Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TWD Makeup: Chocolate Chunkers

Because I have an unnatural aversion to wheat germ (why would I want to cook with germs?), I avoided this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe: Honey-Wheat Cookies.

But I still had hungry gamer mouths to feed, so I decided to do some makeup baking from the recipes I've missed. And since it's easier to play board games with something that you can hold in one hand, I decided to choose one of the cookie recipes.

And boy, did I hit a dandy. I'd say that Dorie's Chocolate Chunker cookie recipe is my favorite of any recipe of hers I've made. It may be one of my favorite cookie recipes, period. The cookies are more mix-ins than dough: a full 6 oz. each of hand-cut bittersweet and white chocolates, a cup and a half of toasted walnuts, and a cup of dried fruit (more on that in a minute). The dough itself, which really just holds all the goodies together, has melted bittersweet chocolate AND cocoa.

In other words, folks, this is one seriously chocolatey cookie.

Now, the only thing I changed on this recipe is that Dorie calls for salted peanut and raisins. I don't know why she has this thing about chocolate and raisins, but she adds raisins to, like, everything. I, personally, can't get into the raisin thing, so I substituted dried cherries, chopped up a bit. I also substituted toasted walnuts for the peanuts.

The only thing I'd do differently is cut the cherries into smaller pieces; the larger pieces sometimes jumped out at you when you took a bite. But honestly, that didn't even matter that much. These things leapt off the platter into people's mouths. They were, by far, everyone's favorite of anything I've brought to Game Days.

And that's saying something.

Chocolate Chunker Cookies
by Dorie Greenspan
pg. 70 of Baking: From My Home to Yours

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped into chunks (or 1 cup chocolate chips)
6 oz. white chocolate, chopped into chunks (or 1 cup white chocolate chips)
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped nuts (I toasted mine for flavor)
1 cup dried fruit, such as raisins or dried cherries, cut into smaller pieces if necessary

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the butter, and the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates (Disclosure: I didn't have unsweetened, so used 7 oz. of bittersweet) to the bowl and stir occasionally until just melted. The chocolate and butter should be smooth and shiny, but not so hot the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the counter to cool.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla extract, then scrape down the bowl. Reduce speed to low, add the butter-chocolate mixture and mix only until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl, and - with the mixer on low - add the dry ingredients. Mix just until the dry ingredients disappear into the dough (which will be thick, smooth, and shiny). Scrape down the bowl and, using the rubber spatula, mix in the semi-sweet and white chocolate chunks, nuts and fruit - you'll have more "crunchies" than dough at this point. (The dough can be wrapped in plastic and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Drop the dough by generously heaping tablespoonfuls (I made them bigger) onto the baking sheets, leaving about an inch of space between the mounds of dough.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops of the cookies will look a little dry but the interiors should still be soft. Remove the baking sheet and carefully lift the cookies with a metal spatula onto a cooling rack. Cool to room temperature.

Repeat with remaining dough, cooling the baking sheet (if necessary) between batches.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TWD: My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've talked about this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe before, so I'll keep this very brief.

1.) This is my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it never fails to get rave reviews.

2.) The ratio of chips/nuts to batter is very high, meaning if you don't like a lot of goodies in your cookies, you may want to ratchet back on the add-ins.

3.) Chopping your own chocolate is a must. SO much better than chocolate chips.

4.) I replace four to eight ounces of the bittersweet chocolate with semi-sweet. The all-bittersweet was too bitter for my tastes.

5.) I go with the full amount of salt. The bit of saltiness gives the cookies major depth.

6.) Yes, they bake up kind flat. They're not at all puffy and cakey. If flat chocolate chips cookies are a problem for you, this may not be the recipe for you.

All in all, a great cookie. Want the recipe? Go to Kait's Plate.

PS...Yes, one day I will post my Tuesdays with Dorie recipe on a Tuesday. But not today.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

King Cake!

Happy Mardi Gras!

Yes, today is Fat Tuesday and for the second year in a row, another Louisiana girl and I hosted a Mardi Gras "party" at work. I say "party" because in reality, we had a captive audience at a meeting and a PowerPoint presentation and everything.

