One of the first things I learned to bake was chocolate chip cookies off the back of the yellow Tollhouse package. Every time I made them, they seemed to turn out different. Sometimes crispy, sometimes chewy. Sometimes cakey, sometimes perfect. I have since learned that recipes are more about technique than a list of ingredients.
For example, “Beat until creamy.” Creamy with my KitchenAid is way different then creamy by hand or even with a hand mixer. I now know that over-beating the butter and sugar can cause the too much air to be incorporated into the batter and the cookies will overspread and flatten. Over-mixing when you add the flour causes gluten strands to form which makes cookies tough.
I have tried many different chocolate chip cookie recipes and my favorite so far is Alton Brown’s “The Chewy.” It is important to follow this recipe EXACTLY to achieve the perfect combination of the crispy edge with the chewy center.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.
Pour the melted butter in the mixer’s work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Chill the dough, then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.
Personally, I like to scoop before I chill onto a parchment lined baking sheet, placing them as close together as possible so I can fit almost a double batch on one sheet. Once they are chilled, you can bake as many as you like and save the raw dough already scooped in the freezer. Nothing says “love” like fresh, homemade cookies.
One of my favorite restaurants in Austin is Wink. Mark Paul and Stewart Scruggs do upscale with a certain casualness that is required in Austin. The restaurant is small and can feel a little cramped but the service is adept at making you feel comfortable.
The menu changes daily to highlight the best available ingredients. They feature many artisan products and local farms like Pure Luck Dairy and Boggy Creek Farm. Portions are on the small side to encourage multiple courses. They also have a wine bar next door which has a fantastic happy hour.
I dined at Wink recently with a couple of ladies I had met at a Gonzo dinner. One of my dinner companions was a foie “virgin” and I told her we must go to Wink for your first time! They serve it as an appetizer AND as a dessert. Unfortunately on the evening we were there they had run out of the foie dessert but it is spectacular and I highly recommend it.
We started off with the foie gras appetizer portion served on cubes of brioche with a marvelously tart-sweet balsamic gastrique. The liver was perfectly seared, giving a slight crunch to the buttery velvet texture.
Next came the scallops. They were large U10’s with a carmelized sear that gave way to a meltingly tender interior. I wish I had kept better notes because I remember this being served with a rather unusual mushroom that lent an interesting textural contrast.
Since we couldn’t have the foie dessert, we went for another culinary adventurous course with the sweetbreads. Wink is the first place I ever tried this delicacy of thymus and pancreas glands. I am not an eater of all things disgusting nor do I enjoy the Fear Factor type shows where contestants have to eat pig testicles. But I do love some offal when it is cooked right and Wink does it RIGHT. A crisp exterior with a creamy interior perfectly seasoned. Almost as good as the foie. Almost.
Then my favorite course at Wink, dessert! Mark Paul is a freaking dessert genius. My all time favorite dessert anywhere is his Chocolate Soup. A bittersweet chocolate soup is paired with quenelles of milk chocolate ginger mousse and garnished with candied bits of ginger and orange rinds. We also had the sampler plate of some of his other greatest hits which has a simple creme brulee, a flourless cake made with El Rey chocolate, and the divine lemon curd served in a crisp meringue shell with candied lemon zest.
I floated home on a cloud of foodie contentment, occasionally giggling as I recalled such a decadent dream. (Yes, I realize this sounds like pretentious crap but an evening at Wink allows for a little self indulgence.)
My absolute favorite kitchen tool is my microplane zester. There is something soothing about zesting then juicing a big pile of fragrant lemons. Do not use your zester right side up as in this picture. Turn it the other way and pass it over the lemon like you are shaving it. The zest will collect in the microplane and it makes it a lot easier and neater to transfer the zest to the bowl. I can do about half a lemon before it almost fills the back of the zester. Dump the zest that has collected and finish zesting the fruit. If you try to collect too much zest in the microplane at once it will spill and cause a mess.
Now what should you do with all of this zest? I say make lemon sugar! Add the zest of 2 lemons to 4 cups of sugar, turbinado or raw cane work great but regular table sugar is fine. Seal it up and let it sit at least overnight. The fragrant sugar is great sprinkled over fruit for a quick fruit salad, as a substitute for regular sugar in your favorite cookie recipe, used as a topping for baked goods, and absolutely delicious in tea- iced or hot.
Hi. My name is Christy and I am a wine racist. I know there are good whites out there and I have had a few of them. But I prefer the deep, luscious, velvety reds. Even in the dead of summer, I might choose a lighter pinot noir but you can bet it will be a red. I’m not some wine snob that describes wine as scented with the sweet, sweet aroma of orphan’s tears with a hint of unicorn piss. But I have had enough wine to know what I like. My all time, price is no object wine is a Brunello. At around $80+ a bottle I don’t get to drink much of that. My favorite finds are the ones you can get for around $10 a bottle. The absolute go to house wine has been the Condesa de Leganza Crianza 2001, from the La Mancha region in Spain. Light enough for pork and complex enough for spicy foods, this jammy jewel has been served at many a dinner party with rousing success. Lately I have only been able to find the 2004 which comes in a much spiffier bottle but the wine seems paler in comparison. Beware the pretty label. That is pretty much a truism in wine as in life.
A couple of years ago I met Marla Camp at a Slow Food reception. She told me she was starting a foodie magazine called Edible Austin. Since then I have fallen in love with this gem The photography is beautiful and the articles are educational and entertaining. I seem to run into Marla wherever there are Austin foodies and artisinal local food producers. She is a true champion for our local scene. Edible Austin is sponsoring an Eat Local Week with some really cool events. You can probably catch me at the Drink Local soiree. Eat Local Week is an invitation to Central Texans to explore and celebrate the abundance of local food and to raise money for Urban Roots, a youth development program that uses sustainable agriculture as a means to transform the lives of young people and to increase the access of healthy food in Austin. More info at edibleaustin.com!
Right now this is a work in progress. I hope to share with the world recipes and philosophies that have shaped my outlook on the world. I think this picture captures the spirit of my cooking and eating standards pretty well.