True Thai Taught in the slums & Perfect ChocoChunk Cookies

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I don’t hide the fact that I truly enjoy food. It’s part of the reason I have an all American waistline. I believe that what and how people eat can be very indicative clues to their culture and lifestyle. Two of my friends were recently able to go to different parts of Thailand. Part of their trip was a culinary experience and, after some digging around on the internet, they found a woman who would teach them to cook real Thai food in a very honest setting while in the slums of Bangkok. They brought these recipes back to the states with them and cooked them for us last night.

Needless to say, all the courses were beyond wonderful. The evening started with roasted silk worm larvae in sesame oil and cilantro. I can tell you that they tasted a bit like roasted tomatoes with the texture of steamed edamame. I can tell you this because that is what I was told. I’ve eaten crickets before and enjoyed them, but I could not bring myself to eat worm larvae. It was poor of me to at least not try it and I should have.

Next up was Pomelo salad. A pomelo, also known as a “Citrus Maxima”, is a giant grapefruit. Friggin’ huge. And delicious. Thai Pomelo salad is a dish normally called Yam Som – O; it’s fresh, flavorful, and filling on it’s own. The salad was made of pomelo, shrimp, coconut flakes, shallots, hot peppers, cilantro, and garlic with a dressing of lime juice, coconut milk and a dash of fish sauce. It was fantastic, the shrimp perfectly done, and the pomelo adding both sweetness and a bit of tartness that made the entire dish spicy and, yet, refreshing.

The third course in our evening was easily one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten all year. It was, to put it simply, amazing. The levels of flavor were such that I rarely, if ever, had experienced them before. It was a soup called Tom Kha: creamy coconut soup, with thin, small mushrooms that acted more like noodles, lemon grass, perfectly tender shrimp, and hot chili oil. This soup cleared your sinuses, but not in an unwelcoming way; I’m generally a coward when it comes to heat, but I could have eaten this until the cows came home. It was so flavorful that the spiciness was only secondary, though it helped that I had a beer to quell some of the heat. I wish I could have a big, heaping bowl of this soup right now and I’m not even hungry. It’s something that I know I will search for whenever I visit Thai restaurants in the future.

The main entree of the evening was classic pad thai, served with sugar, as it is the usual accompaniment to this dish in Thailand. Also, everything was eaten with forks and spoons, as it is not customary to eat these meals with chopsticks. Needless to say, dinner was fantastic.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with fresh blended mango poured over the top. I don’t have a picture of that because I inhaled it. We ended the evening with excellent conversation and the Vice Guide to North Korea. I highly recommend watching it. It is on Netflix Streaming as well, so you have no excuse to miss out. Hey, have you watched Troll Hunter yet? I’m thinking of watching it again…

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Cookies Make a Baker a Better Person

So, I’m super picky about chocolate chip cookies. Often times I found recipes result in bland, merely sugary sweet crackers, and, all too commonly, these baked treats seem to come out of the oven flatter than Kate Moss’s chest. A few months ago I decided I’d had enough. I wanted to make a cookie that was just as delicious to look at as it was to eat, something fluffy and chewy, and just all around awesome. This led me to the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I have yet to find any cookie recipe that even comes close to matching the quality of this one and every batch earns me accolades as a chef to those munching away on them.

First thing: This ain’t no TollHouse guide. Take everything you’ve ever learned about baking cookies and chuck it out the window. Fire it out of a canon into the sun, because it’s that worthless. Then preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a big bowl mix together 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 3/4 cups flour. Then put it in the corner and forget about it for a while. Now comes the fun part: Take 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and melt it in a sauce pan. Melt it and then start swirling the pan, over heat, until the butter is browned and nutty smelling. You want your house to smell AMAZING? Bake these cookies. Just like the look and taste, even the aroma goes above and beyond in mouth watering goodness.

You then take this gorgeous, transformed butter and pour it over – you guessed it – more butter. In a heat proof bowl, mix the melted 10 tbsp butter with 4 more cold tbsp unsalted butter. Stir or swirl until everything is melted. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar to the butter. Have you figured it out yet? The base of this cookie batter is a caramel! I know, your mind is blown. Take a minute. Regroup. Then let’s get back to baking.

Once you stir in the sugars, the mixture will look pretty gritty. That’s okay, the magic of adding eggs changes everything. Remember, though: we’re essentially making a caramel, so one egg is okay, 2 yolks are better. To the butter & sugar mixture add one full large egg and one additional yolk, a dash of salt, and vanilla extract. I generally also add a 1/2 tsp of almond extract; I find its flavor helps keep the cookies from seeming too sweet and adds a little something unexpected to a well known snack food without getting too far from the basics. When it comes to the eggs, separate them with your bare hands. Do it. We all have sinks and soap. Use your hands. I bought a fancy egg separator from Crate & Barrel for $4 that is just shit. Doesn’t work at all. It would have been a better use of money to buy lottery scratch-off tickets. See the useless uni-tasker below. Just use your freakin’ hands.

After the addition of the eggs, the directions get a little picky. Whisk the mixture for 30 seconds. Then let it sit for 3 minutes. Do this 2 more times, so that you whisk a total of 3 times, 30 seconds each time. The batter will completely change from dark brown and gritty, to thick, golden, smooth, and shiny. Also, make sure you don’t taste the batter at this point. It tastes just like a gooey, somewhat liquified Werther’s Original candy and you may not be able to stop guzzling it once you start.

Now you can add the caramel mixture to the flour and baking powder. Try to incorporate everything together without over mixing. Limit your stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon for right around a minute. Finally, add 1 1/2 cups of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. It really is best to use these. The different in cost between those and any other brand is minimal. They melt much better in the cookies as they’re flatter, thinner, and larger, and have a better flavor. They really make a difference in these cookies.

You may find the batter to be so buttery that it is difficult to get the chocolate chips to stick to it. I find that essentially cutting the chips into the batter and gently folding everything helps embed the chocolate into the batter without over mixing anything. After trying this recipe with regular chocolate chips, I can tell you first hand that the shape of the Ghirardelli stick much butter to the batter. You may have to get pretty handsey in forming these and it really does seem like a lot of chocolate. And there’s a good reason for that: It is a lot of chocolate.

At this point, the original recipe states to divide the batter into sixteen servings to make rather large cookies. I don’t like my cookies that big, so I generally make 20, 8 per cookie sheet, and 4 on the final. They’re still very large cookie, but not crazy in size. I bake them for 5 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet in the oven and cook for an addition 5 – 7 minutes, just until the edges are barely turning brown. If you can master pulling them out of the oven at the right point, you wind up with a chewy cookie with a bottom that is crunchy due to being caramelized and crisp. It makes for an amazing treat and added punch to an already fantastic treat. And, like a child, I enjoy mine with milk.

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