Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies that Don't Suck

I've been taking on some cooking demons recently: for example, cooking an entire chicken. Next on the list was something I have tried at many times, and failed at many times: Chocolate Chip Cookies. I know, I know-- "They're the easiest!" "WTF!" "What is wrong with you!" Well, fine. But I have fucked them up every time. I feel like cookies have a pretty small window when you should take them out, and maybe I never got the hang of that, but, in addition to burned bottomed cookies, I've also had batches that just ectoplasmed all over the cookie sheet--retaining no shape whatsoever and being, ultimately, inedible--or not easily edible without a fork. To get to the point, I was consoled recently by a piece in Cook's Illustrated wherein someone on their staff laments the difficulty of making truly good chocolate cookies. I am not alone in my failure and frustration! Well, naturally, I decided to give the ensuing recipe a shot, and here it is:

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cook's Illustrated May & June 2009 (adapted with some minor commentary by me)

1 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
14 TB (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips (I used the recommended Ghirardelli semisweet)
3/4 c. chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional, thank god.)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. (I never do this right away because I feel like it wastes gas, and also I am slow at getting everything together. Do this whenever you feel like you're about 10 minutes away from baking and you should be fine). Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. I recently discovered the joys of parchment paper. JOYS.
Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 TB of butter in a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Don't use a non-stick or otherwise darkly bottomed pan for this...it will be harder to tell when the butter is browned and things will get burney very quickly.

Butter in the pan (not really a ten-inch skillet, I know)

Continue cooking, swirling pan CONSTANTLY[,] until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. (Ok your spatula would have to be pretty bad to melt on contact with browned butter...)

Here's my browned butter. It should probably be a shade or two darker, but I was getting dizzy staring into the swirls of butter.

Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds (cue Black Eyed Peas song to be stuck in your head for days, sorry). Let mixture stand three minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking two more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Ok I know this part sounds obnoxious, but they explained with Science in the magazine how it makes the cookies chewier or something. Just do it.

See? Look how shiny!

Using rubber spatula, or the remnants of the one you melted into the butter because you bought it from a street cart and it was made out of hemp, or wooden spoon if your spatula totally disintegrated, stir in the flour mixture from way back at the start of this thing until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using...bleh), giving dough a final stir to ensure no sneaky flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop...whatever that is, I just used a smallish ice cream scoop.) Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until [they] are golden brown, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes (I think I ended up at 11 minutes per...but it depends on your oven, etc.), rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before eating all of them before anyone else can.

My first foray into food porn.

These are pretty darn good, I have to say. Just the right ratio of chewy to crispy and browning the butter added a nice depth to the flavor. This is going to be my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe from now on.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Chicken

I was riding in the elevator at work the other day when I was suddenly seized with embarrassment: "I have never roasted a chicken!" Now maybe this is just indicative of my strange combination of uncontrollable and random guilt and my desire for culinary excellence, but no matter. I quickly sent off an email to friends offering the usual exchange of free food for copious amounts of wine and headed off to Bed, Bath and Beyond for supplies. (Anecdote: A friend of mine claims that the aforementioned chain never took off in his native England because a Bed-Bath is something you give to the elderly and infirm--and no one wants to imagine what the "Beyond" might mean in that scenario).

Anyway, I bought a meat thermometer and a baster (both of which I think I had owned previously but were tragically lost during my move...or they belonged to my old roommates...who knows) and a GIANT roasting pan. After lugging the roasting pan (measuring almost the entire length of my leg, and therefore difficult to carry)home I realized it was definitely for a turkey, and that my poor little chicken would be really awkward in it. So I just shoved it back in the box and returned it to the store later on.

Not really finding a suitably basic recipe for roast chicken in any of the usual suspects of magazines and cookbooks, I decided on a recipe that was recently on Amateur Gourmet . I haven't been able to steal the perfectly "seasoned" cast-iron skillet from my parents yet, so I just instead of using one, I just used a glass casserole dish. Otherwise, out of utter lack of confidence with the task at hand, I just stayed pretty close to the recipe.

Et viola!

