Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bacon cheddar chive scones

Are savory scones unusual? I don't recall ever encountering such a thing before but now that I've done a search, I see lots of different recipes for cheese scones. There are even a handful of distinct recipes for bacon cheddar scones, most with either scallions or chives. The particular one I made originally called for scallions, but the chives in my herb garden have been growing well so I wanted to use them. This recipe is from the Atlantic's new food section of their website. They've had some pretty interesting recipes there recently and I find Grant Achatz's column about introducing experimental new dishes at his restaurant quite fascinating. It's worth taking a look.

But getting back to the recipe, this is the first time I've ever made scones. From all the awful scones I've had, I had always assumed they were very difficult to make, but these came out beautifully first try.

Bacon Cheddar Scones
Makes 12 small scones

8 ounces sliced high quality peppery smoked bacon [If your bacon isn't peppered, add some pepper]
2½ cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt [I have no fine salt in the house so I ground up coarse sea salt in a mortar)
¾ cup high quality [European-style or organic] unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces, cold
2 large eggs, beaten, cold
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, cold
4 ounces cheddar, aged at least one year, crumbled and cold
3 scallions, chopped

1. Fry the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain, chop, and place in refrigerator to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 375°F.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter with a knife or pastry cutter until the mixture forms ½-inch pieces. [I just used my fingers and the texture I got at the end was more sandy than anything I'd call "pieces". Could someone who understands baking better than I do please explain the significance of the difference?]

4. Add the eggs, ½ cup of the cream, and cheddar. Mix by hand [well, by whisk held in your hand] until just combined. Fold in the scallions [or chives] and cooled bacon. [This I did with my hands.]

5. Transfer the dough to a well-floured board. Form two 7-inch rounds. Cut each into 6 wedges.

6. Transfer the wedges to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Brush with the remaining cream and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, [I went all the way to 30 minutes, but baking in my oven often goes long.] until the scones are golden brown on the top and bottom (you'll have to lift them off the baking sheet a bit to check underneath).

7. Allow to cool and firm up for about 10 minutes before removing from sheet. Serve the same day [or, I'm hoping, freezing is OK. I haven't defrosted any to check how they're holding up yet.]

The author, Ari Weinzweig, suggests serving these with butter or bacon fat or mayonaise with tomato and arugula. I liked Chef Allan's Mango Tears chutney as an accompaniment.

These are crisp on the outside, soft and not-quite-crumbly not-quite-flaky on the inside. They're smokey, savory and sharp with a subtle herbal note keeping the richness from overwhelming. The best bits were where a piece of cheese was exposed and melted and browned over the surface. If you make these, sprinkle a little finely shredded cheese over top. Really quite lovely and a fine thing to have around as a snack. I think I'll try a sweet scone next as those would be pretty nice to have around as well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kederok and Tahu Kering

I mail ordered a bunch of Indonesian ingredients a couple months ago and then promptly stopped cooking anything Indonesian. But Indonesian cuisine has evolved for the sort of oppressively tropical weather we've been having so now's definitely the time to break it out.

I don't know how useful it is to you guys for me to post about dishes that require ingredients you don't have, but I suppose my conception of a food blog as a practical rather than a voyeuristic endeavor is something of a minority view. For whatever it's worth then, here's a west Javanese salad and an east Javanese tofu dish both from The Indonesian Kitchen.


1 fresh semihot chile, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
2 small slices dried kencur, soaked in water for 30 minutes [a.k.a. lesser galangal. I was going to use some regular galangal as I haven't been able to get kencur, but it didn't soften enough smush in the mortar. I used a little ginger instead which is a fair approximation.]
3 Tablespoons crunchy peanut butter [I've got smooth so I added some coarsely ground peanuts I keep around for garnishing.]
1 teaspoon tamarind, dissolved in 1 Tablespoon water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup thin-sliced cucumbers
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup lettuce, broken into bite-size pieces [I have no lettuce either so I used a cup and a half of cukes and an equal amount of sprouts.]

1. Crush chile, garlic, salt, kencur and peanut butter in a mortar.

2. Strain seeds out of tamarind. Add tamarind and sugar to peanut butter mix.

3. Toss sauce with vegetables until well mixed. Served chilled or room temperature.

Tahu Kering

12 ounces tofu
1/2 cup high smoke point oil for frying
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup onion, sliced
2 semihot red chiles, sliced thin diagonally
1 salam leaf
1 piece laos [a.k.a. galangal. I used the two small pieces that didn't work in the salad.]
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons tamarind, dissolved in 1 Tablespoon water
1 Tablespoon sweet soy sauce

1. Cut tofu into 1/4-inch thick slices in whatever size in the other two dimensions as you'd like. [The original recipe says 3/4-inch square, but I left mine in slabs a couple inches across and I liked the result.] Heat the oil until not quite smoking, add tofu and fry in batches for five to seven minutes until they are golden brown on the outside. Do not let them cook through or they'll become leathery. If you do it right, they'll crisp up once they're out of the oil.

