Tag: Cooking

Strawberry almond torte

Strawberry almond torte

This is a refreshing summer dessert that can serve 10 or so people, and while it looks rather elaborate, it really is just strawberries in whipped cream layered between meringues and iced with a buttercream frosting mixed with almond crunch. The only time-consuming part is making the meringues, and most of the time is waiting for them to bake. This recipe is adapted from one we found in the Sunday NY Times many years ago.

Torte layers

  • 5 egg whites at room temperature- twice
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar – twice
  • 1 cup blanched almonds, finely ground – twice
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar – twice
  • Baking parchment

Blanched almonds

“Blanched almonds” means almonds with the skins removed. You can buy them that way or you can remove them yourself, a bit more cheaply. For this entire recipe, we used 2 6-oz bags of whole almonds, which amount to about 2 ½ cups.

To blanch the almonds, bring a saucepan of water to a boil and drop in all the almonds. Let them boil for just one minute (no longer!) and then drain them in a strainer and cool them with running water.  You will find that you can pop the skins off the almonds by pinching the thick end of the almond. The almond should pop right out of the skin. You can even do two or three at a time.

When the almonds are cool, chop them up in a food processor as fine as you can. Reserve ½ cup for the almond crunch below, and use the remaining chopped almonds to make the torte layers.

Making the torte layers

In this recipe, we will make 4 layers at a time and then repeat to end up with 8 layers.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
  2. Put the 5 egg whites in a mixer bowl with the 1/8 tsp of cream of tartar and beat until the egg whites are stiff and dry. Reserve 4 egg yolks (once) to use in the frosting below.
  3. Fold in 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar and 1 cup of the chopped almonds.
  4. Cut 4 squares of baking parchment to 8” x 8”. The roll of Reynolds parchment is only 15” wide, so our “squares” were actually 8” x 7.5”. Place the parchment squares on two cookie sheets and divide the meringue mixture equally among them.
  5. Spread the meringue to near the edges of the squares.
  6. Bake for 16 minutes or more. You want the meringues to be well browned. We found that varied a bit with the thickness of the meringue but was closer to 18 minutes.
  7. Immediately after removing the meringues from the oven, use a spatula to flip them over onto a wooden counter, and use a small spreading spatula to peel the parchment off the meringues. You need to do this right away while the meringues are warm. Don’t worry if there are some small holes.
  8. Stack the meringues on a plate, separated by wax paper.
  9. Repeat to make 4 more meringue layers.

Almond crunch

  • ½ cup blanched almonds
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Place the almonds (chopped or not) in a small iron skilled along with the sugar.
  • Heat until the sugar melts and turns golden brown. Don’t let it burn.
  • Pour the hot sugar mixture into a buttered pan and allow it to cool.
  • When cool, put the solid sugar-almond mass in a food processor and grind it to a powder.
  • Set aside to use in the frosting.

Filling

  • 1 quart strawberries
  • Sugar
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 1 ½ Tb cold water
  • 1 ½ cups  heavy cream
  • ½ cup sliced or slivered almonds.
  1. Reserve 4 large strawberries for decoration.
  2. Slice the berries, sprinkle with sugar and set aside.
  3. Mix the water and gelatin in a small pan, and heat until the gelatin dissolves.
  4. Beat the cream in a mixer until it is fairly firm.
  5. Then dribble in the gelatin solution and mix through.
  6. Fold in the sliced berries

Frosting

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten in a mixer bowl
  • ½ lb softened sweet butter
  1. Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until it is dissolved.
  2. Continue heating at a slow boil until the solution reaches 238˚ F, the “soft ball” stage.
  3. Put the egg yolks in a mixer, and beat them and then slowly add the syrup to the yolks while continuing to beat.  
  4. Beat until cool
  5. Gradually beat in the butter.
  6. Stir in the powdered almond crunch and transfer the mixture to a small bowl and refrigerate until of a spreading consistency.

