Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dinner with Friends

Last night we had our friends, Terry and Wayne, over for dinner.  This was waaaay past due and I was thrilled to finally be able to reciprocate (at least in part) their hospitality over the years.  (While I had planned to include pretty pictures of preparing and serving dinner, there are only photos of leftovers due to falling behind schedule.)  There was some necessary house cleaning to be done, but I wasn't worried about getting the white glove treatment and dim lighting can hide a lot of dust.  I did as much dinner prep work as possible on Friday so yesterday wouldn't be quite so hectic.

As previously mentioned, I still got a little behind schedule.  Yesterday was my dad's birthday and being a daddy's girl, it was an absolute MUST that I call him on his birthday.  We talked for over an hour.  I think that's some sort of record for my dad to be on the phone without being on hold.  Huge dent in my agenda for the day.  Normally, I'm the sort of person who will get a little tightly wound when things aren't going according to plan.  And in another situation, I'm sure I would have. 

But that's what's so great about friends.  You already know they don't judge you; they've already accepted you as you are.  So when Terry and Wayne arrived to a smoky kitchen, dinner still in progress and three of our four dogs barking insanely, I wasn't freaking out about it.  The hubs took Wayne on the ten-cent tour and being the fabulous woman she is, Terry asked what she could do to help.  In many instances I would reply with a cavalier, "oh I've got it."  I didn't.  I put her to work.  Our dinner guest had to work for her dinner.  How's that for hospitality?

Dinner eventually got done; the dogs eventually stopped barking; and we had a wonderful evening of friendship, food and wine.  The good things in life, yes?

The Menu:

I need to figure out the brine for the peppadews so
I can grow them and pickle them myself.
For starters I had mixed olives and peppadew peppers stuffed with goat cheese.

Our main course was Moroccan chicken (it's really chicken tagine, except I don't actually have a tagine so I changed the name) with basmati rice seasoned with saffron, lemon zest and parsley.

Moroccan chicken minus the chicken.  Only the legs were left,
which I saved for the hubs. 
And dessert was almond and walnut baklava.

Left over baklava, aka, breakfast.

The Recipes: 

Moroccan Chicken
This recipe is adapted from the Professional Chef textbook.  I’ve made a few changes due to difficult to find (locally anyway) ingredients.  I’ve not found preserved lemons either, but they’re easy and inexpensive to make.  Note they need to be made about a week ahead of time.

3 lb chicken pieces (use the parts you like)
Kosher salt
1 Tbs ground cumin
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup pearl onions
½ inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Pinch saffron
½ cup low-sodium chicken stock
½ cup pitted green olives
6 – 8 wedges preserved lemon, rinsed (see recipe that follows)
1 Tbs chopped flat leaf parsley

Season the chicken pieces on all sides liberally with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with cumin.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan (with a lid) over medium-high heat.  Carefully place the chicken in the pan and sauté until brown, turning only once.  Remove the chicken to a platter and set aside.

Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic and cook about a minute, then add the saffron and cook another minute.  Add the chicken stock to the pan.  Scrape any brown bits off the bottom and stir in.  Return the chicken to the pan, along with any juices on the platter.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover the pan and simmer for 25 minutes, turning the chicken at least once.  Add the olives and lemons and simmer an additional 15 minutes until the olives are tender and the lemons fragrant.  Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

The preserved lemons can be removed for serving if desired.  I like them so I leave them in.

Preserved Lemons:
10 lemons
1/3 cup kosher salt

Juice six of the lemons and place the juice in a quart container (preferably glass) with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the salt and stir to combine. Scrub the remaining four lemons and slice each into six wedges.  Remove the seeds.  Add the lemons to the juice and salt.  Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top if your container has a metal lid.  Cover tightly, shake to combine and refrigerate.  Shake the container gently every other day to help dissolve the salt.  Allow the lemons to cure for at least a week.  Rinse the wedges under cold water before using.  These will last several months in the refrigerator.

Basmati Rice for Moroccan Chicken

1-1/2 cups water
3/4 cup chicken stock
1-1/2 cups basmati rice
Pinch saffron
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 Tbs coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring the water and chicken stock to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the rice and saffron.  Return to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the lemon zest and parsley and fluff the rice with a fork.  Serve immediately.

Makes approximately six servings.

I don’t remember where I found the original recipe for baklava, but this has been altered nearly beyond recognition of the original.

