17 December 2015

Red Velvet Cake

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The cake that made me famous.  Wait a minute!  I'm not famous, but this is the cake that boosted my baking credibility among my co-workers and my overall confidence in the kitchen. 

I first made this cake in June of 2003.  I remember the date because I made it for Angela's birthday, and Valerie and I were living in an apartment at the time.  This is probably the first cake I made in that apartment, and most likely one of the only ones since we just spent a year there.  Ang wanted a red velvet cake and I found this recipe.  I didn't have 3 9 inch round cake pans, so I baked it in a 9x13 pan.  I had never made red velvet cake before, so I didn't know what to expect.  The cake was very good, even in a 9x13 pan, so I kept the recipe.

A few years passed, Valerie and I moved to a house on Main Street, and my office was throwing a party for a fellow co-worker.  I don't remember what the specific occasion was, but I offered to bring a dessert.  Since it was around Valentine's Day, I decided to make the red velvet cake.  My kitchen equipment stash had increased by this point and I was able to make the cake in 3 9 inch round cake pans.  It's was a bit intimidating for me to walk into my office holding a cake taker with a three tiered cake inside of it, but I walked into the break room, set it on the table and headed to my desk.

A few hours later, people started coming up to me to tell me how much they liked the cake.  Several people mentioned how they didn't normally like red velvet cake, but this cake was the best they ever had.  High praise for a humble cake, but if it passed with the work crowd, I knew I had a winner.

Over the years, I have made this cake for other office parties (some not even for my own office), birthdays (some that I wasn't even there for), and even holiday open houses.  The cake is always met with rave reviews.

Since I normally make this cake for someone else or take it to an event, I didn't really ever have the opportunity to take a picture of it for latent chestnut.  I normally ice the whole cake and put crushed pecans on the side, so a picture of a whole iced cake wouldn't really do justice to the beautiful red cake on the inside.  Though, I did manage to snap a picture of one before I iced the sides.

For the holiday open house at Ole Rusty Nail, I was given the freedom to make whatever I wanted.  I thought red velvet cake would be a perfect visual for the Christmas atmosphere.  Since I didn't want to make a three tiered cake for the event, I decided to make mini-muffins with the batter.  I didn't know what to expect since I had never done it before, but the results were absolutely delicious and were just was I was going for, visually.  So, I topped some with sprinkles and some with a pecan, and I finally had my photo opportunity with this cake!

So enough about how much people like the cake, is it easy to make?  The answer is, yes!  The batter really comes together very easily.  I normally have most of the ingredients on hand, except for the 1 ounce of red food coloring, which is a lot.  I also can't stress enough how important it is to chill the cream cheese frosting before icing the cake.  It is somewhat loose when it's done mixing, so it would just ooze out of the layers when icing the cake if it's not chilled.  Unfortunately, I know this from experience.  It might be a good idea to make the icing before making the cake, so it can be chilled when the cakes are cool.

This cake really is delicious.  It does have a unique flavor, that I really can't describe.  It is light, moist, and the buttermilk and vinegar add a nice subtle tang.  There is also just enough cocoa to get a hint of chocolate, without it overwhelming the other flavors.  Overall, the cake isn't too sweet and the cream cheese frosting is a smooth and rich compliment to lightness of the cake.  The garnish of the pecans take it over the top with a nice nutty crunch.  The only left to say is, make this cake!

Red Velvet Cake

For the cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk (room temperature)
2 large eggs, (room temperature)
2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Crushed pecans, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour 3 9 by 1 1/2-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed. Pour the cake batter evenly into the prepared cake pans.

Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart on two oven racks. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake begins to pull away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean; rotate the pans after 15 minutes of baking. 

Remove the cakes from the oven and place on a cooling rack. When cool enough to handle, remove the cakes from the pans and place on a cooling rack to cool completely.

Frost the cake. Place 1 layer in the middle of a cake stand. Using an offset spatula, spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. Frosting layer should be 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. Set another layer on top, and repeat. Top with the final layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top or sides with the pecans.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until well incorporated with no lumps.  Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Once smooth, add the vanilla, increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Important: Place in the refrigerator until somewhat firm before using.

01 December 2015


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Cookies.  Cookies aren't always just cookies.  Sometimes they are time machines.  These spritz cookies have been a Christmas family tradition ever since I can remember.  They are also one of my favorites.  The first bite of spritz I take every Christmas season takes me back to my childhood; my tiny hand full of Christmas tree cookies, sitting down to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  It really does.  Every time.
Maybe the nostalgia is why it's one of my favorites, but I don't think so.  These cookies are light, buttery, simply sweet with a hint of almost extract.  Oh, the almond extract!  I love it.  Plus, I get to put sprinkles on them, and who can resist sprinkles?
I started making these cookies myself probably when I was about sixteen. Some of my first pictures with Valerie are of us making these cookies.  I used a cookie press with a twist top to extract the cookies. A couple years later I got a cookie press with a trigger mechanism that uniformly extracted the cookies with a single click. My cookie production increased dramatically with that tool in my arsenal. 
Over the years, we have branched out and started making spritz cookies for other seasons and holidays.  This year, we made them for Easter, and the results were very pretty.
It's nice because a single batch makes so many cookies.  What I have started to do is make a batch of dough and then split it up between the kids to let them pick which color to make them and which shape of the cookie press to use for their cookies.  Ahh, even more memories made with spritz.  More destinations for our sweet, buttery little time machine.
1 1/2 cups butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
5 or 6 drops of food coloring
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Beat butter and sugar until combined. Add sugar and baking powder. Beat in egg, almond extract, vanilla extract.  Add the flour and food coloring and mix until thoroughly integrated.
Place the dough into a cookie press and extract cookies into an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 8 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

19 November 2015

Peanut Butter Blossoms

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If peanut butter and chocolate got married, this would be their baby.  That's weird.....and probably wrong.  A chocolate peanut butter cup would probably be a better baby analogy.  Then again, you can't see the peanut butter until you take a bite of the chocolate peanut butter cup, so maybe the peanut butter blossom would make a better baby.  Does it really matter?  No.  What does matter is that these cookies are soooooo goooooooooood!!!!!
I know we've all probably seen these before, especially around Christmas, so I know I'm not breaking new ground in any way whatsoever.  Not that I ever really do.  But these cookies are a cinch to make and once batch makes a lot of cookies, so they are really good for a crowd.  I have also frozen the dough after I shape it into balls so I can make as little or as many as I would like at one time.