Assembly

  1. Place one of the better meringue layers on a cake cardboard or plate.
  2. Spread with around one-seventh of the strawberry-cream mixture.
  3. Continue adding layers and spreading cream and top with the last meringue layer.
  4. Chill the layers for an hour.
  5. Take the layers out of the fridge, place on a cake turntable and, using a sharp knife, cut off any uneven pieces of meringue or berries.
  6. Spread the frosting along the top and then along the sides. If the berry mixture begins to ooze out, return the layers to the refrigerator, and centime later.
  7. Decorate the sides with the slivered or slice almonds and top the torte with large pieces of  strawberries.
  8. Chill for a few hours and serve cool to your adoring fans.

We recommend slicing with a sharp knife so that the layers are distinct.

All about garlic

All about garlic

The garlic bulb is a really unusual plant. Each clove in the garlic head is actually a single swollen leaf, according to Harold McGee. Garlic’s strong taste and smell is actually a protection the plant evolved: when an animal bites into it, the strong taste is released, repelling the animal.

A whole garlic clove has only a mild taste and aroma, but when you cut into it, the enzyme alliinase is released from one part of the bulb and reacts with the compound alliin (a derivative a the amino acid cysteine) in another part of the bulb to form allicin, which has the characteristic garlic aroma and taste. Note that the plant evolved this defense to keep away animals, and garlic is actually quite toxic to dogs and cats: you should avoid letting any get into their food.

The alliinase enzyme is quite sensitive to temperature. Students of Professor John Milner at Penn State carried out a simple experiment where they placed garlic cloves in a microwave oven for one minute. While the garlic cloves appeared unchanged, analysis showed that the enzyme had completely disappeared after heating. They noted that other types of heating are sure to give the same results.

So this means that you need to chop the garlic before heating or cooking it, and that you should let the chopped garlic stand for a few minutes before adding it to the food you are preparing, to allow time for the enzyme to work to develop the flavor.

Garlic has much more sugar in it (fructose) than onions do, and is thus more prone to burning. Cook it at low temperatures when sautéing it, or add it directly to a liquid.

These two facts explain why dishes like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic are so mild. The garlic cloves are never cut up: and the alliinase is destroyed by heating soon after the cloves are added to the pot.

Always buy fresh heads of garlic. Avoid the ones in little boxes, as they may be very old. You should also avoid bottled peeled garlic cloves in oil, as they are prone to develop botulism, according to McGee. And do not refrigerate garlic, which also will reduce the flavor.

Garlic peeler

When peeling garlic, you can use the simple rubber garlic peeler tube shown above, or you can use Jacques Pepin’s technique, and just cut a small slice from the root end of the clove. This will free the skin and it will just about come apart in your hand.  You can also just crush the garlic and pick out the peel from the rubble.

And how do you get that garlicky smell off your hands? Rub them with salt and then wash as usual.

See also

  1. The chemical weapons of onion and garlic
  2. Is garlic toxic to pets?
  3. Science News: Garlic benefits- it’s all in the preparation
  4. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
  5. Harold McGee: On Food and Cooking
  6. Jacques Pepin: Essential Pepin
The Misen Nonstick pan

The Misen Nonstick pan

Our last nonstick pan wore out years ago, and we didn’t bother replacing it because they are hard to care for: the coating flakes off and isn’t edible, of course.

But we decided that we really wanted to make better fried eggs, and a nonstick pan really makes a difference. The Misen Nonstick Pan, which has been heavily advertised on the Internet and FB seemed a possible candidate. It looked better made than those cheap pans that come from the As Seen on TV conglomerate and we thought we’d give it a try.

both pans

The 10” Misen pan compares favorably with our Allclad 10” pan. It’s heavy and well-made, weighing 42 oz. The Allclad weights 37 oz, probably because it lacks the same sort of handle. The coating is PFOA free and is described as a three layer DuPont platinm coating.