3-1/2 cups sugar, divided
2-1/2 cups water
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 strip lemon zest
1 large cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1 cardamom pod (green or black), optional
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 lb walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 lb almonds, finely chopped
1 lb unsalted butter
1 – 1-1/2 lb phyllo dough*
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (or as needed)

*Check the package for the size of the phyllo sheets to make sure they will fit on the pan you’re using.  I include this note from experience.

In a large sauce pan, combine three cups of the sugar, the water, honey, lemon juice and zest, cinnamon stick, whole cloves and cardamom pod (if using).  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining half cup of sugar, ground cinnamon, ground cloves and ground cardamom.  Combine the walnuts and almonds in a large bowl.  Melt the butter in a small sauce pan.  Skim the foam from the melted butter and add to the nuts.  Toss so that all of the nuts are coated with the butter foam.  Add the sugar and spice mixture to the nuts and stir to combine.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Unroll the phyllo dough on a flat surface and keep it covered with plastic wrap and a slightly damp towel.  Using a pastry brush, brush a rimmed half-sheet pan with melted butter.  Place a phyllo sheet in the center of the pan.  (Make sure to re-cover the phyllo after removing individual sheets.  Dried phyllo is not pleasant to work with.)  Gently and lightly brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter.  Lightly sprinkle with bread crumbs.  Repeat, using a total of eight phyllo sheets.  Sprinkle the top phyllo sheet with approximately half of a cup of the nut mixture, spreading it to all sides.  Layer three more phyllo sheets in the same manner as the first eight, and then top with more nut mixture.  Repeat until all of the nut mixture is used.  Layer eight more sheets of phyllo on top, brushing each with butter and sprinkling bread crumbs on all but the top layer.

Using a long, thin sharp knife, cut the baklava into small squares or diamonds.  To cut into diamonds, first make six evenly spaced lengthwise cuts.  Make sure to cut all the way through.  Next, cut diagonally across the lengthwise cuts to form the diamonds.  Start in one corner and cut until you reach the opposite corner.  (I totally didn’t get this the first few times I read it.  I was hoping my crude diagram would help, but for some reason my horizontal lines disappeared.)

Heat the remaining butter until it just starts to bubble and drizzle it over the top of the pastry.  Bake for 75 minutes or until evenly golden and flaky.  Remove the pan to a rack and spoon the cooled syrup over the entire pastry (you may not need all of it).  Cool in the pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Send leftovers home with your friends so you don't eat all of it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Going to the Dogs

"The Girls" (Inca and Maya) on "their" loveseat.
Anyone who knows us, knows that our pets are spoiled.  The dogs have their own furniture.  (The birds have their own room.)  It's a frequent occurrence that I must move a dog in order to be able to get into bed; and before we moved to our new house, I would often find myself sitting on the floor as all other seating was occuppied by a dog.  In our house, dog biscuits are not treats or rewards; they are entitlements.  I blame the hubs for this.  One look from puppy eyes and he can't say no.  We can go through your average box of dog biscuits in a day. 

Fortunately, I was already out of bed.

Given that our pets are so spoiled, that fact that I baked dog biscuits (two kinds) today probably won't raise eyebrows among friends.  But I didn't make them to further spoil our already rotten dogs.  Nor did I make them because I know homemade dog biscuits are so much more wholesome and healthier for them than those we buy.  I made them because we are out of dog biscuits and I didn't want to go to WalMart.

"The Big Guys" Cochise and Misty
(although Misty, right, is a girl)
were my kitchen helpers today.

Mind you, I don't get excited about going to WalMart any day.  But on a chilly, rainy day such as today, it's going to take something a lot more enticing than WalMart to get me out of the house.  A lot more.  So the truth of the matter is that I really made the dog biscuits for myself.  Do you think the dogs will think I'm selfish?

Yes, I do have cookie cutters in the shape of dog bones.
The dogs don't seem to mind my more "rustic" treats.

Rainy Day Dog Biscuits
I can't really say how many this makes, because it depends on how big or small they are cut.

2-1/2 cups whole wheat or all purpose flour
1/2 cup instant dry milk
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup bacon fat or butter, melted (use 2 Tbs less if using all purpose flour)
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup (or as needed) chicken or beef stock or broth, chilled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. 

