SFC: Glazing the Holidays

               Though it may not be quite as cemented into a role as Turkey is for Thanksgiving, Ham has no doubt found its way as the often-starring role to Christmas get-togethers (and other holidays and celebrations I’m sure). This is especially true with my family, who consume it alongside large bowls of chips and dip, bacon-wrapped weenies, cheesy potatoes, and all manner of our favorite comfort foods.

                Despite such a large nationwide popularity, however, it saddens me to think that this oh-so-loved cut of pork is often not truly prepared “properly” (technically all you need to do is heat it up, but for a good ham there’s more). It’s true, this may only be from my experience of those I know, but still I just can’t help thinking that a large proportion of Hams during the Holidays just aren’t getting the treatment they deserve: a nice, thick, shiny coat of Glaze.

                Sure, we open up that packet of “Honey Flavored Glaze” they give with every giant mass-produced chunk of the meat and pour it on, but that’s not a real glaze. It’s thin, barely flavored, only serving to add some sweetness with the barest perceptible color/coat of itself, which most likely isn’t even being applied properly. A real Glaze, a true Glaze, is Seen and Smelled and Identified the moment that ham comes out of the oven; it’s that picture-perfect look we see in all those magazines.

                And it’s not hard to do, really. And I’m not blaming people if they haven’t happened to apply something like this to their Hams for all these years; sometimes it’s just not one of those things we think about. Ham’s already delicious enough baked as is, and we have all this other food to prepare and enjoy, the focus on this part simply might slip us by. But with more Culinary Shows getting TV spotlight and viewer attentions in these days, the argument and spotlight on Glazed Hams during the holidays is as high as it’s ever been. It deserves our attention, our Ham deserves to be Beautiful and Delicious this year!

                There are two different glaze recipes that I’d like to highlight, depending on the type of Ham one has purchased this year. If doing a whole, uncut slab of meat, bone in or non (hopefully WITH a bone, just gets that extra flavor), then we stick with a nice, thick, rich, concentrated glaze like this:

Honey Glaze

½ – 2/3 cup l. brown/demerara sugar

¼-1/3 cup honey

1 ½ tsp ground Pumpkin Spice

1 Tb English Mustard

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                We start not with the glaze but the ham itself, for even with a delicious coating we still need to cook it properly if wanting the full deliciousness this main course can offer. Ideally, this should be soaked overnight in cold water, which will then be changed at least once throughout. I’m not sure what this exactly accomplishes other than washing off any slime and briny chemicals on the outside, but there’s nothing wrong with a long bath for things like these.

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                Pat dry the next day and bake, with cold water in pan and a foil cover, at 315F for a long period of time; about 20 minutes per pound of pork (ours took 5 hours), plus an extra 20 after that. This will heat it up in a nice, slow, gentle fashion; there are a few recipes that may just leave this for an hour at 350 or something, but even if it’s reheating I say do it proper. Also, as it’s best to have it elevated from the pan bottom during this, one can have the ham sitting on a rack or, better yet, a traditional bed of veggies and herbs to aromatize the meat from beneath (or to soak the veggies in delicious cooked ham juice and serve on the side afterwards).

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                While this is going you can mix up the Glaze (just combine everything but the cloves); if you don’t have the Pumpkin Spice, or like me just don’t wanna use it, simply add a bit each of Allspice, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Ground Clove (the last being most important here). You should end up with something that’s just thick and dense.

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                Take the ham from the oven, turning it up to 350F. As it heats, you’ll prepare your Ham: first, if it has any Skin, peel it off. This should come out nice and easy, though you may need to slice off with a sharp knife every now and then. Don’t feel bad about taking all that off, you can always chop it up and drop it in a friar or bake in the oven to make little hammy skin crisps, yum.

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                There’s most likely a pretty good sized layer of fat on part of it (it may not look thick, but trust me it is); try to shave some of this off before moving to the next step. Finally, give a nice little scoring, criss cross slices along the whole visible showing of ham; only about ½” deep at its deepest point, maybe up to 1” or more if there’s a lot of fat. We don’t actually want to cut the meat very much here, just giving the glaze grooves to set into (and a nice little pattern for presentation).

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                Finally, we can apply our glaze onto this hulking beast, spreading its sugary goodness down in those cracks and over the side like a coat of paint. I know it might not seem as if this will be easy to coat on, but it actually melts and spreads well once in contact with the hot surface. Add a little water to your pan, and pop this back into the now 350F oven for another 20 minutes (or more depending). During this time the glaze will darken, start to brown, create this beautiful shine and, of course, start fumigating your oven (and kitchen if you open the oven door often) with that enticingly haunting aroma of sweetness, spices, and salty pig.

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                Take out when done, carve as desired, and enjoy your meal.

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                Now, if for chance you’ve already bought a Spiral Cut Ham, or simply prefer using them for the Holiday get-togethers, we’ll need a different glaze than before. The thick, gloppy kind just used won’t really excel on these thin yet deep layers. For this, we can turn to a recipe I saw Ina Garten make just a few days ago on TV, a really nice wet mixture that gets in deep and creates this pretty little crust on the outside (and some in I’m sure).

Orange Glaze

6 garlic cloves

8 ½ oz marmalade

½ cup Dijon

1 cup Brown sugar

1 orange, zested

¼ cup orange juice

                Pulse all the glaze ingredients in a food processor (or just try to get the garlic as finely chopped as possible). Treat Ham the exact same way all the way through the first baking process (well, you might not want to soak it, considering all the slices the water can now get into) and pour this baby all over, making sure it’s able to get nice and into some of those crevaces. Bake at 350 until the glaze is done (originaly recipe just baked the whole thing, with glaze, start to finish for 1 hour. Since we’re taking the “heating up” elements out of play, it shouldn’t need THAT long, but I’m not sure) and serve as desired.

                Blasphemous as it may now sound, Leftovers can still remain an “issue” even after all this work on the product. But since that’s the case, and we make some of the best meals from these holiday scavengings, might as well use it right?

                Along with the Ham, quite often is it that we have some form of Mashed Potatoes (in my family’s case, those of the “Cheesy” variety) , and I’m sure my family’s not alone in this. With these two at our disposal, it seems only natural to make some Croquettes as a following day’s snack.

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               Simple to put together too, just mix your leftover ham and potatoes to what proportion is desired. Pile this into a container and let sit in the fridge for a while to firm up (if they haven’t done so on their own already).

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              Take out and carefully shape, traditionally into elongated, almost thumb-shaped forms (or a sphere, sphere’s are nice). Put this through the Standard Breading Procedure (flour, eggwash, breadcrumbs, SEASONED!) and Fry, deep or shallow, at about 350F until crispy all around.

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               Serve with Ketchup or some form of Aioli, a sprinkling of Paprika, or whatever else one fancies that day. Rejoice in the results that befall of a Glazed ham, whether it be in form of Sandwich, Fried Potato or Soup Topper! But above all, have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, may time spent with family be the best it can be! (and Good Eating of course)

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SFC: Winter Sweetness

                ‘tis the season for many a sweets and gingivitis, presented to us in multiple fun ways. Cookies, chocolate, fudge, candy canes (or other peppermint treats),  m’n’ms apparently, and so many others. Of this veritable tirade of tooth decay and artificial flavors, there’s something in me that just can’t help but hold the Marshmallow as the ubiquitous sugar-source of the month. Maybe it’s just the connection to hot chocolate, or that smoky warmth of toasting it reminiscent of a log fire, but there’s just something about the fluffy piles of soft whiteness, caramelized and gooey when hot, that simply seems to highlight themselves for me during this time of year.

