Sunday, July 31, 2011

Master Chef

Recently I have been watching the episodes of Master Chef piecemeal on Hulu. I'm kind of into the show, I have to admit. I am not sure if it is the drama of it all or more the amazement to me that these home cooks--most of whom look like just average people, have such a range of cooking skill without cooking schooling (for the most part).

I could not be a master chef. I just don't have that skill set. Even if my somehow amazing made-up signature dish had gotten me in on the first round, I'd have been out during the apple slicing challenge--my cutting skills--knife or scissors have never really progressed to adult master cutting level. I really can't get even cuts throughout an entire apple. If you think, sure you can, what about all those fancy looking pies with even sliced fruits that you put here on your blog, I guarantee you that you can thank my husband for that. He cuts and cooks with precision. If the recipe calls for 1 inch chunks Joel does that even so far as to pull out a ruler. Me though? I guess what 1 inch might look like and then cut up the item every which way in sometimes one inch chunks.

But after that initial challenge things really got crazy. The usual thinks from cooking shows happen, where the contestants are given a bunch of crazy ingredients and have to make something of it. Or they're given a normal ingredient like pork butt but then they have to cook it in a measly 60 minutes. But that is not my main issue with being a contestant. My problem is that I don't know how to make anything without a recipe. Sure I can whip up a stir fry, and I might be able to recall a crepe recipe or even a batch of chocolate chip cookies--and I'm pretty sure I could make some ice cream...but that's about where I draw the line on cooking without a recipe.

In one challenge, the contestants had to make a cake. A cake? From scratch? So I understand that the cake mixes just house all the dry ingredients like baking soda, powder, flour, sugar and cocoa, but I don't know the measurements. I do not know how to make a cake from scratch, I've never really tried it to be honest. Raise your hand if you have? Could you do it again without a recipe? Do you have a signature cake? And also, in that episode not one person made a chocolate cake! Chocolate cake is the best kind of cake.

So anyway, even though I am in no way shape or form master chef material, I still like to cook for my friends and family and will keep on going. I might even try to make a cake from scratch. But next time you had me a box of live lobsters...well, I think I might give it right back.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Honey Glazed Carrots

Some people have the right vinegar for every recipe. They stock cabinets and cabinets full of every imaginable kind for just each situation. I am not one of those people. I always scoff at the price of vinegar and decide I'll just use the one I have, generally it works out for me and this was no exception.

On Wednesday I got the season's last carrots at the Farmer's market. These adorable baby carrots looked weathered and tired but were still crisp and orange. I threw them in my bag and brought them home for dinner. It was a nice variety to have carrots instead of the other vegetables I've been eating.

Since I was going to be making some thin boneless pork chops, I didn't want to oven-roast my carrots. While searching for another cooking method, I came across Martha's recipe for Honey-glazed carrots. These have my husband's stamp of approval even though I may have strayed from the recipe, especially with the vinegar part...

1 bunch baby carrots, tops removed, cut the big ones in half lengthwise
scant 1/4 C honey
1/2 C water
2 T cider vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1 pat butter
1 T vegetable oil

Directions: (oh yeah, and I totally didn't follow these either, go figure).
1. Heat oil in a medium fry pan with lid over med-high heat. Add carrots and toss once cook until starting to brown, about 2 minutes.
2. Add honey, water, vinegar and salt & pepper. Cover and cook 10 minutes until crisp tender.
3. Remove lid and cook until there is barely any liquid left and it looks kind of like a syrup. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and more S&P to taste. Cover until ready to eat!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Asparagus Grill Packets

Tonight I decided to whip up some tri-tip on the grill. To round out the meal I found some sub-par asparagus in the fridge that we had last week. I decided on a whim to make it into a grill packet and grill it in foil along with the beef. I think the result was fantastic. The asparagus was smokey and crispy in parts where the foil burned off (we had a few fires in the grill) and had a nice flavor and was cooked perfectly. I highly recommend this method. Joey says turn back now.

Asparagus Packets
1 large sheet foil, folded into a boat of sorts
1/2 bunch asparagus, broken in half, hard stems removed
olive oil
Lemon pepper

1. Fold the foil like a boat so there are sides. Toss in asparagus, olive oil, lemon pepper and salt to taste.
2. Wrap up the asparagus so there are no holes in a packet.
3. Throw it on the grill for about 15 minutes (or less) until you think it is thoroughly cooked
4. Serve immediately

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Product: Siggi's Icelandic Yogurt

I recently read about Icelandic yogurt somewhere and how it is really thick. It sounded interesting so when I happened to notice it over at Henry's I thought it was a must buy!

The awesome packaging was really the reason though, I mean white cup sort of IKEA ish, looks all natural--has a little tab to remove the paper wrapper so you can recycle the cup and wrapper separately...

