The Last Straw for Kingsford Charcoal

April 14, 2012

There was a time when Kingsford Charcoal was undoubtedly king in my house. Then a few years ago they reformulated. I’ve expressed my disappointment with their reformulation, and was not alone, see here and here. Others complained about changes in grilling temperatures, that the coals would burn out quicker, as well as lack of charcoal flavor. However, my biggest complaint was that the juices from the meat would extinguish the new formulation (which never happened with the older formulation).  I never got the full burn of the briquettes when cooking juicy meat.

This year’s Kingsford Corporate Blunder was to drastically downsize their “value packs” by over 30% without lowering the price. Last year their “Value Packs” consisted of twin 20-lb bags (total of 40-lbs of charcoal for about $12).  This year, I went to Home Depot and paid about the same price. When I got home I noticed they downsize each of the two bags from 20-lbs to 13.9-lbs (total of 27.8-lbs for $13). Come on, did they really think we wouldn’t care?

A bag from last year compared to this year's downsize.

While Kingsford charcoal is still the best selling brand, they have used their market dominance to squeeze more profits by substituting lower cost (and heavier) materials, such as clay and other “binding” materials. In the past Kingsford has decreased the size of each individual briquettes so that they could claim the bags are the “same size” (based on briquette count in the bag). Do they really think we’re that gullible? This latest corporate blunder is the last straw. I’m done with them for good, like Netflix before them. I will try to find other brands and let you know the results.


Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

April 4, 2012

Every day my peanut-loving son takes a PBJ sandwich and Nutter Butter cookies to school for lunch, so my son was especially interested in the outcome of this recipe. As I expected, he loved the cookies and said they were 10 times better than pre-packaged Nutter Butter. The crisp cookie was fresh and tender, not at all dried out, and the peanut butter filling really intensified the nutty flavor. 4-stars.

Final cookies were a home run for my peanut-loving son

  1. The recipe calls for raw peanuts, but after looking in 3 different supermarkets I wasn’t able to locate raw peanuts anywhere. In the end, I bought pre-roasted peanuts labelled as “party peanuts”, because the ingredient list was very simple. It appears to be a much better substitute than Planter’s.
  2. The recipe yields 35-ounces of filled cookies, a little more than two 16-oz packages of Nutter Butters.  The full retail price of Nutter Butters is $4.50 per pound, but I usually buy them when they are $2.50 per pound. So while this recipe won’t save a careful shopper any money, they are still worth making because they are fresher and free on weird oils and other additives; what is hydrogenated rapseed oil anyway.
  3. If you use a level tablespoon to measure out the dough, the recipe will make 24 filled-cookies; i.e. 48 halves. I slightly heaped my tablespoons and ended up with 18 slightly larger cookies; i.e. 36 halves.
  4. There was barely enough filling to fill all the cookies. I had to be careful and sometimes under-estimated and the filling didn’t make it all the way to the edges. Next time I will increase the filling by 20%, so that I don’t have to be so stingy with the filling. Also there are two other fillings available; milk chocolate filling or honey-cinnamon filling.
  5. Chris Kimball warns against using unsalted peanut butter in this recipe, but I have never seen unsalted peanut butter for sale in my main-stream supermarket.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $4.50 for 35-ounces.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Snack time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

Cookies:
1 -1/4 cups toasted peanuts (6-1/4 ounces)
3/4-cup all-purpose flour (3-3/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (4-3/4 ounces)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3-3/4 ounces)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (3-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 large egg

Peanut Butter Filling:
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (7-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar (4 ounces)

  1. Set two rack to the upper-middle and lower-middle of your oven, and begin to pre-heat to 350-degrees. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. Add toasted peanuts to bowl of food processor and pulse 8 times until they become finely chopped.
  3. If a medium bowl, add flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
  4. Put butter in another large bowl and microwave for 25 seconds until melted. Whisk together peanut putter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, milk and egg. Then add flour mixture and stir using a rubber spatula until well combined. Add the chopped peanuts and continue mixing until the peanuts have been evenly incorporated.
  5. Use a level (or ever so slightly heaping) tablespoon to measure out 12 mounds onto each of the two parchment-lined sheet pans. Moisten your hands with water and flatten each cooking into 2″ rounds.
  6. Bake at 350-degrees for 16 to 18 minutes, or until they turn a deep golden brown. Be sure to switch racks and rotate 180-degrees halfway through cooking.
  7. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the sheet pans before moving them to a wire rack, where they will take an additional 30 minutes to completely cool.
  8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 with remaining dough, though the recipe may not yield the full 48 cookie halves.
  9. For the filling, add butter and peanut butter to a medium bowl and microwave on high for 40 seconds. Use a rubber spatula to combine, then add confectioners’ sugar. Again, stir until there is no more powdered sugar.
  10. Because some cookies will be slightly different size, group them in pairs so that the two sandwich halves will be approximately the same size. Put 1 level tablespoon of the filling into the middle of one side of the sandwhcih, then put the second cookie on top and use a twisting motion until the filling works it’s way to the edges.
  11. It’s best to allow the filling to firm up for an hour before serving, but my son and I couldn’t resist and they were delicious, though the filling squished out a little.

