Sunday, November 6, 2011

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cook's Illustrated is one of my most trusted sources on recipes.  I absolutely love the scientific method they take (one of the reasons I love Alton Brown as well), and the numerous trials they run to develop each recipe perfectly.  Therefore I knew that their recipe for Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies had to be one of the best out there.  It's very similar to the recipe from Baking Illustrated except without that extra dough shaping step, but goes a step further with the cookie flavorwise, not only melting the butter, but browning it as well.  Wow.... If you've never browned butter before, you have to try it, if only to make your kitchen smell like the most amazing place on earth.  That extra step made a subtle difference in the taste of the cookies, adding a depth of flavor that my tasters really loved... this is one of the top two of my trial recipes so far.  Amazingly these cookies got better after a few days of sitting, which I would never have expected cookies to do.  In fact, most of the recipes I've tried have been better after a couple of days, rather than when they first came out of the oven (they were delicious then too)!


Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Cook's Illustrated
Makes about 16 cookies

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2 tsp baking soda 
14 tbsp unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks), divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1 tsp table salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and adjust rack to middle position.  Line 2 large baking sheets (18- by 12- inch) with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda, set aside.
3. Heat 10 tbsp of butter in a 10-inch skillet, over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes.  Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes more.  Remove the skillet from the heat, and transfer the butter to a large heat-proof bowl.  Add the remaining 4 tbsp of butter, and stir together until completely melted.
4. Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla to the bowl with the melted butter, and whisk until fully incorporated.  Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk until the batter is smooth, with no sugar lumps, about 30 seconds.  Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 more seconds.  Repeat this process of resting a whisking 2 more times until the mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny.
5. Add the flour mixture, and stir until just combined, about 1 minute.
6. Add the chocolate chips, and stir to incorporate.
7. Divide the dough into 16 portions, or scoop into 3 tbsp balls (#24 cookie scoop).  Arrange on the prepared baking sheets, 2-inches apart.
8. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through, until the cookies are golden brown, still puffy, and the edges have begun to set, but the centers are still soft.
9. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack, and let cool completely before serving.


Notes:
  • Once again, I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao chocolate chips for these cookies.
  • I loved the way these tasted, but I wanted them to look a bit more crackly.... next time maybe I'll use the method for shaping in the Baking Illustrated recipe.
  • The flavor of these was awesome, the texture remained chewy, and they got better by the day!  ..... only time will tell if they become the overall favorite.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

.... so I started my Chocolate Chip Cookie Project a few weeks ago, and so far it's been very fun and delicious!  I'm so sorry that it's taken me so long to start posting about the project... I got busy with Halloween, and then the crazy October snowstorm that knocked out our internet for almost a week.... not that I'm complaining though and I got off lucky compared to many people.  Somehow we never lost power, even though 88 percent of our town did, and even now, a week later, over 200,000 people in Connecticut are without power.  A tree did fall on the building I live in a couple of apartments over, but somehow it didn't actually do any damage to the building, other than break a screen door!  Again, I consider myself incredibly lucky!



.... and back to the cookies :)

The first recipe I tried was from Baking Illustrated.  This is a cookbook I don't yet own, but has been on my wishlist for a while.  These cookies were big, and chewy, and very delicious, although out of the four recipes I've tried so far, they haven't received any votes for the best... They are great though, and they are a fairly straightforward recipe, except for the part where you actually shape the balls of dough... You actually have to make a ball of dough, pull it apart into two halves with your fingers, turn the jagged parts of each side up, and then put the ball of dough back together, leaving the jagged sides facing up... it's a weird step that I haven't seen in any other recipe so far, but it gives the top of the cookie that uneven crackly look that you see in bakeries.


Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Baking Illustrated, via Brown-Eyed Baker  
Makes about 18 large cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups plue 2 tbsp (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar (I used dark brown)
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1- 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and place oven rack in middle setting.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, or stand mixer, mix together the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended.  Beat in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla until combined.  Add the flour mixture, and beat on low until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips to taste.
4. Roll a scant 1/4 cup of dough into a ball.  Hold the dough ball with the fingertips of both hands and pull into 2 equal halves.  Rotate the halves 90 degrees, and with the jagged surfaces facing up, join the halves together at their base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth the dough's uneven surface.  Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheet, jagged surface up, 2 1/2 inches apart from each other.
5. Bake 15-18 minutes until the cookies are light golden brown and the outer edges start to harden, but the centers are still soft and puffy.  Cool the cookies on the sheets.  


