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Chocolate “Chunken” Bread

March 3, 2012

I had something happen to me recently that made me wonder.  I was looking through my collection of cookbooks.  (Actually, I was going through all the books we have, cooking or otherwise, and deciding what to keep and what to donate to the library because the few bookshelves we have are overflowing.)  During the course of my “research”, I came across a 25-year-old Nestle Toll House cookbook.  While I’m sure everyone is very familiar with the original Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies (see my very first post), this book contains north of 200 different recipes, all involving chocolate.

Now, it is important to note here that I suffer from a terrible disease – chocholism.  I love chocolate and usually the darker the better (up to a point – I just can’t enjoy anything much higher than 85% cacao.)  So, a cookbook filled to the brim of chocolate-related recipes could not go into the “donate” pile.  Moreover, I couldn’t allow this rediscovery to go uncelebrated, and I know exactly what recipe I was going to try again.

Back when I was a teenager, I found a recipe inside call a “Chocolate Filled Kuchen“.  Kuchen is the German word for “cake” but is also used to describe different types of sweet deserts or pastries.  When I attempted to make this back then, it was a disaster.  It seemed too complicated and took too long, but when I finished it, it tasted absolutely great!  If you had asked me at the time, I would have told you that I would never make it again, but, as the saying goes, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  I guess over 20 years was just enough time to make me remember the good part of that experience and not the bad.  All I can say is that I am very glad that I did.  This bread turned out great, didn’t seem to be too difficult relative to any other yeast bread, and according to some of my friends that tried it, this was one of the best things I’ve ever made.  To me, that’s a pretty solid recommendation.

One quick aside, the reason my version is called Chocolate “Chunk” Bread was that my version dramatically kicks up the chocolate, not just in quantity, but uses multiple types.  That and when my kids tried it and saw the original “Kuchen” name, they immediately proclaimed it, “The best Chocolate Chunken Bread we’ve ever had!”  Thus, a name is born.  Now, screw up your courage and fire up your mixer and give this bread a shot.  If you like chocolate, this will be worth the effort.

The FaT Chocolate “Chunken” Bread                    Print Chocolate Chunken Bread Recipe

Based on the Nestle Toll House Recipe Collection Chocolate Filled Kuchen, 1987

Serves 16-35 (just depends on how you cut it)

***** quick note – You will need about 4 hours from start to finish, although you will be waiting for over 3 hours of that time!

1 package Active Dry Yeast

1/4 cup warm water (around 110’F)

3/4 cup milk (we will scald it)

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp Kosher Salt

3 eggs

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

450g Bread Flour (you can also use All Purpose Flour)

160 g Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

160 g Milk Chocolate Chips

100g Dark Chocolate bar (around 70% cacao), chopped fine

To begin with, break out the bowl of your mixer (you will need both the whisk attachment and a dough hook attachment), a small saucepan to scald the milk and a 1 cup or larger measuring cup.  Start by filling that measuring cup with the 1/4 cup of warm water and add the active dry yeast.  It’s important that the water not be too hot because you don’t want to kill all the yeast that will make your bread rise wonderfully.  Once you’ve done that, set it aside.  Next, pour your milk into the saucepan and put it over medium-high heat.  Keep an eye on it.  Now, to the mixer bowl, add your butter, sugar and salt.

Go back to watching your milk as it heats.  Once you start seeing bubbles forming along the edge of the milk, it is ready.  Pour your scalded milk into the mixer bowl with the other ingredients, set in the mixer and, with the whisk attachment and the mixer set on the lowest speed setting, stir until the butter is melted.  Once it’s melted, turn up the mixer speed to help cool things down.  You want to feel the bowl is warm but not hot when you put your hand against it.  (On the outside of the bowl.  Not the inside.  That would just get ugly!)  In a separate bowl, crack 2 of the eggs and add the vanilla extract.  Lightly beat the egg/vanilla mixture.  (What I mean by “lightly beat” is scramble them as if you were going to make scrambled eggs, but you don’t have to completely combine them.)

Now that your butter has completely melted and the mix has cooled a bit, add the egg/vanilla mix.  The reason we don’t add it right away is that we don’t want our eggs to scramble, and while I like scrambled eggs, they just don’t belong in our bread.  Beat the mix for a minute and then add the yeast/water mixture you set aside at the beginning.  Make sure you get most of the yeast out of your measuring cup with a spatula.  You don’t want to leave those guys behind.

Here we’re ready to add our flour.  What I suggest is that you measure out your flour into 350g in one place and the other 100g in another.  We will definitely be using the 350g, but the remaining 100g will completely depend on the conditions in your kitchen.

