Worth Her Salt


Pumpkin Piecakes, Pecan Brittle and Stabilized Whipped Cream

October 31st, 2010

I wasn’t really sure what to call these. Pumpkin pie cupcakes is clumsy and implies a cupcake, which this really isn’t, except for the liner. This is more like a pumpkin pie without the crust. It’s pumpkin pie filling, with a little bit of flour to hold it together and leavener for just a bit of airiness. The edges set up into almost a cake, and the middle stays custardy. And because they fall in the center as soon as you take them out of the oven, they’re just begging for a dollop of whipped cream.

I made these for a work potluck because, having made them before, I knew they were easy to make and perfect for grab-and-go. The only problem was the whipped cream, which would have wept if I made it the night before. So that brings us to the stabilized whipped cream. It was the first time doing so, and I don’t believe I dissolved the gelatin completely before adding it, because there were a few little pearls of gelatin here and there. I doubt anyone but me noticed, though! It didn’t weep, though, so that was ultimately a success.

The pecan brittle was just a little extra something. And boy was it good. I debated using pumpkin seeds, but they were the same price as pecans, and frankly I couldn’t see myself using the leftover pumpkin seeds. So pecans it was. And what a good decision that was! The smell as you’re making the brittle is exactly like pecan pie. The smell is almost better than the finished candy, if you ask me!

I adapted the pumpkin recipe from this blog, but made a few key changes. First, I omitted the generic pumpkin pie spice in favor of my own spice blend. Second, I extended the baking time, because 20 minutes really left you with a mushy product. Yes, it’s custardy, but it should still be firm. Also, don’t be afraid of filling your cupcake liners almost full. Normally that’s a bad idea, but these puff only slightly, and more importantly, fall quite a bit when cooling.

Pumpkin Piecakes

1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
3/4 c half and half
2/3 c AP flour
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1  t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/4 t each allspice, cardamom, freshly grated nutmeg and salt

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line muffin tin with liners and coat lightly with cooking spray.

2. In a Kitchenaid or large bowl with a whisk, combine eggs and sugars. Add pumpkin, half and half and vanilla and combine.

3. Add your dry ingredients, and combine until smooth.

4. Fill liners almost full, then bake for 23-26 minutes until the top is no longer sticky to the touch. Cool, and serve with whipped cream. Makes a dozen.


Stabilized Whipped Cream

1 t unflavored gelatin
4 t cold water
1 c heavy whipping cream
powdered sugar to taste

1. Add gelatin to cold water in small saucepan and bloom until thick.

2. Cook over low heat until gelatin is completely melted and there are no little pearls of gelatin left. Cool slightly.

3. Whip cream until slightly thick, then pour gelatin into it while whipping slowly.

4. Add sugar to taste, then continue to whip until stiff.


Pecan Brittle

1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c light corn syrup
2 1/4 c roasted, lightly salted pecans
2 T butter
1 t vanilla
1 t baking soda

1. Prepare the pan you will be pouring the candy into. Use a half sheet pan, or other large sheet pan with low sides. Use silpat if you have it, otherwise coat the pan with cooking spray or butter.

2. In a heavy saucepan or enameled dutch oven with a lid, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Swirl the pot occasionally to ensure the sugar melts evenly. Keeping the lid on will cause the steam to condense and drip back down the sides of the pot, preventing any sugar from recrystalizing. If you have no lid or crystals form, you can also wipe down the sides of the pot with water using a pastry brush.

3. Once boiling, insert candy thermometer and boil until it reaches 230 degrees, only about a minute later.

4. Add the pecans and stir constantly with a metal or silicon spatula until it reaches 300 degrees, about 15-18 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat, and immediately add the butter, vanilla and baking soda and stir quickly. It will foam and sizzle.

6. Pour down the center of your pan and spread out so the nuts are in an even layer. Let sit until cool, and break into pieces.

Late Summer Lobster Salad

September 23rd, 2010

lobster

I’ve never cooked whole, live lobsters before. So when the local high-end grocery store, Sendik’s, had a one-day lobster sale, I figured it’d be a great time to try! $10 live ~1 lb lobsters. Awesome. I even avoided the first-come-first-serve fiasco by reserving them the day before.