Notes:

  • Like I mentioned, the shaping step in unusual, and I am interested in seeing what happens if you don't perform that step... I know it would alter them visually, but would it affect the texture?  
  • The only alteration I made to this recipe was to use bittersweet chocolate chips.... I used Ghirardelli 60 % chips, which I love.  I got comments ranging from not enough chocolate chips, to too many chips, to the perfect amount, to a coworker wanting normal chocolate chips (the semisweet ones)... so I think that's all personal preference.
  • Delicious, but these are so far not the favorite among my tasters.... I will be making more batches though as there are some who have requested to be taste-testers yet haven't had the chance to try any of the batches!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Finding the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

This past week I was craving chocolate chip cookies- a craving that strikes me often... This craving got me thinking about chocolate chip cookie recipes, and how I've never made one that I've been in love with- most likely because I just haven't tried that many recipes out.  Usually I want immediate gratification and so instead of actually looking up a recipe, I just go with the one on the back of the chocolate chip bag- usually Nestle Tollhouse...  and while it's decent, it could stand for much improvement.  I mean, it makes great cookie dough (for eating before baking), and they are of course good when warm from the oven, but as they sit they become underwhelming.  Everyone has different standards they hold their perfect chocolate chip cookie to, and my idea of a perfect chocolate chip cookie is one that's big and chewy, and stays chewy even after it cools..... and so I've decided to embark on a quest to find my personal favorite chocolate chip cookie.  I've done some research and have a preliminary list of recipes I will try... and I'm sure I'll find more.  I expect this to be a delicious journey, and at the end, I will hopefully find the best chocolate chip cookie known to man.

Here's a list of some of the recipes I'll be trying... If you have a favorite, let me know, and I'll add it to the list!

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Baking Illustrated
Jacques Torres' Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted by The New York Times
Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies from Cook's Illustrated
Alice's Chocolate Chip Cookies from Sweet Savory Life
Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies from Martha Stewart
Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Martha Stewart
Alton Brown's The Chewy
Ad Hoc Chocolate Chip Cookies

.... This should be a fun experiment!

Brown Sugar Cookies

My recommendation is that you make these cookies right now.  Just drop whatever you're doing and bake up a batch.  You most likely have all the ingredients in your pantry and it won't be long before you are enjoying one of the most wonderfully delicious cookie recipes ever.  Seriously, these are one of my new favorite cookies- like a cross between sugar cookies and molasses crinkles, they are chewy, buttery, and unbelievably tasty... especially when still warm... not that I would know that or anything- I mean I'd never, ever eat 4 straight off the cookie sheet....


Brown Sugar Cookies
from Joy the Baker, originally from Epicurious
Makes 2 1/2 dozen

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg

Directions:
1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a medium bowl, and set aside.
2. In a stand mixer mix together the brown sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat on medium speed for one more minute.
3. Add the dry ingredients all at once to the sugar mixture, and beat on low speed just until the dough comes together and the flour disappears.  Stop the mixer, and finish incorporating the ingredients with a spatula.  Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the center.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Dollop tablespoon balls of dough on the baking sheets, and couple of inches apart from each other.
5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges.
6. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


Notes:
  • The cookies will last about 5 days if stored in an airtight container.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Potato and Leek Soup

For about a week now I've been sick with a energy-sapping, tastebud destroying, cold.  One of the worst things to someone who loves food is not being able to taste fully, and so I've desperately been trying to make myself well.  I'm thinking some old-fashioned chicken soup might be just the thing I need to make so look for that post soon (I have a quick chicken and wild rice soup that is delicious).  But before I lost my sense of taste completely I decided that since I was in need of a comforting, soul-warming soup, I'd try Julia Child's recipe for Potage Parmentier.  Since fall began I've been in the mood to delve deeper into Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and so lately it's been my nightly reading.  The first chapter is on soups, and the very first soup in the book is this potato and leek soup, and it sounded like it couldn't be easier.  Simmer some potatoes and leeks in water, then blend and add a little butter or cream for richness? That's pretty much the easiest recipe ever, and easy sounded especially good to me this week in the midst of my cold.


Potato and Leek Soup
Potage Parmentier
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Makes about 2 quarts (6 to 8 servings)

Ingredients:
1 lb (3 to 4 cups) peeled potatoes, sliced or diced (3 to 4 cups)
1 lb leeks (3 cups), thinly sliced including the tender green; or 3 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 quarts water
1 tbsp salt
4 to 6 tbsp whipping cream; or 2 to 3 tbsp softened butter
2 to 3 tbsp parsley or chives, minced

Directions:
1. Place a 3 to 4 quart saucepan, or dutch oven over medium heat and add potatoes, leeks, water, and salt. Simmer together for 40 to 50 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
2. Mash the vegetables together with a fork, transfer to a food processor, blend (in small batches) in a blender, pass through a food mill, or blend together with a stick blender until the soup is smooth.
3. Season to taste with salt (and pepper if desired)
4. Remove the soup from the heat, and add the cream or butter just before serving. Pour into a soup tureen, or individual bowls, and garnish with the fresh herbs.