Taking the 350g of flour you’ve set aside, and continuing to use the whisk attachment in your mixer, add about 1/4 at a time, making sure you fully combine it before adding the next 1/4.  Once you’ve added all of it, stop the mixer, remove the whisk and replace with the dough hook.  Take this opportunity to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  Here, we’re looking to use the dough hook to knead the bread for us.  What you are looking for is a dough that doesn’t completely separate from the sides of the bowl.  It will be sticky but most of it will be on the hook.  Using that extra 100g of flour, keep adding flour as the hook turns until you get about that consistency.  For me, it only took about 50g more, but it will be a little different for everyone.  Make sure the hook is running at medium speed for about 4-5 minutes to properly develop the gluten.

Take another bowl large enough to hold at least double to dough you’ve got in your mixer and grease it.  (The best way is to spray it with PAM or a similar oil spray.)  Remove your mixing bowl and scrape out the dough with your fingers into the other bowl.  It will be sticky.  Now, either turn the dough over so it is completely covered with grease or, if you used my PAM suggestion, just lightly spray the other side with it as well.  Cover this bowl with a dish towel and put it in a warm spot for 1 1/2 hours during which it will just about double in size.  (I find that my garage is usually warmer than my house, but then again, I live in Florida.  Choose appropriately for your climate!)

Now that you’ve caught up on your favorite reruns or read part of your current novel during your 1 1/2 hour wait, lightly flour your kneading board.  A “kneading board” is just any flat, solid surface that you can use to roll out dough.  I also find that the easiest way to flour a board is to put a scoopful of flour in a fine mesh strainer and shake it over the board.  Gives me a pretty even coat.  Turn your dough out onto this board and knead for about 1 minute.  You are just looking to punch it down a bit, and you will need to add some flour to the surface of your dough or else your hands and fingers will stick something aweful!

Once you’ve finished your quick punch down, start spreading out the dough with your hands or a rolling pin until you get a rectangle roughly 22″x14″.  There is no need to break out the rulers here.  Just eyeball the dough until it’s about 2 feet by 1 foot.  You may have to fight with the corners to get them to stay.  Spread out each kind of chocolate over the entire dough.  I usually start with the chips and then sprinkle my chopped chocolate after that.  Lightly press the chocolate into the dough.

Now, starting on the long end closest to you, start rolling up the dough jellyroll-style.  (For the former scouts and summer campers, imagine you’re rolling up your sleeping bag.)  Once you’ve reached the end and making sure the seam is on the bottom, you want to form a circle by bringing the two ends together.  Pinch the dough at the join so that it’s continuous.  Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking spray, and move your ring over to the sheet.

Using a very sharp knife, cut about about 1/2 way down about 12 times around the dough.  You want to see the chocolate coming out.  If you made any cuts that show very little chocolate, add a few chips to “bulk it up”.  Cover this with a dish towel and put it back into the warm place for about an hour.  It should double in size again.

Cover this with a dish towel and put it back into the warm place for about an hour.  It should double in size again.

Preheat your oven to 350’F.  Beat the remaining egg to use as an egg wash.  Brush the egg over the bread.  Place in the over for 25-30 minutes, turning the bread 180′ once about midway through.  You want the bread to be golden brown all around.

Cool it on a cooling rack and serve.  Enjoy!

The Guy’s Guy Oven Babyback Ribs

February 22, 2012

I feel very comfortable stating that most guys have “food quests” that they undertake.  It is not always consciously, but we do.  Just think about how many times you’ve thought, “Where can I get the best burger/pizza/steak/buffet/etc in town?”  If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but compare all the burgers/pizza/steak/buffet/etc. you’ve ever had to one another.  I can’t simply enjoy the burger/pizza/steak/buffet/etc.  I’m eating at that specific moment.  I have to think back and examine whether or not I’m having a significant culinary experience – finding THE BEST BURGER/PIZZA/STEAK/BUFFET/ETC. I have ever had in my life!  And when you find that you have found food nirvana, it is a stupendous feeling.

So, I am here to tell you that these ribs should be in every guys cooking bag of tricks (or cooking toolbox if you feel that a “bag of tricks” is just not macho enough for you!)  They are the best oven baked ribs you will ever try!  Notice, I didn’t say that they are the “best ribs ever”.  I specifically qualified that they are oven baked.  In order to attain the “best ribs ever” title, any rib that competes in that category would have to be barbecued.  That means using a pit or a smoker to cook the ribs for hours, low and slow until a unique bit of pork perfection has been achieved.  I have not yet found the right combination of factors to make the “best ribs ever” happen at home – but you can bet I’m trying (and that my family is enjoying the hell out of eating my experiments).  I get closer with each try.  All that aside, I have reached a special kind of pork perfection with these ribs.  There is one caveat that I need to put out there right up front.  These ribs are the “fall of the bone” type of ribs.  I realize that in some competitions, that level of tenderness is not considered right.  I don’t care.  The ribs I like have to let me pull apart the meat with just my hands – no knives allowed!  So, if you prefer ribs that are what you would find at a barbecue competition, look away NOW!  But, if barbecue, falling off the bone ribs are right up your alley, then read on fair web surfer!

