Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches

If cookies aren't quite what you want for dessert, and if a bowl of ice cream is too much, why not make ice cream sandwiches?

Recently, I made Banana Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies, and I also had home made Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream in the freezer. They were a perfect match and together they made a nice small dessert. Just enough sweetness to be satisfying after a meal, and since they're into individual servings, they've got instant portion control.

And since they're a little fancier than a plate of cookies or a scoop of ice cream, they'd make a nice dessert for guests as well. Maybe roll the edges of the ice cream in some chopped nuts or colored sprinkles, if you want a little extra garnish.

You can make them right before serving, or make them ahead and freeze them. The cookies are pretty solid right out of the freezer, but they soften up pretty quickly. Just take them out of the freezer a minute or two before serving.

It's a darned simple idea, but not one that I think of that often, even when I have both items on hand. And if you made extra cookies and don't want them sitting around, why not make ice cream cookie sandwiches, wrap 'em, freeze 'em, and when you have guests you can bring out a quick little home made snack with no effort at all.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Adventures with a Bread Machine, Part I

I've been baking bread for more years than I want to admit. I've kneaded with a food processor, with my hands, and with a stand mixer. But the one thing I've never used is a bread machine.

I figured it was time to right that wrong. If I'm going to be writing all these bread recipes, I think I should have at least some knowledge of how a bread machine works, so I borrowed a friend's machine and today I decided to give it a try.

Unfortunately, she didn't have the manual, so I looked up directions online and found some recipes that were designed for the machine.

This machine is pretty simple, with settings for light, medium, and dark crust, and a manual mode that kneads the dough but doesn't bake the bread. Newer and fancier machines have settings for different types of breads, but I figured that a basic machine would be a good place to start.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Banana Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

This is a slightly healthier version of a previous pumpkin/banana cookie recipe. Oatmeal adds good fiber, and while the nuts add some fat, they also add protein to these cookies.

When you're making cookies, a small disher (like a mini ice cream scoop) is perfect for portioning and shaping cookies with a lot less fuss. A larger disher is great for portioning batter for muffins and cupcakes.

Parchment paper is a baker’s best friend. Cookies won’t stick, you won’t ever need to grease your cookie sheets, and cleanup is a lot easier.

Freshly ground nutmeg is much stronger than pre-ground nutmeg that you buy at the grocery store, and the whole nutmegs stay fresh practically forever. You can buy a nutmeg grater or just use a fine Microplane grater to grate the nutmeg. If you use pre-ground nutmeg, you can use up to 1/4 teaspoon. If you're using fresh ground, then just a few swipes on the Microplane grater is plenty.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash and I have a long and sordid history. I first discovered it when I first left the parental nest and struck out on my own. Spaghetti squash was being touted as a great alternative to spaghetti, and I fell for that line. So I tried to serve it the same way I served spaghetti - with spaghetti sauce.

It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't all that good, either. It wasn't real spaghetti, and it wasn't a good use of the vegetable. So, for a long time, I ignored it.

When I rediscovered spaghetti squash, I looked at it a whole different way. I stopped thinking of it as a pasta alternative and started treating it like a vegetable. That doesn't mean I don't use sauces when they're appropriate. But they're sauces that complement the squash.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bread Math: Baker's Percentages

The first time I saw baker's percentages in a book, I thought the writer had gone mad. C'mon now, how can anything possibly add up to more than 100 percent? It just doesn't make sense. I thought there must have been some strange mistake in the writing and proofreading, and I moved on, blithely unaware that I had just seen the seekrit spy code for breadmakers.

Okay, maybe it's not that secret, but it's something that tends to boggle the ordinary person who was awake enough in math class to realize that if the pie chart is full, that's 100 percent, and if you've got more, then you need another pie pan.

If you abandon that pie chart and look at it through the bread baker's eyes, it makes a little more sense. Outside the bread-making world, percentages indicate what part of the whole a particular component makes up, while a bakers' percentage is about how various other ingredients relate to the weight of the flour in a recipe.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BOTD: Caterpillar Bread

If you're going to put a creepy, crawly critter on the dining room table for Halloween, why not make it delicious?

