I've been interested in the science of cooking ever since I started watching Good Eats on the Food Network and reading Cooks Illustrated magazine. I've also had a long standing fascination in finding the perfect chocolate cookie for MY tastes (understanding that everyone has their own preferences).

Alton Brown has an excellent chocolate chip cookie episode of Good Eats where he makes Puffy, Thin, and Chewy versions of the cookie by altering the flour, eggs, and shortening in the cookies. He explains why the gluten amount in the flour or the type of shortening will effect the texture of the cookie. This is also discussed in the great reference cookbooks CookWise and BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher.

I was intrigued about a month ago when my friend Becky mentioned a certain chocolate chip cookie recipe from the New York Times on her Facebook posting. It had a link to a rather interesting article.

The basic idea in the article is that time allows the dough to 'age' for better flavor and texture. The dough is allowed to dry as the moisture from the eggs is slowly absorbed by the dry ingredients. When first mixed the dough is very light and soft. Below you see the dough after 36 hours, kind of dry and crumbly, but it can still be pressed into balls.

In the article the testers took a batch of cookie dough and took samplings from it at 12, 24, and 36 hours. They say the dough can be chilled for up to 72 hours. Here is the result they shared:

At 12 hours, the dough had become drier and the baked cookies had a pleasant, if not slightly pale, complexion. The 24-hour mark is where things started getting interesting. The cookies browned more evenly and looked like handsomer, more tanned older brothers of the younger batch. The biggest difference, though, was flavor. The second batch was richer, with more bass notes of caramel and hints of toffee.

Going the full distance seemed to have the greatest impact. At 36 hours, the dough was significantly drier than the 12-hour batch; it crumbled a bit when poked but held together well when shaped. These cookies baked up the most evenly and were a deeper shade of brown than their predecessors. Surprisingly, they had an even richer, more sophisticated taste, with stronger toffee hints and a definite brown sugar presence. At an informal tasting, made up of a panel of self-described chipper fanatics, these mature cookies won, hands down.

I made my dough on Monday night and baked the first samplings at 36 hours and figured I'd wait the 72 hours to finish them off. I will definitely agree wholeheartedly with the insights expressed above for the 36 hour cookies. There was an immediate, noticeable flavor difference with these cookies - the strong hints of toffee and caramel.

Another observation in the article is that size matters. In this case, the bigger the cookie, the better the variation in texture. They suggest large cookies so that you have a nice crunchy edge that give way to a soft, slightly chewy center. Spot on again!

My cookies used regular chocolate chips rather than the chocolate disc/coins mentioned in the article. I couldn't go to that extra expense, although I do agree that the better the chocolate, the better the cookie. Who could argue with that?

The last detail was the sprinkling of salt on the tops of the cookies. I must admit that I forgot this detail on the first batch. On the second batch I ground fresh sea salt across the top. It does add an extra zing to the cookie.

Overall assessment? Great recipe and observations. There really is a significant flavor difference with the aging of the dough. So then it boils down to things like... Do you have the willpower to let your dough sit for two days before you bake it? How well do the cookies keep? I think this recipe does have a keeper status in my recipe file. But I also think that it will depend on the mood and patience and the reason I'm baking cookies that day to determine whether I'll be making this version or my other favorite, the Monster Cookie recipe.

Anyway, the recipe for these fabulous cookies, if you can wait the 36 hours, is located here.

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milano Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

We were given the option to do one or both cookies. Considering that I don't care for marshmallows, the summer temps reaching in the 100's and a tight wallet due to Arnold's furloughs, I opted for one - the Milanos.

They were very easy to do. I left out the citrus extracts mentioned in the recipe and just used a bit of almond extract in the chocolate middles. I also wanted more chocolate, so that's why I dipped the ends. Then I took some leftover almond meal to dust them.

I can see doing this recipe during the holidays. It was easy, cheap, and tasty. A definite keeper.

Milan Cookies
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies

• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling:
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.
My BBQ Spot on Urbanspoon
Everyone has a favorite type of BBQ. What is yours? Texas? Memphis? Carolina? I don't care for Texas because it is just too smokey for me. Otherwise, I like other BBQs as long as I like their sauce. But another important factor besides the sauce or rub is how well the meat is cooked. Is it dry or moist? How tender is it?

For the last few years my BBQ joints of choice had been Sandra Dee's and Memphis BBQ. Alas, Memphis died along with this economy. So I was left with Sandra Dee's. Now I have a new option - My BBQ Place on J St.

