Saturday, May 31, 2008

Guacamole, revisited

In a previous post, I spent a good amount of time philosophizing about guacamole, and there I offered one interpretation. I tend to like that interpretation quite well. However, I feel that guacamole has many forms and purposes, and while the aforementioned recipe is great for topping nachos, stuffing burritos, etc., this one stands all on its own. It needs to hold no grown-up's hand. You just eat this stuff straight (well, usually with chips, but you get the idea).

Chunky Guacamole

  • 3 large hass avocados
  • 1 lime
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped finely
  • several sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped finely
  • pepper and salt, to taste
  • 1 roma tomato, chopped finely
Cut the avocados in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over the avocados to keep them from browning. Add the garlic, jalapeno, onion, and cilantro. Cut up the avocado flesh with a butter knife throughout, but don't mash it too much. The stirring and mixing with mash up some of the soft flesh naturally, but you'll still get nice chunks of avocado in there, too. Tasting frequently for correct seasoning (and also because it's good, and who doesn't want to taste it?). Gently fold in the tomatoes last, being careful not to crush them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Room temperature

Life lesson learned: when a recipe, particularly a baking recipe, calls for butter or eggs or milk at room temperature, they're not lying. Have you ever tried to cream sugar into cold butter? It's destined for failure and gritty cookies. This may require an hour or two of forethought before you dive on in, but trust me, it's worth it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Marti's Not-so Secret Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

So everyone has those tried and true family recipes, right? So, being the intense investigative culinary reporters that we are, we've gone after the best of them. I think we struck gold on this one. We'll have to apologize to Marti's mom for putting it on the internet. Sorry, Mom.

I am usually up for some experimentation, but having attempted several variations on this one, I suggest against it. I never quite got the same consistency. This is just one of those time honored standards to keep in the repertoire.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups flour
  • 10 ounces chocolate chips (almost a full bag)
  • 2 cups oats (optional)
  • 1 cup nuts (optional)
Preheat the oven the 350 degrees. Cream the shortening with the sugar thoroughly. I use a Kitchenaid Artisan mixer, but Marti, the matriarch of this recipe, prefers a Bosch. We won't go there in this recipe, but that rivalry may be expounded upon later.

Add the eggs one at a time to the creamed sugar mixture, and beat thoroughly until very smooth. Add the vanilla, salt, and baking soda. Once completely mixed, slowly add the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. If you can pick up the dough without it being too sticky, it's the right consistency. If it's still sticky, add a little more flour.

Once the dough forms, slowly mix in the chocolate chips (and oats or nuts, if using). Form small balls of dough and place on a thoroughly greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until the tops just BARELY turn golden brown. Do not overcook, or this cookie baking exercise will end sorrowfully in a pool of tears.

We're Internet Legends Now

Dear Culinarious community,

Just to let you know, we've made it big now. We have now been included in the Food Blog community. I just barely got the confirmation email, and I searched for the Pear and Gorgonzola Salad and BOOM! there is was, staring back at me from the results page.

We also hit another big milestone, today. I got a comment from someone I didn't know. That's right, a totally random person who I didn't coerce to come look at my ramblings. Someone who was just cruising the web looking for epicurean fulfillment found us and commented. Thanks for finding us, and feel free to come back, make suggestions, and tell us about your awesome home-cooked experiments.

So now I know what fame feels like.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

This salad has got some personality. Gorgonzola is on the milder side of the blue cheeses, but boy, it's no sissy. There are some great flavors working together in this perky little number.

Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

  • 1/2 cup candied walnuts
    • 1/2 cup walnuts
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 head romaine lettuce (or other type of lettuce)
  • 2 ripe pears, sliced
  • 1/2 - 1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 - 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup honey mustard vinaigrette (click here for recipe) or some other mild dressing
Candy the walnuts by melting the butter in shallow pan. I like to break up the walnuts into much smaller pieces, but you can leave them whole if you'd like. Add the walnuts and brown sugar, stirring constantly. Cook until fragrant and golden brown. I burn them 100% of the time, so please be careful. It's really upsetting if you let it go too long. Let them cool before putting on the salad.

Chop the lettuce into bite-size pieces. Mix in the pear slices, crumbled Gorgonzola, and cranberries. Add the dressing and walnuts immediately before serving.