Coffee Fudge Swirl Ice Cream

March 10, 2012

I have always made my Cappuccino Ice Cream by mixing real espresso with heavy cream. It tastes delicious. But adding 8 ounces of espresso, which is mostly water, allows some ice crystals to form taking a slight toll on the texture of the final ice cream. So today I used Chris Kimball’s technique of heating ground coffee grounds directly in the milk/cream mixture. Not only does using a custard base result in unparalleled silkiness, but the heating allows me to  simultaneously “brew” the coffee. The texture is amazing, and the flavor is nearly as good as using real espresso. The only draw back is that it you must strain the custard base three times to remove 95% of the coffee grounds. 5-stars.

Pictured here with my son’s 13-th birthday cake.

Usually I swirl in Dulce de Leche to my coffee ice cream, but today my son requested using Chocolate Fudge. As an adult, I prefer the Dulce de Leche, but this combination using chocolate fudge was a home run with my guests (whose average age was 12-years-old). It was decadent. Just be sure that the fudge sauce has cooled completely before swirling into your ice cream.

Comments:

  1. The main problem with Chris Kimball’s recipe is removing the spend coffee grounds from the custard base. He instructed me to strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer, but my strainer let quite a bit of grounds through. In fact, I had to strain the custard three times in order to remove enough of the grounds.
  2. Also, Chris Kimball instructed me to strain the chilled custard, but I strained it as part of the cooling process. I don’t think that this contributed to the straining problem, but I do think that my technique allowed for the custard to remain colder, which is critical to prevent ice crystals from forming.
  3. I also tried to strain through a paper coffee filter, but the custard was too thick and never permeated through the filter. I only have a French Press at work, but think that that would have worked well.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $5.20.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 12 Noon. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original Ice Cream recipe is here, and his Chocolate Fudge Sauce recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

Hot Fudge Sauce:
4-oz semisweet chocolate
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2-1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch table salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces.

  1. Break chocolate into pieces and melt in small heat-proof bowl placed over a pot of nearly simmering water. Don’t allow the water to boil. Stir the chocolate occasionally, which will take about 10 minutes to melt. Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa until it has dissolved.
  2. Place a heavy-bottom pan over low heat, and warm sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream, salt, and 1/4 cup water for 5 minutes without stirring.
  3. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the burner to medium/high and simmer for 4 minutes; stirring often.
  4. Remove from heat and add butter pieces and vanilla extract. Once combined, whisk in the melted chocolate/cocoa.
  5. Allow to cool completely before spreading on ice cream, or serve warm to make Hot Fudge Sundae.

Coffee Fudge Swirl Ice Cream:
2 Cup heavy cream (1 pint)
1-1/2 whole milk
1/2 cup ground coffee or espresso beans.
1-1/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing cream from stove-top.
  2. Add heavy cream, milk, coffee grounds and 1 cup sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat 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.
  3. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. Be sure not to let the egg yolks and sugar sit for any length of time; after 5 minutes the combination will get hard. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  4. Add the yolk mixture back in with the cream/coffee in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  5. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  6. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. Wash the strainer and then strain the mixture two more times to remove as much of the grounds as possible.
  7. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Add vanilla extract, cover, refrigerate for 3 hours. Alternatively freeze for 1 hour; just be sure it’s below 40°.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 30 minutes or how ever long your ice cream machine recommends. While ice cream churns; pre-freeze a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and the ice cream’s final container/bowl.
  9. When ice cream finishes spread in thin, even layer of pre-chilled baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to leave as little air as possible, and freeze for 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  10. Use a spatula to spread your fudge evenly over entire surface of ice cream, then roll up ice cream into a long cylinder.
  11. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 1 more hour before serving.

