Monday, November 16, 2009

Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

No stories or long background explanations here. Just a really good, really simple cookie recipe. This recipe can be altered and changed in any number of ways. I have added chopped up Heath bars instead of walnuts, used fruit instead of chocolate chips. You name it.

The ingredients are all things that bakers usually have on hand, but if you don't have one of them, they aren't complex or difficult to find.

They are:
-1 cup butter, softened
-1 cup brown sugar
-1 cup granulated sugar
-1T vanilla extract
-2 eggs
-2 cups all purpose flour
-2.5 cups oatmeal
-1T baking soda
-1T baking powder
-1/2 t salt
-1 16 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
-2 cups walnuts, chopped
Pre heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a blender, grind the 2.5 cups of oatmeal.
In large bowl cream together the butter,

vanilla and eggs.
In a seperate bowl, combine the flour, ground oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Then mix those ingredients in with the wet ingredients.
See how easy that was? Now all you have to do is add in whatever other ingredients you choose. For me this time, it was chocolate chips.
and walnuts.
Roll the dough into even sized balls, I used a 1/8 cup measuring device. Though what I really need is a cookie scoop! Maybe one day...
Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Then my friends Amy and Mike showed up with their ridiculously adorable newborn, and I couldn't tear myself away to get some steaming fresh out of the oven pics. That's fine though, you'll see how good and easy these are for yourself if you bake them!
This picture will have to suffice. Trust me though, these are GOOD.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ruth Reichl's Sweet Potato Pie

Mmmm, MMM! Sweet potato pie!

I still remember, clear as day, my first experience with sweet potato pie. My mom, brother, and I moved from a small town in Minnesota, to Sacramento California when I was six. When I was seven, we moved into a house next door to an older lady named Mrs. Mosley. Mrs. Mosley was a really sweet woman, who's house was always buzzing with activity. There seemed to be no end to the number of people she had in her family, who would often come by to visit. She also always seemed to have something cooking on the stove, or baking in the oven, to feed the crowds.

One day while I was at her house, she sliced me a piece of her sweet potato pie, and watched closely as I took my first bite. I looked at her, excited, and said "This tastes just like pumpkin pie!". Wrong. Apparently that is NOT how you respond to someone blessing you with your first taste of sweet potato pie. Needless to say, I won't go into the time her daughter made me some grits, and I exclaimed "This tastes just like Cream of Wheat!". I had a lot to learn...

I have to hand it to Mrs. Mosley, in the 22 years since that day, I still haven't had a sweet potato pie that could even hold a candle to hers.

Ruth Reichl was the Editor in Chief at Gourmet magazine for a number of years, until it's untimely and unfortunate end this month. She also happens to be one of my favorite writers. While reading her second memoir, Comfort Me With Apples, I came across this recipe for her sweet potato pie. I had just recently purchased a large box of sweet potatoes from Costco, & had everything else on hand, so I figured I would give the recipe a try. I was not disappointed!

As usual, the cast of characters:
-2 medium sweet potatoes
-1/2 stick of unsalted butter
-3/4 cup sugar
-3/4 cup whole milk
We drink fat free milk so I used 1/2 cup of half and half, and 1/4 cup fat free milk
-3 large eggs
-1t vanilla
-1/2t cinnamon
-1/4t nutmeg-the recipe calls for freshly grated, which I did not have
-1/4t salt
-1T dark rum
-1T all purpose flour
-1 9 inch pie crust
So shoot me, I use a store bought frozen pie crust! Pillsbury makes a great product and I have never been let down by it. If you are going to go store bought, make sure you get a good brand.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. The days are getting really chilly here, so baking sounds like a great idea. Need some visual proof of the cold weather? Well just take a look at her.

Diva with a capital D. She stayed put right there through out the baking process. Only moving to change which part of her body was nearest to the fire.
Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spray with non stick cooking spray. This makes clean up later so much easier.
Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork & roast them until they are tender. This will take about 1 hour and 15 mins, to 1.5 hours.
Take them out of the oven, and let them cool down to room temp.
Raise the oven temp to 400 degrees.
Place a shallow baking pan on bottom rack.
Scoop the flesh from the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Then mash with a fork or whisk until smooth.
Melt the butter in a small pan.
Then stir in the sugar.
Add the butter and sugar mixture to the potatoes.
Add the milk,
and whisk until smooth.
Now whisk in the vanilla,
dark rum,
and flour.
Whisk until completely combined.
Here's a tip I learned from the Food Network for filling pie shells:
Set the pie shell directly on the rack, or a sheet in the oven.
Then fill it. This saves you the precarious walk to the oven with a liquid filled pie shell. Which is always the time the cat decides she wants to attck my feet and/or the invisible zombies surrounding me.
Isn't that color beautiful?
Now bake the pie until the filling is just set. About 40-45 minutes.
Set the pie on a rack and let it cool completely.
I got a little to eager, and cut into the pie before it was cooled. Which made it not look as pretty as it could have, but it still tasted delicious!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Red Wine Sun Dried Tomato Gravy

This October 2009 issue of Bon Appetit magazine was my inspiration for today's recipe. Look at that cover. My my isn't it beautiful.

