Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bloggie awards

Looks like I've been nominated for best teen blog from the bloggie awards!!! Shoot me a vote. Thanks a bunch!


"The only way to ever be incredible is to act incredible"

wise words from the kitchen

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think the Ultimate Chocolate Chip cookie is something I've been searching for ever since I was five years old. I thought I had found it with Nestle slice and bake- my definition of homemade at the time. The search trailed off for a while until just last year, when I started high school. At lunch you could buy the most delicious fresh-baked cookies. For a while I was excited for lunch everyday. I virtually gulped down my sandwich so that I could end my meal with one soft, chewy, chocolaty, climax.

I look back on those days and wonder why I succumbed to cafeteria chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookies that were, in reality no more homemade than Nestle slice and bake. I'm proud to say that I can now create a cookie that I believe is much tastier than anything Nestle can mass produce. A cookie that I can truthfully say, is the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever tasted.

To create an "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie" for yourself, you must first determine your preferences. I'm really not a big fan of crunchy or cakey cookies. I like em soft and chewy, and to prepare them like so, I followed some principles Alton Brown describes on his show. Alton's show altered the Tollhouse recipe to create chewy cookies. I tried his recipe first.

To make his cookies chewier, Brown uses bread flour rather than all-purpose. The higher protein content of the bread flour allows for more gluten. Gluten is chewy. Bread flour can likewise hold a lot more moisture than all-purpose. More moisture=chewier cookie. Rather than creaming the butter with the sugar, Brown melts the butter before combining with the sugar. Unmelted, butter is an emulsion of butterfat, milk solids and water. Melting the butter allows these three components to separate, therefore allowing the flour to mix with the water from the butter and create that chewy gluten I mentioned earlier. Brown also uses a high ratio of brown sugar to granulated sugar. Brown sugar is coated in molasses, molasses loves water, we want more water. Finally, Brown uses one egg and one yolk, as opposed to two whole eggs. Egg whites are pure protein, and when they coagulate, they dry up baked goods. "That's just what they do" says Alton. The fat in the egg yolk helps to lubricate the cookies, and keeps them from drying out.

Alton's recipe works phenomenally, but Internet research led me to this recipe, seemingly preferred by cookie enthusiasts. Many people seemed to like the taste of these cookies better, but preferred the texture of chewier cookies. Hey! with all the principles I now knew about creating chewier cookies, why not alter this recipe to create chewier cookies. And so I did.

The cookies came out delicious, but they could be further altered to my preference. I really prefer cutting up chocolate to using chocolate chips or chunks. When you cut chocolate from a bar, not all the chocolate comes off in big chunks, some comes off in tiny slivers. These sliver melt in with the batter when cooked, and create a kind of underground network of chocolate through the cookie. I much prefer this to just having a few spots of chocolate in a cookie. I also thought that the Martha Stewart recipe asked for too much chocolate. 12 oz is a lot! I only used 8 oz.
I love nuts in baked goods. The flavor, but mostly the texture adds a whole new dimension to food. I added four ounces of chopped pecans to the cookies.

I like my cookies pretty big and I found that baking at 375 browned the edges of my cookies before the cookie finished cooking. I baked mine at 325 for 18 minutes and they came out perfect.

Finally, the New York Times came out with an article in July about their quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. They claimed that allowing the batter to sit in the fridge for a few days before baking, hydrated the batter leading to a better consistency. I tested this and found that performing this extra step led to a more uniform cookie. By uniform I mean the flavors really melded together. I slightly preferred these cookies, but it is unlikely that when I want some chocolate chip cookies, I'm going to wait 36 hours for a cookie that tastes only slightly better. What's more, I gave a few friends a blind tasting comparing cookies that were baked regularly, to cookies that sat for 36 hours in the fridge, and 4 out of 4 said they preferred the former.

The one on the left was allowed to sit for 36 hours before baking. The one on the right wasn't.

So here it is. My recipe for my ultimate chocolate chip cookies, using Alton Brown's principles, adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe.
2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large whole egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chunks cut from a semisweet bar.
4 oz. chopped pecans
fleur de sel or other fine salt.

