Sunday, December 23, 2007
I know of no better rye bread than Zingerman's Jewish Rye. As with other breads from that amazing culinary establishment, the loaf is wonderfully chewy while the crust is nice and thick. It may seem pricey to buy bread online and have it shipped (the bread itself is only $6, which is a fair price for a good loaf). To that complaint, I only have one thing to say: buy several loaves at a time and freeze them. Besides, you'll be glad you have them when you get down to that last little bit.
In case you're wondering, we just finished off a loaf, but we have another in the freezer (thanks to Seth).
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I made two dips, really, for the dinner, but the first I already told you about...the green onion mayonnaise for the crab cakes, which would be fantastic with potato chips (as my sister recommended) or anything else under the sun.
The other dip, which I served with the vegetables, was also very nice, and I could have eaten the entire container myself had I not made it for someone else. It was fairly quick to make, other than the roasting part, and it's a really good dish to get out of the way early in the day or even the day or two before. In any case, enjoy your holidays if I don't get another post up before Christmas!
Roasted Red Pepper Dip
1 red bell pepper
1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
1 8-oz. pkg. light cream cheese, room temperature (you could just do 2 light packages; I wasn't sure at the time if the dip could handle that but it is plenty firm to allow for the looser light cream cheese)
2 sprigs thyme
1 small shallot, minced
freshly ground black pepper, a generous amount
Roast the red bell pepper. The method I used (since I don't have a gas stove right now) is as follows: set the bell pepper on a rack a few inches from the broiler. Broil, turning a few times, until the skin is blackened most of the way around. Remove from the oven and place in a bowl, then cover with a towel. Let rest for 15 minutes, then remove all of the outer skin. Cut up the pepper to remove the inner membranes and stem, and rinse to remove all the seeds. Chill.
In a food processor, combine all ingredients, including salt and pepper to taste. Blend thoroughly and remove to a dish. Chill and serve.
Just a note: when I first made this, the shallot tasted fairly strong, but after resting and chilling in the refrigerator, it mellowed out and blended well with the other ingredients.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Ice cream is quite easy to make at home, and I think trying out new flavors is a lot of fun. In the past, I've made lemon verbena sorbet, cantaloupe ice cream (mmmmm), vanilla bean, peach, strawberry, dark chocolate, and probably a few others. We didn't do much this summer as we were dieting, but who cares about dieting when the weather turns cold? (Just kidding.)
Anyhow, the ice cream was delicious, as was the caramel ice cream we made to go with apple crisp Monday night. (Maybe I'll get to that soon, too.)
I thought I'd share this little gem with you, though, in case you want a break from all the starch that's arriving at your door. It won't give you a break from the sugar, but it isn't overly sweet. In fact, the pecans taste positively savory. If you have an ice cream maker, don't wait to try it. If you don't, you should add one to your Christmas wish list. I like mine.
Maple Pecan Ice Cream
3 c. half and half
2 egg yolks
1/2 c. - 2/3 c. maple syrup (we did 1/2 c., and it's very mildly sweet, which I would do again)
1 c. chopped, toasted pecans
Heat the half-and-half in a saucepan over medium heat until nearly simmering.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the maple syrup. Slowly, while whisking, drizzle in half of the half-and-half, then quickly add the rest, whisk together, and return it to the saucepan. Cook, stirring, until it begins to thicken just a bit. It shouldn't really boil, but it might come very close, and look like it's starting to simmer a bit. If you cook it much longer than that, the eggs will curdle. Yuck. Pour into the newly-cleaned medium bowl.
Make a water bath (if you're impatient with cooling, like me) in a large bowl with lots of ice and some water. Set the medium bowl in the large bowl and stir until cooled to refrigerator temperature. Or, if you have all the time in the world and are not extremely anxious to eat this in frozen form, allow the custard to cool in your refrigerator until it's completely chilled.
Pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to your machine's instructions. Remove from the machine, place in a container, and freeze in the freezer for another half hour to four hours. Enjoy.
