Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I was in the mood to make cookies this weekend.  Actually, I was in the mood to make a lot of things this weekend--I also made Home-Made Pasta.  I found a package of Kroger-brand milk chocolate chunks and decided to use those instead of the usual chocolate chips.  One of the things that I love about making chocolate chip cookies, other than the fact that they are awesome cookies, is that there's always a recipe for them on the back of the chocolate chip/chunk package.  Easy-breezy!

I made a slight change to the traditional recipe through a happy accident in previous choco-chip making weekend.  Before, I had forgotten to set out the butter to soften, so I diced the cold butter and zapped it in the microwave.  Except I hit the "minute-plus" button without thinking.  I was so dismayed when I pulled out a bowl of melted butter.  I had no more butter.  It was late in the evening and I didn't feel like making a butter run to the grocery store.  I thought, "Well, I'll just use the melted butter and hope for the best.  If it doesn't work out, well, cookies aren't good for me anyway!"  It turned out to be a pretty good accident.  The dough was almost batter-like and the finished cookies tasted so, well, buttery!  I swear it's because I used melted butter instead of softened butter.  I vowed to use melted butter in all of my future incarnations of chocolate chip cookies. 

In another twist to this recipe, I also decided to refrigerate the dough/batter overnight.  Last fall, I made The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.  One of the key steps in that recipe was to let the dough sit for a while.  At least 24 hours.   The reasoning is that the longer the dough sits, the more time the flour has time to absorb the liquid ingredients.  It also allows the gluten in the dough to relax; resulting in a texture and consistency that's tastier in the final cookie.  This concept held up in The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie and I decided to try it in a choco-chip recipe that was decidedly not gourmet.  I'm happy to report that it also helped out my girl-next-door chocolate chip cookies!  By that, I mean that nearly all of the ingredients I used were store-brand.  The one exception was the Land O' Lakes butter.  This butter is some kind of awesome.  It's made in a city in Florida, about an hour north of Tampa.  Yes, it's really called Land O' Lakes.  No, I'm not sure if there are a lot of lakes there.  It is a very pretty town though.   I generally buy the store brand butter, but there was no generic sweet cream unsalted butter on the shelves today, so I bought the brand that I grew up with.  It's been awhile since I've purchased any kind of branded butter (or branded anything!) and I immediately noticed the creamy texture of this butter.  Even cold, my butter knife just glided through the stick.  With the store brand, cutting through the cold stick takes a bit of work.  Not a whole lot, mind you, just a little bit more oomph.  Anyway, I'm also convinced that using the Land O' Lakes butter also helped out the great taste of my girl-next-door cookies.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies, aka, Girl-Next-Door Cookies
Yield: 4 dozen 

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Land O' Lakes unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 package (10 oz) milk chocolate chunks

1) Combine all of the ingredients except the milk chocolate chunks.  Mix until well combined.  Stir in the milk chocolate chunks.  You will have a very thick batter or thin dough, depending on your point of view!
2) Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
3) Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. 
4) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Home-made Pasta

This is my home-made whole-wheat pasta!  I just realized that it looks a lot like ramen noodles.  Probably because of the "earthy hue" the whole wheat flour lends to the finished product.

I first made home-made pasta with my friend, Judy.  She is a gourmet cook and loves to experiment with food.  She wanted to learn how to make pasta and invited a group of friends over to her house for a pasta-making party.  It was indeed a party!  We made about four pounds of pasta--which Judy subsequently transformed into a delicious Lemon Pepper Alfredo.  We ate like kings that evening!

I enjoyed the process so much that I borrowed a pasta-making machine from one of my friends and proceeded to make some at home.  There are some tricks to making pasta at home, by yourself.  One of those tricks is something I borrowed from Alton Brown: Clamp the pasta machine to an ironing-board covered with a plastic tablecloth.  Brilliant!  The plastic tablecloth allows you to slide the pasta sheet along the surface as you roll it through the machine. 

So, aside from the purchase of an actual pasta-maker (new models range from $25-$100's of dollars on, making pasta at home is DIRT CHEAP.  The basic ingredients are flour, an egg, and water.  That's it.  Want to make flavored pasta?  How's about lemon pepper?  Easy--lemon zest and freshly grated pepper.  Delicious and still cheap.  Pasta is so forgiving that it will accept most fresh or dried herbs, or really, almost any flavoring that doesn't add a lot of moisture to the dough.  And even then, if you plan far enough ahead, it will work well with a wet flavoring.

