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uhg!

I am totally unhappy with my unexpected blogging hiatus. I know that all two of you are as well. BUT I am still baking and cooking and taking pictures; building a repository of posts to write up. I will be back soon enough – promise!

HEARTS!

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I’m not all about my birthday; I don’t get sorts of crazy excited – and it’s not because I’m worried about getting old since I already act like a 90 year old woman.  I get more excited about catching a Lady GaGa song playing on the radio. However, I do love going out to eat, and super fancy dinners are a fun way to celebrate (my) birthdays.

Last year I had a completely awesome birthday gift of Heidi’s Chef’s Table with Chef Stewart Woodman; a dinner that lasted at least five glorious hours.

This year I was tossing ideas of La Bell Vie, or Sea Change, perhaps the Grand Cafe?  While these restos are inspiring, I felt like I was missing something bigger.  I saw this list (ЗДОРОВАТЬСЯ Moscow on the Hill) for birthday boys and girls and aside from the Craftsman and Moscow, I was uninspired and was going to call out for help as to where to go for my birthday dinner.  But then David told me that it will be a surprise and to block off not only my birthday, but the night before as well!  I love making decisions and delegating tasks, and dictating the social calendar, but surprises are even better.

Rather than a call out for resto recommendations, I instead ask that you all chip on and purchase this for me, where I will not even display it in my house, but tape it to the inside of one of my cupboards and smile each time I open the door – a gentle reminder of what a nerd I am.

Remember when I made my own Worcestershire sauce? If not, the post is right here. In it, I said that I would take a picture each week and let you determine whether or not it changed. Pictures will follow, but I want to preemptively alert you to the fact that they are B-O-R-I-N-G. They all look the same from the outside of the jar. However, what I did not fully appreciate after some forgotten time in the refrigerator, was how all of the solids broke down in the concoction. Obviously it did not take very long for the anchovies to disintegrate, but the shallots were a but of a surprise, though I am no scientist.

the original components

day 1, picture 1 - all in a jar

Here you can see the spices fell to the bottom, while the shallots floated to the top.  The whereabouts of the anchovies is undetermined.  Dun dun dun…

two weeks from the start...

Everything has basically sunk to the bottom, thus stressing the importance of a good shake of the jar – daily.

done!

This is a week…two..or three past the due date for straining the sauce.  It could be my poor lighting, or photography skills, perhaps even a mixture of both, but the sauce is far murkier than even I expected.  It does have a delightful (if you’re into this sort of thing, which I am) vinegar smell, despite the disgusting visual…

yuck-o!!!!

I wrapped a double layer of cheesecloth over a small canning jar and emptied the contents of the Worcestershire over it.  This is the gloppy mess of what came out, hough expected, I was rather surprised.

Then I squeezed all of the liquid out of the glob, and was left with this dry sack of nastiness: spices, whatever may remain of the anchovies, and shallot remnants.  It also looked like coffee grounds actually…

clean Worcestershire Sauce

Some spices surely escaped the confines of the cheesecloth, but it is certainly nothing t be worried about – simply more flavor!

According to Cook’s Illustrated (of which, I am finally a proud subscriber), they have a recipe for beef stew in which the author tester and chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt works to achieve a meatier flavor.  To do so, she adds 4 minced anchovy fillets (~2oz, the same amount used in my recipe for this sauce).  She writes that people will usually add ingredients high in glutamate (hello MSG!!!) such as cheese and tomatoes, fish also being one such glutamate rich ingredients.  In making her stew, she added tomato paste and salted pork, but noted that the addition of the anchovies exponentially increased the beefy flavor of her stew!  Based on a bunch of sciency stuff that the good people at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences they found that anchovies may increase meat flavor by 15 fold!!! I think it is clear why fish sauce and or anchovies are a vital inclusion in this homemade Worcestershire Sauce, and something I certainly had never considered before.

Because this sauce needs to be used in meat products and BECAUSE it is freezing in Minneapolis for at least another three months, I have found it difficult to decide on the best way to use my new fancy schmancy New York Timesy Worcestershire Sauce.  I refuse to cannot make burgers in the house, despite owning at least two George Foreman grills.  I decided to move on to the next best ground meat thing…lasagna.  (OK really, I know I need to make a nuclear holocaust supply of meatballs, but lasagna was my first and thus far, only opportunity.)  I had the privilege of using some fantastic ground meat that Nick left over from house sitting, so I am unsure if it was the quality, of the meat, or the fantastic-ness of this sauce, but the pan cooked lasagna meat was so so so good.  It was like…What About Bob good.