2. In small bowl mix sugar, salt, strained tamarind liquid and sweet soy sauce.

Remove all but 1 Tablespoon oil. Turn heat to medium. Fry garlic, onion, chiles, salam and laos until the onions and garlic brown. Add tofu and sauce mixture. Turn the tofu pieces to ensure they're all coated with the sauce and fry for five to eight minutes more until all the liquid has evaporated (except the oil which will still be liquid. Don't be fooled!). Serve with rice or on toothpicks with cocktails before dinner.

The salad is not as good as I hoped. I used a natural peanut butter that was pretty dense and had to water down the sauce to get it thin enough to dress the vegetables. That was fine, but then the salt in the dressing made the vegetables express their own liquid and soon we're talking about peanut soup. Actually, recontextualized like that, (and with the seasoning punched back up) it's not bad. It's a little sweet, a little spicy, a little tart, and the peanut does go well with the cucumber and sprouts. On the other hand, I don't like how limp the vegetables got while waiting for me to finish cooking the tofu. Leave the dressing thick and serve immediately and it's worth doing.

The tofu is deeply savory from the browned vegetables and reduced soy sauce plus a little sweet and a little sour. The salam and laos are subtle but distinctively aromatic. It's got a surprisingly meaty chew and a little crispness around the edges. I don't think I can explain it better than that; it's rather odd and since its primary flavor is umami, there's not a lot of appropriate English vocabulary. Pretty tasty though.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Migas con huevos, Chinese-style

I was digging around the back of my freezer looking for a quick lunch when I came across the remnants of a pack of frozen scallion pancakes I don't remember buying.
You know scallion pancakes; they're a mainstay of good dim sum and Chinese appetizers from lousy hole-in-the-wall Chinese places. As dim sum, they're usually light, flaky and utterly lacking in character or interest. Get them at a hole-in-the-wall and they're heavy, greasy and sit like a lump in your stomach--just the thing for absorbing alcohol at 3 in the morning. Out of the freezer, they're closer to the latter version, but add an egg and meat of some sort and they're a passable meal. Unfortunately, the last of mine had been smashed into pieces.

I've posted about Spanish-style migas a couple times here, but there's also Mexican-style that instead of using bread crumbs as the base starch uses torn-up corn tortillas. This could work.

I'll be cooking this in my flat-bottomed wok (which is pretty similar to a traditional migas pan), so it's going to be a quick process and I've got to get everything I'm adding prepped before I start. Chopped onion and green pepper work in both Mexican and Chinese cuisine. I can spare a handful of beansprouts (the rest are going into an Indonesian salad I'll post about later), and some bay scallops and shredded pork should work as proteins. And finally, a couple eggs. Spanish-style migas drops a fried egg on top, but Mexican-style mixes everything into scrambled eggs. That seems more appropriate.

The cooking went pretty quickly. The first thing was to heat up oil in the flat-bottomed wok and fry the scallion pancake pieces up crisp. Once they were nearly done, I added the onion and pepper and let them soften before adding the bean sprouts, scallops and pork. Once the scallops were cooked (no more than a minute), I added a drizzle of soy sauce and two beaten eggs. I stirred constantly until the eggs were just set and then everything leaves the pan. In the bowl, the dish is finished off with chili oil and a squeeze of lemon to brighten things up. And there it is:

It's a bit unsightly I'll admit. It would look better with more eggs. My egg to bread ratio is low for Mexican-style and high for Spanish-style migas. I would have gone with more, but this is already a hearty serving and the scallion pancake is likely go flabby in leftovers. Right now, though, the crisp-chewy pancake and differently-crisp bean sprouts with the still firm onion and pepper and the soft eggs and pork gives a lot of textural interest to each forkful. As for flavor, each component adds its own character, but the eggs pull the disparate elements together. The scallion pancake in particular adds a lot that rice wouldn't. This is really a lot better than it has any business being. It's a nice hearty brunch; I'm glad I tried it.

It seems to me that Mexican and Chinese are two cuisines particularly well suited for the bowl full of mixed bread and eggs plus flavorings dish concept. You could make an American breakfast version with French toast, maybe. Can you guys think of any other versions that might work?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Marshmallow chocolate malt ice cream

My original plan here was to make a toasted marshmallow ice cream. I've been hearing a lot of buzz about the flavor recently and it sounded worth trying. But I didn't want to just buy a bag of marshmallow, toast them, and then mix them into vanilla ice cream. That's kind of dull and it wouldn't have a very good texture. The places that make toasted marshmallow ice cream and milkshakes have a special process to create kind of a slurry with that flavor that lets them create a smooth mix. But when I looked around I found that the secret processes they use haven't leaked out yet, at least not to anyplace I could find.

So, plan B was malted marshmallow. Malt flavored ice cream with a marshmallow swirl. For a good while I was planning to make a batch of marshmallow sauce and a batch of malted whipped cream, fold them together and call it done. And if I had two bowls for my mixer so I could keep one chilled for the cream while working on the marshmallow I probably would have gone that way. I've seen a fair number of churn-free ice cream recipes using that sort of method and I'm curious as to what sort of texture you can get. But I haven't got two bowls so instead I decided to make a batch of malted milk ice cream in the churn and then swirl in the marshmallow sauce.