Peanut Butter Blossoms
48 Milk Chocolate Hershey's Kisses (wrappers removed)
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup additional granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the shortening and peanut butter until well blended. Add 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and brown sugar, and continue to beat until fluffy.  Then, add the egg, milk and vanilla and mix to combine.
Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Gradually add it to peanut butter mixture, while continuing to stir until thoroughly combined.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar.  Place the dough balls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Once the cookies are out of the oven, immediately press a chocolate kiss into center of each cookie.  The cookie will crack around edges. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.

05 November 2015

Candy Bar Brownies

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Anymore, it seems like the marketing corporations of the world want to find ways to make people buy candy for your kids.  Sure, Halloween was always the huge candy free-for-all that left you with a heaping bag of sugar and chocolate.  But then, Christmas is just around the corner, with stockings stuffed full of sugar and chocolate.  And isn't Valentine's Day just for your sweetheart?  Not anymore!  Get those kids some cardboard hearts stuffed with more sugar and chocolate!  Of course, then we have Easter, with baskets overflowing with sugar and chocolate bunnies.  We get some relief in the summer, but how long will it be before we have Independence Day fireworks exploding with sugar and chocolate for the masses?

We never seem to recover from Halloween, as soon as we put a small dent in the candy stockpile, Christmas strikes, and we just add fuel to the fire.  The process continues over and over as each candy holiday barrels through.  We have taken to just buying our kids a few fun specialty candy trinkets because we know they'll get more than enough from the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and school friends.

I know this may sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not.  I am so grateful that I have family and friends around to shower my kids with love and candy, I really am.  I honestly don't want to see it end.  So when life throws you buckets of candy, make candy bar brownies!!  Better yet, make candy bar brownies and take them to a party, so other people can help eat your stash.

I ran into this situation a couple years ago when we were invited to a friends house and I offered to make dessert.  I looked at my mammoth Tupperware thatsa mega bowl filled to the brim with candy and thought maybe I should just take some fun sized candy treats to share.  That's not really my style, so I tried to think of a vessel to use to pawn my candy off on my unsuspecting friends, and then it hit me....BROWNIES!

I killed two birds with one stone with these deliciously rich chocolaty treats, and I have made them the past couple years from out Halloween hoard.  The recipe calls for just chocolate-coated caramel-peanut nougat bars, aka Snickers, and plain old milk chocolate bars, but I have been known to throw in some M&M's, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, Mr. Goodbar, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Baby Ruth.  I think it's fun to add variety because then you can guess which bars are in the brownie piece you eat.  I stay away from Twix and Kit-Kats because those don't really translate well to being crushed and baked.  I would also suggest not using Skittles.

These brownies are a lot of fun.  They are a kind of whimsical way to enjoy Halloween candy, and they are so much fun to share with friends.  Just make sure you have a glass of milk nearby. 

Candy Bar Brownies

4 large eggs, lightly beaten 
2 cups sugar 
3/4 cup butter, melted 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1/3 cup cocoa
8.5 ounces chocolate-coated caramel-peanut nougat bars, chopped
4.4 ounces milk chocolate bars, chopped

Add the eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt into the egg mixture and stir until just combined. Then, fold in the chopped nougat bars and chopped milk chocolate bars.

Spoon mixture into a greased and floured 13 x 9inch baking dish.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

26 October 2015

Snickerdoodle Pie

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Snickerdoodles.  I have posted about them here on latent chestnut and on Family Tree-Eats.  They are one of my favorite cookies, and Emilie's personal favorite.  The other day, Em and I were making fresh pasta, and she kept talking about wanting to make a pie with the pasta dough.  I told her that the dough was completely different and that we would make a pie another time.  Though, I must say that the rolled pasta sheets do look similar to pie crust.

She wouldn't let it go and kept talking about making a pie.  I kept telling her we would do it another day.  Out of the blue, she said, "Can we make a snickerdoodle pie?"  That question perked my ears up in a hurry.  I had never heard of a snickerdoodle pie, and this sounded like to perfect time to dream one up.  We had a few errands to run, so she sat in the backseat with a pen and paper and I started listing off some ingredients for her to write down.  Before we knew it, we had the makings of a snickerdoodle pie.

As soon as we got home, we made a pie crust and put it in the refrigerator to cool before rolling it out.  Then we got to work on making the filling. I must have channeled my grandma's buttermilk pie recipe when Emilie and I were thinking of ingredients, because these pies are very similar.  Perhaps because I thought buttermilk would be the perfect component to a snickerdoodle inspired pie, because of it's tang.  But what gives snickerdoodles that bit of tang, I wondered?

When I think of snickerdoodles, I think of a cookie that is soft and chewy on the inside, delightfully crispy on the edges.  I think of the warm spiciness of the cinnamon and the use of cream of tartar in the recipe.  Dare I add cream of tartar to the pie?  What does it even do?  Does it even have it's own flavor?  I needed answers!

I went straight to the source and popped open my jar of cream of tartar and tasted it all by itself.  It was quite tangy and acidic.  Which makes sense because my snickerdoodles have a bit of tang that is balanced out by the sugar and cinnamon.  Cream of tartar also acts as a stabilizer, so I thought that it couldn't hurt to add some to our new pie creation.  I think it is just as much a part of snickerdoodles as the cinnamon and sugar coating.

The pie filling came together like nothing, especially since Emilie did it all by herself while I was rolling out the pie crust.  I just gave it a final whisking at the end to make sure all the ingredients were thoroughly integrated.  To replicate the cinnamon sugar coating on the traditional cookie, we mixed some cinnamon and sugar together and rubbed it in to the empty pie shell.  Then, with about 20 left in the cooking process, we dusted the top of the pie with more cinnamon and sugar.

The pie had the look of a snickerdoodle, but it was now time for the moment of truth...tasting and judgment!  Upon removing the first slice of pie, I breathed a sigh of relief because the filling had set up beautifully.  It was nice and creamy, and just looked delicious.  After taking the first bite, my eyes lit up and I knew we had something special.

