MoM Dec. ‘08 Cook’s Illustrated: Ultimate Turtle Brownies

As previously mentioned we’ve chosen the Holiday Edition of Cook’s Illustrated for the December 2008 Magazine of the Month. In addition to the amazing recipes, there’s a ton of helpful tips that I actually read.

That’s right. I usually don’t.

Food magazines are often treated with the same respect a kid might treat a newspaper: Kids go right for the comics and maybe the movies, and ignore everything else. In the same way, I go right for the recipes and all else be damned!

But the format of the Cook’s Illustrated magazines read more like a really spiffy manual with pictures and everything. For those cooks who like Alton Brown’s scientific approach to food, you will probably also like the Cook’s Illustrated format. Only a small portion of each two-page spread is dedicated to the actual recipe; the rest are notes by the Test Cooks comparing different ingredients and techniques and determining what’s best. To say the magazine is merely “great” wouldn’t be doing it enough justice.

I started my foray into the magazine with the Ultimate Turtle Brownies.

They start out having you make this interesting little foil “sling” for the brownies. It’s also used in a couple of other recipes in the mag. I’m not sure what was going on with my camera while all this was going on, because the picture I took of my foil sling turned out blurry.

I’m going to show it to you anyway. Oooh! Aaah! Look at that tin foil!

Okay, so the gist of the sling is that you pour the batter in, bake it and when you’re ready to pull the brownies out, you just lift the foil out of the tray and then peel back the sides. It worked really well, giving me clean sides to my brownies.

Next was the caramel – yes, homemade caramel. The ingredients go together into a pot and then you just follow some simple instructions that basically come down to this: stick it in the pot and then stop touching it like some OCD freak. POOF! It’s caramel.

The steps to making caramel were virtually painless, given they had photo step by step pictures of what to do and, most importantly, what to expect while it’s cooking. What I really hate is when you’re staring down a pot of something and you don’t know if what’s going on inside is right or wrong.

The illustration also has a short bit of text beneath each illustration, explaining precisely what to do. I cut them off because there’s probably some sort of copyright protection – and really, you should just pick up the magazine.

The actual brownie portion was so simple I didn’t even need the new mixer that I bought. I just mixed it up with a spoon. Half of the brownie goes down into the foil sling, then topped with 1/4 cup of the warm caramel. A butter knife is then used to swirl the caramel into the brownie. The other half of the brownie mixture is spread on top, then more caramel mixed in.

When the brownies are removed from the oven, the rest of the caramel mixture is poured on top, and then refrigerated for a couple of hours. When they’re set and chilled, the brownies come out, the sling is peeled off and the brownies are all cut up. And that’s it. Perfect brownies every time – no guesswork involved.

I’ve been serving mine warm with a side of vanilla ice cream. If you don’t like baking or think you aren’t good at it, this is a great one to start with. Not only is it great after dinner, but it’s also fun to just pick up with one hand and munch on. Chocolate and pecans mixed with a ton of homemade caramel. Good stuff, Maynard.

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Mini Meatball Heroes

Everyone gets stuck on things. Sometimes it’s a song you have to hear over and over until you’re sick of it and sometimes it’s a food you have to keep eating until you can’t eat it anymore. Lately I’ve been hung up on Meatball Sub Sandwiches. It’s not something I typically think about making, so I’ve been picking it up from the local sub shop. When my cravings really kicked in, it dawned on me that I should be making it at home…

So I did.

You wouldn’t think it’d be hard to find a good recipe, but it was. Most recipes, even the ones I saw on epicurious, called for jarred marinara and if there’s one thing I absolutely can’t stand, it’s that. Finally, I found one that I liked from Giada De Laurentiis.

The sauce typically takes the longest, not because of the work involved, but because of the simmer time. So I started with that.

Marinara Sauce:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves

A meatball hero requires a smooth sauce with little chunks. It should grace and adorn the meatballs, not get into an embittered texture fight, so I diced up the garlic and onion with a knife then pulsed the celery and carrots in my food processor.

The veggies were cooked up in a large pot until the onions were soft and translucent, then I dumped in everything else and let it simmer for about an hour.

Then I went to the fun part: the meatballs.

Meatballs
1 small onion, grated
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 large egg
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
6 ounces ground beef
6 ounces ground veal
6 ounces ground pork
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

The first seven ingredients go into a bowl together and whisked.

So far, so good. Add the cheese and breadcrumbs and mix. Then add the meat.

