Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Ultimate" Chocolate Chip Cookies?

One of the reasons for starting this blog was to cut down on the number of random recipes floating around the house. The cookie recipe linked below is one of them. It's from the back of the 5 lb. package of Gold Medal all-purpose flour.

You see, I'm always always game to try a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. If I could only have one type of cookies for the rest of my life, I wouldn't mind as long as they were chocolate chip cookies. They are the perfect cookie. So, I love trying different recipes for them.

So, here is the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe  It's cute how the names keep trying to one-up each other: The Best, The Best-Ever, Perfect, The Greatest, The Ultimate, and so on. Where will it end? Who knows. These were really pretty good... I'd even say, very good.

I still like my old standby recipe from pages 260-261 (practically stuck together) of the BHG Complete Step-By-Step Cook Book (1978). Cleverly titled "Chocolate Chip Cookies" (so you don't realize how perfectly best-ever ultimate they are).

And between you and me, it's kinda hard to beat the Toll-House recipe on the back of the chocolate chips package when you come right down to it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Tale Of Two Soupies

A tale of two freezer soups
It's been my observation that a great many people with a public school education from a particular decade or two, were required to read Charles Dickens in their Jr. High/Middle School English classes. The Dickens novels they read varied with the school, the year, the teacher, and the city, and it became something of a party-lull conversation starter for me. "So, which Charles Dickens novel did you have to read?". The other person would look at me strangely for a moment or two* while it sunk in, and then you'd see the understanding in their eyes as they nodded and replied, "Great Expectations... how 'bout you?". If they hadn't been required/forced to read Dickens, then I knew that they were much younger than myself or they'd had alternative schooling (which meant they were much much younger than myself). People much older were usually obvious to spot and didn't need to answer silly questions in order for me to guess their age-range. But if necessary, I would just fall back on the "Who was your favorite James Bond" or "What was your first rock concert" line of questioning** to instantly peg them.

For the record, my English class read Charles Dickens' A Tale Of Two Cities. As I was forced to read it under duress (much preferring my beloved Ray Bradbury paperbacks), my brain absorbed precious little from my requisite Dickens. I wonder if I should reread it. I've come to appreciate Dickens more over the years, and it might make my English teacher smile (wherever she is). That would be nice for her, since she'd no doubt be frowning a great deal over my poor grammar and sentence structure. Ah well, you can lead a horse to water... right? Yeah, that was me. A stubborn horse suffering through page after page of A Tale Of Two Cities. It was a pretty dreary tale. Downright depressing as I recall. There were lots of downtrodden peasants and ignoble noblemen, tragedy, revenge, knitting needles and guillotines. Quelle horreur! Not the sort of thing I want to be reading right now.

The weather outside is frightful enough; I want comfort and warmth from my reading matter as well as from the meals I prepare. Homemade soup really is the best thing for these cold and blustery days, but I couldn't decide which of these two soups to make. Even indecision is a decision, so I decided not to decide... and made both. Like a lot of soups, their ingredient lists were not long, nor were their preparations complex. Peasant food (or as I like to call it, "pleasant food"). Flavorful, filling, and cheap. And (a drum roll if you please)... I didn't have to go to the store for anything! Which is just fine with me, since it's absolutely raining buckets. In other words... perfect soup weather, regardless of which one we decide to have tonight.  Vive la difference!

Roasted Garlic And Potato Soup from
See also: Roasted Garlic Soup on page 66 of How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

My Notes: Used one small head of garlic, dried thyme, 4 sm-med red potatoes, a chunk of Romano rind. Had no chives. Salt & pepper to taste. Tasted good but needed something more. Added a couple of glugs of vermouth. That really made it, adding another layer flavor and deepening the whole. Recipe didn't say when to add cheese/rind, so I added it with the potatoes. Potatoes took WAY longer than 10 minutes to soften. More like 40 minutes.

Soppressata Pasta Fagioli from
See also: Pasta e Fagioli on page 52 of How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

My Notes: Made this without the soppressata. Used a little oo with the onions. Sliced the garlic cloves in half and fished them out later. Omitted the pepper flakes. Used 2-14.5 cans of diced tomatoes. Used canned chicken stock. Added 2 tsp Sundance dried herb blend. Salt & pepper to taste. Pre-cooked navy beans in the slow-cooker. Used 16 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked separately then added in when dishing soup into the bowls.