                Considering this, and a new White Elephant Party event focused on hand made gifts, I thought this year would be a fun one to finally make my own little Mallows from scratch. This is of course accomplished via another one of Alton’s recipes.

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Homemade Marshmallows

3 packets (3/4oz) Gelatin Powder

1 cup Iced Water (split)

1 ½ cup Sugar

1 cup Light Corn Syrup

¼ tsp Kosher Salt

1 Tb Flavoring/Extract

¼ cup Powdered Sugar

¼ cup Cornstarch

                Before we start, we need to take a large consideration of how we’re mixing this. If you have one of those typical standing, KitchenAid  type countertop mixers with the large whisk attachment, perfect. I’ve always envied how they look when making those perfect meringues, not to mention droves of other air-required mixes. Now, on the other hand, if you DON’T have one of these, then weigh your options very carefully. My best advice is to use a good electric hand mixer and make the recipe in two batches (in a smaller bowl), which will give the mixer and you a more complete control and continual whisking of the entire sugar mixture. Not to mention it keeps you right there and watching over it the entire time, a very important thing… trust me. Oh, also, so annoying, due to issues and distractions I forgot to take a couple pictures I wanted, like the set gelatin and pouring the hot sugar.

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                Turn your Gelatin out into a bowl and cover with ½ cup of icy cold water to bloom, which should only take a couple minutes. With this ratio, the water’ll turn into a firm, manipulable layer of what looks to be a cross between wet sand and jelly.

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                Combine the Corn Syrup, Sugar, Salt, and the rest of the Ice Water (I’m not really sure why it has to be ice water, but that’s what is mentioned/highlighted in both the recipe and the show, so let’s not mess with it) in a pot. Move over med-high heat and cover for about 3-4 minutes; again, not really sure why it needs to be covered, I’ve never seen any other recipe for sugar boiling/cooking require it, but I will say the mixture seems to cohere much easier than uncovered.

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                After boiling a bit, take cover out and fit your thermometer inside. Looking for 240F, which won’t take very long.

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                While it’s heating up, we can set up our “Nonstick Mixture.” This is a very important thing to have, as you will use it on everything that comes into contact with the marshmallow after mixing; let me tell you, this stuff is hella sticky. And the mix is simple, just combine equal portions Powdered Sugar and Cornstarch. For a batch like this, I might suggest at least 1/3 cup of each, just in case.

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                Prep your pan beforehand too. LIGHTLY spray whichever pan you’re using (one large loaf pan should work well for a recipe size like this), let sit a bit, and dump in the sugar-starch. Shake it around all the bottom and sides (it helps to cover it tightly while doing, if possible) and dump the excess back into the bowl, awaiting later use.

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                Once at temp, turn mixer on low and start pouring the hot, hot syrup in a slow and steady stream. Try your best to actually have this fall onto the side of the bowl and not directly into the mix, my guess being to avoid direct and extreme shooting of heat, thus having a very slight tempering effect. Plus it probably assists into making the addition ever more gradual for better integration.

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                Turn the mixer to high once everything is mix in, and keep it on for “12-15 minutes. Long, yes, but if your mixer can last that long while mixing every bit of it constantly then it’s important. If it can’t, try to go as long as you safely can, until it gets nice and thick, white and glossy like this.

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                I will say you’ll probably want a spatula on hand if you’re using the classic beater design, it’s gonna want to keep climbing up the rotating metal! At the least, though, this is a good sign that you’re getting close to an acceptable time to finish up.

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                When you’re about a minute away from being done, you can add the preferred method of flavoring. Vanilla extract is traditional, but if you want some other flavor but don’t have any other kinds of extracts (or the fancy smancy concentrates you find out about in baking class), no need to fear, we have a naturally great option filled with various pure flavors great for times like this: Alcohol. Liqueurs, flavored Vodka, Fruit Brandies (and I mean brandy actually made by distilling the fruit, or a base that’s been flavored with them), etc. For my own little gift exchange, I decided to make 4 different kinds of marshmallows based on my resources: a plain Vanilla, an Orange made from Harlequin Liqueur, a Cherry made from Kirshwasser, and a Mint made from my own extraction.

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                Which is another point, if you don’t have any flavored alcohol on hand for your desired confection. I really wanted to get Mint flavor within mine, so what I did was take a couple branches of fresh mint, pulled off the leaves, gave them a little rub with my hands (do not “muddle” or crush roughly or whatever; the flavor oils come out easily with some gentle treatment), and covered with some vodka. Leave sit for about 15 minutes or so (NOT overnight, get all the bad extractions) and you have a perfect vehicle for transferring flavor without having to worry about solid interactions.

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                Mix this in, adding a few drops of food coloring if you’re making a flavored one (much easier to identify in a mix). Lightly oil spray a spatula and scoop as much of this out and into the loaf pan as possible; if you can get it all, you are a god, sir (or madam), a GOD I SAY!!! …. As you can see the overall job makes for quite the sticky mess at home, haha.

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                Spread out the top as well as possible and sprinkle some more of your sugar-starch over it. Cover with a lid, plastic, foil, or whatever for overnight.

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                The next morning, you can pull this out onto a lightly dusted cutting board and start slicing. Take whatever tool you can prefer and cover as much of it as you can in the nonstick white powder; a large pizza cutter seems to work pretty well, especially if you have a thinner marshmallow. Though if you can coat a knife blade thoroughly with the sugar-starch stuff, go for it.

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                Slice into the desired shaped, dusting with more sugar as it’s exposed (the blade will need more as you go along), and toss into an air tight sealing container with the rest of the Sugar-Starch. I cannot overexpress how much you’ll want to keep using this.

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                Now you can nom them as is, toast over a fire, add to composed desserts, or just use to top hot cocoa. Though cocoa is a bit generic for these high-potential sweets; why not use them in a Hot Toddy?

                Pour some hot water into a cup with cinnamon stick, some cloves and a wedge/slice of lemon (or just add lemon juice), fill with as much of whatever Brandy, Whiskey, and/or Rum you’re craving, along with a bit of Orange Liqueur and/or Kirshwasser to pump it up and better connect with these awesome marshmallows. Since they’re so sweet, there’s no need to add any sugar syrup.  

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                If you want to toast these in the kitchen before use, I find the broiler on the oven works well; using a blowtorch is too quick and doesn’t allow the insides to soften and expand quite as much. But that’s all just a bunch of different ideas, use your marshmallows however you want! They’re delicious in every way, especially when there’s snow outside. Which is a nice comfort after all the messes I have to clean from making it.

                Good Luck and Good Eating, try not to get diabetes.

SFC: Nog Yog Hog Fog?

