SFC: The Ripe Pastry

And yet more leftover overripe bananas festoon our freezer. I got a bit tired of just turning it to bread, so I queried at350Degrees (again, thank you for the help) on some ratio advice and set about to making a major fusion Cookie project: “Brown Butter Banana Chocolate Chip.”

Been wanting to make a Banana cookie for a while, and a recent post on a brown butter chocolate chip was just too endearing to not want to combine the two. Though I’ll admit the final result wasn’t what my mind desired, I know EXACTLY what adjustments need to be made to capitalize on these delicious flavors.

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Brown Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Cookie (after adjustments)
1 Cup (2 Sticks) Butter
½ Cup Sugar
¾ Cup Brown Butter
1-2 Eggs
1 Tb Vanilla
¼-3/8 Cup Mashed Super-Duper-Over-Ripened Banana (1 SMALL fruit)
¾ tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2-2¼ Cup Flour
1 ½ Cup Smaller/Mini Chocolate Chips

Brown Butter is an amazing thing. If you have yet to experience this rich, toasty, nutty version of its original form, then I suggest you make some, right now. No I don’t care if you’re planning on cooking anything else or not, you just need to make the butter. Cook it, eat a spoonful of it and reserve the rest for other things later on.

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And really simple too, start by turning your relevant saucepan (for the sake of the Cookies, it should be large enough to take in all ingredients later on) to Med/Med-Low and start melting that milk-fatty goodness. Now just let it go…

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The plan for now is waiting, watching, and prepping your other ingredients as it goes along, making sure one stirs and swirls the pot every now and then (we want to thoroughly brown the butter, not let the bottom burn). At first it’ll start foaming and “simmering,” the water content in the butter slowly cooking out of the hot fat. As it goes along, the proteins and other “milk solids” start to unravel and tighten under the attacking heat, separating from the emulsion of the butter stick, and soon you’ll be able to stare clear through the fat to the bottom of the pan as if it was colored water, watching as the white solid flakes settle and move around the bottom.

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The butter will stop simmering around this point, which would be the signal point of completion if one had set about to make Clarified Butter. Just strain out through a fine cloth/strainer and use for all your butter needs. Or, of course, we can keep going on until it gets all tinted and nutty… which will start quickly but take a while to get to the desired point.

Just keep at it, I adjust the temperature a little lower to ensure it doesn’t go over on me (if making Clarified butter, I might suggest a lower temp to start with, mine was already a bit brown at the finishing state). It’ll start smelling like peanut skins, but as it goes that faint hint will deepen and bloom, giving toast and bread and spices, with a raw chestnutty color. For everyday uses, we take this off and carefully, slowly strain through cheesecloth or other fine apparatus.

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For the cookies, we keep it there and just dump in the Sugars. No straining or nothing, just keep all those milk solids in to better flavor our impending cookies. Though it’s not as simple as it sounds, we’ll be going through a little “process” with this sugar addition.

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Whisking the sugar mixture in vigorously, turning the butter into a smooth consistency. Take it off the heat to cool for about 9 minutes, going back every 3 minutes to stir vigorously once more. Besides helping to actually cool down faster, I believe this action is mainly to ensure the sugar and butter don’t separate too much, as it is very prone to do when hot (believe me). This’ll better ensure they emulsify easier when cool and we start adding in other ingredients, as opposed to the sludge-like state while still hot. I myself actually let it sit an extra couple minutes and whisked one more time just to ensure the success.

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Add your Egg and Vanilla to the now somewhat warm mixture and prepare to incorporate the Banana.

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So, here’s what should have been happening to your banana by now. Not only is this not a “fresh” fruit, this also isn’t one that’s been sitting “a few days and has a little line of brown spots.” This banana, now, THIS banana has been on your counter for a week, MINIMUM, perhaps 2. It’s skin has looked the same mud-brown mottled for some days, with no motion to continue its threat to cover the whole fruit. It’s sugars have ripened just about as much as they can on their own…

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And then you throw it in the freezer for a couple days, for both “storage” purposes and to push the fruit one final step, concentrating the sugars and flavors even further. As it thaws on the counter, which only takes about an hour, the fruit is left as a softened jelly of pure sweet banana flavor, just barely holding together. Do not be afraid of its blackened demeanor, there is no such thing as going too far with this fruit when cooking is concerned.