Now, while I believe I have made this recipe my own with numerous changes over the years, I have to give props to the book and chef that got me started Alton Brown and his book I’m Just Here For the Food.  His ideas and thought process went a long way toward making it possible for me to make this little piece of heaven come into my home.  Most of the changes I made were around making the ribs taste more “barbecue-like”.  I strongly encourage you to try making these at home.  They take a little bit of patience and planning, but you will not be disappointed.

The FaT Guy’s Guy Oven Babyback Ribs                   Print the FaT Guy’s Guy Oven Babyback Ribs

Based on Alton Brown’s No-Backyard Baby Back Ribs from I’m Just Here For the Food

serves 1-4  (This one seriously depends on who is eating!)

Rub Ingredients

5 Tbsp Brown Sugar

3 Tbsp Chile Powder

1 Tbsp Garlic Powder

2 tsp Kosher Salt

1 1/2 tsp Ground Thyme

3/4 tsp Cayenne

3/4 tsp Garam Masala (an Indian spice combination)

3/4 tsp Cocoa Powder

Rib Ingredients

1 slab of Babyback Ribs

1/2 cup Orange Juice

1/2 cup Barbecue Sauce (your favorite or make your own)

Start by making your barbecue dry rub.  Using a zip top bag or tupperware-type container, mix all the ingredients.  You want to make sure you can shake the mix up very well and use it again later.  The amounts listed can be doubled, but this amount should yield enough to coat 2 full racks of ribs – the minimum that can be made in my household!  You will need to have some left over to use to finish the ribs.  If you have any left over at the end, it will store very well for a good 3-4 months.

Now, you will need to prepare the “container” for your ribs.  We are basically going to create an aluminum cocoon that will keep in our liquids during cooking.  Start by cutting 4 sheets of aluminum foil.  The sheets should be about 6-8 inches longer than your rack of ribs and all roughly the same size.  Lay them all one on top of the other with their long edges even.  Holding one of those long edges together, fold over about 1/2 inch of foil.  Now, fold the 1/2 inch you just bent in half.  Finally, fold the whole thing over on itself so that you have created a seal along one edge.  Looking at the edge you did not fold over, separate two sheets from each side and open them up.  You should now have a double-wide aluminum foil bed with the seam running down the middle on which to lay your ribs.  Just place that gorgeous rack of ribs on the foil.

Your raw ribs may have a membrane over their bony side call the silverskin or silver skin.  If your ribs do come with it, it should be removed.  Why you may ask?  Great question.  Basically, this membrane prevents the rib meat on that side from absorbing the flavors of the rub.  Will it hurt my ribs if I don’t remove it?  Another great question.  (You’re full of them today!)  While many chefs would disagree, the answer is no.  I’ve made these ribs plenty of times before I even know what a silver skin was or that it should be removed with no ill effects.  Basically, by the end of the cooking time, the mixture will break the silver skin down enough as to not make it a problem.  All that being said, when it’s there, take it off.  It couldn’t be simpler to do.  After putting the rounded side of the ribs down and using a knife at one end of the ribs, lift up the edge of the membrane until you can get a grip on it.  Then, hold the ribs with one hand, and pull the skin off with the other.  As the YouTube link above shows, there’s lots of different ways to do it – all very simple.

From here on out, things get very simple.  The only thing we need is a little time.  With the meat or rounded side facing up from the foil, generously sprinkle your rub over the ribs.  Press down lightly to ensure good coverage.  Plenty of rub will fall off when you flip it over.  Don’t worry.   Turn the ribs over, and do the same for the other side.  Now, we need to finish the “rib cocoon”.  Taking hold of the double sheeted long ends, bring them together on top of the ribs so that the edges evenly come together.  Just like you did before when we made the first seam for the foil bed, crimp them together by folding down about 1/2 inch.  With that first crimp to get you started just roll the foil over itself until you reached the ribs themselves and press down so that the package is flush with the ribs.  To finish this, simply fold over the ends without getting too fancy.  (We’ll get a bit more fancy later on, but not now.)  Place your package on a pan, slide it into your refrigerator and let it marinate for 2 -12 hours.  The longer the better.