              Eggnog, also known as “Egg Milk Punch” at one time or another, enjoys a very debated and disjunct history as to possible origins (which is a really fun little read actually, you should take a quick peak on its Wikipedia site or find some random article on the matter). Nonetheless, the thick, custardy drink has earned a very potent location during this time of the year in both our US states and neighbor Canada to the North. Finding a taste for it about 10 years ago (or more, can’t remember) when my sis had me try it from one of those store-bought cartons, the slowly growing inner cocktail geek within me has been gradually creating a special spot in my heart for this oh so unique and classic drink (I think it’s on a shelf right above Bourbon and a bit to the left of Pink Gin, no supports yet though).

                I started making my own holiday batches of this creamy, eggy mixture about two years ago, starting with a basic recipe and experimenting with a couple more later on. If you have a bit of time, some patience, access to booze and no vegan friends (unless there’s one you wanna tease), then I think you should give it a try yourself.

                Let me just start off by saying that as for recipes, there are a TON… ish. Most of them are distinctly different and WILL yield different results, so although I will be offering up a particular recipe today, I would highly suggest you do a bit of looking around to find a particular proportion/mix that better suits your purposes (especially when changing it with flavors, there are some you might want thicker, creamier, eggier, lighter/fresher, etc). I myself am doing two different nogs this year, and normally would probably use two different recipes depending on each; but I’m a bit lazy this year and have lotsa other things to do.

                If anything, the main purpose of this post is to go through the METHOD of making Eggnog, as well as particular techniques for flavoring (and certain possibilities).

Basic Classic Eggnog ala Alton Brown

1 pint Whole Milk

4 Egg Yolks

1/3 cup + 1 Tb Sugar

3 oz (3/8ths cup) Bourbon

1 tsp Freshly Grated Nutmeg

1 cup Cream

4 Egg Whites

                For any normal recipe, this entire setup can be completed within the half hour, if not fifteen minutes, and we would start off with the Eggs. As this particular segment involves my flavoring of the cocktail, however, we start with the milk; 1-2 days in advance please.

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                Warm the Milk slightly in a pot; think of it as a bit under steeping temperature one uses when making a custard. Once warm we can add our NON-ARTIFICIAL flavorings. For my first one, I have some Cranberries, freshly grated Ginger, and Fresh Mint.

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                My second eggnog of the night is going to be a Toasted Marshmallow-Bacon (as opposed to the JUST Marshmallow of last year… what was I thinking?). As mentioned in a post a while back, I like using the mini marshmallows for this, toasted in a hot oven, to get a much higher ratio of the toasted area to the actual marshmallow body. It’s definitely best that we’re heating the milk for this too, as it’ll allow the mallows to dissolve that much easier.

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                Add those to the pot, whisking in, and follow with some freshly cooked and still hot Bacon Pieces (chopped) and all the fat from the pan. Take both pans off heat but let them stay warm a bit; the mint should be taken out w/in 15 minutes, to avoid bitter chlorophyll flavors, but the other ingredients SHOULD stay in overnight to ensure full integration (unless you put in a lot of ginger, that stuff’s powerful. Either do a lot for a short period of time or a little bit to let mature). Move to a container and into the fridge once both milks have fully cooled down.

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                Strain next day, taste to ensure milk is flavored how you desire, and move onto proper production.

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                Beat egg Yolks thoroughly (electric mixer much preferred) until light in color and thick/airy/”ribbon stage.” Add the first 1/3 cup Sugar, noting that for the Marshmallow recipe its toasted addition should be considered a delicious replacement for most if not all the sugar needed at this point (so either add only a little sugar or none at all), and continue beating for a bit longer until well integrated and further “fluffed.”

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                Stir in the milk, Nutmeg, and your Alcohol of choice; yes, CHOICE. Though we mainly consider Bourbon to be the “classic” liquor option for eggnog, which is certainly true for US tradition I’m sure, there really is no set law on application, especially considering its uncertain historical evolution. Besides bourbon, we can use rum, brandy, rye whiskey, scotch, cream liqueurs, vodka, etc. It’s all your decision, and it all comes out delicious.

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                For myself, to better match with what I was doing I stuck with a simple, slightly sweet bourbon for the marshmallow-bacon and used a Brandy which I had marinated with cranberries (which I then used for the later infusion) for about a week.

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                At this point, this and many a recipe would have you add all the Cream in as well. However, what I enjoy doing is reserving most of it (I still add a little) and whisk in a cold metal bowl to make Whipped Cream (at least “soft peak” stage, maybe a bit more if you like). This I fold into the eggy-alcy-milky mix, helping to thicken it somewhat and facilitate the next step.

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                What I just did with the cream I now do with the Egg Whites, but with a beater (in a CLEAN bowl with no hint of egg or fat or whatever), adding the teaspoon of sugar after it’s gotten near a soft peak stage. Whip it back to soft peak, you don’t really want it “firm” as it’ll be even more difficult to fold in and integrate with the nog base, but you want it all whipped up and stable together.

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                Fold this in like before, ensuring full mix, and pour into a bowl, pitcher, etc. You can then serve this as is or, as I like to do, make the whole thing a night before and let sit in the fridge. I doubt there’s any real “aging” or “evolution” of flavors like when cooling a just-hot custard overnight, but maybe the alcohol will smooth down a bit, the egg may develop, the nutmeg may round out. Plus, do it the night before you don’t have to worry day-of.

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                There is something you should know ahead of time though. It. Will. Separate. No matter what you do or how well you whip and integrate your air-incorporated elements (cream, egg whites, marshmallows, etc), as it sits your little mixture will start turning into a pool of lighter custard on the bottom half with air-filled clouds of white on top. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s not going bad, all you need to do is just stir it back in (whisk works well, but I actually like plunging with a large ladle better, plus this way you only need the ladle for both serving and fixing) and it goes back to almost-before. I promise it’ll keep tasting just as good so long as it’s kept cold.

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                Serve in your favorite little mug and garnish with a fresh grating of Nutmeg (on the classic or the Mint-Ginger flavored one) or maybe a bit of Candied Bacon (on the Marshmallow). You now have yourself a rich, spicy, creamy yet not that heavy (well, maybe the marshmallow depending on how much you add) Holiday Treat filled with that nice warmth that only alcohol can bring. Enjoy at a party or just hog it all to yourself next to a fire. Either way you won’t be disappointed.

                With drink in hand I wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all, and Good Eating throughout!

 

Disclaimer: by this point, there are most likely at least one or two people reacting to the obvious notion that not once, during the entire process, are the eggs cooked or “pasteurized” for your protection. And as such this is a risky and potentially dangerous cocktail to drink due to salmonella risk. To those reactions I sincerely ask you people to please be quiet (and thankful that that comment is the worst I was willing to respond with). The whole idea of how “dangerous” raw eggs are has been extremely exaggerated throughout the years due to minute cases in the PAST, hell Rocky drank them. And though I certainly understand and don’t mind the worry when it comes to eating them straight or nearly so, in highly manipulated dishes and custards such as this one has to consider the interplay of so many other additions to much reduce this already miniscule issue, especially since we have alcohol also coming into play (it does do a wonder at disinfecting and “curing” things).

However, I do understand that despite my strong objection to what to me has become an outlandish worry, there are still those that would feel very uncomfortable making something like this (or making a nonalcoholic version that very sensitive children may consume). As such I feel obligated to inform that one DOES have the option of “pasteurizing” this; following the same steps, heat the milk/cream to almost a simmer and temper the beaten egg yolks (with sugar), bring to the stove and heat to 160F. Remove from heat, stir in your alcohol and let chill in fridge before moving on.