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With that gotten out of my system, we can start adding the banana, mashed, alongside the Dry Mix; I start with a bit of the latter to firm it up before mixing in the wet fruit. After, add in the rest of the flour, and more if needed, to reach what looks to be a proper cookie dough consistency (remembering it’ll firm up more once FULLY cooled).

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Leave to cool on the counter even further, folding in your Chips or other Mix-ins when ready (I split it in half and did a Regular and White Chocolate batch!). I’ve found I prefer the Minis when going for this new fusion, as the larger chunks just created these concentrated pockets of gooey chocolate which, though awesome, can override the other flavors I’m trying to shine very easily.

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Move to the fridge to chill down at least 2 hours or overnight; apparently the originator of the Brown Butter Cookie follows a technique of storing it a minimum 48 hours before cooking. I’m not sure what exactly is happening to it at that time, but there’s probably some logical reason for it.

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For ease of storage and portioning later, wrap dough completely in plastic, patting or rolling out to an even thickness that you’d like for your cookies (I go about an inch at least). Squeeze and adjust the sides ‘till it’s rectangular and store.

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When close to ready, transfer to your freezer for at least 30-45 minutes beforehand; this step really helps the cookie keep its height and softness when baking so it doesn’t turn into a thin puddle, though if that’s what you’re looking for (it does make a nice crispy cookie), then go ahead and bake for room temperature. Turn oven to 375F, slice the desired amount and size from your dough block with a handy-dandy pizza cutter (this can be done ahead of time before freezing), and space cookies out on a Parchment or Sprayed baking pan, and cook 10-13 minutes, turning the sheet around halfway in.

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Remove, transfer to a plate while it’s still soft and hot, and enjoy with a large glass of ice cold milk. Or on its own, it’s a pretty damn good cookie. A soft, more subtle note of the banana paired with soft, gooey rich chocolates, both bolstered by the gentle nutty, almost spicy aspect the brown butter imparts. All of this held in a baked dough that feels halfway between a cookie and actual banana bread. It’s a fun little taste factory.

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Hopefully your first attempt at this turns out more ideally focused than mine, though I’m sure the final result won’t be too complaint worthy either way. Good Luck in all your own upcoming culinary inventions and Good Eating them!

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Announcing: One Craving at a Time

The preparations are done, setup organized, and the first of many works complete, allowing me to finally unveil my new project! Let me hear and now officially Announce my Second Blogging Venture: One Craving at a Time.

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                With the winter season slow and various other things keeping me from going out to explore like I used to, I’ve had some more “free” time on my hands. As such, I thought it’d be fun to fill the time between posts with some other projects that, sadly, I’m unable to relate towards Street Food on a regular basis.

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                Starting off with a drive to recreate a long list of classic French recipes, One Craving at a Time will play host to all the various little “lists” and “projects” that I naturally create for myself, scratching off each item with detailed recounting for others to read (or ignore). From Distillery Visits to tackling Classic Desserts, trying out recipes from a certain Michelin Star Chef to Drink Pairing Ideas, this will be the start of my journey of discovery and experimentation.

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                I of course shall NOT be ending my work with Reviews on Wheels; it’s my baby, and I still have many more Trucks that need visiting and reviewing. Plus, if anything, it’s likely I may be able to create some new post ideas off of unique jumping points in Craving, or at least link to the articles. But at the end of the day, RoW will ALWAYS take first priority, like any spoiled first child should, haha.

I do hope that those readers who are into recipe-related blogs and such do surely choose to hop over and take a look. As for the others, hopefully you’ll be able to find some other aspect of it, either now or in future projects, which you can enjoy. For myself, I’ll just stick to where I am, plugging along with various long, rambling posts, the focus of which has now widened to whatever the heck I want it to be.

Good Luck and Good Eating to all, I myself will need all I can get from here on.

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)

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!

