Sunday, October 16, 2016

Vegetable Cake

My five year old daughter has recently decided that she wants to be famous and make the world better.  I've convinced her that becoming a YouTube star does not make the world better, but she really wanted to share her recipe for vegetable cake with the world, because she says it's really healthy and tasty. And because it will make her famous.

I'm not sure about the famous part, but it is somewhat healthy and surprisingly tasty, so I'm willing to share.

While we were in France, I picked up some cake pans, and they came with a tiny cookbook of cake recipes.  The first half of the book would be recognizable to any self-respecting American house-wife (chocolate cake, pineapple cake, and so on), but in the second half are savory curiosities such as "ham and walnut cake", "crab cake" (in a fashion not Maryland-approved at all), and "chopped vegetable cake".  My daughter saw this last and went crazy.  Cake?  With vegetables!?  Healthy cake?!?  She wanted to make it right away, and has demanded it at regular intervals ever since.  I've never stopped her, because hey, veggies.  However, she had her own ideas about what went in it, so the recipe went out the window.  I steered only enough to keep it vaguely cake-like.

I present: vegetable cake a la Schmoo.

4 eggs
a pinch of salt
110 grams all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp milk
4 tbsp melted butter
1/2 oz blue cheese, crumbled (or replace with other cheese if your child loves blue cheese less than mine does.)
1/2 oz cheddar, grated
1 to 1 1/2 cup mixed veggies, pre-cooked and squeezed to get the water out (Schmoo prefers carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, and corn, all of which we usually have in the freezer.)
Optional: 1/2 cup cooked protein (ham, chicken, leftover lunch meat, whatever.)

Pre-heat oven to 350 F, and grease a loaf pan.
Beat eggs, and then mix in baking powder, flour, and salt.
Stir thoroughly.
Mix in milk, and then melted butter.
Fold in cheese and veggies.
Bake 45 minutes at 350 F.
Stick a toothpick in it to confirm it is cooked all the way through, and no liquid sticks to the toothpick.
Let cool for 5 minutes, and serve as is, or smeared with a soft cheese such as cream cheese or Boursin.

Squeezing the water out of cooked veggies with a paper towel

The Schmoo mixing flour and egg
Folding in the veggies

Ready to go in the oven

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Making Bacon - Part 2

Previously, I set out to make bacon.  This installment (backdated by 4 months...) is about the follow-up to that.

The pork belly sat in the bag of brine, the refrigerator, for a week.  Every day I'd flip it over and squish it around to keep things mixed and to make sure that there was adequate coverage.

After a week, onto the grill it went.

I don't have the necessary setup for cold-smoking (and it's dangerous), so I hot-smoked the bacon on the grill (while smoking a chicken, which is what's in the lower-right corner of the photo).

As you can see, I didn't rinse off the pork belly, and it has many chunks of pepper stuck to it.

How long on the grill?  Until it's safe to eat, per the food pasteurization guidelines here.  That was over an hour on my ~225 deg F (105-110 deg C) grill, putting out lots of smoke.

For the smoke, I used a mix of cherry and hickory chunks added to the Kingsford briquettes (big blue bags).

After smoking, I let it cool, and then put it back into the refrigerator, to get it cold (35 deg F / 2 deg C).  When cold, the meat is much easier to slice, as the fats are more solid.

I used a filet knife and aimed for "thick cut", which my unpracticed hand only did an ok job at.

The important part of the curing is to make sure that the nitrates got all the way to the center of the meat.  As it came off the grill, it had the classic nitrate-pink center.  And since the meat was up at 160 deg F at the end of smoking, it should be fully cooked.

It looks pink all the way through.  But I guess we really won't find out until it goes into a hot pan...

Et voila!

Pink all the way through, and it tastes delicious.

The outside ends are very smoky.  If you like a little smoke, you might just trim those off.  They were my favorite part.  ;)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Making Bacon - Part 1

Bacon is a cured meat, which complicates how it's made (and raises the bar a bit for failure:  botulism)

It's easy, but that doesn't mean you can take liberties, or be inexact.  I'm following the directions from

The key to curing meats is two-fold:  salt, and nitrates.  Nitrates are what make the meat pink, instead of a brown-ish gray.  And why bacon, ham, and pastrami all taste (and look) different from their origins as pork belly, hindquarter, and ribeye, respectively.

