Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My New Kitchen Toy and Creme Brûlée

Was the torch the excuse for the creme brûlée, or the creme brûlée the excuse for the torch? I'm not sure, but I'm enjoying both!

I have made flan a lot, with the melted sugar at the bottoms of the custard cups that drizzles over the tops when you upend them on plates. But when I had creme brûlée at a restaurant once, I was taken by the similarity, yet elegant differences. I liked the rich silky texture, but the crunchy sugar top was so cool!

Tristan and I decided we wanted to do creme brûlée enough to buy a torch for, and so he got this one at Harbor Freight, and with coupons and sales, it worked out to about 12 bucks. We already had a little can of butane for filling the fuel tank, the same stuff you fill lighters with.

Creme brûlée is basically heavy cream and egg yolks, with some sugar and vanilla. I decided that I wanted to feel a little better about my ingredients, so I used half cream and half half-and-half. It was still excellent, and I would do it that way next time, unless I was trying to royally impress someone with all that whipping cream. My recipe called for a vanilla bean. Not going to happen. I used high quality real vanilla extract.

The tedious thing about making baked custard/flan and creme brûlée is the need to bake it in a water bath, to keep the outer edges from over-cooking before the center is set. I couldn't find one baking dish the right size to fit all four of my ramekins in, so I had to use 1-9x13, 1-9x9, and one round pie plate. A dishcloth went in the bottom of each, then the ramekins, then fill them with the custard, then put them on the oven rack, and then fill up around them halfway with boiling water. The hard part is sliding the rack in to the pre-heated oven without spilling anything! My racks scrape and rock when I push them in.

For the sugar topping, my recipe called for turbinado sugar, which I just happened to have, from making up a pork rub last fall. It is like raw sugar, coarse granules and traces of the cane syrup on it.

And then the fun!

Tristan was the best at it because he had that "welding technique" perfected. Finally, when it was melted enough for me, I cracked into it.

They said to stick it back in the fridge to chill, because the torch heats up a section of the top layer, but I like it like this. The contrast of the warm stripe of custard with the cold part at the bottom, the silky smoothness with the crunchy top. It was delicious!

(Small batch)

1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup half-and-half, 1/3 cup white sugar, 1 tsp. Real Vanilla

Mix together, ensuring the sugar is dissolved.

6 egg yolks, beaten up.

Pour the cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking as you do. Strain mixture through sieve. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Line a baking dish with a kitchen towel and set ramekins on the towel. Fill ramekins or baking cups (I filled four dishes halfway full) with custard, and then set baking dish on middle rack. Pour boiling water in dish, being careful not to get water into custard cups. The water should come to around halfway up the ramekin. Slide rack into oven and bake for about 25-35 minutes. Center will be lightly set. Best of all, use an instant read thermometer and test the centers for 170-175 degrees.

Remove from water bath, let cool somewhat on counter. Cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate. When you are ready to torch them, peel off plastic and blot any condensation with a paper towel.

Strew a couple teaspoons of turbinado sugar on top, shake around, and then pour off excess. Torch it. Eat it. That's it!

Monday, November 7, 2016


And now, back to the sandwiches!

I like hot sandwiches better than cold ones, usually. (exceptions: peanut butter and jam, tuna fish) And the Rueben is one of my very favorites. It has all the good stuff in it. And I even make an exception to my usual non-interest in rye bread for this goodie.

I was reading through the book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, (Jennifer Reese) when I decided to follow her directions for making some for dinner. I've only had them while eating out, but this time I'd make them myself. What was interesting was her recipe for Russian Dressing, which apparently is supposed to be used, not Thousand Island. But NOT the commercial stuff, a recipe that turned out to taste a lot like Thousand Island, but way better.

Unfortunately, We scarfed them up before I remembered to take a picture.

All gone. But to make up for it, I'll tell you what to do and give you the recipe for the Russian Dressing!

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Catsup
1 1/2 teaspoons horseradish
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon sweet pickle relish
Fresh ground black pepper
Stir everything together and taste for salt.

You can use corned beef or pastrami.
Warm a pile of thin slices in a skillet. Butter one side of a slice of rye bread and put it butter side down on a hot skillet or panini pan. Pile some drained sauerkraut on the bread. (And if you want a great rueben instead of just a good one, use homemade kraut!) Spread a generous dollop of dressing on the kraut, pile the meat on that, and then top with a slice of swiss (I used provolone) cheese. Lay another slice of rye, buttered side out, on it all, and when it's brown or crispy on the bottom bread, flip it. You can lay something sort of heavy on the sandwich to press it down on itself.

