Saturday, August 28, 2010

Better than Expected

One of the hazards of conducting shopping exchanges in a language you aren't very good at is the probability of ending up with something you didn't want, usually in large quantities.  Which is how I ended up with 1.5 kilos of apricots (see the previous blog about cheeseblobsoup).  Well, this time I ended up with more pretzels than I needed.  I actually need a half a pretzel every time I go to the bakery because that's about all Charlotte eats.  So when I ended up with 4, I knew there was going to be something creative that needed to happen.

Luckily I"m going through my backlog of 378 old cooking magazines.  Ok, so its not actually that many, but it is in the 3 digits.  I know, I have a problem.  Add it to the list.......

Anyway, one of the articles had a "what to do with pretzels" theme, and there were some good sweet-savory combos.  Of course this was an American magazine so they meant the hard pretzels that you consume like chips while you watch football in a dark dive bar while hoping one of the med students down the bar is going to take her top off to get a free tee shirt......  But the same concepts apply to the large bakery pretzels here in Germany.

The result of the pretzel, magazine, inability-to-articulate-quantities combination was a very, very good pretzel bread pudding with caramel sauce.  It was like the best combination of bread pudding and salted caramel.  I was very surprised by how good it was.  I just bought another bag of pretzels to try it again to make sure it wasn't just the sekt talking that made it so good.

Caramel Pretzel Bread Pudding

2 day-old pretzels, torn into 1" pieces
1 egg
1/3C heavy cream
1/2C Sugar
1/2C Caramel Sauce

Grease a small baking dish and preheat the over to 350.  Mix egg, cream, and sugar in a bowl.  Toss pretzel pieces in mixture.  Put half into the baking dish.  Pour half the caramel sauce on top.  Layer the other half of the pretzel mixture on top.  Bake for roughly 20min (mostly done, but not completely).  Take the dish out and top with the remaining caramel sauce.  Continue baking until dark brown and bubbly on top.  Serve hot.  Top with more caramel sauce if you need extra calories, or more sweetness.

Caramel Sauce recipe to follow shortly, need a shower and Charlotte is finally asleep for a nap.  Don't let me forget to add it.  I have a bad habit of saying I'll add something and then forgetting......

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Peppers and blood

I'm not sure when, with what inspiration stick I had been beaten senseless, but at some point I bought dried chili peppers.  Not sure what I thought I was going to do with them, but this morning I had too much coffee to nap, so when Angela came to take Charlotte out for a little bit I decided to "do something" with the peppers.  Since all the cookbooks say to be careful what you touch when you are working with them.  So, I proceeded to very carefully rehydrate them, remove stems, remove seeds, and puree them as the directions indicated.  Only to find they were barely spicy at all.  Which is just fine for me.  But I had hoped to make a sweet-spicy marinade and usually marinades can be a little over spicy because the spice cooks off a little when the meat cooks.  Through a lot of add and re-adding and tasting I managed to get a marinade I was pretty pleased with.

While the result was worth the effort, and turned out pretty darn good, I made a few rookie mistakes along the way.  The first being my attire.  I was wearing a brand new white shirt while I was blending hot, blood red chilis.......  And of course you all know what happened to my shirt.  No, I was not attacked by vampires, I was a victim of my own hubris.  Thinking I was being so careful that I didn't need an apron.  Well, some mistakes you have to make more than once.

Sweet-Hot Marinade, watch the white shirt
1/2 C Ancho Chili Paste (see below)
1/2 C Guadillo Chili Paste (see below)
1/2 Can Tomato Paste
3T Cider Vinegar
3T Honey
2T Worchestershire Sauce
2t Crushed Garlic
2t Chipotle Powder

Combine over low heat, stirring until blended and smooth.

Oh, and I also cut my hand, for the second time in a week, on the tomato paste can.   Seriously?  What's with the repeat mistakes?

