Monthly Archives: June 2011

Macarons Attempt #1

Today Amy and I attempted our first batch of macarons. I have been waiting to attempt this allusive French cookie for a while now and finally took the plunge. The rumors floating around the internet are that this is incredibly difficult and there are many ways to fuck it up. There are also rumors floating around that Elvis is still alive and Madonna is a woman, but you can’t believe everything, now can you?

Whipping the egg whites to soft peaks.

Now macarons are difficult to make. They are not straightforward, simple, or quick. They are time consuming, require multiple steps, and you need to pay attention to what you are doing. They are more complicated than souffle, but I think a lot of things are more complicated than souffle, such as unlocking my front door after I’ve had a couple of beers. They are definitely worth the time and really it’s quite fun to make these little guys. Having a partner in crime definitely made the whole process more enjoyable.

My partner in debasing French food: Amy

We started with a journey to Safeway where they did not sell almond flour. They sell three million different brands of peanut butter and a package with three thousand boneless, skinless chicken breasts but they do not sell almond flour. Bummer. This meant we had to take an extra trip to Whole Foods on 41st Avenue to get almond flour. Before going to Whole Foods we bought a pastry bag (it was actually called a cake decorating bag) and an assortment of tips, which we ended up using none of. At Whole Foods we bought our almond flour which was ridiculously expensive. Seriously. They’re almonds. Ground up. Why do they cost twelve dollars for a pound? Sigh.

Our stiff peaks could have been stiffer.

When we got back to Amy’s apartment, we started the macaron making process. And yes it is definitely a process. We used Martha Stewart’s macaron recipe because we both find Martha to be an anal retentive, attention to detail kind of gal which is perfect for this sort of endeavor. We started with two egg whites in the stand up mixer on medium and mixed them until they were foamy. When they are foamy add a pinch of cream of tartar. Then beat some more until you achieve soft peaks. Soft peaks will fall over. Your eggs will look like marshmallow fluff. When your egg whites look like marshmallow fluff, then add a 1/4 of superfine sugar and beat on high until you achieve stiff peaks. To tell whether or not your peaks are stiff enough hold the bowl over your head for ten seconds upside down. If they do not come out then they are stiff enough. If they come out then well you need to start over again.

The mixture after the flour/sugar was added as well as food coloring. 

*In the real world, stiff peaks will not fall over at all. They will look like stiff, puffy clouds. You do not need to hold a bowl upside down over your head. *

Now while this is going on, the other person should have been sifting the cup of confectioner’s sugar and 3/4 cup of liquid gold (almond flour). We did not sift it enough. IT WAS FINE. NOTHING BLEW UP. In retrospect we could sift it more.

When your peaks are stiff (ours could have been stiffer and STILL NOTHING BLEW UP), then begin to fold your sifted flour and sugar mixture in. You want to fold it gently in a figure eight pattern just like you would with a souffle or any other sort of meringue. Make sure that you are only adding in about a 1/4 cup of your flour/sugar mixture at a time as to not overload your egg whites. Once you have mixed in all your flour then add your food coloring. We decided on yellow. I used five drops of yellow and it came out a nice, light buttercup yellow.

Now you get to do the messy part or what for us was the messy part because our twelve inch pastry bag was too small. Scoop your mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a crescent moon tip or be like us and just go bareback. It worked fine. We got mostly circle shapes. We had a kidney shape. It was cute. There were also Mickey Mouse ears but we’re not going to talk about those. Now squirt out your mixture in a circular shape on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Oh by the way you should have pre-heated your oven to 375 at this point.

Once you have made your circles let them sit for about ten to fifteen minutes to develop a skin. Yes, they start growing organs. They are magical. During this time also decrease the temperature in your oven from 375 to 325. Once your macarons have grown skin, put them in the oven for five minutes. Then rotate the cookie sheet and cook for another five minutes. Then take them out of the oven and let them cool before removing them from the cookie sheet. Fill with buttercream frosting, ganache, a mixture of marscapone and jam, or coagulated blood.

We got feet and our tops were smooth. We achieved a lot this first batch, but we still need to work on it.

If you would like more exact instructions check out Martha Stewart’s recipe: http://www.marthastewart.com/318387/french-macaroons

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Homemade Fresh Whole Wheat Pasta and Branzino

Andrew and I are in the process of moving back to Santa Cruz. We are so happy to be leaving Santa Clara and to live in Santa Cruz again. As people who do not enjoy city life, suburban landscapes or 100 degree weather, Santa Cruz is a much better fit for our temperaments. We both love hiking in the redwoods, walking along the beach, and of course, banana slugs. Not to mention, New Leaf Market is one of the few places in the area that still sells raw milk, unless you want to buy it straight from the source or from the farmer’s market. Plus in Santa Cruz I can go foraging for berries and I’m closer to work.

