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Posts Tagged ‘52 weeks’

As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been taking kind of a hiatus from my writing. As opposed to 2015 where I took an extended break to work through some personal issues, this was more from wanting to do new and exciting things. As I mentioned at the end of last year, I had a few different ideas about projects I wanted to work on and write about, so I wanted to step away from 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge. I started working my way through the Mighty Marvel Superhero’s Cookbook, however after a few quick posts I realized that it really wasn’t stimulating in the way that I thought it would be. Part of what I really love about writing is that it gives me a chance to look into new topics or ideas that I may not have thought about before. Making pancakes and frying eggs really wasn’t pushing any boundaries.

So while I dropped that format, I really didn’t have anything to put into its place. I’ve buckled down at work and put out some really fun food, but I’ve still been wracking my brain for something that grabs my interest and makes me want to write again. I looked at the 52 Weeks Challenge subreddit just to see what had been going on in the couple months I hadn’t been participating and it immediately grabbed me the same way it did almost 4 years ago now. I’ve always felt like I do better work when I’m given a ball park to play in. A lot of times it’s hard for me to come up with something out of the blue, but if somebody says “What about [XYZ]?” it seems to get my creativity flowing in one direction or another. So, at least for now, I think I’ll pick back up where I left off. I’ve missed out on nearly half the year, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

The theme of the week is presentation: Practicing one of the most crucial aspects of cooking, certainly in the professional realm if not in the home. Presentation can be as simple or as complex as your ambition permits. It could be as easy as slicing a nicely cooked steak before putting it on the plate or a sprinkling of complementary herbs on top of a lasagna, or you can bust out the tweezers and pipettes a la Chef’s Table.

With little effort, it’s easy to make food look as good as it tastes. It also doesn’t take much make delicious food that doesn’t look at all appetizing. The real skill, it could be said, would be to take food that may not taste all that great and make it look irresistible. Chef Jacques La Merde became an Instagram sensation for that exact approach, and I felt it would only be fair to try my hand at it.

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For all intents and purposes, this is a Lunchable. Ham and Cheddar with Crackers, to be exact. Oscar Mayer ham, Kraft cheddar. I made the crackers myself, only because I had the ingredients and I was a little bit broke, but other than that it’s the same ingredients you’d find in the fridge in the bright yellow box. [Side note: When did they stop putting chocolates and candies in Lunchables? What the fuck?]

I did deviate slightly from an exact Lunchable, so I wasn’t entirely sure how much it would really evoke the childhood memories, but it really, really did. There’s something about the taste of low-quality ham and low-quality cheese that never really leaves your mind.

Cheddar Cheese Sauce, adapted from Chefsteps
makes 1.5 – 2 cups

Combine ingredients in a small sauce pot. Heat over low heat, stirring frequently, until cheese is fully melted, about 15 minutes.

Ritz-Style Crackers
makes 1 sheet

  • All-Purpose Flour, 2 cups
  • Baking Powder, 3 teaspoons
  • White Sugar, 1 tablespoon
  • Kosher Salt, 1/2 teaspoon, plus more as needed
  • Butter, unsalted, cold, 6 tablespoons
  • Vegetable Oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Cold Water, as needed
  • Egg, beaten, 1 each

Preheat oven to 400F. Add flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt to the food processor and pulse to combine. Add cold butter in small increments, and pulse to combine. With food processor running, add vegetable oil slowly. Add water a little bit at a time while pulsing, until dough just comes together. On a floured surface, roll dough out as thin as you can, adding more flour if needed when it sticks. Transfer dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a fork, poke holes across the entire dough. Brush dough with eggwash and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Bake 400F until crispy and lightly browned, rotating every 10 minutes, about 25 minutes. Allow to slightly before breaking into pieces.