You'll like it, believe me!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Best Ever Lettuce Keeper

There are many ways to try to keep lettuce nice for several days in the 'fridge. When I buy "floppy greens," I like to get them in the plastic clamshells if I'm going to be dipping out of it over the week. Many years ago, I had a Tupperware brand Iceberg lettuce bowl. It was rounded, with a domed lid that snapped on over the top. It was ok, but it was sort of tall, and didn't seem to fit well in some of the shelves, plus you couldn't stick anything on top of it. And since the lettuce went down in the bowl, you always felt you had to wash it after use, even if it seemed clean. It was expensive.

Sometimes I use plastic twist-tie "bread sacks" for my cleaned lettuce. But a head of iceberg is just a bit too big, and sliding romain in and out isn't as nice as all that. There is always some moisture, and you don't want the leaves lying in that.

And then I had the serendipity of finishing the last piece of a grocery store bakery cake at the same time I was looking for something to put my head of lettuce in.

I'm telling you, it couldn't be more perfect! The groves in the bottom piece collect moisture and keep it off the leaves. It's like a little terrarium, keeping the atmosphere damp enough to keep the leaves crisp. There seems to be a lot less browning of the cut ends too. The size is perfect, the lid snaps on securely enough, but pops right off when you work it. You can stash a small plate on top if you need to, and the dome never touches the lettuce inside. And it's free, if you buy a cake! A good reason to buy cake. If you need one.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Soups and Sandwiches - BLT!!!

I am going to postpone more "Masters of the Grill" blog entries until I have my winter grill set-up accomplished. Until then, I think I will turn my attention to Savory Soups and Succulent Sandwiches.

What is your favorite sandwich?

When I was a kid, we used to stop by the little grocery on the way home from church and buy stuff for lunch. Usually, that was a loaf of bread, a pound of bologna from the meat counter, a quart bottle of Pepsi, a bag of mini-tacos (bygone tortilla chips), a foil pack of French onion dip mix, a carton of sour cream, a package of cookies (either Hey Days, Nut Goodies, Lorna Doone, striped shortbread, or Mother's Iced Oatmeal), and the Sunday edition of the Fresno Bee, with the color comics. I used to make a sandwich with two slices of white bread, mustard, a slice of Bologna, and a layer of chips pressed next to the bologna.

Probably the best thing that ever happened to me and sandwiches is my discovery of Real Mayonnaise. I used to think Miracle Whip was mayo, and I didn't like it. I thought it tasted sickly. And then when I had my first mayo, it was like an angel choir sang! I dumped mustard and took to slathering mayonnaise on everything.

But, back to judging what the Best Sandwich Ever could be. And one contender, that is somewhat lowly, but is sublime, is the Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich.

I know that lots of people start adding extra stuff, like pickles and cheese, to this little masterpiece, but I say, Nay! It is perfect the way it is. And yes, that is iceberg lettuce. I went the floppy greens route, sneering at that "tasteless iceberg" for many years, until I realized I was just being a snob, and that I really did like iceberg lettuce, the mild flavor and the great big crunch.

I used center-cut, thick, peppered bacon, but it really doesn't matter all that much what type of bacon you use. Bacon is good. All bacon is good. Bacon is the King of Meat. Bacon makes everything else taste better. Unless it is rancid. When we bought a pound of bacon, when I was a kid, we COOKED that bacon! We fried that bacon up! Maybe if only one person was eating, a few pieces would be left in the package for a pot of beans the next day, but there was no such thing as leftover bacon from one shopping trip to the next. My grandmother, however, hoarded her bacon. When we stayed over, and we were to be blessed with bacon and eggs, or a BLT, the flat package would come out of the meat drawer, opened up, and one or two thin pieces would be carefully peeled off and laid to fry in the black cast iron skillet. It might be several weeks, a month, or more when the bacon came out again. I began to notice that Grandma's bacon had a different flavor than our bacon. More, well, oldish tasting. Mom suggested that it might be "rancid." Although the bacon didn't taste nice, the word did, and I relished adding it to my vocabulary.