Add the flour, dry milk and garlic powder to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  With the machine running, drizzle in the bacon fat or butter, followed by the beaten egg.  Slowly drizzle in the stock until a dough forms. 

Turn the dough out onto the prepared baking sheet.  Cover with another piece of parchment or wax paper and roll out to an even thickness.  Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into small rectangles or squares.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven, break the biscuits apart and turn them over.  Return them to the oven and turn the oven off.  Leave them in the oven until cool.  Store at room temperature.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ugly Good

Anyone who has ever watched The Food Network has heard at least 20 times, "you eat with your eyes first."  There is truth to that.  Several years ago the hubs and I went to dinner at the home of one of his fellow grad students.  I'd not met James' wife before that evening.  When we sat down at the table I looked at what was in the bowl in front of me and said a silent prayer that I would be able to eat it without making faces that would upset Stacy.  "It" turned out to be a hearty and delicious sausage and lentil soup.  So delicious that I asked Stacy for the recipe and have made it several times since.

The concept of "ugly good" was in my head while making dinner last night.  I had taken some steak out of the freezer yesterday morning with absolutely no idea what I was going to do with it at the time.  Later in the afternoon it occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to try a risotto recipe that's been lurking around in my head for a couple of years.  If I had everything I needed.

Being a fan of all things carbohydrate, I love risotto.  I've made it in several different manners and have yet to encounter one I don't like.  At some point I had run across a recipe from Williams-Sonoma for Risotto with Red Wine and Beef that I had saved.  That was my starting point.

The WS recipe called for beef sirloin.  I had our inexpensive flat steaks from WalMart.  It called for yellow onion.  I had red.  It called for cardoon.  (Truly I have little idea what that is besides a vegetable as I've never seen cardoon in Carbondale.)  I had carrots.  It called for Chianti or some other full-bodied, dry red wine even suggesting the pricey Barolo.  I had Chambourcin from Owl Creek (courtesy of Norm and Alicia).  It didn't call for cheese.  In my opinion, risotto must have cheese.  I had Grana Padano.

This is what I ended up with:
Version 1:  Risotto without cheese

Version 2:  Risotto with cheese.
The winner.

The hubs liked it enough to declare he would eat it again although we both agreed on a couple of things:  1) the beef needed to be browned more, which I corrected in my version of the recipe; 2) the addition of some cremini mushrooms would probably be nice.  And while the Chambourcin from Owl Creek worked out very well (also for drinking), it is more medium bodied so I would be interested in trying this again with a full-bodied red.  Overall, ugly, but good.  Even as left-overs for lunch today.

Red Wine Risotto with Beef 
4 to 5 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound boneless beef sirloin (or cut of your choice), cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup sliced carrots
3 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup dry red wine at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated cheese, such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano

In a 2 quart saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a gentle simmer and maintain over low heat.  Heat the oil in a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the beef and cook until browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the onion and carrots and sauté another 5 to 7 minutes or until softened.  Transfer the beef mixture to a bowl and set aside.  Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the same pan.  Add the rice and stir until each grain is well coated and translucent with a white dot in the center, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the wine, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, and stir until it is completely absorbed.

Add the simmering stock a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently after each addition.  Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed (but the rice is never dry on top) before adding the next ladleful.  Reserve 1/4 cup stock to add at the end.
When the rice is tender to the bite but slightly firm in the center and looks creamy, after about 20 minutes, stir in the beef mixture.  Cook, stirring occasionally, to heat through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and reserved 1/4 cup stock.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with freshly grated cheese.
Serves 4 nicely.
Adapted from "The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook" (Free Press, 2008)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Coconut. Caramel. Cupcakes.

They didn't turn out exactly as I had imagined, but in no way, shape or form is that a complaint.  I think this may be the best cupcake I've made.

Hiding the treasure inside.

I was slightly disappointed that the caramel sank to
the bottom, but I got over it quickly.
All dressed up and no place to go.

Yes, those are my teeth marks. 
I guess it had someplace to go after all.

The Recipes:

Caramel Coconut Cupcakes
Makes approximately 18 cupcakes

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1-1/2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
¼ cup plus 3 Tbs coconut milk
1 Tbs white vinegar
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, beaten, room temperature
20 soft caramels

Preheat oven to 350°F for at least 20 minutes.  Line cupcake tins with paper or foil liners.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and coconut in a large bowl.  Whisk to combine and set aside.   In a measuring cup, combine the coconut milk, vinegar and vanilla extract and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes.  Stop and scrape the bowl and paddle.  Cream an additional 2 – 3 minutes.  Stop and scrape the bowl and paddle again.  On medium speed, slowly drizzle in the beat egg, no more than 2 tablespoons at a time and mixing each in completely before adding more.  Stop and scrape the bowl and paddle halfway through and after all the egg is incorporated.