I first heard of it from Epicurean's Paul. He took his dinner group there a couple of months ago and I had to miss it. Today I had a craving for some ribs and decided to search the place out. It is easy to miss. It is a small place in a building between other businesses. Even though we were looking for it, we still managed to drive right past it. We found a parking spot and then walked back on the block until we spotted it.

I ordered a half slab of babybacks which came with fries and a choice side. I chose the mac n cheese. Jim ordered a combo plate with a half slab and beef brisket. He got two sides and chose the baked beans and cornbread. We were asked if we wanted our meats wet or dry and whether we wanted mild or spicy sauce. I always choose dry because I hate getting ribs so sopping wet with sauce that I have to scrape it off. I'd rather add than subtract. Jim chose wet with mild sauce. Below you see his ribs and I was glad to see they had a nice light coating of sauce - just the right amount.

The food arrived and we saw that we had plenty. We probably could have just ordered the combo and shared it between the two of us.

The ribs were excellent. They were super moist and fell off the bone. After some time savoring them and thinking about it I would have to say that I prefer the ribs here over Sandra Dee's. SD's ribs tend to be on the dry side. These ribs were succulent. We both enjoyed the sauce as well - sweet and tangy. The hot was the same as the mild just ratcheted up a notch or two.

We both liked the beef brisket as well, especially how it was served. You see it above in the left cup, cut into cubes. This treatment made it easy to eat with a nice, light toss of sauce. The mac n cheese was nothing special so on that I prefer SD's. I didn't try the cornbread, but the baked beans were good, but seemed like they could have been canned versus homemade.

So the overall judgment? I like the ribs, brisket, and sauce here better, but I prefer the mac n cheese and red beans and rice at SD's. And, we must remember, Sandra Dee's is still THE winner for fried chicken.
I went on my second grubcrawl with a theme - Bikes & Bites. Cline organized this crawl so that we would bike from location to location. The five restaurants were spread far enough apart to need a bike, but not too far as to wear you out.

I caught up a little with Cline and asked what had been going on. I had thought his venture might have been dying since he hadn't really been posting any crawls and I had pretty much given up checking his site. He explained that they take a break during winter because of the weather and then he also wanted to avoid the other big events like Jazz Festival and the Cinco de Mayo block parties. He said he was getting more private party and corporate business to keep him busy. He told me he had two more crawls already in the works - one with the Monarchs in August and another with the River City Rollergirls in September. Good to hear.

Our first stop was my favorite but I didn't get pictures. We started at the 4th Street Grille at 4th and L. They had a delicious spread of BBQ beef sliders, Thai chicken skewers, and potstickers. Even though I knew I had to save room for the other venues, I still chowed down on 3-4 sliders and the same in skewers. This was because I knew I wouldn't be interested in the next stop's food.

The sliders were nice with fresh buns and a nicely flavored shredded beef that was not wet enough to give you a soggy bun. They also filled them to the right amount so that they were not messy to eat. I would order them if I was a paying customer. Same with the skewers. The chicken was cooked in a marinade and then they left a pitcher of peanut sauce to dip your skewer in. The sauce was interesting because it definitely had a Thai influence but also had a slight gravy taste to it. Not bad, I just found it interesting.

We biked on to the Fox & Goose at 10th and R where they set out some pretty basic (and greasy) pub fair. They did bangers (sausages) in blankets and fried zucchini. Knowing that we had three more places to go, I just passed on this stop.

The next three stops were all new for me. First was Hanger 17 at 17th and S. I had never gone here because I knew it to be known for the bar and sports watching. I, of course, only care about food and so I'll always prefer going to a restaurant versus a bar with food. Still, I learned some new things just from the crawl. First, one of my fellow crawlers told me that Hanger 17 has a great brunch. They offer a number of varieties of Eggs Benedict. She also said that they have bottomless champagne and mimosas for $5 with brunch.

For our crawl stop they did put out a lot of food. Here you see some polenta cakes with BBQ pork and creme fraiche and then some chicken nachos. I didn't care for the first because I don't like polenta. Plus, it didn't help that both these dishes were served cold. The chicken nachos were pretty good and had a nice bite to them - but I would have liked them and eaten more of them if they had been hot.

The pizzas were good, especially the Margherita. It was really garlicy and had the cheese, tomatoes, and basil true to the name. I did not try the pepperoni because I knew our next stop was Hot Italian.

