Monday, January 31, 2011

Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies

What is it about chocolate chip cookies that make everything seem better?  I have yet to meet a person that doesn't like this type of cookie.  One remembers those chipwiches from childhood or the store bought "soft batch" that tasted so good to us.   I know people who only like thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies or those who only like soft and chewy ones.  Personally, I like any chocolate chip cookie as long as it's made with good ingredients.  This particular cookie is soft, puffy and chock-full of chocolate morsels.  The other wonderful aspect about this recipe, is that you can pop the cookies into the oven as soon as you've completed your dough.  There is no need to chill it beforehand.  These will not spread much and burn around the edges like other recipes.  Have a look.

The oven should be preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
You should have several cookie sheets lined with parchment or silpats.
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (kosher works well too)
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 12 oz (2 cups) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips 
Whisk your dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Cream the butter by itself in the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with your paddle attachment.  Do this until it's creamy (about 1-2 minutes).  Scrape down your bowl.

Note: you can use a handheld mixer.

Add your granulated sugar and dark brown sugar.  Cream this well for about another minute or two.  You want it creamy, but not too fluffy.
I can't stress it enough how important it is to scrape down that mixer bowl once or twice. 

Add your eggs one at a time and mix well.

Stop your mixer and add the entire dry ingredients.  Turn your mixer on low and mix until there are no more specks of flour.

Add your favorite chocolate chips or chunks now.  If you want to include nuts, you should add them at this point.  One cup of chopped nuts is plenty.

The finished dough.  Make sure the chocolate is evenly distributed.  I won't tell anyone if you decide to try some.

I'm using a 1 1/4" ice cream scoop to portion the dough onto my silpat lined baking sheet.  Parchment can be used with equal success.  If you notice, I'm staggering the dough so that I give them plenty of room.  

Pop the baking sheet into your preheated oven and bake for approximately 12-14 minutes.  Watch them carefully.  They'll be done when you notice a bit of browning around the edges.  Don't let them burn.

Cookies right out of the oven.  Perfect mounds! This makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.

I couldn't resist.  I immediately poured myself a glass of cold milk and scarfed down two cookies on the spot.

I just had to share these goodies with my friends Jerry and Dan.  They were packaged in a large cellophane bag with an embossed sticker that says "It's a Good Thing" from the former Martha by Mail catalog.

A chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven is one of life's real treats, but they're just as good the next day.  These can be stored in an airtight container for 3-4 days if they last that long.  You could freeze them if you really want to, but why not share them with friends, relatives or neighbors?  Start baking!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cleaning Your Wok

Whenever you use a carbon steel wok, it is so important to clean the pan soon after you are done.  When you've plated your food, take the wok to your sink and wipe off any oil, sauce or food residue with a paper towel.  No food or oil should go down your drain.  Do be careful when handling it from the stove because the wok will be quite hot. 

Turn on your hot water and begin scraping your wok thoroughly.  Whatever you do, DON'T use any soap or detergent to clean the wok.  Doing so will remove the nonstick seasoning. 

As soon as you're done, wipe the wok dry and return it to your burner.  Turn your flame on to high and let the wok get totally dry.  This should take less than a minute.  Now you can turn your flame off and add a teaspoon or so of the same cooking oil you used.  Wipe the entire surface of your wok and let it sit until it cools off.

If you follow these simple steps at the end of your wok use, there won't be any need to worry about the pan getting rusted.  This will keep it clean, nonstick and ready for your next endeavor.  If for some reason you do find rust spots here and there, simply use a clean scouring pad and remove the stains.  Then add some oil and rub it into the affected area.  Using a wok shouldn't intimidate you or keep you from trying a recipe calling for one.  They're inexpensive (around $20 or so for one), easy to use and come in many sizes.  I highly recommend getting one that's at least 14" in diameter.  Quite frankly, it's a very versatile cooking vessel and one that should be in everyone's kitchen.   