 

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Miso Horny

I’ve been waiting for that joke for so long you guys. Anyway…

The Greek philosopher Democritus claimed that, when chewed, food broke into four distinct shapes, with the size and shape of the pieces determining the taste: Large, round pieces were sweet, while small, round pieces were bitter. Salt was given by small, angular bits, and larger angular chunks were sour.

Until the late 19th century, it was assumed that these were the four basic tastes. Then along came chef Georges Auguste Escoffier. Known as the ‘king of chefs and the chef of kings’ Escoffier developed nearly in its entirety what we now know as classical French cuisine. By developing rich sauces and deeply roasted meat dishes, he made food that didn’t just taste good, but was the best food anyone had tasted; A flavor that wasn’t simply a combination of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Just a few years after the publication of Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda noticed that dashi made with kombu, a type of seaweed, was especially more delicious or ‘yummy’ (in Japanese, umami) that those made without. By studying the chemical makeup of the kombu, Ikeda pinpointed the fifth taste.

Glutamic acid, known now as Umami, create the flavor of savory-ness “common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat” as Ikeda described. Think about the crust of freshly baked bread. Crispy, roasted mushrooms. Soy sauce. Steak, seared in a ripping-hot cast-iron skillet. It’s why brown food tastes so great. However, it’s difficult to create a dish that’s strictly tastes of umami. As with the other tastes, balance is the key.

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I find that one of the more interesting ways to utilize umami is in largely sweet products. In the same way that salt makes chocolate and caramel taste extraordinary, umami ingredients provide a truly unique contrast.

This week, I wanted to take a page from friend and queen of doughnuts Ren Weiner. Miso, a Japanese seasoning of fermented soy beans or other grains, is jam-packed with umami goodness, and plays quite well with rich, eggy doughnuts. The dough itself carries a smattering of white miso (also called yellow), which has a mild, smooth taste (I swear this isn’t a cigarette ad). Red miso, with a more intense, aggressive flavor gets blended with plain ol’ sugar to make a nice topping. My miso sugar didn’t really dry out like I had hoped it would, but was spectacular tasting nonetheless.

Miso Doughnuts, adapted from Bon Appetit

makes about 10 doughnuts

  • Red Miso, 1 tablespoon
  • Granulated Sugar, 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon, divided
  • Active Dry Yeast, 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • Egg, whole, 1 each
  • Egg Yolk, 1 each
  • Butter, unsalted, melted, 3 tablespoons
  • Whole Milk, 3 tablespoons
  • White or Yellow Miso, 3 tablespoons
  • All-Purpose Flour, 2 cups, plus more as needed
  • Vegetable Oil, for frying

Pulse red miso and 1/2 cup sugar in a food processor until mixture resembles brown sugar. Spread out evenly on a parchment-lined  baking sheet and let sit until dry, 2−2 ½ hours. Pulse in food processor until no clumps remain. Transfer miso sugar to a bowl and set aside.

Combine 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over and let sit until foamy, 5−10 minutes.

Beat egg, egg yolk, butter, milk, white miso, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment until smooth. Add yeast mixture and flour and mix until a loose ball forms.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until dough is smooth,  5−7 minutes. If dough is wet, add more all-purpose flour as needed.

Place dough in a large bowl lightly coated with nonstick spray. Cover and let sit in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, 1−2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; lightly flour. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat out to 1″ thick. Punch out rounds with biscuit cutter. Repeat with scraps. Transfer rounds to prepared baking sheet, cover loosely, and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, 45−60 minutes.

Pour 2 inches of oil into a large heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-high until thermometer registers 325°. Working in batches, fry doughnuts until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels and let cool slightly before tossing in miso sugar.

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In America, Thanksgiving is kind of a big deal. Restaurants bust out catering pickups all week long, and the smarter of the home cooks begin their prep days in advance. I generally have a good gameplan for the gluttonous holiday (which was recently featured in State14!), but even the best laid plans can go awry due to weather, lost attention, or a host of other mishaps.

