Fried Rice with Peas and Bean Sprouts

July 29, 2014

While the fried rice is relatively straight-foward side dish to almost any Asian-inspired meal, such as these potstickers, it is not sufficiently balanced to eat without some kind of sauce. Fortunately, I had a scallion dipping sauce which added some flavor. The recipe comes together in about 10 to 12 minutes  Just 3 stars, lacking enough flavor to stand on its own two feet.

Basic fried rice, but a little bland

Basic fried rice, but a little bland

Comments:

  1. While the recipe calls for 4-ounces of Chinese sausages (lop cheong), I used 8-ounces of smoked ham.

Rating: 3-stars.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low/Medium.
Start time 6:30 PM. Last Batch at 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup frozen peas (preferably baby peas), thawed
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
6 cups cooked white rice (cold), large clumps broken up with fingers
1 cup bean sprouts (about 2 1/2 ounces)
5 medium scallions, sliced thin (about 1/2 cup)
4 ounces Chinese sausages (lop cheong) or 8 ounces smoked ham

  1. Make sure you have 6-cups of cold, white rice. This is best if you cook the night before.
  2. Set frozen peas out to thaw for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce and soy sauce and set aside. If you are using Chinese sausage, cut them in half lengthwise, and then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. If using ham, cut into 1/2″ cubes. Also peel and mince your garlic. Thinly slice you scallions.
  3. Pre-heat 1-1/2 teaspoons oil in a 12″ non-stick skillet over medium burner.  Add eggs to skillet and cook for 20 seconds without stirring, then scramble for 2 more minute, ensuring that the eggs are in small pieces. The eggs should be just cooked through, but not browned. Empty egg into a small bowl.
  4. Put empty skillet over high-burner and pre-heat 2-1/2 tablespoons oil for 2 minutes. Add peas and saute for 30 seconds (add sausage or ham with peas but increase to 1 minute), add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add rice and oyster sauce mixture, and cook for 3 minutes until heated through, breaking apart any clumps.
  5. Add eggs, bean sprouts and scallions to skillet and cook for 1 minute until just heated. Serve immediately.

Pot Stickers with Scallion Dipping Sauce

July 22, 2014

While comparing different recipes is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, this may be my favorite ATK recipe of all time. These dumplings are filled with flavor, are tender on the inside with have nice carmelization on their bottoms. The soy based sauce is a little predicable, but the saltiness is so traditional that I haven’t yet strayed from the original recipe. The base recipe is very straight-forward, only requiring a little bit of patience during the filling/sealing process. Be careful not to overfill them or they will close properly, but you can squeeze some of the excess out if necessary. The only logistical problem is that the batches take 20 minutes and yield between 12 to 14 dumplings, so unless you have two non-stick skillets they are difficult to make for a regular sit-down dinner for 4 people; coming and going from the table every 20 minutes to eat 3 dumplings. But worth the inconveniences, I absolute love them and give them a full 5-stars.

Perhaps my favorite ATK recipe

Perhaps my favorite ATK recipe

Comments / Issues:

  1. My 12.5″ non-stick skillets (the Chris Kimball recommended T-Fal), makes 14 dumplings at a time, and based upon my wrappers I needed 3 batches. I froze on the batches for cooking next week; they cook the same way with no need to thaw.
  2. I used to be able to buy round gyoza wrappers from my local supermarket. While I guess I may be able to find a local Asian market, in the meantime I am using frozen .
  3. Be careful that the dumplings don’t stick to the sheet pan is step 3. Some of mine did, and I suggest a very light spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Sometimes I just use regular cabbage (rather than napa cabbage), especially around St. Patricks day because it tastes the same and is much cheaper.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $9. For about 40 dumplings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Last Batch at 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here and the dipping sauce recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared everything today are given below:

Filling:
3 cups minced napa cabbage leaves (from 1/2 medium head)
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 pound ground pork
4 minced scallions
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed (about 1 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Dumplings:
24 round gyoza wrappers (see note)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water, plus extra for brushing

Scallion Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon chili oil
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 medium scallion, white and green parts, minced

