It is difficult to write about my experiences in Syria knowing that the country is on the brink of civil war and chaos. It breaks my heart. I also realize that not writing anything won’t necessarily make things better, either. And giving up on my blog — the thing that used to bring me so much happiness — is the last thing I want to do.
mise en place
I want to keep today’s post short with the promise that I’ll be back again soon. I won’t disappear like I did before, you have my word. Thank you to all those who nudged me (physically and electronically) and encouraged me to continue writing. It may have taken me a while, but I’m here.
Today’s recipe is not one that I learned on my Fulbright in Syria, although I still have plenty of those to share with you, too. This is a recipe that I’ve come across many times on some of my favorite food blogs: World Peace Cookies. It even made it to Saveur’s list, Recipes that Rocked the Internet. Given all that is going on, I thought this was the perfect time to try such an alluring cookie.
sift for clumps
Pastry Chef Pierre Hermé originally developed these cookies for a restaurant in Paris, and Dorie Greenspan introduced them to the world in her book, Paris Sweets . The original name for the cookies was Sables Korova, or Korova Cookies, named after the restaurant off Champs Élysées that Pierre Hermé created the recipe for. It was not until Dorie’s neighbor tasted these these ultra decadent, chocolate-intense cookies that the name changed to what we know today. Dorie’s neighbor was convinced that a daily dose of these is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness; thus the new name was born.
chocolate: the ‘peace’ in ‘world peace’
I used Dorie’s recipe, except I took the liberty to add a pinch of orange zest to the dough; the combination of orange and chocolate makes my heart swoon. You could always leave that addition out if you’d like. The point is, these cookies are amazing any way you prepare them. They are crumbly and chocolatey and even if they don’t bring world peace immediately, I’m fully convinced, as was Dorie’s neighbor, that they are a step in the right direction.
refrigerate dough (in logs)
World Peace Cookies
cold milk: enabler of world peace
World Peace Cookies
yields approx 36 cookies
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips
zest of half an orange*(not in original recipe)
Putting them all together
Mix together the butter and sugars in a stand mixer on medium speed until the mixture becomes pale and creamy. You can also use a hand mixer. Add the salt, vanilla extract, and orange zest and mix for a couple more minutes.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda and add to the butter and sugar mixture. Pulse a few times at a low speed to incorporate the flour and prevent it from spilling. Add the chocolate chunks and mix on low speed for 30 seconds, or until the flour is fully incorporated. Do not overwork the dough; the dough should still look and feel crumbly. Divide the dough in two and form into logs approximately 1.5 inches in diameter. Roll each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (you can refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days or freeze the dough for 2 months).
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
With a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into disks that are 1/2 inch thick. Don’t worry if the disks crack as you cut them, just squeeze the bits back together. Arrange the sliced disks on your baking sheets, making sure to leave about an inch between each cookie.
Bake the cookies for 12 minutes. Note that they will still be soft and won’t look done, but that’s how they should be. Cool the cookies on a cookie rack and serve warm or at room temperature. Make sure to store leftover cookies (if there are any) in an airtight container.
Vegas is all about one thing: over the top, elaborate, in-your-face, decadence. On my trip to Vegas last week I noticed that was a recurring theme. Gelato at 11 o’clock at night. Extravagant shows put on by Cirque du Soleil. The world’s largest chocolate fountain. Vegas is decadent. Sure, some people perceive its decadence in other more “lewd” ways, but I was there to experience the amazing food. I also learned how to play Craps along the way, but that’s a different blog post.
I uploaded more photos from my Vegas trip to Flickr.