If you're serving individual plates at a fancy dinner party or something, try this for some presentation points. Pile the lettuce in the center of a plate, then place some of the pear slices in a fan shape up against it. Instead of crumbling the Gorgonzola, cut it in a slice or a wedge and then lean it up on the pear. Sprinkle the cranberries and walnuts on top, and serve with the dressing.

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

This is kind of a mellow dressing for salad with bold flavors that you don't want to cover up (like Pear and Gorgonzola Salad: click here for recipe). It adds just a little 'zing' without really distracting from the main event.

This recipe makes about 1/2 cup, enough for one salad's worth.

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup good-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil (you could also use walnut oil, or some other flavorful, nutty oil)
  • 3 tablespoons fruity vinegar (I used raspberry white balsamic, but apple cider or something similar would be great)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 scant tablespoon brown or Dijon mustard
  • Splash of lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Put all the ingredients in a tightly sealed container and shake vigorously, or process in a food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Warm Chocolate Melting Cake

The very name "warm chocolate melting cake" fulfills my inner yearnings. My entire extended family went a cruise a few years ago, and this dessert was on the menu every night. I cannot tell you how many of these amazing mounds of molten chocolatey goodness my family ate that week. We ordered two per person, or got one in addition to other desserts. It kind of became an addiction, and we would sheepishly try to find ways to hide the fact that we were eating so many.

"But I don't want dessert!" "Order a warm, chocolate melting cake anyway, and then sneak it to me. I've already had two tonight!"

Somewhere in my mind, I had labeled this as one of those "too good to be humanly possible to make at home" recipes, and I'll be honest, there are some very complex recipes out there.
I found this very simple one from a fellow food blogger, twisted it around just a little bit, and here it is, presented for your enjoyment. These are quite rich, so don't make them too big. I like to tone them down a little by serving them with fresh fruit and a big scoop of homemade ice cream.

Warm Chocolate Melting Cake

  • 4 1/2 ounces dark / semisweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons flour
Out of the ordinary equipment
  • Individual ramekins, or little souffle dishes
Melt the chocolate and cream together in a double boiler until very smooth, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool somewhat.

In another bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, salt, and vanilla until very frothy and light. Gently stir in the chocolate mixture, and mix until even and smooth. Don't overwork the batter: you need to keep it light and fluffy.

Gently sift the flour over the top of the mixture (you really don't want it to be clumpy at all), and stir in. Pour the batter into 6 well-greased and floured ramekins (if you're going to get them out at the end, it's crucial that they don't stick, so grease well).

Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. This is tricky stuff: you want the outsides to be cooked and cake-like, but the insides still molten and gooey. Watch carefully. A finished cake shouldn't jiggle much in the center.

You can either serve them in the ramekins, or without the ramekins. If you're going to get them out, let them sit for a minute or two, then (carefully) place serving dishes upside-down on top of the ramekins and invert. This is why they must be greased well: sticking = dessert disaster.

Serve with fresh fruit, whipped cream, or ice cream.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Worst thing I Ever Made

I like having people over for dinner. It's fun. Sometimes I make really good things. However, sometimes I make really bad things (like really, really bad things), and then serve them to my guests. One of these latter experiences changed my life and outlook on cooking and life forever.

I am a bachelor in grad school, sharing an apartment with two other guys. We don't have a lot of 'kitchen stuff,' so I did a lot of just making do with what we had, skimping by when I didn't have a necessary tool or ingredient, and getting a little creative. Nothing had ever gone seriously wrong before, so it seemed fine.

Our lucky streak, however, was not to last. I was having a few friends over for dinner, and wanting to make kind of a nice dessert, turned to a chocolate ganache cake by Ina Garten. Having the rather skimpy kitchen situation we did, I didn't have electric beaters, so I just used a wire whisk to mix together the batter. It didn't seem so bad. I also didn't have enough real chocolate for the ganache, so I ended up just melting down some random hersey's kisses with the chocolate. Needless to say, I didn't think it would be my best showing ever.

When the moment of truth came, I sliced it up and served it with ice cream. Because I was serving, everyone else got theirs before I did, and they started chowing away. While I was sitting down, I was a little surprised to hear my roommate say, "I love the crunch! Are these walnuts?"

