Archive | September, 2010

You Know What? I Just Realized That I Haven’t Had a Good Tantrum in Awhile. Indulge Me, Won’t You?

29 Sep

So I was talking to my friend Gary the other day, and the topic was chocolate.  More specifically, how to tell good chocolate from meh chocolate.  He told me about this site, Chocomize, that allows you to customize your chocolate.  Sounds cool, right?  But there’s customization, and then there’s Customization.  If I were running the Chocomize gig, I’d offer chocolates with different percentages of cocoa butter, small batch artisan chocolate, and varietal chocolate from different countries.  Then, I’d offer tons of ways to customize: from mint to flake salt, spices to honeys, caramel to citrus.  Maybe there’d even be some “stuffed” options, like flavored ganaches or caramel.  Or jam.  It would be Awesome, but I would either have to a) charge a billion dollars or b) go out of business Very Quickly.

Here’s their launch clip from YouTube.The Evil Geniuses at Chocomize offer a product that seems customizable, but it’s an ill-LOSE-ion.  I mean, you can choose from fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, candies, etc, but you’ve only got three chocolate choices.  Three!  It’s really more about the customizable extras than truly customized chocolate.  And they don’t even list the ingredients, although they do say it’s Belgian.  I guess we’re just supposed to believe that all Belgian chocolate is of the highest quality.  Maybe it is, but then list your ingredients.  Does the chocolate contain real vanilla, or vanillin?  Is the fat 100% cocoa butter, or did they sneakily substitute some palm oil or something else?  These are Important Questions to ask, because it means the difference between the aforementioned good chocolate and meh chocolate.  Cocoa butter is Magic and melts at body temperature, giving you that wonderful, slow, even melt right when you put it in your mouth.  Chocolate that contains other fats just sits on your tongue like a wee (or not so wee) piece of brown wax.

Anyway, once you have made your Chocolate Selection, you have a choice of adding up to five Items to your chocolate.  But guess what?  They’re just pressed onto the bottom of the bars!  I mean, even Cold Stone Creamery has “mix ins.”  Chocomize offers Press Ons.  Like Lee Press-On Nails.

Okay, okay, I will admit that it would be much more labor intensive to mix those flavors in, but those Cold Stone people do it, plus they do it In Front Of You.  Double plus they have to Sing on Demand!I mean, that’s a Lot.  Items actually in–not on–your base selection, plus Public Humiliation for the Creamery Bees? Amaaaazing.

So, I just customized a bar, all Willy Nilly, to see how much the whole thing costs.  I chose dark chocolate of Unknown Origin, cranberries, currants, almonds, pecans and sea salt. And the grand total for this Gustatory Delight?  $7.35.  For Three Point Five ounces.  That’s $33.60–Thirty Three Dollars and Sixty Cents–per pound. Plus an additional $5.95 for a Grand Total of $39.55 per shipped pound.  Granted, it’s a flat $5.95 no matter how many bars you order, but still.  Really?  Forty bucks for Potentially Brown Wax with Lee Press On Nails?  Unacceptable.


Okay, I took a pause to go and peruse these guys’ website again to see if I could Ferret Out the type of chocolate they’re using as the base for these bars.  I ain’t payin’ no Forty Bux for wax, right?  And buried Waaaaaayyyy down in a blog post from last year, I found this:

November 09, 2009

Where our chocolate comes from

Although our business is based in New Jersey, we import all our chocolate from Barry Callebaut in Belgium. For those of you who have never heard of Barry Callebaut, they are the largest manufacturer of high quality cocoa and chocolate in the world. Most consider them to make the finest quality chocolate, and after trying chocolate from lots of different companies, we agreed that they were the best.

Barry Callebaut gets all their cocoa beans from small farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. Check out this link: to learn more about how they are helping cocoa farmers.

Once the cocoa beans are harvested in Côte d’Ivoire, Barry Callebaut imports them into Belgium and then processes them further into actual chocolate.