  1. Minced 1/2 head of napa cabbage leaves, add to a colander and toss with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Set over a bowl and allow to wilt for 20 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to press down to extract any excess moisture. Empty into a medium bowl, combine the remaining filling ingredients and mix until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes (up to 24 hours).
  2. When ready to assemble, work with 4 dumplings at a time to prevent the wrappers from drying out. Keep the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap. fill, seal, and shape the dumplings using a generous 1 teaspoon of the chilled filling per dumpling
  3. As you complete the dumplings, set the on a baking sheet and repeat step 2 until you have made all your dumplings. Once assembled you can refrigerate for up to 1 day, or freeze them for up to 1 month. (If frozen, do not thaw before cooking.)
  4. Line a large plate with two layers of paper towels, which you will use after cooking. Make dipping sauce by combining all ingredients in small bowl, which will make about 3/4 cup.
  5. Brush 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12″ cold non-stick skillet. Arrange 12 dumplings in the skillet with the flat side down, overlapping the tip as necessary. Put over medium-high burner and lightly brown dumplings for 5 minutes without moving.
  6. Turn down burner to low, and add 1/2 cup of water and immediately cover. Cook for 10 minutes until the water becomes absorbed and the wrappers are slightly translucent. Uncover and turn up the burner to medium-high and cook (again without moving) for 3 to 4 minutes until the bottoms are well browned. Put dumplings onto paper-towel lined plate (browned-side down) and allow to briefly drain, before setting onto a serving platter.
  7. Allow the skillet to cool until just warm and wipe out using paper towels. Repeat from step 5 with the next batch of 12 dumplings.
  8. Serve alongside the scallion dipping sauce.

Cookie Dough Ice Cream

July 9, 2014

I poured my heart into making my son a wonderful chocolate/coffee cookie-dough ice cream cake for his 15th birthday, but the regular cookie dough recipe turned much too hard when frozen. I have since experimented with a lot of different tricks and techniques, and am pleased to be able to offer some insight. I cut the flour down to 1 cup, and also tried to substitute liquids that remain softer when frozen; I omitted the egg whites, and used heavy cream which has less water. Also, I substituted vegetable oil in lieu of some butter to keep things soft. The butter that I did use, I browned to compensate for the substitution. The mini-chocolate chips also made the dough seem softer. The result is very good both in terms of texture and flavor. 4-stars, still a little room for refinements of the cookie dough.

Vanilla-bean, Cookie-Dough Ice cream cake

Vanilla-bean, Cookie-Dough Ice cream cake

The problem with using regular cookie dough is that it is meant to withstand the high-heat of an oven and then served either warm or at room temperature. When frozen, it becomes rock hard.

Comment:

  1. Be sure to use unsalted butter or the recipe will be too salty. If you must use salted butter, cut the salt down to 1/4 teaspoon.
  2. I used many of Chris Kimball’s techniques found here, but adapted them for the freezer.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $10
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time: 12:00. Dinner time: 5:00

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup packed dark brown sugar (6-1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
2 large egg yolk
1 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
1 cups semisweet mini- chocolate chips (6 ounces)

  1. Melt the stick of butter in 10” skillet over medium-high burner for 2 minutes, and continue cooking butter for about 4 more minutes, swirling pan constantly, until the butter becomes dark golden brown and has nutty aroma. Empty browned butter to large heatproof bowl using a heatproof spatula. Stir 1/4 cup vegetable oil into hot butter.
  2. Add brown sugar, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated.
  3. Add egg yolk and heavy cream. Whisk for 30 seconds until the mixture becomes smooth with no sugar lumps remaining. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream:
1-1/4 cups of 2% milk.
1-3/4 cup heavy cream.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
1/3 cup light corn syrup.
1/4 teaspoon salt.
6 egg yolks.
1 vanilla bean.
2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing milk from stove-top. Place metal sheet pan in freezer.
  2. Add milk, heavy cream, about half the sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons), 1/3 cup corn syrup and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a medium saucepan. Use a paring knife to cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then use the back of the knife to scrape out vanilla seeds (caviar). Add both the caviar and the empty stalks to the saucepan.
  3. Warm over medium burner for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Temporarily remove pan from heat to prevent the milk from boiling.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar.  Never let your yolks/sugar sit for more than a few minutes. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  5. Add the milk/yolk mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches 180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  6. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch.
  7. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture through a fine-meshed strainer into the medium bowl (discarding empty vanilla pods). The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool in about 30 minutes; stirring occasionally will help. Then place the bowl in freezer for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour to further reduce the temperature. The mixture will begin to freeze along the sides of the bowl, which you should scrape down to further reduce the temperature.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 30 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction.
  9. If making a cake, line your sheet pan with plastic wrap and lay ice cream in a roughly even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour. After an hour, use a rolling pin to work into an even layer. Freeze for at least 2 more hours before serving.
Cookie-Dough as a middle layer

