Thursday, October 30, 2008

Macedonian chickpea stew

I was all set for an event post tonight. I had my ticket for New Times Iron Fork competition: five, prominent I presume, local chefs battling Iron Chef-style for the Golden Fork Award. We in the audience wouldn't get to taste, of course, but we'd have samples from twenty local restaurants instead. But I worked a bit late, hit some traffic on my way to the venue and by the time I got there the parking lot was full and the line out the door. So I went home. I hope someone writes it up and has lots of pictures. It seems like it might have been fun.

I had no plans for dinner so I decided to catch up on my food blogs to see if anything caught my eye as doable with what I had on hand. One thing, from The Kitchn which I've just started reading recently, did. Kitchn is kind of a link-blog so they pointed out to this recipe for a lemony chick pea stir fry on a different blog and that pointed out to another blog with a different version.

I decided I wanted a more proper sauce than those recipes provide so I looked through my refrigerator to see what I could use. I came quite close using a tamarind chili sauce I've got, but I settled on a bottle of pinjur, a Macedonian condiment/ingredient made with roasted eggplant, garlic, parsley, olive oil and walnuts. The bottle I've got adds roasted red pepper which is not uncommon and tomatoes which probably is. Once I made that decision I looked up traditional Macedonian flavors to see what else to add. More parsley and paprika (not the smoked sort) as it turns out. So here's how it went:

1/2 can chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, minced
1/4 red pepper, minced (pre-roasted wouldn't be bad)
1 small yellow squash, in 1/2 inch slices and chopped into bite-sized pieces, not necessarily in that order
a few ounces firm tofu or some appropriate meat: lamb I suppose or chicken would do. I chopped my tofu into sub-centimeter cubes. Real meat probably ought to be roughly ground.
hot paprika to taste, paprika quality and intensity varies widely. Use your own judgment.
1 small handful parsley, roughly chopped
2 sizable dollops pinjur
oil for frying
white vinegar or lemon juice

1. In a medium non-stick pan, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil on medium-high heat. Add the chickpeas and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown.

2. Add garlic, onion and pepper. (If you're using roasted red pepper, don't add it yet.) Turn heat up a little and cook until chick peas start to crisp up, smell really good and turn a golden brown. Remove all to a bowl.

3. Leave heat at medium-high-high, add some more oil, let it heat up a bit and then add the squash and tofu (or meat), a pinch of salt and paprika. Cook until squash is soft and browned. It took me around four minutes but my pan was overcrowded.

4. Return chickpea mixture. Add pinjur, chick pea liquid and parsley (and roasted red pepper if you're using it). Stir to combine and heat through. Check for seasoning and add a splash of vinegar and maybe a little fruity olive oil.

5. Serve warm with some pita bread if you've got it.

All the flavors work quite well together, fairly accidentally but predictably as nothing here, bar the mildly flavored squash, is unusual for Macedonian cuisine. It was a quick cooking process so it hasn't really melded into a whole; it's more a medley of flavors as different combinations brush up against each other in each spoonful. It's a good combination of textures too; both the chick peas and the tofu are meaty against the soft squash, peppers and eggplant. It turned out rather better than I had any right to expect considering; it's actually quite presentable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Making Crêpes

No fancy, exotic or unique recipes today. Today I'm interested in technique. Can I successfully make crepes? I've done it once before but that was fifteen years ago and I had both a proper crepe pan--the fancy domed sort--and someone who knew what she was doing guiding me. Today I've just got my small non-stick frying pan, but I understand that that should suffice.

My first choice when I'm trying something new is to use an Alton Brown recipe. He's got one for crepes, happily:

Good Eats Crepes


* 2 large eggs
* 3/4 cup milk
* 1/2 cup water
* 1 cup flour
* 3 tablespoons melted butter
* Butter, for coating the pan


In a blender, combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour. This allows the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking. The batter will keep for up to 48 hours.

Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1 ounce of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to the cutting board. Lay them out flat so they can cool. Continue until all batter is gone. After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months. When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.

*Savory Variation Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, spinach or sun-dried tomatoes to the egg mixture.

*Sweet Variation Add 21/2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of your favorite liqueur to the egg mixture.

You might have noticed that he doesn't specify a type of flour. Given the short mix time it probably doesn't matter much, but just to be on the safe side I decided to use low-gluten pastry flour, whole wheat specifically for a bit of extra flavor.

He doesn't say how much butter either. I just rubbed the end of a stick of butter around the pan a bit; it is a non-stick after all.

