Monday, August 27, 2012

Marinara Sauce: The Recipe

Pasta is the perfect dish to serve for a large group-- a big pot of noodles, a big pot of sauce, and a big bowl of salad can please even the pickiest crowd. For this week's recipe, I will attempt a basic marinara sauce from scratch and serve it with some spaghetti, meatballs, tempeh balls, salad, and a grapefruit granita for dessert.

Marinara is a simple sauce but ultra useful. High-quality, non-sugar-laden sauces can run upwards of $8 for a 24-ounce jar (ahem... Rao's). Considering the fact that it's basically just some inexpensive veggies, herbs, and olive oil, manufactured tomato sauce might just be the second biggest food rip-off ever (of course, the gold medal goes to movie theater snacks).

I was shocked by the lack of basic Marinara recipes I found in my cookbook collection. However, hope was restored when I found out that Consumer Reports had dubbed Giada de Laurentiis the "Sauce Boss" based on her Tomato Basil Marinara. I trust Consumer Reports, I trust Giada, and I trust things that rhyme, so the Sauce Boss recipe made the cut with one caveat. I nixed the basil so any herb can be substituted for it (or not) depending on the cook's personal taste and the other flavors of the meal. Aside from that, I kept it as-is. I don't want to mess with the boss!

This is only a tiny amount of the huge batch this recipe will make


The Recipe: Marinara Sauce, adapted from Giada de Laurentiis on the Food Network 
Yield: 2 quarts (64 ounces)
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 32-ounce cans whole tomatoes (not drained)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
Preparation:
  • In a large, non-reactive pot, heat the oil over medium-high flame. 
  • Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the celery, carrots, salt, and pepper.
  • Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
  • Crush the tomatoes by hand to your desired consistency and add to the pot.
  • Add the bay leaves and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.
  • Remove the bay leaves and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
Time to Memorize: 2 days

Shrimp Prepared Scampi Style: Results and Modified Recipe

The Process:
Though I was a bit overwhelmed by the excitement of having my college roommates in town, I was still able to memorize this recipe in three days. The good news with cooking as opposed to baking is that measurements can be a little bit off without committing a major culinary faux pas. Just pretend it's on purpose.

In the mix of all of the ingredients for this Scampi-style shrimp, not to mention the arugula salad (topped with grapefruit, fennel, toasted almonds, avocado, and balsamic), linguini, and dessert (chocolate-covered strawberries) that I made to accompany the shrimp, I remembered to include all components except for my usual favorites-- salt and pepper. That's right, dear reader-- there was no salt or pepper added to my meal. Somehow I remembered to salt the pasta water, but nothing else. Sorry, taste buds. You are welcome, blood pressure.

The Verdict:
Despite the lack of salt and pepper, I wouldn't say the dish was bland. For those of you watching your sodium intake, keep this in mind. The garlic, shallots, lemon, wine, and herbs provided a blast of complementary flavors, all without the salt. I would absolutely add it next time, though. Thanks to my friend Rob for chiming in another excellent way to kick up the flavor of the dish. He makes a gremolata (lemon zest, minced garlic, and chopped parsley) as an edible garnish. Brilliant, Rob! Do I smell a guest blog contributor?

Since (as we learned in the last post) Scampi is a dish that started as an ingredient and has since evolved into a preparation style, it is open to interpretation. Lidia Bastianich adds her own touch with tarragon, but after tasting it alone and using a teeny bit in this recipe, I decided to omit it from the updated recipe. Thyme and parsley are more than enough. But I will say that fresh herbs are essential for this recipe.

Finally, I used far less compound butter* than called for in Bastianich's recipe. About half, in fact. I am glad I did, too, because it came in handy for when the linguini started to stick together. The shrimp were still nice and tender.

As for my guests' comments, one of my roommates informed me that if I owned a restaurant I could charge $20 for my entree. Others, however, said that their favorite part was the salad (go figure-- I whipped that up in thirty seconds). I wouldn't say this is the winningest recipe I've made so far, but then again, there was no salt. And food without salt is like a song without harmony... it can be decent, but it's never going to move me.

