Need a Recipe for National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day? Here’s One!

chocolate_chip_cookies
Incredibly yummy home-made chocolate chip cookies

PULL UP A CHAIR, this will take a while. Chocolate chip cookies to me are like coffee.  They are so simple that they’ve been made for hundreds of years, and yet, like coffee, the methods to make, the final product, and their essence and qualities are the subject of endless debate.   Do you like your chocolate chip cookies thick and chewy or thin and crispy? Thick and crispy?   Do you like super-sweet, milk-chocolate chips or the more traditional semi-sweet?  Big or little?  How about the cookie dough?  That used to my favorite thing until I wised up, and quit eating it from the roll AND started to make it myself.  For about 7 years, I have engaged in the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.   And I have concluded one thing, categorically: it does not exist.  It is like finding the perfect cup of coffee.   For everyone, from the cup to the temperature, from what goes in it to the surrounds in which it is consumed, it is different for everyone.

That being said, the Nestle Toll House Recipe that’s on the back of the Nestle chips bag (I use Ghiradelli) is totally solid, and will produce very eatable cookies.  There are some tricks I learned that are valuable, such as using salt, using more vanilla, the amount of brown sugar vs. white sugar and whether you melt the butter or chill the cookies. In my years, I have come up with a few guidelines that I keep in mind for anytime I step up to the Kitchenaid.

  1. I will not use chunks.  If you want to eat chunks of chocolate go ahead, the chips are the perfect size for just the right amount of chocolate-cookie ratio.  The chunks are too much for me, and overwhelm the experience.
  2. “Extras.”Don’t even ask me about SHANDAS like including m&ms, peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips or especially WALNUTS. Those things have their place, but not in my chocolate chip cookies. Really, don’t ask.  I’ll delete your email and block you forever. Or maybe I won’t do those things but you’ll be on my list.
  3. Heavy pour the sugar and the vanilla.  These ingredients are the foundations of the cookie, and I think keeping strictly to the amounts called for in the recipe is for bean-counters. Lay it on!  (Same goes for butter).
  4. Combinations are good and encouraged! (Except where #2 is concerned).  Use cake flour and/or bread flour and definitely use brown and white sugar. Sometimes I will throw a few milk chocolate chips or even darker chips in with the semi-sweets.
  5. Salt is a must!  Nothing brings out the flavor of the chocolate like salt.  I am a believer.  But you can overdo it. It has to be enough to tickle the savory taste buds, but not so much that someone can easily recognize it. I generally use a heavy teaspoon of kosher salt.  Some people like to add sea salt on top at the end, but I think that’s overkill.
  6. Refrigerate your cookie dough and Use balls instead of slices. Much to my chagrin, I have found that this helps with the baking of uniform cookies that don’t spread too much and keep their chewy texture.

You can and must go to Cook’s Illustrated (and pay) so you can study their masterpiece, “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies” which is required reading if you are going to make manifest your serious quest for chocolate cookies.   You should know the science of making chocolate chip cookies, even though the truth is that a poorly constructed, fresh-from the oven chocolate chip cookie will be hungrily gobbled up no matter what.

I use The Cook’s Illustrated recipe as a base here, but with a few modifications. They suggest mixing and stopping but I don’t do that because I don’t have the patience.   Almost always, cookies are the answer to an urgent need, not a well-in-advance need, like bread, so my goal is to get them into the oven as fast as I can.  Sometimes I don’t chill the dough.   That’s life.

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick is 8 tablespoons).(Melted and cooled)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • At least 1 and 1/4 cups of chocolate chips, I like Ghiradelli semi-sweet.
    (Add 1-2 tablespoons of light corn syrup for a crispier cookie).
  1. Melt the butter, set aside to cool.
  2. Cream sugars, and vanilla and eggs. Add butter (when cool).
  3. Mix dry ingredients well, and include the chips.
  4. Mix everything together but DON’T OVER MIX.
  5. Wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Heat your oven 350 degrees. Line your cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Make balls and place on tray.
  7. Bake cookies for at least 10 minutes, and maybe up to 14.   Unless your mouth is immune to heat, let the cookies cool for at least 5 minutes so they retain a form you can pick up.  Eat them.  Love them.
  8. Celebrate.