On low speed, add half of the flour mixture, followed by the coconut milk mixture, and then the remaining flour.  Mix just until combined.  Use a spatula to fold in any remaining flour, making sure to get down to the bottom of the bowl. 

Using an ice cream scoop, portion batter into prepared pan.  Push a caramel into each cupcake and swirl the batter over the top.  Eat any remaining caramels.  Bake the cupcakes for 18 – 20 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.  Immediately and carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan to a wire rack.  Cool completely.  Ice with white chocolate caramel buttercream.

White Chocolate Buttercream
Makes about 6 cups

¾ cup milk
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbs all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
6 Tbs heavy whipping cream
5 sticks unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
3-1/2 oz white chocolate, melted and cooled

Heat the milk and sugar over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 15 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and whisk in flour.  Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed until cooled to room temperature.  Reduce speed to low and add the vanilla, cream and butter.  Mix to combine and then gradually begin increasing the speed to medium-high.  Go slowly so you don’t end up wearing it.  Beat on medium-high for 7 to 10 minutes.  Reduce speed to medium and slowly drizzle in the melted white chocolate.  Mix just until combined. 

If not using immediately, refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to two months.  Allow to come to room temperature and re-beat before using.

White Chocolate Caramel Buttercream

3 cups white chocolate buttercream
½ cup caramel sauce

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the white chocolate buttercream on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy.  Reduce speed to medium and slowly drizzle in the caramel sauce.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Caramel Let Down or Caramel Melt Down?

When I make caramels these days, I use lessons learned from previous attempts.  One of which is always scrape the sides of the pot into a bowl separate from the pan of poured caramels.  This makes it much easier to clean the pot and gives me a small amount of caramel to try.  From what I had in the bowl, I thought the goat milk caramels with orange were lacking orange, but had good set.  So when I grabbed the ends of the parchment to lift the caramel slab out of the pan, I was totally surprised at how soft it was. 

There are several possibilities of what may have occurred.  First and foremost is always my impatience.  Did I get tired of waiting and pour them too soon?  I didn't think so.  Second, there's the issue of the homemade sweetened condensed goat milk.  I used this on the coffee caramels I made and they had a soft set as well.  Third, it's possible that my thermometer is a bit inaccurate.  I noticed a small air bubble in the red stuff and wasn't really sure how/where to read it.

Now what do I do with this batch of soft goat milk caramels?  Caramel sauce is always an option, but I already have enough to keep me going for awhile.  A couple of other possibilities come to mind.  I think hiding a disc of caramel in some coconut cupcake batter could make for a pleasant surprise.  I'm also thinking of chilling some of them enough to hold their shape and dipping them in some dark chocolate.  Some tempered dark chocolate. 

Discs of goat milk caramels waiting for their fate. 
Can you see the flecks of orange zest? 
Too bad it's just for show.

Yes, I am going to attempt tempering chocolate.  I was reading up on it last night in a book on chocolate and confections from the Culinary Institute.  We talked about tempering extensively in Pastry class.  I've done this in class.  I should be able to handle it.  Should. 

A while back I bought a block of Callebaut bittersweet chocolate.  It got a little too warm at one time, so it will be out of temper before I begin.  Which is not a big deal given the tempering method I'm going to use.  Once I get it to the proper temperature (about 122 degrees), I'll seed it with some Ghirardelli dark chocolate that is in temper and stir it around until I get it to drop to about 90 degrees.  The problem is going to be keeping the chocolate at the appropriate temperature given the fact I'll be dipping cold caramel into it.  Maybe I should just pour the chocolate over the caramel.  Or maybe I should get some jumbo pecans and make tortoises.  Maybe I should get away from the computer and get busy. 

Update:  I didn't attempt chocolate tempering today.  I wasn't sure if it was one of those things annoyed by rainy days or not and didn't want to waste perfectly good chocolate.  I did make coconut caramel cupcakes.  And they're so awesome that I will need to get rid of them quickly so I don't eat them all.  Recipe and pics tomorrow.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lazily Productive or Productively Lazy?

