Archive for the ‘Experiments’ Category

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Non-Kosher, non-vegetarian cookies

March 30, 2010

Some ideas turn out pretty well, regardless of how twisted they sound at the beginning. Like, for instance, these oatmeal cookies with cinnamon chips plus a hefty dose of this candied bacon. (Credit here must go to my mother, who suggested the cinnamon oatmeal cookies in place of the chocolate chip options I had been considering.)

Aren’t they beautiful? These were for a friend who, upon tasting Candied Bacon Ice Cream, began dancing around my living room. He and his girlfriend were packing up their apartment this weekend, and I thought they might need some fuel. The “Zach has a happy” cookie was born. (Ok, and I really wanted to see if bacon cookies had potential. Turns out, the dancing is not limited to bacon in frozen form.)

I made the following changes to the recipe:

  • First, I omitted a 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar in the cookie dough, because the bacon is sweet.
  • As to the bacon, I unintentionally cooked it a bit less than I would have liked and, in hindsight, I’m glad I did. The fat was still soft and chewy, but it crisped up beautifully when baked with the cookies.
  • To combine bacon and baked good: I chopped the bacon as I would for the ice cream. After I had scooped the cookies onto the baking sheet, I pressed a nice dollop (say, a four-fingered pinch) of bacon bits into each cookie.

I think my cookie scoop is larger than my mother’s, so I’d estimate I had enough bacon for 2-3 dozen cookies. I left a dozen cookies plain for the vegetarians in the crowd. Oddly, the bacon cookies tasted even better the next day than they did straight out of the oven.

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The Best Brownies I’ve Ever Made

February 14, 2010

My brothers’ friends can attest to the fact that I make a lot of brownies when I know there are people around to eat them. I confess, however, that most of the time, they’re Ghiradelli mix, because that’s what my mom keeps in the house.

Guys? I’ll be making a different kind of brownies for you this summer. They’re almost as easy as the mix, and they’re ridiculously fudgy. And, oh yeah, they have a layer of Reese’s Cups baked into them.

Reese’s Brownies
adapted from epicurious and inspired by April Rouleau’s York Peppermint Patty brownies

You’ll need:
7½ oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2¼ sticks butter
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
3 t vanilla extract
⅜ t salt
1½ cups flour
24 Reese’s cups

1. Melt 5 oz bittersweet chocolate, 1 1/2 sticks butter and 2 oz unsweetened chocolate in a double-boiler.
2. Whisk 2 cups sugar, 4 eggs, 2 t vanilla and 1/4 t salt in a large bowl until fluffy.
3. Stir in melted chocolate mixture.
4. Mix in 1 cup flour.
5. Pour into a 13×9″ greased pan.
6. Arrange Reese’s cups over batter, pressing them in slightly.
7. Repeat steps 1-3 with 2 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, 6 T butter, 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1 t vanilla, 1/8 t salt.
8. Pour batter over Reese’s cups and spread.
9. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Start testing after 35 minutes.

Note: These make great cupcakes, too. The amounts described in step 1 will make about 20 standard-sized cupcakes. I put two Reese’s quarters in each cupcake.

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Back to Baking!

January 6, 2010

I apologize for the lengthy hiatus! I am now a diploma-bearing freelancer. Very exciting!

I’ve been baking up a storm lately, and it is so much fun! I feel like I haven’t really baked in years, but I know that can’t be true.

First I whipped up more than a gross of Krispies (like a very vanilla-y chocolate chip cookie, but with Crunch bar bits and Rice Krispies instead of chocolate chips). This took a few days, but I got into a rhythm and it went by very quickly. I think I like baking because of the rhythm: just follow the instructions and all will be well. (Ok, the end result might have a tiny bit to do with my attraction to baking over cooking.)

Since I sent all those cookies out, I’ve been feeling the itch to bake again. Plus, I found cinnamon chips for sale at the grocery store, and I just have to try those! My mother finally consented to once again having baked goods in the house.

So right now the kitchen smells delicious. I took my old standby oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and made two substitutions:
1. cinnamon chips for chocolate. Generally speaking, I never EVER substitute for chocolate, but I’m a cinnamon fiend. Plus, I want to find out if these cinnamon chips are worth stocking up on.
2. pumpkin pie spice from the Spice House for cinnamon. My mother’s house usually contains a ridiculous amount of cinnamon, but not so today!

The verdict? They’re ridiculously tasty–chewy and spicy!

Vanishing Oatmeal Cinnamon Cookies
adapted from an adaptation of the Quaker Oats box classic

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice, preferably from The Spice House
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 package cinnamon chips

1. Blend flour, baking soda, spices and salt and set aside.
2. Beat together butter and sugars until creamy.
3. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
4. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
5. Stir in oats and chips.
6. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
7. Bake at 350º 13-15 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Eat!