Notes:
  • I used my stick blender to blend the soup and it worked perfectly to give it a beautiful, smooth consistency.  Julia Child says that she is partial to a food mill for this soup, but since I don't have a food mill, I couldn't try it her way.  
  • I was right in my assessment that this would be an easy recipe- it came together extremely quickly (other than the longish simmering time), and would be a great starter for an elegant meal, when you want it to look fancy, but don't want to cook something extremely involved.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Scalloped Potatoes

The arrival of fall always sparks my cravings for comfort food, and one of the foods I think of when I think "comfort" are potatoes- mashed, twice-baked, roasted, scalloped... you name it.  Scalloped potatoes are something I have never made myself- I've only made the boxed version... and while I do love them from a box (I guess I'd count that as one of my guilty pleasures), I decided it was about time to try making a homemade version.  I decided to go with Julia Child's classic recipe for Gratin Dauphinois.  Honestly I was a bit skeptical of the recipe because I wasn't sure whether all the potatoes would cook through and be tender, and there was such little sauce that it differed greatly from the boxed mix that I am so fond of, but I should have known better than to doubt the master.  This dish was wonderful- the potatoes were tender, but not mushy, the sauce was minimal, but the flavor of the cheese was infused throughout.  Definitely recommended!


Scalloped Potatoes
Gratin Dauphinois
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Ingredients:
2 lbs. boiling potatoes ( I used Yukon golds)
1/2 clove unpeeled garlic
4 tbsp butter, divided 
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) Swiss cheese, grated
1 cup boiling milk

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Peel the potatoes, slice them 1/8-inch thick, and place them in a large bowl of cold water until ready to use.
3. Rub the garlic on an oven-proof baking dish (10-inches in diameter, and 2-inches deep), and then butter the inside of the dish with 1 tbsp of the butter.
4. Drain the potatoes, and dry them thoroughly in a towel.  
5. Cut the remaining 3 tbsp of butter into small pieces.
6. Spread half of the potatoes in the baking dish.  Top evenly with half the salt, pepper, cheese, and butter.  Spread the remaining half of the potatoes on top, and top evenly with the remaining salt, pepper, cheese, and butter.
7. Pour the boiling milk over the potatoes.
8. Place the potatoes in the oven, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the top is browned.


Notes:
  • I made this in a 10-inch pie dish, about 2 inches deep as the recipe specifies, but because my boyfriend and I thought the best part of the dish was the browned and cheesy top, I may make this in a larger baking dish next time so that there is more surface area.
  • I was going to buy regular Swiss cheese for the potatoes when a smoked baby Swiss caught my eye instead, and I just had to buy it.  It was fabulous!  Pretty much any good melting cheese would work in this recipe I assume- Swiss, cheddar, Gouda, smoked Gouda! .... whatever your heart desires, and whatever cheese calls out to you from the cheese case!
  • Julia Child calls for the baking dish to be placed over heat on the stove after you've poured the boiling milk over the potatoes, and heat until simmering, but I skipped this step, and don't feel it's necessary.  My potatoes cooked perfectly just with cooking them in the oven.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Snickerdoodle Blondies

Anything with the name "snickerdoodle" in it automatically gets bookmarked when I'm browsing through recipes.  They are one of my favorite cookies, they are super simple to make, and I usually have all the ingredients to whip up a batch whenever a craving strikes.  I've made snickerdoodle cupcakes in the past (awesome), and recently came upon this Snickerdoodle Blondie recipe that I just had to try.  It was incredibly easy, made my apartment smell divine as it baked, and they came out delicious!  I took most of these to work to share, as I would have eaten them ALL myself if left to my own devices, and they were a big hit with my coworkers!  .... next up in my Snickerdoodle bookmarks is for a layer cake.... all I need is an occasion for which to make it!


Snickerdoodle Blondies
from Brown Eyed Baker, originally adapted from My Baking Addiction
Makes 24 Blondies

Ingredients:
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups packed brown sugar (I used light brown)
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract

For topping:
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 13x9 inch baking pan.
2. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg to a medium bowl, and whisk to combine.
3. In your stand mixer (if you have one), or with a handheld mixer, beat together the brown sugar and flour for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating each in until well combined.  Add the vanilla extract, and beat until combined.  Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times while the mixture is combining.  
4. With your mixer speed on low, gradually add the flour mixture.  Mix until just combined. Stir the dough one last time with a wooden spoon to make sure all the flour has been incorporated.
5. Spread the dough evenly into your prepared baking pan, using an offset spatula to level the blondies. 
6. Combine the cinnamon and sugar for the topping in a small bowl.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the blondies.
7. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the surface springs back when gently pressed.  Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Notes:
  • These came out just perfect, and there is really nothing at this point I'd change about the recipe!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Beef and Mushroom Stew

It is finally starting to feel like fall here in Connecticut and I couldn't be more excited!!  Fall and spring are my favorite seasons.... and in the past few years fall has really been gaining an edge over spring!  Yesterday it was chilly enough to wear a cardigan (yay!), and sleep cozily under my comforter!  With fall comes some of my favorite things- Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks, Chrysanthemums, pumpkin carving, Halloween!, scary movies (my favorite kind!), cool sweater weather, and all kinds of soups and stews!  I don't make soup and stew as often as I'd like for dinners as my boyfriend is not the biggest fan, but I try to sneak them in occasionally.  I do make them often to bring to work for lunch though, so hopefully I'll be posting some good ones this season!  Recently I was perusing Pioneer Woman's website and I came upon her recipe for beef and mushroom stew- it seemed to me like a simplified recipe for beef bourguignon focusing just on the beef and mushroom aspect of it, and I just had to try it, so I added it to my menu for last week!  It was definitely a wonderful fall meal!