 

 

To illustrate the problem we wanted to solve, we fried a couple of strips of bacon in the Allclad and 5 more in the Misen pan and compare the residue. The Allclad pan had streaks where the sugar in the bacon caramelized on the pan, while the Misen had some floating debris that did not stick to the pan or to the eggs.

 

 

We were easily able to fry 4 eggs at once in the Misen pan, and they didn’t stick at all while cooking. It was pretty easy to baste the eggs with a little bacon fat while they cooked, although they did move easily so we couldn’t tip the pan too much while spooning.

frying eggs

With any nonstick pan, you are supposed to use a non-metal spatula. We have one that see Melmac on it. Others might be wood, silicone or nylon, and in any case, you can slip the eggs onto the plate two at a time without breaking the yolks.

2 eggs fried

In terms of egg cooking, we are completely sold: the Misen is a great pan.  We were disappointed to learn that the instruction sheet says that we shouldn’t have put it in the dishwasher, but since it washes so easily, that isn’t a huge problem.

The Misen instructions say cook only at medium heat, and never above 450˚ F. You shouldn’t scrub with pan with metal or abrasive sponges, but thus looks like it would be unnecessary. And you shouldn’t shock the hot pan by pouring cold water in it. You also shouldn’t stack other pans on top of it (without padding). We paid $45 for our pan plus $5 for shipping and it arrived in about 4 days. It’s a really nice pan and we hope it lasts a long time.

The easiest way to poach eggs

The easiest way to poach eggs

Forget egg poachers! Forget those rubber cups!

The easiest way to poach eggs is in a pan of simmering water. You slowly slip each egg into the pan of simmering, salted water and cook for 2 ½ to 3 minutes. We demonstrate it in the video below.

We also repeated it adding a little vinegar (2-3 Tb) to the water to keep the white from spreading. The vinegared version then requires that you rinse off the eggs before serving in a bowl of warm water.

Both methods work great and easily scale. You can get 4-5 eggs in a 3-quart pan and 8 or more in a larger frying pan.

Below is a photo of the vinegared version.

vinegared version

German chocolate cake you’ll love

German chocolate cake you’ll love

This fairly easy recipe is a simplification of the one on the Bakers German Chocolate bar. We show you a few shortcuts. Some people make this light cake and just decorate it with the coconut-pecan topping. We do that but ice the sides with chocolate buttercream icing to hold it all together.

  • 4 egg whites
  • 4 oz German Sweet Chocolate
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz) softened unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 280 g cake flour (2 ½ cups sifted)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 lined 8” cake pans
  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F
  2. Beat the egg whites in your mixer until stiff. Remove to another bowl until needed.

3. Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer

4. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition.

5. Put the chocolate in a bowl with the water and heat in a microwave for about 90 seconds until melted. Stir until uniform.

6. Add the vanilla to the sugar-butter mixture and beat in the chocolate.

7. You don’t really need to sift and measure the flour, as we described in this article. One cup of sifted cake flour weights 112g, so just weigh 280 grams (which is 2 1/2  cups sifted) into a bowl and add the soda and salt. Stir briefly to mix.

8. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.

9. Fold in the egg whites by mixing in ¼ of them and then folding the rest in using a rubber spatula, dipping a turning the blade to mix in the whites without deflating them.

10. Line the 3 cake pans with parchment using the technique we described here. Butter the pans and the parchment.

11. You now need to separate the batter into 3 equal parts. We do this by weight. The stand mixer bowl and contents weighed 3606g, and we know the empty bowl weights 1014g, so the contents weighed 1578g. Thus, we need to put 526g of batter in each of the 3 cake pans. We put each cake pan on the scale, press the tare button to zero it, and add 526g of batter. The third pan is always a little short because some batter sticks to the sides and to the spatula. So we steal a little from each of the other two pans to make them about even. It is still easier than eyeballing it!

