It was World Mental Health day this weekend, which is somewhat timely. I hadn't intended for this post to coincide with it, but it certainly works with the theme. If these words are in any way helpful in finding ways to bring you joy when you're struggling, then I'm glad and we'll call it a blessing in disguise.
Quarantine brain got to me big time: it's taken me almost six months to write this blog post, and that's mainly due to not feeling able to mentally access my creativity. I originally started writing it in the first week of lockdown. It definitely felt a bit tone deaf and nonsensical to be writing about going out to restaurants and places to visit when everyone was stuck at home. Also, in light of everything that's gone on - and is still going on, in some respects - I just couldn't get in the right headspace to put the metaphorical pen to paper.
Over the months, I've been thinking about different things I could write about. There are many topics I'd love to cover, like movies and literature, travelling (when we finally get to do so again!), skincare, fitness, and life with a disability. But there's one thing that I always come back to - one theme that I will always love thinking about in a passionate and analytical way, and as something that brings me joy. Turns out it's cooking!
We all need to eat, and for many, it's just a case of finding something nourishing that'll give you enough energy to get through the day. For some of us, however, it's an act of self-care; one that allows you space to be creative and try new things, or even just conjure up happy memories. They didn't coin the term 'comfort food' for nothing.
Comfort food doesn't have to be rich or what some consider to be 'unhealthy,' although there's nothing wrong with some of that, if you fancy it. It could be a dish from your childhood, or something made by a loved one; a favourite meal you have when you're with friends or feeling down. When the weather starts to change, much like it is now, there's nothing better than making a hearty stew or soup to warm the cockles and the heart. A meal that I really love is my Mum's chicken, bacon and leek risotto - I think I now make it even more than she does. It's one I've added to my recipe book I'm keeping to pass down to my (as yet, non-existant) kids.
Experimenting in the kitchen is something I find really therapeutic. Our kitchen isn't very big, and I do miss the large kitchen in my old family house. One day in the not-too-distant future, I'd love to have a company-friendly kitchen and lots of surface space. That said, I like spending time pottering around our little kitchen, belting out show tunes or listening to jazz, while creating something tasty for friends and family.
One of those experiments is my favourite sea salt chocolate chip cookie recipe. It's based on two types of cookies Dave and I had in New York a few years ago*: one we were given as a 'midnight treat' in our hotel room - they were created by Chef Zac from the then David Burke restaurant at the Archer Hotel - and the other was from Culture Espresso. Both were amazing, and even a number of years later, still memorable. Chef Zac's ones were sprinkled with some sea salt, which seemed odd at the time, but now I totally appreciate. It does amazing things to bring out the flavour. (*We didn't get to try the Levain Bakery ones that time, but I have given Josh Weissman's recipe a go - I need to give it some more work. Oven temps are a pain!)
I've made a number of substitutions in the recipe, but it was originally a recipe from King Arthur Flour (link below). A tip they suggest is upping the chocolate chips to 2 ⅔ cups / 16oz / 450g, so you get a bit of chocolate in every bite, if you like that kind of thing.
Prep time: 20 mins or so
Cooking time: 9 - 12 mins, depending on your oven
Yield: approx 25 cookies
Tip: The cookie dough can be popped in the fridge overnight or in the freezer for 3 days - 1 week, so that you can make cookies whenever you're ready; just leave it to defrost for a bit before shaping, if you freeze it
Sea salt chocolate chip cookies (Source: King Arthur Flour)
- ⅔ cup / 117g / 4oz light brown sugar (you can use dark brown sugar, they'll just be a bit more chewy)
- ⅔ cup / 150g / 5 ⅓oz caster sugar
- ½ cup / 113g / 4oz room-temperature butter (I use the baking block Stork in the foil packet, as it's dairy-free)
- ½ cup / 113g / 4oz vegetable shortening (you can use all butter, if you forget to buy this - it will make your cookies spread a bit more in the oven**)
- 2 cups / 300g / 10oz plain flour (aka 'all-purpose' flour in the US), sifted
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp white or cider vinegar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups / 300g / 10oz chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (choose your preference of milk, dark or semi-sweet - dark is good for mature palettes, but milk is my favourite)
- Sea salt for sprinkling on top of the cookies
- Preheat the oven to 180°c / 360°f
- Pop the two sugars, butter, shortening, salt and vanilla in a bowl; add the teaspoon of baking soda to your bowl and drop the teaspoon of vinegar on top to activate it - beat all of these ingredients together until smooth
- Add in the egg, flour and chocolate chips - mix until incorporated (slowly, if you're using a stand mixer, or you'll break your beater!)
- Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes to a couple of hours - or overnight, if you can wait that long - before shaping the dough into balls (approx 2-3 inches in size)**
- Lay out the cookie dough balls on a lined baking tray (use parchment paper, NOT greaseproof, or it'll stick), spacing them about 2 inches apart - you want to make sure they have room to spread
- Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on each one, then stick them in the oven for 9 to 12 minutes (depending on your oven)
- Once they're done, leave to cool on the baking tray until they're firm, then transfer to a wire rack until you can't wait any more - they're best eaten warm, as the chocolate chips will still be gooey
- Serve with a glass of milk, or your favourite non-dairy m*lk alternative, for a classic pairing
Tip: **Don't skip the refrigeration part, even if it's just for an hour, as this is what makes the cookies have that crunchy edge, but retain the soft, chewy middle - it's even better if you freeze them for 30 mins or so before popping them straight in the oven! This will stop the cookies spreading as much, so they'll be smaller, but thick and chewy in the middle.
I'm dedicating this post to Ben Everard because he really wanted the recipe for these cookies, which spurred me on to share it (also, thank you to my lovely husby, who encouraged me to post this - read: made me spend Saturday afternoon writing).