Monday, December 10, 2007
I have a new favorite recipe for potatoes. Forget the roasted baby reds, leave the mashed pots on your plate, and say goodbye to homemade fries. This one takes the cake. This one is so good it practically is cake. And it's extraordinarily simple. Wonderfully simple. You won't even need to write it down, as long as you can just remember the liquid to pound-of-potato ratio. And then you can resize it any way you want. But the reason this is my favorite potato recipe has nothing to do with its simplicity: it's because it tastes so good.
What makes a potato dish (yes, I said "dish", because this is sort of after the order of a casserole) exceptional? It needs to be rich without knocking you over. It shouldn't feel greasy. The potatoes need to be cooked properly. It needs to be salted perfectly. And it should have some slight - very slight, since potatoes are easily overpowered - flourish in the ingredients that adds a touch of complexity to the flavor. Check, check, check, check, check. I'm not a potato person, but I'll back these potatoes up. And, since they're casserole-style, they're great for the holidays, guests, or anytime you're hoping for some leftovers. While they are delicious, since they're also quite rich, I would count on about half a pound of potatoes for each hungry adult.
One last note: this is a great recipe if you have a food processor or a mandolin, but I probably wouldn't do it without those options, unless you're just going for a pound or so of potatoes, as it could turn out to be a lot of work.
4 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes (Russets should also be fine if Yukons are unavailable)
2 c. milk
2 c. cream
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. Gruyère, grated
freshly ground black pepper
Butter a 9" x 13" baking dish and set aside.
Peel the potatoes, then slice them as thin as possible. I think my food processor's thinnest disc had a 1/8" slicer, and that worked out very nicely for me. If you're doing this by hand, go for 1/4".
Preheat the oven to 350°F. (This is versatile, so if you've got something else going at 400°, that's fine, too.)
In a large saucepan or pot, set the milk, cream, garlic, and potatoes over medium heat for about 5 minutes, watching it very closely, stirring often, and being sure to get all of the potato slices separated. After the liquid is starting to warm, turn the heat to medium-low, put a lid on it, and return to it to stir it about every 30 seconds. The milk, cream, and potatoes are all very anxious to burn and I promise you they will not miss their opportunity to ruin your evening if you are not extremely cautious. Also, add a few turns of pepper and a teaspoon or so of salt (to taste).
After the mixture is actually simmering, cook the potatoes, still stirring very frequently, until they mostly done but still a bit undercooked. This will take (after it begins to simmer) anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes, depending on how low you have your burner set (I erred on the side of caution tonight, just to be sure, and I was very happy with the results). Test again for salt.
Turn the potatoes out into the baking dish and spread the cheese evenly over the potatoes. Bake until bubbly and nicely browned, about 30 minutes. Let them set 10-15 minutes before serving.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Vegetables with dip
blanched green beans, baby carrots, blanched broccoli, cucumber spears, radishes, and grape tomatoes; roasted red bell pepper and cream cheese dip
Crabcakes with sauce
(more on this in a moment)
Pear, pecan, and bleu cheese salad with cranberry vinaigrette
Chicken with bacon mustard vinaigrette
(more on this another day)
Yukon Golds with butter, cream, and Gruyère
Vanilla lime crème brûlée
with candied lime zest
I've been so excited since she called, since it means I get to develop and test recipes. I started with the crab cakes and the chicken. The chicken I got right instantly, and we will probably end up using that as a semi-frequent meal around here, at least as frequently as we make any meal using bacon fat.
As for the crab, I liked my first attempt okay, but I altered it here and there a bit, and now I'm really happy with it. I've always wanted to be able to make crab cakes myself and never really taken the risk to learn, since it seemed rather an expensive risk. It's really not that bad cost-wise, especially for special occasions. I like a little zip to my cake...enough flavor that it's exciting but not so much you drown out good crab. And while taking apart the Dungeness crab isn't the most glamorous work, once you've done one, it's no big deal. Just make sure they're as fresh* as you can get them, or they stink and taste horrible. Crazy how something can taste so incredible one day and within just 2 or 3 days it's unbearable. It's important to note that a Dungeness crab will yield about 25% of its weight in crabmeat, so for this recipe, you'll want to buy about 2 1/2 pounds of crab, which is one quite large crawler.
