Sunday, August 14, 2016

Get Thee to the Picklery

I thought I was making that word up, but no, a Picklery is a real thing! And yes, by real thing I mean a small business that, in spite of all efforts to induce profitability will only rise to prominence (The Prominent Pickle! I've named my Picklery!) as an cautionary tale told to cocksure entrepreneurs: "Yes, but Great Aunt Katie also took Econ 101 and that didn't prevent her from becoming homeless following the inevitable dissolution of The Prominent Pickle."

Anyhoo, I was at the farmers market last weekend and they had gorgeous Kirby cukes so I came home, settled on a recipe from Food and Wine, doctoring it just slightly to use Apple Cider Vinegar, and made us some fine pickles. The following day I used the same recipe with haricots verts and carrots, both equally delightful. And yes, Virginia, they do need to be haricots, not your garden variety green bean. For one, les haricots fit perfectly into a pint sized jar. Two, it's like getting all long things in Tetris - they fit together snugly with, like, no wasted space.

This week I was back at the market, and spent the afternoon cleaning and trimming haricots, carrots and pickles.

Here's that recipe:

Quick Spicy Pickles
Print recipe only here

Stuff to pickle:
4-5 Kirby cucumbers, washed and quartered
8 oz haricots verts, cleaned (I like leaving the tails)
7 carrots, peeled, washed, quartered and trimmed to fit pint jars
1 quart sized canning jar
2 pint sized canning jars

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
3 T Kosher salt
2 T white sugar
2 T coriander seeds
2 cups water
2-3 red chilis, washed and halved
7-8 garlic cloves, smashed gently
10-12 dill sprigs, rinsed and trimmed

Combine vinegars, sugar and salt and place in sun to heat until sugar and salt dissolve.
Prep and trim all veg.
Place one red chili half into each jar. More if you really want to feel the heat.
Add 2-3 cloves garlic to the Quart jar and 1-2 cloves to each pint jar
Add coriander seeds to vinegar and stir
Pack veggies into jars
Pour vinegar over veg until covers completely
Cover and refrigerate 24 hours.

Note: the carrots take 48 hours to be good.

Keeps up to one month.

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Kind of Bar

There are several wonderful things about Sundays. One is having time to cook a few things for the week. The other is The Good Wife, a show that ensnared me with its legalese and fantastic supporting cast. Elsbeth Tascoini! Meryl Streep's doppleganger daughter! That dude who ended up on Downton Abbey! Eli Farking Gold! They resurrected Denny from Shondaland to smile his Denny smile at Alicia and Kalinda made thigh high boots workplace appropriate. The only possible upside of the series coming to an end is that Logan Huntzberger will be have time off to visit Stars Hollow.

Anyhoo, during the week I have to be very organized in order to eat and cook well, and so Sundays usually involve a fair amount of gathering and prepping. I've been trying to eat smaller meals  - and more of them. Since I cannot possible prepare that many meals in day I wind up turning to the Kind bar 1-2 times a week to fill in as a mini meal.  I'm a big fan of the Kind bar, especially their line of 5g of sugar ones. But I had a sneaking suspicion I could create my own without too much effort. So today I did.

I used the recipe creator at Livestrong to try and get the bars to be in line with the nutrition on a standard Kind bar and got pretty close. In my sophomore effort I intend to try to boost the protein. You can add other ingredients as you like. I think pumpkin seeds would be a nice addition.

Here's that recipe:

Pinch Bar
Print recipe only here

1 1/2 cups Rolled Oats
3/4 cup whole raw almonds
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened flake coconut
1/4 cup dried sour cherries, chopped
2 T bittersweet chocolate chips, chopped
4 T natural peanut butter
3 T honey

Preheat over to 350. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving several inches overhanging on the sides.

On one baking pan, place the almonds and toast for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and reserve until cooled.

On a separate pan, toss the oats, coconut, and sunflower seeds for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir the peanut butter and honey together until it softens and is smooth.

Roughly chop the sour cherries and chocolate chips and transfer to a medium sized mixing bowl.
Roughly chop the almonds, leaving them mostly whole. Add all dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and toss to combine. Add the peanut butter mixture and stir well to combine. Press the mixture into the prepared pan, using a glass or bottom of a measuring cup to pack it down well. Refrigerate about 15-30 minutes. Remove from fridge and cut into 16 bars. Store covered in fridge for several weeks.

