Archive for February, 2011

My Top 10 Cookies

February 24, 2011

After investing and analyzing the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie, I thought that I’d compile my Top Ten, in appreciation of the fine art of cookie making:

-Ruby et Violette’s chocolate chip with violet – in my mind the masters of chocolate chip cookies.  Small and pricey, witht he perfect butteriness and slightly chewy texture so that no crumb goes to waste.  Available in may variations to the classic including blueberry, mint, and my favorite, violet, a truly unique treat.

-Big Booty Bakery’s peanut butter – big and chewy dotted with chunks of not just chocolate or peanut butter, but peanut butter cups.  It’s a win-win situation of tender cookie enrobing gobs of chocolate and peanut butter in a tasty Mobius strip of flavor.  Until it’s gone.

-Bread Shop oatmeal chocolate chip – whenever my good friend from Boston would visit, I would make her bring these mammoth cookies.  More than my love for chocolate chip cookies, is my love for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  Oats add an extra dimension of flavor and texture, balancing the sweetness of the chocolate.

-Baked’s monster cookie – it’s everything that I love – oats, chocolate, M&Ms, and peanut butter – and it is surprisingly flourless.

-City Bakery’s vegan chocolate chip – a little lighter than their ur-chocolate chip,  I’m not sure why I like it more, but I do.

-Billy’s butterscotch gingerbread – almost an inverted chocolate chip with a dark flavorful cookie surrounding lighter butterscotch chips.  So nicely done.

-Bread Alone’s oatmeal butterscotch coconut cookie – a harmony of hearty oatmeal, creamy butterscotch and toothsome coconut.  It almost feels healthy, but it can’t be for how good it tastes.

-Momofuku’s cornflake marshmallow – I almost think of this as a marshmallow treat in cookie form. Instead of rice krispies, there’s cornflakes, which give a better toothy grind.  The cookie batter merely holds it together.

-Amy’s Bread cornmeal lime – not quite cornbread in a cookie, but better.  I do love the cornmeal grittiness.  Lime adds a piquant edge.

-Bouchon’s oatmeal cookie – yes, they’ve elevated the Oreo and the Nutter Butter, but I love the perfection of their oatmeal cookie.  Dense, spiced with cinnamon, and decked out in nuts and cranberries, it’s a crowning acheivement in oatmeal cookies.

*Honorable mention – William Greenberg Jr.’s black and white cookie – I consider a good black and white cookie to be more like cake than a cookie, something that reminds me more of a leftover cake top economically dressed with a fondant.  In most delis, it’s stale and horrible, I have to go all the way up to the Upper East Side for the good ones.

Having read Serious Eats’ chronicles in search of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie in New York City, I am inspired and drooling, and want to try all the winners.  Especially since my list doesn’t seem to have the classic.  Maybe that will change.

Cookie Monster

February 22, 2011

I can honestly say that cookies are my sweet of choice.  I will take them over ice cream, cake, and candy any day.  Notoriously so, that when I left a job, I got a giant going away cookie, not a cake.  When I clipped the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe from the July 9, 2008 New York Times, I couldn’t wait to try it.  And the time has come.  I just wish I read the accompanying article when I made them.

The key to the recipe is letting the dough rest for 24 to 36 hours for a rich flavorful cookie, and salt.  They were tasty and buttery, but hard and brittle.  Was the dough too dry?  Was the oven temperature too high?  Did they cook for too long?  I consulted Cook’s Illustrated prior which suggested rotating the pan at the half way mark for more even doneness.  I looked for the “glisten” for doneness.  I thought I did everything right.

I had made a few judicious adjustments to the recipe.  First, I substituted the requested bread flour with regular all-purpose flour.  Second, I used regular sized chocolate chips instead of the jumbo sized feves.  Third, I made the cookies small, instead of the 5-inch disks indicated by the recipe, since I prefer to eat a little rather than a lot.  What I didn’t realize until I read the article again afterwards, is that the size of the cookie made all the difference in the world.  These are meant to be big ass cookies that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, a different creature all together.  As a tiny petite cookie, it doesn’t get that opportunity for the best of both worlds, and yes, it was overbaked.  I’l just have to test them again.  Darn.

Star Studded Cooking

February 17, 2011

A million years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, one of the first cookbooks that I bought was a Celebrity Cookbook.  More for its kitsch value than the recipes themselves, and a fetching price at the used bookstore, I did cook a little from it, most notably William Shatner’s Carrot Vichyssoise, a pureed potato leek and carrot soup.  Filled with 80’s celebrities like OJ Simpson, Monty Hall, and Princess Di, this spiral bound relic is a compilation of recipes that were requested by the writer, who blindly sent thousands of letters to celebrities asking for their favorite recipes and a publicity photo.  The book writes itself, much like an elementary school PTA fund raising cookbook.

In the not so distant past, I bought another celebrity cookbook from the 80s at a garage sale for $1.  Much more editorialized, this cookbook is a collection of Johna Blinn’s syndicated cooking with the stars column.  Surprisingly there is no overlap.  William Shatner gave his Steak Picado recipe, which I have yet to try.  Apparently there are as many celebs that cook, as there are stars in the sky.

My most prized possession is Vincent Price’s cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes.  Known as an epicure, this cookbook brings to the reader the finest food from his travels around the world.  Brief descriptions of the restaurants from where he procured the recipes, helpful equivalent tables, calorie counts, and a napkin folding tutorial, he shares the fine dining experience with the home cook.  A true star with a palate of gold.

