Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday gift recipes: a rundown

I've been a little remiss in my holiday baking this year (partially owing to the fact I'm trying hard not to eat holiday baking this year, and partially owing to the fact I'm about to go to my 5th potluck in 6 weeks)

But, here's a quick look at some of the holiday gift cooking/baking I've done:

First up, and probably most successful in terms of a) money spent, b) time spent and c) ease of process.

Homemade spiced rum: I found a recipe on this on Serious Eats a few weeks ago and immediately decided to make it. About half of the spices, most people will already have in their kitchens. I thought I had almost all of them, but then realized a few more had fallen casualty to the move over the summer.

I started with a 1.75 bottle of Bacardi Gold and used the following: cloves (whole), all spice (whole), nutmeg (ground), star anise (whole), black peppercorns (whole), cinnamon sticks (I broke mine in half), vanilla bean (1 - split down the middle, seeds scraped), ginger (two 1-inch sized pieces, peeled) and the orange peels from half an orange (remove the pith really well with a paring knife).

When I measured out as the Serious Eats recipe called for, however, I thought it looked pretty pathetic, so amped up to about 1 teaspoon of each spice. After tasting the second day, I removed about half of the orange slices. They had given off a sweet, fragrant taste quickly, and I didn't want it to overpower the rum.
The whole project, after straining, made about 4 of these pint-sized flasks. I loved really cute glass ones on Crate and Barrel, went to Ikea to search for similar ones, and ended up finding these at the Rainbow Foods liquor store (they're "unbreakable" plastic), so I attempted to cheer them up with a fabric wrapping.

Next up, a recipe I found on The Kitchn blog: hot cocoa on a stick. I thought, oh fun! how cute! I bet those will be a snap!

This is basically 8 oz of tempered chocolate, mixed with powdered sugar and more cocoa powder to make it fudge-like. You pipe into molds (I spooned mine in since I only had 6 molds to fill), stick a stick in it, and let them harden.

Sounds, oh-so-easy.

I took a few liberties with the instructions, such as using candy canes for the sticks (it's a blizzard, people... you do not run to the store in 17 inches of snow for coffee stir sticks) and using these cute snow-men molds that I picked up instead of standard size ice cube trays.

The chocolate only made enough to fill these six molds, then the chocolate wasn't firm enough to hold up the weight of the candy canes.

Then when I went to pop them out, I accidentally broke two canes!

So, in all, not the favorite in terms of ease or gifts produced. But, the four little snowmen that DID survive are going to be a cute hostess gift for a friend.

Last, but not least, this is a repeat from holiday 2009: Brady's Christmas Caramels.

These are far less nerve wracking to make the second time around. Melt 2 stick of butter, add 2 1/2 cups brown sugar and a pinch of salt, stir in a cup of light corn syrup then a can of sweetened condensed milk, and keep the pot moving.

The caramel cooks for between 15 and 20 minutes, and needs to be stirred constantly. If you have a reliable candy thermometer (that you have used before with good results), clip it to the side of your pan and aim for about 240 F -- soft ball stage.

If your candy thermometer sucks (like mine) use it as a rough estimate, and start cold-water testing the candy at about 220 F. Take a fork, swirl a few drops of the caramel into cold water. The caramel is done when it holds it's form (a soft ball) when you retrieve it from the water.

Be careful though, because the caramel will continue to heat a little, even after you turn off the heat, so don't let it go past "hard ball" stage -- or it will be tough to cut up your candy (see last year's post on hard caramel)

Instead of using a buttered pan, I took a big sheet of parchment (bigger than the 9x9 pan) and laid it over the pan with a little oil spray. Pour the candy onto the paper and spread into the pan. This makes it incredibly easy to remove the caramels later (just lift the paper). Cut into 1 inch pieces and wrap with parchment.

