Winter in Minnesota, that time of year when the populace obsessively focuses on the creation and consumption of carbs.
For me, that means sweets. The easier-to-make, the better, since sub-zero temperatures tends to blanket me in a kind of hankered-down inertia. And in the world of baking, little is less complicated (and more satisfying) than pulling together a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
This wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution, but I’ve decided to designate 2015 as the year when I adopt a new chocolate chip cookie recipe ideal. Specifically, one that surpasses the classic Toll House formula. You know, the one printed on the back of Nestle's semisweet chocolate chips package; I think I've had it committed to memory for more than 30 years, that's how long -- and how often -- I've been baking it.
(So far, I have four recipes that I want to test-drive. If you’ve got one that you'd like to share, please send it my way, to firstname.lastname@example.org).
The first comes from an unlikely source: Thomas Keller. The nation’s highest-profile practitioner of haute cuisine might not be the top-of-mind source for a plebian chocolate-chip cookie fanatic, but then a friend reminded me of “Ad Hoc at Home,” Keller's coffee table cookbook from 2009.
Naturally, this invaluable hands-on guide to Keller's brand of cleaned-up comfort-food fare contains a chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it's a doozy.
What I appreciate about this recipe is that Keller subverts the familiar Toll House process in several intriguing and ultimately winning ways.
First, butter. Instead of the whole room-temperature thing, he prefers the butter cold. It's cut into small pieces, as if you’re preparing a scone or a pie crust rather than a cookie (not to worry; the diminutive shape makes even the coldest butter fairly malleable under the force of the mixer's paddle). That half-hour you needed to devote to drawing the butter to room temperature? It's gone. Hello, impromptu chocolate chip cookies.
Here's another departure from tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie practices: No vanilla extract. I’ve forever associated that flavor with chocolate chip cookies, so it felt odd to leave such a key element on the sidelines. But since Keller calls upon dark brown sugar (rather than the far more standard golden brown sugar) the cookies take on a slight (and utterly delicious) molasses cast. You know what? I ddn't miss the vanilla, at all.
When it comes to chocolate, Ad Hoc's version bolsters the familiar semisweet taste with bittersweet, a 50/50 mix. Instead of using chips, the recipe calls for chopped chocolate bars, and includes a brilliantly Thomas Keller-ey tip: he shakes the chopped chocolate in a fine-mesh strainer to remove any “dust,” a step that ultimately keeps the cookies’ appearance clean and tidy.
On the rate-a-taste scale, the results are nothing short of terrific, a deeply golden, not-too-sweet treat that caters to adult cookie tastes. They might start out as a ball of dough, but these are cookies that spread out as they bake, their centers collapsing into wrinkled semi-flatness under the stress of all that butter, sugar and chocolate.
Texture-wise, they're nicely crispy, especially on the bottom; all that dark brown sugar richness yields a heck of a lot of caramelized goodness. Yet the thin-ish insides (this is not a thick cookie) remain gently chewy, and not the least bit doughy.
Ease of preparation? A total snap.
Is this a recipe worthy of a repeat performance? Absolutely.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.
Note: From “Ad Hoc at Home” (Artisan, 2009) by Thomas Keller.
2 1/3 c. plus 1 tbsp. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
5 oz. 55 percent chocolate, cut into chip-size pieces (about 1 1/4 c.)
5 oz. 70 to 72 percent chocolate, cut into chip-size pieces (about 1 1/4 c.)
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, divided
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
Working in several batches, place chopped chocolate in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate “dust,” discarding small fragments.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat half the butter until fairly smooth, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar and remaining butter and beat until mixture is light and creamy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate.
(Dough can be refrigerated, shaped or unshaped, for up to 2 days, and frozen for up to 2 weeks; shape cookies on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, then transfer unbaked cookies to a freezer container. Defrost cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking).
Shape 2 tablespoons dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 or more inches between them (cookies will spread). Bake until tops are no longer shiny, about 12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking.
Remove from oven and cool for 2 minute before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
In a Q&A with Stephanie Meyer, author of the recently released "Twin Cities Chef's Table," I asked if there was a recipe in the book that she was happiest to have for her own kitchen (I was pleased to see the dill pickle fried chicken from chef Beth Fisher at Wise Acre Eatery, and the Crusher Cookies from Sun Street Breads baker/co-owner Solveig Tofte). Her immediate response: the chicken liver mousse with pickled blueberries from chef Erick Harcey at Victory 44.