This pie is creamy, tangy, sweet and cinnamon-ny.  The pie crust and the cinnamon and sugar topping add a nice texture, that is ever so reminiscent of a snickerdoodle.  The tang from the buttermilk and cream of tartar are balanced by the sugar to create a truly unique pie.  This one is a keeper!

Just out of curiosity, I did an internet search for snickerdoodle pie and found the options very limited. So, not only is this pie incredibly satisfying and delicious, I think it is pretty unique, too.  To think, it probably wouldn't have happened if Emilie didn't want to make a pie with pasta dough...

Snickerdoodle Pie
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 stick melted butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup buttermilk

1 9 inch pie crust (preferably homemade)

1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1 1/4 cups of sugar, melted butter, flour, cream of tartar, and buttermilk until thoroughly combined.

In a small bowl or cup, mix together the cinnamon and 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Take half of the cinnamon sugar mixture and rub onto the top of the empty pie crust.  Then, pour the filling into the pie crust and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.   Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. 

Then, pull out the oven rack or take the pie out of the oven and top with the remaining cinnamon and sugar mixture.  Return the pie to the 300 degree oven and continue to bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the filling barely jiggles when moved. Cool completely before serving.

22 October 2015

Chai Latte Bars

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Cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  Comforting, warm spices that find perfect harmony in this delightful recipe that is perfect for autumn. 

This is another recipe that does not call for any leavening agent, so the bars are dense and packed with flavor.  The oats add just the right amount of texture and the white chocolate adds just the right amount of sweetness to balance the spice of the bars. 

Speaking of the white chocolate.  Please buy the real stuff in bar form.  Do not buy white morsels.  First of all, the Premier White Morsels do not say chocolate anywhere on them.  Secondly, they do not melt, or at least they do not melt for me.  I have even tried heating them over a water bath, in the microwave, you name it, and the morsels just end up a congealed mess.  I don't understand it. 

I do know that the actual white chocolate it bar form, melts like a dream, and spreads so nicely over the warm bars.  So, the extra expense is worth it for such drastic results.

Chai Latte Bars
Recipe inspired by Food Network Kitchens

2 sticks room temperature unsalted butter
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
3 tablespoons malted milk powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
9 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, malted milk powder, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.  Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. To the butter and sugar mixture, add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Reduce the mixer to low and beat in the flour mixture until just incorporated.

Place the batter in the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the top with the white chocolate, then return the pan to the oven until the chocolate softens, about 45 seconds.  Remove from the oven again and spread the chocolate into a smooth layer with a spatula.

Transfer to a rack and let cool completely, then cut into squares.

07 October 2015

Pumpkin Puree

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Simplicity.  Food doesn't have to be complicated.  This application can be done with two ingredients, pumpkins and salt.  The result will leave you never wanting to reach for a can again.

I always get a little rush of excitement when I see the pie pumpkins hit the store shelves.  I have been making my own pumpkin puree for several years now, and let me tell you, it will elevate your pumpkin pies and pumpkins breads to levels you could only imagine with the canned stuff.  I even added some pumpkin puree to my last batch of beef and noodles, and I couldn't believe how good it was, but that's another post.

The flavor added to the pumpkin from the roasting and salt, make it delicious enough to eat by the spoonful.  So, when you start with a product that tastes so good on it's own, you can't go wrong when making your favorite pumpkin recipe.

Pumpkin Puree
Recipe inspired by Alton Brown

1 (4 to 6-pound) baking pumpkin, rinsed and dried
Kosher salt


Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove the stem from the pumpkin and split the pumpkin in half from top to bottom, using a large knife.  Scoop out the seeds and fiber. Sprinkle the inside pumpkin flesh with kosher salt and lay the halves, flesh side down, on a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

Roast the pumpkin until a paring knife can be easily inserted and removed from the flush, about 30 to 45 minutes. Test in several places to ensure doneness. Remove the half sheet pan from the oven to a cooling rack and cool for 1 hour.

Remove the roasted pumpkin flesh from the skin and place in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the flesh is smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.

17 September 2015

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

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My great-grandmother made pineapple upside-down cake all the time when I was a kid, and I absolutely loved it. I loved it so much, it is one of the first recipes I tried when I was first learning how to bake. It was not an easy one to start out with, though. I remember countless times flipping the cake only to find that some of the cake stuck to the pan, or the brown sugar/butter mixture didn't absorb into the cake and ran all over the counter top. I still ate it, and I'm sure I gained a few pounds in the process.

Thinking back on it now, I'm not sure my great-grandmother turned the whole cake upside-down before serving it. I remember the cake staying in the pan, with her flipping the individual pieces over as they were served. I was always anxious to see how much pineapple I got, or if I was lucky to get a cherry. I did a write-up on my great-grandmother's recipe over on Family Tree-Eats if you'd like to check it out, but this is the Alton Brown version I went to after failing on hers so many times.

The recipes are pretty similar, except this one uses cornmeal and is baked in a cast iron skillet.  Baking a cake in a cast iron skillet!?  That's what I'm talking about! The finished product is perfectly crispy around the edges and moist and fluffy on the inside.  The cake is sweet, but the pineapple helps cut the sweetness considerably.  The original calls for nuts, but I omitted them because my great-grandmother never used nuts in hers.  The cake is very rich, so a little bit goes a long way, but it is absolutely delicious!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Printable Recipe

3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
4 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1 cup
6 slices canned pineapple in heavy syrup
6 maraschino cherries
3 tablespoons juice from canned pineapple
3 whole eggs
4 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 1 cup
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 3/4 ounces sugar, approximately 3/4 cup
1/2 cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil, turn off the heat, and immediately add the cornmeal. Stir and let stand for 30 minutes. 

Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar to the butter and stir until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat.  Place one slice of pineapple in the center of the pan and arrange the other 5 slices around it. Put the cherries in the centers of the pineapple.  Pour pineapple juice over top.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine. In another mixing bowl, add the sugar to the eggs and whisk to combine; then add the canola oil and whisk. Add the cornmeal and milk mixture to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Add the wet mixture to the flour and gently stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the skillet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. After removing it from oven, let the cake cool for 30 minutes before inverting. Set a plate on top of the skillet and carefully flip the cake.

Slice and devour. 