Beignets Filled with Oozing Chocolate
Restaurant: The Country Club
SW Steak House
Restaurant: SW SteakHouse
Kobe Beef Carpaccio
Restaurant: The Country Club
Duck Coated in a Fig-BBQ Sauce Served on Brioche Bun
Restaurant: The Country Club
Lots of love at Jean Philippe Patisserie
Restaurant: Jean Philippe Pattisserie
Out of all the dishes I had that week, my absolute favorite, which was not an easy decision to arrive at (as you could see), featured house-made elk sausage. It was the only dish I ordered twice that week. I don’t usually order a dish twice, but I had to make an exception. It was that good. The sausage, you see, was served on a bed of a marble potato hash cooked with pancetta and a mix of sweet peppers and onions. And gracefully balanced atop of the elk sausage rested a perfectly poached egg. It was perfect — no undercooked egg white and a barely warm yolk, still very runny of course. In order to qualify for Las Vegas decadence status, however, you need that extra something. That extra something, in this case, was the beautifully prepared, buttery choron sauce. If you’ve never had choron sauce, just think béarnaise with a bit of tomato purée. Instead of the puree, however, the chef incorporated a fine dice of sun dried tomatoes to achieve a similar flavor with added texture.
Elk Sausage Served with Poached Eggs and Choron Sauce
Today, I decided to pay tribute to Las Vegas with an equally decadent blog post. I didn’t have to look too far since I have plenty of decadent brioche left over from my previous post. You can’t tell from the photos, but I had made 2 batches of brioche, which left me with 4 total loaves, and 6 sticks of butter less in the fridge. But that’s not enough. In order to come close to Vegas-level decadence, I needed something more. I needed that charon sauce — something to take this already rich bread to new levels of decadence. Chocolate was the answer (as it almost always is).
mise en place
With some spotty bananas sitting on my counter, I decided to turn some of my left over brioche into mini chocolate-banana panini.
wait, wait… some extra chocolate
chocolate-banana brioche panini
Chocolate-Banana Brioche Panini
yields 4 panini
4 thick slices of brioche (1/2 inch)
High Quality Dark Chocolate (50-70% Cocoa)*, medium chop
thinly sliced bananas
Putting them all together
Cut each slice of brioche in half.
Layer chocolate chunks topped with a few slices of banana and an extra sprinkling of chocolate. The chocolate will act as a glue and keep the bananas in place.
Melt the chocolate in a panini press or on a skillet over a burner*.
Notes: I used Callebaut Chocolate for these panini, although any high quality dark chocolate also works — El Rey (Venezuela) and Valrhona (France) are a couple of my favorite brands. You could also make your own panini press by placing your sandwich in a large skillet over medium heat and topping it with another heated skillet (cast iron works best because it’s heavy).
Today I’m going to blog about brioche. It’s been long overdue, let me explain why.
It all started a few weeks ago when I received an email from the Culinary Institute of America. The Culinary Institute of America. I had to read the message a few times so the words could sink in. Dean Sciacca, a dean at the culinary school and reader of my blog, was inviting me to give a talk on storytelling and culinary tradition at their Hyde Park campus in New York. I had never done any public speaking before; not outside of school at least. I was excited, nervous, curious, honored — all at the same time. I wrote back with the most enthusiastic yes I could possibly muster in an email, all while keeping my cool (I think).
It was my first time riding Amtrak. The entire experience was pleasant: no need to show up hours early or stand through long lines, and the seats weren’t bad either — very comfortable. The sky was overcast with large billowy clouds stretching across the horizon. Next to me on the train was an equally charming American expat. She had moved to New Zealand and was back to hike along the Appalachian Trail and visit family in Virginia. She was starting to develop a Kiwi accent, which I thought was really neat. We talked a little about life, traveling, food (of course), but mostly, we stared out our window at the Hudson. The train ride went by quickly that way. As soon as the train neared Poughkeepsie, the clouds, almost as if they were greeting us to our final destination, moved aside to reveal a beautiful summer day.
Dean Sciacca met me at the Poughkeepsie train station where we met in person for the first time. I remember thinking she is just as cool in person as she had been in her emails. And I’m not just saying that because she’s probably going to be reading this — she really is that cool. We clicked instantly. Two people passionate about food and technology. One of our first conversations was about how much we love our iPhones. At that point I knew I was in good hands.
