Archive for the ‘Techniques’ Category

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Belgian beauties. Yes, they’re worth it. (Have fun, search engines.)

September 15, 2009

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For many years, I claimed to be a strict savory breakfast eater. No pancakes for me. No waffles. No French toast. No funny little Danishes. No, thank you. I’ll take eggs, I’d say. Give me an omelet any day. And more bacon. And sausage.

I stand by my love for the saltier breakfast fare, but I admit that a taste for the sweet has crept in there. And in the case of these Belgian waffles, perhaps more than crept. Maybe more like stormed in with the sound and fury of the first ten minutes of a Michael Bay movie.

It’s important to note that I included the nationality “Belgian” in the description of these waffles. I mean, an ordinary waffle is nothing to stop traffic for. A pancake, unless packed with extra love and ingredients (see the husband’s Orange Ricotta Pancakes), is tasty but not remarkable. French toast is, too often, just some eggy bread. But those Belgians were onto something. They’ve taken an ordinary breakfast bread and, er, waffled it, expanding the possible crispy delectable surface area by multiples. It’s crispy, yet fluffy and soft. It’s caramelly and yet also complex. It’s fragrant and, yes, oh so seductive. Still more fiendishly, it has these generous square cups to hold syrup or trap dainty pieces of fruit or puddles of ice cream in. Is genius too strong a word? I think not.

How did this love affair begin? When we encountered some outstanding Belgian waffles at a local restaurant one evening as a dessert item. Granted, I was nine months pregnant and out for the rare dinner without a two-year-old, so that might have made them extra delicious. But the husband’s reaction was even more mighty (and, let’s face it, predictable). He ran right out and bought himself a Belgian waffle iron (natch) and set to work trying to replicate said waffles. After several batches of subpar waffles – which I managed to force down – this recipe emerged.

Is it worth it? Is it worth wrangling with those yeastie-beasties? Waiting an hour for the batter to “develop flavors”? Worth buying a freakin’ Belgian waffle maker? I can only speak for myself. And the answer is: Yes, indeed, and please pass the waffles.

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And now, the Husband’s take…

I know, you’re thinking, “Waffles are easy.” And if you just whip together commercial pancake mix, then you’re right. These waffles are something else. They’re more like a “gateway drug” to interesting culinary possibilities. You see, these waffles eschew chemical leaveners like baking soda and baking powder. Instead, they gain their volume and gusto from a combination of whipped egg whites and slower acting yeast.

Wait, wait… I know what you are thinking: Yeast is a microorganism that should be left in the hands of serious bakers. But, think of the potential magic to be unlocked. The yeast provides not only volume, but also delicious taste. It provides the tang of fermentation that makes these waffles serious contenders for glory. While they are a great breakfast/brunch food, they are also great for dessert with a little ice cream or even just nude as a snack.

In addition, if you get hooked on these waffles, you just might find yourself experimenting with other tasty, yeast-oriented projects… like donuts, bagels, country loaves or those crunchy, crusty French baguettes. The possibilities are really endless once you make friends with yeast. You just might become an addict.

Before I go, just a little note. These are not quick-to-make waffles from the back of the box. I typically make them for weekend brunch or as a dessert for a party. The big reason is that you need some time to let the flavor develop. So, either begin the process early in the morning or start the night before, refrigerate the batter and then let it warm back up on the counter an hour or two before you make the waffles. In any case, you will be incredibly well rewarded for a little patience.

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Belgian Waffles

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups milk (warm or room temperature)
4 egg whites
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
3 tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. rapid rise yeast
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Let the milk come to room temperature, or warm it. This is important because the yeast will not be getting the classic bloom you see with bread recipes.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt (dry ingredients) and whisk to integrate. In another bowl, combine the milk, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla and whisk until homogeneous (wet ingredients). Finally, in a third bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.

3. In the larger bowl, combine the dry and wet ingredients until they just come together. The mass should be relatively dense and very sticky.

4. Fold in the egg white in three stages. In the first stage, you can be a tad bit rougher as the moisture of the whites will make the mixture more workable. In the next two installments, simply work the whites in just enough as to bring the mixture together and ensure there are no large portions of whites. You don’t want to overdo this step. We want the air and moisture to integrate well.