Making bread in the form of a caterpillar like this one is not only cute and clever, it's also practical. The body segments are perfect rolls, and the legs are bread sticks.

There's no need for cutting - segments separate neatly with just a little tug. This would be great for a party or just for a fun dinner with the family.

If you're a bread baker, feel free to use this design with your own favorite bread recipe.

If you're not a bread baker and you like the idea, you can use frozen bread dough, a bread mix, or any other easy and convenient bread dough.

If you're serving a lot of people and you're going to be making multiple caterpillars, consider making different types of bread, and alternating them for an interesting color contrast in the body.

I like to use a fairly firm dough for bread sculptures; they behave better than wetter doughs that are more likely to spread or rise unpredictably.

If you don't have your own favorite dough but you want to make something completely from scratch, give this recipe a try. It's simple and it works well for sculpted loaves. And it tastes good, too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

BOTD: Sandwich Rolls

Apparently, I'm on a sandwich kick. First, it was the Cuban sandwiches, and now it's steak sandwiches.

I grilled a flank steak yesterday, and decided to make sandwiches today from the leftovers. Thin-sliced flank steak, briefly reheated with a shot of Worcestershire sauce and some sliced piquillo peppers went onto the home-made buns, and I topped that with a cheese sauce.

As for the buns, I'm all for a crusty loaf of bread, but sometimes a soft roll makes more sense for a sandwich.

These buns were sturdy enough for my steak sandwiches and would be just as good for a sub sandwich (or depending one where you live, a grinder or a hoagie.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

When I read a post on Serious Eats about a seasonal flavor of Jello Instant Pudding, I knew I had to use it to make my quick and easy ice cream. Although I'm a big fan of making things completely from scratch, I've been known to cheat once in a while. Using pudding mix to make an ice cream base is one of those cheats. It easy and foolproof.

And Pumpkin Pie flavor sounded like a great idea for ice cream. The review on Serious Eats said that the flavor was better as a mousse than a pudding, so I figured that it would be even better in ice cream, where the flavors would be even more subtle.

Don't get me wrong - I like pumpkin pie. But I don't like a lot of it. A couple bites is fine, but I prefer it when the flavor is muted a bit. Pumpkin cheesecake, for example. Or pumpkin mousse. This ice cream is like that.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Using a Scale

If you're serious about baking bread, a scale is a worthwhile investment. The problem with measuring flour by volume is that it's amazingly inaccurate. A cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 4-6 ounces depending on how you fluff it or pack it, and even the experts disagree on how much a cup of flour is supposed to weigh.

If the recipe you're using gives a weight for the flour and you weigh your flour, there's no way you can go wrong - as long as you weigh correctly. If the recipe gives weights for the rest of the ingredients, you'll end up with fewer dishes to wash, and that's always a good thing.

To use a scale correctly, you need to understand the tare function. My first experience of how to mess up with an electronic scale was years ago when my job was to buy material from manufacturers by weight. One of my suppliers told me that we didn't pay him enough - his weights were different than ours. I asked his material handler to show me how he weighed the material. He got on the fork lift, picked up the box of material, drove onto the scale and wrote down the weight on a ledger. I said, fine, I'll pay your weight, but you've got to give me the forklift, the box, and the employee. The moral of the story: if you use the scale wrong, you can be very very wrong.

In short, the tare weight is the weight of everything you don't want to weigh. In cooking, that's usually the weight of the bowl, but it can also be the weight of all the ingredients you've added before. All without doing any pesky math.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Vegetable Tart

Once again, I let myself get inspired by one of the recipes on the menu for the contest going on at Kitchen Play.

The deal is that Kitchen Play posts a menu each month, and each of the six menu items has already been prepared by bloggers who post the recipes and prep instructions on their sites. Everyone else is invited to make one or more of the recipes, blog about it, and post links hither and yon.

