Saturday, April 30, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 6)

Most of the cooking surfaces for pizza have been around for a while. There are a multitude of variations on pizza stones of different thicknesses and different materials. The Emile Henry stone, however, has some interesting features.

First, unlike most of the pizza stones, the Emile Henry stone is glazed. The point of using stone or ceramic instead of metal is that the stone absorbs moisture from the dough, resulting in a crisper crust. So, glazing sounds like a bad idea, right?

According to packaging description, the glaze is "micro-crazed" which sounds a lot like my mental health some days, but it actually means that the glaze has teeny cracks. I'll take their word for it, since my electron microscope is in the wash. Another benefit of the glaze is that grease and sauce aren't absorbed by the stone, so it's easier to clean. And it's dishwasher safe, if you're so inclined.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Twisted Catalina Dressing

My father-in-law never puts salad dressing on his salads, so you could have knocked me over with a feather when he was talking about a restaurant that he and my mother-in-law had been to, and he said he liked the dressing.

I was a little puzzled why he ordered a salad with dressing, but I was even more baffled that he found one that he liked.

When my in-laws took my husband and I to that restaurant for my birthday, I had my chance to sample the dressing. And then it made sense.

This was an Asian restaurant, and there weren't any dressing choices and no mention of salads on the menu. You placed your order and small salads automatically came to the table with the dressing already on them.

So the first time my in-laws went there, my father-in-law was faced with a pre-dressed salad, and he's not the type to send something back. So he ate it, Even more surprising, he liked it.

I was really curious what sort of dressing he'd like, since he never, ever ever EVER ate salad dressing at my house, his own, or in other restaurants. He once said that he used to eat dressings, but he suddenly decided he didn't like them any more.

I expected the dressing to be something really unusual. I mean, if it was a standard dressing, then why wasn't he eating it at home? I was ready for exotic flavors, and what I got was ... okay a little bit different in the flavor combination. But perfectly recognizable.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chicken Cacciatore Throwdown

Right now, I'm reading Bobby Flay's Throwdown. What, you don't read cookbooks? You cook from them?

Well, that's interesting...

First, let me admit that I'm a fan of Throwdown on the Food Network. While there's not a whole lot of technique, cooking instruction or exact measurements on the show, you get a pretty good idea of what the two competitors are putting into their dishes, and you get to see what the differences are when they're done. And you get comments from the judges.

Bobby Flay usually goes off on some strange tangent and adds non-traditional things to traditional dishes, while the competitors stick to what made them special in the first place. And Bobby usually loses because the local judges can't get around his odd riffs on their favorite foods.

I like traditional foods, but I also love messing around with recipes. There's a place for both.

And this cookbook gives you both.

After browsing through the book a dozen times, I couldn't figure out which recipe I wanted to make. For every recipe, I was waffling back and forth. I like this on Bobby's recipe, and I like that on the competitor's recipe. I don't like this ingredient in Bobby's recipe, but I wish the competitor had that item that Bobby used.

Or I'd like one whole recipe, but realize that some ingredient isn't readily available where I live. That's no fun. And with my luck, the difficult ingredient usually played a significant role. Not a big deal if I'm planning on cooking dinner, but a little more annoying if I'm cooking something so I could review it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tomato Cheese Flower Buns

After I made the whole wheat flower buns, I thought that it might be nice to make a bright-colored version, and I knew that tomato powder would do the trick.

I used the same snipping technique as with the flower buns, but the results were a little more subtle. Delicate, even.

Of course, you don't have to make these decorative with all the snipping. The color makes them interesting as-is. No one expects buns to be bright orange.

You can find tomato powder and cheese powder from online spice companies if you can't find it locally.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

White Whole Wheat Sandwich Loaf

This a nice sandwich loaf that's got a higher percentage of white whole wheat than I usually use, but it's a little lighter and fluffier than you'd expect, thanks to the potato flakes.

It's also an easy loaf to make. Since gluten develops during the long overnight rest in the refrigerator it requires just a little kneading. The overnight cold rest also helps develop flavor, so not only is it an easy loaf, it's also tasty.

I think this one would be particularly nice if it was brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with sesame seeds. But then again, I like sesame seeds a lot, so I'll leave that up to you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Beet-Pickled Eggs

I have a vague memory of my mother serving hard boiled eggs that were purple on the outside. I'm not talking about the shells. I mean that the white if the egg was purple. The color penetrated partway into the white, but there was still some bright white.

Mom served the eggs sliced.

Other than that, I don't remember much about them.

I figured that the color came from beets, but I wasn't sure about the method. I turned to the community at Serious Eats to see if anyone every heard of eggs like these, and the consensus was that they were soaked in the juice from pickled beets. Well, that made sense, My mother used to make pickled beets pretty often.

That's all I needed. So this is what I did:

Devil Eggs

I've 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 one of those recipes.

