Fine. Here's more from America's Test Kitchen, on how to make the most perfect bacon ever.
Just know that I'm going to expect an invitation to brunch for some bacon one of these days.
My adventures with homemade icecream.
You want more, don't you. That's so typical.. I give you an inch, you take the whole arm.
Fine. Here's more from America's Test Kitchen, on how to make the most perfect bacon ever.
The link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2guC4Badq2s
Just know that I'm going to expect an invitation to brunch for some bacon one of these days.
Ready for your mind to be blown? Check this out.
Here's the link for anyone who can't see the embedded video:
That's from America's Test Kitchen, showing us the easiest and fastest way to shuck corn.
There are lots of parties during the holiday season. Hopefully you were invited to some of them. If you went, you probably brought the host or hostess a bottle of wine, just like everyone else. Don't you wish you could have shown a little originality* and brought them a delicious, homemade dessert for their (and your) dining pleasure?
I usually go with ice cream for this sort of thing, but that takes advance planning. Luckily, my friend Emi introduced me to a great dessert that lends itself well to any occasion. I've used this four times over the last month or so: once in Tennessee to supplement the dessert table at Christmas; once for Katie to bring to her work holiday part; once to bring to Brad's DC Thanksgiving; and once .. okay, once I was hungry and wanted to use up the rest of the rice krispies.**
The point being, if you're going to a holiday party and need something to bring, these supercharged rice krispy treats taste great and are really easy to make. (Thanks Emi!)***
Here's what you'll need:
Ready, set, go!
While that's cooling, make the topping:
The chocolate/butterscotch layer will harden as it cools, but if the rice krispies are still hot, it'll take awhile, so don't start melting the morsels until the krispies are mostly cool.
Then slice and enjoy!
* Re-reading this, I'm struck by the irony of 'originality', for a recipe I got from a friend, which I promptly used four times.
** In my defense, knowing that I would inevitably eat the whole thing (Katie was out of town), I made a quarter-recipe and left off the chocolate topping.. and then promptly ate the whole thing.
*** Sure, the holidays are behind us, but better late than never. Besides, there's always next year.
**** Just an extra footnote for Mike. Hi Mike!
Ouch. My stomach hurts. It's the result of the last several days of heroic kitchen duty. We were in a small town outside of Nashville, and I couldn't insult our hosts by not enthusiastically eating their food.
Put another way, I stuffed myself silly on Southern food. And it was awesome. Here's a quick recap of what we ate:
We flew in Friday evening, and ate dinner at the house:
Saturday breakfast at the Cracker Barrel
I was stuffed from breakfast, so didn't really eat again until dinner at The Catfish House.
We skipped lunch again Sunday, and then had leftovers for dinner.
Monday morning, Katie I picked up some bagels, as a break from the cholesterol. It was a short break. Monday dinner was Christmas Eve, and it was back to the trenches:
Tuesday morning was more leftovers. Knowing that my Southern-fried vacation was coming to an end, I piled my plate high with ham, chicken and dumplings, and dressing.
That may not have been the best strategy, as we soon went to someone's house for Christmas dinner (aka lunch). I wasn't at all hungry, but we had to be at the airport by 3 pm, and I didn't want to insult my hosts by not enjoying their food.
Over Christmas Dinner, a kindly octagenarian with failing eyesight told me stories about the pistol she keeps at home, and gave me her recipe for chicken and dumplings:
Actually, he provides two recipes, one from his mother and another from his mother-in-law.
And here's the full episode:
Katie doesn't let me bring tuna salad to work. She doesn't want me to be the stinky guy, whose lunch smells up the office. She says I need to be there a few months first, and prove that I add value to the company, before I can start ignoring cube farm etiquette.
Along the same line, you may not want to bring this pasta dish to work for lunch. Or, for that matter, eat it before talking to someone who you're trying to impress, at any time of day.
I first came across this Heaven and Hell pasta recipe a couple years ago, but never proposed it for dinner since I was pretty sure Katie would exercise her veto. You know, because of the anchovies. The _raw_ anchovies.* But the Amateur Gourmet does such a great job selling this dish, I made Katie read the blog post before making her decision. And, surprisingly, it worked.
