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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chocolate chip cookies - oven baked happiness!

I've made chocolate chip cookies for many many years, but I've never been quite satisfied with the results. Most of the recipes I've come across other than the famous (or infamous) Tollhouse recipe differ so little from the original as to be indistinguishable.

But I wanted a softer cookie instead of the thin, crunchy cookie that I usually get from the Tollhouse recipe. I tried many of the other recipes out there and they still come out thin and crunchy.

This was not what I wanted. So I started reading - a lot - about baking, and about cookie baking in particular.

Here's what finally worked for me.
  1. Melt the butter instead of using room temp
  2. Chill the dough for at least 36 hours
  3. Make sure your cookie tin cools completely between batches
  4. Use good semisweet chips. The cheap ones don't melt when you bake the cookies. I never believed this information before, but this time I had some Nestle's and I had some super cheap chips and had to use about half and half of each. Sure enough, the cheap chips didn't melt and you could tell the difference in texture.
I made two slight changes to the Tollhouse Cookie recipe
  1. used 1 T of vanilla instead of 1 tsp. That's just something I've always done.
  2. I leave out the walnuts and add 1/2 c extra chocolate chips.
In detail:

First, I melt the butter - that's BUTTER, not margarine, and certainly not Crisco - over a low heat - just to melt it, you don't want to actually change the taste of the butter. Then I let it cool. While it is still liquid but not hot, then I add the sugar to the butter and stir well. I add the brown sugar first and make sure that is well liquified before adding the white sugar.

Then I mix my dough as usual. When the dough is mixed, I refrigerate it for at least 36 hours, but that usually ends up being 2 days (roughly 48 hours) since I usually end up mixing the dough in the early afternoon. If I tried to hit exactly 36 hours, that would have me in the kitchen at like 2 AM.

Heat the oven to 375F.

Make sure your cookie tin cools between batches, and keep the dough in the fridge when you're not actually using it. I made about golf ball size balls, flattened slightly between my palms, and placed these on the cool tin.

Even if your tin is in terrible shape, with black stuff burned into it that you can never scrub off, you can encourage release of the baked cookies by greasing. If you grease the entire sheet, you get more black goo burning into the tin where there are no cookies. What I do instead is to take a stick of margarine, peel the wrapping back slightly, and generously grease just the area roughly the size your baked cookie is going to be (just a little smaller actually). This worked out well even on the borrowed cookie sheets I was using which were well-used.

Just place the slightly flattened ball of cookie dough roughly in the center of your greased patch.

I baked cookies on two different cookie sheets, one heavy duty and one a typical lightweight cookie tin.

I baked batches one tin at a time - there's a pizza stone on the bottom rack and I only had the 2 tins to use anyway. Plus, it made it easier to have a cooled tin to work with as one would be baking while one was cooling.

I baked for 11 to 12 minutes. This will vary depending on the accuracy of your oven thermometer and your home conditions. I believe having the pizza stone on the bottom rack helped to stabilize the internal oven temp.

After removing from the oven, place the pan away from the oven (use a folded towel to protect a countertop or table top from the heat of the pan). Let the cookies cool for two minutes on the pan, then loosen each cookie with a thin metal spatula. Let cool on the pan for another 7 or 8 minutes before removing them to a basket lined with a towel and preparing for the next batch.

Scrape any residue from the by-now cooled pan with the edge of the spatula, regrease, and place the next batch of cookie dough on the sheet. Place in the oven when the last batch is done, and keep doing this until all the cookies are done.

I found that if I was using the heavier duty pan, I didn't need to rotate the cookie sheet for even baking. I believe this was because the heavier duty pan provided a more even temperature so the cookies baked more evenly.

When using the light weight pan, the cookies spread more. I believe this was because the thin metal heated up faster than the heavier duty metal and caused the cookie dough to "melt" and spread out more before it started to bake and firm up. Still, they weren't VERY thin, so if you prefer a thinner cookie that might be ok with you. Cookies on the front half of the pan were also noticeably browner than those on the back half, but with the pizza stone in the oven temp was stable enough that it didn't hurt if you forgot to rotate the pan. There was a noticeable difference in appearance so you might still want to rotate your pan even if you have the pizza stone in the oven. Without the stone, you would need to pay closer attention and remember to rotate the pan.