Deviled eggs and I have a long history. Many years ago, when I was just a little kid, I used to make deviled eggs for what my mom called "party trays" that she assembled to make extra cash. There were pickles and olives and stuffed celery and other munchie items.

And I'd make the deviled eggs. I got pretty good at it.

Deviled eggs may not be as fashionable as they used to be, but retro is always fashionable.

Meanwhile, my tastes have changed. A lot. I've acquired a taste for spicy foods, and I've been spicing up my deviled eggs. First, a little bit if horseradish, then a little bit of salsa. This time, I opted for a hot sauce that includes habanero peppers. It's an interesting heat. At first, the deviled eggs seem completely normal, then the heat creeps in after a little while

My normal deviled eggs have a little kick from horseradish, but these eggs pack a nice punch from habaneros. I'm calling them Devil Eggs, because they're so sneaky with their heat.

But it's not all about kicking you in the teeth with heat. These eggs have a nice balance. Yes, the heat is there, but the relish adds sweetness and the mustard adds some tang. Of course, there's mayonnaise that makes the yolks smooth and creamy. All together, these are darned tasty eggs.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 5)

Go shopping for a new pizza stone, and you'll find a huge variety of surfaces, from metal to clay to natural stone to man-made composites.

If you were going solely by recommendations from respected testers, you might settle on the stone sold by King Arthur Flour.

The KA catalog quotes the review from Cook's Illustrated: "We tested 10 baking stones and came to prefer a fairly large one (16 by 14 inches is ideal) with smooth edges. The Baker's Catalogue Baking Stone's moderate weight and ample size make it our favorite."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Serious Sandwiches: Salmon BLT

Over at Serious Eats, there's a daily feature called A Sandwich a Day. This is one of my submissions for that feature.

This isn't a filet 'o mystery-fish sandwich. The Fresh Salmon BLT ($11) at Mike O'Shays in Longmont, Colorado, includes a nice-sized salmon fillet served on a substantial baguette. It's topped with an herby garlic mayo, applewood smoked bacon, tomato slices and lettuce.

The salmon definitely plays the starring role but the green, garlicky mayo is just the right accompaniment. You also get a choice of fries (regular or sweet potato!), cole slaw, or salad.

Mike O'Shays
512 Main Street
Longmont CO 80501 (map)

Friday, April 22, 2011

White Whole Wheat Flower Buns

I decided to use my snipping technique on some poor, innocent buns. They look like crazy flowers with sesame seed centers.

Generally, I don't make breads with 100 percent whole wheat - I like a little white flour to lighten it up. But I decided to make these with all white whole wheat, just to be different. If you're a fan of whole wheat, I think you'll find these interesting.

White whole wheat has all the health benefits of regular whole wheat bread and the wheaty flavor. But since the red pigment is where the bitterness resides, white whole wheat is less bitter. While it's not as coarse as some whole wheat flours, it's still got more hearty texture than white bread.

I thought the design on these was pretty interesting. And fun. In a bread basket, with a variety of designs, they look strange and interesting.

And since I'm a big fan of sesame seeds, that's always a plus.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Potato-Beet Pancakes

So, Tastespotting was doing a special feature about sour cream, and that was enough incentive for me to start thinking about what I could make.

My first thought was the beet salad that was my salad version of beet soup. The salad includes beets, cucumbers, and sour cream. But I already did that. I wanted something new. I started thinking about stacking the components, but I didn't have any cucumbers, so I started thinking about what else I could use.

So, what else goes with sour cream? I considered making a potato nest for the base .... or maybe potato pancakes.

And then the lightbulb lit. Why not make potato and beet pancakes? I figured that the color would be really pretty, and I knew the flavor would be interesting. When I told my husband about this plan, he looked skeptical, but I wasn't deterred. I knew it was going to work.

Besides, I had a lot of beets.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wine-Poached Tilapia

I just found out that the largest tilapia farm is in Pueblo, Colorado. Not exactly a stone's throw from where I live, but the same state at least. Kind of interesting, but totally beside the point.

I like tilapia because it's relatively mild, relatively firm, and often on sale. It's my cheap go-to fish when I want fish but the pocketbook isn't willing to buy wild-caught salmon. Since it is so mild, it pairs well with all sorts of flavors, whether they're on the fish or on the side.

This time, I went with simplicity.
Wine-poached fish sounds fancy and perhaps difficult, but it's actually very easy. Poaching is a gentle way to cook, and it's easy to watch the fish and see how it's cooking, and if the fish is ready before you are, the liquid will help keep it warm for a while after you turn the heat off.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sesame White Bread - the long and short versions

This one had a much longer first rise.
This recipe is all about technique - the ingredients are very simple, and very similar to my basic, everyday bread recipe that I use when I don't want to think too hard about ingredients.