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Almond Tea Cake with Almond Toffee Topping

So it happened like this: I was offered a slice of Basque Cake. I like to never turn down a dessert I've not previously tried. It was at MFK, a delightful lunch spot (I'm sure it's wonderful for dinner but I've only been for lunch), and yes, it was awesome. It was a simple cake, tho unlike others - it had this gooey thing going on in the middle, a delicate crumb and a meringue-like crunch part on the top. And it wasn't too sweet, which is something I'm always yammering about. I like to taste flavor in a dessert, and appreciate texture, and often the two are lost in an emulsion of sugar.

I wanted to make one! I haven't done much baking this year, save a batch of sour cherry doughnuts on Christmas morning. Those were awesome, but I digress. I searched though all my cookbooks and trolled a variety of websites and learned a bit about the cake, but not enough to feel confident I was going to reproduce the marvel that was MFK's. Baking may be like riding a bike in that you won't forget how but it won't necessarily be pretty. As I was heading over to friends' home and didn't want to show up with a failed experiment, I decided to go with an old standard. I added the topping just for grins, and loved it so much I'm making it again for a party tonite.

For those of you whose interest is piqued by the Basque Cake, try this from Lottie + Doof but don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you: it's not for the impatient baker. Follow the link below for my Almond Tea Cake recipe. Almond paste is sold in the baking aisle in an 8oz can or small box.

Almond Tea Cake with Almond Toffee Topping
Print recipe only here

8 oz almond paste
10 oz unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 cups AP flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

3 T unsalted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 T AP flour
1 T heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit an 8-inch round cake pan. I use a 3-inch tall cake pan for this cake. You can also use a 9-inch by 2-inch tall pan. Spray the cake pan with baking spray or grease with butter, and fit the parchment round onto the base. Reserve.

Sift the dry ingredients together and reserve. Crack the eggs into a measuring cup (one with a spout for pouring) and add the vanilla extract.

In a stand mixer (or hand mixer) cream together the butter and almond paste for 1-2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar, creaming well over about 3-4 minutes.

Lower the mixer speed to medium and pour in one eggs at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the flour in 3 additions, mixing slowly and just barely between additions. Don't overmix! Transfer batter into prepared pan and bake for about 50-55 minutes.

After about 50 minutes of baking, prepare the topping - don't do it earlier than that because it will harden. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the sugar and stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients and reserve.

When the cake has about 5-10 minutes left of baking (like when the toothpick had a few tacky crumbs stuck on it), remove from the oven and carefully spoon topping over the entire surface, being careful not to disrupt the cake. Return to the oven and bake for 5-8 minutes, or until the cake is cooked thru.

Remove from oven and run a knife around edge of cake, as if you were going to release it. Let cool for about 15-20 minutes, then carefully invert onto a plate and then invert again so that the almond topping is on top. Serve and enjoy!

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thai Celery Salad and the Importance of Fish Sauce

I've been making this Thai Celery Salad, courtesy of the good folks at Bon Appetit, for a few months now. It, as they say, is Super Good. There are just a handful of ingredients and they some together for a delightfully clean and crunchy side salad.

It's one of several menu items that contain fish sauce, a condiment I now always have on hand. In my early days experimenting with fish sauce I bought the small glass bottles produced by Thai Kitchen. Now that I use it more frequently (fish sauce also goes into my Cauliflower Curry and Pad Thai) I've graduated to larger bottles sourced in the Thai market on Broadway or in the well-stocked isles of Treasure Island. Lately I've been using Tiparos which comes in a plastic bottle, but I prefer big glass bottles, tho lately they're hard to source.

I'm going to lose some of you here with this fact: Fish sauce is anchovy. And yes, I'm a huge fan of the anchovy, but I really don't think that drives my fondness for the sauce. It's an integral flavor in Thai cooking, and one almost singlehandedly makes whatever you're preparing taste like Thai food. What I'm saying is this, if you like Thai food and are interesting in adding some Thai recipes to your repertoire - don't let being an Anchovy Hater hold you back. Here's that recipe:

6-8 stalks celery, trimmed, washed and sliced on a diagonal 3 green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 cup cilantro, chopped
3 T canola oil
2 T lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 T fish sauce
Fresh ground pepper 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

Chop celery, green onion and cilantro and add to a small mixing bowl. Add fish sauce, lime juice, canola oil and a few turns of pepper and mix to combine. Let sit about 15 minutes to marinate. Transfer to a serving bowl. Top with chopped peanuts and serve.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

CDC Advisory: Don't _______ that Chicken!