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Duck Fried Rice

I made roast duck a few weeks ago for a special occasion and had leftover leg meat.  The duck was purchased from D'Artagnan and let me just say that it was perfectly delicious.  I thought of ways to use up the remaining duck, such as making a duck pot pie or a duck confit, but then it hit me.  Why not make fried rice out of this?  The ingredients are few and the technique isn't too hard.  The results?  Utterly delicious. You'll notice that I'm using a well-seasoned carbon steel wok, but this can also work with a 12" nonstick frying pan. Make sure that all of your ingredients are premeasured, precut and waiting.  When you're stir frying, everything goes rather quickly.  This will give you 4 generous servings. 
Here's the duck.  Unfortunately, I didn't document the actual roasting, so I will have to do that in the future.
My leftover roasted duck being deboned of all that tender meat. Using a small, sharp paring knife makes things easier.  This is equally delicious with leftover chicken or pork.  You want to have 1 cup of bite size meat.
The Ingredients:
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 minced shallot (optional)
  • 2 large eggs (you can use 3), lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
  • 3 cups cold, leftover rice
I've removed the burner grates.  Stir frying requires a super-heated wok and the only way for me to achieve this is to have the wok sitting directly on the burner.   
Here's a closeup of my rigged wok.  You can use a wok ring to stabilize the pan if you have one. 
Turn on your burner to high and heat your dry wok until it is quite hot.  Add 2 teaspoons of peanut oil(canola also works) and swirl it around.  Now your beaten eggs can be added.  Hear it sizzle?

I swirl the eggs around the pan and loosen them with my wok spatula.  Don't let the eggs burn.  Cook them until they're just set.
I set my eggs aside on a clean dish.  The burner gets turned off and I wipe off any stray bits of egg from my wok and any remaining oil.  At this point you can break up the cooked eggs or cut them into strips.  It's up to you.
Heat your dry pan again and add 2 teaspoons peanut oil.  When it's really hot but not quite smoking, add your minced ginger.  Stir and fry this for about 30 seconds.  If your wok is well seasoned, there will be no sticking.
Next, add your minced shallot (if you're using) and stir for a few seconds, then add your garlic.

Use your wok spatula to push and stir the ingredients. You don't want anything burning at this point.  Stir and  fry this mixture for a few seconds more.  Adjust your heat if you see anything browning excessively. 
Note: your wok handles will get REALLY hot, so I advise using a pot holder to help you along.

Add your cooked duck meat.  Stir and fry the mixture well.

Now it's time to add the sliced scallions.  Mix this thoroughly.

This is my Perfect Chinese Rice rice that was chilled overnight.  Break up the grains with your hands to remove any big clumps.

I'm using a bamboo spatula to help me toss the rice.  If your pan seems a bit on the dry side, you may add another teaspoon or so of peanut oil. 

I'm adding my eggs and breaking them up with my spatula.  Have your sauce mixture ready.  I lower my heat at this point to medium.
Add that delicious sauce and scrape every last bit of it into your pan. 

Give this a good toss.  You want to have every grain of rice covered with that sauce. 
After it's heated through, I immediately put the rice in a nice serving bowl and take it straight to the table. 
Clean your wok as soon as you're done.
Click here to see how a wok should be cleaned & washed.
I love making fried rice because it takes no time at all to pull this dish together.   The technique isn't difficult and the ingredients are readily available at any well stocked supermarket.  Try it with a light, medium-bodied red wine or a nice sauvignon blanc.  Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Perfect Chinese Rice

Rice is a must on any Chinese table .  Many people seem to be intimidated by the idea of cooking rice, but this shouldn't be so if you follow a good recipe.  The type of rice typically served at Chinese meals is completely different from the type of rice that one would eat at an Italian, Mexican, French or say a Japanese table.  The rice has to be of the extra-long grain variety and must remain toothsome in order to be truly Chinese. This makes enough for 4 servings (if it's only 2 people dining,  cut the recipe in half & proceed).  I find this my go to recipe whenever I make a stir fry or if I need cooked rice for a fried rice.  Here's how I do it.

In a sieve, add 2 cups of extra long grain rice & rinse thoroughly under cold water. Use your hand to move the rice around in the strainer; this removes all that starch.  Initially you'll see white, cloudy water coming through the strainer & then it will clear up once it's ready.

Leave your rice in the strainer & place over a bowl.  Add enough cold water to cover the rice & let it soak for one hour.

In a pot, add your rice with an equal amout of cold water (2 cups water in this case, since we're using 2 cups of rice).  Turn on your heat to high.

As the water comes to a boil, use a fork or a skewer (chopsticks also work) to move the rice around a bit.
You want to keep the rice level because it will begin to mound up in places.  Keep the heat on high.

As soon as the water has gone just beneath the surface level, immediately lower your heat.

Lower your heat, cover your pot and set your timer for 10 minutes.

