Archive | August, 2009

The Great Search Term Round Up: Volume V. Plus, Shameless Teasers. I Never Said I Was Proud.

31 Aug
In Which we find ourselves at the end of another month, ready to help answer your burning pastry questions.

In Which we find ourselves at the end of another month, ready to help answer your burning pastry questions.

So, guys–I was going to write a lovely Sunday Supper post about some stuff I made from Farmers’ Market Bounty.  Then, I was going to write one about the Ridiculously Good chicken satay we had last night.  And then, I remembered that today is the 31st.  That’s right–the last day of the month.  It’s practically Labor Day, and I swear Memorial Day was just a couple of weeks ago.  For my Hinternational Readers, US Memorial Day and Labor Day pretty much bracket summer.  Holiday Bookends.

At any rate, I’ve shelved the Sunday Suppers ideas for next week, because I remember my end of month Duty:  to comb through the best and worst of my wee blog’s search terms.  And August yielded a Bumper Crop of searches.  Often, I’d find myself yelling to The Beloved, “Hey, somebody actually found me by searching (insert odd/unusual/funny search term here)!”  As always, I have taken the liberty of phrasing in the form of a question, unless the term is so Odd that I can’t figure out how to do that.  Also, I decided not to address any Cool Whip searches this time.  It just makes me So Tired.  And now, without further ado, let’s get down To It, shall we?

Do you know the “is laughing & smiling” birthday song? Why yes, I do.  Becky from Maine taught it to me in college, and it goes like this:

Today is a birthday!
I wonder for whom?
I think it’s for someone right here in this room!
So look aaaaalll around you for somebody who
Is laughing and smiling!
My goodness, it’s you!

I’m not sure of the Actual Tune, so I usually just Recite it as a poem.  You’re welcome.

(This one was actually phrased in the form of a question by the Intrepid Searcher):  What tomatoes do you use for fried green tomatoes? Green ones.

What do you do if your live yeast won’t bubble? I hate to break this to you:  your yeast is dead.  Hold a funeral, and then buy new yeast.   Seriously, they call it “proofing” so the yeast can prove to you that they’re alive by eating sugar and belching carbon dioxide.  So, bubbles=live yeast, because that’s what yeast do.  That’s all they do.  When they don’t do what they do, it’s because they can’t, either because they are too cold or they are dead.

Do you know how to make a cake that doesn’t look like a cake? Yes.

How can I make a Glinda the Good Witch cake? I assume you are making this to celebrate Wicked’s coming to your town.  By all means, you should celebrate such an occasion.  I applaud you.  Might I suggest making a Barbie cake, decorating it with all sorts of froofy white and palest pink frosting, slapping a Big Ass Tiara on her head and giving her a wand.  Then, go to the medical supply store and tell them you need a self-contained atosphere bubble thingy.  Ask if you can get it in pink.  I guess you could also get one of those clear excerise ball things.  Your call.  Anyway, put the cake in the bubble-ball, then hook the it up to a pulley system and make it sort of float in the air and slowly descend to the table.  It will be Awesome (for you, DS).  If you think I’m crazy, I give you the following photos as Proof of Veracity:  here, here and here.

Do you use powdered sweet and sour mix? Heavens, no.  If I need sour mix, I use lemon juice, lime juice and 1:1 simple syrup.  (2 parts lemon juice, 2 parts lime juice and 3 parts simple syrup).  I’ve seen recipes that call for powdered egg white, and I have a bartender friend who swears that he would never NOT put egg white in his sour mix.  It’s a Body Thing.

What went wrong with my pastry? I got nothin’.

Why do my pie crusts leak? Because they have holes in them.  Seriously, a pie crust should be like a bowl to hold tasty items, not a colander to drain tasty items.  If you put your pie crust in your pie plate and it tears a little, just take wee piece and use it as a patch.  Press it on really well.  Yes, working it will make it a little tough, but I’d rather have a Tiny Tough Part of my crust than a colander made of dough.

What kind of tattoos does Adam Lambert have? He only has one:  an Eye of Horus, on the inside of his right wrist.

How is gluten developed in French puff pastry? All that rolling and folding activates the gluten. If you didn’t fold and roll and fold and roll so you’d have tons of layers of Very Thin Dough and butter, you’d end up with the Toughest Pastry in the World. Think of rolling as kneading–that’s how you knead pasta dough, even if you use one of those keen pasta machines.   The flakiness and delicacy of pie crust tart crust is a function of minimal water, lowish gluten flour and minimal mixing.  In contrast, the flakiness and delicacy of strudel dough, phyllo dough and puff pastry are a function of how thinly they are rolled (or stretched, as the case may be).