Do you ever have those days when you’re melancholy for no apparent reason?  I was having one of those days yesterday.  I don’t particularly like these sort of days, but even so it’s often difficult to want to do anything more than wallow in my melancholia.  But that wouldn’t give me much to write about, would it?

Friday I was more motivated to be productive.  I’ve had a “project” in my head for awhile now that I decided let loose.  I’ve subscribed to National Geographic for a number of years.  Mostly because I have a gift subscription for my dad and it’s not that much more to have my own.  Even though I don’t read them cover to cover as he does, I find them interesting and have kept them over the years – including the maps and posters that occasionally come with them.  I went through every issue and pulled out the maps and posters.  And proceeded to cover one of the downstairs walls with them.  It’s probably worth pointing out that this is not my first foray into using magazines as wall covering.  Many years ago when I was living in a small garage converted to living space, I covered an entire wall of my bedroom with magazine ads out of Vanity Fair.  I believe the hubs thinks I’m a little nuts.  He said it was “busy”.  Indeed, it is. 

I supposed I should have replaced the vent covers and
wall plates before photographing, but here it is as it was.
And the ugly green chair - that's the dog's chair.  She has her own chair.

Yesterday I chose to tackle a cleaning chore I’ve been putting off for some time.  The light/ceiling fan in our upstairs living room needed to be cleaned in the worst of ways and I wanted to replace the incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents.  Neither easily accomplished with a 14’ ceiling.  A ladder was involved.  But it’s done.  For awhile.

After that, putting some of the maps and posters back up on the wall that had fallen overnight (this time with super sticky stuff), and a couple of loads of laundry, I felt I deserved to do something I wanted to do.  That’s sort of the deal I make with myself:  do some things I need to do, and then I can do something I want to do.  It’s not often they’re one in the same.

What did I want to do?  Make caramels.  This was my first try at goat milk caramels with my homemade sweetened condensed goat milk.  And I decided to try and infuse them with some orange zest.  Not sure how they’re going to turn out yet.  I’ll find out for sure when I cut them later today.  What I chewed off of the spatula didn’t seem to have any orange flavor at all.  The goat ate the orange.  Or more likely, since I put the orange zest in with the sugar and syrup in the beginning (to essentially candy the zest), the intense boiling was too much for the delicate oils in the zest.  That may warrant further investigation.

The orange.  The only oranges I had on hand were the Cara Cara oranges I had picked up on a whim last week.  I’ve read about them on several occasions lately and just HAD to have them.  The label called them a “pink navel orange”.  From all the hype, I was expecting one of the most awesome oranges I’ve ever tasted.  I’ve had much, MUCH better oranges.  How disappointing.  That marmalade may need some embellishment.  We'll see what I can come up with today.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Follow Through

A simple concept, yes?  One I often have tremendous difficulty with.  I am notorious for starting projects, getting bored or frustrated before they're finished, and walking away.  Usually I think to myself, "I'll get back to that."  Doesn't always happen.  Today, follow through occurred.

The unattractive crushed velvet
patterened vinyl that previously
covered the rocking chair.
 When we moved into our house last summer, I brought with me a rocking chair that's been with me longer than the hubs.  It was a potentially cute little chair I acquired at a yard sale back home.  From the time I bought it, I had always thought about recovering it.  The dirty-looking vinyl with a crushed velvet pattern just didn't do it for me.  After we moved, I went as far to buy the fabric.  A few months later, I removed the old upholstery from the back of the chair.  And there it sat.  For months.  So many I've lost count.

Today, I finished the chair. 

Not pretty, just finished. 
And I'm okay with that.

In this process I can say unequivocally that I will not be indulging in another midlife career change to become an upholsterer.  While I'd love to say I'm really proud of this chair, not so much.  I'm just glad it's done.  It's far from perfect and it will remain that way.  In the future, any furniture I feel the need to have recovered will be done by a professional or Sure-Fit.  I am done with it.  In absolutely every sense.

And now that it's done, I can return to the kitchen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Don't Eat That!

Spoon butter.  It's something I read about on Food in Jars (  It's for conditioning wooden utensils and cutting boards.  I've been wanting to give it a try, so yesterday I did.  Small problem.  I was relying on memory for the "recipe" and my proportions were really off.  It's supposed to be 1 part beeswax to 4 parts mineral oil.  Mine was half and half. I'll see if I can melt it down again and add the rest of the mineral oil.