But they got cake. So it couldn't have been all that bad.

Anyway, last year, we ordered a King Cake for our Mardi Gras presentation/celebration from a bakery, and had it shipped all the way from New Orleans, along with an assortment of beads and doubloons. My friend Risey got the baby, which traditionally means that you are responsible for the next King Cake.

Risey took that responsibility very seriously, even though she's not from anywhere near Louisiana. She...get this: baked a King Cake herself.

For serious!! I had never heard of such a thing! I just thought they grew in bakeries.

But Risey proved me wrong, looking up recipes and videos on the Interwebs, and baking three King Cakes to get it right. The King Cake she brought in (above) was honestly one of the best I'd ever had.

Risey's going to hopefully put together a guest post showing us all how to do it, too. Next year, I'm totally baking my own.

Laissez bon temps rouler!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Guinness Beef Stew for Lovers

Look, I am not the one to be giving relationship advice.

I'm notorious for picking absolutely the wrong kind of guy. Emotionally unavailable? Check. Borderline manic depressive? Check. Only shows an interest when he thinks I'm dating someone else? Double check.

Add an Eastern European accent and an addiction or two and there's no going back.

My last liaison went so awesomely that one of my guy friends coined the term "douchelationship": the act (or perhaps art?) of being involved with a douchebag.

She's just upset about her douchelationship.

So, who am I to judge what you serve your honey for Valentine's Day? God knows, you probably know better than me.

And yet...

It is my blog, and I can dish out all the unsolicited and unqualified advice I care to.

And since most of my friends are guys, I actually do know a thing or two about them. I know, for instance, that most of them just want simple things. (Give them a steak and they're happy. Really.) And I know that most of them don't want their wives or girlfriends stressed out, even if it's over cooking a nice meal for them. Maybe especially if it's over cooking a nice meal for them.

Therefore, I propose the perfect, guy-friendly, no-fuss meal for Valentine's Day. (I almost typed Thanksgiving. Ha! Me proposing a no-fuss meal for Thanksgiving. That's rich.)

I've served this Guinness Beef Stew, and the accompanying beer batter cheese bread, to a couple of guys now, and it's always a huge hit. It tastes rich and meaty and somewhat decadent, but is really a cinch to throw together. True, there's some prep work involved, but otherwise, it bubbles away all day in the slow cooker. The beer batter cheese bread (which I'll give you in the next post) is just a quick bread, even though it tastes like something way more. The last guy I served it to doesn't like cheese (?!) and had two slices.

So do yourself a favor and cook something that you know your man will love, and won't kill you in the process. Your douchelationship will thank you.

Which may not be a good thing.

Slow-Cooker Guinness Beef Stew

4 pounds boneless beef chuck stew meat
2 tblsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cups chicken broth (I use homemade, but you can use whatever. Choose something low-sodium)
1 1/2 cups Guinness (not extra-stout), divided
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Few sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate (yes, really), chopped
2 bay leaves
5 carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into chunks
2-2 1/2 pounds of red baby potatoes, scrubbed

Pat beef dry with paper towels, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons (or so) of the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook the beef in batches until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. (In my Le Creuset French oven, with this amount of beef, it takes about three batches.) Transfer meat to slow cooker insert.

Add carrots and potatoes to slow cooker.

Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil, onions, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to skillet and cook until onions are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add broth, 1 1/4 cups stout, sugar, thyme, chocolate, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Scrape up any brown bits. Transfer that to slow cooker.

Cook until meat is tender: 9-10 hours on low or 6-7 hours on high. Set slow cooker to high. Whisk flour and remaining 1/4 cup beer until smooth, then stir mixture into slow cooker. The flour will seize up some; do not freak out (like me). Just keep stirring it gently and then let it simmer, and it will work itself out. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is thickened.

Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves, and serve.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Downloads for Cooks

I have about a 20-minute train ride to work each day, and the same old songs on my iPhone were starting to get boring. So, I started poking around iTunes for cooking videos, and came across a treasure trove: Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen is on iTunes!

America's Test Kitchen - This PBS show usually gives you 1-2 recipes a show, along with equipment ratings and taste tests. Each show has a theme (cookies, pork, etc.), and the recipe instructions are very thorough. Ingredients and instructions are spelled out, so you could actually cook a recipe based on just watching the show.