03 September 2015

Alton Brown's Homemade Soft Pretzels

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There is nothing like a warm soft pretzel.  There is also no time I realize this more than when I get one at a sporting event that's rock hard and dry.  They always look good, golden brown and salty, slowly rotating in a glass walled metal box.  But, the execution is sorely lacking, at least at the venue's I've been to.  Definitely not good eats. 
Thankfully, Alton Brown and Good Eats is here to save the day.  Sure, it's not very practical to make and take these to the stadium, but you could save that pretzel craving for when you get home and get a hot dog or nachos at the game.  Don't get me wrong, ballpark food has come a long way, maybe they'll work on a better pretzel next, but for now, we have our ovens at home!
These pretzels have it all.  Crispy and salty on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside.  They come together very quickly, too, much like a pizza dough, needing only one rising.  The most time consuming part, is rolling out each pretzel individually, but that's when the fun begins.
I don't know why, but I think there is something whimsical about making the pretzel shape out of ropes of dough.  Maybe because it's such a familiar shape that I've seen my whole life.  Watching each pretzel take shape, each one a little different, is just so much fun.
Then you get to boil them! In baking soda water, no less.  Why baking soda water?  Two reasons.  First, dropping each pretzel into boiling water for about one minute makes the interior of the pretzel quickly puff and begins the crust formation. If the pretzel isn't boiled, it wouldn't have the chewiness we all know and love from a soft pretzel.  Second, the baking soda is what gives the pretzels their brown and shiny crust and distinctive flavor.  The baking soda moves the water from neutral over to the alkaline or basic side of the scale. When this happens, the browning reactions that happen more rapidly. Without this step, the pretzel would lose out on the texture, flavor and appearance of the pretzel.  So it is very important.  Plus, if some of the baking soda water spill onto the cooktop, it cleans off any caked on grease rather nicely.
After boiling, brush the pretzel tops with some egg wash and top them to your hearts content.  Pictured above are pretzels with Hawaiian black lava salt and fleur de sel.  You could also top with regular pretzel salt, jalapeno and cheddar, or go sweet with cinnamon and sugar.  The possibilities are endless.
There you have it.  Homemade soft pretzels.  Worth it?  Yes!!
Alton Brown's Homemade Soft Pretzels

1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

Stir together the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let the yeast sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture starts to foam.

Using the dough hook attachment and the mixture on low speed. add the flour and butter; mix until well combined. Increase the mixer to medium speed and knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, then coat the bowl with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Bring water and the baking soda to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

Then, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Gently drop the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds each. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

20 August 2015

Alton Brown's Baked Meatballs

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If I want meat in my pasta sauce, I usually just go for the ground beef.  It's so easy to just plop a hunk of ground beef in a pan and start browning it and breaking it up.  Add a few seasonings and some marinara and, BAM!, dinner is ready in 30 minutes.  Sometimes, though, it's fun to get fancy.  And when I think fancy, I think meatballs.
For a while it seemed that every time a new Good Eats episode aired, I rushed out and got whatever I needed to make the featured recipes at home.  I think it's because, at least it seems to me, those first few seasons focused on the basics, and the classic no frills way to make a lot of dishes we all know and love.  I learned to make a lot of things that I still make to this day, these baked meatballs being one of them.
The recipe is very straight-forward.  I adapted it a little, though.  The original calls for ground lamb, and I do love lamb.  It's just that it is so expensive here.  If I do get ground lamb, I usually end up making gyros, but that's another post.  I usually just go for beef and pork when making these meatballs and it turns out just fine.
As far as assembly goes, it's just a matter of putting all the ingredients together and mixing them up.  Simple.  Then, I get to use my digital scale.  The 1.5 ounce portions make for just the right size meatballs that fit perfectly in mini muffin cups; thus, allowing the meatballs to retail the shape of a ball.  Brilliant!
They taste amazing, too.  The meatballs have a firm, but not tough texture.  I also like that fact that I can use dried herbs, too, as they give the meatballs the right amount of Italian flavor.  The spinach is also a nice tough for cleverly hiding a vegetable for the picky eaters in your group.  And juicy, these meatballs are delightfully juicy.
Pile them on top of a nest of noodles or even use them for meatball subs, these meatballs are sure to please.

Baked Meatballs

1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
5 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained thoroughly
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 whole egg
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs, divided

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine the pork, beef, spinach, cheese, egg, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs in a mixing bowl. Gently mix all of the ingredients until they are well incorporated.

Place the remaining 1/2 cup of bread crumbs in a smaller bowl. Using a scale, weigh meatball mixture into 1.5-ounce portions, and shape into rounds, roll the meatballs in the bread crumbs, and place in a miniature muffin cup.

Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown and delicious.

06 August 2015

Chocolate Covered Marshmallows

2 remarks
Sometimes simple is better.  Sometimes simple is the best. 
Queue the simply stated chocolate covered marshmallow sprinkled with fleur de sel.
It's hard to beat a s'more, but this gives it a run for it's money.  There's not much more I can say about this, so I'll stick with the simple theme. 
Make some marshmallows, then melt some chocolate with a touch of vegetable oil.  Put the chocolate in a squeeze bottle and drizzle over the marshmallows.  Finish with a light dusting of fleur de sel while the chocolate is still warm.  Wait for the chocolate to set and then devour with grace and dignity. 
Simply put, it's worth it. 