Here's my first attempt with a carefully measured 1 ounce of batter. It looks a little skimpy for my pan so I'll go up to a full 1/8 cup next time, which is easier to measure out anyway. The bubbling means the pan's too hot--easily fixed. And some trouble with the flip.

Maybe if I use tongs?


A long wooden spatula?


Two spatulas together?


What if I add more batter. Would the extra thickness improve the structural integrity?


How does Brown say to do it? "and flip." Lots of help there. No time to check the video so I'll just pile them up.

In between each pile of crepe is the filling: baby spinach, scallions and finely chopped ham, a bit of salt, a bit of pepper, Parisien Bonnes Herbes mix, pan deglazed with a dry white wine. Plus some finely grated havarti cheese. Not the most attractive dish, but not bad. The texture of the crepes is spongier than I expected and maybe they should be crispy around the edges? Eh, still tasty.

That episode on Good Eats is on YouTube (You'd think the Food Channel would complain about that.) so I can see how the flip is supposed to be done. Huh, tossed like a pancake. My pan isn't very new; maybe the non-stick is getting a bit less non- in its old age.

Let's see if I have better luck using the second half for dessert. I want to add a Tablespoon of sugar so I decant the batter into a bowl and I notice a whole lot of sludge on the bottom. The batter separated during the hour in the refrigerator and all the flour was on the bottom. Those weren't crepes before; they were omelets! No more of that. Now I can mix it up between scooping out portions to cook.

There's a noticeable difference in texture right away. The batter is denser, but it spreads thinner. The heat's too high again but the crepe isn't sticking. I don't want to risk picking it up and I'm not the best flapjack flipper out there so I dump it out onto a plate and then slide it back into the pan. Here it is:

Much better looking, whole for one thing, translucently thin and crispy around the edges. And it's not a fluke either. Next one comes out thin too and I can even flip it in the pan. And it keeps on that way as they pile up.

There are three changes here:
1. The higher flour/liquid ratio
2. The Tablespoon of sugar
3. A substantially lower cooking temperature (I lowered the heat to medium low and increased the cooking time by 15 seconds.)

I think #1 is the reason for the improved texture. #3 is why I didn't get any more crispy edges after that first one. I don't know which fixed the sticking problem. My guess is #1 but verification will have to wait for the next time I make this.

The filling for dessert is an apple, sliced thin with my mandolin, fried up with a little butter and a generous dollop of leftover caramel sauce from my last ice cream. [link] I had envisioned tidy layers of apple slices but I have an unerring ability to pick the mealiest apples on offer--organic or industrial, farmer's market or supermarket, no matter the varietal it never fails--so it began falling apart while I was slicing and disintegrated the second it hit the pan. No matter, at least the cooking is bringing out what little flavor it has.

Here's the result:

The crepes are thin, light, tender and tasty. No longer crispy on the edges though. The apple/caramel sauce matches well too. I wonder if there's some way to get the full stack hot without overcooking the crepes? I found that everything cooled to room temperature quite rapidly as I made the next crepe.

But temperature aside, these are pretty good crepes and really not hard at all once I got over the initial difficulties. I wonder how crepes got their reputation for trickiness. I have more trouble with pancakes and I've been trying to figure those out for years.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Migas de pan - a second try

I've got about half a big loaf of bread left over so I thought I'd take a second crack at migas. There are a few things I figure I did wrong the first time around.

First, I went overboard with the olive oil. No need to drown everything, particular as the sausage is going to release some fat itself.

Second, I mistook it for a stir fry and cranked up the heat in a way Spanish chorizo and bread crumbs both don't react well to.

Third, I cut the bread crumbs too small so by the time they were crisp on the outside they were crisp on the inside too which is not good.

Finally, I worried too much about what was or wasn't supposed to go into it. This time I improvised a little and didn't concern myself with a proper traditional Central Spanish recipe.

So, this time, along with the chorizo I added some southern-style uncured garlic sausage. Garlic sausage is universal and southern and Spanish styles aren't a huge distance apart. I also added some shrimp and jamon serano after the sausages, onion and pepper had spent a couple minutes over medium heat.

I prepared the bread crumbs by tossing them with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and pimenton and letting them soak it in while the other ingredients cooked. On a whim I added half a can of chickpeas in with the bread crumbs. That must be traditional somewhere in Spain. I gave them around seven minutes in the pan before mixing all the other stuff back in and letting it cook for one more minute to let the bread soak up some of the accumulated juices.

And finally I served it topped with some chopped roasted peppers. I skipped the egg this time mainly because I seem to have used the last egg I had some time earlier this week.

