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Friday, March 28, 2014

Milk and Cookies, Twitter and Bacon

Just as I was getting ready to teach my Twitter class* here at the Library, I saw this and laughed: "Bacon: the duct tape of food," tweeted by chef Michael Symon.  So true.  It's the all purpose fix-up for food that needs a little help.

Amazing when used well, but often overused, sometimes overpowering all else with its smoky salty flavor.  I admit that I have fallen under the spell of this seemingly magical ingredient and used it in some delicious preparations.  To wit:  bacon butter and bacon maple biscuits.  One bacon addition which I disliked:  Bacon Cookies from gourmet cookie shop The Milk and Cookies Bakery in the West Village of New York City.

Download this e-book from our Library website!
However, way over on the plus side for me were the Chocolate Chip Cookies from the very same Milk and Cookies Bakery.  They absolutely do not need bacon to be delicious. They are memorable and perfect just the way they are. In fact, I booked my family on a food tour of Greenwich Village on the basis of my foodie hair stylist Stacy rhapsodizing about those cookies. (Our tasting tour completely confirmed their wonderfulness.)

Best of all in my opinion is you can make these cookies anytime yourself using the Milk and Cookies bakery cookbook. We have it available at our Library as an electronic book.  (Just use your library card, then you can read it in your browser, or download it to your computer,  e-reader or mobile device.  Call us at 732-329-4000 ext. 7286 if you need help. Choose Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium as your lending library from the drop down menu.)

Photo from the The Milk and Cookies Bakery
Back to those Chocolate Chip Cookies - 1. They have an amazing crunch due to the addition of oatmeal that's ground up and mixed into the batter.  2. They have great depth of chocolate flavor from two kinds of chocolate: bittersweet chocolate flakes (make these in your food processor or blender) which are streaked into the batter, and large semisweet chocolate chunks (not wimpy chocolate chips).  And 3. They have both a  crunchy exterior and a soft middle.

Result - cookie nirvana.  Cookies even a bakery would be proud of. Or as my friend Barb said:  "You should sell these!".

I'll let you in on a few secrets:  these cookies require a little attention to detail, but it's totally worth it.  The first time I made them I brought them in to the Library and they were pretty good - see items 1. and 2. above.  But the texture, well, it was not quite right - the cookies were too big and too crunchy.

First attempt:  too big, too flat, too crunchy.
Second attempt:  gone before I remembered to take a picture. But totally like the first photo above.
I was determined to make them taste as great as the ones we'd had at the Bakery, especially since now both my daughter Kate and Stacy had raved about them, and I wanted to surprise my daughter with them for her birthday.

The second time I made them was a couple days later and I changed three things:  I shaped them into 2 inch (not 2.5 inch) hockey-puck-shaped rounds and then, before I baked them, I chilled the shaped rounds on the cookie sheets in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, and finally, I was careful to take them out of the oven when they were firm on the outside but still soft in the middle.

We had them as dessert after Sunday dinner, and then I gave the rest to Kate to take home for a belated birthday treat (make that really belated - her birthday was in June!)  I asked her to share some with Stacy who consequently texted:

Kate:  They pretty much taste just like the cookies haha.
Stacy:  "They taste EXACTLY LIKE THEM!".

So here you go, click here for the link for the Milk and Cookies  Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and just be sure to follow the caveats above.  And please don't add bacon.

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian
Persistent Baker

P.S.  I read some of the comments for this recipe so there's one more thing to be sure to do:  when you cream the butter and sugar, be sure to use a standing type mixer (like a KitchenAid), not a hand held mixer, and when the recipe says "beat until very light and creamy", this means to be sure and beat it for 5 - 6 minutes until the color changes to very pale yellow and the mixture is noticeably light and fluffy!

* Check the Event Calendar for the next Twitter class, scheduled for early May 2014.

Friday, March 21, 2014

VB6 - Mark Bittman's Eat Vegan Before 6:00

I love vegetables, although I can't say I've never met a vegetable I didn't like - I cooked collard greens once and that was a disaster - too bitter for me - dumped the whole bowlful right in the garbage after everyone at the table had one bite and gagged - but I like almost every other veggie.

Eating vegetarian and having a meatless meal is no hardship in my book, especially now that spring is here and we're getting better produce in the markets.  But eating vegan is beyond the pale - what, no milk on my cereal?  no cream cheese on my bagel?  no parm on my eggplant parmesan? - that would be really tough. So Mark Bittman, cookbook writer, New York Times food columnist and wholesome food advocate, had his work cut out for him to convince me not only to go vegetarian, but vegan for breakfast and lunch.  On the plus side, there is a reprieve for dinner.

Chickpea Ratatouille: vegan, easy, delicious, make this tonight!

