August 29, 2008

Peach Upside Down Cake (on the grill)


Ingredients:
2 cups sliced peaches
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature, divided use
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup demerara sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg

Directions:
In a large bowl, beat 7 tablespoons of butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla, beat thoroughly. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the milk and dry ingredients alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. The batter should be very fluffy. Use the remaining tablespoon of butter to coat the bottom and sides of a heavy duty 8 inch baking pan. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the butter, top with peach slices.



Make sure the peaches are evenly distributed in the pan, then top with cake batter. Smooth the cake batter to all of the edges and make sure no peaches are peeking out.

Place a 8x8 square disposable heavy duty baking pan on the bottom of your charcoal grill and arrange the coals on either side. Pour water in the pan to the halfway point.




Place the cake tin on the center of the grate, over the disposable tin. This will allow your cake to cook evenly on indirect heat.



Close the lid but leave the vents open for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool, then invert to serve.




My thoughts:
my grill friday

This is my last "My Grill Friday" post for the year! I wanted to make something a little unexpected for the last post and tossed around a lot of ideas before settling on cake. Once I decided on making a cake, an upside-down cake seemed the perfect choice because there would be no need for icing; it could be made entirely on the grill and without heating up the house.

The cake itself is very light and fluffy and the peaches are perfectly soft and caramelized. There isn't a smoky flavor at all, just the fresh sweetness of the peaches and the tender cake. It reminded me of the Baltimore classic peach cake where a vanilla-based cake is topped with peach wedges, only more caramelized and decadent.


*Note: While it may be tempting, I would not recommend cooking anything else on the grill at the same time as you are making this cake. Meat splatter issues aside, it cooks on a relatively low temperature that would be a mind-numbling slow way to cook raw meat and you would run the risk of cross contamination.

August 27, 2008

Summer Lovin' Salad



Ingredients:
4 slices of crisp bacon, crumbled
2 avocados, sliced
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
2 chicken breasts
1 head butter lettuce, chopped
1/2 head red leaf, chopped
2 cups assorted halved small heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, grated
1 shallot, grated
juice of 1/2 lime
hot sauce

marinade for the chicken:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
juice 1/2 lime
1 clove garlic, grated


Directions:
Place all of the ingredients for the marinade and the chicken in a nonreactive container or bag. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 5. Remove from marinade, grill or saute until cooked through. Slice into long, 1/4 inch wide strips.



for the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Set aside.

To assemble:
On a large platter arrange the various salad components in rows and allow people to assemble their own salads. Serve dressing in individual serving bowls.



possible6

Note: All of the ingredients can be made ahead of time, and the salad (minus the avocado, which tends to brown even after a heavy dose of lime juice) can be plated about 10 hours in advance, which makes this a great choice for an event.



My thoughts:


I had the idea for this salad last Fall and have been wanting to make it ever since. I only eat tomatoes while they are in season, so it has taken me this long to bring it into fruition. It was worth the wait. This salad is sort of an homage to the Cobb salad. The Cobb is a classic American chopped style salad that was thrown together by Bob Cobb*, the owner of of the Brown Derby, in 1937. While the original is fabulous, I've arrived at this more modern, spicier version for a change of pace and I love it even more. All of my favorite things in one bowl.


The flavors go together wonderfully, even my hard boiled-eggs-in-salad adverse husband really enjoyed the egg slices in it (the yolks just seem to melt) and I love any excuse to use my egg guillotine. And how can anything that has both bacon and blue cheese in it be bad?

egg



*Let us pause for a second and reflect on for what possible reason he might have chosen not to go by "Robert".

August 25, 2008

Spice, Spice Baby Pork Chili




Ingredients:
1 lb ground pork
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 chipotle chiles in adobe, chopped
1 habanero pepper, seeded and chopped
1 onion, diced
15 oz canned dark red kidney beans, drained
15 oz canned cannellini beans, drained
15 oz diced tomatoes in juice
10 oz diced tomatoes with green chile*
1 teaspoon dried chervil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon hot Mexican chili powder
1 teaspoon ground jalapeno
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground chipotle

serving suggestions:
tortilla chips
sour cream
chopped onion
sharp cheddar

Directions:
In a skillet, lightly brown the ground pork. Drain off any excess fat. Place all ingredients (including the pork!) in the slow cooker and gently stir to distribute the spices. Place on low for 6-8 hours then turn up to high for 40 minutes. Stir before serving.