5. Let the batter rest covered on the counter for a minimum of 1 hour. If you take more than 3 hours, move the batter to the refrigerator. The batter should expand significantly (double) and may require a stir to keep form overflowing if the bowl is small.

6. Ensure your waffle maker is as hot as possible before pouring on the batter. Cook until the waffles reach a golden brown. Serve as desired.

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Perfect Fruit + Ice Cream= Perfect Blueberry Ice Cream

July 30, 2009

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I know bananas have a lock on that saying: “Quite possibly the world’s perfect fruit.” But what about the blueberry? Why does it get shoved aside in favor of “perfect” bananas? Was there a competition for “world’s perfect fruit”? Did the blueberry even enter?

I maintain that the blueberry can slide right in there via the “possibly.” Bananas could possibly by the world’s perfect fruit… if it weren’t for the even more exceptional blueberry. Round, plump, juicy and splendidly colored as no food in nature should be. Blueberries are my perfect fruit. I can eat them by the pintful, and often do.

But how can a “perfect” fruit be improved on? Leave it to my husband to crack that nut…  er, smash that blueberry. He manages it via his fiendish ice cream machine, which churned forth this delicious, delectable, delightful blueberry ice cream. To raw blueberries’ simplistic, seductive (sometimes tartly) sweetness, my husband’s ice cream adds layers of creamy smooth complexity. It is rich, it is sweet, it is indulgent (well, not as low calorie as the blueberries themselves), it has that delightful purple-blue hue — and, bonus, it may even have antioxidents in it.

We’ve already established that blueberries are the world’s perfect fruit, now we can venture that they may also make the world’s perfect dessert. How? Ice cream, darling. Churn, baby, churn.

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And now, the husband’s take…

So my wife really sounds like a fanatic for blueberries, and I hate to admit she is—a little disturbing, right? But don’t mess with the woman and her blueberries. This is why I took my life into my own hands when I came up with this recipe. But with that said, I got the job done. And really, it’s away to extend the peak season if you work it right. So she should stop the threatening looks when I talk about more blueberry recipes. If nothing else, just look at my boy Jack in the photos. That is one happy little guy eating blueberry ice cream. I think that it’s a strong testimonial in my favor.

Before leaving, a couple small technical issues. First, I strained the blueberries after blending. This is all about mouth texture.  Blueberries are almost all skins and seeds. This is hardly noticeable when you eat them raw or whole, but to me ice cream has to have that smoothness in the mouth to be good. I suspect someone will tell me I’ve dulled the flavor by taking all those elements out, but I just didn’t feel right leaving them in. I mean I know it works for red wine to leave the skins etc. to develop greater flavor, but we strive for something more than just flavor.

The big negative is that it means your yield may not be all that great. So I find this recipe is likely most cost effective using frozen or berries that are just about to be past their prime.

Second, the recipe is composed of two steps. Step 1 of the recipe is simply making a blueberry purée. You could use this resulting liquid to flavor about a million different items.  Steps 2 to 6 are simply the technique of making crème anglaise without the vanilla. This is a classic French technique of making smooth and thick custard that has multiple applications, but I almost always use for my base for ice cream.

If you want to experiment with your own ice cream flavors, I suggest taking this recipe and subtracting step 1, and then add flavors as you see fit. There are lots of great recipes out there, especially on David Lebowitz’s blog and his book Perfect Scoop, but I’m always looking for my own path and this is where I typically start.

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Blueberry Ice Cream
Ingredients:
2 cup heavy cream
2 cup milk
8 eggs yolks
3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
300 g sugar (approx. 1 ½ cup)
1 tsp. salt
juice of 1/2 medium lime

Directions:

1. In a blender, blend until smooth the blueberries, the lime juice and 100 grams (1/2 cup) of the sugar until very smooth. Strain the mixture using a fine sieve to remove seeds and skins. You should have about 2 cups of liquid remain. Set aside.

2. Set up a water bath by filling a large bowl with equal part of ice and water about half full. Place a smaller bowl inside.

3. In a heavy pot over medium heat, add 100 grams (1/2) cup of the sugar, the milk, the cream and the salt. Heat slowly. When the milk begins to rapidly boil at the edges, turn down the heat.

4. Whisk together the remaining sugar with the egg yolks. Temper the eggs by slowly adding several ladlefuls (totaling about third) of the hot milk to the sugar and egg mixture while whisking vigorously.