The chocolate is then sent to our factory in the United States. Once the chocolate arrives, we temper and mold the chocolate, add the ingredients of your choosing, and then package and send the bar to you in the mail.

There are many steps that occur from when the cocoa bean is first grown to when you finally receive your Chocomize bar in the mail. We make sure that you get the best quality chocolate possible but not at the risk of ignoring important social issues. We chose Barry Callebaut not just for their great tasting chocolate, but because they are also a socially conscious company like ourselves. Check out this link to read more about how they help the environment:

Hopefully this post has made it clearer where exactly our chocolate comes from, and we look forward to sending you your delicious Chocomize bar soon!–Chocomize Blog, November 9, 2009

If I were the Chocomize Folks, I’d plaster this information all over their home page.  At the very very least, I’d link to the post from the home page.  Like this:  Wanna Know Where We Get Our Chocolate?  Click here. It’s not even in the FAQ, which tells us that the chocolate is not certified kosher, that it is gluten free and that the dark chocolate is vegan. But nowhere do they say what percent cocoa mass is in their chocolate, let alone share an ingredient list. And even though we now know that the chocolate comes from Barry Callebaut, we still don’t know what kind of chocolate it is.  For example, this lovely item is touted on the Barry Callebaut site:

Dark compounds
Barry Callebaut’s dark compounds are ready to use: no tempering needed. They offer taste sensations ideal for mimicking dark chocolate and with their technical specifications, they match even the most specific applications. In textures, we offer a choice ranging from the hard “chocolate-like” crack to a smooth and soft texture.–Barry Callebaut

Don’t be fooled by the Special French Name, some of their products are Fake Chocolate.  Even if it is real chocolate (and I think it is, because the Chocomize people have to temper it), many different brands huddle under the Barry Callebaut umbrella.  I want an ingredient list.

Perhaps (prolly) I’m being a bit hard on these guys.  After all, they’re three recent college grads with a cool idea who are making it happen.  They prolly make more money than I do.  But I’m not sure that they really understand chocolate.  Barry Callebaut is a serviceable brand of chocolate that is kind of like higher-end Hershey’s.  By that, I mean that their operation is Huge and that they supply all kinds of folks with their chocolate.  They’re a volume dealer, as it were–we used a lot of their chocolate in culinary school, for instance.  So, the unique thing about the Chocomize product isn’t the chocolate.  The unique thing is the press ons and the spices and the labeling.  (You can buy customized wedding favors or chocolate bars with your own packaging).

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re in it for the press ons and you have money to burn, order away.  After all, it is a fun concept.  And they’re also raising some money for their preferred charities. But, if you want really excellent quality artisan chocolate, you should look elsewhere.

I’m done now.  Thanks.

How Many Cooking Verbs Can I Perform for You In the Pursuit of Lamb Biryani?**

26 Sep
lamb biryani made with brown rice

Hello, lamb biryani. You exhaust me, and yet I love you so...

***Voting Is Open*** Please click here to vote for my entry, and go to the Contestants’ Page to explore and vote for other amazing entries!

This is my post for Challenge #2 in Project Food Blog.  Thanks to all of you who voted to help me advance; I truly appreciate it! Voting opens Monday, September 27. I’ll post a voting link tomorrow in the hope that you’ll vote for me.

I tasted my first Indian food in 1990, and I fell in love.  It’s surprising to me how readily I embraced the cuisine, especially since I was raised on a diet of straight-up Amurkin food spiced up only occasionally with an Amurkinized spaghetti and meatballs or a mild chili.  So, when some friends invited me to try a new Indian place, they might as well have said, “Hey, let’s have Martian tonight.”  I went along anyway, hoping that I would survive the experience.  First up, crispy/crackly papadam served with a mint-cilantro chutney and some beautiful hot pickled onion.  I swooned.  Plump lamb samosas with tamarind sauce? I might have moaned with pleasure, just a little.  For dinner, my friends suggested the chicken tikka masala, and I simply wanted to bathe in it.  It was Quite the Evening.  Give me a moment, won’t you?