1) Combine the melted butter with the sugar over medium speed in a stand mixer.
2)Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda.
3) Add the egg and yolk, and vanilla extract to the stand mixer.
4) Very slowly add your flour.
5) Add the chocolate and pecans and mix until combined.
6)Chill the batter thoroughly in the fridge.
7) Preheat the oven to 325
8) Scoop the batter in huge, even, spoonfuls onto parchment paper.
9) Sprinkle with fleur de sel or other fine salt.
10) Bake for 18 minutes.
11) Cool for 15 then enjoy!
Note: If you are planning to eat all the cookies right away, you may want to use 1 cup or brown sugar and 1/2 cup of white sugar and/or 2 eggs instead of 1 egg and one yolk . This will give the cookies more structure right out of the oven but will make them not as chewy after a day or so.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Comfort Food: Macaroni and Cheese

Whenever I do poorly in one of my strong suits, I get mad. Midterm week just ended and some of my test grades have been a big wake-up call. My math grade was sub-par. I'll be pretty annoyed about that and motivated to do well for the next few days, but that interest will trail off quickly. English, on the other hand, is a different story. English is my thing; the subject I'm naturally good at. For the midterm we had to write a few short essays in class. I thought I had killed it (meaning did very well), but I didn't.
I saw my grade then looked back on my essay today. The teacher's mark was correct. The essay was full of ideas and sentences and words that were too complex. They didn't make sense. I had tried too hard to come up with brilliant ideas. I should've just kept it simple. I feel like Marcel from season two of top chef, or the Paul Liebrant of a few years ago, or any chef who has tried too hard to create great food. The answer lies in simplicity.That is why for this blog post, I've kept it simple; no big sentences, no big words, nothing about fancy frou frou French food. I leave you with a simple dish that anyone can relate to, and that is probably the best way to comfort you after a poor English grade.
Alton Brown's Macaroni and Cheese
12 oz English Cheddar
2 cups elbow macaroni
3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
1 Tbs dry mustard
1 Tbs paprika
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 bay leaf
3 cups whole milk
1 egg
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
additional 1/4 cup butter

preheat oven to 350

1)Cook macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente (about 6 minutes)

2) Cook 3 tbs butter over medium heat until bubbling subsides.
3)Whisk in 3 tbs flour and let cook for about 3 minutes to achieve a nice blond color.
4) Whisk in mustard powder, paprika, onions, bay leaf and 1 tsp salt.

5) Slowly whisk in the 3 cups of milk.

6) Continue whisking and bring liquid to a simmer to thicken, then remove from heat.
7) Beat an egg in a separate bowl.

8) Temper the egg by adding a few tbs of the sauce to the bowl with the egg while whisking quickly.

9)Whisking quickly, add the egg mixture back into the original sauce.

10) Whisk in about 3/4 of the cheese, then add the noodles.
11) Place the whole mixture in a round corning ware.

12) Melt the addition 1/4 cup butter then mix with the panko.

13) Add this panko mixture and the remaining cheese to the top

14) Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

If you are feeling extra decadent, let the macaroni and cheese thicken overnight, break it into pieces the size of a card deck (no need to be exact), dredge it in flour then egg, then more panko, then deep fry these slabs in 375 degree oil for a few minutes until golden brown and crispy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pancakes in the morn

I was talking to my friend, planning a sleepover. It was a Saturday night. He told me to come over soon, but I missed that. I was already thinking about breakfast the next morning. I realized I had buttermilk in my house, and as mom and I were walking out the door, I grabbed the b-milk and my recipe booklet, ensuring a good Sunday breakfast. I slept much better that night with buttermilk fairies and thoughts of warm pancakes dancing in my head.

2 cups AP Flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 beaten eggs
2 tbs melted butter

1) Combine all wet ingredients.

2) Combine all dry ingredients

3) Add wet to dry and stir until just combined (lumps will melt out later)

4) Cook in butter over medium heat until golden brown on both sides.

Top Chef posting

I haven't blogged about Top Chef at all this year, but that's not to say I haven't been watching. By the time Wednesday rolls around I'm anxious in anticipation for each new episode. Last week's challenge was my favorite so far. I was quite jealous when I saw the chefs preparing food from Stone Barns. Then they complained about not being able to go to Whole Foods! Come on!

I really like Leah, and she really likes Hosea. Can't wait to see what goes down this episode. I'm really disappointed with Fabio's recent performance. In the first few episodes he looked so strong. It looked like it was gonna be the Europeans down to the end. I really hope he doesn't leave though. He has got to fulfill his role as the hilarious Italian guy with quick and witty remarks; like the time Jamie had made scallops for two straight challenges, "this is Top Chef, not top Scallop!" -Not sure how he came up with that one.
And how can I forget the new guy, Toby Young. I wonder if he has already informed Obama that he knows where the weapons of mass destruction are located.

