Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cucumber Avocado Soup

Summer rocks until you have been assaulted by a heat index of 114˚ and your kitchen isn’t air-conditioned.  All the food that could melt does; probably because you are constantly opening the freezer door just to cool down.  Needless to say, you want to minimize your time slaving over a hot stove (or stopping to take step-by-step pictures – my apologies, dear foodies).   Thus, a cold cucumber avocado soup won out after a friend dropped off a five pound bag of summer squashes, cucumbers, and peppers.   

After peeling, seeding, slicing, and simmering the cucumbers they turned from crisp and cool to soft and savory.  Cucumbers being mostly water, I never thought to cook a ‘cuke.   Although I admit I was skeptical at first, I have been won over.  There is something familiar and yet adventurous about cooking cucumbers.  Adding avocado was the secret to a smooth, silky texture and nutty, buttery flavor.  To brighten the soup, I used cilantro, dill weed, and mint for their tingly citrus notes and grassy-green taste.  
Once I had finished blending the soup, I took a taste of the warm cucumber soup and actually found that I preferred it over the cold soup.  (Ah the merits of taste testing along the way…) Eating the soup cold had its perks – it basically tasted like a thinner guacamole, yum! –  but the heat of the jalapenos did not blossom without heating the soup, and the cold soup’s texture became a bit strange after bowl two.   Overall, the soup was a successful attempt at minimizing time in the kitchen and maximizing my eating enjoyment (even when I can’t get the thermostat any lower than 85 without my AC busting).
Cucumber Avocado Soup “Cold Guacamole Soup”
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 small onion, diced (about ¾ cup)
1 T fresh lemon juice
4 cups peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced cucumbers
1 ½ cups vegetable broth
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Dash of cayenne pepper
2 tsp jalapeno, finely diced
1 avocado
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp dill weed, dried
1 T fresh mint, chopped
½ cup plain yogurt
1.       In large saucepan or high-walled skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat.
2.       Add onions, cook for about 2 min.  Then add garlic, cook for an additional 2 min. 
3.       Add lemon juice and cook for 1 min.
4.       Add cucumber slices, broth, and season with salt, black pepper, and cayenne.
5.       Reduce heat and cook at a gentle simmer until the cucumbers soften, about 6-8 min.
6.       Take skillet/pan off heat; let cool for about 5 min.  Transfer soup to a blender. 
7.       Add avocado, cilantro, dill weed, and mint; blend on low speed until smooth.
8.       Pour into bowl and stir in yogurt.  Garnish with fresh diced cucumber and cilantro.
Soup can be enjoyed hot, or can eaten cold after being chilled for about 2-4 hours.

Monday, July 18, 2011

36-Hour Chocolate Chip Cookies

A Jacques Torres adaptation 
 Warning: if you are looking for purely instant-gratification cookies, stick to Nabisco.  But if you start now, you are only a day and a half away from your awakening.  Yes, in a little over 36 hours your eyes will open and your sweet tooth will swoon over the best chocolate chip cookies you ever sunk your teeth into.  A golden, sugary outer shell encrusts a still warm and gooey dough center.  The climax is the realization that you have just tasted a cookie with the perfect proportion of crisp baked cookie and raw cookie dough.  Every cookie you have tasted before becomes inferior.  Sure, Grandma’s cookies may continue to maintain that nostalgic tastiness, but you are hooked to these even before you swallow the first bite.  The richness of the cookie is the only limiting factor.  Eating an entire cookie might seem doable, until you are halfway through and you can already feel a significant rise in your blood pressure.  But rest assured that these cookies are worth the wait, the tooth-ache, and the possible cavity to come.    
 I’m sure you are wondering why the 36 hours.  This method may seem arcane, but in fact, the rest period is what creates cohesive dough.  It allows the wet ingredients to be fully absorbed into the dry ingredients.  Eggs are gelatinous and take time to absorb, especially when butter acts like a coat of armor for the flour. Thus, drier, firmer dough means that the eggs and other liquids have been sufficiently soaked up into the flours.  This should mean that you will enjoy a better baking consistency.  Better baking consistencies lead to crisp edges and chewy centers – the way all cookies should be.
As for the other secrets, I found that using cake and bread flour make for better consistency as well.  Your next secret is 2 ½ sticks of butter.  TWO and a HALF STICKS of butter.  (I never claimed they were healthy.)  But you can’t skimp on the butter or sugar, as they are the reason these cookies melt into toffee-flavored syrup in your mouth.  My favorite “last touch” is the coarse salt sprinkled on top of the cookies.  It completes them.  
 Served fresh from the oven they are enough to corrupt even the most devout diet.  Perhaps you could fast for the 36 hours leading up to the baking? Haha, just kidding. So if you are aiming to outdo the competition, I recommend these cookies served fresh, with a tall glass of milk. 

36-Hour Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour + 4 T cornstarch (Or 2 cups cake flour)
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 ¼ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp coarse salt
2 ½ sticks ( 1 ¼ cups) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups brown sugar
1 cup + 2 T granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp natural vanilla extract
1 ¼ lbs semi-sweet chocolate chips
A few pinches of sea or kosher salt

1.       In one bowl, using a whisk, combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  (You can use a sifter too, if you have it.) Set aside.
 2.       In a larger bowl, cream together butter and sugars until very light.  (By hand this will take you a while – making sure the butter is at least at room temperature will help.)
 3.       Add eggs to butter and sugar, one at a time.  Mix well after adding each.
4.       Stir in vanilla.
5.       Add in dry ingredients, lightly mix until just combined.  
 6.       Add in chocolate chips.
7.       Press plastic wrap to dough and refrigerate for 36 hours (trust me it’s worth it).  Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours. 
 8.       When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper or sill pat. 
9.       Scoop 6 (3.5 oz – the size of engorged golf balls) balls of dough onto baking sheets.  Sprinkle with sea salt/kosher salt and bake until golden brown, but still soft, 18-20 minutes.
 10.   Cool cookies, but they are best enjoyed when warm. 
11.   Remaining dough can be refrigerated and baked later (up to 24 hours after).
Makes about 1 ½ dozen 5-in cookies.