Currently, only this season - Season 10 - is on iTunes; right now, there are about 6 episodes. I can usually watch a full episode between my morning and evening train rides.

Now, granted, this show airs for free on PBS, and the episodes cost $1.99 each on iTunes. But if you're looking for something to take with you or, like me, you don't have a DVR, it could be worth it.

You can find these in the TV Shows section, under America's Test Kitchen.

Cook's Illustrated - ATK's sister magazine, Cook's Illustrated, has done a series of short video podcasts on a wide variety of topics. The podcasts usually last 3-5 minutes, and can either cover a particular recipe (plum cake, shrimp salad), a technique (cooking thick-cut steaks), or a piece of equipment (they did a whole podcast on cast iron).

Each podcast gives you an overview of the recipe or technique, and then one or two short segments on a related technique or gadget. The podcast on French pot roast, for instance, has a section on how to tie a roast.

Best of all, the podcasts are free.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that the podcasts are hardly thorough, and don't give the whole recipe. For instance, the host will say "Add the sugar and salt", but not give you measurements for either of those. Instead, you're told to go to www.cooksillustrated.com/podcast to get the recipes.

Unfortunately, that's a bit of a bait-and-switch, because when you get there and click on your desired recipe, you're basically told to sign up for the Cook's Illustrated website to get it. Now, granted, they offer a 14-day trial, and in my book, their site is well worth the price they charge for a yearly subscription. But I do kind of feel that if they're saying you can get the recipe on a page, you should be able to get the recipe - and then if you want to subscribe to the site, that's fine.

Anyhow, that said, I actually think you can still learn from these podcasts. And if, like me, you have most of the Cook's Illustrated cookbooks and magazines, you'll find the recipes there.

Both the shows and the podcasts make my commute a little nicer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TWD: Rick Katz' Brownies for Julia

Okay, I'm late with my Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Again. I also set these out at a game day and totally forgot to take pictures until about halfway through. But as you can see from the above, these were a knockout.

The story behind these brownies is that Rick Katz made these for Julia Child when both he and Dorie worked for her. They're unique in that you first combine the egg and sugar, and then divide the mixture in half. Half goes into the melted chocolate, and half gets whipped until light and airy - then folded into the batter.

The result is a very dense, almost gooey brownie.

It's so gooey in fact that many of the TWD bakers had problems with this recipe. So, I was pretty cautious. I baked it for the full 28 minutes, even though my oven traditionally runs hot. Sure enough, they had gotten just set and were still very soft in the center.

They were, to be honest, a tad TOO soft for my taste. They tended to crumble when you cut them. But no one really cared about that; the pan you see above was decimated in short order.

Some of the bakers refrigerated these before serving, and that would probably be good. I might also give them another minute or two in the oven. (Just because, again, not a huge fan of "gooey" - in brownies or life.)

But truthfully, they were so delicious that it really doesn't matter that they're soft. I knew when I was putting the batter together that they were going to be incredibly rich and chocolatey - and they were. The use of bittersweet chocolate makes these even more rich.

Overall, I would highly recommend these. Sure, they're a little fussy, but most good things are.

Also, don't give in to the temptation to eat these while they're still warm, unless you want to do so with a spoon. (Which I totally did.)

Want the recipe? Visit Tanya at Chocolatechic.

Stella's Worst Day Ever

Stella's spent the past two days in the hospital with an obstructed stomach. She's spent the past half-hour sitting on her chair, telling me how horrible it was.

This is, in case you didn't recognize it, her "How could you do this to me, Mom?" face.

Of course, the fact that she EATS GARBAGE (literally) might have had something to do with the whole obstructed stomach thing. Garbage Dog strikes again.

One friend asked if she'd learned her lesson, and then promptly laughed it off, since dogs don't do cause and effect well. I said, "Yeah, especially when they have a brain the size of a walnut."

When I went to pick her up, he texted me: "Yay! Walnut-brained Garbage Dog comes home!"