The final dish-- any size shrimp would work,
but I do love the big guys for the sake of presentation
No recipe for this, but it was too pretty to leave out

The Updated Recipe: Shrimp Prepared Scampi Style, adapted from Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen
Yield: 6 servings
Ingredients:
  • 18 extra jumbo (16/20) shrimp*
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine*
  • 2 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp fresh Italian parsley, minced
  • salt and pepper
Preparation:
  • Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. 
  • Add the garlic and cook until pale golden, about 1 minute. 
  • Stir in the shallots, season generously with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, shaking the skillet, until the shallots are wilted, about 2 minutes. 
  • Add 1/4 cup of wine and 1 tbsp lemon juice, bring to a boil, and cook until about half of the wine has evaporated. 
  • Transfer to a large plate and cool completely.
  • Add to a bowl containing the butter and parsley and stir until blended. 
  • Spoon the compound butter* onto a 12-inch length of plastic wrap and roll it into a log shape, completely wrapped in plastic. Chill thoroughly. 
Compound butter rolled into a log.
The colder it gets, the easier it will be to cut.

  • Place the rack in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 475°F. 
  • Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp*, leaving the tail and last shell segment attached. 
  • Using some of the flavored butter, lightly grease a shallow baking pan into which the shrimp fit comfortably without touching.
  • Arrange the shrimp, tails up, on the prepared pan.
The size of your pan doesn't matter, as long as the shrimp
get lined up along the edge with their tails pointing upward.
My pan was enormous, but the empty space did no harm.
  • Cut half of the compound butter into 1/2-inch cubes and disperse the cubes among the shrimp. Save the rest for other uses.
  • Mix the remaining 1/4 cup wine and 1 tablespoon lemon juice and add to the pan. 
  • Scatter the thyme sprigs over and around the shrimp. 
  • Season with salt and pepper and place the pan on the oven rack. 
  • Roast until the shrimp are firm and crunchy and barely opaque in the center, about 7 minutes. 
  • Transfer the shrimp to a hot platter and drain the pan juices into a small pan. 
  • Bring juices to a boil over high heat and boil until the sauce is lightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and serve.
*Tips:
  • Shrimp size: I like giving a shrimp count (rather than poundage) because as long as you need 25 or fewer, the person at the seafood counter should be willing to count them out. After that, you become a little bit obnoxious. However, if you are reading any recipe that refers to pounds of shrimp, each different type of shrimp contains a different quantity of the little guys per pound, so pay attention. My 18 "extra jumbo" shrimp ended up being about one pound.
  • Dry white wine: I always seem to hear the phrase "dry white wine" when it comes to recipes, but have I ever known what that meant? Nope. Thankfully Wine Folly has some words of wisdom on the matter. First of all, never, ever, ever use "cooking wine" from the grocery store. Use something you will actually drink, for heaven's sake! Beyond the golden rule, here are some basic guidelines:
    • Chardonnay (rich and dry) for chicken, cream sauces, and gravies
    • Pinot Grigio/Gris (crisp and dry) for seafood and shellfish
    • Sauvignon Blanc (light and dry) for veggies
  • Cooling sauces: If you need a sauce cooled quickly, pour it into the most shallow heatproof dish possible and pop it in the freezer. The combo of maximum surface area and modern technology will cool it down in no time.
  • Compound butter: This is one of my favorite techniques because of its simplicity and versatility. Compound describes something consisting of two or more separate components (compound sentences, compound numbers, chemical compounds, etc.). So add anything to butter and you have a compound butter. Keep them on hand to spread on bread, top pasta or rice, or pop on a piece of meat before you bake it. Make it sweet, savory, bizarre... whatever your indulgent heart desires.
  • Preparing raw shrimp:
    • Pull of the little legs and run your finger down the front center so the connective tissues break
    • Peel off the shell (leaving the last segment attached if you decide to keep the tail)
    • Run a knife down the back of the shrimp (about 1/4 inch deep)
    • Pull out the digestive tract. (Deveining has nothing to do with veins, although I appreciate the euphemism. Nobody wants to read a cookbook with the word depooping in it.)
    • Feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction knowing that your shrimp are clean
My trooper sous chef roommate removing the "vein"

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Shrimp Prepared Scampi Style: The Recipe

Shrimp Scampi may be the biggest misnomer in the culinary world (except for sweetbreads--eew). As a linguist, I was fascinated to find out that scampi are not shrimp at all but actually the tail of a type of shellfish called Langoustine, Nephrops, or Dublin Bay Prawn. So when we say "shrimp scampi," it's kind of like we are saying "shrimp prawns," which is as silly as Chai tea ("tea tea") or ATM machine. 