So here's my recipe for crab cakes. Maybe you'll find a use for it, since it is the season for entertaining, and crab cakes are great entertaining-type food. I'm including my recipe for the accompanying sauce/dip/spread. It's mellow and a nicely paired contrast to the bright flavors in the crab cakes. I hope you get a chance to eat some good crab cakes soon!
10 oz. (about 2 c.) Dungeness crab, patted dry
1/2 c. + 1 T. Saltine cracker crumbs (very fine)
2 T. mayonnaise
2 T. sour cream (light works great)
1 1/2 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 serrano chile, minced**
1 1/2 t. lime juice
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch Kosher salt, unless your crab tasted really salty
2 T. olive oil
2 T. unsalted butter
In a medium bowl, mix the crab and cracker crumbs together.
Separately, combine all other ingredients up to and including the salt. Taste for spice and add more chile if you like. Add to the crab and mix together well with a fork or your clean hands...both work great.
Set a nonstick skillet over medium to medium-low heat (I use 4 on my scale of 10). You may be tempted to turn up the heat over the next few minutes, but resist. (Well, maybe you're not like me. I'm always terribly impatient and tempted to turn up the heat.) Once the skillet is preheated, add the olive oil and butter.
Once these fats have heated and are evenly combined, drop round Tablespoon-size balls of the crab cake mix in. I like my little scooper for this task. Once you've set the lump in, lightly press it down to turn it into a disc shape. Repeat until the pan is filled. Cook the crab cakes until lightly golden, then flip and repeat (about 2-3 minutes per side). Remove to a plate, let cool, and enjoy.
This recipe should make 25 - 30 appetizer-size crab cakes, and it will probably take 2 full skillets to prepare. You may have to add a bit more oil and butter for the second batch, but don't load it up. We're not deep frying here, you know.
Green Onion Side Sauce
4 green onions, trimmed to about 5" in length
1/4 c. mayonnaise
4 turns of the pepper mill
small squeeze of fresh lime
Sauté the green onions with a touch of salt in the leftover olive oil and butter from your crab cakes, or in their own if you're preparing this ahead of time. (They don't need much.) Cook, stirring, until they brown a bit. Remove to a plate and cool to room temperature.
In a food processor, combine the green onions with the remaining ingredients and purée until smooth. (This will probably work just as well in a blender.) Chill until ready to serve. Enjoy with crab cakes or anything else that suits your fancy.
*By fresh, I mean how recently it was thawed. Crab doesn't travel well raw, so it's cooked right when it's caught and frozen immediately, then shipped out to the rest of the world frozen. The supermarket wraps it up and it thaws in their refrigerated case. Unless you live on the coast and catch your own, in which case you probably cook it right up and never freeze it and you're very lucky.
**You could substitute about 1/3 of a jalapeño chile if you can't find serranos. This will give the crab cakes just a little bit of heat. If you want really spicy crab, you'll need to increase the amount to your taste. Be careful. Just know I warned you. Also, if you have remotely fair skin, like me, wear gloves when working with the chile. It's such a pain to wear the gloves, since it's much more difficult to use a knife, but it's also nice to not have your hands burning for the next 3 days after touching the pepper.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
For Christmas a couple of years ago, the kids got me a waffle baker. I had wanted one ever since the one we received as a wedding gift gave up the ghost a few years ago. I tried purchasing a very inexpensive one at Target but was not at all happy with the results. When choosing a waffle iron, there are a couple of things to consider. First and foremost, you need one that gets hot enough to quickly cook a waffle. This is important not only to maximize your throughput (sorry for the jargon--that's what happens when you put an operations manager in the kitchen), but also to produce the right crisp on the outside, moist on the inside waffle. If it takes more than three minutes to cook a waffle, your iron isn't hot enough. If you need the volume provided by a large waffle baker that cooks four at a time, just make sure that it cooks those four waffles quickly, otherwise you may get the same throughput with a single, hotter iron. Second, you need one that provides the type of waffle that you like. I like deep pockets in my waffles and so am biased towards that variety of iron--incidentally often referred to as Belgian wafflers, whether the waffles cooked in them are Belgian or not.