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: The Deep Pickle, Part 3 (Southern Comfort)

                It’s the third post I’ve done for pickling, and for this installment I’m dong… Green Tomatoes!! Hell, I had to do SOMETHING with them… with the oncoming freeze of winter, we had to pick off all the fruit from our cherry tomato plant early, leaving us with a whole, piled bowl full of the under ripe bastards. And they’re not the easiest to immediately come up with a random dinner with (at least not with the small ones… and I’ve already made fried green tomato BLTs last year). Luckily for us, Pickled Green Tomatoes are quite a southern dish, and I couldn’t help but think of it immediately when I got the bowl.

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                As it turned out, the idea evolved into a great new post for the ongoing pickle recipe line-up that seems to be forming, as the various online recipes I’ve researched has led to my first foray into the purely unique, traditional, and separate technique of Jar Pickling (really though, I couldn’t find a single recipe that didn’t make me do this…). I’m talking true old school, full sanitization, sealing, and shoving into the basement.

                What’s the difference from the basic quick-method I described in my first forays? Well, besides a fuller and more integrated infusion of the pickling base, what ends up in the jar, completely sanitized and separated from the world around it, is left to mature and develop purely among itself, almost like an aging/settling bottle of wine. The final result, though subtle, can yield to what is to be a more… “complete,” deeper flavor (if done right).

                But less talk about theories which I have put absolutely NO time or effort in researching, let’s start the process!

                We begin not with ingredients, but equipment. Everything you use needs to be sanitized, EVERYTHING; depending on the scale one goes to with this, it can be a complete pain in the ass, one of the reasons I haven’t actually done this until now. That and that minutia of worry I’ll always carry in the back of my head that “maybe something got in from the air or counter afterwards.”

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                So gather everything you’ll need: A glass pickling jar, the lid (which should separate into two part, the circular top and the rim), tongs, a pair of chopsticks, your knife (yep, even what you’re cutting the tomatoes with), a small empty can or plate or wire rack, and the largest (or at least highest) pan for boiling water you can find. You’ll also need to sanitize the cutting board, but with its size I’m guessing it won’t fit in the pan: I just ran mine under super-hot tap water for a couple minutes.

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                To set up, fill the giant pan as high with water as you can and bring to a simmer (not a boil, simmer). By this time, set some sort of spacer at the bottom; a metal rack works wonders if it can fit. This is to make sure none of the items rest against the pan, letting the heat fully circulate (and making sure you don’t scrape your cooking equipment, haha). Then submerge all the items as much as possible; which is why you need a huge pan, those pickling jars are tall, especially after being elevated. I had to turn mine to the side. Also, I only submerged the main metal parts, not the handles, of my tongs and knife, for easy removal and handling afterwards (how am I supposed to take the other stuff out if I can’t lift the tongs, right?). Simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

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                Set to dry on a very clean towel, or other area you trust to be as sanitized as possible, and more onto the pickle. Choosing whatever aromatics you want (recently read a recipe with 4 different options for spice flavors with the green tomatoes), instead of boiling them with the vinegar you can put them all into the bottom of the jar beforehand. Don’t worry, they’ll be getting just as much heated infusion later, so for now we can keep them underneath everything so we don’t have to deal with the annoying group of spices covering the top of our pickle. I stuck with a simple mix of peppercorns, bay leaves, dry rosemary, cloves, and a cinnamon stick (I also found a fun way to replace chili peppers in a recipe when you don’t have any).

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                Now, slice all tomatoes in half (if we were doing the large tomatoes, then wedges), along with any onions, garlic, or other veggie aromatic you wanted in the mix. Transfer these to the clean and mostly-empty pickling jar; I like to layer the onions and garlic I used, just to ensure thorough flavor mixing (plus it looks so pretty, AND you can eat them along with the tomatoes!). Do not fill all the way to the top, but leave at least the rim open for air and space come sealing.