We’re almost ready to cook.  Preheat your oven to 350’F.   Mix your orange juice and barbecue sauce together in a bowl or measuring cup.  Take your ribs out of the refrigerator.  On one end of the packet, you will fold or roll up the end so that it’s tight and waterproof.  At the other end, open it up to form a funnel.  Tilting the package up, pour the OJ/BBQ sauce mixture into the packet and seal this end tightly, rolling/folding it together.  You want to distribute the liquid evenly to rock everything back and forth a couple of times.  Don’t get too violent here.  You’re only trying to even things out.  Place it back on your pan and pop it into the oven.

Bake at this temperature for 1 hour.  When your timer does reach the 1 hour mark, you will lower the temp to 250’F and reset it to 2 more hours.  When the timer goes off for the second time, get ready to get the ribs out.  I say “get ready” because you need to be careful here.  If you created a good seal, the package will have puffed up looking like a pillow.  (It should go without saying that if you didn’t do it right or there was a hole in your package it won’t puff up, but hopefully enough liquid stayed inside to get the job done.  It’s happened to me before and everything still turned out OK, but there’s a reason we double-layer the foil!)  Additionally, some of the steam will have leaked out into the over no matter how good a seal you form.  So, when you open that oven door, don’t reach in immediately or you will get a quick steam bath to the face.  It won’t kill you but if you don’t expect it, it will scare the crap out of you.  Just wait about 5 seconds with the door open and you should be fine.

Once you have the rib packet out of the oven, you want to carefully open one of the ends and pour out the liquid inside and discard.  This stuff is seriously hot so be careful.  Unwrap your ribs from the foil.  At this point, you will need to move your oven rack to the highest position that will still allow you to put your pan with the ribs in.  Then, set your broiler to “High”.  Take your ribs and place them rounded side up on the pan without the foil.  Now, using some of your favorite barbecue sauce, brush on a layer over the ribs.  We’re going to do this 2-3 times to form a good carmelized “bark”.  Put these ribs under the broiler for about a minute.  You should see them bubbling and getting a little darker.  Pull your pan out and repeat the glazing process.  You can stop here but that 3rd time does make a difference.

Here is the finish line.  Take your finished ribs out.  Let them cool for a couple of minutes and then dig in.  Feel free to accompany them with generous amounts of potato-related products (potato salad, bake potatoes or french fries).

Bon Appetite!

The Modern Spanish Potato Omelet

February 11, 2012

After having lived and worked in Spain after I graduated from college, I learned how to make a pretty mean Spanish Omelet.  I’ve probably made that traditional omelet a dozen times over the years, and while I think it tastes fantastic, it takes way too long to make (over 2 hours) and seems fairly unhealthy.  In the traditional recipe I was taught over a decade ago, you basically fill your pan with thinly sliced potatoes, cover them completely with oil, and slowly cook them while soaking in oil.  After you’ve done this for about an hour or so, you take them out, combine them with eggs and go on to make your omelet.  Like I said, takes too long and not very healthy (although you may just see it here on the blog one day because it tastes great).

So, imagine my surprise when I came across a recipe for a “Postmodern Spanish Potato Omelet” from none other that Ferran Adria in the pages of Mens Health magazine.  For those of you not familiar with Mr. Adria, he is widely considered to be a creator and leader in molecular gastronomy – or the latest craze where food and science meet.  If you’ve ever been to a restaurant that served you something like “mushroom foam” or “olive oil pearls”, you can thank him.  While I freely admit to being a traditionalist with most of my food, I am more than happy to experiment with new techniques that save me time.  That’s where this recipe comes in.  I had to modify it a bit, because the first couple of times I made it, I ended up with an omelet that was just too dry.  Now, on to the recipe…

The FaT Modern Spanish Potato Omelet                      Print FaT Modern Spanish Potato Omelet

Based on the Ferran Adria recipe in Men’s Health, May 2011

Serves 6-8

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

5 oz  plain potatoe chips

8 eggs

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup  chicken stock

Find yourself the pan you want to make your omelet in.  This pan should be at least 10″ across and able to be placed in the oven.  Heat that pan over medium heat.  Add the first 2 Tbsp of olive oil and the chopped onion.  Saute the onions until they are soft and translucent.  You’ve got to watch your heat here because you don’t want them to crisp up.  That results in crunchy bits in your omelet that don’t feel like they belong.  And when you serve an omelet with unfamiliar crunchy bits, every one will assume they should thank you for leaving bits of egg shell in their slice of omelet!  Once you’ve sauted the onion, remove them from the pan and place them in a small bowl to cool.  Keep that pan handy and don’t worry about cleaning it off.  We’re going to be using it exactly as is.

