Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No bake cookies

My grandmother used to make these during the holiday when I was young, and I started making them when someone gave me a bunch of coco powder.  What seemed like a good way to use up a bunch of coco powder has turned into a quick and easy desert.

Finished cookies cooling on a half-pan in the refrigerator. 

Not that the two cups of sugar makes this healthy in any way, but I have tried to make these a better treat for our boys by using good ingredients and bumping up the oats a little.  We use organic raw sugar, Maple View milk, all natural peanut butter, and most recently I have taken to adding dried fruit to the mix.

No Bake Cookies

Part A
4 ounces unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup coco powder
1/2 cup milk
Part B
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Part C
3 cups raw oatmeal

Mix together all the stuff in part A in a sauce pot and boil for two minutes.  After two minutes remove from heat and mix in the stuff in part B until smooth.  Stir in the oats in part C and mix (quickly) until it is consistent.  Pour the mixture out onto parchment paper and flatten to about a 3/8 of an inch.  Allow to cool until firm.

About Mix-ins

I was making these yesterday and found I was short on oatmeal.  After rummaging through the cabinets for a few I found some KIND Healthy Grains and decided to give it a shot, and they turned out great.  I have added chocolate chips, a couple times, but it got me to thinking about the limitless possibilities of things that could be added to this...Leave a comment if you come up with some killer addition.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Chrystal's Grandmother's Sauce and Meatballs

If you know me, you may know that my memory is a bit like swiss cheese...but the one thing I have held onto from my childhood is the smell of my grandmother's homemade sauce and meatballs.  Yum.  My grandmother lived in Rochester, NY, and I have faint memories of being in her house, but strong memories of how this sauce smelled after 12 hours of simmering on the stove.  My mom passed the recipe down to my sisters and I after years of begging, and as soon as I made my first batch, all of those olfactory memories came flooding back.  I am not a good cook, by any means - it's a good thing I can read a recipe - but this is one thing I am proud to make.  I have even made it my own a bit over the years, mostly just to make it easier or bigger, because it certainly didn't need my help to become tastier.

The original recipe - with sauce stains and notes and all.

Grandma's Homemade Sauce and Meatballs

4 small cans of tomato paste
2 large cans of tomato puree
1 medium onion
1/2 of a large green pepper
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flake
1/2 teaspoon oregano

3 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium onion
1/2 large green pepper
3 garlic cloves (minced)
2 medium eggs
3-4 slices of bread
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flake

Pour tomato paste and puree into your sauce pot.  Fill cans with water and stir well, adding the tomato water to the paste and puree.  Set the pot on low heat and stir until smooth.  Add spices and stir again.  Chop veggies with your food processor.  Split each pile of chopped veggies in half.  Add one half to the sauce and stir.  Simmer the sauce without a cover for 10-12 hours, stirring well at least every hour to prevent the sauce from scorching the bottom of the pot.

While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs.  Put ground beef in a large mixing bowl along with the other half of the veggies, the eggs and spices.  Then tear the bread into small cubes and add to the mixture.  Mix thoroughly with your hands, adding some more bread if the mixture is too mushy. Prepare meatballs by rolling a small amount of mixture between your hands until it is firmly shaped into a ball.  Stack them on a plate until all are made.  In a large frying pan on medium heat, brown each one for about 4-5 minutes on all sides.  Add meatballs to the sauce, stir again (and again and again and...  get the idea?).

Serve with your favorite pasta, parmesan cheese and Italian bread.  Enjoy!

Tips on how to make it my way

The above recipe is from my grandma and mom.  Like I said, I have adapted it a bit.

  • I don't add quite as much water to the sauce as they suggest (about 1/2 the amount), but I do add 2-3 cans of diced tomatoes (with liquid).  
  • I usually have to use more bread than is suggested for the meatballs, and I do not tear the bread into cubes - I put the bread into a food processor (I actually use a Black and Decker chopper like this) to make bread crumbs to add to the mixture.  I also use this chopper for all of my veggies.
  • I use grass fed ground beef (80/20) - it adds a lot of great flavor, and is better for my kids (and the world)
  • I stir at least every 30 minutes.  Even with a nice All Clad stock pot, I seem to get scorching every time I make this sauce if I only stir every hour.  Set a timer for 20-30 min, and plan to spend the day with your sauce. 