Since I needed an egg white for the marshmallow I decided to go back to the custard style for the ice cream. Since I didn't need to infuse any flavor into the dairy, it was a pretty simple recipe. I mixed 9 Tablespoons of malted milk with four egg yolks, added that to two cups of cream and one cup milk and heated until the mixture reached 170 degrees and coated the back of a spoon.

Once it had cooled a bit, I tasted it and wasn't entirely happy so I added a dash of salt and a half teaspoon of vanilla. It still wasn't quite doing it for me so I whisked in 3/4 of an ounce of Dutch process cocoa. That's a bit low for three cups of dairy, but I wanted the malt to be a stronger flavor than the chocolate. That worked a bit too well, so if you're interested in making something similar, you should cut the malt back to 6 Tablespoons and boost the cocoa to a full ounce. And that still didn't quite do it so I added 1/4 cup of sugar and then the flavors started to pop.

The marshmallow sauce was not so easy. Unfortunately, I had such difficulty that I was unable to take pictures as I went along. As I wrote above, I didn't want to start with a bag of marshmallows or a jar of Fluff, so I used David Lebovitz's recipe which was the only one I could find that started from scratch. He uses:

3/4 cup cold water
1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup (I ran out and used half agave nectar. Didn't seem to hurt.)
1 large egg white
1 big pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (which I thought I forgot, but since the result tastes of vanilla, maybe I didn't)

He says to sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of cold water and set aside, start heating the sugar and corn syrup with the rest of the water and only beginning to whip the egg white in a stand mixer when the sugar mixture has reached 225 degrees.

I've got a pretty standard stand mixer and the whisk attachment barely reached one little egg white at the bottom of the bowl so it had a heck of a time whipping it. Lebovitz expects the sugar to reach 240 degrees (soft ball stage) at the same time as the meringue reaches stiff peaks, but I found that to be way off. My egg had barely started. I turned down the heat, but the sugar got up to 250 degrees (firm ball) and developed a little color, before the meringue got to soft peaks and I decided it was close enough.

The next step was to slowly pour the sugar syrup into the mixing bowl. Mine ended up clumping and splattering all over the place. I scraped down the bowl and turned the splatter into another clump. Eventually I got it all incorporated, but it was a serious struggle.

The final step was to pour the gelatin into the warm pot to melt it down and dissolve any remaining sugar and then pour into into the mixing bowl as well continuing to whip until the mixture cools to room temperature and thickens. Well, at Miami room temperature, it doesn't thicken.

To make matters more complicated, while I was dealing with all this, I was also churning the ice cream. The mix was a little on the thick side so I had some trouble with it freezing up solid along the sides and bottom of the churn, but once the bucket had warmed up a little, that sorted itself and the mixture smoothed out and froze up well if a little on the firm side. I was hopeful that meant it wouldn't melt readily as I mixed it with the warm marshmallow sauce, but I'm afraid it did and they blended together instead of swirling.

I had more marshmallow than I wanted to mix in so I poured the rest over the top before putting the container in the freezer.

Here it is the next day. You can see the marshmallow strata has turned rubbery. Not good at all, so I scraped it out and melted it down. That worked well at first, but after a while it lost its foaminess and devolved into an increasingly thick sauce as it cooled and the gelatin took hold. The sauce, since I let the sugar get 10 degrees too hot, has a caramel note to it that I can't say I mind at all. It also tastes of vanilla which I'm pretty sure I forgot to put in so I'm not sure how that happened, and, at least after it melted down, a good hit of salt. Also good with caramel so not a problem.

The cocoa I added to the malt ice cream tastes more like cocoa than chocolate so the result tastes like it ought to be chalky in texture even though it isn't. Does that make any sense? It's not a conventional chocolate malt flavor is what I'm getting at here. I'm surprised people accepted it as readily as they did, really. The marshmallow sauce that I hoped to swirl into the ice cream blended instead and tempered the strong malt flavor. It's still not all that sweet but I think that works very well with the intense sweetness of the marshmallow sauce.

A spoonful of the ice cream with the sauce is full of interesting contrasts in levels of sweetness, of flavors, in textures and in temperatures. And it's also yummy, so despite the difficulties, at the end, success all around.

Oh, one last thing. Apparently July is ice cream month and there's an Ice Cream Social blog meme thing. I'm supposed to link back to ScottySnacks, SavortheThyme and Tangled Noodle. You can go to any of those three to see what other folks have done for the challenge. There are some interesting ideas there, so it's worth looking around if you're bored with my ice cream creations.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pork rillettes (more or less)

That's French for pulled pork essentially. I finally got my hands on a pork shoulder recently and had to decide just what to do with it. Well, there's only one thing to do with a pork shoulder--slowly cook it with a little liquid until it falls apart--but there's the question of what spices to use. I decided to make the French version since the seasoning is minimalistic. If I go the brown sugar and chili powder route I'm pretty limited as to what I can do with the resulting two and a half pounds of meat. If I was serving several people that's not a problem, but this is half a dozen meals for me. I figure if I just make the pork taste like pork to start with, I can always simmer it in barbecue sauce later. It's not like cooking it longer is going to do any harm.

