Friday, April 29, 2011

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I found this recipe partly by experimentation, partly by accident. Baking while distracted, I accidentally added too much flour, which gave the cookies more body and kept them from spreading out too much. I intentionally used part shortening to further prevent spreading, and some corn syrup to keep them moist. I drizzled them with leftover chocolate glaze from Chocolate Meringue Gondolas.

If you click to enlarge this picture the cookies look more delicious.

Preheat oven to 375° and place parchment paper on two baking sheets.

1 lb. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
4 oz. shortening, softened
3/4 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used half white chocolate)
1/2 c. roasted walnuts, finely chopped

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening until they are smooth and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the sugar and corn syrup until well combined and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until fully combined.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and combine well with a spatula. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Lightly roll the dough into golf-ball sized balls and place them 1" or more apart on the cookie sheets. Bake 8-9 minutes, or until the bottom has just started to turn very light brown and when you slide a spatula under the cookie it lifts up without bending and breaking in the middle. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan for 5 minutes. If you want to glaze them, wait until they are fully cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chocolate Meringue Gondolas

This recipe is from Great Cookies by Carole Walters. The results are light, delectable, and wheat-free. Great for after a heavy meal when you want a touch of sweetness, and perfect for Passover.


Preheat oven to 275°, with racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Meringues

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
4 large egg whites at room temp
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. superfine sugar, divided
1/2 tsp. vanilla

For the meringues, chop the unsweetened chocolate in the food processor until fine. I found putting the chocolate in the freezer for 15 minutes helped keep it cool.

Place the egg whites in a large bowl and beat at medium until frothy. Add the salt, increase the speed, and beat until it forms firm peaks. Add 2/3 c. sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time. Add the vanilla and beat 1 minute more until it forms stiff peaks.

Fold in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in four additions, then fold in the chopped chocolate.

Form 'quenelles' (little football shapes) with the meringue by passing the mixture between two spoons and place them on the parchment 2" apart. I believe that using a pastry bag to pipe them out would work too. Hell, just blob them on to the parchment if you want.

Start baking both pans at the same time. Bake 50 minutes until firm and crisp, rotating the sheets partway through cooking. Turn off the oven and leave the door closed and pans inside for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 5 minutes before taking the cookies off the sheet.

Glaze

4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 Tbsp. half and half
1 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. hot water
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. chopped unsalted pistachios

In a microwave safe bowl (you can also do this in a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove), heat the chocolate at 50% in 60 second bursts until the chocolate melts and is stir-able. Add the half and half and heat again at 50% for 30 second bursts until it blends well when stirred. Add the honey, hot water, and vanilla.

Drizzle onto the meringues and then sprinkle with the pistachios. Try to find the unsalted ones because they have a more vibrant green. Allow the chocolate to cure on the cookies for 2 hours before eating.

Pasta Fazool (pasta e fagioli)


This is the perfect, quick one-dish meal. You don't even need to add meat (it's good though)! It's great for using spring vegetables and cupboard staples. You could probably eat this for every meal for the rest of your life and not experience any nutritional deficiencies.

1 lb. loose Italian sausage
1 can cannellini beans
1/2 box chunky pasta
1 bunch broccoli raab (rapini)
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 c. grated hard cheese
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Cook up the sausage in a large frying pan. Meanwhile boil a large pot of well-salted water. Immerse the raab in the water for 1-2 minutes until it is bright green and tender. Remove with tongs and immerse in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well and chop. Using the same water, boil the pasta until cooked and drain.

Add the onion to the sausage and cook until it starts to become tender. Add the beans, chopped raab, crushed garlic, and parsley and stir until heated through. Add the cooked pasta and toss to combine. Turn off the heat and add the cheese and season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On aioli

I tried to write this as a comment to Lillian's post on mayonnaise sandwiches or something, but then it was way too long. So here is a good start on what you need to know about making aioli, though there is plenty left un-said.


This is a base-line aioli recipe that I have used in restaurants:

1 egg yolk
~1/2 clove garlic
1 cup oil
pinch salt
squeeze lemon
~1TB water

On emulsification: There are a few different kinds of emulsification, achieved via different emulsifiers. The compounds in egg yolks are what we would consider true, or chemical emulsifiers, as they actually bond to fat molecules, keeping them separate from one another in a matrix of water. When the fat in your mixture does all run together, it is "broken," meaning that you have a puddle of liquid with a big oil slick on top; not aioli. As oil exhibits cohesive properties, it does not want to be parted from itself once it has been allowing to join together, so the key, and the purpose of the slow addition of the oil, is to imagine that you are in fact lubricating the oil molecules at all times with a surrounding layer of water. Fail to keep the oil "immersed," and you are done for.

Sciency scientist types have found that a single egg yolk is capable of emulsifying gallons of oil. The true limiting factor for the stability of your emulsion is the ratio of water to fat; no number of yolks will emulsify more than a certain quantity of fat into a given amount of water. Thus, we start the aioli both with some of the lemon you will be using for flavor, and an additional quantity of water for insurance. While it is possible to emulsify 1 cup of oil into a bit of lemon juice with a single yolk, this typically results in an extremely stiff aioli, which is somewhat unpleasant on the palate, so you will want water anyway for consistency purposes. The basic ratio of this recipe is simple: 1 yolk, 1 cup oil, ~1-2 TB liquid (none of which necessarily need be lemon juice)

On oil: Say you smear 2 ounces of aioli on your sandwhich. That means you have about 1.5 ounces of straight oil that you are about to eat. If you use nothing but extra virgin oil, you have pretty much just ruined your sandwhich with the addition of a jigger of strongly flavored oil; hence, aioli tends not to be made with 100% EVOO. I have encountered two schools of thought on this; 1: using a blend of extra virgin olive oil and something more inert, typically canola oil; 2: using 100% olive oil, but something mildly flavored, meaning either pure olive oil or a super light EVOO, or a blend. In the former, I would go something like 60:40 canola:EVOO, assuming your EVOO is pretty good. In the latter, try to find a decent pure olive oil (which is to say an oil which is 100% derived from olives, but does not have a low enough oleic acid content to qualify as virgin/extra virgin, but is also not shitty enough to be classified as pomace oil).