Why can’t you stir when making caramel sauce? That’s a good question.  I had always heard that you should Never Stir sugar, and I never did because I was terrified that something Bad would happen.  While the sugar is melting and boiling and is still clear, there is a danger of a rogue sugar crystal getting down in the boiling sugar and spawning a ton of little crystally friends.  That’s one of the reasons that they tell you to brush the sides of the pan with water right when the sugar and water starts to boil–it washes those potential crystal-colony-spawning sugar crystals down into the stew where they belong.  Anyway, once the sugar begins to color and it seems to thin out a little, I’ve found that I can stir with no ill effects.  At that point the sucrose has been broken down into glucose and fructose and is well on its way to Being Caramel.  There is so little crystalline structure left lying about that stirring doesn’t Wreak Havoc.  So, my advice and experience says Stir Not While Clear, but once the sugar starts to color, stir in the middle.  Try not to slop sugar syrup up the sides of the pan, because there’s no sense in Asking for Trouble, but give it a stir to keep the color even.  I usually stir with a silicone spatula with the blade parallel to the bottom of the pan, keeping the blade in contact with the bottom.

Do you know the cheesecake boat comedian? Not in real life, but I love that cheesecake boat man bit Kevin Meaney used to do.  “Cheesecake boat’s a’comin’!  Gonna party tonight!”  I’ve just spent fifteen minutes looking for a video of this little gem to no avail.  Alas, I tried.

What oven program is used for making pie? What, you don’t have a Pie Button?  Your oven is obviously Defective.  Go to the store and get a new one.  Make sure it’s the kind with the Pie Button.

Other notable searches for which I got nothin’:

  • How to whip the cream for icing the past
  • running away from fear
  • tattoo backbone
  • green beans filling cakes
  • the cat and the custard cup terrine

Well, I hope you have enjoyed our little Round Up.  If I ever come across a Cheesecake Boat clip, I’m giving it its own post!

Oh, and remember Van Halen pound cake?  Well, I made a Souped Up version–it was Unbelievably Good.  I will share with you the secrets of Unbelievably Good Pound Cake tomorrow.  See you then.

Product Review: Kaka’Wa Cocoa Beans by Cocoa Puro

28 Aug
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, to wonderful effect.

Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, to wonderful effect.

Please read my updated review here.

You guys might remember my friend Chef Keem.  He is one in a million, and also makes a Darn Fine Candy.  So, when he contacted me a couple of weeks ago, wanting me to try some chocolate covered cocoa beans that a friend of his makes, well, who am I to say No?  Friends, I am not one to say No when it comes to candies, and especially not chocolate candies.  So, after a few emails back and forth to Tom Pedersen, father of Cocoa Puro, my little gems came to me in the mail.

First, let me describe said gems.  They are whole roasted cocoa beans of the rare and delightful Criollo and Trinitario varieties (as opposed to the widely available and somewhat feral-tasting Forestoro variety) that have been Triple Dunked.  Once in white chocolate.  Once in milk chocolate.  Once in dark chocolate.  Oh, and then they’re dusted with cocoa powder.  Just for good measure.  This gives you Five Levels of pure chocolate flavor.  Each dunk is maybe 1-2 mm thick, with the white chocolate closest to the bean, followed by milk, dark and cocoa powder.  Here’s what your tongue gets to taste, in order of appearance:  bitter; bittersweet smooth, sweeter creamy, sweetest creamy and back to bitter crunchy.  All the flavors and textures combine to make a wee candy of incredible chocolate depth and well rounded flavor.  Happy, happy tongue.

Five levels of Chocolate Joy

Five levels of Chocolate Joy

Now, I must say that Mother Nature was not kind.  She had the nerve to make it Be a Billion degrees over the last couple of days, especially on the route between Austin, TX y mi casa.  Although the beans came wrapped Extremely well, with wee ice packs and insulated bubble wrap (!), they were a bit on the melty side.

I wish we could have tried them in perfect condition.  Even so, they were Damn Tasty.

I wish we could have tried them in perfect condition. Even so, they were Damn Tasty.

That meant that a)I had to throw them in the fridge to firm them up, b)the chocolate fell out of temper.  When The Beloved and I tried them cold, the crunchy in the middle seemed to overwhelm all the Sweet Creamy on the outside.  I emailed Tom and told him What Had Happened, and he wrote back saying that they don’t generally ship wee packs, so it was difficult to figure out how much wrapping they would need.* Also, he recommended that they be eaten at room temperature.  So, I set them Out this morning to come to temp.  Since the chocolate was out of temper, it was much softer than it would normally be.  It got all over my fingers and was generally Melty.  Again, I blame Mother Nature.  Even with MN’s meddling, these guys are Really, Really Good.  At room temp, the crunch in the middle is a little less crunchy while the sweet creamy is more so.  The end result is a perfectly balanced confection that is nothing but pure unadulterated chocolate.  Since all the flavors are similar, the magic is in the different textures and the nuances of flavor among the layers.

They, whoever they are, say “Do only one thing, but do it better than anyone else,” and the folks at Cocoa Puro have really taken it to heart.  This might be the only thing they do, but they do it right.  They’ve found a way to make “chocolate,” which can sometimes be a little one-note, into a bite-sized symphony.

You can find Kaka’Wa (and no, I don’t know what it means) Cocoa Beans at the Cocoa Pura website.  They come in 12 oz. bags for $28/bag, not including shipping.  It is a pretty Steep Price, especially in this economy.  But remember what you’re getting, if you need to Justify the Expense:  five chocolate flavors in one bite, the middle bite being pure, unadulterated, unsweetened-and-yet-not-the-least-bit-bitter cocoa bean.  These guys really are a rare treat.  So, thank you Tom for sending some my way, and thanks again to Chef Keem for making the connection initially.