Matt celebrating his 13-th Birthday with his friends


Buffalo Chicken Nuggets

March 8, 2012

OK, so this isn’t a new recipe, but a combination of two older ones; Buffalo Wings and these Chicken Nuggets. The combination turned out fantastic; just as good as regular Buffalo Wings, but so easy to eat using a knife and fork. There was no mess and my fingers weren’t tingling from all the spices. The sauce recipe below is a slight variation on Chris Kimball’s. First, I reduced the total amount of sauce made, because I found that there was always too much. The second secret is to add some Worcester sauce, adding some great depth.

Just as tasty as wings, but easier to eat.

Comments:

  1. I love spicy food. But if you don’t, then you can leave out the cayenne pepper to soften the heat. If it’s still too hot then you can reduce the Tabasco. By itself, Frank’s wing sauce is not all that hot.

Rating: 4-1/2-stars.
Cost: $5.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original Chicken Nugget recipe is here, and his Buffalo wing recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the chicken nuggets is here, and the descriptions of how I prepared the Buffalo Sauce are given below:

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoon Worcester sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. With 5 minutes remaining until chicken is ready to serve, begin to make the sauce. Melt the butter in 12” regular (i.e. not non-stick) skillet over a medium low burner, whisk in the Frank’s sauce, Tabasco, brown sugar, Worcester, cayenne and cider vinegar. Mix well and allow to cook for 2 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of sauce to serve separately at table, and to ensure that your nuggets aren’t too spicy.
  2. Put chicken nuggets into skillet and use a rubber spatula to toss until evenly coated.

Philadelphia Cheese Steak

March 5, 2012

I had my first real cheese steak when I was 38 years old, and always had the impression that it was something better left to the professionals (For example, here I am in a Philadelphia pub enjoying a cheese steak).  About 2 years ago, I tried to make Philly Cheese Steaks according Chris Kimball’s 2006 recipe. He told me to cut the meat into cubes and then pound them thin with a meat pounder. The result was OK; 3-1/2 stars; but the meat seized up and ended up being too thick. Plus it didn’t always brown properly; varying from sandwich to sandwich. Today, I am happy to convey great success in home-made cheese steak technique.

Finally homemade cheese steak rivaling s trip to Philly

Today, I used Chris Kimball’s new technique which worked perfectly. His secret to making cheese steaks without a deli-slicer is to partially freeze the meat. Because the meat is firmer, you will have much more success in slicing paper-thin shavings with a sharp chef’s knife. (well I now see others have given this same advice too).

While delicious, I thought there was a slight lack of cheese flavor. Because provolone is often mentioned in “gourmet” versions, I made a second batch of Cheese Steaks a few days later using provolone cheese. In the end, Chris Kimball was correct. White American cheese is best, both in terms of texture and taste. Provolone was too subtle in flavor and became stringy when melted.

Comments:

  1. I toasted the bread at 400-degrees until it just began to turn golden. My family unanimously thought that it was toasted too far; it had became too hard. I then tried making a sandwich on an un-toasted roll; but the toasted roll was deemed to be unanimously better. After testing a few batches, I’d recommend toasting only for 6 to 7 minutes, and removing from oven before it becomes even lightly browned.
  2. The recommended amount of American Cheese (even though augmented by Parmesan) was a little too weak. I wanted more cheese flavor. I made a second batch of sandwiches using provolone, but they had even less cheese flavor.  So, I would recommend sticking to White American Cheese, but boosting the amount. I added two extra slices and boosted the Parmesan to 1/2 cup. BTW, the traditional cheese used in these sandwiches is Cheez Whiz.
  3. Chris Kimball says to the freeze meat on a plate or baking sheet. The first time I made these I used a plate, but because plates are not completely flat it was wobbly during the cutting process. The second time I made these I froze the 3″-wide strips directly on a wooden cutting board, and felt that it was much safer.
  4. Make sure that your chef’s knife is sharp before slicing. A sharp knife will make it much easier (and safer).
  5. My last bit of advice is to pile each slice into an unorganized mound as you cut the beef. Once I left the slices in even stacks, but they were extremely difficult to separate them after chopping.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $18 for 5 to 6 sandwiches.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 4:00 pm. Dinner Time:  6:00.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below, but the ingredient list has already increased the amount of cheese according to my recommendations above :