So where to get the nitrates?  Amazon to the rescue, as a source for "pink curing salts", aka "Prague powder #1".

The process itself is really easy.  Gather your ingredients:

1 pound of pork belly
pink curing salt
kosher salt
brown sugar,
distilled water (not shown).

(I'm not giving ratios here, go read the link above, and read all the warnings a few times on how this can go badly if you're not careful)

 Measure it all out:

The pink curing salts are fascinating.  Although the color is a little too candy-like.  My 5yo daughter was very interested in it.  But 1tsp of potassium nitrate can be deadly (this is only about 2.5% of that)

Then put all the ingredients together in a big ziploc.

Adding in the distilled water, and then mix that all up thoroughly (breaking up any clumps of sugar)

Then add the pork, sealing it up and pushing out all the air.  Smush it around really well, and make sure that the pork is thoroughly coated in the brine.  Then put in the fridge (in a pan in case it leaks).

And now comes the hard part.  We wait a week before the next step:  hot smoking the meat.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Molten hollandaise/cauliflower cakes

I've had this:
 on my Pinterest board for some months.  It looked intriguing, but it clearly wasn't a summer dish, so it sat waiting for cooler weather.  It looked rich, gooey, warm.  And it's full of vegetables and hollandaise sauce.  What's not to love?  In fact, there's really only one problem with this dish...I have no idea what to call it in English.  It's not a souffle, and it seems misleading to call it a muffin.  It's sort of cake-like in its ingredients, but the US doesn't usually do savory cakes, so "cauliflower cake" sounds weird.  In French it's called a "coulant", which sounds much sexier in French, but really just means "fluid", not the most appetizing name for a food.  It matters not what you call it.  What matters is that it's really, really delicious, and very easy.

You begin by having hollandaise.  Normally this is a fiddly operation, involving butter and eggs and wrists of steel, but lucky for you, Trader Joe's has it in the refrigerated section.  This was mildly earth-shattering when I discovered it for the first time, because while I do have some awesome wrist muscles, some days you just want some Eggs Benedict without all the fuss.

Next, take your hollandaise, put it into a silicon mini-muffin mold (or even an ice cube tray if you must), and put it in the freezer.  Now you have little pucks of frozen hollandaise, which is EVEN BETTER because you can have hollandaise on a whim for months.  On anything.  On a ham sandwich.  You're welcome.  (Now you know why it is I can lose a whole bag of aspic in my freezer.  It is full of a panoply of frozen ingredients for spontaneous future decongelation.)

A tiny puck of hollandaise, waiting for its moment

At some future date, when you're ready, bust out your frozen hollandaise sauce.  Swing by your trusty Trader Joe's, and grab a bag of roasted cauliflower from the freezer section.  These take about thirty minutes all told, making them quite suitable for a weeknight dinner.  They'd probably pair nicely with baked ham, or a hearty salad.

Hollandaise dimples

1 8 oz package of hollandaise from Trader Joe's (you will have leftovers).
200 g of cooked cauliflower
2 whole eggs, plus 1 yolk
70 g of grated cheese (Comté, Emmentaler, mild cheddar in a pinch...)
60 g of all purpose flour
20 cl of milk (about 6.7 oz)
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt, pepper, nutmeg

Freeze the hollandaise into pucks overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 F.

Find a nice big bowl, and mix everything except the hollandaise in it with a stick blender until it's thick, like muffin batter.

Pour the puree into muffin tins.   I found this filled both a big muffin tin and a mini-muffin tin, your mileage may vary.  If using mini-muffin tins, cut the hollandaise down into smaller pieces.

 Slip a puck of hollandaise in the center of each mold and make sure it's covered by the mix

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Xiao Long Bao take too long.

Shanghai-style Xiaolongbao (小籠包), also known as soup dumplings, are a delicacy I can't get enough of.  When they're well made, they're a juicy pork and shrimp morsel, swimming in soup, inside a thin wrapper that bursts the moment you bite in.  I've made them in the past, and it had been a while, so I set forth to make them again.  However, every time I make them, I always forget why it is I never make them.  It's because they're a colossal pain in the neck, and very labor intensive.