The resulting nog will, undoubtedly, not retain as many of the full, refreshing flavor aspects of the traditional, though the “custardyness” of it may increase slightly, and its resulting texture might actually reduce the separation/splitting factor a bit as well.

SFC: Cookie Day

                It’s not a true Holiday Season without at least one Cookie-based event, whether it’s the traditional “Exchange” or just baking a large batch for the upcoming party. A while back me, my sis, and cousins start our own little yearly thing of just getting together and all making different cookies. With my new pursuit into blogging and recipes during this year, I thought it’d be nice to list down all the recipes we brought over (and cookies are portable, so it counts towards my blog focus!). And no need to worry, I plan on keeping descriptions short and sweet (or copy and paste, haha), so very very little rambling with this one, except for the one or two things I ended up changing.

Chewy Ginger Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (preferably trans-fat free)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 large egg

1/2 cup blackstrap (robust) molasses

2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

1 cup raw or sanding sugar

             Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat brown sugar, shortening, and butter in a large bowl, scraping down sides halfway through beating, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

             Reduce mixer speed to low. Add egg, molasses, grated ginger, and vanilla; beat just to blend. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend. Mix in crystallized ginger (preferably some leftovers from when you made your own ;)); dough will be very soft and sticky.

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              Place raw sugar in a shallow bowl (if you don’t have raw, look to see if you can find any of those brown sugar cubes; I just found a bunch and crushed them up myself). Scoop out about a Tablespoon of dough into the bowl with raw sugar; turn to coat well. Roll into a ball. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with half of remaining dough and sugar, spacing balls 1 1/2″ apart.

               Bake about 12-15 minutes until spread and baked (not really sure on time, sort of lost this part in the recipe, haha).

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Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies

2/3 cup toasted (and de-skinned) hazelnuts (almonds or cashews should work decently as substitute)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no less than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped

3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/4 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup powdered sugar

            Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

            Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

            Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

             Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

              Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

              Sift powdered sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and keep 1 half chilled, wrapped in plastic wrap (this is an odd step, mainly assuming you don’t have enough oven/pan space to make all the cookies at once, or something). Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.

               Bake until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.

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Sage-scented Shortbread

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage leaves

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces, room temperature

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               Blend first 4 ingredients in processor – this probably isn’t too necessary for all the ingredients, but I would suggest finding a way to get the sage leaves processed some more (I placed them in my teeny weeny processor with a small amount of the flour). Add butter; using on/off turns, process until dough comes together – again, as I’ve mentioned with pie dough for those w/out a processor, or prefer using other means, this can also be done quite easily with your fingertips. Since the butter isn’t cold, though, one must be extra careful to use fingertips in a gentle but thorough manner. Divide in half. Shape each dough piece into log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill until firm enough to slice, about 30 minutes.

                Preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Cut each dough log into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets. Bake 25 minutes, turning/reversing sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden. Cool on racks.

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Salted Chocolate-Caramel Rounds

2 3/4  cups  all-purpose flour

3/4  cup  unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon  baking soda

1/4  teaspoon  salt

1 cup  butter, softened

1 cup  granulated sugar

1 cup  packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons  vanilla

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate chips

Coarse salt, Kosher or Sea

           Preheat oven to 375F.

           In a medium bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

           In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated and brown sugar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture. If necessary, cover and chill for 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.

           The original recipe called for filling these with some sort of chocolate-covered caramel candy, which I just don’t want to do, so making our own caramel it is! But let’s not make just any caramel, how about some Dulce de Leche. There are a few ways to make it, but since it’s my first time I’ll stick with one of the simpler and easily controllable styles (as opposed to the uber traditional where you start off with a quart of milk and end up with under a cup… super awesome, but not this time).

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           Take your can of sweetened condensed milk, peeling it of its label, and punch three holes in the top; since you’ll be cooking this IN the can, you want holes for the pressure to release, otherwise… lots and lots of pain, and a big mess.

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            Place in pot of water, brought up a little bit below the rim, and simmer for 3-4 hours depending on how dark and thick you want it (I might even go longer next time). You’ll want to keep adding water throughout the cooking as it evaporates. Once it’s cooked long enough, turn off heat and let cool in water bath before opening up and scraping out. Make sure to mix thoroughly, various levels of caramelization from the bottom of the can to the top (or don’t mix, and separate out the different levels for various uses). Move to fridge and chill overnight, should firm up nicely.

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             Shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, pressing with thumb. Spoon some thick dulce de leche into the center, along with a few pieces of chocolate chips and a sprinkle of salt, and enclose with dough. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, sprinkling with more salt either before or after baking; this year I used some leftover kosher salt I had smoked a few hours during a home bbq. Seriously, you should try SOME kind of smoked salt with this or other caramel dish, it works even better than regular sea salt.

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              Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool completely.

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               Well that’s how it should go, apparently my ideal with the dulce de leche didn’t properly come out… they sorta “exploded” in the oven. Very difficult to seal even with cool, thick caramel. In which case, if you find yourself in a similar situation (with these or any other kind of cookie), I ended up leaveing in a warm over for about 20-30 minutes and the caramel sort of “set” itself onto the cookie. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it wasn’t messy and still tastes good.

                For future fixing, I think next time I’ll pour the dulce into a flat pant (on parchment) and place in the Freezer overnight to firm up. After I should be able to cut it in small blocks and use for easier stuffing.

Butter Cookies

1 cup Butter

¾ cup Sugar

1 Egg

1 ½ tsp Vanilla

2 Tb Milk

3 cup Flour

1 Tb Baking Powder

Pinch Salt

                An old family favorite, made every year by my cousin. Super simple but super delicious, every single time.

                Preheat oven to 450F.

                Cream together Butter, Sugar, Egg, Vanilla, and Milk. In separate bowl, whisk together Flour, Baking Powder, and Salt. Slowly add this to the butter mixture, beating until combined.

                Shape dough into balls (large ones, like 1 ½ – 2in), place on cookie sheet and top with whatever sprinkles you can find (or just leave bare, your choice). Bake for 5-8 minutes.

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Kolacski

1 cup Milk

4 packages (1oz) active dry yeast

5 cups flour

4 Egg Yolks

3 tsp Baking Powder

1 lb Shortening

1 tsp Salt

1 cup Fruit Jam (any)

Powdered Sugar

                No, I don’t know how to pronounce it either…

                Warm Milk, just above room temp. Add/”Dissolve” Yeast in and set aside.

                Stir together dry ingredients, cut in Shortening until mixture is “mealy” (cornmeal texture I assume). Stir in Eggs and the Milk-Yeast, assuming by this point it has “bloomed” properly (yeast inside should be a little thick, some bubbles may be seen on top, etc).

                Knead the dough until it comes together, probably until smooth, and refrigerate overnight (which I do not believe my cousin actually did, but they still taste pretty damn good).

                Preheat oven to 350F.

                Re-knead the dough on a flour dusted countertop for a few minutes, gently allowing it to punch down and rest. Once done, carefully roll out to ¼ in thickness.

                Cut dough out in circles, placing a teaspoon of Jam (I think this is funny, because it has a specific measure of jam but nothing said on how big the circle should be) in center. Fold dough over like an empanada and seal edges with fork (also a bit funny, because the picture shows it folded differently, with two sides coming together in the middle like a Danish or Cannoli, which I’m sure also works well).