Anyhoo, I'm significantly poorer, but she's happy and in one piece, and worth every penny.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Brunch: Nona's Kitchen

Sunday Brunch this week is at my favorite, favoritest restaurant in my hometown (and maybe anywhere):

Pacifica is not a fancy town, and Nona's isn't a fancy place. It's in a small stripmall right near the big surfer's beach in town. (Plenty of people walk over to Nona's for breakfast after surfing.) It's tiny, but clean and attractive, like a fifties-style diner without the kitsch.

And while Nona's is open for lunch and dinner most days, where things get really crazy is weekend brunch.
Nona's chef, Joreth, specializes in "home food", but home food that's best in class. So, the menu - which changes with the seasons - will feature simple things like egg in a hole or blueberry pancakes. But they'll be the best egg in a hole and blueberry pancakes you've ever had.

The brunch specials (and every meal's daily specials) are written on a board on the wall, but the servers all know them by heart. I always sit in the far corner of the bar, right by the board, so I can peruse it at my leisure. There's always something delicious for brunch, and he even does biscuits and gravy well. And as a Southern girl, I'm picky about my biscuits and gravy.

One thing I love about the way Joreth cooks is that he focuses on what's local and in season. He's not slavish to it, but his specials are always going to reflect what's going on in the world around you. I love coming in and being offered a carrot soup from carrots that he found that were just picked today. And a while back, I happened to come in when he was taking the first peach pie of the season out of the oven. I hunched over that pie, growling like a dog whenever anyone got to close. I still have dreams about that pie.

But most people come to Nona's for the biscuits.

They're actually not the biscuits I grew up on, but they're pretty darn good - very buttery and flaky. He serves them for brunch with honey butter and two types of jam.

I've never really gotten anything on the menu that wasn't good. I love their hamburgers and flank steak for dinner, and one winter meal was memorable for the chicken pot pie whose puff pastry crust was decorated with a puff pastry rooster.

But for brunch, one of my favorite meals is the Monte Cristo. It's not greasy, and he covers it in powdered sugar before serving. The home fries, though, man... Best potatoes I've ever had. I really have no idea how he gets them that perfect.

The tiny kitchen is open to the dining room, and I like to sit at the bar on Sunday mornings and watch the bustle. Joreth is totally passionate about his restaurant, which can be highly entertaining to watch. Plus, he's cute. (But married, alas.) He's also a nice guy who is a part of the community; I ran into him at the Safeway once, and he voluntarily started helping me pick out turkey gizzards for my gravy.

Nona's is a great place to go for brunch, if you're looking for nice, hearty food served by people who really care.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Birthday cake baking is a royal pain in the butt. So, I require the coworker recipients of my birthday cakes to be nice to me.

And then there's Jeff.

Jeff is a meanie.

He makes fun of me at least once a day and I can never read his poker face and he told me that Russian mustard wasn't spicy (LIES!!) and he said snarky things about my favorite character from the tv show Dollhouse, Mr. Dominic.

Laurence Dominic
(God rest his tortured soul)

All of my friends with sense (which - to be clear - is not all of my friends) will tell you that dissing Mr. Dominic to my face is not the way to go about securing a birthday cake.

Lucky for Jeff, though, I am a giant sucker.

And lucky for me, Jeff was rather "meh" on cake, but he told me once that his favorite dessert in the world was Rice Krispy treats. I happen to have an awesome recipe for Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. This allowed me to assuage my guilt at leaving Jeff birthday treat-less, without breaking my unofficial (yet deadly serious) "No Cake for Meanies" Rule.

These are, without a doubt, the best Rice Krispy treats on the planet. They have that perfect, moist-but-not-gooey, marshmallowy texture, and also have depth of flavor from the browned butter. If you sprinkle a little sea salt on top before they cool, you'll get a nice, subtle salty hit in every bite. Plus, they're super easy; not much more time-consuming than the regular ones.

And if you feel guilty for spending about 10 minutes on a birthday treat for your friend, when you spent 8 hours on a cake for a Russian guy, you can cover it with colorful birthday sprinkles.

In the end, all was well that ended well. Jeff made happy noises when he found them on his desk, and declared them "The best birthday cake I ever had." And he washed out the pan himself, so I guess he's not all bad.