The results are much improved. I pulled the bread a little quick so only a few bits crisped up, but it is softened up from staleness and soaked with flavor so no biggie. And the garbanzos are a good contrast in texture with their firm bite.

Big benefits from cutting back on the oil as I can actually taste the vegetables this time around. And since the meat isn't all shriveled up and dried out, each retains its own specific flavor contributing to the whole. The shrimp particularly are a nice addition with their sweetness balanced against the smokey saltiness of the rest of the dish.

It's not perfect; for one thing I cut the bread crumbs too big. The result is more panzenella than pilaf and I think the second is what I'm aiming at. Also, I forgot the tomatoes. It could use tomatoes. As for the egg, I dunno. It really didn't need any more fat, but the egg yolks would have bound it together a bit. I'll add an egg to a leftover serving and see how it goes.

Overall a respectable result and a pretty good dinner. I think it went well enough that next time I might experiment with flavors and do a non-Spanish version. I have a vision of a breakfast migas de pancakes I kind of want to try but I don't have all the details worked out yet.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The United Way Dessert Extraganza

I'm sure you've all been wondering how the bananas foster ice cream turned out and the dessert competition went. The answer for both is: middlingly. (It would be mediocrely, but that's not an actual word.) I swear, if the ice cream had turned out the way it did last year I would have blown away the competition instead of coming in fourth.

After I melted down the ice cream for its makeover I added a quarter cup of brown sugar to each batch which did help quite a bit. In retrospect, what I should have done was roast another couple of bananas, get them to turn out correctly this time and add them to the mix. But I would have needed quite ripe flavorful bananas and I didn't have time to get them to there from the green condition you can buy bananas in.

I'm not going to say that the final result, after I rechurned it, was bad, but it was adult with the flavors of spice and rum equal with the banana. And that's not a crowd-pleasing strategy.

Here's the winner: Nilla Wafer banana pudding using the recipe off the back of the box. It was the only warm dessert there (other than my caramel sauce which turned out OK but a little heavy on the vanilla. My homemade vanilla sugar turned out a bit more potent than I thought. I need to make a sponge cake that I can poke full of holes and pour the caramel over.) and it had a well done meringue so I can't entirely begrudge the win.

However, second place was, while labelled brownies, in fact more like intensely sweet barely solid chocolate sludge. Completely inedible to my palate. I don't seem to have a shot of it.

I do have a shot of third place, though: a strawberry puff pastry cream layer something-or-other. Not bad, although some sliced strawberries in the middle somewhere would have been a nice addition.

And here are some of the also-rans:

The one in the middle on the red tablecloth is a Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Yes, a bread pudding made with Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. I think it frightened everybody at appropriate levels as not many tried it.

Personally, I voted for the pumpkin and carrot spice cakes you can see on either side of the green tablecloth. I like the subtle spice and I'm a sucker for cream cheese frosting.

I don't know how much money we raised for the United Way. At the last minute admission was lowered to five bucks and we didn't have a huge crowd so it couldn't have been much. Better than nothing I suppose.

For my next dessert competition I'm thinking quadruple chocolate ice cream: a premium chocolate ice cream with malt balls, cocoa nibs and white chocolate stracciatella (assuming you can make white chocolate stracciatella. I'll have to try that and see). Or maybe caramel corn; I do a darn good caramel corn. Or maybe an olive oil ice cream with balsamic mascerated strawberries and cracked black pepper. Something like that.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Slow Food - Annual Members Dinner at the Standard

Some Slow Food dinners focus on a particular cuisine, some focus on the general Slow Food philosophy of local seasonal organic ingredients well-prepared, and some, like the Mango brunch three months back and last night's Members Dinner focus on a specific ingredient.

That ingredient last night was the Navajo-Churro sheep. There's a full information sheet here; the short version is that this is the breed of sheep brought to the Americas by the conquistidors in the 1600's, taken up by the Navajo, nearly lost during the Indian relocation and wars and restored in the 1970's. It's still a rare heritage breed but it's on its way back. According to the info sheet, it's not just of historical interest but also especially tasty. By the end of this post you'll know my opinion on that.