I didn’t use the mixture of meat she prescribes above (one part beef, one part veal, one part pork). Instead, I used two parts beef, one part veal. The point of the mixture is to make sure you end up with a meatball that has a smooth, easy-to-bite-through texture. If you end up with meatballs that require gnawing to get through, it’s no good. Reviewers of the recipe also noted that they tried it with two parts turkey and one part pork with success. Feel free to mix it up – the veal and pork give the meatball a gentler texture that is easier to bite through. Beef on its own can come out a little coarse, same as ground turkey/chicken, so make sure you mix a little bit of pork or veal in there, whatever your poison.

Try and make sure you’ve combined the mixture as thoroughly as possible then, using about two tablespoons of mixture (I eyeballed it) roll it into a meatball.

From here you’ve got two options: frying or baking. I tried both, knowing full darn well the frying was going to come out badly. I’ve fried meatballs before, and it always ends unfavorably, because it smells up the whole house for days, your fabrics and linens smell like whatever you were frying and the oil eventually gets so hot that after your first couple of batches of meatballs, everything chars on the outside. I am not a good fryer and I’m okay and people like me.

But as you can see from the picture above, I tried it anyway. It was okay, but then I was freaked out that the veal hadn’t cooked all the way through so I broke open every single meatball to make sure that I wasn’t about to kill my spouse (because, let’s face it, we have a life insurance policy on him but it’s really not big enough to warrant killing him off, moving to a resort in Mexico, and hiring a sexy pool boy).

At any rate, when the frying didn’t work, I put all of the meatballs on a foil-lined cookie tray and baked them at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. They all cooked perfectly and there was no char on the outside.

When those are done, you put everything together. Spoon up some sauce on the top and bottom of a roll (okay, you got me – I didn’t make any rolls, I bought them!) put a couple of meatballs on top and stick a slice of provolone on top.

Grab a napkin and dig in. Yummy.

If you have leftover sauce, which I did, it can be placed in an airtight container or two and frozen for months. When you want more meatball subs, take it out of the freezer and dump it into a pot with a half cup of water. Turn the burner on medium and place a lid over the pot, stirring the mixture occasionally. This will successfully reheat your sauce without burning the bottom of the frozen chunk.

Top Chef, Season Five Episode 3: Grant Achatz and other stuff that’s not nearly as cool, but the Foo Fighters were in there too and that’s nice.

Miss Macchiato has been busy posting about food of all things, so it falls to me yet again to dissect this week’s Top Chef.  The guest judge was Grant Achatz of Alinea, which was rated the #1 restaurant in the country.  The French Laundry finished 3rd that year.  I have mad hyperbole skillz but even I am not up to the task of telling you how cool Grant Achatz is.  I know molecular gastronomy is a term on the outs these days, but whatever you want to call it, he was doing it a long time ago, and better than almost anyone.

This is called Hot Potato.  It is a cold potato and truffle soup, served in a paraffin wax bowl.  There is a skewer through the bowl with a hot potato, a chive, parmesan cheese, a black truffle and one (1) salt flake.  You pull the pin out and the hot potato meets the cold potato soup.  Tell me that’s not the coolest thing you’ve ever seen.  Yeah?  Ok, how about this:

That?  Oh that’s just rhubarb.  Seven different textures of rhubarb.  There are 13 different components to that dish.  That’s one course.  The tasting tour has 25 courses.  Oh and he beat cancer, I almost forgot that part.

What kind?  Oh it was tongue cancer.  Yep, he was just your average chef with tongue cancer who went to every doctor he could find and they all told him he would either lose his tongue or die.  He enrolled in a clinical trial that gave him experimental treatment.  He couldn’t taste anything at all, and his face and neck were burned from the chemo and radiation.  He was finally pronounced cancer free the following December.  And Grant’s proudest accomplishment?  He only missed about 6 days of work.  Yeah he worked at the restaurant the whole time, so his employees would know he was still there for them.

SO IF GRANT TELLS YOU THAT YOUR BANANA SMORE THING IS CRAP YOU SAY “THANK YOU SIR, I’M SORRY I HAVE FAILED YOU.” AND THEN YOU TAKE OUT YOUR WAKIZASHI AND PLUNGE IT INTO YOUR BELLY AND HOPE YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH TO CUT UP INTO YOUR HEART SO IT WILL BE A MEANINGFUL DEATH AND YOU DIE!!