Mad Libs! Does anyone play it in the winter? Mad Libs reminds me of summer road trips and lying around in the cool basement being bored enough to play Mad Libs by myself. Anyway, two verbs apply to the title of this post. Try to pick them among this list:

- Mollycoddle
- Beget
- Encourage
- Kiss
- Endorse
- Befriend
- Wash
- Catfish
- Underestimate
- Reach out to

Guess yet?

The correct answers are KISS and WASH. There's been some reporting on the former in the past few months. Turns out the rise of backyard chicken coops is causing an increase in Salmonella infections. Because people who keep chickens become endeared to them, and kiss them. Even those who shy away from physical expressions of love with their pets are at risk: just having them around in your living space puts you at risk. A healthy chicken can still get you very sick - essentially, they've got germs all over their feathers, feet and beaks. Letting the chicken cross the threshold invites disaster.

As for washing, we're now talking about a bird you're ready to eat. It doesn't matter if it's a whole chicken, or a skinless boneless breast, or a pile of chicken wings and drummettes: don't wash them before cooking. Doing so merely spreads the germs you washed off the bird all over your sink, splattering counters and utensils. I've written about this before around Thanksgiving because I brine the turkey with kosher salt and it needs to be rinsed and the whole thing makes me twitchy about poisoning our guests (not twitchy enough to stop brining, tho).

Brush up on your food safety here at the USDA site. And don't Snapchat that chicken!

Referenced above:
Backyard Chickens Linked to Salmonella Outbreaks, CDC Says 

Risk of Human Salmonella Infections from Live Baby Poultry 
Why Washing Raw Chicken Could Be Hazardous To Your Health

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Can Your Sweet Tooth be Retrained?

There were two big sugar events this week. First, a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough was produced. Our practice concerning cookies is ordered around the empirical truth that cookies are only good when fresh baked (further chronicled here). We make dough and roll it into logs. One log goes in the freezer and the other stays in the fridge. Individual cookies are baked off for treats on an as needed basis. That this practice also precludes overindulgence is not lost on the nutrition hawk in me.

The second event was that we took delivery on a 10-pound bag of glucose (a/k/a dextrose powder). Quick chemistry on glucose: glucose and its chubby cousin, fructose, are monosaccharides. Put together they form sucrose, yes, a disaccharide. Sucrose is what's in your sugar bowl. That batch of cookies called for 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar and another 3/4 cup of light brown sugar (1). Whether your sugar bowl contains sugar-in-the-raw, or those fancy La Perruche sugar cubes I like so much, or white granulated table sugar you assumed originated from sugar cane but is actually from beets, it's all sucrose. It's all the same chemistry.

Once ingested, enzymes break sucrose back down into fructose and glucose. Your body needs glucose, it is a source of energy needed by cells (2). Your body does not need dietary fructose - it heads straight to the liver where the excess (most of it) is turned into fat. (3) This is old news, tho it would have been helpful information for my college girlfriends and I to have understood in the mid-90s TCBY craze.

[Did we not learn anything from TCBY? Frozen yogurt is back and it's bigger than before - and now it's there's candy and you can fill your own massive bowl.]

Glucose is either used immediately for energy or stored in muscle cells or the liver (4). Unlike fructose, insulin is secreted in response to elevated concentrations of glucose. (5) If that sounds like there's a difference between what glucose and fructose do in your body, you're right: researchers at the University of California Davis reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that high fructose consumption puts individuals at greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes than ingesting a similar amount of glucose. (6)

Consumers and food producers limit sugar intake by using less, or by using natural or artificial sugar substitutes. It's important to note that your body doesn't differentiate between natural sugars. It doesn't matter if it's Lucky Charms or Fruit Juice Sweetened Corn Flakes. There's no difference between the sugars in a juicy grapefruit, the honey in your tea, the tomatoes in your marinara, or the cabernet in your glass - your body metabolizes it all the same way. What does matter is the amount, and - in my understanding - the glucose/fructose ratio. That ratio is the cause of the rage against high fructose corn syrup, and the science behind debunking the myth of agave which can contain 97% fructose (manufacturing processes differ and so do fructose levels). As for artificial sweeteners - which are neither carbohydrates nor nutritive - aside from the unknown unintended consequences, my main concern is that they hype our collective sweet tooth (7). Diet sodas have very specific amount of sweetener, and if that's the amount you're used to, your sweet tooth won't be satiated with less.