It is time-consuming, if you do it all by hand.  About 1 1/2 hours from start to finish, including a 30-minute resting period in the fridge.  I use a food processor for the initial mixing--this cuts down the prep time by a good 10-15 minutes.  Because of the time involved, I generally make a couple of batches at a time and then freeze the fresh pasta (but not yet cooked).  Fresh pasta cooks very quickly--about 4 minutes.  It takes longer for the pot of water to come to a boil!

And now, the recipe for home-made pasta...

Home-Made Whole-Wheat Pasta

Yield: 1 lb of fresh pasta

1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
1 egg
enough water to form a dough ball, about 1/4 cup
additional all-purpose flour for kneading and rolling

1) Add the two flours to the bowl of the food processor.  Pulse a few times to mix the two flours together.
2) Add the egg.  Pulse a few more times to thoroughly mix the egg into the flour mixture.  The resulting mixture will look a bit crumbly, see the picture below.

3) Set the food processor to run, and drizzle water a little bit at a time through the feed tube, until the dough forms a dough ball.  You want the dough ball to be as dry as possibly but still stick together.  It should feel a little tacky but not wet.  Here's what my dough ball looks like:

4) Dump the dough ball and any extra bits onto a floured counter top.

Knead it by hand for five minutes.  Doing so develops the gluten in the dough and produces an elastic dough that will be easier to run through the pasta machine.

5) Divide the dough ball into quarters:

Doing so makes it easier to handle once you start rolling the dough through the pasta machine.  Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for 30 minutes.  This lets the dough relax.

6) Cover your ironing board with a vinyl tablecloth (a clean, large, garbage bag will do in a pinch).  Clamp the pasta-machine to the wide end of the board, about 6 inches from the end.  This gives you enough room to pick up the finish pasta from the cutters.  Dust the work surface with all-purpose flour, replenishing it as needed.  Run the dough ball through the pasta maker as directed (this Youtube video  by Mike Iem offers a great little tutorial).

7) You can then immediately cook the pasta or you can immediately freeze the fresh pasta in Ziploc bags.  Date the bags...the pasta is good for a couple of months in the freezer.  You can also completely dry the fresh pasta (here are some gadgets to dry can also probably use a clean clothes dryer).  I prefer to freeze the pasta; it takes much less work on my part!

To cook freshly made pasta:
1) Bring a pot of water to boil.  Add 1/2 tsp of salt.  Taste the should taste a little salty.  If it doesn't add another 1/4-1/2 tsp of salt until it tastes a little salty.  I've learned from experience that my fresh, home-made pasta tastes horribly bland unless I salt the water.
2) Add the pasta and set a timer for 2 minutes.  Check the pasta.  It should be al dente.  If not, keep checking in about 30-second increments until it is al dente. Fresh pasta cooks up very quickly--and once it's past it's prime, it tastes pretty gummy and yucky.

To cook fresh pasta that has been frozen: Follow step 1 of the above directions.  Take the frozen pasta from the freezer and add it directly to the boiling water.  There is no need to defrost.  Set a timer for 3-4 minutes (start with 3 minutes).  Then follow the remaining directions of step 2 above.

To cook fresh pasta that has been completely dried: Follow step 1 of the above directions.  Then cook the dried pasta as you would any other dried pasta.



An update

A new acquaintance of mine recently checked out my blog and subsequently said to me, "It's been a while since you've written anything on your blog."  I thought about it for a moment and replied, "Yeah, it's probably been about a year."  I've thought about the blog at least once a month in the past year, especially when I've come across an especially good recipe.  In all honesty, I usually thought of my neglected blog when I would catch-up on the other food blogs that I follow.  It was usually a guilty thought.  Which is strange, because there are no real negative consequences when I do not update my blog. 

The blog has fallen to the wayside multiple times since I've started it because it's a lot more time and work than I originally thought it would be.  99% of that time and work is my own desire to produce a good product that is true to my original goals--to share inexpensive, delicious, healthy foods.  So it's gone through a few iterations in format and writing style.  Some of my friends have suggested I include the cost breakdown of each of the's a great idea but in practice, it was simply too much detail and I was forever losing my grocery receipts.  That idea quickly died.  Another friend suggested that I always include a picture with my recipes.  I immediately understood this to be very, very important.  People want to see their food before they put the time and effort into making it.  So, now all of my recipes have pictures.  And I really enhances the blog.

The last problem was time.  I really wanted to update the blog once a week.  Sometimes I have the time to do that, sometimes I don't.  So my goal is to update the blog about twice a month.  I think that's reasonable and that turns out to be at least 24 recipes a year.  That's a lot and I'm happy with that number!  So, now to my newest post: Hand-made pasta.