My original plan was to come up with a recipe for a fast loaf of bread that still had good flavor. Since a short rise usually results in less flavor, I fudged that a bit by using honey in the bread and putting sesame seeds on top.

It was all a great idea, but things don't always go as planned.

This one has a short first rise. They look similar outside.
The first time I attempted my quick bread, I completely forgot that I had a project going. About 90 minutes later, I remembered. It wasn't a fast bread that day, but it was, an easy method and nice loaf of bread.

But of course, I couldn't let my original concept go, so I made the bread again and stuck with the timetable. With a timer right next to me, I managed to make the bread on schedule.

And gee whiz, it worked well enough for me to give a thumbs-up to both variations. Except for the time difference, the breads are made the same way.

Here's the loaf, sliced, that had the longer rise
Th kneading can be done in a stand mixer or by hand. Because of the nice wet rest, the gluten is well-developed before you need to knead, so it doesn't take much work to finish the dough.

As far as the results, in a side-by-side taste test, I thought the bread with the longer rise was better, but both were very good.

There were some other subtle differences, but overall they were much more similar than I expected. My husband couldn't tell the difference between the two.

So what have I learned? That if I need a faster loaf of bread, this recipe works.

On the other hand, if I need a dough that can sit around for a long time, this is the one. And the longer wait adds flavor. Can't argue with that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chocolate Malt Pudding

I've been on a chocolate pudding kick lately, and I've tried a few different recipes. Of course, each recipe writer said the this one is the best, ultimate, stop-looking-this-is-perfect chocolate pudding.

Yeah, okay, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to do a little tweaking.

I'm not going to leap up and down and say this is going to be the best pudding you've ever had in your life, but I think the texture is nice - not too thick and not too thin - and still very smooth rather than clumpy. And the addition of malt flavor makes it special. It's not just chocolate pudding, it's chocolate malt.

Of course, the chocolate you use makes a huge difference. Good chocolate will make a better pudding. However ... the stronger the chocolate flavor, the less you'll notice the malt flavor. I used about half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate. Use what you like.

There are two types of malted milk powder that you can use for this pudding. One dissolves in cold liquid, and the other needs warmth for it to dissolve, but it's still meant for flavoring things like milkshakes. Either will work.

There's also diastatic malt powder that's used in baking, particularly for bread. That's not what you want.

Chocolate Malt Pudding

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup malted milk powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 quart milk
2 egg yolks
8 ounces chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Put the sugar, cornstarch, malted milk powder, and salt into a saucepan, Whisk to combine. Add the milk, slowly, whisking to combine so there are no lumps or clumps. If you're using the malted milk powder that requires heat, you'll see grains, but you shouldn't have large lumps. Add the egg yolks and whisk to combine.

Turn the heat on to medium high, and cook, stirring constantly, until you see small bubbles beginning to form and the mixture begins thickening. Lower the heat a bit, and continue cooking and stirring constantly until you have large bubbles forming. The mixture should be thick. Turn the heat off and add the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and incorporated. Add the vanilla and stir until it is combined.

Strain the mixture through a fine strainer into your preferred storage container. If you don't like skin on top of your cooked pudding, put a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding. If you like that skin, just cover the container. Refrigerate until cold.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 4)

Last time, I tested quarry tiles for baking pizza, with 6 tiles in a 2x3 grid. But I have 12 tiles, so I decided to see if there was any benefit to stacking the tiles on top of each other.

The theory is that a thicker stone holds heat better, which is why many bakers seek out the thickest baking stones they can find. I was pretty happy with the way the pizza baked on my single layer of quarry tiles, but wondered if a double layer would be better.

Again, I preheated the oven for an hour. At the 45-minute mark, the tiles were at 525 degrees and at one hour, it was at 549 degrees. Slightly lower than when I tested the single layer at the same interval.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Get Cracking

Is it crazy that I arranged my schedule this weekend so I could be at a Whole Foods store today at 1 p.m. to watch a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano get cracked open? Now, before you make that judgment, consider that this was one of 300 wheels that were all being cracked open at the same time at all the Whole Foods stores, including the ones in the UK and Canada. A record-making event.

And there were samples. Mmmmm... samples.

Here's the wheel at the Whole Foods on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado. This is about 80 pounds of cheese:

It looks rather regal, doesn't it? After all, Parmigiano Reggiano is the king of cheeses. This wheel was was dated February, 2009.

BOTD: Peepnutbutter Bread

AKA: I Made This Bread, So You Don't Have To

The idea was simple: incorporate Peeps into a bread recipe.

Regular white bread didn't sound like the right option, so I decided to use peanut butter bread. After all, the fluffernutter sandwich is peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Close enough. I used a variation of my Peanut Butter Bread recipe.

If you learn nothing else, let me tell you right now that peanut butter bread is really, really good. Give it a try some day.