But I digress. Real scampi were traditionally prepared by Italian immigrants in the style that we now know as scampi, but the immigrants' Italian-American descendants now use common shrimp instead of the elusive Nephrops. Complex history, no? If you are learning this for the first time, don't worry--you are in bloody good company. Apparently in 2011, "What is scampi?" was the second most common "What is?" Google search among Britons. Who knew that the UK has such a fascination with esoteric shellfish?


List courtesy of BBC News and Google Zeitgeist
Since scampi as we know it is not quite as traditional as we may have thought, it was tough to find a traditional recipe for it. The two biggest questions for me: 

  1. To breadcrumb or not to breadcrumb?
  2. To bake or to pan fry?

Thanks to NY Times food writer Melissa Clark, I was led to Lidia Bastianich's expertise on the matter. Since she is the only chef I found who used the proper terminology in her recipe ("Shrimp Prepared in the Scampi Style"-- so precise!), she won my trust, meaning I had my two biggest questions answered: no breadcrumbs, and definitely bake.

Before we get to the classic recipe, I have to tie up one loose end. I will not be able to sleep through my guilt tonight if I don't send some culinary love to Ina Garten, whose breadcrumb-positive version of this dish inspired my love for the scampi style. Her recipe is sinfully buttery and well worth the indulgence.

My college roommates are coming to NYC on Wednesday from Los Angeles and Denver, and before we go out and paint the town red, we'll be coming together to eat like we used to so often at our old house. I can't wait to see them and add another recipe to my Walking Cookbook collection!


Lidia's mantra is "Everyone to the table to eat."
This will be a great dish for large groups.
The Recipe: Shrimp Prepared Scampi Style, adapted from Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen
Yield: 6 servings
Ingredients:
  • 36 shrimp (about 3 1/2 lbs)
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp fresh Italian parsley, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh tarragon, minced
  • salt and pepper
Preparation:
  • Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. 
  • Add the garlic and cook until pale golden, about 1 minute. 
  • Stir in the shallots, season generously with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, shaking the skillet, until the shallots are wilted, about 2 minutes. 
  • Add 1/4 cup of wine, bring to a boil, and cook until about half of the wine has evaporated. 
  • Transfer to a small bowl and cool completely. 
  • Add the butter, parsley, and tarragon and beat until blended. 
  • Spoon the flavored butter onto a 12-inch length of plastic wrap and roll it into a log shape, completely wrapped in plastic. Chill thoroughly. 
  • Place the rack in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. 
  • Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp, leaving the tail and last shell segment attached. 
  • Using some of the flavored butter, lightly grease a shallow baking pan into which the shrimp fit comfortably without touching.
  • Arrange the shrimp, tails up, on the prepared pan.
  • Cut the remaining flavored butter into 1/2-inch cubes and disperse the cubes among the shrimp. 
  • Mix the remaining 1/4 cup wine and 1 tablespoon lemon juice and add to the pan. 
  • Scatter the thyme sprigs over and around the shrimp. 
  • Season with salt and pepper and place the pan on the oven rack. 
  • Roast until the shrimp are firm and crunchy and barely opaque in the center, about 5 minutes. 
  • Transfer the shrimp to a hot platter and drain the pan juices into a small pan. 
  • Bring juices to a boil over high heat and boil until the sauce is lightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and serve.
Time to Memorize: 3 days (eek!)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tuna Tartare: Results and Modified Recipe


The Process:
Tampering with fame can be like playing with fire, and I felt like I did that a bit with this Ripert recipe. But as they say, the greater the risk, the greater the reward, and my fire play definitely paid off. The ingredient list in this recipe was hefty, but I was able to tackle it by keeping in mind that all I really have to do is measure and mix. 