23 July 2015

Who Loves Ya Backyard Baby Back Ribs

0 remarks
When it comes to barbecue, I think of pulled pork, brisket and ribs.  The problem is, my favorite way to prepare ribs is not by barbecuing them, but by braising them.  I cheat a little at the end by using the grill to caramelize the glaze, just so I get the feeling that I did do some of the cooking outside.  No matter the method, these ribs will make you look like a real barbecue pit master.
I know, I know, another Alton Brown recipe.  What can I say, the man knows what he's doing.  I've got to the point where I don't follow some of his recipes to a T, and add my own little variations.  So I am making progress, especially with the non-baking applications.  One doesn't want to mess with the baking formulas.  Now that's science!
This recipe is kind of a combination of AB's Who Loves Ya Baby Back Ribs and Backyard Baby Back Ribs.  I like the use of the grill to finish the ribs for the Backyard Baby Back Ribs, but I feel the braising liquid for the Who Loves Ya Baby Back Ribs is far superior.  I also tweaked some of the spices used in the dry rub and replaced white wine with beer in the braising liquid.
So, does combining two AB recipes make it my own?  I doubt it, but it doesn't really matter, these ribs are finger-licking delicious!
Who Loves Ya Backyard Baby Back Ribs
Recipe inspired by Alton Brown

2 whole slabs pork baby back ribs

Dry Rub:
8 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Braising Liquid:
1 cup beer
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic, chopped

Combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Place each slab of ribs on a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, with the shiny side down (the foil should be 4 inches longer than the ribs on either end). Sprinkle each side of the slabs generously with the dry rub and pat into the meat. Close the foil around the ribs, almost making a pouch and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Combine all ingredients for the braising liquid in a glass bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute. Place the ribs on a baking sheet and open one end of the foil for each slab and pour half of the braising liquid into the foil pouch. Slowly tilt the baking sheet to equally distribute the braising liquid. Place the ribs in the oven and braise for 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer the braising liquid into a medium saucepot and bring to a simmer.  When the liquid is reduced by half or when it has a thick syrup consistency brush some onto the ribs.

Set a gas grill to medium-high. Cut each slab in half and place them on the grill, flesh side down, close the lid and decrease the heat to medium.  Cook the ribs on each side until the glaze is caramelized.  Remove the ribs from the grill to a cutting board and slice each slab into 2 rib bone portions. Add the ribs and the remaining glaze to a large serving bowl and toss to thoroughly coat.  Serve and devour.

09 July 2015

Alton Brown's Fudge Cake

0 remarks
Okay, so I am just copying this post over from one of my other blogs, Family Tree-Eats.  I feel it is too good not to share here on latent chestnut.  So, I apologize if you've read this before, but if you haven't, make this cake!!
This is the best chocolate cake I have ever made, and it is my 'go to' chocolate cake recipe.  It comes from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food, and I think it is one of the first recipes I tried from the book.  I don't even need to look up the page number for the recipe anymore because the book is so worn in that section, I can find it just by shuffling through the pages.
The steps to make this cake and frosting are a bit unconventional (pulverizing chocolate, mixing the frosting over a bowl of ice), but the end result is well worth it.  The cake is, for lack of a better word, meaty, but not too dense or rich.  The chocolate is the star of the show and there are bits of chocolate speckled throughout that didn't get pulverized as much.  It is not too sweet, and leaves you begging for more.
The frosting is light, airy, and full of flavor.  I like to add a pinch of fine sea salt to the mix because I think it really compliments the chocolate.  The frosting is almost the consistency of dense whipped cream only with an intense chocolate flavor, and just melts in your mouth.  I'm not usually a fan of frosting, but this one is just as good as the cake.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go bake a cake...

Alton Brown's Fudge Cake
Printable recipe

3 oz unsweetened chocolate
10.75 oz (2 1/4 cups) plain flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 oz (1 stick) butter
13.5 oz (2 1/4 cups) brown sugar
8 oz (1 cup) full fat sour cream
8 oz (1 cup) boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 13 x 9 cake pan.

Pulverize chocolate in a food processor until fine, then add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and pulse to combine.  Combine the eggs and vanilla and lightly beat to combine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar.  Then add the egg and vanilla mixture.  Alternate adding three doses of the chocolate flour mixture and two doses of the sour cream.  Slowly add the boiling water and mix to combine, the batter will be loose.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Internal temperature should reach 175-180F. Cool for 15 minutes, then remove to rack and allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate Frosting
6.5 oz (1 cup) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
4 oz (1/2 cup) whipping cream
8 oz (2 sticks) butter
10 oz (2 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
Bowl of ice

Melt butter, chocolate and cream in a saucepan (preferably with curved edges) over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and neat in the powdered sugar with a hand mixer.  Once the sugar is dissolved, place the pan into a bowl of ice.  Continue to beat until the frosting lightens and holds its shape.

25 June 2015

Ginger Syrup for Homemade SodaStream Ginger Ale

0 remarks
Mmmm....Soda.  I used to drink Coke like it was going out of style and my waistband didn't appreciate it.  I dropped it cold turkey along with all other soft drinks for a while.  Nowadays, I allow myself to have a soda every now and then.  Nothing can be too bad in moderation, right?
I began to appreciate the specialty soda's.  Virgil's, Reed's, Jones Soda's, and the like.  I also enjoyed trying all the different soft drinks at Club Cool in Epcot when we went to Disney World.  That got me thinking; maybe I should start making my own soda.
Queue, the SodaStream.  I first experimented with a blueberry soda and it was delicious.  My sights then turned to a classic cola syrup.  I wanted one with real sugar, and no artificial flavors or colors.  Basically, I wanted to match Coke, but I failed miserably with the formulas I found and tried.  So, I put that idea on the back-burner for the forseable future. 
Then, I thought about Shire Water.  Shire Water is a mixed drink of Jameson Whiskey and ginger ale served at our local pub, Cook McDoogal's.  I could make my own ginger ale for Shire Water!  I set out in search of a ginger syrup recipe and found this little gem.

The syrup is just what I was looking for in a ginger ale, and it makes one heck of a good Shire Water.  The spices make all the difference.  There is a wonderful ginger flavor that isn't too overpowering, with just the right sweetness, and a wonderfully spicy finish.  Throw in a shot or two of Jameson, and you have yourself one darned good beverage. 
Ginger Syrup for Ginger Ale

2 cups water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
4 ounces peeled and sliced ginger
2 teaspoons cardamom pods
1 teaspoons whole allspice
1 teaspoons black peppercorns
3 star anise pods

In a medium saucepan, combine the water, sugar, brown sugar, and ginger. Toast the whole spices in a heavy-bottomed pan until they just begin to brown and become fragrant. Add them to the ginger mixture and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for about 15 minutes and then turn off the heat. Allow the mixture to steep until cool. Once cool, strain into a clean container and store in the refrigerator to chill. Add 2 Tbsp of syrup for every 12 ounces of soda water.