Beef and Mushroom Stew

Ingredients:
2 pounds beef stew meat
4 tbsp flour, divided
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 whole shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, cremini or white button, halved
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 can beef consomme (about 5.25 ounces)
5 ounces water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Pasta or rice for serving, or crusty bread (I used egg noodles)

Directions:
1. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of the flour over the meat, and toss to coat.
2. Place a heavy pot (preferably a dutch oven) over medium-high heat and add the butter and olive oil.  When melted, sear the meat in batches. Turning to brown all sides. Once brown, remove to a plate, and continue browning meat until all is seared.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the shallots and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the wine, consomme and water.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir together.  Bring the stew to a boil, and then add the meat back in.  
4. Reduce the heat to low.  Add the thyme to the stew. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
5. Mix the remaining 2 tbsp flour with a little bit of water, and add to the stew.  Cook the stew another 10 minutes to allow it to thicken a bit.
6. Turn off the heat, and allow the the stew to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
7. While the stew is resting, cook your pasta or rice (if using).

Notes:
  • PW's recipe calls for beef stew meat which is what I bought for my stew and it was okay, but a little tough.  She actually says that most stew meat is usually sirloin, but mine was not, so I'd suggest seeking out sirloin and cutting it into chunks yourself if your local store doesn't carry sirloin stew meat.
  • In PW's recipe she left the mushrooms whole, but I decided to cut them in half so that there would be more mushrooms per bite!  Cremini mushrooms, since they are meatier, would be best for this recipe, but I used white button mushrooms as they were on sale, and they were delicious as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tomato and Almond Gazpacho

One of my favorite dishes that I cooked (well, I use the term "cook" loosely here!) on vacation was this tomato and almond gazpacho!  It is so summery and refreshing, and has such great texture from the addition of the almonds.  They also make this soup feel so much more substantial and satisfying than gazpachos I've had in the past (although I like those too).  Even my brother who is not the biggest fan of soup enjoyed this recipe (well, at least that's what he told me and I don't think he was just being polite... hopefully).  This is the first gazpacho I've ever made, and it definitely makes me want to experiment more!  Since summer has unofficially ended though, the experimentation is probably going to have to wait until Memorial Day.  In fact, I had a beef and mushroom stew simmering on the stove just yesterday... perfect for fall!  

Speaking of fall, it rivals spring for my favorite season, and includes one of my favorite holidays, Halloween(!!), so hopefully I'll be getting back to being a good blogger, and making some delicious seasonal recipes, I do love the flavors of fall dearly- I'm ready for pumpkin, apples, squash, and lots of soups and stews!


Tomato and Almond Gazpacho
from Martha Stewart Living, August 2011
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 pounds tomatoes (about 4), cored and coarsely chopped
1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1 small garlic clove
2 ounces almonds (scant 1/2 cup), toasted (blanching the almonds prior is optional)
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions:
1. Place the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic, almonds, water, vinegar, oil, and 2 1/4 tsp of salt in a blender, and puree until smooth.  Then season with pepper.
2. Refrigerate the gazpacho for at least 45 minutes. 
3. To serve, season with salt and pepper to taste right before serving, ladle into bowl, and drizzle with olive oil.

Notes:
  • I did not take the time to blanch the almonds when making this gazpacho, but it was delicious regardless, and the texture was great, so I'd say that's entirely optional.
  • As I was working with limited cooking implements and ingredients as one is apt to do on vacation, I substituted cider vinegar and non-extra virgin olive oil in my gazpacho.  The original calls for extra-virgin olive oil, and sherry vinegar.  Either way you go it'll still be wonderful, so if you don't have sherry vinegar in your pantry, feel free to make a substitution.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New England Clam Chowder

One of my main goals during my vacation was to eat as much seafood as possible.  I love it, but I don't buy it very often due to it's price.  Even though I live in Connecticut, where you'd assume seafood would be abundant, it's still often outside my limited price range.  I could certainly buy it more often, but then I'd be making ramen noodle soup more often as well.  In Chincoteague, as it's right on the water, there is much more locally caught seafood to buy and eat, and the prices were generally much better!  I absolutely achieved my goal, and one of the ways I did that was to make the chowder twice, buying mounds of clams from Gary Howard seafood.  This is a very clammy clam chowder so if you like clams, you'll like this!  It's a thin, not creamy chowder, so if you are looking for something with a creamy consistency, this is not the recipe I'd personally choose for that (although I would like to try pureeing some of the potatoes in this chowder to see what it does for the thickness), but it's super-delicious.  It's great in larger servings for a main course, or as a first course to a meal, especially one loaded with more seafood.


