Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Cookies I Should Have Made

Yesterday I made a batch of really disappointing chocolate brownie roll-out cookies. It was completely my fault. I did not make the cookies properly, and due to the exacting nature of baking they did not turn out well. I decided to halve the recipe on sight and since I wasn't paying attention and added an excessive amount of cocoa powder. As a result the cookies were tough and dry. The thing is, even if they had turned out perfectly, as they have when I have previously made them, they still wouldn't have been as good as the cookies I should have made. Sure, they would have been mildly chocolate-y, toothsome, tender, and cakey, but they wouldn't have been goey and intense, the cookie equivalent of a flowerless chocolate cake. That would have only happened if I had made the other recipe.

So what led to my decision? Why did I make the ok cookies instead of the better ones in the first place? Maybe I was trying to save money. Cocoa is cheaper than chocolate, and I already had a tub in my pantry. Perhaps I didn't think I should make something so decadent and good for myself. I would definitely make them for my mom (I have), and I would absolutely spend the time and money that these require if my boyfriend requested them. Then why, I wonder, would I not do the same for myself?

I read an article in the Times a couple of weeks ago on how important it is to be kind to yourself, and how American's have a particularly confused relationship when it comes to self-compassion. Unfortunately, due to my apparent need to beat myself up over my poor decision to bake and then consume a sub-par cookie seems to indicate that I myself have a very deficient in the self-compassion category.

So this is what I am going to suggest to myself. In the future, when you want a cookie, make a good one. Enjoy it. Enjoy the fact that you are enjoying it. And leave it at that. That seems reasonable right?

About these fabled chocolate cookies: these chocolate-y chocolate chip studded cookies are enhanced with espresso which really makes their chocolate flavor shine. Instead of being cake-y like the cookies from the brownie roll-out recipe, these could be compared to brownies in that they have the same sort of papery thin chocolate crust and the same gooey richness and deep chocolate-y flavor that really good chocolate brownies have. My mom, who loves chocolate more than anything, was unsure about the espresso at first, and did not want to try the recipe. Since devouring the first batch, her only complaint has been that I have not posted the recipe yet and that I have not been regularly making batches and sending them to her in the mail. Gourmet was right when it concluded "this recipe could be the only one a chocolate lover needs."
Mocha Cookies
From Gourmet's Cookie Archives
Makes about 36 cookies

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (chopped)
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (diced)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs (at room temperature)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp instant espresso powder
2 tsp vanilla

Either in a double boiler or using a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water, melt the unsweetened chocolate, 1 1/2 cups of the semisweet chocolate chips, and the butter. Stir the mixture until it is smooth and remove it from the heat and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is pale and thick, then beat in the espresso powder and vanilla. Fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, fold in the flour mixture and stir in the remaining chocolate chips. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 350
Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto parchment paper lined baking sheets and bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until the centers puff and they are shiny cracked on top. Err on the side of under-baked, they are best goey rather than dry. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets, and then transfer them on to racks - they need to set up a little bit to move them easily from the pans to the sheets, one way to get around this is to pull the whole sheet of parchment paper onto the cooling rack so that you can re-use the baking sheet, once they have cooled enough they can be removed from the parchment paper and put directly on the racks. Let them cool completely (or eat them hot from the oven).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pasta with Braised Kale and Homemade Ricotta

I have been sitting on this kale recipe for a while. I keep thinking of sharing it, wanting to even, but for some reason I keep putting it off, saving it for a special occasion. But now is the time to close the kale chapter, so to speak, and that cannot be done without first sharing this recipe. Suffice to say, kale chips are fun and clever, but pasta coated with freshly made ricotta mixed with braised kale, laced with mild garlic, is deeply satisfying.

I originally found the recipe on Racheleats, one of my favorite blogs. It is delicious. In fact, if I wanted to be honest, which I do, I would have to admit that this recipe is the #1 reason why I have been obsessed with kale for so many months. Those other recipes are good, and I like them well enough, but this recipe is the best, and I love it.

Unlike Rachel, I do not live in Italy and therefore do not have access to the amazing fresh ricotta that I like to imagine is widely and cheaply available there. Out of thriftiness, I decided to make, instead of buying, the fresh ricotta.

Luckily, making ricotta may be one of the easiest things I have ever done. Which is unusual. Most of my so called thrifty schemes are stressful, time consuming, multi-dish dirtying and probably not recommendable. But this is not one of those. This is a keeper. It's simple, quick, requires only two ingredients, one pan, and one strainer lined with one paper towel. If you can boil milk then you are capable of making fresh homemade ricotta. And if you are capable of making fresh homemade ricotta, then you are capable of impressing quite a few people, including yourself. Plus it's actually really good.
Pasta with Braised Kale and Homemade Ricotta
Adapted from RachelEats, Ricotta recipe adapted from Gourmet

Spaghetti (I prefer something toothsome and thicker to pair with the earthiness of the kale)
Braised Kale
Large Bunch of Kale
2 Tbsp Olive oil
2 Garlic cloves (peeled and smashed)
Homemade Ricotta
3 cups of whole milk
Pinch of Salt
1 Tbps Lemon Juice (vinegar can be substituted)

Rinse the kale well, then remove the tough stalk either by pulling the leaves off of it or cutting alongside it to remove it. Then chop the leaves either into ribbons or relatively small pieces, I find that the type of kale I am using determines how I cut it - curly kale is not quite as amenable to neat ribbons as tuscan kale. You want the pieces big enough that you can really taste the kale, and small enough that it is easy to eat. At this point, warm the olive oil and garlic in a skillet and add the kale along with a pinch of salt. Let it wilt, uncovered, for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Then add a cup of water, partially cover the pan, and simmer on low for another 30 minutes, until the kale is tender.

While the kale is cooking, make the ricotta* and the pasta. Put a pot of water on for the pasta, and when the kale has about 10 minutes left, go ahead and cook it. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil in a small pan. Add a pinch of salt, and when it is boiling stir in the tablespoon of lemon, and turn the heat down. Continue to stir, the lemon should cause the milk to curdle and separate fairly quickly, if it seems to be a little slow you can add a little more lemon. Take the milk off of the stove and pour the mixture into a strainer lined with a paper towel (or cheesecloth), set aside to allow the liquid to drain.

Once the pasta is cooked al dente, stir the fresh ricotta into the braised kale. Add a little bit of the pasta water to loosen the mixture, it should be creamy and saucy. Toss the pasta in the sauce in the sauce, mixing thoroughly. Serve topped with grated parmesan.