Monday, February 23, 2009

Nutella cookies

This is gonna be a quickie, I'm trying to write up a manuscript thats a few months behind schedule.

Last week I posted my now famous home-made nutella recipe. Problem is, making 2 cups of home-made nutella isn't as great an idea as it seems. For one, the processing (mostly the heating) means that the oils are more susceptible to oxidation. That means it can go rancid if not stored properly (i.e. the fridge). Unfortunately, its not as spreadable when stored there, so I leave mine in my pantry. That gives me a good month (haven't had any longer than that, but I wouldn't keep it around at room temp for much longer) to use it all. And since I'm still on my whole "get healthier and lose weight" kick, I'm faced with either give it away or bake with it. Hmm, I wonder what I could make with a nut and chocolate paste???

"Nutella" cookies
8 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup home-made nutella

1. Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Cream butter and sugars till creamy.
2. Add in the egg and vanilla and beat till smooth. Add the "nutella" and continue mixing.
3. Sift together the dry ingredients and add in batches to the wet. Once incorporated, use a disher to portion batter out onto parchment lined baking sheets.
4. Bake for ~13 minutes.

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Mmmmm, fresh from the oven.

These keep pretty well for a week, although give them to co-workers with a pint of milk and they won't last the rest of the day. I actually made mine as a "gluten-free" version (I could add all natural, organic, and vegetarian but those were more incidental) by using rice flour instead of all purpose. They weren't as chewy due to the lack of gluten, but they didn't fall apart into a million crumbs either. Anywho, time for me to get back to my real job, I've got a good cake recipe upcoming as well as some others, so stay tuned in a week or so.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A new meaning for having Obama's ear

Last Saturday The Caucus blog over on the NYT did this post about the melding of presidential portraits and cupcakes. Makes me wish I was at the Smithsonian this past weekend.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nut butter bonanza!

Salmonella in peanut butter shipped all over the world. Its been in the news a lot lately. While I am certainly amazed, like many of you out there, at the severe regulatory lapses that allowed this to happen, I'm not entirely surprised either. Having worked with a number of food scientists and taken courses on food microbiology, I accept that my food is no where near as idyllic as its made out to be. But still, what are you supposed to do when you desire an Elvis Special (fried peanut butter and banana with honey)?

I would be a pretty bad blogger (esp. food blogger) if I didn't tell you how to make your own. But I'm not just going to tell you how to make peanut butter, I'm going to tell you how to make pretty much any nut butter! Ok, ok, all the recipes are essentially the same and there's only one technique and piece of equipment you need. Tell you what, I'll throw in a bonus recipe, hazelnut/chocolate spread (a.k.a. Nutella) to make up for the lack of complexity in the others. Although its precisely the lack of complexity that makes me wonder why more people don't make their own nut butters in the first place. I guess the potential for a million dollar lawsuit pay-out is just too irresistible in these uncertain economic times.

Standard Nut Butter:

~1 lb nuts of choice*
salt as needed

Wow, that was a short list. Now to tackle that asterisk. Depending on the nut you choose, you'll need to do some prep. Peanuts and cashews in a can can be used straight. Almonds are best blanched and then toasted. Hazelnuts should be toasted in a pan till the skin turns dark and starts peeling, then transfer to a towel and rub the rest of the skin off (you don't need to remove all of it, just most). I haven't tried walnuts, pecans, macadamias, and some others, so those will have other pre-processing needs.

1. Place the nuts in the bowl of your food chopper and process into a fine meal like you see below (In this case I'm using cashews).
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2. Keep processing in 2-3 minute runs. You'll notice that the meal will begin to clump along the edges of the bowl like in the picture below. Simply scrape down the sides as this happens.
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3. Keep processing in longer spins, ~5 minutes at a time so not to burn out the motor in your processor. The combination of the heat and chopping/griding will cause the natural oils to come out, bringing the meal together into a ball that will spin around the blade.
4. Eventually, the ball will begin to disintegrate and in a couple more minutes you'll have a creamy nut butter. At this point you can add salt to taste. If you want a chunky version, throw in some raw nuts and process a bit more.
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Now for what you really wanted...
Hazelnut/chocolate spread:
1 lb. hazelnuts, toasted and de-skinned
1/2 cup cacao nibs
1 cup powdered sugar, possibly more
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Grind the nuts in your food processor till you get fine crumbs. Add in the cacao nibs and process till you reach the smooth and creamy stage. The oils from the hazelnuts and the cacao butter will make the mix very viscous.
2. Add in the vanilla and process to incorporate, then add in the powdered sugar, one tablespoon at a time, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl often.
3. Depending on the creaminess you desire (Nutella is pretty thick) you may need more or less powdered sugar. You want your spread to still be fairly viscous, so don't add more than another 1/2 cup. When its at the point you want throw it in a jar or other container and put in the fridge over night, this will firm it up.