The short ride from the Poughkeepsie train station to Hyde Park reminded me a lot of Ithaca, NY, where I went to school; it’s a very quaint and agricultural area. I dropped off my bags at the hotel and we made our way to The Culinary — that’s how they refer to it there.
bright, sunny day at The Culinary
When we arrived at The Culinary, Dean Sciacca introduced me to Jason, a senior culinary student and bread enthusiast, who gave me a quick tour of the campus before dinner. I should state now, for the record, that I don’t think any college campus offers better food to its students. The system is brilliant. Since so much food is prepared in the production kitchens each night, students only swipe their campus ID cards to gain access to any of the themed production kitchens. Dean Sciacca arranged for us to have dinner at Chef Eisenhauer’s Mediterranean production kitchen that evening.
Chef Eisenhauer’s Mediterranean Kitchen
As we entered the kitchen the expediter asked me which of the four Italian dishes I was having that evening. I remember all the entrees sounded delicious, but I went with the chef’s recommendation, gnocchi served with a velvety duck ragu and toasted pancetta bits. My order was shouted across the kitchen and the line continued.
Dean Sciacca and I split up for dinner and I joined a group of culinary students to fill me in on what student life was like at The Culinary. The dining hall we entered was not like the ones I remembered back at school. This looked like it came right out of a scene from Harry Potter. I wish I had taken a picture of it. It was majestic with an elaborate cathedral ceiling, stained glass windows and regal architecture. We grabbed our beverages and took a seat at the back of the dining hall, with a view overlooking all the students enjoying their meal.
gnocchi with duck ragu and crispy pancetta
Each bite of the gnocchi was like biting into one of those billowy clouds from earlier that afternoon. In fact, I’m convinced that’s where they ended up, on my plate. The gnocchi was light and airy, and floated gracefully in the duck ragu, which was not overly heavy like a traditional ragu, but had a rich silky texture to it. Then there was the pancetta. Oh, the pancetta — crispy pieces of pork goodness sprinkled over the gnocchi. It was perfect. Slightly salty and a nice crispy contrast to offset the soft cloud-like potato gnocchi.
I posted some more photos from the rest of my trip on flickr. But, I have to tell you about the brioche. This brioche is excellent.
The inspiration to blog about brioche came from Jason, the bread aficionado who had shown me around campus. I have never heard anyone talk about bread more passionately than him. He liked talking about food, but bread was his passion. At one point I remember asking him what his favorite bread was, and without the blink of an eye, or a hint of hesitation, he said, brioche. That’s how I knew what my next blog post had to be on.
mise en place
Until last week, I had never made brioche at home. I’ll admit that the thought of baking bread, particularly something like brioche, was pretty intimidating. That was something I left for the experts, like Jason. The most elaborate bread I had made up to this point was Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, and maybe Focaccia, if you consider that elaborate.
Brioche, for those who have never had it, is an enriched bread made with flour, butter (lots, and lots of butter), eggs, yeast, and a bit of milk. How much butter you add to your brioche distinguishes it between a poor man’s brioche and rich man’s brioche. I decided to follow one of Jason’s friend’s motto for this one: “mo’ butta’ mo’ betta’.”
make sure your yeast is alive n’ kicking
If I’ve learned one thing from baking bread is that you always, always, want to check to make sure your yeast is alive and kicking. 10 minutes in the beginning can save you a lot of pain and heart ache. Flat, dense brioche is no good. Check your yeast.
add butter piece by piece
This is the scary part. The butter. If you’re squeamish about this sort of stuff, cover your eyes and scroll down to the next post. Brioche isn’t the healthiest thing in the world, but the problem is that it’s so incredibly and utterly delicious. Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that the French know what they’re talking about when it comes to cuisine, but particularly bread. Bread is their thing. They are to bread what Shakespeare is to literature; masters, that is. Three sticks of butter and four eggs. That’s what it takes.