My friend Lynn was having a cookout the next day, so I decided to use the lobsters in a dish to bring. It being late summer, there was plenty of gorgeous produce available at the farmer’s market, so I decided to make a lobster salad with sweet corn, tarragon and orange cherry tomatoes. And as another first, I made the mayonnaise from scratch. Because if you’re going to spend $20 on lobsters for a salad, you better make sure you use awesome ingredients with it!

The mayonnaise is an Alton Brown recipe, and was pretty easy. I initially used my immersion blender, and everything was going swimmingly until the emulsion decided to break about halfway through adding the oil. I have no idea what happened, but I switched to the old fashioned bowl and whisk for the next attempt. Of course, that worked perfectly, even if I had to ask Nick to hold the bowl steady for me while I whisked and added oil.

I was also hoping to have lobster fights on my kitchen floor, but alas, one of the lobsters was almost dead by how lethargic he was. So they simply went in the pot as soon as I brought them home. (I admit I was tempted to name one Pinchy and make him my pet and grow him until I accidentally cooked him in a too-hot bath, but that’s another story).

I served the salad on top of some crusty baguette slices that I drizzled with olive oil and toasted in the oven. I’m sure it’d be good on salad greens, as a lobster roll (though a complicated, sacrilegious one), in pita bread, or eaten with a fork straight from the bowl as I did with the leftovers!

Late Summer Lobster Salad

2 1lb live lobsters, cooked your preferred method (I chose to steam instead of boil)
2 ears of fresh sweet corn
1 large handful of orange cherry tomatoes, straight from the garden
1/4 c minced red bell pepper
2 TB fresh minced tarragon
1 TB minced chives
2-3 TB homemade mayonnaise, or to taste (see recipe below)
S+P to taste

1. Remove the meat from the cooked lobsters. I even lined up the little lobster legs and used a rolling

Say hello to my little friends

Say hello to my little friends

pin to smoosh the meat out of them. I don’t waste lobster! Roughly chop the meat and try not to eat it all while doing so.

2. Remove the corn from the cob. Quarter or halve the cherry tomatoes, depending on size.

3. Combine the lobster, veggies, herbs and mayonnaise and mix gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Simple and delicious!

AB’s Mayonnaise

1 egg yolk
1/2 t salt
1/2 t dry mustard
2 pinches sugar
2 t fresh lemon juice
1 TB white wine vinegar
1 c oil, safflower, corn, or canola

1. Whisk together the egg yolk and the dry ingredients. Whisk in half the lemon juice and vinegar.

2. Whisking quickly, add oil a few drops at a time until an emulsion forms and it becomes thickened and lighter. Then keep whisking while you add half of the oil in a thin steady stream. Add the rest of the lemon juice a vinegar, then continue adding the oil slowly until it is all incorporated.

Homemade Pizza, part 1

March 28th, 2010

pizza1

Last weekend I decided to take on a new project, inspired by this pizza making forum. I’ve visited that forum randomly for the last year or so, but never attempted making any because I lacked some necessary tools, especially a baking stone. But, lovely Nick remedied that this year for my birthday and the stone now has permanent residence in my oven. (After making my first pizzas, however, I realize I now need a pizza peel and a kitchen scale…)

But back to that forum. Those people are crazy. Some of them must have OCD. Ten thousand posts on a pizza making forum, most at least 300 words long? Admitting you have 19 pages of notes on how to modify one crust recipe? Obsessively calling and emailing Giordano’s in order to reverse engineer their crust? Calculating crust thickness using pi and algebra only an engineer would understand? Sometimes I read this stuff and think, “What the fuck are these people talking about? Do they even have lives or jobs?” And other times, I think, “These people are frickin’ geniuses!”

Because damn, they can make some good lookin’ pizzas. So, they must be doing something right. Unfortunately, I did most everything on my first pizzas that they’d consider “wrong.” I made a quick-rise dough recipe instead of letting it ferment 3 days, I used volume measurements instead of weight (told you I need that kitchen scale), and I used a supermarket block of mozzarella instead of the wonderful buffalo mozz. But you know what? My pizzas still turned out damn good. And I see this as just the start of an obsession with making great pizzas. Maybe I’ll even start using baker’s percentages and calculating hydration ratios too!

The crust and the sauce are the most important parts of the pizza if you ask me. Either one of those things sucks, and so does your pizza. Cheese and other toppings are basically in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. We did basic pepperoni, Italian sausage and black olive pizzas, with a local cheesemaker’s block part-skim mozz. I plan to make buffalo and BBQ chicken pizzas soon, because I’m a sucker for those things. A pizza stone is ideal, but if you don’t want to spend the money, get yourself a pizza screen. Since I don’t have a peel yet, I started the pizzas on the screen, then transferred them to the stone about 7 minutes into baking. You can cook it on the screen for the entire cooking time if that’s all you have. It’s still much better than a sheet pan or those round perforated pizza pans.