I went to the All Around the World Market and was met by a dizzying array of spice-y goodness.

I shopped.

All Around the World Market

I found saffron stored in a wee locked cabinet.

Now I know that CTM isn’t even really a traditional Indian dish.  That it was thrown together to satisfy the English need for Gravy during India’s long stint as a British Colony.   It doesn’t make it any less wonderful, though.

lamb biryani ingredients

I arranged.

But I’m not here to talk about chicken tikka masala.  I’m here to talk about the Indian dish that has its own space on menus in Indian restaurants:  Biryani.  The name intrigues me, and I find that it’s derived from a Persian word meaning (depending on who you ask) fried-before-cooking or Yummy.

It’s touted as the meal of celebration and the dish of the Rich and Special.  And while it’s definitely the former, it has its roots in a humble rice and goat meal that was cooked underground, like the original baked beans in the US.  Except way older.

Swad brand Brown Basmati Rice

I marveled.

Because I try to follow rules All the Time, I delved into the history of biryani, and I came out with a head ache.  Seriously.  While everyone agrees that there is a Layering Process, some folks say to fry the rice before cooking; other folks say no.  Many people on the Hinternets exhorted me to Always use rice as the bottom layer.  An Indian chef told me–via video–to slap some raw marinated chicken in the bottom of the pan.

Fine.  I popped an Excedrin and read on. There are two main types of biryani:  raw and cooked.  Don’t worry, though.  I’m not going to make you eat biryani tartar.  What these labels designate is how the meat is handled before being layered.  Some use raw meat.  Some use cooked meat.  The whole trick of biryani, no matter whose recipe you follow, is to make sure that the rice is cooked just so–with all the grains separate.

There should be no clumping in biryani.

It seems to be a cardinal rule.  To follow this rule, you have to undercook the rice by a certain degree and either a) have enough liquid in your raw marinated meat layer to finish cooking the rice perfectly while making sure your meat cooks all the way through or b) add a judicious amount of other liquid to ensure Rice Perfection at the end of the cooking process. “Is there a third option?”  I asked the Hinternets, and the answer was a resounding no.  Awesome.

I shifted gears for a minute and read up on rose water and kewra water.  Some biryanis Contain these Items, and I wanted to use them in my version.  Rose water is a by product of distilling rose oil for perfumes.  It smells like you just fell face first into your grandmother’s bed of Damask Roses.  Kewra water is made from the kewra, or screw pine, flower.  It is also very fragrant, but has more of an herbal edge.  Americans tend to use ingredients for their flavor.  Indians like to use ingredients both for flavor and for aroma.  And since the two are closely linked, it makes sense.  The rose water and kewra water are both there to add flowery notes to the earthy, smoky, green perfume of the biryani.

When I actually started looking at recipes, and there was so much variation among them that I chose to take the Interesting Parts of several of them and combine them into one Frankenbiryani.  Because I love you.  And because, at its heart, biryani is all about technique. And you guys know how much I love a good technique.  Teach me a recipe and I eat for a day; teach me a technique, and I eat for the rest of my life. I’m pretty sure that’s a real saying.

So, without further Ado, I present unto you my Franken Lamb Biryani.

My Lamb Biryani, Representative of Tons of Biryani Techniques*

For the Lamb

  • 2 pounds lamb, cut into small pieces.  I used chops and saved the bones for lamb stock.
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • about 1 1/2 cups plain, full fat yogurt
  • 2″ piece of cinnamon stick
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 4 green cardamom pods, or about 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom seed
  • 2 Tablespoons fennel seed
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 Tablespoon Balti spice blend
  • 1 Tablespoon onion oil
  • 2 Tablespoons ghee (store bought or homemade)

    I melted my butter, brought it to a boil and strained it once the milk solids had fallen to the bottom of the pan and had started to turn golden brown and delicious.

    I clarified.

Toast all the whole spices in a dry cast iron skillet until fragrant, about 4 minutes over medium heat.

toasting coriander. black cardamom, fennel, cumin and cinnamon stick

I toasted.