New England Clam Chowder
Serves 4

Ingredients:
36 hard-shelled clams (less than 2 inches wide), such as littlenecks, scrubbed well
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 medium boiling potatoes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 bacon slices, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup half-and-half
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Directions:
1. Put the clams, and the cold water in a large pot, and place over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil.  When it starts to boil, cover with the lid, and steam for 5 to 8 minutes until the clams open.  Check after 5 minutes, and begin removing any that have opening.  If any are still closed, allow them to steam longer.  Discard any that haven't opened after 8 minutes.  Strain and reserve the cooking liquid (there will be some fine grit, so use a fine-mesh sieve, or line a sieve with cheesecloth to strain out the grit).
2. When the clams can be handled, remove them from their shells, and roughly chop.
3. Peel the potatoes, and dice them into 1/4-inch pieces.
4. Place a large saucepan over medium heat, and add the butter. 
5. When the butter is melted, add the bacon, and cook until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes.
6. Add the onion, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often.
7. Add the potatoes, and reserved cooking liquid, and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender, 5-10 minutes.
8. Add the clams, half-and-half, and pepper to taste, and cook about 1 minute until heated through.  Do not let the chowder boil.  
9. Add the parsley.


Notes:
  • As I mentioned earlier, I'd love to puree some of the potatoes once they're cooked as it should give the finished soup a thicker consistency. 
  • If you'd like, you can use salt pork instead of bacon, but the bacon lends a nice smokiness to the chowder.
  • It is very easy at the end for the half-and-half to separate a bit.  Mine did in fact, but it will not affect the taste or consistency if this happens a little bit, it's more a visual thing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chincoteague Island, Virginia

It's been a couple weeks since I've been back from my wonderful vacation but for some reason it's taken me a little while to settle in as I jumped right back into work, and then we were hit by hurricane Irene.  Thankfully it only left me in the dark for less than 24 hours with no other damage done, but it's still taken a little while for things to get back to normal.  I actually have yet to do a real shopping, as with the hurricane coming up we tried to use as much randomness in the fridge as possible, and then we had to go shopping afterwards to replace things that had spoiled in the fridge during the outage.  So it's been a lot of basic cooking during the past couple weeks- I did make a great pesto though with basil from my garden which I will share shortly.

I wanted to post some pics of my vacation as I jump back into blogging, a lot of which are pictures of things I ate on vacation, because of course that was one of my main enjoyments.  Unfortunately I didn't get pics of a lot of things, such as an awesome soft-shell crab BLT I devoured, or any of the delectable sandwiches I enjoyed from Woody's Beach BBQ (definitely a highlight of the trip- that and a small seafood store called Gary Howard's, were rivals in the places-I-ate-at-most tournament).

Oh by the way, my vacation was in Chincoteague Island, Virginia- a very relaxing and wonderful small town famous for it's wild horses- some of which I did see, including some pretty close up grazing in a field while kayaking.

Morning reading on my dream porch.


Assateague Light


Full Moon

A new friend

An incoming storm


Our neighbor



Our dock


The beach
Great Blue
Baja Shrimp Taco from Woody's Beach BBQ
Shucking Corn

Roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, and flounder with chile lime butter


Loot from the Farmer's Market


Steamed clams


New England Clam Chowder

Great Gazpacho

Fresh crabs caught off our dock

Bloody Marys

Pasta with tomato, basil, and Parmesan and Homemade Crab Cakes

Root Beer Floats

Awesome Crab Frittata,  Asparagus Beans, and Fried Eggplant






Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Grilled Pizza


Hey guys, long time no see!!!   I'm so sorry for the lack of posting recently.  It's not that I haven't been cooking, I definitely have, but I guess I've been lacking the drive to sit at the computer.  I'm going to blame the heat the last few weeks... easy excuse, right?  Anyway, I thought that tonight I'd post one of the delicious recipes I've made lately from my new favorite cookbook- Gourmet Today.  I've found so many great recipes so far, and I'm dying to make many many more.  There are seriously hundreds of recipes that jumped out at me when I read through the cookbook.  I am going on vacation tomorrow, down to Virginia, but when I get back I am hoping that my relaxing vacation reinspires me to jump back into blogging.

As you know from the title, this is a recipe for grilled pizza.  Before I made these, I'd never made any kind of pizza, but after seeing how awesome these came out I've been dreaming up many more pizza combos I'd love to try out.  I used the basic dough recipe from Gourmet Today, but obviously cooked it on the grill instead of the oven, and while I'd describe it more as "flatbready" I suppose, it was super-awesome.  I made 4 mini-pizza with 2 types of toppings- the first, a caramelized onion and mushroom pizza was amazing, and the second, a BLT pizza was just as good, but more of a summery pizza.  The caramelized onion and mushroom I'd consider a year-round pizza.  Both were incredible.


