Monday, January 31, 2011

Alton Brown's 4-Minute Peanut Butter Fudge

I'm a huuuuuuge Alton Brown fan, so when I found out that he had a new cookbook out, I had to get my paws on it. Good Eats 2: The Middle Years now sits nicely on the shelf right next to Good Eats: The Early Years.

Just like the first book, The Middle Years is all about the recipes from the TV series, but unlike the downloadable recipes on the Food Network site, there are tidbits about the shows, and a good sprinkling of the science and the detailed explanations of how and why things work. And there's a good bit of humor, too. When you least expect it, he tosses in a quick little one-liner, then goes back to business. Just like the show.

With any new cookbook, the tough decision is what to make first. Should it be something complicated, or should it be something simple? Savory or sweet? Something I'm familiar with or something completely new?

In the end, I settled for something simple and sweet. After all, Valentine's Day is just around to corner, so sweets are very appropriate.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Braised Endive with Citrus and Honey

Okay, I lied. I said I was done with the January Kitchen Play contest entries when I posted the Endive Tuna Boats, but making those boats left me with the inner portion of the endive. I was going to toss them into salad when I realized that there was one contest recipe that used just the endive hearts. So I had to give that one a try.

If you hadn't guessed, the contest is sponsored by Endive.com. And the recipe I decided to riff off of was the amuse bouche portion of the meal, found here. It was a citrus-braised endive with pancetta. But as a last-minute recipe, I didn't have any pancetta laying around. No bacon, either. Not even a sliver of fatty ham.

So I pared the recipe down to its basics, and then swapped the fresh citrus for some yuzu juice. I bought the yuzu juice a while back, but was waiting for an interesting opportunity to use it. Now seemed to be a good time, since I didn't have any fresh citrus, either. I guess I should think about stocking up on a few things.

But hey, if you don't happen to have any yuzu juice just hanging around, use a more domestic citrus.

If you've made the Endive Tuna Boats I posted before, you probably have the hearts left. Or, if you're starting with brand new endive, peel away the outer leaves to get to the smaller, more white leaves that are tightly held together. You can use the outer leaves in salad, if you care to. Or maybe serve your braised hearts in the outer leaves. That would be pretty.

Braised Endive with Citrus and Honey

Endive hearts
Olive oil
Yuzu (or other citrus) juice
Honey

In a deep skillet heat some salted water to boiling and add the endive hearts. Cook for about 3 minutes, until they are tender but not falling apart. If the water isn't deep enough to cover, turn the endive as the cook, so they'll cook on all sides.

Remove the endive from the pan and dump the water. Dry the pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Heat the pan on medium.

Cut the endive into rounds, about 3-4 per heart, depending on how big the hearts are.

Place the endive in the pan, cut side down, and cook until they begin to brown a bit. Turn them over and cook on the second side.

Add a splash of yuzu (or other citrus) juice to the pan and turn the endive rounds to coat. Remove the endive from the pan and place each on a serving spoon or small plate. Take the pan off the heat and add honey, to taste. Depending on which citrus juice you're using, you'll need more or less honey to balance the tartness. Spoon a bit of the honey-citrus over the endive rounds, and garnish as desired. Serve warm.

Technique: Kneading - Man vs. Machine

When it comes to kneading bread dough, modern technology has given us a number of options. Of course you can use the old-fashioned hand-kneading method, which has the advantage of not requiring any special equipment. And it can be done just about anywhere you have a surface to work on.

The downside to hand kneading is that for some people it’s hard on the hands and wrists. It also takes a bit of time. Others find that hand kneading can be relaxing and zen-like – or, if you’re using a more aggressive approach, it can relieve some frustrations.

The advent of the no-knead process has proved that dough doesn’t need to be kneaded much – or at all – if you’re giving it a sufficiently long rest. Gluten develops on its own in the presence of water, so kneading isn’t necessary to develop the gluten.

But there’s more to kneading than just the creation of gluten. The kneading process also “arranges” the gluten, for lack of a better term. The act of repeatedly folding and pressing and turning the dough creates a different sort of structure in that webby network. Whether that structure is better or not depends on the sort of bread you’re looking for.

But what about machine kneading? Can that really replace hand kneading?

As with every other possible variable, using a machine to do your kneading changes the outcome. While a food processor or a stand mixture does a fine job of developing the gluten in dough, neither one of them perfectly mimics the motion of hand-kneading.

There are other differences as well.

A food processor kneads dough very quickly – in as little as a minute in some cases. It also heats the dough up while it processes, so if you need to knead longer, you risk heating the dough to a point where the yeast begins to die off. If a dough does need longer kneading, it’s best to do so in short sessions with waiting time in between to let the dough cool off.

Since the dough coming out of the processor is warm, it also rises faster, This is a plus if you’re in a hurry to get your bread made, but it’s a disadvantage if you are hoping for a slow rise for more flavor development.

Since the food processor kneads so quickly, it’s also possible to overknead the dough. It’s virtually impossible to overknead a dough by hand, but it’s entirely possible with a food processor. When a dough is over-kneaded, the gluten breaks down and instead of a stretchy and elastic dough it becomes a puddle of goo that won’t hold its shape.