Full disclosure:  I got my wee bag gratis, but since I am not Swayed by Free Treats, my review is as unbiased as I can make it.  Also, the link to the Cocoa Pura website is not an affiliate link–it’s just there because I care about you.  I will say that, since I think these little guys are so great, I am putting a link over there in the Prepared Food Treats section of my blog roll.  That’s not an affiliate link either.

*If the folks at Cocoa Pura intend to ship wee tasting bags to folks for feedback, I hope they work out the proper freezer-pack-to-wee-bag ratio or only ship in cool weather so we lucky tasters can taste them at their best.

The World Loves French Toast

26 Aug
French Toast--Way more versatile than you might think.

French Toast--Way more versatile than you might think.

See:  Oooooh–French Toast!  There’s a version or eight in tons of countries, whether they call it French toast or pain perdu or roti telur.  But why?  Why does everyone love this stuff?  What makes it so great?  Here are my thoughts.  I know, I know–you’ve been Dying to hear them, right?

As with many dishes, necessity is the mother of invention.  The necessity, in this case, is how to use up some Stale-Ass bread and make it palatable.  Enter eggs.  Hello eggs.  Why eggs?  ‘Cause back in The Day, tons o’ folks had chickens.  Chickens=free-ish eggs.  And enter eggs’ buddy, milk.  Hey, milk.  Why milk?  ‘Cause the chickens needed Company.  Eggs+milk=custard, so a quick dip (or a long soak) in some custard, a sizzle on a slick griddle, and otherwise wasted bread turns into a free-ish meal.  Waste not, want not.

When I sat down today to Write, I had not Clue One what I was going to write about.  It’s that Planning Aversion that I have.  So, I looked at my referrers so far, and I saw a post from Nate Cooks.  And here it is:  Yay for Leftover Bread–Making French Toast.  Like Nate says, leftover baguette makes fantastic French Toast.  Here are some other options for your Delectation (read stale before each Item):

  • English muffins
  • cinnamon rolls
  • croissants
  • Cuban bread
  • Italian bread
  • Hamburger or hot dog buns
  • Hawaiian bread (exceptional, I might add)
  • yeast-raised doughnuts
  • ciabatta
  • brioche
  • challah
  • panettone
  • Et Cetera

And don’t limit yourself to sweet custards.  Why not a savory French toast?  Any neutral-flavored bread (eg: not doughnuts or cinnamon rolls) would work great for that.  You could even use focaccia.  Go crazy.  Savory French toasts could make a Killer Appetizer.  Fry it up so it’s nice and crisp, cut into cute canape shapes or just squares and top with a crumble of goat cheese and a bit of roasted red pepper.  That’s just One idea.  I’m sure you can come up with others.

Here’s another thought about French Toast–Any strata recipe, any bread pudding recipe, any quiche recipe can be turned into French toast, or stuffed French toast.  For stuffed French toast, you could just put the fillings between two pieces of cooked bread, or you could cut your pieces twice as thick as you normally would, cut a slit in the side and stuff it, then brown it and finish it in the oven to make sure the filling is nice and hot.

One of the best French Toasts I have ever eaten is Deep Fried French Toast.  Yes, you heard me Correctly.  Susie Friou, a friend of my folks from church, brought the technique with her from New Orleans.  I haven’t seen or heard from those guys in decades, but I still remember her French Toast.  Susie, your legacy is assured.  To make it, for every cup of milk and 2 eggs (the standard French toast custard), use 1 cup of flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder.  Make sure you add a healthy pinch of salt and whatever flavorings you like.  Just soak your Bread of Choice in the batter and then Deep Fry It.  You will not be Sorry, I promise.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about French Toast.  And, if you don’t read Nate Cooks, you should.  His last post is from May, so he might be busy, but the archived stuff is great.

PS Make a sammich with ham, turkey and Swiss cheese, dunk it in the Deep Fry Batter, fry it up and serve it with raspberry jam, and you have one of the Best Sammiches Ever–the Monte Cristo.  Thank you, God, for the Monte Cristo Sammich.

U-PMAT in Action, or Uncle Ray Meets the Muffin Method

25 Aug

Fun Muffin music for you.

You guys know my Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray.  You met them in the Chicken Noodle Soup Episode, and some of you may have read my tribute to them in my post Anniversaries and Alzheimer’s.  The Beloved and I go and visit together about once a month or so, and I generally get down there during the week to see them when my folks drive over from the Charlotte area.  A couple of Wednesdays ago, I went down to see them and my parents, and Uncle Ray was in the end stages of making muffins.  A delightful friend of theirs had come over to Supervise, but alas, she was either not Proficient in The Muffin Method or not up to the task of making Uncle Ray do it correctly.  More likely the latter.  The man needs a Strong Hand, I’m telling you.  At any rate, they ended up with some impressively chewy muffins that kind of rose like bread.  I told him not to worry, that The Beloved and I would be back down soon, and I would take him In Hand and help him make some Truly Excellent Muffins.