*AKA Ro-tel. Or make your own by combining 2 oz canned green chiles with 8 oz diced tomato

My thoughts:
The other day someone asked how often I use a slow cooker during the colder months. While we do use it fairly frequently during the Winter, I actually find myself turning to it the most during the warmer months. Here in Baltimore things start to get pretty steamy in May and the heat and humidity often doesn't let up until October. Who wants to be cooking over a stove in 98 degree weather with 90% humidity? Not me. However, one cannot live by cooling salads alone. The slow cooker can deliver a hot meal without heating up the house which to me, makes it the perfect Summer appliance. And while it is wonderful to use seasonal ingredients, it is also great to have a recipe that is entirely made up of ingredients I always have on hand: beans, tomato, ground pork and lots of spices.

August 23, 2008

Heirloom Tomato and Spaghetti Strata



Ingredients:
8 eggs, beaten
4 strips of cooked, crisp bacon, crumbled
3 1/2 (loose, not packed) cups cooked spaghetti
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup basil, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
pepper


Directions:
Preheat oven to 425. Grease an 8x8 pan. In a small bowl, stir together eggs, pepper, basil, cheese, bacon, and tomatoes. Place the spaghetti in the pan, pour the egg mixture over the pasta. Bake for 30 minutes. Cut into slices and serve hot.



Yield: about 6 servings

My thoughts:
This is a great way to use up any leftover spaghetti that you might have from when you were making, say grilled spaghetti and meatballs and you accidentally made the whole box of spaghetti. Who wants to make a fresh sauce for just a few ounces of already cooked spaghetti? Not me. Instead, I turned them into a tasty and filling breakfast that only takes 30 minutes minutes to make and is a pleasant change from a scramble or omelet. And it solved my "what to do with all those cherry (or in this case, Juliet and Yellow Pear) tomatoes my garden is overflowing with" problem. Another plus is that since this strata is made with pasta and not bread, it doesn't need to be made the day before.

Note: the leftovers actually reheat really well the next day. Just heat in the oven or microwave.

August 22, 2008

Beef, Beet & Potato Kabobs



Ingredients:
1 lb cubed beef
1 lb beets, cubed*
1 1/4 lb very small red potatoes
onion quarters

for the marinade:
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh tarragon
3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 bunches French shallots, sliced
salt
pepper


Directions:
At least 1 hour (and up to 6) before serving, place the marinade ingredients in a resealable bag with the beef cubes and marinate.

Soak wooden or bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes before use.

Bring two pots of water to boil. Drop the potatoes in one, then beets in the other. Return the pots to a boil and boil the potatoes and the beets for about 5 minutes or until just tender. They should be soft enough to be easily skewered but not falling apart or mushy. Drain and pat dry. Drizzle with olive oil. Thread on skewers, alternating with beef, slices of onion, potatoes and beets. Spread the skewers evenly over the grate, cook for a few minutes on each side until the meat is cooked through and everything is browned. If the pieces are on the large side, you can cover the grill for a few minutes to help speed up the cooking time, but the whole process shouldn't take more than 12 or so minutes, start to finish.



No grill? This recipe works great on a grill pan or under the broiler.

*If you can find very small beets, boil them whole, then rub the skins off with a paper towel before skewering.

Quick note: To make things even easier, you can pre-boil the beets and potato the day before and refrigerate them until you are ready to cook.

