Monday, February 23, 2009

Outrageous Chocolate Cookies

After the Black-Bottom Coconut Bars fiasco, I wanted to give Martha a chance to redeem herself. There’s been a special on the site featuring chocolate recipes. Outrageous Chocolate Cookies sounded great and like all great Martha Stewart recipes, were easy to make.

I took some time to read the comments posted about the recipe. And it paid off. According to the commenters who had tried it, the recipe posted on the site called for too little flour (¼ cup). For some reason, however, if you did a search on the recipe, another page came up with the same recipe except that it called for ⅔ cup of flour which is the correct amount.

I have a few objections with this recipe. Microwaving butter and chocolate, if you know your microwave oven well, is a breeze. I see no reason to do it in 20-second increments, stirring in between, as recommended. I do it in one shot until the butter is melted and chocolate softened and then stir the result until the chocolate has completely melted.

Beating eggs, brown sugar and vanilla on high speed does not result in anything “light and fluffy”. What you get is well-mixed eggs, brown sugar and vanilla. And once you add the chocolate, flour mixture and chocolate chunks (chocolate chunks, yum!), it is very nearly impossible to drop (rounded) heaping tablespoons of dough. The cookies assume all sorts of unappetizing shapes.

One step that was not mentioned, but that I noticed, is that initially the batter is a little runny but if you allow it to sit for ten minutes or so, it thickens and becomes easier to handle and to drop in rounded heaping tablespoons of dough resulting in rounder and more attractive cookies. Like the ones pictured on the site (see below).

The recipe cautions: “Do not bake the cookies to a crisp; they are meant to be soft and chewy.” My results were more cake-like than chewy. I would have preferred chewy. And the taste? Good. And very chocolate-y. But not “outrageous”.

Verdict: Not bad, but I don’t think I’ll be making these again.

Outrageous Chocolate Cookies

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅔ cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
¾ cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl in 20-second increments, stiffing in between, until almost melted; do not overheat. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; beat in melted chocolate. Mix in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough 2 to 3 inches apart into baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are shiny and crackly yet soft in centers, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on sheets 10 minutes; with a thin metal spatula, transfer to racks to cool completely.

Makes 2 dozen.

Recycle: vanilla extract bottle

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chicken in Spicy Coconut Sauce

Maybe it’s the midwinter blahs or something, but lately I’ve been feeling bored with my own cooking. Restaurant food is better, but eating out all the time is expensive. I’d prefer to cook myself, but I was having trouble coming up with something that sounded appealing. So, the other day, while going through a stack of recipes looking for this one particular one, I pulled out several that I hadn’t made before and that sounded good. This is one of them. I’d printed it out two and a half years ago and never got around to making it. “The sauce is rich with coconut flavor and redolent with spice” it says. Spicy is particularly appealing right now, as is coconut, maybe because I just got back from Florida.

I admit I changed quite a few things when I actually made this recipe. The first problem was that I didn’t have lemongrass or galangal on hand, and didn’t have time to get to an Asian grocery, so I ended up just leaving them out. I wasn’t sure where to find Holland red chiles (or even what they are, for that matter), so substituted a half teaspoon of chili powder. I also didn’t have shallots, so used a large clove of garlic instead. I used powdered ginger instead of fresh, and light instead of dark brown sugar because those are what I had on hand. At least I did have a block of tamarind in the freezer.

The amount of coconut milk called for alarmed me. I spend my days analyzing fats. My boss does research on atherosclerosis. So I know about the fat composition of coconuts. I love coconut milk, but I know that it’s not good for you – and 48 oz, which is nearly 4 regular-size cans, sounded like an awful lot. So I decided to cut the recipe in half (if it turned out badly, I wouldn’t have as many leftovers to deal with) and use two chicken breasts, which I cubed before cooking, and only one 13 oz can of coconut milk. Finally, I didn’t bother to puree the garlic; I just diced it and threw it in with the other spices, which were all already powders anyway.

The tamarind is a bit messy, but otherwise this was an easy recipe – just simmer everything together for awhile, then take the lid off and simmer down until the sauce thickens (I didn’t bother to remove the chicken at that point). As it was cooking, my kitchen was filled with the pleasant aroma of turmeric. Unfortunately, that’s about what the final product tasted like. Instead of the rich mixture of spices I’d expected, I could taste turmeric and coconut milk, and that was pretty much it. Everything else had just disappeared. Turmeric and coconut milk is not a bad combination, but I expected something more complex. The texture of the sauce was nice, though, and the proportions were about right. I was glad I hadn’t added another can of coconut milk.