Cookie-Dough as a middle layer


Shu Mai

February 28, 2014

The dumplings were beautiful and delicious, but take a fair amount of patience to assemble. You will need to practice a bit on the technique to pinch together the pleats; a total of 8 pinches per dumpling and then rotating the dumpling so that the pleats all swirl in the same direction. It’s definitely worth the effort. Chris Kimball recommends serving with a chili oil. While the chili oil was fine, I found it unsatisfying and would recommend skipping it altogether. If you decide to make the chili oil start immediately after putting the mushrooms to soak in Step 1.  I enjoyed a more traditional soy-sauce-based-dipping-sauce. I threw my sauce together without a recipe, but Chris Kimball has a few good alternatives; e.g. here and here.  Overall, the dumplings were a big success; 4-1/2 stars. Delicious flavors, and the cutest dumplings I’ve ever seen.

Delicious but needs dumpling sauce

Delicious but needs dumpling sauce

Comments / Issues:

  1. The Chili oil recipe yielded about four times as much as necessary, so I modified the recipe (given below) to yield a more reasonable amount. The Chili oil is quite hot, so be careful if you have a delicate palate.
  2. Fortunately, I was able to use my 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter and still get two full-size cut-outs for each 5-1/2″ egg roll wrapper. The original recipe calls for a 3″ biscuit cutter (but I wanted to use the one I already had in my kitchen).
  3. My local Chinese take-out charges $6 for 8 dumplings, so my $12 work of dumplings would cost me $30. However, these are much cuter, and I am always suspicious of the ingredients my local Chinese restaurant uses.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $12 for 42 dumplings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The Chili Oil recipe is here. The descriptions of how I cooked both the Shu Mai and the Chili Oil today are given below:

Steamed Dumplings:
4 dried shiitake mushroom caps (3/4 ounce)
1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs
1/2 pound shrimp
1/4 cup water chestnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine or can substitute dry sherry
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package 5-1/2 inch egg roll wrappers (1 pound)
2 carrots

  1. Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Defrost shrimp, peel and remove vein. Cut eat shrimp in halved lengthwise. Cut the pork ribs into 1″ pieces. Chop the water chestnuts, and mince 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Finally, grate 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger. After the mushrooms have soaked for 30 minutes, squeeze then dry, and cut into then 1/4″ pieces.
  2. Add the soy sauce to a small bowl, sprinkle in the gelatin and let it bloom for 5 minutes. Finely grate carrots on the small holes of a box grater.
  3. Meanwhile, place half of pork cubes into a food processor and pulse ten 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/8-inch pieces). Put ground pork in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1/2-lb shrimp and remaining pork to food processor and pulse five 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/4-inch pieces). Add to the same bowl with other ground pork.
  5. Add soy sauce mixture, chopped water chestnuts, mushrooms, cornstarch, cilantro, sesame oil, wine, vinegar, sugar, ginger, salt, and pepper to the bowl and mix until well combined.
  6. Use a 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter to cut two rounds from each egg roll wrapper. You can cut in stacks of 6 to 7 wrappers at a time. Cover rounds with moist paper towels to prevent them from drying out.
  7. Lay out 6 rounds at a time, brush the edges lightly with water. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling mixture in the center of each round. With each hand, lift opposite sides of wrapper and pinch to form two pleats. Rotate 90 degrees and pinch again to form two more pleats. Continue two more times until you have eight folds.
  8. Pick up the dumpling. Using your thumb and index finger (as if to form the OK sign, but with the Shu Mai in the middle) gently squeeze near the top of the dumpling to form a “waist.”
  9. Use your middle finger to support the bottom of the dumpling and pack down the filling using your other hand (or a butter knife). Place on a piece of parchment paper sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Immediately cover with damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
  10. Place a small pinch of grated carrot on the center of each dumpling; mostly for appearance. I have also seen a single pea used.
  11. Cut a round piece of parchment slightly smaller than your dutch oven and poke 20 holes, and put it over your improvised steamer. Spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray. I had to cook the dumplings in two batches, to make sure that they don’t touch. Be careful because they will plump slightly during steaming. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes per batch. Serve immediately with chili oil.