If you have kids, here is where they will want to be involved.  Put those potato chips in a zip top bag, seal it and have the kids crush it with the backs of spoons or the flat part of the tenderizing hammer.  (My kids “accidentally” used the pointy side and beat up the bag pretty good, but it survived intact – thank God!)  Keep in mind we are only trying to get things crushed, not grind the chips into powder.  Make sure you (or your kids) contain their aggressiveness here!

In a bowl large enough to hold everything, crack the eggs and add the chicken stock.  I also add a generous pinch of kosher salt and a few turns fresh cracked black pepper from my pepper mill, but season things as suits you.  Using a long fork, a whisk or a handheld mixer, beat the egg mix thoroughly.  Add the cooled onions, (it only really needs about 5 minutes) and crushed potato chips.  Mix them together and let them stand for 5 minutes.  During that time, heat the pan back up over medium heat and add 2 more Tbsp of Olive Oil.  After giving things a chance to heat up, add the egg mixture.

Gently stir it the omelt for about a minute until it begins to set.  Then, move the pan so only 1/4 of it is over the heat.  Keep it there for 2 minutes.  You should see the part of the omelet mixture over the heat bubbling around the edges while the rest of the pan doesn’t.  Now, rotate the pan so the next 1/4 is over the heat and give it 2 minutes.  Repeat 2 more times until you cooked each quarter.

Now, you can proceed in one of two ways.  My preference is that you fire up the broiler in your oven to HI, making sure the top rack is as close to the heating element as it can get (and still allow you to put the pan in), and put your mix, pan and all under it.  Check it every minute.  You’ll know it’s done when you don’t see any obvious “wetness” at the top of the omelet.  Remove the pan from the oven (realizing that it is now SMOKING HOT), and slide your finished omelet on to a serving dish.

The second and more traditional way is to first run a spatula around the pan and slightly under it to make sure it will release.  Then, take a flat plate and place it over your omelet pan.  Carefully flip everything onto the plate and return the pan to the heat.  Now, gently slide the now overturned omelet back into the pan and allow it to cook for 1 1/2 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Slide it onto a serving dish and either cool to eat later or let it sit for about 5 minutes then serve.

As they say in Spain, “Buen provecho!” or simply “Bon Appetit!”

“Healthy” Fried Chicken

January 22, 2012

Greetings, fellow surfers of the internet!  As some of you know, a few weeks ago, I ran the half marathon in Disney.  (For anyone that is considering running an endurance race, Disney does a great job entertaining the runners and “celebrating” the event.  Look for them here.)  Since I was already training, my younger brother asked if I would run the Miami Half Marathon with him.  I agreed and so it would seem that I’ve started a small obsession.  So I continued the training and am looking at my second half marathon in less than a month.  I am also realizing that while I enjoy running, I’m not sure I will ever be a truly dedicated runner.  It’s too much work!

So, for those of you that are a bit more sane than I have been lately, I offer a healthy option for dinner or lunch.  It is my version of a baked chicken breast.  This recipe is based on a dish by Art Smith that he contributed to that food magazine extrodinaire, Runner’s World.  Yes, Runner’s World.  I found it very interesting that Art is a runner and he gave what he called his Southern Unfried Chicken.  The first time I made this, my family claimed that as they put their first bite into their mouths, fired began shooting from their eyes and ears because it was so hot.  So, I’ve had to mellow it out a bit so that it would be acceptable.  So without further ado, here’s my:

FaT Healthy Fried Chicken        Print Healthy Fried Chicken Recipe

Inspired by recipe by Art Smith in Runner’s World Magazine, Oct. 2011

Serves 4-5

1 1/2 cups Buttermilk

1 1/2 tsp Hot Sauce

5  Skinless Chicken Breasts

2 cups Panko Bread Crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese

2 tsp Onion Powder

2 tsp Garlic Powder

1 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper

1 1/2 tsp Ground Red Pepper Flakes

1 tsp  Paprika

1/2 tsp Kosher Salt

To get things started, we’re going to marinade the chicken breasts in a mixture of buttermilk and hot sauce.  I recommend using a gallon zip top bag.  Pour your buttermilk and the hot sauce into the bag.  Add your chicken breasts and seal the bag, removing all the air inside.  (It works just find if you just squeeze most of the air out.  But if you’re fanatical like me, you can remove most of the air, seal the bag almost all the way, insert a straw and suck out the remaining air, and quickly seal it up.  Decide for yourself just how crazy you want to be.)  Put the bag in the ‘fridge for anything from 1 hour to 1 day.  The longer you marinade, the hotter the chicken breast will be.  Turn the chicken over at least once and even a few times if you’re letting it sit for more than an hour.

