Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Hope everyone had an awesome New Year's eve, and that everyone has an amazing 2013.

I know this is incredibly cliche (and odds are I won't follow through with it), but I made a commitment to myself that I am going to start eating healthier. Weight loss would be nice, but I primarily want to do this because I've realized that food has a huge effect on how I feel and my energy levels.

I am not going to say that I am giving up fatty foods or refined foods (because I'd just be setting myself up for failure), but my goal is to make those things as small of a part of my diet as possible. To replace them, I hope to explore new preparations for vegetables and healthy grains.

I have a few posts from 2012 that I am hoping to get on here in the next week (impossible cupcakes, one more ice cream, and my exploration of pie crust), but for 2013 I am hoping to have some healthier food on here.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bacon Onion Jam

So this might not be the prettiest dish I've ever posted about, but it is absolutely one of the tastiest. Ever since I had my first burger from Father's Office in LA, I feel in love with their bacon-onion topping. It is this delicious marmalade/jam made from sweet onions and smoky bacon that just paired beautifully with the other toppings on the burgers. I got obsessed with recreating it and while this recipe is not the exact same, it satisfies all the same taste buds.

8 slices of nice bacon
6 pounds of onions (i like yellow for this, but any will work)
2 tbsp salt
3 cups apple cider
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
Thyme (I used dry this time, but fresh is ideal)
Black pepper to taste

You want to start off my cutting up your bacon into small pieces (easiest when the bacon has been in the freezer for 15 minutes) and fry it up.

Move all the cooked bacon to the side and leave the bacon fat in the pan.

Next you want to slice up your onions and add them to the bacon fat.

Add the salt and cook down for about 20 minutes until the unions are softened and beginning to turn slightly brown.

Once the onions are slightly browned, add all the other ingredients (including the reserved bacon) and cook over medium-low heat.

This is going to take up to two hours until all the liquid is essentially evaporated and all the flavors have melded together.

This is great on burgers, which is what I originally made it for, but it also works as just a topping on some crusty bread or inside an omelette. It is a little complicated and involved, but trust me, the final product is worth it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shrimp Skewers (and hello again)

So I cannot believe how long it has been since I had a chance to update this thing. I really thought I would be able to keep up with this during the semester, but I had no idea my second year of law school was going to be so busy. Even when I managed to find some time to cook for myself, there was no way I had time to make a blog post out of it. Thankfully, I think I am going to be able to have a little more balance next semester. I am still going to be doing a ton of stuff, but I think the way my class schedule is working out should allow me to update this thing once or twice a week.

The following post I have actually had on my computer since this past summer. I ended up deciding to go through the pictures and put the post together today because I am feeling a little homesick. Even though I am on break from school for the next couple weeks, money and logistics made it so that I won't get to see any of my family this break (which means it will probably be about 7 months total before I see my family).

This post helped the homesickness out a little because the day we made these skewers was amazing. We were having a bunch of uncles, aunts, and cousins come over for dinner so I was able to make my three siblings (and one cousin) help me with these. It was such a good afternoon and doing this with a group of folks definitely made the monotony more bearable. Plus, once we were done, we had delicious shrimp skewers.

Wooden skewers
Lemons and Limes

Salt (1/4 cup per 1.5 lbs of shrimp)
Sugar (1/4 cup per 1.5 lbs of shrimp)
Water (1 cup per 1.5 lbs of shrimp)
Ice (2 cups per 1.5 lbs of shrimp)

Red Pepper Flakes
Olive Oil

1) You want to start off by making your brine. Heat up the water with the salt and sugar until they dissolve in the water. Then, pour over the ice and chill completely before adding the shrimp. Once the brine is chilled, add the shrimp. Stick in the fridge (or keep adding ice so it stays cold) for 30 min - 1 hour.

2) In the meantime,soak your skewers in water and cut up some lemon and lime wedges.

3) Then, drain the shrimp and set up an assembly line with shrimp, skewers, and citrus wedges.

4) Start assembling the skewers. I went with about 8 to 10 shrimp per skewers and a couple wedges of citrus.

5) Next, you want to mix up your marinade. In a blender, mix together all the ingredients and drizzle it over the skewers as you make them. Because of the acid in the marinade, you do not want to leave the marinade on for longer than it takes to assemble all your skewers.