I made the bread according to the recipe, up to the point where I normally would have been shaping it into a loaf. Then I started my adventure:

After the rise, I rolled out the bread into a rectangle,
It was a bit wider than my 10-inch bread pan and about 14 inches long:

I arranged the Peeps (I chose bunnies because they are flatter than the chicks.) in a nice pattern

This was two boxes worth of Peeps.
One dozen of each color. Pretty, hmmm?
But why are they staring at me?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Berkshire Pork Racks

If you're a regular around here, you know I won some prizes in the Marx Foods Iron Foodie contest. I finally made enough room in my freezer to order what I wanted - Kurobuta pork racks. Kurobuta is also known as Berkshire pork.

When I was deciding what to buy with my Marx Foods winnings, I waffled back and forth between pork racks and pork shoulder, and finally settled on the racks because it's a cut that's pretty unusual to find at stores around here, but shoulder is pretty common.

For the first trial, I sliced one of my racks in half - there are only 2 of us, so I didn't want an 8-rib rack. To get the real flavor of the meat, I decided to treat it very simply - roasted with a bit of seasoned salt on top.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lemon Crumb Bars, Nick Malgieri Style

When I get a new cookbook, I get all exited about what I'm going to cook first. Because the first dish is the one I'm going to think about the next time I think about using that book.

I browsed through the book and found an ideal recipe for my Easter dinner, but then spied a recipe that would be perfect for a potluck I was going to. I had most of the items on hand, with a couple of substitutions. I used lime zest instead of lemon, and I used yuzu juice instead of the lemon juice.

The addition of the crumb topping was interesting. I'm used to seeing lemon bars with just a dusting of powdered sugar on top, but these had a pretty thick layer of crumbs - and I didn't even use all the crumbs. So, looking from the top it was a little bit hard to tell what was underneath. When I make these again (not if, when.) I'll probably use half as many crumbs and let some of the lemon show through.

Nick Malgieri's Sweet Pastry Dough

This is a different sort of pastry dough. Not quite like a pie crust, not shortbread ... it's got egg in it, but it works like pie crust. This is the base that's used for Nick Malgieri's lemon crumb bars that will be up next.

This recipe and the crumb bars are from his book Bake! that I recently got from the publisher for review.

When I made this recipe, it needed more liquid than just the eggs, so I ended up adding water as well. I'm not sure what the problem was. There no weights for flour in the recipes, but Malgieri suggests spooning into a measuring cup and leveling off. For me, that usually gives me 4 1/2 ounces per cup, but maybe that was too much. Or maybe my flour was just extraordinarily dry.

Needless to say, if your pastry dough doesn't come together, add water as needed. If it works without the extra water, then you're good to go. I've given the food processor instructions, but he also has instructions for making this pastry by hand.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sauerkraut Pierogi

If you're not familiar with pierogi, it's a filled pasta that's something like ravioli. When I was growing up, the traditional fillings were potato, sauerkraut, plum, and cheese. I was never fond of the plum.

Back when I was really young, pierogi used to be a special-occasion food. Mostly Christmas Eve, when one of my aunts would serve them.

When I got old enough to be interested in cooking, I asked her for the recipe, and was devastated to find out that she bought them from a Polish deli. I wanted to know how they were made, and my aunt had no idea.

While pierogi are similar to ravioli in form, they're not served the same way. Traditionally, they're boiled and served with some melted butter, sauteed onions, or bits of cooked, crumbled bacon. Leftover pierogi are pan-fried the next day - either in butter alone, or with a little bacon fat - to brown and reheat them.

The thing is that I like the reheated version better. That slight browning adds a lot of flavor. So usually I boil them first, then immediately fry them a bit.

While pierogi dough is very similar to other noodle doughs, one thing that makes it different is the addition of sour cream. Not all recipes use it, but I think it makes a difference. And of course, when you eat pierogi, it's traditional to serve it with sour cream.

Now that I think about it, the common ingredients in the traditional Polish foods I grew up with were sour cream, smoked meats, cabbage, black pepper, potatoes, and mushrooms. Not every dish had every ingredient, but it was a sure bet that one or more of them would show up. Most of those appear in this one dish.

When I most recently made these pierogi, I used my home-canned sauerkraut - 1 pint - but you can use commercially canned sauerkraut in a 14-ounce can instead. As far as the dried mushrooms, I used a dried Polish mushroom, but anything you like would be fine. If you don't have dried mushrooms, fresh cooked mushrooms would work as well.

Sauerkraut Pierogi

for the dough:
2 cups flour
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water (as needed)
for the filling:
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 14-ounce can sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
4 -6 dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water until soft, then finely chopped
Several generous grinds of black pepper
For cooking and serving:
Sauteed onions
Cooked, crumbled bacon
Sour cream

To make the dough:
Combine all of the ingredients (holding back a couple tablespoons of water) and knead until you have a soft, stretchy dough. Add the extra water, if you need it. More, if you need that. If the dough is too wet, add flour as you knead. The dough should be soft and pliant, but not at all sticky or tacky. Wrap the dough in plastic and set aside while you make the filling. You can also refrigerate it and assemble the pierogi the next day.

