Saturday, March 27, 2010

Messing With A Good Thing

There are some things in life and in the kitchen that shouldn't be messed with.  One of them I have discovered, is the original Nestle's Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  One of the first things I remember cooking on my own was this classic cookie.  It wasn't entirely a success though.  Somehow in my inexperience I only added 2 Tbsp. of flour to the dough instead of the 2 cups called for.  The cookies turned into paper thin, burned pancake like things and it was a very disappointing experience.  Nevertheless, I got back on that horse and have continued cooking and culinary experimentation ever since. 

Recently I tried a new chocolate chip recipe I saw demonstrated on the PBS show America's Test Kitchen.  I am a big fan of both this show and their well thought out recipes.  Rarely am I disappointed with the results.  This time I have to say I wasn't so pleased with the end product. 

The difference in this chocolate chip cookie recipe from the classic is the technique of using browned melted butter instead of the traditional creamed butter with the sugar.  The taste of the cookies were pretty good but the texture is what I didn't like.  They rose quite high and when cooled, they were very hard.  I prefer a soft, chewy cookie. 

The extra time and effort it took to brown the butter just didn't seem worth the cookie in the end. I have to suggest that it is sometimes better not to mess with a good thing.  I am going to post my adaptation of the recipe for those of you who feel like experimenting.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 sticks butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 stp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cups chopped nuts, walnuts or pecans, toasted (optional)

Heat oven to 375 deg.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk flour and baking soda together and set aside.

Heat 10 Tbsp. of butter in a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat until melted, about 2 minutes.  Continue cooking, swirling the pan constantly until the butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, approximately 1-3 minutes.  Remove skillet from the heat and stir in the remaining 4 Tbsp butter until completely melted. 
Add both sugars, salt and vanilla in a bowl with the butter and beat until fully incorporated.  Add egg and yolk and mix until mixture is smoooth with no sugar lumps remaining.  Let mixture stand 3 minutes then whisk for 30 seconds.  Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixutre is thick, smooth and shiny.  Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, giving dough a final stir to ensure there are no flour pockets remaining.
Put dough on parchment paper lined baking trays in 1 Tbsp. portions.  Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, approximately 10 minues.  Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack.  Cool cookies completely before serving.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is It A Sandwich Or Dessert?

My dear friend Warren and I use to eat lunches together all the time when we both worked at the same medical facility.  We would go all over the hospital's neighborhood trying out different restaurants, sometimes laughing so much that our stomachs hurt and we couldn't eat, and sometimes fighting so much our stomachs hurt and we couldn't eat.

One of my favorite things to order for some odd reason was a Monte Cristo sandwich.  Whenever it was on a menu I would order one up and compare it to others I had tasted.  Warren use to be so irritated by this particular sandwich choice of mine.  It never failed that as soon as this powder sugar coated, jam accented french toast like sandwich was placed in front of me, he would say "That isn't a sandwich.  It's dessert."  These statements of his always amused me so.

I hadn't thought of that in a long time until I was planning a menu for a Sunday luncheon and The Husband suggested we have Monte Cristo sandwiches.  This too amused me as I have never seen him order a Monte Cristo before nor have I ever made them for us.  Nonetheless, I thought why not?  I will state here and now though, in honor of my friend Warren I skipped the traditional accompaniments of powdered sugar and jam so it was indeed a sandwich and not dessert.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches
(makes 3)

9 slices white bread
6 slices ham
6 slices turkey
6 slices havarti or swiss cheese
Dijon mustard
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
Powdered sugar and jam of your choice optional

For each sandwich, lay out three slices of bread.  Lightly spread mayonnaise and mustard on two slices.  Put a slice of cheese, ham and turkey on these slices. Place on top of each other ending with the third piece of bread.