Here's my pork shoulder with the skin and fat layer removed. If I was going for a proper rillettes preparation, I would have left the fat on and maybe added more. The distinction from American-style pulled pork that I glossed over way back in the first sentence is that, for rillettes the meat is very finely shredded and mixed with judicious amounts of the gelatinized cooking liquid and congealed pork fat for a flavorful, unctuous basic charcuterie. But I'm not doing that so off it goes. I'm saving it to make chicharones later.

A rub with salt and three minutes browning in olive oil is all the prep the shoulder needed. Once that was done, I added to the pot a couple carrots, half a large onion (both in large chunks), three crushed garlic cloves, two bay leaves, a few stems of thyme, a small handful of peppercorns and a cup of dry white wine. I put the cover on and then it all went into a 300 degree over for four hours. After three hours I added a chunked potato too. I would have liked to do this in a slow cooker which would have kept the kitchen rather cooler, but I can't find one in a reasonable size. The ones I've seen are either made for two cups of spinach dip or enough chicken cacciatore for the entire church social. I'm going to have to mail order a two quart model if I can find one with decent features.

I turned the shoulder over every hour, but I don't think that's actually necessary. I did it more to check on progress since I hadn't done this before. I only saw real progress towards the correct texture after three hours, but it clearly was going to take that fourth hour for the connective tissue to fully fall apart.

And with the connective tissue gone, and the meat cooled, it was easy to pull apart using tongs or bare hands. For the first dinner I had a pile of the pork along with the vegetables from the pot with a bit of Dijon mustard and some cornichons as the traditional French accompaniments. Pretty darn tasty; I particularly like how the pork tastes like pork with just a little support from the wine and herbs around the edges to let it strut its porky stuff. So to speak.

The next night I tried it in a barbecue sauce with cornbread and, since I haven't got any sweet pickles, more cornichons. That's not half bad either.

I've still got well over a pound of this left, despite insesent snacking. Is there anything else to do with it or should I just douse it with sauce and serve it on a roll with some cole slaw?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Banana chocolate bread pudding

Before we get into the recipe here, I want to talk a little about how I came to make it. It's fairly typical for me and I suspect other people go through the same process, but I don't recall ever seeing it written up.

So, my batter bread was a few days old and I still had a quarter of the loaf sitting there starting to get stale. Its flavor was a bit too strong and distinctive for me to want to make bread crumbs and it was too soft and crumbly to slice for french toast.

Bread pudding might work, but savory or sweet? With all the molasses in the bread, it could make an interesting savory bread pudding with pork and barbecue flavors, but I wasn't going to have time to cook a pork shoulder until the weekend and didn't think the bread would last that long. Still a good idea for the other loaf of the batter bread that I've got in the freezer. But for now, sweet.

As the bread as aged, it's started to smell kind of like cocoa--lord knows why--so I think a chocolate bread pudding would be a good choice. I quite like how the dark chocolate worked in the oat bars so I'll use the rest of that if I've got enough. After looking at a few recipes, I don't think I do have enough, but I have got a bar of Lindt dark chocolate that can fill it out. The infused chili oil will actually be a nice touch. Now, if I had more chocolate and not enough bread, this dish would have turned out more interestingly as I would have added some of the corn muffins I have in the freezer. There's a Mexican drink called tejate mixing chocolate, corn masa and spices that I could use as a flavor guide. That would have been pretty cool and I regret that I couldn't go in that direction. Maybe next time.

I've got banana in the freezer that should work well with chocolate and the flavor of the bread so I look around to see if such a thing as banana bread pudding exists. Indeed it does, and banana chocolate bread pudding at that, so I won't have to invent anything new. On one hand, that means its more likely to work out, on the other hand, I don't get to experiment as much unless I deliberately leave myself ignorant of what others have done which I prefer not to do.

When I'm making something that's a known codified dish, I find a bunch of different recipes and examine the similarities and differences. It usually boils down specific choices at various aspects and steps. Here, it's questions like: what ratio of dairy to bread do I use? do I slice or mash the banana? melt the chocolate or leave it in pieces? There are also basic versions and more complex ones that add frills like nuts and spices. There may be different schools of those that pull the dish into various cuisines. Not so much in this case.

Once I've got my options in mind, I sometimes decide what I want to do and write the new recipe out and sometimes I just wing it as I go along. I went with winging it this time and, entirely accidentally, most of the choices I made were the same as Emeril Lagasse's version of the dish. I didn't so much follow the recipe as we were both headed in the same direction.