Basic Pizza Dough

Ingredients:
1 (1/4-ounce) package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
About 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dredging
3/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp olive oil

Directions:
1. In a measuring cup, stir together the yeast, 1 tbsp flour, and 1/4 cup warm water.  Let sit about 5 minutes, until the surface appears creamy- if this doesn't happen, discard and try again with new yeast.)
2. In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/4 cup flour and salt.  Add the yeast mixture, olive oil, and remaining 1/2 cup warm water.  Stir until smooth.  Stir in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup flour so that the dough comes away from the side of the bowl.  
3. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface, with lightly floured hands, for about 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth, soft and elastic.  If the surface, or your hands become sticky, add more flour.  Form the kneaded dough into a ball, place in a lightly floured large bowl, dust the dough with flour, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Leave to rise in a warm, draft free place for 1 1/4 hours, until the dough doubles its size.
4. Once the dough is risen, carefully dredge in flour to coat, and transfer to a lightly floured work surface.  **Do not punch the dough down**  
5. At this point, you can either make one large 14-inch pizza, or smaller individual ones- I made 4 mini-pizzas.  Either way, carefully hold the dough with the bottom surface touching your work surface, and move the dough around with both hands as if holding a steering wheel, letting the weight of the dough stretch into a round.  Once to your desired size, place the round on a lightly floured surface, and work the edges with your fingers to get it to the desired size.
6.  Once formed, your dough is ready to top, bake or grill, depending on which recipe you are using for toppings.
** To grill, heat grill to medium-high heat.  Oil the grates well!  Brush the pizzas with olive oil on each side.  Place on grill over indirect heat (not over the coals- they'll burn fast!).   Cook about 3 minutes, covered, until the dough begins to have large bubbles on the surface, and the underside is cooked.  If you are going to be putting on a topping that will warm up/melt cheese, remove the dough round to a clean surface with the cooked side facing up, and place your cheese/toppings on.  Return to grill and cook, covered for 4-6 minutes, until the dough is cooked, and the toppings/cheese are ready.  If you are putting a topping on that does not need to be cooked (like the BLT pizza), just flip the dough round over, and cook, covered for about 4 minutes.**  (Grilled pizza instructions adapted from Annie's Eats)

Notes:
  • You can leave the dough to rise up to a day, covered and refridgerated.  Bring it to room temperature before you shape it.
  • After rising, the dough can be frozen up to 1 month.  Thaw and bring to room temperature before shaping.
  • My pizzas were definitely not round, but they were still tasty- this is a recipe where only practice will make perfect!
  • Watch your dough closely, as it can burn quickly.  My pizzas had a little char to them, but the smokiness just added some more delicious flavor.  Too much though, and it would probably overwhelm.


Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Makes one 14-inch pizza, or 4 individual pizzas

Ingredients:
5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound yellow onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced lengthwise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound white mushrooms, or mixed wild mushrooms (such as shitake, cremini and oyster), trimmed if   necessary and sliced
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 3/4 cups coarsely grated Swiss Emmental cheese, or Gruyere (about 8 ounces)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Basic Pizza Dough (recipe above)

Directions:
1. In a 12-inch heavy skillet heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Add the onions, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper.  Cover directly with a round of parchment paper.  Cook until the onions are softened and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 18-20 minutes.  Transfer the onions to a bowl.
2. To the same skillet, add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil, and heat until hot but not smoking.  Add the mushrooms, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and red wine vinegar, and cook about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned and any liquid is evaporated.  Remove the mushrooms from the heat. 
3. Cook one side of your pizza dough on a grill preheated over medium high heat (as detailed above).  When done, remove to a clean surface.  Top the cooked side of the dough with the Emmental or gruyere cheese.  Scatter onions and mushrooms on top, and sprinkle with Parmesan.  
4. Place back on the grill over indirect heat, and cook, covered, 4-6 minutes, until the dough is cooked, and the cheese is melted.  Sprinkle with fresh thyme.

Notes:
  • The original recipe calls for Swiss Emmental cheese, but I had some gruyere left over so I used that instead, and it turned out wonderful.  Any type of Swiss cheese would probably do just fine, depending on how strong or mild you like it. 
  • I omitted the thyme because I thought I had some, but when I went to make the pizzas realized I didn't, but I didn't miss it at all.  I'm sure it would've been good, but I don't think it's necessary.
  • I halved this recipe to make 2 individual pizzas.


BLT Pizza
from Annie's Eats, dressing from Annie's Eats and Alton Brown via foodnetwork.com

Makes 4 individual pizzas

Ingredients:
Basic pizza dough (recipe above)

For salad topping:
4 cups green leaf lettuce, or mixed greens
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (drippings from cooking reserved for dressing)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

For bacon vinaigrette:
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp bacon drippings
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar (preferably dark)
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Directions:
1. Combine the ingredients for the bacon vinaigrette in a small bowl, or salad dressing bottle, and whisk (or use handy emulsification device) to combine.
2. Combine the lettuce, tomato and onion in a large bowl, and toss to combine.  Add 1/4 cup of dressing to the salad, and toss gently to coat.  Add the bacon and feta to the salad, and toss gently to combine.
3. Make your grilled pizzas (recipe above), cooking both sides.  Top your cooked pizza dough with some of the salad mixture, and serve!