This requires a little more work than the rum but a 9x9 inch pan makes a TON of caramels and they are a really fun treat. This remains one of my favorite holiday recipes!! Thank you SO much for sharing it, Brady!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

#LetsLunch: Holiday side dishes edition (December)

**updated! final bread photos
I almost didn't make it to #letslunch this month.

On Wednesday, I was 100% blindsided by this:

First I panicked and wished I had just saved my Thanksgiving post on gougeres. Then I thought maybe I would just sit this round out. But driving home last night, I decided on a happy middle ground: Dave's peasant bread (Dave is Jake's dad and also an awesome cook). He made this bread for Thanksgiving and It. Is. Awesome.

So, here's the "cheat" -- my bread isn't done yet. In order to develop jaw-dropping-mmm-inducing flavor, this baby sits and sits and sits (first in the fridge, then just room temp) for 12 hours, then 18 hours. We're at about hour 7 of the second rise as I write...

So, the bread starts with a little yeast (I used about 1/2 packet), 1 cup wheat flour, 2 cups white/bread flour, and a pinch of salt. This is essentially a no-knead, long rise bread, so I just started all of my ingredients in my new red-and-polka-dot dutch oven.

 Mix in some water - about 2 cups. You want a wet, shaggy dough to form.

Mix together well until all of the flour mixture is absorbed. 

Put a lid on it, stick it in the fridge for 12 hours. (see, I told you my baker was cute! It might not be a "real" Dutch oven... but it was $20 at Home Goods)

 This morning, I took a quick peek at my dough, then left it out on the counter to rise. I'm so excited to bake it tomorrow!

***Updated: here's the final product:

I couldn't wait to taste it! 

Recipe: Daves Peasant Bread
(it turns out I tweaked this a bit / looked at the measurements wrong last night -- the ingredients call for 2 1/2 cups bread/white flour, 1/2 cup wheat flour... my bad)
* Combine ingredients in a large bowl, add water and cover with plastic. Refrigerate up to 12 hours. If you're in a rush, you can skip this step.
* Let dough rise 18 hours in a warmish/room temp place. Then sprinkle work surface with flour, and fold dough over itself to form a square or ball shape.
* Line a baking sheet with parchment and dust with flour. Place dough and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow to rise 2-3 more hours.
* Preheat a dutch oven (w/o the lid) for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Transfer the dough to the pot, bake 30 minutes covered, then 15-30 minutes uncovered. Turn out and cool.

#letslunch is a monthly "gathering" of food-loving writers from all over, hosted by Cheryl Tan, of A Tiger In The Kitchen.

We agree on a date and a theme, then each blogger presents his or her recipe on the chosen date (today).

If you are interested in joining, please send a Tweet using the hashtag and introduce yourself!

Here's what the others have presented so far:

Leek Gratin, at Bon Vivant
Kimchi Risotto Bake, at Cooking in the Fruit Bowl
A "slice of Americana," at GeoFooding
Gluten Free Green Bean Casserole, at Free Range Cookies
Parker House Rolls with Molasses Butter, at The Kitchen Trials
Mushroom Leek Quinoa Salad, at Cowgirl Chef
Festive Green Beans, at Hot Curries and Cold Beer

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Pecan Pie

My second offering for Thanksgiving was a pecan pie. I decided to pair Pioneer Woman's pie filling with a pie dough using Michael Ruhlman's Ratio app.

I decided to use half butter and half shortening for my pie crust after reading this tutorial on Epicurious.

Thanks, Chao for picking up the shortening for me!

Took some smart advice from blogs and retail reporters to stock up on baking essentials the week before Thanksgiving. Prices on ingredients like nuts and butter were way lower than normal.

Pie crust is another great use for the food processor. Fit the bowl with the dough blade and pulse the butter and fat together until crumbly. Then, add ice water bit by bit until a sticky dough forms.

My dough went into the refrigerator over night, then I rolled it out between two pieces of wax paper (harder than it sounds, actually).

