Monday, June 26, 2006

When life gives you sour milk… make chocolate cookies

When I was a kid, my mom would make my grandmother’s chocolate cookies when we had milk or cream that had gone sour. The sour cream her recipe calls for is not the thick custard-consistency topping we use on Mexican food. It is actually the chunky, clumpy liquid that results when you leave milk or cream in the refrigerator a week past its due date. Lou thought I was crazy when he was about to dump the old container of cream into the compost bin and I stopped him saying I wanted to use it to make cookies. Sour milk and cream are great for baking because their increased acidity causes them to react with baking soda. Their use in this recipe results in a tender, cake-like cookie. In fact, these are so cake-like, my grandmother used to frost the bottoms, which intrigued us even more than the fact that such delectable treats could come from sour milk.

Grandma Helen’s Chocolate Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup cocoa
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sour cream or sour milk
6 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons table salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Warm butter to room temperature (can be done by zapping for 30 seconds or so in microwave). In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars. Add the cocoa and mix until incorporated. Add the eggs and vanilla. Combine.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour with the baking soda and salt. Then while mixing, alternately add 1/2 of the flour mixture and 1/2 of the sour cream to the dough, then the remaining flour and sour cream and mix until incorporated.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. Cool and frost the bottoms with your favorite chocolate frosting if desired. As a kid, I loved the frosted bottoms, but these days I prefer the cookie sans frosting.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sous Vide

I helped out with the cooking demonstration down at the farmer's market at the Ferry Building this past Saturday. It's called "Market to Table" and it is every Saturday at 10:30 after "Meet the Farmer" at 10:00. I enjoy meeting the professional chefs and authors that demonstrate their recipes and it is fun to see what goes on behind the scenes to put these events together.

Saturday's Market to Table featured Bruce Hill of Picco and Bix. He brought a really interesting technique to the spot light: Sous Vide. It means "under vacuum". The technique involves cooking meat (in his case, duck breast) in a vacuum sealed bag that is placed in a water bath that measures 130 degrees for one hour. (He used a crock pot to facilitate this) The idea is that you bring the meat or fish to a desired end temperature by placing it in water of that exact temperature, allowing the protein to gently cook as it comes up to that temperature. The product that results from this extremely even cooking method does not have a gradient of done-ness from the outside to the inside. It was the same color throughout. It does not lose any moisture and is therefore also very tender.

As you can imagine, this new trend in cooking at a low temperature has sparked some concern among health officials. New York City recently banned it in restaurants there until safety guidelines are drafted. I don't plan on buying a crockpot and trying this at home anytime soon, but while it's still legal in San Francisco, I plan to go to Bix and check it out.