Chili Paste (either chili type)
4C Boiling Water
Dried Chilis (1 package)
1t Garlic
1T Fresh Cilantro

Pour boiling water over chilis and cover.  Let sit for 30min until rehydrated.  Remove stems and seeds.  Reserve liquid.  Put chilis, garlic, cilantro, and about 1/2C reserved liquid in blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add additional liquid about 1/4C at a time until desired consistency.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

3 Wins, 1 Tie, and a Cheeseblobsoup

I keep whining about wanting to cook more, and I realized I've actually done a fair bit lately.  Although not all of it was really intended as cooking, it was more preparation for Class 1 Upload, and my infantry friend used to say.  However I did make a few things definitely worth keeping, with a few ideas of how to gussy them up a little.  Then there was the mediocre coffee cake, which was passable and enough to get my colleagues to see I tried but not really my best work.  And finally was the complete disaster of a cake.  I'll save that one for last, it merits some rumination on where my extensive thermodynamics and fluid dynamics education went while I was thinking through this concept.

Starting with the Out of the Park hit:  Goat cheese stuffed portobellos
4 Large Portobello Caps, cleaned with stems removed
4 oz Goat Cheese
3 oz Cream Cheese
1T Pesto
4 Slices Emmantaller Cheese (or swiss of that's easier)
8t White Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Turn on broiler.  Drizzle olive oil on cooking sheet and rub to coat.  Put mushroom caps top down on baking sheet.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil across each.  Grind salt and pepper onto each cap.  Drizzle 2t balsamic vinegar in each cap.  Mix goat cheese, cream cheese, and pesto in a bowl.  Divide cheese mixture between all 4 mushroom caps.  Lay a piece of cheese across each mushroom.  Broil until cheese is starting to brown and crisp, about 5 min.  Serve immediately.

I like things a little sour.  Sourdough bread, sour cream, and buttermilk top my list.  I came across the recipe for Cucumber Buttermilk Soup from a Martha Stewart magazine (link not online yet, will add when it becomes available).  I followed the recipe almost exactly, so I won't bother to reprint.  It was great.  I left it warm and added some additional potato flakes to make it more of a puree for Charlotte to eat.  But she liked it as a soup, its just hard to feed soup to a 15month old who hasn't figured out the correct orientation of a spoon and yet wants to do everything herself.  The cucumber and potato base was great warm and cold.  And the buttermilk was exactly my style.

This evening I made Corn and Onion Cakes.  They were supposed to be more like fritters, or something, but the first batch soaked up too much oil and were a strange consistency so I added flour and made them more like pancakes, which turned out great.  So to the Corn Cakes recipe I just added about 1/2 C flour.  And instead of goat cheese I used cheddar and I omitted the bacon part.  Charlotte was a fan, so I feel this was a success.  Again, it was a little sour, but I like things sour.  Others may not, but hey, its my blog so deal with the sour.  At least I'm not bitter today.....

The tie was the Apricot Coffee Cake that I made following the recipe from Epicurious.  I think had I served it warm out of the oven it might have been good.  But having to keep it in the fridge overnight and then take it to work in the morning turned it a little hard.  I know, I should have just baked it at work or something like that, but frankly I'm not that committed.  I guess it will show on my performance evaluation, but perhaps that day I'll bake brownies or just bring in whiskey.

And finally, the moment you have all been waiting for, the moment I reveal my latest departure from the reality of baking, where I attempt to throw off the chains of physics and chemical laws only to have them come back to flog me with my own failure.  I had left over apricots, so I wanted to make something with them.  I had no flour in the house, and still don't, but that's punishment for this flagrant disrespect for baking rules.  Anyway, my logic went thus "no flour but plenty of cream cheese, I could make a cheesecake."  So, away I went, pitting and preparing fresh apricots.  Then melting butter and sugar in the bottom of a baking dish to make a caramel sauce such as the one I used for the upside down pineapple cake.  Then I layers the apricots in the dish on top of the caramel.  Next I whipped up a traditional cheesecake batter and poured it on top.  Those of you who bake regularly are cringing in disbelief.  Those who don't are thinking "there's something wrong with this picture, but I can't put my finger on it."  Well, cheesecake has a particular liquid to fat ratio that makes it the way it is, and apricots, especially fresh ones, have lots of liquid.  And since the apricots are under the cheesecake mixture there was no opportunity for the liquid to escape.  Resulting in a very big, bubbling, hot, useless, exploding-and-coating-the-oven mess.  Why I thought that juicy fresh fruit on the bottom of a cheesecake was going to work, I have no idea, but I think my fluid dynamics teacher should retroactively fail me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Not your doctor