6) Finally, grill the shrimp. Make sure that your grill is really hot and coat it with a tiny bit of oil before putting the shrimp down so that they do not stick. Make sure not to over cook the shrimp. And, when they're done, you're left with these succulent shrimp and this charred citrus that you can squeeze over them. They truly are some of the best shrimp I've had.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Guava Macarons

Up until last year, I had never tasted a macaron. I always thought people were referring to coconut macaroons, which I hate; the texture of shredded coconut just really bothers me. After I tried one, I knew I'd found a special friend. They are so light and airy, with the perfect combination of crispy outside and slightly chewy inside. They were everything I always knew a cookie could be.

Typing up this post actually really made me crave some; I made these over the summer at my parent's house. I filled the first batch with one of my other favorite things in the world, guava paste. For the second batch I cheated slightly and instead of making something from scratch, I bought some Dulce de Leche. In case you're not familiar with Dulce de Leche, it is a sort of caramel made from cooking down whole milk/cream and sugar. I've actually made my own before, and it comes out much better than the can, but for this recipe the canned version works great.

I actually had an opportunity to make macarons for the first time with a friend last year and I learned most of my techniques from her. As for the recipe itself, I ended up amalgamating various recipes I found online. I might tweak the proportions a bit in the future, but these gave me a damn near perfect cookie. As for the guava filling, that was totally my own idea. You will notice that the measurements are in grams; this is one of those recipes where a food scale is almost a necessity. The structure of the cookies is so delicate that being off by even a little will alter the final product drastically.

60g almond meal
50g egg whites
100g powdered sugar
30g granulated sugar
wilton food coloring of choice

Guava Filling
Guava paste
lemon juice

It always amazes me how few ingredients it takes to make these delicacies. The first step in this whole process is aging your egg whites. You want to separate your eggs, making sure you get absolutely no egg yolks in it. To be on the safe side, I would recommend three (even though you won't be using all of it). Mix the whites together for about two seconds, then cover with plastic wrap. Either leave on your counter for two days, or store in the fridge for four to five days. This really helps the meringue build nicely. Be sure to bring the eggs back to room temperature before using.

The next step is to combine your powdered sugar and almond meal. You want to sift them together a few time, or even just put them in a big zip lock bag and shake it vigorously. If you happen to find some blanched, slivered almonds on sale like I did, you can also make your own almond meal. Essentially, you want to use a strong food processor to grind your almonds down into a fine powder. You can add some of the powdered sugar as you go to make it easier to grind. If you use this method, you have to strain it as you go and re-grind anything that is too big to go through. The texture will never be as fine as the store bought version, so your cookies will have minuscule pieces of almond, but I actually enjoyed that.

Next, you need to make your meringue. Take your aged egg whites (only 50g) and put them in the bowl of a mixer (a hand mixer works fine here). Start whipping up the egg whites. Once they have started to turn white and foam up, you want to slowly add your granulated sugar a tsp at a time. This gives the meringue structure and ensures that it won't fall on you. Once soft peaks start forming, add your food coloring and continue whisking. You are looking for almost stiff peaks in the final product. Because of the sugar you drizzled in, the meringue will be very solid and almost resemble gooey marshmallows.

Once you have your meringue, add it to your bowl that has the almond meal and powdered sugar mixture. Use a rubber spatula to incorporate them together and smash the mixture against the wall of the bowl. You want to deflate your meringue and actually take out a lot of the air we just beat in. The best way I can describe the final consistency is what I imagine lava would flow like. Once you have it ready, pour it into a piping bag. I like to put the piping bag inside a big glass/plastic container to make filling it easier.

After you have your piping bag ready, line a couple cookie sheets with parchment paper. I like to put a little dab of the batter under each corner of the piping paper to keep it from moving while I pipe out the cookies. Snip the corner of your piping bag and pipe out the little cookies. You really don't need a lot of batter, and the cookies will shape themselves into those perfect little round shapes. Another critical step here is now resting your batter. Let these trays sit out for at least 30 minutes before you bake them. You want the batter to set slightly and develop a slight crust on the outside. The best way to tell if they have rested for long enough is touching the tops: your finger shouldn't make an indent and should come away clean.

While the better is resting, you can prepare your filling. I just took some store bought guava paste and heated it up with a little water and lemon juice. When it gets hot, it gets really runny (and be careful, it can REALLY burn you if you get it on your skin) but once it cools it solidifies again (which is perfect for the cookies). Once the guava has completely melted and combined with the water, take it off the heat. Let it rest until it is just warm to the touch and put it in a piping bag (or in this case, a ziplock bag).