If I can get some lemongrass and galangal, I may try making this again, but I’ll double the amounts of all the spices.

Verdict: Hmmm.....might be a keeper after some tweaking...

Chicken in Spicy Coconut Sauce

Sorry, no photo - imagine chunks of chicken in a bright yellow sauce...

3 pound chicken drumsticks and thighs
2 teaspoons salt
2 rounded tablespoons tamarind from a pliable block
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup chopped shallots (4 large)
10 (5 1/2-inch) fresh Holland red chiles, sliced crosswise (1 cup), including seeds
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chopped peeled turmeric (fresh or thawed frozen) or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 fresh lemongrass stalks, 1 or 2 outer leaves and all but lower 6 inches discarded
6 cups well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk (48 fl oz; not low-fat)
1 (1-inch) piece galangal (fresh or thawed frozen), sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons packed dark palm sugar or dark brown sugar

Rub chicken with salt and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

While chicken stands, gently mash tamarind with hot water in a bowl using your fingertips until pulp is softened, then force with a rubber spatula through a medium-mesh sieve into a small bowl, discarding solids. Pulse shallots, chiles, ginger, and turmeric with cumin and coriander in a food processor until finely chopped. Lightly smash lemongrass stalks with bottom of a heavy skillet.

Stir together coconut milk, tamarind purée, shallot mixture, lemongrass, galangal, and palm sugar in a 6- to 7-quart wide heavy pot. Add chicken and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, then reduce heat and gently simmer, partially covered, until very tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer chicken with tongs to a bowl and simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring frequently, until thickened and reduced to about 4 cups, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes, then skim off any fat if desired. Discard lemongrass and season sauce with salt. Add chicken and stir to coat.

Recycle: spice jars, coconut milk can

Compost: peelings/trimmings

Monday, February 16, 2009

Black-Bottom Coconut Bars

Martha Stewart has disappointed me. I’ve gotten hooked on the recipes on her website. The easy ones. Not the ones that have a million steps, call for pans, utensils and ingredients I don’t own and/or can’t find and take hours to prepare. I love the easy ones because they are easy, always work and taste delicious. Today, I found a recipe that only fulfills two of those three things.

Billed as “a rich chocolate brownie and a chewy coconut macaroon”, these bars seemed almost too good to be true. Coconut macaroon that doesn’t call for egg whites? But I trust Martha and set out to make them. Especially since all I had to buy was the coconut. The rest of the ingredients are staples in my kitchen.

My first clue that disaster was looming was when I finished mixing the ingredients for the chocolate base and instead of the usual stiff brownie batter, my bowl was full of syrup. I gamely poured it into the pan and placed it in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. The timing was right although it was rather hard to tell when the sides began to pull away from the edges of the pan because the cake was only ½” thick. I made my best guess and moved on to the next step.

The coconut topping turned out to be much stiffer than the chocolate bottom. So stiff, in fact, that I had difficulty incorporating all of the ingredients into the batter. The directions are correct that you have to drop mounds of it over the chocolate base and then gently spread it around.

Lulled into a false sense of security that the worst was over, I cooled the cake in the pan and then attempted to remove it. The foil and the chocolate refused to part company. I had to exile them both to my refrigerator overnight before they agreed to go their separate ways.

Once I was able to unfuse the cake from the foil, it turned out to be delicious. The coconut topping is too heavy to be called a macaroon but it’s just right on top of a brownie.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Black-Bottom Coconut Bars

For Chocolate Base
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)

For Coconut Topping
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 package sweetened shredded coconut (7 ounces), ½ cup reserved for sprinkling

For chocolate base: preheat oven to 375°. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a slight overhang; butter bottom and sides of foil (not overhang).

Place butter in a large microwave-safe bowl; melt in microwave. Add sugar and salt; whisk to combine. Whisk in egg, then cocoa and flour until smooth. Spread batter in prepared pan.

Bake just until sides begin to pull away from edges of pan, 10 to 15 minutes (do not overbake). Let cool slightly while preparing coconut topping. Keep oven on for topping.

For coconut topping: in a medium bowl, whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla. Gently mix in flour and coconut (except ½ cup reserved for sprinkling).

Drop mounds of mixture over chocolate base; spread and pat in gently and evenly with moistened fingers. Sprinkle with reserved ½ cup coconut.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Lift cake from pan, peel off foil, and cut into 24 bars. Store in an airtight container 3 to 4 days.

Recycle: vanilla extract bottle

Compost: eggshells