Friday, August 18, 2006

Easy chocolate chocolate chip cookies

I am not as masterful a baker or a cook as the other Culinarian-ites, but I do pride myself on being able to make myself a yummy sweet when I want to using whatever ingredients I already have around the house. In fact, one night several years ago Lo sighed and said she wished we had brownies. I told her I'd make some. She protested, "But we don't have any brownie mix." Ha ha ha ... (She was really far too impressed when I raided our cabinets and concocted some brownie mix from scratch. But I enjoyed my little Betty Crocker moment nonentheless.)

Anyway, my desire to make what I want using what I have readily available in the apartment (and my desire to avoid going to the store) is how I happened upon this recipe for chocolate chocolate chip cookies at I had chocolate chips and I had cocoa, but I had no other chocolate in the house. So, I found this recipe. (Credit goes to Kathy Brandt.) Here it is mostly as it appears at the link but with a few other notes.

1 c butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 bag chocolate chips
(1/2 cup chopped walnuts are optional--I rarely add nuts or raisins to my cookies because I aim to please the masses and quite a large percentage of the masses will not taste a cookie if it has nuts or raisins in it... but obviously, to your tastes.)

1. In large bowl, beat together butter, eggs and vanilla iuntil light and fluffy.
2. In smaller bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
3. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the large bowl until well blended. Then mix in the chocolate chips (and walnuts if you wanna).
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees C). Use a teaspoon to shape the cookies and drop them onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
5. Recipe says to bake them for 8-10 minutes, but mine took longer, especially the first batch. Check them often so they don't burn, but in my oven, it was about 15 minutes per batch.
6. When done, cool briefly on cookie sheets and then remove them to cool on wire racks. (Optional if you don't have wire racks, of course. I've made cookies for over a decade and only got the wire racks 7 years ago.)

This recipe yields a chewy and very rich cookie. So, Cali, here's another "death by chocolate" suggestion for ya.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Give me chocolate….

Prompted by a request from Cali, here’s a choc cake recipe (which I’m still hoping that you will be using to celebrate rather than to muffle your sorrows). Anyway, I’ve eaten a good-sized slice to wish you luck!
And yes, I for one have slipped into a food coma in the last few weeks, as pregnancy-induced food aversions will do that to a gal. Today however, chocolate cake had massive appeal, so hopefully it will satisfy your cravings too.

Chocolate cake with soured cream icing

6oz/175g/1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ oz/40g/ 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp good quality cocoa
pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
6oz/175g/1 packed cup light muscovado (brown) sugar
175g/6oz/1 ½ sticks soft unsalted butter
4 fl oz/120ml/½ cup low fat natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 tbsp ground fresh coffee (optional)
a little milk

Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180C/350F. Grease and line an 8-in/20cm diameter loose-based deep cake tin.
Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. Add the butter, yogurt, vanilla and eggs, plus coffee if using, then beat with an electric mixer for about 2 mins until smooth and fluffy. Add a couple of tablespoons milk if needed to get a mixture that drops easily from the spoon. Scoop into the cake tin, level the surface and bake for about 40 minutes. The cake should be firm in the centre, but not dry – just beginning to come away from the edges of the tin. Cover the cake part way through cooking if it is darkening too quickly.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before carefully removing from the tin and transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

For the icing:
4 fl oz/120ml/1/2 cup soured cream or crème fraiche
4oz/110g dark chocolate (preferably around 70% cocoa solids, but at least 50%), chopped

Place the soured cream and chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl, set over a pan of gently simmering water (don’t let the base of the bowl touch the water). Leave to melt for about 5 mins, then stir together until smooth. Spread the icing over the cooled cake, and scatter with chopped nuts if you wish (I used slivered pistachios).

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It's Too Hot to Eat: Summer Salad #1

Adriana at What I Made for Dinner has recently started reciting her summer mantra, "It's too hot to cook." My summer mantra is a little different. I am willing to devote a short amount of time to toiling over a hot stove, but when then? "It's too hot to eat."

So, last summer I announced that I would learn to make salads. Not just any salads. Salads that could be an entire summer meal. Lo obliged with two wonderful cookbooks for my birthday, my favorite of which is called Salad Suppers by Andrea Chesman. This recipe is my favorite recipe from that book.

The recipe is for Grilled Chicken with Smoky Corn and Pepper Salad. My version of it is shown above. This is also my first attempt at amateur food blogger photography. I cheated a little because this just happens to be the same dish that is on the cover of the cookbook I have, so my photo looks a lot like that one, but still. I'm pleased with my first attempt.

I say "my version" because, um, I don't have a grill. I live in a cramped, small urban apartment with no roof or yard access. So, I improvise with a stove-top grill pan and my broiler.