Notes:
  • This salad is great on it's own, so if you don't want to make pizza, or if there is leftover, eat it plain!
  • You can also use the vinaigrette to dress any salad.... In Alton Brown's original recipe he uses basically double the amount, and tops 2 quartered heads of radicchio.  For quantities for his recipe go here!
  • This is one of the most refreshing summery pizzas I've ever had, and although topping a pizza with salad may seem a bit unusual, I can't wait to make some other summery salad pizzas.

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    Butterbeer

    Butterbeer is one of those things that I've wanted to try since reading about it in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  I knew it obviously was a fictional drink*, but much like I wanted the magical world of Harry Potter to be real, I also wanted the treats from the books to be real as well.  With the final movie just having been released, there has been a proliferation of Harry Potter inspired treats making their way around the internet which has awakened my craving, and since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter made Butterbeer real, I knew it was something that I just had to make.... it's taken me this long, but I have finally lived the dream!!  Now, since I've never been to the theme park (which hopefully I'll remedy someday relatively soon!!), I have no idea whether this version tastes like theirs, but I have to say that it is still incredibly delicious, and very much like how I imagined butterbeer tasting- namely, butterscotchesque.  This drink is fizzy, creamy, sweet and very easy to make.  This is a non-alcoholic version, but you can spike the drink as well.

    *Apparently Buttered Beer was a real drink in ye olden times consisting of beer, sugar, eggs, nutmeg, cloves and butter, and another old recipe calls for liquorish root and anise seeds to be added..... muy interestante!


    Butterbeer
    from The Pastry Affair, originally adapted from The Huffington Post

    Makes 4 drinks (*if you want to share, that is)

    Ingredients:
    1 cup brown sugar
    2 tbsp water
    4 tbsp butter
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tsp apple cider vinegar
    3/4 cup heavy cream, divided
    Four 12-ounce bottles cream soda, chilled

    Directions:
    1. Combine brown sugar and water in a small saucepan.  Heat on medium, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  Cook until mixture reached 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or if you don't have one like me, bring to a gentle boil, and cook for about one minute, then remove from the heat.
    2. Once removed from heat, add butter, salt, vinegar and 1/4 cup heavy cream.  Stir until the mixture is smooth, and then cool to room temperature.
    3. Once the brown sugar mixture is cooled, beat together 2 tbsp of the mixture with the remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream until it forms soft-peaks- this will make some really delicious whipped cream!
    4. In your serving glass, combine 1/4 cup brown sugar syrup with 1/4 cup cream soda, stir until combined.  Top with remaining cream soda, and then with some whipped cream.

    Notes:
    • The original recipe in the Huffington Post includes 1/2 tsp of rum extract stirred into the brown sugar syrup along with the butter, salt vinegar and cream.  I didn't have any rum extract in my pantry, but if you do, and want to try that, go for it!

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Paprika Shrimp Quesadillas

    Who doesn't love a delicious quesadilla?  I mean, it's basically cheese and a tortilla filled with any delicious combination of veggies/meats/whatever you can dream up?! Any food that derives from the word "cheese" is automatically awesome, right?  Some of my favorite combos are chorizo and jalapeno, and chicken and peppers.  I've actually never made one containing shrimp before, but this one is delicious.  The shrimp are so flavorful on their own, especially with the addition of the smoked paprika (my new favorite spice), but the combination of them with the cheese, scallions, cilantro, and tomatoes make them even better.... and it's such an easy meal which makes it perfect for a weeknight.  




    Paprika Shrimp Quesadillas

    Serves 4 to 6

    Ingredients:
    1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined
    Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
    1 1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
    1 tsp onion powder
    1/2 tsp garlic powder
    Salt and pepper
    1 lime, juiced
    A small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
    8 large tortillas
    2 plum or vine tomatoes, seeded and diced
    4 scallions
    2 1/2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese

    Guacamole and/or sour cream for serving

    Directions:
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, or a grill, griddle or grill pan to medium-high.
    2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Toss shrimp with a drizzle of olive oil, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Add the shrimp to the pan, and cook until done, about 4-6 minutes.  When done, add lime juice, toss, and remove from heat.
    3. Remove the shrimp from the pan, and chop into smallish pieces.  Place in a bowl, add cilantro, and toss together.
    4. To assemble the quesadillas, place half of the tortillas on  foil-lined baking sheet(s) (you will need 2 baking sheets, or you can do this in 2 batches).  Sprinkle cheese onto each.  Then sprinkle on shrimp, tomatoes and scallions.  Top each with another tortilla.  
    5. Pop into the oven and bake 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted.  
    6. Cut into wedges and serve.

    Notes:
    • Alternately, you can do this all on a grill, as the original recipe calls for.  (If you are lucky and it's not raining when you are making these!)  For grilling, preheat your grill to medium-high heat.  Once you toss the shrimp with the spices, thread them onto a skewer and grill for about 2 minutes per side.  Pour the lime juice over them before removing from the grill.  Then chop and sprinkle with cilantro.  To make the quesadillas on the grill, it's easier if you place the ingredients on half of each tortillas and fold over, so that only one side is open.  Spray with cooking spray, and place on grill for about 5 minutes, turning once.
    • Even without the extra-smokiness that grilling these would have given the quesadillas, they were still awesome!  I used hot smoked paprika, rather than sweet smoked paprika.  Feel free to use either, just make sure it's the fancy smoked stuff!
    • The original recipe calls for avocado to be inside of the quesadilla as well, but I decided to make guacamole instead.  It's totally up to you.