When I was in high school and studied for my AP classes, I would always wake up at 4:00 the morning of a test, grab a bowl of blueberries, and rewrite my vocabulary words on green flashcards in green ink while sniffing a peppermint scented candle. Those were my memorization techniques based on something I read in some "highly reputable" magazine that said blueberries, peppermint, and the color green were all good for memory (the 4:00 AM part was my own crazy plan). I think I have developed a better strategy for this blog... I memorize the ingredient list from largest to smallest quantity. For any of you playing along at home, I will try to write all my recipes the way I think of them now, because just knowing that there are x ingredients that call for y tablespoons is enough to remind me what they are, and hopefully it will help you remember too. According to my most recent graduate education course, they call that "chunking," and it helps home cooks and struggling readers alike.

The Verdict:
I made this dish for the largest crowd I have served yet (eight-person dinner at my apartment, stretching the six-serving recipe a bit) and everyone's plates were totally clean. It got two thumbs up from my roommate's dad, who is a sushi buff and eats the most divine seafood straight out of the water in Baja California, Mexico (jealous). And an extra special guest who does not usually like fish or wasabi worked through it with no problems. He surprised even himself!

One bite into the Tuna Tartare had me wishing I had made more. It was light and refreshing yet filling, zesty but not spicy by any means, and had just enough texture on its own with the avocado and scallion. Of course, I would never take credit away from the crackers for adding real crunch (and bragging rights for making homemade crackers).

Now for my modifications... I added the avocado to the whole recipe because it bulked up the dish a bit and gave a creamy element. I was very happy with those results. Oddly enough, Whole Foods was out of fresh jalapeños, so about 1 1/2 serrano chiles did the trick. The only thing I would do differently in the future is significantly reduce the amount of oil in the marinade-- really, only 1/4 cup total is necessary, and the rest gets all over the plate. Stick with the ginger oil because of its delectable Asian flair. The updated recipe is below.

To make sure everyone left dinner full and content, I served the Tuna Tartare with a Cold Sesame Noodle Salad and we had Chocolate Mousse (plus gourmet takes on Hostess classics from Empire Cake) for dessert. As one of my wonderful dinner guests said, "You've really outdone yourself this time!" If you're looking to impress, read on...

Cool, quick, and healthy-- my idea of the perfect summer dinner

The Modified Recipe: Marinated Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Ginger Oil and Flatbread Crackers, adapted from On the Line
Yield: 6 servings (4 oz. tuna with 4 crackers)
Tuna Tartare Ingredients:
  • 1.5 lbs yellowfin tuna*
  • 1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/4 cup ginger oil (recipe follows)
  • 3 tbsp minced scallion (white part only)
  • 3 tbsp chopped cilantro (leaves only)
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp wasabi paste
  • 1 tbsp minced serrano chile, seeds removed
  • 1 tsp Sriracha chile sauce
  • Salt and pepper
Tuna Tartare Preparation:
  • Cut the tuna, first on the bias*, then into a 1/4 inch dice. Remove any sinewy bits. Put in the refrigerator in a large bowl until ready to mix.
  • Combine the ginger oil, wasabi, scallion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, Sriracha, salt, and pepper in a measuring cup or bowl. Whisk and pour over tuna.
  • Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Use a sharp knife to make 1/4 inch grid cuts in each half of the avocado.*
  • Scoop the avocado out of its skin onto the tuna and break the pieces apart. Mix gently, trying not to mash the avocado.
  • Garnish with a lemon wedge and serve.*
Ginger Oil Ingredients:
  • 4 oz ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
Ginger Oil Preparation:
  • Put the ginger in a clean jar and add the oil.
  • Seal tightly and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate overnight.
  • Can be stored in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
Flatbread Cracker Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp fine salt
Flatbread Cracker Preparation:
  • Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.
  • Whisk together the water and olive oil, add to the flour and mix until smooth.
  • Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 300°.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough very thin and slice into 1.5"x4.5" rectangles. 
  • Place the rectangles on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
  • Cool on a rack and store for up to a week.