Unfortunately, the taste, texture and flavor of this yogurt did not match the aforementioned awesome packaging. Honestly, one bite was enough for me. The texture was grainy and way too thick for yogurt--more like something between dense ricotta and whipped cream cheese. The other problem was that the flavor just wasn't there. The yogurt was pinkish and screamed "I'm mixed berry" but it only had the slightest hint of flavor of any kind, not sweet at all, very similar to plain yogurt except less sweet. This yogurt was not my cup of tea at all, and while Joey was able to finish it I don't think he really liked it either. The other flavor we bought may have a permanent place in our fridge now. But if you like super thick, grainy and sour yogurt, this is for you!

I wonder what an Icelander thinks of yoplait?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Double-Layer Ice Cream Pie

For the 4th of July this year we made double-layer ice cream pie. Some said it was the best ice cream pie they've ever had--even with Fosselman's! This is quite an achievement for us! Our pie had an oreo cookie crust, a hot fudge layer, a layer of chocolate chip ice cream, and finally a layer of English toffee ice cream. We were planning to serve it with hot fudge on the side but we forgot when it came to serving. But it would be a nice decadent touch!

This time we used Smitten Kitchen's recipe for hot fudge but as many of the comments suggested had a lot of trouble with separation after the fudge cooled so we followed a commenter's suggestion and added a bit more sugar and water and folded the mixture and when it cooled it was actually a great consistency for spreading on pie--don't know about pouring on ice cream but we have enough to try! The fudge was not that sweet even with the additional sugar which was a nice contrast to the ice cream.

The oreo cookie layer was a little thicker than we normally make it but it came out of the pan well so it was fine. The English toffee ice cream was a bit of a stronger flavor but the chocolate chip added a nice contrast. This pie was pretty delicious.

To assemble:
1. Press oreo crust into a buttered glass pie plate. Freeze until set.
2. Spread the hot fudge over the oreo crust and freeze until set.
3. When crust and fudge is set, scoop and spread just less than 1 qt ice cream into the shell. Work quickly so it doesn't melt and freeze immediately when it is finished.
4. When the first layer of ice cream is firm so that ice cream can be spread on top of it, usually 2 hours, spread about 3/4 quart of ice cream over the top, trying to mound in the summer to look like a full pie.
5. Freeze and serve.

Monday, July 4, 2011

English Toffee Ice Cream

Joey loves the English Toffee Ice Cream he gets from our favorite ice cream shop Fosselman's. This weekend we decided to embark on a hands on project of an Ice Cream Pie for 4th of July dessert. As we have done twice before, we make all the ingredients homemade for our ice cream pies which makes them pretty time consuming. This time was no exception and we decided to go all out and make a double layer pie with two different ice creams. We chose English Toffee Ice Cream--which proved to be a really hard flavor to find a recipe for; and chocolate chip which tastes a little too vanilla-y but we aren't sure why. Fosselman's, we want to recreate your chocolate chip too! We'll just have to get a job there...

Anyway, after much searching we found a recipe for Butter Toffee Ice Cream. I guess technically this would be more of a butterscotch but it was the closest we could come. Thinking about it anyway, I looked up toffee recipes and they called for basically cooking brown sugar, so adding brown sugar to our custard I surmised would help make that toffee like background to the ice cream.

After lots of waiting and the churning I found this ice cream to be absolutely delightful. I love the caramely toffee background and the hint of cookie dough (aka brown sugar). The toffee bits mixed in add a nice texture and more flavor. This may be my new favorite! The original recipe that we borrowed this from calls for a dulce de leche swirl and if you are so inclined I bet that would make a lovely addition!

English Toffee Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 pinch sea salt
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (we used 1 t double strength vanilla)
3 Skor or Heath candy bars, finely chopped (we used Skor)
3 T vodka, optional

1. In the top of a double boiler heat 1 C heavy cream, 1 C milk, sugars and salt until sugars have dissolved and mixture is steaming.
2. In a small bowl whisk eggs together until combined.
3. Poor a small bit of the hot milk into the eggs and whisk vigorously to avoid scrambling the eggs. This is a good job for two people! When you are sure the eggs have been tempered, poor the mixture back into the top of the double boiler. Add the vanilla extract.
4. Cook custard until thick and coats back of a spoon, about 10 minutes stirring constantly. You will feel the thickness change as you stir.
5. While the custard is cooking prepare an ice bath (ice and water in a bowl large enough to hold the pan, and that won't crack with the heat/cold).
6. When custard is cooked, remove immediately to the ice bath (watch out! there's water on the bottom of the pan! Don't drip it on your toes)
7. Let cool, stirring occasionally. When the mixture is room temperature, poor it into a container and add the remaining 1 C cream. Refrigerate for a few hours until completely cold.
8. Churn mixture in the ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. In the last minute of churning add Skor or Heath pieces.
9. After churning is completed, scoop ice cream into a container and add vodka if you so desire. The vodka is supposed to keep the ice cream from becoming too hard--but if you are serving it to children or pregnant women just omit this step and take the ice cream out of the freezer 5-10 minutes before you serve it.