The only problem? I was told to make a small quantity, and now I’ve got 4 1/2 dozen cookies on my hands.

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Fabulous, Slightly Weird Ice Cream

June 21, 2009

Some combinations of words invoke salivation–for instance, chocolate and covered make a fine pair. I discovered a few weeks ago that at least one word combination can both stimulate the appetite and confuse the intellect: “candied bacon ice cream.” I know what you’re thinking, but please don’t close the window. Hear me out. It’ll be worth your while.

At the time, I was looking for a new ice cream recipe on the website of the fabulous David Lebovitz. I ended up making an apple pie flavor instead, but I vowed to try the bacon confection sometime this summer. “Sometime” was ultimately defined as “yesterday and today.” As it turns out, candied bacon ice cream is absolutely divine.

The custard base tastes kind of like what my mom dunks french toast in before frying it up. It churns up into a rich and creamy ice cream base, with more body than eggless ice creams. Then there’s the bacon–oh, the bacon. I can’t believe I’ve never candied bacon before. What a revelation. In our household, the dogs usually get to lick the bacon drippings from the foil. Not this time–I went through our house delivering spoons of the smoky-sweet drippings to all of the humans. Thank goodness for opposable thumbs. The dogs were SOL.

I knew the bacon was something special, but the finished product really knocked my socks off. The flavors take turns very politely: first the sweetness and the cinnamon hit you. Then you taste the salt of the bacon and finally you’re left with a smoky, chewy mouthful of bacon, with just a hint of sweet crunch from the candy layer. (I think I’m going to up the crunch-factor in future iterations of this recipe; my brother said the bacon was too chewy.)

Trust me on this one. If you have access to ice cream making facilities–even if you have to use the old jar with a marble technique–try it. I’ve adapted Mr. Lebovitz’s recipe slightly because, despite my endless respect for his mad ice cream skillz, I am fundamentally incapable of following a recipe (or knitting pattern) as written. The original recipe is here. Make sure you check out the rest of his site while you’re there; it’s wonderful.

Candied Bacon Ice Cream
For the candied bacon:
5 strips bacon (thin-cut is best)
1/4 cup light brown sugar (roughly)

For the ice cream custard:
3 tablespoons (45g) salted butter
¾ cup (packed) brown sugar (170g), light or dark (you can use either)
2¾ (675ml) cup half-and-half
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used a high quality Korintje cinnamon, and it made a noticeable difference)

1. To candy the bacon, preheat the oven to 400F (200C).

2. Put the strips of bacon on a rack over a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or aluminum foil, shiny side down.

3. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over each strip of bacon.

bacon sprinkled with brown sugar

4. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until bacon looks like this.

bacon halfway cooked and ready to be flipped

Flip the bacon strips over, dragging each one through the dark, syrupy liquid that’s collected on the baking sheet in the process. Continue to bake until as dark as mahogany. Remove from oven and cool the strips on a wire rack.
candied bacon

5. Once crisp and cool, chop into little pieces, about the size of grains of rice.
(Bacon bits can be stored in an airtight container and chilled for a day or so, or stored in the freezer a few weeks ahead.)

6. To make the ice cream custard, melt the butter in a heavy, medium-size saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar and half of the half-and-half. Pour the remaining half-and-half into a bowl set in an ice bath and set a mesh strainer over the top.

7. In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the warm brown sugar mixture to them, whisking the yolks constantly as you pour. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

8. Cook over low to moderate heat, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom with a heatproof spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula. (This step took around 10 minutes.)

9. Strain the custard into the half-and-half, stirring over the ice bath, until cool. Whisk in vanilla and cinnamon.

10. Refrigerate the mixture. Once thoroughly chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the bacon bits during the last moment of churning, or stir them in when you remove the ice cream from the machine.
folding the bacon into the ice cream

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Out of the frying pan…

March 3, 2009

As you might imagine, I am pretty adventurous in the kitchen. I’ll try just about anything, with one exception. My family has something of a bad history with deep frying. I’ve only seen it done twice, and both times I felt much as if I was in the presence of a loaded gun–the situation seemed inherently dangerous.

Then some of my foodie friends sent me a box of Café du Monde beignet mix. I decided to invite people over and make them for the Top Chef finale. That way at the very least there would be witnesses to explain to the police just how I managed to make a massive fireball using only common household ingredients. To make matters worse, my cats are actually stupid enough to accidentally get too close to the fryer.

