Friday, July 25, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yes, this is a post inspired by the recent David Leite article in the New York Times.

I love chocolate chip cookies to distraction, and I like David Leite's site Leite's Culinaria (it's a great resource for recipes from newer cookbooks), so I was excited to try this recipe, though I'm always skeptical of articles touting perfection. Along with articles promising secrets or anything in list form, they're click-through gold, but it's pretty hard to live up to the claim.

I made the dough on Friday with the intention of bringing them to the Sommerfest at pub in the woods (The Tourist Club). Each time I opened the fridge during the two-day chilling process, I grew giddier.

On Sunday morning, I heated up the oven and got out my scale, ready to measure 3.5 oz portions out onto the cookie sheet. The scale ended up being vital because I would not have made the cookies that large without actually seeing the weight. The recipe very coyly says that the cookie dough balls should end up being the size of a golf ball, but 3 1/2 ounces is more like a small baseball. I pressed a bit of sea salt onto the top of each cookie before putting them in the oven.

The first batch came out with molten-dough middles, which was good except for the salmonella fear. I kept the next two batches in a few minutes longer (20 minutes as opposed to 18), and the results were better.

The verdict: They were good, but the best? No. They tasted like bakery chocolate chip cookies, or like...mall cookies. Rich, melting, well-engineered, surely, but not transcendent.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Butterscotch tree

This weekend in Lake Tahoe, we went on a tour of the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion at Sugar Pine Point. I've been picnicking on the grounds dozens of times, but had never gone in the house. We met our tour guide outside under a tree, and she pointed out some of the native pines. The sugar pines are the ones with the long pinecones hanging at the end. And pinecones are nice and all, but it's kind of hard to compete with a tree that smells like butterscotch. And that's what the nearby Jeffrey Pine has to offer. Even before the tour guide had finished the word "butterscotch" I was heading towards it, ready to take a sniff. And it did! Joel reported smelling marshmallows, and apparently others detect various other sweet scents (vanilla, etc.), but to me it was all yellow-wrapper-hard-candy.
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Nectarine shortcake kind of a weird word. The individual parts (nectar/ine) flatter it, but the word as a whole doesn't do the fruit justice.

The biscuit recipe in the current Cook's Illustrated? Fun and delicious. The dough comes together in this exciting way, and instead of stamping out the biscuits, you oil a 1/3 cup measuring cup and scoop them into the requisite form. They're so smart.

One final note here: I didn't have a hand mixer handy and couldn't get Joel to commit to whipping the cream by hand (and I wasn't going to do it), so we ended up using spray whipped cream, the taste of which I just don't get, because it manages to take the richness out of dairy and just make it cloying. But it was still a satisfying dessert.
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Brandied cherry chocolate tart

This tart, oh, this tart. Even Joel, who lacks enthusiasm for both cherries and chocolate loved this one, and was disappointed when he returned home from work to discover that I had given the rest of it away (part to a neighbor, the rest to my aunt).

This recipe cemented an obsession with the Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook (breads, pastries, and sweets edition). Kathryn bought me the cookbook after eating at the bakery and cafe in Seattle during her U.S. road trip honeymoon. Looking through it, I got the food tingle- that sensation where my brain and my taste buds start jumping around in unison just-won-the-lottery style.

Cooking from it gave both brain and buds even more giddy pleasures. And it solved, in one easy step, my biggest problem with tart/pie crusts. Though I handle gently and chill often, I still tend to get crust shrinkage. But the flaky pie dough recipe (flour, salt, cold unsalted butter, chilled vegetable shortening, and ice water) called for me to roll a slightly larger circle, leave 3/4 inch overhang, and then build a double-thick crust. No shrinkage, and more glorious crust!

Next, I simmered cherries (they were supposed to be all bing, but it was the last bing cherry dessert of the season, and I had to add a few rainier cherries) in a brandy simple syrup, then drained them, sprinkled them around the pre-baked tart crust, and then whipped up a chocolately custard which struck that perfect balance of rich-but-not-oppressive.

I baked it, let it cool, sprinkled a bit of powdered sugar, and served it alongside a dollop of only faintly-sweetened whipped cream. I really liked it because each of the three elements (crust, cherries, custard) was delicious, complimentary, but also able to be tasted and appreciated in itself.
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Apricot and cherry galette

Though it's counterintuitive, my CSA farm box has caused a softening of the middle as of late. I currently sport a small innertube of fat that wasn't there before I started receiving weekly shipments of gloriously sweet and juicy fruits that were so ripe they needed to be used within a day.