I'm extremely excited for this week's episode. Restaurant Wars is the best. I feel like this episode is the real test of the chefs' skills not just in the kitchen. If they can succeed in restaurant wars, they can succeed in the business. Well, that's a stretch. I just hope no one does diner food this year.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What I'm up to

Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me for the weblog awards. It's nice to see that I've got some awesome readers who care about the blog. I came in fourth- not too shabby if you ask me.

Recently, I've been experimenting in many different ways, most of them involving sous vide. I just took out a flank steak that had been cooking at 131 for 24 hours. I'm gonna sear that off and see how it tastes.

In the avocado episode of his show (also my favorite show) Good Eats, Alton Brown claims that the enzyme responsible for the browning of avocados due to oxidation, can be "shut off" by cooking the avocados at 104 F for a few hours. He claims this temperature will not compromise the flavor or texture, but will kill that oxidation enzyme. I still have a little more testing to do but it's not looking good for Mr. Brown (or the avocados).

I'm working on developing the ultimate chocolate chip cookies for my taste buds. I like a chewy, texturally pleasing cookie, and I'm using some of the principles (speak of the devil) Alton Brown uses in his cookie show. I think I'm pretty darn close but theres one more variable I'm anxious to test.

Lastly, I'm experimenting with peanut butters. Right now I'm attempting a "BBQ" peanut butter by roasting the peanuts with traditional bbq spices then grinding them with brown sugar. I'd take that over Skippy any day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Short Ribs Sous Vide

Last post not for you? Not into those middle school love stories? This may be a post for you.

My newest toy,

has been getting lots of use.

Short ribs being one of my favorite foods, I naturally chose to use them as the subject for my experiments. Short Ribs are just plain great, especially now, when I'm cold, even inside my house. Sous vid'ing (verb form of sous vide?) ribs however, would not produce the same effect as a house warming and perfuming braise. In my quest for the best however, I decided to pretend I was smelling the warm, flavorful scent of braised short ribs, as they cooked away slowly and unnoticeably in a warm water bath.

Based on recommendations from different people, and from research, I decided on three times and temperatures that I would try. Disclaimer: As I know from science class, this is not a controlled experiment (for example the 176 cooked rib was cooked with cooked off red wine). Further experimentation must be done to determine a clear winner. But, you know me, I will make my chemistry teacher proud and perform these experiments till I get it right! And then, of course, I will get back to you.

131 for 36 hours

141 for 72 hours

176 for 12 hours

131 was too steak-like. 176 too average. 141 was juuuusssttt right. Call me Goldilocks.
The 131 cooked rib was basically just red and raw and not extremely tender. It would've passed for a flank steak. Essentially, it took away all the things I love about a great braised rib.

The 176 cooked rib was cooked with red wine cooked down with garlic, shallot, thyme and peppercorn. That was a mistake. The red wine overwhelmed the meat. It was way to powerful. That aside, though it was essentially ideal texture, something about it just wasn't special. I would've taken a braised rib over it any day.

The 141 cooked rib was perfect. It was incredibly tender and moist. If the 131 cooked rib was like a flank steak, this was a rib-eye- flavorful, tender, fatty. "Yum," is really the only way to describe it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Talk the Talk

I've really got to get back into the habit of regular posting. Half the reason I've been slacking is because I wanted to keep my post about voting for me for the weblog awards near the top. Not that I don't want you to vote for me anymore, believe me, I do, but it's time to move on. The other reason is because I must contend with track meets and practices, homework, and oncoming midterms. Perhaps not so ironically, the closer midterms get, the less I am thinking about school and the more I'm thinking about food. Just today in Spanish I came up with this incredible idea (at least I think so) for barbecue peanut butter. I plan to roast peanuts with cumin, paprika, chili powder and the like, then grind them in the food processor with brown sugar. That idea still needs refinement though, "no es finishedo" as I would say in Spanish.
Anyways, it seems that I've picked up a bunch of new readers from the weblog awards, and now I must attempt to keep them intrigued. I'm really not sure how I'm going to go about doing that. I almost feel like the geeky guy in school with no money, no cars, and no looks, who's trying to get the prettiest girl in school. The geek does have personality though. Which reminds me......
What motivated me to take my cooking to the next level.

It was the beginning of the year in 7th grade, you know, when you play all those stupid ice-breaker games. Can't stand those. 2 truths and 1 lie? Come on, I've used the same ones 30 times.