*Tips:
  • Yellowfin tuna: Also known as Ahi, this stuff runs about $21/lb. Get it somewhere good. For that price, you are allowed to be picky at the fish counter and ask for the pieces that are the most vibrant red (lighter coloring usually means there is a lot of sinew, and we don't pay $21/lb for sinew).
  • Cut on the bias: In case you forgot from the days of Ceviche, here's a refresher to get the most tender fish pieces possible. A small dice like in this recipe is a bit more forgiving, though.
  • Cutting an avocado into a grid: In case my description above was confusing to you, check out this beautiful picture from CreateLive. For this recipe, you'll want your grid squares to be much smaller.
These are 1/2 inch grid squares. We want about 1/4 inch.
  • Plating the Tuna Tartare: This is my favorite part. If you don't have a ring mold to make a nice little cylindrical mound like you see in restaurants, line a ramekin or even a dry measuring cup with plastic wrap. Press the Tartare into it to fill all corners, then flip the dish over onto the plate. Tap the bottom of the measuring cup or ramekin a few times and lift straight up. The Tartare should be looking classy on the plate and your plastic wrap should be empty and ready to use for the next serving.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tuna Tartare: The Recipe

Most people who dine with me in restaurants know that if Tuna Tartare is on the menu, it is hard for me to pass up. I have gotten to enjoy the Tuna Tartare at such places as Lavo, Ed's Chowder House, Lure Fishbar, and Tolani, and I have never been disappointed. Tartare is a French term describing finely chopped raw meat that is seasoned in some way (leave it to France to give a French name to a dish with a generally Asian flavor profile). It can be made up with all sorts of twists (Lavo has an interesting mediterranean take on the dish with garlic and olives), but the freshness of the fish cannot be compromised. We're talking sushi-grade tuna, here.

In my search for the perfect Tuna Tartare recipe, I struck culinary gold! I discovered the book On the Line by Eric Ripert and Christine Muhlke, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the famous restaurant Le Bernardin, that, upon its opening in 1986, "caused a shift in how Americans ate fish." With three Michelin stars and four stars from the New York Times, Le Bernardin is far more than just a French seafood restaurant. Tucked in the back of this insightful book is a recipe for Tuna. As with all of Ripert's dishes, the star ingredient comes first in the title, followed by a description: Seared and Marinated Yellowfin Tuna Tartare "Sandwich" with Ginger Oil. I may not be at a point in life when a $125 prix fixe dinner is in the stars, but I am thrilled to know that I can attempt to create a small taste of Le Bernardin at home.

This week I will be preparing just the marinated part of the Tuna Tartare from On the Line. Although it may be sacrilegious, I'm also going to add some avocado to the recipe. In my humble opinion, a ripe avocado can do only good things to a tartare. I'll make some flatbread crackers to go with the Tuna Tartare (also from Ripert's recipe collection) and serve it with a cold Asian noodle salad to round out the entire meal. This dish is simple in process but complex in ingredients, so making the shopping list will be the true test of memorization.

An amuse bouche of Tuna Tartare from Le Bernardin
(photo from Lorraine L. on Yelp)
One day I will get to sit here and experience seafood bliss

The Recipe: Marinated Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Ginger Oil and Flatbread Crackers, adapted from On the Line
Yield: 6 servings (4 oz. tuna with 4 crackers)
Tuna Tartare Ingredients:
  • 1.5 lbs yellowfin tuna
  • 1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges
  • 1 avocado (optional)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup ginger oil (recipe follows)
  • 3 tbsp wasabi paste
  • 3 tbsp minced scallion (white part only)
  • 3 tbsp cilantro julienne
  • 3 tbsp yuzu (or lime) juice
  • 1 tbsp minced jalapeño
  • 1 tsp Sriracha chile sauce
  • Salt and pepper
Tuna Tartare Preparation:
  • Cut the tuna into a 1/4 inch dice. Put in the refrigerator until ready to mix.
  • Chop avocado into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Combine the diced tuna, ginger oil, wasabi, scallion, jalapeño, cilantro, yuzu juice, canola oil, and Sriracha in a stainless steel bowl.
  • Gently mix in the avocado and season with salt and white pepper.
  • Squeeze lemon juice over the tuna and serve on flatbread crackers.
Ginger Oil Ingredients:
  • 4 oz ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
Ginger Oil Preparation:
  • Put the ginger in a clean jar and add the oil.
  • Seal tightly and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate overnight.
  • Can be stored in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
Flatbread Cracker Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp fine salt
Flatbread Cracker Preparation:
  • Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.
  • Whisk together the water and olive oil, add to the flour and mix until smooth.
  • Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 300°.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough very thin and slice into 1.5"x4.5" rectangles. 
  • Place the rectangles on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
  • Cool on a rack and store for up to a week.