Part of what happens during kneading is the incorporation of oxygen into the dough, and just like freshly ground flour that is exposed to oxygen, the flour in the dough oxidizes during kneading. Oxygen helps the gluten strands to connect to each other, creating the long strands that form the web of gluten that's so important.

But there can be too much of a good thing. Too much oxygen bleaches the dough, turning it whiter the longer it is kneaded. While that might sound appealing, the wheat pigment also carries flavor. As the dough oxidizes and lightens, it also loses flavor. Because a food processor does the kneading so fast, there's much less time for oxidation to occur, and more flavor remains.

The action of the food processor is also the most violent, cutting some of the gluten strands as it kneads. It’s also violent to bread add-ins, so if you want large chunks of anything or unmolested seeds, it’s best to add them by hand after the dough is kneaded.

A stand mixer straddles the line between hand kneading and a food processor. It eliminates the hand work, and while it’s slightly faster than hand kneading, it’s nowhere near as fast as a food processor.

Since the stand mixer isn’t as fast as a food processor, it allows the baker to watch the development of the dough and add ingredients along the way. It isn’t as violent as the food processor and doesn’t cut gluten strands. It’s also less damaging to bread add-ins, so you can add seeds, nuts, and dried fruit and expect that most of them will remain intact.

While the stand mixer heats the dough a little bit, it doesn’t get nearly as warm as a dough kneaded in a food processor, so you can knead for a much longer time without any fear of overheating the yeast.

It’s also unlikely that you’ll overknead a dough with a stand mixer. It’s theoretically possible if you leave it kneading for a long period of time, but it’s not going to happen in a fraction of a second when you go answer the phone.

While kneading dough with a stand mixer is slightly faster than hand kneading, some would say that cleaning the bowl and dough hook makes up for that saved time. However, I find that the benefit is that while the stand mixer is running, I can do something else with at the same time – preheat the oven, prep the baking sheet or loaf pan, or do something else in the kitchen. I don’t need to watch it as carefully as the food processor, and I don’t need to interact with it constantly.

On the downside, I’ve heard the criticism that dough kneaded in a stand mixer is “too organized” – that the gluten strands are all following the spiral pattern of the dough hook rather than being more haphazard as in a hand-kneaded dough.

In the end, the kneading (or no-kneading) method you choose is a personal preference.  And of course, you can mix and match the methods, letting a machine (or time) do most of the work, then finishing kneading by hand. Each method yields slightly different results – which is “best” is entirely up to you.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Endive Tuna Boats

I figured I could get one more entry into the January Kitchen Play contest, still sponsored by Endive.com. This required another trip to the store - or actually two stores. The first one had a sign, but no endive. Either there's been a big run on endive in my town, or they aren't stocking much of it.

Usually the endive is nestled right next to the radicchio, which makes it easy to find, since the radicchio is purple in a sea of mostly green. Anyway, I scored a couple more teeny endive and then decided to to a riff on a drink recipe. Without doing the drink.

The drink in question was called the Hail Caesar Endive Cocktail and it featured and endive "yacht" that included clams.

I decided to scrap the cocktail entirely and play with the yacht. But I downscaled mine to a boat and used canned tuna as the seafood component. As an homage to the tomato based drink, I garnished mine with some salsa for a little acidic kick.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Robin Chocolates (Yum!)

Robin Autorino has a lot to celebrate in February, but she’s not going to have the luxury of taking much time off to do that celebrating. Her business, Robin Chocolates, is bound to keep her busy supplying area sweethearts with chocolates for Valentine’s Day.

Aurorino took a circuitous route to becoming a chocolatier, including a stint in the navy and quite a few years in IT. Her first foray into chocolate was when her son, Nikolas, was young. She helped him make some chocolate-dipped pretzels, which they wrapped up and tied with ribbons and gave as little gifts.

About six years ago, she decided she wasn’t happy in the IT world and signed up for cooking classes that included training in France. Although she was sure she wanted to be a chef, that time in France changed her mind. “I decided I wanted to be on the dessert side of the world,” she said.

After she graduated and before starting her own business, she worked for several well-known local restaurants, but then she started making chocolates at home and bringing them in to work for people to taste.
One day, she decided the time was right and she left the restaurant and launched her chocolate business. Three years ago on February 3, she got an order from a local florist for 12 four-piece boxes of candy, and that was the day Robin Chocolates was born.

It was a risk, but Autorino said that she inherited some of her mom’s determination - mom holds the record for the Ironman Hawaii Triathalon for 70-74 year-olds, and at 81 she still bikes and swims regularly. “Mom is a chocoholic,” Autorino said. “When I started with chocolates, she was really supportive.”

Aurorino said that the first year she was in business, it was very slow, but the second year saw the business double. In the third year, it more than doubled again. She credits part of her success to the fact that she’s always learning about her craft. Although she knows she’s good at what she does, she always asks, “What can I do better?”

Several of her truffles have won awards at chocolate shows, and her business has gotten some impressive media attention. She was recently featured on a Channel 9 News segment and she will be on Fox’s Good Day Colorado at 6:45, 7:45, and 7:45 a.m. on Feb 2.