After your 10 minutes are up, let the rice sit for another 10 minutes before you serve it.  This is what it will
look like when it's ready to eat.  Perfect!

Fluff the rice with a fork & immediately place it on a serving platter.  Voila!  The rice is steaming, perfect
and absolutely Chinese. 

I find that this rice waits for no one.  It is possible to have it sit for an hour (tightly covered) or so in a low oven, but I wouldn't recommend it.  If you happen to have any leftover, save it to make fried rice the next day.  In fact, I sometimes make this rice alone and chill it in order to make Duck Fried Rice.  Why not try making this tonight for your family?  Sprinkled with some soy sauce, this rice has no rival.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Double Strength Vanilla

This is a very simple idea that I've been doing for years.  It gives my baked goods just the right amount of boost and a well rounded flavor.  The key is not to use inferior ingredients.  Buy the best vanilla extract and vanilla beans you can find.  Once you've made this double strength vanilla, there will be no going back to the plain kind. 

The ingredients:
-1 vanilla bean
-pure vanilla extract

Split your vanilla bean in half, lengthwise.
There is no need to scrape out the seeds.

I tuck the vanilla bean into a small apothecary
jar that will hold the extract.

Pour carefully through a funnel & fill your jar.
Make sure the vanilla bean is submerged.
I like to "cure" this vanilla for a week or 2
before I start using it.

The dark, rich double-strength vanilla.

Places will sell you a "double strength" vanilla, but they're expensive.  Doing it yourself at home is much easier and less costly.  You don't absolutely need an apothecary jar for this; just stuff the bean into a new jar of extract and voila!  For someone that bakes a lot, though, it's good to have a large jar of this on hand.  I do advise you to keep this in a cool dark place.  Enjoy!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin bread is something I like to start baking a few weeks leading into the holidays.  It's wonderful to give as gifts to loved ones, but it's also great to have on hand because it is so tasty.  Don't think, however, that I limit myself to baking this delicious bread only around this time of the year.  I've been known to whip up a batch of these loaves well into March if the mood strikes me.  Although the original recipe I use is a classic, I've changed bits here and there over the years and I think that this final version is my favorite.  The recipe makes 4 large 9x5x3" loaves, but can be cut in half if you wish to make only 2.  Let me show you how I make them.

Large bowls from my yellowware collection.

The Ingredients:
  • 3 sticks room temperature unsalted butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 8 large room temperature eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice (cranberry, apple or pomegranate can be used)
  • 4 cups pumpkin puree (not the spiced variety)
  • 6 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon  grated nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 cups raisins or currants
  • 2 cups toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and toast your walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet for about 10 minutes.  Let them cool.  Take 1 tablespoon of your measured flour and toss it into your raisins.  Doing this will help suspend them in the batter while the breads bake. 

Cream your butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle/spade attachment for a good 4 minutes.  Stop and scrape your bowl at least once during this process.  This is what your want your
mixture to look like before proceeding.

Add your eggs one at a time and beat well.  Your mixer bowl should  be scraped once or twice during this stage of mixing.  After all your eggs have been incorporated, the mixture should be thick and smooth.

Now it's time to add your pumpkin puree and the juice.  Beat this until combined.  Don't be alarmed if your mixture looks grainy.  This is normal.  Stop your machine, detach your bowl and scrape the paddle of all that delicious batter.

In a large bowl, add your dry ingredients.  You'll notice that I sift my spices along with my leaveners through a sieve in order to remove any lumps.  This is crucial.  After you've done this, simply whisk everything to combine.
Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Combine these mixtures well with a large spatula. 
Add your raisins and nuts just before you've finished mixing your dry and wet ingredients.  This will prevent you from over mixing.  Can you see the raisins covered in flour?

The 9x5x3" loaf pans are buttered well and lined with loaf liners.  If you're not going to use the liners, simply dust the buttered pan with flour and tap out the excess.

Scrape all of your batter and divide it evenly.  To make that attractive crack down the middle of the loaf, I use a paring knife and make a slash lengthwise.  Bake in your preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Don't over bake.

The final product.

Make a batch of this scrumptious bread for your family & friends during the holidays.  I absolutely love baking many batches of this pumpkin bread because it keeps so well & seems to improve in flavor day after day.  You can, of course, roast your own pumpkins and puree the flesh if you don't want to use the canned variety.  I've always gotten good results with sugar pumpkins.  One thing you can be sure of is that there won't be a crumb left after you bake my pumpkin bread.  Cheers!