Firstly, to make soup dumplings, you need to make aspic, otherwise known as "MEAT JELLO!?!".  This forms the basis of the "soup" in the soup dumplings.  It's a solid at room temperature, so you can mix it with the filling, and then when it's steamed, it melts into soupy delicious broth.  You just combine some smoked ham, chicken wings and backs, and some sauces and seasonings, then cook it for 3 hours.  No big, right?  If you're like me, you have uninterrupted 3 hour blocks of time just lying around all over the place.  *cough*.  The good news is, it's almost all hands off time, so you can go do other things while your aspic is rendering.  Once it's done, you pour it into a large pan and refrigerate it, and then chop it into tiny cubes the next morning, which I did, and then promptly threw them into the freezer and forgot about them.  For 8 months.  And a house move.

Whilst rooting around in my freezer looking for dinner 8 months later, I stumbled across a small package of aspic, and slapped my forehead.  I had been going to make soup dumplings!  Fortunately it's starting to cool off again, and it's good weather for soup, so I decided to make them on a Sunday for lunch.  I bought all my ingredients, half-froze the pork, half-thawed the shrimp, chopped everything, mixed everything, lined my steamer with cabbage leaves...  Ready to roll!

Now comes the bad part.  The recipe makes approximately 4 cups of filling.  The filling must be parceled, tablespoon by tablespoon, onto wonton wrappers, each of which must be lovingly sealed completely, otherwise all the soup leaks out.  I wetted.  I pinched, I pleated.  I steamed, and steamed, and steamed.  It took me two hours to make lunch, and I still had a small mountain of un-steamed soup dumplings left, because the recipe makes about 48.

So the good news is, I have leftover soup dumplings in the freezer for a rainy day.  Which is good, because I swear that I am never making the blasted things again, at least until the next time I forget how long they take to make.

Recipe from Bon Appetit, with significant modifications.

Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai Soup Dumplings)
For the aspic:
10 cups water
3 pounds chicken wings (or other cartilaginous parts.  Back, neck, leg joints...)
2 1/2 ounces unsweetened smoked ham, or 1 oz prosciutto
3/4 cup coarsely chopped green onions (white parts only)
2 (1-inch-diameter 1/2-inch-thick) slices peeled fresh ginger
2 whole dried shiitake mushrooms
1 large garlic clove, flattened
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sake
1 Tbsp gelatin

Take everything except the gelatin, put it in a pot over low heat, and walk away for about 2-2.5 hours.  Check it every so often, but you shouldn't run out of water.

At 2.5 hours, strain it, and return the liquid to the pot (save the meat, you can turn it into another round of dumpling filling, or throw it in chicken broth and have a passable soup.)

Boil the liquid until you've reduced it to about two cups, about 20-30 minutes, and then remove from heat.

Mix the gelatin with a bit of cold water in a bowl, and then mix it thoroughly into the hot liquid.

Pour the liquid into a large pan (ideally metal), and let it cool in the fridge until it's solid (a few hours.)

Remove from pan and chop into cubes.  Refrigerate or freeze until you're ready for the next step.

For the dumplings:
Aspic from previous step
1 pound pork, ground or hand minced
1/4 pound raw shrimp, finely chopped (easier if they're half frozen)
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or use a mix of soy sauce and fish sauce)
1 large garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon mirin
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 package of wonton wrappers (about 48)
1 head of cabbage OR one package parchment paper

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl except for the wrappers and cabbage.

Set cabbage leaves or parchment paper in a steamer (bamboo steamers are cool-looking, but even a vegetable steamer will work, as long as you line it.)

Fill a small bowl with water, and set it next to your prep space.  Dip your fingers in it, and run them around the perimeter of a wonton wrapper.

Place about a tablespoon of filling in the center of the wrapper.

Bring the opposite two corners of the wrapper together, to form a triangle, and press them together gently.  Repeat with the other two corners.  Now very delicately line up each pair of edges, and press them together until they seal, making sure there are no holes where your precious soup can leak out.

Place the soup dumpling in the steamer, and repeat the sealing process with the next dumpling.  Make sure that none of the dumplings touch, they're very sticky, and will tear when you try to remove them.

Once you're out of room in the steamer basket, place the dumplings over high heat, and steam them for about 5 minutes (note that cooking time begins when the column of steam comes out of the pot, not when you put them on the burner.)

