Monthly Archives: April 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies – Again

Before I moved out of my previous apartment, I tried out the David Leite recipe from The New York Times for chocolate chip cookies. It produced good results (seen here), and one of my friends absolutely raved about the tang of the salt on top of the cookie. Apparently, and I’m not sure how this happened, but he says I owe him a batch of these because he was laid off from his job. I don’t know that I had heard about that rule.
So, whatever. No one has been making me cookies since I lost my job. I find I have to make them for myself if I want them. No wonder, then, that when a Serious Eats contributor posted her love for a version that David Lebovitz had created, it caught my eye.
I’m still mostly partial to the old Toll House standby, and I have to say that the younger of my two brothers makes a mean version of that cookie. He’s created a recipe whereby he fiddles around with the amount of flour that he uses to get just the right crispy-chewy ratio going. I have to say, as much as I’m good and baking other things, I think he gets the chocolate chip cookie crown hands down.
Still, I’m not opposed to trying at least to see if I can find a better way to make these. Here is the photo from the results. I found that these took at least five minutes longer to make than the instructions said. I’m also very partial to the toffee-like crispy brown edges so the extra time was definitely needed to produce that texture.
I did use pecans in this, which I might eliminate were I to make it again. The other thing that I might do is increase the amount of salt in them. As a substitute, I sprinkled a little sea salt on top of them before they baked. I found them originally to be kind of meh and bland – absolutely nothing to crave about them – so that extra touch helped in my opinion. Now, I just need to find someone (or someones) to eat all of these!
Buon appetito!
Kitchen Witch Tip
Remember the tip I posted about using the bread knife for cutting up nuts? Well, the same thing goes for chopping up blocks of chocolate as well. I prefer to buy chocolate bars for these cookie recipes to get some variety in the chunks. A bread knife is very useful in breaking up the bars into small chip-sized pieces.

Leek and Ham Gratin

After what seemed like a never-ending winter, it is nice to turn one’s eyes to eating spring and summer food again. A few years ago, when my folks came to visit about this time of year, we went to one of a friend’s neighborhood stand-by places to grab a bite. This French-style classic bistro is just the kind of place that my mother loves when she can’t get to the more upscale white tablecloth version, which is rapidly becoming extinct.
There, I had one of those dishes that was so simple but yet so amazing: Leek and Ham Gratin. It was filling without being heavy even for a warm spring day. The other part of its charm was that it was served to me in my own personal gratin dish. As I cut into one of the rounds, slicing through the layer of ham to the pale core of the leek, I could feel my mouth begin to water. Scooping up some of the cheesy white sauce to go with the meat and vegetable, I captured it in my mouth and let the tastes mingle together: creamy, slightly crisp, and hearty.
It was one of those “love at first bite” experiences. Could I do this at home, too? My mind began to deconstruct the dish with each bite. Hmm, Gruyère on top, a coating of Béchamel, covering ham wrapped around leek. It could be doable, I mused, and this would be a great addition to my recipe repertoire.
So I set about to do see if I could create my own version of this meal. Although perhaps not as pretty on the plate as it is served in the dish, I think I captured it the way I wanted to. This would work as an appetizer or main course, served with a green salad and vinaigrette or even with the Spinach Salad recipe I’ve published previously.
Ham and Leek Gratin
Prep Time: 40-45 minutes (with making Béchamel)
Serving Size: Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course
1 recipe Béchamel (see link)
8 baby leeks or 4 large leeks cut in half, washed ends and tops cut off
8 slices of cooked ham
1 tsp softened butter*
1 c. shredded Gruyère cheese
Prepare the Béchamel per the recipe linked above (or use your favorite version). Once the sauce has thickened, take it off of the heat and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Centigrade, gas mark 4).
Cut the large leeks in half or keep the smaller, more tender ones whole, cutting them into 6-8-inch pieces.
Wrap a slice of ham around each leek (or leek half). Butter 4 small gratin dishes (or one large ceramic or glass casserole pan) and place 2 ham-leek bundles side-by-side in the dishes. (If baking all of them in a casserole pan, do the same so that they all fit in a row in the pan.)