5. Add the new combined mix back to the pot and continue to stir.  Return the heat to medium and continue to stir until it thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour immediately into the empty bowl in the ice bath.

6. Add the strained blueberry purée from step 1 and continue to stir until the mixture reaches slightly cooler then body temperature. (This means it should feel slightly cool if you touch the mix).

7. Move to a covered container and refrigerate overnight or freeze for approximately two hours. Once the mix is sufficiently cold, churn according to ice cream maker instructions.

Recommendation: I prefer to cool the ice cream base and the finished product and wide and shallow containers. I find it makes it quicker to cool and to harden while in those containers. Also find it makes it easier to scoop.

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A bit of pulled pork every day helps keep the recession at bay…

February 12, 2009

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Last week I ate pulled pork every day for lunch (toasted potato roll, Mt. Olive bread and butter pickles, mayo, pork). Yes, every day. Yes, all week.

But before you start pointing fingers and calling me an uncreative glutton (jealous much?), know this… there is a recession on, and I was just eating the most awesome, economical leftovers that we had in our fridge. That, and I’m eight-plus months pregnant.

“Pulled pork every day? Really?” you gasp in wonder. “Can it be true? Can it be healthy? Can it really be that good? And can I please, please have some?”

Yes, you can have some. If you make this recipe, there will be plenty to go around — and trust me, you won’t get tired of eating delicious, fork-tender and succulent pulled pork until it is all finger-lickin’ gone.

My husband has made pulled pork before, but it’s never turned out so damn tasty. (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always devoured it — it’s just the speed and duration of my consumption of it that changes.) This pork, lovingly coated with sugar, salt and spices, and sunning itself in a warm oven for nine hours… it just comes out happy. And it spreads its happy joyfulness when you fork in each delicious bite. I knew it was the real deal when I saw my husband brandishing two forks, and I saw the long, pink strands of wonderful porkiness just falling off the bone into a fragrant heap of steaming awesomeness. Yes, it’s that good.

The first night I had it, it was scrumptious in warm flour tortillas, dolloped with fresh salsa and sour cream and sprinkled with cheese. But that’s a bit complex to replicate for lunch. So for its remaining time in our fridge, it got tossed down sandwich style… and sometimes just forked right into the maw.

In any case, I’m eager for you to make it, friends, so you can tell me what other wonderful leftover concoctions can be had from delicious pulled pork. (In fact, I saw a recipe recently for pulled pork served on pitas with tsatsiki sauce…. any takers?)

So now I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. Pulled pork is delicious. This pulled pork is fabulous. Won’t you eat it every day too?

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And now, the husband’s take…

I’m not sure there is anything better than meat cooked for a long time. Two of my favorite recent recipes are a previous pork shoulder braised in Belgian ale and beef short ribs braised in red wine and beef stock. The flavors created by those intense periods spent at low temperatures makes me think my foot probably good after about 5 hours at between 250F-275F. But, I like my foot so that is just silly… right?

Anyway I digress. This recipe is another Sunday stay-at-home special. In my mind, this is the perfect recipe for just a lazy day. The kind where you don’t get out of your pajamas until mid-afternoon, and that’s only to take a shower and put on another set of pajamas — not that I would ever have a day like that.

The best part is that it isn’t a lot of work. Yes, it is a huge time commitment, but not work. Each step takes about ten to fifteen minutes if you work slowly. As a result, you can spend most of your time doing anything else. Even if you don’t baste the shoulder like I suggest in the recipe, it’s not that big of an issue — so you could even do cook this overnight while you sleep. That way it’s great for a noon tip-off or party. In addition, this makes the ultimate leftovers. While we show it with salsa on a tortilla, you pretty much can do anything with it — for example, great, great sandwiches.

This is also a relatively inexpensive cut of meat. If you buy a typical supermarket shoulder, you can get this for about $15 dollars here in DC. You can easily serve a party of eight or more with it. Or have a tremendous amount of leftovers if you make it for your family. This means awesome packed lunches the rest of the week. So this is your very own recession special.

So with time and a little bit of money, you get a truly awesome result… if I don’t say so myself. Now, what about that foot thing?