But Robin Chocolates isn’t a one-gal show.  Autorino’s son, Nik, “will help out in just about any capacity,” she said. Her husband, Chris, helps with design and with her website.

Besides family, she has a number of part-time employees. At the height of chocolate-making during the Christmas rush, she had as many as six people helping her at one time, including her right-hand gal, Gabrielle “Ellie” Strandqueist who is the assistant pastry chef at The Mediterranean in Boulder.

And now Autorino is gearing up for her anniversary celebration on February 3 from 1-4 p.m. when she’ll have “something special” and a gift basket give-away at “her store” inside Cayenne Kitchen in Longmont.

Autorino recently purchased a temperature-controlled display case which is installed inside Cayenne Kitchen, so now customers can choose their own single truffles or fill a box with even more favorites. She considers that case “her store” since it’s the one place where all of her truffle flavors are available.

The celebration continues on Feb. 12, when she will be toasting s’mores at Cayenne. The s’mores will be made with homemade graham crackers and marshmallows, and of course there will be top-quality chocolate. For Valentine’s shoppers, Autorino will have some special items to wow the chocolate-lover in your life.

For more information, see www.robinchocolates.com, email robin@robinchocolates.com or see her chocolates at Cayenne Kitchen, 372 Main St., Longmont.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Clam Chowdah

How many styles of clam chowder are there? First, you've got to draw the line between Manhattan and New England. But if you choose New England, you have to decide how thick it's going to be. I've had clam chowder that was thin broth with square chunks of potato, and I've had it a the other extreme as well.

And when I say extreme, I mean extreme. My husband's all-time favorite clam chowder is thick. Massively thick. It could be mistaken for lumpy mashed potatoes. Okay, maybe not quite that thick. But almost. Pretty close.

I had a 28-ounce can of baby clams on hand, and figured it was time to make clam chowder. I'd made it before, but it's been a while, so I started looking at recipes. And hmmmm.... I found a few that used flour as a thickener. Interesting.

Many recipes call for salt pork or bacon, but I didn't have any of either, so I went porkless.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making Stock

I never pass up the opportunity to make a stock. Any time there are bones left, whether it's from a chicken or a turkey or a pork roast ... or pretty much anything ... I toss the remains in the slow cooker and let them simmer away until I feel like I've extracted every last bit of flavor.

Some of these stocks include scraps of vegetables, and sometimes they're all about the meat. I figure that I can add the vegetable flavor later, if that's what I want. Yeah, maybe that's not traditional, but some days there aren't any scraps of vegetables hanging around.

And I never add salt and almost never add any herbs. I don't always know what I'm going to do with the stock, so for me it's better to leave it unsalted and unflavored so I can season it properly with it later. The exception is when I've got a roast that is highly flavored. The flavoring ends up in the stock and when I store it, I label it accordingly so I'm not surprised when I use it later.

Much of the time, the stock is made for later use rather than an immediate soup. If we've just eaten chicken, I might want to have something else when we've finished with chicken roast chicken and all its leftovers, rather than moving right on to chicken soup. So I make the stock and freeze it. But before I freeze, I reduce. A LOT.

While some of my stored stock ends up in gravy or as a base for something else, the majority of it ends up in soup. To me, the key to a flavorful soup is a good base, whether it's a vegetable base or a meat base. I've had soups that were little more than vegetables served in the water they were cooked in. The liquid in a soup should be flavorful, it shouldn't just be hot water that the solid bits are swimming in.

So, to make the soup flavorful and to save on storage space, I reduce the stock. I know some folks who think it's a great idea to end up with gallons of stock from one scrawny chicken carcass, but that doesn't make a very flavorful stock. And if you're planning on freezing it, you're taking up a lot of space for water that doesn't need to be there. If it's too thick or too flavorful, you can add water to it when you use it. But really, when was the last time you ate soup and thought, "gee, there's too much flavor in this soup"? 

But how far can you reduce a stock? I might reduce a stock until there's just a half-inch or quarter-inch of liquid at the bottom of the pot if I haven't started with a lot of bones. In some cases, that liquid is thick - almost syrupy. How much I reduce depends on how thin the liquid was to begin with, how much time I have for simmering, and how much freezer space I have.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rye Bread with Caraway and Flax

I'll admit that I was a little bit slow jumping on the flax seed bandwagon. Maybe it was an anti-hype reaction. Everyone was saying how good they are for you, and I instinctively recoiled from them. Because, of course, if all that's being said it how good they are, then flavor must not be a selling point.

So I blissfully ignored fax seeds for a long, long time. I had plenty of other favorite seeds to dump into bread. I adore sesame seeds, caraway belongs in rye, and of course poppy seeds are a must on Chicago-style hot dog buns. But flax?

But while I can easily resist hype, I have a hard time resisting a great sale, so when I saw a bag of ground flax seeds at a bargain price, I figured that I had nothing to lose. And then I saw whole flax seeds at the bulk food store and I figured that a little bag wouldn't break the bank. Even better, the bulk store had both light and dark flax seeds. I chose the light ones.