Including the recipe in the story's print edition wasn't possible, so I'm including it here (the photo is by Meyer). Enjoy.
CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE
Makes 6 4-oz. servings.
Splash of olive oil
4 shallots, minced
4 strips bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 thyme sprigs
1 lb. cleaned chicken livers
1/4 c. bourbon
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) plus 6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, divided
3/4 c. heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add shallots, bacon, garlic and thyme and sauté, stirring frequently, until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
Add chicken livers and sauté, stirring a few times, until livers are cooked halfway through, about 5 minutes. Carefully add bourbon (noting that it is flammable) and cooked until almost dry, about 5 minutes.
Discard thyme sprigs and transfer mixture to a blender. With blender on low speed, slowly add 3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter, a few tablespoons at a time. When fully incorporated, add cream and mix until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Press mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and transfer to 4-ounce jars or ramekins and cool to room temperature.
Melt remaining 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter and top each jar or ramekin with 1/4-inch melted butter. Cover and chill until cold.
Serve with crackers and pickled blueberries (see Recipe). Can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Makes about 4 cups.
1 c. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. sugar
1 3/4 tbsp. salt
2 thyme sprigs
1 qt. (4 c.) fresh blueberries
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine vinegar, sugar, salt and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Stir in blueberries and shallots, then set aside to cool completely before serving.
The burger: Welcome to the Duluth Road Trip version of Burger Friday. I recently spent a few hours in the Minnesota half of the Twin Ports – a noon-hour layover on an Apostle Islands-St. Paul trek – and once we crossed the Blatnik Bridge (the Bong Bridge, my favorite infrastructure name, ever, was out of commission) we made a beeline for the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace for a quick sandwich stop at my Canal Park culinary go-to, Northern Waters Smokehaus.
Wouldn't you know it? The line was out the door – as always. Fidgety with hunger, we turned to the right and opted for a table inside the Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar.
Although momentarily disappointed -- goodbye bison pastrami! – but we were not disappointed.
It’s anchored by a patty with a sterling grass-fed beef pedigree, hailing from Thousand Hills Cattle Co. The kitchen takes it to a deep, almost crispy exterior char, grilling it until there are just trace elements of pink in the patty’s center.
Beran’s formula blends brisket, chuck and tri-tip sirloin, and the combination tastes as good as that sounds. For added richness, he freezes butter, runs it through an electric shredder and folds it into that richly beefy mix. “I remember reading that Erick Harcey [chef/co-owner of Victory 44, home to one of the Twin Cities’ blue ribbon-worthiest burgers] was throwing butter into his burgers,” said Beran.
Smart call. Each patty starts as a hand-formed ball, and it’s fried in a hot cast-iron pan. “We shmush them to order – it’s like the Smashburger idea, only better – using a large spatula and giving it a single press,” said Beran. Seasonings? Just salt and pepper.
From there, Beran sticks to the tried-and-true: wonderfully crunchy (and welcomingly acidic) cucumber pickle chips, crisp chopped lettuce and red onion, a juicy tomato slice and a swipe of mayo fortified with fish sauce, sweet onions and ketchup.
As for the cheese, it’s a doozy, a teasingly salty and appealingly melty slab of white Cheddar with a fascinating background story.
“We go through one of those molecular processes,” said Beran. Here’s how it works: After nudging a mix of beer, vinegar and sodium citrate – an emulsifier – to a boil, Beran whisks in white Cheddar. The fondue-style results are cooled into a sliceable (and flavor-boosted) format that melts with reliable grace, not unlike a good-old piece of individually-wrapped Kraft American.
The bun hails from the Red Mug Bake Shop in Superior, Wis., a favorite stop of mine in the Twin Ports. It was billed as a challah bun, and while I wasn’t feeling the traditional egginess, it was a fine bun all the same: soft, golden, lightly toasted, lovely.
In short, a burger anyone would hope to encounter on a road trip. A quick glance around the dining room confirmed my hypothesis; a hefty percentage of my fellow diners were also in relishing burgers.
“Duluth is a burger-loving town,” said Beran with a laugh, which probably explains some of the high sales figures. But I have to think that Beran’s prowess is a primary reason behind those big numbers.
Fries: Included. They’re great: Thick-ish, deeply golden, admirably crisp and generously seasoned.
