29 in 29

This upcoming Saturday is my 29th birthday. Sean and I are heading to Burlington, Vermont for the weekend to celebrate both my birthday and our anniversary in a place I have never been before. 28 was such an incredible year for me, both professionally and personally, so it’s bittersweet to see it end. I traveled, bought a house and a new car, got promoted, and figured some things out along the way. So… what’s next?

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Being a lover of lists, creating this “29 in 29” list was the perfect outlet for all of my birthday week thoughts as I enter the last year in my 20’s. So here are all of the things I’d like to do while I’m 29.

In no particular order:

1.Read 12 books. I’m sure for some people, this probably seems like a low number but if I’m being 100% honest, I really only read while I’m traveling or on vacation. Otherwise, I’m more likely to watch Netflix for 6 hours than read.

2. Volunteer.

3. Hike a mountain. Sean and I hiked Mount Monadnock a few years ago. It was fun and really challenging. I’d love to do it again or find another New Hampshire mountain to hike.

4. Update my wardrobe. Donate what I no longer need.

5. Keep an herb garden. I’ve been talking about having one for years now. I’m currently keeping a basil plant my aunt gave me alive so that’s a good start.

6. Explore 5 new places.

7. Run a race. My last one was in 2015. Time to dust off that Couch to 5K running plan.

8. Donate blood. Ask me about the one and only time I donated blood sometime.

9. Find/attend a new church. 

10. Change my hair. For someone who’s never dyed their hair and keeps it pretty much the same trim after trim, this should be an interesting one.

11. Send a care package just because.

12. Host a fancy dinner party. I’ve had dinner parties in the past but now that we own a home, it’s time to bust out the beautiful china and crystal stemware we got for our wedding and do a full-blown Torto-family-style dinner party.

13. Try a new/difficult recipe. I try new recipes all the time but I want to step outside my comfort zone and try something really tough. Thoughts?

14. Go camping. This one’s a stretch but I’m sure Sean will be happy it’s on the list.

15. Break a bad habit.

16. Be genuinely happy with my appearance.

17. Pay it forward. Even something as simple as buying the person behind me in line their coffee.

18. Take vitamins daily. I never should’ve stopped taking those Sesame Street vitamins as a kid….

19. Visit a new state. What is the place I just have to go to?

20. Commit to yoga. I love yoga and the way it makes me feel but I tend to practice in spurts. Even if it’s just a 10-minute yoga flow 3 mornings a week, a consistent yoga schedule would be great to have.

21. Go on a legit road trip. (And not sleep through it.)

22. Learn to play the piano. Sean started teaching me when we first started dating but I didn’t keep up with it. We have a keyboard in his office so there’s no excuse not to at least try.

23. Make a rotating cleaning schedule and try to clean for 15 minutes a day. Sean will also be happy that this one made the list. #ihatecleaning

24. Attempt Whole30. Bonus points if I convince Sean to do it with me.

25. Fully decorate our main living spaces. This includes the front room, kitchen, sun room, hallway, main bath, and laundry closet.

26. Surprise someone in a big way.

27. Dance regularly. Teaching and coaching (while I love both) only partially count. I need to be a student too so finding outlets with drop-in classes is an immediate priority.

28. Walk. For exercise, for charity, for fresh air. Get outside more.

29. Unplug. This one will be particularly challenging for me given that my professional life revolves around social media. But even the other night, I found myself next to my husband mindlessly scrolling through the same apps over and over again. Time for a change.

And just for good luck, like an extra candle on a birthday cake, I’m including one more item on my 29 in 29 list, making it a true “30 Before 30” list.

30. Thoroughly enjoy 29.

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Our New Home

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Back at Easter, Sean and I were just starting the journey to buy our first house. We got pre-qualified, talked about what we would want and need in our home, and narrowed down the towns we’d be happiest living in for at least 5 years. Up in New Hampshire (and I’m pretty sure all of New England right now) it’s definitely a seller’s market; new listings would be up and off the market in a matter of days, sometimes before we could even get in to see it. Cue all the curse words.

Everyone kept saying “the right one will come along.” (UGH, WHAT IS PATIENCE?) I actually joked with Sean on more than one occasion that we should forget the whole thing and go on vacation. Luckily he’s much more level-headed than I am so we continued to look at what was available, which wasn’t much. I had my naive first-time homeowner heart set on a colonial, but realized very quickly that it was not the style we were going to end up with. When I was finally able to wrap my head around potentially getting something along the lines of a split level, Sean found “the perfect raised ranch” with not-so-great listing photos. When he swiped through the photos and landed on the image of the kitchen, I didn’t hold back a very loud “EW!” Poor guy. He convinced me to just go look at it and I obliged knowing full well in the back of my mind that there was NO WAY I was going to want, nevermind love, this ranch house.

