I’ve been having a lot of bad luck in the kitchen lately.
I mean, not that anyone’s keeping track, but, in the last few weeks, the handful of times I’ve found to try a new recipe or carve out an hour to cook, the results were unimpressive (OK, with at least one exception). I made a squash and apple soup that had little flavor. I pureed pumpkin from a little $1.50 pie pumpkin at Meijer, and the three loaves of bread I made with it were barely edible—the one with pecans on top was the best, but even it found an eventual demise in the trash can. My version of candied sweet potatoes wasn’t awful, but that’s really the best endorsement of it I can give and, since when did making something not awful inspire anyone toward the stove?
I decided, sometime this past weekend, that there were a few different conclusions I could draw from this: 1) I’ve been picking bad recipes (over and over again); 2) I’ve been eating so well everywhere else that my standards have risen and maybe these OK things are what I would have once thought good? or 3), most troubling, I cannot cook.
Now, if the problem lies in either the first or second reasons, I can wait this out. But if it’s the third? What do I do—give up? It was starting to feel hypocritical even posting here—who am I to be telling you about recipes to try? I should be begging you for help.
But then I saw some peanut butter sandwich cookies and was inspired to give this kitchen thing one last chance. I can’t say if it’s because I was hungry when I saw them or because they are cookies, the first type of recipe I ever made and the kind that has yet to fail me, but I lost sight of every culinary disappointment and knew only one thing: I was making these cookies, and I was making them that night.
I am so glad I did.
Thing is, I think we get this notion in our heads that being a great cook is something you are born with or something that is innate and, if you are blessed to have that special gene predisposed toward good food, everything you touch will taste as good as chocolate-covered strawberries or hot and crusty Italian bread. Where does this come from? Even Julia Child writes that “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” and she, by the way, was well into her thirties when she started cooking school. We all learn by making mistakes and tasting things that aren’t good and, sometimes, by being disappointed. I hate that I forget that.
Because I didn’t have heavy cream on hand, I opted away from sandwich cookies here and instead just the basic peanut butter cookies to be dipped into melted bittersweet chocolate. They were soft, creamy, with an almost crumbly texture when you bite in, but not because they’re dry like some similar cookies tend to be, and when dipped in chocolate, they remind me of peanut butter cups: rich, decadent and comforting at the same time. With only a little help, I ate the whole batch.
Yet this story doesn’t end there—despite this success, I’d find out my kitchen failures were not (are not) over: Sunday morning, there were mini frittatas, which, on the plus side, only took up 15 minutes of time to pull together, but, in the end, tasted like tiny, greasy fried eggs or, badly made quiches without the crust; followed by, Monday, a roasted squash with risotto that was fine, but I guess the important thing is that I had the guts to try them, because that is how you learn, and it was these cookies that helped me remember.
Peanut Butter Cookies in Chocolate
Adapted from Joy the Baker
makes about 30 medium-sized cookies
For the Cookies:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Coating:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped)
3/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Using a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and peanut butter on medium speed until well combined. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg and beat on medium speed for a minute.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and beat on low until just combined. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Grease with butter or cooking spray.
Take out dough and drop by Tablespoon onto baking sheet, setting them about two inches apart. Use the tines of a fork to press them flat in a criss-cross.
Bake for 8-10 minutes until the cookies are a deep golden brown along the edges. Cool completely.
Make the coating: Melt the chocolate pieces in the microwave, or over a double boiler. Dip cooled cookies into chocolate and sprinkle with chopped nuts; then set them on a wire rack on top of a sheet of waxed paper.
Let stand for 1 hour to harden, or pop them in the fridge for a few minutes. These cookies last up to 3 days in an airtight container, or 2 weeks in a container in the fridge