Before I baked with them, I sampled those whole light flax seeds and I was surprised to find they actually tasted good. I was expecting them to be tasteless at best, but instead they tasted sort of a like a cross between sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Oh yes, I could do something with these. And I could feel virtuous at the same time because flax is good for ... something.

In the end, the flavor the flax added to this loaf was pretty subtle; caraway is a much stronger flavor. On the other hand, if you're trying to get more flax into your diet, this is a great way to incorporate it in an unobtrusive way.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Technique: Water Temperature for Yeast

Some people think yeasted recipes are overly fussy because many specify a very narrow temperature range for the water that’s used to proof the yeast. But is it necessary to be that precise?

Science will tell you that yeast prefers a narrow range of temperatures, and that it grows much faster at those temperatures. Experience tells me that unless the water is hot enough to kill the yeast, you have a much wider range of temperatures that are perfectly safe for the yeast.

It’s interesting that although the general consensus is that a long, slow cold rise is best for flavor development in yeasted doughs, most recipes start off with relatively warm water.

There’s a reason for it. If you’re proofing yeast, you want that step to happen relatively quickly, so it makes sense to use water that’s the optimum temperature for the yeast.

But what is the optimum temperature? And is it the same for all yeast?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Butter-Braised Endive

Here's my second entry in the January Kitchen Play contest. It's kind of interesting this month because there was just a single ingredient than being a variety of products like the olives or the spices that were featured in previous contests.

Anyway, the contest is sponsored by Endive.com and obviously the ingredient was endive. The funny thing is that every time I go shopping for endive, I find just three of them. And they're quite small. The recipe I chose called for 12 small or 8 large endive, but I pared it down quite a bit to make just two endive. Because that's all I had.

Th recipe this time was for Butter-Braised Endive. It was similar to the first recipe I tried ... but different. Different enough that I'm glad I tried both recipes. When I served it, my husband commented that it tasted a bit like artichoke hearts. And in my house, that's a good thing.

Other than cutting the recipe down to size, I pretty much followed the original recipe, which was an adaptation of a Julia Child recipe. So of course it was good.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cake! Cake! Cake! Chocolate Cake!

Okay, it's just cake, but it was my husband's birthday, and he's still scarred by memories of cakes past.

When he was a kid, his mom would ask him what kind of cake he wanted, and the answer was always the same: chocolate. And every year, the cake would show up at dinner and it would be a yellow cake with chocolate frosting or chocolate cake with white frosting or chocolate cake with chocolate frosting ... and then there would be a load of bananas in the filling.

He claims that never once did he get a plain chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

So now I make him chocolate cakes with chocolate frosting. No nuts, no decorations, no sprinkles. Just chocolate on chocolate. But I don't have a favorite recipe. I've probably made a different cake every year. This time, I decided to go with a simple and very old fashioned cake from The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook.

This cake type of cake has been known by a lot of names - when I was a kid, it was "wacky cake." The cookbook called it "Cake-Pan Cake" since it's mixed and baked in the pan. The book mentioned that the cake doesn't like to come out of the pan easily, so I used some parchment to ease that issue. I also used baking spray. Otherwise I followed the recipe.

I used a square cake pan, and found that it wasn't as cooperative about mixing as I'd remembered. I'm thinking that this recipe could be mixed in a bowl and poured into a cake pan. It's only one more bowl to wash, and mixing would be a heck of a lot easier.

One reason I chose this recipe was that it made a single layer - much better than a huge cake for just the two of us. What amazed me was that this cake rose properly and didn't do anything weird in the oven with absolutely no adjustments for altitude. That's pretty unusual.

But I digress. Here's the recipe:

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Secret to Refried Beans

Refried beans sound easy, right? You cook some beans, then you cook them some more. Mash them, season them, and off you go... But things that seem simple can be deceptive.

I always thought my refried beans were missing something. I tried all sorts of spices and add-ins. They were okay. Fine as a bite with dinner. But not enticing me to eat on their own or with a chip. That annoyed me, because I'd had beans that were worth coming back again and again for another nibble.

I just couldn't figure out what was missing. More spices, different fats, more salt, pepper ... and still, I wasn't impressed.

And then I was talking to a woman who told me her mother-in-law's method for making beans, and I had to give it a try. Basically, I cooked the beans until they were drying out and sticking to the pan, then added bean liquid, cooked them down again until they were dry and sticking to the pan, then added bean liquid to hydrate then again. Sort of like risotto.

Well, those beans were good, but it was a long, long, long process.

I've since streamlined the process a bit. Because, really, unless beans are the star of the dish, it's probably not worth spending forever making them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Honey Balsamic Salad Dressing

Have you vowed to eat better in the new year? Does that include adding salad to the dinner menu? Do the chemicals and preservatives in bottled salad dressings make you squeamish?

An oil-and-vinegar based salad dressing is one of the simplest things you can make. At its most basic, it’s three parts fat to one part acid. From there, you can improvise, using different oils and different acids.

After you’ve experimented with simple oil and vinegar combinations, you can substitute lemon or lime juice for vinegar, and you can add herbs and other flavorings to create a new salad dressing every day of the week.

Since oil and vinegar don’t want to stay mixed, many dressings include an ingredient that helps them emulsify. The simplest ingredient to add is a bit of mustard. In this case, I added dried mustard, but a bit of any prepared mustard would work just as well. 