Since we are in the process of moving, I needed to procure boxes this morning. Alas, when I arrived at Staples they were not open yet and I had half an hour to kill. I decided to hop on over to Whole Foods Market on Stevens Creek in Cupertino. I knew when I got there that I wanted pasta, tomato sauce, and fish. I wanted to cook a whole fish. Their selection of whole fish is meager at Whole Foods. They had branzino, sardines, and a large fish that I can’t recall the name of. I did not want to cook sardines. Nothing against sardines, but I wasn’t feeling it. Instead I bought one whole branzino which weighed in around a pound. I had no idea what a branzino was or how it was typically cooked or what you served it with. It sounded like a character from a 1970s John Travolta movie. Hard to pass up.

Branzino Head. Branzino is also called European Sea Bass. 

When I got home, I did not cook the fish straight away. Instead I packed a couple boxes and then got to work on my tomato sauce. I heated up a giant soup pot on the electric burner of death and inaccuracy on what my stove top considers high. High on my stove top means awful burning smell, fan blasting on high, all the windows open, and the pot getting to about what would be on any other stove medium-high. While I was preparing to burn down my house, I cut a dozen tomatoes in half. Note: always use a serrated knife when cutting ripe tomatoes. Much easier than a chef’s knife. Once my pot was hot I added a couple turns of olive oil. I don’t know how much olive oil it was. Add as much or as little as you like. It will smoke. Your pot is hot. That’s the point. Then add your tomatoes. It will splatter. You may get burned. I always get burned. It happens. Do not disturb your tomatoes. They want to be left alone as they die. While your tomatoes are charring on the bottom of your pot, roughly chop an onion, preferably white or yellow. Then peel as much garlic as you like. I like garlic a lot so I used a whole head. The recipe that I was following called for one clove. That is a recipe for pansies.

Tomatoes, onions, and garlic cooking. 

Add your onions and garlic without disturbing your tomatoes. Let it sit for about five minutes. Then add a good amount of red wine. I used a cabernet sauvignon. I don’t drink wine generally and most use it for cooking. You can use any red wine. You could use white wine. Please do not use plum wine or any other sort of fruit wine. Now is when you get to stir. Stir it a few times to distribute the onions and garlic in with the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper. You can also add oregano, thyme, etc at this point. I realized I had none of these herbs in my cupboard/fridge so I did not use them. Add as much as you like. This is your sauce not Prego’s.

Whole wheat pasta dough. 

I let my sauce cook for another ten to fifteen minutes while I made my pasta. Pasta is simple to make. Cookbooks make a big deal out of the well. Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to make a volcano. Sure it’s fun to make a volcano but it’s really not going to change a fucking thing and I think the only reason that people insist on the well is that they want to intimidate you. These people are members of the cooking masons and don’t want you to learn the secret handshake of hollandaise. I put in a generous amount of whole wheat flour. Purists will insist on semolina. You can use whole wheat, you can use all purpose, don’t use bread flour because it has too much gluten. Otherwise, have fun and experiment. This is your food. I then separated two extra large eggs, tossed the egg white aside and used two yolks for my dough. I did make a well and put my eggs in that well. Then I added a quarter cup of cold water at a time until I had mixed a firm dough. You do not want it to be sticky. You want it to be firm. Now set aside in a bowl and cover with plastic.

The sauce after it has cooked but before it went into the food processor. 

While I let my pasta dough rest (this is so the gluten in the dough relaxes), I began processing my tomato sauce. I hate chunky foods, especially chunky foods that are in sauces with crunchy onions. Yeah I have sensory issues, deal with it. I put my tomato sauce through a food processor in small batches. Make sure that your sauce is no longer boiling when you do this. Make sure you are not pouring boiling hot tomato sauce from a large pot into a small food processor. I use a ladle for this. I also cover the hole in my food processor with a towel so I don’t burn myself.  You don’t have to do this step. You can leave your sauce as chunky or smooth as you like. A food mill will remove the tomato skins and seeds leaving you with a chunkier sauce than a food processor.

Sauce after it went through the food processor. 

It makes a lot of sauce.