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cold and cut into small dice
2 large eggs
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup half and half [This is a rather low amount of dairy for the amount of bread so feel free to increase but don't decrease the ratio.]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon [I considered adding nutmeg and/or allspice, but I go to that too-obvious flavor combination to often.]
1 ripe banana, mashed [frozen and defrosted is even better.]
1/4 cup pecan, chopped
2 1/2 cups bread, diced [baguette or brioche is tradional. My batter bread made a substantial difference in flavor and texture. It's not far off from pumpernickel so that would be a fine substitution here.]
3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

0. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8x8" baking dish with the melted butter.

1. In a large bowl whisk eggs with sugar, half and half and vanilla until sugar is dissolved and eggs incorporated. whisk in cinnamon and banana until no banana chunks are in evidence. Stir in pecans, bread and chopped chocolate. Make sure the bread is well coated in the egg mixture and leave a few minutes to overnight for it to soak through. [I just did the few minutes.]

2. Pour pudding mixture into prepared baking dish and bake until just firm and a knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out just about clean, around 1 hour.

3. Cool pudding in dish until warm. Cut into squares and serve with confectioners' sugar and/or whipped cream and, preferably, a cup of coffee.

I quite like how the flavors of the banana and the bread merged and, for that matter, how the bread, banana and custard physically merged into one solid mass. You can see in the picture that the insides have a texture more like the caramel of the graham cracker gooey bars I made a couple months ago than a standard bread pudding. That only happened because of how soft and crumbly the crumb of this particular loaf was. I don't think a baguette would work nearly the same way.

The pudding had plenty of roasted banana flavor without the chocolate fully distributed so keeping that in chunks was the right choice to give some nice flavor and textural contrasts (the nuts help there too). And, on the textural end of things, the crispy edges were very nice and I wish the top had gotten crisp too. Maybe a minute under the broil would have done it, but I'm afraid I might have burnt the chocolate. Otherwise, I'm pretty happy with the results. I don't think it was as fabulous as my coworkers said it was, but it was pretty good.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chocolate oat bars

It's too hot to cook dinner, as I wrote in my last post, but too hot to cook dessert is another matter entirely. Here are a couple desserts I've made recently; I didn't change either so much that I could claim it as my own or justify a proper post, but together I think I have enough to talk about here.

First up, chocolate oat bars. Why I didn't use the recipe I adapted for the black sapote oat bars, I'm not sure, but instead I went out searching the web for bar cookies specifically designed to include chocolate. I found a bunch of recipes, but not a lot of variation between them. The one I settled on was unusual in that it used baking soda. That gave the crust more of a cakey texture than most recipes which I thought worked well. I did change the chocolate layer, though. Instead of using semisweet chocolate and condensed milk which would have been cloyingly sweet I think, I used 6 ounces (by weight) of good quality El Rey 70-some% cocoa dark chocolate mixed with a half cup of milk, a Tablespoon of butter and enough cinnamon sugar to take the bitter edge off and add a spicy edge back on. I also added a fair bit of allspice to the crust, but I can't say I could notice it in the final product.


1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour [I've been substituting white whole wheat flour into a lot of recipes recently and it's done just fine in all of them.]
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats [some recipes call for quick-cooking and some call for just plain rolled. I couldn't find any differences in techniques or cooking times so you can use whatever you've got handy. The quick-cooking are broken up more, so you might run plain rolled oats through the food processor briefly.]
1/2 cup chopped pecans

plus the chocolate mixture described above.

0. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. When the sugar is fully incorporated, beat in the eggs and vanilla.

2. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in oats and nuts.

3. Add dry ingredients to wet. Stir to blend but no longer than that.

4. Grease 8x8 inch baking pan. Pour in 2/3 of the oat mixture. Spread into the corners. Pour over the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly. Dollop the rest of the oat mixture on top. [The original recipe talks about patting in mixture into the pan and sprinkling it on top. I must have done something wrong as that was quite out of the question given the texture I had. Well it worked out just fine.] Bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes until puffy and browned on top. Cool before cutting into squares.

The results are quite lovely to look at and pretty tasty too. There's quite a bit more chocolate than crust, so each bite has a little bit of the brown sugar and butter flavored cakey crust (not unlike a Toll House cookie, but lighter), followed by a bite of a solid chocolate chunk and sharp cinnamon melting into a whole lot of rich creamy chocolate.

That's plenty long enough. I'll post about the chocolate banana bread pudding tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Modular ceviche

I don't have anything particularly original or insightful to say about ceviche, but I've been making it a lot what with the heat recently and the last batch I made turned out so prettily I needed an excuse to post it.

I've done research on the regional variations on ceviche all around Latin America and I just ended up confused. I can't figure out what sort comes from where or why different ingredients show up in different places. I've taken to just throwing together what I've got handy in various combinations and hoping for the best. Usually it works out fine. I use a one from column A, one from column B procedure to guide me to make sure I build up enough different flavors to make something interesting and to build up enough stuff in the bowl so I get a full dinner out of it.