                Bake 12-15 minutes. Do NOT store in Airtight container, as they will become soggy. Dust with Powdered Sugar for service.

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Well, that’s all the recipes we went through this year, it was as fun as ever, and I can’t wait until next year to do it again with my family and share even more cookie recipes on here! Good Luck with your own cookie creations, and Good Eating come the Holidays!

S.O.B. (Quasi-Review, Winter Edition)

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                Pop-ups seem like they just might be an upcoming trend in our local Food Truck scene (obviously it’s been a, if not THE, restaurant trend for the past 1-2 years). From Vellee’s recent 5-month lasting uptown restaurant to Chef Shack’s new place of business (ok, not a pop-up, but it sorta feels like it, especially after their place in Bay City), and one other pop-up thing I’m sure has happened but I’m forgetting right now…

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                Then we get to S.O.B. Having been ransacked, stolen, and taken over by a shady group of masked culinary revolutionaries (… so yeah, not actually true, but it’s so much more fun to think of it like this!), Gastrotruck has been completely repurposed for the Winter Months.

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                Parking themselves in Downtown Minneapolis every Thursday and Friday at 6th St and 2nd Ave (or Marquette if there’s a -cough- police car in their usual spot), “Soup on Board” puts out one thing and one thing only (I should NOT have to say it). They offer 3-4 different options usually, served warm and steaming in a little to-go baggie.

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                During my visit, options included a Apple-Squash Puree, Tomato Basil (actually I think it was Oregano based), and Chili. For those who have a hard time deciding, or just want to have them all, they happily sample out all they had, so I was able to get a great, complete sense of their food.

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                Let me just say the Apple-Squash, made with two kinds of squash (Acorn + Dolcetta), apple Cider + Unpeeled apples (very important for that tannin and full, musty flavor), and topped with a Honey Goat Cheese was just plain beautiful. Smooth, with a dreamy rich squash that allowed the full flavors of the cider and apple to still come out, along with black pepper of course. Next to it, the Tomato stands in stark difference as a deep, rich, heavy concoction, made by caramelizing the Onions WITH Balsamic Vinegar, using both Fresh and Dry Oregano (very important, utilizing the positive aspects of each), and topped with housemade Garlic-Rye Croutons. So good, so yummy.

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                For my lunch that day, though, I just had to get the Chili, made with Beef Cheeks (yay!). Though I don’t normally place a “Final Thoughts/Suggestions” in my Quasi-Reviews, and it’s very hard to do when every S.O.B. item is so equally worthy, I WILL say that the Chili (and those like it)is easily THE soup you want on the coldest of days. Along with the beef and chilies, they use both Pinto and Garbanzo beans, and Turnips instead of other starchy items, which I love cuz it gave a nice little sweetness.

                This is finished with your choice of Baguette or Hand-Fried Masa Tortillas (I of course had to get that crispy Masa goodness). It was a very good and very enjoyable lunch, especially on the warm day, and if I scored them properly it’d look like this:

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                Food: 10 – it’s Gastro, as you can tell they put a lot of effort, care, attention, and deliciousness into their foods. And it shows in the Soups; if anything, it’s Proof (many an old chef considering the crafting of a proper soup as THE pinnacle of a person’s sense of palate and culinary skills).

                Holdability: 9 – Once out of the bag, it’s a cup of soup. Two hands only, easy walking, and it keeps the fingers warm too.

                Price: 10 – $4 for a smaller (but still filling) cup, $6 for the larger. Well priced.

                Speed: 9.5 – A bit of time to actually move it into the cup and into the to-go bag, along with the toppings, but fast.

                Toe: 10– A pure Soup Truck, doing all very thoroughly delicious options, just stands as a great Unifying Feature (I finally found a phrase to help describe this stuff! Woooh!). And doing it only in Winter, with an edgy little “taking over” gig, just seems to make the many little things even better.

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                It’s a bit sad that this little operation will only be around for the cold months, but I’d rather have them here than not, and there’s always the following year to look forward to (and maybe Gastro will keep one or two more soup options on their everyday menu). Either way, I hope for the chance to make it out to them at least once more, and you definitely should too.

               

                A point of clarification I feel should be mentioned, for those that may be confused as to why I delegated a truck I’m so positive towards in the Quasi-Review “category” along with others I have openly showed to have little to no actual interest (comparatively to my full reviews). Though I dearly wish I could write a full-on, longly detailed review on them, the fact remains they’re ONLY around for 3 months, two days out of the week, with only 3-4 things on their menu. And it’s all soups, there’s not too much else I can say, even with it being so exciting. If you were wondering about this, then I hope the explanation cleared it up for you; if you weren’t, why’d you read the entirety of this last paragraph?

Ice Blocks and Snow (with an Asian Twist), NOT Brick and Mortar

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http://blogs.mspmag.com/dara/2013/12/vellee-deli-pop-up-at-crema/                  

                  So, Vellee Deli is doing a Pop-up, Dinner and Winter-only Restaurant in Crema Café come January huh? Well now doesn’t that just brighten up our spirits? Just think, a Latin-Korean Truck Winter-Premiering in an Old Italian Ice Cream spot, it’s a hipster’s dream and I swear if they were opening now it’d be the start of a new Holiday Carol…

                   Let me just say I’m not gonna even try and expound and contribulate and philosophize about this happening in the slightest, I think the article above does a good enough job at it to warrant the respect of me not trying to “compete.”  Some base details, again, is that Vellee is opening this in January, lasting until May, in the Uptown Crema Café, known very well for their small-batch, handmade Ice Cream (gelato I hope), and of course Espresso. It’s dinner-only, as mentioned, and suffice it to say I can’t wait until the New Year’s. I’m so going down there the first chance I get, and I suggest you do the same.

                   So excited!

 

SFC: Substituting for a Donut?

               It’s been a couple weeks since I started my Fruitcake, 14+ days of alcoholic spritzing, and as promised I am here to turn some of it into a Street Worthy Creation. Of which I’d been wracking my brains about a bit, since I don’t see any reason to do more Bread Puddings, not to mention all the sandwiches I normally do, I’ve become quite cautious of even more without good or unique reason.

                At the end of the day, I decided to take inspiration from a recent trip to Kentucky; or, to be more specific, one of those amazing Grilled Cheese Sandwich Restaurants there that we STILL have yet to open up in Minnesota. Anyways, besides an entire wall filled with different variations of the classic (including a whole section that included different potato chip additions), they also had a section of “Dessert” Grilled sandwiches made with Donut Buns (a-la crispy crème glazed style). Some had actual cheese inside, some used a flavored marscarpone, many incorporated fruit, but they all looked soooooo good. The one I had to try had both peanut butter and marshmallow marscarpone, blueberry jam, and bananas; and yes, it was awesomes, and also a bit messy, and very much something that I think should be seen on Eli’s truck soon (whenever they get back out…).

                So, an awesome Sweet Grilled Peanut Butter-Jelly Dessert Sandwich, coming right up.

                We start by taking a nice, not-too-thick, clean slice from our ageing Fruitcake. To best keep a clean cut, use a finely serrated blade, cutting somewhat quickly but carefully.