12 June 2015

Spiced Toast

0 remarks
To round out the Thai themed VBS snack menu, we are going to serve spiced toast and fresh fruit.  Similar to the sticky rice showcasing Thai sauces, plain old buttered white bread toast will be the vehicle to showcase some spices regularly used in Thailand.
The spices we will have available for the kids to try include:
It's hard to pass up cinnamon, but I may have to go with cardamom for this tasty treat.

11 June 2015

Sticky Rice

0 remarks
I felt like my Thai themed snack menu would only be complete if I included sticky rice.  I initially thought about taking the sweet route for the sticky rice snack, but ultimately decided that the rice would make a good vehicle to showcase some Thai sauces. 
This method worked perfectly on Ari the other night when I cooked up a pot of rice, dished it out with an ice cream scoop, and gave him some sauces to dip into.  We had soy sauce and a Thai sweet chili sauce at home, and I plan on also having a sweet and sour sauce option for VBS.  He loved it, ultimately choosing soy sauce over the sweet chili sauce.
I had never cooked sticky rice before and it definitely lives up to its name.  The grains of rice just cling together, but they are not at all mushy.  The rice ball stays together on its own and we were able to eat it with our hands, even after dipping in the sauce.  Delicious! 

10 June 2015

Flour Roll Cracker (Thong moun) with Spiced Pastry Cream

0 remarks
The third and final true recipe I found for my church's Cross-Culture Thai VBS came from a website called Thai Cuisine!. This is also the one that gave me the most fits. It seemed simple enough. Make a batter, pour it into a press, cook it until it's done, roll it up, fill it with cream, and devour. I was wrong. I was so wrong.
I asked my sister Angela if I could borrow her pizzelle maker to make these crackers, and she kindly entrusted it to me. I was all set, the batter was made, the iron was hot, and so I lubed the top and bottom plates, dished out my first couple portions and closed the lid. When the light turned green, I opened the iron to unveil the horror. The batter had completely fused to the top and bottom of the irons. I don't know how to describe it, but it wasn't pretty.
I looked over the recipe again to see if I missed an ingredient or seven, but everything looked good in that regard. I then thought maybe the grooves on the pizzelle irons were too deep, and that's why the batter just stuck to them. It occurred to me that the batter was thin like crepe batter, so I got out my crepe pan, heated it, added some butter and dished some batter on to the pan. Again, horror, except this time I watched it happen before my eyes. The batter just spread out and bubbled on the crepe pan leaving nothing but a sticky mess. It was definitely time for plan C.
As Valerie diligently chiseled away the remnants from the pizzelle iron, I decided to add more wheat flour to the batter. About 1 cup more. I thought if I thickened the batter it wouldn't spread out so much on the pizzelle iron and would be sturdier. After I mixed the flour into the batter, I did a test run on the crepe pan, and it worked like a charm. It set up like a little pancake, and it tasted very good.
I moved on to the pizzelle maker and the crackers came out beautifully. My main problem now was getting them to roll. Most of the crackers fell apart when I tried to roll them, so I ended up just leaving them flat. Since I am making 300 of them, I figured I should take the less frustrating route. It ended up not really being a "roll" cracker, but all the flavors are still there.
As far as the cream filling, it couldn't be easier. The original recipe didn't call for the ginger, cinnamon or cardamom, but I thought those would bring more of a Thai feel to the dish. The cream isn't very sweet, but the crackers make up for it as they back more of a sweet punch of flavor. Just make sure to add the cream just before serving as the crackers do tend to get a little soggy. The two of them put together really make for a delightfully sweet and spicy combination.
Flour Roll Cracker (Thong moun)

1 cup (125 grams) tapioca flour
1 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1 chicken egg
1 cup coconut cream

1.  In a mixing bowl, combine the flours, sugar, coconut sugar and salt.
2.  To the dry mixture, slowly whisk in the egg and coconut cream.  Continue to whisk until smooth and soft.
3.  Pre-heat the mold and pour the mixture into the mold.

Ingredients for Cream Filling
1 Egg
3 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
3.4 oz (100 ml) Water
3.4 oz (100 ml) Evaporated Milk
5 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Corn Flour

1.  Whisk the egg with the sugar, salt, and spices.
2.  In a medium saucepan, combine the water, evaporated milk, butter, and corn flour and heat to a simmer.
3.  Temper the egg mixture into the hot mixture.
4.  Cook over a low heat until the cream is mixed and thick, then leave to cool.

09 June 2015

Crunchy Coconut Balls (Kanom Pia)

0 remarks
My journey into the world of Thai snacks continued when I found this recipe.  Again from Appon's Thai Food, these crunchy coconut balls looked perfectly simple and delicious for our Thai themed VBS.

I have made these little beauties twice, and the second batch turned out much better than the first.  The big difference was my method of getting them on the baking sheet.  Instead of the pinch and roll method, I used a piping bag, and it resulted in a much crunchier uniform bite; and it was quicker, too.

The reason I chose to pipe these out is because this recipe technique reminds me a lot of making pâte à choux.  Though not exactly the same, the dough has a certain sticky quality that reminded me of making cream puffs.  The final baked product is much different, though.

The crunchy coconut balls are indeed crunchy, so I would suggest not making them any bigger than the recipe suggests.  In fact, you could even go smaller.  They are crunchy, coconut-ty, and a little sweet.  It is hard to eat just one.  These are not enough for a full snack on their own, but I will pair them with fruit or just have some around for the kids and volunteers to munch on.

Crunchy Coconut Balls (Kanom Pia)

3/4 cup Cassava Starch or Tapioca Flour (100 grams)
1 cup Coconut Milk (230 ml)
3/4 cup Sugar (150 grams)
2 Egg Yolks
1 Teaspoon Butter

1.  In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut milk and sugar on a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
2.  Turn the heat off and temper the eggs yolks into the mixture.
3.  Put the cassava starch into a dry frying pan and dry-fry for 20-30 seconds over a high heat. This will give the starch a slightly toasted flavor.
4.  Add the starch to the coconut mulk mixture and constantly stir over low heat until it forms a thick sticky dough, about 5 minutes.
5.  Grease a baking tray with parchment paper and a little butter.
6.  Use a piping bag or take off pieces of the dough and press them into 2cm diameter balls and place them on the tray.
7.  Bake at 170 degrees celsius (338 degrees faranheight) for 1 hour or until brown.