You're supposed to be inspired by the recipes rather than trying to create them as close to the original as possible, which is pretty cool. This time, I went pretty far from the original, a stacked grilled salad. Mine is a side dish instead of a salad. It's a vegetable tart.

Actually, it would make a nice lunch item, too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

BOTD: Cuban Sandwiches (with Bread!)

One of the key components of a real Cuban sandwich is the right kind of bread. Yesterday, I went with sliced sourdough, which was good, but not quite right. Not enough crust and a little too ... well, sourdough-ish.

I don't know if I've ever had real Cuban bread, but I've had Cuban sandwiches in Chicago and Miami. And I've read a lot about what it's supposed to be like.

Unfortunately, descriptions of what the bread is supposed to be varies depending on who is describing it.

It also depends on if they're talking about making the bread or buying it. Once source said French bread was a good substitute, but baguettes are completely wrong.

I've also read recipes that said the dough was soft and other that said the dough was fairly stiff. Instructions, rising times, and type of flour were all over the map.

The only consistent thing was that the recipes were all very inconsistent.

On the other hand, most of the recipes include some form of fat. Usually a solid fat. Often lard.

Oh, and the other consistent thing was that for each recipe, there were people who claimed the bread was exactly right.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Almost Cuban Sandwiches

I love Cubans sandwiches, and I usually go all the way, making the bread specifically for the sandwiches and making sure I have all the right ingredients on hand.

This time, the sandwiches weren't that well planned. I had a chunk of ham and a chunk of pork roast in the freezer - leftovers from other meals - and I decided to use that for sandwiches. Perfect, so far.

But I decided not to make the bread. I had a nice loaf of sourdough, and I used that instead. I didn't have Swiss cheese, but I did have another white melty cheese on hand, and I figured that would work almost as well.

These weren't real Cuban sandwiches by any stretch of the imagination, but they were still good. Better than your average throw-random-stuff-on-bread sandwich.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BOTD: Easy(er) Croissants

There may not be such a thing as easy croissants, but I guarantee these are easier than any of the more traditional recipes. The first time I made croissants, it was quite a production as I read the instructions, measured the dough exactly, and folded different ways at different stages.

And of course, the dough had to be refrigerated in between the different rolling and folding stages. Those resting stages in between meant that I had to work on this on a day I'd be around to work on the dough at intervals throughout the process. The resulting croissants were good, but it was definitely a recipe for special occasions or for days when I had nothing else to do.

After a few batches of croissants with different recipes, the process got a little easier, and I got a little sloppier with the measuring. Seriously, the croissants are not going to fail if you roll the dough a half-inch longer or shorter than the recipe demands.

Then, this brainstorm came along. Why not make the method easier? The important thing is the flaky, buttery layers, and that doesn't require military precision or strange folding rituals. This dough recipe is a cross between pie dough, sweet flaky pastry dough, and traditional croissant dough, and easy enough to make just about any time you want it.

If you've always wanted to make croissants but the idea has intimidated you, give these a try. They're just as buttery and flavorful, with beautiful layers, a shattery crust, and tender insides. What more could you want?

Okay, how about this? We all know that croissants are best the day they're made. You can make this recipe up to the point where the dough is folded and refrigerated, then bake it over the next few days, as you need it, and some folks think they're even better after a day's rest.

The recipe makes 16 small croissants, so the serving size is reasonable.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pretty in Pink: A Plummy Drink

I got a little bored over the weekend and decided to look at some more of the menu items for the contest going on at Kitchen Play.

The deal is that Kitchen Play posts a menu each month, and each of the six menu items has already been prepared by bloggers who post the recipes and prep instructions on their sites. Everyone else is invited to make one or more of the recipes, blog about it, and post links hither and yon.

After I got clarification that you're supposed to be inspired by the recipes rather than trying to create them as close to the original as possible, I liked the contest idea a lot better. I'm not into the idea of making food just for a photo or a contest; I want to make something I really want to eat (or in this case, drink). I want it to be something I know I'm going to enjoy.

And of course, when I'm trying to use already-in-stock pantry and produce items, it's nice to be able to make the changes to recipes and still get in on the contest fun.