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Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder
Ingredients:
7 lbs. pork shoulder (bone in)
1 cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup salt
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
½ tsp. cayenne

Directions:
1. To make the rub, thoroughly mix together the brown sugar, salt, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes and cayenne.

2. Pat dry the pork shoulder and then liberally apply the rub to all sides. Place in a leak-proof container. Cover and refrigerate for as long as 24 hours, or as little as overnight. It will give up a cup or more of liquid so make sure your container is big enough to prevent spillage.

3. Remove the shoulder from refrigerator, brush off any excess or caked on rub. Move to a clean roasting pan with the fat side up.

4. Heat the oven to 275F. Place in the oven and let roast for 9 to 10 hours. Yes, I’m serious about it taking that long. After about 3 hours, there will be enough fat rendered to allow you to baste the shoulder every 1 to 2 hours. With a large spoon simply pour the rendered fat over the shoulder.

5. You will know it’s ready because the outside of the shoulder is extremely dark, nearly burned looking. The pork should pull easily from the bone and the fat/skin on the top should be nearly crispy.

6. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 30 min. Using a pair of forks or very clean hands pull the pork away from the bone. This should be very easy to do.

7. Serve one of several ways. Here we served it on a tortilla and topped with fresh salsa (recipe below). Another favorite for us is on a toasted potato roll and with a couple sweet pickles. This serves great leftovers.

Simple Fresh Salsa
Ingredients:
1 pint grape tomatoes (diced)
1 cup cilantro (diced)
1 jalapeno (diced very fine)
1 lime (juice)
½ large onion (diced)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt

Directions:
1. Combine the  tomatoes, cilantro, onion, and jalapeno in a bowl and mix thoroughly. You can de-seed the jalapeno if you are heat adverse, or substitute a serrano pepper if you like a little more kick.

2. Add the lime juice and olive oil and mix. Salt to taste.

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Fresh chorizo and stuffed dates, or as we think about it: rethinking folklore about watching sausage being made.

November 14, 2008

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I’ve seen how sausage is made… And it’s not that bad.

OK, I didn’t go to the “sausage factory,” where, I’ve no doubt, the process is much, much more stomach churning. But watching my husband make chorizo sausage from scratch was in no way traumatic. And the smell of him cooking up little “tester patties” was actually kind of appetizing.

There, I said it. Sausage making can be appetizing.

Indeed, I’ll go further. You should try to make sausage, too. Why? Well, I’ll give you three good reasons: Delicious southwestern-style fritatas, hearty corn bread and chorizo stuffing, and to-die-for chorizo stuffed dates. All of these tasty, tasty items are drastically improved when you bring your own homemade chorizo sausage to the party.

Consider: Rather than ripping open the shrink-wrapped styrofoam package of pallid, speckled links, you could make — in your own kitchen — fragrant, delicious, crispy, and spicy pork sausage. The smell of fresh cinnamon and the bite of potent spices could cause your nose to twitch. The sound of pork fat hitting pan could cause your stomach to growl. And the smell of the chorizo sausage browning in the pan could cause your mouth to water.

The best part? Not only is making chorizo sausage not gruesome, it’s also not hard. Grind and combine, baby. Plus, none of these recipes call for linked sausage, meaning you can forgo wrestling with slimy intestinal lining or other equally slippery casing alternatives.

Sound good? Don’t forgot to cook me up a tester patty. I’m willing to be your guinea pig!

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And now, the husband’s take…

The first time I had fresh sausage was as a kid. My father’s family were farm folk in eastern North Carolina and grew the regions staples—pigs and tobacco. This meant, at least once a year, my father got fresh sausage from the farm. And, no offense to Jimmy Dean and Bob Evans,but to be honest, there really was nothing better. There was something about the quality or perhaps the novelty that made such a positive impression.

So fast forward a few decades, the first thing you learn when you get serious about cooking is controlling quality. The reason the great restaurants produce the greatest food is that every ingredient is high quality. And every step thereafter, from making stock to plating, is about enhancing the underlying quality. If you take this to the level of Thomas Keller at the French Laundry or Patrick O’Connell at The Inn at Little Washington, then it becomes obsessions that leads to legendary greatest. Or if you are me, it’s why you make chicken stock a couple times a month, go to various farmers markets around town or make my own sausage then write a post about it.

