Friday, December 31, 2010

Dessert for Republicans or Millionaire's Shortbread

I've been on a dessert kick it seems. Which is kind of funny, since before I started this blog most of the dessert prep was done by my daughters. I'm more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy, so I'm not sure what happened. Anyway, this is an English treat called Millionaire's Shortbread. It's essentially shortbread kicked up a notch or two. Or three. It's a layer of simple shortbread, a layer of caramel and then a layer of chocolate. It's pretty easy and quick to make.

3/4 cup (170g) butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
Pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla
250ml (1 cup) Dulce de Leche
6oz. semisweet baking chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350F (175F). Let the butter soften and then cream it with the sugar.

Then mix in the flour, a fork should be good for most of this, but at some point you'll need to do some kneading. Don't do too much, then the bread will be heavy. Mix in the vanilla and salt at this point.

Press the dough into a baking pan. This one is about 6"x9" but I think something a bit bigger might be better since it came out a bit thicker then I had planned. Aim for about 3/4 of an inch.
Bake at 350F (175C) for about 25 minutes. It should be lightly golden. Let it cool down for about 20 minutes until barely warm to the touch then spread the Dulce de Leche evenly of the top. If you don't know what Dulche de Leche is, it's basically sweetened condensed milk that has been heated until the sugar caramelizes. It shouldn't be too hard to find, but can be made by, well, heating a can of condensed milk over a medium fire, stirring until it turns a dark golden brown. Google it people.

Melt your chocolate for spreading atop the caramel. I'm lazy and used a microwave instead of a double boiler. Put your chocolate in a microwave save bowl and cook at 50% for about a minute and a half. Stir. Again for 45 seconds. Stir. Once more for 30 seconds. Stir. It should be perfectly melted. You can add a tablespoon of butter if you want it creamier.
Smooth the melted chocolate evenly over the Dulche de Leche.

Then put in a cool place for the chocolate to set, about 20 minutes or 5-10 in the refrigerator.
Cut into squares. Serves 1.

The shortbread is a bit too thick, but it still tastes amazing! Don't forget Sunday's Tweetup!

I've given it a try and made this Gluten Free and Milk Free. It actually wasn't bad and the little kids, who are the ones who can't have gluten, loved it! For the 1 1/2 cups flour I substituted,
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup whole rice flour
1 tsp. Guar Gum

I used margarine instead of butter and a non-dairy caramel as well.
It was a bit crumbly, but tasted good. I will play around with the quantities this week and might reduce the amount of margarine, since it was a bit oily.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Great MST3K Tweetup of 2011

After some discussions on Twitter I've decided to try and organize a massive synchronized online Mystery Science Theater 3000 Festival.There are a few episodes now on Hulu and it's sort of available via the Digital Archive Project.  I was thinking around 11:00 AM PST/2:00 PM EST/9:00 PM IST. If you're interested in participating, leave a comment, or email me, or drop me a note on Twitter or even Facebook. Bring you snark and Chinese food. I'll be posting a Kettle Corn recipe so we can all eat the same thing too.
First Update: There's an official Facebook Event. Yes. Official! RSVP!
Second Update: Proper shout out to @Fireballil for twittering about MST3K and giving me the idea.
Another Update: The Episodes on Hulu are:
1. Horrors of Spider Island
2. The Starfighters
3. Secret Agent Super Dragon
4. Monster A-Go-Go
5. The Rebel Set
6. The Giant Gila Monster
7. Ring of Terror
If anyone has a preference leave it in the comments!

UPDATE: Unless anyone has another opinion, we'll go with Horrors of Spider Island. 2 PM Eastern Time, 11 AM Pacific. Y'all can do the math!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In which a cake is made, or how to Bundt on 4th and long.