Seriously, if the intrigue of making your own condiment, the science, or the What About Bob movie clip doesn’t convince you to make this…well, it’s safer if I just leave you intrigued about the ramifications…

Crème Brûlée

For nearly an entire year, I have been a girl with a small butane torch and no ramekins in which to put custard.  Me even wanting to fill a ramekin with custard is weird in and of itself (you can search my blog for how I hated custard), but the desire came to a head if for no other reason than the desire to use this small torch.  I was lucky enough to find a steal on small ramekins (6 for $7!!!), and set on this task immediately thereafter.

Baking any custard based product is still a challenge for me; as seen here, here, and here.  I really want to get it down though and crème brûlée couldn’t be easier.  Using the recipe found in my CIA Mastering the Art and Craft Baking & Pastry book, I set to work gathering my ingredients and sauce pans.

I know what you’re thinking; “OMG!  How on earth do you make so many delicious things with an electric stove!?”  I don’t know friends (all 2 of you), but it CAN be done.  Trust.

Anyway, I followed the directions from the recipe – if you missed the link above, here it is again.  If you did not plan ahead and have 30 vanilla beans, or two from the McCormick spice jar from big box grocery, vanilla extract will suffice, just not look as pretty.  The CIA suggests

Vanilla extract can be substituted for the vanilla bean.  Blend 1 T into the custard just before portioning it into ramekins.  Vanilla beans that are used to infuse flavor into preparations such as custards can be rinsed under cold water, dried, and stored for a later use, such as making Vanilla Sugar.

Had I actually read the last sentence I could be indulging in vanilla sugar.   Uhg.

If you are not constantly stirring them mixture after you have tempered and added the sugared egg yolks, you run the high risk making scrambled eggs, so stir constantly!  If you don’t and kind of zone out of the task, get your strainer ready because you will need to pour all of your custard through it to remove the curdled eggs.  Actually, whether you zone out or not, it is best to strain it.  You know, precautionary, even if you’re as awesome as me.

Then just bake your ramekins off in a water bath so they do not get rubbery!

When you pull these guys out, or as many as you can bake (for any that you can’t/don’t want to bake off,  just put it in a sizable plastic container and use within a week or so), let them cool down and then refrigerate until they are fully chilled. But when they ARE…

Using 1 part granulated sugar to 1 part brown sugar and mixing them together completely, you have created brûlée sugar.  Take your brûlée sugar and layer it thinly on top of your custard…

Then you take that sugar and TORCH IT!  But not so much so that it is just burnt…but caramelized.

Some people pick their scabs, other break windows to relieve stress, feel good or waste time.  But if you are looking for a wonderful relief that is neither disgusting but is law-abiding, cracking through the glassy topping of this wonderful crème brûlée fits the bill.

Recession-Proof Gifts

You’re broke.  I’m not trying to be a prick, but you are.  You lost your job, you had to downsize your life, and get a lame part-time job.  While all of these  things are huge set backs, you don’t have to be the Grinch at your holiday get-together nor do you have to show up with the bag of coal (which I imagine is an expensive gift anyway – and total NOT green…).  I wish I could instruct you on producing homemade jams and other canned goods but alas, no one has offered to let me borrow their canning supplies (save my BIL 2,000 miles away).  Instead, load up on some chocolate, peanuts, peanut butter, corn syrup, and some booze because you are staying home and turning your kitchen into a candy factory!  Let’s give the gift of sweets, made with love – something I haven’t yet seen a commercial about from Hershey’s.

Here are a few things that I want to remind you to make as gifts:

  1. Diable Peanut Brittle.  I know one ought not think of evil thoughts like…diablo during such a festive season.  But it’s good and your receivers will be way pleased.

2.   Caramel:  Who can resist the milky goodness – and heavy cream laden caramel?  It’s so delicious, and clearly                         made with love.