Anyway, the recipe calls for 6 ears of fresh corn, which you would need to soak for at least an hour before grilling. I use frozen kernels because I never have the time and I never have the grill (one 10 oz box works well). With my frozen corn method (which Andrea Chesman actually suggests as an option, although she says you need to add 1 TB sugar to the corn if you're using frozen--but you SO DON'T), you don't have to worry about soaking. You just heat up your little stovetop grill pan and pour on the frozen kernels and grill 'em. It works just fine, as long as you're diligent about moving them around a lot so they don't burn. Once they're all cooked (some will get quite toasty and others less so--but they all taste good), I just put them aside in a bowl.

While toasting the corn, you also marinate the chicken briefly. Combine 2 TB lime juice, 1 tsp cumin, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl, and coat about 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves in it. Let them sit until you need them. Vegetarians could easily substitute here--tofu steaks, or just marinated tofu, or whatever you like really. The chicken and its marinade are not the crucial tasty part of this salad anyway. I'd happily eat just the salad part any day.

Next, take 1 red bell pepper and 1 green bell pepper, both halved with seeds removed, and spray them with cooking spray. They're supposed to be grilled as well, but I just put them on the broiler and broil each side until the skin side is nicely singed. Then, I put them aside in a plastic bag so the skins will be easier to remove later. Essentially, I make roasted peppers instead of grilled peppers for my version, but it's still tasty.

Next, you're supposed to grill the marinated chicken, but I broil it instead. When it's done, slice it and set it aside.

After that, put the toasty corn kernels into a bowl. Then add 1 diced tomato, 1/4 cup red onion, 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (or basil for those of you with the cilantro allergy), and 1/4 cup fresh parsley. (When I don't have fresh on hand--which is often--I just use what's in my space rack and add a lot less. I know that makes me lame, but I don't care.) Finally, peel the skin off the peppers, dice them, add them to the bowl and mix it all up.

Make the dressing for the corn and pepper salad. Mix 1 TB olive oil, 2 TB lime juice, 1 tsp honey, and 1 tsp chipotles en adobo (which I buy canned). Add some salt and pepper and then pour it over the corn and pepper salad and mix. The chipotles en adobo really give this dish its kick. I love them.

Anyway, then take mixed greens (or whatever greens you want to use) and put them on a plate. Spoon a bunch of the corn and pepper salad on top. Then add the chicken.

There are a lot of steps in this recipe, but it's not all that time-consuming especially since a lot of the chopping, making dressing and such can be done while stuff is grilling/broiling if you can multi-task. And it's a full meal, so you don't need to make anything else. Anyway, this is one of my favorite dishes to make when it's too hot to eat.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A "crackle crusted loaf" - for Cali

This gorgeous rustic loaf looks like those found in an artisanal boulangerie in the depths of France, and is the perfect accompaniment to a great terrine or farmhouse cheeses.

Although it sounds contradictory, to create a really crisp crust on a loaf it is necessary to introduce steam to the oven; this softens the dough in the first minutes of cooking, allowing it to rise, forming a thinner, crisper crust.

I know that you have different forms of flour in the US; UK bread-making/strong flour has a higher gluten content than all-purpose flour, to allow the stretchiness of the dough to develop, if that helps you in knowing which flour to use. The yeast I use is the type that doesn't need re-activating in water before use.

Rye and Potato Bread

8oz maincrop potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
12oz strong white bread-making flour
4oz rye flour or wholewheat flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon active dried yeast
2 level teaspoons salt

Cook the potatoes in lightly salted water for 15-20 mins until tender. Drain, reserving the cooking water, then mash the potatoes and leave to cool slightly.
Rub the mashed potato into the mixed flours, as if making pastry. Stir in the yeast and salt, make a well in the centre and gradually add enough potato water to give a soft but not sticky dough. Don’t add too much too quickly as this dough absorbs water more slowly than normal – you will probably need around a cup of the cooking water.
Knead the dough on a floured surface, adding a little more flour if you need it, but the dough should be slightly sticky, as if it is too dry the end result will be a heavy, overly dense loaf.
Cover and leave to rise until doubled in size (1-1 ½ hours). Punch the dough down; it will be very soft, springy and slightly sticky, so you may need to add a little more flour to make it manageable. Shape into a round loaf about 9 inches in diameter and place on a floured baking sheet, cover and leave to rise again for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, gas mark 6.
When ready to bake, place a roasting tin full of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create a steamy atmosphere, dust the loaf with flour and lightly slash a diamond pattern on top of the loaf. Place in the upper part of the oven, but allow the loaf plenty of room to rise, and bake for 30-35 minutes. Spray with water from a clean water spray every 10 minutes – this helps to develop the crust. It is ready when the crust is very crisp and the loaf sounds hollow when the underside is rapped. Cool the loaf completely before slicing – it will keep for at least a couple of days, and toasts really well.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Grandmom's Tomato Sauce

Apologies for the silence. I've been crazy busy and have been sadly neglecting both my lesbian cooking in real time and my blogging about it.