After you are done making your sauce, you can start rolling out and cutting your pasta dough. Find a flat wood surface and dust it with flour. Make sure there is enough flour so your dough does not stick. Then get a rolling pin and flour that. Now roll out your dough to desired thickness. You want it to be around 1/16 to an 1/8 inch. It will expand and get thicker when you boil it. Once it is rolled out get a knife and start cutting strips or whatever shape you want. Or you could do all this in a fancy pasta maker. I don’t have a fancy pasta maker and a knife does just fine if you don’t care about uniformity or aesthetics. Once you have cut up your strips lay them gently down on a floured surface and cover with a dish towel so they do not dry out. You can always boil them at this point, but I had other things to do.

Roll out your dough to a thickness of 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch.

Fresh whole wheat noodles before they’re cooked. 

Such as going to REI. At REI you will stand in front of the sleeping bags for twenty minutes waiting for a sales associate to help you which they will not because you are a single female surrounded by males and families. Then you will get annoyed and go up to a sales associate and demand they find your sleeping bag. Then bring your sleeping bag home and bask in its less than three pound backpacking appropriate glory.

Branzino stuffed with lemon slices and seasoned with salt and olive oil. 

Just stuff everything on in there. Unless you overcook it, this fish is quite moist. 

When you get home from your successful but annoying trip to REI where you also bought these awesome foldable camping plates and iodine tablets, you will then discover that your boyfriend has set an ENTIRE CASE OF BEER on top of your pasta. It is a mess. They are all stuck together and you have to roll out your dough all over again and cut them again. 😦

While I was cutting up my pasta for the second time, I got a large pot of water boiling and set my oven to 400 F. I then got my fish out from the fridge and washed it. They had gutted and scaled it at the market for me, which was very nice of them. I sliced up a lemon from the garden, stuffed as much as I could into the cavity, then squirted the rest on top of the fish. I liberally sprinkled it with salt and then drizzled it with olive oil. Cook on one side for four minutes then flip it over and cook for another four minutes. Then turn the oven to broil and let it broil for about three to five minutes then take out of the oven. Foil will greatly help in the clean up.

Whole roasted branzino

While your fish cooking, make your pasta. It will cook in about five to seven minutes depending on how thick and wide your pieces are. Then drain and rinse. Whole wheat pasta can get a little gummy, hence the rinsing. Pasta made from semolina or all-purpose will most likely not need to be rinsed.

Top with fish, sauce, and  maybe a bit of parmesan. Enjoy!

Making Cheese…In Your Bathtub?

This weekend I took the plunge. I had been flirting around the edges of homemade dairy products for a while, toying with the idea of making my own cheeses for months. I researched recipes, read about failures and successes, and scoured the blogs for tips and hints to create a delicious cheese at home without any extra equipment or magical chemicals (rennet is a magical chemical that any serious cheese maker is going to have to face sooner or later). Cheese making or dairy alchemy as the dork in me likes to think of it is easier than you would believe.

The recipes and tutorials on-line were lacking for me. Not that they weren’t full of great tips, detailed pictures, or solid recipes, but the majority of the ones I read through required a thermometer and a microwave which are two things that I do not have. I ended up buying a thermometer, but I find microwaves abhorrent and have no plans of owning one unless it is for the pure, unadulterated joy of making grapes turn into floating, nuclear orbs. Instead I consulted my cooking bible: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian (the original How to Cook Everything also has a recipe for making fresh cheese, but I used the vegetarian edition this time. I am not sure if the recipes differ at all.) His recipe calls for neither a thermometer or microwave.

My cheese making journey continued from the recipe to Whole Foods market in Cupertino. The parking lot at the Whole Foods in Cupertino is almost as bad as the parking lot at Ranch 99 quite similar to a UFC cage fight but with caffeine fueled raging yuppies in Priuses instead of steroid enhanced bulging biceps and sweaty oiled up men wrapping their crotch around another man’s head. I actually found a parking spot quite easily because I don’t care how close to the store I park. Once inside the store I was disappointed that they do not have raw milk and I settled for Strauss Creamery Whole Milk. How many pretentious points do I win for that sentence? In addition to the half gallon of milk, the recipe requires a quart of buttermilk. I used low-fat cultured buttermilk because I didn’t have a choice. It was this or goat buttermilk. I didn’t want mix the teat juice of two different animals together. That didn’t seem kosher to me (it probably is kosher, but I’m not an expert on the exact laws of kosher).