Nearly any sort really, in chunks, slices, chopped or even ground. There are a few guidelines, though. The lower quality the fish I'm using, the smaller I cut it and the longer I marinate it. Raw shrimp is not only unsafe, but it has an unpleasant texture so it's best to cook it a little first. The same goes for sea scallops, but bay scallops are quite nice raw. You can see both of those in the picture. Those are tiny coldwater shrimp from Canada and tiny scallops from Argentina.

White, red or green. I like white or red onion chopped fairly fine, but I prefer scallions in larger pieces.

Sweet or hot, sliced thin. Red is nice for the color.

Cilantro is used some places, parsley in others. Some use neither. I prefer cilantro usually. I think I actually used culantro the day of this particular batch.

Hominy and/or corn nuts are traditional, but I never have them around so I just use plain old corn kernels and I like it fine. I think a chunk of corn on the cob might be traditional in Peru.

Other possible additions:
Tomatoes-I like fresh, seeded and cut in fairly large pieces. Some use tomato juice as part of the marinade, but I never have that around.
Avocado-I always put it in when I've got it, it adds a nice textural contrast, but not too much to the flavor.
Cucumber-not at all traditional, but it works in a tartar and it works here too. Seeded and finely diced.
Celery-I understand some people add this. I can't see why.

Citrus marinade:
I use lime juice usually, sometimes mixed with lemon. Bitter orange juice is fairly common, but I don't care much for it myself. Grapefruit doesn't work at all. I usually don't marinate very long at all (as is the modern style), particularly if I'm using something that doesn't need the chemical cooking. Longer marinations are useful mainly just for white fish or lower quality tuna.

Crackers, corn chips, sliced sweet or white potato, plantains or popcorn. I find popcorn gets mushy quickly if you try to add it to the mix, so that's best served on the side. Homemade corn chips are my favorite.

Hot sauce:
Vinegar based is best. Tabasco is fine, but I like a Peruvian-style hot sauce with a more rounded flavor that I picked up down at one Fairchild festival or another. Check my archives; there's probably a picture of the bottle. Don't use too much, particularly if there are hot peppers in the mix. Ceviche should be seriously sour and hot, but you need to be able to taste everything else too. I've had a white sauce with Peruvian ceviche that would make a nice alternative but I don't know what's in it and I can't find a recipe. Anyone know?

I find ceviche is a really good choice for a weekday dinner when I don't want to stay in a hot kitchen too long. I know my version is a bastardization of a whole host of cuisines, but if I'm too hot and tired to properly cook, I'm too hot and tired to care much about that sort of thing either.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Multigrain batter bread

I've got a few bread cookbooks I don't look at much. For the most part I just want to make variations on a French country loaf with, these days, increasing amounts of various whole grains thrown in. But that doesn't give me anything to talk about here and I need the material. And that's why I was leafing through those cookbooks looking for something different.

The recipe I started with today was from Real Bread by Maggie Baylis and Corlie Castle. They've got a whole section on breads that you never knead. You just beat it vigorously as you build up from a wet batter to a dough that's stiff but very wet. The pumpernickel bread I made a while back used a similar method, but I didn't realize that it was an actual category of bread. OK, I'll give it a try.

The recipe starts with 1 1/3 cups of oatmeal, but it turns out I'm nearly out so I used the half cup I had along with some barley, polenta and bulgar wheat to fill out the amount. To that I added 2 Tablespoons melted butter, 2/3 cup molasses, 1/2 Tablespoon salt and 1 1/3 cup warm water. The recipe uses boiling water and a half hour soak, but I'm soaking overnight so warm should do. And as long as I'm soaking whole grains, I added the 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of gluten flour too.

That means, in the morning all I had to do was mix in another 1/2 cup of water, 1 Tablespoon of yeast and 2 1/2 cups of bread flour. This became hard to work quite rapidly so I switched to the mixer and let it do the work. I think this is the right final texture. It's still quite wet, but it's holding together and not sticking too the bowl too much. It's climbed right up the dough hook which means there should be plenty of gluten worked up in there.

I let that rise for an hour (it would take two hours in a cooler kitchen), scraped it out of the bowl, formed two loaves, put one in the freezer, and let the second rise to fill a loaf pan. I wish I had a slightly larger pan as this started a little too full and I couldn't get all the rise I wanted before it started mushrooming over the lip.

The recipe calls for starting with a cold oven, setting it to 350 degrees and baking for 35 minutes but there's no way that's going to work so I tacked on 20 minutes more. That turned out to be just right to get to 210 degrees internal temperature so well done me.

After getting it out of the pan, I put the loaf back in the oven (turned off but not cooled down) for another 10 minutes to crisp up the sides and bottom a little.

The texture is quick-bread soft, but less crumbly. It is holding together nicely even if it hasn't got the chew a well-kneaded bread would have. There's some good hole formation (from being so very hydrated) so the loaf is fairly light.

The barley hasn't softened quite as much as I'd hoped so there are crisp little bits dispersed in there--not toothbreakingly hard, thankfully, but hard enough to disconcert. Lesson learnt there.