When you’re about 30 minutes away from cooking, preheat your oven to 400’F.  In a shallow dish, combine panko bread crumbs, Parmesan Cheese, the onion powder, the garlic powder, black pepper, red pepper flakes, paprika and salt.  Mix it all together with a fork.  (Alternately, use a container that has a lid and shake, shake, shake to your heart’s content to mix everything together.)  Prepare a  baking pan by spraying it with cooking spray.  Then take each breast out and place in in the bread crumbs.  I usually work one at a time and spoon the crumbs over the top before turning the breast over.  Press the Panko mix on with your fingers.  Move the chicken over to the baking pan.  Do this with your remaining breasts.  Then, place the pan with the chicken into the refridgerator for about 30 minutes.  Once they have chilled, pull the pan out and spray the coated breasts with the same cooking spray you used to prepare the pan.  Don’t be shy here.  This coating of oil will help brown the outside.

Place your pan in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.  Enjoy!

Half Marathons, Carb Loading and the FaT Penne with Sausage and Mascarpone

January 13, 2012

Greetings, fellow travelers on the road of life!  As some of you may know, last weekend I decided that instead of driving 13.1 miles of that road of life, I decided to run them at the Disney Marathon weekend.  Now, some of you are thinking, “That’s great!  Running a half marathon is awesome.”  The majority of you are thinking (because I’m sure you’d be too polite to say it out loud, even if it is true), “I don’t like to drive 13.1 miles if I can avoid it!  You have to have a screw loose to RUN that!”

After having made it through, and done it in a respectable time (for me, anyways – 2:27), I can confirm for all of you that you DO in fact need to have a screw loose to do any kind of endurance running.  There has to be something just a little off for you to think training for 3-4 months before the race and then the race is fun.  Then again, since 27,000 of my closest friends joined me in the Disney Half Marathon, I don’t feel quite so isolated.

And, just as a brief aside, if you do the half marathon at Disney, you get a Donald Duck medal.  If you complete the full marathon, you receive a Mickey Mouse medal.  And if you’ve gone completely off the deep end and run both of them (half on Saturday and full on Sunday or 39.3 miles in 2 days), you also get a Goofy medal.  Sad and sick as it may be, I’m thinking I may “go Goofy” next year.  We’ll see.

On to the food.  In the spirit of getting ready for a long run like a half marathon, the experts suggest that a runner “carb load” the night before.  This usually means a light pasta meal of some sort.  I don’t think the experts would call this dish a “light pasta meal”.  However, this is by far, one of my family’s favorite pasta dishes.  The best part is that you can have it ready in just about 30 minutes.  I will tell you, this is one of those meals that is even better the next day after the flavors have had a chance to blend.  Enjoy!

Food as Therapy Penne with Sausage and Mascarpone               (print FaT Penne, Sausage, Mascarpone recipe)

(Inspired by an old Food and Wine recipe from around 2002)

8 servings

1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage

1 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage

1 cup Chopped Onion

1 ¼ cup Whipping Cream

¾ cup Chicken Broth

1 lb. Penne Pasta

2/3 cup Mascarpone Cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan Cheese

Begin by removing the sausage from their casings.  This is as simple as running a knife blade along the top of each sausage and getting your hands a little dirty by removing the insides into a big stock pot or Dutch oven.  Be sure to use a pot that is large enough to hold all the meat and a pound of pasta because this is where everything will be eventually combined.

Once you’ve got both kinds of sausage in the pot, place it over medium heat to brown.  You don’t need any oil here.  There’s plenty of fat and grease in the sausage to help with that.  In fact, we want some of that grease in there for later.

Brown the sausage in the pot making sure to break up the chunks into relatively small pieces with a slotted spoon.  This should take about 10-12 minutes.  When you’re breaking up the sausage, you’re really trying to get break up the occasional big chunk.  The smaller the browned pieces of meat are when you finish, the more easily it will fit into the penne when combined.  (Please don’t become obsessed with breaking every last bit into the smallest possible bits.  It’s not worth the effort.  You just don’t want to be stuck with any meatball-size chunks.  Sorry about the less the ideal picture below.  There was alot of steam rising making a clear shot diffficult.)

Once you’ve got everything nice and browned, you want to strain the sausage to remove some of that grease.  You can see the set up I used below.  I have a bowl with a strainer in that and I use a “hole-y” spoon to scoop the meat out.  Scoop all the meat out and let it drain a bit.  Set it aside.  In the pot, you will find anywhere from 4-7 tablespoons of grease.  We want to use some of that, but all of it is too much.  Dump all but 2 tablespoons.  If you dump too much initially, don’t worry.  You can always take a look in the bowl under the strainer and find a bit of “clean grease”.