For the filling:
Heat the butter in a medium frying pan and add the onions. Cook until they soften. Add the finely chopped mushrooms and stir to combine. Cook for another minute. Add the sauerkraut. I like my sauerkraut well-cooked  - until it softens and browns a bit, but that's up to you. If you want extra mushroom flavor, add some of the mushroom-soaking liquid. Cook, stirring as needed, until all the liquid is gone and the sauerkraut is as done as you like it. Taste for seasoning. You shouldn't need salt, since the sauerkraut is salty. Add pepper. Allow the mixture to cool completely before filling the pierogi.

To assemble the pierogi:
Divide the dough into several pieces to make it easier to work with. Flour your work surface and roll the dough very thin - less than half as thick as a corn tortilla. The dough will get thicker when you cook it, just like any noodle dough. You want it thick enough to hold the filling, but not so thick that you're eating a dumpling instead of a filled pasta.

Using a large biscuit cutter, or a drinking glass, cut circles from the dough. Place about a teaspoon of the filling in the center of your dough circles. Wet the outside edge of the dough circles, fold the dough over, and press to seal, pressing out as much of the air in the center as possible. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal completely.

Continue with the rest of the dough and filling. You can reroll the scraps of dough and use it to make more pierogi.

To cook the pierogi:
Heat salted water to boiling and add the pierogi. Since this is a fresh pasta and the filling is already cooked, these cook very quickly. Once they come to the surface, let them cook another 30 seconds and remove them.

You can serve them as-is, or heat a bit of butter in a pan and cook the pierogi until they are browned on the bottom. Flip them over and cook until they're lightly browned on top.

Top with sauteed onions and/or cooked, crumbled bacon if desired. Serve with sour cream.

Note: uncooked pierogi freeze very well. Just lay them out on a sheet pan and freeze until solid. Then place them in a zip-top bag for storage. Cook the frozen pierogi in boiling water, just as you would cook the fresh ones. They take just a little bit longer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Irish Wholemeal White Bread

I must be a food marketer's dream, particularly when it comes to baking supplies. I'd heard of Irish wholemeal flour, but never saw it for sale until recently when it appeared in the King Arthur Flour catalog. Of course I had to buy it.

I know it's traditionally used for hearty loaves, but I decided to use it in a much lighter, much fluffier loaf. I used just enough to give the loaf character.

It's a good idea to get more fiber into your diet, but I'm all about moderation - I don't think I need to get all my daily fiber into a single slice of bread. A little here and a little there adds up during the day. So this bread has some extra fiber, but it will appeal to people who like a fluffy sandwich loaf. Think of it as a gateway healthy loaf. If this one's acceptable to the white bread lovers in the family, you can add a little more whole wheat next time.

If you can't find Irish wholemeal flour, regular whole wheat would be just fine.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mangshor Curry (Bengal Lamb Curry)

New cookbooks call to me with their clean, unblemished pages... so when How to Cook Indian arrived from Abrams Books, I started browsing through the pages trying to figure out what to make first.

But seriously, there are more than 500 recipes, and I'm not that familiar with the names of Indian dishes. I know some basics, but there were a lot of unfamiliar names, so I started browsing ingredient lists instead of names of dishes.

When I found myself in the midst of lamb recipes, I figured I'd find something appealing. I buy a whole lamb every year, so I'm always looking for new lamb recipes. I started narrowing down the recipes based on what I had on hand or that I could find easily.

When I found the Mangashor Curry, it sounded like the perfect fit. It called for bone-in lamb cut into pieces, but I had lamb stew meat that was cut to about the right size. That was a little more convenient, and it left my bone-in pieces for other uses. And coincidentally, the package of stew meat I has was almost exactly the right amount for the recipe, as well.

The only thing I needed to buy for the recipe was a little bit of fresh ginger. It was a perfect fit.

The instructions were simple as well. I needed to make the garlic paste and ginger paste, but those were just fresh garlic and fresh ginger blitzed in the food processor with a little bit of water to loosen them up, Nothing complicated there.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chocolate Pudding

I've been seeing these commercials on TV for some kind of adult puddings, and they look appealing and unappealing at the same time. And a little confusing.

First, short of putting booze or caffeine into pudding, I don't really know what would make it adult-only. And second, if I'm thinking about pudding, I'm probably looking for a nostalgic kid-like experience rather than an adult-only one.

And anyway, isn't chocolate mousse supposed to be the adult version of pudding?

Maybe the aforementioned "adult" puddings are supposed to be for adult palates because they have better ingredients. Or maybe they're not tooth-achingly sweet. Now, that I could get behind.