I gathered the rest of my groceries, was assaulted by an exuberant chick in the frozen food aisle (apparently there is a brand of frozen yogurt at Whole Foods that is “the absolute shit”), and insulted by the checker. I don’t know but Andrew and I have managed to be magnets for the yuppie wrath of the Whole Foods checkers. First it was the snooty middle aged woman with the bad bleach job insulting our reusable Target bag and this time around it was a checker snidely commenting to the bagger, “How do you feel about wasting paper?” because I had more items than what could fit in my reusable bag. Obnoxious shaved head, peace sign, gaged ear mother fucker. Needed to get that off my chest.

A very important picture showing the ingredients. Showing off my pretentious dairy.

The first step after buying your products and braving the snobbery of up-scale grocery stores THAT DON’T EVEN SELL RAW MILK, is to bring your milk to a boil. Well, my first step was to actually clean out the rice underneath my burner that was sure to set my smoke alarm off (our smoke alarm is a bit trigger happy and I bet it would be get an erection from a birthday cake) and clean out a large, stainless steal pot. You need a big pot for this. If you have one of those fancy enamel pots go for that. It just needs to have a heavy bottom and I think aluminum does something scary so don’t use that.

1. Bring your half gallon of milk to a boil on medium-high heat, stir to keep it from scalding (aka that nasty burnt milk smell)

Once your milk comes to a boil with bubbles coming up the sides, then you are ready to add your quart of buttermilk. Stir it until the whey and curds start to separate. In other words stir until it looks like a yeast infected vagina has discharged into a giant tub of urine. That is seriously what it looks like. It is not appetizing looking at this point. It was a matter of about a minute for this to happen so you need to have your colander prepared.

The curds separating from the whey. Curds are the chunky part and whey is the liquid. Whey can be added when cooking bread to add extra protein. 

This is not delicious looking at this point. 

Once the curds and whey have separated remove your pot from the heat. Add salt. Be liberal with the salt. I was not liberal with the salt and my cheese I think lacked for it (that’s a nice way of saying it ended up bland). At this point you should have prepared your draining situation. Your draining situation should consist of a colander and three layers of cheese cloth. You can get fancy with additional accoutrement such as a dowel and some twine, but I prefer to keep it simple. Make sure you have enough cheese cloth to cover your cheese completely and be able to knot it.

The curds as the whey drains away.

Carefully pour the mixture over the cheese cloth. Make sure you are doing this over the sink or a bowl if you want to save your whey. Tie your cheese cloth in a knot so none of the curds are going to escape. Now tie it to a place where you want it to drain. I started with mine draining over the kitchen sink but then realized that I had dishes to wash so I moved it to the bathtub. And I thought the only thing you could make in your bathtub was moonshine. Let it drain wherever you set it up for about an hour to an hour and a half then refrigerate.

My kitchen sink draining situation. 

My bathtub cheese draining situation. 

Homemade fresh cheese! Yum!

Crispy Skinned Salmon: An Ode to Ranch 99

I have probably waxed poetic about the beauty of Ranch 99 before. Ranch 99 is a chain of Asian supermarkets found in the Bay Area (and I’ve heard rumors of them existing in other parts of California as well). Right down the street from us is the Ranch 99 Cupertino store. It is in a busy shopping center with one of the most dangerous parking lots I’ve ever encountered along with a large number of mostly Chinese restaurants and bubble tea stores. I like having this grocery store within walking distance and it will be one of the few things that I will miss after we move back to Santa Cruz.

Fresh wild salmon filet with large ribbons of fat running through it.

One of the best things about Ranch 99 is the fresh seafood. They have live shellfish of all shapes, sizes, and varieties there. They also have live fish there that you can choose from. Now I am not so knowledgeable, skilled, or adventurous enough at the moment to choose my own fish and gut it at home. Instead Andrew and I opted to purchase their fresh, wild salmon filets stored on ice in the fish market. These filets were huge and mine alone was over a pound of brightly colored, fat ribboned salmon glory.

Salmon Skin is not only beautiful but incredibly delicious and crispy when grilled. 

 I went for a simple treatment of the fish. I marinated it in the juice of one lemon, two tablespoons of soy sauce, and rubbed some brown sugar into the flesh. Before marinating make sure to wash the fish so any slime comes off and pat it dry with paper towels. This is also a good time to debone the fish if there are any. There were so few bones in my fish that I just skipped this step all together. Let it marinate on the counter for thirty minutes before throwing it on the grill.