The Standard's chef, Mark Zetouni, prepared the sheep (technically mutton in this case, but he--or possibly Donna Reno, I don't recall--explained that the dividing line between lamb and mutton is by size and the particular sheep we were eating was a large one. According to this USDA glossary that's not true. I don't mind myself and as Donna also explained about the difficulty they had obtaining Navajo-Churro meat of any sort I think even those who prefer lamb wouldn't grouse about mutton instead. Still, I would have preferred to start my meal without a serving of bullshit.) three different ways in a sort of pan-Mediterranean cuisine standard for the Standard. In typical Mediterranean style, his usual menu avoids dairy and wheat (also handy for those attending the attached spa as those are both common allergies and common scapegoats in crackpot diet cures) and focuses on whole vegetables, seafood and olive oil. We didn't actually see much of any of those three last night, now that I think about it.

Before I get to the actual meal, I should mention that the Standard's restaurant is on a patio on the northeast corner of one of those dinky little islands in Miami Beach looking out over the water with the lights of the city in the distance. Beautiful in the twilight in a way that my crappy little phone-camera couldn't come close to capturing, so I'll spare you the pics. Worth a look for yourself, really.

So, first course: Mezze & Share.
Grilled Lamb (not really) "Kibbeh" (I don't know why that's in quotes; It seemed like perfectly legitimate kibbeh to me.) with tzatziki
Feta and Watermelon
Hummus, Baba Ganoush, Marinated Olives and a Greek Salad

That's the last of the light I used to take those photos. The rest were with a flash which may make them turn out better but also required me to annoy my tablemates. I did see several other people taking photos so keep an eye out for other bloggers talking about this meal.

Let's start with the kibbeh. It was a little dry. At this point I assume that it's supposed to be like that since every kibbeh I've ever eaten had that same texture. I liked that it had a bit of lingering spice to it, but you'd have to concentrate to tell that it wasn't ground beef and then you wouldn't be sure it was any special sort of mutton. The chef got it pre-ground so not his fault. I thought the little rosemary skewers were cute but I was a bit disappointed they didn't add any flavor.

The watermelon and feta wasn't bad. The feta was nicely salty, and since I like salt on my watermelon, it's not too surprising I thought the pairing worked well. Since it was a pretty mild watermelon, other than a bit of extra sweetness, it was hard to distinguish from a standard Greek salad using flavorless supermarket tomatoes. I didn't get much from the little slivers of what I assume was basil either. I'm curious if I could match both properly flavorful tomatoes and watermelon with feta in one salad.

The hummus/baba ganoush platter was standard stuff, adulterated slightly by the watermelon juice on my plate, and hampered by giving us crackers instead of pita. The pita is just as important a compenent as the dips in this sort of thing, I think. Really good olives, though.

With the mezze I had the 2007 Dr. L Riesling which I liked. It had a pink grapefruit balance of sweet and tart. It had a long finish but just that single note to play; simple but not at all unpleasant.

Next up the Main Course.
Turkish Sheep Curry
Quinoa Pilaf with Dried Apricot and Cherries and Fresh Parsley
Fennel Pollen Dusted Sheep Chops and Loin
Stewed Chick Peas
Short Grain Brown Rice with Roasted Red Pepper and Almond Nuts (not pictured due to being boring)

Hmm, the flash wasn't a fabulous improvement. At least you can see something, I suppose.

I don't know if I've had a Turkish curry before. Google isn't much help here as it turns up Turkish curry the spice, but not Turkish curry the dish. If there was any Turkish curry spice in here, there wasn't much as it was very mildly spiced--which is fine since the sheep is the focus here. Beyond the sheep and the gravy, there were some potatoes in there too. The sheep was flavorful, but in that washed-out long-slow-cooked stew-meat sort of way. That hid whatever virtues Navajo-Churro might have brought to the table but the texture was fine and at least I could tell that I was eating mutton. Again, it was pre-cubed when the chef got it so what was he going to do?

I found that the quinoa perked up the curry quite well, both the good chew and saltiness of a properly cooked grain and the sweetness of the dried fruit added some interest to the meat-and-potatoes of the meat and potatoes.

The stewed chickpeas were creamy and slightly firm as one would hope. They were interestingly but not overwhelmingly spiced--with fennel I think. Not a choice that would have occurred to me, but pretty good. I thought that would make it match well with the fennel-pollen-dusted chop but I can't say it did.

That chop was rare, just barely butter-knife tender (which was good as a butter knife was all they gave us. I had a second piece later which wasn't and since I couldn't very well pick it up and gnaw off a chunk at a civilized dinner I didn't get to eat much of it.) There was a light crust on the chop which was nice and there was one bite from somewhere in the middle that finally sold me on Navajo-Churro. There was a burst of a sweet, grassy flavor that was distinctively mutton but without any gaminess; just fabulous. But the rest of the chop was kind of blah.