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                Next, bring the base pickling liquid to a boil along with anything that needs dissolving (salt, sugar, etc). For the recipes I researched, I found a couple things to note: one, you’ll want to make half the volume of the pickling container/s, so for a single quart pickling container I used 2 cups, or a pint of liquid (it came PERFECTLY to the top, so awesome). And two, for the green tomatoes you’ll only want about 50% vinegar or less in it; I saw an iron chef’s recipe that used like 8 cups vin to 1 water, and that’s just way too psychotic. Green tomatoes are gonna have enough tartness and acidity to them as is, we only need the vinegar for flavor and general preserving at this point. Oh, and use Apple Cider Vinegar if you can, it’s really tasty with these guys!

                I didn’t use any sugar in this one, and many recipes only call for a little bit of a sweetness factor anyways. What I DID use, however, was Hot Sauce! It was a fun little experiment, since I just picked this really yummy bottle up from a recent trip and I didn’t have any mustard seeds or hot peppers to add to my spice mix. So instead, I used what was a notably mustard-focused, habanero-made hot sauce. I only added a couple tablespoons, so it’s not noted in the final flavor, but I’m sure it added something. My one concern is that it doesn’t dissolve completely into the brine, but sorta floats around in little particles… not that attractive.

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                Once everything is mixed and boiled, pour directly (and carefully) into the pickle jar, completely submerging your desired produce. Here we use the chopsticks (bet you were wondering what the hell those were for weren’t you?), grasping the end and carefully pushing down to the bottom here and there. This helps get out all the extra tiny air bubbles trapped beneath the veggies, so make sure to be thorough about it.

                And onto our final step: Boiling. Screw the top on, TIGHT, and place the whole thing back into the water bath, which now you have hopefully brought up to a full boil. It’s even more important here that it be completely submerged, but I just felt uncomfortable with turning it onto its side so I just got as much water in as I can and came up to the rim (hopefully the steaming water helped enough). Cover the pot, and leave to boil for 10-15 minutes.

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                This is definitely the point in my reading that I just had to stop and ask “Why the hell am I doing this?” None of the recipes said anything either, so one’s left reading a recipe with no justification for a very strange and annoying step. But after considering
things for a while, I think I can glean quite a few benefits from this process.

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  1. Sterilization: a little idiotic, I mean who needs to sterilize the outside again? But I believe the boiling process assists in bringing a sterilized aspect to the vegetables and spices themselves, ensuring absolutely NOTHING brings in any interfering spores, bacteria, yeast, etc.
  2. Cooking: these ARE green tomatoes after all, very firm fellas, who certainly need a bit of heat in the pickling to soften them up for enjoyment. I could definitely see one using this method for very firm whole cucumber pickles as well.
  3. Sealing: probably the MAIN reason for this. Not only does it apply the whole “heated metal expands and then contracts when cool” thing, but as the insides boil (which they do), I think micro amounts of air escape from the tight barrier, with none being able to come back in. Thus, the jar will end up with its own little vacuum of sealed air and pickling mix, with an iron-tight lid that’s a bitch to get off (make sure you have a little fork or lever for the top part).

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                  But yeah, that’s about it. There’s probably more to it, but I don’t really care too much, and I doubt I NEED to know for these purposes. My only needs now is to let it cool (probably in the water unless you have a way to safely remove it while still hot) and transfer to somewhere dark and chilly; a basement, or garage on my part.

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                 Leave for at least a week to “settle and mature” and you have yourself some very traditional home-pickled green tomatoes! Free to use with breakfast, on sandwiches (I popped them on an openfaced with leftover trout and some horseradish-sour cream), or just munching on their own. They’re not too bad on top of late night nacho snacks either.

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                 Thus ends the third installment in my little series, hopefully it was a fun addition to the other two. I almost wonder what hare-brained random experience is gonna force its way into #4… though I’m still waiting for more Napa Cabbage…

SFC: Italian Sandwich, and no Not That One

               Another upheaval of my sister’s bi-weekly vegetable bag onto my counter left me with quite a few things to cook with through my various lunches and dinners… and also an eggplant. A whole, big eggplant, which stood stuck in my fridge for a week as I tried to find a good night to do something with it.