08 June 2015

Thai Sandwich Cake (Ka-Noom-Pan Sungkayha)

0 remarks
Vacation Bible School (VBS) has changed a lot since I was a kid.  I remember just hanging out in the church basement singing "This Little Light of Mine" and "I've Got the Joy".  We'd drink some Little Hug Fruit Barrels, eat some duplex cookies, watch our teachers act out a few Bible stories, and be on our merry way.
VBS of today is a little more complex, at least at my church.  This year, we are doing a Cross-Culture Thailand theme and I happily volunteered to be in charge of snacks.  It has been said that you have to taste a culture to understand it, and I wanted to bring that mentality to the snacks we would serve.  Having no prior experience with preparing Thai cuisine, and minimal experience even eating it, I knew I had a challenge in front of me. 
I took to the internet to do my research. I found that most Thai snacks and desserts are sweet and filling, as opposed to a light and airy Western style dessert. They generally are characterized by sweet syrups, coconut cream, tropical fruits, and sweet sticky rice.  There were so many exotic dishes to choose from, and I had to keep in mind that I needed to make approximately 300 servings, so simplicity was an important factor, as well.
The first snack I decided upon was a Thai Sandwich Cake I found on Appon's Thai Food.  This definitely fit the bill in terms of simplicity.  It is basically just a coconut pudding layered between pieces of bread.  Score!  I am also grateful that I have a digital scale and a measuring cup with milliliters displayed.  I wasn't thrilled with the notion of trying to figure out .71 cups of sugar.
Not only simple, the cake is delicious.  The pudding isn't too sweet and the coconut flavor is front and center.  I found a lot of people who say they don't like coconut, did in fact enjoy this dessert.  I think it's because there is no shredded coconut in the pudding, and sprinkling it on top is optional.  I think it's the texture of shredded coconut most people don't like, not necessarily the flavor.  I won a lot of people over to coconut with this one.
My first foray into the world of Thai cuisine was a success, and I owe it all to VBS.  There will be no duplex cookies for our Thai themed Vacation Bible School (much to some people's dismay), though I may keep the Little Hug Fruit Barrels around just for the sake of nostalgia.
Thai Sandwich Cake ( Ka-Noom-Pan Sungkayha)

Ingredients for 5 Cakes
1.1 cup (250 ml) Coconut Milk
.71 cup (150 gm) Sugar
.85 cup (200 ml) Evaporated Milk
3 Eggs
3 Tablespoons Wheat Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
2-3 Drops Green Food Color

10 Slices of Bread
Desiccated Coconut for Garnish

1. Combine all the ingredients, except for the bread and desiccated coconut in a medium saucepan and whisk to combine.
2. Heat the mixture on low for 15 minutes, stirring continuously, until it becomes thick and doesn't run if you swipe your finger across the back of your spoon.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to cool
4. Cut the crusts off the slices of bread and layer the bread and sauce alternately, with the top layer being the sauce.
5. Dust with dried coconut as desired.

28 May 2015

Grilled pizza

0 remarks
 I've done a few blog posts about pizza over the years here on latent chestnut.  In fact, one of my very first posts was about pizza.  Ah, memories.  I've posted about my deep dish pizza, brick oven pizza, and Nonna's pizza.  I even took to Family Tree-Eats to talk about pizza once or twice.
Needless to say, I like pizza, and even though I love the classics, I like to change it up a bit every now and then.  Hence, my foray into the world of grilled pizza.  I got the idea from Alton Brown when he did a Good Eats episode on grilled pizza.  He gives instructions on how to make the dough and what toppings to use, but since I already have a 'go to' pizza crust recipe, I was really just more interested in technique.
Here's how I did it, based on AB's cooking instructions.  First, ignite all heating elements and pre-heat your gas grill to high, making sure the grill grates are clean and free of debris. Then, oil the grill grates and decrease all heating elements to medium. Brush one side of the dough with 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil and flip onto the hot grill. I can do two crusts at a time on mine.  Close the grill lid and cook until the bottom of the crust is golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Brush the raw side of the dough with 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil, then flip using a peel. Top with your desired sauce and toppings, then sprinkle with cheese. Close the lid again and cook until the bottom of crust is golden brown and the cheese has melted, another 1 to 2 minutes. Using the peel, remove the pizza to a cooling rack and let it rest a couple minutes before slicing.

Things happen really fast when grilling pizza.  The crust can begin to burn very quickly, so I stage my sauce, toppings, and cheese at the grill prior to putting the dough on the grates.  The oil is really the key because you don't want the crust to stick to the grates; so make sure to brush the crust and grates with enough oil to fully coat each. 

Even though it's a frenetic pace, the results are well worth it.  The grill gives the dough a wonderful crunch and crispiness I have not experienced with any other cooking method, and you can almost taste the fire and smokiness from the grill.  The inside of the dough still has the soft chewiness that we all know and love, too, so there is that element of the pizza that's familiar. 

I've enjoyed experimenting with this new cooking technique for my pizza and I have tried some toppings I may not have reached for if I was just cooking it in the oven.  Not that pizza could ever be boring, but it is nice to shake things up a bit every now and then.

14 May 2015

Alton Brown's French Toast

0 remarks
French Toast. Egg bread. Gypsy toast. Payn purdyeu. Not matter how you say it, this is Valerie's favorite breakfast.  And her favorite dinner, for that matter.  I don't think we've ever have never had French toast for lunch, but it would probably be her favorite lunch, too.  Oh, and brunch.  Wait.  Does this mean French toast is her favorite food?  I would dare to say, YES!
Growing up, I was never a fan of French toast.  The middle was always soggy, and it just was very underwhelming.  Queue Alton Brown and the Toast Modern episode of Good Eats.  After learning AB's fail proof cooking method, never would I have to endure soggy French toast again. 
The biggest secret of this French toast is to finish cooking it in the oven.  Basically, the skillet cooking serves to get a nice lovely golden brown crunchy layer on the outside of the bread, while the oven allows the custard to finish cooking and set up nicely within the structure of the bread.  I also always buy my bread in a whole loaf, usually from Panera Bread, and slice it myself.  Country loaf is my bread of choice.
I don't know why, but I am a fan of cinnamon in my French toast.  I don' know if it's traditional or not, but I love the little spicy kick that cinnamon brings to the party in this dish.  Though, not in AB's original recipe, I have included it in mine below.  The best way I have found to incorporate the cinnamon in the custard mixture is by beating it in with the eggs right off the bat.  Otherwise, it just seems to float on top of the mixture and most of it sticks to the first slice.
There you have it, my version of French Toast, heavily inspired by AB.  It is a little bit more labor intensive than just frying up slices of eggy bread in a skillet, but the end result is more than worth it. 
French Toast
recipe inspired by Alton Brown
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons honey, warmed 
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 (1/2-inch) slices day-old or stale country loaf
4 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
In a large pie plate, whisk together the eggs and cinnamon until frothy.  Next add the half-and-half, honey, and salt and whisk to combine.
Place a slice of bread into mixture, and soak for 30 seconds on each side.  Remove the bread to a cooling rack that is sitting in a sheet pan or over the sink, and allow to rest for 1 to 2 minutes.
Over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch nonstick sauté pan or cast iron skillet. Place 2 slices of bread in the pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and place on rack in oven for 5 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the bread. Serve immediately with maple syrup, whipped cream, fruit, or bacon.