 

The Kale Caesar Salad Secret of Seattle

Kale Caesar Salad Seattle
Massaging the kale is the secret to unlocking its full yumminess.

In 2013, I went to Seattle for three nights and had occasion to eat a Kale caesar salad not once or twice, but three times.  And every time it was fantastic beyond my wildest expectations.   How, I wondered, could they make Kale, the Castor Oil of salad greens, so delicious that I wanted to eat it every night?   I kept crawling the Internets but could never find anything.  Then I found two different recipes, one from Emmy Cooks (which was adapted from the Skillet in Seattle, where I first had the salad) and Serious Eats.   Emmy Cooks is nearly perfect except it left out parmesan; Serious Eats called for anchovies. Both of them call for croutons, which I skip because I am in constant war against carbs, but between them I figured out one great recipe.   Though it is common to cut the kale into ribbons, I don’t do that since I buy the ‘washed and cut’ bag from Whole Foods which I don’t feel the need to cut.   The secret is to massage the kale with olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt about 30 minutes to an hour before serving.  This makes a HUGE difference in the texture of the kale, which most people remember as plant-like with an unforgiving chew.    Once you’ve broken it down via olive oil massage, it is pleasantly crunch like the crisp end of a romaine, which is why it makes such a perfect Caesar.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • The juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese, (half sprinkled on the kale, and half for the dressing)
  • salt and pepper to taste, but definitely pepper

I originally used the Cuisinart for this dressing, but soon discovered that because only the garlic needed “smashing” that crushing it with a press meant I could hand whisk the dressing, which makes it faster and easier to clean up. You may find you need to adjust any of the given ingredients, particularly the lemon and parmesan, depending on consistency preferences.   Very often I will try to use less mayonnaise, as it is the least heart-healthy ingredient of the bunch.   I also find that if you oil up your kale, you can go without too much dressing.    Lastly, a few times I’ve had the oiled-up kale in bowl, people have come by, grabbed a piece and said ‘delicious,’ indicating that the dressing may be unnecessary?   Certainly from a caloric load it is. I will never ever go back to romaine.  Unless, that is, it’s grilled.  Thought it’s pretty obvious, you can see my recipe for Grilled Romaine Lettuce here. 

A Few of My Favorite Ingredients

Baking ingredients
The trifecta of happiness for baking: Kate’s Butter, King Arthur Flour and Vietnamese cinnamon

For me, there is no doubt that great products come from great ingredients.  Therefore, I have started to develop a preference for things as I moved from a naive beginner to a more experienced occupant of the kitchen. Most of the things in my kitchen come from Whole Foods, Penzey’s a regular supermarket or a local farm stand.   There are a lot of ingredients, especially for baking, that you can practically anywhere. Kate’s Butter.  I have used a lot of different butters, but I find I like the creaminess, the non-greasiness and flavor to be the best. I used to use only salted butter, but now I use unsalted, since most recipes call for that.  I figure, I can always add all the salt I want anyway. Love that they’re local to New England!  I want to support my local purveyors. Vietnamese Cinnamon.  Seems weird to have a preference here, but one day when my supermarket was out I tried another kind (I believe it was Indian) and immediately upon opening the bottle recoiled in horror.  This was not the cinnamon I knew– what was it?   For me, there is no substitute.  I do like the 365 organic, but I believe the country of origin is the most important thing for me. King Arthur Flour.  Simply, the best.  I have read countless blogs and articles about other types of flours, and obviously, it’s a combination of function, experience and availability.  For me, KA is the champ, in all versions; all-purpose, bread, cake and whole wheat white.   Not only that, they’re local to New England and their web site rocks.  I have gotten a number of go-to recipes there.