Well, this past Friday was the 16th birthday of my twins. They generally speaking do most of the baking in the house and prepare elaborate cakes for everyone else's birthday parties, so it fell to me to make a cake, or two for them. I had been looking at some options over the week and settled on an Apple Bundt cake which looked good and easy enough to fit the bill for the blog. Turns out, I was right. it was pretty easy to make, I added a vanilla glaze to up the birthday quotient as well.

3 Apples
2 1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
4 cups flour
2/3 cup orange juice
3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup vegetable oil

100 grams icing sugar
1/4 tablespoon margarine (or butter)
2 tablespoons vanilla soy milk (or regular milk and a tsp vanilla)

You'll need to preheat the oven to 375F (175C) and get to work on the apples.

I used Granny Smith, because I'm partial to things being a bit tart. Core and peel them and slice them finely. Try not to cut yourself in the process.
Mix the cinnamon and 1/3 cup sugar and then toss the apples with that and set aside to marinate while you go onto making cake batter. Keep 7 year old boys away, because they'll attempt to talk you into eating all the sugared up apples.

On to the batter. Beat the eggs and sugar together and then stir in the oil, vanilla and OJ.

Mix until blended then start adding the flour and baking powder. You can premix these, or you can wing it like me and add a cup of flour and half the baking powder, mix. Repeat. Then add the last of the flour.

It looks all battered. And on the messy bit, layering the batter and apples. Put down about an inch of batter in your bundt pan, we have these nifty disposable paper ones if you don't want to invest in a silicone or metal one, then a layer of apples. Again, repeat. Our molds were smallish, so I managed to get two cakes out it, each one with 3 layers of batter and two of apple. You do need to make sure the final layer is batter, by the way.

Then it's into the oven for about an hour.

After an hour check how well the cakes are done by stabbing them with something sharp. Your stabby thing should come out clean.
 Then take them out to cool. When they're no longer hot to the touch you can take them out of the mold, in our case, remove the paper.

The glaze was made my melting the margarine in the microwave, mixing in the powdered sugar and then the vanilla soy milk. You can switch out butter and milk for the margarine and soy milk if you don't mind the dessert being dairy. Add in a dash of vanilla to the milk for flavor.
Then spoon it over the cake for maximum yardage.

So, happy birthday to my girls and good eating to all my friends.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bake Me Two Times, Baby.

For the record, this recipe has nothing to do with bands that do Doors cover shows or going down to the shore in a Camero that my parents drove up from the Bahamas in. Also, no Milkmen involved.
This is a new recipe I tried out last night for Twice Baked Potatoes. It came out pretty good. Another recipe that is easy to tweak according to taste. There's only one sort of difficult step.


8 medium potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter
3 tbsp. salt
1/2 cup cheese, grated, sliced, whatever.

Other spices, cooked vegetables.

Bake the potatoes, about 45 minutes at 375F(190C), check them, it may take closer to 55 minutes.

When they're done, cut them in half and scrape out the middle, leaving the skins intact. That's the hard part, since the skins are easy to rip. Set them aside and put all the insides into a bowl.

Mix the butter, sour cream and salt into the potato guts and mush it up (technical term used in all the finest culinary academies).

It should be creamy but there should still be some good sized potato chunks in there. This is the point where you can get creative. Chives, sauteed onions, diced mushrooms, garlic, mix it up!

Fill the scooped out shells with the crushed up potato mash. Top with spice mix of choice then cover with cheese. 10 minutes on 425F(220F) and you're good to go.
Also, this is something you can make ahead of time. So good for the kids on a cold Winter's day!

This one is gluten free as well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chicken for People Who Burn Water

I have my mother in law to thank for this recipe. Not that she needs to use it, since she's an awesome cook. Also she reads this blog so I will reiterate that the food she makes is universally delicious. This one is mindlessly easy. I give it out to friends whose wives have just given birth and have to be home with the kids and actually need to serve a meal. It's also easy to tweak if you want to change the flavors a bit.