Let the spices cool, and then grind them in a spice grinder or dedicated coffee grinder.

After toasting, I ground the spices

I ground.

Salt and pepper the meat and put it in a large zip top bag.

Mix the ground spices with the turmeric, Balti and yogurt and pour into the bag with the lamb.  Press out all the air and smoosh the bag around until the meat is evenly coated.  Let marinate for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in the fridge.

Heat your skillet over medium heat,  Add oil and ghee, and chuck the lamb and marinade in.

After marinating, I cooked the meat, pouring off the excess marinade and meat juices and reserving for later.

I sauteed.

Cook until the lamb has released a lot of its juices and the marinade has thinned out quite a bit.  Carefully pour off the marinade, reserving for later.

Continue to cook the meat until it is cooked all the way through.  If any marinade is leftover in the pan, pour that off and reserve.

For the Onions

  • 2 medium onions, cut in half down the equator and then sliced thin, longitudinally
  • salt, to taste
  • enough neutral vegetable oil to cover the bottom of your cast iron skillet by about 1/4″

Season the onions with salt.

Heat the pan over medium heat.  Add the oil and heat until it shimmers.

Fry the onions over medium heat until starting to turn golden.

fried onions

I fried.

Turn up to medium-high and continue to fry until deeply caramelized.

Remove the onions to some paper towels to drain.  If you have any onions that got a little too dark, pick them out.  The darkest they should be is a deep mahogany.

Reserve the onion oil.

For the Rice

  • 3 cups brown basmati rice
  • water to cover by 2″
  • a pinch of saffron threads
  • water to cover the rice by 3″
  • salt, to taste
  • about 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 Tablespoons ghee
  • 2 Tablespoons onion oil
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 4 green cardamom pods, or 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1″ piece of cinnamon stick

Steep the saffron in a couple of tablespoons of very hot water for ten minutes.

I soaked the brown basmati rice in weak saffron water for 45 minutes.

I soaked.

Put the rice in a large pot.  Pour over the saffron water and enough cool water to cover the rice by 2 inches.  Let soak for 45 minutes.

Drain and rinse the rice and put back in the pan.

After soaking, I boiled the rice with saffron, ghee, reserved onion oil and salt for fifteen minutes.

I boiled.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a full rolling boil for about fifteen minutes.

The rice should be soft on the outside but crunchy on the inside.  You should be able to see a thin halo of translucent cooked rice around an opaque core of uncooked rice.  Drain thoroughly.

For the Aroma Waters (my favorite part)

Sweet Aroma Water

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • about 10 saffron threads
  • 3 green cardamom pods or about 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • a splash each of rose water and kewra water (both are optional but add a lovely aromatic quality to the dish)

Warm milk to just steaming.  Toss in the saffron threads and cardamom.

steeping saffron and cardamom in heated milk before adding rose water and kewra water.

I steeped some more.

Let steep until room temperature.

When cool, add a splash each of rose water and kewra water.

Savory Aroma Water

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 black cardamom
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2″ piece of cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed

Put all ingredients in a small sauce pan.

steeping savory aroma water

I steeped

Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 20 minutes.  Strain and cool to room temperature.

Additional Garnish

  • 1 bunch of fresh mint
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro

Putting It Together.  Finally.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Brush a thin layer of ghee on the bottom and up the sides of your Baking Vessel.

There's the parcooked rice, neatly layered into the bottom of the pan with a bit of each of the aroma waters.

I layered...

Put 1/3 of the par-cooked rice in Said Vessel, spreading it evenly.

Sprinkle on about 2 Tablespoons each of the aroma waters.

Next came the lamb and some of the reserved marinade.

...and layered...

Add 1/2 the lamb and drizzle over a couple of tablespoons of the reserved cooked marinade.

Then on went some fried onions and a handful each of chopped mint and cilantro.

...and layered.

Add a handful of fried onions and a heavy sprinkle of chopped mint and cilantro.

Repeat the rice-waters-meat-marinade-onion-herb layers once again, and finish up with the last 1/3 of the rice.