My thoughts:

my grill friday

The trick to kabobs is selecting vegetables and meat that are roughly the same sized and which will take roughly the same amount of time to cook. The La Cense beef I used was pre-cubed and meant for use in kabobs, but unfortunately the pieces ranged wildly in size-some were very small (many were 1/2 inch or even smaller) or angular (1 1/2 inch on one side, 1/4 inch on the other) while others were quite large and thick. To make these flavorful kabobs I had to pick out the most uniform ones and match them with similarly sized potatoes and beets. I then made tiny meat-only kabobs out of the pieces too small to pair up.

I parboiled the potatoes and beets to insure that they would be completely cooked through by the time the steak was done. Grass fed beef like La Cense is often lower in fat than other beef. Even rare, I found that Le Cense tends to be on the dry side so I was extra cautious not to over cook the meat. However, if I made this again with another brand of beef I would still pre-cook the beets and potatoes. It really made a difference, they were crisp on the outside but moist and tender on the inside; exactly what you would want from beets and potatoes. The potatoes and beets really stood up to the strong flavors of the meat and made a hardier than usual kabob.

August 19, 2008

Homemade Chocodiles




Ingredients:

for the sponge cake:
2 cups flour
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract



for the cream filling:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup cold butter
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
1/2 teaspoon salt

for the chocolate coating:
5 cups confectioners sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

for the cream filling:
In a small pan, mix flour with milk and boil until thick. Cool. Beat until fluffy and add other ingredients one at a time, beating well after each addition. Refrigerate 1 hour or up to 24. Note: if you make it the day before, you might want to beat it again before piping it into the cakes to ensure a fluffy texture. Also, the cream should be cold and rather stiff when you pipe it into the cake, the act of piping will soften it a bit so do not be tempted to let it warm up before filling.

for the sponge cake:
Grease 8 to 12 wells in a "cream canoe" pan. Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together flour and baking powder in a bowl. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, until it is very light and fluffy-almost at soft peaks. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Pour into prepared pans. Note: check the instructions on your pan, but I would recommend filling them about halfway, there is a lot of leavening in the the batter and you wouldn't want them to overflow.




Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cakes are just golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the center cupcake comes out clean. Remove from the oven, invert to a wire rack and cool completely before filling. Use a pastry bag or cream filling gun (one comes with the pan I linked to) and fill three holes (chopsticks make good hole punchers, just be careful not to poke all the way to the other side and give a it a little wiggle so the inside hole is slightly bigger than the outside)on the underside of the cake with cream. Slightly overfill each hole, then use your thumb to tamp it in.




for the coating:
Combine powdered sugar, cocoa powder, butter, vanilla and boiling water in saucepan. Stir over low heat to mix well. Do not let it boil. Dip the bottoms of cooled, filled cakes in the chocolate then place on a wire rack over a bowl and pour the chocolate directly from the pan over the top of the cakes to coat the tops. Refill the pan with the chocolate that collects in the bowl.



Allow the cakes to drip over a wire rack with waxed paper underneath to catch the drips. Repeat if needed. Note: it seems like you are making a lot of glaze, but you lose a lot as they drip and dry and it is better to have too much than to run out before you are finished.



My thoughts:
Today is my birthday (29! Oy!) and ever since I've known my husband he has made something special for my birthday. First it was a crazy bombe with 2 kinds of mousse for my 25th birthday then red velvet cupcakes, then vanilla bean cupcakes, last year's chocolate malt cupcakes and this year's chocodiles. Chocodiles are a cult classic only available in some areas (NOT Baltimore!) and we thought it would be fun to make a homemade version. I know we can't be the only ones who have wished that packaged snacks tasted as good as they looked. By making our own, they really do.

Making the cakes was a joint effort, I created the recipe and tweaked it while he did the actual mixing and baking. I think they turned out really well, not too gourmetish or fancy but a really fresh tasting step up from the prepackaged cakes. The cake was really light and fluffy and the cream filling was exactly the right texture: creamy but not oily or greasy.

Chocodiles, for those not in the know, are basically a chocolate covered Twinkie. Once sold all over the US, they are now only available in select cities on the West Coast and the subject of much debate and interest among the junk food glitterati. There is even a petition urging Hostess to bring Chocodiles back to the East Coast!