Check that out.. a tin of anchovies, a couple cloves of garlic, a pile of whole fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper. This is not for the faint of heart. But all the parts work really well together. You should try it. Really, try it tonight. Okay, if you don't have any anchovies in the house, stop at the store on the way home tomorrow night, and make it then. It's that good.
* a box of penne (or similarly-shaped) pasta
* a head of cauliflower (although I bet this would also work with broccoli, but I feel like cauliflower is _in_ right now, so this is your chance to be one of the cool kids)
* a tin of anchovies
* a head of garlic
* some crushed red pepper or a jalapeno pepper
* whole fennel seeds
1. Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces (Err on the side of smaller pieces.. these won't shrink that much, and this will make it easier to eat.)
2. Prep your flavor bowl: Chop and combine garlic, anchovies, fennel, and crushed red pepper
3. Start the pasta water (I always under-estimate how long it takes a large pot of water to come to a boil.. get this started now, and you can always let it boil until you're ready).
4. Heat a large pan, add some olive oil, and brown half the cauliflower (I fit half the head in one pan; if your pan is smaller, you may need to do it in three batches. That's okay- you want it to brown, not steam).
5. When the cauliflower is browned, remove it to a bowl and do the second half.
<Ideally, you want the water to come to a boil right when you finish browning the second batch of cauliflower. Pause here until the cauliflower and water are both ready>
6. Return the first half of cauliflower to the pan, and add half of the flavor bowl -- toss and cook for 30 seconds.
7. Add pasta to the pot.
8. Ladle one scoop of the pasta water into the pan and toss (if the water sputters and spurts when you add it, lower the heat.)
9. Cook until water is gone
10. Continue adding a scoop of pasta water and cooking it down until the pasta is cooked.
11. When the pasta is ready, transfer it to the pan with a spider or big slotted spoon (Don't worry about shaking off all the water off the pasta- you want to bring some water with it).
12. Cook the cauliflower and pasta until most of the water is gone.
13. Turn off heat, and add a splash of olive oil, the rest of the flavor bowl, and grated cheese (I never have any cheese on hand, so I skip that step)
Eat. And then think about brushing your teeth. Because in case I was too subtle in the intro, you're gonna have bad breath after eating this. But it's worth it. Besides, I barely know any single people anymore, so it's not like any of you have anyone to impress.
Katie has told me before that I can't multi-task, and making this dish did nothing to change her mind. For some reason, the way the directions are written in the original blog post didn't stick in my head, and I had a lot of trouble thinking through each step in advance. I won't lie- there may have been some chaos in the kitchen for a little while.
But now that I've made this, I can easily make it again. (From start to finish, you can do this in a solid 30 minutes.) The experience also called out how much I appreciate FoodWishes' video blogging approach, since I can see exactly what he means, if he says 'caramelize the cauliflower until they're golden brown'. Golden brown, really? This is cauliflower. It goes from white to pale to spotty brown. There's no golden there, that I've ever seen.
* Okay, they're not actually raw. They're from a can, and like tuna fish from a can, they're already cooked. But since you add half the can of anchovies at the end, and they're only warmed through .. but 'raw' reads better than writing out all of this.
Besides, this was my first time cooking with anchovies, and they've won me over. I think anchovies get a bad rap. You should give them a chance.
Growing up, my favorite ice cream flavor was peppermint stick. (If I was a better writer- or had a better memory- I would now speak poetically about its unnatural pink and red swirls, but that's not how I roll.)
But Big Ice Cream (too often crowded from the headlines by the likes of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma) long ago decided that peppermint stick ice cream would be available only once a year- an injustice that ranks with vending machines that take your money but don't give you any candy. And so I was reduced to an annual half-gallon, typically devoured in just a couple of standings.*
For whatever reason, I haven't found a recipe for peppermint stick ice cream that appealed to me. I've made fresh mint (from the mint plant on our balcony) a couple of times, and that's come out great. But I once tried adding mint extract to my basic vanilla, and it came out tasting as you would expect (full of fake mint flavor) and that pretty much turned me off to the idea.