And speaking of blah, the brown rice.

With this course I had the 2003 Michele Chiarlo "LaCourt" Barbera D'asti. Barbera is the name of the grape there and D'asti the region. No, I hadn't heard of them before, either. I'm having a tough time describing this wine. It's really very red-winey. Usually you can pick out cherries or chocolate notes or wood or flint or whatever. Maybe it's me but this just tasted like wine. Not notably sweet, no tannins, not really big but not subtle either, maybe a little bitter. Smooth, tasty but not easy-drinking. Donated and chosen by Korbrand and I think they did a fine job of pairing it with the meal.

And finally, the desert course.
Mushroom Cookies (Mantar Kurabiye)
Spinach Cake
Turkish Shortbread (Un Kurabiyesi)
Orange Biscuit (Portakalli Biskuvi)

I'm not sure the flash helped there at all. You can kind of see a mushroom-shaped thing in the lower middle. No actual mushrooms in it, disappointingly. It was a dry almond cookie that begged for an espresso. Do you see an espresso cup behind it in that picture? No, you do not. Not too bad with the wine, though.

Even more disappointingly, the spinach cake (on the right) actually did contain spinach. You could quite clearly taste it and I, at least, rather wished I hadn't. Even if it wasn't there, the texture was a gummy lemon-bar-gone-wrong. The chef mentioned that it was his first time trying the recipe and declared the results "interesting". That it was.

The Turkish shortbread (on the left), was straightforward buttery shortbread. Maybe a bit less crumbly than Walker's Scottish. That reminds me, I really must get around to making Earl Grey ice cream with bits of shortbread one of these days.

Finally, the highlight of the meal--bar that one bite of chop (and maybe a green olive from the mezze)--the orange biscuit. This was a sandwich with two soft sugar cookies around an orange cream center. The good bit was how the cream was bitter with orange zest and a lovely contrast to the sweet cookies.

I just did a quick search to confirm the ingredients in the orange biscuit and it looks like all of the desert recipes came from here. That's a mite disappointing and I'm not entirely sure why.

So, overall:
Navajo-Churry sheep: worth keeping around but cook it carefully and don't waste it in stews.
Slow Food dinners: always interesting, but not always a full success. And there's more to Slow Food than dinners; they do good work too. Go to and see what they're up to.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In search of a better quiche crust - part five

Once more into the laboratory. My last attempt at a crumb crust was bread crumbs mixed with cheese and blinded. This time I'm trying cracker crumbs instead. I've tried crackers previously with butter but the results weren't great and it added a lot of fat with no real benefit.

This time I'm trying a different, more appropriate I'm hoping, type of cracker, mixing it with just one Tablespoon of butter along with a half cup of grated cheese to see how that goes.

The particular crackers I choose are Finn crisps. Mild in flavor, not covered with any sort of flavoring dust, crisp and not too fibrous. I ran some through my spice grinder but they turned to dust so I ground the rest with a mortar and pestle to get some texture.

For the cheese, I used a cream havarti: a good melter without an overwhelming character so it should match well with whatever vegetables I dig out of the refrigerator. One problem I had last time was distributing the long strands of grated cheese. This time I made certain to always keep the shortest dimension of the piece of cheese perpendicular to the direction I was grating in. It's a pain in the butt and against every instinct, but I was rewarded with inch long fine shreds that mixed easily and uniformly with the cracker crumbs.

After 10 minutes at 350 degrees it's difficult to see much difference but a close inspection reveals areas where the cheese melted into the crumbs and bubbled up. The bubbles are coated with cracker dust so they're well camouflaged. It looks promising, but then so did the breadcrumb crust and that turned out rather oddly. I grated a bit of Parmesan over the crust as extra waterproofing before filling the crust.

For the filling, I sautéed some broccolini along with onions and peppers. Getting them good and browned as that really brings out broccolini's flavor. When they were ready I added a handful of chopped tomato, some ham and deglazed the pan with an Argentinean torrontés, whatever the heck that is. It has a tart flavor that I think goes well with the broccolini.

I decided to wing it on the custard as I think I've made enough to have the hang of them. I used four eggs, a cup of milk and a half cup of sour cream. Should be interesting.

Then into the over for 22 minutes at 350 degrees before I realized that it was supposed to be at 375. I checked it after a half hour and a knife in the center comes out clean so I guess it's done despite that. Well, a little on the underdone side as it turns out, but since I'm going to be freezing and reheating most of it, that's for the best.