It takes seconds to mix a salad dressing for a few salads – just put the ingredients in a jar and shake. The oil and vinegar will combine and the dressing will thicken. If you’re making a lot of salad dressing, you can mix it in a blender or food processor. In that case, start with the acidic ingredient in the blender and drizzle the oil in slowly.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Banana Poundcake (at high altitude)

Baking cakes at high altitude is interesting. I've managed to get bread and cookies and even cheesecakes to behave. And I've made a truce with boiling water.

But cakes are still iffy in my kitchen. It doesn't help that I'm usually experimenting.

This cake was a bit worrisome when it was baking. The sides rose first and the center looked like a crater, but by the time it was done, the center had risen to meet the sides. Not a nice domed top that I would have expected in a sea-level cake, but it was flat instead of being collapsed.Some days, I count that for a big win.

It also took a lot longer to bake than I expected, but then again, that's not uncommon when I bake any cake. The outside browned nicely, and there were some really brown "ears" on the loaf that were completely unintentional, but were addictively munchy.

The cake itself was moist and had great banana flavor. Not too sweet, but sweet enough. I'm calling it a half-pound cake because the original pound cake used a pound each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. and I used a half-pound of three of those.

It's still a little bit of a work in progress. I'd like to get it to rise a little better, but hey, if it doesn't, that's fine too. A flat-top pound cake is fine. And if I ever move back down to sea level it'll probably work just fine. If you happen to live at sea level and you give it a try, I'd be curious to see how yours works out.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sourdough Waffles

That sourdough starter you have bubbling away has more uses than just for bread, you know. How about some waffles?

Remember those wonderful mornings when Mom would fire up the waffle maker, and breakfast would be waffles dripping with butter and syrup, and maybe a side of bacon or sausages? Yeah, I don't remember that at all. As far as I know, my mother never owned a waffle maker. So I'm making my own waffle memories here.

The beauty of using starter for waffles is that the starter doesn't have to be completely active for it to make a nice waffle. It's used for flavor more than anything else, so a sleepy starter from the fridge or a fiercely bubbling starter on the counter, or a new starter that's not quite ready are all just as good. After all, the baking powder in the recipe gives most of the lift.

Of course, the flavor you end up will depend on your starter. A really mild starter will be much less assertive in the waffles than if you've got a seriously sour starter brewing. Either way, it's a great use for starter, particularly if you've been aggressively feeding, your jar is threatening to overflow, and it's not a convenient day for breadmaking.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Roast Cauliflower

A friend posted a photo of roast cauliflower on her Facebook page, and I happened to have a cauliflower waiting for me in the fridge. So I decided to steal the recipe, which happens to be insanely simple.

Basically, slice the cauliflower, brush or drizzle a little olive oil, sprinkle a little salt, then roast at 425 degrees for 20-25(ish) minutes, depending on how thick your slices are.

I cut my cauliflower in wedges - 8 pieces all together. After about 20 minutes, I turned the cauliflower over and let it go for another 5 minutes or so. Completely yummy.

I think next time I might use a tad less olive oil at the beginning of roasting and drizzle with some lemon olive oil at the end.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Technique: Is it Done Yet?

When it comes to yeasted dough recipes, the one measuring tool that’s least useful is the clock. There are so many variables from kitchen to kitchen, baker to baker, and day to day, it’s impossible to guarantee that your bread will rise on time or that it will be properly kneaded in a precise number of minutes.

The clock is fine as an estimator. To fine-tune the timing, though, there are other ways to tell whether your dough is ready to move on to the next stage.

Proofing

While proofing isn’t necessary for instant or rapid-rise yeasts, which can be added directly to the flour, I generally proof my yeast anyway, just to make sure it’s still viable and to give it a little head start in becoming active.

Proofing is as simple as adding the yeast to some warm (not hot) water and giving it something to feed on. Many recipes use sugar as the yeast-food, but a bit of flour works just as well.

If the yeast begins bubbling – at all – it has proven that it’s alive. Most recipes suggest waiting five or ten minutes to make sure the yeast is sufficiently active.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Warm Mustard and Honey Potato Salad

I've recently launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. This is the first recipe:

If you like German potato salad, you'll love these potatoes. They have a similar flavor, but the recipe's not as complicated.

I know a lot of people like to leave the skins on their potatoes. For this recipe, I think they're better peeled - the potatoes absorb the flavor better. I also suggest cooking the potatoes with the skins on and peeling later.

Cooked red potatoes are simple to peel - the skins pull off easily. Also, I like the texture of potatoes cooked in their skins better for this type of dish.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Quick Pantry Chili (and bean-counting)

Ah, dried beans. I was going to buy black beans for a recipe in a new cookbook I have, but the store didn't have black beans. So I bought pintos. Because I wanted to make something with beans, and at that point I wasn't about to wander from store to store looking for black beans.

When I checked prices, the two-pound bag of pintos was so much a better deal that I had to buy that instead of the puny one-pound bag. Two pounds was under $2. I think the one-pound bag was something like $1.29. I'm frugal like that.