Chili Oil:
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1-1/2 small garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1-1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt

  1. Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat until it measure 300 degrees on and instant-read thermometer.
  2. Remove pan from heat and stir in pepper flakes, garlic, soy sauce, soy sauce, sugar and table salt.
  3. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Discard garlic before serving.
Worth the effort

Worth the effort


Valentine’s Day Truffles

February 16, 2014

I made these truffles once before. While the cocoa powder coating was a disaster, my main complaint was the unbearable monotony of having 64 exactly-equal truffles. So this year for Valentine’s Day, I pulled out all the stops and made more than a dozen variations. They turned out beautiful, even if I sat home alone on Valentine’s Day (well, alone with my two sons). The variety started with two base fillings; (1) the chocolate ganache in the original recipe, and (2) a peanut butter filling. I formed both into round balls, and I describe below how I turned these two varieties into at least a dozen unique truffles. Overall, the truffles need to be made in two phases, (1) prepare the ganache/peanut butter balls (about 3 hours total), and (2) the final assembly (about 1-1/2 hours). The chocolate mixture needs at least 2 hours between the steps, and the peanut butter needs to freeze solid. Of course, they turned out to be a perfect 5-star.

A bucket of truffles

A bucket of truffles

It was important for me to try to make a lot of unique truffles. Here’s how I did it. For the chocolate ganache, I used to following techniques to make 10 different varieties.

  1. Cocoa powder coating.
  2. Rolled in chopped nuts.
  3. Dipped in Milk chocolate and placed on parchment paper to form round balls.
  4. Same at #3, but using Dark chocolate.
  5. Made cups, putting a dab of melted Milk and/or Dark Chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a small truffle, then another dab of chocolate.
  6. Same as #5, but top with some chopped nuts. Between #5 and #6 there were 4 difference variations.
  7. I used a toothpick to decorate some of the milk chocolate truffles with melted dark chocolate.

For the Peanut Butter, I used to following techniques to make 4 different varieties.

  1. Dipped in Milk chocolate and placed on parchment paper to form round balls.
  2. Same at #1, but using Dark chocolate.
  3. I made classic peanut butter cups, both with milk and dark chocolate.

Comments / Issues:

  1. Below there are three parts. I would recommend preparing the first three parts the night before you plan to do the finally assembly. The Peanut Butter balls especially need to be frozen solid of they will not slice. The next day, be sure to remove them from the freezer at the last minute, and only in batches of about 7 to 8.
  2. Microwaving at 50% power on my counter-top microwave was not enough. I needed 80% power.
  3. The recipe says to use an 8″x8″ pan, yielding 64 pieces. I used a 7″x7″ pan and got 49 slightly-larger pieces. If you are using 1-1/2″ cups, then I would suggest the slightly larger size.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $20.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 12:00 PM. Dinner time 4:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon espresso powder (optional)
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Lightly spray a 7″-to-8″ square baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Prepare a parchment sling by folding 2 sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as the inside of baking dish. Arrange to two sheets of parchment perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan. Firmly push into corners and up sides of pan to that the parchment is flush to baking dish.
  2. Roughly chop the chocolate and put in a medium microwave proof bowl. Microwave at 50% power (or 80% for a counter-top microwave) for 2 to 3 minutes; stirring once or twice. The chocolate should be mostly melted, but there should remain a few small pieces of chocolate. Set aside.
  3. In a Pyrex measuring cup, microwave cream for 30 seconds until it is warm to touch. Add corn syrup, vanilla and the pinch of salt; stirring to combine. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit, without stirring, for 3 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, microwave butter for 20 second to soften and cut into 8 pieces.
  5. After 3 minutes, use a wooden spoon to combine cream into chocolate, then add small butter cubes one at a time, until everything becomes fully incorporated and smooth.
  6. Empty ganache into the prepared baking dish, and use a rubber spatula to even out. Allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
  7. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days)

Peanut Butter Filling:
16-to-18 ounce jar of creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder for dusting your hands.