Sprinkle on a little more of the aroma waters, a bit of onion and chopped herbs.

I mixed about 1/2 cup of flour with a little water until I got a sticky dough.  Then, I pressed it all around the seam where the lid met the pot.

I entombed.

Seal the lid on the cooking vessel with the flour-water dough.

Bake at 400F for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 275F and bake an additional twenty minutes.

Remove Vessel from oven.  Curse the day you decided to seal the pan with dough and chip it off with a dinner knife.  Just concentrate on the seam between lid and pan.  You can soak the rest off later.  Curse again.

I used a knife to gently mix everything together so I wouldn't smoosh the rice.

I mixed.

Let the fragrant steam hit you in the face, realizing that you couldn’t smell it before because of the dough seal.  I mean, I forgot all about the cursing when the nutty-floral-earthy-smoky-meaty-herbal aroma reached my nose.  Amazing.  Simply amazing.

Gently fluff up the rice and mix the layers together with something that won’t smash your rice.  I used a knife.

Serve with another sprinkle of chopped herbs, some raita and maybe some lovely crusty naan.

I plated, garnished with a bit of chopped herbs, mixed up a quick raita and took this lovely photo.  All while talking to my friend on the phone.

I plated.

Oh yeah, I forgot.  I also Ate.  And the flavor?  Very complex yet very subtle.  No hot spiciness, just a wonderful melange of flavors, textures and aromas.  Perfection.  How about those rice grains?  Any clumps?  Nope!  Might’ve been beginners’ luck, but I’ll take it.

Bonus–A Quick Raita

  • 1 cup plain, full fat yogurt
  • a large handful of seeded and finely diced cucumber
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a handful of chopped mint and cilantro
Just whisk all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  That's it.

I whisked.

Whisk together.  Let sit in the fridge for half an hour to let the flavors blend.

*Biryani Techniques/Ingredients borrowed from India Curry, Show Me the Curry, iFood, and VahRehVah

**I lost count.  At least 20.  You’re welcome.

Why I Do What I Do

19 Sep
cranberry ketchup

Hello, thick-luscious-tangy-umami-wonderful cranberry ketchup that-I-made-up-all-by-myself. This would never have happened before I had my food revelation.

*Voting is now open through Thursday, September 23.  To vote pour moi, click here.  Just scroll on down to the “P’s” until you get to Pastry Methods and Techniques.  Then, click the cute little gray heart to turn it red for me!

Oh, but you should have seen me when I first decided I wanted to cook and bake.  I was a trembling little thing, sweating with apprehension as I approached a recipe.  Here’s how it went:

  1. I would decide that I needed to cook a Dish of Some Sort
  2. I would pour through my cookbooks, trying to find the Perfect Recipe.
  3. I’d painstakingly copy said recipe onto a wee sheet of paper.
  4. Paper clutched in sweating hand, I’d head out to the grocery store.
  5. I’d wander up and down every aisle, searching for the Mandated Ingredients, checking them off (!) as I found them and placing them reverently in my cart.
  6. Having bought Said Items, I’d go home and follow my recipe blindly.
  7. Usually, and through no fault of my own, my Dish was generally edible, and even quite tasty.
  8. I’d breathe a sigh of relief and accept the Kudos of the Masses.

I went along for quite awhile thinking that my Seven Step Process was just the way it was.  That’s how to cook.  Right?

Wrong.  I was so wrong.

I didn’t realize this at first, of course.  It took years of obsessively buying and reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows on PBS, experimenting on my own, and finally going to culinary school for baking and pastry before I gradually came to the conclusion that nobody really wants us to learn to cook.  Sure, they want us to follow their recipes and then give them full credit when serving to a crowd–“These are She-She-Frou-Fee’s Brownies!” “Why,yes, isn’t it wonderful? It’s Monsieur Hoo Ha’s rack of yak.”