Time to memorize: 4 days (I may have to peek at the cracker recipe but the tuna will be memorized!)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

No Frills Chocolate Chip Cookies: Results

The Process:
While baking can be intimidating, I was feeling pretty confident about these cookies because the recipe looked so simple. And simple it was! The entire process, from setup to cleanup, took under an hour with no electric appliances. I discovered that I was missing a few key pieces of equipment, so if you do not yet have a restaurant-quality kitchen check out the tips section below to get some excellent ways to improvise. If you do have a restaurant-quality kitchen, please teach me your ways.

The Verdict:
This could possibly be the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. I shared with my roommates, made little gift bags for my neighbors (one came over to thank us!), and took a dozen to a housewarming party, so I will let the taste testers speak for themselves:
  • "You nailed it" --Roommate who makes his own cookies from scratch to woo the ladies
  • "Have you tried these cookies?! They're freshies...definitely not storebought" --Housewarming party guest who didn't know I made the cookies
  • "Pretty much perfect. I think I had four." --Housewarming party guest and cookie connoisseur
The cookies were soft and chewy with a firm bottom, the ideal thickness and density, and for the first time in my life, they did not spread into one another in the pan. I can't wait to make this recipe again.

Ready to make an appearance at the
housewarming party
Get this head shot autographed--
this cookie will soon be famous
Good neighbor karma
The whole recipe- 48 cookies!
The Unrevised (because it is perfect) Recipe: No Frills Chocolate Chip Cookies, adapted from Handle the Heat
Yield: 4 dozen cookies
Ingredients:
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed*
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened*
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp hot water
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Preparation:
  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth.*
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.
  • Dissolve the baking soda into the hot water. Add the mixture and the salt.
  • Mix in the flour gradually until incorporated.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Place large, even spoonfuls of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.*
  • Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are nicely browned. Let cool.*
*Tips:
  • Brown sugar: I like to use dark brown sugar, but I am sure that light would work too
  • Softened butter: In case you are like me and need your cookies stat, you may not have time to leave your butter out. To soften it, place the butter in a plastic bag and roll over it with a rolling pin (or any heavy jar) until it is soft and flat. Peel off and you're good to go!
  • Creaming sugar and butter: I don't have an electric mixer, so I used the back of a large spoon to cream the butter and sugar. I like to call it the "smoosh and swoop." Smoosh the butter with the back of the spoon and swoop it along the side of the bowl to mix. Once the white marbling of the butter has gone away, consider yourself creamed.
This is the "smoosh," and "swoop" will follow.
The butter is still marbled, meaning it is not quite ready.
  • Parchment paper: This stuff is amazing! First of all, no stick whatsoever. But also, the color of the parchment paper is a great indicator of whether your cookies are done or overdone. If the paper is a light golden color, the cookies are probably about right. If it is darker, you may be looking at some toasty cookie bottoms.
  • Cooling cookies: If the cookies have lightly browned edges when you take them out of the oven, let them sit on their tray for a bit. If they are nearing the toasty stage, slide the parchment paper onto something cooler and elevated so the cookies stop baking as soon as possible. Don't underestimate the power of a little cooling for texture and firmness.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

No Frills Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Recipe


Ahh, the Chocolate Chip Cookie. Some like theirs chewy, others crispy. Some with nuts, some plain jane. Some dense, some fluffy. But is there a perfect chocolate chip cookie hiding out there, waiting to be discovered and loved by everyone? That's what this week's goal is: a classic, perfect chocolate chip cookie made by memory. No frills, no modifications... just a seriously good cookie. I'll be baking for my roommates and new neighbors (I recently moved and am dead set on meeting the other tenants on my floor-- a rare feat in Manhattan apartments). This had better be an outstanding cookie or my neighborly reputation is on the line!