  1. Lightly spray a 4″x8″ loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Prepare a parchment sling by folding 2 sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as the inside of loaf pan. Arrange to two sheets of parchment perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan. Firmly push into corners and up sides of pan to that the parchment is flush to the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the peanut butter, dry milk, and sugar until combined; you should have a stiff mixture.
  3. Empty peanut butter mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and use a rubber spatula to even out. Freeze for at least 3 hours.
  4. Grip overhanging parchment and lift to remove from loaf pan. Cut into thirty-two 1″ squares (8 rows by 4 rows).
  5. Keeping remaining squares as frozen as possible, work in batches of 8. Dust your hands in cocoa powder to prevent the peanut butter from sticking to your hands. Roll into round balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Cover balls with plastic wrap and freeze again for at least 2 hours. (I’m talking about cooking! lol)

Final Assembly:
1 pound Milk Chocolate
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (1-1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar (1/2 ounce)
1-1/2″ mini cup-cake liners
1 pound Bittersweet Chocolate

  1. Break milk chocolate into rough chunks, and melt in a bowl set over simmering water (later you will melt the dark chocolate in step 8).
  2. Prepare the coating by sifting the cocoa and sugar through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl. Sift again into a pie plate and set aside.
  3. Wipe out large bowl from previous step with paper towel, chop nuts, and place in the freshly wiped bowl. Set aside.
  4. Grip overhanging parchment and lift ganache. Cut into sixty-four 1″  squares (8 rows by 8 rows). If the ganache cracks while you are slicing, allow to sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes before proceeding.
  5. Use the dusting powder to cover your hands so that the ganache doesn’t stick to your hands. Use your hands to roll each square into a round ball, re-applying dusting powder as necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands. I would suggest rolling in big circles between your hands. If at first they don’t roll, eventually the warmth from your hands will allow you to succeed.
    1. For those truffles that you want to coat in powder, transfer to pie plate and evenly cover with powder, then lightly shake to remove excess powder.
    2. For those truffles that you want to cover in nuts, more them around bowl with chopped nuts, pressing the nuts firmly
    3. For those truffles that you want for milk chocolate balls, drop in melted chocolate and fish out using a fork. Tilt to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan, then transfer to parchment lined backing sheet. After you get about 6 to 8 balls, put them into freezer for 1 minute to set the chocolate.
    4. If some of your squares of ganache are small, then make in mini cup cake wrapper. Put a dab of melted Chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a small ganache ball, then another dab of chocolate to top. Sprinkle some of them with left-over chopped nuts.
  6. Working in batches of 6 to 8 peanut butter balls, cut those that you want to make into peanut butter cups in half, and leave the remaining peanut butter balls un-sliced.
    1. For those truffles that you want for milk chocolate peanut butter balls, drop in melted chocolate and fish out using a fork. Tilt to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan, then transfer to parchment lined backing sheet. After you get about 6 to 8 balls, put them into freezer for 1 minute to set the chocolate.
    2. For those truffles that you want peanut butter cups; Put a dab of melted chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a half-ball with the flat side upward. Add another dab of chocolate to top, and smooth so that the top is flat. I would suggest doing the peanut butter cups last, so that you know how much extra chocolate you have. That will dictate how full you fill the cups.
  7. Return all unused peanut butter balls to the freezer.
  8. Break dark chocolate into rough chunks, and melt in a same bowl containing the remaining milk chocolate. Continue to simmer pot of water, ensuring that the water doesn’t boil.
  9. As the dark chocolate melts, dip the tip of a toothpick into the melted dark chocolate and draw some designed some of the finished milk chocolate truffles; especially 5.3 and 5.4 (nut-less).
  10. Assemble the remaining truffles as you did in step 5 and 6, saving the peanut butter cups until last (and fill to a level based upon available chocolate).
  11. Cover container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week. Let truffles sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Vanilla Extract – Week 2

December 17, 2013

2 weeks ago I started a new batch of homemade vanilla extract. It’s starting to look a little better. Mostly as I have already surmised; more beans means more flavor. Oddly, there is one exception. My recipe #4, the double-strength extract, seems paler than recipe #3 (even similar to recipe #2). This seems so counter-intuitive that I will make a second jar of recipe #4, because that jar used exceptionally fat beans. When making my “control jar” I will use more average-sized beans (but still my super-sized 68-beans-per-pound).