After you saturate the dough with good quality butter and give the gluten a workout, you’ll want to refrigerate the dough for at least 6 hours or better yet, overnight. This is probably a good time to do a few sit ups or pushups, if that will help you sleep better at night. I just use it as an excuse to eat extra bread the next day.
light coat of egg wash
yields 2 loaves
576g bread flour
340g good quality butter (3 sticks), soft but pliable
7g dry active yeast
125ml whole milk
Putting them all together
Dice the butter into smaller pieces and set aside.
Stir yeast into lukewarm milk (no more than 115 degrees F) cover and let sit in a warm dark place for 10-15 minutes. If your mixture is foamy and full of tiny bubbles, you’re ready to begin. Otherwise, you may have inactive yeast. You can add a tiny drizzle of honey to the milk mixture to speed up the process.
Mix together the flour, milk mixture, eggs, and salt and mix on low speed for 3-4 minutes or until the dough barely begins to come together.
Begin to add the butter, piece by piece, until all of it has incorporated into the dough.
Once the butter is fully incorporated, continue mixing the dough on medium speed for 15 more minutes, or until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl.
Place the dough into a greased bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Lightly grease 2 2-lkb loaf pans.
Divide the dough into 16 even pieces (approx 78g each).
Roll each piece into a ball and place it into the loaf pans to form 2 rows of 4 in each pan. Brush the loaves lightly with egg wash, cover with plastic wrap, and proof in a dark warm location for 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Brush with egg wash a second time and bake in a 400F/204C oven until the crust is a deep golden brown and the sides of the bread spring back fully when pressed. This usually takes 30-35 minutes.
Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
Notes: Make sure you have a powerful kitchen stand mixer for this.
*My friend Lecy Mayes made the basil-infused peach jam for me as a gift — the flavor combination is spectacular!
Special thanks to Dean Sciacca for hosting me at the Culinary Institute. Chef Eisenhauer for the delicious dinner that came out of her Mediterranean production kitchen. Laura Pickover for attending my talk and sharing her awesome blog. Jason (the bread expert) for giving me a tour around campus and inspiring me to make brioche at home (my new favorite bread). Diana and Stephen for having dinner with me the first day. Chris and Phil for giving me a second tour around campus and showing me around the Hyde Park. And finally, all the faculty, staff, and students at the Culinary Institute of America who hosted me and made this culinary adventure of a lifetime possible. Thank you!
I’ve always known I like to eat things in phases. I remember, for instance, the first time I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at my neighbor’s house; fireworks were going off in my mouth — sweet and salty fireworks. I was only seven, maybe eight at the time, but I was convinced that I could eat pb&j’s for the rest of my life and be very happy. We didn’t have pb&j at my house. The closest thing we had was Dibis wa Tahini (دبس و طحينة), which is essentially carob molasses mixed with tahini sauce, served with warm pita bread for dunking. It was good; a less glamorous, slightly messier version of a pb&j, but still not the same. I’ll have to blog about this sometime.
I’ve gotten better about changing things up. My food blog definitely helps with this, but I still find myself cooking favorites every now and then. Lately, it’s been this chicken. It’s not just any chicken, it’s roasted chicken. Actually, it’s roasted chicken that’s been smothered in butter mixed with Herbs de Provence and it’s absolutely delicious. In fact, I don’t think it’s humanly possible to make this dish only once. It’s too good.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve made this chicken in the past month, but I own up to it: My name is Tony, and I’m addicted to this roasted chicken.
mise en place
There are only three ingredients to this recipe; five if you count the salt and pepper separately. It’s simple and that’s part of its appeal. What makes this dish taste incredible, however, is the chicken. It’s imperative, if you want fireworks to go off, that you use good quality bone-in, skin-on chicken breast. I think there’s a wide-spread illusion that boneless, skinless chicken is more convenient. It’s not. I say this because I was under that illusion for a really long time; twenty two years, to be exact. Bone-in, skin-on is tastier and just as convenient. In fact, if I didn’t have to tuck butter underneath the skin, I would claim that I could make this dish with one hand tied behind my back. On that note, let me tell you about the butter.