Speaking of contests, the prizes for this month's contest are from Sur la Table and include V-Slicers and a Le Creuset French Oven. Not exactly a complete kitchen makeover, but those are nice prizes. Definitely worth giving it a shot, and to be honest, I appreciated the inspiration to do something I hadn't planned on.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Chocolate Cake

Although I don't need to eat gluten-free foods, I know quite a few people who do, So once in a while I'll try out a gluten-free product. I reviewed King Arthur's gluten-free brownie mix a while back and I was impressed with it, so I had high hopes for this cake.

The mix requires eggs, oil, water, and vanilla. I thought the vanilla was a curious addition, since most mixes don't require it.

The instructions require the eggs to be added one at a time, and the water to be added in batches, beating in between each addition. It's not difficult, but it's different from normal cake mixes where you dump it all in and mix a lot less.

The mix is supposed to make two layers, but I decided to make a bundt cake instead. I'm not a big fan of frosting, and I've got plenty of pretty bundt pans.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Squash and Apple Soup

No doubt about it, soup weather is here. This time squash was the major player, and apples played a supporting role. Yes, apples.

I used one acorn squash and one other winter squash - a yellow and orange striped on that was fatter than a delicata. I'm not sure what variety it was, but for this soup, any winter squash you like will work.

Squash and Apple Soup

2 medium winter squash
2 tablespoons butter
4 medium apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
salt, white pepper, and sage, to taste
milk, about 1 cup to start; more as desired

Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees until soft, about an hour, depending on the squash you use.

When the squash is done cooking, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Melt the butter in a large heavy bottomed pot. Add the apples, onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring as needed until the onions are soft.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out and add it to the pot. Add enough water to cover the vegetables and puree with a stick blender until it is smooth. (You can also puree this in a blender or food processor, but  a stick blender is easier and a lot less messy. If you do use a blender, use proper precautions.)

Add milk to reach the consistency you prefer. I like a thicker soup. Add salt, pepper, and sage, to taste. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Look What I Found at the Farmer's Market" Soup

Cool weather makes me think of soup as a starter instead of relying on the usual summer salad. Soups can be hearty and filling, but when they're vegetable-based, they don't carry a calorie load. I'm not going so far as calling this diet food, but it's a lot lighter than a bowl of chili.

My farmer's market haul included onions, carrots, potatoes, corn, and cauliflower. Not a traditional soup, maybe, but they worked well together. The curry powder added a bit of interest, as well.

I've given the amount of vegetables I used for this soup, but you can certainly adjust it any way you want. Mine was heavy on the cauliflower because I had a lot, and I like it. Broccoli would be good - and a different color.

The curry powder was a spur of the moment decision. I was considering dill, but changed my mind while I was chopping vegetables. That's the great thing about soup. It's infinitely adjustable.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Frost Warning and Broken Rice

There was a frost warning yesterday, and I took the precaution of picking the last of the tomatoes and green peppers and moving the potted vegetables (more peppers, along with some herbs) into the garage to wait out the cold.

And every time I do this - every time I'm picking the green tomatoes off the vine with that crisp fall chill in the air - I think of my father. He was the gardener in the family.

My mother liked the results of the garden, but she wasn't enamored with the labor involved. She was unceremoniously booted from garden duties the year she "accidentally" pulled all the seedlings and left the weeds in the row she was working on. There's not much doubt in my mind about whether that was an accident or not.

So the garden was mostly left to my dad and me. Because I was little, agile, and lightweight, I was the perfect helper since I could walk on the old boards placed between the rows to do the planting and weeding and picking, and I didn't fall off the board or compact the dirt very much.

All summer dad and I watered, weeded, and harvested. Some of the harvest was eaten right there in the middle of the garden. There's nothing better than a home-grown tomato, fresh picked and still warm from the sun. If I was feeling fancy, I'd bring the salt shaker with me.

When fall came, the weather watch began. Dad would check the temperatures, playing chicken with frost warnings and waiting until the last possible moment to pick the last of the tomatoes.