That's the conceit of Bittman's latest cookbook VB6, Eat Vegan Before 6:00. His reasons for it are health and long-term weight loss.  As the aforementioned vegetable lover, I thought, OK, sign me up. (Heaven knows I'm not losing any weight cooking from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook! Sadly.)

At dinner, you don't go wild, but are eating entrees which are vegetable laden, and with much smaller quantities of meat, fish and dairy, which I prefer anyway.  I took the leap and tried a number of recipes, and I must say, I was duly impressed.

Big winners, mostly from the dinner category:

Fish Stew:  taste of Provence in a bowl
Fisherman's Stew,  a classic Mediterranean vegetable and seafood stew, made even more awesome if you have the time and inclination (yes to both on my part - I live to eat and cook!), by using Bittman's recipe for Fast and Flavorful Vegetable Stock, which in itself is worth making and adding to anything that calls for vegetable, chicken or beef stock.  (French Onion Soup  from The Food 52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs made with Bittman's stock was to die for - but that's a different post.)

Vegetable stock to be
D.I.Y. Flatbread, a whole wheat bread that you can form into sandwich bread, crusty bread, breadsticks or pizza.  Easy with a food processor and the hands on time is minimal.  Made pizza with ricotta, balsamic caramelized onions, and butternut squash, and another with ricotta, pesto, asparagus and scallions.  Great, easy, from scratch whole wheat recipe where the bread was worth eating. Click here to see Mark Bittman's video and the recipe.
Ricotta Pizza: butternut squash, balsamic caramelized onions - great combo.

Shrimp Tabbouleh, your classic bulgur and veggie salad, but way heavier on the veggies.  Keeps well in the fridge, too, especially if, like me, you hide the leftovers in the back of the refrigerator for yourself. (Guilty as charged, sorry.)

Eggplant Un-Parmesan, eggplant parm and, amazingly, you don't miss the cheese.  First, the sauce is very flavorful and then Bittman cleverly tops it all with a salty, peppery breadcrumb mix drizzled with good olive oil so that you don't miss that hit of parmesan at all.

No parm, no  problem.

Chickpea Ratatouille, a ratatouille recipe that is not only great tasting, but takes virtually no time because you roast all the veggies together in the oven.  Well, you do have to cut them up, but I love that - you're using all those beautiful veggies and then concentrate on the zen-ness of cutting them up evenly (ok, maybe that's only zen for me?). If you put them on a low rimmed half sheet pan lined with heavy duty aluminum foil amd then a sheet of non-stick foil, there's no scrubbing up afterwards either.

Near misses:

Made the Carrot Candy which was fun and ludicrous at the same time:  a pound of carrots cooked down to a tiny bowlful of little bits, which tasted more like vegetable leather than any candy I've ever had.

An entire pound of carrots reduced to tiny bits!
The Chocolatey Pineapple Kebabs were ok, pineapple dusted with cocoa powder and baked in the oven. These were okay, a little bitter, and people weren't thrilled with them.

Frozen Banana Bonbons - good, but this preparation is nothing new.

Creamed Mushrooms on Toast - cream replaced by white beans buzzed in a food processor or blender made a nice substitution.  Served over toasted whole wheat bread for dieters and slices of toasted baguette drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic for the indulgent. Can defeat the vegan-ism by topping with a little grated Parmesan.  Oops.

Following is the recipe I don't want you to miss because it's easy and perfect for an early spring dinner now that the eggplants and zucchinis are coming in the markets.  I know, I know, they're not local, but they're a nice break from root vegetables after a long, snowy, winter here in New Jersey.  And I think we deserve that, don't you?

Chickpea Ratatouille
adapted from Mark Bittman's VB6

1 lb. plum tomatoes OR 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, halved and drained, reserving the liquid (I like Muir Glen brand - and BTW whole tomatoes are generally better quality than diced in any brand)
1 lb. eggplant, cut into large chunks, 1 1/2 inches
3/4 lb. zucchini, cut into large chunks, 1 1/2 inches
1 onion, sliced
2 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
3 cups cooked chickpeas, or 2 cans, rinsed and drained
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or rosemary OR
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley (don't skimp here - with a dish this simple, you need fresh herbs)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a large roasting pan or sheet pan with heavy duty foil and then a layer of non-stick foil.  Combine first 5 ingredients in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and mix.

Roast until veggies are lightly browned and tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

Scrape into a pot, add the chickpeas, reserved tomato liquid and fresh herbs and cook over medium heat until heated through, 5 - 10 minutes.

Wasn't that easier than any ratatouille recipe you've ever made?  Just as tasty too. Also totally satisfying with the addition of the chickpeas, and still vegan!

Find many more of Mark Bittman's cookbooks and great recipes here at the Library, and have fun this spring cooking with lots of fresh vegetables!

Diane Whitman
Veg Advocate
Reference Librarian