He loved his birthday treat, I don't have to feel guilty, and Laurence Dominic lives on in reruns.

Happy Birthday, Jeff.

Jeff's Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Note: These are slightly different than Smitten Kitchen's recipe, mostly in quantity but also in the fact that I use salted butter, and eliminate extra salt in the recipe itself. Hers works just as well, and doesn't make quite as many.

2 sticks salted butter
20 ounces of large marshmallows (for me, this was about a bag and a half)
1 regular-size (12 oz.) box of Rice Krispies
Sea Salt, to taste (Do not use kosher or table salt)

Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a very large, light-colored pot or saucepan (I use a stockpot). Allow the butter to cool over medium heat, stirring it frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan. The butter will begin to bubble and foam; at this point, scrape aside the foam so you can see the color of the butter. As soon as it begins to turn brown, take it off the heat. (If it gets a little dark, don't worry - the little flecks of brown will be fine in the treats. However, be very careful not to allow it to burn.)

Add the marshmallows to the butter. Lower the heat to low, and return the pan to the heat. Stir the marshmallows and butter vigorously until the butter is absorbed and the marshmallows have melted and are smooth.

Add the cereal to the pan, and stir everything together. Transfer mixture to the baking pan and use a spatula or a square of waxed paper sprayed with cooking spray to press the mixture evenly into the pan.

Sprinkle sea salt over the top of the treats, and press in with your hand. Let cool, cut into squares and serve.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mini-Bundt Cake Madness

Remember my mini-bundt-cakes-that-weren't?

Well, I certainly wasn't going to eat them all, so I did what I do with all leftover baked goods: I took them to work. I was rather embarrassed by them, to be honest, because they were all different sizes and some of them were a tad on the deformed side. But still, I stuffed them into a plastic container and dropped them on the table in the kitchen, saying something along the lines of:

"Here. You people will eat anything."

This was at 8:30; they were all gone by 9. And that was the last I thought of them until 3pm, when I got the following text from my best friend, Jay:



See, Jay's on a diet. Specifically, he's on the vegan cleanse I went on a while back. And apparently he's been really, really craving chocolate. So, the idea that I made chocolate cupcakes and "hid" them from him, well...

He was so mad, he threatened to quit his job. (Although I'm unclear on how that would have been effective in this case...)

He was almost as mad at me as I was at him when he forgot my birthday.

Oh, well. He'll get over it.

I think.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TWD: Milk Chocolate Mini-Bundt Cakes

If I had a mini-bundt cake pan, I would have loved this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.

But I don't.

So I didn't.

As you can see above, I tried to soldier on, even though I didn't have the right equipment. (And don't get me wrong; I actually think it's great that she formulated one recipe for those who have the pans. I just didn't want to go and buy a special pan for one recipe.)

I was going to double the recipe and use my large bundt pan. Well, no...first I tried my usual tactic, which was to bum a pan. To no avail. Alas.

Anyhoo, I was going to double it, but I kind of couldn't be bothered, and it would have made a huge cake, and I wasn't really into having a huge cake around. So, then the Barefoot Kitchen Witch said she made hers in muffin cups, and I want to be just like her, so that was how I decided to go.

But I am not her.


My little mini-bundt-muffin-thingies did not turn out so hot. First, I didn't have quite enough batter for 12. I should have just gone with nine, but I hate unevenness. So, I soldiered on (again) and they all turned out different sizes.

I skipped the "swirl" in the center and added chocolate chips, which really didn't help much. And I forgot about them and left them in too long, which helped even less.

All in all, they were a little dry, and they were obviously not what the recipe specified. But even then, they weren't my favorite. The cake part didn't really taste like chocolate and the bittersweet ganache I used over the top overwhelmed them. (Everyone on the TWD forums had trouble with Dorie's glaze recipe, so I skipped it and made a ganache, then dipped the tops of my muffin-thingies in it.)

So, overall, I give this a big meh. Though if I ever get a mini-bundt cake pan, I would probably try it again. But since such a pan is kind of at the bottom of my kitchen wish list, I do not expect that to happen anytime soon.


Want to try it yourself? It's on pg. 188 of Dorie's book, and if the recipe goes up online, I'll post it here...