It was always the tomatoes.

And it was always dark.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Braised Cabbage with Mushrooms and Tomatoes

If you don't like cabbage, you might as well leave now. This is all about cabbage.

My mother made a version of this dish when I was a kid, and she called it Polish Cabbage. Which was a little odd. She made other Polish dishes, but she called them by their Polish names. But this one was Polish Cabbage. I suspect it was her version of Bigos, but maybe she changed the name because she knew it was pretty far from the original

Meanwhile. I've adapted it even more in this recipe, with the addition of mushrooms. It's not a far-fetched addition. A lot of Polish recipes use mushrooms.

My mother's recipe usually had a small amount of pork in it, but lately I've been making it meatless. I think it's just as good.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

BOTD: Seedy Whole Wheat Bread

I'm all for eating healthy food, but it also has to taste good. There's no way I'm going to gnaw my way through a pile of hay just because fiber is good for me. And, truthfully, I like the glorious fluffy crusty white breads that I make.

Morning toast should not feel like penance, and of all the whole wheat breads I've made, this may be my favorite. It might be the inclusion of sesame seeds that tips the balance, but the bread itself has a nice texture - soft but not gummy or crumbly, with enough body to make it feel substantial. It has a pleasant wheaty flavor with none of the bitterness that sometimes creeps into baked goods made from whole wheat.

The downside of this bread is that it needs to be planned in advance, since the whole wheat flour gets an overnight soak in water, but there's little work involved in that.

The whole wheat flour I used weighed a bit less than bread flour per cup, probably because of the fluffy bran. I measured it by stirring the flour then spooning it into the cup and leveling it off. By that method it weighed 4 1/4 ounces per cup.

Whole wheat flour absorbs a lot more water than white flour, and whole wheat flours are not as consistent as bread or all purpose flours, so you might need to adjust the amount of flour or water in the final dough to compensate.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Apple Crostata with Cinnamon Pastry

The weather was telling me to bake a fall (ish) dessert, and there were apples from the farmer' market on the counter. I decided to make a crostata, since the free-form shape lends itself to adjusting the finished size of the pastry to the amount of filling. I had small apples, only about 1/4 pound each. Three were Jonathans, and three were ... something else. I don't really know what they were.

I decided to add cinnamon to the pastry instead of putting it into the apple mixture. It turned the crust an interesting color. I'm a bit undecided as to whether I like the color, but the flavor was good, and I like the clean taste of apples without cinnamon. Having it in the pastry makes it more of a garnish to the apples rather than the main flavor punch

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Barefoot Contessa Cupcakes (at high altitude)

I don't normally cook from mixes, but sometimes they're worth testing. In this case it was a Barefoot Contessa mix for chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting.

There were no special instructions for high altitude, so I proceeded with the directions that were there. It was easy enough. Cream some butter with some of the mix, add two eggs, water, the rest of the mix...the usual.

The mix was supposed to make 12 cupcakes, but to me it looked like too much batter for just 12.

At high altitude, cakes tend to rise too much and they don't set well, so I figured I'd be best off if I made a few extra cupcakes. I made 14.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gadgets: Cupcake Papers Without a Pan

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like no matter what cupcake or muffin recipe I make, it never makes the right number of cupcakes to fit in the muffin pan. Being at high altitude makes it even worse, but even when I lived at sea level, the numbers seldom worked out right.

When I found cupcake liners that claimed to be able to hold up to baking without a pan, I was skeptical. But that didn't stop me. I gave them a try.

They come in several sizes, colors, and configurations. Here's the package for one of the sizes:


Amazingly, these hold up pretty darned well. Of course you can mangle and flatten them, but if you fill them without mashing them, they keep their shape, even when the batter misbehaves. Here's a case in point. The cupcake batter over-rose and didn't set (a common problem here at high altitude) and it dribbled over the side of the cup. The cupcake isn't pretty, but the paper held up well.