2-lb skirt steak
5 to 6 Italian sub rolls (about 8″)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (3/4 oz)
10 slices white American cheese (10 ounces)

  1. Slice your steak with grain into 3″ wide strips. Lay steak strips flat on a wooden cutting board and freeze for 1 hour, which will allow you to more effectively cut your meat into very thin slices.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to middle position and pre-heat for 20 minutes to 400-degrees.
  3. Use a sharp knife to slice/shave the steak against the grain, making your slices as thin as possible. As you cut the beef, put the shavings in an unorganized mound. Once I stacked the slices neatly, but they did not separate easily.  After slicing all your meat, put in a mound and chop about 20 times until coarsely chopped.
  4. Slice rolls and bake in a 400-degree oven for 6 to 7 minutes. Remove before they begin brown.
  5. Place a 12″ non-stick skillet over a high burner. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and pre-heat for 3 minutes until smoking.
  6. Cook the meat in two batches. Sprinkle half the meat evenly in pan. Allow to brown for 5 minutes without stirring. Stir and allow to finish cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Put cooked meat in a colander. Use paper towels to wipe the skillet clean and repeat this step using a second tablespoon of vegetable oil.
  7. After draining the moisture from the meat, return meat to skillet over burner set to medium heat. Season according to taste with (about 3/4 teaspoon) salt and pepper, and heat for 2 minutes until the meat is completely warmed.
  8. Turn down heat to low, and top meat evenly with the grated Parmesan. Evenly lay out slices of American cheese, realizing that there may be some overlap. Continue heating for 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese has melted, then fold the melted cheese into the meat to combine. Diving the meat evenly and place on toasted rolls, then serve immediately.

Homemade Granola with Almonds and Raisins

February 29, 2012

I’ve never really given much though to granola, and certainly never thought about making it at home. But thanks to Chris Kimball I see that it’s mostly just oats; plain old Quaker. Most ready-made granola binds the oats together using honey, this recipe uses maple syrup. While more expensive, maple syrup has bolder and more interesting flavor; a definite upgrade. Also most ready-made granola skimps on the nuts and raisins, because they cost 10-times more than the oats. This recipe uses lots of nuts and raisins, and achieves a much tastier balance. 4-stars

Best granola ever; I guarantee it.

This will undoubtedly be the best granola you will have ever tasted in your life; I guarantee it. The flavor of the almonds intensify and the oats cook. While my main complaint about granola still stands; that it is too dry; it is still delicious.  I’d recommend eating with something moist; adding milk and eating as a cereal or as an American-style parfait (yogurt, fresh fruit and granola).

Comments:

  1. When walking down the oatmeal section in your supermarket, you will see two type of oats. Quick oat are ready in 1 minutes, but this recipe calls for regular old-fashioned rolled oats. They are always labelled as ready in 5 minutes.
  2. While maple syrup is very expensive it imparts great flavor. If it is too expensive for you, then substitute honey. It goes without saying that pancake syrup should never be substituted.
  3. Be sure to buy raw almonds, because you will be roasting them yourself. I found slivered raw almonds at Trader Joe’s. Avoid blanched and pre-roasted almonds.

Rating: 4-stars
Cost: $6.50 (2-lbs 10-oz granola)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 1:00 PM.  Ready:  2:45 PM

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

1/3 cup maple syrup (3-3/4 oz)
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-1/3 ounces light brown sugar (1/3 cup packed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
17-1/2 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats (5-3/4 cups)
10 ounces raw almonds (2 cups)
2 cups raisins (12-1/2 oz)

  1. Set an oven rack in upper-middle of oven, and pre-heat to 325-degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine maple syrup, vanilla, brown sugar and salt, then use whisk to combine vegetable oil.
  3. Use spatula to fold oats and chopped almonds until evenly coated with syrup mixture.
  4. Line a rimmed-baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly spread oats onto baking sheet. Use a stiff metal spatula to tightly compress the oats.
  5. Bake at 325-degrees for between 40 and 45 minutes, or until slightly brown. Rotate the baking sheet half way through baking to ensure that it cooks evenly.
  6. Place baking sheet on wire rack and allow to cool for 1 hour. Break granola into whatever sized pieces you like. Chop raisins and stir into granola peices.
  7. You can store the granola in an air-tight container for 2 weeks.

Comparing pale lifeless store-bought to homemade.