After 2 weeks, it's looking a little cloudier

After 2 weeks, it’s looking a little cloudier

My Four Vanilla Extract Recipes for Round 2:

  1. 60% of the minimum FDA-strength: Based upon Chris Kimball’s 1993 recipe using super-size beans. I used 2 beans (1/2-ounce) and 8-oz of vodka. The cost is 25-cents per ounce of vanilla extract.
  2. 120% of the minimum FDA-strength: The recipe is slightly more potent than the minimum FDA-Strength. I used 1 ounce of beans and 8-oz of vodka, whereas the FDA requires only 0.83-oz beans per cup. The cost is 46-cents per ounce of vanilla extract.
  3. 166% of the minimum FDA-strength: I am hoping that this recipe gives me the big vanilla flavor that I am searching for. I used 6 beans weighing 1-3/8-ounces plus 7-1/3-oz vodka. The cost is 75-cents per ounce.
  4. 211% of the minimum FDA-strength: Gives me a full double-strength vanilla extract. The recipe used 7 beans weighing 1-3/4-oz plus 7-oz vodka. The cost is $1.03 per ounce.

Better Homemade Vanilla Extract

December 8, 2013

A few years ago, I made a quart of homemade vanilla extract, based upon 4 different recipes. I considered all 4 recipes a failure, and abandoned the project after a few months. I added a bunch more vanilla beans, and was able to salvage my investment and produce enough “acceptable” vanilla extract, which has lasted for a few years. The last of my homemade vanilla extract is now gone, and I am ready to revisit my efforts to make a better vanilla extract.

After just 4 days, only Chris Kimball's recipe looks weak.

After just 4 days, only Chris Kimball’s recipe looks weak.                  (Recipe 1 to 4 are in order left to right)

The lessons I learned from my first experiment are:

  1. MORE BEANS EQUALS MORE FLAVOR. Within a few short weeks it became clear that the only real determinant in the strength of the extract is the amount of beans used. More beans equals more flavor. While I had tried Chris Kimball’s 2009 method of heating the vodka prior to adding the vanilla beans, that technique had absolutely no affect on the final outcome. Because the extract process takes three to six months, any increase in temperature lasting only a few hours will obviously have no real effect.
  2. AVOID EXTRACT-GRADE BEANS. While the consensus on the internet is that “Extract-Grade” or “Grade B” beans are most suited to make vanilla extract (mostly for cost reasons), I was so disappointed with their quality that I will probably never buy extract-grade beans again. Last time my extract-grade beans (150 beans per pound) cost $16 per 1/2-lb. “Grade A” beans require approximately 100 beans to make one pound. Even better, the beans that I am using today are 68 beans per pound, which cost me $28 per 1/2-lb.  While costing 75% more, I definitely wanted to see if the higher-quality beans were worth the extra cost. So far, I am thrilled with them. Here is a link showing the description of the beans I bought.
  3. USE FRESH BEANS. While vanilla extract can last forever, the beans themselves seem to remain fresh for about a year. They tend to dry out, but there are still additional steps you can take to re-hyrdate them. Vanilla extract can be made from dry-ish beans, but it is a question of the quality of the final extract that most concerns me. My experience with old and tough beans was terrible, so I wanted to try making the extract from the current year’s crop (2013).

Just as last time, I am making four recipes to evaluate how to obtain the best vanilla extract. The recipes that I am making now are generally much stronger than my last attempt. You can see the summary of this second round here. The four recipes I am follow are here:

  1. Recipe 1: (60% of FDA):  I wanted to give Chris Kimball’s 1993 recipe another try, using my high-quality beans. These super-size beans mean that his recipe represents 60% of the minimum FDA-strength, whereas using two extract-grade beans represented just 25% of the FDA-minimum. Today, I used 2 beans (1/2-ounce) and 8-oz of vodka. Using my half-pound of beans, I could make a total of 1 gallon vanilla extract (or 32 four-ounce-bottles).  The cost is 25-cents per ounce, or $1 for a 4-oz bottle.
  2. Recipe 2: (120% of FDA) It’s the closest to regular FDA-Strength, and want to see if the higher quality beans make this recipe acceptable. I used 1 ounce of beans and 8-oz of vodka, whereas the FDA requires only 0.83-oz beans per cup. Using my half-pound of beans, I could make a total of 64-ounces of vanilla extract; sixteen 4-oz-bottles. The cost is 46-cents per ounce, or $1.86 for a 4-oz bottle.
  3. Recipe 3: (166% of FDA)  Of the four recipes, this is the one that I’m most hoping works out. I want big vanilla flavor, but still to keep the cost down. I used 6 beans weighing 1-3/8-ounces plus 7-1/3-oz vodka. Using my half-pound of beans, this recipe will yield a total of 48-ounces of vanilla extract; or twelve 4-oz-bottles. The cost is 75-cents per ounce, or $3 for a 4-oz bottle.
  4. Recipe 4: (211% of FDA). Because recipe 3 does not represent a full doubling of the FDA requirements, and I know that bakers especially love to use double-strength vanilla, I wanted to include this option as an upper end. The recipe used 7 beans weighing 1-3/4-oz plus 7-oz vodka. Using my half-pound of beans, I could make a total of 32-ounces of vanilla extract; or eight double-strength 4-oz-bottles. The cost is $1.03 per ounce, or $4.13 for a 4-oz bottle.