And I am also sorry that I have no asparagus recipe for you. I must admit... I've NEVER made asparagus in my life, and the crazy past few weeks were not the time to learn something new.

So, I present something old--my Grandmom's tomato sauce recipe. I know a lot of people like storebought sauce, but as Lo can attest, one you've had Grandmom's sauce, sauce in a jar will just never taste the same.

My recipe is for a meatless tomato sauce. But it's not a recipe for marinara sauce. My grandmom once explained to me that a marinara sauce is a "quick sauce," but the way she made sauce was not quick. (Sorry. I know I promised meals on the quick, but this one is worth a little time and yields many quick meals later on with the leftover sauce.) My grandmom explained that she made her tomato sauce the same way she made her meat sauce, just without the meat, and that cooking it for so long is what made it so thick and flavorful.

The trick to a really good homemade sauce, she once told me, is getting a good base. To do that, I saute a chopped onion in olive oil until translucent, then I add 1 chopped green pepper, 1 TB Italian seasoning, 1 tsp basil, 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1/2 tsp oregano, and a little pepper. (And yes, I do know that there is oregano, basil and rosemary already in the Italian seasoning, but I like to add more.) Lastly, I add 3-4 cloves of finely chopped garlic. I like to add the garlic at the end because it burns so easily. You can add more or less of the spices to your taste. My grandmom didn't add this much spice to her sauces (just lots of basil and garlic, which is excellent, too), but this is how I make it.

So, all of this serves as the base of the sauce. Then, I add 2 cans of tomato puree and 2 cans of crushed tomatoes and throw in between 1 and 2 canfuls of water as well and a little red wine (or red wine vinegar if I have no red wine in the house) and simmer until it thickens.

I turn the heat down once it starts to bubble. The sauce then takes at least 1.5 hours to simmer and then I just take it off the burner and boil water for whatever pasta I'm serving. Our current fave is whole-wheat angel hair.

This sauce takes time, but it yields a lot of sauce... much more than Lo and I couold eat in an evening. It's great if I have company over. It also freezes and defrosts well. So, usually, I end up freezing 2 containers of sauce, which I can then defrost later on to make some meals on the quick when I have less time to cook.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Introducing Tamsin

I'm a complete blogging virgin so it's taken me a while to work out how to do this, but here is my self-introduction at last...

What brought me to cooking? Well, I believe it’s in my genes – my whole family loves to cook, and food is a major part of our social gatherings, both the preparing and eating of it, and as a topic of conversation. I first learnt to cook from my mother, who is a very good home cook (although bizarrely she always defers to me now and gets flustered cooking when I’m around!). Moving on from the usual childhood baking experiments, as I entered my teens I started to cook whole meals for the family, mainly to support my mother who I could see was frustrated with her life. To cut a very long story short, for me, cooking for people is a way of showing them that I love them.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to make a career from my love for food; I divide my working time between freelance food styling (preparing food for photography), and recipe writing, mainly for magazines, although I’m currently working on my fourth cookery book. One of my areas of special interest is healthy eating, as I’m passionate about showing how easy it is to prepare low fat meals that taste so good that you don’t feel as if you are depriving yourself.

Secret passion? I’m another sucker for baking, especially breads as it always seems magical how a simple mixture of flour, yeast, salt and water can be transformed into a sweet-smelling, crackle-crusted loaf.

My values as a cook? Local ingredients take precedence over organic for me (although if the two can be combined, that’s the perfect scenario). Food made with love above all.

Inspirations? My mother in the first instance, then Delia Smith whose books were my cookery bibles in my early days (and still are much used now). You may never have heard of Delia, but her closest equivalent in the US is Martha – but minus the huge business empire and jail time! Since then, cookery writers such as Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden and Nigel Slater.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Balsamic asparagus

Ok. This is the best way to eat asparagus. Ever.
Ever in the whole world.


Preheat oven to 450.

Toss said vegetable, about a pound, in olive oil (enough to coat - about 1 TBSP)

Shave or cut large flat curls of Parmesan cheese**

Place curls over asparagus and bake for 12-15 minutes until is just tender and cheese is melted

Transfer with a spatula to warm plates and drizzle a nice balsamic vinegar over the top (or allow guests to sprinkle vinegar on, to taste)

I can barely write that last part without wanting to eat the keyboard. OMG I must have it right now. This is from The Balsamic Vinegar Cookbook. Please try this and tell me if you think it is the best friggin' asparagus you have ever had.

**or shredded BUT NO NASTY Kraft shit that gets sprinkled on pizza. We are talking about REAL Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. From a nice supermarket. Don't even get me started on American Parmesan cheese, I don't hat it per say (it is lovely on a greasy pizza slice) but it should not have a similar namesake to the real stuff. Ok I got started, but now I will end.

I cannot not mention the phalic nature of this vegetable. Have any of you seen it growing in a garden? Holy.
And the white asparagus? Enough said.