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Cacao nibs. You can pick them up from Whole Foods in their bulk section. If there's no WF near you, you can get them off the internet, like here: Grocery

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So, the texture isn't as smooth as real nutella, but it sure does taste great. The first day you take it out of the fridge it will be fairly solid and hard to spread, but don't worry, it gets better a day later.

So there you go, my super secret easy method for making your own nut butters at home. I know there are a ton of other methods listed out there on the internet, but most of those tell you to use some form of oil to get the desired consistency. In my experience, most nuts have enough natural oils that any extra oil is unnecessary. However, depending on the state of the buts nuts you purchased (i.e. the pre-bagged ones you find in your local grocer's "baking" isle) then you may actually need to use the oil. In those cases, the nuts have been around long enough that the natural oils are gone and need to be replaced. Ideally, you should use the same oil as the nut you're using (almond oil for almond butter, for instance) but failing that, neutral flavored oils such as canola or vegetable work best. Just don't use more than 2 tbsp. per pound of nuts. If you think you need more than that, then I'd say your batch (nuts) weren't good in the first place and you should just pitch it and move on.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wanton Ravioli: Spinach and Mushroom

Life is hectic. Plan as much as we want, sometimes things come up that throw off an entire day's schedule. Be it the traffic jam driving home from work, the afternoon meeting that goes on waaaay longer than any meeting ever should, and in my line of work, the protocol that normally takes only 2 hours to complete but this time took 5 because someone else used all my reagents (with-out asking mind you) and didn't care to replace them. Either way, the end result is getting home from work around 6.30 and then having to think of what to do for dinner. Most people would either go out for fast food, throw a Lean Cuisine in the microwave, or make up some ramen. But I steer clear of fast food as much as possible, don't do boxed frozen dinners, and try to keep ramen only for emergencies. So what's a guy to do, besides get a wife who'll cook for him starve?

NO! Ravioli! Ravioli are great for a number of reasons, but the most important one in this case is that they freeze wonderfully. All you need to do is make some up one weekend, and on those days when you get home late just boil up a pot of water, throw some in straight from the freezer, and add your choice of sauce. The second reason ravioli is great is the sheer number of different fillings you can use, although this can become a point of intimidation for some. And thirdly, ravioli can be incredibly easy to make. In this case, I found some wanton wrappers on mangers special and snagged them for just this purpose, although I'll probably do a post sometime about making your own pasta dough from scratch.

Spinach and Mushroom Wanton Ravioli:
1 package wanton wrappers
1/2 cup ricotta
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/2 package frozen spinach
1 or 2 crimini mushrooms, finely diced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten

1. Cook the spinach according to the instructions on the package, drain very, very well. Add to a bowl with the mushroom, cheeses, and salt. Mix with a fork or utensil of choice.

2. Lay out your ravioli making station (you have one right? no? ok, see mine below).
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You'll notice that I'm using my Silpat on my sheet pan. The purpose is to prevent the ravioli from freezing to the pan. You can also use parchment paper but its a bit of a waste unless you make A LOT of ravioli.

3. Brush the wanton wrappers lightly with the beaten egg, then add small spoonfuls of the filling (about a heavy teaspoon).

4. Take another wrapper and lay it on top of the filling and bottom wrapper. Starting at one end, press firmly with your fingers toward the filling, trying to press as much air out as possible. Seal the ravioli at the far end and go around the edges pressing as firmly as possible starting from the center and going outwards.

5. Optional: I generally cut a bit of the edge off from each side because they often get dried out and don't seal well, you don't need to do this if you don't want/need to.

6. Place the sheet pan in the freezer for at least an hour. After that, slide the ravioli into a freezer bag and store for no more than 3 months or so (mine rarely last a week, but by 3 months you'll probably be looking at freezer burn).

To prepare later, just bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (a little olive oil added to the water will help keep the ravioli from sticking but isn't necessary). When the water is at a rolling boil, add a few ravioli straight from the freezer, no more than 6 to keep the water from cooling too much. When they float to the top, fish them out with a slotted spoon or utensil of choice and transfer to a warm plate or bowl (OK, warm dinner ware is optional, but it will keep your current ravioli warm while making more). Top with your favorite sauce ( a recipe for which will come later) and enjoy.