You following me yet? So I had a two-pound bag of dried pinto beans instead of black beans. I sorted, rinsed, and set them to soak overnight. I don't always do that, but if I have the time I soak them. Or I chuck 'em into the slow cooker. This time I soaked, and the next day, I cooked 'em.

You know how cheap those beans were? You know how much beans grow when you cook them? I had a lot of beans. I had my scale out and decided to weigh them after cooking. I got a little sloppy with scooping and weighing, so there was a little liquid in the beans, but the total was over 5 1/2 pounds of cooked beans.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Peppermint Cookies

Cookies are a great little snack, and a lovely sweet finish for a meal. Even if you're watching the calories, a single cookie isn't bad - or at least it's a heck of a lot better than a giant slice of cake or a wedge of cheesecake.

Then again, that's assuming you're going to stop at one. Don't blame me if you keep nibbling

These would be fine for any season, but right now they're a great way to use up candy canes left over from Christmas. Or, if you don't want to deal with crushing candy canes, you can buy peppermint pieces. King Arthur Flour has a product called Peppermint Crunch, which is what I used.

If candy canes and Peppermint Crunch are out of season when you want to make these, you can use other peppermint candies instead.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Braised Endive

Oh, look at me! Entering another Kitchen Play contest. You know why? Because I keep winning. Yep, I'm on a streak, and if it's going to be this easy, I'm going to keep entering. Or, heck, even if it was a little harder, I'd probably keep entering because it gets me thinking about making things I probably wouldn't have made otherwise.

This time the magic ingredient was endive. Which I pronounce en-dive. Because I'm quirky like that. Pronounce it ohn-deeve if it makes you happy, though. I won't argue.

Anyway, the contest is sponsored by Endive.com. A vegetable with its own website. I mean, why not? The interesting thing is that I've had endive raw at home in salad, and I've probably had it cooked elsewhere, but I've never cooked with it.

I decided to start my contest journey this month with a relatively simple recipe for braised endive. I mean, might as well let the endive be the star. And of course, this let us really taste the endive in all its leafy glory.

My first problem with the recipe was that the store I went to didn't have medium or large endive. They were all pretty darned small. I say "all" like there were a lot of them. There were like, three. You take what you can get. But hey, there's only two of us, so I figured that one endive would make a dainty little side dish. And although I thought I had a lemon to zest at home, it was nowhere to be found. So I let lemon olive oil play that role.

See me riffing on the original recipe? See how easy it is to adapt recipes to what you have or what you like? You don't have to follow recipes slavishly. Do what you like. That's what makes cooking fun. Or, if not fun, it makes it challenging. And when you conquer a challenge, you feel good, right?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chip Dip Bread

The array of leftovers in my refrigerator can be mind-boggling. I'm not just talking about last night's roast or some stray vegetables. Those disappear without a whole lot of effort. But between recipe testing, product reviews, and "ooh! shiny!" spur-of-the-moment purchases, there are usually some odd things taking up shelf space.

The range of oddness goes from, "Honey, what that heck IS this?" to "It was great when company came, but there's no way we can finish this before it grows fur."

If the leftover item is more than we can finish as-is in a reasonable time, I run through my list of possibilities for re-purposing it. Can I incorporate it in a main dish? Can I work it into a side dish or dessert? Do I want it for breakfast for the next week? Is it good for the dog? Can I use it in bread?

Because, of course, given the right amount of motivation, I can find a way to incorporate pretty much anything into bread.

This time around, I had the remains of a garlicky dip. It was much like that popular French onion dip, but with a good dose of garlic. Given enough privacy and a spoon, and I could have finished it off without a problem, but putting it in a loaf of bread sounded like a better idea.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New: Fooducopia and Me

I've recently launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products.

It's kind of a neat concept. Small producers might have a hard time getting the word out about their products, so being on Fooducopia brings them a little more exposure. Consumers can go to just one site and find interesting products from a number of small companies they might not have known about otherwise. And of course, Fooducopia makes a little profit from bringing sellers and buyers together.

My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site.

To be clear, I'm not reviewing these products, nor am I endorsing them when I publish the recipes. I''ll be creating recipes so Fooducopia can post them on their site so customers can get ideas on how to use the product in different ways.

Of course, I'll post those recipes here, as well, along with a little message that explains why I'm naming specific products.

Needless to say, I won't be creating recipes for products I don't like. And there's nothing stopping me from reviewing the products. Like this:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Serious Eats Meetup

Serious Eats, that site where I spend way too much of my time, spearheaded "Meetups" on January 8, 2010, when Serious Eats friends and fans all over the world signed up, set a place and time, and hung out with fellow foodies for a while.

I decided to set a time and place in Longmont and see if anyone would sign up. I chose Mike O'Shays, one of my favorite spots in Longmont, and picked 1 pm. I mean, what the heck. No one else nearby had chosen a time or place, so I figured I'd make it convenient for me.

When "foodiemama" from Serious Eats signed up for the Longmont meetup, I convinced my friend Liz to show up, too. While Liz doesn't post on Serious Eats, she reads the site and she "followed along" with the sourdough starter-along series. Which explains why she brought George along. George is her sourdough starter. He wasn't feeling well, but I think he'll be just fine in a few days.