*I get this a lot.

**Roger Moore and The Go Go's, respectively. Now you know everything.
Quelle horreur!: French, meaning "How awful!"  Pronounced: Kel Uh-Ruhr (or something to that effect).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pasta Bolognese At The Clean Plate Club

I was determined to try-try-again with the whole homemade pasta thing. This time using an actual recipe and my fantabulous new food processor (thanks Santa!). But what to put on top of it? Between you and me, butter and Parmesan cheese would be just fine. But homemade noodles deserve something less spartan than that. And they certainly deserve something more special than our regular old everyday spaghetti sauce. Kind of like when you get new furniture and suddenly the walls need to be painted, and then the carpeting looks so... boring, old, dated, shabby. It's a universal law that one new thing begets a need for another.

Well, we happened to have on hand most of what we needed to make a meat sauce, so that's what we did. Yes, we. Hubs and I tag-teamed this thing. I relayed the steps for the sauce to him while I rolled out the pasta dough, and he did all the rest. And a fantastic job he did of it too. We had a blast making up cooking terms a la the BBC Posh Nosh* series. Silly things like: "Irritate the carrots and celery...", or "Thoroughly confuse the tomato paste with the ground meat...". This was such an easygoing meal to prepare, from start to finish (it helped that we weren't in a hurry).

In order to balance all the awesomeness of the food, Hubs brought out our favorite Sangiovese from the cellar**. Whoa! Real wine... from a bottle? What's the occasion? Well, keeping in mind that universal law, he said, "homemade pasta with homemade sauce called for something a little more special than wine poured from a plastic spigot on the side of a cardboard container".***

We absolutely enjoyed every bit of this meal: the making of it, the eating of it, and the talking about how awesome it was afterward. Oh, and the wine was pretty great too. Salute!

Big Fat Bolognese from Joy The Baker
My Notes: I used half of a container of mirepoix that I had in the freezer (about two cups). Did not slice the garlic cloves, peeled them and tossed them in whole. Didn't measure the olive oil. Alas, we had no pancetta or even bacon. Used 1-lb ground beef and 1-lb JimmyDean ground pork sausage, 2 x 14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes, Vermouth, dried thyme + dried herb blend. All other ingredients as listed.  

Followed recipe instructions as written. After an hour of simmering, sauce had not reduced at all. Took off lid and simmered for another hour. I knew the extra cooking time wouldn't hurt it. After it reduced some, I skimmed a bit of the fat from the surface. Added salt, pepper and cream, then simmered some more. Was way worth the wait. Leftovers filled two big jars (froze one for later).

*Posh Nosh was a series of 10-minute shorts from BBC, that brilliantly lampooned television cooking shows. Watch episode #6 on youtube... then when you've stopped laughing, watch the rest (eight total).
**Coat closet.
***Yep, true confessions. Boxed wine. Don't judge us... we really do have good taste in wine, but times are tough all over. At least it was a mid-range box.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ode To A Culture That I Love But Can Not Claim Ancestry In

Things I will need if I ever make pasta from scratch again:
  • A six-week upper body intensive workout prior to pasta making
  • Brakes on my kitchen cart so I don't have to chase it around the kitchen while kneading pasta dough
  • An anti-inflammatory
  • An Italian Grandmother by my side, shaking her head and saying "Tesoro, let me show you."
  • My head examined for not using my Kitchenaid mixer (hello, dough hook) or food processor
  • A heavier rolling pin
  • More than one CD repeating on the stereo*
This makes it sound like I don't recommend making your own pasta from scratch, and/or that I am never going to attempt it again. Both summations would be wrong. Since writing the above, something has happened to me. It could be the release of some sort of hormones or endorphins** in my system that make me feel all loopy and in love with the pasta-making process, or it could be that I just finished cooking and eating the results of all that hard work. I made egg-noodles! How cool is that? Ask me tomorrow when I can't use my hands for all the pain and swelling going on.