12. Bake the cake in the pans for 30-35 minutes, until the cake starts to pull away from the edge, and a toothpick comes out clean.

3 baked

13. Let the cakes cool on a cooling rack, and then take the cakes out of the pans and let them cool completely.

Cake Filling

  • 8 oz evaporated milk (This is 1 1/3 6 oz cans)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 beaten egg yolks
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick) cut up
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

  1. Combine the evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Stir constantly to avoid burning.
  2. Allow the liquid to come to a slow boil but keep stirring to avoid sticking.
  3. Remove from heat and add the coconut and pecans.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator until cool enough to spread.

Buttercream frosting

  • 2 lb confectioners sugar
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) butter, cut up
  • ¼ cup milk (approximately)
  • 3 oz baking chocolate
  1. Combine the sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse until mixed.
  2. Add the milk until spreadable
  3. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for about 1.5 minutes at 50% power. Stir until uniform and then add to the buttercream mixture and pulse until uniform. This will make more frosting than you need, but you will use about ¾ of it.

Assembling the cake

It is easiest to ice the cake on a little rotating cake platform, but if you do, be sure to start with a cake cardboard under cake, as the layers are delicate and won’t pick up easily to move to a cake cover later.

  1. Place one solid layer on the bottom and carefully ice it with the filling. If the filling is too cold to spread, warm it for 15 sec on the microwave.
  2. Place a second layer on top and ice it either with the chocolate buttercream frosting or with the filling. You will have plenty of both. Place the third layer on top and ice the top with the filling.
  3. If any of the sides protrude, trim them off so the sides are relatively uniform. Ice the sides with the chocolate buttercream, using a spatula dipped in milk to smooth the outside of the cake. Let it dry for half an hour before serving.

sliced

 

 

A quick way to line cake pans

A quick way to line cake pans

Most cake recipes suggest you line the bottom of your cake pans with waxed paper (old school) or baking parchment (new school). Well tracing and cutting out those circles for 2 or 3 cake pans is a lot of trouble. Here’s an easier way.

pan and parchment

Cut a square of baking parchment, a bit bigger than you cake pan. For 8” cakes, cut a 9” or 10”  square. It doesn’t have to be very accurate or even square: a rectangle will do just fine. We’ll cut off the excess as we go along.

Fold the square diagonally so that the left edge meets the top edge.  This establishes that square. Any left on the bottom will be cut off.

Fold that triangle in half down the middle.

Then, keep folding down the middle until you have a little pointed triangle.

Lay that triangle on the bottom of the cake pan with the point at the center, and cut off the triangle at the edge of the pan.

Then, unfold it. It should be a circle that will just fit in your cake pan. If it is a little big, just refold it and cut off a little more.

lined pan

Then, butter the pan, lay the liner inside, and butter it, too.  That’s really easy. I did all 3 cake pans in about a minute! See the top picture for all three!

Sifting and measuring flour

Sifting and measuring flour

If you look at nearly any baking recipe, you will see something like “sift together the dry ingredients,” usually flour, baking powder and maybe sure and salt. Why do they do that? Well, because someone clear back to Fanny Merritt Farmer, in her Boston Cooking School Cookbook (you can read a digital copy here) said to. Flour in 1896 was probably much lumpier than today, and she said to sift all ingredients before measuring them.

Nowadays, flour isn’t usually very lumpy and we usually use it right out of the bag.

But we thought we’d try sifting some paprika into flour to see how well it mixes. This is about 1.5 Tb of paprika in 2 cups of flour.

 

 
 

As can see, it doesn’t really mix all that well. In fact, you could do better just using a wire whisk. But, if you are making a batter for baking, the mixing of the dry ingredients with the liquid will distribute them just as well.