With the pudding commercials rattling around in my brain, I was an easy target for a pudding recipe on Serious Eats. The recipe was for a half-batch of dark chocolate pudding and a half-batch of milk chocolate pudding. Then you layer it in individual-serving containers.

Luckily, I had all the ingredients on hand: sugar, corn starch, salt, milk, egg yolks, unsalted butter, vanilla, and chocolate. Cocoa powder was optional; I left that out. And instead of making half of it with milk chocolate, I threw caution to the wind and made it all dark chocolate.

I've made puddings before using cornstarch as a thickener, and I've made custards thickened with egg yolks. This pudding uses both. I don't know how common that is. Truthfully, I don't make pudding very often. Usually I'm making pastry cream for pastries, or I'm making custard for ice cream. It's been a long time since I've made a pudding just to be a pudding.

But this chocolate pudding was calling to me, so I indulged. 

Mmmmm... this was good pudding. I used chocolate that I liked, which is most of the battle. But the pudding wasn't overly sweet, which was also appealing.

I tried some with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top, and the tartness of the yogurt made the pudding seem a little sweeter. It was an interesting contrast, and a bit of a surprising combo, considering that you might normally top pudding with sweetened whipped cream. I'm thinking that a parfait of Greek yogurt and pudding might be very interesting.

I think I'll keep this one in my toolbox.

Building a Sourdough Starter

You may have read my sourdough series on Serious Eats, or you might have seen the recap here earlier, but this is the short version, pared down for use in my column in the Boulder Daily Camera - this version has a little less of the extras, with all the same how-to. Maybe a little easier to print out as a reference.

To make a sourdough bread – or any other sourdough creation, you need a starter. There are online sources for buying starters, but it’s pretty simple to build your own. All you need is flour, water, and a place to store your starter. A clean empty jar is perfect.

There are a few recipes that call for pineapple juice or potato water or raisins, but none of that is necessary. Flour, water, and time are all you need.

If your sourdough doesn't progress at the pace outlined in these instructions, don't fret. Some develop faster than others. It doesn’t mean there’s a problem; they’re all different, and that’s one of the great things about sourdough. Your starter is unique.

A sourdough starter is a simple concept—let some flour and water hang around for a while, and almost magically, the correct combination of yeast and bacteria will take up residence. That combination, when healthy and happy, creates an environment that's unfriendly to unwanted organisms.

One important thing to consider: it's a tradition among people who keep sourdough starters to name their starters. Yes, I’m serious.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 3)

When my favorite pizza stone broke a while back, I started shopping for a new one. I thought it would be pretty easy to make a purchase - find one the right size and decently thick, and pay. It wasn't long before I was mired in indecision. I knew it would take me a while to sort through details and narrow the field down a bit, so I opted for the super-cheap temporary fix - unglazed quarry tiles.

I found my quarry tiles at Home Depot, and they 6 inches square and slightly under 1/2 inch thick. Six tiles weigh 7 pound, 13 ounces, and they made a 12x18 inch landing zone for pizza and bread. Not the ideal size, but I couldn't beat the price - I paid just 67 cents a piece for the tiles. I bought 12 since they were so cheap.

One criticism of quarry tiles is that since they're made for floors, they may not be food safe. Lead is the usual culprit that people worry about, so if it's a concern, you can buy a lead testing kit and see if your particular tiles have a higher lead content than you're comfortable with.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sweet 'n Spicy Racks of Lamb

I've 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 one of those recipes, this time using Sweet Chili Sauce made by Hot Gringas'.

I buy a whole local lamb every year, so I don't save it for special occasions. This dinner, however could have been served for a special occasion. It looked amazingly pretty and it tasted great. The sweet chili sauce added sweet, heat, and a teeny bit of acid - and the color was about as appetizing as it gets.

When you talk about a rack of lamb, it sounds like a fancy upscale dish that should be difficult to prepare, but they're actually very easy to cook. A meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of the temperature, and the oven takes care of even cooking. You cook them like a roast, but they don't take a whole lot of time, so you can plan these for a day when you don't want to fuss a lot. They're that simple.

One rack of lamb with eight bones fed two of us for dinner, but portioning depends on how big your racks are and how big the lamb was. My local lambs tend to be just a bit smaller than the commercial ones, so take that into account. This recipe can be multiplied to feed as many people as you need to.

Most recipes for racks of lamb suggest that you French the racks - you strip out the meat between the bones on the thin part of the roast, leaving the bones bare. I might do that for company, but when it's a family dinner, I'm more likely to leave those little bits of meat attached. Why waste even a bite? There's nothing wrong with the meat, it's about the presentation - and I thought mine looked darned pretty just the way it was.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Salad-Stuffed Potatoes

When I conceived this idea, I envisioned using teeny baby new potatoes that would be single bites. But when I went to the store to buy potatoes, all they had were regular potatoes. Bummer. So I ended up with single-serving stuffed potatoes instead.

