Sauteed Gnocchi with Basil Pesto


Imagine that you are a bird. You are flying in the air, free as can be, when you spot a delicious morsel of bread sitting on a table inside a building, just waiting for you to snatch it up. You veer to the left and begin your smooth descent towards that bread. And just when it is two feet away, WHAM! You smash into an invisible wall and die a horrible death.

Anyways, that was an accurate metaphor for my first experience trying to learning Italian cuisine. I keep hearing Italian chefs talk about focusing on “simplicity” and “keeping things simple”. But as soon as you try out that “simple” recipe with the 5 ingredients it kicks you right in the balls and your own creation turns out nothing like it’s supposed to be. Both gnocchi and pesto are simple recipes with a short list of ingredients, yet if you wish to make them well, the procedures are thoroughly nuanced and difficult to master.

Ingredients

Most people try to spend as little time as possible cooking as much as possible. I spend as much time as possible cooking as little as possible, then microwave up a frozen pizza later to make up for the deficit. Something is wrong here.

Most people try to spend as little time as possible cooking as much as possible. I spend as much time as possible cooking as little as possible, then microwave up a frozen pizza later to make up for the deficit. Something is wrong here.

Prep + Wait time: 2-3 hours

Gnocchi recipe by Thomas Keller. Basil recipe from here.

Basil Pesto:

1 1/2 – 2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, loosely packed
~1 cup olive oil

Gnocchi:

2 lb russet potatoes (roughly 3.5 medium potatoes)*
1 tbsp salt
1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 egg yolks

*Russets are recommended by most recipes. They are the cheapest brown potatoes in American supermarkets. Yukon gold is an acceptable substitute.

A dough scraper is highly recommended for making gnocchi.

Cooking

Pre-heat your oven to 350F (175C). Pop your potatoes in for 1-2 hours, depending on size (2 hours for large, 1 hour for medium). Flip them every half-hour until thoroughly cooked. Crack 3 eggs and separate out the yolks. Leave the yolks outside to warm at room temperature. Meanwhile, make basil pesto.

We're in for some chop.

We’re in for some chop.

We are going to hand chop the basil pesto. Apparently it’s supposed to turn out with a better texture or whatever, but here is my personal reasoning about the process. Ideally, a sharp knife is sharper than a food processor’s blade, and will bruise the herb leaves less as it slices through the basil. Italians have a special moon-shaped knife called the [url=http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20121231130904/wowwiki/images/d/d9/Illidan.png]mezzaluna[/url] that allows you to easily slice through herbs with minimal bruisage. While you can replicate this process with a regular knife by rocking the knife through the herbs instead of chopping straight down, the process becomes extremely time consuming. Ultimately, bruising will occur and the basil itself will not be hugely improved from what comes out of a food processor.

This is, coincidentally, also how the Amish make pesto.

This is, coincidentally, also how the Amish make pesto.

In any case, ri0nse and pat dry your basil, and pick the leaves from the stems. Pile your ingredients into neat piles where you can access them easily. Start by chopping a third of your basil along with your garlic. When this is a fine mince, add a third of your pine nuts and continue chopping. Then, at approximate three minute intervals, add a third of your shaved parmesan, a third of the basil, another third of the pine nuts, then cheese, then basil, then the last of your pine nuts, and the last of the parmesan. Chop until you have a very fine mince on the last batch of pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

If you add urine it becomes pissto, a unique beverage favored by Bear Grylls.

If you add urine it becomes pissto, a unique beverage favored by Bear Grylls.

Add olive oil and mix. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Go play outside until the potatoes are done. When the potatoes are cooked, take them out of the oven. While hot, cut them in half and scoop out the insides onto a clean work surface. Ideally you want at least 4 square feet of work surface, or about 0.66 square meters. Mash the potatoes until they are lumpless, using a potato ricer if available. Make a ring with the hot potatoes and a well in the middle. Sprinkle half a cup of flour into the well. Dump onto the flour (NOT onto the hot potatoes! they will cook the yolks instantly) the three yolks, then the second half cup of flour on top of the yolks. Now, working as fast as possible, mix everything together into a homogenous mass. If you do it fast enough the dough will not be too sticky to work with, If it is very sticky, sprinkle flour around.