Here’s what I have come to understand over the years, and here’s what I want to share with you, dear readers.  And not just share it, I really want you to internalize it:  Recipes are Tyrannical.  I’ve written about it at great length on many occasions, but it’s impossible to say this too frequently:  a recipe isn’t the Word of God Writ Upon a Stone Tablet.  It’s just a list of ingredients married to a list of techniques.  The most important part is the techniques.  Where recipes fall down, and where I pick up, is in explaining that most of the techniques described are applicable to a wide range of dishes.  Yup, recipes tell us what to cook and how to cook the particular dish described in the recipe, but I walk you through the techniques, explain them in detail (some might say excruciating detail), and help you internalize the idea that once you’ve learned the techniques, you can apply them to many lists of ingredients.

Nutella cheesecake

Learn the Rules of Cheesecake, and this can be yours whenever you want it!

‘Member back up in the list at the top where I said I’d blindly follow my recipe?  Well, recipes tend to keep us in the dark and effectively blind by allowing us to assume that Recipe is Law and must be followed.  Blindly.  New cooks, especially, fall into this trap, and the myth is perpetuated by the majority of food magazines and cooking shows through omission.  It’s not that they are all telling you, “this is the only way to make Dish X.” It’s that they’re not telling you that it isn’t the only way to make Dish X.  So, we cook or bake with our lights out, relying on the road map of the recipe to lead us to our destination without really seeing where we’re going.  But, if I can show you that it’s the technique part of the recipe that’s the most important part, your lights will come on and you’ll be able to see your way to your destination before you even start cooking.  Glory, Hallelujah.

If the recipe rules start off “cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy,” I want you to know that the recipe is describing the creaming method.  I also want you to know how to perform the creaming method from start to finish without having to keep referring to your cookbook.  Furthermore, I’d like you to know that you can probably use the Two-Stage Method instead, if you’re feeling scrappy. I want you to be able to read through the technique portion of a complicated recipe for Gateau St. Honore and know that you’ll be rolling and folding in butter to make puff pastry, bringing some ingredients to a boil and then adding flour and beating in eggs to make pate a choux and making a starch-thickened custard (pastry cream) for the filling.  The rest is just assembly, a craft project.

I am absolutely passionate about this.  I share my knowledge freely, from how and why to do the Sneaky Egg Test to The Right Way to Whip Cream.  I try to answer all questions, even down to taking a look at the way folks find me in my Great Search Term Round Up posts.  Sometimes, I give out certificates, and sometimes I make videos.  I also try to knock the snobbery right out of cooking in as many ways as I can.

Can a Suc Puzzle Sugar

Want the low-down on what you need--and don't need--to be a better baker? I'm here to help.

Baking and cooking should be fun.  Unfortunately, most folks get stuck in “fearful,” leaving them unable to advance to “fun.”  If I can make you laugh while you’re learning, that might just be the spoonful of sugar you need.

My wee blog might won’t win any awards–yet–for Most Visited, but it is the Next Big Thing.  I’m not your typical food blogger.  I don’t take the most mouth-watering photographs.  I don’t even always rely on my own photos.  My goal isn’t necessarily to make you drool (although I give myself a Gold Star if I do), but to give you the confidence to go and make your own family and/or guests drool.  I don’t believe in secret recipes.  I believe in cooking and baking with real ingredients, and I enjoy Ridiculing fake food I hate Cool Whip with the burning passion of a thousand suns.  I believe in laughter.  I believe in knowledge. I believe in this blog.

If you believe in this blog, please vote for Pastry Methods and Techniques in Project Food Blog.  Take a look at my Contestant Profile.  You can also follow me on twitter, friend me on facebook and/or subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you know when my challenge posts are up.  Here are the challenges and the dates for voting:

  • Challenge #1:  Ready, Set, Blog!September 20-23
  • Challenge #2:  The Classics September 27-3
  • Challenge #3:  Discovery Dinner Party October 4-7
  • Challenge #4:  Picture Perfect October 11-14
  • Challenge #5:  Recipe Remix October 18-21
  • Challenge #6:  Road Trip!October 25-28
  • Challenge #7:  Video 411 November 8-11
  • Challenge #8:  Piece of Cake November 15-18
  • Challenge #9:  You’re the Critic November 28-December 2
  • Challenge #10:  The Final Post December 6-9

Thank you, friends.