The flavor is molasses-y bittersweet and buttery, but not quite as hearty as I had hoped. This is the first loaf I've made using large amounts of white whole wheat and it's living up to it's mild reputation. Maybe I should use half white and half red as a compromise in these sorts of loaves. I think I went a little light on the salt, too. Beyond that the flavor balance makes it a good bread for sandwiches; it's assertive enough to frame the filling without being a full partner. Unfortunately, it's too soft for a good clean slice. Maybe it'll work with stews?

In all, it's decent enough, but I miss the chewy texture. I suppose this might be a good choice for people who aren't comfortable kneading, but the method has challenges of its own. I'm curious how this category of breads came to be. The information I've found on-line touts them as a good intermediate step for bakers just learning to work with yeast; maybe they only exist as bread-baking training wheels? Any ideas?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Szechuan pork and cucumber stir fry

One of my coworkers, I don't know who, brought in some garden vegetables and left them in the break-room on Monday. There were some grape tomatoes, some very nice banana peppers and a few rather large cucumbers. It was my duty, I thought, to make sure they were used well. The cucumbers were not only large, they were dense and meaty, nicely suitable for cooking.

A pork and cucumber stir fry's been on my to do list since I passed it over in favor of stuffed cucumbers back in April. I took a new look around for recipes and found I had the choice of a generic brown sauce, oyster sauce or a super-spicy Szechuan version. That last was definitely the one for me. I did pull in shiitakes from another recipe and red onions from a third to add some more textures and boost the vegetable to meat ratio.


8 ounces pork tenderloin, sliced into thin strips
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 handful dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced

1 1/2 Tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons bean paste
1 teaspoon chiu chow chili oil
2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced thin
1/2 large red onion, sliced thin

2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine
2 teaspoons white rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar


1. Combine soy sauces, rice wine, sesame oil and cornstarch in medium bowl. Add pork, toss to coat and set aside.

2. Heat a wok over high heat. Add oil, wait to see the oil shimmer and nearly but not quite start to smoke. Add bean paste, chili oil, garlic, peppercorns, chili flakes and salt. Stir fry 10 seconds.

3. Add pork (with marinade) and mushrooms. Stir fry 1 minute.

4. Add cucumber and onion. Stir fry 1 minute.

5. Add soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar and sugar. Stir fry 2 minutes more. With luck the liquid should have all evaporated, but I found I had a bit left at that point and I didn't want to overcook the pork. I wanted some sauce for the rice anyway.

Serve immediately with rice.

I'm a little disappointed with how this turned out, but just a little. The textures are all good. All of the ingredients are cooked well--the pork is tender, the cucumbers soft with just a little crunch, the mushrooms soft. But something odd happened with the flavors. Almost all of the heat is concentrated in the mushrooms. It's not just that they absorbed the sauce; they pulled that element out of the sauce and the remaining liquid doesn't have a lot of spice to it. Weird. The recipe I cribbed that ingredient from used fresh shiitakes, not dried. That probably would have avoided this issue.

That leaves the pork and cucumbers out there speaking for themselves and I'm still impressed with that unexpected (for the American cook, anyway) pairing. The cucumber is a light freshness adding high notes to the rich meatiness of the pork, tied together by the salty soy sauce and the tanginess of the bean sauce. Think of how sweet relish complements a hot dog. It's kind of like that, but not really. It's definitely worth a try--if not this recipe (minus the shiitake), one of the other versions.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gravlax variation two

I've been looking for ways to use up the frozen whiting I've got that doesn't involve just frying it up. It's not really good enough to eat without a transmutation into some more interesting form.

The more interesting form, as you may have gathered from the title, is gravlax. If you haven't seen my previous posts on this dish [variation one and variation zero], gravlax is a Swedish cured fish, most commonly made with salmon and flavored with dill.

Making it with whitefish isn't unheard of, though. I'm using two small fillets of the whiting here, for the cure a Tablespoon of sugar and a Tablespoon of kosher salt, and for flavoring a couple big pinches of dried fines herbes and the zest of half a lemon. As is traditional when you've got two fillets (as one traditionally does), I heaped the cure and flavorings on top of one filet and laid the other on top, both skin side out, wrapped it up and let it rest in the refrigerator for three days, flipping every 12 hours. I must say that the flipping makes more sense in this configuration than it did with a single piece of fish.

After that time, it's squished flat and nice and firm. The texture is rather like smoked herring and the flavor not too far from pickled herring. I'm thinking the lemon, which is surprisingly strong given how little zest I used, is reminding me of the vinegar while the salt and sugar are strongly reminiscent of salt and sugar. Both are a tad too strong, actually, so, after I peel off the skin, I'm going to soak the fish in clean water for a few minutes to try to draw a little out. ... OK, now the whitefish flavor is to the fore with subtle hints of the lemon and herbs. It's a more balanced flavor now, but honestly I think I liked it better before. A little finishing salt fixes it right up and now the flavor's popping again. I'm going to slice it up and eat it with cream cheese, red onion, tomato and, lacking pumpernickel bread, crackers. Mmm, tasty.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Chicken eggplant croquettes

Are they still croquettes if they're flat? I'm going to say yes (obviously, otherwise this post would have a different name). Croquette translates to small crunchy thing. There's no specification of a shape there so I think I'm safe.