The chorizo is great. You could eat sausage alone, but it isn’t a hot dog or bratwurst. To me, it’s a component and taking control to build a better result. As my wife pointed out, there are at least two other posts on the blog where chorizo is used. Today, I add another recipe here, a cocktail party classic—chorizo stuffed dates. So while, “making sausage” has it’s negative connotations, if you have the inkling, do it yourself. It’s actually fun.

Before I quit writing, some technical information about the recipe. First, this is fresh chorizo. Aficionados of chorizo can do dissertations on the subject. In some regions, it’s a dried sausage like salami or pepperoni. In others, it’s a loose sausage. It can or can’t be smoked. In general, I’m not remotely claiming this as a definitive or authentic recipe. This is simply my recipe which tends to be a bit on the spicy side.

Second, I got into sausage making right about the time I started culinary school. It began with Brian Polclyn and Michael Ruhlman’s great book, Charcuterie. While this recipe is significantly different then the one that can be found in their book, it would be a lie if I didn’t acknowledge their influence. If you enjoy this sort of thing, I would highly recommend their book. My copy is getting beat up from going on and off the shelf so much.

Third, this makes quite a bit of chorizo. It keeps easily for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. It also freezes well. I don’t put mine in cases to make links, but Ruhlman and Polcyn recommend hog casings if you want to follow their lead.

Finally, you need to work clean and cold when you grind meat. This means I clean my grinding equipment before and after every use. It also means that everything gets placed in either the freezer or refrigerator between steps including the meat, the grinder, and the bowl that catches the meat. If you don’t keep things cold, you risk the fat rendering out and loosing flavor.

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Fresh Chorizo
Ingredients:
3 lbs pork shoulder (diced to fit grinder)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. tequila

Spice Mix:
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika (hot)
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake

Directions:

1. Toss together diced pork, spice mix, salt and minced garlic making sure that everything is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 min.

2. Clean grinding equipment and bowl. Place equipment in the freezer (or keep cold) until ready to grind.

3. Grind the meat being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to catch any straggling spice mix or garlic. When using the Kitchen-Aid grinder attachment, I use the small die (the screen in front of the grinding blade) on low speed for best results. If the meat is no longer cold, cover and refrigerate before proceeding.

4. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the ground meat and tequila to the bowl. Mix on medium speed until the meat is a pâté consistency. This should take about 1 minute.

5. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, place a small, quarter-sized patty of the sausage. Brown on both sides. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

6. Once done, move to a clean container, cover tightly and refrigerate. Should keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator, or can be divided up and part placed in the freezer for later use.

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Chorizo Stuffed Dates w/Goat Cheese
Ingredients:
24 pitted dates
1/4 lbs fresh chorizo
6-8 slices bacon
4 oz. goat cheese (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Slice each date along one side using a paring knife.

3. Taking a pinch of chorizo, press into the pocket formed by opening the date.

4. Stretch each slice of bacon out on a cutting board. This is the key as it avoids the need for toothpicks. The bacon should be about 1/3 larger then when pulled from the rest of the slices.

5. Roll the date until date is covered and the bacon comes around about 1 1/2 times. Cut from the slice. You should get 3 to 4 dates per slice of bacon.

6. Place on baking sheet with a rack. Bake for 30 min or until the bacon is golden and fat rendered. Rotate halfway through cooking. It’s important your baking sheet has a lip on all sides as there will be a good pool of fat on the bottom of the sheet.

7. Plate, sprinkle over with goat cheese. Serve warm.

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‘nilla wafer puddin’: so good, it’s scary

October 30, 2008

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It isn’t right to torment your husband.

I know this, and yet, when it comes to Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding (‘nilla wafer puddin’ for short), I can’t help myself. It’s just so good.

Yes, my husband has had months of professional French-style culinary training. Yes, he can braise, glaze and flam-baze with the best of them. But when it comes to old-fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs, lick the spoon, go for third-helpings kind of deliciousness, this clip-from-the-back-of-the-box recipe still takes the cake (er, pudding).

It is a crowd pleaser. Everybody loves it. Everybody comments on it. Everybody wants the recipe. Everybody goes back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths, until finally you come upon a guest surreptitiously running his finger along the rim of the empty bowl and making satisfied sucking sounds until said bowl is forcibly removed from his hands.

It’s that good, people.