Today, as you may note, is not Thanksgiving. Today is the day after Thanksgiving. That means I just had one of the deepest sleeps I’ve had in weeks, and also that I’m nearly out of tupperware. As great as Thanksgiving is for bringing family together, sharing food and spending time with loved ones, the more practical application is packing your fridge with enough leftovers to last a good couple of weeks. The ultimate use of Thanksgiving remnants is to pack it all into a sandwich. I’ve said before that sandwiches are by far the best category of food, and I will continue saying that to my grave. This is the holiest of all sandwiches. I often tout my love of a classic Reuben as the best sandwich, but the Thanksgiving Leftover sandwich, saved for just one day of the year, is a beast all of its own. While I love that sandwich more than any other, I’ve written about it multiple times before (in 2012 and 2013), and wanted to push my creativity a bit this year.

Getting weird with your leftovers definitely isn’t a new idea. This year, I’ve seen my share of cool recipes: Egg Rolls, Burritos, Eggs Benedict, Pizza, Nachos; the possibilities are near endless. Serious Eats may get the trophy for their Stuffing Waffles, but I wanted to take it just a step further.

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As my southern friends will vouch for, chicken and waffles is truly an amazing combination. Sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch. Sneakers Bistro knows what’s up. I prefer to break down my turkey rather than roasting it whole, which left me with some big ol’ turkey wings to do something cool with: Sous vide until super tender (a la Modernist Cuisine), then fried with a crispy breading. The debate rages online as to whether gravy or maple syrup is the appropriate condiment for this behemoth, but being that I’m from Vermont I’m sure you can guess what side of the line I fall on. I like to mix some of the good stuff with my leftover cranberry sauce and a bit of Cholula.

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When you talk about the origins of foods, it’s sometimes a difficult to task deciding where to look. For example, it’s pretty well known at this point that noodles and pasta were developed in Asia before making their way to Europe. However, we tend to more strongly associate that type of dish with Italian cuisine. They weren’t by any means the originators, but they certainly took the ball and ran it out.

Around the same time that pasta was being developed in China, about 4000 years ago, beer was being brewed in Sumer. Made from smoked barley bread and fermented date wine, it was a far cry from what we think of as beer today. So while that may be our earliest recollection of beer, the Czech really brought it into its own.

Břevnov Monastery in Prague has been brewing since 993CE, just over a thousand years of beer.  Cities such as Pilsen and Budweis (sound familiar?) have been brewing consistently since the 13th century, spawning arguably the most popular styles of beer in the world, Pilsner and Budweiser respectively. With greater consumption of beer per capita than anywhere else in the world, it’s often joked that beer is the national sport of the Czech Republic. And as with all major sports when your team is playing, if you’re hosting, it’s nice to have a good spread of snacks.

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In America, our beer snacks are usually laden with salt; popcorn, chips, pretzels, nuts. In the Czech Republic, it seems to be fairly different. Meats, cheeses and breads are common, likely to help absorb some alcohol and allow you to keep drinking long into the night. The most common of these kinds of snacks is Nakládaný hermelín (nahk-la-dan-ee her-mel-een). Hermelin is a soft cheese similar to camembert, marinated in spices, onions, garlic and oil. Pickled sausages are also common, and much to my surprise are far less gross than I imagined the ones in the jar at the gas station tasting. Smokey, fatty, and just a little bit of acid. I can definitely dig it.

Czech “Pickled” Cheese

  • Camembert, 1 wheel
  • Yellow Onion, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Garlic, 4 cloves
  • Pickled Banana Peppers, sliced, 1/2 cup
  • Black Peppercorn, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Paprika, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Bay Leaf, 2 each
  • Thyme, fresh, 1 tablespoon
  • Kosher Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, as needed

Cut cheese into small wedges or strips. Toss with remaining ingredients and transfer to a sealable container. Cover with olive oil and marinate at room temperature for 5-7 days, up to 6 weeks.