28 April 2015

Pulled Pork - Alton Brown's Barbecue Pork Butt (AB-BQ)

0 remarks
Yes, there is life after Good Eats.  Altonbrown.com has done a nice job of churning out new AB applications over the past few years, and the AB-BQ application is my favorite.  The simplicity of the method produces incredible results.
Brine, smoke and bake, that's all there is to cooking it.  Water, salt, and molasses, that's all there is to the brine.  Charcoal and wood chips, that's all that's needed for the smoker.  Aluminum foil and a sheet pan, that's all that's needed for the oven.  Oh, and about 10 hours.  That's all that's needed until it's done.  Accounting for brine time, it does take about 24 hours from start to finish, but the end result is more than work it. 
Time and patience.  I have become pretty good at getting my smoker regulated and can maintain 225 degrees for about an hour or so at a time before I need to adjust the charcoal or wood chips.  This allows me to get a lot of other stuff done around the house while the pork is smoking, like playing basketball or sipping iced tea on the glider.  I'm almost sad when I see the meat reach 150 degrees.
The 4 to 5 hours of smoke time is really nice, though, and I am happy to finish cooking it in the oven.  I have done 10-12 hours on the smoker, and that starts to take its toll after a while.  In my opinion, finishing it in the oven produces better results and there is still plenty of smoke flavor in the meat.
So, the question remains, is it worth it?  The time, the energy, the patience?  The answer:  a resounding YES!  This is the best pork I have ever had, maybe even the best meat.  No joke.  The meat is moist, tender, smoky, salty, you name it, it's got it.  The definition of lip-smacking good. 
I like to serve it with a little east Carolina barbeque sauce (mmmm....vinegary) and coleslaw on top.  We were already out of coleslaw by the time I got around to taking the picture, or it would be on there.  On the other hand, it is good enough to stand alone, just a plate full of pork and your fingers.  I could go for that, too.

3 quarts water
12 ounces kosher salt
8 ounces molasses
8-10 pound boneless pork butt

Special Equipment: Smoker and 4 ounces hickory or oak wood chunks

Add the water, salt, and molasses into a 12-quart container and stir until the salt dissolves.  Place the pork butt into the brine.  Cover the container and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the pork from the brine, and pat dry. Then, heat the smoker to 225 degrees F. Add the wood chunks, and place the pork into the smoker.  When the pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F, remove from the smoker, about 4 to 5 hours.

Allow the meat to rest until it reaches 140 degrees F, then heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Wrap the pork in aluminum foil and place on a half sheet pan. Cook until the pork reaches an internal temperature of at least 200 degrees F, about 3 to 5 hours.  It should be tender and pulling apart easily. Remove from the oven, keep it covered, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before serving.

18 April 2015

Dark Chocolate Mousse

0 remarks

My memories of chocolate mousse stem from the Ponderosa buffet.  Rich, fluffy, and chocolaty, it was always a dessert I piled high in my bowl.  I have had the thought of making my own chocolate mousse many times, but the Alton Brown recipe didn't intrigue me enough to do it.  AB's calls for espresso and rum, two ingredients I don't keep on hand, and my desire to make the mousse wasn't strong enough to make the investment.

Queue Geoffrey Zakarian's mousse featured on The Kitchen.  It was the Valentine's Day episode and we were having a family gathering at my house one Saturday morning.  For some reason, Food Network always seems to be on when we have a bunch of family over for breakfast.  I happened to hear Geoffrey Zakarian talking about how simple and delicious this mousse was, so I decided to surprise Valerie with some on Valentine's Day.

Emilie helped me make the mousse, and it really was as simple as Zakarian made it sound.  Basically it's just melting, whipping, beating and folding.  The only thing I didn't know for sure was how much to heat the egg yolks over the water bath.  I did it until they were just warm to the touch, and it came out perfectly.  I don't know if the temperature really has that much impact on the final result, but it worked for me.

The mousse came together in no time, and we were dishing it in serving bowls to cool.  After few hours in the refrigerator, we topped the mousse with whipped cream and some shaved chocolate and it was time to devour.  The first bite was all it took to realize this is probably the best dessert I have ever made.  The mousse was rich, dense, smooth, airy, and soft, with an intensely satisfying chocolate flavor.  Combined with the sweet lightness of the whipped cream, it just hit on all the right notes.  I really can't describe how amazing the texture was, I guess I'll just have to make it again to see if I can better put it into words.

Geoffrey Zakarian's Dark Chocolate Mousse

1/2 cup chopped chocolate (72 percent)
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Whipped cream, for serving
Chocolate shavings, for garnish

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a simmering water bath.  After melting the chocolate, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks in a separate bowl. Set both bowls aside.

Add the egg yolks to the bowl of a stand mixer and set over the same water bath to slightly heat while beating them with a whisk. Next, add the sugar to the yolks and then transfer the bowl to the stand mixer set up with the whisk attachment. Beat the yolk and sugar mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved and it doubles in size, about 5 minutes.

Delicately fold the melted chocolate into the yolks. Finally, fold in the whipped cream. Divide the mixture into 4 bowls or glasses and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

Just before serving, top the mousse with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate shavings.


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