In Honor of Butterscotch Pudding Day (September 19), I Give You: Homemade Butterscotch Pudding!

18 Sep

Yes, friends, you read it right.  Butterscotch pudding day is September 19.  I had a feeling you’d all want to celebrate, so my friend Jeff and I got together to make some really excellent butterscotch pudding.

“What’s so great about this particular pudding, Jen?” you ask skeptically.  Well, we start off by caramelizing some sugar.  It’s an extra step I take to deepen the flavors in the finished pudding. I do this because I love butterscotch pudding, and I love you guys.

Friend Jeff was not a fan of butterscotch pudding until he tried this, so give it a try!  And Happy Butterscotch Pudding Day to us all.

Because Pudding Waits for No One, PMAT Live! Mini Episode: Vanilla Pudding

10 Sep

I know it’s Friday night and I should be dancing, yeah.  But friend Jeff came over on Wednesday, and we had a Pudding Extravaganza.  The whole idea was to make a video to commemorate Butterscotch Pudding Day–September 19.  But when Jeff got here, he allowed as how he is not such a Fan of butterscotch pudding but that he Quite Enjoys a good vanilla pudding.  Being the accommodating girl that I am, I allowed as how I enjoy a good bowl of van myself and would be Delighted to teach him a quick and yummy version for an appetizer before the butterscotch main course.  He readily agreed, and thus we have a quickie episode of PMAT Live!

This is the very pudding that I make when I need a pudding snack, which is quite often.  And it takes about 7 minutes to make.  Make some; you’ll never go back to the box.

Of course, I’ll be sharing the butterscotch pudding video next week so you guys can get ready to celebrate, but for now please enjoy this PMAT Live! Mini all about the joys of vanilla pudding.

“And were you able to change friend Jeff’s mind about butterscotch pudding?” you all ask anxiously. Well, you’ll just have to tune in next week to find out. Mwah ha ha!

String Theory, Or Ropa Vieja

8 Sep
ropa vieja

So good I can't even tell you--you'll just have to make some yourself!

When I was in my Must-Get-Every-Niche-Cookbook-Known-to-Man phase, I acquired a wonderful little book called The Chili Cookbook, by Norman Kolpas.  Between its unpretentious soft covers, I discovered such gems as Day-After-Thanksgiving Chili, a chile-fied take on Cioppino and Ropa Vieja-Style Chili.  The Beloved and I made the latter a couple of times several years ago.  Maybe even as long ago as the Last Century.  Anyhow, it was a delight, and I’ve dreamed about revisiting ropa vieja ever since.

Ropa vieja is Spanish for old clothes and is named for its ragged, tattered appearance.  While it can be made with a combination of meats, it is most often made with beef flank steak.  In most preparations, to render flank steak–a very Stringy piece of meat–tender, we are told to cook it hot and fast and cut it against the grain.  In ropa vieja, however, the idea is to Capitalize upon the stringiness by cooking the flank steak low and slow and then shredding the meat up along the grain.  What you end up with is long muscle fibers that are chewy but not tough because they’ve been separated.  Plus, it has a really beefy flavor. Plus one, it looks really cool.

Most ropa vieja recipes are tomato-based.  Some call for potatoes and chickpeas.  That sounds great to me–I am a Fan of both of those guys.  But Monday night, due to Lack of Planning and a general sense of Malaise, I had to use what was already in the house–a pantry ropa vieja.  We had purchased some happy grass-fed flank steak from Rare Earth Farms a couple of weeks ago, so that was our base.  I remembered the general idea for the ropa vieja style chili, but didn’t bother to look at the book because it was Up–16 steps Up–and I was already fighting malaise.  At any rate, this is what I came up with.  And it was G.U.D. Good.  And it was even better last night.  It’ll probably be even better tonight, and for that I am thankful.