For the sauce, most people on the pizza making forum swear by not cooking the sauce before you cook the pizza. I was a little wary, but it turned out really well. I used a can of imported San Marzano tomatoes, which I had to buy a new brand of because the store was out of the brand I normally buy. I wasn’t too happy with the quality, but it still turned out well. I can’t wait til I have great tomatoes again.

Eventually I’ll start using baker’s percentages, hopefully, but for now here’s an easy beginner’s volume-based recipe. I didn’t measure ingredients for the sauce, but use your best judgement; that’s why you have judgement. It’ll turn out great.

Quick-Rise NY-style Pizza

Crust for one 12-inch pizza:pizza3
1 3/4 c AP flour (high-gluten flour is best, but AP will work in a pinch)
~ 1/2 c water at 90 degrees F
1/2 t salt
1/2 t olive oil
1/2 t active dry yeast, plus a pinch

1. Dissolve salt in water in bowl of mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix yeast into flour in a bowl.

2. Turn mixer on low, and add flour slowly. Eventually, it will come together around the hook and away from the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t come together in one mass after a couple minutes, it’s probably too dry. That is the problem with volume measurements. Add more water, a scant teaspoon at a time, until it comes together into a ball. It shouldn’t be sticky, but also not dry to the touch. It just takes intuition. When you think it’s about right, add your olive oil and continue kneading it (the mixer is doing the kneading now) until combined.

3. Coat your hands in olive oil. Remove from the bowl, and knead it a few times on the counter. The olive oil will keep it from sticking to you or the counter, though it shouldn’t really be sticky anyway. If it’s sticky, it’s too wet and you should have added more flour! Bring the dough together into a smooth ball, making sure it’s coated in a thin layer of olive oil before placing it in a bowl. Set aside at room temperature for 2 hours. Dough will double in size.

4. To make pizza, remove dough from the bowl. Pat out on the counter into a round, then you can use your knuckles to stretch it thin. It will naturally have a ring of thicker dough around the edge that will be the crust. I found this dough to be very easy to work with. Transfer to your screen or peel, top with your sauce and toppings and bake at 450 F for 15-17 minutes. If using a stone, preheat the oven for 45 minutes beforehand, and use the lowest rack.

Sauce:pizza2
1 ~28 oz can San Marzano or other quality whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 t dried oregano
1/4 t dried basil
2 T tomato paste
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 t red pepper flakes
salt to taste

1. Crush the tomatoes by hand into a bowl. Remove any stray skin or fibrous stem parts. Do not add any extra puree or juice from the can.

2. Add the other ingredients except tomato paste, then pulse with a stick blender or in a food processor, blender, or food mill. I used my stick blender and it was quick and easy.

3. At this point, judge the consistency. Mine was pretty thin and watery just from the liquid in the tomatoes. If it’s too thin, strain through a fine seive for a minute or two until the sauce left in the strainer is the right consistency (or slightly thin, the tomato paste will help thicken slightly).

4. Return it to a bowl if you strained it and add the tomato paste. I needed to add some paste because the tomatoes were not the best quality and were obviously not the ripest. The paste made my sauce thicker and brighter. Also, if you taste the sauce, be aware that the raw garlic will not taste good. This was off-putting, but the cook time in the oven took care of that, don’t worry. Let the sauce sit while the dough rises for the flavors to blend.

Thai-style Drunken Noodles

March 9th, 2010

drunken

Ah, drunken noodles. No, the noodles themselves aren’t drunk; There’s no alcohol in the dish, contrary to what you may be thinking. Instead, the name refers to the state people are often in when they’re eating these noodles. What drunk doesn’t love garlicky, spicy, salty food?

And really, if you’re not a fan of garlic or chile heat, then don’t make this. Don’t leave out the garlic because your mom doesn’t like it, or only put in half a seeded jalapeno because you don’t like heat. I’m sick of seeing comments on blogs and recipe sites where people explain how they changed numerous major components of a dish before they’d think about trying something. I don’t believe that recipes are gospel, by any means, but you can’t completely omit or change a dish’s major flavor profile. And in this case, that means garlic and chiles (and it could be argued, fish sauce).