Here's the bottom. You can see that this time the crust remained a separate layer. It isn't crisp, but it holds together and is firm to the bite. The flavor of the crackers comes through, though, distinct from the quiche proper, and a lovely counterpoint to the other flavors. I think I can call this a success; this is a proper crust. Not difficult at all and relatively low fat with the addition of only one Tablespoon of butter and a quarter cup of extra cheese that wasn't going to go into the quiche anyway.

The quiche itself itself is quite good: smooth, creamy and flavorful. the sour cream was fresh so there's not a whole lot of sour going on, but I think it helped out the texture nicely. There are the occasional pockets where the sour cream wasn't mixed in entirely that add another element of flavor to the dish. The chewiness of the ham is a nice contrast to the other textures and its smokey flavor goes particularly well with the lightly charred broccolini. Overall, it's one darn fine quiche.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bananas foster ice cream with hot spiced caramel

I've entered a cooking contest. Sort of. It's actually the University of Miami's United Way Dessert Extravaganza. Raise money for charity is, at least putatively, the primary goal, but with an expected attendance of around two dozen and a ten dollar admission it seems like a whole lot of bother for not a lot of benefit. My charity dollar goes to Kiva loans so I've ignored the whole workplace-based charity drive so far, but the desserts are to be judged and I have got some pretty good recipes so what the heck.

But what to make? Ice cream is the obvious way to go. Real ice cream. Sorbet may be nice, but low fat doesn't win contests. One of my own recipes of course. Nothing too pricy since I have to make 25 servings. That rules out anything with nuts or out-of-season fruit (which is generally worse than cheaper in-season fruit anyway). And it's got to be not too challenging, but not so straightforward that it doesn't make an impact. And there's going to be free fancy coffees so something that goes well with that. To my mind, that rules out mocha which would otherwise fit the bill. Too matchy matchy, you know?

And definitely something I've made before so I know what I'm doing. The particular recipe I settled on is one I made before starting the blog that went over quite well at the time. I've mentioned it as part of another post early but it hasn't had a full write up so I'll go over the details now.

It's based on a Lebovitz roasted-banana ice cream recipe but crossed with Good Eats recipe for bananas foster and modified a bit beyond to make sure it works right. It's kind of beige on its own so I decided to add the caramel swirl from the last ice cream with a bit of spice repurposed as a hot topping. I've been shopping around for a microwavable squeezy bottle, but I can't find one so I'm going to have to drizzle with a spoon when I serve.

Here's the recipe. I'll post again after the contest.

Bananas Foster Ice Cream

3 medium ripe bananas, peeled
1/3 cup or 70 grams packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup light rum
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the bananas into 1/2-inch pieces, toss with brown sugar and butter and lay out on a cookie sheet or baking dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes depending on how spread out the bananas are, stirring once or twice and checking diligently for burning. Remove pan when they are browned, cooked through, and a caramel is just starting to form.

Scrape the bananas, sauce and caramel into a blender or food processor. Add everything else and puree until smooth. Chill in refrigerator to 40 degrees F (overnight is best) and see how thick it is. Mine had solidified into a pudding texture both times and could well have been served just like that. Instead I whisked in another 1/2 cup of milk before churning. Your results will depend on your bananas.

The actual churning takes quite a while since all that rum keeps the mix from solidifying properly. That means you can churn in as much air as you'd like, but I'd keep it under 50% increase in volume or the texture will suffer.

Now, that's how I made it the first time around, but the pictures are from the double batch I'm making now. For the amounts listed above, one baking dish is fine. I actually used a slightly larger one and ended up with well-separated banana slices interspersed with thickening puddles of sugar syrup. This time, the baking dish was filled with baked-out banana juices and I had to cook twice as long to get things even close to a proper caramel. The results don't really have the texture or flavor of the recipe properly made. Unfortunately, I didn't really accept this until after the ice cream had ripened and I found that the prominent flavors were bitter nutmeg and rum. I'm melting it down to add more sugar so it's presentable which is all I can hope for at this point.

I think I'll post this now and let you know whether the salvage job worked after the contest. A bit of suspense keeps up the readership.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bulgar millet loaf

Here's my latest attempt at a straightforward rustic loaf of bread. I say attempt both for my experimentation with technique and with my struggles against my impulse to over-complicate my recipes. This time I decided I wanted whole-grain crunchy/chewy bits in my bread which creates the difficulty of a half cup of things-that-aren't-flour to deal with. There are all sorts of seeds, nuts and grains to choose from for this sort of thing. I went with the bulgar wheat since it's been sitting around unappreciated since they underwhelmingly stuffed a pepper last spring. The millet I just bought. It's main purpose is to accompany African stews, but the bag said it's good in bread and I've come to trust Arrowhead Mills' word on such things. I also recently bought some gluten flour which is a good addition to recipes with whole grains and non-wheat flours to make sure the loaf can still rise properly.

