I've referenced Food52
quite a few times on this blog. I'm a big fan of their site: it's about food (always a plus for me), they have a broad collection of recipes- often with multiple versions of any given dish (because much of it is contributed by readers)- which are easy to follow and produce good food, and .. okay, I seem to be struggling with writers block this morning. You know what else Food52 benefits from? Editors. Something that this site sorely lacks, some days. Suffice to say I like their site, and you should check it out.
Let's just skip the intro, and get to the point of this post: Food52 runscontests
, where readers are encouraged to submit their 'best' versions of a given dish or kind of food (eg, Your best recipe with mint
, Your best potato pancakes
). I like these contests, because when I'm want to make a dish, I assume the judges have done my due diligence for me, and that the winning recipes have been validated as being worth a look.
So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the Your best ice cream content. Surely this would identify a great new recipe for me to try (hopefully several, thanks to the runners up).
Plus, any 'best ice cream' competition has to wade into one of the most contentious ice cream flavors debates since Chocolate or Vanilla: Plain or Stuff? As regular readers, I'm sure all of you know where I stand
. I'm a stuff guy- the more the better. (My favorite ice cream at the Chicago Ice Cream Festival of 2010- where, thanks to their terrible marketing and resultant lack of lines, I may or may not have absolutely gorged on ice cream- was Jeni's Brown Butter and Almond Brittle.. chock full of stuff) But I can understand the other side's argument. Sometimes, the mix-ins get in the way of the pure flavor of the ice cream. Was Mike's Plain Vanilla good? Of course. Would it have been better if I had mixed in some Oreos or heath bar? Definitely.
Ready for Food52's winning recipe? Olive oil-saffron with Burnt Orange-Caramel Swirl
Wait, what? This is the best flavor out of the 100+ that were submitted
? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure this is good ice cream (I really enjoyed the olive oil gelato I had at Otto years ago), but this is the best?Quick aside: How do they choose the winners? Do they really make every recipe that's submitted and do a taste test? And if so, how do I get in on that?
Back to this recipe: I can't imagine anyone looks at this list and picks that one, except on the basis of its complexity and number of ingredients (olive oil, saffron, burnt orange AND caramel? And again, long-time readers, you know both of those are big turn-offs for me.. I prefer short ingredient lists I already have in the house, and easy).
It won the contest, so it must be good. But it strikes me as fancyness (is that a word? Spell-check says no. I really could use an editor some days) for its own sake.
When you have a minute, check out the other flavors submitted. You think Vanilla-Bourbon Walnut Crumble
, or Apple Cider Ice Cream with Walnut Pralines
, or Honey Lavender
wouldn't be able to provide some heavy competition to the champion?
You know what this reminds me of? The Pepsi Challenge. There are flavors that would probably taste great for one spoonful. But for a large bowl, give me a classic.
I make french fries at home a lot. They're easy: get a couple potatoes, slice them up, toss them in oil, and roast. But they're never great- never restaurant quality. So I started reading recipes online, and found two that claim to offer crisp french fries out of the oven. Over a couple of weeks I made both recipes, but when I asked Katie which she preferred, she didn't know. She said she needed to do a side-by-side taste test.
And with that, I present to you, the First Annual* French Fry Face Off. In this corner, in the white flower bowl, the challenger, Instructable's Crispy Oven Baked French Fries.
The challenger was a recipe that caught my eye because it specifically set out to solve the issue of crispy french fries out of the oven. It calls for steaming the potatoes in the microwave, followed by tossing them in a mix of cornstarch and oil, before baking.
I tried this last week, and it failed miserably- both Katie and I could taste the cornstarch on the fries. But I liked the idea of steaming the potatoes before roasting them, so for this challenge, I ditched the cornstarch but kept the microwave steam bath. And in this corner, in the blue bowl, coming all the way from the great state of Vermont and America's Test Kitchen (via Smells Like Home), the heavyweight champion of the world, Baked Oven Fries!
I'm a huge fan of America's Test Kitchen. These guys test all kinds of variables in every recipe they produce, and I was sure these would be good. Plus, this recipe came from their cookbook The New Best Recipe
. The recipe calls for soaking the potatoes in hot water for 10-20 minutes, and then steaming them in the oven (by covering the pan with tin foil), before removing the foil and roasting. And there's the bell!
I started out with two (mostly) identical potatoes, and chopped them into thin french fries. Then I put one batch to soak with hot water, put the other in the microwave, and prepped the pans.
After the 20 minutes was up, I drained both bowls and dried the potatoes on paper towel. From there, onto the pans and into the oven.
I'm proud of myself for this one .. I knew I would forget which pan was which, so I laid out one batch the long way and the other the short way.
After five minutes, I removed the foil cover, and back to the oven.
After 15 minutes, I flipped the potatoes (and swapped the pans in the oven racks)
And finally, we're done.
Into the bowls for the judging!
For reference, the ones that were steamed (the Challenger) was arranged the long way on pan, and ended up in the white bowl. The Champion (soaked and covered with foil) was arranged the short way on the pan, and didn't flip as well (although my picture of this didn't come out).
I suveyed the audience**, and hear are some excerpts from what they said:
(Note- I didn't tell them which anything about the technique or recipe until after the tasting)
- These are crispy on the outside and softer on the inside
- Definitely chewier on the inside
- These are overcooked, that's why they're so crispy
The judges are ready with their results: Winner, and still heavyweight champion of the world .. the Blue bowl (aka America's Test Kitchen)!