Beer-Battered Onion Rings

February 24, 2012

In the past, I have made these oven-fried onion ring. They use crushed saltines and potato chip to substitute for deep frying. While tasty, they just aren’t the same as genuine onion rings. So when I saw these onion rings on a new episode of Cook’s Country, I was excited to give them a try. The recipe solves some of my biggest complaints, when I take a small bite the entire onion comes out leaving just the hollowed ring of batter. Chris Kimball solves this by soaked the raw onions in a mixture of beer, malt vinegar, and salt. Not only are the rings are softened, but this technique also enhances their flavor.

Delicious battered onion rings; but a big mess

But these onion rings are not without their own set of problems. Without breading they stick too each other too easily, stripping away the batter in places. In the end, the results were mixed; some rings were 4-1/2 stars while others were barely 3-stars.

Issues:

  1. The batter is extremely runny, and without breading they stick very easily to one another while frying.
  2. While Chris Kimball says to fry them in small batches, his recommended size is still too big. The onion rings still stuck together. I think it is better to add the rings one at a time, and do not treat them as “batches” at all. Rather treat each ring individually, though it will take more vigilance. There will always be a ring going in or out.
  3. I made this recipe with 2 large onions and ended up with way more onions rings than we could possible eat. I’ve scaled back the recipe below to use only one large onion. If you are making for a crowd, the you can follow his original ingredient list.

Rating: 3-stars
Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Started: 1:00 PM.  Ready:  2:45 PM

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

1 large sweet onions (but can use regular yellow onions)
1-1/2 cups beer
1 teaspoons malt vinegar (or cider vinegar is unavailable)
Salt and pepper
2 quarts peanut or vegetable oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cups cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  1. Peel your onion and slice 1/2″ thick. Place the onion slices (without separating into individual rounds) in a zip-lock bag with 1 cup beer, 1 teaspoons malt vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Place in refrigerator for 1 hour.
  2. Pour oil into a Dutch oven set over medium-high burner. While oil is heating to 350-degrees, prepare mixture in a large bowl by whisking together flour, cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Add 1/3 cup beer and continue whisking until there are just a few lumps remaining; adding a tablespoon of beer at a time until your obtain the proper consistency. You know you have the proper consistency when the batter that drips from the whisk leaves a bit of a trail as it falls back into the batter.
  3. Set an oven rack to the middle position, and pre-heat to 200-degrees.
  4. Drain onions and use paper towels to pat them dry. Separate onions into individual rounds, discarding any that are too small.
  5. Put 1/2 of rings in batter, and place them one-at-a-time into the hot oil. Do not treat them as “batches”, but rather you should try to fry each ring for 2-1/2 minutes per side.
  6. As you remove the rings, place them in a baking sheet lined with paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and keep them warm in the 200-dergee oven.  Repeat with second set of onion rings, but wait until the oil reaches 350-degrees before you begin to fry again.

More Ice Cream Flavors: Cappuccino, Vanilla Bean and Cookies ‘n Cream.

February 9, 2012

First, I just discovered some big news in Ice Cream on the Cook’s Illustrated website. While I discovered these ideas too late to incorporate them into these recipes below, they seemed so helpful that I wanted to mention them even before trying them. First, to speed the freezing of the ice cream (thereby reducing ice crystals) freeze 1 cup of custard mixture until frozen, then just before churning add the frozen custard into rest of the refrigerator custard. This trick can knock up to 10 minutes off the churning time. Second, replace 1/3 of granulated sugar with corn syrup, which will deter ice crystals at a molecular level.  Third, allow the final ice cream to freeze for an hour in a pre-chilled, metal, flat cake pan, before transferring to its final storage container. The higher surface area will allow the ice cream to freeze faster.

Recipes for layers 1 and 2

Last week, I made this ice cream cake consisting of three flavors of ice cream for my son’s 11th Birthday. As promised, I am now posting the remaining recipes; cappuccino and vanilla bean ice cream. Also, I wanted to mention some delicious variations. My favorite variation for the cappuccino ice cream is to swirl in a layer of home-made dulce de leche. My youngest son’s favorite variation of vanilla bean is to mix in 12 broken Oreo cookies; the best Cookies ‘n Cream ice cream in the world.

Rating: 4-1/2 to 5-star.
Cost: $2 per quart.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Started: 2pm. Ready: 6:30pm.

Chris Kimball does have a version of coffee ice cream; he mixes the coffee grounds directly into the milk/cream, effectively steeping the grounds while the milk comes up to temperature. Chris Kimball also has two vanilla ice cream recipes, the newest one from July 2011 is here.