Beat together the eggs, milk and salt in a shallow dish.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium high heat.  Carefully dip each sandwich top and bottom into the egg/milk mixture and place in the hot frying pan.  Fry on each side until a golden brown.  Put a lid over the pan as each side is cooking to ensure that the filling gets hot and the cheese melts.
Cut each sandwich into four triangular pieces and serve.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mrs. O'Callaghan's Soda Bread

Faith and begorrah it's March - my favorite month.  The month of my anniversary, the month of my entry into this great big fabulous world and the month of St. Patrick's Day, always a fun holiday to celebrate for us Irish and non-Irish alike.  I know I have some Irish blood in me from my father's side of the family with a great grandmother named Murphy and I also know I really, really, really want to go to Ireland someday. It looks like a beautiful country.

In the March edition of Bon Appetit, there was a wonderful article written by Andrew McCarthy (St. Elmo's Fire, Brat pack fame) exploring places and foods of Ireland.  One recipe that stood out was Mrs. O'Callaghan's Soda Bread.  Mrs. O'Callaghan is a cook at the Ballinalacken Castle Country House and Restaurant and she states that she has been making her mother's recipe for soda bread for 45 years.

This recipe differs from others I have made in the past in that this one uses both white and whole wheat flour giving the bread more density and heartiness.  As well, it has the addition of brown sugar which adds a wonderful caramel sweetness to the finished product.  The recipe called for one large loaf but I divided the dough into two loaves so that I could share one with my mother-in-law.

"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you
                           In the palm of his hand."    (Old Irish blessing)

Mrs. O'Callaghan's Soda Bread

3 cups all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 stick chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Whisk both flours, sugar and baking soda in medium bowl to blend.  Add butter and cut it until the butter is the size of peas.  Add buttermilk; stir until a shaggy dough forms. (Note:I had to add about 1/4 cup more buttermilk to get my dough into a ball).  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until dough comes together, about 10 times.  Place dough on prepared baking sheet.  Cut large X 1/2 inch deep into top of dough. 
Bake bread until deep brown and bottom sounds hollow when firmly tapped, about 40 minutes. (Note: My two loaves to about 30 minutes to cook).  Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Chicken in Every Pot

I give you another recipe I discovered in my newly acquired cookbook,  The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook by Jaden Hair.  This is delicious dish called Hainanese Chicken Rice is relatively easy to put together and delivers a flavor punch with the beautifully poached chicken, the aromatic rice cooked in the chicken poaching liquid and the powerful sauce poured on top prior to serving.

I easly found all the ingredients called for except for one; the red chilies required for the sauce.  I was like a mad woman going from store to store looking for this elusive item.  Four stores to be exact.  Two Asian stores, one grocery store and finally I found a substitute in the form of a dried red chili from a Mexican market which I rehydrated in boiling water.  Who knew it would be so hard to find a lousy red chili???

Oh well, once all the ingredients were assembled the cooking began and it was realy a lot of fun to make.  It has three components; the chicken, the rice and the sauce.  Let's begin with the chicken, shall we?
Hainanese Chicken Rice
(as adapted by The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook)

1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp Chinese rice wine, or dry sherry
4 cloves garlic left whole and smashed
A 2 inch piece of chinger, sliced into 4-6 slices and each slice smashed with a knife
3 green onions, cut into 3 inch pieces
Salt to taste
4 boneless chicken pieces with skin on (I used 2 breasts and 2 thighs)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce

In a large pot with a tight lid, add the stock, wine, garlic, ginger, green onions, salt and chicken pieces and pour over enough water to cover the chicken by 1 inch.  Turn the heat to high and bring to boil. Once boiling, turn the heat to low and let simmer for 3 minutes.  Skim the surface.  Cover with lid and turn the heat off. Let the chicken sit poatching in the hot broth for 20-30 minutes, or until the juices run clear in the thickest part of the chicken.

Remove the chicken and brush it all over with the sesame oil and soy sauce combined.  Set aside and let the chicken come to room temperature.