Simmering until you can't stand it...
Having a heavy bottom pot helps.

Making a large batch

If I am going to spend all day making this sauce, I am going to have plenty of leftovers to enjoy!  I usually double this recipe, and then freeze portions in labeled plastic containers.  There is always more sauce than meatballs, so sometimes I just double the meatball recipe and keep the sauce ingredients the same.

This was my last batch!


You can also make a nice meatloaf with the meatball recipe.  Just remove the salt, black pepper, and red pepper.  Add some ketchup, dry mustard, worchesterchire sauce, and a packet of french onion soup mix.

Asher loves his mommy's sauce!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hello World!

I got to thinking about the years I spent working as a chef and the wealth of notes and techniques I acquired during that time.  I decided to start sharing some of that on a blog for friends and family since I don't need to pay the bills cooking anymore (I hope).  I intend for it to become somewhat of a reference for me and my friends (and insurance against something happening to my folders of notes).

Incidentally there are a lot of computer science people that I know love to cook and I have known quite a few people that left CS to cook.  The lady that baked our wedding cake used to be a SWE for IBM.  I hope that there will be plenty of guest authors.

We love to eat!

This is going to be great!

Eric's Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is a recipe that I spent a lot of time tweaking and modifying over my years working as a pastry chef, and the end result is a cookie recipe that I believe is one of the best.  For me this process highlighted the difference between working as a pastry chef and cooking at home - it wasn't about having a great recipe (although that helps) it's about understanding the many cause and effect relationships that are going on when you bake.

Most people have cooked a cake from a store bought mix and noticed that in the directions there are often different temperature/time directions for dark and light colored cookware, but have you ever thought about substituting really nice dark chocolate chips into your favorite cookie recipe?  The first time I tried this the cookies came out too tart - the solution was using 1/4 tsp more baking soda and substituting 1/4 cup of sugar for 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  So let's start with my base recipe and then we can talk about modifications

One lovely sheet of cookie goodness.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Part A
5 ounces unsalted butter
1 large egg
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
Part B
1 1/2 cups cake flour
Part C
1 cup toasted pecans
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit unless it is a convection oven and then use 325

All of the ingredients for part A must be at room temperature.  Mix them in a stand mixer until smooth.  Next mix in the four in part B and mix just until well incorporated (over mixing from here on out will make the cookies though).  Next mix the nuts and chocolate in part C just until they are evenly distributed.  Next bake them until they are GBD (Golden Brown Delicious).

About Baking Times

I expect that there are quite a few people that are more than a little disappointed that I did not tell you exactly how long I bake cookies to get that warm chewy center with the outer ring of just slightly crispy goodness.  Just like our buddy HAL said, "I am sorry Dave, I just can't do that," but I can talk a little bit about why I can't.  You see not only do each and every one of you have you own preconceived notion of the perfect doneness for a cookie, you each have ovens with varying degrees of temperature accuracy, ranges, and evenness.  The first time you cook these just assume that you will be hovering over the oven checking them often.  If you are smart (and you must be if you have read this far) then you will keep track of the time on a printed copy of this recipe and soon that can be your guide although you will always have to adjust the last few minutes due to variations in the ingredients and weather.  I always start with 350 5x5 (5 minutes, rotate, 5 minutes) for a standard gas oven and 325 3x3 for a commercial convection oven.

Tweaking and Testing

A lot of what I learned for this recipe and the base I modified came from the fabulous CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher (highly recommended) - she also has a newer book out that I have not used yet called BakeWise.  Here are some of the things I keep in mind.

  • Always bake them on parchment paper (not wax paper, non-stick pans, silpats or foil)
  • The butter has a big factor on how your cookies turn out (look for European style)
  • You can add 3 tablespoons of coco powder for a really rich cookie
  • Move them to a baking rack 3 minutes after the come out of the oven so they don't steam on the bottom
  • Baking a sheet of cookie does not take much longer to bake but spreading out the sticky dough can be a pain
If you have had and liked my cookies then by all means follow the recipe (let me know if you have any problems), but the biggest takeaway from this should be a willingness to adjust a recipe to your liking.  Having the right resources can make this much easier, and I plan to devote a few pages to the references and sources I find handy.