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                Thoroughly butter the smoothest sides of the cake slices you have and get them ready for assembly. My favorite little “technique” to laying them out is setting the buttered side of one on top of the buttered side of the other, so one doesn’t need worry about the cutting board/counter/plate getting all smeared with milk fat, not to mention you don’t have to clumsily attempt to assemble in the hot cooking pan, or invert and struggle to butter the other side while the sandwich is already pressed together, or whatever.

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                At this point we can start stacking, though since all the fillings today are pretty soft (semi-fluid?) I suggest depressing the center of the bread with a firm push of your spoon.

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                As for the actual fillings, I didn’t have any mascarpone, but I did have some Double Cream (like Devonshire cream) which I mixed with some Peanut Butter and Powdered Sugar. I was also thinking of using yogurt as a possible substitute.

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                Spoon the smooth substance into the middle and top with your favorite, or most available, Jam. I used some Marmalade we had in the fridge.

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                Finish “garnishing” with some actual Nuts for texture and a little bit of actual White Cheese, Monterey Jack in my case. Yes I know, savory cheese in such a sugar rich dish, perish the thought, but I’ve seen them put slices of Swiss on the ones out in Kentucky, and you mix a slightly tangy-salty thing with rich-sweet centers it’s not too bad; just avoid anything really strong and pungent. Heck, I didn’t even taste the cheese at all after cooking it, next time I’ll be adding even more.

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                Add a little spritz of our soaking alcohol and we can fry. Get a sauté pan heated up, medium to med-high should work well, moving the bottom of your sandwich in the center to start griddling. With the particular delicacy/unfirmness of the stuffings, it’s extra important to be VERY careful in your overturning of the sandwich.

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                Ohhh, this cake fries up SO well. Look at that dark, evenly thick butter-crust on it. This would be so good as is, but I think we have to finish with just a bit of powdered sugar.

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                Wrap it up to go and chow down. And mmmmm is this bastard good… moist and sorta gooey, rich and sweet insides, crunchy texture, all that good stuff. I’ll admit I was happily surprised that it actually turned out as delicious as I thought (few things rarely do), and the fruitcake was just so perfect in it. All its complexities came out while still acting as a solid container for everything else; and it still had a noted brandy-ness to it.

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                Overall I feel quite happy with my choice and outcome, though if I had the chance next time I think I’d love to play around with using Goat Cheese for my mascarpone substitute. Of course, using Donuts instead of Fruitcake would be fun to try too at one point.

                But whether you end up using your Fruitcake for fun little side preps or just consume it all as-is during the holidays in question, we’re all sure to be treated to something delicious. Good Luck with the upcoming preps and your Cake ageing, and Good Eating.

Some Interesting Articles

Huh, found some interesting local Truck related articles on Citypages that I’ve apparently missed in the past month.

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/food_truck/

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2013/10/warming_house_food_truck_kickstarter.php

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2013/11/gastrotruck_soup_sob.php

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2013/10/chef_shack_finds_a_permanent_home_in_seward.php

Think I need to find a better way to keep up to date on the many culinary goings-on via Citypages. Hopefully linking to the Food Blog’s Facebook page will accomplish this well enough, and keep me from even more of this annoying delays in city knowledge on my part.

SFC: The Only Reason Christmas Should Enter November

                I LOVE Fruitcake. I decided to make a proper recipe for it last Christmas and I’m doing it again this year because I now really LOOOOOVVVEEE Fruitcake!

                If you are unable to relate to this sentiment, then I implore you to find a way to share this excitement, because it IS possible. And the time to do it, if any, is NOW. Because, if you ask any of them, all true Fruitcake bakers (the good stuff, not… “that”) know that Fruitcake season isn’t truly around Christmas; it’s the month (or more) beforehand!

                In fact, I’ve already mixed and baked my fruitcake, it’s just that this post has been a while in the actual creation. There is a reason for this of course, but why ruin the surprise now? Here’s the recipe I’ve been using so far (maybe I’ll try a different one, or two, next year for fun):

Fruitcake a-la Alton Brown

4 Cups Dried and/or Candied Fruit

Zest One Lemon + Orange

¼-½ cup Candied Ginger (homemade be best)

1 cup Rum

1 cup Sugar

5 oz/ 1 ¼ sticks Unsalted Butter

1 cup Apple Juice/Cider

4 whole Cloves, ground or equivalent

6 Allspice berries, ground or equivalent

1 tsp ground Cinnamon

1 tsp ground Ginger

1 ¾ cup AP Flour

1 ½ tsp Salt

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

2 Eggs

¼-½ cups Toasted Nuts, broken/rough chop

Delicious Liquor, like Brandy

                One of the biggest separations between the fruitcake that makes you drool and the ones you expect to put a dent in the floor if dropped (not for that reason of course… that’s a whole other problem right there) comes in the very first step: the actual Fruit. With a recipe like this, you have 4 whole cups of stuff to play around with, whatever you want… DON’T SCREW IT UP!! And by that I mean don’t, for the love of god, get any of those bright Green and Red “Candied Cherries” that serve to only mark what not to eat on the Christmas Table. Or any other really shitty mass-market candied products of things in fake colored syrup.

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                A good note is to just stick with dried fruit, it’s easy to find, can grab multiple different kinds, and always good with some of the “manipulations” we put them through next. If you can find, or make, some good quality candied fruits or other items, do so. It wouldn’t be too bad to switch out the citrus zests for candied versions of themselves either.

                With that little rant out of the way, we can move onto the first step for a brief period of time: combine all the dried fruit, zests, and candied ginger in a bowl. The latter of these ingredients is practically a necessity, and very easy to find in any Surdyk’s or Co-op… but then again, we could always make it ourselves.

                IMMEDIATE INSANE RECIPE INSERTION!

Homemade Candied Ginger (also a la Alton Brown; what can I say, he’s put up some thorough and fun recipes for a lotta shit)

1 lb Fresh Ginger

5 cups Water

Sugar – Equal weight to Ginger (after first phase)

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                Much like fruitcake I love candied ginger, so I just had to make this at some point, and the holiday season seemed just right. A note: when scaling this recipe up or down, I find the amount of water for boiling doesn’t seem that important with ratios, so just round up or down as you see fit.

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                Take however much Ginger you’re using (in my case, a loootttt) and peel it all; a spoon works really well at getting all the little corners while scraping very thin pieces of skin off, but the downside is it can take quite a while to get through all the ginger with just that.

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                Evenly slice all of it to 1/8” thick pieces; the original recipe recommends using a mandolin, which can work well if you have the nice, “young” ginger that’s smooth through and through, and/or a really nicely sharp mandolin. However it’s not so smooth going when you have the older, fibery ginger, and with how dangerous a mandolin can be if things don’t go smoothly I’d suggest only slicing SOME of the root on there to give an idea of thickness and then carefully slice the rest yourself. Though I’d say the more important thing isn’t how thick it is but just that they’re all about even.

                Place in pot, cover with the water and lid and cook on med-high for at least half an hour, or until “tender.” I’m still not exactly sure what that means as far as ginger is concerned, but sorta at the point when it seems noticeably softer than before (not so “crunchy” when you stick with a fork).

