Sunday, June 23, 2013

Caramel Chocolate Crackers

Captain's Log

Father's Day Edition: Part Two

Like the Lime Meltaway Cookies, these, too, are lifted from Smitten Kitchen. These are amazingly amazing. I cannot recommend them enough. And they were very easy to make! Unlike other toffee recipes I've tried, these don't require a candy thermometer. This is a huge win in terms of difficulty and time. Even Miss Deen's recipe involves temperatures and precise timing. When you get down to it, I think the big question when it comes to toffee and thermometers is the texture of the final, crystallized product. Is a little crumbly and very crunchy acceptable? Do you prefer a glassy "snap", like in a Skor bar? If the former sounds okay, this is the recipe for you.

I followed the SK recipe pretty closely, so, again, very little creativity here on my part!
  • one sleeve Saltine crackers, I used the ones with unsalted tops. Broken matzo is also a good choice.
  • 2 sticks (one cup, 8oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups choc chips.. semisweet or bittersweet
  • toasted nuts of your choice. I used maybe 1/4 c sliced almonds
I started with toasting the nuts and setting them aside. Then preheated the oven to 350° and I lined a large cookie sheet with foil, then parchment paper. I arranged the crackers in the pan, breaking them as needed to fill the space.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lime Meltaway Cookies

Captain's Log

Father's Day Edition: Part One

Also this is a "stolen" recipe

For those of you not keeping track, I've now made and shipped chocolate cake, divinity, and turtles to people I love. And all within the last two months! I was starting to run out of ideas for shipping-friendly homemade goods. Yes, yes, of course I could make regular cookies, but.. cookies of the regular variety kind of bore me as a chef. Er, home cook.

That said, I know my mom has been making key lime pie for a few years now and that she and my dad have really enjoyed it. This foray into zippy citrus is definitely noteworthy because I come from a chocolate and/or nuts sorta family. So, maybe I should tap into that lil wellspring, eh?

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen for Key Lime Meltaways and I thought I'd give it a go for Father's Day (Part One). SK is absolutely correct: These are pretty tasty, and it's neat how they have a "melting" crumble texture, presumably from the addition of cornstarch to the dough. They're a good alternative to shortbread or other more traditional cookies. And the recipe is super easy. Also, it should be noted that I only changed the recipe in the sense that I used regular limes instead of key limes. Sooo you'd pretty much get the same info from the official SK write-up, minus my glowing personality of course.

Here's the recipe, from Smitten Kitchen:
  • 1.5 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, divided (1/3 cup and 2/3 cup)
  • zest of 1.5 limes (I used regular limes. If you use key limes, SK says 4 tiny or 2 large)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
I whizzed around the butter and 1/3 cup of the sugar:
And then I added the zest, vanilla, and lime juice:
This is just a tsp of vanilla because I misread the recipe.
I added the rest of it a bit later, when I realized my mistake.
Then I mixed this together, and concluded I definitely could have/should have just done this by hand (because it's so simple).
I mixed together the cornstarch, flour, and salt in a separate bowl, then I slowly added that to the butter mixture to make the dough.
Then I divided the dough in two and, one half at a time, I rolled it into pretty narrow logs on some parchment paper.
I was shooting for an approximate 1" diameter
This part was a little tricky because my hands are usually warm and, of course, heat makes the dough super sticky. I had to use the parchment as a barrier so I could "make a snake." Anyway, with some effort, it worked out. I let this chill in the fridge for at least an hour, and then I sliced it into thin coins. I'm saving the other dough snake in our freezer for when company visits (Hi Missy!), so what you see from here onward is just one of them.
They spread a little when they bake, but not much.
pro tip: use the parchment from the dough snake to cover your cookie sheet
And then I baked them at 350° for 13-14 mins...
I let them cool for a couple of minus, then I tossed them in a freezer bag with the remaining powdered sugar.
......... perhaps I should have been a little gentler.

Still: they tasted pretty good! And most of the cookies did NOT break, and those were the ones that went to my loving father in Virginia.

Stay tuned for Part Two. It's a killer.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fruit Shrub: Strawberry and Blueberry

Captain's Log

Don't worry I will explain all of this

I've been experimenting with shrubs for a little while, and I thought it might be fun to share those ventures. It all started, for me, in a restaurant: I saw that a concord grape "drinking vinegar" soda was available. I ordered it, and it blew my mind how refreshing it was. Sure, it was a little sour, but only in the sense that it woke me up. It was sweet and fruity and fizzy.. perfect for a hot hot day. This was in December, mind you, but I have a pretty solid imagination.

Quick definitions: A "shrub" is a drink, usually made from fruit, flavored with sugar and vinegar. It's a very old style of drink, harkening back to days without refrigeration, when pickling foods allowed people to enjoy seasonal produce year round. Shrubs can involve just fruit (like blackberries), or the addition of herbs (rosemary?), or roots (ginger). One can also play with the type of vinegar, as some are gentler/sweeter/fruitier than others. There are infinite combinations!