Now my husband grumps, and moans, and bellyaches about that “darn ‘nilla wafer puddin.” But he makes it, and then begrudgingly laps up the accompanying praise and glory.

But let’s be honest. I do the work here, people. I am the one who flatters, badgers and goads until the husband ponies up the delicious homemade vanilla pudding. And then I am the one who lovingly assembles the whole concoction into a thing of beauty. Yes, I — the wife — make the whip cream, cut up the bananas and lovingly stack the Nilla wafers into a towering trifle of dessert deliciousness.

That’s right: Don’t believe the husband, he’s not the ‘nilla wafer puddin’ martyr he’d have you believe.

But you can believe one thing: This Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding is really that good. It’s totally worth tormenting your husband for. Enjoy it! And Happy Halloween!

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And now, the husband’s take…

I hate this recipe. No, actually, I don’t really HATE this recipe. It’s just that I don’t get it. I think it’s a good recipe. I really like what it makes. But… well… despite culinary school, despite all the cool techniques, despite my growing knowledge of food, this very simple recipe is the one I’m asked for the most.

I get emails from family members saying, “I’ve looked everywhere on the blog, but can’t find it.” I get calls asking for it. My wife even has a slightly obnoxious chant she does when she wants me to make it, and I’m quite certain my 19 month old is going to start joining her any day now. I’m pretty much obligated to make this for every family gathering or to bring it to any social gathering where you are expected to provide a dish. Because of this demand, I’m putting it up to share.

Finally, I appreciate this recipe is most associated with summer and childhood. But, honestly, its perfect for tomorrow if you are having a party. This recipe can easily serve 12 very hungry folks and I suspect even more of the smaller guys. It keeps well if you refrigerate it. It’s actually better if you make it the day before as the flavors of the banana spread around and the cookies absorb the liquid and get a more cake-like consistency. So, Happy Halloween and enjoy! Just don’t ask me for the recipe later.

Click here for the recipe for ‘Nilla Wafer Pudding.

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Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding
Ingredients:
1/2 box Nilla wafers
5 bananas
Vanilla pudding (recipe below)
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Make and cool the pudding according to the directions below.

2. Just before starting construction, use a mixer (preferably hand or stand) and whip together the heavy cream, vanilla, salt and sugar until you see stiff peaks. Set aside. (How do you know when you’ve achieved stiff peaks? When you can turn the whisk upside down and the peak of mount whipped cream stays pointy.)

3. Slice the bananas about a quarter inch thick.

4. Layer the dish as follows: Pudding, wafers, whip cream, bananas.

5. This is best done the day before serving, but is still good if made several hours before serving. The goal is to have the pudding — with all its fat — pick up the flavors from the banana, and for the wafers to soften when sandwiched between the liquids.

6. Refrigerate when done. Serve cold.

Vanilla Pudding
Ingredients:
6 cups milk
3/4 cup corn starch
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Take 1 cup of milk and add to the starch. Whisk until dissolved. It should have the consistency of heavy cream. Set aside.

2. Combine the remaining milk, salt and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium high heat.

Note: You can use a whole vanilla bean. If you wish to use one, slice in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the bean now while warming. Also, remember this is milk boiling, do not walk away from it. It will overflow and cause a mess if left unwatched.

3. Turn heat to medium. While whisking consistently, add the slurry of milk and corn starch.

4. Temper the egg yolks. Do this by ladling in some of the hot liquid into a bowl containing the egg yolks while constantly whisking. This will slowly warm the yolks and prevent them from curdling when you add them to the hot liquid. Add the tempered egg yolks to the milk mixture.

5. Continue to whisk regularly while the mixture begins to heat up. It should start to thicken as it approaches a boil.

6. Once thick, pour into a second container and cool. You can place this in the fridge and let cool for a couple hours. Or you can set up an ice bath by placing a bowl inside another bowl of equal parts ice and water, then whisk the pudding until cool. Add the vanilla extract once it’s no longer hot.

Note: If using a vanilla bean, remove the bean’s shell at this point.

7. Refrigerate until ready to use. If the pudding is stiff when you remove it from the refrigerator, simply whip it for about 30 seconds with a hand or stand mixer. It should smooth out quickly, and be easy to pour.

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Braised beef short rib defies definition

October 28, 2008

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Braise (tr.v. braised, brais*ing, brais*es): To cook by browning in fat, then simmering in a small quantity of liquid in a covered container.