Roll the crust over the wax paper, then lay into a pie dish. Trim the edges and cover until ready to fill.

(pretty good for my first real pie crust, huh?)

And again, we were a little pressed for time, so I just whipped up PW's pie filling in a tupperware and brought it with us. We baked the pie at Jake's while we were eating dinner.

It's entirely true that I should not have brought a pie to someone else's thanksgiving that I had never made before in my life. It's also entirely true that I should have listened to PW's note at the bottom of the recipe, where she clearly warns that the bake time for this pie is unpredictable:

"Required baking time seems to vary widely with this recipe. Sometimes it takes 50 minutes; sometimes it takes 75!"

And, indeed, the pie took about 75 minutes. It was soft and beautiful and had a really nice flavor.

Happy (late) Thanksgiving, everyone.

Thanksgiving 2010: gougeres

We spent our Thanksgiving this year with Jake's family, and I volunteered to add a pie and a roll to the mix.

Well, as previously mentioned, the seollangtang took up much more of my morning than expected, so I quickly realized I wasn't going to have time to let a yeast roll rise, so I switched gears for cheese gougeres.

I inherited a nice chunk of fancy Gruyere from a friend and tossed it through the food processor.

I folded this cheese into a big batch (double what I normally make, I think) of pate a choux.

Choux paste is painfully easy to make and so versatile. Melt butter and water together, then dump in flour and beat in a pot over medium heat until steam is mostly gone.

Beat the dough on medium to high speed to release heat, then beat eggs one by one. For this double batch I think I added 8 eggs total. Dough will be sticky and shiny. You can also use a hand mixer for this. 

I also added about 1 TBS of bouquet garni herbs to the dough with the cheese, then piped the gougeres onto parchment lined baking sheets with a star tip.

Bake the gougeres at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes until they are puffed up and slightly golden. Rotate the pans and switch racks, then lower the heat to 350 (325 if the bottoms seem burnt) another 10-20 minutes. To test, break open a gougere. The inside should be mostly dry.

Cool the gougeres and serve warm or reheated in the oven at 200.

Homemade kimchi

10 lbs of baechu -- no kimchi shortage here! I paid less than $1 per pound for these.

This weekend I believe I earned my true Korean stripes, or badge or whatever.

After weeks of studying Maangchi's mak kimchi recipe, I decided to take the plunge, channel my inner ajumma and make some kimchi.

The entire process probably took me about 2.5 hours of active work.

It might have been quicker with a second set of hands, but my understanding of kimchi is that the most time consuming part is stuffing the paste between individual leaves of the cabbage -- which this recipe avoids by starting with chopped cabbage.

I took some photos along the way. Mostly I stuck to Maangchi's recipe and instructions.

A few kimchi making tips I picked up making this recipe:
* Invest in at least one big plastic kimchi bowl. I paid $5 for mine at the Korean market, but I have also seen them at the larger Asian market in my neighborhood. I would have liked a second bowl this size to make the kimchi paste
* Get a big airtight kimchi box. I bought mine when we still lived in DC and wish I had a second one. Mine wasn't quite big enough to house all of my kimchi.
* Your life will be much easier if you use a food processor with the shredding disc on the radish and carrots.
* Wear plastic gloves when mixing the kimchi -- but keep one hand clean, to handle the kimchi box and tools.
* My kimchi was also a little heavy on garlic and ginger. I would use a little less next time around
* I also skipped Maangchi's suggested squid and/or clams. A friend told me his parents use tiny dried shrimp, and I meant to toss in a handful. Next time, for sure...

**Sidebar: I'm not usually one to bash on other food blogs, but this morning I came across a post being promoted as "spicy holiday gifts" and it included a recipe for homemade kimchi that called for applesauce and sriracha sauce but no seafood agent (raw seafood, fish sauce, etc) and no gochugaru. Please, people, if you run into this recipe, run the other way. Stick with an authentic process, like Maangchi's. It's the right thing to do!