Butter, as any French person will tell you, makes everything taste amazing. I use it sparingly, partly because I haven’t been blessed with the French gene to metabolize butter into thin air, but also because I’m accustomed to using extra virgin olive oil (it’s in my Middle Eastern blood). For this dish, however, butter is important. You want to use softened butter so that you can mix in Herbs de Provence to make a delectable herb cream to spread underneath the skin of each chicken breast. As the skin begins to crisp in the hot oven, the butter will continuously baste, help develop flavor and thus keep the meat incredibly moist.
quick! hide ze buttah!
ready to roast
Before the chicken goes into the oven, you want to make sure that it is seasoned well on both sides with salt and pepper, and that your oven is preheated to 450 degrees.
Some people like to eat the skin because it tastes amazing, and I agree (even though it’s not the healthiest thing in the world). If I think about it too much, Pleasure and Reason appear out of nowhere and start arguing from opposite shoulders. Pleasure usually crawls over and knocks Reason around pretty badly. Reason will eventually strike back, punching Pleasure a couple times in the guts while muttering medical jargon after each blow. Eventually though, Pleasure laughs it off and knocks Reason into oblivion. That’s how it usually ends, to the delight of my cheering taste buds. To avoid this drama, I’ve come up with a compromise for myself. Out of the four chicken breasts that come in the family-size pack, I eat one piece with the skin on. I store the remaining three in the refrigerator, without the skin, for sandwiches, salads, and pasta throughout the week. This works for me, and also seems to keep Pleasure and Reason in check.
Roasted Chicken Breast
Yields 4 servings
4 chicken breasts, bone-in skin-on
3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 tbsp herbs de provence
salt and pepper
Putting them all together
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Take out the chicken breasts from the refrigerator 10-15 minutes prior to roasting.
Mix softened butter with herbs de provence and a little salt and pepper, to taste.
Very gently slide your finger in between the skin of the chicken, making sure it doesn’t fall apart.
Spread a quarter of the butter/herb mixture under the skin of each breast.
Sprinkle the top and bottom of each breast with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken breasts breast-up on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the skin is crispy golden brown, and the juices run clear.
Do you remember the game where you get to name one person, dead or alive, to hang out with for a day? If I were to play that game right now, I would chose Julia Child, and the first thing I would tell her is thank you. Then I would hug her, if that’s allowed.
Since that’s only a game, however, I thought I’d express my gratitude to the great Julia Child in a blog post hoping that in some cosmic and mysterious way she’ll be reading from wherever she is; probably in a version of culinary paradise where she has more duck fat and copper pots than any mortal would know what to do with.
The idea for wanting to thank Julia started last week when I decided to make her recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. It made sense. The sky had been gray for over a week, and continues to stay that way, which makes me wonder if we’ll ever reach spring, but that’s beside the point. The weather was simply an instigator in this chain of events, maybe even orchestrated by Julia herself (that would be funny). In French mathematics, you see, Boeuf Bourginioun equals classic comfort food — the wool socks of French cuisine. It’s a tough cut of meat braised in a full-bodied red wine for hours until it begins to fall apart and your entire house takes on the scent of a cozy French bistro on a rainy Friday evening.
For the record, this is the first time I’ve made anything of Julia’s. To me, this was a revelation. Her recipe was divided neatly into different sections so as to make the entire process of cooking French food appear less daunting. This is one of the things Julia was known for: she made French food accessible, if not easy. I had heard this, but was never fully convinced anyone could make something like Boeuf Bourguignon seem simple. French food, I thought, had to be complicated. I also noticed that, stylistically, Julia wrote her recipes in narrative form, and included the ingredients along the sidebar, in order of appearance. Almost as if she were directing a movie and was crediting her cast members — the mushrooms, beef, parsley — for their outstanding performance.