At this point, you should start getting another pot (or in my case a relatively deep pan) heated on the stove top to boil enough water to cook your pound of pasta.  If everything works right (and having made this dish at least 10 times tells me it should work), you should have boiling water right when you need it later.  Be sure to salt the water (I usually toss a pinch or two in – I know, I know, how imprecise for an engineer.  So sue me.) and add a bit of oil (see previous note about imprecision of “pinch of salt”).

Return the pot to the heat and pour in your chopped onions.  (You did chop them up before now, didn’t you?!)  Mix them with the drippings (doesn’t that sound so much better than “the left over grease”?) and sauté until light brown.  This should take about 5-7 minutes.  You’ll notice that the moment you mix everything together, the onions will already be a bit brown.  We’re working on getting them nice and soft.  Stick with it for at least 5 minutes.

Now, you add your cream and bring to a boil for 5 minutes.  Stir everything together at the start and step back.  You’re only going to revisit the pot every couple of minutes for a stir.  You don’t have to stand over it, constantly moving everything around for this to work.  Be warned, however, that because you’ve added cream, the boiling liquid will start to rise.  In a deep pot, this is not a problem, but if you’re using something shallower, don’t take your eyes off it too long.

After those 5 minutes are up, add your chicken broth, stir together and bring to a boil.  We’re looking to reduce this to a sauce.  What exactly does that mean?  Excellent question!  Thanks for asking.  It means boiling for about 8-10 minutes.  I have always heard that a sauce will “coat the back of a spoon”.  However, I learned that if I put a spoon into the mix right after adding the broth, it did coat the back of a spoon already.  Use your judgment here.  You want things to get a bit thicker so the sauce will coat and stick to everything.  Be sure to stir occasionally.

Right when you add the chicken broth to the pot, you should have a decent boil going in your other pot.  Drop in your pasta and start getting that cooked.  You want to get the penne al dente or tender but still firm to bite.  That should take around 12 to 14 minutes.

Once the contents of your cooking pot (not the boiling one) have reached the sauce stage, take that strainer filled with your browned sausage and dump it back in.  You want to mix everything up.  You should see the sauce coating the meat pretty well.  After that quick mix, you will add the mascarpone cheese.  It will melt and combine with the rest of the sauce over the next 6-7 minutes.  Stir everything occasionally to help the ingredients evenly distribute themselves.  While you’re doing this, your pasta should be ready.  Take the pot off the stove, drain the pasta in a colander (or whatever your usual vessel is) and set it aside.  We’re almost done.

Now, with the sauce fully incorporated, dump in your cooked pasta, the Parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt and a few turns (or another pinch) of black pepper.  Mix it all together and you are ready to feed a group.

*** Variation note***

The slightly different version of this pasta involves the elimination of one of the ingredients listed here and the addition of another.  Get rid of the Parmesan cheese.  What we are going to add is 1 cup of frozen peas.  You should add the peas at the same time that you add the mascarpone cheese.  In about 6 minutes, the frozen peas will be tender.  This variation doesn’t dramatically alter the taste (although removing the Parmesan does impact things a bit), but I find that it makes the pasta a bit more visually striking.  Try both variations.  You won’t be disappointed.

Welcome and the FaT (Food as Thereapy) Chocolate Chip Cookie

January 2, 2012

First, Happy 2012!  It seems only appropriate for a new adventure like this blog to start at the beginning of a new year.  Many blessings to everyone who takes that time to read this.  (Hopefully, this blog will make you smile as opposed to making you feel like this is another something you must endure in the year!)

What an auspicious moment, my first post!  I have to admit to mixed feelings here.  I’m both excited and a little nervous.  I’m excited about putting something out there for everyone to see, and I’m a little nervous about putting something out there that everyone can see.  It goes without saying that the excited part of me outweighs the nervous part of me, so here goes.

It feels  only appropriate that my first post takes me back to the beginning of my baking adventures and the one food I go back to over and over again, namely chocolate chip cookies.  (This could also be because I’m an admitted chocoholic, which probably has to do with all the endorphins eating chocolate releases in the brain, but I digress.)  The reason I enjoy making these cookies so much is that nothing reminds me of home more than the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking.  You can keep your apple pies and fresh bread.  Chocolate chip cookies just do it for me.  I can even remember my mother asking my siblings and I when we were little on particularly lazy Sunday mornings how many fresh baked chocolate chip cookies we would each like for breakfast.  (Yes, my mom rocked!)

What you will find here is my version of a great chocolate chip cookie, or as close to “mine” as anyone like me can claim.  I have taken inspiration from many people and places like Jacques Pepin to Joanne Chang and King Arthur Flour to Cooks Illustrated.  I have made it my calling to search out and try as many chocolate chip cookie recipes as I can and create the best one.