My son's roommate pronounced these cookies "delicious". They had the texture I've been looking for. I may start experimenting with ingredients now that I have the technique down. For example, the REAL Nieman-Marcus cookie recipe looks like it should have a slightly different flavor (leaving out the espresso powder as I hate coffee-flavored anything).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More Tofu Marinade

This is an update for Tofu - Getting it Right

This is a Sake marinade for tofu that I think was even better than the first.

Sake Marinade for Tofu

Makes enough for 1/2 block of firm or extra firm tofu:

1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c sake
2 T Fish sauce
2 T rice vinegar
2 T Ginger paste
1 T Garlic, finely minced
1 to 2 T Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
2 T cilantro, stems and leaves, bruised and coarsely chopped

NOTE the removal of the fish sauce. It was a typo. Makes the marinade way too salty.

Mix well and pour over tofu prepared as in Tofu - Getting it Right. Let marinate at least 30 minutes, but preferably at least 6 to 8 hours. Overnight is even better. Refrigerate if marinating for longer than 30 minutes.

Use the tofu in a stir-fry, as for Thai Style Stir Fry, or substitute tofu for chicken in Thai Ginger Chicken

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Basic South Indian Curry

Nothing creates as much confusion and misunderstanding in Indian cooking as the use of the term "curry". Even dictionaries frequently define this incorrectly when applying it to culinary practices.

First, let me clarify for those who don't know, there is no such spice as "curry". Curry powder is a masala, or spice mix, which could contain any of several spices. Typical curry powder contains turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and ground red chili. Other ingredients may include cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, asafoetida, cardamom, black pepper, or mace. There is no one true curry powder, it's just one of many types of masalas used in Indian cooking and varies from one cook to another, let alone from one region to another. Cheap pre-packaged curry mixes frequently include a large amount of turmeric, giving it the yellow color that many Westerners have come to believe is typical of curry. In India, at least, there really is no "typical" curry powder.

However, such has been the popularity of "curry powder" in the west that "curry powder" has become common inside India as well. Many cooks in India now rely on this as a staple of their cupboard, but there is still wide variation in the actual makeup of the mixture, so that each cook has a particular formulation or brand that they swear by which may bear little resemblance to someone else's favorite.

I actually don't have a lot of dishes that call for curry powder. I have more dishes that call for a different masala blend, garam masala. This, too, does not have a single formulation, but could be formulated in many different blends. It can still be a useful shortcut.

More typically, Indian cooks use individual ground and whole spices in characteristic ways. I'm most familiar with South Indian style of cooking, so I'm going to give you a basic "curry" recipe today.

This is a basic technique for making a vegetable curry.

We will be quick frying spices in hot oil, and some of these spices will burn quite rapidly, so you need to prepare all ingredients in advance.

Gather the following in small bowls (my bachelor son has been known to use a roommate's shot glasses) so they are ready to use immediately:

1 tsp urad dahl
1 tsp chana dahl

1 T whole cumin seed

1 T black mustard seed

1 1/2 tsp crushed red chili pepper
(HOT chilis, not American style chili powder)
10-12 fresh neem or "curry" leaves
If you absolutely can't get hold of fresh, you may use dried, but it's not nearly as good.

Group 5:
1 T garam masala
1 tsp turmeric (optional)

Group 6:
1 to 2 onions, chopped
1 T minced ginger or ginger paste
2 tsp minced garlic OR 2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 minced green chilis (OPTIONAL, only if you want it HOT)

VEGETABLES - add salt to taste with your choice of veggies

For the vegetables you could use 2 or 3 cups of the veggies of your choice, such as:

Potatoes and cauliflower
Carrots, tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, yellow squash
Eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers
Eggplant, tomatoes, carrots
Cabbage and potatoes

or just use your imagination. Just have them ready to go before you start frying the spices.

Now for the spice fry:

Heat 2 or 3 T of oil in a good quality heavy frying pan. The pan needs to be large enough to accommodate your veggies.

Turn heat to fairly high. Add GROUP 1 when it's hot, but not all the way heated up.

When the dahls start to turn color, immediately add GROUP 2, the cumin seed.

When the cumin seed starts to brown, IMMEDIATELY add GROUP 3, the mustard seed.