What we need to do is retrain our sweet tooth and get back to more reasonable sugar consumption levels. We can start doing this by drinking more water and less juice and soda. Reduce sugar every time you cook or bake (if a recipe calls for a cup, just use 2/3 - you won't ruin anything, trust me). Finally, look at nutrition labels carefully and try, with every choice, to consume less.

This morning I added a small teaspoon of glucose to my coffee. No cloying aftertaste, it just tasted like I cut back on my sugar. On the tongue glucose tastes just like table sugar - just a watered-down version - which is exactly what it should taste like, being half sugar. The texture is similar to superfine sugar.

I will report back on my baking-with-glucose experiments. In the meanwhile, should you want to try it, glucose (sold as dextrose powder) can be sourced on Amazon.

(1) Brown sugar being simply refined white sugar to which molasses (a byproduct of the refining process) has been added back in.
(2) Glucose -

(3) How Bad is Fructose? - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
(4) What is the Difference Between Sucrose, Glucose & Fructose? - SF Gate
(5) and (6) All Sugars Aren't the Same: Glucose Is Better, Study Says - TIME
(7) Added Sugars - Harvard Medical School

More interesting reading on measuring sugar density:  What is Brix? from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Not Quite Winging It

I was a terrible waitress. It's due to the same reasons why I'd have made a terrible line cook: I don't work well under pressure. I like to show up early and methodically work through my list. Pastry always suited me well in that regard. Cooks in the sweet kitchen show up early and work until the line cooks gradually take over all your counter space, usually around 3pm. Jockeying for work space is an everyday battle in professional kitchens. It's common occurrence to step away from your station for a moment and return to find your neighbor has casually installed half his mise en place right up against your cutting board (cutting boards being the mark of territory on the line, and respecting a 3-inch easement around your neighbor's cutting board is just common courtesy).

I'm thinking about waitressing because earlier I called up my memory of how the cooks at Rockwell's used to make Buffalo sauce for wings. Rockwell's was a strip mall, casual dining place in the same vein as Chotchkie's, a/k/a the place where Jennifer Anniston worked in Office Space. Rockwell's produced mainstream American junk meals (wings, hamburgers, fries, salad with creamy dressing, pasta with creamy sauce, that kind of stuff). I worked there the summer after I graduated college, and thank goodness, since I am going to make chicken wings this weekend, and I want them to be as awesome as the ones they made there.

I had Buffalo wings for the first time - thankfully! - in Buffalo, NY, the city from which they originated. I was there in high school with a few friends and a teacher for a student government conference or something. All I remember from that weekend was the thrill of flying somewhere with friends, and the dive bar where Mr. Jones took us for wings. Oh, and we played Name that Tune in the rental car, and the freshman kicked everyone's butt. I remember that too.

My estimation of what makes wings so perfectly delicious is that 1) they are fried, and 2) they are subsequently slathered in butter. I didn't want to deep fry them for two reasons: 1) hello, totally unhealthy and 2) I don't have the right pan. That left broiling as the only option. This is what you do to prep the wings:

Step 1: Preheat broiler
Step 2: Cut the wings into three parts, discarding the wing tips
Step 3: Toss the wings with 1-2 tablespoons canola oil and transfer to a baking sheet
Step 4: Broil 6 min on each side, turning them midway
Step 5: Mix together The Sauce
Step 6: Toss the broiled wings in the sauce. Serve with celery and blue cheese dressing

To come up with the recipe for The Sauce, I jogged my memory of what the cooks did at Rockwell's. One of the guys showed me how he made the giant pot of sauce. It involved many, many bottles of Tabasco and Frank's Red Hot, and pounds of butter. To reproduce the recipe, I determined the ratio of the two hot sauces by the bottle size: the bottle of Tabasco is 5 ounces and the bottle of Franks's is 12 ounces. The restaurant was using industrial sized bottles, but the Frank's bottles were definitely bigger. I settled on a 2:1 ratio of Frank's to Tabasco and really like the flavor.  Here's that recipe:

Pinch Buffalo Wing Sauce
Print recipe only here

Generously sauces one dozen whole wings (24 pieces once the wings are cut)

12 whole chicken wings (you will cut them)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt **reduce the salt to a pinch if using salted butter**
2 tablespoons Tabasco
1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot

Add all the ingredients to a small pot and swirl over a low to medium heat just until the butter is melted. Toss with the broiled wings once cooked through, or on top of anything you want.

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