Pantry Ropa Vieja

  • 1 pound flank steak
  • juice of two juicy limes, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons of your favorite chili powder blend (I used Penzey’s Chili 3000, which should be read with reverb)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • handful of dried chiles of your choice (I used 3ea Guajillo, California and
    Japonés all packaged by the lovely folks at Badia)
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • water or veggie, chicken or beef stock (amount will vary:  see Rules)
  • 1 Tablespoon canola (or other neutral) oil
  • 1 very large sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 can Ro-Tel “Chili Fixin’s” (mock not the Ro-Tel)
  • 4 oz malty dark-ish beer, such as Negro Modelo
  • a little sugar, if necessary

The Rules
I admit, these rules are a bit fussy.  If you don’t feel like messing around with a bunch of different techniques and appliances and What Not, you are welcome to throw everyone in the slow cooker, turn it to low, and walk away for hours and hours.

Take the flank steak out of the fridge, squirt the juice from half a lime over each side of the meat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and then evenly apply about a tablespoon of Your Preferred Chili Powder to each side.  Cover and let sit out for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat comes up to cool room temperature.

Rip the stem ends off of all the dried chiles and scrunch the chiles around to get most of the seeds out.  Rip them into three or four pieces each and toss them into a large heavy-bottomed skillet.  I used my 12″ cast iron skillet from the Lodge People.

Turn the heat to medium and toast & stir the peppers until they deepen in color a bit and are fragrant.  During the last 30 seconds or so, add the tablespoon of cumin and keep stirring to prevent burning.  Powdered spices burn Quickly, so be vigilant.  As soon as you can smell the chiles and cumin, pour in enough water/stock to coat the bottom of the pan and keep things from burning.

Push all the peppers to the sides of the pan, and place an 8″-10″ flat rack in the pan.  I used a round cake cooling rack.  Add enough extra water or stock to come just below the rack surface.

Place the flank steak on the rack, cover the pan (you can use a lid, some foil or even just put a cookie sheet over the top).  Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium to medium-low and let the meat steam until cooked through and relatively easy to pull apart with two forks, about an hour. Add water/stock as necessary to keep the pan from boiling dry and burning all your peppers.  Once the meat has cooled off a bit, have someone thoroughly shred it by pulling apart with two forks or any other likely looking implements.  Set the meat aside.

In the meantime, heat a bit of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven and cook down the onion and peppers along with a little salt and pepper over medium-low heat until golden brown and beautiful.  Once the vegetables are done and have given up all their liquid, pour in the can of Ro-Tel and let everything cook down together for another ten minutes or so.  When the mixture is almost dry, pour in the beer and cook for just a couple of minutes.

After the meat is thoroughly cooked, remove it to a plate to cool off a bit.  Carefully pour the cooking liquid, peppers and all into a blender.  Put the lid on but leave it ajar, and cover the lid with a towel–blending hot liquids is a bit Hazardous, so be careful and make sure the liquid doesn’t fill the blender jar more than halfway.  Blend the chiles and water/stock until you have a smooth, thick sauce.

Add your beautiful chile sauce to the Dutch oven and stir to combine.  Stir in the reserved stringy-but-tasty meat, cover and cook over medium-low heat for about half an hour.   Taste and adjust seasonings.  Mine needed the juice of another lime and more salt.  Stop adding when you like how it tastes.

Serve over your Rice of Choice.  Refrigerate the leftovers, because it will taste twice as good the next day.

Yes, it sounds like a lot of bother, but I went over and visited the chickens for a half an hour during the Steaming of the Meat.  I just turned the heat down to low and Went Away.  I think from beginning to eating took about 2 hours or so.  Not bad for a dish that tastes like it was cooked all day.

I really do hope you try this–it was wonderful, and The Beloved and I are quite looking forward to devouring the last of the leftovers tonight.

ropa vieja

In the fridge, the flavors have a chance to meld and mellow and deepen. Whatever you do, don't eat it all on the first night.

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