Address book: 394 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 218-722-2355. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 am. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com.
Recipe bonus round: The restaurant’s new-ish cookbook (those thinking of grabbing one for a souvenir might reasonably be taken aback by the stratospheric $34.95 price tag) contains nearly four dozen appealing recipes, including what to me reads as this quintessential Duluth formula.
LAKE SUPERIOR FISH CAKES
Note: Adapted from “Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar Cookbook” (Heirloom Industry, 2013). “Substitute whitefish with herring, walleye, perch, sunfish or our favorite, Victus Farm tilapia from Silver Bay, Minn.,” writes Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar chef Tony Beran. “Most white flaky fish will work well.” For julienned carrot and radish, cut vegetables then place them into an ice bath for at least 2 hours prior to serving (“to achieve a curl,” writes Beran). When ready to serve, remove vegetables from water by hand and place them on a paper towel to remove excess water.
1 lb. whitefish, skinned and deboned
½ yellow onion, minced
½ jalapeno, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
Zest from 1 lemon
1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and carefully add whitefish. Cook for about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat, strain fish from water using a fine colander and allow fish to cool.
In a large bowl, toss cooled fish with onion, jalapeno, celery, lemon zest, fish sauce, bread crumbs, eggs, pepper and salt.
Using your hands, form mixture into 8 2-ounce patties (roughly 1/4 cup portions).
Fill a heavy skillet or fryer with enough vegetable or canola oil to cover the cakes (only up to half the height of the pan) and bring the oil to 375 degrees. Fry cakes until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, remove cakes from oil and transfer to a paper towel-covered plate.
To serve, 1/4 cup Tomatillo Yogurt (see Recipe, below) across each of four plates. Place 2 cakes on top of each plate. In a medium bowl, toss pickled beets (see Recipe, below), julienned carrot and julienned Daikon radish (see Note) and sprinkle over cakes.
Makes 1 cup.
2 1/2 tomatillos, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. plain yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss tomatillos with salt then arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer tomatillos to a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse until well-blended. Line a medium bowl with a paper towel, transfer pureed tomatillos to bowl, then squeeze out excess liquid. Place tomatillos back in food processor, add yogurt, soy sauce and honey and pulse until well-combined.
Makes about 1 cup.
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1 star anise pod
1/4 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 large red beet, peeled and julienned
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, combine balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, water, star anise, cinnamon stick, sugar and salt and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat and bring to room temperature. Place beets in a glass jar and strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the jar. Allow beets to sit, uncovered, for 24 hours, and use as desired. Store in a tightly sealed jar for 3 to 4 weeks.
RASPBERRY RHUBARB PIE
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. “Our raspberry rhubarb pie is another sought-after treat at the New Scenic Cafe,” writes Scott Graden in “New Scenic Cafe: The Cookbook.” “I have always enjoyed the tart and bitter flavor of rhubarb, and it is traditional to use it in desserts in Minnesota, though I add just enough sugar to soften the rhubarb’s singular impact. When it is in season, I use as much fresh rhubarb as I can get my hands on. Use fresh for this recipe, if it’s available, but frozen rhubarb also works well."
3/4 c. vegetable shortening
1 3/4 c. flour, plus extra for rolling crust
1 tsp. kosher salt
5 oz. ice-cold water
2 lb. rhubarb
12 oz. frozen raspberries
1/2 c. flour
1 1/3 c. plus 1 tbsp. sugar, divided
Freshly whipped cream
To prepare crust: Before beginning, chill the vegetable shortening in the refrigerator. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening, until shortening pieces are no larger than the size of peas.
Add water to mixture, using a fork to blend it together lightly until dough looks evenly damp (you should be able to see small clumps of shortening in the dough). Lightly flour a work surface. With floured hands,form dough into a ball, then divide dough into 2 equal parts. Gently shape each piece of dough into a smooth, round disc and wrap each disc tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.
To prepare filling: If using frozen rhubarb, allow it to defrost fully (though the raspberries should remain frozen). For fresh rhubarb, clean the stalks and chop them into 1/4-inch pieces. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, raspberries, 1/2 cup flour and 1 1/3 cups sugar, and stir until evenly combined.
To prepare pie: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough discs from refrigerator and unwrap. On a floured work surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll dough until it is just wider than the outer rim of the pie pan. Transfer dough into pie pan, and press dough into pan’s edges, making sure the end of the crust just barely hangs over the rim of the pan all the way around. Place pie pan in the refrigerator.