At this size, these would be great for a buffet or picnic or as a way to serve potato salad in a more elegant way than the usual giant bowl. It would also be great for portion control.

If you want to make one-bite potatoes, the concept is the same. Just buy smaller potatoes. and chop everything a little smaller so it fits the scale of the tiny potatoes.

And, obviously, you'll need less of everything else per potato.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cooking Creme, What are you?

After reading a couple of rather heated online discussions about Philadelphia Cooking Creme, I decided there was only one logical thing to do - go out and buy some.

Yes, me, who makes her own yogurt. I mean, what's the worst that could happen? I could grow another eye from the chemicals? C'mon, I've consumed much worse.

Between the store discount and the coupons hanging right by the product, it was a pretty cheap product. I decided to buy the original (AKA unflavored) version rather than the Italian or whatever other flavors they had. I wasn't sure what the heck I was going to do with it, so I figured that unflavored was more useful. Besides, I have almost every spice imaginable. I don't need to buy cheese with herbs.

When I opened the package, I tasted it. Hmm. Tastes like cream cheese. But it's looser and smoother than cream cheese. Like sour cream or Greek yogurt, maybe. So far, I wasn't frightened.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cheddar-Scallion Biscuits

It doesn't matter what you call them - scallions, spring onions, or green onions, the skinny little onions with green shoots start looking really good at the grocery store when spring is springing. Fluffy spring lettuce and asparagus are also harbingers of the season, but those onions deserve just as much glory.

In the years when my dad would plant onions in his garden, he'd have to thin out the plants as the season progressed to make room for the growing bulbs. First, he'd harvest some when they were young and skinny, then there would be some with small bulbs on the bottom. And later, we'd have full-sized onions.

I love onions in just about every form, but when I buy the skinny green onions, I'm just as anxious to make use of the green tops as I am to use the white part of the onion. If you can't find green onions, chives would work just as well.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Onion and Swiss Rye Bread

When Casey at Kitchen Play emailed me to ask if I wanted to create a recipe for the next Progressive Party, I was pretty excited. Heck, I've been entering the contests since their inception, so this is probably easier for me since I'm just making one recipe.

If you haven't found Kitchen Play yet, you should go over there and check out the contest rules. But come back here, I'll be waiting ...

... are we back?

For those who want the short version, Kitchen Play hosts monthly contests where invited bloggers (like me!) each create dish that is a component of a complete meal. All the recipes revolve around a theme, which depends on the sponsor of the contest. When the Progressive Party menu is revealed, everyone else is invited to create dishes that are inspired by the originals. Those inspirations can be close to the original, or they can be wildly different, like turning a soup into a dessert.

During the month, bloggers post their recreated recipes on their blogs, with links back to Kitchen Play and to the sponsor for that month. It's not in the rules, but it would be nice if you also posted a link back to the recipe you've riffed off of (that would be me this month, right?)

The last link in the puzzle (hehe) is that you go back to the Kitchen Play menu and post a link to your own site right under the recipe you've chosen to riff off of. It sounds like a lot of links hither and yon, but it ties it all together for people who want to follow along from one place to another.

And that's it. You can modify as many dishes as you like to increase your chances of winning, and do all the posty-linky stuff for each one. There's one winner for each dish, and this month the prize is $100. Not a bad take for one little recipe, hmmm?

So now that we've got the housekeeping done, lets get on to my special part in all of this.

When I saw that I was tasked with the bread course, well, I was all over that. There's probably nothing that I can't work into, around or over bread, and this was no exception. The sponsor for this contest is The National Onion Association (NOA) which, by the way, is a much better name than if it was an organization (noo). So I just need to marry bread and onions.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Gadgets: Danish Dough Whisk

If you work with bread dough a lot, you know there are some doughs that are too wet to knead but difficult to stir with any normal kitchen implement.

It's fine if you've got a stand mixer to do your kneading since it can handle just about any dough. But by hand, a whisk is too flimsy and a wooden spoon is difficult and mostly ineffective.

If only there was a tool that would make working with those doughs easier.

Even if your finished dough will be less wet when you're done with it, you may need to do some mixing at the beginning, when the dough is at that difficult stage.

If only ...

But wait! There is such a gadget. It looks a little silly - like why does it have all the loops? But this thing works. It's a Danish dough whisk, and it's made for hand-mixing doughs. It works well for gloopy wet doughs, and it works for denser doughs as well.

I got mine from King Arthur Flour, where they sell the dough whisk in two different sizes, but I've seen these whisks at a local kitchenware store as well. They sell for $13- $15, so it's not a huge investment. If you have a stand mixer, you might not want to bother with one, but if you do a lot of hand mixing, this crazy gadget works a heck of a lot better than anything else I've tried.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 2)

Is a pizza stone really necessary? What about using a pizza pan?