I found my recipe at Handle the Heat, where blogger Tessa raves about the perfection and simplicity of this cookie, adapted from All Recipes. Ultimately, it beat out Alton Brown's scientifically exact yet slightly overwhelming "Chewy" from Good Eats: The Early Years and the "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie" from The Fearless Chef, which Andy Husbands and Joe Yonan offer up in friendly competition with any other cookie around.

I am hoping for a cookie that is crispy on the edges, chewy on the inside, has moderate spread, and is generally easy to bake. What makes the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie for you?

This mouthwatering picture makes me wish it were already Saturday

The Recipe: No Frills Chocolate Chip Cookies, adapted from Handle the Heat
Yield: 4 dozen cookies
Ingredients:
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp hot water
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Preparation:
  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. 
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.
  • Dissolve the baking soda into the hot water. Add the mixture and the salt.
  • Mix in the flour gradually until incorporated.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Place large, even spoonfuls of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are nicely browned.

Time to memorize: 3.5 days. Baking on Saturday morning.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ceviche: Results

The Process:
Working with technically raw fish can be scary. I have a lot of faith in Whole Foods, but you never quite know what sort of mishap can happen when you don't actually cook the food that is going to be eaten. I made my Ceviche for my apartment's first weekly "family dinner" (we just moved in together), and throughout the entire process I kept saying, "This may be bad, everyone." I even cooked back-up chicken, just in case.

Finding an ají amarillo was virtually impossible in the short amount of time I gave myself, so I substituted half of a Serrano chile and a whole Mexican yellow pepper ("ají amarillo" literally means "yellow pepper" in Spanish, so I figured if I couldn't use the real deal I could at least use the literal translation). Find substitutions and other ideas in the "Tips" section below.

The Verdict:
Despite my fears, my Peruvian Fish Ceviche was a hit. It had the perfect amount of spice, and the citrus "cooked" the fish just like I had hoped. Thanks to my roommate's help, we enjoyed the Ceviche with roasted sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, and some jicama, my new favorite veggie snack. My first attempt at memorizing a recipe was successful-- no ingredients were forgotten. We popped open some wine, celebrated the new apartment, and enjoyed the refreshing summer dinner.

Success! A great combo of cold Ceviche with roasted sweet potatoes and corn


The Revised Recipe: Peruvian Fish Ceviche adapted from the Food Network

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds fish fillets (I used flounder*), cut on the bias* into 1-inch dice 
  • 1 quart water, boiled and chilled 
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thin 
  • 1 aji amarillo, rib and seeds removed, diced* 
  • 1 clove garlic 
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice 
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
Preparation:
  • Place fish in a non-reactive bowl*. 
  • Add 3 cups of chilled water to fish and rinse gently.Drain water.
  • Add onions to remaining chilled water and let soak.
  • Meanwhile, place aji, garlic, and pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle*. Grind to make a paste.
  • Combine fish, lime and lemon juices, aji and garlic paste, salt, pepper, and cilantro. Let marinate for 10 minutes.
  • When ready to serve, divide fish ceviche into 4 dishes and top with onion slices.* 
*Tips:
  • Choosing fish: I turn to Seafood Watch to choose the fish with a low environmental impact. And be sure this fish is ultra fresh.
  • Cut on the bias: Cut through the fibers of the fish for an easier time chewing. Place the grain of the fish at a 45° angle to the bottom of the cutting board before you cut. Check out step 6 of this video tutorial.
  • Ají amarillo: Peruvian hot pepper. I used 1/2 Serrano chile and 1 Mexican yellow chile instead, but I want to keep the original pepper in the recipe.
  • Non-reactive bowl: Stainless steel, plastic, glass, or ceramic all work to avoid a metallic tasting ceviche. Extra curious about non-reactive cookware? Read on.
  • Mortar and pestle: The old-school way of grinding, mashing, and muddling. If you don't have one, place the ingredients on a cutting board and mush them with the back of a spoon, using a rotating motion.
  • Serve with grilled corn and sweet potatoes for a heartier meal. And if it is hot, chill some jicama, peel, and cut into sticks for a great appetizer.