Another benefit of these extra-sturdy papers is that they peel off well. I've had cupcakes and muffins where the papers have torn when trying to remove them. No such problem here.

The papers are more expensive than standard cupcake papers, but they're not the standard flimsy papers. It's an interesting product.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spaghetti with Sausage

This was a quick supper with what was on hand. I bought the ground tomatoes at an Italian market. If you don't have those, tomato puree is probably the closest match.

3 links of Italian sausage, slices into chunks
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced fine
Salt, to taste
Anise seed, to taste
Oregano, to taste
1 large can (28 ounces) of ground tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 pound spaghetti (or noodles of your choice)

Drizzle a little olive oil into a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven and begin browning the sausage on medium heat. Add the onions, green pepper, garlic, and herbs. Stir to combine and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring as needed. Add the tomatoes and wine, and lower the heat to simmer.

Taste to adjust seasonings, and simmer until the vegetable and meat are cooked though. Longer cooking is fine if you have the time, but this can be served as soon as the meat is fully cooked.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is barely al dente, then add it it to the sauce to finish cooking.

Serve. Eat. Yum.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Shrimp, Mango, and Guacamole Bites

Apparently I've become addicted to little cooking contests, so when I ran across one at a site called Kitchen Play, I had to give it a whirl. The deal is that Kitchen Play posts a menu each month, and each of the six menu items has already been prepared by bloggers who post the recipes and prep instructions on their sites. Everyone else is invited to make one or more of the recipes, blog about it, and post links hither and yon.

Prizes for this month's contest are from Sur la Table and include V-Slicers and a Le Creuset French Oven. Not exactly a complete kitchen makeover, but those are nice prizes. So it seemed worth buying a few ingredients I hadn't planned on.

I decided to go with the Shrimp, Mango and Guacamole Bites recipe that was posted on Kitchen Runway.

For a "bite" it's a long recipe, with three separate parts before you assemble. First is the shrimp which has to be marinated and then grilled. Mango has to be peeled, slices cut off, and grilled. And then there's guacamole. Then the whole thing is assembled on a tortilla chip to make the bite. None of it is very complicated, though, and it can be done ahead of time. Shrimp is just as good warm, room temperature, or cold, so you can make all the components ahead and do the assembly at the last minute.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

BOTD: Sourdough Spider

In preparation for Halloween, I decided that a shaped bread would be a good project. I made this one from sourdough since I had some bubbling on the counter waiting to be used. But any not-too-soft bread recipe would be fine.

If you don't have spare sourdough starter lurking around, use your favorite bread recipe, or try this basic bread here or this semolina loaf.

You need a somewhat firm and nicely elastic dough for a shaped bread. If not, they can rise unpredictably, particularly during baking. And even with the right dough, shaped loaves can do some interesting things in the oven. Which is why I start early on these projects, so I can work out the bugs.

For the sourdough, I took about a cup of starter, added about 3/4 cup of water, 1 teaspoon salt, and enough flour to make a workable dough. Kneaded until it was elastic, then set it aside to rise in an oiled bowl until it doubled. It took a couple hours.

The oven was already set for 350 degrees, so I left it there.

I kneaded the dough, then cut it in half. One half was the body shape. In theory, this could be two balls of dough, but then you're risking that they're going to separate or move in strange ways. I formed an oval-ish ball, then made the "waist" to divide it at about the 1/3 point.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BOTD: Fresh Corn Yeast Bread

Ah, fall. The squirrel-like part of my personality wants to pack away foods for winter. That's great when I'm canning tomatoes or pickling peppers or freezing vegetables, but it's not great when I overbuy and don't get around to using things as soon as I should.

In this case, my nemesis was fresh corn. I know that corn season is just about over, and it's going to be a long time before I see any more of those super-sweet fresh summer ears. So I bought more than I needed.

Of all vegetables, corn starts getting old faster than almost anything else. Picked fresh and cooked soon, and it's amazingly good. Left in the fridge for a few days, it's just okay. Another day or two, and it's time to get creative.