                And of course, with narrowing options in my peripheral, short window time, a few not-so-great experiences with the “fruit” in the past, and thus little skill in “expert handling” of the product, I as always ended up settling on a cliché. Since I didn’t feel like doing a stewed veggie dish (ratatouille), Eggplant Parmesan it was.

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                Buuuuuttt if I’m going to make somethin’, especially something I feel like posting about, it’s of course gonna have to be street-food-accessible. Thus, despite my love for the gooey, thick lasagna-impersonator that it is, I’ll have to take a different approach.

                Which shouldn’t be too hard, as my first “lesson” in eggplant parmesan had nothing to do with the baked, layered, and baked-again tradition. It simply revolved around a breaded, pan-fried “cutlet” of sorts, served with tomato sauce, the melted cheese, and all that goody. Great potential to shove inside a split hoagie with all the traditional accompaniments for a gooey, awesome, and CRUNCHY sandwich with the rich/heaviness used often as meat-substitute.

                So, before we get to all that handling of the eggplant, we first have to make our sauce. Very little actual rules here, can make whatever tomato sauce you want for the occasion; I stuck with something very basic with what I had on hand. Which was good, because I really needed to get rid of some tomatoes…

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                Start as always with some chopped onions, which are sweat (basically sautéed, but done at a medium temperature and NOT cooked until brown; they should look transparent-ish) in saucepan with BUTTER!!! (YAY!) After a while add in some garlic… and damn I added in a buttload, I think I almost put in as much garlic as onion…

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                If tomatoes aren’t already cut, do that quick; never want to cook garlic for too long (unless the temperature is nice and LOW… or you’re roasting it). I used fresh in this instance, due to the situation, but as I’ve mentioned in another post canned is just as good, and in certain times probably better; especially since they don’t have any skins that just come off and mix around in the final sauce if you aren’t straining.

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                And from here simply simmer/cook on a low to medium heat until everything’s soft. There’s no real NEED for any liquid; fresh tomatoes have a decent amount of water in their cells, and the canned already come with all that stuff around them (which is tasty, use it). Though adding some wine or other fluids certainly wouldn’t hurt.

                I myself wanted to at least get some herb flavors in there, so along with the salt and pepper seasoning I grabbed some red pepper flakes, dried oregano and thyme…. don’t look at me like that! I didn’t have any of the fresh stuff in my fridge! And if I’m not gonna use that stuff in a sauce what am I gonna use it in?

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                Though, I’ll admit I wanted a little more flavor and herbal base/complexity than just thoughs, so I tried an extra little something for fun. Thus I grabbed a can of sun-dried tomatoes from the fridge (hopefully you remember my post detailing my love and adoration for the flavor-filled oil-cured sundrieds), chopped a couple of them fine, and added them in with some of that rich, complex oil. I don’t know how much it really changed things, but I know I enjoyed the sauce.

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                Now done (you can debate whether or not you wanna serve it chunky like this, thin it out, blend it, crush with a potato masher, or whatever), we can get moving on the eggplant. First and foremost is setting up the SBP Station (Standard Breading Procedure… very simple, basic, and flexible style of breading for a variety of situations). We have 3 bowls, or pans, or whatever one wants to use: flour in the first, scrambled raw egg (or just yolk) in the second, and the outer coating in the third.

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                The coating is whatever the hell we want; based off of what I had myself, I used equal amounts of panko bread crumbs, regular bread crumbs, and some parmesan (I thought it’d be a fun thing to add). But one could easily just use pure panko, or bread crumbs, or could crush up some Doritos (I’ve tried it, it makes for a tasty crust), crackers, etc; I was actually going to use some leftover homemade croutons, but they disappeared…

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                After you’ve gathered all stations, SEASON YOUR COATINGS! Flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs all need salt and pepper; not much, but some. It’s just part of proper sbp procedures; also, if you want to get some herbs (fresh is best if able) and/or spices into the breading, that’s tasty too.