After doing some research (read: calling my mother), I borrowed an electric skillet and took several precautions. I removed everything flammable from the area immediately around my stove, set up the electric skillet on the stovetop and built a tall wall around the pan with aluminum foil. I made sure the fire extinguisher was within easy reach, just in case, took a deep breath and rolled out the beignets.

rolling out dough

After all of the preparation and, well, paranoia, actually frying was oddly easy. The dough browned and puffed in an almost magical way. The oil behaved itself. The fire extinguisher was completely superfluous–not that I’m complaining, mind! The cats stayed away from the area completely. Obviously, there is some inherent danger to cooking with 370º oil, but fortunately nothing happened.

in fryer

draining

Nothing, that is, except the creation of delicious beignets. I think I might add some spices to the dough next time, just to see what happens.

finished with sugar

finished closeup

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There’s roux for you, and here’s some for me…

November 19, 2008

My reading habits saved me from utter culinary disaster today.

It’s probably no surprise that I really like to cook for people.  So when my French Club discovered that going out for fondue would be expensive, I blithely said, “Oh, I can make fondue.  I’ve done it before.”

I was unfazed when the responses started pouring in.  New members wanted to come to our fondue meeting.  They wanted to bring native French speakers as guests.  I’m a firm believer in “the more, the merrier” entertaining, so when the total head count grew to numbers I could not fit in my apartment, I  accepted my mother’s proffered big kitchen and planned a more expansive menu.

I would serve a beef broth fondue with mushrooms.  I would also do three — no, that’s a bit much — two cheese fondues: a cheddar and a Provençale.  (The Provençale is based upon my favorite dish at one of my favorite restaurants in Aix.  I still don’t know why they told me what was in it, but because they did I am doomed to eternally fail to replicate it.)  Dessert would be a no-brainer: a double-recipe of my mother’s ganache, which makes a splendid chocolate fondue.

And I had about 36 hours to pull it all together.

Despite my careful preparation, things started to go downhill almost as soon as the guests arrived.

I served the beef fondue first.  Despite the best efforts of Sterno, it stubbornly refused to return to the nice, rolling boil it had obligingly reached mere moments before.  I had 17 hungry, hopeful people sitting around my mother’s table not cooking beef as they watched broth not boil.  Uh-oh.

Springing into action, I threw the prepared ingredients for the Provençale into a pot: two cheeses, capers, cornichons, tomato paste, herbes de provence and healthy doses of both millk and white wine.  The Provençale responded to my desperate enthusiasm by turning into cheese soup.  No amount of begging, prayer or stealthily-added cornstarch seemed to have any effect on its viscosity.  After a while, one of the newcomers told me to go eat while she stirred.  I refused to admit defeat and moved on to the cheddar fondue while she hopefully but warily stirred the Provençale sludge.

As I added flour to the melted butter in a new pot, I was briefly amused that the cheddar recipe called for equal amounts of each.  I added milk and let it heat up.  It wasn’t until the mixture began to thicken that I found myself thinking of Michael Ruhlman.

One of my brother’s friends had highly recommended “The Making of a Chef,” which I greatly enjoyed reading on a recent trip.  Mr. Ruhlman spends a fair amount of the book debating the proper color a roux should attain to make a superior stock.

I realized with a jolt that I had just made a roux, of all things.  Roux — thickening agent — ah ha!  The thing I so desperately needed was bubbling benignly in my mother’s wok.  I tried to explain my discovery in French as I poured the hopeless Provençale mass into the foundation of the cheddar fondue.

To my shock, it thickened.  Thickened!  Not into a proper stringy fondue but into a reasonable facsimile thereof.  I put it on the table, people ate it, I quickly made the cheddar fondue and joined them.  We had a lovely evening.

Note to self: fondue without roux leads to rue.  That Ophelia chick knew what she was talking about.

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Where There’s A Will, There’s A Whey

July 18, 2008

I tried to make cheese again last night and IT WORKED!!  The kit that I purchased from cheesemaking.com mentioned a powdered milk alternative for those who can’t find the right milk, and despite my initial misgivings, I crossed my fingers and threw just over five cups of milk powder into some water.  This time, I had curds!  I could cut them with a knife!  They came together into a shiny ball, just as they were supposed to!  I was so wrapped up in all of the excitement that I completely forgot to salt my cheese, but that was quickly remedied by melting the curds and kneading them again with some salt.  (This process may have made the cheese a bit harder, but I don’t think I care at this point!)

So, folks, I can give the Cheese Queen’s 30-Minute Mozzarella Kit an official French Toast stamp of approval–and just in time for tomato season!

The kit I used, as well as cookbooks and all sorts of other goodies, can be purchased online at cheesemaking.com or through Amazon.com.  One caveat: the recipe in the cookbook is different from the recipe in the kit.  The latter recipe seemed to produce better cheese, in my unscientific tests.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologize for any physical or emotional pain inflicted by the title of this post.

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