Cappuccino Ice Cream:
6 shots espresso (total of 8 oz).
3/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cups if using Dulce de Leche)
4 egg yolks
1-3/4 Cup heavy cream
2 teaspoon vanilla.
1/2 tablespoon ground espresso beans.
Optional: Swirl in a layer of Dulce de Leche

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing cream from stove-top.
  2. Make espresso directly into measuring cup with at least 1 cup capacity.
  3. Add heavy cream, espresso and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat 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. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  5. Add the yolk mixture back in with the cream/espresso in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; 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, and get your strainer handy.
  7. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Add vanilla extract, cover, refrigerate for 3 hours. Alternatively freeze for 1 hour; just be sure it’s below 40°.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 35 minutes, adding ground beans in last 5 minutes. While ice cream churns; pre-freeze the ice creams final container/bowl.
  9. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. (after 1 hour coat with dulce de leche on wax paper; roll up wax paper)
  10. Makes 1 quart. Start at least 4 1/2 hours before eating.

Old-Fashioned Vanilla Ice Cream
1-1/4 cups of 2% milk.
1-1/2 cup heavy cream.
3/4 cup sugar.
4 egg yolks.
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing milk from stove-top.
  2. Add milk, heavy cream and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat 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.
  3. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. 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.
  4. Add the milk/yolk mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  5. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  6. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Slice your vanilla bean length-wise and scrape out the caviar with the back of a paring knife. Add vanilla caviar and vanilla extract, cover, refrigerate for 3 hours. Alternatively freeze for 1 hour; just be sure it’s below 40°.
  7. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 35 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction. While ice cream churns; pre-freeze the ice creams final container/bowl.
  8. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. Makes 1 quart. Start at least 4 1/2 hours before eating.
  9. For a delicious variation, roughly chop 12 Oreo cookies.

Happy Birthday Ice Cream Cake

January 29, 2012

Because my ice cream machine takes about 2 days to recharge between batches, I’ve been working on this Ice Cream cake for my son’s 11th birthday for most of the week. For the first layer; vanilla bean made with my homemade vanilla extract and hand-scraped Madagascar beans. Middle layer, mocha cappuccino made from home-roasted coffee beans and mixed with shavings of dark chocolate. Top layer, is chocolate, made with melted chocolate; not cocoa powder. The efforts really paid off; the cake was spectacular, with 3 layers each building in intensity over the previous. The combination of flavors worked perfectly together. This was by far the best ice cream cake I’ve ever eaten. 5-stars.

Stratification of the three layers of ice cream cake

My first attempt at making an ice cream cake was two years ago for my older son’s 11th birthday. While my son gave it 5-stars, it had some ice particle issues on the icing that were easily overcome with a little plastic wrap.

Lessons learned about making ice cream cakes:

  1. The secret to making spectacular ice cream is two-fold: (1) reduce the amount of water as much as possible; e.g. only egg yolks, never egg whites, and (2) increase the fat content. That’s the “secret” of Haagan-Dazs. Really, it’s no secret. Just look at the nutritional information on the side of the package; 18 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving, compared to an industry standard closer to 7 to 8 grams.
  2. Leave your cake uncovered in the freezer for no more that 2 minutes. Any longer and you run the risk of ice particles marring your week-long project. The plastic wrap should be right up against the cake with as little air as possible between the cake and plastic wrap. By the way, the more you open your freezer door the more moisture will enter your freezer and the more protection your cake will need.
  3. Complete the illusion of a real cake by making a slight dome of the final layer.
  4. Use a spring form pan to shape the cake. Layering each batch of ice cream by lightly pressing into an even layer. Run a paring knife along the sides to make it easier to remove.
  5. If you plan to move the cake from the spring-form-pan-disk, then put a disc of parchment at the bottom of the pan before the first layer of ice cream. I put the disk in this time. but ended up keeping in on the spring-form-pan-disk.
  6. While the cake cost me just $10, that’s because quarts of heavy cream went on sale for 1/2 price. I was able to buy 1/2 gallon of heavy cream for just $4.80 of which I used 1-1/2 quarts for this cake.
  7. I topped the cake with Magic Shell to simulate the icing. Next time I want to work out an improved version that will provide a nicer finish. Plus the magic shell is rather expensive ($5.50 for two bottles) and the finished coating is too thin.
  8. If using Magic Shell be sure to warm and shake exceptionally well.  The trick to applying icing to the sides is to hold your rubber spatula against the side of the cake, squeeze a little Magic Shell between the cake and the spatula and work it upwards to form an even coating. It takes a little practice.
  9. As written, Chris Kimball’s instructions require 1 large and 3 medium mixing bowls. I’ve reworked the logistics of making the chocolate ice cream because I only have 1 large and 1 medium mixing bowl; the small bowl in step 4 can be any small bowl.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $10 for the cake. Non-sale price would be $15.
How much work? Medium
How big of a mess?  Large but spread over many days.
Started: Monday. Ready: Saturday.