Pour 1/4 cup of the sauce over every two bundles making sure to coat them completely, and cover with the grated cheese. Place the pan(s) in the pre-heated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese has melted completely.  If you’d like to create a crisper, brown crust, turn the oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Centigrade, gas mark 6) for the last 5 minutes of cooking and watch it carefully to make sure that the dish doesn’t burn.

Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for about 5 minute, as they will be scorching hot when they are taken out. These can be served in the gratin dishes at the table or put on a plate.
Buon appetito!
Kitchen Witch Tip:
This is not a new hint, but is one I swear by to keep things less messy in the kitchen. When you have finished a block of butter, don’t throw away the wrapper. Keep empty wrappers in a bag in the freezer. When a recipe calls for buttering a dish or a pan, simply take one of the wrappers out of the bag and use the buttered side on it, keeping your hands from getting greasy.

Indian Food Cooking Binge

While waiting to hear about a consulting gig, I embarked on a cooking spree. I love eating Indian food, but I’ve never been very successful at making it. Recently, I pulled several recipes from BBC Good Food and tackled making them. By way of comparison, I decided that this time, I’d photograph my results alongside of what the picture in the magazine looked like.
The entire plate of food looked like the above. It made a great lunch on Day One and was an even better set of leftovers when I came home from a long day today. Unfortunately, as delicious of a lunch as it would make to bring to work, I can’t really recommend it. While not super spicy, it does have those strong aromas that make reheating it in a microwave in an office environment a bit touchy in some companies. Still, that just means more for you to eat at home.
I’ve posted the recipe names below the photos, so that they can be located on the BBC Good Food website. While the dishes didn’t turn out picture-perfect, nothing was complicated to make. The chopping of the vegetables and the careful stirring to make sure that everything was incorporated was great therapy and very calming in the chaos of my job search. There was also the added virtue of getting extra veggies into my diet and, for a while, my apartment smelled wonderful.
Coconut Dhal
(like regular dhal but a luxury version, rich, sweet, and creamy)
Mango Chicken with Spiced Pilau [this photo and the next]
(flavorful rice and sweet-spicy chicken)
Cauliflower & Potato Curry
(super veg recipe, great as a side dish)
Buon appetito!

Thai Beef Noodle Stir-Fry

For the past few weeks, I’ve been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” I just managed to catch up on this week’s episode. I’ve been a fan of his ever since The Naked Chef was first shown in the United States. What I enjoy is his basic philosophy that anyone can cook even the most basic dishes and that it is about good simple flavors coming together with easy culinary techniques.
For a while, I’ve been reading about the work that he’s done in the UK on trying to improve school lunches. I know we have Chicken Nuggets, but they had something called Turkey Twizzlers. I’m not sure I even want to imagine the stuff that goes into these, but you can do an online search for photos and information on them. I was wondering if the same type of program was going to be done here, as our school lunches have never been anything to get really excited about nutritionally either. One teacher has even taken to blogging about it, photos and all.

This past week, it was kind of exciting to see Jamie win over enough folks to get 1,000 people on board for his cooking demos in downtown Huntington, WV (even the lunch ladies came!). I totally loved the flash mob of Marshall University students that helped to get it going. If those could be spread out across the United States, would we all rally around to eat better? It also made me crave the noodle dish that he had everyone make.

So, I went on a mission to track everything down to try to make it. I think it was worth all the effort and prep work in the end. I’ve made a few adjustments and clarified the instructions somewhat to create what I think is an easy-to-follow and tasty (having downed a whole plate of it for lunch today) Thai Beef Noodle Stir-Fry. I’m also looking forward to having some great leftovers next week!

For this recipe, getting your setup (mis en place) ready in advance is key. Chopping the vegetables and savory items does take time, but in the end the cooking part isn’t very long, so prep is very important.

The noodles were brown rice udon ones, which I found at Whole Foods. I couldn’t find the egg ones which were listed in the original recipe. I also took extra time to cut the peppers, carrots, and snow peas into strips to match the noodles. This had the added advantage of all the items taking equal time to cook. As I don’t really like baby corn, I omitted it. I also left out the bean sprouts, as I couldn’t see what I do with the enormous bag of them I found at the store.