If you balk at the idea of using so many yolks, some recipes recommend using whole eggs. Try one and a half eggs as a substitute. Some people just can't take a yolk.

If you balk at the idea of using so many yolks, some recipes recommend using whole eggs. Try one and a half eggs as a substitute. Some people just can’t take a yolk.

Divide your dough into fourths. Sprinkle flour onto your work surface and prepare a sheet pan, either dusted with flour or lined with parchment paper. Roll a fourth of dough out into a long roll close to an inch thick, or about 2 cm. Use your dough scraper to divide the roll into sections of dough about 3/4 of an inch or 2 cm in length.

I'll show you a real tunnel snake.

I’ll show you a real tunnel snake.

Now to shape the gnocchi. I didn’t quite understand how to shape them while I made these gnocchi, but here is the proper way to shape them with a fork: Press the section of dough gently into the fork to flatten the gnocchi while creating an indentation on the reverse side, then roll the gnocchi into a roll shape with the indentation on the outside. They should look like tiny rolls with ridges on the outside.

Yeah thanks Youtube you were a real fucking help. I've been doing it wrong all this time. I AM A FAILURE!!! *Runs off a cliff*

Yeah thanks Youtube you were a real fucking help. I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. I AM A FAILURE!!! *Runs off a cliff*

Anyways, you are ready to cook! Bring a big pot of water to a boil, generously adding a large amount of salt and oil (1/3 of a cup of each per gallon of water or so). Place 2 tablespoons of butter into a non-stick pan, but do not turn on the heat yet. When the water comes to a boil, add the gnocchi to the water and turn on the heat to your pan at the same time. The gnocchi will take about 2 minutes to cook. When they float to the surface, wait 20 seconds and they are done. The butter in your pan should be nice and hot by then. Scoop the gnocchi out of the pot of water and into your pan. Saute, letting the gnocchi get nice and brown.

You can just serve after boiling, but this is just because Italians really aren't getting enough grease in their diet.

You can just serve after boiling, but this is just because Italians really aren’t getting enough grease in their diet.

When the gnocchi is nicely browned spoon some pesto onto them and mix together. Serve immediately.

The Result

Yeah motherfucker. Someone eating this might think you spent a summer vacationing in Italy or learning from an Italian grandmother, but only YOU know the truth. You sat on your ass and read this blog, like an unsung hero would.

Yeah motherfucker. Someone eating this might think you spent a summer vacationing in Italy or learning from an Italian grandmother, but only YOU know the truth. You sat on your ass and read this blog, like an unsung hero would.

People have described gnocchi as “light, fluffy pillows”, but that’s really too flattering. They’re kind of like… potato-y dumplings. Still, when fried up they are quite nice. Crispy on the outside, with a fluffy potato texture on the inside. The pesto adds a nice touch of aromatic flavor that brings it all together. Not the best dish ever, but certainly something nice to have tried and said that you have tried. Veni, vidi, vici.

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Borscht


Borscht! What an interesting dish, right? Whenever some TV cook pulls an exotic dish out of his or her ass, it usually comes off the tail of a trip to some foreign land where they acquired the taste for such dish, or maybe a recipe was handed down to them by a grandma of a friend who lived in said land for 87 years. Not me. I was sitting on my ass, as usual, browsing Wikipedia, and came across this.

Anyways, it’s not the journey that matters, it’s the result that makes you sit here and read this blog, right? Borscht is a healthy, hearty, easy soup made with red beets. Due to its diverse origins in about a dozen Eastern European countries, the ways to make borscht are near infinite. This is just one such variation that I’ve cobbled together from several recipes.

Ingredients

This is just most of the ingredients. Read the list for all of them. Or if you're feeling plucky, proceed blindly off of this picture alone. What's the matter, chicken?

This is just most of the ingredients. Read the list for all of them. Or if you’re feeling plucky, proceed blindly off of this picture alone. What’s the matter, chicken?