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                Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and drain the ginger. In a normal case I might implore you to save the leftover ginger-water to use in a number of flavorable applications, like syrups or stock bases, but then I tried a taste… do not, I swear do not use this for anything other than the recipe. It is just sharpness and burning and mouth pain all in a tiny spoonful; I swear I’ve had un-thinned whiskey straight from the barrel (for your reference, all liquors have water added afterward to get it to a proper alcohol content and flavor balance) that went down easier than that. Seriously.

                At this point you’ll want to carefully measure/weigh this out, figure out the exact measurement before weighing and equivalent amount of Sugar.

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                Damn… that’s a lot of sugar.

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                Recombine ginger with water and sugar in pot and bring to a boil. Which yes will be possible, I know it might not seem so at first but after the sugar is added and starts to dissolve you’ll end up with quite a decent amount of liquid in the pan.

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                Reduce heat to medium and cook for what could be 20 minutes up to an hour, stirring every now and then to start and then more frequently as it goes on. It’s hard to describe what it looks like as it gets close to the desired result, but you’ll know; the ginger’s color is different, the syrup is shinier and reduced, sorta thicker, looks and feels like it’s staying on the bottom. At this point you do NOT want to leave it at all; keep stirring, giving it a few seconds between to lay flat and let more sugar cook and evaporate before stirring some more. The moment you start seeing any signs of crystallization, do not stop the stirring.

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                This is the step you’re looking for, all the water evaporating and the sugar recrystallizing around the ginger pieces. Just like watching sugar caramelize, this will happen in the span of only a few seconds, thus you’ll want to keep it stirring fast so no sugar is left liquid and no ginger is uncovered and quickly turn out onto a cooling rack set over a pan, letting the excess sugars fall through.

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                Well, this is my excuse for a cooling rack; the only one we have has very wide spacing, more for actual pans then things like cookies and candied ginger. I figure I’d try out a makeshift way of turning it into a tight interlocking grid.

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                And this is all the ginger turned out onto it. Suffice to say the rack didn’t survive or serve its purpose too well, but that’s okay. The ginger wasn’t harmed and I was able to still collect all that excess Ginger Sugar (which you definitely need to save, it is awesome, such as a garnish for ice cream and stuff, or rimming cocktail glasses). Separate and store ginger in an airtight container for future use, like in my Fruitcake.

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                Considering how much I ended up actually making, and my adoration of its flavor, I actually ended up substituting about a cup of my dried fruit for extra candied ginger.

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                Soak all your fruit and citrus in Rum, or a 1 cup mixture of Rum and any flavored liqueur you enjoy; I’m using a bit Harlequin Orange as my own little substitute for the orange zest I didn’t have. Leave at least 4-6 hours, but ideally overnight, making sure to shake the container every now and then to ensure more fruit gets in contact with the delicious alcohol.

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                Move all this into a large pot and combine with butter, sugar, spices of choice, and your Apple “Juice.” Or in my case, Cider; a combination of both the alcoholic kind, for fun a deliciousness, and the non, for its inherent musty apple richness.

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                Bring to a boil and stir for about 5-10 minutes. Take off heat and let cool for at LEAST minutes. And though the recipe says to add the butter in the beginning, I actually sorta prefer keeping it cold and adding it to the mix while it’s still warm, mixing it in fast to let it properly emulsify into the fruity alcoholy syrup, like making a beurre blanc.

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                This can of course be done ahead of time, the important thing is that the mixture isn’t hot or even noticeably warm as you move onto the next step. One ready, turn over onto 325F and continue.

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Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a strainer/sifter and sift over your fruit, stirring it every now and then as you do. This could be done by transferring the mix to a large bowl beforehand, but I just like using the cooking pot; no need to wash another pan, and this way I know EVERYTHING is still in there. After mixing add the Eggs, one at a time, to make a complete batter.

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                Finish by mixing in your Knuts (traditionally, toasted Pecans) and transfer to a prepare loaf pan. Hopefully the pan is non-stick and/or you’ve been able to butter/spray it VERY well, but I had some issue with my cake from last year so I decided to line it with Parchment Paper as a just-in-case. This way I know it comes out whole.

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                Bake for at least an hour until toothpick test works. Definitely an “at least,” mine usually takes another 20-30 minutes more due to how thick it ends up. Ya wanna wait until it has that nice, evenly deep chestnut brown color on top, just like that… I mean how beautiful is that?

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                Then you let it cool before taking it out, slice into it, and just take a look at that kaleidoscope inside. That sight alone just calls me, and makes the next step even more difficult.

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                Shove this in a Tupperware or other covered dish, stick it in the fridge, and don’t touch it for a month. That’s right, you heard me, LEAVE IT ALONE. Well, not completely alone, for every day you must take this out of the fridge, open it up, and spritz it with a fine layer of Brandy (or any other alcohol/combo of your choice. This year I’m doing Hennessee Black and Kirschwasser). Which is why I’d say this recipe alone is worth going out to get yourself a spritz bottle to reserve just for cooking purposes.

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                This is why you do this a month beforehand, to give your big, rich, soft yet dense and sweet little fruit cake time to “age” and absorb each fine addition of complexly flavored alcohol, its flavor slowly evolving over the days. Not much at first, but after a week you start to see its appearance as different than what you remember, and if you were to try it halfway through… it might be too much temptation for the cake to last until Christmas.

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                Though technically you’re only supposed to spritz every couple days when it looks “dry”… but who the heck wants to give it that many days without a drink? Give it a whole month’s worth of boozy additions (the spray as is only ends up as maybe a teaspoon or so); hell, last year I did this TWO months ahead of time.

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                And by Christmas you’ll have something that the whole family will be craving. Now, I just have to see how much of my cake actually lasts until then. I do plan on turning some of it into a fun Street-Food-Related post afterall (it’d be unfair to my other recipe posts if I didn’t), so look for that in a week or so.

                Now if you’ll excuse me, my cake needs some more Brandy.

SFC: Frozen Bomb

                Winter means a lot of things to different people, especially us Minnesotans. Holidays, ice skating, impossible-to-treck driveways, warm fireplaces and toasted marshmallows, chicken noodle soup, snowball fights, the inability to drive anywhere without warming up the car for half an hour… and others. But above all others, the highlight of winter to me always comes down to one thing: it’s Pomegranate season!

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                Yes, these sweet, purple grenades filled with bundles of tart, juice-filled “seeds” (which in reality are the actual “fruit,” by technical definitions), just waiting to be opened and snacked on when it gets cold. Of Middle Eastern origin (I believe), I think quite a few people throughout the continent have become thankful of the treck these guys have made to land here in the US.

                And then we get it, and want it, and crave it… and have to spend an hour or so carefully getting every last delicious seed out with painstaking annoyance. I’m sure we’ve all tried certain methods, only to find them not as succesfull as claimed, or simple struggle in keeping as many seeds unbroken as possible. Whether this is due to bad techniques or simply poor execution can be debated, but either way it leads to frustration.

                As such, I thought I’d go over a couple of the more successful and useful methods as I work to salvage as many seeds and juice as possible for a special frozen treat.

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                Gotta break this open first; a few things I found tell you to cut the top off like an orange, but you’re still slicing through a small cluster of the seeds with that. Same obviously goes with straight cutting it in half; the safest method (with a bit of practice) comes with carefully scoring a line, just a bare few millimeters deep or so, around the tough skin (I think vertically is supposed to work better, as opposed to laterally like I did).