World’s Best Chocolate Cake Recipe

Best chocolate cake recipe
These four pieces are all I could save to take a picture of. This cake never ever lasts.

Of all the things I make for people, this recipe is probably the single most requested.   I must admit, that I got the recipe from a web site, ingeniously titled “The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe.”  The recipe there is nearly perfect.  Yet I felt I had to make a few modifications from the original to make it the cake I wanted. I wanted my chocolate cake to taste like the sheet cakes we get from various party stores.  They were so moist, but with a distinct crumb that made you insane with chocolate cake happiness.  So many of the other recipes I tried were dry; too chocolatey; too fudgy; too wet.

Cake Ingredients

  • 2 Cups flour
  • 2 Cups Sugar  (I always use a very, very heavy  cup).
  • 1/2 Cup Hershey’s Cocoa, 1/4 cup Hershey’s Dark Cocoa
  • 2 Teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Prepare a 9×13 pan by spraying with PAM and laying in parchment paper.  I find this invaluable to getting the cake at the end, because I simply flip it so I can frost the flat side.

At Best Chocolate Cake, the recipe says “put everything into the bowl and mix.”   Years of baking experiments have taught me you mix the dry ingredients separate from the wet ingredients.

So, I start with the sugar, oil and mix.  Then, add the eggs one a time and mix till everything is satiny and creamy.   Add the buttermilk and continue to mix.

Mix the dry ingredients separately and after stopping the mixer, add them all (including the chips).   Mix until just barely combined; DO NOT OVERMIX.  Overmixing will ruin a cake (or muffin, or anything).

Add the boiling water (I do this by boiling water in a pot, then quickly adding it to the measuring cup and into the bowl).  Mix briefly, pour into baking pan.   Then, I mix in the vanilla.  I know that sounds crazy.  But it works so like a superstitious baseball player, I just keep doing it the same way.

Bake at 300 F for about one hour.  I have found that this can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, such as how hot your oven runs; how dry you like your cake; how thin your baking pan is.   You can test it, but the cake has a high ‘deflating’ factor, meaning when you test the middle of the cake, you cause an unappealing sinkhole to appear.   Of course, this is mostly solved by frosting the other side, but basically leave it alone for 1 hour no matter what.

Take it out; let it sit until it cools, about 30 minutes.   Flip out and frost using your favorite recipe or my adapted version of King Arthur Flour’s quick buttercream frosting.  The only difference is I add salt and double the vanilla.  Yum.

“No Secrets” Brisket Recipe

Brisket, best brisket, passover brisket, Jewish holidays dinner, beef brisket, pot roast
Simple, flavorful traditional brisket requires no dried fruit, ketchup or soda

Whether you call it Pot Roast or Brisket it seems everyone has a recipe handed down from their Mom, that has a “secret.”   They are all so proud and mysterious: “I can’t tell you what it is.”   After years of experiments with everything from Manaschevitz wine to Heinz Ketchup, I can now conclude that my very favorite treatment of this piece of meat is the practically the simplest.   No ketchup, no wine, no dried fruit; no soda pop, no bay leaves.  Really, this has practically no extras; no secrets.  The reward:  the most incredible, flavorful, fall-apart-delicious brisket you will ever have.  Besides the obvious inspirations of my grandmother and mother-in-law, I found Arthur Schwartz’s web site very helpful.

Ingredients

  • 1 Flat cut brisket, about 5 lbs
  • 3-4 yellow or vidalia onions
  • 4-5 carrots
  • 4-5 ribs of celery
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt and pepper

Start with your cut of brisket.  I like to salt both sides, then score both sides with a serrated knife.   Then, I rub both sides of the brisket with olive oil, garlic and pepper.  And don’t skimp on any of them.

Prepare your dutch oven; I have a 6-quart Le Creuset pan.   I make everything in it; and that is why I can only use a 5-lb brisket.  Anything bigger won’t fit.  The most important ingredients are onions and carrots, onions impart the deep, savory flavor, and carrots the sweetness.  The celery adds a subtle flavor but you could leave it out if you don’t have any.  Some people add potatoes and other root vegetables; I don’t.   Onions, carrots and celery.  That’s it, and in that volume order.  (You can and should salt the vegetables).