I stuck some chopped celery, carrots and onions underneath the little guy just to keep him (or her, I guess, I didn't check) from getting too saturated with fat and also basted s/him occasionally. Seriously, this was super easy, and after the suggested 30 minutes the chicken was really at the perfect temp. I couldn't believe it! It also seemed to have cooked pretty evenly from thighs to breasts...something I was nervous about after reading some fear-mongering articles in Cook's Illustrated about unevenly cooked roast chickens.

Anyway, the last hurdle was carving, which also turned out to be completely fine. There's some sort of weird joint in the chicken's...pelvic socket I guess?...where if you hit it just right you can easily separate the thighs from the body, and from there it's smooth sailing as long as your knife is sharp enough.

To complete the meal a friend of mine whipped up some delicious biscuits, and I also sauteed some chard (stems and leaves people!) and made a risotto for my veggie friend who graciously endured the dead bird and also mixed up a pitcher of Tom Collins. Here are the biscuits:

Anyway, I forgot to take pictures while I was cooking...but I'm going to try and be better about that and also use my real camera for optimum quality.

To conclude, roasting a chicken is dead easy, and I completely recommend trying it to everyone...unless you're an utter moron like this guy who somehow blamed the failure of his oven to work properly on poor Amateur Gourmet guy's recipe.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Restaurant Review: Brookvin

OK, I wrote this for another site, but they never ended up posting it and then I moved out of that neighborhood anyway. Whatevs.
Brookvin: A Drunken Review

I finally had a chance to stop by new South Slope hot spot Brookvin this weekend. It only took me so long because I live in North Slope and am lazy, not because I’ve been busy with anything else except Netflix. So anyway, Saturday night I corralled some friends and took the bus (the bus!) over to seventh and twelfth. One friend had already arrived and had put our name on the list for what was supposed to be a 20 minute wait. We settled in and bought a bottle of wine (Syrah, if you must know) at the bar for the five of us and began to wait for one of the three larger tables to free up.

After about thirty minutes, we had finished off the bottle, my one friend had apparently scolded the hostess (unnecessarily, in my eyes—it’s difficult for a hostess to gauge how long people will linger over cheese plates!), and we moved down to the other end of the bar to wait some more and avoid the hostess. At this point we dove into the cocktail menu, assisted by our lovely bartender, who I think was either part owner or at least largely responsible for the drink menu. He was extremely helpful and poured us a generous taste of their house-infused bacon bourbon. Now, bacon and bourbon are two of my favorite things, so, naturally, I was excited about what was in that glass, and it certainly did not disappoint. Some maple syrup added to the infusion (which, I was informed, is actually just bacon fat and not any of the meat itself) nicely balances the saltiness of the bacon (fat) and the fiery quality of the bourbon. The whiskey sours were quite popular with the friends, as was the cucumber martini (vodka, muddled cucumber). I was steered away from the raspberry? Lemonade, as it is apparently quite sweet (but maybe you’re into that).

After eagerly downing our delicious whiskey sours, etc., things got a little fuzzy. We were seated at a comfy booth next to the bar (at least 40 minutes after we had arrived) and were attended to by a really great, enthusiastic server (not creepily enthused though—she just wasn’t too cool to remember our order unlike a certain growing class of servers who wear their sunglasses at night—I think you know who I mean). Anyway, she was great, we ordered all three cheese plates—a goat, a sheep, and a cow—all came with accompaniments of some sort of jam-like substance and a good amount of crusty (sometimes a little too crusty/toasted) bread. I was really into the rose petal(?) jam that came with the sheep’s(?) milk cheese—it was sweet and gooey but not cloying at all, and didn’t overpower the cheese.

We also ordered a plate of proscuitto and two tartines—onion jam, tallegio and radicchio (which was good the first round, but the radicchio took over a little too much on the second round, making it bitter) and house-cured bacon with something else gooey and nice.

I think there was another round of whiskey sours at some point—maybe a red wine? Dessert, my friends, is really blurry:

me: do you remember what that dessert was at brookvin?

either one?

Friend: oooh

we had the caremelized apple bread pudding

with salted caramel sauce

and then, um... malted something?

i don't know, i was pretty drunk

me: was the apple bread pudding the thing that was really good?

or was that a chocolate malted something pudding?