If you are more of a Twinkie person, try this recipe. It will be the best Twinkie you've ever had. The pinnacle of Twinkiedom. Or love Sno-Balls? I have a recipe for that too!

Note: If you don't have a cream canoe pan, you could try a version using a traditional cupcake pan. I must say, it is well worth buying the actual pan. The cupcakes were perfectly golden brown and slid right out with no sticking.

August 17, 2008

Ovaltine Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream



Ingredients:
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar, divided use
1/3 cup rich, chocolatey Ovaltine
2 oz dark chocolate, chopped*
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
sea salt

Directions:
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, whisk together half of the sugar (1/8 of a cup equals 2 tablespoons) and all of the milk and cream until the sugar dissolves and the mixture almost boils, about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining sugar and the egg yolks until it is yellow and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add about a 1/4 cup of the cream mixture into the eggs and whisk to combine. Pour the egg/cream mixture it into the cream mixture on the stove. Whisk in Ovaltine, vanilla and a pinch of sea salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and then strain the mixture into a bowl. Allow to cool on the counter then cover and place in the refrigerator to cool completely. Remove from the refrigerator and stir in the chocolate bits. Pour into a ice cream maker and churn until cold and set. Place in a freeze-safe container and freeze until solid.

Ovaltine Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks

*I chopped up part of a 70% Extra-bitter Sirius Pure Icelandic Chocolate bar I found at Whole Foods to give the ice cream a "grown up" edge but a slightly less dark bar could also be used.

Yield: about 1 pint

My thoughts:
Ovaltine is a vitamin-fortified chocolate malt powder than you stir into milk. I've heard it is more popular overseas than it is here in the US where it has taken on a serious retro feel since it hit its peak in popularity during the 1930s. It really a shame it isn't more popular, it is quite tasty and has more vitamins and minerals than other chocolate drink mixes. In fact, it was created in Switzerland originally as a health drink for children.

You can make Ovaltine hot or cold milk but Matt, the Ovaltine drinker in our household, likes it cold best and has been suggesting that I make it into ice cream. I've never come across any recipes for Ovaltine ice cream so I had to do some experimenting but it was worth it. The ice cream is rich and chocolatey with just the right amount of malt and the chocolate chunks keep it from becoming too sweet.

Ovaltine Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks

A quick note:
Ovaltine can be a little tricky to find here in the US but most well stocked grocery stores have it either in the coffee and tea isle or in a "British foods" section. It is also often sold at Asian or South American grocery stores. There are some differences in the formulation depending on what region's Ovaltine you are buying but they shouldn't make a difference in this recipe.

August 15, 2008

Deconstructed Spaghetti and Meatballs



1 1/2 lb lean ground beef*
2 to 3 lb tomatoes**
1/3 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped basil
1 small onion, grated
1 egg
1 cup fresh ripe tomatoes
salt
pepper


3/4 lb cooked, hot spaghetti
extra chopped basil
olive oil

Directions:
In a bowl, knead together the meat, onion, basil, egg, olive oil, cheese, the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Do not squeeze. When thoroughly combined, form in to 2 inch meatballs. Thread on (soaked) skewers alternating with tomatoes. Brush the tomatoes and meatballs with oil. Alternately, do not use skewers and place the the meat and tomatoes on a grill pan. Place on the grill and cook, turning so they cook evenly. Grill until the meatballs are cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Toss together the spaghetti and basil. Top with the meatballs and tomatoes, mashing the tomatoes slightly before serving.

*Be careful that the meat doesn't have too high of a fat content or there will be flare ups and broken meatballs. That's why I call for lean ground beef and not a mixture of other meats or a higher fat ground.



**Choose tomatoes that are about the same size as your meatballs for best results. I used the moderately sized "Fourth of July" variety.





My thoughts:

my grill friday
It was a little tricky maneuvering the meatballs around on the grill but it was worth it. Roasted tomatoes are just so tasty and sweet they don't need more than a slight mashing to make a delicious tomato sauce. And really, the novelty of making spaghetti and meatballs on the grill is high and the results tasty, so why not give it a try?