I've been following these directions, using the cold method. I took two cups total of cut strawberries and blueberries...
and added two cups of sugar...
it fits!
I mushed the blueberries so they'd pop, and I stirred everything around until I felt all the fruit had access to sugar. I also added two cloves and some lemon and orange peels for more flavor.
Then I let it sit in the refrigerator. I tasted a strawberry after the first day and was surprised at how strong the citrus flavor was, so I picked out the lemon and orange peels and discarded them to prevent over-saturation. Here's the fruit after two whole days. Look at all that sugary juice!
Next I strained the fruit using some cheesecloth that my prescient soon-to-be mother-in-law gave me for Christmas. Thanks!
Sorry for the terrible shot, but this was a pretty sticky operation. Haaaaa...  Anyway after two rounds of straining (the blueberry seeds were a pill), I moved everything to a larger bowl:
..and I scraped in that undissolved sugar
And then I added two cups of apple cider vinegar. The result? A super tangy, sweet, fruity syrup. I'm letting this sit in the fridge for a few weeks so all the flavors can get to know each other and mellow out.

A month or so ago I did this with just white vinegar and strawberries...
Left: strawberries and white vinegar.
Right: strawberries, blueberries, clove, lemon peel, orange peel, and apple cider vinegar.
Look at the color difference! Isn't it neat?

In terms of actual use, for the plain strawberry shrub, I mixed it with Wild Turkey, soda water, and ice, and it was completely amazing. I'll do the same with the strawberry/blueberry shrub for a one-to-one comparison. I bet the apple cider vinegar will be a little tastier.

Aaand here's a photo of the strawberry/blueberry shrub, diluted with soda water:
super refreshing
At the time this photo was taken, the shrub had aged maybe two weeks. It's definitely drinkable just like this, but it still has a little vinegary burn to it.

Here's a shot of the diluted shrub next to the pure syrup, for color comparisons.

I'd like to try this with blackberries and raspberries, maybe with a touch of cinnamon or ginger. And peaches when they're in season!

But I would love to hear ideas from my readers... Any suggestions? What sounds tasty and refreshing to you?

Oh, and all that leftover sugary fruit? 
Delicious on ice cream, yogurt, or cereal.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

BBQ Pulled Pork

Captain's Log

Delicious Summer Foods Edition

Pulled pork is one of my favorite foods. There, I said it. I nearly always order it when I go to BBQ restaurants, and the version out here has been bothering me because it is so, so cumin-heavy. Maybe this is a Western US thing, since we are closer to the Southwest and/or Tex Mex regions? Anyway, I suppose some things we just have to do ourselves!

A few notes on technique: I cook this in my slow cooker. I know this next statement is controversial, but I don't brown the meat before braising it. I know. Shocking! It just makes a sputtering stovetop mess, and I find the results are completely delicious even without this step. If I were cooking for a food critic, or the Queen of England, I might brown it first so I could lay claim to the "nutty dark complexity" that such a step can provide, but, you know. It's just us. I also know a lot of die-hards in the South will insist you must smoke the pork. This is probably true. However I live in a 600 sq. ft. apartment in a city, and it's just not something I do. Yet? Smoked paprika or liquid smoke are acceptable replacements for me, for now.

I start with a pork roast. The most delicious pulled pork comes from the shoulder ("Boston Butt") because it's dark meat with a lot of marbling. You can make passable pulled pork from other, less fatty cuts, but it'll be a lot leaner and thus less silky and tender. You also risk having "dry" meat, which can be fixed by adding more sauce to compensate, but.. considering how much sugar is in BBQ sauce, you might be better off starting with the fattier meat? Just saying. Lean white meat BBQ, for me, fails to scratch the itch. Once more, I do try to find a roast with a bone in it since that will help with both flavor and texture.

Here's what I got:
Dark red meat, bone running through the middle. I cut off most of the thick fat layer running along the bottom side, barely visible here.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pretzel Rolls

Captain's Log

Lest you think I'm cooking only sweet things

When 30 Rock went off the air, we had a farewell party. I made some of the foods Liz Lemon was always talking about, and we ate them in her honor. We had ham, we had cheese (in the form of this... HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), and, well, while I'm at it you all should just watch this. We did have vegetables, too, but that aspect of the meal does not make for interesting blog fodder.

What a lot of links! I am a millennial, you know. Technically.

Anyway! I also made us pretzel rolls to go with the ham, lifted from Smitten Kitchen. They were a bit of an ordeal, but homemade pretzels of any sort are an interesting novelty and so I thought I'd try them again for the blog.

Here's the recipe, adapted to suit my needs:

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • one envelope regular yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup plus two tablespoons warm water (more on this later)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • one egg white
  • course salt

And that's it! Easy, right? .......

First I put the salt, sugar, and yeast in a bowl.
That's Florida Cane Sugar, hence the golden hue
Then I added the flour and mixed.