But a few weeks ago, Katie came home from work with a surprise- she had stopped at Walgreens and bought a box of 65 mini-candy canes
The box sat on the counter for a week or two, and raided for the occasional 'cane, until I overcame my laziness and used it in ice cream. It's really easy: I made my standard base, added a little mint extract, and then when it was almost done churning, a TON of crushed candy canes. (A 'ton' is a technical term, and is defined roughly as 65 mini candy canes less however many were still in the box, in the picture above.)
Admittedly, crushed may be the wrong word here. I ground some of them in my mini-food processor, but then a couple got underneath the blade and I couldn't get it to work right. Finally, I got impatient and dumped in the rest without really breaking them up enough. But it still tasted good.
And check it out- the candy canes melted and turned the ice cream pink!
Also, and I think it's because of all the sugar, the ice cream is still really soft, so you don't have to worry about waiting around for it to soften. You can come home from work, grab a spoon, and go straight to the freezer for a quick bite (or so I've heard).
Now I can make my favorite flavor anytime I want. Unless Big Candy decides to create an artificial candy cane shortage, and stops selling them the rest of the year.
*A standing is similar to a sitting except the food is consumed standing up, usually in front of the regridgerator or freezer, straight from the container.
Back in the early days of this blog, I mentioned that I made a bacon-peanut brittle ice cream, how awesome it was, and that one day, I would get around to writing about it. This is not that day.
No- this is the story of bacon-pecan brittle.
I was at my parents' house a few weeks ago to see my uncle, who was visiting. He shares the family interest in (some might say addiction to) eating, and the subject of my ice cream came up. I offered to make any flavor he wanted, and listed some I've made. His eyes lit up when I mentioned Bacon Peanut Brittle, but my brother told me my niece is allergic to peanuts. As adorable as my niece is, I couldn't let her allergy stand in the way of ice cream. And so, Bacon-Pecan Brittle Ice Cream was born.
This isn't a complicated ice cream. Making the brittle is the most time-intensive step.
1. Cook the bacon. (The recipe calls for only two strips, but who are we kidding- use the whole pack). Remember this is going into ice cream, not on an egg sandwich, so it should be pretty crispy.
2. Assemble the rest of your ingredients. You really want to get everything together before you start, since once the sugar is melted, things start going pretty fast.
Many years ago, my friend Lynn sent me her recipe for a savory bread pudding. It has such heart-healthy ingredients as cheddar cheese, (turkey) sausage, cream, eggs, olive oil and butter. Lynn closes the instructions with step #8: "eat! but not if you have like cholesterol and/or heart problems." This is how I felt while making the brittle.
3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup and butter in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring often, until it turns golden brown (10-15 minutes).
4. When it's ready, remove the pot from the heat, and immediately stir in the vanilla, salt, peanuts and bacon (ie, everything except the baking soda). It'll thicken up, but keep mixing, until it's evenly combined.
5. Sprinkle with the baking soda, and stir to combine. The recipe says it'll foam up, but this didn't happen to me.
6. Spread the whole thing out on a baking sheet (I used one sheet, and it came out pretty thick; consider using two, if you want thinner brittle). Let it cool completely, before breaking it up into chunks.
This recipe makes quite a bit- so much I didn't need to stand guard over it, to prevent family members from stealing pieces over the course of the afternoon. Store the brittle in an air tight container for up to two weeks. (Don't refrigerate it.)
At this point, you're good to go. You can make a standard vanilla ice cream base, and mix this in when the ice cream is just about done churning. Or you could make your own little tribute to The King, and make it into some kind of peanut butter, banana and bacon-brittle sandwich. Or just keep eating the brittle from the container a little (or a lot) at a time. I won't judge you.
* The recipe comes from Humphrey Slocumbe's flavor 'Elvis: The Fat Years', which is a banana and brown sugar ice cream, with the bacon-peanut brittle mixed in. My in-laws got me their book as a present, but you can get the original recipe from this article.