Chris Kimball has his own technique for making an ice cream cake, which I didn’t use because I wanted pure ice cream without a cookie base. Chris also has a wonder Chocolate Ice Cream recipe is here, which is the basis of what I made last Friday for this cake.  I will post the recipes for the other two layers over the next few days.

Chocolate Ice Cream:

8-oz dark chocolate
1-1/4 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing from stove-top in step 8.
  2. Put a medium heat-proof bowl over a pan of nearly-simmering water. Break your chocolate into large chunks and melt completely while occasionally stirring. Allow to partially cool.
  3. Add milk, heavy cream, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Remove pan from heat until Step 6 to prevent the milk from boiling.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. Add the eggs to the melted chocolate and mix until well combined.
  5. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the warmed milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  6. Add the milk/yolk/chocolate mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  7. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  8. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Add vanilla extract, cover, refrigerate for 3 hours. Alternatively freeze for 1 hour just be sure it’s below 40°.
  9. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 35 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction.
  10. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

Salmon Chowder

January 23, 2012

A few weeks ago I made Chris Kimball’s Supermarket Cod Chowder. It was well-balanced, but lack the bold flavor that I bought from a restaurant during my recent trip to Seattle. So today I made the recipe again, but replace the cod with Salmon. I took some additional steps to boost the flavor too; replacing the plain water with home-made fish stock that I made from the head, trimmings and bones of the fish. Also, instead of butter I sauted the onions of bacon fat, and sprinkled the crumbled bacon on top of the finished soup. The result was fabulous; 4-1/2 stars.

Salmon more flavorful; I wish I had more bacon

Comments:

  1. If you are only interested in using the filet; the $4/lb whole salmon yields the identical cost of $7/lb for filet. The remaining $3/lb is the head, tail, bones and other non-extractable meat. In this case, it didn’t go to waste as I used it to make my own fish stock.
  2. To make my homemade fish stock I used 8 cups of water, but very little boiled away. Next time I will use no more than 5 or 6 cups to concentrate the flavor even more.
  3. After some research and wondering if Ivar’s used red food coloring to make the chowder pink, I realized they must add tomato paste.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $25 for 10 bowls.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Finish time 6:30 PM.

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

4 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, 1/4″ dice
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 stalks celery, small dice
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups Fish stock
1 pound Yukon gold or Red potatoes, diced
1/3 cup capers and their brine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
6 ounces shrimp (chopped or use salad shrimp)
1 lb cut smoked salmon, roughly diced into small pieces (or 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke)
4 ounce cream cheese
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

  1. Dice your celery and onions. Prepare your garlic cloves and mince your fresh thyme.
  2. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large Dutch oven set over medium burner. Add diced onions and celery. Sauté for 4 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add flour and tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add 4 cups of fish stock and bring up to a simmer.  Meanwhile peel and cut your potatoes into 1/2″ dice.
  4. Increase heat to medium-high burner, adding the diced potatoes and capers. After bringing up to a simmer, reduce heat and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender and begin to break apart.
  5. Remove the bay leaf; discard. Blend half of soup to thicken.
    Add the chopped shrimp and stir in the cream cheese, milk and heavy cream; bring back up to a simmer.
  6. Remove the skin from the salmon by laying the salmon fillet flat on cutting board, skin-side-down and use a boning or chef’s knife to peel the skin away from the fillet. Slice salmon into 8 to 10 equal sized pieces.
  7. Add the fish to the pot. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to stand for 5 more minutes.
  8. Stir chowder gently to break fish up into large pieces. Season with additional salt and pepper according to your taste. Serve immediately, garnishing with minced chives, crumbled bacon bits, or oyster crackers (Krispy is the preferred brand).

 

About 2 feet long, weighing almost 6 pounds


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