Here's the four of us, smiling while our waitress took our photo. It was fun. It's funny how quickly we were chatting like we'd all known each other for years. George didn't say much, though. He burped a little hen I opened his jar, but otherwise he was pretty quiet.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Technique: Dough Add-ins

This was written for my Pizza Protips column on Serious eats, thus this pizza-centric disclaimer: While pizza purists among us might say that adding anything except the basic ingredients to pizza dough is wrong, sometimes the urge to experiment gets in the way of tradition. Next thing you know, there’s a Reuben pizza with a rye crust or a sweet-crusted deep-dish dessert pizza on the table.

Of course, what applies to pizza applies as much - or more - to regular bread doughs. I'm constantly messing around with bread recipes. So we continue: Not that I’m encouraging that sort of aberrant behavior, but if you’re going to start flinging things into your pizza dough, you might as well do it armed with a little bit of knowledge about what might happen. Ah yes, true for bread and for pizza.

And of course, all of these add-ins would be just as welcome in a loaf of bread or a pan full of dinner rolls or burger buns. Or, you know, in that experimental pizza you’ve been working on with that secret mix of herbs and spices in the crust. This is also a handy list to have on hand if your dough has somehow gone awry and you want to try to salvage it or repurpose it.

Many things are mostly benign when it comes to the behavior or structure of dough. Toss in a hand full of seeds and you’ve got a lumpy dough. A hand full of garlic or a couple of eggs, on the other hand, is going to impact the dough itself in a much more dramatic way.

This is by no means a complete list of the things you might throw into a dough in a moment of whimsy, and it barely scratches the surface of the things that I’ve added to dough over the years. But these are some fairly common additions to doughs, and they all affect more than just the flavor.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mini Cheesecake Bites

Here, I garnished with gold-colored sugar.
I previously posted a savory use for these little shells, and a sweet-spiced one. Now, here's a citrusy-sweet one.

I've got to admit I'm particularly fond of this version. And better yet, these one-bite desserts are simple to make and impressive to serve. You can have the cheese filling made well ahead of time – just keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to fill the shells and serve.

For a festive touch, you can garnish these with colored sugar, sprinkles, or cookie crumbs. For a more decadent dessert, you can top them with a bit of whipped cream.

The interesting thing is that the lemon curd doesn’t make the cheese filling taste like a lemon dessert. Instead, it adds just the right amount of sweetness and a hint of lemon that makes is taste like cheesecake filling rather than a savory bit of cheese.

Adding more lemon curd to the top gives it more of a lemony zip, but you could opt for other toppings, like caramel sauce, blueberry jam, or fruit preserves.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Project: Gluten-Free Sourdough

Since my Starter-Along series on Serious Eats, I've been working on a new project: gluten-free sourdough.

Making the starter sounded fairly simple. After all, I've made starters with whole wheat, spelt, and rye flour. I thought that the starter would be the easy part.

But nooooooooo....

The problem was that I grew mold at about the same rate I grew "good" bubbles. So I scrapped a lot of starters. The bacteria and yeast in a starter should be able to ward off the stuff you don't want growing, and it wasn't working with the gluten free flours I was using.

After growing a lot of fur, I finally (I think) found a way to ward off the mold and encourage the good bacteria and yeast at the same time. So far so good.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lemon Curd Cupcakes (or are they Muffins?)

Strange things happen in my kitchen. I was thinking about making muffins, but ended with with something with a texture more like cupcakes. Things like that happen when I go recipe-less.

The whole adventure was fueled my my desire to use up some lemon curd. Yes, I have strange leftovers. I had lemon curd on hand, and I didn't want it to languish at the back of my refrigerator. So I thought it would make a great flavoring for some baked goods.

But what? Bread? Cookies? Cake? I thought muffins might be nice. Lemon breakfast muffins - a little bit sweet, but still with savory notes. It sounded like a fine plan, so I decided to play with recipes.

I didn't go completely off of nothing, though. I used the formula in Michael Ruhlman's book Ratios to figure out how much flour, liquid and leavening I needed. But then I went off the book because I didn't use eggs at all. I figured that the egg yolks in the lemon curd would be enough.

I've got to say that I wasn't disappointed at all with my creation. The flavor was great. A little sweet but not terribly so. The tops of the cupcakes were flat, but that's what usually happens up here at high altitude. It's a good bet that these would dome nicely at sea level. If you make them, let me know.

While they're great on their own, I thought a little frosting would be nice. But I don't like sweet frosting like buttercream. I mixed some cream cheese with just a little lemon curd, then lightened it up with some Greek-style yogurt.

Absolutely perfect!

Okay, if the tops had domed, I would have been a little happier. But otherwise, they were perfect.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

BOTD: Tomato, Cheese and Bacon!! Bread

So much for healthy eating in the new year - the food police are probably going to batter down my doors when this recipe sees the light of day. But really, I almost added mayonnaise, so it's not that bad, right? Or maybe worse, because I added - oh, never mind, you'll see it when you get there.

