Friday, February 27, 2009

Daring Bakers, February: Chocolate Valentino

At the beginning of every month, the Daring Bakers hoss(s) of the month choose a top secret recipe for us DBers to bake, and at the end of the month, we reveal our results!


The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

The link to Dharm's blog goes straight to the recipe. A chocolate Valentino cake is supposed to feature heart shapes.
Daring Bakers, February: Chocolate Valentino
So . . .

Daring Bakers, February: Chocolate Valentino
I made sure that mine did. Photo by Chris Wass.

Daring Bakers, February: Chocolate Valentino
The cake is supposed to be a heart. You can't say my cake doesn't have a heart! I served it during my monthly Savories and Sweets dinner party the day after Valentine's Day, so it was appropriate.

Our hosts also asked us to make our own ice cream to serve with the cake, and I opted for David Lebovitz's Fleur de Lait from his book, Perfect Scoop, which I've had from the library for many, many months now because it's just that good. This recipe is my favorite. I won't write it here, but you can find it here.

Daring Bakers, February: Chocolate Valentino
Photo by Chris Wass. I used a combination of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate, and the cake was very rich and chocolatey, so the fleur de lait made a great foil.

What I learned:
Daring Bakers, February: Chocolate Valentino
I'm not afraid of folding ingredients together, unless two of those ingredients are chocolate and egg whites. Maybe the fat in cocoa butter messes me up. Maybe it's all in my head. But whether it's chocolate meringues or macarons, my mixture seems to go totally flat. This time, I managed to fold it all together just right--knifing the spatula straight down the middle to the bottom of the bowl, then sweeping it up the inside of the bowl, dredging up ingredients from the bottom to gently lay over the top, over and over. I once read somewhere that you shouldn't fold ingredients for longer than a minute. Another source said to use no more than 100 folds. I just kinda make sure I don't make more than 100 folds in over a minute . . . =)

Daring Bakers, February: Chocolate Valentino
The batter came out well.

Stencils are a great way to decorate cakes--cocoa powder sifted over light-colored cakes, or powdered sugar over dark. Doilies are commonly used as stencils because they're so beautiful and intricate, and a lot of my fellow DBers took that route. I love making art stencils, though, so I gave my own spin on hearts and took the anatomical road.

This cake is only as good as the chocolate you use.

Check out what my fellow DBers did by tracking them down through our blogroll.
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Monday, February 23, 2009

When macarons go wrong!

Of course the first batch of macarons I make after writing a post about how easy they were to make if you just charged in goes just a little awry! This time, I decided to make chocolate macarons with clementine buttercream filling.

Chocolate macarons gone wrong
I ended up with chewy macarons with peanut buttercream filling. Why chewy? I have my suspicions.

I've made this recipe before. Long-time readers will recognize it as my standby. The difference: I've always omitted the cocoa powder. For one thing, I always seem to botch things up when I try to fold chocolate into egg whites. Maybe it's because egg whites don't like fat, and chocolate (at least, melted chocoalte) is a fat? Maybe there's something about the super-fine powder making up cocoa that just pulls the air right out of my foam? Whatever the reason, my whites go flat. This time, everything seemed to fold together just fine. I even stopped short just to make sure I didn't kill my foam. Maybe that was also part of the problem.

You want your macaron batter to have the consistency of magma (without the very hot and flesh-melting aspects). This batter did flow out flat the way it was supposed to, but it did seem to hang on to a little peak for a bit. I think I should've folded through with a few more sweeps.

Another strange thing--the macaron bottoms seemed to explode outward like bad 80s prom dresses. They did this early on, then just cooked up that way. Maybe it was because I piped the batter too close together. Macaron instructions often say to pipe rounds about an inch apart, I assume to allow the heat to circulate sufficiently around each cookie. I piped them a bit closer because I know they wouldn't (or at least shouldn't) grow outward--only upward. Yet here they are, looking like sudsy Mr. Bubbles.

Worst of all--they were chewy. I can live with bad looks, but macarons should give easily and melt away leaving just a hint of sweet and almond on your tongue, like cotton candy clouds making nice with some fairy almond dust. These were like . . . macaron nougat. I think I cooked them too long at too high a temperature. I went the full 18 minutes; I should've checked them at 10 by lifting them to see if they came off the parchment easily. They may have weathered the full time okay if I had given the batter that few extra folds, deflating the egg whites more instead of leaving big air pockets in them that could bake up, get stiff and hard, leaving me with a chewy cookie.