Coated in spoon butter and waiting for a rub down.
As you can tell, some of these get used more than others.

It still did a very nice job on my wooden utensils though.  There are still a few things left do to:  our collection of Munising wooden bowls and some rolling pins.  A couple of the rolling pins will be a bear; one is for making ravioli and the other is for springerle.  Lots of little nooks and crannies to get around.  But it will be worth it.  Silicon has its place, but I love my wooden utensils!

All done and back in their home.
(The crock was given to me by my dad.  It's a family piece from his mom.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day Recap and New Projects

Over the last few days I've noticed there really isn't a good abbreviation for "Valentine's Day".  V-Day is an entirely different day and no one would be enamored to see VD.  Therefore, we will stick with the more cumbersome, but acceptable, Valentine's Day in its entirety.

I had decided that I was going to make miso soup and sushi for our Valentine's Day dinner.  After delivering some caramels and cake hearts, I went shopping for a few things I would need.  On previous occasions, I have found sashimi grade tuna in Carbondale.  It was not to be yesterday.  Instead I purchased a small steak of yellowfin. 

The cute little remnants in my stock bag
will remind me of Valentine's Day the
next time I make stock.

For the miso soup, I used the recipe on the container as a guideline.  I've not used miso before, but had the impression it was quite salty, so I wanted some vegetables in it to absorb some of the flavor.  I had some leeks and used those instead of onion.  I cut some carrots with my little heart cutter.  Something red would have been nice, but beets were out of the question and red pepper wasn't what I had in mind either.  I was very happy with the appearance, but it turns out that miso (at least the red miso I had purchased) is also slightly sweet.  Didn't care for that so much.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the pot of soup we didn't eat, but I'll come up with something.  (The hubs suggest stock, and I'm thinking that has potential.)

You can see a couple of little broccoli stem hearts in there as well.

Knowing that food-borne illnesses related to seafood can be particularly hideous, and having had the unpleasant of experience of salmonella in the past, I chose to sear the tuna.  So my sushi was not authentic, but it was safe.  And the hubs didn't seem to mind too much.  It's been awhile since I've made sushi.  There were a couple of things I had forgotten:  1) making sushi always takes longer than I think it will; and 2) sticky rice is called sticky rice for a reason.  I spent pretty much all afternoon prepping and it was still almost 8:00 before it was ready. 

Sticky, sticky, sticky rice. 
This stuff can try the patience
of a saint.  (And I'm no saint!)

My original thought had been since it's Valentine's Day, I would try to roll the sushi from both ends and make it heart shaped.  By 7:00, I was getting tired, was very hungry and fortunately had the insight to recognize my limitations.  Even with that, it wasn't the prettiest sushi I've ever made, but it was still tasty.  (But by then I was so hungry, the miso soup was tasting better too.)

Since the sticky rice sticks to everything,
I had to rinse off my knife blade after every cut. 
After the first roll, I wisened up
and cut two rolls at a time. 
Work smarter, not harder as Chef says.

As for today, I'm going to kick back and do a little housework and gear up for a little shopping on Wednesday and experimenting on Thursday.  I have a couple more ideas for caramels I want to try and while shopping I found some Cara Cara oranges that begged me to take them.  Yes, that means more marmalade is in my future.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day Treats Done

Well, what I have so far is done.  I doubt I have time to do more tomorrow since I still have a little shopping to do for our Valentine's dinner.

The white almond bark coating continued to be a problem, but I prevailed with the attitude that less is more.  I was hoping to do some fancier decorating, but this stuff was just too uncooperative.  Maybe it saved me from myself.  Sometimes simple really is better.  Tomorrow I'll box them up with the caramels and make my deliveries.  What fun!

Valentine's Day Projects Continued

Yesterday I tackled dipping my little cake hearts in the chocolate candy coating.  It took me about a dozen and a half to get things working the way I wanted.  The candy melts just didn't seem like they were melting well and were quite thick.  Not what you want for dipping.  I was beginning to think I should have just tempered some chocolate.  It didn't help that I decided I wanted to add a little butter for richness.  It is possible to use butter, it just needs to be done before the chocolate pieces start melting, not after like I tried.  It tried to seize up on me so I had to use my arch nemesis (shortening) to thin it out a little.  But eventually it worked out and they're all coated.   Some just a little better than others.

