Saturday, April 11, 2009

Strawberry Blueberry Bread

I only recently started eating breakfast regularly. In the past, I stumbled out of bed, rushed to the subway, and was lucky if I could grab a cup of coffee at work. These days, I try to get up a little earlier to have a somewhat leisurely breakfast with my husband, which I find makes the impending work day seem the slightest bit more bearable. Lately, however, I have become very bored with my usual bowl of cereal or toast. This strawberry/blueberry bread was the perfect thing to break up my routine. Given the amount of sugar and butter in this recipe, calling this bread may strain the definition of "bread," but it is perfect toasted and slathered with a dab of butter. It reminds me of a Spring version of the Pumpkin bread I made in the winter. I used some leftover strawberries and blueberries but other berries, such as raspberries would be just as good.

Strawberry Blueberry Bread


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 eggs
2 Tbsp sour cream (I used fat free sour cream)
1 cup crushed fresh strawberries, blueberries, and/or raspberries


1. Preheat oven to 325F. Spray or grease a loaf pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, butter, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after the addition of each egg. Mix in the flour and sour cream. Fold in the crushed berries and lemon zest.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 55 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

5. Cool the bread for 20 minutes in the pan. Invert the loaf onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

If I had to pick my favorite desserts, the humble chocolate chip cookie would definitely be in my top five. I'm not too picky either -- I have been known to grab the sad looking chocolate chip cookies that always seem to appear on the dessert trays at work meetings. However, I do know a good chocolate chip cookie when I find one. Recently, my husband and I stumbled upon Jacques Torres' chocolate outpost in Tribeca and along with the requisite Wicked Hot Chocolate (hot chocolate with a touch of spice) we had the most amazing chocolate chip cookie in recent memory. It was gigantic (one was plenty for both of us) and was just oozing with chocolate; you even have the option of getting it warmed up by the staff! A recent NY Times article that made waves in the food blog world mentioned Jacques Torres' secret to the oozing chocolate in this cookies -- he uses chocolate disks, which are larger than chips, that create a layer of chocolate in his cookies.

Baking chocolate chip cookies at home is always a tricky proposition. Most of the recipes I had tried in the past were all similar to the well known Toll House version -- they were tasty but all turn out too thin and crispy; nothing at all like the thick, chewy chocolate chip cookies that I enjoy from bakeries. I hit the jackpot when I found this recipe, which is my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe (at least until I try the NY Times recipe). It is the only recipe I have tried that results in thick, chewy cookies rather than thin crisp disks. The recipe even includes a brilliant method for getting large cookies with beautiful nooks and crannies -- you roll a 1/2 cup of the dough in your hands, pull it apart in half, and then place the halves on the baking sheet with the torn portion facing up. The one key change I made to the recipe is to use light brown pourable sugar rather than regular brown sugar. The one time I tried this recipe with regular brown sugar, the dough was too moist and the cookies came out too thin and crispy. These cookies may not be quite on the Jacques Torres level, but they are pretty darn good.

Chocolate Chip Cookies


2 cup plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
12 Tbsp (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted & cooled until warm
1 cup light brown pourable sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cup semisweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk dry ingredients (except sugar) together; set aside. Mix butter & sugars until thoroughly combined. Beat in egg, yolk and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients & beat at just until combined. Stir in chips.

3. Roll scant ½ cup dough into ball. Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving ample room between each ball.

4. Bake until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft & puffy (about 18 - 20 minutes). Cool cookies on sheets until able to lift without breaking.

Makes 18 or so large cookies.

Macaroni and Cheese

What goes better with fried chicken than macaroni and cheese? I have made macaroni and cheese in the past but this Martha Stewart recipe blew the old recipes I had tried out of the water. The recipe is for baked macaroni and cheese, rather than a stovetop version, and calls for a real cheese sauce starting with a bechamel sauce rather than Velveeta. It may sound strange but the ingredient that made the biggest difference was the cubed white bread that is scattered on top of the cheesey pasta right before baking. The bread cubes form a delicious crust and lend some needed crunch to the final product. I recommend this technique over topping with normal breadcrumbs, which always seems to create a crust that is a little too dry and separate from the rest of the dish.