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                Grab your pan, which should be very wide and have some sort of deep-ish sides just to help prevent a little splatter, and add a solid but thin layer of oil. We’re not deep frying here, but it needs a little bit of thickness so that it feels like part of the eggplant is actually submered; ideally, when filled with all the slices the oil should rise up to about the middle of their thickness (or just a bit under). Heat this to desired temperature; could try using a thermometer to get to, say, 325 or 350F, or just sprinkle in a little bit of the crumb coating every now and then and see how it sizzles.

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                NOW we can start doing something with the actual eggplant; you don’t want to cut this up ahead of time if you don’t have to. This is of course, for those who know, due to the flesh’s habit of browning/oxidizing quickly once cut. I mean, really, it doesn’t matter too much since we’re coating and frying it completely, but I just like the idea of it being as fresh and whole as possible before cooking. I cut mine decently thick, cuz I wanted that firm, meaty sense to it, and of course cuz I didn’t want the breading to be like half of what I was eating. Also, many recipes will peel the skin off so as to not deal with its texture, and so the breading better sticks to the sides, but I like to leave them on; they add a little flavor, not to mention visual appeal.

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                Then we bread: put it in the flour, coat, tamp off any excess and move to egg. Do the same with that and breadcrumbs, getting a full and even coat before moving to the hot oil. I could probably talk about methods of dipping; using one hand with “wet” things and the other with “dry,” or just using only one while the other is free for other stuff, but it’s all relative, and there are still even more ideas on how best to do it. Just do what’s comfortable and what works best in the situation (say, if coating en mass and frying LATER, the one hand wet and one dry; using a single hand in both will develop this thick, gooey crust that’s a bitch to get off, believe me).

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                Carefully place in the oil (dropping the edge “away” from you, reduce risk of back-splatter), let sizzle until golden-brown, turn and repeat, moving onto a paper-lined plate once done. Ideally, if slices are thick-ish, this should take maybe a minute or so to give time for the inside to soften. If doing thinner, would want the oil even hotter since it doesn’t need it and so less oil is absorbed.

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                And now we’re done. If I was serving this as a proper eggplant parm, I’d set it on a base of sauce, top with some mozzarella (maybe melt it under a torch or broiler first) and/or ricotta, shred some basil and squeeze a bit of lemon juice. Could do the same thing just inside of a long baguette or hoagie bun for an awesome sandwich!

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                In the moment, I felt like something a little different and simpler; the cut, fried eggplant, my chunky tomato sauce, and some of my homemade sauerkraut (yes that’s a hot dog bun, please ignore it, I didn’t have anything for a hoagie!!!).The eggplant was crispy and crunchy with a soft, moist and thick insides, the tomatoes flavorful and red in look and flavor, and the kraut brought a fun brightness and different kind of crunch to the experience. Very late-night crave-worthy. Sorta wish the green tomatoes I’m pickling now were ready though… but that’s something to discuss later.

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                And there we go, another long rambling of my exploits into making a simple sandwich. Hope those reading were able to enjoy it in some sense, I certainly enjoyed making and eating it. And for all those now looking to continue adventures in frying, eggplant weaving, or simply not caring about what I’ve said at all, I leave with Good Lucks and Good Eatings.

Pleading for Lunch

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               Had me a Grilled Ham and Cheese sandwich made with Beer Bread for lunch today! Exactly the kind of thing one could see on a Grilled Cheese Food Truck if we ever got one, like This Guy!

                And yes, this IS a part of my never-ending sub-or-up-front-liminal tirade to try and convince SOMEONE to do a Grilled Cheese thingy in Minnesota! For the love of god people PLEASE! They’re so good… so good…

Big Mall, Little Sweets

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                Recent exploits led me down to the Mall of America yesterday, my first visit since before Christmas I believe, where I ran across one of Cupcake’s small, vibrantly orange and blue cafes/stores. So I thought it’d be fun to explore and take a few pics!

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                There’s quite the large display case of 35 different (I’m guessing standard) cupcakes to purchase, MUCH more than what we can get from the little car, and another 4 on the side. I’m assuming their seasonal, as opposed to a highlight of their winning group of cakes during one of their many Cupcake Wars spotlights, which they showcase on a flatscreen (at all times I guess) in the back.