While pizza stones are pretty popular, not everyone has one. Meanwhile, a lot of different pizza pans are sold in stores, so it's worth testing at least one to see how it compares to baking directly on a stone.

I pulled out an aluminum pizza pan for this test. The pan is 14 inches in diameter and has a bit of raised edge, but otherwise is nothing special. It's made from the same sort of aluminum that many cookie sheets are made from, and I bought it from a restaurant supply store.

I never cooked pizza on this pan before this test - I'd used it for serving, though. So I didn't know what to expect before I started.

I preheated the oven empty, assuming that most folks who use aluminum pizza pans wouldn't preheat the pan. I let the oven preheat at 550 degrees for 1 hour, and then I slid the pan - and pizza - into the oven.

At the eight-minute mark the top of the pizza was obviously undercooked, cheese just beginning to melt in the center.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring Frittata

Asparagus is one of the vegetables that defines spring. Sure, it's available almost all year long, but in the spring, the asparagus is coming from more local growers.

Pretty soon, you'll even be able to buy it at the farmer's market. Meanwhile, though, US-grown asparagus is at the grocery store. 

I love asparagus lightly steamed, roasted, warm, cold - just about any way. But usually it's not the star of a dish. In this dish, it's the focal point, at least visually.

This version is meatless, but you could add some meat, if you wanted to. Ham or cooked bacon or sausage would work really well and would make it a heartier dish.

This would be a perfect light meal with a salad on the side, and maybe some crusty bread, and if you like things spicy, serve with some salsa on the side.

Niwot Okays Backyard Cows

A pair of young cows lounge in a Niwot back yard.
Okay, so you figured out my early post was a joke, right? April Fool's Day and all. Ha ha. But I couldn't let the day go without posting this news tidbit.

It's not entirely food-related, but it is very related, considering this is a major step toward total locavorism.

Suburban dwellers around here are asking, "Why stop at having a garden?" The town I live, in, Longmont, legalized backyard chickens a while back, and now the next town over, Niwot, has allowed backyard cows. In a surprise move, the Niwot United Town-dweller Society lobbied the Boulder County Commissioners to allow Niwot homeowners to keep pet cows.

In their proposal to the commissioners, the NUTS group wrote that unadulterated raw milk was just as important to health and welfare as chicken eggs. “Like Longmont, we’re only interested in the produce from the animals – just them milk. We don’t want homeowners to start raising beef cattle. Just some nice, domestic milkers.”

Cows would be limited to two, except when mother cows had unweaned calves, in which case the maximum would increase to allow the two mother cows plus their calves. The calves would be allowed to remain in the yard until they were old enough to graze on their own.

“We suggest that homeowners give away their calves to neighbors rather than trying to sell them to dairies. We’d like to see a cow in every back yard in a few years. Think how wonderful that would be,” Elmer Boden, spokesperson for the group, said.

His wife, Daisy, said that besides milk for the family, homeowners could begin churning their own butter and making simple cheeses. “Niwot could become known as the cheese capital of Colorado,” Daisy said.

Cows would only be allowed in yards of people who owned their own homes – renters would be prohibited from bringing cows onto rental properties. “Cows live a long time,” Elmer said. “You don’t want someone renting a home in Niwot and buying a cow, only to move to Longmont where cows are not yet allowed.”

Cows would also not be allowed in common areas of apartment complexes or condos, nor would they be allowed on public streets. “People would be allowed to walk their cows on trails,” Elmer said, but cautioned that cow-walkers would have to pick up after their animals the same was dog-walker do. “The benefit, though,” Elmer said, “is that the leavings make good fertilizer.

Daisy was enthusiastic about the benefits to the local business community. “Think of all the new opportunities,” she said. “There will be new cow-sitting services for people who need to leave their cow at home when they go on vacation. Cow-grooming services would no doubt spring up as well.”

But it’s not all about new businesses. “Landscapers will see a boost to business, as will fencing companies,” Daisy said. “It will be good for everyone.”

A commissioner, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he had voted against the proposal, “They’re just NUTS,” he said. “No one in Niwot is going to want cows in their backyards. It’s never going to happen.”

One Product, Many Sources!

Welcome to the Beta version of the new Cookistry store!!!

Prices have not yet been set, and product is not yet in stock. You're the first to get a sneak peek of the indispensable product we will be selling. And yes, just one product, but in many variations. Cooks find this one single item to be indispensable in the kitchen, and even non-cooks use it quite often.

Note: all product will be securely bottled in its liquid form, and can be safely stored at room temperature before opening.

Our motto is "One product, many sources." Enjoy!

Sky Wild-Caught
Sky harvesters work mid-air; ground harvesters collect below
  • Spring Hard Pellets
  • Summer Warm
  • Fall Chiller
  • Winter Fluff
  • Winter Half-Frozen
Sky Harvested
(Same categories as Sky Wild-Caught, but harvested at groundfall rather than in free flight)