August 13, 2008

Blackberry-Sour Cream Panna Cotta with Lemon Sauce




Ingredients:
for the panna cotta
2 cups blackberries
1 1/2 cup heavy cream (divided use)
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon gelatin

for the sauce:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
zest of one lemon

Directions:
for the panna cotta:
Pour 1/2 cup of cream in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with gelatin. Set aside. Pour 1/2 cup cream, sugar and blackberries in a saucepan. Cook until boiling, mashing the blackberries and stirring occasionally. Strain (mashing the berries to get all of the juice out) into the gelatin/cream mixture then pour in the remaining cream. Discard the pulp. Mix to dissolve the gelatin. Place the sour cream in a separate bowl. Strain the blackberry/gelatin mixture into the sour cream. Mix thoroughly. Pour into ramekins (the total yield is about 48 oz so divide accordingly).




Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight to set. To unmold, dip the bottoms of each ramekin into hot water then invert onto a plate. If they are a bit stuck, run a knife along the edges before inverting.


for the sauce:
Bring all ingredients to a boil, cook until reduced to a sauce consistency. Allow to cool then drizzle over unmolded panna cotta.

My thoughts:
We planted a tiny blackberry bush last year and it has since grown to be about 7 feet tall. For a while we were getting just a few berries, but now we are up to about a cup a day! It was finally time to do something with them beyond just eating them straight from the vine or over yogurt. Panna cotta seemed like the perfect choice because it really lets the blackberry flavor shine through while still making it easy to strain out all of the blackberry seeds. And who doesn't love a no bake dessert, especially during the summer? Lemon sauce seemed like a natural accompaniment because so many lemon flavored desserts come with a berry sauce or are garnished with berries. In this extremely creamy dessert the berries are the star and the lemons are just a sweet-tart accent.

August 12, 2008

Pork in a Jalapeno-Tomatillo Sauce



Ingredients:
3 lb boneless pork shoulder roast
10 medium-sized tomatillos, finely chopped
10 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup pork or chicken broth
2 tablespoons canola oil


for the spice rub
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon ground jalapeno
1 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
salt
pepper


to serve:
chopped papalo
tortillas

Directions:
Mix the spice rub ingredients together. Rub them on the pork. In a large skillet heat the oil and then brown the roast well on all sides. Place roast in slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients to slow cooker. Cook on low in the slow cooker for 6 1/2 hours, then on high for 1 1/2 hours. At this point the meat should shred easily with a fork. Remove roast from slow cooker. Shred into large pieces with a fork (or use your fingers) and set aside. Mash any solid bits of the sauce with a potato masher. Return the pork to slow cooker, and toss to evenly coat with sauce. Cook on high an additional 15 minutes. To serve: sprinkle with papalo and serve with warm tortillas and/or black beans and rice.

Note: You could also use a bone-in cut but be sure to remove all of the bones before shredding and serving! The bones add flavor but the boneless is a lot easier to work with.

tomatillos

My thoughts:

Pork is one of my favorite things to cook in the slow cooker. It just ends up with with the silkiest texture and just falls apart. For this recipe I adapted our favorite tomatillo sauce recipe for the slow cooker. Rather than blend the raw ingredients together, I slice them thinly and let the long cooking time turn them into sauce.

A bit of papalo AKA apaloquelite or summer cilantro, an herb that is pungent like cilantro but has a more citrusy taste, sprinkled on at the end adds a hint of freshness.

August 11, 2008

Saltwater Taffy




Ingredients:
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon flavored extract (we used key lime extract)
3-4 drops food coloring (optional)

wax paper candy wrappers, about 1 1/4 inch by 3 1/2 inches

Directions:
Prepare two baking sheets by spraying them with nonstick cooking spray or lining them with sili-pats or greasing them with a thin layer of canola oil. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.

Dissolve the salt in the water. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and salt water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously until sugar dissolves. Then continue cooking without stirring until candy reaches 260 degrees(hard-ball stage). If you were to drop a bit of the mixture into a cup of cold water it should form a solid but flexible ball at this stage.