Seldom has a definition been so inadequate. Shouldn’t the definition of braise include words like “sublime,” “transcendent,” “gorgeous,” “silky,” or just plain “delicious”? Clearly dictionary writers have not eaten braised meats, or they wouldn’t be so adjectively-challenged.

A braise done right is a thing of beauty and joy to devour. And to eat my husband’s braised beef short ribs is to consume comfort and deliciousness in a bowl. It’s the kind of meal that assaults your senses and your memories… conjuring up the sounds of your grandmother’s kitchen, or the feeling of swinging your legs under the dining room chair when you were seven, or the first time you ever had mashed potatoes. If there were a movie about eating these braised short ribs, it would include a montage of your most favorite childhood memories. Seriously, they’re that good.

The ingenious braising process not only yields fork-tender strands of juicy, flavorful meat, it also produces the most heavenly dark and rich sauce to pour over it (and over the starch of your choice). With subtle hints of the generous veg, wine and of course, meat, that combined forces for hours over low heat, the sauce alone is good enough to lick off the back of your spoon — repeatedly and joyfully.

Still not convinced? Well, if my words aren’t enough to persuade you, perhaps you can feast your eyes on the photographs… Yes, it really is as good as it looks.

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And now the husband’s take…

While I do love to braise, and braise often, there are even better reasons to make this recipe. First, is its versatility. There are really a half dozen ways you can use the short rib you’ve prepared; here I show you two. One, you can simply remove the bone and serve the short rib, as is, covered with sauce. The is classic: Put your protein on a plate, serve with starch (I like spaetzle) and some vegetables, and you are good to go. Or, two, you can shred the short rib and serve it in its sauce over pasta for a one-plate dish. Another way, not shown here, is to serve the short rib on toast or a roll for a truly decadent sandwich. (This is frequently the fate of our leftovers!)

The second thing I love about this recipe is what I think of as its “watch the game” benefits. Sure, this recipe does take time. But it really is a series of 10 minute bursts. The night before you take 10 minutes to start it marinating, and then you forget it. The next day you brown things, add some liquid, put it in the pot, and go “watch the game.” When the game is over, you strain and work for 10 to 15 minutes. An hour or so later, you have one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten. This is huge. While I’m often in the kitchen, I’ve got plenty of time to do other things.

Finally, I’ve attached my recipe for pasta dough. I’ve been playing with it and have never quite been pleased with my results until recently. The biggest change is a shift in mindset. I’ve started to think of it more like a pie crust, meaning, I need just enough moisture to bring it together and then I need to let it rest. Once I began to imagine it this way, I found my pasta was all the better. After I add the eggs, I look for the dough to be a bit like wet sand and not more. I shape it, then let it sit for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Everyone agrees the pasta is even better now.

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Braised Beef Short Rib
Ingredients:
5 lbs. beef short ribs (bone in)
1 large onion (rough chop)
2 medium carrots (rough chop)
3 ribs celery (rough chop)
5 sprigs thyme
1 bunch stems of parsley (just stems)
2 bay leaves
salt
pepper

Marinade:
1 qt. beef stock
2 cups red wine (rec. cabernet sauvignon/shiraz)
1 large onion (rough chop)
3 medium carrots (rough chop)
3 large ribs celery (rough chop)
4 cloves garlic
6 stems fresh parsley
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 peppercorns

Directions:
1. In a large container, combine the ingredients for the marinade and add the short ribs, making sure they are fully submerged. Refrigerate overnight or for no more than 24 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 250F.

3. Remove the short ribs from the marinade, pat dry and set aside. Stain the liquid and reserve both the vegetables and the liquids for later use.

4. Place a large pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. Once the oil shimmers and before it smokes, add the short ribs being careful not to overcrowd. They should sizzle softly. You may need to work in batches. Brown the meat on all sides.

5. Add both the reserved vegetables and new. Scrape the bottom of the pot to remove the fond (the caramelized bits stuck to the pan). Continue to cook over medium to medium high heat until the onions begin to take on a golden color.

6. Add the reserved liquid from the marinade. Once again, scrape the bottom to remove all the fond. Add the bay leaves, thyme, parsley stems, and meat. If the meat is not covered add just enough water to cover.