Marinating salmon in soy sauce, lemon juice, and brown sugar. 

Grill the salmon skin side down so the skin becomes crispy and delicious. The skin may stick to the grill. It did in my case because of the marinade that we put on it, but Andrew’s simple treatment of olive oil and lemon juice did not stick to the grill. You want to grill it on medium high heat with about four inches of space from your rack to your heat source (we use a propane grill). Our filets were large so it took about twenty minutes for them to cook to about medium. It will be less time if your filets are thinner or if you want to go for medium rare. Only eat medium rare or rare fish if it is very very fresh and you know the source. Just because the grocery store says it is sushi grade does not necessarily mean that you can it rare.

We served the salmon with asparagus cooked on the stovetop with olive oil and lemon and brown rice.

 

Thinking Outside the Box: Creative Ways to Enhance Store Bought Macaroni and Cheese

I go through food phases. The last month I have hardly cooked anything, be it from scratch, from a can, from the freezer or from the box. Most of my meals have consisted of Subway sandwiches or a combination of bananas and beef jerky bought from my morning pre-work 7-11 foray. I have had time to cook since classes ended in May, but I just haven’t felt the desire, the passion for homemade food lately. In the past week things have gotten better and I found myself “cooking” a little more at home. This cooking consisted mainly of boxed macaroni and cheese with added ingredients to make it more interesting, flavorful, and healthy. There was also one ramen dabbling that did not end well.

Annie’s Shells with White Cheddar, broccoli, and hot Italian sausage

First of all, I think it is important to start with a better brand of macaroni and cheese. I know Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese brings back memories of childhood with its nuclear orange powder and almost tinny taste, but there are better, healthier brands of boxed macaroni and cheese out there. The brands I use nowadays are Annie’s and Safeway Organic (I think Safeway Organic has more flavor than Annie’s to be honest and it’s much cheaper).

10 Ways to Enhance Store Bought Macaroni and Cheese

1. Add green vegetables. These not only makes it taste better, but fresher and healthier. I generally add broccoli or asparagus because they are not only some of my favorite vegetables but they cook quickly and can be tossed in with the pasta while it’s cooking or even after it’s done. What I generally do is put the cut up broccoli pieces in the colander then pour the pasta with water over it. The broccoli comes out crunchy, but slightly cooked. Frozen peas would also be a nice addition, but this is something you can experiment with.

2. Add cooked sausage or hot dogs. Slice these up and add in after you’ve mixed the pasta with the cheese powder or sauce. I generally make mine with hot Italian sausage.

3. Add tabasco, tapatio, or any hot sauce for a spicy, cheesy dinner.

4. Shred cheddar, jack, colby, or pepper jack for more cheese in your Macaroni and Cheese. I think this is especially nice with Annie’s brand because I found it distinctly lacking in cheese flavor.

5. Grill up some onions or shallots while your water is boiling for a more robust flavor and a different texture. I think this would go great with some sliced kielbasa in there as well or a bratwurst.

6. Add roasted bell peppers or hot peppers for a smoky, spicy flavor. Either use jarred or make your own fresh in the oven or on the grill.

7. Cut up luncheon meat such as ham, salami, roast beef, or turkey and toss it in. I think ham would complement the flavor best.

8. Make a macaroni and cheese grilled cheese sandwich. This definitely is overkill on the cheese factor but think of the different textures. Butter up some of your favorite bread, add a slice of your favorite cheese to each piece of bread and add your prepared macaroni and cheese. Press sandwich together and go forth as you would with a grilled cheese sandwich.

9. Add crumbled bacon, canadian bacon, or get fancy with pancetta. This will add a smokey flavor along with some crunch.

10. My friend Ian introduced me to this last one. It is definitely an acquired taste and not for everyone. Add sliced up hot dogs and brown sugar to the prepared macaroni and cheese. This creates a salty/sweet and smokey flavor that some people might have a hard time wrapping their taste buds around, but I found it delicious.

Homemade Chocolate Donuts

No recipes here, just pure food porn: homemade chocolate glazed donuts. These donuts were made by my friend Marcus. Delicious!

The donuts before they were glazed. They even look delicious at this point. Marcus did a double raise, then fried them and then glazed them with chocolate.

Marcus chopping baker’s chocolate for the chocolate donut glaze.

Whisking the glaze.

Donut glazing action.

Delicious. Delicious.

In addition to donuts last night, I brought a cheese that hints of horseradish, a dry Italian salami, kalamata olives, and crackers. Yum!