We were, and I did and they were, so I asked him if he’d like to write a Guest Post.  And here we are.  The rest is his story, except for Italicized Items–those are my notes:

Blueberry muffins have been a favorite of ours since our son’s college days.  (He is now 61 and I am 93, moldering away though not yet senile).

Our son went to Emerson college where he majored in theatre and communications.  Will say with some pride that he today is quite a communicator and a very good actor, but not in the theatre world.  When his Mom and I visited him in Boston we would stay at the Ritz Carlton Hotel which in that day was famous for its dining facilities. It was there that we were served with the most good looking and delicious blueberry muffins known to mankind, but when we asked for the recipe, we were told that it was almost a state secret and if they gave it to me, they would then have to assassinate me. Not yet having a death wish, we thanked them for their courtesy, left a minor tip, and gently stole into the night.

Lo and behold as they say in our hymnals, not more than one month later, the recipe appeared in the NYTimes which by virtue of some legerdemain, had procured said recipe and printed it in large bold type.

It now must be stated that I am neither cook nor chef and I have the kitchen dexterity of a rag doll, but suddenly I had the urge to create this delicacy as my dear wife Evelyn had done for many years.( Not to be maudlin, but Evelyn now has Alzheimer’s, and can no longer create kitchen works of art, so in memory of her better days I decided to step in the act.)  My first attempt was fair (too much mixing, mainly), but certainly not great (I’m still chewing), so when Jenni heard that story, she asked if I would like her to step in and she would guide me through the shoals of proper Blueberry Muffin baking. I would have to be the class idiot to turn down such an offer, so just this past Saturday she and her Beloved graced our home with one of their visits, and I got all the fixin’s to make the muffins (I brought the lemon and a Microplane). They turned out superbly and due solely to her (Very Stern) guiding and Julia Child’s touches (and encouragement and in general good teacherliness) that they were Muffins of great style, appearance and most importantly TASTE. For those of you, proficient as I hear you are, I am outlining below the base recipe to which you should not substitute one smidgen of your own imagination, because you will break the spell and I might add, the Muffins. (Don’t listen to him–we made some of our own additions as we went). Lots of good fortune and great tasting to you all.

The Ritz Carlton’s Blueberry Muffins

3 and 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar plus two pinches of salt (a scant teaspoon)
5 eggs slightly beaten (Use large eggs) (Uncle Ray had purchased Jumbo Eggs, so we used 4 plus one of the yolks)
1/2 cup homogenized milk
5 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 or 5 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Additional sugar for topping

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix all dry ingredients together.  Stir in eggs, milk and butter: Don’t overmix.  Jenni urges us (sternly) to fold not to mix. Carefully stir in berries.

Grease the tops of the muffin tins.  Insert paper cups and spoon batter to the top of the paper cups.  Sprinkle generously with sugar.

Reduce heat to 400 degrees F.   Place muffin tins on middle shelf of oven.  Bake about 25 minutes until muffins are golden brown. Remove from muffin tins and cool.

Should yield 15 large muffins. (We ended up with 21 regular-sized muffins).

Remember these muffins have been in flux for 35 years, ever since Charles Bonino, the executive chef who retired in 1971 decided he wanted to make a better muffin.  The Ritz Carlton has been serving some version of this muffin since it opened in 1927.

Good fortune to you all, and may your muffins rise to the occasion.

Uncle Ray the Muffin Man

Need a refresher yourself?  Here you go:  The Muffin Method

So, there you have it, Uncle Ray’s first hand account of the Importance of Using the Muffin Method when making Muffins.  We added some lemon zest and a pinch or two of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg this time.  The next time we go visit, we’ll probably make some more, and I will quiz him on Proper Procedure.  When he gets comfortable, maybe we can get Auntie Ev in on the action, putting the liners in the muffin cups and scooping the batter into them.

For those of you who can Handle It, here’s some hard core muffin music courtesy of Frank Zappa.

Sunday Suppers, Monday Edition: Frijoles y Chorizo

24 Aug
Will definitely have this again when it gets cooler.

Will definitely have this again when it gets cooler.

I admit, I used the Spanish word for beans and added that “y” in there to make it sound like some kind of authentic Mexican food.  I don’t know; maybe someone, somewhere in a wee Mexican village has rolled this number out before, but I just took inspiration from Mexican ingredients and Forged my own Path.  Regardless, it was Extremely Tasty.  We had it over brown rice, once with queso and once without.  Tonight, we’ll have it over pasta, a la chili mac.  It would also make a Ridiculous nacho fixin’, a burrito stuffing or just a great hot dip.

I am no Sausage Expert, but I have used a couple of different kinds of chorizo.  One kind seems to be at least partially dried and is dice-able.  The kind that I bought for this Particular Meal was a raw spicy minced beef packed into plastic casings.  Once cooked, it had the texture of a country pâté.  See:

See; this is how it looked after I broke it up a bit....

See; this is how it looked after I broke it up a bit....

...and this is how it looked all cooked.  Note:  It's hard to tell when it's done because the spicing is so red.  I let it go until the spices started smelling toasty.  Good call.  Way to go, me.

...and this is how it looked all cooked. Note: It's hard to tell when it's done because the spicing is so red. I let it go until the spices started smelling toasty. Good call. Way to go, me.