Lay your vegetables at the bottom of the pot.  Brown your brisket in a hot fry-pan.  I used to use my perfectly seasoned cast-iron skillet, until one day it mysteriously broke from being overheated.  When you have done both sides, and if you have the patience and coordination, the top and bottom fat edge of the meat; place it in the dutch oven on top of the vegetables.  Double-layer aluminum foil, cover, and place in your oven for four hours at 350 degrees.

When 4 hours is up, take the pot out of the oven. You will see why you don’t need an added liquid— the vegetables and meat create a delicious savory, soupy concoction often called ‘vetch.’  If you feel you need more liquid, I recommend about a cup of chicken stock– it is sufficiently mild as not to change the flavor.  But you don’t need it.

Carefully lift the brisket onto a board or cutting surface, and slice thin (you have to slice against the grain, which is a whole other post), then season to taste (might need more salt at this point), ladle with the drippings and place back in the oven for about an hour, or until your guests start complaining from delicious smells causing hunger.

Serve with rice, pasta, potatoes or on a big slab of bread.

 

Simple Pulled Pork Recipe

good pulled pork is simple
Aside from the pork butt, these are the only ingredients you’ll need

If you are looking for an easy pulled pork recipe, you’ve come to the right place. Now I am not, for a minute, claiming that this is better than the hundreds of other recipes for pulled pork there. There are those who have worked tirelessly on their own rub recipes, experimented with types of wood, smoking times or basting sauces, and generally suffered for their bbq art. I respect those people, and I certainly want to eat with those people.

But that wasn’t for me. I don’t have a smoker, I don’t have patience, and I have two children so I can’t tend to a piece of meat all day, no matter how much I want to. This led me to research “oven pulled pork” and found that most of them had three things in common: 1. Rub the night before 2. Cook for 7-9 hours on a low temperature (250-300 degrees) 3. Use some kind of sugar. With this in mind, I put together my own pulled pork recipe. It could not be simpler.

Ingredients

  • 1 Pork Butt (you can use pork shoulder), about 4-5 lbs
  • 1 bottle, Divine Swine Rub
  • 1 bottle root beer, I use Virgil’s
  • 1 bottle BBQ sauce, I use Blue Ribbon BBQ
  • Select vegetables: onions, celery, carrots

The day/night before you’re going to cook it, I used the Divine Swine Rub, that’s available from their web site or Whole Foods. The thing about BBQ seems to be that a dry rub must actually be rubbed into the meet, so be prepared to get your hands porked.

When you’re done, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it away. Forget about it. Don’t think about it.

The next day, I chopped up one vidalia or yellow onion, a few stalks of celery and a carrot. Place them in the bottom of a dutch-oven. I have a 6-quart Le Creuset.  Don’t fret about slicing or chopping or dicing; I have traditionally discarded the cooked vegetables afterwards.

Using a little stand (I am using the little metal prop that came with my wok to uphold the stream tray), place the pulled pork above the cut up vegetables. Then, pour the entire bottle of root beer over the pork. Seal/cover the dutch oven with two sheets of aluminum foil. Place into the oven at 300 degrees for about 8 hours. (You can put it in at 250 for 9 hours if you’re going to be away longer).

When done, remove the cover. The fat can easily be lifted off, and you want to then put the meaty pieces in a separate oven-safe dish. You may note that the meat “pulls” apart very easily. I use at least one fork for this process, and pull any big pieces into smaller strands of meat. When done, ladle or pour the BBQ sauce over it, and mix.

Keep warm, 170-200 until serving. Right before serving, add more sauce to moistness preference and taste. Every time I serve this, it has been a big hit. It keeps well (for sandwiches the next day) and with its low cost per pound, it is a very economical meal. I serve it with cole slaw, slider buns, pickles and maybe a starch like chips or rice. Enjoy!