Remove the steamer from the heat, and very, very carefully, lift each dumpling out so as not to tear them.  If you're using parchment paper, you can cheat, and lift out the whole paper, otherwise you have to carefully remove the dumplings one by one.  I find that it's actually easiest to lift them by the top with my fingers, but you may find other techniques that work better.

Repeat the steaming process with another round of dumplings, until a: you run out of dumpling ingredients, or b: you're really sick of making dumplings, or c: you're completely full of soup dumplings and about to burst.

If you have any remaining dumpling ingredients and are not totally sick of folding them, assemble them and freeze them on parchment paper.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Cucumber-Rose Lemon Drop

You might wonder if I'm mad. If you've never had Hendrick's gin, I would understand. The first time I heard of a cucumber rose gin, I thought it sounded crazy, too.

But it works. And it works so, so well. It's hard to explain, so I'll just leave you for now with:  try it.

For New Year's Eve, it was suggested that we make "French 75" cocktails since we're in Paris. Lemon, gin, sugar, champagne. Definitely the sort of thing that has "hangover" written all over it. And easy-to-drink, too.

So we made them, using Hendrick's, because it's our favorite gin. And they were fantastic. But while I was making them, I tasted the syrup that you pour into the champagne, and realized that it would make a great drink all by itself.

And so here it is:

The Cucumber-Rose Lemon Drop

You need:

  • Two fresh lemons, of a good, tasty variety. I used some in-season Spanish ones. You'll be tasting the flavors of the lemon in the end product, so use something that's tasty, not just sour and bitter.
  • Extra-fine sugar (poudre is extra-fine, don't use powdered, it has corn starch in it to stop it from clumping)
  • Hendrick's Gin
To make:

1)  Halve your lemons, and prepare your favorite juicing device. I got about 75ml of juice out of these guys.

2) Sweeten to take the edge off the lemons. This is going to be entirely subjective. Add slowly, mixing well, and taste until it goes from "too tart", to "slightly sweet and still tart". For me, with this batch, that was 4 of these spoonfuls.

Note these are not typical kitchen spoons, they're tiny little spoons about the size of my thumb. I may have used a table-spoon all told.

3) Pour into a small glass, and add gin to taste. Again with that subjective bit. As you add the gin, the cucumber and rose will get stronger vs. the lemon. Stop when you have a nice balance.  50/50 is a good starting point, and then adjust to taste from there. At some point I'll actually measure these, but honestly, it's not how I make them, and the lemons are likely to be different from batch to batch.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bacon from "Frenchie to Go"

Because sometimes you really miss things from home, but this isn't exactly something from home.

First, some background.

On the street below our apartment is a fantastic series of restaurants by Chef Gregory Marchand.  He's a french chef that picked up the nickname Frenchie when he worked for Jamie Oliver in London.  

He runs a fantastic trio of places here on rue du Nil:
  • Frenchie - the main restaurant, small, cozy, fantastic, impossible to get reservations for (2+ month wait)
  • Frenchie's Wine Bar - first come/first serve seating because the restaurant has a 2-3 month waiting list for reservations
  • Frenchie-to-Go - a bistro/café that does breakfast and lunch
I confess that the coupling of the fantastic food and the fact that's the closest place to get lunch causes me to eat there regularly (sometimes twice a week).   But the staff is great.  Warm and friendly greetings.  And the food is, well...  it's fantastic.

One of my lunch favorites is his pulled pork sandwich. It's idiosyncratically french, with the use of a coleslaw that contains beets as well as cabbage.  But it works.  Oh does it work.  It's easily the best pulled pork I've ever had.

The other favorite is a bacon fumé english muffin avec un oeuf et de cheddar.  It's a "breakfast" sandwich.  But it's divine.  The bacon is out of this world, house-cured with maple syrup and then smoked.  The cheese is a fantastic Cheddar from Neal's Yard Dairy.

When we first ate at the café, I noticed that the menu said that they sold bacon by the kilo.  They didn't for a long time (they needed to cure a large enough stock of it, because it's house-cured).  But it was finally available. 

And it's perfect.  It is exactly what I imagine bacon to be.  Just enough fat, well marbled, smokey, with just a hint of sweetness hiding among the flavors.

I don't have any photos from after cooking it, I'm sorry.  It doesn't last that long.  In fact, when I cooked up a bunch for brunch on Christmas, I had to stake out my own claim, or it all would have vanished.