Bake the macarons at 310 for about 13-16 minutes. You really have to watch them carefully and start checking every 30 seconds after 12 minutes. The best way to tell when they are ready is that they come of the parchment paper with just a tiny bit of force and don't leave anything stuck to the parchment paper. Let them cool for a few minutes, fill them, and sandwich them. If you want them to look as pretty as possible, take some time to pair them up with the one that is closest in size and shape (I line them up in pairs to make filling foolproof).

Finally, because why not, take your leftover macarons and fill them with some of the Dulce de Leche. Just be careful, these can disappear before you've had a chance to taste one if you put them out at a party.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fondant Potato

This year has been incredibly busy. I have to say, I was not expecting it. I was hoping this year would be easy, and that I would be cooking and posting new recipes four or five times a week. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. I've barely had time to cook for myself and when I have, I've been so rushed that I don't have time to take pictures and post. This not only ends up being unhealthy, but also expensive. So I've decided to make a renewed effort to eat at home.

This is going to involve finding and coming up with recipes that will keep for a few days in the fridge so that I only have to cook a few times a week. And, it just so happens that this potato recipe I came up with last week is perfect for that. They taste good the next day heated in the microwave, even better if you have the time to heat them in the oven, and (I might be alone here, but) I love them as a quick snack cold from the fridge.

The inspiration for this recipe came from Masterchef Australia. I was watching this summer and multiple times I saw them make something called Fondant Potatoes. I had no idea what these were, but the judges made them sound divine. Perfectly crispy on the outside and an inside that is so soft and tender it almost has the texture of mashed potatoes. I looked online and couldn't find a recipe that seemed like it would give me the results I wanted. So instead, I took tips and methods from multiple sources and combined them in a way that I thought would work. I actually think I came up with the perfect potato.

When I was younger, my parents would make this amazing pollo con papas (roasted chicken and potatoes). What I loved most about this meal was the potatoes. The side touching the pan would get completely browned and crispy, and the potato would absorb all the fat and juices the chicken released. They were phenomenal and I think I achieved this exact same result with my recipe. As always, the amounts and ingredients are all suggestions. You can use chicken stock instead of bullion, any sort of spices you think will taste good, and can even use less butter if you want (but the butter makes them so delicious).

Fondant Potato
2 very large russet potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter (for pan)
3 tbsp butter (for oven)
2 tablespoons bullion
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 cup water

One of the most important things about this recipe is getting every piece of potato as close to the same size as possible. This ensures that they all cook through fully without having some fall apart. Unfortunately, this means there will be some potato waste. I chopped these pieces up, boiled them for a couple minutes, stored them in the fridge, and then used them to make an awesome hash the next morning.

I found that the best way for me to achieve uniform pieces is to cut each potato into 6 equal disks, and then use a round shape to cut out the inside of the disks. You might be able to tell, I don't actually have a pastry or cookie cutter, so I used the top of a cocktail shaker. Sometimes, you've just gotta find a way to get it done even if you don't have the correct tools.

The next step is getting both sides of the potato nicely browned. Start off by heating up the olive oil and 2 tbsp of butter in a heavy bottom pan. Salt and pepper the potato disks and brown for a few minutes on each side. As you can see from the picture above, I under-browned the first side a little. This is acceptable as long as you make sure that the under-browned side is the one that ends up submerged in the liquid.

While they are browning, you want to soften up the other 3 tbsp of butter and spread it around the bottom of a small casserole dish. Then, lay the browned potatoes on top. This makes sure they won't stick and the butter ends up being absorbed by the potatoes.

Next, you want to mix up your liquid. I didn't have any chicken stock on hand so I just used bullion, all the spices listed in the recipe, and water. Really, the only thing that matters is that the liquid you use taste good; that is what the potatoes are going to taste like when they are done. Once you have your liquid with spices mixed together, pour it into the casserole dish. You want the liquid to go about 3/4 of the way up the potatoes (it is critical that the liquid doesn't cover the top, otherwise they won't stay crunchy).

Finally, stick them in a 350 degree over for about 30 minutes. The best way to tell when they are done is if a toothpick goes straight through the center with absolutely no resistance. As you can see from the picture, the liquid and butter are going to reduce and make this great sauce to drizzle across the top of the potatoes. I'd actually recommend just squeezing half a lemon in with the remains and making that be your sauce.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

That's not real Ice Cream

You see that picture? All those ingredients (plus some eggs I forgot to pose with everything else) are going to turn into a beautiful, creamy ice cream. Do you notice anything missing? That's right, there is no heavy cream or milk in the picture.