Crush the garlic into a paste in a mortar or thoroughly smash it with the side of a knife, a saute pan, etc. It needs to be completely obliterated. Generally, you start your aioli with a little bit of garlic as it is a natural emulsifier, but you want to leave some aside to adjust so it doesn't turn into a garlic bomb. Generally, if I am making a 3 yolk batch, I would smash up 4-5 cloves of garlic, and ultimately end up using about half of that.

Combine the egg yolk, your starter garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a splash of water in a bowl. Whisk the mixture until fully combined, and the egg yolk begins to lighten in color and soften in texture. This indicates that you have begun to denature the proteins in the yolk, which frees up the emulsifying compounds.

Begin adding oil whilst whisking vigorously. You really need to beat the shit out of it for the first third or so of your oil. Keep it moving, and really use the space in your bowl so that at no point is any one bit of the aioli in contact with a significant quantity of straight oil. This stage will take the majority of the time, say 6-10 minutes for a 1 yolk batch.

If all has gone according to plan, you should have a stiff, stable emulsion with 1/3 to 1/2 of the total oil added. Now is a good time to adjust for liquid, knowing that it will increase in stiffness as you add more oil. This done, you can add your fat much more quickly, provided your whisking arm isn't too tired to keep things in motion.

When finished, adjust for salt (way more than you think you need), garlic (way more than you think you need), lemon (not as much as you think you need) and additional seasonings (anchovy, pimenton, calabrian chile, seville orange zest, etc). It definitely needs to age a couple hours to mellow, but you should know that as a rule, aioli is thrown away at the end of every night, in every restaurant.

Whisk vs food processor: Keeping in mind that in Italy and France aioli is traditionally made start-to-finish with a mortar and pestle (not to mention that it is often solely assembled using the power of the garlic itself, and egg yolk is considered by some nonnas to be a cheat), a whisk actually starts to feel luxurious. In anything less than a 4-5 cup batch (which is a ton of aioli) I have found that a food processor is actually highly at risk for breaking the emulsion, as the addition of oil is less consistent, and the motor heats the mixture, thereby precipitating additional caution which can actually result in it taking longer. With experience, you should be able to throw together a batch of aioli sufficient for a single meal in less than 10 minutes, without causing a big annoying mess in your cuisinart.

Broken aioli? Just add water! Put some liquid in a new bowl, and begin by whisking a tiny bit of your broken oily mess into that water. It should form up into a loose but emulsified sauce. You can now proceed even more slowly than you did before, because hurrying is probably how you broke that shit in the first place, you slouch. Once your arm starts to fall off, you can really appreciate the merits of doing things right the first time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Poached Chicken Breast

In our age of searing and encrusting and caramelizing, poaching has gotten a bad rap. But I defy you to find a technique for cooking delicate items that yields a juicier, more versatile product in less time, with less mess. True poaching involves an acid such as lemon juice or wine (or so Wikipedia tells me--who knows?), but I find that's optional with this recipe. Below is the simplest approach with fewest ingredients, but feel free to experiment with adding other flavoring agents. The recipe can be scaled up but be sure to keep the chicken breasts less than 3/4" thick.

8-16 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast
cold water to cover
2-3 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed

Ensure that all chicken breasts are less than 3/4" thick, either by pounding them or by slicing or butterflying any thick parts of the breast. Place the breasts in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Cover with cold water and add the salt and garlic. You could also add wine or lemon juice, onions, celery, lemongrass, herbs or spices. Bring the liquid just to a boil--as soon as you see large bubbles coming up, turn the heat off and place the lid on the pot. Allow to sit for 15 minutes undisturbed.

The chicken will be cooked through but still very moist and tender. You can store the chicken in the poaching liquid or use the liquid for cooking. The chicken is great in recipes such as chicken salad, enchiladas, in noodle soup, with cheese on toast, etc...

This same technique can be used for fish, but I don't know how long to leave it sitting. I would assume only 5-8 minutes.

Joe's thoughts on poaching a whole bird:
This technique is actually excellent with an entire bird as well, especially when combined with a shock in cold liquid. Generally, the shocking step is highly recommended, as it relaxes the muscle fibers, further inhibiting moisture loss. You can then very gently re-warm the meat to serving temp, without further cooking it.

In chinese cookery, the chicken is plunged into boiling water and shocked in cold several times in order to gradually and evenly cook it through; almost a poach-braise. White rice is subsequently prepared with the chickeny poaching water. Combine with piquant condiments such as XO sauce and chile paste for some of the best white food ever.

Also: the above is for so-called "white" poached chicken. "Red" chicken calls for tinting the poaching liquid with soy, and usually xiaoxing (aka Shaoxing) wine, for the element of acidity described in the original post (although I am unfamiliar with the definition of poaching which requires acidity?).