I cut the corn off the cob then "milked" the cobs to get all the juice, and sat back and pondered my choices. It had to be something where the flavor would shine, but where utter freshness wasn't required. I started looking at my blender...that might be the first step. That would take care of the texture problems that exists with corn that's a bit over the hill.

And of course I decided to make bread. Of course.

What, you expected me to make soup or something? Maybe tomorrow. I've got more corn. This only used up 1 1/2 cups of it. Yes, I had quite few ears.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gadgets: Kuhn Rikon Corn Zipper

About this time two years ago, I bought a couple of large burlap bags full of corn from a local farmer. It was a great deal. I figured I'd cut it off the cob and freeze it.

About halfway through the project I questioned my sanity. I'm good with a knife, but cutting corn kernels off of that many cobs was an annoying and messy job. A few cobs, it's not that bad, but that huge pile of corn ... not that much fun.

After that little adventure, I started looking around for a better way, and I found quite a number of "corn zipper" tools. Yes, it seems a bit silly to buy a tool just for cutting corn off of a cob, but I figure that it's not much sillier than buying a peeler to peel vegetables. I can use a knife to peel potatoes, but a peeler's really handy for carrots.

In the same way, I could use a knife to remove kernels from corn, but if there's a tool that does it better, I have no problem with using that tool.

Finding the right one, though, was a challenge. I bought a few over the past two years that seemed like they'd do a great job, but they fell short. Finally, I found one that's small, simple, and it simply works. It cut the kernels smoothly and because of the way its designed, it's easy to cut at the proper depth.

Here's a look at the blade sections:


The cute design of this zipper almost dissuaded me from buying it, because it doesn't seem as serious than some of the zippers that are all stainless.


But it's comfortable to hold, and the rough corn-kernel texture is more than just design - the texture makes it a little grippier than if the handle was slick stainless steel. So in this case cute is also functional, and it only costs about $12. Not a bad deal if it's going to get me though that next couple bushels of corn.

And here's one last tip. If you're cutting a lot of corn, the best thing I've found to contain it while you're cutting is a half-sheet pan. It's better than a flat cutting board, and less annoying to work inside of than a bowl where you can't lay the corn cobs down. Give it a try.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dinner Out: East Moon Asian Bistro

To celebrate my birthday a while back, my inlaws took us to one of their favorite restaurants in Longmont, East Moon II Asian Bistro.

My father-in-law was particularly enamored with the decor at East Moon. It's much more bistro than Asian, except, of course, for the sushi bar. The vibe is clean and modern with some quirky artwork. The decor comment from my father-in-law was more about what was missing than what was there - he's used to Chinese restaurant with a lot of red and black and gold, with dragons here and there.

Me, I like the occasional dragon, but I was there for the food.

I started with salmon sashimi, but forgot to take photos of it. Oh well. It was good.

Everyone got a salad that had a peanut-flavored dressing. Not a lot of peanut, just a light amount in a sweet-ish dressing that reminded me of red French dressing. My father-in-law asked me if I could recreate it. I said I could. He usually eats his salad dry, but he liked this one, so I'll figure it out for him.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Shrimp with Egg Yolk Sauce

So we've cracked the code on the secret egg yolk sauce recipe served at some teppanyaki restaurants, but what the heck do you do with it?

This is easy, too.

Shrimp with Egg Yolk Sauce

Large uncooked shrimp, shells removed, cleaned, de-veined, and butterflied
Egg yolk sauce (recipe here)
Wine (I used a Chinese cooking rice wine)
Oil, for cooking.

Heat an appropriately sized stainless steel frying pan on medium heat (you'll need a lid, so make sure you've got one to fit the pan) and add a small amount of oil. Heat until the oil is shimmering, but not smoking.

Add the shrimp, and the carefully place a small blob of the egg yolk sauce on top of each shrimp.

You need to move quickly, so it's better to make this in smaller amounts than to try to make twenty of them at once unless you're really nimble. Shrimp cook quickly, and you don't want to overcook the first ones while you're still setting the last ones in the pan.