I know what you're thinking: "Hector, you can't make ice cream without cream. That's just blasphemous." And trust me, until I came up with this recipe and actually made it, I would have agreed with you. However, this recipe proved me wrong (this seems to happen pretty often). As I still made a custard of sorts, the ice cream was as creamy as any other "real" ice cream I've made. To be honest, as much as I love the recipes I've made from David Lebovitz's book, I think this is the ice cream I am most proud of because I actually developed this recipe myself (after looking at like 20 different recipes online and not finding anything that had the flavor combination I was looking for).

You might also notice that the pictures are all in a different setting that all my previous posts have been (and I haven't quite resolved my lighting situation). I've actually been back in Illinois for almost a month now, but I've just been posting stuff I had leftover from the summer. I still have a few posts from the summer that I need to post, but I wanted to get this one up first because I was so excited about sharing.

The reason I attempted a cream-less ice cream is because it just so happened that I ended up making friends at school that have a ton of different dietary restrictions. At first this bummed me out a little because it meant I wouldn't be able to cook or bake for the people I care most about at school. Then I decided to take it as a challenge and try to make delicious food within their restrictions. In the near future, expect more dairy-free items and baked goods made with completely unrefined flour and sugar.

Now, onto the ice cream. As I said, I don't need to attribute this one to anybody because it is totally my own. I'd love to hear from anyone that decides to try this at home. The recipe made the perfect amount of custard for my 1.5qt ice cream maker.

Orange-Cardamom Coconut Milk Ice Cream
1 can of full fat coconut milk (the higher quality the better) + the cream from the top of 1 other can
3 oranges (zest and juice the oranges)
8 cardamom pods (slightly crushed)
1/2 cup of sugar
4 egg yolks
pinch of salt

You want to start off by prepping all your ingredients. First, crush the cardamom pods slightly. Then, zest and juice your oranges. The orange peel and cardamom are going to steep in the coconut milk, and the juice is going to be added to the custard before churning.

I tried to show you in the picture the two different parts you have in a can of coconut milk: at the top of the can, all the cream will settle and be very thick. Then, near the bottom, you will have a much thinner, milkier substance. You are going to need one full can and the cream from the top of a second can. This means you will end up having just about 3 cups worth of coconut milk/cream.

Place all the coconut milk/cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the salt, orange peel and cardamom and heat until just under boiling. Once it is hot, remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes. This does a great job of infusing both the orange and cardamom into the cream.

Once everything has steeped for at least 30 minutes, you want to strain out all the solids. Then, return to the heat and add the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is hot, you need to temper the egg yolks and make a custard.

I've shown you elsewhere on this site how to make a custard, but the process is fairly simple. Slowly add some of the hot coconut milk to the egg yolks while whisking. Once the yolks have risen in temperature, return them back to the pot and stir over low-medium heat until it has thickened up enough to coat the back of a spoon. You NEVER want this mixture to actually boil.

While making the custard, you want to put the orange juice in a bowl over another bowl filled with ice. This will ensure that you can cool the custard down quickly and prevent curdling. Once your custard is thick enough, add it to the orange juice and stir continuously until it has cooled down completely. Stick this in the fridge for at least 30 minutes because you want it to be as cold as possible before churning it.

Because I had flavored the ice cream by steeping it, I wanted something that would give me a little bit of texture. I settled on candied orange peel and it worked out incredibly well.

I wish I had taken more pictures of this process, but it is really easy.

  • Cut up the orange peel into small pieces (I used 1 orange's worth)
  • Bring a cup of water to a boil, drop the orange peel in for a minute, then strain and discard the water
  • Repeat the above step 2 more times (this takes away all the bitterness from the peel)
  • Then, dissolve 1/2 cup of sugar in 1/2 cup of water and add the peel
  • Let the peel cook in this syrup for a few minutes until nice and soft
  • Roll all these pieces of peel in sugar until they are nicely coated
This candied orange peel is going to be added in the final minute of churning.

Speaking of which, here is the ice cream being churned. Follow the directions for your ice cream machine. The first frame shows the ice cream right after I added it to the machine. The second frame shows the texture of the ice cream right before I added the orange peel. The third frame kind of shows the orange peel in the ice cream. And, the final frame shows the finished product. I know it's not much to look at (I forgot to get a picture of it once scooped), but it is sooooo good. If you can't have dairy, or are just feeling adventurous, I would recommend this recipe.