1 whole chicken
4 potatoes
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp honey
5 peeled garlic cloves
4 shallots or one onion quartered
1 roasting bag

As I said, it's pretty simple. You cut up the potatoes into wedges.

Then put them in the bag.

Peel the Garlic. And into the bag.

 Shallots the same thing.

Add the honey and soy sauce.
Then stuff the chicken into the bag. Tie it off and shake it up, getting the honey and sauce all over everything.

 You can substitute wine instead of the soy sauce, but you'll need to put in a few teaspoons of salt to make sure it's well seasoned. Try adding a big sprig of rosemary or a teaspoon of dried oregano and basil to change it up. Also, ginger is a good addition.
Preheat your oven to 375F (175C). Put the bagged chicken on a baking tray, I like to line it with parchment to make cleanup easier. Poke a hole in the top of the bag to let steam escape. This is another recipe that you don't really need to worry about over cooking it, since it will stay moist. As a matter of fact, the longer it cooks the better. It should be ready after about an hour and a half, but give it an extra hour and the meat will melt in your mouth. The garlic and potatoes will be able to be used as a spread. We were a bit rushed this time, so the shallots weren't as soft as I would have liked.

The kids and guests finished it up right quick though. Really, this is a total no brainer. Even JayZ can make it.


The folks who follow me on Twitter know that I'm quite the music fan, mostly Punk, Ska and 80s stuff. That said, my favorite genre, if you can actually call it that, is cover music. Which isn't really a genre, since it can be any style. I probably have a hundred or more cover albums and collections. It's really a wonderful way to ease into new music, since there is something familiar there. Either the original song or the band might be known and then they give you something new that you hadn't heard before and use that as a diving board into something else. As a matter of fact, this is the main way I find new bands and even musical styles. My main source for cover songs these days? The one and only Brian Ibbot and his Coverville podcast. I'm bringing this up now since it's an excellent time to check Coverville out. Two reasons for that, the first is that it's the end of the year and Brian has his Coverville countdown, where he plays the top 50 covers of the year voted on by the listeners. The other reason is another project Brian has been working on. Every year he tries to put out a tribute album of songs supplied by Independent artists for inclusion in a the Coverville Open Mic project. This year it's a tribute to one of my all time favorite bands, the Talking Heads.  It's available as a free download from the blog with covers of some of the bands greatest songs, from Psycho Killer to Once in a Lifetime. Check it out, Check it outters!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wontons a.k.a. Chinese Krepelach - Meat

I've been posting sweet things up until now. But my eldest daughter asked me about making Won-Tons. So, we fired up the old browser and checked out some options. I always thought making the skins would be difficult. Turns out, not so much. It's really just an easy pasta dough. The trick is the rolling out. And of course making a good filling.

2 cups flour
1 egg
pinch of salt
1/4 -1/2 cup water

3/4 lbs (350g) ground beef
3 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger root
2 green onions
4 tbsp soy sauce

A clear chicken broth is best, I think.

So, as a I said, the dough was pretty simple. We actually used whole wheat flour and it came out just fine. Put all the flour in a bowl and make a well. Mix the egg, salt and 1/4 cup water together and pour into the well. Mix everything together, you may need to add a bit more water for it to stick together but you don't want the dough to be sticky. Knead until it starts getting soft and pliable. Then like any pasta dough you need to let it sit for about 45-60 minutes. Supposedly this is to let the gluten relax, since getting mixed seems to stress it out. Granted, it's gonna get thrown in a pot of boiling water, which might stress it out again.

Anyway, while it's chilling you can make the filling. We went for some classic flavors, but you can probably do all sorts of fun stuff. In our case, we finely chopped the garlic and ginger then mixed it in to the ground beef, followed by the soy sauce. I didn't do the green onions until right before we put the filling in the wrappers and that was a rough cut.
Once the dough had rested it was time to roll it out and learn the trick of proper Won-Tonning. Don't use regular flour when rolling it out. That makes the dough hard and chewy. You need to use corn starch.
Roll it out as thin as you can manage. My daughter got it almost translucent.

