Sunday, April 25, 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.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

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.

Leek and Ham 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.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

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!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

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.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

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.

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