I'm still working off the basic framework of the Old-fashioned Bread recipe from Rustic European Breads from your Bread Machine. It's worked so far and I don't see a good reason change as long as I'm working within this particular genre of bread.

So, here's how it went:

1 1/4 cup bread flour
1/4 cup bulgar wheat
1/4 cup millet
2 teaspoons yeast
5 fluid oz water

mix, let sit overnight.

1 cup bread flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup rye
1 Tablespoon gluten flour
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
scant 1/2 cup water + Tablespoons of water until the dough just comes together

mix, let sit 10 minutes. Judge hydration, maybe add a bit more water just to loosen it up a bit.

Knead in mixer. If you got it right, the dough will form a solid mass that not too solid and not too soft or sticky for the mixer to handle on speed 2. The dough hook should be visibly tossing and folding it. After a while, the dough will soften and gluten will form. Eventually--seven minutes for me this time--the dough will grab onto the dough hook. Give it another minute and then remove, form into a ball and put, seam side down, into an oiled bucket to rise for an hour. Punch it down and let it rise again.

I'm interested in getting a lighter loaf than I've had previously so I let it rise for over 90 minutes before putting it into the (preheated cast iron dutch) oven. The high rise was a bit delicate so there was some deflation when it hit the hot pot. I could have been a little more gentle, but I was trying to turn it out of the rising bowl and get it into the pot same side up which meant letting it drop a little ways as I tried to avoid burning myself too badly. That is one minus I've found from the switch in cooking vessels; 500 degree cast iron can burn from a distance.

The usual 30 minutes lid on, 25-30 lid off at 425 degrees and here's the result. This is the first loaf in a long while that I could hear crackling as it cooled, a sign I've got a particularly good crust.

Inside, you can see that I didn't get the really airy crumb I was looking for, but the bread's texture is quite light (so light I'm having structural integrity issues cutting across such a large loaf) with well distributed chewy/crunchy bits and a really fabulously rich and complex flavor. I keep trying to explain the flavor, but it jolts right to the back of the brain to that primal part that knows what fresh picked berries, meat cooked over a fire and whole grain bread is supposed to taste like and I have no words. I'm going to go have another slice now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Crockpot follies

Just like my second attempt at an angel food cake, my second attempt at crockpot cooking was a wretched failure. And for the same reason too: overconfidence. The third time I made angel food cake I stopped trying to improvise as if I knew what I was doing and followed the dang recipe and it turned out just fine (although I really ought to use pastry flour to get the full angel food experience). So I'll have to find some real crockpot recipes if I want to keep using this thing. To tell the truth, though, I'm not sure why I'd want to. It's about the same as putting a medium-sized pot on the stove, but with less control over the temperature. It was forgetting that and imagining that it had some slow-cooking magic that caused my problems.

What I tried to make was a futher mutation of the Korean short ribs recipe I modifed last month. I used some random scraps of lousy cuts of pork and threw in a bunch of vegetables and seasonings, as I said up top, it didn't work out so well.

First thing, while ox tail or short ribs can stand up to four hours of simmering, most meat can't. Best to keep things under the boiling point so the meat doesn't dry up and get tough. Also, if you're going to slow-cook it's a darn shame not to include some bones in the pot to cook out their gelatin.

I had a bit of trouble with the vegetables, too. Onions and peppers cook down, of course, and if the liquid base wasn't soy sauce, tomatoes work work well too over the long run. Dried shiitake mushrooms held up quite well. Thick cut carrots got an interestingly yam-esque texture after a while. My big mistake was adding scallions and broccolini. Even a half hour was too much for them and they fell apart.

But, really, and kind of surprisingly, the real problem was the cooking liquid. An strongly-flavored high-quality soy sauce, plus sugar, garlic, ginger and star anise made for an intense sauce that soaked into every other flavor in the dish. It's a pretty good flavor, but way too much of it. I'm thinking of straining out all of the overcooked solids, diluting it down and keeping it around as a marinade. But, as is, it's inedible. Not very photogenic either so you'll just to have to imagine a pile of limp overcooked vegetables stained black with soy.