7. Place in oven for 4 1/2 hours or until the meat falls from the bone.

8. Remove meat, cover in aluminum foil, place in a warm oven and strain liquid.

9. Place liquid over medium to medium high heat and reduce about 75% or until it forms a viscous sauce. It should coat the back of the spoon easily. At this point, you can serve the short rib with the sauce over it, or add shredded meat to the sauce and serve over pasta. If over pasta, I recommend topping with pecorino or parmesan cheese.

Fresh Pasta
Ingredients:
2 large eggs (beaten)
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 tbsp. water

Directions:
1. Place the flour in a food processor and run. Slowly add the beaten eggs. Once integrated stop. Add the water and pulse 5-6 times.

2. The flour should feel/look like wet sand and come together if pressed in the palm of your hand. If it doesn’t, add a small bit of water and pulse again. It should not come together easily.

3. Turn the dough out into a bowl and press into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. If it has rested longer, let it sit out still wrapped for about 10 minutes or until you can work with it more easily.

4. Cut into four pieces and roll out using a pasta machine. Start at the lowest setting and follow your machine’s instructions. You can hand cut to papperadell or tagatali or use machine’s cutting attachments.

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Eat ’em up: Pickled grapes

May 21, 2008

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I think pickling may be the next big thing.

Yes, you heard it here first. Granted, I have never accurately called a trend. Molecular gastronomy still sounds to me like an uncomfortable side effect of eating too many beans. I like farmer’s markets because they’re outside, not because I know the ingredients are locally sourced. And I’m pretty much still scratching my head about who this Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana person is…

And yet, I think I my husband may be onto something with his newfound craze for pickling. After all, pickling is an important part of some other food cultures (think: Korea). Why not ours? Maybe pickling is ripe for the same kind of fanfare BBQ receives in this country. You know: People traveling around in Airstream trailers with their secret pickling recipes, folks lining up at tents in the summertime tasting pickle after pickle, huge trophies lining the mantle of a man with a handlebar mustache and large gut.

No?

Well, like I said, I don’t actually have an eye for trends. But I do have a mouth for tasting… and my husband’s pickled grapes are going down the hatch. They’re sweet and aromatic — just open the jar and the divine aroma of cinnamon and clove wafts up to seduce you. But they’re also sour and complex — your mouth can’t help but pucker a touch at the healthy dose of vinegar all good pickles require. And then, finally, they’re grapes. Sweet, firm, purple gems of fruit that maintain that great texture amid all the whiz-bang of the pickling juices.

Yup, pickles are the next big thing. Well, in my mouth, at least.
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And now, the husband’s take…

So, yes, pickled grapes. It’s not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when discussing pickling. Other things that might come first? Well, pickled pickles (duh), pickled watermelon rind, pickled ginger, pickled zucchini, pickled onions… even the truly brave act of fermenting cabbage like the Koreans, Germans, Austrians, and Alsatians do to make kimchi and sauerkraut.

I think, then, that the pickled grape may be a hard sell. Yet, I will encourage, cajole, and perhaps even threaten.

I first came across pickled grapes at Farrah Olivia, a restaurant in Alexandria, VA. They were served as a garnish. The idea was pretty incredible: They were a combination of sweet and sour that caught you off guard. At the restaurant, the grapes were served as a small bunch still attached to the stems, and you had little idea of the intense flavor you were about to receive. Being inspired, I decided to work on my own recipe featuring a bit more spice and tang by altering a recipe I’ve used to pickle beets — yes, I admit to a growing obsession with pickling.

The result is a pickled grape with a sneaky spike of clove, cinnamon and allspice, along with the familiar and delicious sour and sweet of a traditional pickle. The grapes also happen to be the perfect pair for beer and cheese. Served along with semi-hard cheeses with plenty of salt and with a good beer, they work as an excellent palette cleanser. Three tasty treats together on one plate? Happiness for me!

Other than its deliciousness and its sublime pairing with beer and cheese, there is another argument in the pickled grape’s favor: simplicity. If you are not a person experienced with pickling, this is a good starter recipe. It’s quick, needs no knife, and requires only a little bit of patience and space in the refrigerator. In the end, this is a lot of benefit for little work. I use the free time it allows me to indulge my other obsessions… or threaten others to try the grapes.

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