We split the dough in half before doing this, to make it more manageable. Then cut it into squares, roughly 2-3 inches on a side. Let's just say, we weren't very exact.

Or very square, for that matter. It doesn't change how it tastes though. Now it's time to start putting it all together. Make sure your soup is boiling and make balls of the ground beef after adding the chopped green onions, about an inch across.

Then fold it up. I was pretty bad at this, but my son and daughter had it down. Just fold it over and press closed, then twist the sides back around.
Then it's as easy as tossing it into the soup. It really can't overcook since the broth keeps it moist.
That said if you do leave it too long in the broth the skin does tend to get a bit mushy, so my recommendation is to toss them in about 15-20  before you want to serve the soup, when it's a good rolling boil.

Needless to say it is very tasty and they all got eaten up very quickly. Turned out much easier and quicker than I thought. The dough takes about 15 minutes to mix and knead, then about 45 minutes to relax. The ground beef takes about 5 minutes to put together. Making a couple dozen Won-Tons took maybe 15 with two of us working. So, about 30 minutes actual prep time.
Next week we'll try deep frying them!

Shavua Tov!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thought for the 10th of Teves

mToday is the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Teves (or Tevet, depending on how you pronounce it). It is a minor fast day in the Jewish calendar, which means we don't eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. It doesn't have all the restrictions of the major fasts like Yom Kippur or Tisha B'Av, but it does have one special characteristic that other fast days don't have. If it comes out on a Friday it isn't pushed off. So, today with spent with longer prayer servers, extra readings from the Torah and no food. Which is kind of difficult considering the need to prepare the meals for Shabbos (that'd be the Sabbath). There are several reasons the Prophets declared the 10th of Teves a fast day.The main historical happening that prompted this is this is the day that Nebuchadnezzar started his siege on Jerusalem in 588 B.C.E. which was the start of the  destruction of the first Temple. There are other reasons mentioned as well, one being the passing of Ezra the Scribe, who lead the return from the Babylonian exile to found the Second Temple. The only problem is that he passed away on the ninth and not the tenth of Teves. So why do we commemorate it on the tenth.
I am lucky enough to participate in a class given weekly by Rabbi Shlomo Fisher and he addressed this topic in a brief exposition at the end of his usual discourse.

The two people who lead the return from Babylon to start the Second Temple period were, as said Ezra the Scribe and Nehemiah. The structure of Jewish Leadership is based on the King and the High Priest. Ezra was from the Priestly family and Nehemiah was from the line of King David. This brings us to the end of the Second Temple period when the Hasmoneans ruled following the revolt against the Selucid Greeks which we commemorate with Hannukah. The Hasmoneans were a Priestly family, yet ruled as Kings of Israel, for this they come in for much criticism by the Rabbinic Sages. There are several reasons given for this criticism, but the one Rav Shlomo discussed was that this was a fundamental break with the proper structure of the Leadership. The proper way is for the King to rule and the High Priest to act as his foil, his moral conscience making sure that the King, given absolute power, did not transgress the Divine Word. In taking the Kingship for themselves the Hasmoneans perverted this and left no one to keep the King on the straight and narrow, therefore leading to the eventual destruction of the Temple. Which brings us back to the death of Ezra. As mentioned he too was the High Priest and with his passing Nehemiah had lost the other necessary half to keep the system running smoothly, he understood that this a dangerous situation that, like the siege of Nebuchadnezzar would be the first step to the eventual destruction of the Temple. The first day of his Kingship without Ezra was the Tenth of Teves and so we also commemorate his passing on that day.