Additional comments and considerations:

  1. Chris Kimball’s 1993 and 2009 recipes have both been removed from his website. Good riddance! While I’m still including a version of the 1993 recipe in this experiment, it is only remotely feasible based upon these super-sized beans. Realistically I think recipe 2 or 3 will be the ultimate victor in this shoot out.
  2. McCormick’s won Chris Kimball’s 2009 taste test, and is the most important company with regards to vanilla production (not just commercial brands). They control about 40% of the world trade of vanilla. I will use McCormick’s in my taste tests as this experiment continues.
  3. There are two main varieties on beans used to produce vanilla extract: Bourbon and Tahitian. Most vanilla extract is made using Bourbon beans. The Bourbon refers to Reunion Island, located near Madagascar, which was mostly called Bourbon Islands between 1649 and 1848. Bourbon beans do not typically use bourbon (the alcohol) to extract the vanilla flavor.
  4. Many commercial extracts also add sugar, which takes away the natural bitter aftertaste. Buying/making it without sugar will allow the extract to keep indefinitely. Plus all recipes in which you use your extract also add sugar, so there’s absolutely no reason to incorporate sugar into your extract.
  5. Vanilla keeps for at least 10 years without any loss in potency or flavor; though McCormick’s puts an expiry date about 2 years out. If properly stored in cool, dark place, most say that it only improves with age, and any fine red wine.
  6. I recommend contacting your seller about bean size before placing your order. If a potential bean vendor won’t tell you how many beans per pound, then don’t buy it. “Extract Grade” (a.k.a. “Grade B”) vanilla beans should be 140 to 160 per pound. “Grade A” requires about 100 beans to equal one pound.
  7. The FDA defines Vanilla Extract to contain at least 35% alcohol. I used 80 proof (40%) Vodka because of its neutral flavor, but theoretically any alcohol can be used; rum, bourbon or brandy is sometimes used. There is no benefit to using expensive vodka; I used 1.75 liter bottle of Svenka that cost me $13. I have read using significantly higher proof will hinder, rather than help, the extraction process.
  8. The perfect bottles for gift are here. The amber helps protect the vanilla from light.
  9. Cost of McCormick’s is about $4 per ounce, but most others are $2 per ounce. Based upon these super-high-quality beans, my FDA-strength cost about 50-cents per ounce, and my double-strength cost just $1 per ounce.

Finally, after you’ve finished your with your extract, you’re beans still have more to give. You have a couple of choices:

  1. You don’t need to filter your vanilla after the 6-month extraction process. You can just leave the beans in your extract for years, and it will only improve the flavor. The only downside is that there will be seeds floating around and included in your recipes. That isn’t a bad thing, but visually it is more pleasant to see the pure, dark liquid without anything floating around.
  2. After my last batch, I added some new vodka to a mason jar containing the used beans, then let it steep for nearly three years. I ended up with an extra 12-ounces of 60%-strength vanilla extract, pictured below.
  3. Chris Kimball tried to dry and grind the spent pods, but he was unhappy with malty flavor that the vanilla powder gave. He recommends sticking to extract and “new” beans.
  4. Lastly, people make vanilla sugar out of their spend beans. After slowly drying the beans in a very low oven, simply bury them in granulated sugar for a month. Here is an article, and Cook’s Country has a related article here.
Made re-using beans after they had already been extracted.

Made re-using beans after they had already been extracted.


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