excitement at what the Mighty Tieton is doing in the community was powerful to experience.”

The Mighty Tieton is located at 608 Wisconsin Ave. in Tieton. The event is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 30 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 1. Craft demonstrations will be from  noon to p.m. Nov. 30. To learn more about the Mighty Tieton, visit

Just a short walk from the Mighty Tieton is the Time and Again antique shop, where this cork tree sits atop a stack of china.

Just a short walk from the Mighty Tieton is the Time and Again antique shop, where this cork tree sits atop a stack of china.

Glass ornaments hang from a vendor's display.

Glass ornaments hang from a vendor’s display.

Colorful holiday gifts, wrapped and ready to go.

Colorful holiday gifts, wrapped and ready to go.

Tiny jeweled trees sparkle.

Tiny jeweled trees sparkle.

Handmade ornaments stack neatly on a three-tier stand.

Handmade ornaments stack neatly on a three-tier stand.

Handmade paper ornaments hang from a tiny artificial tree behind holiday twigs.

Handmade paper ornaments hang from a tiny artificial tree behind holiday twigs.

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Kitchen Captivated: Cheese Tortellini Soup

by on Aug 30, 2013

Cheese Tortellini Soup by Andrea McCoy. Photo by Jill St. George.

There’s just something about soup. It wraps you up like a big bear hug and warms you from the inside out. I love the simple rhythm of making soup. First the chopping, then the stirring, until finally it’s time to ladle up bowls and pass them around the table.

As the leaves begin to shimmer in shades of red, orange and yellow and the days shorten, beginning their slow and steady descent toward winter, soup season begins. It is a comforting welcome.

My favorite fall soup recipe is a riff on minestrone. That’s the beauty of soup: it doesn’t usually require precise ingredients. It leaves room to swap and experiment.
So go ahead, test out this quick and easy cheese tortellini soup recipe, then make it your own. Swap kale for spinach and throw in some zucchini or potatoes.

Cheese Tortellini Soup
•    1 lb. pork Italian sausage
•    1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped
•    3 carrots, chopped
•    3 stalks celery, chopped
•    3 cloves garlic, chopped
•    1 tablespoon olive oil
•    1-28 oz. can San Marzano diced tomatoes (any diced tomatoes work, but San Marzano really do make a difference)
•    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
•    2 tablespoons honey
•    3-32 oz. boxes chicken stock (12 cups)
•    1 box cheese or pesto tortellini
•    1-6 oz. bag of spinach
•    Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot (think 6 to 8 quarts — this recipe makes a big pot of soup) brown the Italian sausage until cooked through. Set meat aside. In the same pot, drizzle in olive oil, toss in veggies and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent. Salt and pepper the vegetables. Add garlic and sauté for two more minutes. Add tomatoes, Italian sausage, balsamic vinegar and honey. Stir to combine. Add chicken stock and tortellini. Bring soup to a slow boil, stirring often until tortellini have plumped up and cooked through. Stir in spinach and let simmer on low, stirring often, until ready to serve. It’s important to stir and taste, stir and taste to make sure the broth is rich and flavorful.
I serve this soup with crusty bread, a sprinkle of salty parmesan cheese and a glass of hearty cabernet sauvignon. On that first cold night in fall, when the leaves are blowing around and you have to dig to find your favorite forgotten sweatshirt, this is the perfect recipe for dinner. … A warm hug on a cool night.

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Climbing the Tieton River Valley

by on Jul 5, 2013

Michael Roy climbs "Ages of You" at Moonrocks. He says the climb uses a "crack climbing technique called finger locking in which you wedge your fingers inside the crack and torque them to keep you attached to the rock." Photos by Chad Bremerman.

Spotted with sagebrush, black-eyed susans, oak, aspen, cottonwood groves and cactus, the arid Tieton River Valley gives way to lush fir forest as the elevation climbs. Home to a rumbling river and the occasional rattlesnake, the Tieton Valley is also a veritable mecca for outdoor recreation right in the Yakima Valley’s own backyard. Enthusiasts can hike, camp, fish and bike just a short car ride from town.