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                Carefully grasp the scored line with your fingers and pull apart; it can be difficult, since you don’t want to put too much pressure directly on the fruit itself (causing more seeds to burst). Oh, and I think it’s safe to say that by at least this step you should be working over a bowl to collect any falling seeds and escaping juice (it’s impossible not to get a few broken seeds, no matter how hard we try).

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                We’re about to employ the “beat them out” technique of releasing the seeds, but before that we need to actually loosen the fruit up a bit, otherwise those seeds will just want to stay where they are. Just grab the edges and sort of stretch and work the outside skin a bit, you’ll know when it’s good.

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                Invert over the bowl, fingers holding underneath, and grab a good wooden spoon or equivalent. The rest is simple: smack it down, HARD, and Many Times. Do NOT be shy, otherwise you won’t get many seeds; well, you’re not going to get them all anyways, but you can get big chunks out with some hard wacks. Don’t forget to rotate the fruit around to get all the “corners.”

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                Pick out any bit of “flesh” you can (that spongy white stuff, which believe me, does NOT taste good at all… burn it to hell I say) and pour seeds over a fine strainer to collect any juice from potential broken seeds. This can be reserved (say, in a tiny little porcelain lion thumb cup) for recipes or just doing a little health shot.

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                A slower but seemingly more thorough and less damaging method (and a good one to use with any seeds still left on the fruit after beating) involves that ubiquitous bowl of water. Submerge the cut open and loosened section of fruit inside (I’ve seen some recipes suggest soaking it in there for 15 minutes, I don’t really see the need) and carefully pick through the many clusters with your thumb. The water makes the process a little gentler (it’s hard to say why, you just don’t need to force it as much), and the best part is all that bitter flesh floats to the top.

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                Of course there are always some small bits of it still stuck to seeds that don’t float, but the majority is now taken care of. Just skim off the top with a strainer and dump to a trash. The one downside of this method is, while the other garners more RISK of breaking seeds, at least you can collect the juice after. With this it all dissolves into the water. Thus why I prefer combining the two.

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                Store your pomegranate seeds in a covered container with a dampened paper towel and save for snacking or for whatever application you choose.

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                In my case, honoring the coming winter snows and the classic pairing of pomegranate (or other fruit) with yogurt, I’m trying my hand at Frozen Yogurt with Pomegranates mixed in. The seeds themselves need no more prep than popping in the freezer on a tray beforehand (since we’re mixing them in at the end, this will both firm them up from bursting and retain little risk of disrupting the frozen treat’s all-important ice crystals).

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                Another reason for my choosing to do frozen yogurt this day was when I researched various recipes; expecting to encounter many a mix requiring about ½ cup of yogurt mixed with 2 cups of crème anglaise mixture, and opinion formed after looking over MANY boxes of Edy’s and other Store Frozen Yogurts during a certain period of lactose intolerance, which had at the point completely and thoroughly destroyed my initial hopes and impressions of what “frozen yogurt” was. Fast forward to my online research in the last week, where to my surprise I found not one, but TWO separate recipes made with 100% Yogurt for their dairy source. I think a few companies have some explaining to do.

                But making your own frozen yogurt is pretty easy, particularly with this recipe. You’ll need to get some good, Plain Greek Yogurt (no flavored, it’s all artificial and doesn’t really taste that good anyway), or make your own by straining regular yogurt as I did (hopefully I’ll be able to make my own from scratch at some point, but for now storebought it is). Here’s How:

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                Take your giant tub of yogurt and upend it into a strainer lined with 2 layers of Cheesecloth. If cheesecloth isn’t readily at hand, or it’s a little pricey for you to buy (the only cheesecloth I can buy is this small 10ft roll at my local Cub, the price which can add up if you were to buy often), you can easily use a clean, white cotton dish towel. I use them a lot, and at the moment have ended up just reserving one or two purely for food use.

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                Place inside a large bowl and set in fridge to strain overnight, covered of course. The original recipe detailing this states that the amount of Strained Yogurt received after this will be half the starting amount, but ultimately I think it’ll depend on what yogurt you use. Either way, what you’ll end up with is a firm, compact package of what I can only describe as seeming to be a cross between yogurt and goat cheese in texture (and sorta flavor too, but still very strong yogurty).

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                To this we can now add the very few ingredients needed. For every 2 cups of Yogurt, add ½ cup of sugar-source (raw sugar, honey, corn syrup, etc) and 1 Tsp vanilla or other extract. Though, I don’t like adding in the sugar raw to such a thick substance, so I put it in a sauce pot with honey and a touch of water and heat up to ensure that it fully dissolves and incorporate better.

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                Mix those together, and place in fridge for at least an hour to fully cool down and ensure complete sugar dissolvement.

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                Ready whichever device one uses to freeze and churn their ice cream, and add your prepared Frozen Yogurt base. Follow directions for proper churning, and it will be ready when it looks like thick ice cream.

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                While it’s freezing, we can make the topping: Pomegranate Molasses. Basically put, a thick syrup made from reducing pomegranate juice to pretty extreme lows (if you’ve ever made a balsamic reduction for a sauce, think about 1 or 2 steps FURTHER than that). But we need some juice to do this first, which can be gotten pretty simply.

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                Just take any leftover seeds one has and pop it into the blender. Cover and pulse until it’s all DESTROYED. Believe me, this is the best way to get juice out of fresh seeds, probably just cuz it acts as a container so that you don’t get exploding juice everywhere. Not that you’re getting a lot of it; a whole pomegranate is likely to only give, say, a half to a whole cup of juice to enjoy. It’s fine if you don’t need a lot, but if at some point you are needing a LARGE amount of juice for some bulk job, just buy the stuff pre-juiced, seriously. Otherwise it’s a lot of bitchy work getting yourself.

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                Strain into a bowl and transfer to a wide sauté pan. Get it hot, watch it bubble, swirl the pan and do NOT leave it alone. It’s a very thin line between reduction, molasses, and too-damn-thick. Not that it can’t be fixed with a little bit of added water or more juice and heating back to thickness.

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                Just remember, as with all cooled sauces it’ll be thicker once cooled down, so take it off the heat when it’s a little looser than the ideal thickness.

                Now that that’s ready in the fridge and the yogurt is frozen, we can finish and serve. Pour the frozen pomegranates into the churner to mix in (never want to do this at the beginning, otherwise they’ll just break up and make it all purple, won’t have any of those beautiful little pockets). Depending on the strength and style of ice cream maker, though, you may have to just take it out and do it by hand; it DOES get pretty thick after freezing, much easier to get a thorough encorporating with your hands.

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                Can either serve it as is, “soft serve” (ish), or transfer to a container and move back into the freezer for a few hours or overnight to firm up. Once done, scoop into the preferred vessel of choice and garnish. My toppings included fresh seeds, the molasses, and slivers of handmade candied ginger and ginger-sugar sprinkles.

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                And there we have it, a classic winter fruit completely taken apart and made into a classic frozen street delight. Though it may not be the first thing we crave with this weather, one can’t deny the mix of nostalgia, fun, and deliciousness. I hope this at least inspires some of you to pick up more than one pomegranate throughout the season and dive into it with a further. Good Luck when you do, and Good Eating when you’re finished.