Good Shabbos!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More books - Dune

So, I'm in the middle of a couple books right now. I'm rereading Dune after a Twitter conversation when someone mentioned the Kwisatz Haderach. I mentioned that the words were based on a Jewish mystical concept, literally translated as a contraction of the path. It is mentioned several times in the commentaries on the Torah, specifically when various Biblical persons travel long distances in miraculously short periods of time. The Hebrew term is closer to Kfitzas HaDerech. So I decided to reread the book, that I probably haven't looked at since Middle School (shout out to Darrel C. Swope Middle School Reno, Nevada). Wow, what a difference 25 years make. I recognize so many things that totally went over my head the first time around. Also living in the Mideast and following regional politics has made a difference as well. Basically it comes down to the fact that the entire Freman theology is based on Sunni Islam. After looking it up, there seem to be some aspects of Zen as well, but I'm less knowledgeable about that.
And yes. Kwisatz Hadarech is actually referred to as the Shortening of the Way at some point by Stilgar at one point. For a bit more on the Jewish concept of Kefitzas HaDerech take a look here. I'm certainly enjoying the book much more this time around so thanks to Tom, Chris and KJ for suggesting it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yes. Donuts. (Dairy)

I will state for the record, I love donuts. They are wonderful fluffy bits of sweet delight. Also they are not readily available here on a regular basis. They show up around Hannukah, but then they're mostly jelly filled. Though there are ones filled with Dulce de Leche which are to die for. The bottom line is, getting a good glazed donut during the year is not a simple matter. So, with that in mind I figured it was time to make my own. It was something of a time consuming process since we don't really do all that much dairy cooking. I was only able to do three donuts at a time, so it took a while to get everything cooked. I also wasn't super thrilled with how the glaze looked. This is the second time I've made them and the second glaze I tried. Tastes good, but doesn't look so great. That said, everyone loved them.

1/4 ounce dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk (brought to almost boil then cooled)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup butter
5 cups flour
oil for frying

2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup butter
5 tablespoons hot water

Making the dough:
Disolve the yeast in the warm water in a big bowl. Let it proof for a few minutes then add warm milk, sugar, salt, eggs, butter and then 2 cups of the flour. I'm all old school and used a fork and my hands, but if you're the fancy type you can use a stand mixer.
Once it's all incorporated start mixing in the rest of the flour until the dough is smooth. Cover it with a damp cloth, put it in a warm place and let it rise about an hour. It should double in size.
When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and sprinkle a bit on top so you can work with it. I had to split my dough in half since our work surface is small. Also allowed us to make it over two days. The dough kept very well in the fridge overnight. Anyway, roll the dough out to about 1/2 an inch thick. Then cut out the donuts. They make fancy donut cutters. But we went old school, a wide mouthed cup for the initial circle and then a soda bottle top to pop out the 'hole'.
The first try we put the donuts directly into the oil, but the second batch I let the dough rise for about 20 minutes before cooking them and they came out much fluffier. Anyway, to the cooking. We used a pot and about half a liter of canola oil, but any deep frying technique will work. The recipe calls for the oil to be heated to 350F (175C), but we played it by ear and ended up with some donuts being darker and some lighter. I found medium low heat to be the best, then you get a nice lightly browned fluffy result. The first time I made it I took the 'holes' and made, well, donut holes. Unfortunately, they puff up unevenly and it's hard to turn them over to cook on both sides, so I just kneaded them back in and made more full sized babies.
It ended up making about forty donuts, as I said in two batches. I think it took maybe a minute or two each side to fry them.
Next came the glazing, which as I said didn't work out as well as I had wanted. To make it, melt the butter, remove from heat and then start stirring in the powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Then you need to add the hot water, which dilutes it to a glaze. Do this a bit at a time until you get a nice runny consistency. I tried both dipping the donuts in the glaze and brushing it on with a silcone pastry brush. Neither looked pretty, but both tasted good.
You can add sprinkles if you want. I made an attempt at drizzling chocolate over them, but my chocolate melting skills leave something to be desired. So I don't have pictures, but it did add a nice taste.
I think the whole process took about 2 1/2 hours, with actually work time being about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 depending on how many donuts you can fry at a time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What I'm reading: Chew

Yup, it's about food. Sort of. It also rhymes with Jew. So, bonus points. And it's a comic book. That's my Trifecta. It called Chew and it is nice and twisted.