Rant aside, this is a super easy and fast meal, great for weeknights. Just make sure to take some breathmints to work the next day.

Drunken Noodles

1 14 oz package of wide rice noodles
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced through a press
1/4 c Thai chiles, chopped (alternately, use 5-7 serrano chiles if Thai are not available)
1 lb ground chicken or pork
1/3 c fish sauce
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c Golden Mountain sauce, or more soy sauce
2 T sugar
2-3 cubanelle or Anaheim peppers, sliced
Thai basil, to taste

1. Cook noodles in boiling water until cooked, but still firm. Time it so the noodles are done the same time as the sauce/meat.

2. Add a little vegetable oil to a wok, then add your ground meat. Stir fry over high heat until done, then add garlic, chiles and peppers. Stir fry until peppers are tender, about 2-3 minutes.

3. Add sauces and sugar, and bring to a simmer. Toss noodles into the wok, and combine with sauce. If needed, cook 1-2 minutes more in the sauce in order to cook noodles to your liking.

4. Serve with chopped Thai basil and extra chiles, if desired.

Swedish Meatballs

February 20th, 2010

swedish

Hi everyone, remember me? It’s been a while! I’ve had some technical difficulties with my computer lately. Namely, with my free photo editing program, Gimp. Fo some unknown reason, it keeps crashing on me whenever I try to adjust the levels on any photo. Quite annoying. I’ve even reinstalled it a couple times. Anyone got a copy of Photoshop they’d like to share with me? (Hey, it’s worth a shot!) As it is, I edited this photo at work, since I’ve got all that Adobe goodness there. Shhhhhh! (I’m also having issues now that the sun is setting so early. I have no place to put a makeshift lightbox at the moment.)

IKEA is one of my favorite places. It’s cheap. It’s kitschy. It’s colorful. It’s cheap. Did I mention it’s cheap? Of course, with cheap prices comes cheap manufacturing, but I’ve had the Poang chair for many years and it’s good as new. I’m on my second garlic press from IKEA, though. The little holey part on my first one broke a year ago…The metal actually cracked into pieces. Weird. But I soon got a replacement!

Of course, I eat Swedish meatballs there almost every time. It’s just one of those things you have to do (unless you opt for a giant $1 cinnamon roll instead). Anyone remember when they still had the Manager’s Special? I think it was 9 meatballs, potatoes, a soup and a soda for $5. Ridiculously awesome.

Since I’m not living in Chicago anymore, I hardly ever get to IKEA now. So that meatball craving got pretty strong after a while. And then I ran across a recipe for IKEA-style Swedish meatballs, supposedly translated from a Swedish language IKEA cookbook. Score! And I must say, these turned out better than the frozen, reheated ones you get at the cafe (though, you’ll probably miss the plastic ambiance and tray carts). Instead of potatoes, I like egg noodles. And I mixed in some frozen peas, since you know, somewhat fatty meat on top of starch isn’t exactly the best meal health wise. I didn’t have lignonberries when I made the recipe, but I’m happy to report that since making these, I picked some up at IKEA. Not necessary, but tasty. I imagine Swedish meatballs would also be tasty with leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving.

Swedish Meatballs

3/4 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1 egg
~1/2 c cream or milk
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 c breadcrumbs
2 small potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed and cooled
1/2 t allspice
oil and butter for frying

For sauce:
1 15 oz can beef broth or stock
2/3-1 c cream
3-4 dashes worchestershire

1. Saute the onion in a small amount of butter until just browning.

2. In a large bowl, combine well all meatball ingredients except beef and pork. Add meats, then mix gently to combine without packing the meat down. Season the mixture generously with salt. You’ll use more than you think you need. If you’re unsure, heat a pan and cook a pinch of the meat to taste, then reseason the mixture. Form into golf ball sized meatballs.

3. Heat oil and butter combination in a large skillet over medium heat, and fry meatballs on all sides until brown and cooked through. You’ll have to work in batches so you don’t crowd the pan. Remove the meatballs from the pan.

4. Remove any excess oil from the pan, then deglaze with the beef broth, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Simmer until reduced a bit, then add the cream and worchestershire. Simmer gently until slightly thickened, then season to taste.

5. Add your cooked meatballs to the sauce and heat through. Serve with egg noodles, potatoes, lignonberries, etc.