This recipe was born like many others. I wanted an interesting bread and I scrounged around to see what ingredients I had on hand. Once I decided to use bacon, the tomato followed quickly after. Although a BLT is classic, I didn't think lettuce would fare well in a loaf of bread, but cheese sounded like a good idea. I had a chunk of Monterrey Jack, but you could use any cheese you like. Or leave it out. It's not necessary.

Oh, and - haha - funny story. See that slice, and how ragged it is? Well, it was just a teensy bit warm when I sliced it and the bread was really soft, and I was kind of in a hurry because it was dinnertime and I wanted a sandwich. Like, NOW. Forget about waiting for it to cool completely, it was cool enough.

So I sliced and took photos and we ate, and I planned on taking more photos the next day when I could set up some nice shots. I was out for much of the day, and when I came back, the tablecloth had been neatly pulled until the bread cutting board was at the edge of the table.

The bread that had been in a plastic bag on the board was gone. Nothing else was disturbed. Well, the whole tablecloth had moved two feet. The dog claimed innocence, but I wasn't buying it.

So, there you have it. The photo isn't great, but apparently everyone loved the bread.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Peanut Butter Shale Candy

For years, I made peanut brittle for my father-on-law for every gift-giving holiday. He'd save and savor the candy, making it last until the next holiday. Then, a couple years ago, his doctor banned nuts and seeds. I scrambled for new ideas and made pretzel brittle and bacon brittle.

Then, as an experiment, I tried adding peanut butter directly to the brittle. Whole nuts and seeds had been banned, but peanut butter was just fine. I had no idea what the candy would be like, and I had no idea if he'd like it at all.

Much to my surprise, he said that it was just like a candy that he'd had as a kid, and he hadn't had it since. To me, it tasted sort of like the inside of a Butterfingers candy bar, with the peanut flavor and shattery texture.

But of course, when I made it the first time, it was an experiment, and I didn't bother to write down how I made it. Shortly after, he was able to eat nuts again, so I didn't need to worry about it. But this year, I decided to give it another try, it took a couple attempts before I managed to recreate the candy. This might not be my original version, but it's very peanutty and shattery and not as tooth-damaging as regular peanut brittle.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Spiced Cream Cheese Bites

Okay, I'll admit that I've grown overly fond of these little fillo cups. And yes, I know the spelling could be "phyllo" but the brand I bought calls them "Fillo Cups" so I'll use that spelling here.

These little things are light and neutral. Not sweet, not savory; ready for anything. They're flaky, yet substantial enough to hold a nice bite of appetizer, snack, or dessert.

So when I saw a dessert recipe on the Kitchen Play contest site for pizzelles filled with cream cheese, I thought that the little fillo shells would make a petite version of the dessert, downsized to one bite.

This contest is sponsored my MySpiceSage.com, and when I looked at the ingredients, I was happy to see that I had almost everything I needed. No goji berries on hand, but otherwise I had everything I needed to riff on the dish.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Turkey Breast with Zatar and Sumac (and Honey. Oh my!)

Since Kitchen Play extended its current contest through the weekend, I decided to take advantage of that option. I had planned on cutting this one close, cooking it on the night of the 31st and posting right away, but when I saw there was extra time, I figured it would be just fine to put off the post just a little.

The Kitchen Play contest this month is sponsored by MySpiceSage.com, and luckily I had the critical and somewhat exotic spices for this dish - zatar and sumac. And I also had fresh parsley.

I considered buying a chicken for the recipe I was going to riff off of, but I had a nice half-turkey breast in the freezer and I was itching to clear some space in there. So turkey it was.

At Thanksgiving I had disassembled two turkeys for the dinner, and had prepped and frozen some of the parts, this was a boneless half-breast that I had rolled and tied for more even cooking.

The honey I had was starting to crystallize, so I melted it a bit in the microwave before I mixed it with the spices. If yours is too thick, a gentle heating will help get it to a spreadable texture.

Happy Aniversary to Cookistry!

1/1/11 at 1:11 a.m. Seems an appropriate time to post. Cookistry is one year old!

And forgive me if I'm a little self-indulgent here, hmmm?

Although I picked a name for this blog well in advance and had a template set up, I didn't start posting until January 1, 2010. I also set some goals for myself. Or really, one goal. To post, on average, once a day.

After that, I gritted my teeth and decided that Year One would be all about getting my feet wet in the blogging world and maybe asking some friends to read what I wrote. The first year, I figured, would be all about me talking to myself online.

Well, the year's up. I've done more than talk to myself.

Late one night in late March (because earlier in the day, I would have had more restraint), I had the bright idea to send an email to Adam Kuban at Serious Eats and ask him if he wanted a column about bread baking. I almost fell off my chair when he emailed back with an enthusiastic "yes" and my weekly Bread Baking column was born in April.

In September, I emailed Adam a link to my post here on Cookistry about the windowpane test, and asked if he had any interest in publishing it. Again, he said yes. That post let to the Serious Eats team asking me about writing a regular column about techniques, tips, ingredients, and more. That turned into my weekly Protips column on Slice.

Then, in November, my Sourdough Starter-Along series started on Slice, which ran every day for nearly two weeks. I was amazed how popular it was, and the first post in that series ended up being the third most popular post on Slice in 2010.
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