Remove from heat immediately and stir in extract. Pour half (or more than half if you only want a thin stripe of color) of the mixture into a prepared baking sheet and place it in the oven to stay warm. Skip this step if you want solid colored or white candy.

Add food coloring to the remaining candy. Pour the candy out onto a heat-safe cutting board or sili-pat. Allow it to sit until it forms a thin “skin”, just a couple of minutes.

Using a heat-safe scraper or spatula, begin spreading the candy out and pushing it back together. This will allow the mixture to cool to the point where you can pick it up without burning yourself.


Meanwhile, oil your hands with a bit of canola oil. As soon as the candy is cool enough to handle, pull it in long strands then fold the strand back onto itself and repeat, twisting and pulling, until it has a satiny finish and is opaque. Pull into a long rope about 1” thick. Place on the prepared baking sheet on the counter and remove the other batch of taffy from the oven. Make sure you really, really stretch out the candy. The more you stretch, the softer it will be. Candy that is not stretched enough will be hard and difficult to chew.



Repeat the above procedure with this batch. Twist the two strands together until they do not separate.





Pull the twisted candy into long strips, 1/2-inch in diameter, and cut with oiled kitchen shears into pieces about 3 inches long. Alternately, twist into 1 inch wide strips then cut into 1/4 -1/2 inch chunks for coin-shaped taffy. Allow to cool completely before wrapping individually in waxed paper by placing the taffy logs in the middle of the waxed paper then folding it over lengthwise and twisting the ends shut.


Store in an air tight container.




Note: I like to use HFCS-free corn syrup. It is a little more difficult to find (the ubiquitous Karo contains HFCS) but is available at some grocery stores, health food stores and I've actually had great success finding it at Asian grocery stores like H Mart. If you are using conventional corn syrup make sure it does not have vanilla added, I've found nearly all of the Karo other other common brands of light corn syrup have vanilla added.

My thoughts:
Salt water taffy is the quintessential East Coast beach candy. All of the Mid-Atlantic beaches sell a variety of saltwater taffy in stores lining the boardwalk. Its origins are up for debate; use of actual saltwater and flooding come into play but it is generally recognized that Joseph Fralinger in Atlantic City New Jersey is the one who helped make it become as popular as it is today.

At candy shops up and down the East Coast you can find salt water taffy pulling machines hard at work stretching the taffy to a soft consistency but it is possible to make it at home. It involves more pulling than you would think but it is quite easy as long as you get the molten sugar to hard ball stage. I personally don't use a candy thermometer (I just drop it into a cup of cold water to see if it forms a flexible ball) and never have any trouble. If you find that the candy never "sets up" and you can't pull it then start over, it probably wasn't at hard ball stage when you took it off the heat. Luckily, the ingredients are inexpensive and it is quick to get it going again.

I recommend stretching the candy longer than you would think, try a little bit and make sure it is at taffy consistency before wrapping. If not, pull it some more. Three of us were pulling the taffy and some sections were pulled more and thus ended up softer than others. It is better to "over" pull then to not pull enough and end up with hard, sticky candy.

Anyway, it is a fun, surprisingly easy (and non-messy!) treat to make.

August 08, 2008

Garlic Rubbed Steak with Grilled Spring Onions and a Creamy Spring Onion Sauce




Ingredients:
2 sirloin steaks
salt
pepper
3 cloves garlic
2 bunches Spring onions
olive oil

for the dipping sauce:
1/4 cup chopped grilled spring onions, greens only
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonaiise
2 tablespoons yogurt
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt
white pepper

Directions:
Rub both sides with each steak with a peeled garlic clove. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside. Brush the onions with olive oil. Set aside. Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients (except the onions) and pour into a bowl. Place the steak and onions on the grill and cook on high or on the hottest part of your grill for about 3 minutes on each side or until the internal temperature of the steak is one of the following: Rare Steak – 125, Medium-Rare Steak – 130 – 135, Medium Steak – 140 – 145, Medium-Well Steak – 150 – 155, Well-Done Steak – 160. The onions should be just charred. Use kitchen shears to cut the onion greens into the sauce. Stir to combine. Serve the steak hot, with the remaining onion, and sauce.



