Sunday, February 28, 2010

A New and Improved Chocolate Chip Cookie

There are so many different recipes for chocolate chip cookies. There is, of course, the one you get off the back of the bag of chocolate chips. That is the one I had been primarily using. There is one I've tried where they advise you to put some dry instant pudding mix in the batter, but I felt that this produced cookies with a weird aftertaste. I've done "diet" chocolate chip cookies, swapping out some of the real butter with Smart Balance Butter Blend. Yeah, that one didn't work out too well, either. It seems like some things just aren't meant to be tampered with.

Until now, that is. I had been reading all about this recipe for chocolate chippers that had been created by Alton Brown. Alton is, of course, one of the few food personalities on TV that can actually keep Andy interested and engaged. I think it's because each episode is a sort of science experiment, where Alton goes on a quest to perfect something or other, and he is super educational about food. We even got to meet him nearly two years ago at a book signing, and we were very impressed with his patience with and dedication to his fans. He just seems like a cool guy all around.

Anyway, so I found out that he had done an episode of his show, Good Eats, where he made chocolate chip cookies three different ways. He had made a thin version, a puffy version, and a chewy version. Well, I just had to try the chewy version. I don't like my chocolate chip cookies to be crunchy. I like them to be soft and tender and melt in your mouth. That is exactly what you get with this cookie. They are absolutely delicious. I don't know exactly what component of the recipe makes them so soft, but I was intrigued by the use of bread flour rather than all-purpose. Also, he has you melt the butter rather than soften it, and use an egg and a yolk, rather than 2 eggs. Whatever the cause for the chewiness, I really dug these cookies, and the boys all did too. The only complaint I would have, if any, is that they didn't rise enough for me. They spread in the oven, and the chocolate chips became these lumps that stuck out on top of the flatt-ish cookies. Didn't affect the taste, though!

One last thing. Andy became fascinated with the fact that I stored the cookies with a slice of bread. It totally keeps the cookies moist and soft while in the tin. I didn't think it was that big a deal, but he kept going on and on like it was the greatest thing since, well, sliced bread!

The recipe for The Chewy can be found on Food Network's website, here. There are about 685 reviews, and the star rating average is 5 out of a possible 5. So they are definitely worth trying!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Success and a Kinda Failure

The above picture shows a mishy-mosh of baked goods I dabbled in over the weekend. I took a picture of both for two reasons. One, I wanted to show that I had one recipe that turned out quite successfully, and one that really turned out kinda terrible. Two, I was just too lazy to store these separately, so they went under the cake dome together and I just snapped a pic of both! It was fine, though. Anyway, the coffee cake was a recipe from my new Cooking Light Magazine.
It was for Sour Cream Coffee Cake, recipe found here, and I decided to take some liberties with it, so I didn't know what to expect when it came out of the oven. It was already made over by the magazine to be lower in fat and calories, but I lowered it even more. Where it said to use light sour cream, I used fat free. I used Smart Balance Butter Blend in place of real butter, and I omitted the nuts. Even with all those changes, this cake turned out incredibly moist, tender, and delicious. I was very happy with the results.

Those muffins, on the other hand, did not go over so well. I'd mentioned before that I've been making more baked goods because Evan loves them so much. I made these muffins specifically with him in mind. They were filled with oats, raisins, and were very low in sugar. Looking back, the small amount of sugar should probably have been a red flag, but I didn't think it seemed too odd. Turns out it was. They turned out a little weird. They look normal enough, I guess. They taste, um, okay-ish. But there is something sort of off about them. I guess if I had to sum it up, I'd say they were almost salty. Not necessarily a good thing for a muffin. I'm glad I tried out the recipe, though. Now I know what not to do!

Just as a final comment, I posted these pictures of my kids to show the stunning contrast between the one that hams it up for the camera now, and the one who has suddenly decided he hates having pictures taken of himself! Hope you enjoyed!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

That's Some Drunk Pasta!

There seems to be no greater happiness to me right now than to make something nutritious and tasty, and have one (or both!) of my kids gobble it up and love it. So I have been on something of a baking kick. I made muffins over the weekend, and much to my delight, Evan couldn't get enough of them! I'll have to make them again and post about them. Today, I decided to finally put the last of a box of clementines we've had to good use, and make more muffins.