This was a Good Thing, because I was wanting the chorizo to sort of disappear into the sauce and flavor the whole dish.  Way to go, Particular chorizo; I appreciate you.

Frijoles y Chorizo

  • 3 TBSP oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • ground coriander
  • ground Ancho chili
  • ground cumin
  • chili powder
  • pepper flake or hot sauce, to taste
  • about 8 oz. spicy beef chorizo, crumbled and cooked
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • dried beans–I just dumped some in.  I used pink beans, but you could use black beans or pinto beans or cranberry beans or Your Favorite Bean
  • water, beer, chicken stock, beef stock or a combination of some of those.  Enough to cover the beans by 1 inch

Heat the pan; heat the oil.  Sweat onions, celery and bell pepper with salt and pepper for about 5-10 minutes.

Add the spices and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so, or enough to toast the spices.

Cook until the spices are fragrant.

Cook until the spices are fragrant.

Add the cooked chorizo, tomatoes, dried beans and liquid.  (I only had some really hoppy IPA and a Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre, and I was out of stock, so I actually used water.  It was fantastic, honestly.  Using beer and stock would have been Awesome).    Bring to a boil, and then simmer until the beans are tender but not mushy.  This’ll take about 2 hours, prolly.  Leave the lid on to keep the liquid from evaporating while the beans are cooking–they’ll soak up a lot of water.  Oh, here are the beans I used:

Hello, Mexican pink beans.  You could use canned to drastically cut down on the cooking time.

Hello, Mexican pink beans. You could use canned to drastically cut down on the cooking time.

Cool and refrigerate for a day or two.  Reheat, and serve however you like.  When reheating, go ahead and leave the lid off to concentrate the flavors just a bit.  Then taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.  Try to keep your cat from eating it.

What?!  I have no interest in your stupid beans and chorizo, human.  Yeah, right.  Nice try, Wally.

What?! I have no interest in your stupid beans and chorizo, human. Yeah, right. Nice try, Wally.

Risotto for Dessert: How Sweet It Is!

21 Aug

Mushroom risotto.  Risotto with peas and asparagus.  Classic risotto flavored with saffron.  Sure, you’ve heard of these.  Risotto is a classic preparation that is a textural marvel–a slight Crunch wrapped in fluffy-smooth-Creamy wrapped in rich-silky-Flowing.  It’s the Diminutive Turducken of sides (and mains, for that matter).

When I helped open a restaurant, the owner/pastry chef wanted an orange-cardamom rice pudding on the menu.  A Lovely Idea, indeed.  I piped up with “Hows about we make that like risotto?”  We looked at each other and wondered if we Could.  Neither of us had ever made a sweet risotto, but that’s the fun of planning a menu.  You come up with an Idea, and you try it.  So, we tried it, and we were Pleased with the Results.  Not just a little pleased, but Ridiculously Pleased.  If you’re not convinced, think of it as a “stirred rice pudding.”

I’m not going to give you a recipe, because this is more about technique.  Take some fatty dairy, flavor it and sweeten it however you’d like, heat it to a simmer and then Make Risotto with it.  For an extra burst of Richness, temper the sweet risotto into a couple of egg yolks and make sure it reaches 160F before chilling.

Let’s do this:  I’ll give you the ingredients for a “traditional” risotto, and then we’ll sub out some Desserty Ingredients for the savory ones.  By the way, this particular list o’ ingredients is snagged from a keen little book called Pilaf, Risotto, and Other Ways with Rice by Sada Fretz.

Risotto Primavera

  • 1/2 pound fresh asparagus
  • 1/2 pound fresh green beans
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1 small leek
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 5 cups homemade vegetable broth
  • 1 cup shelled fresh peas
  • 3 fresh plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, optional (but not really)
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan=Reggiano cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste

That’s a crazy-big List of Stuff, huh?  Let’s simplify it a bit:

Streamlined Risotto Primavera

  • mixed vegetables
  • some aromatics
  • a little crunch
  • fat
  • rice
  • liquid
  • more fat
  • seasonings

We don’t want no Veggies in our Dessert Risotto.  Not today, anyway.  Let’s try this:

Dessert Risotto PrimaPMAT

  • mixed fruits–dried and fresh
  • spices to toast up–maybe some cinnamon and star anise?
  • crunchy–how about some toasted nuts.  You can use the pine nuts, but consider almonds or macs, too.
  • fat–check.  Let’s go with clarified butter–ooh, browned butter!  Even better.
  • rice–stick with arborio in the US.  Widely available and Good for Risotto.
  • alcohol–sweet dessert wine?  Port?  Leave it out?  Maybe just a hit of vodka–carefully–to release some alcohol soluble flavors?
  • Liquid–sweetened dairy.  A mixture of sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk and heavy cream sounds good.  What do you think?
  • More fat–enrich with some coconut cream or mascarpone or an egg yolk or two.  Some whole butter could work.  Leave it out if you must–after all, we’ve already used fatty stuff for the cooking liquid.
  • seasonings–since we’re using spices as our aromatics, let’s call seasonings flavor accents.  Toasted coconut?  Crystallized ginger?  Kaffir lime leaves?  And don’t forget the salt.  Seriously.