3.   Chocolate Covered Caramels:  If you want to get super wild, take the caramels from above, cover them in                      your favorite chocolate (I always prefer bittersweet when baking with an already very sweet product), dip,                          decorate and fin.

4.   PEANUT BUTTER BALLS: You have already ‘wowed’ your friends, family, mail delivery person and cats with your candy making abilities.  However, now is the time to really suck up to that manager of yours and make peanut butter balls.  Though somewhat time consuming, the general idea behind PB Balls is simple; it merely involves the creaming method, tempering chocolate and coating peanut butter, after of course you formed them in to balls (many ball-base comments to follow). I totally gave you the tools in the above posts to set you up to dominate PBBs!

Here’s what you need:

  • 1/2 # butter (two sticks) melted
  • 2 cups of your favorite peanut butter (chunky, creamy natural?  I don’t give a damn  These are YOUR balls!)
  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 cups dry/powdered milk (found in a box, not in an aluminum can like evaporated milk)
  • 2 cups of cheapo corn flakes – because why would you get Corn Flakes?  Let the PB do the talking here.

Take all of the above in your mixer and cream until thoroughly blended.

At this juncture, you PB mix is going to be way too warm to ball up.  Just place it all in a bowl and keep in the refrigerator until it and you, are ready for more work.  I needed a culinary beak for a few days, but when I was good and ready, I started balling them up.  I chose to make each serving only a teaspoon – big enough for one bite – then proceeded to roll the peanut butter in to a ball in my (clean) hands.  I set the balls aside on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  After heavy handling like this, the mixture becomes warm and needs to cool down over night before being coated in chocolate.

I put the cookie sheet with the balls in the freezer to get nice and hard.  A day or so later, I was ready (mentally anyway.  If you are mentally ready to dip over 100 PBBS in chocolate the next morning, they WILL be ready to go.  Unless your freezer is set to tropical rather than tundra) to temper my favorite bittersweet chocolate to dip the balls into.

Using candy dipping tools, a fork, or a skewer, merely coat and shake off any excess chocolate from the balls (dark – and I assume bittersweet chocolate – should reach a temperature between 110-120F to be tempered.  Though I am new to the game so I welcome any credible advice).  Have another  parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet ready to place the newly chocolate coated balls on.  The first few dozen will harden up quickly since they are so cold.  However you want o make sure that your chocolate is not so hot as to melt the PBBs.  Though tempered  at 120, you should coat the chocolate at a temperature ranging between 86-90F.  Will you live if it is a tad warmer?  Yes.  Though it may not have the same beautiful finish a week later.

Since we eat with our mouths and eyes, the last thing you want your gift receivers to think of is rabbit poo as they bite in to your delicious PBBs.  So when the chocolate has hardened, make it look pretty by drizzling some chocolate over it, all spidery-web-like.

When finished, I like to put the balls in the freezer again to harden up the PB though I am unsure if it is necessary.  The PB mixture is awesome and the corm flakes add a really nice mouth feel, but more importantly, your recipients will be wowed.

If you get done making all of this candy and feel as though it still needs some bulk, add an assortment of wonderful citrus from your favorite co-op, like clementines, grapefruit, navel oranges or pears, and other seasonal fruits.  Maybe a package of your favorite coffee or tea?  Whatever you choose, your recipients will be so pleased by all of the wonderful goods that YOU created from your kitchen.  It really is a gift from the heart, home and hands.  Your time and effort have a value, and you have created a meaningful gift that will leave your friends, family and mail man talking each year about what a fantastic gift you gave them, even when we are again in boon times.

Chicken Larb Gai

I was such a fool to believe that it was merely called a lettuce wrap and not Larb Gai.  For years now I have been this idiotic – for shame!  Though often times considered a Thai dish its origins more accurately bring it from Laos where it is the national dish; a meat salad, if you will.  Most importantly, it is delicious!

After looking over your recipe, your first step is to go directly to your favorite Asian grocer – mine is the Shuang Hur Oriental Market, on Nicollet.  The store is huge, wonderful and ridiculously affordable.  They even have live fish, lobster and oysters in the back of the store.  If you are choosing to make chicken larb gai, and not a red meat variant, you MAY have to go to a different store to pick up some chicken, because when I was there I only saw smoked chicken.  There was whole chicken available as well ( I think…) but I was not in the mood to dismember an entire bird.  Once you’ve gathered all of your ingredients, you are ready to rock n roll!