These were among the last ones I did. 
Fortunately my technique did improve as I went along.

Trying to find an out-of-the-way spot to wait for more decor.

Later in the evening I decided some decorations in white (almond bark) would be pretty.  It would have been, except the stuff kept hardening in the tip of my piping bag before I could get it out.  I attempted a few before throwing in the towel - and I'm not showing you those.  I may try again today when the kitchen is a little warmer.  I was trying to figure out what was going wrong because I've piped chocolate and candy melts before.  Since this is almond bark coating, I'm not sure if that's the problem or not.  If it doesn't work out today, we'll scrap it and go with something else.  To paraphrase Clint Eastwood (as Gunny Highway in Heartbreak Ridge): I'll improvise, adapt and overcome.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Projects for Valentine's Day

Last night as I'm lying wide awake in bed thinking about the pan of caramel upstairs, my mind began to wander toward Valentine's Day coming up (and on a Monday, puh-leaze!).  Could I use some of my heart-shaped cutters to make cute little caramel hearts?  Indeed I could.  And indeed I did.  I would have preferred a cutter sized somewhere in between the two I had, so that's something to keep in mind when I get to Hobby Lobby.

The wooden tenderizer (which has never touched a piece of meat)
was for pressing the cutter into the caramel and saving my fingers.
Little caramel beauties ready to be boxed up.

I also started thinking about some of the cake pieces I had in the freezer.  Yes, I freeze cake scraps.  It's really difficult for me to throw away cake.  I've made cake balls before, but how about making more little hearts out of chocolate chile cake scraps?  So I did.  They're not finished yet. 

All lined up and waiting to take a dip.
 Meanwhile I was also thinking about the strawberry-hibiscus cupcakes with lemongrass buttercream.  They were still sitting boxed on the counter waiting for the requisite number of days to pass before I could force myself to throw them away.  (It's an ordeal I have to work up to.)  Maybe they would make some nice little cake hearts as well.  No, not really.  I even added a little ginger syrup as I was mixing them up.  Didn't help.  So with a heavy heart, it was finally time to send it to the trash.  Experiment status:  failed.  Redemption is needed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Test Results Pending

One test is done.  The prognosis looks good, although the results won't be known until tomorrow.  So far, it looks like my caramel made with homemade sweetened condensed goat milk is going to be okay.  As much as I like experimenting and testing recipes, this one actually had me a little nervous.  Nervous not that it would be an epic tragedy if it didn't work out, but not knowing how my homemade sweetened condensed goat milk would react in violently boiling hot caramel.  Cleaning burnt marmalade off the stove was not something I enjoyed and I wasn't imagining caramel being any easier.

Pan before.  Most recipes I've read just call for
buttering the pan.  I'm not going to spend that
kind of time and effort and then not be able
to get the caramel out of the pan. 
I love parchment!  Absolute must have.
This is my fourth batch of caramel, and I'm learning a few things as I go.  The most important is that preparation is imperative.  Don't even think about turning any burners on until everything is ready to go at the very second it's needed.  Today I forgot to measure out my vanilla and decided at the last minute that I would add some instant coffee.  If I use coffee in the future, I believe I'll dissolve it in some milk or water first.  There are going to be a few caramels that have a much stronger coffee kick since the granules didn't dissolve the way I thought they should.
Not quite ready to pour.  Learned that
lesson the hard way. 

If this test is truly successful I can then move on to testing using the evaporated goat milk and goat butter.  I chose not to this time because I didn't want to waste the more expensive ingredients if it was a massive failure I couldn't recover.  But it would have to be a really big failure for me to throw out caramel.  (Of note though, I did make it all day yesterday without eating caramel.)

Pan after.  Waiting until tomorrow
to reveal its secrets.  Do you see the
little dark spots of undissolved
coffee granules?

And my stock is done; reduced and strained.  I'm going to leave the fat instead of skimming since I'm not planning on making consomme.  But since the hubs won't let me use the pressure canner without doing a safety check first, I had to go ahead and put the stock in the freezer for now.  But that's okay.  I already have a couple of other containers in there, so when I do get to can, I'll just do all of them at the same time.  And hope their appearances are different enough that I can tell them apart when I'm done.  Chicken noodle soup with seafood stock doesn't sound all that appealing to me.