It is a sad day when you have used up the last one of your homegrown tomatoes, because that is the last day that you can make a BLT. It is too much a waste to go to the effort when the tomatoes are less than homegrown-good. Summer's tomatoes, straight from the vine to the cutting board are required. I like to get about two thick slices out of an average size tomato, red, juicy, and exploding with acid-sweetness, lightly salted with kosher salt. Also needed, a big napkin for the juiciness and a fork for getting the pieces that fall out.

I think I lean towards sourdough bread for a BLT. Usually, I just have part of a sourdough french loaf from the day before, so I cut a couple of round pieces off the end, thicker or thinner, depending on my hunger level. And then I treat the bread specially for my tastes. I toast one side very lightly. That is the outside. I toast one side darkly. That is the inside. I like crunchy toast, but if it's one the outside, it scrapes the inside of my mouth.

So there you have it! What do you think? How do you make a BLT?

Monday, September 5, 2016

MOG - Lexington Pulled Pork, pg. 384

All the other messing around with recipes is really just a prologue to the real stuff - Pulled Pork. Ahh, the delicious smokiness of a pile of shredded pork, random pieces of the well-seasoned, salty, black bark strewn about like flakes of gold in a pan of black sand, and two choices of homemade sauce to slop over your portion of steaming goodness! Enough salivating; let's get to work.

The reason I am interested in this recipe is the shortened time needed. I have made smoked, pulled pork in my old Webber before, taking the full 10 hours to cook it. It was divine, but I want to see if making it easier cuts down on quality. This recipe has you finish it in the oven. I have read from several sources that say to put your smoke in at the front end, that after the first couple hours, it doesn't necessarily help, and can hurt the flavor.

You can see that I have laid everything out on my newest kitchen helper - wide freezer wrap, shiny side up.

It calls for a "4-5 lb boneless butt roast." What's the deal with the boneless part? Bone-in, baby! This one was 5.5 lbs. It called for a fairly simple rub; 2 parts paprika, pepper, brown sugar, and one part salt. I like to use disposable gloves to handle this part of the process. I HATE getting the moist rub (especially when there is paprika and chili powder) in and around my fingernails! Yuck!

Again, the book calls for the wood chips to be soaked, packeted in foil with slits cut across the top. Then you lay them across the coals. The meat goes on the cool side.

After an hour, I wasn't all that happy with the amount of smoke I had seen curling out of the vents. It just didn't seem like enough, to suit me. After two hours, about when they say to put it in the oven, I ripped a packet open, and saw..... Unburned wood chips!!! Grrr! So that is that with the chip packets. I don't trust them, I don't like them, a waste of foil, unpredictable, even if they are more tidy. From now on, it's wood on coals! I dumped the chips on top of the (still hot) briquettes.

Now that's what I'm talking about! I left it in place for almost another hour, keeping an eye on the lid thermometer. When it dropped down below 250, I pulled out the roast and put it in a 325 oven, in a pan tightly covered with foil.

I left it there for about another three hours.

The smoky aroma filled the house. The bark was beautifully dark, but not burnt.

The meat fell apart, succulent and juicy.

I set out the condiments. (Plus some grilled vegetables.)

The recipe came with two sauce recipes. The mustard-based South Carolina one was such a hit with my husband, that I suspect I will have to just keep a jar in the fridge for topping various foods; meats, zucchini, pancakes, frosted mini wheats, whatever. I liked best the Lexington Barbecue sauce, which is a mostly vinegar base sauce, with a bit of ketchup, pepper flakes, pinch of salt, pepper and little sugar.

I have to say, that for me, I see no reason to fiddle with the Webber all day long to do pulled pork any more. This is the way to do it!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

MOG - "Wood-Grilled Salmon without a plank" pg 82

Well, enough of salmon on the grill! Ok, just one more. (When I think of the word "Salmon," I have a word association with "Samlon," the aquatic species in the book, Legacy of Heorot. If you like SciFi, you'll like it."

This recipe looked cute, so that's why I decided to try it. I've never planked a fish before. This one looked more accessible to me. I bought some flash-frozen wild sockeye, enough for the three of us. I also decided to cook it on my little Q Webber gas grill. No reason to haul out the big guns for a little project like this one.

Instead of using lemon zest and pepper, I minced up pieces of my preserved lemons to go along with the pepper and oil.

I made up the little foil boats and cut slits in the bottom. Soaked wood chips were to go in them, with the fish nestled on top.

