Travellust.


Relaxing in the kitchen.
24 June, 2007, 9:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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It’s summertime, so that means that the food and beverage industry is making its way down into a sales valley. It doesn’t mean we go broke, it just means that it’s a little slower than say, the fourth quarter. But, lets be honest, down time is never a bad thing is it?

Tonight I had the opportunity to take off. So what did I do? Bake of course. After last week’s four-course dinner party for eight, I’ve been avoiding the stove at all costs. It’s not that it was labor intensive, but cooking in the heat, in the heat has lost it’s appeal (no matter how good your A.C. is). However, when I left work tonight, I realized it had almost been a week since I had turned the oven on and the itch was becoming more and more persistent.

I consulted a friend who has access to great semi-sweet chocolate chips, so I called in for a favor in return for a finished product and got on my merry way. “Favorite” chocolate chip cookie recipes remind me of a question that I get asked at work all the time by guests: “What is the best steak on the menu?” In response, I sincerely explain to them that “the best steak” is a truly “personal preference”, much like how they like that steak cooked. Truth be told, by the age of sixteen, ok maybe 20, most people have figured out what kind of steak they like, whether it’s a well-marbled rib eye, or a petite filet mignon. On that note, I also think that by the same age people have the same understanding of what kind of chocolate chip cookie they like. Chewy, crunch, thick or thin?

For me, the most important quality of a cookie, regardless of its shape, size or the kind of chocolate that it contains (because good quality chocolate should always be a given), is that it stay chewy after completely cooling. Now I know that certain name brands come out of the oven oozing and gooeing chocolate, but give it twenty minutes and I promise they will harden like rocks.

I cannot recall how I found this recipe, but it lit up my taste buds and many others at an “upscale” tailgating party. I won’t tell you that they will be especially chewy after a couple of days, as moisture is a hard variable to control. But, I am sure that if you follow the directions the chips will stay chewy and gooey until they’ve all disappeared. My best advice with these cookies as with all things baked is to store them in a cool and dry place.

*Note: This is a great base recipe, so go wild with the sweet stuff; you can certainly substitute for M&Ms, white chocolate, or whatever else tickles your fancy.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Saveur Magazine at Saveur.com

Ingredients

2 1/8 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon table salt

12 tbsp. unsalted butter (1.5 sticks), melted and cooled slightly

1 c. brown sugar (light or dark, I’ve always used light)

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (be sure to use the good stuff; remember: garbage in – garbage out)

1-2 c. chocolate chips (semi or bitter; I usually lean more towards two cups; please see the note on vanilla extract)

Method

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Either by hand or with electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined. Stir in chips.

Form scant ¼ cup dough into ball. (*you can change the size here depending on how big or small you want the cookies; my experience shows that these turn into very big cookies, so if you’re thinking about ice-cream sandwiches, I would go smaller)

Holding dough ball using fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Rotate halves ninety degrees and, with jagged surfaces exposed, join halves together at their base, again forming a single cookie, being careful not to smooth dough’s uneven surface. Place formed dough onto one of two parchment paper-lined 20-by-14-inch lipless cookie sheets, about nine dough balls per sheet. Smaller cookie sheets can be used, but fewer cookies can be baked at one time and baking time may need to be adjusted.

(Dough can be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen up to 1 month—shaped or not.)

Bake, reversing cookie sheets’ positions halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes (start checking at 13 minutes).

(Frozen dough requires an extra 1 to 2 minutes baking time.) Cool cookies on cookie sheets. Serve or store in airtight container.

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Childhood Treats For Grownups
7 June, 2007, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized



Sometimes a day off has to be a day off, and I am specifically referring to cooking. I asked J all afternoon what he’d like and neither of us could come up with something to cook. Then, he made a suggestion that we get take out from Town. SOLD!