At the end of my Zuni Café chicken post I left you wondering just what I was going to do with the half a chicken I had left over. I was wondering myself as no good ideas were presenting themselves. Plus I also had an eggplant that I really needed to get around to using.

Without a whole lot of thought as to the end results I peeled, salted and wrung out the eggplant, and then fried it in olive oil along with the leftover chicken skin to add a bit of interest. I let that go for around 15 minutes over a fairly low heat to get it caramelized to a deep brown. When those were done I had gotten into a caramelization mood so I sliced a half an onion thin, lowered the heat under the pan and let them get nice and brown too.

Meanwhile I shredded the cold chicken. When the onions were done I returned the eggplant (minus the crispy chicken skin which I couldn't resist snacking on) and added the chicken along with the leftover au jus sauce I had made from the drippings. I mixed that all together to blend the flavors and heat the chicken through, dumped it all out into a bowl and deglazed the pan with surprisingly tart chardonnay. And finally I chopped up a couple small tomatoes a mixed them in since dishes with chicken and eggplant usually use some tomato too.

So I had this hash sort of stuff. I tried a little as a taco filling, but that didn't really work for me, so I started looking around for some other use. Nothing better presenting itself, I decided to try a fritter.

The mixture was rather chunky so I ran it through the food processor which probably wasn't entirely necessary for a decent fritter, but seemed like a good idea at the time. The result was a paste. For a bit I considered making meatballs, but I knew it was only holding together due to congealed gelatin. Heat it up and it would fall apart. It still needed a binder.

I beat an egg, mixed that in, and then a half cup of flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. The whole mix had only been seasoned with salt and pepper to this point so I had free reign as to how to punch it up now. I seriously considered Moroccan, but settled on a sweet West Indian spice mix that I thought would work better with the caramel flavors I had developed. (I really couldn't taste it in the end version, so I dusted a bit more over top along with a squeeze of lemon.)

That rested for a half hour to hydrate and then it was time to cook. I used a Tablespoon scoop to measure out portions, flattened them out in the pan to make patties and shallow fried them until golden brown and crisp.

It wasn't until I bit into one that I discovered the distinctive creamy interior of a croquette. I also found, unfortunately, that the lovely flavor I had developed in the eggplant was hidden under the fried onion and the pan dripping flavor of the au jus. It wasn't bad, but not quite as good as I hoped. Even if the eggplant doesn't get its due flavor-wise, it does do a great job texturally and with a lot less starch than your average croquette. I do think I'm on to something interesting there. I'd like to try this again with the vegetables sweated instead of browned to rebalance the flavors.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blueberry banana ice cream

This is just something I threw together without any real plan to use the pint of blueberries getting a little past their prime. I didn't realize until afterward that I was essentially just making a frozen smoothie. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

2 cups blueberries
1 large banana, frozen and defrosted
1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup light honey
1/4 cup agave nectar [a half cup of one or the other would be fine, I'm sure.]
up to 1/4 cup sugar depending on how sweet your fruit is
dash nutmeg
dash cinnamon
dash vanilla
dash salt

Plus a little more cream to thin it out. No more than 1/4 cup.

and, because they often show up in blueberry banana bread so should taste good here, 1 large handful pecans, toasted and salted.

and, inspired by the chocolate-covered bacon in vanilla gelato Kat made last week, 2 slices good, but not great, bacon fried crisp and crumbled. My goal here was to find a combination of flavors where the bacon was an integrated part of a complex whole, not just framed by the other flavors. That's why I didn't use top quality bacon, large pieces or all that much of it compared to the pecans. I think Kat manages the same trick with the honey ice cream with bacon and dried figs she made this week.

The ice cream's texture could be better. It's a little too firm when fully frozen and melts goopily. You've had a blueberry smoothie so you have a pretty good idea what the ice cream proper, without the mix-ins, is like. The spices aren't readily identifiable, but I think I can taste them doing their job in there supporting the main flavors. But that's in isolation and I deliberately overloaded it with pecans so every bite pairs the sweet, slightly tart fruit and the chew of savory toasty nuts and the (mostly still) crisp bits of smoky bacon. You get a nice cross fade as the ice cream melts away exposing more of the mix-ins to the taste buds. Or you can start chewing right away and blend the flavors. And I think that blend works really well. Go to IHOP and order the blueberry pancakes with bacon and use the pecan syrup and see if you don't agree.

This seems to have gone over a little better than my last bacon ice cream, although that wasn't unpopular. The more subtle use and the better texture I got out of the bacon helped a lot, I think. The next time I do a bacon ice cream, I think I want to move away from breakfast flavor combinations. I wonder if a bacon and blue cheese ice cream could work without going entirely savory. Or bacon and miso. Ah, I see that last has been done. And used in bourbon root beer floats. Can't top that. I'll have to think of something else.