Total time: 1 1/2-4 hours
Serves 4-8

Beef Stock*:
~1 lb raw beef bones, tendons, etc.
1 yellow onion
1 carrot
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh or dried parsley
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Borscht:
4 cups beef stock
5 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 medium head of green cabbage
1 yellow onion
1 large carrot
3 medium beets**
3 medium or 4 small potatoes
salt
pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic
sour cream or fresh yogurt for garnish

*You notice that salt and pepper are not listed. Do not season your stocks so that they may remain a neutral ingredient when it comes to seasoning the actual dish. If you use store bought stock, you will have to take sodium into account. Use vegetable stock for a vegetarian and vegan version.
**With their leaves, if possible.

Cooking

We start with the beef stock. You can either buy the stock, or make it ahead of time. Heat up a tablespoon of oil in a pot and deposit your beef bones. Brown them for about 1-2 minutes on all sides.

The Necromancer from Diablo 2 would make a great soup cook.

The Necromancer from Diablo 2 would make a great soup cook.

Meanwhile, peel your carrot and onion and chop them into chunks. Deposit the chunks into the browned beef and cook until soft. Pour about 5-6 cups of water into the pot. Add thyme, rosemary, garlic, and parsley. Simmer for about two hours, then strain into a container. Either use immediately, refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze for long-term storage.

Some of you might be wondering sarcastically if this is a vegetable stock with a bit of beef or a beef stock. Well if you are wondering that, just remember that I'm way Soup Nazier than you are.

Some of you might be wondering sarcastically if this is a vegetable stock with a bit of beef or a beef stock. Well if you are wondering that, just remember that I’m way Soup Nazier than you are.

Now, when you are ready for the borscht, the borscht is ready for you! Chop your onions and carrots into similar sized slices. Saute them in oil until soft in your soup pot.

You can also add meat to your borscht, but I'm only using vegetables here. Beet your meat on your own time.

You can also add meat to your borscht, but I’m only using vegetables here. Beet your meat on your own time.

As the onions and carrots soften, peel and dice your potatoes. When the vegetables in the pot are soft, add your tomato paste. Stir to mix, then add your beef stock, garlic, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and add the potatoes. Simmer for five minutes.

If you make the soup with chicken instead you can call the soup

If you make the soup with chicken instead you can call the soup “the birds and the beets”.

While you were cooking your vegetables and waiting for the potatoes to cook, you should peel and shred your beets. You can shred by knife like I did, but it takes a longer period of time. Also chop your beet leaves into pieces and shred your cabbage.

If you put your beets into a box that's called beet boxing.

If you put your beets into a box that’s called beet boxing.

Dump all of your vegetables into the soup and simmer until tender, about 20-30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and add your vinegar. When the vegetables are as tender as you desire, turn the heat off. Roughly chop 3 tablespoons of parsley and stir them into the soup.

If you eat enough beets it'll turn your piss orange. Romantically speaking, it's like pissing a sunset.

If you eat enough beets it’ll turn your piss orange. Romantically speaking, it’s like pissing a sunset.

Serve the soup hot with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt. Garnish with parsley (or more authentically, dill).

Finished borsch. It looks almost like an aborschion in a pot. Probably how the name came to be.

Finished borsch. It looks almost like an aborschion in a pot. Probably how the name came to be.

 

The Result

Too many beet puns. At this point I'm really beeting a dead borsch.

Too many beet puns. At this point I’m really beeting a dead borsch.

Wow, this soup isn’t bad at all, even without meat. It is slightly sweet, with a rich meaty flavor from the beef stock. Some recipes ask you to add a bit of sugar or honey, but I think that sweetners will definitely push the soup over the edge. Be careful not to spill the soup on your shirt while eating though. That shit’ll never come off. Or, if you do live in an Eastern bloc country, it might feel like you’re being drenched in the blood of revolutionary patriots or something. Wear it outside proudly.

Confit Byaldi


Have you ever looked on Google images for pictures of confit byaldi? They all look somewhat sloppy and lopsided… except for Thomas Keller’s. His is beautiful, neat, and clean, like he chiseled it out of a fucking rainbow. When I started making this dish, I aimed to create something that is also beautiful, neat, and clean. But it turned out sloppy and lopsided like everyone else’s were. I simply wasn’t able to find vegetables of the same width to make the slices layer identically.