The Tieton River Valley is also home to more than 400 rock climbing routes spread over a 20-mile stretch from the lower river valley up through the upper Rimrock Lake area. Known among the climbing community for its solid rock quality and variety of routes, climbing in the Tieton has been one of the Yakima Valley’s better kept secrets.

“Climbing forces a calmness of mind; you are purely in your body, purely in the moment,” said local climber and hop farmer Mike Roy, 37. “Climbing requires strength, control of the mind and an understanding of how to use your body to navigate the rock.”

A small group of loyal climbers has dedicated years to discovering and developing climbing routes at multiple sites throughout the area. Growing in popularity as a regional climbing destination, spring and summer often bring climbers from around the Pacific Northwest.

Matt Christiensen, 51, started rock climbing in the late 1970s at just 11 years old. Starting with the Painted Rocks at Garrison Grade, Christiensen and his brother, Jamie, talked their father into buying them a rope, and they quickly developed a passion for the sport that would last a lifetime.

“Climbing left a real impression on me as a kid; I didn’t necessarily see myself as some big football player,” Christiensen said. “But climbing was a good sport for me, adventuresome and always changing, always new.”

Admired for his agility and steadfast approach, Christiensen is well-known for his contribution to route development and first ascents throughout the Tieton in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Still an avid climber today, Christiensen, a technology teacher at Washington Middle School in Yakima, is spending his summer break getting certified to become a rock climbing guide and instructor through the American Mountain Guide Association.

“One of the reasons I’m doing this training is to make climbing more accessible for young people,” he said. “I love introducing people to climbing, especially in the Tieton, because there’s a little something for everyone.”

Says Roy, “I’ve climbed all over the world, and I’ve never gotten sick of climbing the Tieton.”

The Tieton offers climbers traditional (often called trad) or sport climbing, and many climbers develop a preference. In traditional climbing, one temporarily places gear (such as bolts) into the rock, and then removes it after passage. Sport climbing permanently places bolts or gear along the route.

Generally, the rock face in the lower canyon — such as Royal Columns, the Bend and Moonrocks — have more traditional routes, while higher up the valley — at Oasis, the Cave, Rainbow Rocks, Wildcat, Lava Point and South Fork — have more sport routes.

Jim Matthews, 50, remembers meeting a group of ardent rock climbers back in 1987, shortly after moving to the Yakima Valley from the East coast.

“If it wasn’t for a couple of local climbers, who not only found areas to climb in the Tieton, but were quite prolific in developing routes, I don’t know where climbing would be today,” Matthews said. “They put the Tieton on the map.”

Matthews, a stay-at-home dad, quickly found rock climbing to be a natural extension of his love for the outdoors.
“Climbing was always something I wanted to do. I had seen pictures of it in magazines and knew I wanted to try it,” Matthews said. “I’ve heard it described as having fun, only different. I would say that sums it up perfectly.”

Today Matthews regularly takes his young sons, Tucker, 7, and Ian, 10, up the Tieton for climbing. Together they have climbed extensively locally and even went to Yosemite National Park for a climbing trip last summer.

“They love it. At first, they didn’t do too much, but right around Tucker’s sixth birthday, something just clicked and up he climbed, all the way to the top,” Matthews said.

A regular at the Royal Columns, located across from the Elk Feeding Station on Highway 12, the Matthews boys relish the relative quietness of the climbing area. The challenge more often than not is finding other climbers available to go out.

“Some of the great things about climbing in the Tieton is there is lots of climbing with not a lot of people,” he said. “There are so many routes, which is remarkable when you really think about it, with lots of variety in style and difficulty.”

To give rock climbing a try, Central Washington University has youth and adult recreation programs for non-students and an indoor climbing wall. Finding a mentor with the knowledge and skill-set is key to developing an understanding to the nuances of climbing.

“Climbing can be a sort of choreographed dance at times,” Roy said. “It is a fluidity of movement and muscle memory, understanding how the body and the rock interact.”

Roy climbs "Straight Talk," a traditional climb approximately 80-90 feet high. On this type of climb, Roy says, one places stoppers or camming devices in the crack during the ascent to protect in case of a fall. After finishing, the climber descends removing all the gear that was just placed.

Roy, front, and fellow climber Corbin Strunk hike their way to the climb.


Roy and Strunk.

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