Here’s how to put it together.

  1. Toast spices in browned butter.
  2. Stir in dry rice and stir until rice turns opaque.  Add some salt, please.
  3. Hit it with the alcohol–off the heat if using some crazy flammable stuff–and reduce to dry.
  4. Start adding the heated dairy, a bit at a time.*
  5. Stir in dried fruits towards the beginning and the fresh fruits towards the end.
  6. At the end of cooking, enrich with some butter or other Appropriate Fat.
  7. Taste and correct seasonings.  Make sure there’s enough salt in it.
  8. Stir in some toasted coconut, toasted nuts, or whatever you’ve come up with.

If you’re serving it warm, just go for it.  To serve chilled (how we made it), add extra dairy so it’s soupier than you want, then chill.  It will thicken as it cools.

This is not Diet Food.  You could make it a little less Egregious, calorie-wise, by using some sort of juice or even water for the majority of the cooking process and then just enrich with some fatty goodness towards the end.  For me, I’ll go full fat.  It’s not like I’ll be eating this every day.  Maybe.

Have I tested this particular recipe?  Nope.  I’m just trying to give you a springboard for your own ideas.  What I can tell you is that our orange-cardamom risotto was fantastic.  If you’ve never considered a Dessert Risotto, I’m glad to have introduced you to the idea.

That’s it; I’m done now.  I’ll let this lady take over–here’s a great primer on how to put a risotto together.  Great information.
*Use full-fat dairy so your mixture doesn’t curdle.  Keep everything at a simmer, not a crazy boil.

In the Commercial Kitchen: 86 Tart!

20 Aug
Hello, shiny commercial kitchen.

Hello, shiny commercial kitchen.

My friend, Anna (@verysmallanna on twitter), suggested that I talk a bit about working in a professional kitchen.  I think this is a Good Idea–lots of people are intrigued by the notion of cooking for a living and wonder how just a handful of people can put out a whole restaurant’s worth of food in a day.  Although it has been about a year and a half since I’ve worked in a commercial kitchen, I think I can give you an Idea of what the work is like.  Disclaimer:  Keep in mind that my experience is a product of the culture of the kitchens I worked in, the folks I worked with and my own training–your experience might be different.

Here is an aspect of working in a commercial kitchen that is generally not an issue at home:  leftovers.  At home, if I make a dessert for a dinner party and there’s some left over (shockingly, that happens on occasion), I can just send the leftovers off to The Office with The Beloved.  Problem solved.  It’s a bit different at a restaurant–it can be a bit of a crap shoot figuring out how many/much of each dessert to make for service each night.

First of all, dessert sales in restaurants usually run about 20-25%.  This means that of 100 people who are eating, only 20-25 of them will order dessert.  On a slow weeknight, if the restaurant has only done 3 or 4 dozen covers (served 3-4 dozen folks), you might only serve 2-3 desserts, or maybe None at All.  When I first started in the kitchen, I found this hard to believe.  After all, I figured everyone loved dessert as much as I did.

If there are six desserts on the menu, you might only sell one or two of a couple, none of one or two and maybe as many as 15-20+ of the Everyone-Loves-Chocolate dessert.  The real challenge always comes in figuring how many desserts to make for any given night while minimizing waste.  The restaurant business is all about food cost, and throwing food away is always Bad.

Another factor to consider when deciding how many of Whatever to make is Keepability.  Not sure if that’s a real world, but you guys know what I mean.  Some desserts need to be served the day they’re made while others are good for a couple of days or even up to three or four.  So, when we’d start a production week, we’d know whether to plan (to the best of our ability) for a) Enough for One Night or b) Enough to Last a Few Days.

If the restaurant has been around for more than a year or two and your menu doesn’t change, you can always go back through the POS information (Point of Sale–the ticketing system) to see how many of what desserts were sold on the same day the last year.  Make That Number, and chances are you’ll be good.  But how about if you’ve only been open for a few weeks or months?  Then what?  Start with a menu of desserts that have good keepability, and start Keeping Track.  Once you figure out how many of each dessert sells, then you set a Par–the Magical Number of Making.  If the par is set at 10, and you sold four the night before, you’ll need 6 more to make par.  Always sell older before newer–First made, first sold.  Label and date everything.  If any of your Stuff is around more than its Keepability factor (number of days) toss, eat or give to the Servers and start all over.

In the fine dining restaurants I worked in, we tried to make enough so we’d never run out of anything without having too much leftover–especially if it was a Saturday and we were closed the next two days.  Fine line, and most of the time, we did pretty well.  Sometimes, though, we’d fall short, or some crazy Party of a Billion would come in and order all the lemon tarts in the Universe.  Then, there’s nothing left to do but “86 tart!”  86 is cool Restaurantese for “It’s all gone; there ain’t no mo.”  While some folks would get Cranky, it mostly increased interest, and the folks that were Denied would come back earlier the next time just to make sure they could get Their Favorite.  Supply and Demand, folks.  Always keep ’em wanting more.  ‘Course, the other side of this is having to 86 4 out of 6 desserts and dealing with a bunch of Cranky Folk.  One guest Denied breeds buzz (“Wait at the bar….”).  Many guests Denied breeds a bunch of Comped Meals.  No way to make money.