Inspired by summer fruits, I turned to the two cookbooks that are more likely than any others to the root of my diabetes diagnosis in a decade or so. Tartine and Macrina.

This apricot and cherry tart featured a flaky crust and fruit that required very little sugar so the fruit flavors could really shine through. I love what happens to the flavor of apricots when they're baked. They go from being sweet but timid to bold and complex. Like getting a shy art history student drunk.

I started with the Tartine flaky tart dough recipe, which relies on a very simple ingredient list of a teaspoon of salt, 2/3 cup of very cold water, three cups plus two tablespoons flour, and one cup plus five tablespoons cold unsalted butter. Incorporating these ingredients requires strong arms and a big rolling pin, and then there are various pauses for chilling the dough, but the end result is great. Flaky and delicate, though I did have a slight problem with crust shrinkage.
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Monday, July 7, 2008

Do you like chapati?

I like chapati, do you like chapati? With a bit of whole wheat and regular flours, some water, and a little salt, you can chapati all you like. Ate these the other night alongside nut burgers (yum, see below). I almost took Mr. B's advice and grilled them outside (he promised "rustic, smoky, and puffy"). But it was chilly, and Alexis was helping, so I rolled them out and she cooked them over high heat (so high there was an incident with a spatula) in a pan on the stove.

I was worried they would be too dense and I would end up feeling like a chronically unsatisfied pioneer, but they were great—light and thin enough to complement the nutburger without turning every bite into the-land-of-one-thousand-chews.
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Nut burgers!

Who knew that with a food processor, a measuring cup, and a few staples you could pull together a bizarrely delicious and incidentally meatless burger? Mark Bittman, that's who. But take a look at his newish cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and it quickly becomes clear that there is very little Mark Bittman doesn't know.

For a long time, I casted about, looking for a good vegetarian cookbook that would offer me recipes that didn't make me feel like I was going to starve or endure a sad side-dish subsistence diet. This cookbook is what I was looking for and then some. It's huge, the recipes are great, and it encourages the sort of free thinking that will allow me to start to internalize the recipes and, if someday I am confronted with, say, a bunch of carrots, one can of beer, and a small baggie of flour, I could confidently pull together something delicious inspired by this book.

Here's my version of the nut burger recipe (because he's Mark Bittman, he gives you lots of ingredient options):

Grind one medium onion in a food processor (not too much- you want it to be chopped, not liquefied). Add a half cup walnuts and a half cup almonds, a half cup oats and a half cup brown rice, then blend some more. Then add a tablespoon of ketchup and a tablespoon of tahini, a teaspoon of chili powder (Mr. B has a recipe for making your own that results in a highly addictive concoction), some salt, pepper, and an egg, then blend a bit more. Let it sit for a few minutes, shape the mixture into patties (I usually get about 6 or 7 out of a batch, but I like thinner patties), and then add a bit of oil to a cast-iron or nonstick skillet and cook them on medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side.

Then eat and trip out on how good they are. And then wait three days until you start to crave them again, and repeat.
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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Beet and garbanzo bean salad

Roasted yellow beets, then sauteed garbanzo beans in a bit of garlic and olive oil until they had a lightly browned crispy blush, and then added a bit of salt. Cut up a red onion, sliced the beets, and then tossed it all together with some red wine vinegar. I love this salad.
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More than an ancient grain, it's a green that you use like spinach. I happened upon it at Monterey Market the other day, and couldn't get past: 1. the sheer size of the bunch they were selling for $1.39, and 2. how pretty it was. I asked the produce guy about it, and he told me to treat it like spinach. So I took it home, heated up a pan, threw in a bit of olive oil and a crushed clove of garlic, and then lightly sauteed the amaranth leaves to slightly wilty, but not spineless. They were fantastic. They've got this unusual flavor with a sort of earthy citrus undertone.
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Summer vegetable latkes

So good. Shredded really fresh new potatoes (3), a yellow onion, zucchini (2), summer squash (1 or 2), and carrots (2). Squeezed out the excess water, added a beaten egg and a bit of flour (about 2 tablespoons) until it could hold together the proper shape, added salt and pepper, and then cooked them in a pan with a bit of olive oil. To finish: some homemade pesto and a dollop of sour cream. I'll be eating it again soon.
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