Choclate macarons gone wrong
Ah well. They didn't taste bad. In fact, they were good, especially once I added my favorite peanut buttercream frosting. This recipe makes 2 1/4 cups--enough to frost and fill a two-layer cake, or fill a great big batch of chew macs. I didn't have a big batch, so I made 1/3 the recipe, and it turned out just fine. Which makes me want to make little batches of this for chocolate cupcake filling and then topping the cupcakes with a shiny ganache, or a filling for vanilla cupcakes with a "jelly"-flavored frosting. Anyway:

1/2 C smooth peanut butter
3 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1 1/2 T unsalted butter, room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 T milk
2 2/3 C powdered sugar, sifted

1. Beat the first five ingredients together.
2. Slowly add the powdered sugar, being careful not to kick up a cloud.
3. Add extra milk if frosting is too stiff.

This keeps for a week in the fridge or for 3 months in the freezer.

By the way--the batch of macarons I made after this, chocolate macarons using the caramelized butter frosting from October's Daring Baker's challenge, turned out just fine.
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ugly Food

We've all done it. Or, at the least, I've done it a lot: ugly food. When I started culinary classes, I botched many attempts at making pretty plates. I discovered that I had more of a penchant with desserts, but I totally bomb efforts in that department very often. Ultimately, it's all about the taste. And personally, the "ugly food" makes me chuckle. Hot on the heels of my Sonoran hot dogs post (not so lovely, but oh so tasty), I present some of the ugliest food I've ever made.

ugly whole wheat honey bread
Ugly honey whole wheat bread. Some people can turn out beautiful bread with their eyes closed. Me? I could hide most of my loaves in a rock field and never be able to find them again. Still--honey wheat bread with a smear of butter is a stand-out treat. I use the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and there's a reasonable facsimile here

chocolate . . .
This is that "magic cake" recipe that's been circulating since "wartime" when housewives had to do without eggs, milk, and butter. The recipe uses the chemical reaction between vinegar, water, and chemical leaveners. It looks like it's been through a battle . . . it tasted like it, too. But hey--it's vegan? Here's the gist of it.

chocolate . . .
It was better with ice cream. =D

banana scallops
Top Chef fans might recognize the banana scallops that Blaze made in Season 4. It's a really great recipe. I ate it with a peanut butter sauce ... and with my eyes closed.

strawberry mousse
Epicurious couldn't make it all that pretty, either, though they did a much more respectable job with this strawberry mousse recipe than I did. I had it on ginger snaps--very tasty! But I still need to work on making gelatin-based mousse recipes that don't look . . . regurgitated. (sigh)
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Monday, February 9, 2009

Sonoran hot dogs

What you are about to see may offend you.

I'll preface by saying I just watched Anthony Bourdain's "Food Porn" episode on "No Reservations." In one scene, he's sitting with Momofuku Bar's David Chang, and Bourdain asks Chang about his guilty food pleasures. "I'll start," Bourdain offers, immediately launching into a cuss-word strewn rave about KFC's macaroni and cheese. I agree. I'd often stop there before culinary school classes for a cup of it as dinner. Chang admits that he likes that mac 'n' cheese, too, but really loves Chicken McNuggets with sweet and sour sauce.

This exchange reminded me to post one of my own favorite guilty pleasures--and I have a lot, from Spam to Ramen to Arby's potato cakes. Hot dogs front the group, though. They're often not meat, but meatS. They're rich in sodium and calories, and low in nutritional value. And I love 'em. (Bourdain loves Chicago dogs, as do I, and he even goes to far as to say Chi-dogs are even better than his hometown's, NYC dogs.)

I once read an article on Serious Eats about America's regional hot dog styles, and for the Southwest, they singled out the Sonoran hot dog. After that, I was on a mission to find one. Alas, hot dog vendors are mobile, constantly, or else down in Tucson. Despair was short-lived when I found a nightly setup on the southwest corner of Indian School and 20th St.: Nogales Hot Dogs (you can see my review on the linked Yelp page).