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Long story short, he was right. The right house did come along and I knew it was that ranch the moment we stepped inside. It felt right. (I don’t think Sean will ever get tired of saying I told you so.) I’m now a firm believer that buying a house is like being in a relationship; you can’t force it. It has to fit.

The scary part of the whole process came soon after. Once we fell in love with the house (after being there all of 10 minutes), we knew we needed to put in an offer immediately. With the help of our wonderful realtor, we were able to put in our strongest offer and beat out six others all within three days of the house being for sale. Our situation, from first showing to close ended up being 28 days altogether which is definitely not the norm for the whole home buying process, but for a girl was zero patience it was a welcomed surprise.

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So, here’s a quick (and empty) tour of our new house! I can’t wait to get in there and start on the projects we have lined up: staining the kitchen cabinets and putting up a backsplash, painting all of that wood trim and the walls throughout the main space and then eventually getting to bigger things like finishing the basement, cutting down a few trees, painting the bedrooms, etc. I’ll be sure to update the blog to not only document the changes but also what worked, what didn’t work, and our favorite brands along the way.

Side note: I can already envision a GIANT Christmas tree the back sun room with the high ceilings and large windows. Sean thinks 7 feet is good. I’m thinking 12…

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I can’t wait to see how it all turns out as we move in, get settled and really start to decorate. Here’s to this next chapter!

What are your best tips for brand new home owners? Anything you did or wish you would’ve done as soon as you moved in?

National Wine Day with 90+ Cellars and Lila Wines

Did you know that May 25th is National Wine Day? It’s practically Christmas in May if you ask me.

This year, I celebrated National Wine Day a few days early. When my good friend Emily from Shell Chic’d asked if I wanted to team up and throw a Rosé Soiree with 90+ Cellars, there was no way I could turn it down. Emmy and I have been dance friends for years; she’s a super cute and talented fashion blogger in Boston and we knew our dance friends would love a chance to get together, catch up, and celebrate.

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90+ Cellars sent a variety of their Rosé, Cote De Provence, and Sancerre along with Lila Wines which if you’ve never tried these before, go out and buy yourself a 4-pack. Yup, these babies come in cans! I’d actually never had any of the 90+ Cellars Rosé collection and was really excited to try them all. They are excellent summertime wines and for their price points (between $11.99-$20.99) they are also perfect for taking to all of those barbecues and pool parties.

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Emily took care of the cocktails while I planned an easy and light party menu. I went with my tried-and-true charcuterie board and a Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Flatbread (recipes below!) Our friend Lauren is a really talented baker and came with beautiful cupcakes meticulously hand-piped with frosting to look like hydrangeas (!!) We admired them for the majority of the party because they were almost too pretty too eat! But then we ate them because duh, cupcakes.

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Seriously LP, just open a bakery already…

Em also created this refreshing cocktail using the Lila Wines Vino Frizzante Sparking Wine. It’s definitely a contender for “Best Drink of the Summer”. Check out her recipe and party planning tips here.

A big thank you to 90+ Cellars for sponsoring a great party and to Emily for asking me to partner on such a fun get together!

Cheers!

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Tried & True Charcuterie Board

My formula for quick and easy: 2 cheeses + 2 carbs + 1 meat + 2-3 extras

Cheese: I chose a sharp cheddar and a pepper jack cheese for contrasting textures and heat levels. (Cabot Cheese is my go-to.)

Carbs: Plain reduced-fat Triscuits are my cracker of choice because they are simple, delicious and don’t interfere with the rest of the platter taste-wise. For the second, I make my own pita chips by cutting 4 pitas (I love Joseph’s) into 16ths and baking them at 400 degrees with a little non-stick spray and salt until they get crispy- that’s it! (These go particularly well with hummus!)

Meat: I almost always go with prosciutto because it’s a familiar antipasto, super salty and extra delicious.

Extras: Spanish Manzanilla olives, roasted red pepper hummus and Lindt LINDOR Fudge Swirl Truffles to keep things interesting.

Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Flatbread

  • 2 prepared pizza crusts or flatbreads (I used an Italian herb variety – so delicious)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion, caramelized (see instructions below)
  • 6 ounces Goat Cheese

Brush a thin layer of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on each of the flatbreads. Top evenly with caramelized onions and goat cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until crust is golden and crispy around the edges and cheese has slightly softened. Slice and serve warm.

For the Caramelized Onions:

  • 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter or margarine with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes or until onions begin to soften. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar and toss to coat. Continue to cook for 1 hour, stirring often, until the onions are a rich dark brown color. (Do not let them burn!) Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

This post is was created in partnership with 90+ Cellars, but all opinions and images are my own. Thank you for supporting brands who support Chocolate & Wine!

Easter 2017

While I’m over here taking my sweet time trying to write up all the fun I had in Nashville last month, I didn’t want to miss the chance to share a cute and easy Easter tablescape from this past weekend! But first, a short life update.

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Sean and I are currently searching for our first house, a process I am already not enjoying very much. (I lack a particularly important virtue, ahem, patience.) Couple that with my always-busy, can-never-sit-still schedule and you have a recipe for unlimited amounts of frustration. Luckily, my laid back, go-with-the-flow husband keeps things in check, both for me and for our budget which I’m willing to blow any time a just-out-of-reach Colonial comes on the market.

Besides the obvious reasons for wanting to own a home, one of the things I’m most looking forward to is being able to entertain. While I do love our current rental condo and will most likely cry unnecessarily when it’s time to move out, the fact that I can’t sit more than 6 people comfortably in our main living area is not conducive to the type of hosting I want to do. (This includes Pizzazzerie-level planning, decorating, themes in case you were wondering.) The possibilities are endless and so are my hopes for this house.

So anyway.

For the big holidays like Christmas and Easter at my parents’ house, my mom and dad are usually so busy getting dinner ready that they have no problem whatsoever relinquishing the table to me. This year, I wanted to keep it simple and highlight the Lindt GOLD BUNNY figures I picked up from a sale at work. My mind immediately visualized the set up: white tablecloth, gold chargers, white napkins, a Lindt GOLD BUNNY, a few chocolate eggs, simple candles and a bouquet of white and/or yellow flowers in a crystal vase in the center.

This table came together in under ten minutes. I used my parents’ good silverware but any would do (maybe even gold flatware if you have some?!) Since everyone was drinking different beverages, I set one wine glass at every place setting to make the whole thing look cohesive and finished. It was simple, elegant, and every one loved it.

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My parents, as always, made an incredible dinner so I brought dessert: a Lemon-Blueberry layer cake with cream cheese frosting (recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction.) It really was the best way to end such a wonderful holiday with our family. Maybe next year I’ll host Easter brunch at my house….

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Do you have any first-time homebuying tips? Ways to not completely lose your mind during the process? Please send them my way!

Boston Wine Expo 2017: Highlights & Favorites

Three weekends ago (seriously where does the time go??) Sean and I attended the 2017 Boston Wine Expo and I think this one was the best yet. This was our fourth year in a row attending and I can honestly say that like a fine wine, this event gets even better with age.

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We arrived for the media and trade hours at 11:00 AM on Saturday and did a quick loop of the floor. This year, we noticed more food and snack vendors flanked the main aisles (shout out to Primizie who makes some super delicious crisps and chips!) We knew we’d be back more than once to this section of the floor because its essential to eat during the four (or in our case, six) hours that the Expo is open.

Each year, the trade floor is set up a little differently. This year was a little tougher to navigate because they did not have the sections set up by region or country as they have in the past. Nevertheless, we hit the ground running with wines from Spain and made it all around the world during the two days. I’ve said it in previous posts about the BWE, but I think its 100% worth it to attend both days of the Expo because the floor is just too large to get through in one afternoon.

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This year, the Expo also had a great “Social Spot” where people could sit and work on tweets and posts or snap some fun photos. It was nice to be able to pull over to a designated area to get my life in order while I was live tweeting and Instagram-storying all day instead of bumping into fellow Expo goers; I hope they repeat this area next year.

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So… the wine. I was pleased to see some old favorites, like 90+ Cellars, as well as some new faces like Res Fortes. Trying wine from all over the world is such a unique and rare experience but it’s fun to branch out to countries like Georgia or Israel when you probably aren’t purchasing and drinking wine from these places on a regular basis.

Here is a look at some of our favorites from the weekend…

90+ Cellars. (Check out some desserts I made with a few of their wines here!)