Friend: BOTH

it was a custard thing with... chocolate stuff on top

cocoa powder?

i have no idea

we were all dying over the custard, but i personally was really into the apple thing because it was lighter

So….yeah….desserts were great. Order both of them; let me know what they are. Here’s a blurry phone picture of what the chocolate malted something pudding looked like before I devoured it:

I really enjoyed my dinner/small plates/whatever and will certainly go back. I’d like to explore the wine list a little more—it looked like there were some great selections by both the glass, bottle and even half bottle (who needs that?), with helpful descriptions—always a plus. I kind of hope they start offering some options beyond the small plates. There is obviously someone with an interesting palate behind the line, and I’d love to see what else they can do! Brookvin is, however, probably not the best place to go in a group of five on a Saturday—there are only a few tables big enough to accommodate you, the place is pretty busy, and you’ll probably be wasted by the time they seat you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Recipe Review: Chicken Stew

Ny Mag recently ran an article that asked three chefs to give recipes for better brown-bag lunches. As a dedicated lunch-bringer/cafeteria conversation-avoider I was interested to see what they would come up with.

First up was Floyd Cardoz of Tabla, a restaurant on Madison and 24th I've never eaten at, but now that I look at their tasting menu ($59 for three courses, awesome! Have I lived in NYC too long when that sounds cheap?) I would like to. Anyway, he offered up a curryish chicken stew that he recommended as good over rice or in sandwiches.

Second up was Ryan Skeen of Irving Mill with a chicken sandwich with horseradish mayo and tomato relish. Now. I love tomato relish, but am not huge on mayo so already this option is looking meh. Add into it the fact that you essentially have to make two things all you get out of it is a sandwich, well forget it.

Option three is from Ilene Rosen at City Bakery. Basically, a tin of smoked oysters (ew?) some stale bread and home-made slaw. Well I'm prejudiced against bakeries anyway for their crimes against desserts, and also this lunch looks lame.

So, Floyd, you are the winner. Let's see how it turned out:

Spiced Chicken Stew
Floyd Cardoz, Tabla
“This warms up well in the microwave with some rice, or makes a great filling for a sandwich or wrap. This recipe makes six servings—enough to get you through the week.”

4 tablespoons canola oil (I used vegetable oil.)
1 cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs curry leaves (I don't know what these are, so I added curry powder)
6 shallots sliced (I never really know how much "one" shallot is...so I think I only ended up using two bulbs of one shallot)
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 cloves minced garlic
Chiles, with seeds, quartered (I used both jalapenos and some dried ones I always have hanging around)
1 teaspoon turmeric (I think the point of this spice is just to make everything in your kitchen yellow)
4 tablespoons semolina (uh...all purpose flour....seemed to work ok)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless chicken, cubed (leg meat is preferable) (cubing chicken is really annoying, chickens are not square)
2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup baby turnips (I couldn't find any turnip, let along baby ones, so I left this out)
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups chicken stock
Juice of 2 limes (Limes are hard to juice if you don't have a juice and are a wuss like me)
10 ounce can coconut milk

Salt the chicken and let it stand for 1 hour. In a pot, heat the canola oil and add the cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves; stir until the spices are fragrant (this seemed to not happen, even though all my spices were new. Maybe I have a cold I don't know about). Strain out the spices and tie them in a sachet. (I guess this is cheese cloth? That's what I used.) Pour the canola oil back into the pot, then add the mustard seeds and bay leaves. Add the curry leaves (or not), shallots, ginger, chiles (sic), and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the spice sachet and semolina (flour); cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add chicken, vegetables, and stock, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the lime juice and season. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 5 more minutes (I ended up simmering it a lot longer than this, maybe 15 minutes, before the veggies were actually cooked).

(And, oh, hey, when I am supposed to take out the spice satchel? And those bay leaves? Can't people choke on those? Nothing to say? Recipe over? All right.)

Rough Cost: $4.12 (yeah right! where are you shopping, Floyd? Wisconsin? The chicken alone was 3.25, then all the spices--which, since I just moved, I had to buy all of, then coconut milk, and veggies...sheesh. More like $15.)