Pickled Sausage

  • Water, 4 cups
  • Cider Vinegar, 4 cups
  • Kosher Salt, 2 tablespoons
  • Bay Leaf, 2 each
  • Kielbasa, 1 large link

Combine water, vinegar, salt and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Cut sausage into 4-6 small links. In a sealable container. pour pickling liquid over sausages and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and store refrigerated at least 5-7 days.

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From time to time, we think it necessary to pick up that latest and great kitchen gadget; You know, that new one that’s on TV now? It’ll replace a drawer full of tools for just 3 easy payments of $9.95! Sadly, nearly none of these kind of products deliver on their promises, and most are useless garbage. So, like me, most of you have a cabinet or cupboard or drawer full of equipment that you really only pull out once in a blue moon.

While the allure of single-tasking equipment prevails, sometimes you have useful equipment stashed away somewhere and you don’t even realize it. For me, that crown goes to the pressure cooker.

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I know I got a pressure cooker from my grandmother at one point or another, but I don’t remember when or why. Or I saved it from a yard sale pile somewhere. Definitely one of the two. Either way, it’s sat in a cupboard or basement ever since because I really just had no idea what to do with it. The more I’ve read though, the more it seems to be a multi-tasker as useful as an immersion circulator. Adding pressure to heat drastically reduces the time needed to prepare traditionally very long cooked items; Soups stews and stocks in a fraction of the time. As always, Kenji at The Food Lab has a great piece on pressure cookers and how useful they are.

Pressure cooking can also make quick work of tough cuts of meat, and I knew just what would do the trick.

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I’ve made no secret that I’m a big fan of Chefsteps. The Seattle-based site creates amazing recipes and videos, giving detailed instructions and exploring some of the science behind why food works the way it does. Their recipe for chicken wings has always intrigued me, largely for its utilization of of a pressure cooker. Cooking wings before they hit the fryer is a no-brainer, but pressure cooking is probably the only way I hadn’t tried it before.

In just 15 minutes, an otherwise difficult piece of poultry becomes luscious and tender. So tender in fact, that you can actually remove bones  and bits of cartilage that would normally get in the way when trying to eat them. A quick dusting of cornstarch before frying keeps the skin from getting soggy when drenched in your favorite hot sauce. I went into this recipe thinking “Okay, wings can only get so good. There’s really only so much you can do.” Without exaggeration, I may never make wings any other way again.

Pressure Cooked Chicken Wings, adapted from Chefsteps

makes 2 pounds

  • Chicken wings, tips removed, split, 2 pounds
  • Water, about 1 cup
  • Cornstarch, as needed
  • Canola Oil, for frying
  • Kosher Salt, to taste
  • Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce, as needed (recipe follows)

Add chicken wings and water to pressure cooker and seal. Over medium-high heat, bring cooker to pressure. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to depressurize naturally. Transfer wings to a wire rack-lined sheet tray, discarding water. Remove cartilage from wings and drum pieces, and remove small loose bone from wing pieces. Allow to chill 2 hours. In a heavy-bottomed pot, preheat 4 inches of canola oil to 400F. Toss wings lightly in cornstarch to cover completely, shaking to remove excess cornstarch. Fry wings until crispy, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel- lined bowl to drain excess oil. Season with kosher salt. Toss wings liberally in sauce and serve with ranch or blue cheese and celery.

Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce

makes about 2 cups

  • Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, 1 cup
  • Butter, unsalted, 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons)

Combine hot sauce and butter. Heat oven medium heat until butter is completely melted. Mix to combine evenly.

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In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, British occult writer James Churchward became known for his studies of the lost continent of Mu, spanning the breadth of the Pacific Ocean and connecting the Polynesian Islands. Expanding on the ideas of Augustus Le Plongeon, Churchward claimed that the island was the site of the Garden of Eden and the native Naacal people spawned the great ancient civilizations of the ancient world such as the Maya, the Egyptians and the Babylonians.