My thoughts:

my grill friday

Is that title a mouthful or what? I was excited to see some actual spring onions at the farmer's market this weekend and not just green onions and scallions, we lost our heads and bought a bunch for $3.50, then found another stand selling them for 3 for $2 and bought more. They are so yummy and the grilling really brings out the mild onion's sweetness. Rubbing a steak with garlic is a great way to add a little flavor without overpowering the natural a great steak like this one from Roseda Beef.


August 06, 2008

Fried Oysters Three Ways


Ingredients:
16 oz shucked, raw oysters
2/3 cup Instant Blending Flour*
2/3 cup bread crumbs OR cornmeal OR panko
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon cayenne
chipotle hot sauce
salt
pepper

canola oil for frying

Directions:
Heat about 1/2 to 1 inch of oil in a large, shallow skillet, enough to cover the oysters. Meanwhile pour the egg, flour and breadcrumbs (or panko or cornmeal)into separate shallow bowls. Stir the the spices to the breadcrumbs or cornmeal or panko. Stir a few drops of hot sauce into the egg. Dredge each oyster in the flour, then in the egg then the bread crumbs (or cornmeal/panko). Drop the oysters into the hot oil, taking care that they do not overlap or they will stick together. Cook until golden on all sides, about 1 minute. They should float to the top when ready and not need to be flipped. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Serve hot with cocktail or tarter sauce or on a sandwich.





*I used Pillsbury Shake & Blend. Another similar product is Gold Medal Wondra Flour. It is found near regular flour or near gravy mixes. It is very fine and dissolves easily in water (or in this case, doesn't make the oysters too thick with flour). Use all purpose if you have to.


My thoughts:
Fried oysters are quite possibly my favorite food but I had never made them until Monday. Now I am wondering what took me so long! They were super quick to make (even when making them with three different coatings) and they came out really well. Better than when I have had them out actually. Not to mention much cheaper. In the past I stuck to the "only in months with R" rule but hey, these were on sale for only $8 lb so I couldn't resist. There isn't much oystering going in the the Bay* anymore so local oysters are hard to find even during peak months.

I put a call out to the Twitterverse asking about preferred ways of battering and about two-thirds of the respondents were in favor of cornmeal and the remaining responses were divided between traditional bread crumbs and panko. I decided to try them all to see which one I liked the most.

My findings:



Breadcrumbs: Matt and my top choice. They browned evenly and had the perfect amount of breading. Lots of clear, fresh oyster flavor. The only drawback to the breadcrumbs is that when the oyster was was allowed to cool completely it was slightly less crispy than the other cornmeal or panko battered ones. I didn't find this to be much a problem because no one wants to eat cold fried oysters anyway. They were all best fresh from the oil.

Panko: (pictured at the top of the post) The panko covered ones darkened more quickly than the other two but stayed crispy (even when cold) and allowed for a lot of oyster flavor to shine through. It dropped to second place because was difficult to coat the irregularly shaped oysters evenly with the panko. Some panko fell off during the frying. I didn't have this problem when I've fried other seafood using the same technique so I think it is something to do with the dampness of the oysters and their shape. Skipping the initial flour step didn't remedy the situation either. Panko might work better if you used very large, uniform oysters.



Cornmeal: A lot of people were quite adamant about cornmeal being the only acceptable coating for oysters but it was our distinct third favorite. It stayed crisp but the corn flavor was so strong it was hard to tell we were eating an oyster. Still tasty but when I am eating an oyster, I want to know I am eating an oyster!


*If you are interested in learning more about Chesapeake Bay oystering and oyster pirates(!) here's a great 1888 article from the NY Times archives.