Right away, a meat bee approached and became obnoxious!

I electrocuted him.

I treat fish like soufflé. Everything else waits on the fish. So I went ahead and skewered some mushrooms and zucchini (inspired by a previous MOG recipe), and took some leftover cooked corn on the cob and slathered it with ranch dressing to sear a little. A little sourdough boule wrapped in foil awaits its turn.


The fish is on, the heat is high. So where's the smoke?

Waiting for some wisps of smoke.

The chips never got with the program. I guess it was just too short a time to get them going.

The dinner was delicious. We also had steamed fresh spinach with sautéed onions. The fish was... Ok. Honestly, I like baked salmon. And it's a breeze to do, and get cooked perfectly. So from now on, I'll stick to other critters, like shrimp, if I want to grill seafood.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

MOG - "Wrapping up Great Grilled Chicken: Chicken Souvlaki"

I remembered about halfway through making this chicken recipe that some time back I had decided not to make kebabs any more, and why. I am sure there are reasons why one would go through the process of cutting up pieces of food, thread them onto metal spears, flip them around trying to cook them evenly, and then just slide them off onto a plate to eat them, when one could throw big chunks right on on the grill and then cut them up on the plate. Perhaps you are camping and there is no grill handy, so the food goes on a stick, or perhaps you are camping and forgot the plates and have to eat the food directly off the stick. Anyway, this recipe looked good, and fairly quick and easy, and I forgot what I decided about not doing kebabs.

The problem with the effort these took mostly lay in the fact I had determined to follow the recipe in the book. If I had been making this up as I went, I would have decided to go Greek, and said, "Tzatziki sauce, ok, a bunch of Greek yogurt, some lemon juice and garlic and salt to taste, and then stir in some cukes. Hmm, let's see, what sounds Greek for a marinade? Olive oil, lemon juice, and let's see what green herbs sound good. Guess I better light the coals!" Instead I was jumping around all over the page following the specific instructions for each part of this recipe. Plus going back to the the "why this recipe works" intro for those specific little bits that aren't tucked into the recipe itself.

I had never brined anything before, and this looked like an easy way to check it out. It called for boneless skinless breasts, which I wouldn't have used because they would likely have gotten dry and maybe overcooked on the grill.

After they had almost been in the required 30 minutes, I saw that they were supposed to already be cut up in 1" chunks. So I did that and threw them back in the brine for a while longer. Meanwhile, I made up the oily marinade.

It called for minced parsley. I went ahead and got Italian flat parsley since I already knew I didn't much care for the regular stuff. Turns out I don't care for this either. The odor is sort of strong and medicinal, and bitter. Just like the other parsley, only a little more tender. So I measured out and put in the small amount it called for, even though I had a big bunch that was going in the trash after this.

Mixing up the sauces, re-checking which ingredients went into which one, handling the raw chicken like toxic waste to keep from contaminating anything with germs, and my kitchen was getting pretty messy. Plus my lemon kept squirting juice from the squeezer on the pages of my cookbook. I had to wipe it down with a damp rag so that when I closed the book they wouldn't stick together. So now I'll always be able to find this page, since it's wrinkly and curled.

One thing I retained from my previous kebab days was the habit of putting the different things on different skewers. I like the better control of the cooking process. Even if the book says to do it the other way.

Onto the hot coals! Instead of piling them on one side, I left the hot spot in the middle and moved the sticks off to the side when they needed slower heat. I used an instant read thermometer to make sure I didn't cook them a minute longer than necessary.

Aren't these skewers the cutest? Plus, they are flat so the food doesn't twirl around when you turn them over.

My sister gave them to me, and each one is different.

I had more chicken than I needed for the recipe, so I did a second batch slathered with leftover home made pesto.

The pita bread is wrapped in foil. I followed the instructions to sprinkle a bit of water between two of the four breads to soften them as they steam. Grocery store pita can be sort of inflexible and dry.

I made the dressing following the recipe, except I couldn't bring myself to use chopped mint. I like mint in mojitos and tea. Not food. I pinched in a little oregano to make up for the omission.

In the end, they were very delicious. The chicken was moist and tender, and the seasonings all complemented each other. And I used little foil squares like the illustration to keep the Tzatziki off my hands.

See? Looks just like the picture! (Except I used yellow onions instead of red. Always changing something!