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Churward’s own map, drawn in 1931, shows the migration of the Naacal eastward towards South America, through the great Amazon Sea, with distinct groups parting ways near the southern coast of Atlantis. However, as such civilizations normally do,  Mu was destroyed in a single day and night and lost beneath the waves, its knowledge and technology with it. Modern science has definitively shown that Mu, Atlantis and other lost continents exist purely in the realm of pseudoscience, because the planet doesn’t work that way. It’s a fun story nonetheless.

The 45th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge brings us to the Pacific Islands. I’ve always had a fascination with mysteries of the ancient world, much like Mu. Rapa Nui, better known as Eastern Island, is one of those mysterious things that’s just incredibly captivating. While they’ve pretty much figured out what’s up with the Moai, the cuisine of the island hasn’t been looked into much with modern eyes and ears.

img_4025 Po’e is a traditional dessert served throughout Polynesia. Typically made with banana or plantain with various tropical fruits, the Pascuanese version is known for using pumpkin. The fruits are mashed until smooth before being mixed with sugar, starch and a bit of vanilla. As with most traditional dishes in the area, it would normally be wrapped in banana leaf and baked in an buried oven. Once cooled, it’s cut into pieces and served with fresh coconut cream.

All the recipes I read refer to Po’e as more similar to a pudding, but that doesn’t really seem right. I would say it’s more like a less bready-y banana bread. Whatever you want to call it, it’s certainly delicious and makes for a filling breakfast or a light dessert to cap off a meal.

Po’e

makes about 3 servings

  • Banana, medium, 4 each*
  • Pumpkin, canned, 1 can*
  • Brown Sugar, 1/2 cup
  • Cornstarch or Arrowroot, 1 cup**
  • Vanilla Extract, 2 teaspoons
  • Coconut Cream, as needed***

Preheat oven to 375F. Puree bananas and pumpkin in food processor until completely smooth. Sift together brown sugar and cornstarch. COmbine dry ingredients with puree and vanilla, mixing to combine evenly. Butter a 9×9 baking dish and add banana mixture. Baking at 375F about 35 minutes, or until center is set. Allow to cool completely before cutting and serving with coconut cream.

*A lot recipes suggest trying it with mango, pineapple or papaya. The goal is to have 4 cups of puree total, regardless of its constituents.

**Arrowroot is more traditional, but also more expensive. Your call.

***Full-fat canned coconut milk will separate when refrigerated. Chill the can, scoop fat from the top, and add enough of the milk to make a sauce with the consistency of a loose custard.

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As I mentioned earlier in the year, failure can often be a great learning tool and is, in fact, always an option. This week is definitely one of those cases, so I’ll keep it short and sweet (pun intended, you just don’t know it yet).

The theme of the week is dehydrating. One of the oldest known methods of preserving food, dehydration is the process of removing water from foods to increase their longevity. Crucial to astronauts on the ISS, dehydrated foods are among the most common snacks we have around; Go to any gas station and I guarantee you’ll find at least 5 kinds of beefy jerky. and from grocery store kits to sit-down restaurants you’ll find any number of dried fruits accompanying your favorite greens.

Out of the bounty of dried fruits that are available nowadays, my favorite has always been pineapple. As a kid, whenever my mom would come back from the natural foods store with whatever diet craze was popular at the time, she’d always have a bag of crystallized pineapple for me.

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Crystallized pineapple is cooked in sugar before being dehydrated, making it rich and chewy. As it turns out though, the process isn’t as simple as it may appear. I followed this recipe (don’t judge) pretty much to the T. After oven-drying didn’t pan out, I threw together an Alton Brown-style box fan dehydrator, which still didn’t quite do the trick even after 36 hours. For whatever reason, these suckers just didn’t want to dry. The flavor and texture came out just as they should have, but the outside was still sticky and tacky. I think this is definitely one I’ll have to revisit. Being so close, yet so far is definitely going to eat at me.

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