Anyway, for one class we had to talk about ourselves a little bit. Is that not the most awkward game ever? You don't know if you should be drab and tell your birthday and your zodiac sign, or if you should tell about the one time you were mauled my a jaguar in Zimbabwe, and risk being looked at as the weirdo.

Lucky for me, there was a very pretty girl in my class, that for lack of a better name, we will call Bula Nightingale. Now at this point in my life, I wasn't known for cooking. Sure I did a few things here and there, but I was nowhere near as passionate as I am now. At that point I saw the perks of cooking as A) eating your creations, and B) impressing girls.

So I waited patiently as Sally Shoelace and Billy Gumdrop told about their summer vacations in the Andes, and Mexico, and as cynical Sam talked about his dislike for school. Finally it was my turn. I stood up, full of charisma, and professed my love of cooking, stretching the details to extreme proportion. The farther the details stretched, the farther my nose stretched, but Bula Nightingale didn't seem to notice. I looked over and she was listening intently.

I sat down, then realized I had told almost an absolute lie. I had to live up to my talk. The rest is history. Ongoing history, that is.

Note: The story is real but the people and places have been altered, lest they ever read this.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cinnamon Buns

This was my present to my sisters Christmas morning.

From me, you really can't ask for a better present. Into those little cinnamonny, cream cheesy, rolls of love, went my heart and soul.

I touched on this topic not long ago. If my present to you is food, I care, if you get a Border's gift card, you're chopped liver.

Which can, in fact, be pretty tasty.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Weblog Awards

Serious Eats and Cake Wrecks have a serious lead in the weblog awards, and that's to be expected, but who doesn't wanna see an upset? Go here and vote for me! and I will reward you, uh, somehow.

If you really like me you can even vote once every 24 hours :)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Duck Confit Sous Vide

I think I can be pretty annoying sometimes in the kitchen. I used to ask a former chef at Lacroix all the time, if he would show me how to break down meat and poultry. I think it might have gotten to the point where he purposely did his butchering before I got there. Anyway, one day he was showing me how to break down a chicken. He cut down the side, popping the joint, and taking the legs off. He then removed the wings. He began to separate the breast, then stopped, and told me that he was cutting down along the keel bone that runs between the two breasts.

I asked the same chef two weeks later to once again show me how to break down poultry. He cut down the side, popping the joint and taking the legs off. He then removed the wings. He began to separate the breast, then stopped, and asked me what bone he was cutting along. I couldn't remember. He was disappointed. He told me it was the keel bone, then went along breaking down the bird. He left Lacroix to work at another restaurant not long after.

I recently bought a whole duck from the farmer's market, with full intentions of utilizing the legs for confit. I placed the duck on the cutting board in front of me. I thought back to my lessons with the chef. I cut down the side, popping the joint and taking the legs off. I then removed the wings. I began to separate the breast, then stopped. I wished the chef was there, so I could proudly declare "Right now I'm cutting down along the keel bone" making sure to accentuate the keel. Alas, he wasn't. I was in the kitchen alone with a dead duck, so I just thought it in my head, and continued to cut along the ribs and remove the breast.

I cured the legs in salt, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorn then cooked them for 8 hours at 180 in a plastic bag with some duck fat before crisping up the skin in a hot pan. It came out incredible.
I saved the keel bone, along with the rest of the body, for stock.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Weblog Awards

By means of some higher power, or just luck, I've been selected as a finalist for best food blog! I've got some stiff competition, so vote for me here starting Tuesday. Thanks!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I'm annoyed...

I'm annoyed right now, for reasons inappropriate for a food blog. I'm annoyed and bored. And so I decided to blog. I'm "venting" as some of my friends would say. It's my break from school, and I thought I would take the break off from blogging, but here I am, and there you are.

Christmas went by so fast. The hype builds up, and then it's gone. You almost wish you could encase it in gelatin, and make it last. I would season it, take a few tastes, then make it again. I would take slow bites, and savor it, which is essentially the equivalent of my listening to Christmas carols on New Year's Day, which I am doing, right, now.

Forget that paragraph. I kinda just threw it in for kicks. I would much prefer that you gaze longingly at my very Christmassy baked pannettone French toast. It's topped with apples sauteed in butter, and, what else but powdered sugar.
Or, better yet, look at this chocolate peanut toffee that I made for some very deserving people as a holiday gift.
Maybe you're not quite the sweet tooth, and you'd prefer to admire duck fast roasted potatoes.

Or maybe just plain duck fat soothes your soul.

Wait. Why was I annoyed again?