Thai Beef Noodle Stir-Fry
Serving size: makes 4 generous portions
Prep time: at least 30 minutes to chop and prep ingredients, 10 minutes cooking time

8.8 oz bag Brown Rice Udon Noodles (or rice noodles)
2 cloves Garlic, finely minced
2 small thin Red Chili Peppers, sliced
1 tsp. freshly grated Ginger
1 lb. Beef Sirloin, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices*
1 Red Bell Pepper, seeded and cut into thin slices (julienne)
2 Carrots, cut into thin slices (julienne)
1/2 lb. Snow Peas, cut into slices
2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 tsp. toasted Sesame Oil
juice of 1/2 Lime, plus additional lime wedges
3 Scallions, cut into thin rounds
1 Tbsp Cilantro, finely chopped
Put pan of water on to boil for noodles. While this is heating up, begin cutting up the next seven ingredients. [The vegetables, garlic, and ginger could be prepared in advance, wrapped up, and kept in the fridge until you are ready to begin cooking. If you put these items in small bowls or in plastic bags by ingredient (as was done on the show) you could have your children work with you to add each of them to the pan as you cook together.]
When the water has boiled, add the noodles. Cook per the instructions on the packet. Once they are finished, drain the noodles and set aside. In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp. of the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, chili, and ginger and cook for one minute. Add the beef and cook for 2-3 minutes until the meat has begun to brown. Drizzle 1 tsp. of the sesame oil, the juice of 1/2 lime, and a pinch of salt. Stir to create a sauce. Pour contents of pan into a bowl and set aside.
Heat up the additional 1 Tbsp. of vegetable oil in the same pan as was used to cook the meat. Put the red peppers, carrots, and snow peas into the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes until soft but still crisp. Toss in a pinch of salt and stir. Add the cooked noodles to the vegetables. Drizzle the additional 1 tsp. of sesame oil over the noodles and toss everything together to incorporate. Cook for one minute more. Put noodles and vegetables onto individual plates or into a large serving bowl.
Return the meat to the pan. Add scallions and cilantro and stir to incorporate. Cook for a minute to heat the meat through. Pour the meat and all the juices on top of the noodles. Serve with lime wedges.
*To make this vegetarian, you could skip the meat and put in cubes of firm tofu, cooked in the same style as the meat, with the same flavorings to keep the Thai spirit of the dish.
Buon appetito!
Kitchen Witch Tip:
Jamie Oliver also gave me the best tip for peeling ginger (not personally, to clarify, but via his show). Since I tried it, I haven’t wasted the extra amounts that slicing off the outer layer causes. Take a spoon, turn it over, and use the edge of it to scrape off the peel of the ginger. You’ll be left with thin shavings of the brown papery outside and a clean bright piece of fresh ginger to grate or slice up as needed for the recipe.
[For a tip on working with cilantro, check out the post on leftovers and scroll to the Kitchen Witch Tip at the bottom of the post.]

Cool Shrimp and Avocado Salad for a Hot Day

Apologies for being a bit out of touch blog-wise. I’ve actually been trying to juggle being out of town twice in the last few weeks, coping with job loss, and dealing with being overloaded in general. It hasn’t all been bad, though. I managed to squeeze in a hands-on cooking class on fish at Astor Center during all that chaos.
One of the beneficiaries of this last activity, was my friend who hosted me at the beach over Easter weekend. I recreated one of the dishes that we made in the class: Shrimp and Avocado Salad in Citrus Vinaigrette. I think that I enjoyed it even better the second time around. This is the perfect hot summer recipe and has been a great, light lunch for me this week as the temperatures around here have climbed into numbers that we’re not supposed to see around these parts until July.
 The purpose of this recipe was to demonstrate peeling, cleaning, and cooking shrimp. Having made these since I was young enough to reach the stove, I didn’t need the practice, but I enjoyed the results of the dish at the end. I did learn, however, how to segment fruit, something I’ve never been taught. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be, but it was messier than I’d expected.

For those fortunate enough to have one, the shrimp could be prepared on skewers on the grill, which would make a wonderful, and slightly different presentation. A glass of a chilled light white wine would make a refreshing accompaniment to the combination of ripe creamy avocados and warm meaty shrimp served in crisp cool lettuce leaves covered with a tangy dressing.

Buon appetito!