There were no walnuts, nor nuts of any kind, nor anything that really should be making a crunch. "No," I replied simply. "Almonds?" he questioned back. "No." I gave him one of those glances that hopefully silently screams "whatever it is you're tasting, it's not supposed to be there, so please stop drawing attention to it!" I think I got the point across.

However, there I sat, chewing on the gritty mystery crunch cake, fighting the inward battle. This is disgusting. Do I just say that, remove the offending confection from my guests, and just serve ice cream instead, or do I let them keep eating it? I regret to this day that I didn't just collect the plates back, but instead, I let them eat every last crunchy, disgusting bite. My life changed forever at that point. Who cares if I was a bachelor in a college apartment: I could get some beaters, I could bake in an oven that isn't 110 degrees hotter than what the dial says it is, and I could use pans that aren't layered in 4 years of college-guy grease and poor dish washing skills. Life was way too short for gritty ganache.

So next time your cake is crunchy, and you know it's not supposed to be, don't get frustrated. Just recommit to doing it right next time. Get a few of the neccesary tools, search the web for some great recipes, spend a little more time than you think is prudent, and really enjoy the experience. Invite over some friends and have a good time.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Watermelon Lime Sorbet

Watch out, world; summer is on its way. I just got an ice-cream maker, and this was its maiden voyage. We have about half of a small watermelon leftover, so we said to ourselves, "selves, what can we do with this watermelon?" Obviously the reply came, "make sorbet in your new ice cream maker." Boy am I glad I listened to myself.

Not gonna' lie, this one is a little labor intensive, but well worth the result. It's none too sweet, so if you're feeling all hoighty-toighty and having a fancy dinner party, you could serve this one as a cleanser between the appetizer and entree, or you could just have it as an awesome, light dessert.

Most recipes for sorbet call for a syrup made of just sugar and water, but watermelon is practically all water, anyway, right? I tried making the syrup out of watermelon juice to see if that would intensify the flavor a bit (I also hated throwing out all the extra watermelon juice). I think it worked just fine.

This recipe makes about 1 quart, so you can multiply based on the size of your gathering and the capacity of your ice cream machine.

Watermelon Lime Sorbet

  • Approximately 1/2 small, round watermelon
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
Scoop the watermelon flesh into a food processor or blender, and then blend until smooth (if your watermelon has seeds, don't puree past the point where you'll be able to remove the seeds with a sieve). Pass the puree through a sieve, pressing firmly on any flesh that remains to extract all the juice you can.

Put 1 1/4 cup of the watermelon juice in a saucepan with the sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer, stirring constantly, until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the stove and cool quickly by moving to another container, or placing the pan in an ice bath. After the syrup has cooled, mix with 2 cups of the watermelon juice and the lime juice, place in an airtight container, and place in the fridge until well chilled.

When well chilled (as with all frozen ice creams, etc., you need to start with very cold ingredients), put in your ice cream maker and follow its directions. When it reaches the desired consistency, I put it in an airtight container and stored it in the freezer for a few hours to let it set.

Pico de Gallo

With tomorrow being Cinco de Mayo, it's time for the entire United States of America to celebrate Mexican history. True, no one in America really knows exactly what we're celebrating on the 5th of May (contrary to popular belief, it is NOT the Mexican equivalent of the 4th of July, the USA's independence day; Mexico celebrates it's independence from Spain on September 15th and 16th). Cinco de Mayo is actually the day a small Mexican army defeated the much-larger and much better-equipped French army in the Battle of Puebla, and is now a celebration of national pride. Look there, recipes and a little history lesson.

So, even if we don't all understand the historical significance, we do all understand that Cinco de Mayo is a day for Mexican food. Thus, here is my recipe for pico de gallo. I like the freshness of this recipe, but without the heat of other salsas. If you're looking for a scorching heat experience, feel free to add jalapeños or other peppers, but this recipe is purely for the fresh taste.

As with all my recipes, the ratios here are very approximate: add more or less of whatever you want. Plus, this recipe makes a very small batch: double or triple as needed.

Pico de Gallo

  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium tomatillo
  • 1/3 red onion
  • Several sprigs fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Chop all vegetables to similar-sized pieces (they will process more evenly in a shorter amount of time), and throw them into a food processor with the metal chopping blade. Process with a few short pulses until you reach your desired consistency. Test a little to make sure you got your balance of lime, salt, and garlic right and adjust as necessary. Serve as a topping for tacos, salads, or anything else.