I remember re-reading sections of the recipe thinking that I had missed something. While the recipe did have plenty of steps, they were all fairly basic. Sear the meat; brown the vegetables. These were all things I had done before. After I read the recipe a couple more times to make sure I wasn’t going to be ambushed by a militia of French cooking terms half-way through, I started to prepare the ingredients for my mise en place shot.
mise en place
If there’s one thing I have learned from cooking, and I’m pretty sure Julia would agree, it would be the importance of mise en place, or having everything in place. I include these photos on my blog for different reasons; one of them is so that I can maintain a certain degree of order in my kitchen. It took me a while to get into this habit, but it has helped me tremendously. A less pragmatic reason for why I do mise en place is because, like Julia, I like to highlight the ingredients that I use. It’s my quirky way of crediting the ingredients that make up the dishes on my blog.
give your beef room to sear
Julia is very clear about this step: there has to be enough room for the pieces of meat to sear in the bacon fat in order to get a nice crust — otherwise the meat would steam and the dish would be ruined. This was very important, so I did it in three batches.
now it’s turn for the veggies
The onions and carrots got the same treatment: a good five to seven minutes in bacon fat. In France, bacon fat, or more accurately, pork fat called lardon, is synonymous with flavor. If you have access to lardon from a local butcher, I would go with that, otherwise, bacon seemed to do a pretty good job if you don’t mind the subtle smokey undertone that it adds to the dish. I didn’t mind one bit. Once the onions and carrots develop a golden brown color you’ll want to pour out the bacon fat.
saute the onions and mushrooms sepeartely
To make things go quicker, I sauteed pearl onions and crimini mushrooms in a separate pan. These ingredients also need room to sear so they develop a golden brown color.
cover everything in red wine
Once the meat is seared and the vegetables have been browned, you’ll want to add everything back to the original dutch oven, and submerge its contents in red-wine. The French are masters at this; make sure, however, to save at least one glass for yourself.
Although the recipe says to braise the beef for three to four hours in a low oven, I actually set my oven cook-time to four hours and went to sleep. I woke up seven hours later, fully rested, to the most heavenly smell. I’m sure Julia would’ve been proud.
In the words of the great chef herself, bon appétit!
Cut the bacon into thin sticks (1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long) and simmer in water for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sauté the bacon in olive oil for a couple of minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside.
Reheat the bacon fat until it is almost smoking. In the meantime, pat your cubes of beef dry so you can get a good sear.
Making sure not to overcrowd the pan, sear the beef cubes on all sides, in separate batches if necessary.
Brown the sliced onions and carrots in the same bacon fat and then discard the bacon fat.
Peel the skins off the pearl onions. They peel relatively easily if you submerge them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then shock them in ice water. Be sure to pat the onions dry.
Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a large saute pan and cook the pearl onions until golden brown, then set them aside.
Add the remaining 2 tbsp of butter to the saute pan and sear the quartered mushrooms, making sure not to overcrowd the pan.
Make a bouquet garni (bouquet of herbs) by tying together the sprigs of parsley and thyme together with butchers twine. This will help you fish them out in the end.
Slice the head of garlic cross-wise so as to reveal the midsection of all the cloves.
Return the beef, bacon, sliced onions and carrots to the pot. Sprinkle in the flour and lightly toss to distribute the flour.
Set the uncovered dutch oven in the middle position of the pre-heated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 more minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
Add the pearl onions and mushrooms, bouquet garni, sliced head of garlic, tomato paste, thyme, salt and pepper to the pot. Pour in the red wine and add enough beef stock so that all the contents in the pot are barely covered — this will prevent the meat from drying in the oven.
Cover the dutch oven with a lid and return it to the oven (at the reduced temperature) to braise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
The meat is done when you can pull it apart with a fork with very little effort.