What I discovered was that there is a basic formula most everyone more or less follows, and it looks shocking like the original 1937 Toll House Inn recipe  that is considered the very first Chocolate Chip Cookie (CCC).  You’ve got butter and 2 types of sugar creamed together.  You throw in eggs and vanilla.  Then you add the flour, baking soda and salt until combined before you add the key ingredient, chocolate chips.  Pretty basic and in this case, frankly, it turns out a really good cookie, especially if you get to eat it fresh from the oven.  The people and places I mentioned before play around with the basics to come to something different – special chocolate, aging the batter, etc.  I took the best parts of what I found and came up with a really strong CCC contender.  I’m sure at some point I’ll revisit things, but this is definitely one that doesn’t suck!  While everyone claims that theirs is “the best Chocolate Chip Cookie ever”, I claim that this takes that best of all those “bests” and makes something truly special.  Well worth your time – if only for the raw dough!

Food as Therapy (FaT) Chocolate Chip Cookie     (print FaT CCC recipe)

125 g All Purpose Flour

85 g Bread Flour

1 tsp Kosher Salt

½  tsp Baking Soda

¾ tsp Baking Powder

½  cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter (cool but not cold, cut into ½ inch pieces)

½ cup Crisco shortening

150g Granulated Sugar

185g Light Brown Sugar

1 ½ tsp Vanilla Extract

2 Eggs

½  Herseys Milk Chocolate Bar (frozen)

2 cups Semisweet Chocolate Chips


Begin by weighing out your flours and adding to them the salt and baking soda.  Set this aside.  (You’ll notice that I didn’t ask you to preheat the oven.  That was done on purpose.  For those that need to know why, we’re going to “age” our dough for a few hours, so no need to keep the oven on all that time.)

Then, into a bowl, crack your eggs, add the vanilla to them and lightly scramble with a fork.  Set this aside.

Finally, take out that frozen Hersey’s bar and finely chop it.  (If you have to find a use for the other half, you’re thinking too hard.  Just eat it!)  You’ll be glad you froze it when you do this because trying to chop it at room temperature creates a huge mess.  (Trust me on this.  This is the voice of reason talking.)  The other option is to use the small holes in a box grater.  This works great, but I prefer to keep my clean up to a minimum.  Set the grated/chopped chocolate aside.


Now, you’re ready to rock and roll.  Throw the butter, shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar into a mixer with the paddle attachment.  Begin to cream them together, slowly bringing it up to a medium-high speed and let the thing run for at least 4 minutes.  It will start to lighten and increase in volume slightly.

This will become this…

Stop the paddle, scrap down the bowl and start it up at the lowest setting.  Add the egg/vanilla mixture and continue to beat, increasing the speed to where it was before for about a minute.  Stop, scrape down and give things another 10-15 seconds of mixing.

Now, add the flour/soda/salt mix in one shot.  Be sure to mix this slowly or your will decorate your clothing and/or your kitchen in a winter wonderland of flour.  It looks better in pictures to see than it is to have happen in practice.  (And you’ll forgive me for not recreating that scene for you!)  Mix until just combined.  What does that mean, you ask?  Excellent question!  For me, that means that 95%+ of the flour is combined but you can still see a little white here and there.  Resist that urge to mix everything until not a speck of white is visible.  All will be well.  (If you can’t trust yourself with the awesome power of the mixer, you can incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet with a spatula.)  Get that mixing bowl out of your mixer and prepare to finish things with your trusty spatula.

Now, add that chopped chocolate and, using said spatula, combine it.  You’ll know your done when those chocolate bits are all covered by batter.  Finally, add your chocolate chips and use your spatula one last time.

This bowl then goes into your refrigerator for at least 2 hours (and up to overnight).  I do this to let the flavors all meld together, as well as chill everything down to limit the cookie spread when baked.

At this stage, one of two things will happen.  First, either you and/or your family will have eaten most of the raw cookie dough making preheating the oven a moot point.  Or, second, enough chilled batter is actually left to continue.  If you find yourself in the second situation, preheat your oven to 325˚F.

Using a parchment lined baking sheet, arrange your dough balls leaving about 2 inches between each.  (I used both a teaspoon ice cream scoop and a tablespoon ice cream scoop.)

Pop them in the oven for anywhere from 10 -15 minutes.  You’ll know they’re ready when the edges have started to brown.  Cool them on a wire rack – or consume them right away.

Now, a quick word about parchment vs. silicone baking mats.  I have tried both.  I find that parchment typically outperforms the silicon.  As the pictures show, the results with the same oven temps, the same pan underneath, the same batter and the same times produce different results.  (Notice the inconsistent color for the cookies on the silicon sheet below.)  That may be just the result of some quirk of my oven, but as you can see from the results, I’m a parchment fan.