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Res Fortes.

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Trivento.

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From the country of Georgia.

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Kauzo.

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And from the Vintner’s Lounge…

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Catena Zapata.

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Duckhorn. (Although I was definitely missing their Goldeneye Pinot Noir this year!)

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Grgich Hills Estate. (Especially their Chardonnay!)

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Frog’s Leap.

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Rodney Strong.

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The Vintner’s Reserve Lounge is one of those places where you can’t believe you are tasting wines that could be anywhere from $50 up to over $500 per bottle. It’s quite the experience. This year, we were able to go at noon on Sunday so it was a fantastic way to kick off Day 2 of the Expo. Along with the premium wineries, they also had a showing of restaurants and food vendors like Del Frisco’s handing out small bites.

We were a little disappointed not to see our favorite Rioja region represented this year but with any luck they will be back for 2018. That aside, it was another fantastic Boston Wine Expo and it continues to be one of the best Boston events every year. I cannot recommend it enough to all wine lovers or those looking to experience wine in a different way.

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Spending the weekend with the Backpacking Britts!

Until next year, Cheers!

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I was provided weekend and Vintner’s Lounge tickets to the Boston Wine Expo as part of their brand ambassador program. All images and opinions are my own.

Recipe Testing: Chocolate and Wine

If you’ve found your way to this little corner of the internet, you’re probably a chocolate and wine lover like myself. Separately or together, they are a match made in heaven and (quite obviously) two of my favorite things in the world.

Two weekends ago, I attended the 2017 Boston Wine Expo (highlights & favorites coming ASAP, promise!) We always stop by the 90+ Cellars set-up because they have a huge variety of quality wine at varying price points. They even had a blind taste test which Sean and I totally nailed! They didn’t have my favorite L’Amis Barbaresco on the floor this year and once I saw the color of the wine in my glass my super intuitive deduction skills kicked in. Okay, I’m kidding about the deductive skills, but I did get it right. I got to talking with the company’s marketing manager and soon, we were chatting about partnering up on some chocolate and wine recipes. Who could say no to that?

Surprisingly, I’ve never used red wine when making dessert so I settled on a few simple sweets to test the waters: Red Wine Hot Cocoa and Red Wine Brownies. (I also attempted Red Wine Chocolate Truffles. On account of user error, aka me failing miserably, these were not successful. I ran out of time to try a second round so I will be adding them back to the list for near-future recipes.)

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Back to the things that were successful. First up … Red Wine Hot Cocoa!

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I love hot chocolate, especially when it’s super creamy and extra indulgent. I wanted to see how the 90+ Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (from Argentina, not California) would elevate milk chocolate and dark chocolate so I tried both. By far, the Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa was the best. Hands down. Zero question. The fruitiness of the Cab gave the cocoa a raspberry and plum-esque flavor that’s delicious on it’s own or, if you’re feeling fancy, would be fantastic paired with a cheese plate.

I didn’t add extra sugar to either cocoa because I really wanted to the chocolate itself to shine through and be the sweetener here, but I think I would add a bit to the dark chocolate cocoa.  It might have been that I used a high cocoa bar (70% dark) which made it a little too intense as a hot drink so lowering that cocoa content could also help.

Red Wine Hot Cocoa (makes 2 servings)

12 oz milk (I used 1%)
6 oz half and half or light cream
4 ounces high quality chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup red wine (I used this 90+ Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon)

Bring a saucepan to medium heat on the stove. Add milk and half & half (or cream) and bring to a simmer but do not let it boil. Add chopped chocolate and stir until completely melted. Add wine and continuing stirring until the mixture is hot, about 3 minutes. Serve in two large mugs.

Next up … “Blend” Brownies.

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90+ sent their Big Bad Red Blend and it was clear that using a blended wine in the recipe called for something a little unconventional. I decided to use a “blend” of chocolate – about 3/4 bar of each milk and dark chocolate, melted them into butter and then added the rest of the ingredients. The result was a moist, cake-y brownie that had a subtle and luxurious hint of the red wine. The Big Bad Red Blend elevated the two chocolates and made the brownies irresistible. (Seriously, they were gone in 3 days…)

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Red Wine “Blend” Brownies

1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, melted
About 5 oz. chocolate (I used roughly 3/4 of a Lindt EXCELLENCE 70% Dark Chocolate Bar and roughly 3/4 of a Lindt CLASSIC RECIPE Milk Chocolate Bar)
2 eggs, room temperature
1 & 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4-1/3 cup red wine (I used 90+ Cellars Big Red Blend)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt butter and add chocolate. Stir over medium heat until chocolate is completely melted.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add brown sugar and start the mixer. Gently pour butter/chocolate combination until mixed thoroughly. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Drop the mixing speed to low and add flour and cocoa. Once they just come together, add wine. Start with 1/4 cup and increase up to 1/3 cup if the batter is too thick.