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Now, I know this isn't the most adventurous recipe for ravioli, or even wanton ravioli, out there. It is however a fairly simple and easy to make recipe that opens itself up to a number of wonderful additions and substitutions. In this instance, I used 1/4 cup of ricotta, and 3 oz. of a chevre I picked up on managers special. The spinach and mushrooms were only chosen because I generally keep both on hand since they're highly versatile. Really, this is just a great framework for anyone who loves ravioli, doesn't want to overpay for store bought or restaurant food, and wants a quick and simple weeknight meal they can throw together in a matter of minutes. Hopefully it will inspire some of you out there to try your own combinations... and for my foodie purist friends who are balking at the use of wanton wrappers, don't worry, I plan on doing it the "real" way soon.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pickled broccoli stems

I doubt this needs even more publicizing, since the NY Times is one of the most widely distributed and read papers in the US, if not the world, but I feel compelled since its pretty awesome. This past Tuesday, as part of the Recipes for Health series, Martha Shulman wrote about making Pickled Broccoli Stems. Its one of those recipes that when you find out about it (and even more so when you try it) you just go "Duh, why did I never think about that?" I made it up last night, peeling the stems and salting them overnight. This morning before going to work out I poured off the liquid from the stems, and poured on a mix of 1 tbsp. rice vinegar, 2 tsp. olive oil, 2 very finely minced garlic cloves, and teaspoon of chili paste.

All I have to say is yum. And what makes this recipe so great, aside from how horribly easy it is, is that it uses what would normally be thrown in the trash (at least by most people). The hard outer skin of the stem is rather bitter, and the stems themselves are pretty bland. Peeling away the skin (which isn't as easy as doing a carrot but still pretty simple) removes the bitterness and the salting explodes some of the cells of the stem, making them tender without cooking. I'm going to have to keep stocked up on broccoli now and try some other flavor combinations out. I know, President Bush the First would be appalled, but maybe if he had tried this first he would have never banned it from Air Force One.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rainbow Angel Food Cake

Apologies for the lack of a post for a bit there, I've been focusing more on the redesign than the actual blogging lately and, well, I've accepted that I won't have the new design done for today. Then again, its the posts that are important, so here's a recipe that I'm really proud of.

Along with pilfering my mom's bread maker and waffle maker that she never used when I was back in DE for the holidays, I grabbed her mini-bundt cake pan, cookie press, and angel food pan as well. She'd be the first to admit that she would never use them again, so I feel no guilt in taking them. And I had been tempted to buy my own angel food pan for a while. Who doesn't like a little sweetness after a rich and savory dinner, and angel food cake is relatively guilt free. It also helped that since I bought an ice cream maker on clearance last fall, I had a lot of left over egg whites in my freezer. A lot. Which is a good thing because angel food cakes are a lot harder to make than it first appears. This cake represents try #4 for me.

On my first attempt at angel food, I tried using the store bought egg whites rather than the ones in my freezer because I read that frozen egg whites don't work well (apparently a myth by the way). Well, after a bit of fluffing, folding, and fussing, the cake went into the oven, and 35 minutes later I had a light and foamy top with an omelette bottom. Try 2 ended up much the same, although more omelettey. Deciding to give up on the store bought egg whites and switch to separated eggs, try 3 ended up as a spectacular failure when the eggs never whipped at all. And thus I felt doomed to never get an angel food cake to turn out correctly.

Until this past Wednesday when Serious Eats posted this post about a rainbow colored cake. The follow-through blog post by Aleta at The Omnomicon has apparently turned somewhat controversial, but the idea of using food coloring to add some visual appeal to a cake is still pretty cool in my book. So, I decided on last go for an angel food cake. Fortunately for me, and select people at work, this one came out perfect.

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Rainbow Angel Food Cake:
1 1/4 cup egg whites, no yolk!
1 tbsp. water
1 cup cake flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cream or tartar
1 tsp. almond extract
liquid food coloring

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
2. Sift together the flour, half the sugar, and salt and set aside in a small bowl.
3. In a large bowl, using a hand whisk, whip the egg whites till foamy. Add the cream of tartar and whip using a hand mixer till you get firm peaks. Using a silicone spatula, fold in the almond extract. Fold the sugar in with the egg whites in multiple batches.
4. Sift enough of the flour mixture onto the egg whites to cover the top and fold in. Repeat until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.
5. Divide the batter into 5 portions in small bowls and add 1/2 tsp. food coloring for each color you want. For some colors (e.g. orange), you'll need to combine two colors (e.g. red and yellow) to get the 1/2 tsp. Gently fold the color into the batter.
6. Pour the batter into your angel food pan, don't try to even out the batter as it will rise evenly when in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes.
7. After removing the cake from the oven, flip the pan upside down and leave it alone for at least an hour. After the hour, use a fine knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and separate the two parts of the pan. Then use the knife to loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan.

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Don't try to even out the batter as you'll only mix the colors up. The cake will rise evenly as it bakes.

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You can see four of the five colors I used, and that I didn't mix the green very thoroughly. I rather like the white streaks though.

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They white streaks really provide some visual contrast when the cake is sliced.

So, it took me four tries to finally get it right, but I'm pretty happy with how this cake turned out. Its light and airy just like an angel food cake should be, but also has a nice dense feeling that makes you think its a richer cake than it really is. The coloring also makes it more interesting than a simple hum-drum angel food cake. I will note that for those who don't like the idea of using that much food coloring in a single cake, just keep in mind that your general red velvet cake uses a good 2 tbsp., or nearly double what I used here.