Sonoran hot dogs from Nogales Hot Dogs
A "naked" Sonoran hot dog, wrapped in bacon, dressed with chopped tomato, onion, and pinto beans, mayo (so underrated--call it aioli if it will make you feel better), and served in an amazingly soft bolillo bun.

Sonoran hot dogs from Nogales Hot Dogs
From naked, you can dress your bun with an assortment of condiments that the Nogales people keep on ice--cotija cheese, guacamole, red and green salsa, cheddar, relish, jalapenos, canned mushrooms, sliced black olives--you can have it your way, and there are dozens, probably hundreds of ways to have it. You can even get just a plain bacon-wrapped dog. I'm not sure if they offer the dogs without bacon--they precook the dogs in bacon at a separate certified kitchen since the inclusion of bacon introduces a "danger factor."

As I described in my Yelp review, the goal is to build the perfect bite: flavors, smells, textures, temperatures, all their complexity introduced separately at first before melting together perfectly. A tip: Layer the "lightweight" stuff under the heavier condiments to prevent flyaways, open wide, and chomp 'n' nom away. Experiment, play, and have fun. After all, some wise guy (or wise man) once said that the goal is one thing, but it's the journey that matters!
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Monday, February 2, 2009

January's SAS Dinner: Mangia Veggie-talian!

I love having my monthly Sweets and Savories (SAS) dinners. It shows off three of my passions: good ingredients, practicing good and sometimes pretty preparations, and feeding it all to good and sometimes new friends. Whether it's family style or plated courses, I try to do honor to all three of these things: the food, the cooking, and the people.

That said, this month's dinner was mostly in honor of the vegetarian, with a nod to the side to my meat-eating friends. I try to make the dinners fit the Daring Bakers dessert I'm serving that month. Last month, I made a big French dinner to go with my French yule log. This month, I went Italian. Not traditional, old-school Italian, mind you--but there was red sauce, rustic bread, and panna cotta, plus a apricot cream (it was like a fluffy mousse) from The Silver Spoon cookbook, which is one of the Bibles of Italian cooking. This month's DB challenge was tuile cookies. Although tuiles are traditionally French, being named after roof tiles used in France (in short), the dessert's meat and potatoes were Italian. I also tried to showcase a lot of vegetables, even replacing the no-brainer pasta with a big spaghetti squash.

Menu: Mangia Veggie-talian
The Menu.

January SAS: Mangia Veggie-talian
Sesame Green Beans and Carrots. It's a simple preparation--cut the carrots and beans to the same length, cook the carrots a bit before adding the green beans, then add salt and sesame seeds.

January SAS: Mangia Veggie-talian
Sausage in Marinade. Making vegetarian red sauce is really easy, but ... something about that punch of porkiness just makes it so much better for me, so I did make some sausage on the side for those who wanted to add it to the spaghetti squash I baked.

January SAS: Mangia Veggie-talian
Rustic No-Knead Bread. I finally broke down late last year and bought a Dutch oven. Granted, it was a sweet deal--$42 at Target! A lot of people have been buying them to try out Jim Lahey's no-knead bread and have worried about not buying big-name brands. I triple-wrapped the knob even though it's oven-proof up to 400 degrees, and it's thus far given me several awesome loaves of bread. I've done both the quick no-knead and the regular no-knead (as well as cassoulets and stews), so it's proved a worthy investment, especially for as little as I paid for it.

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
Panna Apricotta with Tuile. Mmmm. Although I know not everyone's a big fan of milk pudding (it's a texture thing for most, since "milk" and "gelatin" just doesn't gel--harhar.). I love it, though!

Soft Panna Cotta

1 tsp powdered or 2 sheets gelatin
Water to bloom sheets (3 T for powdered, about 1/2 C for sheets)
1/2 C milk
2 1/4 C heavy cream
1/2 C granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean


1. Bloom gelatin in water (either soak the sheets, or bloom the powder in about 3 T cold water)

2. Warm the milk just to a simmer, then remove it from the heat and stir in the gelatin (if using sheets, squeeze water out before adding to milk). Set aside.

3. While stirring, heat cream, sugar, and vanilla bean over low heat until it reaches a boil.

4. Then remove cream from heat, remove vanilla bean pod, and add milk and gelatin mixture.

5. Pour into mold (I used ramekins), cool, and allow to set in fridge for at least 4 hours.
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