I have seriously cut back on eat red meat, or even pork. But something as luscious as this swayed me. I knew I had to try it.
Now, as per usual, I kind of veered off the recipe and adjusted it to what I had, and the direction I wanted my end result to go.
Cast of characters:
5 lbs of short ribs
Coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
3 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped carrots (4 large)
2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 lb sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)
1/4 fresh thyme sprigs
5 large fresh sage sprigs
5 bay leaves
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups homemade chicken stock
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.
Place a few ribs at a time in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, then toss with some flour until coated.
Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a heavy bottom pot on med-high heat.
In batches, cook ribs in oil, until well browned on all sides.
Now don't be afraid to get a really nice crust on the ribs. They will get really tender while they bake later.
Place the browned ribs on a baking sheet while moving on to the next steps.
Now, at this point, I realized I should have been using my cast iron dutch oven, as the whole pot will have to go in the oven, so I switched to it. So if you are making this, just remember to start with an oven safe pot in the beginning. Learn from my mistakes.
Put the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil in the pot over med-high heat.
Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook about 12 minutes until tender. Stirring often.
Add the sun-dried tomatoes. Unintentional Christopher Ranch ad! I really do love their products though.
Then add the thyme,
followed by the sage,
and lastly the bay leaves.
Stir to coat the ingredients.
Put the ribs into the pot. It's likely you will have to lay them on their side, so that they are all in a single layer like so.
Now pour in the wine.
Oh the beautiful wine.
I was going to use some other red wine that I had on hand. But when I saw this in the store, well, I couldn't resist. It was called "Mad Housewife" cabernet.
Now, I wouldn't call myself a mad housewife per say. More of a "reluctant house fiance" thanks largely to the crap economy.
Just look at what the back of the bottle says. That is perfect.
After tasting it, I thought it was the perfect choice. So much so that I had a glass while cooking. Go ahead, you'll want to also. I won't hold it against you...
as long as you invite me over and share!
And now I realize in my haste to pour myself a glass, I didn't get a picture of the front of the bottle. Complete fail on my part.
On with the show.
After adding the wine, let the pot simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes or so.
Then add the stock.
Here I get a little out of hand. I added a generous splash of balsamic. Oh yeah... balsamic is my latest have to have ingredient. But man was it worth it here. It added a whole different layer of flavor to the gravy in the end.
Now cover the pot and bring it to a simmer.
The recipe in the bon appetit issue serves this with swiss chard. I did buy some while at the store, but when I got home I realized that I had some asparagus in the fridge that I really needed to use.
I trim the ends by cutting off the tougher white part, and using a veggie peeler to peel the ends before blanching the stalks. I like the way it looks, but it is definitely not a mandatory step.
By now the contents of the pot should be simmering.
Transfer the pot to the oven, where you will leave it for a minimum of two hours. Try not to peek or mess with it too much. Which truly is a test of will once the scent of the cooking meat and gravy starts to float around your house. I am not kidding you, it was heaven on earth.
When the time is up, you will take the pot out and let it sit for 15 minutes, covered, at room temp.
Which is when I simmer the stalks of asparagus in a skillet of water for 5-10 minutes. Just until done to your preference. Do NOT over cook them. They will be soggy and completely the opposite of what anyone would consider appealing.
Drain the stalks, put on a platter, sprinkle with kosher salt, and set aside. I covered mine to retain some warmth.
Now would you take a look at these? Oh man, go ahead.
Take a closer look. The smell is out of this world.
At this point I had a ravenous man on my hands, driven almost mad after having to smell this cooking for over two hours. So I had to speed things up.
Carefully remove the ribs, without seperating the meat from the bone if possible. Strain the contents of the pot, and put the juices in a pan over high heat, and bring to a rolling boil. Add cornstarch, 1 tbsp at a time, and whisk until it is completely combined. Now how much you add completely depends on how thick or thin you want your gravy. I wanted mine just slightly thick, so I added 2.5 to 3 tbsps.
I served this with a side of mashed poatatoes as well. It would be a sin not to considering how well the gravy turned out.
Wow that gravy was something. In a perfect foodie world, it would be used as currency it was THAT good!
Finished product. In the end both plates were completely cleaned. I could only tell the difference between mine and Brad's, by the finger patterns where he cleaned any excess off of his plate with his fingers before licking them clean.
Beyond delicious, rich, decadent, and ridiculous. This dish was all of those.