Verdict: Ok, all bitching and veering from the recipe aside, this turned out really well. I've been eating it all week for lunch over rice, turning all my tupperware yellow, and really enjoying it. It's pretty quick to assemble if you subtract all the time I spent being grossed out while "cubing" chicken thighs. I want to try it in a toasted pita, but I think I'm too lazy to to go the store tonight and get one before I happily eat the final serving of this for lunch tomorrow. Oh, also, his estimate of six servings was surprisingly accurate!

Grade A-
Points taken off for lack of spiciness (maybe it was those missing curry leaves and shallots?) and some annoying things with the recipe, such as choking on bay leaves.

My lunch. I know it looks kind of unappetizing, but blame my phone's camera. You can see how yellow the tupperware is, though!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Weekend of Eating: Part the Last

For this post, I'm skipping over a disappointing brunch at one of my FORMERLY favorite spots in the Slope, since it basically involved dry eggs and almost an hour of waiting for them. At one point my dad jokingly proposed asking the waiter if they needed any help in the kitchen--he was the breakfast cook at a priory a long, long time ago.

Yeah, so, we're ignoring that blemish on my weekend of eating, and jumping right into Meghan Presents: Dinner for Unpredictably Picky Parents.

My parents are, for the most part, adventurous eaters, but, like me, they both have their random things that they won't eat. Because of this, I submitted my menu ahead of time for approval from both parties.

Here it is:

The I'm Too Lazy to Make Appetizers Before Dinner Cheese Plate
Pork Chops with Sugar Snap Peas and Mint Julep Glaze
Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Corn Bread
Oh Shit I Forgot to Buy Ingredients for Dessert Chocolate Mousse

Initially when I sent my dad the menu he wasn't sure that corn bread would go, so I changed it to my Gruyere Mashed Potatoes with Tons of Garlic. However, he called me back two days later and changed his order back to cornbread.

I'm not super comfortable cooking meat, since I mainly learned to cook during my vegetarian years, and also because I rarely cook meat unless it's for a special occasion of some sort. Because of this, pork is one of my favorites to cook when I need to impress. Pork has a pretty wide range of doneness that you can get away with--from still pretty pink to cooked all the way through but still moist--before people start complaining, unlike beef or fish which can go from underdone to perfect to inedible in almost seconds.

I also thought my parents would appreciate the mint julep glaze since our house is a bourbon house and we also like horses--mint julep, Kentucky Derby, get it?

Anyway, so I started in on the goat cheese corn bread first, since that seemed pretty involved. It was the first recipe I had tried from Smitten Kitchen and I have to say I was impressed. The recipe was pretty specific, and had a few unnecessary or odd steps, but I thought I'd try being faithful for once, and it paid off. (Although I have to say that heating butter in the pan in the oven and then spreading it around with a pasty brush to coat the pan is pointless when you can just coat the thing with cold butter, but what do I know.)

The corn bread came out very nicely and was not dry at all. It does, however, involve a lot of time and a lot of ingredients, so be prepared.

I was also pleased with the pork chops: I'm always a fan of glazes instead of sauces, and you can't really go wrong with something made from bourbon and brown sugar. The snap peas cook right in this mixture (it has some beef broth in it for bulk), and so they soak in a lot of the great flavors. The snap peas, though they were perhaps a bit premature for truly seasonal cooking, were pretty crunchy, green, and flavorful, even when I snagged a few before dousing them in bourbon.

The mousse was not entirely....a mousse. It kind of ended up somewhere between a pudding and a mousse, I think because my chocolate was too cold when I was folding the egg whites in, and so no enough air ended up getting into it. It was however pretty delicious for something I scrounged up from the cupboards--random chocolate bar and left over eggs from something else--and I would totally recommend it for those times when too much day drinking makes you forget to buy the ingredients for an entire course.

All in all, I was happy with the way the meal turned out, and I think my parents were, too. I also think I did a good job of convincing them that staying out of midtown and, especially, eating in Brooklyn, is a non-Applebee's-loving tourist's best friend.