If the oil is hot enough, the mustard seed will start to pop within just a second or two. If they don't start popping in 10 or 15 seconds, turn the heat up just until they do. Immediately add GROUP 4, the crushed red pepper and fresh curry leaves.

The crushed red pepper will burn VERY quickly, so LOSE NO TIME, as soon as it starts to cook add GROUP 5, the ground spices.

Stir well and quickly add GROUP 6, the onions, garlic, and ginger. Turn the heat down to kind of medium and add your veggies according to how much time they need to cook - longest time required first. Stir well to coat. You may add a bit of water, cover, and cook on a lower heat to cook the veggies through. Not too much water though as this is usually intended to be a dryish curry, but cook it to YOUR taste. If you want a bit of sauce, just add a bit of water, but this isn't intended to be saucy.

Feel free to experiment with this. For example, fresh (but not dried) curry leaves can go in earlier, say with GROUP 3 or even GROUP 2. The dried curry leaves will tend to burn fairly quickly, but you could get away with a bit more with the fresh as far as length of cooking time. Change the amount of garam masala, or substitute or add a good curry powder (I would leave the turmeric out if you use curry powder).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thai Ginger Chicken - Pad Gai King

I used to eat at regularly at an excellent Thai restaurant in Springfield, MO, called Bangkok City. It's on Walnut Street near the University. The woman who owns the place is a perfectionist who insists on "correct ingredients". I developed a taste there for Pad Gai King which has not been satisfied since leaving MO.

SO I futzed around for awhile trying to figure out how to make the stuff for myself, and every recipe I tried just didn't taste right. The problem, I decided, was the oyster sauce used in nearly every recipe, giving it a kind of slick and almost slimy texture. Also, the thickish sauce that you end up with was nothing like the flavorful liquid that I remembered being a part of this dish. So finally I gave up and made up my own recipe, and while it doesn't taste exactly like the Pad Gai King at Bangkok City, it's really pretty good (even if I do say so myself).

Thai Ginger Chicken

2 T soy sauce
2 T fish sauce
1 T rice vinegar
2 T saki
1 - 2 T Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
1/2 tsp sugar

4 - 6 green onions
1 bell pepper
1 carrot
1/4 c fresh ginger root, slivered

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

2-3 T coarsely chopped Cilantro (for garnish)
fresh Lime (for garnish)

Have all ingredients ready to go before you turn on the stove.

Mix the sugar, saki, soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce, and rice vinegar together in a bowl and set aside.

Peel the ginger and cut into matchstick sized pieces.

Cut the carrot into slivers (about TWO matchsticks thick).

Cut the bell pepper diagonally into strips.

Cut the chicken into thin slices.

Chop the green onions. Chop the white bulb ends into smallish pieces and the green tops about 1 to 2" long. Reserve the green top portions for garnish at the end.

Coarsely chop some cilantro (about 3 to 4 T) for garnish.

Heat 2-3 T oil in a large fry pan or wok. Turn to a high heat.

When the oil is hot, add the chicken and garlic and stir fry until the chicken is nearly done. Quickly add the sauce. Heat 'til the sauce is bubbling. Add the onions and the ginger. Stir together for a minute or two, then add the rest of the ingredients except for the garnish. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, until done. The veggies should still be crispy but not raw. Quickly remove from the heat and garnish with the cilantro and onion greens. Serve over rice with a wedge of lime on the side.

Yum! Even if I do say so myself!

The first time I made this, I used 1/2 c ginger. I've cut it back to 1/4 c because, as much as I like ginger, 1/2 c was just a bit much. Adjust the amount of ginger to your taste!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Easy Garam Masala

A masala is a mixture of spices. Garam Masala is a frequently used mix which varies a lot from one cook to the next, let alone from one region to another. I've occasionally seen Garam Masala referred to as "curry powder" but it is a different mix. Curry powder as we in the west think of it is not actually a traditional Indian masala mix, but similar mixes have become popular in India because of their popularity in the West. "Curry powder" constituents vary widely depending on the manufacturer. Many cheap blends use a lot of turmeric, giving curry powder the yellow color we of the west have come to associate with "curry". Garam Masala, however, is a different masala altogether.