1 cup long grain rice
2 cups chicken poaching liquid

Strain the broth of the solids and pour two cups into a saucepan.  Add one cup of long grain rice. Bring to boil then immediately put tight fitting lid on saucepan and let rice simmer for 25 minutes.  When done, fluff rice with a fork and let sit for 5 minutes.

Ginger Scallion Sauce
2 green onions, finely minced
1/2 tsp finely minced garlic
1 Tbsp finely minced ginger
1/2 tsp minced red chilies
1/4 tsp rice vinegar
pinch of salt
1/3 cup high-heat cooking oil (peanut oil for example)

In a heatproof dish, combine the onions, garlic, ginger, chilies, vinegar and salt.  Mix and set aside.  In a frying pan or wok, heat up the oil.  When the oil is hot and just starting to smoke, with care pour the oil into the heatproof dish on top of the other ingredients. It will sizzle and smell divine.
Slice poached chicken into bite size pieces and put over individual bowls of rice and then spoon over the fragrant and tasty sauce.  Dig in and enjoy!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Vacation From the Kitchen

We got away for the weekend to the coast in Astoria, Oregon so I thought I would share a couple of photos of the beautiful scenery in gorgeous 65 degree temperature. It was lovely!

The Astoria Column

The City of Astoria on the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.
(Picture courtesy of Conor Kirkpatrick atop the Astoria Column)

The Oregon Coast at daybreak

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sinful Cinnamon Rolls

Here is an amazing recipe for some delicious cinnamon rolls that, though time consuming, are really very easy to make.  One of the beauties of this recipe is that you can make them a day ahead and once they are in their cute little rolled up snail shapes and risen, you can put them in the fridge overnight and bake them the next morning for your breakfast.

The dough is so easy to work with.  It is pliable and wasn't at all sticky.  I didn't have to add one bit of extra flour as the recipe stated might be necessary.  This recipe has the edition of cornstarch in it which I had never seen before and I think that is one of the keys to the ease of rolling and shaping.

I did vary this recipe somewhat in that it stated it made 8 very large rolls and I decided to make 16 sensible sized rolls and I cut the baking time by about 10 minutes.  Let your conscience and waistline be your guide. If you are looking for a showstopper for a brunch or to knock the socks off your co-workers some day, this should do it for you!

Cinnamon Rolls

3/4 cup whole milk, heated to 110 degrees
1 envelope of rapid rise yeast
3 large eggs at room temperature
4 1/4 cups all purpose white flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter cut into 12 pieces and softened to room temperature

Heat the oven to 200 degrees.  When preheated turn it off.  Line a 13x9 inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang of foil over the pan edges.  Grease the foil and a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk the milk and yeast in a medium bowl until the yeast dissolves then whisk in the eggs.  In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the dry ingredients until combined.  With the mixer on low, add the liquid mixture in a slow, steady stream and mix until the dough comes together, approximately 1 minute or so.  Increase the speed to medium and add the butter, 1 piece at a time, until well incorporated.  Continue to mix until the dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.  If the dough is still wet and sticky after 10 minutes, add up to 1/4 cup more flour, 1 Tbsp. at a time until the dough releases from the sides of the bowl. 

Turn the dough onto a clean lightly floured surface and knead to form a smooth, round  ball.  Transfer to the greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the warm oven.  Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. butter, softened

Combine the sugar, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. 

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll the dough into an 18 inch square.  Spread the softened butter over the entire surface of the dough then evenly sprinkle the prepared filling over the dough.  Starting with the nearest edge, roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch to seal the seam.  Cut into 8 pieces (or 16 as I did).  Transfer the pieces, cut side up to the prepared pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  After they have risen, the buns can be put in the refrigerator overnight.  When ready to cook, let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.


4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 Tbsp whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Beat the cream cheese, milk, vanilla and sugar together until smooth.  Bake the buns until deep golden brown and the filling is melted, about 35-40 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and top the buns with 1/2 cup of the glaze; let cool for 30 minutes.  Top with the remaining glaze and serve.