That’s what I have to say about that right now.  Anna, you like?  Everyone, any questions?  Wanna know more?  Let me know, and I’ll make this a Recurring Feature.  If you Hate it or just don’t care, we can just move along.

Sunday Suppers, Monday Edition: Pizza, Baby!

17 Aug
This isn't my picture, but it's definitely my kind of pizza.

This isn't my picture, but it's definitely my kind of pizza.

One of the first things The Beloved and I do when we move to a new place is to find the best local pizza place we can and Buy From Them.  We’d rather support a local, stand alone than a Crazy Big Chain operation.  The place we have found in NC is a little place called Papa’s Pizza and Subs.  They don’t have a website, so you’ll just have to trust me.  It is G-U-D good.

We order from Papa about twice a month, and we have been Very Pleased–even their delivery guys are really good.  Yay.

There was a time though–a Sad and Dark time–when we didn’t have a good local pizza place near us.  The only thing to do was make our own.  Even now, with Papa’s down the road, we might have a hankering for pizza brushed with truffle oil sometime, and then we’ll just make some.

Here’s the recipe we used at one of the restaurants I worked at, scaled down so you don’t have to make a billion pizzas.*  You’re welcome.

Easy Pizza Crust

  • 4 oz high gluten or bread flour
  • 4 oz AP flour
  • 4 oz water
  • 1/3 oz fresh yeast or 3 g. dry yeast
  • 1/2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 oz salt (7 g)

Just put everything in the mixer with the dough hook and mix/knead on medium-low speed for 8 minutes and medium speed for 4 minutes.  Divide dough in half, round and cover.  Let rise until doubled, then roll out/stretch, top and bake.  If you want a chewier crust, top the pizza, cover and let rise again for about 30 minutes before baking.

Pizza Sauce
Yes, I guess you can buy pizza sauce, but it’s really easy to make.  I usually use San Marzano tomatoes or Romas–canned–a fair amount of olive oil, onions, garlic, tomato paste, pepper flake, salt, pepper, lots of oregano, thyme and basil.  Here’s how:

  1. Sweat onions and garlic in olive oil until softened and translucent.
  2. Add tomato paste, salt, pepper, pepper flake and dried herbs and continue to cook over medium heat for another minute or two.
  3. Add the undrained tomatoes and mash in the pan.
  4. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  You’re only going to be using a small amount of sauce on a pizza, so it should be very flavorful.  Add a pinch of sugar or a splash of balsamic if the flavor seems dull.
  5. Puree with an immersion blender, blender or food processor until it’s as smooth as you want it.  For a nice, even texture, run it through a food mill with the medium disc in place.

Other Things to Spread on Pizza Dough Besides Tomato Sauce

  • Pesto
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Sweet and sour sauce
  • Steak sauce
  • olive oil
  • Alfredo sauce
  • aioli
  • Plum sauce
  • Chimichuri sauce
  • Chutney
  • Etc.

Tasty Items to Put on Pizza
If you like it, you can probably put it on a pizza.  I usually decide on my “spread” first and then choose toppings that will complement it.  Of course, you can choose your toppings first and then choose your spread.  Whatever works for you.

Pizza Rules

  1. Less is more–don’t overload the dough–you want to taste the bread once it’s baked.
  2. Bake the pizza on a pizza stone or quarry tile close to the bottom of the oven.
  3. Bake at the highest temperature your oven will go.  Mine goes to 525F.
  4. If you have a pizza peel, lightly sprinkle it with cornmeal before building the pizza on it. Shake it often to make sure it’s not sticking.  When you’re ready to bake, transfer the pizza from the peel to the baking stone by placing the end of the peel at the far end of the stone and shaking/jerking the peel back towards you.

And there you have it.

*a true 1x recipe makes 27 6oz. rounds.  I generally made x2 or even x3.  Every. Day.

I Have a Wee Announcement…

13 Aug

megaphoneI was looking at all my blog statistics yesterday, and it seems that my last post was Post Two Hundred.  I kind of already knew that, and I debated about whether to make the 200th post be all Yay Me and such.  In the end, I decided that I should just go with my Theme and deal with baking and pastry.  But now, I’ve decided, “why not celebrate a little?”  I mean, when I started this wee blog back in October, I had no idea if I’d be able to sustain posting, if folks would Dig it, if folks would even come at all.

I must say, I really appreciate our little PMAT community–thanks for the comments:  constructive, funny, thought-provoking, questioning.  I appreciate all of them.  Thanks to everyone for reading; I feel like I have made many new friends out here in the Hinternet.  The Hinternet can be a big and cold place, but if you move in to a wee corner of it and decorate it nicely and invite like-minded folks over for Tea, it can be a Very Cozy Place.

I intend to continue with the U-PMAT posts every so often.  Ditto for the monthly Search Term Round Ups–I love those and will Never Stop writing them.  I also try to answer questions–with an email if a Short Answer will suffice, or with a post if the Long Version is necessary.