Hot Italian is on 16th and Q. I had been meaning to go and try it out, but never had the time. It's an interesting place because it has the restaurant, a gelato bar, and then a store with Italian clothes, mopeds, and motorcycles. Our group was set up in the store area and had to wait a while before they brought out the pizzas. You can see they were pounced on pretty quickly.

I was really disappointed in the pizzas here. Some people seem to really love this place, but with so many pizza places around, you really need to stand out. I tried their version of the Margherita and didn't like it. They used sauce instead of sliced tomatoes and I didn't find the sauce tasty at all. One of my fellow crawlers told me that they think that we were provided lower quality pizzas for the event than what he's had when he's been there for dinner. He said the crust seemed even thinner than usual and there was less cheese.

We discussed the value of putting your best food forward when you are going to be a part of the grubcrawl. After all, you will have some new customers basing everything on what they sample. Based on the pizzas I sampled here, I was not impressed. So now I have no reason or interest to ever go back. If they did indeed scrimp on the event pizzas, shame on them. And if this was their standard quality of pizza? Then sorry, I'm going to Masullo's instead.

I was so put off by the pizzas here that I biked early to the last venue. As I road I thought to myself how many other pizza places were in the vicinity. I rode right past California Pizza Kitchen and another and then mentally listed: Masullo's, Paesano's, Chicago Fire, Pieces, Giovanni's, Zelda's, not to mention the chains like Round Table. Then throw in restaurants that just have pizza as one of the items on their menus like Hanger 17 and Cafe Bernardo do. In the downtown area I'll be sticking to Masullo's and Chicago Fire.

The final destination was the new secondary location of Tokyo Fro's on 15th between I and J. Even though Tokyo Fro's has been around on Fair Oaks Blvd. for years, I never ventured there either. So I was curious to try another downtown sushi location. They put out five rolls on numerous platters so that there was plenty for all. The rolls were good and I'm willing to go back to try them again, but didn't find anything that rocked my world. But then again, could I really expect a super great roll on the crawl? That's probably gonna have to wait for the day that I sit down and pay. The staff were very friendly, though, as we waited for the rest of the group to show up. And, like their original location, this one turns clubby as the hour turns late.

I'm not into the clubby pick-up scene anymore and I was entering into a food coma anyway. It was 10:00 by this point and so I climbed on my bike, put on my headlamp and headed for home.

I'm glad the grubcrawls are back. They are worth the $25!

These days it is not often that I try new recipes. It's the same ol story. I'm single, lazy, and poor. But I really want to try more recipes from my Mideast cookbook and so I tried this one because I had all the ingredients.

It turns out that this is one of those recipes that gets better the next day. On the day I cooked it I thought, "it's good, but could use more spice". Then I parceled it into single servings and froze them for work lunches. Today I had one and it was SOOOO much better. I also think that this recipe could easily be done in a crockpot and done as a stew by just throwing in the rice or, in my case, quinoa.


* 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
* 2 garlic cloves, crushed
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 onion, finely chopped
* 4 tomatoes, chopped (I used a can of diced tomatoes)
* 2 tablespoons peanut butter
* 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 8 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
* 1 chili pepper, seeded and chopped (I used a medium jalapeno)
* salt
* pepper

Cut chicken into thin slices, place in a bowl and stir in garlic and a little salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan and fry the chicken over medium heat, turning once or twice to brown evenly. Transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion and tomatoes over high heat for 5 minutes, till soft.

Reduce the heat, add the peanut butter and half of the stock and blend together well.

Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring all the time to prevent the peanut butter burning, then add the remaining stock, thyme, spinach, chili and seasonings.

Stir in the chicken slices and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes till chicken is cooked through.

Pour the chicken mixture into a warmed serving dish and serve with boiled yams, quinoa, or rice.

Peanut Butter

Buckhorn Grill on Urbanspoon

If you like tri-tip, you need to try Buckhorn Grill.

The Grills are an offshoot of the original Buckhorn restaurant in Winters. The Buckhorn has long been known for serving Certified Angus Beef that has been aged for 21 to 42 days. They also serve great game such as antelope, buffalo, and duck.

The Grills are a semi-fast food offshoot of the restaurant. After they had success selling tri-tip sandwiches at the Napa farmers' market, they opened their first Grill and now they have a total of six throughout northern California. The one in Sacramento is located at 18th and L Streets. You order up at a counter and then your food is served up in about five minutes. They are most famous for the tri-tip, but they also serve salmon and chicken.