No matter how good your waffle baker, your waffles are only going to be as good as the batter they're made from. At first I experimented a bit, mostly using the options from Joy of Cooking and the in-box materials from my waffle baker, until I found one that I quite liked and used as my "go to" recipe on Saturday mornings. But through all my experimenting, I never tried the "real" Belgian waffle recipe in Joy, mainly because it requires about 90 minutes of prep time and is therefore neither "short order" nor suitable for breakfast if you like to eat your breakfast before lunch time. Ignoring that recipe was a big mistake.
A few weeks ago while Rachel was gone for several days, the kids and I decided to have waffles for dinner. And since it was dinner time, and I could start my preparations well in advance of mealtime, I decided to try the Belgian waffle recipe from Joy. Here's what they say about it:
Nowadays, any waffle with very deep pockets is often called a Belgian waffle, but when Belgian waffles were introduced to Americans at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, they were yeast-raised and served with sweetened whipped cream. This recipe is in the spirit of the original Belgian waffle.
Ordinarily, I don't find blog posts that just republish someone else's recipe to be all that compelling. In fact, a few months ago, I balked at posting about the banana bread I had made because I had simply followed the instructions from The Best Recipe. And even here, I feel like I am cheating a bit. But if you have never eaten a yeast-raised waffle, and this post convinces you to try one, then cheating or not, this post was worthwhile.
Yeast-raised waffles have a flavor and texture that their muffin method cousins simply do not. The texture is chewy without being heavy. The flavor is deep and complex. They have a nice crumb and complement whatever you top them with rather than just soaking it up; they taste good plain, but they also make your toppings taste better than they would on their own. I would even go so far as to describe the difference between quick and yeast waffles to be as significant as the difference between Wonder bread and a good artisinal loaf (such as Zingerman's Jewish Rye, my favorite bread in the whole wide world).
I like these waffles straight up with maple syrup (even though the "original" Belgian is topped with sweetened whipped cream). Rachel prefers hers drizzled with a bit of honey and then smeared with unsweetened yogurt. The tangy acidity of the yogurt is a subtle complement to the sour yeast flavor. My preference for maple syrup is not an assertion that they are better that way; it's simply a manifestation of my near-Canadian-like passion for real maple syrup. Either way, it's one of the few breakfast foods that is satisfying enough to take the place of dinner and dessert. Especially with a side of bacon.
So here's the recipe, courtesy of Joy of Cooking:
- 1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm (105 to 115 degree F) milk (30 seconds in the microwave is about right to get 1/4 cup milk straight from the fridge to temperature)
Whisk together in a LARGE (this is a large recipe that rises a lot!) bowl:
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup lukewarm milk
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm (I find that cutting the butter into ~1 1/2 T pats before microwaving allows it to melt completely at a slightly lower temperature, expediting the cooling to lukewarm step. Whisking it a bit once melted but before adding to the eggs and milk also speeds things along.)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups warm (105 to 115 degree F) milk
- 3 large egg whites
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (for consistent results, try Rachel's trick of heating your oven to 170 degrees, turning it off, and sticking your dough in the oven to rise), until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Stir to deflate the batter.
Preheat your waffle iron (Set to the hottest setting, unless you have a really hot iron capable of burning your waffles. I actually do this step about five minutes before taking the batter out of the oven because I am impatient, among other things that Rachel is too nice to mention).