To you, friends, I’d like to know what else you’d like to see here.  I have a lot of your ideas knocking around in my head, so if I haven’t gotten to your question/topic yet, I will.  Thank you all so much for Hanging Out here and Reading and Commenting and participating!  Tomorrow, I’ll be back to Regularly Scheduled Programming, but today I just wanted to blow my own horn.  Very quietly.  In the corner.

Custard Cousins

11 Aug
Introducing, the richest of the cousins.  Hello, creme brule.  Lovely to make your acquaintance.

Introducing, the richest of the cousins. Hello, crème brûlée. Lovely to make your acquaintance.

Hello, friends.  so, here’s a question/topic I received via email a few days ago:


I read your blog article about Puddings/Custards and found it very informative.  I was wondering if you could touch on the comparison between Pots de Creme, Creme Brulee, and Creme Caramel (Flan) and explain the differences.  What makes them more Creme Caramel more jello like?  How could you enhance that?  Add more eggs/starch?  Thanks.


Good questions, all.

Most classic custards, both stirred and still/baked have the same general set of ingredients:  eggs, dairy and sugar being the three most prevalent.  The only differences among the custards are in a)using yolks versus whole eggs, b)the amount of fat in the dairy (whole milk, half and half, heavy cream), c)any additional components, such as caramel for crème caramel/flan or a crunchy layer of caramel for crème brûlée.

Let’s look at the similarities, first.  All custards that are to be baked must not have thickened (fully cooked) before baking.  If they are thick and pudding-like when they go into the oven, the best you can hope for is forming a skin on top of creme Anglaise.  Not so great.  Also, baked custards are generally served chilled.  Chilling mutes the sweetness as well as some of the egginess.  As well, butterfat in the dairy will firm up in the fridge, adding to a creamy mouthfeel.  All baked custards not containing an additional starch (as in New York cheesecake) or not in a crust (ditto, cheesecake) are baked at a very low temperature in a water bath.  The water ensures a moist cooking environment and can help minimize browning and Nasty Skin Formation.  The water also keeps the sides of the ramekins/baking pan at no more than 212F.  This, in turn, helps to keep the baking custard from boiling.  If boiling Happens, you’ll end up with a curdled custard.  Sweet scrambled eggs.  Gross.  Also, you’ll end up with wee bubbles all up the sides of your custard.  This is the first thing I look for in a flan when I order one for dessert.  If there are bubble holes up the sides, it is almost guaranteed to be overcooked and curdled.  Again, gross.

And now, on to the differences.  First, texturally.  Pots de crème are the most loosely set of the baked custards.  That’s why they’re baked in cool little lidded pots.  If you tried to turn it out of the baking tin, you’d just end up with a thick-but-flowing creme anglaise type deal all over your plate.  On the other end of the firmness spectrum, you’ve got crème caramel, which is sturdy enough to turn out so its lovely caramel sauce can run down and pool most alluringly on the plate.  The Turnoutability of a custard is directly related to the ratio of eggs to dairy as well as to the amount of sugar.  The more sugar in the custard, the less firm it will be and the longer it will take to bake.

Custard Formulae per 8oz of dairy
(these proportions are not set in stone–you’ll find all kinds of formulae out there.  Hopefully, it goes without saying that salt and vanilla (at least) go in each of these custards)

  • crème brûlée=8 oz heavy cream+1.5 oz sugar+3-4 yolks.  With its makeup of all yolks and heavy cream, crème brûlée is the richest of the baked custards.
  • pots de crème=8 oz half and half+3 oz sugar+3 yolks.  While the pots de crème contain the same number of egg yolks as the crème brûlée, the extra sugar makes them less set.  Pots de crème are slightly less rich than crème brûlée because of the use of half and half instead of heavy cream.
  • Crème caramel=6 oz milk+2 oz heavy cream+1.5 oz sugar+1 egg +2 yolks.  The use of whole egg helps the custard to set firmly while the extra two yolks lend to the richness.  There is less butterfat in crème caramel because 3/4 of the dairy is in the form of whole milk.

As to the question about the crème caramel being more Jello-like, I’m going to go with the wiggly factor.  It’s wiggly because it’s firmly set.  If it weren’t firmly set, it wouldn’t cut cleanly or wiggle when you hit it with a spoon.  It would just kind of slump.  You can enhance the firmness by adding using some sweetened condensed milk or coconut milk for part of the dairy.  This mainly has to do with mouthfeel, but I am a Fan, so I usually make mine with some SCM.  You can up the whole eggs to get a firmer set, but you do run the risk of getting a rubbery flan, so I say err on the side of caution.   Adding some starch to your mix can inhibit curdling, thus lending a smoother texture.  If you use a water bath and bake at 250-275-ishF, that shouldn’t be an issue, but if you want to take out some extra insurance, you can add just over 1/4 tsp cornstarch or tapioca starch for each cup of dairy.

If by Jello-like, Eric means the smoothness factor, then I’d increase the yolks a bit, by maybe just one per 8oz of dairy.  The emulsifiers in the yolks lend a wonderful smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

So, Eric, I hope that helps.

And that’s all I have to say about custard right now.  If you have anything to add, please have at it in the comments section.

Y’all have a lovely day.

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