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Chipotle Turkey Burgers

    I know, I know, another burger recipe... but hey, it's summer!  ... and today's the 4th of July, and burgers are one of those quintessentially American things, along with hot dogs, and apple pie, and fried chicken.... I actually did not make these to celebrate the holiday, but I think they'd be a great thing to make today.  So they are not traditional burgers, but a really delicious riff ... chipotle peppers and abobo sauce mixed into the meat, topped with avocado, tomatillo, and cilantro.  Awesome!

    Happy Independence Day!!




    Chipotle Turkey Burgers

    Serves 4

    Ingredients:
    1 lb ground turkey, preferably dark meat
    2 tsp minced chipotle in adobo plus 1 tsp adobo sauce
    2 garlic cloves, pressed
    4 slices Muenster cheese
    4 hamburger buns, toasted
    1/4 cup mayonnaise
    1 large tomatillo, husked and rinsed, then sliced
    1/2 small avocado, sliced
    1/2 cup cilantro sprigs

    Directions:
    1. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat.  
    2. Gently mix ground turkey with the chopped chipotles, adobo sauce, garlic, and a scant tsp of salt.  Make 4 3/4-inch thick patties.
    3. Oil the grill grates, and place the burgers on the grill.  Grill 5 minutes on one side, flip, and grill 4 minutes on the other.  Top each with a slice of cheese and grill 1 minute more.
    4. Assemble the burgers by spreading the buns with mayonnaise, placing the burger on top, and then topping with tomatillos, avocado, and cilantro.

    Notes:
    • The original recipe calls for ground pork, which you can certainly use as well!
    • The chipotle flavor in this is fairly subtle.  To amp it up a bit, next time I'll be adding some chopped chipotles and adobo sauce to the mayonnaise.  Yum!

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    Jalapeno Popper Sliders

    So burgers mixed with jalapeno poppers sounds awesome, am I right?  When I saw this in Rachel Ray's Everyday magazine I just couldn't resist trying out this combo.  Yep, once again I'm back with some Rachel Ray... I picked this particular issue up at the grocery store recently as I had finished all the food magazines I subscribe to, and an amazing looking burger beckoned to me from the cover.  Not the popper sliders, but rather a burger topped with an extra-thick onion ring.  Perusing the magazine though brought me to these sliders, and I knew that I would have to try them.  I mean, who doesn't like jalapeno poppers?  (It's okay if you don't, I won't judge you too harshly.)  So in this recipe, a mini-burger is topped with the ingredients of a jalapeno popper- a seasoned cream cheese, sauteed jalapenos, and a bit more cheese for good measure- covering both jalapeno poppers stuffed with cream cheese, and those stuffed with a cheddar cheese.  It's the best of both worlds.


    Jalapeno Popper Sliders

    Makes 6 sliders

    Ingredients:
    3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into rounds, or strips
    1 red Fresno chile pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
    Extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil, for drizzling
    4 oz cream cheese
    1 tbsp grated onion
    1 large clove garlic, grated or pressed
    A small handful of cilantro leaves, finely chopped
    1/4 tsp ground cumin
    salt and pepper
    1 lb ground beef
    2 oz. sharp or smoked cheddar, or smoked Gouda, sliced
    6 slider rolls, such as 3-inch brioche rolls, or cornmeal topped dinner rolls, split

    Directions:
    1. Preheat your grill (or griddle or grill pan) to medium-high heat.
    2. Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat and add jalapenos and Fresno chile peppers.  Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently, until they are charred on the edges, and crisp-tender.
    3. In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, onion, garlic, cilantro and cumin.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  
    4. Season the ground beef with salt and pepper.  Form 6 small patties, with an indentation in the center of each. Brush the grill with canola oil (or other oil with a higher smoke point).  Place the patties on the grill, and grill for 2-3 minutes.  Flip the burger, top with a dollop of cream cheese mixture, and a piece of sliced cheese.  Grill for 2-3 minutes more until the burger is cooked, and the cheese is melted.
    5. Place the burgers on the rolls, and top with the chile peppers.

    Notes:
    • For the last step of the recipe, when you have flipped the burger and placed the cheeses on top, the original recipe says to put the cover of the grill down, or tent with tinfoil to promote melting.  I really didn't think this was a necessary step, as my cheese melted just fine without the top down.  
    • I loved these burgers, but next time I want to try stuffing the burger with jalapenos, cream cheese, and cheese to make it even more exciting!  A burger stuffed with jalapeno popper ingredients sounds even awesomer to me- maybe stuffed and topped with them.... hmmmmm...
    • Also next time I won't seed the peppers, as with them de-seeded there was very little heat.  It is perfect this way if you like mild food, but since I like things spicy, hopefully keeping the seeds in will be just the thing to literally spice things up.