When you get home, make sure to dig out the rice cooker that is buried in your cupboard.  I know you only use it a handful of times…unless you don’t.  You should have purchased sticky rice at Shuang Hur (5# for $5).  If you didn’t, go back and buy some, seriously.  Long grain rice just won’t work with this since it gives off a completely different experience.  In your rice cooker, drop in 1 cup of rice for each 1 1/2 cup of water, and let the cooker cook the rice – it’s only job.  If you don’t have this space hogging device, a regular sauce pan will suffice.

Whether you bought an entire bird, or just chicken breasts, you really need to cut it up in to sizable pieces in order to properly grind the meat in your food processor, or meat grinder – whichever you prefer.  Another option is to buy already ground chicken; though this idea did not particularly excite me so I stuck with the breasts, because I’m like that (!!!).

For some reason, the prospect of raw meat touching my food processor icked me out.   Regardless, I did it.

Just a few pulses allows you to get the above results.  It is not over-processed and it is not as mealy as ground meat – a nice balance.  After disinfecting your work area, toss the meat in a pan to cook with a couple of tablespoon of water.  It will not take long to cook the chicken all of the way through since it is so exposed to the heat source.  In that two minute time period though, you should be breaking up the clumps in to smaller pieces, ensuring they aren’t cooking in a large clump.

When cooked all of the way through, pour the meat in to a bowl and add the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder,
  • 4 teaspoons fish sauce,
  • 5 teaspoons lime juice,
  • 1/4 cup slivered red onions,
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, and
  • 2 tablespoons sliced scallions and mix thoroughly.

You are practically ready to eat!  Just slice up some seedless cucumbers, take your fully cooked sticky rice out of the rice cooker, wash some lettuce and get your mint out!

You can make little chicken wraps with the lettuce, add the cukes and mint, or merely use your fingers to grab some sticky rice and then the chicken larb.  This dish has so many wonderful flavors that work splendidly together, that you will have an umami explosion in your mouth!

If you have any leftover cooked rice, heat it up in a sauce pan with some coconut milk – voila, dessert!

NEWS FLASH:  IT’S COLD OUTSIDE.

You shouldn’t go outside, for anything.  You should see if you can telecommute to work and then also sell your employer on the idea that you are helping keep the office germ and flu-free.  To circumvent the tundra and give the finger to Mother Nature/Father Winter you should stay snuggled up at home and make tomato soup.  Don’t even go  to the grocery store – you have everything you need (I think…) in your pantry and refrigerator.   This isn’t nasty canned tomato soup, it is spicy tomato and blue cheese soup.  Don’t like blue cheese?  You will.

I love making soups, especially since I have been adamant making my own chicken, turkey and shrimp stock this year.  It’s easy, practically free, contains no sodium (in the stock) and is far tastier than anything Swanson will sell you.  Even the AARP knows of my old lady tendencies since they routinely send me information about joining.

Aside from my love of homemade stocks, soups and old people, I love easy recipes, which this is.  So easy in fact that Amateur Gourmet and Michael Symon do not even expect you to have fresh tomatoes, but canned!  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, hot sauce, dried spices, salt, and chicken stock – oh my!  See what I mean when I say you have all of these things in your pantry!?  OK, you may not have blue cheese nor heavy cream, unless you are me, since I pretty much insist of keeping both in the house.  But just go get them.  If you don’t (think you) like blue cheese (Tracy, I’m looking at you), just buy the super market kind, the one in the plastic container by the gorgonzola.

All you have to do is sauté the garlic and onions in olive oil, then toss the rest in and let it simmer.  If you are particular about creating a smooth tomato soup,  you can use your immersion blender or food processor to blend.  Because our food processor leaks everywhere and I forgot we had a smoothie maker in a cupboard too high up (i’m short), it was determined that chunky tomato soup would be delicious – and it was.

soup and bacon sautéed brussel sprouts

MAYBE, since you are telecommuting, you could make a beautiful boule to accompany your spicy blue cheese tomato soup and even turn it into the adult version of grilled cheese and tomato soup?!?