I was at my friends Mike and Emi's house, when someone said 'Flying home last week, I had the biscoff cookies. Those are the best.' Other people agreed. To all of this, I smartly replied 'Huh?'
The exchange caught me by surprise. And no, not because I didn't know what they were talking about. That isn't unusual. But in this context? Cookies? The best cookies? And I hadn't even heard of them!?
See, I really have only two interests: food and exercise. Because I'm wildly over-educated, I can speak on other topics, like the major obstacles to the successful completion of the Doha trade round. But at a conservative estimate, I spend upwards of 75% of my free time thinking about food and exercise. And yet here I was, caught out entirely over these allegedly great cookies. My ignorance could not be allowed to continue.*
And so a research project was born. Biscoff: What is it, Why does Delta serve it, Where can I get some, and How does it taste in ice cream?
What is it?
Biscoff rose to fame as a cookie. A speculoos cookie, to be specific. Speculoos are, according to Wikipedia, a kind of shortcrust biscuit, and ... well, if you care that much, go read the Wiki entry.
But more recently**, Biscoff has been available as a spread. A cookiespread. (Let's all just pause for a moment, to recognize how great that idea is... ready? Okay- let's keep going). Flavor-wise, biscoff is to cookies, what nutella is to chocolate and hazelnut. When I tried it for the first time, it was as if someone had taken a box of the fancy Pepperidge Farms cookies I only got at my grandmother's house, ground them up, and made a spreadable paste out of them. All of which is to say.. it's pretty awesome.
Need more evidence on how awesome it is? I found this Salon article, with a quote from Ann Cashion, of Cashion's Eat Place.
It’s a texture, a mouthfeel thing. They are crisp to the bite, but then they just crumble into tender sand as you chew. Remarkable, really. I have only one source for them: a store near my beach house. So when I go to close the house at the end of the summer, I stock up on enough Biscoff to last me through until April! But they never do last because, well, that’s the nature of addiction, right?
Why does Delta serve it?
I dunno. Not even Wikipedia had a good answer for this one. In fact, Wiki doesn't even have an entry on Biscoff the cookie. I had to make do with this entry from WikiKitchen, Wikipedia's red-headed step-child. But Delta and Biscoff clearly enjoy a pretty deep partnership. You can even earn Delta Sky Miles by shopping at biscoff.com. Seriously.
Where can I get some?
For years, the easiest way to get biscoff cookies was to fly Delta. I'm told that on many/most/all(?) of their flights, they offer Biscoff cookies as a snack. (The second easiest was to order them from Amazon). But no longer- now, you can find Biscoff both as a spread and as a cookie at your friendly neighborhood grocery store.*** Which leads us to the research question most dear to my heart...
How does it taste in ice cream?
Great question- glad you asked. Kirby was kind enough to bring over a jar, with the suggestion that I make it into ice cream.
Given it's similarity to nutella, I followed the recipe I use to make nutella ice cream. It uses a basic custard, and has you pour the hot custard into a bowl with half a cup of nutella/biscoff spread in the bottom (with a little vanilla extract).
Like Chuck Norris, biscoff doesn't sleep, it waits.
After a chill in an ice bath and overnight in the fridge, the ice cream churned up great. The spread is pretty thick (thicker than nutella), and so the ice cream scooped out dense, with a strong cookie flavor. In a word- awesome.
* In my defense, I've never been a big store-bought dessert guy. For this, I blame my mom, who is a great baker. Her desserts have spoiled me for anything I can get at most bakeries.
** My friend Brad tells me that Biscoff, the spread, has been available in Europe for some time.
*** I haven't been able to verify the cookies. The Giant (a grocery store chain) by my apartment recently began stocking biscoff spread, next to the Nutella, but I've yet to see the cookies in the store. My friend Kirby is the only one who has spotted the cookie in the wild, but for all I know, he was in the depths of a sugar binge at the time.
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)
Winner, and still heavyweight champion of the world .. the Blue bowl (aka America's Test Kitchen)!
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:
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.