At this point, the recipe says to spoon 1/2 cup batter, or the amount recommended by your waffle iron's manufacturer. My waffle baker, a 7" round by 1 1/8" deep variety, actually requires 1 cup of batter per waffle. Mileage may vary, so start small and increase if you want to avoid cleaning spillover from the counter top.
Spread the batter evenly across the iron, to within 1/4" of the edge of the grids, using the back of a metal spatula, wooden spoon or ladle (I use the measuring cup that I use to scoop the batter). Close the lid and bake until the waffle is golden brown. Serve immediately or keep warm in a single layer on a rack in a 200 degree F oven while you finish cooking the rest.
In our house, nobody would hear of waiting for all the waffles to be cooked before digging in, so the youngest gets the first one and we work our way up from there, only reversing order with Rachel and me, since she is older than me by a few months, and I want everyone to have one so I can enjoy mine rather than jumping up to prep another one between bites.
This recipe is fairly substantial and should make enough waffles for all but the largest families or those with teenage boys who have nearly insatiable appetites. Our typical yield is eight 7" waffles, but results will vary significantly based on the volume of your waffle iron. Since our young family doesn't consume all eight waffles in one sitting, we let the leftovers cool on a cooling rack, and then stick them in the freezer. If you've got a nice wide toaster, you can reheat them there. Otherwise on a low rack under the broiler with one turn or same method in a toaster oven works well. Out of the freezer they are much better than an Eggo, and it saves you from getting up at 5:00 a.m. to have them prepped before work and school.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
I placed a huge order with the Guittard chocolate company just a couple of weeks ago. For those of you who aren't terribly familiar with them, Guittard makes amazing chocolate. We've tried several good quality brands of chocolate (all in the interest of science, of course) and Guittard is our favorite. El Rey is also nice.
Anyhow, I'm going to just cut-and-paste from Wikipedia to tell you more about the history of Guittard, because it's very interesting and I couldn't say it better than someone else already did. Forgive me.
"The Guittard Chocolate Company is an American-based chocolate maker which produces high-quality couverture chocolate using original formulas and traditional French methods. The chocolate is produced in syrups, blocks, large chips, and powders for pastry chefs, home cooks, and wholesale customers like See's Candies, Kellogg's and Baskin-Robbins, as well as chocolatiers like Recchiuti Confections and Garrison Confections. The company has been family-owned for more than four generations. Gary Guittard took over as company president and CEO in 1989.
"The company was started by Étienne Guittard, who emigrated from Lyon, France, during the California Gold Rush. In 1868, ten years after the gold rush had ended, Guittard founded the company on Sansome Street on the San Francisco waterfront. Horace C. Guittard, Étienne's grandson, was in charge when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed the city, but the factory survived. In the aftermath of the quake, a new plant was built on Commercial Street, and later Main Street. In 1955, the Embarcadero freeway led the company to relocate to a 75,000-square-foot facility at the corner of Guittard and Rollins road in Burlingame, California, where it remains to this day."
So while they're in Burlingame, California, they have warehouses in a very few select cities across the U.S., including Salt Lake City, which we visited over the Thanksgiving holiday. We extended our stay until Monday so that we could pick up our order at the warehouse and avoid shipping. I highly recommend doing the same thing if you have the opportunity, but the minimum order is 500 lbs. Yes, I said 500 lbs. No, we didn't keep 500 lbs. of chocolate (but it would be nice). I gathered as many chocolate lovers as I could to pull together enough orders to reach the minimum, and then Mark picked it up and helped me divide it up. Some of it - 135 lbs. - stayed in Utah, and the rest we brought back in the back of Mark's pickup, which we drove down specifically for this reason. Below is a picture of the chocolate that returned to Idaho.
Why did we go to all this trouble? Guittard chocolate is amazing. (I already said that, I know.) Oh, and you get a screaming deal if you order chocolate this way. Ridiculous, really.