Fast forward to the current day, and my grocery store impulse buy, People’s Cooking With the Stars!  I am powerless to resist this confection, like I am with every Thanksgiving’s Sexiest Man Alive.  It’s fun, it’s campy, and I actually would try to make Justin Timberlake’s Granny’s Coconut Cake.  There is also a gallery of celebrity cookbooks past, and I wonder, why don’t I have Dolly Parton’s Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s in my collection?

Brilliant Brazilian Seafood Stew

February 15, 2011

I’m starting to hit the seafood stash in my hoarder files with the second recipe for chowder/gumbo that I’ve blindly picked out since January.  From the March 1999 Bon Appetit comes the Brazilian Seafood Stew which I got from Epicurious.com.  Having made Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo recently, I can nimbly shell shrimp in minutes, not bothering to devein them, an extra time suck step that is inconsequential for medium size shrimp.  I’ve honed my eyes and taste buds to know when a fish stew is “done”, which is usually twice as long as those “easy” recipes will indicate.  I feel like I’m learning through repetition in quick succession.

This recipe is interesting for its pre-curing of the fish, not unlike ceviche.  Matter of fact, I got this recipe because I had some ceviche that I wanted to re-invigorate with new life.  Also of interest is the addition of coconut milk to give the stew body.  Green bell peppers add a bit of earthy smokiness for more intrigue.  It’s quite good (and takes twice as long to cook than indicated).  In the future, I would add some of the fish at the end of cooking for some bigger chunks of fish, add a little more coconut milk, and a squirt of lime in the end for brightness.  A winner.

What a Splendid Table

February 10, 2011

When not occupied by Sunday Night Dinner, I like to settle in for the week with NPR.  This American Life at 7pm, The Splendid Table at 9pm, and The Moth at 10pm, it’s public radio heaven.  Who needs a TV?  The quirky true life tales of This American Life and The Moth appeal to my Brooklyn sensibilities, but I used to tune out (i.e. do dishes) during The Splendid Table until it won me over.  I originally wrote it off as too mainstream, too matronly, until I found myself hanging on to its every word.  Opening with a tinkling piano tune reminiscent of department store music, Lynne Rosetto Kasper rapturously talks about food and eating.  There are guests, recipes, regulars, Q + A, all making for a captivating hour.  Desperate Housewives can suck it.

Epic Pound Cake

February 8, 2011

Never to shy away from a cooking challenge, I made the Even Greater American Pound Cake from the October 21, 2008 New York Times.  No less than 15 ingredients went into the epic pound cake, five of which are fats – butter, shortening, canola oil, buttermilk, whipped cream.  This recipe from “Bakewise” has been perfected within an inch of its life.  I always thought that pound cake was a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, and some eggs.  This recipe also has potato starch, baking powder, and almond and vanilla extract.  Comparatively, Cook’s Illustrated has half the number of ingredients.  My cooking bible also reveals that the trick to making pound cake lies in the gradual introduction of eggs, much like making mayonnaise, to stretch this binding ingredient.  I followed the recipe faithfully, with the exception of the slow egg add in.  I also had to divide the batter into two pans for lack of a 12-cup bundt pan.

The result was a rich and complex flavor that spoke of all five fats, a moist crumb, and a crackly candy-like top.  Impressively tasty, and an interesting experiment in pans.  Baked in the dark bundt Nordicware, the cake was pretty close to perfect, but in the glass Pyrex, due to the loaf shape it required more baking time, becoming a little drier.  It also revealed a disturbing flaw with my oven – the top is significantly cooler than the bottom, making for inconsistency and burnt bottoms.  Even with an oven thermometer, further compensation is needed.  In every epic journey, a lesson is learned.

 

Choosy Korean Moms Choose

February 3, 2011

On a drive by to Han Au Rheum, the Korean supermarket, a friend’s mission was to get “those good noodles”.  A favorite of her daughter’s, reiterated by her husband as he double parked on 32nd Street, these ramen noodles were especially clean and light, so I picked up a couple for myself.  Its get-worthiness is merited, as it is unique in its lightness – no MSG, not fried.  At 150 calories a serving for half a package, I don’t hate myself for eating the whole thing, unlike the usual ramen calorie bomb.  Not only do Korean mothers know, but so do their pickier cookie eating daughters.

Funky Green Milk Sauce

February 1, 2011

Proceeding with the recipes from the October 21, 2008 New York Times, I made the Green Chili Milk Sauce, or Aji de Leche.  Thinking that they would add more flavor to my fishsticks, which in all fairness tasted better a few days later, the sauce/milk was a mystery to me.  What starts as an incendiary puree of jalapeno peppers, scallions, cilantro, and garlic, more akin to a pesto, reminded me of an Indian cilantro chutney.  The addition of milk turns the salsa-like pistou into a milder, yet more water-y sauce.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s really good, enlivening my bland-ish fish (although nothing could be done about the dull Steamed Fennel with Red Pepper Oil, also from the same article), adding oomph to my hash and eggs, but I want more body in my sauce.  Next time, I would try to yogurt, instead of milk.

The thought of this celadon green salsa flavored milk sent my imagination afire – green chili panna cotta?  green chili rice pudding?  green chili truffles?  green chili cornbread?  I finally settled on a green chili corn chowder, using the spicy sauce instead of regular milk.  A two to one ration of chicken stock to sauce, and then the addition of onion, poblano pepper, celery, potato, corn and wild rice, instant great soup.