It's up to book 15, so you might have some catching up to do. It's about detective Tony Chu, a hard bitten chap with a strange talent. He's a cibopath. Yes, it's a made up word, but it is cromulent. He can 'read' things he eats. He gets the psychic impressions from everything that happened to what ever he bites into. The other major twist in the story is the world it is set in. Avian flu has killed 23 million people and chicken is illegal. America has become a police state with the FDA and USDA become militarized police forces and they're out to stomp out anybody trying to eat or cultivate chicken.
The art is quirky, the story compelling and characters well fleshed out. Scenes move quickly from the FDA offices to seedy docks and then a tropical island paradise.
It's published by Image comics, written by John Layman with art by Rob Guillory.
I'd score it 6 out of 7 Sterankos on the comic book coolness scale. 

More here: The Official Blog
Get the first Trade Paper Back, you won't regret it!

The First Recipe - Baklava

Might as well get started. The first recipe that got devoured in the household was Baklava. I ended up making it because someone on Twitter asked for a suggestion for a dessert with a Middle Eastern flare. This was the obvious suggestion. It's actually pretty easy, but a bit labor intensive.


1 lb. (1/2 kg) Chopped Nuts - We used a mix of Almonds, Cashews, Hazelnuts and Pistachios
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup margarine (if you don't mind it being dairy you can use butter)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla
Some lemon zest
1 package Phyllo dough (should be a pound (1/2 kg))

This makes a 9 x 13 pan (22.5 x 32.5cm)

Heat oven to 350 F (175C)
If your nuts aren't already chopped you'll need to do that in a food processor. We did in various stages to get different sized chunks.
Mix in the cinnamon, or maybe try nutmeg.
Unroll the Phyllo and cut in half so it fits easily in the pan.

You'll need to have a damp cloth to cover the dough with when you're not using it, as it dries out quickly and becomes brittle.
Next melt the margarine in a saucepan. You'll also need a pastry brush. We use a silicone one to good effect.

This is when the hard work begins. You need to layer the dough and nuts, which can take about 30 minutes. Start with two leaves of dough and brush with melted margarine, sprinkle a few spoons of nuts over them and spread evenly.

Then put down the next layer of dough. We did two layers at a time, though the recipe calls for one. This made it extra crunchy. Each layer needs to be brushed with the melted margarine. The saucepan had to be reheated a couple times during the process.
Yes, the counter is a mess.
Keep layering it until you've finished the nuts and then add on another 5-6 leaves of dough. Then you need to cut it, which is a bit tricky, I found. Cut into 4 even strips, so three cuts. Then make diagonal cuts to form diamonds.
Ours didn't come out too straight and it's a pain getting to the edges with a Chef's knife, so I'd suggest a smaller paring knife. Then it's into the over for 40-50 minutes. Should be golden crispy. If you let it go too long it will be too crispy and messy to eat. So keep an eye on it.
While it's in we made the syrup. Mixing the sugar and water in a saucepan until it starts to boil, then add vanilla, lemon and finally the honey. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. You should try to time this so you're finishing as the baklava is coming out of the oven.

Spoon the hot syrup over the baklava, let cool and then have at it!
As I said, ours came out very crunchy. And messy. Everyone really gobbled it up though. Even my wife, who doesn't particularly like baklava enjoyed it. So, score! Depending how you cut the pieces it should make about 36 servings. Probably a billion calories each.

Total time was about 2 hours from start to finish. About an hour of actual working time, the layering takes a while and you have to stir the syrup. Otherwise it's baking and cooling. I'll try to remember times for future reference. Thanks Phelps.