Oh, and speaking of failure, I took another look at some of those oddly large numbers in my blogiversary post. I haven't actually got seventy-some regular readers. What I have are seventy-some monthly visits from regular readers. And since regular readers probably visit at least once a week, that number should be divided by at least four. I think the dozen subscribers are a legitimate count, though, so let's say two dozen readers. I suppose that's not too bad considering my lack of a real gimmick for this thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Banana caramel chocolate swirl ice cream

Are you sick of reading about banana ice creams yet? I'm kind of sick of making them. But they're low fat and banana does go with a lot of different flavors so I guess I'll keep at it for a little while longer.

The immediate cause for this ice cream flavor was Kat's recipe for banana caramel chocolate swirl cupcakes. But before that prompt I had a couple ideas on the back-burner. First, I haven't yet made a successful swirl. My raspberry swirl melted into the ice cream; my peanut butter/honey swirl was more like chunks; and my coffee swirl ended up crunchy. A caramel swirl is pretty traditional so I figured I could find a well-tested recipe to use. As for the chocolate, I wanted to try an Italian method called stracciatella which is less a swirl than solid chocolate streaks.

For the base, I used the Good Eats recipe for banana ice cream:
3 medium ripe bananas, (a little over 1 pound), frozen and defrosted
1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
3/8 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

No cooking required; just blend the lot. I've made this before, but I don't think I used the corn syrup. I don't think I will again either as it gave the ice cream an artificial banana-taffy sort of flavor. I know brown sugar, honey or maple syrup would make good substitutions. I wonder if a light molasses would work. I wish I could get my hands on some sorgum. That would be ideal.

Caramel recipes specifically made for freezing are not as common as I expected. Of the few I found, I went with this one:

3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup whipping cream
20g unsalted butter
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch salt

Cook the sugar and water over medium high heat until it turns amber. Slowly mix in the whipping cream. Let cool five minutes and stir in vanilla and salt.

That first step is a little tricky, as you know if you've ever made candy. A sugar syrup goes from clear to burnt in seconds even after being removed from the heat. Stopping to take a picture is not a good idea. Mine turned out with a slight burnt flavor, but not enough to make me toss it.

I didn't like how it was thickening up in the refrigerator so I added a teaspoon of rum to thin it out and keep it liquid below freezing.

The stracciatella is even simpler. It's just melted chocolate drizzled over and folded into the frozen ice cream. David Lebovitz demoed the technique on the Gourmet: Diary of a Foodie episode on bloggers. (They focused on the big names who eat their way through food meccas like Paris, San Francisco and Hong Kong. No love for cooking blogs or those of us in nowherevilles like Miami. OK, why does my spell-checker not recognize the word "bloggers" but is perfectly happy with "nowherevilles"?) He recommends using a semisweet chocolate with no more than 60% cocoa. I only have 72% bar on hand, but I've also got a chunk of white chocolate ( 0% cocoa) so I can thin it out. But how much to use?

Starting with three quarters of my 3.5 ounce bar of 72% and adding X amount of white chocolate to get 60% when melted together:
0.72*(3/4*3.5 oz) + 0*(X oz) = 0.6*(3/4*3.5 oz + X oz)
0.72*(2.625 oz) = 0.6*(2.625 oz + X oz)
1.89 oz = 1.575 oz + 0.6*X oz
0.315 oz = 0.6*X oz
0.525 oz = X oz

Stay in school, kids!

On to the actual swirling. After churning the ice cream, I packed it into a medium baking dish and let it ripen in the freezer for an hour to get it good and firm. Then I brought it out into a well-air-conditioned room and drizzled on spoonfuls of the caramel and the chocolate. I really wanted to use plastic squeezy bottles but I couldn't find any. The caramel stayed liquid, but the chocolate solidified on contact. It was pretty cool--like I was using one of those fancy anti-griddles. I can see why the avant garde chefs like them so much.

Once I had the top covered, I scraped it off, packed into a storage container, drizzled the top of that, drizzled the new surface in the baking dish, packed that and so on. I don't think the caramel stayed in strings, but at least it'll be unevenly distributed. The end result wasn't packed all that well since I didn't want to break up the stracciatella too much.

And here's the result. The ice cream is light and maybe a bit fluffy. (I'd have preferred creamy, really.) The caramel is pleasantly oozy. The chocolate crackles enticingly as you carve out a scoopful and crunches between the teeth. The mixture of textures is great but the banana flavor is too pronounced. I'm going to blame the corn syrup here. I think maybe it would be best to leave out the banana entirely and just go with straight vanilla and let the caramel and chocolate carry the load.