Making this recipe also caused a light bulb to go off in my head about bechamel sauce -- namely, that making a bechamel sauce takes patience. In the past, after a few minutes of stirring, I would get bothered by the lumps in the sauce cased by the butter/flour roux and fish out the lumps, which usually resulted in a sauce that was too thin and watery. This time, I let the sauce simmer for at least 10 minutes while constantly swirling with a whisk. The sauce thickened up beautifully with nary a lump in sight. The below recipe is slightly altered from the original.

Macaroni and Cheese


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
3 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 3/4 cups milk (I used 1% milk)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Gruyère or 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp grated Pecorino Romano cheese (I used Parmesan cheese)
1/2 pound elbow macaroni


1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the bread cubes in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cups Gruyère (or 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.

5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into a 8X8 casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cups cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Gruyère (or 2 Tbsp Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fried Chicken

Up to about two weeks ago, I swore that I would never ever try to deep fry anything at home. I was less concerned about how bad fried food is for my health than I was about third degree burns, overflowing and spattering hot oil, and grease fires. My husband has a deep love for fried chicken (I am a pretty big fan as well) and has often begged me to make home made fried chicken. Although we found a few places in the city with pretty good fried chicken, nothing compared to the fried chicken my husband recalled eating after a night out on the town at a little known place in Queens called Palace Fried Chicken, or PFC (yes, really). He was convinced I would be able to replicate it at home. About two weeks ago, I decided to throw caution to the wind. Well, more accurately, after spending a few hours reading food blogs about how to make amazing fried chicken without burning the apartment down, I decided to try my hand at fried chicken. It seemed from everything I read that the key things to remember were: (1) soak the chicken in buttermilk for as long as possible to get very moist meat, (2) double coat the chicken to get a very crispy exterior, and (3) make sure the oil is neither too hot nor too cold.

The temperature of the oil is what made me the most nervous -- too cold and the chicken will get soggy, too hot and the chicken will burn before it cooks through. To make matters worse, I didn't have a thermometer that could have helped me if a recipe called for a particular temperature. So, I had to rely on the old fashioned test of flicking some flour into the oil to see if it immediately sizzled. The first two pieces I fried did come out slightly burnt because I waited a tad too long for the oil to heat up (it was smoking, which means I let it get too hot). However, I learned my lesson and discovered the key is to keep the heat between medium and medium-low, which seems counterintuitive. The chicken, when it hits the oil, should sizzle but not too ferociously. I also read that using butter or olive oil for deep frying is not ideal so I stuck to canola oil. Finally, you should not use too much oil in your frying pan because it could overflow. I used a wide shallow wok, which was ideal for frying 3 pieces of chicken at a time.

The second thing I learned is that soaking the chicken in buttermilk makes a huge difference. Although most recipes call for an overnight soak, I was only able to allow the chicken to soak for about 6 hours. Even after just 6 hours, the chicken was extremely tender and my husband claimed he could taste the buttermilk in the final product. A lot of recipes also call for brining the chicken. I followed a tip from Padma Lakshmi's book Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet (a gift from someone at work who overestimated my love of Top Chef; to be fair, a lot of the recipes look interesting) and soaked the chicken in salted buttermilk, which combines the two steps (although Padma Lakshmi uses milk rather than buttermilk).

The below recipe is an amalgam of tips, tricks, and suggestions from a variety of recipes. I have made fried chicken two times now and both times have been a resounding success. Now, I can't wait to try other deep fried goodies!

Fried Chicken


1 whole chicken, cut into eighths
2 cups canola oil

For Brine
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
5 tsp kosher salt
4 tsp hot sauce

For Coating
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp amchoor or dried mango powder (optional; you can find this easily in most Indian supermarkets)
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp paprika
1 cup corn flakes, crushed
3 eggs, beaten in a shallow bowl


1. Mix the buttermilk, hot sauce, and salt together in a large bowl. Add chicken and soak for at least 6 hours or up to 10 hours.

2. Mix the flour, corn flakes, salt, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, and amchoor powder in a shallow bowl. Dip each piece of chicken in the flour mixture, then the beaten egg, and again in the flour mixture. Coat each piece thoroughly and set aside on a large plate.

3. Heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. The oil is ready when a speck of flour begins to immediately sizzle when it hits the oil (Another test is to place the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil -- if the oil immediately bubbles up around the handle, it is ready.) Fry the chicken 2 or 3 pieces at a time to avoid crowding the pot for about 6 minutes per side (more or less time may be required based on the size of the piece).

4. Once the chicken pieces are golden brown, remove from the oil and place on a plate covered with a few layers of paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt if desired.

Makes 4 servings.