It's difficult to say how this chocolate is different than others, including Ghirardelli, which we generally like.* While there are clearly differences in cacao levels amongst the chocolate varieties, one thing is clear: their chocolate sources, roasting process, and creative methods are highly successful. Let me briefly discuss three of the chocolates I sampled and tell you what is so lovely about them.
First, the Oro Bittersweet Ribbon, which has a cacao content of 67%. (Cacao content is just a measurement that indicates what percentage of the chocolate is made up of chocolate liquor** and cocoa butter, though it can be in any makeup they wish, like 40% chocolate liquor and 27% cocoa butter, or 30% chocolate liquor and 37% cocoa butter. I really have no idea, I'm just making numbers up, but you get the point.) We've actually had the Oro Bittersweet before, when a friend of a friend placed an order and we got in on it about 4 years ago, so we knew just what we were getting. Typically, this dark of a chocolate does not have a lot of flavor nuance and is mainly used for baking, but we enjoy it for snacking as well. It has a slightly mellow, sweet flavor that is followed by a deeper, intense chocolate flavor, but without a harsh bitterness that some bittersweets have. It's fantastic in baking, of course, because it can be diluted in a ganache or used with excellent results nearly at full strength due to these qualities. It comes in ribbon form, which means it is in small rectangular chunks that don't need to be chopped for melting and are just small enough to be used as large chunks in cookies or brownies.
The Gourmet Bittersweet (pictured at top), 63% cacao. We hadn't had this variety before, so this was a bit of a gamble (though they're probably all safe bets), but the catalog indicated it has a low viscosity (it's quite thin when melted), which makes it great for dipping chocolates, something I like to do around Christmastime if I have good chocolate around. I absolutely love this chocolate. Slightly milder than the Oro, it fills your mouth at first with warm honey tones, then the deep chocolate flavor sets in, and the two flavors really linger and blend. Mark and I have decided it is our favorite chocolate ever. Ever. (Although we still really like the El Rey bittersweet.) This only comes in 10-lb. blocks, 5 to a box. We split the box. I would have kept it all had I known how good it is, but I honestly can't use all this chocolate over the next year or year and a half, and I can place another order down the road.
Belmont milk chocolate. I don't have the cacao level for this, but according to the Guittard catalog, it's their darkest milk chocolate with "a full milk and full strength chocolate flavor, yet with a mellow finish." Well put. After tasting the dark chocolates, it tastes amazingly milky, but in the best of ways. It has a strong caramel taste to it, and the chocolate flavor is full and rich and so delicious. If I hadn't turned to dark chocolate 8 years ago, this would have been my favorite. Among milks, this may be the finest I've tasted. It also comes in 10-lb. blocks, 5 to a box. We have 15 lbs. of this chocolate. (I don't have a picture of the block...maybe later.)
In addition to these chocolates, I have 20 lbs. of baking cocoa (comes in a 50-lb. bag, which we divided), 10 lbs. of sweet ground chocolate which makes the best cup of hot chocolate I've ever in my whole entire life had from a mix, and 12.5 lbs. of chocolate liquor which I've tasted plain and actually enjoyed in very tiny bites. See, not that much. Just kidding.
It's a lot of chocolate, I know. You have to love chocolate to place an order like this, but that's not really an issue for me. And the possibilities are endless. I have all the chocolate I need to make anything chocolatey I want over the next year at least. Ninety-seven and a half pounds of chocolate should last me a while. What better Christmas present could I have than that?
*I say generally because ever since my last pregnancy, I can no longer stand the Ghirardelli 60% cacao squares.
**Again, from Wikipedia: "Chocolate liquor, also known as cocoa liquor and cocoa mass, is a smooth liquid form of chocolate. It contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter in roughly equal proportion. It is produced by taking cocoa beans that have been fermented, dried, roasted, and separated from their shells and grinding their center, the cotyledon. The chocolate liquor can then be cooled and molded into blocks known as unsweetened baking chocolate. The liquor and blocks contain roughly 53 percent cocoa butter. Chocolate liquor contains no alcohol."