The second dinner in France was on the last night before leaving, so I had to use what was in the fridge.  Kind of the vacationer's version of Iron Chef.  The biggest challenge was the 1 kilo of butter that was left.  That, and the pineapple.  So, the menu was as follows:

Cheese souffle
Rosemary potatoes
World's Least Healthy stir fry
Pineapple upside down cake

I prefaced the meal with making sure people knew "I am not your doctor, I am your cook."  It was a pretty heavy, decadent meal.  But hey, if you want healthy, ask your doctor.  And don't buy butter in kilo sizes.

There was also an attempt at a hollandaise sauce to go with the potatoes, but it turned out badly so we didn't eat it.  The rosemary potatoes were simply sliced potatoes, butter, salt, and fresh rosemary ripped from the bush outside.  Which I regret not ripping up and taking with us.  The potatoes were great.  My greatest accomplishment was the souffle from scratch, with no beaters, stand mixer, or any other machine to help.  It didn't puff the way I wanted it to, but I also had to bake it in a too-large metal bowl as opposed to a souffle dish.  Taste was pretty good though.  World's Least Healthy stir fry had good veggies, but I wasn't a fan of how the meats turned out.  But then again, I'm not a big sausage or bacon fan to begin with.  The cake had the typical problem of not being cooked all the way through, but since it was huge and there were only 8 of us, we all got plenty of cooked portions.

Cheese Souffle

  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat to 400F.Butter large soufflé dish (I don't recommend metal pans, it reduced the puff). Add Parmesan cheese and tilt dish, coating bottom and sides. Warm milk in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming.  Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until mixture begins to foam and loses raw taste, about 3 minutes (do not allow mixture to brown). Remove saucepan from heat; let stand 1 minute. Pour in warm milk, whisking until smooth. Return to heat and cook, whisking constantly until very thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in paprika, salt, and nutmeg. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, whisking to blend after each addition. Scrape soufflé base into large bowl. Cool to lukewarm. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
Beat egg whites in another large bowl until stiff but not dry (a stand mixer or electric hand mixer make this much easier, although it can be done with a whisk, it just takes longer). Fold 1/4 of whites into room temperature soufflé base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions while gradually sprinkling in Gruyère cheese. Transfer batter to prepared dish.  Place dish in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 375F. Bake until soufflé is puffed and golden brown on top and center moves only slightly when dish is shaken gently, about 25 minutes (do not open oven door during first 20 minutes). Serve immediately.

World's Least Healthy stir fry

2 packages Bacon
1 package sausage
1 large onion, sliced
2 large bell peppers, sliced
3 tablespoons butter

Boil sausages until cooked through.  Cook bacon in skill until crispy and fat is rendered.  Remove bacon slices and place on paper towel.  Add sausage to the pan, turning to crisp outside.  Add onions and butter to pan, stirring occasionally until almost tender.  Add bell pepper to pan, stirring occasionally until almost tender.  Add bacon back to pan, tossing to ensure mixture is warmed all the way through.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

For topping:
  • 1 small pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced in 1/4in rounds
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For batter:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (pineapple might be better)

Preheat oven to 350°F. 
Make topping:
Melt butter in skillet or pan being used for baking the cake. Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Arrange pineapple on top of sugar mixture in overlapping pieces slightly.
Make batter:
Sift together flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (or by hand if you don't have an electric mixer, just make sure it gets light), then gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Beat in juice, then add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. (Batter may appear slightly curdled.)
Spoon batter over pineapple topping and spread evenly. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake stand in skillet 5 minutes. Invert a plate over skillet and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together). Replace any pineapple stuck to bottom of skillet.