Monday, August 30, 2004

Heather’s 7 Layer Mexican Dip

I shared this with a bride-to-be yesterday at her shower, and thought I'd post it as well -- it's a popular favorite among my friends, a breeze to make, and always gets rave reviews.
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened (light is fine)
- 4 ounces sour cream (light is fine)
- 2 tbsp taco seasoning
- 1 can refried beans
- 1 jar salsa (mild, medium or hot)
- 1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 small can sliced olives
- 1 small can sliced jalapeno peppers (optional)

Combine cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning in a small bowl. Mix until well blended. Spread mixture evenly in bottom of dish. Spread refried beans over cream cheese. (I recommend using a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon.) Continue adding layers in the order suggested, finishing by sprinkling the top with scallions and then black olives (& jalapenos). Dip can be refrigerated for up to a day, but is best served at room temperature with tortilla chips.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Thick & Thin of It

I am proud of the fact that I'm a good cook, but I like to give credit where credit is due, and most often that credit belongs to a really fabulous recipe. Some people say following a recipe requires little more than reading comprehension, but I've come to appreciate that the recipes that turn out best require not only reading, but carefully following the directions -- when you don't have something required for the recipe, you need to either go out and get it or get really lucky to have success and when a recipe calls for 1/4 tsp of something, you should really measure it.

Another thing about recipes is finding the exact recipe you want. Most recently, I had discovered an amazing recipe for crispy chocolate chip cookies. The melt in your mouth type, that makes you chase down every crumb that falls as you bite into the cookie. Truly an outstanding cookie -- yet, there is a second type of chocolate chip cookies, while still rich, these are more moist and chewy, and overall more substantial than the crispy cookies. Depending on your preferences, give one of these recipes a try next time you want chocolate chip cookies.

Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
4 dozen 2-inch cookies
You can refrigerate the dough for up to 2 days or freeze it for a month. Bake cookies once the dough has returned to room temperature.

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda into a medium bowl, and mix with a whisk.
3. Beat melted butter, sugars, and corn syrup on low for one minute until well blended. Add yolk, milk, and vanilla and mix for one minute until smooth.
4. Slowly add dry ingredients with beaters on low. Mix about two minutes, until just combined, then add chips and blend for about 5 seconds, until just combined.
5. Scoop 1 tablespoon sized balls onto baking sheet, about two inches in between each cookie.
6. Bake sheets individually on the center rack in the oven for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies are flat and deep golden.
7. Allow cookies to cool on sheet for several minutes. Tranfer to wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature (they will crisp up during this time). Store cooled cookies in airtight container.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Makes 18, 3 inch cookies
You can refrigerate the dough for up to 2 days or freeze it for a month. Cookies can be baked frozen by adding 1-2 minutes to the baking time.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1–2 cups semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips/chunks (can also include any combination of white chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, raisins, nuts or coconut)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, salt, and baking soda with a whisk.
3. Mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended (can be done by hand or with blender). Add egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix well.
4. Mix dry ingredients into wet until combined, then stir in chips.
5. Make balls out of 1/4 cup portions of dough. Pull ball of dough into two, and then push halves back together, torn surfaces both facing up. Place cookies on cookie sheets, leaving 2-3 inches between each.
6. Bake 15-18 minutes, until cookies are light golden and edges begin to harden. Rotate cookie sheets halfway through baking. Leave on cookie sheets until cool. Cookies are excellent served warm, but can also be stored in an airtight container or bag.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Dan's Birthday Dessert

This year, Dan requested Coconut Cream Pie for his birthday "cake." I was pretty excited by this choice, as I remembered seeing a recipe for it in Cooks Illustrated. (Cooks Illutrated is my favorite cooking magazine -- it's free from advertisements and includes very practical, yet amazing delicious recipes. I don't think I've made a bad recipe from the magazine (or website) yet!)

This recipe promised and delivered, a delicious coconut cream pie with plenty of coconut flavor. You want to prepare the filling 3-12 hours before serving, to prevent it from getting soggy, but you can easily make the crusts a day (or two) in advance.

Coconut Cream Pie
One 9-inch pie serves 8 to 10

6 ounces animal crackers
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk (avoid light coconut milk or coconut cream)
1 cup whole milk
1⁄2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1⁄2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3⁄8 teaspoon salt
5 large egg yolks
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped Cream and Garnish
1 1⁄2 cups cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted

1) Crust: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. In food processor, pulse animal crackers, coconut, and sugar to fine crumbs, eighteen to twenty 1-second pulses; then process until powdery, about 5 seconds. Transfer crumbs to medium bowl and add butter; stir to combine until crumbs are evenly moistened. Empty crumbs into 9-inch glass pie plate; using bottom of ramekin or 1⁄2 cup dry measuring cup, press crumbs evenly into bottom and up sides of pie plate. Bake until fragrant and medium brown, about 15 minutes, rotating pie shell halfway through baking time. Set on wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

2) Filling: Bring coconut milk, whole milk, shredded coconut, 1⁄2 cup sugar, and salt to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Whisk yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisking constantly, gradually ladle about 1 cup hot milk mixture over yolk mixture; whisk well to combine. Whisking constantly, gradually add remaining milk mixture to yolk mixture in 3 or 4 additions; whisk well to combine. Return mixture to saucepan and cook until thickened and mixture reaches boil, whisking constantly, about 1 minute; filling must boil in order to fully thicken. (To determine whether filling has reached boil, stop whisking; large bubbles should quickly burst on surface.) Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is fully incorporated. Pour hot filling into cooled pie shell and smooth surface with rubber spatula; press plastic wrap directly against surface of filling and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.

3) Whipped cream: Up to 3 hours before serving, beat cream, sugar, and vanilla with electric mixer until soft peaks form, 1 1⁄2 to 2 minutes. Top pie with whipped cream and then sprinkle with coconut. Cut pie into wedges and serve.