Garam Masala is best made from whole spices which are lightly roasted in a dry frying pan and then ground. I use a coffee grinder which is used for nothing other than grinding spices. You can usually find one for around $20. However, if you don't have access to the whole spices or a grinder, this recipe using ground spices is a fairly good substitute. Ground spices quickly lose their flavor and aroma, but if your spices are not too old this is a fairly good substitute.

Easy Garam Masala

1 T ground cumin
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
1 ½ tsp ground pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg

Blend all ingredients well. Store in a tight container.

Here is a recipe for Garam Masala from whole spices. It's from one of Julie Sahni's cookbooks - I forget which one.

Whole Spice Garam Masala

2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon, broken up
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg


Put the cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves in a dry heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toast the spices, stirring occasionally, until they turn several shades darker and give off a sweet smoky aroma, about 10 minutes. Do not raise the heat to quicken the process, or the spices will brown prematurely, leaving the insides undercooked. Cool completely.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the mixture to a spice mill or coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Stir in the nutmeg.

Use immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

chocolate peanut butter candy

Buckeyes are a symbol of the state of Ohio, and these candies have been very popular in Ohio ever since I can remember - which is a long time.

The internet is littered with recipes for these but none of them are quite like this one. Some use crushed graham crackers (yech!), some use way more butter or less peanut butter or both. This is the best of the lot.

The paraffin in the recipe isn't required, but it's what gives the chocolate coating its customary glossy, dark brown look, making it look more like a real buckeye. It also gives the coating body - makes it easier to dip the candies, and it sets up faster and is less likely to soften and smear. You can find it with canning supplies. It comes in a box about the size of a butter box with 4 pieces inside. Put the pieces you are not going to be using in separate zip lock baggies to store - that box won't keep the dust and stray stuff out.

Also, you can't use "natural" peanut butter in this recipe - if it separates in the jar, it will separate out of the candy. Use conventional peanut butter.

Finally, I can't stop you from substituting margarine for butter, but it will change the taste, and not for the better. Ditto leaving out the vanilla extract.

C'mon people, this is CANDY. It's not SUPPOSED to be good for you.


1 stick softened (NOT melted) BUTTER
1 18 oz jar creamy peanut butter
1 lb powdered sugar
1 T vanilla extract

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 block paraffin

Cream together the peanut butter, butter and vanilla. You can use a food processor with the metal blade or a heavy duty spoon and bowl. I plan to try my KitchenAid mixer next time I make this. If you use a machine of any type it needs to have a heavy duty motor. Once you add the powdered sugar this becomes a very stiff dough.

Speaking of which, sieve the powdered sugar in about a cup at a time and mix in thoroughly, until you've added the entire pound.

Set aside - you can chill in the fridge if you'd like, I don't usually bother myself but some people seem to find this helpful.

You will form the peanut butter dough into approximately 1" balls.

The safer way to handle the next step is with a double boiler, but hardly anyone has one of these anymore. If you don't have a double boiler (and I don't), a small non-stick pan will do, but you MUST be careful with this. Do NOT walk off and leave this on the stove, and keep the temp fairly low, just warm enough to slowly melt the chocolate. The paraffin will actually aid in this - it makes the chocolate flow better and helps it melt more evenly.

So, in whatever pan you're using, melt the chocolate chips together with the paraffin. Stir to help it along.

When the chocolate/paraffin is melted and well-blended, use a pickle fork or fondue fork to spear the dough balls and dip them in the chocolate. I usually triple-dip - dip once, remove, swirl around to prevent dribbles, repeat 2 more times.

Set the now-dipped balls on a sheet with waxed paper. You can set in the freezer or fridge to fully set the chocolate. Once they've set up, you can smooth out the holes left by the dipping fork.

If you've used paraffin, once they're set you can put them in a large container piled on top of each other - if you skipped the paraffin, the chocolate coating may stick together on the balls and pull away from the peanut butter. You can layer them between sheets of wax paper if you like. Keep refrigerated to maintain their looks. Though if your household is anything like mine, they won't last long enough to make it to the fridge, LOL!

If you're in a hurry, you can press into a lipped cookie sheet (one with an edge) and pour the melted chocolate on top, then once its set up cut into 2" squares. Tastes just as good!