Evan adored the muffins. Xander wouldn't even try them. They were Clementine Poppy Seed Muffins, which I thought was an intriguing and clever use of the clementine. They weren't something I would make every day, or crave in the middle of the night, but they were nice, solid muffins with a crunchy-ish top and a tender inside.

But enough about muffins. For our Valentine's Day dinner, Andy and I decided to try out a recipe for Drunken Tuscan Pasta, by Rachael Ray. Now, my feelings about Rachael are quite mixed. I have loved her, and I have hated her. At this point, I think the conflict I feel is due to the fact that while she annoys me, I can't help but like a good amount of her recipes. What can I say? She's the TV cook that first inspired me to drag my lazy butt into the kitchen and start making myself useful. I guess I kind of owe her.

This pasta dish was incredibly easy to make, pretty healthy (if you overlook the fact that the pasta was actually boiled in a combination of red wine and water), and delicious. That made it a winner for us! Don't worry, we didn't feed the kids this drunken pasta. I felt too weird giving them something cooked in that much wine. But Andy and I really enjoyed it, and we would definitely make it again. Here's the recipe.

Drunken Tuscan Pasta
Adapted from Rachael Ray
4 servings

1 (750 ml) bottle of red wine (such as Chianti)
coarse salt
1 lb. bucatini pasta
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. deli-sliced pancetta
3 portabella mushroom caps, thinly sliced
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
red pepper flakes (a couple pinches)
4-5 cups chopped kale (you could use swiss chard, spinach, or escarole)
black pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Pour the whole bottle of wine into a large pasta pot; fill the rest of the way with water, set it on the stove to boil, add salt when boiling, and then add pasta. Cook pasta to al dente; reserve at least a cup of pasta water before draining.
2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, then chopped pancetta. Brown pieces until crispy and golden brown, then reserve on a paper towel-lined plate.
3. Add mushrooms to the same skillet. Season with the rosemary and then cook for 6-8 minutes, until deeply golden. Push mushrooms to the side, and add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for another minute, then toss mushrooms with garlic mixture.
4. Add chopped greens to the pan, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and wilt them down. Once the greens have wilted, add the reserved pasta liquid, 1/3 cup at a time, and cook to reduce a little.
5. Add well-drained pasta to the skillet. Add pancetta back to the pan, along with a handful of the parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and toss the pasta for a minute to allow it to absorb liquid. Add more liquid if necessary. Serve with more cheese on the side.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

There's Peanut Butter in My Soup

I have been cooking more and more one-pot meals lately. We've had lots of soup, lots of chili, some stews. Up until now I had always just used my beat-up old large pasta pot for all of these tasks. That is, until my darling hubby came home one day with a gift for me!
Here is my brand new Dutch oven. I am absolutely loving it so far. I am not used to having a big, heavy pot like this! It keeps stuff hot forever! It's such a beautiful thing.

So recently we were watching Alton Brown cooking on TV, and he was preparing a soup that was African in origin. It contained boiled peanuts, if I recall correctly. This is something that intrigued us instantly. I mean, it sounds like something that should be good, but it still is a scary concept. It reminded me, though, that there is a recipe for a similar soup in my Ellie Krieger cookbook, The Food You Crave, that seemed worth trying. It's called Sweet and Spicy Peanut Soup, which is pretty much a great way to sum it up. It is a broth-based soup, with assorted veggies, and some cayenne and black peppers. You simmer the soup for a while and then you blend it until smooth. Once you transfer it back to the pot, you top it off with peanut butter and honey. Garnish with scallions, and you're ready to serve.
I forgot to get a picture of the soup before it was pureed, but you'll just have to take my word for it that it looked completely different than the above picture, which was taken post-peanut butter. It just looked like a hearty vegetable soup. But once you add that peanut butter, it changes into a rich, reddish-brown concoction that looks velvety and decadent.
We added some bean sprout to the garnish, as well. The glare in this picture is horrible, but I think you get the idea. We really loved this soup, and we were proud that we were brave and ventured out of our comfort zone. I actually thought the sweet potato in the soup was a more dominant flavor than the peanut butter; the peanut butter makes it taste rich. It was very filling, too; a warming, comforting winter meal! The recipe for it can be found here, although it is called Nutty Sweet Potato Soup on Food Network's website. It is worth the gamble!