Now about that cup

A measuring cup measures 8 fluid ounces: it is really for measuring liquids like milk or water. Flour, not being a liquid can be a little variable about how much fits in a cup. Fanny Farmer said you should scoop out the flour and level off the cup with a knife, and that works for 1 cup of flour. But for 2 ½ cups of flour, it gets messier and it soon becomes easier to weigh out the flour. We have an inexpensive kitchen scale, Ozeri kitchen scale (it cost $15.95), we keep right with our bowls and dishes, and can easily weigh anything we want.  If you don’t have one, ask someone to give it to you for Christmas.

So how do you weigh out flour? We found that 1 cup of King Arthur All Purpose Flour weighs 142 g (see above). We use grams because then there aren’t any pesky decimal pl aces to confuse you.

weighing



But what about sifted flour? The only thing sifting commercial flours does is to aerate them a bit so a cup of sifted flour weighs less. Sifted King Arthur flour weighs 126 grams, or about 8% less.

Cake Flour

Cake flour is made from a mixture of lower protein wheats that will give a light and tender crumb in cakes. According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, all purpose flour has about 11-12% protein (mostly gluten) and cake flour about 7-8% protein. And U.S. cake flour is bleached as well, which causes “the starch granules to absorb water and swell more readily in high sugar batters.” Need less to say, cake flours weigh less per cup:

 All purposeCake flour
Scooped142 g120 g
Sifted126 g112 g

These weights are useful when you need some off amount of flour. For example, my waffle recipe requires 2 ¼ cups of sifted cake flour. It’s easiest to just quickly weigh about (2.25 x 112g) or 252g in a dish and mix it into the waffle batter. I keep this table posted inside my cupboard door, and write the weights into any recipes I use frequently.

So, get your scale out and you can do your baking quickly without getting a lot of measuring cups dirty. Happy holiday baking!

We try Nueske’s Premium Bacon

We try Nueske’s Premium Bacon

We recently received a catalog offering s number of Nueske’s premium pork products, starting with their 5 types of bacon, and going on to offer sausages, ham, smoke pork chops and other products.  The photos and descriptions were so beguiling, we had to try the bacon. We ordered their Gourmet Bacon Assortment, of Applewood Smoked Bacon, Applewood Smoked Peppered Bacon and Cherrywood Smoked Bacon, which is uncured.

AssortmentThe assortment cost $34.99 plus shipping, which made this bacon pretty expensive, probably twice what you pay for supermarket bacon, but this bacon itself was of superior quality and quite delicious. They also have a thick sliced version that you can cook on a grill. We’ll have to try that, too.

Nueske’s is located in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, west of Green Bay, where they have been making their smoked meats since 1933. However, the family has there since 1882, making smoked meats for themselves. Today, they use imported spices and still use the original Nueske recipes. They smoke their bacon for 24 hours over applewood embers, which gives is quite a distinctive, delicious taste. It also is much less fatty than mass-market bacons, although, of course, it does render some fat when you cook it.

Their Applewood Smoked Bacon is cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite, while their Wild Cherrywood smoked bacon is uncured, but treated with sea salt, raw sugar and cultured celery juice (which provides the nitrite preservatives).

We tried all three types, and loved all of them.

The Applewood Smoked bacon has the strongest flavor, but it is in no way objectionable, and the bacon goes very well with traditional bacon and eggs breakfasts. While there is some fat rendered as you cook it, the bacon shrinks much less than commercial bacons, but there is enough fat to fry eggs in.

The Peppered Bacon, is the same type of bacon as the Applewood Smokes, but with coarse pepper along the edges. You might think this would overwhelm the bacon, but it really doesn’t. After cooking, the Peppered Bacon has a mild, peppery taste not unlike what you’d get if you added salt and pepper to your eggs.

Finally, the Wild Cherrywood Smoked Bacon is uncured, and you have to keep it refrigerated (or frozen). The smoky flavor is milder than in the applewood smoked bacon, but it has just as little shrinkage, and we cooked eggs in the fat from 5 slices and had plenty to work with. We really like this one the best.