I adore this restaurant not only because of the design, décor and ambiance, but also mainly for the small plates and ‘do-it-yourself’ menu. Moderately priced, Town is a restaurant conveniently located across from my school, and only a few blocks away from our home. Everything is a la carte, so one is able to make the main course a first, the salad a main, and cheese as dessert, etc. You can basically order anything off of the menu in the order in which you would like it to be brought. Another perk is that the dishes are very small, so you are inclined to order several plates, which allows you to try the menu on for size.

I opted for grilled shrimp, caramelized carrots and wonderful potato gnocchi (of which I am obviously a fan) . J ordered the surf + turf bento box, which is served appropriately so when you dine in.

All were great choices in my opinion, but together they could not have topped what we ordered for dessert: Cotton-Candy. Granted, this is something that you will usually only find at county-fairs, festivals and the like. However, when you ask why a restaurant would have it on its dessert menu, I pose this question: ‘Who doesn’t like cotton-candy?.’ You get three flavors, strawberry, lemon and blueberry, and they are served to you at table on the signature paper cones that we all cherished as children. If you decided to get them for take out, they will nicely wrap all of your cones in a plastic bag for safe travel.

Town is open:

Monday-Thursday: lunch, 1130 a.m. – 2 p.m., dinner 530 pm – 10 p.m.
Friday, lunch, 1130 a.m. – 2 p.m., dinner 530 pm – 11 pm
Saturday, dinner 530 p.m. – 11 p.m.

710 w trade st
charlotte, nc 28202
t 704.379.7555



Gnocchi A La Niçoise, what’s not to love? (..And a note on eating in the industry)
1 June, 2007, 2:03 am
Filed under: Savory

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I love a day off from work. While some people, more than others, have the time to cook dinner after work, permitting you have a 9-5, I am only able to do so when I have a day off. Being a server in a restaurant requires that I work as many as eight shifts a week, three days of which are typically doubles. This means that typical eating pattern such as three times a day doesn’t really work. My first shift starts at eleven, breakfast is usually at nine, with lunch following at a very late 3 p.m. The dinner shift is only an hour later, so lunch is a shared two-parter with dinner, typically the other half of sandwich or salad. This is why I am so fond of European “time”, and the concrete fact that shops close and lunch is at least an hour affair. It allows not only for downtime, but also for relaxation and the ability to sit and enjoy your food (insert very nice park scene and book here). But, this is the way of American “time” and certainly that of the food and beverage industry. Perhaps the one perk of it all is that on my days off, cooking is not only an event, but also sheer luxury, and today was one of those days.

While it seems odd to want to labor over a hot stove in the hot city-center heat, it is exactly what I wanted to do. It also served a dual purpose: relaxation for me, and dinner for J, who was working at the restaurant.

There are several reasons why I love this dish. One, it’s from Thomas Keller, who has a dear appreciation for all food, bistro. Second, because it is simple and clean. But, the reason that I find myself taking the time, and yes it requires at least a couple of hours, to make this dish is that it is so versatile. The ingredients are easily found, inexpensive, and interchangeable with what is in season or readily available (please see the bottom vegetable and herb bins in your fridge).

This much loved pasta dates back to the 1300s, with much of its history rooted in Italy. While it is customarily made from potatoes, flour and eggs, it does vary depending on the country. This particular recipe is Parisienne, which leaves out the potatoes and utilizes rich and nutty hard cheese such as Gruyère, Emmentaler, or Comté.

Thomas Keller’s take on this pasta is expectedly simple, using fresh herbs and vegetables, butter, oil, and lemon. This recipe yields about 250 gnocchi, which means what you don’t prepare that day can be frozen for up to six weeks and used to prepare a simple meal when you don’t have want or time for the fuss and muss of something from scratch.

After making this once before I realized how I could make small changes to the recipe, depending on the vegetables in season and what herbs I had readily available. Any combination I have found still yields the same simple, clean and flavorful dish.

In Thomas Keller’s book, Bouchon there are two recipes, the first being Gnocchi A La Parisienne, or herb gnocchi. The second is the dish where the gnocchi makes its premier, Gnocchi A La Niçoise, or Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables. He also uses the base recipe for gnocchi in another dish in the book with sage and butternut squash.