Pour batter into a greased 9×9 square pan and bake until the brownies are set, about 30-35 minutes.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (although I doubt they would last that long…)

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Finally, I can’t end this post without mentioning the 90+ Cellars Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the wine used in the chocolate truffles attempt and then found itself in my glass once all of the testing was completed. This Cab falls under 90+ Cellar’s “Reserve” section of their website as it is at a slightly higher price point than the other 2 “Core” wines I tested. In my opinion, is worth every extra cent. It’s full-bodied with a smooth finish, complimented by notes of mocha and tobacco giving it a slightly smoky edge. This wine would be perfect to serve at a dinner party or make a beautiful gift for a Cab lover in your life. I would know; I want someone to gift this to me!

Are there any chocolate and wine desserts you’d like to try? Leave a comment and they may get added to Round 2 of recipe testing.

This post is was created in partnership with 90+ Cellars, but all opinions and images are my own. Thank you for supporting brands who support Chocolate & Wine!

Chocolate Chunk Deep Dish Skillet Cookie

I first got the idea for this cookie the other night when I knew I wanted to bake but couldn’t decide what. I thought, maybe chocolate chip cookies, but I didn’t really want to make chocolate chip cookies… We’ve all been there, right?

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While I toyed around with making my go-to, tried-and-true choco chip cookie recipe (my husband’s favorite) I realized I didn’t have chocolate chips. Plus, my beautiful, new cast iron skillet we got for our wedding was calling my name. I’ve made cookie cakes before so figured an extra large cookie in a skillet would be doable. I wanted to use a specific type of chocolate and only had a limited amount of sugar, so I tinkered until the dough tasted like heaven. (Yes, I do eat raw cookie dough, judge me as you will.) I also decided to photograph the whole process so it took about 5 times longer to make said cookie than it normally would have. (Side note: People – bloggers, photographers, creatives – who do these things for a living do not get enough credit. It really does take SO LONG to get the styling right and the lighting just so, and what if you spill sugar all over the counter and subsequently on the floor (asking for a friend), and then there is all of the clean-up after your done said styling and photographing and cooking…)

But I digress.

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Back to this cookie. It’s got that amazing soft, chewy, still-doughy-like quality of those cookie cakes I’ve always loved. It puffs up, turns golden brown, and the chocolate melts just the right amount but still holds up. Sean did say that he thought it could use even MORE chocolate, so I think next time I’ll use an entire bar instead of the 3/4 of a bar that I mixed in this time. I used a Lindt CLASSIC RECIPE Milk Chocolate bar  (because, duh.) I’m probably biased but it really is the best chocolate, especially if you are looking for a chocolate chip alternative.

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This skillet cookie was, in short, incredible. It could easily feed 8 people with decent-sized slices, but that didn’t stop Sean and me from polishing it off in a matter of 3 days…

So what if you’d rather not use milk chocolate? Gotcha covered – I’ve already got a few other variations of this recipe in my head, just by switching out the chocolate you use. Like, how amazing would a dark chocolate sea salt cookie skillet be? Or a truffle cookie skillet?? The possibilities are endless. For even more decadence, maybe melt some extra chocolate, drizzle it over individual cookie pieces and serve it warm and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Boom, fancy dessert done. Now excuse me while I go plan a whole dinner party around this cookie.

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Chocolate Chunk Deep Dish Skillet Cookie

Serves: 8 (or 2 over the course of 3 days…)

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
  • ½ cup white granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (3.5oz) bar Lindt CLASSIC RECIPE Milk Chocolate, chopped into large chunks

How-To:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and both sugars until combined and fluffy.
  3. Add in the egg and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed until combined.
  4. Slowly add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Gently stir in the chocolate chunks until evenly distributed throughout the dough.
  6. Place cookie dough into the cast iron skillet and spread around with clean, damp hands into an even layer. (Note: This dough is a little sticky.)
  7. Add extra chocolate chunks on top and gently press them into dough.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.
  9. Cool completely before slicing.

What chocolate combination would your ideal skillet cookie have?