Yes, it costs more, but this is really excellent bacon, and we’ll probably order some more and try out their smoked pork chops and hams, too.

 

 

How to scramble 2 dozen eggs

How to scramble 2 dozen eggs

You don’t have to scramble eggs a little batch at a time if you have  a large pan. We used a 13-inch All Clad pan to cook ours. The accompanying video shows it in detail.

Start at very low heat, and slowly the stir the eggs. You can go up to low heat if you want, but to make nice, creamy eggs, you want to cook them slowly.

Start with just the eggs, no salt and no milk. You’ll add the butter right away. We used a stick, or 4 oz of unsalted butter in this recipe. Slowly stir the butter into the eggs so it melts. Keep stirring until the eggs begin to thicken. At the end add a hefty pinch of kosher salt, and 3-4 Tb of crème fraiche or sour cream.

Decorate the plates or serving platter with some chopped parsley or chives.

 

Enjoy your breakfast!

 

Thai rice soup with pork balls

Thai rice soup with pork balls

This relatively simple recipe can be done in less than an hour, and makes a rich, filling meal. There are several steps that you can do ahead and none are all that complicated. The original inspirational recipe came from Milk Street, (and is the first one we wanted to actually make). That recipe suggests garnishing the soup with fried shallots. Don’t even try this: it will small up your house for days, and are very hard to keep from burning. You can buy them packaged at Asian markets or online.

The components of this soup are:

  • Jasmine rice
  • Pork balls
  • Soup broth
  • Soft boiled eggs

Jasmine Rice

riceJasmine rice is a delicately scented short grain rice, that you should make first and allow to cool on a plate or baking sheet. You will add it to the soup when the rice is cold, so it doesn’t break up to much when you stir it in. Cook about 1 cup of rice with the package’s amount of water. In our Instant Pot rice cooker, we added 1.25 cups of water and cooked it for only 10 minutes. Open the pot and spread it out to cool.

Soft boiled eggs

eggs coolingSet out 3 eggs. Place a vegetable steamer in a 2 quart sauce pan and fill with water until just below the steamer bottom. Bring the water to a boil, and quickly lower the eggs into the steamer using a slotted spoon. Cover and cook 6.5 minutes. Run cold water into the pan to stop the cooking, empty and add more cold water. Pick up each egg and run cold water on it until no longer warm to the touch. Crack each egg and peel under running water. Set aside the peeled eggs.

Pork balls

  • 8 oz ground pork
  • 1 Tb fish sauce
  • 1 Tb chili-garlic sauce
  • White pepper to taste

pork ballsMix the pork and sauces in a small bowl and make around 10 balls using a small cookie scoop. Put them on a plate and refrigerate for 15 minutes or so.

Soup broth

  • 3 Tb lard (or olive oil, or grapeseed oil)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 5 large shallots halved and thinly sliced.
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 lemongrass stalks, bruised to release the flavor, or use lemon zest instead.
  • 2 Tb grated ginger root
  • 5 quarts chicken broth (we used some homemade mixed with canned)
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro (or parsley of you are not a cilantro fan)
  • 3 Tb lime juice plus lime wedges
  • 2 Tb fish sauce
  • 1 Tb chili garlic sauce

saute

  1. In a large pot (3 quarts or more) heat the lard and add the shallots and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes
  2. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds, until fragrant.
  3. Stir in the lemon grass and ginger and cook until fragrant.
  4. Add the broth and cook at medium heat for about 15 minutes
  5. Remove and discard the lemon grass.
  6. Add the pork meatballs, and cook through, about 4 minutes
  7. Stir in the rice, and cook until heated through.
  8. Off heat, stir in the fish sauce and chili garlic sauce, the cilantro or parsley and the lime juice.

Ladle in bowls and decorate with the halved soft boiled eggs (cut them right in the bowls), lime wedges, and the optional fried shallots. Packaged onion rings are a good substitute, too!

Serve at once to your admiring guests.