August 04, 2008

Sunshine Salad




Ingredients:
2 cups boiled or grilled corn kernals (cooled)
1 1/2 cups chopped red cabbage
1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes*
1 cup chopped red onion
1 bunch scallions, diced (green and white parts)


dressing:
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Scotch Bonnet hot sauce**
juice of 2 limes

*I used a combination of heirloom Yellow Pear and (red) Juliet tomatoes from my own garden.

**I used Miss Hatties Yellow Hot Sauce.

Directions:
In a small bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Set aside. In a large bowl, toss together all of the salad ingredients. Drizzle with dressing then toss to coat. Refrigerate for 15 minutes before serving.

My thoughts:
Forgive the slightly cheesy name but this is sunshine in salad form: crisp, light and hot. While I periodically enjoy a traditional leafy salad, I find salads like these to be a bit more fun to make and eat. The trick is to balance all of the flavors and textures: sweet tomatoes, crisp red onion and cabbage, spicy dressing. Picking vegetables of different colors results in a salad that is as visually arresting as it is tasty.

August 02, 2008

Blackberry Vanilla Cupcakes


Ingredients:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup vanilla sugar*
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh blackberry juice**
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, at room temperature



blackberry cream cheese frosting



Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour 6 wells in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, mix thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder and salt to the butter mixture. Whisk together the milk and blackberry juice, then add it to the rest of the batter and beat until well combined. Fill each well 2/3 of the way full. Bake 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted the center of a cupcake comes out clean or with just one or two dry crumbs. Cool briefly in the pan, then remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely before icing with blackberry cream cheese frosting.


*I used this absolutely divine vanilla sugar but you can make your own by storing a vanilla bean (or a few) in granulated sugar for a number of weeks. Or you could just use plain sugar and add some vanilla extract. The vanilla sugar is really good though, so it is worth trying!

**Made from 1 cup fresh blackberries, mashed and sieved to remove the seeds.

My thoughts:
This recipe came out my urge to start taking more advantage of our extremely prolific blackberry bush. Initially I was going to pair the blackberry with lemon but then on a whim decided to try out my new vanilla sugar. I am glad I did, the results were many times better than I think the best version of lemon-blackberry combo would have been. The vanilla not only accentuates the blackberry flavor but also makes it really taste like a cupcake and not a muffin. I think it is my new favorite Summer cupcake: light, fruity and fresh.

Blackberry Cream Cheese Frosting


Ingredients:
4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons blackberry juice (made from pressing and sieving 3-4 fresh blackberries)

Directions:
In a large bowl, beat together all ingredients until well blended. Frost on cooled cupcakes or cake.

My thoughts:
This a perfect sweet-tart icing for a summer cupcake or cake. Great blackberry flavor.

August 01, 2008

Gingered Tropical Fruit Kabobs




Ingredients:
2-3 mangos, cubed
6-8 kiwi, peeled and halved
1 pineapple, cubed
8-16 fresh lychee


syrup:
1 inch knob peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
juice of 1 lime

8 bamboo skewers (soak in water for 15 minutes prior to use)

Directions:
Bring the syrup ingredients together to a boil. Allow to boil for a few minutes until it reduces. Strain into a bowl. Discard the ginger. Allow to cool. Thread the fruit on the skewers and brush with syrup.



Place on the grill and allow to cook for about 3 minutes on each side or until the fruit has softened and is caramelized. Serve immediately.


My thoughts:

my grill friday

Making these kabobs (or kebobs) made my hands very, very sticky but it was worth it. Fruit, especially fruits with a high sugar content, really do well on the grill. The sugars caramelize and the fruit takes on a velvety texture. I brushed on the ginger syrup to help insure caramelization and to add a bit of ginger flavor to the kabobs. There is something a little decadent about eating fruit fresh from the grill despite it being a very healthy choice for dessert.


Quick tips:
Only fairly firm kiwifruit will stay on the skewer. Look for kiwis that are just barely ripe. The lychee worked well, but I found it was best to leave the large pit inside and thread the skewer next to pit and then advising people of the pit's presence when it came time to eat. The hole left by the removal of the pit was much wider than that of a standard skewer.