Below is a list of links to various pasta recipes online. Maybe I should say varying instead. For something with essentially two ingredients, the ratios vary widely, as do the suggested cooking times and dough-handling techniques. Some recipes say to knead the dough like you would bread dough, others specifically say not to knead it like bread dough. Some say to roll the dough out gently while others say to do it vigorously. Who's right? Your Italian Grandmother is. Don't have one? Just pick a recipe and follow it. I have a sneaky suspicion that they'll all work out just fine. Seriously. Did I make mistakes? Oh yeah. Did it still taste like rich and wonderful fresh pasta? Uh huh. I just kept up the following mantra: "You can't overwork this dough. You can't overwork this dough. You can't overwork this dough."

I will definitely make fresh homemade pasta again. Why not? It's cheap to make, tastes great, you can freeze it, or you can dry it and keep it in the pantry. Not to mention the sense of accomplishment, which I have to say is pretty huge. Next time I'm trying one of the whole-egg versions though. And if I'm ever faced with the challenge of what to do with 14 egg yolks again, it's a safe bet that I'll be making lemon curd.

Homemade And Handmade Pasta from Joy The Baker
Basic Egg Pasta Dough from Jamie Oliver via MSNBC
Fresh All-Egg-Yolk Pasta from Busy Nothings blog
Seven Egg Yolk Fresh Pasta from French Laundry via Evie Eats Everything blog
Rich Man's Golden Pasta from Lidia Bastianich for Cooking Light April 2008 via
Pasta Fresca from Cafe Lago via
How To Make Egg Noodles at Saveur magazine
Fresh Pasta on page 92, Martha Stewart Living magazine, April 2000
Homemade Noodles on page 218, BHG Complete Step-By-Step Cookbook, 1978

My Notes: I used 12 egg yolks, 5 cups of flour, a splash of olive oil and a splash of water. Did not get anywhere near all the flour incorporated into the dough, and I ended up adding a whole egg to the dry shaggy mess to try and salvage it. It came out o.k. and tasted good. Not fabulous, but not horrible for a first attempt. Dried the rest and cooked it up a couple of nights later. Ugh. Big mistake. Back to the drawing board.

My Notes (1/10/10): Used the Café Lago Pasta Fresca recipe for amounts and for their stellar suggestion of using a food processor! I barely had to knead the dough at all. They should have called it "No-Knead Pasta". After letting it rest for 45 minutes, I cut it into quarters, then rolled it out and sliced it up into long strips. It was gorgeous: it looked gorgeous, it felt gorgeous and it tasted gorgeous. It made me want to make fresh pasta every day. Put what we didn't cook into the fridge. It was just as good cooked up the next day. Life is good.

Tesoro: Italian term of endearment meaning "treasure".
*To get in the mood, and tap into any hidden Italian-ness in my genes, I put The Hot Frittatas: Caffé Liscio CD on repeat. It provided the perfect soundtrack for playing with pasta. I think it's important to engage all the senses, and besides, it just made the whole thing seem a lot more fun.
**or en-dolphins as we like to say.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Brown Sugar Angel Food Cake with Blackberry Sauce

Page 509 and 573 of The Martha Stewart Cookbook: Collected Recipes for Every Day, 1995

My Notes: I happened to have cake flour in my pantry (go figure), and needed a simple dessert for a pot-luck. There was an initial false-start, when (panicking over the time), I completely forgot the name of this cake and mixed regular sugar into the sifted flour. I guess that would technically be considered an illegal substitution and not a false-start. 

Once back on track, this cake went together really easily and turned out quite tasty. The blackberry sauce took a lot longer to cook than the recipe said, but it may have been in part due to the small pan I was using. I forgot that things will reduce/thicken a lot faster in a larger (wider) pan. Did not use the liqueur in the sauce. It also was such a strong flavored sauce that it completely overwhelmed the subtle flavor of the cake itself. 

I didn't split the cake horizontally and spread the whipped cream and berries inside, like the recipe suggested; no time for that. Instead, I doubled the whipped cream and served everything separately. Call it deconstructed if you want, and I'll just call it yummy. I had forgotten how much I love "from scratch" angel food cakes. Now, what to do with fourteen egg yolks...