Roll the second dough disc to the same size as the first. Remove pie pan from refrigerator, fill it with prepared fruit filling. Transfer second crust to the top of the pie, making sure there are no air pockets between the filling and the top crust. Roll and crimp edges of the top and bottom crusts to seal them together. Using the tip of a knife, cut several vent holes in the top crust, and dust with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Place pie pan on a baking sheet and bake pie for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake pie for another 35 minutes. Using an instant-read thermometer, check temperature at the pie’s center, baking until it reads 170 degrees. Any juices that have bubbled out should appear clear rather than cloudy, indicated doneness, and the crust should be light golden brown. Remove pie from oven, place pie pan on a cooling rack and allow it to cool to room temperature (at least 1 hour) before slicing. Serve with freshly whipped cream.
Award season has begun in the cookbook world as the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) bestowed its nod to volumes that are particularly noteworthy over the weekend. Among the new designations in the contest this year are awards for classic, historical and e-cookbooks.
The envelope (and categories), please …
Book of the year: “Stone Edge Farm Cookbook,” by John McReynolds (Stone Edge Farm)
American: “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen,” by Matt Lee & Ted Lee (Clarkson Potter)
Baking/ savory or sweet: “The Art of French Pastry,” by Jacquy Pfeiffer (Random House)
Beverage/ reference/ technical: “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food & Drink in America, Second Edition,” by Andrew F. Smith (Oxford University Press)
Chefs and restaurants: “The A.O.C. Cookbook,” by Suzanne Goin (Random House)
Children, youth and family: “ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family,” by Sally Sampson (Simon & Schuster)
Compilations: “The Chelsea Market Cookbook: 100 Recipes From New York’s Premier Indoor Food Hall,” by Michael Phillips with Rick Rodgers (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Culinary history: “Cuisine & Empire: Cooking in World History,” by Rachel Laudan (University of California Press)
Culinary travel: “The Perfect Meal,” by John Baxter (HarperCollins Publishers)
First book: “Stone Edge Farm Cookbook,” by John McReynolds (Stone Edge Farm)
Food matters: “Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics,” by Marion Nestle (Rodale) and “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health,” by Jo Robinson (Hachette Book Group)
General: “Keepers,” by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion (Rodale)
Health and special diet: “Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom,” by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press)
International: “Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way,” by Oretta Zanini De Vita & Maureen B. Fant (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Literary food writing: “One Soufflé at a Time,” by Anne Willan and Amy Friedman (St. Martin’s Press)
Photography: “I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes,” by Daniel Humm & Will Guidara (Francesco Tonelli, photographer) (Ten Speed Press)
Professional kitchens: “Elements of Dessert,” by Francisco Migoya and the Culinary Institute of America (Wiley)
Single subject: “Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook,” by Rick Mast and Michael Mast (Hachette Book Group)
Wine, beer and spirits: “Wine Grapes,” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & Jose Vouillamoz (HarperCollins Publishers)
Global design: “Manresa: An Edible Reflection,” by David Kinch & Christine Muhlke (Ten Speed Press)
E-cookbook: “The Journey,” by Katy Sparks, Alex Raij, Maneet Chauhan, Rita Sodi and Kathleen Squires (Alta Editions)
Jane Grigson award: “Wine Grapes,” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & Jose Vouillamoz (HarperCollins Publishers)
Design award: “Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Garden,” by Matt Wilkinson (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers)
Judges’ choice: “The Drunken Botanist,” by Amy Stewart (Workman Publishing Co.) and “ Lark – Cooking Against the Grain,” by John Sundstrom (Community Supported Cookbooks)
Historical cookbook award: “American Cookery,” by Amelia Simmons (1796)
Culinary classics awards:
• “The Art of Mexican Cooking,” by Diana Kennedy (Clarkson Potter, 1989)
• “Invitation to Indian Cookery,” by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf, 1973)
• “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” (originally “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book”), by Betty Crocker (1950)
• “The Moosewood Cookbook,” by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed, 1977)
• “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1982)
For details on the digital, journalism and other IACP awards, see the posting in full.
But the big news from Taste is that freelancer Steve Hoffman won the award for Culinary Narrative Writing with his story for the food section, "From the wild: meals from a hunter," that ran on Thanksgiving Day. Find it here.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste
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