- These have a better crust
- These are really good.. almost like they're salted on the inside
- Definitely a better crust on these
After the winner was announced, Steamed could be heard shouting "Give me another chance.. they overcooked me .. i cook faster because I partially cook in the microwave!"
While both were good (definitely better than recent batches), the ATK recipe got the nod. All that said, I'll probably go with Steam in the future, because of 1) the shorter prep time, 2) no need to worry about covering with/removing foil, and 3) it cooks faster.
Want to do a taste test at home? The full recipes are linked above, but here's the quick and dirty approach:
- Preheat the oven to 475. Do that now- it takes awhile.
- Wash and dry the potatoes (I never bother to peel them), and chop them thin.
- With one batch (batch A), soak them in hot water for 10-20 minutes.
- With the other (batch B), put them in a bowl, cover it with a plate, and nuke the whole thing for 4 minutes.
- When they're ready, drain the hot water from batch A and dry on paper towels.Do the same for batch B, but watch out for the steam when you lift the plate.
- Put some oil (I used 1 TBL for each batch) on the pans, and sprinkle with kosher salt.
- Toss the fries with another 1 TBL oil (each), and arrange on the pans
- Cover batch A's pan with tin foil (you want a tight seal, if possible), and put both pans in the oven
- After five minutes, remove the foil from batch A (again, watch out for the steam), and return to the oven.
- After a total cook time of 15 minutes, flip the fries, and swap them on the racks (ie, put the one that was on the bottom shelf on top, and vice versa).
- After another 15 minutes, check on the fries- they should be crispy. They may be done, or they may need another 5-10 minutes.
- When they're done, serve (although some recipes say to blot the oil and add more salt .. I don't bother with either step).
Want to know way to much about the differences in potato varieties at the chemical level? Check out this post on from America's Test Kitchen
. I was hoping for an easy to remember payoff, such as use variety XXX for french fries, but instead, all they gave was the rather general...
And what does this all mean? Because each type of potato has a different ratio of starch to moisture and a different ratio of amylose to amylopectin, and each behaves in different ways when exposed to water and heat, it’s important to pay attention to what kind of potato you choose for different recipe.
* Will there be a second? Dunno.. but probably. If nothing else, I'll probably compare today's winner to my standard recipe, to see if the soaking/steaming adds anything.
** By 'audience', I mean Katie, with the more critical comments from me.
Everyone loves fried chicken, obviously (except, I guess, for those pesky vegetarians.. but they don't know what they're missing).
And everyone loves donuts. Admittedly, I prefer donut holes to full size donuts.But still- donuts are awesome too.
So a restaurant focused on the wonderful combination of fried chicken and donuts? It would be second only to that other great combination involving poulty- chicken and waffles.
Luckily for those of us in DC, the guys behind Birch and Barley areopening a fried chicken and donuts restaurant
! It's supposed to open in Dupont Circle in late November. Get excited (and maybe get to a gym too.. this will not be a low-calorie meal).
This is how I feel about my attempts to make basil ice cream.
I've tried twice. No, that's not right. Not twice, as in two attempts. No, I've tried two different recipes, with multiple attempts to spin them into wonderful ice cream. Alas, they remain bowls of sugary, basil-y milk.
(As of this writing, I've only tried to freeze my second recipe once. I'm holding out hope- a thin, muted, easily-broken hope, but a hope all the same- that maybe the canister wasn't frozen enough, and that on a second try it'll work).
My first recipe was a little more complicated than I usually like, but I figured you, my wonderful blog audience, was worth it.
I followed David Lebovitz's recipe, whereby the basil leaves are blended with sugar and milk, and then the whole mess is cooked up into a custard. Looking at the pictures (this all took place a few weeks ago), I must have added some lemon zest too.
Then the usual process: let it cool, and then chill overnight before churning in the machine. Except.. it didn't churn. After a good thiry minutes of spinning, it was still milk. Cold milk, sure, but not ice cream.
This has happened to me before
, but usually (as in the case of that link), I re-freeze it and it works out. In this case, I ended up spinning it three times, to no avail. So finally, I read about a technique for making ice cream without an ice cream maker, where you put the mixture in the freezer, and every 10 minutes or so, mix it up.
I have strong feelings on this, so let me be clear: it sucked. Sure, it froze, but it wasn't very good. It was similar to really bad, cheap ice cream.. grainy and full of ice crystals.
So for my second attempt, I went with a recipe I've made several times before- and once just a few days ago, with fresh mint:
| || |
Make Jeni's standard ice cream base (3 1/4 C milk, 2/3 C sugar, 2 TBL corn syrup, 1 1/3 TBL cornstarch). Then, pour it into the bowl to cool, and add the basil (or whatever herb you like). The basil steeps as the milk mixture cools. Then, wheneve you're ready, make it into ice cream.
Like I said, this worked perfectly for the mint- I still have most of a quart in my freezer. But this time, nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip.* So I put the milk mixture back in the fridge, washed and dried the freezer bowl and put that back in the freezer. I'll try again in a couple of days. But if this doesn't work, I'm throwing in the towel on the basil. I've got a better flavor coming down the pipe.. biscoff!
*I took a picture, but I don't think it really makes clear how not-frozen it is.