So the quickfire they made recipes from the Top Chef cookbook (product plug) which was ok but it would have been cooler if they did it from the Alinea cookbook which I will hyperlink for another product plug but they probably could not have handled it because it’s friggin’ impossible and then no wait you’re making soup ok whatever and Leah wins and she picks all the best people to be on her team and all they come up with funny team names well not really and they are cooking Thanksgiving for the Foo Fighters who are very cool and you should buy their new album (product plug trois) but it’s not really Thanksgiving because they are cooking outside in New York and it’s not snowing and they are playing the concert across from MM’s work “HI MM!” and Richard makes a banana smore with no burnt sugar and loses and goes home the end.

~Citizen Chef

Turkey Leftovers: Turkey Biscuit Bake

Now that Thanksgiving is over for the U.S., carnivorous Americans everywhere are staring down the contents of their refrigerator with the same thought: “Damn. What do I do with all this turkey?”

Here’s a thought: I had a pot pie recipe from an old Taste of Home magazine that was pretty good, and it even included a recipe for a very simple buttermilk crust. All I did was change out the chicken for some leftover turkey bits and I had a leftover dinner that didn’t feel like leftovers.


Recipe courtesy Taste of Home magazine

Previously, I’ve spoken of Citizen Chef’s disdain of Taste of Home magazine, as he feels it is lowbrow as far as the culinary world goes. And this is true, however I will say this: Last night I had delicious turkey pot pie with a delicious buttermilk crust and he probably had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

That’s right. I went there.

So here’s the recipe, adapted from Taste of Home.

When I first saw this recipe, I thought the addition of cottage cheese sounded off-putting, but I actually like it in the dish because it gives the sauce a little more substance, and is a healthier option than the usual cream base. The taste of the cottage cheese isn’t too detectable, so anyone who dislikes it will hardly notice.

Turkey Biscuit Bake
Serves 2

Dough
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Dash salt
tablespoons cold butter
2 tablespoons beaten egg
1/4 cup buttermilk

Filling
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash onion powder
1 cup shredded leftover Thanksgiving turkey
1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 cup 4% cottage cheese

The dough can be made in a bowl if you want: Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 1 teaspoon beaten egg; stir remaining egg into buttermilk. Add to crumb mixture; stir until dough forms a ball.

Or you can do it my way: I just tossed the ingredients into my food processor, pulsed it, and called it good.

If you check the link I provided, you will notice the original recipe calls for only 1/2 cup of flour. This 1/2 cup is a lie. If you only put 1/2 cup of flour in, you’ll get a soggy piece of crap. Add flour until it’s manageable – anywhere between 3/4 and 1 cup.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead 10 times. It doesn’t take long. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one portion to fit the bottom of a greased 1-qt. baking dish.

In a small saucepan, start your roux: melt butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour until it’s smooth.

Don’t let it cook until it gets brown, just start slowly adding the milk, bouillon, poultry seasoning and onion powder. I find that the onion powder is key – I like a lot of onion powder in there. It gives the dish its pep.

Let it cook until it comes to a soft boil. Keep stirring; it will thicken as it cooks. Remove from the heat. Stir in the turkey, vegetables (use any kind you like) and cottage cheese. Pour the mixture into the baking dish. Yell at yourself because the lid on your poultry seasoning came off and turned your mixture a funky color. I don’t even know what color that is…

Roll out remaining dough to fit top of dish; place over filling. Brush with reserved egg.

Or, if you can’t find your pastry brush, accidentally pour too much on and slather your crust with egg. It looks like a happy little sunshine, doesn’t it?

Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown…

…or technicolor yellow. Whatever.

It’s tasty and filling, is minimal prep, and is as great way to get rid of your turkey leftovers, without feeling like you’re repeating your Thanksgiving meal.

MoM December 2008: Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Baking

We fell off the Magazine of the Month wagon for a bit, but we’re back and we’ve got our choice: Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Baking publication for 2008.

I love Cook’s Illustrated. Recently, I fell in love with the format of their magazines and have purchased a subscription. Every listing isn’t simply a recipe, they include helpful tips and pictures, as well as techniques that help you improve in your overall cooking ability. Showing photographs of the recipes as we go through them is actually almost redundant, because the magazine takes all of the guesswork out.

In case you’re hesitant about picking up a baking magazine because it isn’t your forte, forget about it – there are also other things in there besides desserts, such as French Onion and Bacon Tart and Breakfast Strata in three versions. There’s also some easy desserts that look difficult but are pretty spectacular, such as the Ultimate Turtle Brownies, made with a dense, fudge base that is mixed with homemade caramel. Oh, and did I mention the brownies also contain chocolate chips and chopped pecans?

We won’t be posting the recipes for MoM going forward, so pick up a copy and get ready. If there are any particular recipes you want to go through, just post below!