Also, it's easier to deal with larger shrimp than with smaller ones, both in the butterflying and the egg-dolloping. And since larger shrimp take a little longer to cook, you've got a bit more time to get the sauce on and slam the lid on to cook the tops and the sauce before the bottoms go rubbery.

The shrimp I had were inexplicably mixed sizes. The larger ones behaved much better in butterflying and cooking, and some of the smaller ones curled a bit more than I would have liked if this was a more formal meal. No matter. They tasted fine. Buy large shrimp, and they'll be a lot prettier.

When all the shrimp have been egged, splash some wine in the pan (you're looking to generate steam) and cover the pan. Cook another minute or so, until the shrimp are cooked through.

Remove the shrimp from the pan and serve immediately.

This sauce would also be good on vegetables and would probably make an old shoe taste good, too. Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger. Save it for special occasions if you're worried about the calories.

Annatto Oil

Annatto oil is handy to have around. Not only does it add a beautiful yellow color - or orange, if you add enough - but it also adds warm, rich flavor to your dishes. Annatto is the secret ingredient in this egg yolk sauce.

Annatto seeds can be found at spice markets, ethnic markets, and in the Mexican foods section of some grocery stores.

It might also be called achiote, but be careful because there are also spice mixes called achiote. You want the whole seeds rather than a spice mix or ground seeds.

Egg Yolk Sauce (Teppanyaki Style)

Here's some shrimp snuggled under the sauce.
If you've ever been to a teppanyaki-style restaurant (those Japanese steak houses where food is cooked right in front of you), you might have had what they refer to as "egg yolk sauce" or "golden egg yolk sauce."

I first had this strange sauce at a restaurant called Kampai in Mt. Prospect, Illinios, and I believe it also was served at the Benihana restaurants at one time. It may have migrated to or from other restaurants, but those are the two I'm familiar with.

At Kampai, the sauce was served on a shrimp appetizer and on a lobster entree, and every time I ordered it, I asked about the ingredients or I asked about technique. At first, I was convinced that it was a cheese sauce, but I was told over and over that there was no cheese - no dairy at all.

The most common answer I got to my many queries was that it was just egg yolks and oil. Okay, basically a mayonnaise. But it was orange and somewhat solid before it went onto the food. That's not your basic mayo.

Since they weren't willing to divulge the while recipe, I'd ask small, specific questions. Sometimes I'd ask about the eggs, and sometimes it would be about the oil. Are they chicken eggs? Are they treated some special way? What kind of oil is it? What makes it orange?

The answers were always vague. Regular chicken eggs, regular oil.

When I went searching online for the recipe, I saw a lot of people looking for it, and there were no good answers. There were a few people who'd experimented with the recipe and more than a few strange suggestions. I tried most of them, with varying degrees of success and a lot of eggs sacrificed. Scrambled eggs on top of shrimp isn't all that good. Over time, although I was getting closer to my goal, it was never right. For one thing, the orange color eluded me.

I recently decided to give it another try, and as I was assembling the ingredients, inspiration struck. The heavens opened up, a great light shone down, puzzle pieces shifted, and suddenly the whole recipe made perfect sense. I had cracked the code, found the grail, and solved the mystery of the Sphinx. This was it. This was the Egg Yolk Sauce I'd been looking for.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Guacamole, Rick Bayless Style

I never thought I'd make guacamole from a recipe. I mean, why bother? I know what I like in my guacamole, and most of the time, I like it fairly plain - and sometimes completely austere. Onions, a squeeze of lime, cilantro, and a bit of salt, and I'm happy.

But fate let me to this recipe. I happened to have exactly enough leftover bacon to make it, I had all the other ingredients at hand, and chicken mole was on the menu. And I brought tortilla chips home from the farmer's market. How could I not try it?

This recipe makes enough guacamole for a crowd, but it's fairly easy to cut down to size. Chipotle peppers are easy to find at the grocery store. They come in cans, and a little goes a long way. Most recipes only need a pepper or two, but once you've tried them you'll find other uses. They'll last a while in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them for later use.

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