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                Everything looked just as smooth and delicious as always, if not better; I certainly wish I was able to enjoy one of the many styles I haven’t had yet, but my money was already set on a different traditional street-based sweet treat.

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                That’s right, Gelato!! I discovered Paciugo on my last trip out here; situated in the South-Western corner (I’m pretty sure) on the 3rd floor, actually very close to Cupcake, I have to say this is easily one of the Mall’s newest and best-kept secrets. I absolutely LOVE this place! Their selection of Gelato is huge, and filled with all highly different flavors than the norm (and I’m including many a modern ice cream place in here). From vanilla and mint chocolate to traditional Italian stracciatella, hazelnut, and tiramisu; uniquely pure Italian flavors like rose(or other flowers) and black sesame to tasty sorbet mixes (cantaloupe pear, mango peach); awesome combos like chocolate-jalapeno to the completely wacky, unthinkable flavors like goldfish or durian. Everything about Paciugo’s fully embodies the feeling and elements of a TRUE Italian Gelateria, while bringing in a Modern American palette and sense of playfulness.

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                Then you get to actually ordering; for those completely stuck on the many flavors they want, they give the perfect options! Just ordering a small, one can get 3 different flavors; larger sizes can bring in 4 or 5. I decided to grab a small consisting of Hazelnut-Chocolate, Chocolate-Jalapeno, and Caramel Apple. Though what’s a really fun option, and a great tie-in to the Italian espresso tradition, is the “Cappucino con Gelato”… which is just as it sounds. A scoop of any delicious frozen goods top with a bit of hot espresso; I had it on my first trip and it was DELICIOUS!! I think I got it with the Pana Cotta, which is one I would certainly suggest, along with any sort of hazelnut, chocolate, cream-based, spiced, or other gelato (you know what would be really good? Their “Malt” flavored gelato).

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                End of the day, either of these places are a Must-go for anyone, local or tourist, visiting our well-known Mall, especially those street-food lovers among us. For those visiting the MOA sometime soon, particularly in the upcoming cold holidays, then I hope you get the chance to enjoy this fully. Good Luck and Good Eating in your travels my friends!

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St. Paul Art Crawl – Fall 2013

                With summer fading away, the wet, chilly autumn starts baring its fangs. Though the weather rakes in a time studded with a monotony of well-celebrated holidays, it also stands as the official ending point for the vibrant, flooded Food Truck season we all adore (well, that and the warm, sunny weather). Of course they aren’t gone; the years of forming various relationships with local businesses and fellow breweries providing them with a firm base of business during the cold months.

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                Hoping to share an effect in this is the St Paul Art Crawl, following the Nordeast’s summer foray with its own fall-season event. Taking place from October 4th to the 6th in various hours (6pm-10, 12-8, and 12-5 respectively), the artist’s gathering studs the entirety of the Downtown area, along with a few places south of 94, with studios, galleries, performances, probably some bands (at least the local restaurants may hire), even a few different runs and marathons.

                And of course, Food Trucks. The organizers of this Fall’s shindig have begun a focus and foray into the Truck territory, sending out emails and notifications and whatnot to bring as many of the mobile ops out to the Crawl as they can. From last I heard of a representative, they only had 7 signed up, but they expect to bring in a BUNDLE more (they said “think State Fair”) to provide fun and nourishment along the visual city tour. I don’t really know who they are, though, as no listing has been provided (guess it’s a surprise!)

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                I would so love and look forward to the chance to go down, if anything just to compare it to the last Crawl, but also to see what Trucks decided to come down. Especially since, despite a full listing of galleries and map, there’s not too much info for me to report on before-the-fact. Sadly, though, my out-of-town schedule finds it impossible… if anyone would like to go and report in my place it would be highly welcome! Haha.

                For those who can make it, hopefully this offers a proper mobile respite before the ever-so-long distraction of the cold Minnesotan seasons to come. The weather should be sunny, days nice, and food a great accompaniment to enjoy our Local Art Scene. With that, I leave each to their own devices yet again; Good Luck and Good Eating to all.

http://www.stpaulartcrawl.org/

https://www.facebook.com/Stpaulartcrawl