I agree that the Buckhorn's tri-tip is of the very best quality and never see a need to order the salmon or chicken. The meat has been aged 21 days, marinated, rubbed with seasoning, and then cooked over a wood fire and smoked. The meat is always tender and delicious.

Another favorite item at the Grill is their Roadhouse Onions. If you like onion strings then I would say the Grill has the best I've had. Their onions are sliced super thin, battered and the deep fried to perfection. What makes them stand out is that they are super light, crisp and totally greaseless. Other restaurants the strings will be clumped and a bit mushy from grease. Not here.

I'm a small eater and so usually I just order the small plate of tri-tip and Roadhouse Onions. But the other day I went for the full plate which includes a roll, mashed potatoes and roasted veggies. I switched the veggies for my onions, but was really disappointed in the mashed potatoes. They were like potato porridge after having had too much milk added to them. I was remembering the movie Close Encounters when Richard Dreyfuss starts sculpting a giant Devil's Tower out of mashed potatoes. They were nice and stiff. If you had used my Grill potatoes it would have been the mudslide down the side of the mountain.

But generally the food is good and the service is as well.
Shortcuts often don't work out in gourmet cooking. Such was the case with a recipe I made today of a Thai corn chowder. So...I won't be critiquing the corn chowder recipe because I don't feel I did it justice by using shortcuts and now want to make it again the proper way.

You see, I shortcutted by not using fresh ginger or lemongrass. Instead, I used the pastes of each that come in the tubes at the produce section. That might have been OK but that after I finished everything I checked the expiration dates on the tubes and then were LONG past. So let's just say the flavor I was wanting just wasn't there. Silly, considering I have an awesome Asian market a block from my house and I was in there TWICE today! Sheesh!

So, although it was good, the chowder wasn't great. Not like I think it could be with fresh ingredients. So I will make it again.

I do want to share my new favorite Pampered Chef tool. Each season they come out with something that I'm not all that thrilled about until I start using it. Then I just LOVE it.

This season it is our Kernel Cutter for taking corn off the cob. It works great!

This is definitely a must if you like to use fresh corn in recipes or if you have someone who cannot eat corn on the cob - like kids with braces. I've used it quite a few times this season. And it is way safer than using a knife to slice off the kernels. It is only $7.50. Let me know if you want one. I have an order going in soon.

You gotta love when you go to the sale table at the bookstore and find a great deal. I got a nice cookbook that included recipes from Spain, the Mideast, and Africa for just $5. Big and full of pictures. It had a recipe for apricot bundles that I had to alter for size.

With apricots at their peak right now, this is a great recipe and super easy.

Apricot Bundles

6 apricots, halved and pitted
1/2 c almond meal
1/4 c sugar
1 T rose water
4 sheets of phyllo dough cut into squares

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, mix together the almond meal, sugar, and rosewater to create a paste. Take a tablespoon of the paste and sandwich it in the middle of two apricot halves. Place a filled apricot in the center of a phyllo square and pinch/twist the ends together to create a boat around the apricot. Place on a baking sheet. Drizzle the bundles with honey. Bake bundles for 20 minutes. Serve hot with ice cream.


Wheat berries were something new for me. I had seen this recipe done on the Food Network show Healthy Appetite and realized that I had eaten them before, but never seen them in the store. Off I went to the Food Coop and the bulk bins. They had both hard and soft berries, so I opted for the soft and got about a cup and a half of them.

Wheat berries are the whole wheat kernel before it has been stripped of the bran and germ. It is a true whole grain packed with nutrients. When cooked, it is a chewy kernel with a nutty flavor. You can use it in salads or even eat it for breakfast with milk and honey or your favorite cereal toppings. If you are industrious, you can grind raw wheat berries into your own whole wheat flour.

The first step for the salad is to boil the wheat berries for about an hour to get them tender. Then you can combine them with chopped veggies, herbs, and lemon juice and voila! You have a super healthy salad. Basically this is the same recipe as my quinoa salad, just with wheat berries.

Wheat berry salad

1 c wheat berries, cooked and drained
2 ears of white corn or canned
1/2 c chopped red onion
1/2 c chopped bell pepper
1/4 c raisins or dried cranberries
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
Juice from one large lemon
Fresh ground salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the corn and after it has cooled, cut off the kernels into a bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Toss together and enjoy!