The lesson here is that as insane as I might be to try this shit and do it all by hand, master chefs are just slightly more insane in their drive for perfection, and their ability to be damned near perfect.

Confit Byaldi is the version of ratatouille that Thomas Keller invented for the movie “Ratatouille”. It is aesthetically the best looking ratatouille I’ve ever seen, and after having tasted it, it is also the best tasting version too.

Ingredients

Cheap immigrant labor? I’m an immigrant and I did it all for free.

Prep Time: ~4.5 hours

Serves 3-4

Piperade:

1/2 yellow pepper
1/2 red pepper
1/2 orange pepper
~3 medium sized tomatoes (12 oz, or 325g worth)
1 small clove of garlic
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig parsley
1/2 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste

Vegetables:

1 medium zuchini
1 medium yellow squash*
1 thin Japanese eggplant**
4-5 roma tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1/8 teaspoon thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil

*I’ve seen fuckers try to sound bourgeois and call them “courgettes”. Don’t be a wanker. Until you’re a chef standing in the kitchen of own restaurant they’re yellow squash.
**You want the long, thin Japanese eggplant, which may be difficult to find depending on where you live. Try to find an eggplant that is as similar in diameter to the squash and zuchini as you can.

Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon of piperade
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
salt
pepper

You will also need: A good knife or a mandolin. Mandolin is highly recommended for those who aren’t insane.

Assembly

Preparation starts with the piperade. Cut your peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and ribs from one half of each pepper. Lay them skins side up onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and bake at 450F (232C) for fifteen minutes.

Making this dish was like running my own sweat shop, except I’m the only worker.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil. Make small x-shaped incisions on the bottom of your tomatoes and drop them into the boiling water for 15 seconds. This will allow you to easily peel your tomatoes. Now remove the tomatoes from the water and peel them. Cut the tomatoes in half width-wise. Use a spoon, remove the seeds from each tomato over a plastic container. You want to keep the seeds, pulp, and juice that drips out. Finely chop your peeled and deseeded tomatoes.

Show those vegetables no mercy.

Peel your clove of garlic and mince that. Cut your onion in half and finely chop that also. Group the onions and garlic together and keep your tomatoes separate. At this point, your peppers may be done. Take them out of the oven and let them cool.

On the stove, pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a pan over medium heat. Dump your onions and garlic into the pan and cook for about 8 minutes. Let the onions and garlic soften but do not brown them (this means stirring the vegetables every 30 seconds or so). After 8 minutes, dump in your tomatoes and herbs. Pour in the juice from de-seeding the tomatoes but do not let any seeds get into the piperade. Keep the herbs in sprig form. You will be removing them later.

Ratatouille is French, but confit byaldi was invented by an American. USA! USA! USA!

Cook the tomatoes for about 10 minutes to soften, but do not brown. At this point in time the peppers should be cool enough to touch. Peel the peppers and finely dice them as well. Dump the peppers into the piperade after 10 minutes is up. Simmer for about another 5-10 minutes, until there is no excess moisture. Remove the herbs and add salt to taste.

Hundreds of years in a French kitchen one cook said to the other “What the fuck is this mush?” Then the other cook said “Mush? No. We will give it a fancy name… say “piperade” or something, and everyone will love it.”

Now you can start on the vegetables! You want to slice all the vegetables into 1/16th inch (or 1.5 millimeter) slices. You will need approximately 2/3 of a zuchini, eggplant, and yellow squash, and 4-5 tomatoes. Do try to slice them as thinly as possible, it gives a nice texture and appearance. Place your eggplant slices in a small container with lightly salted water to prevent them from browning.

Recipe invented by white people, vegetables picked by brown people, dish processed by yellow people. It’s an international collaboration.

Now, spread your piperade (reserve a few tablespoons for the vinaigrette) all over the bottom of a baking dish. Down the center, lay down 8 alternating slices of vegetables, approximately 1/4 inch apart.

The beginning of tedium. An activity so dull even my camera couldn’t maintain focus.

Continue laying down rounds of vegetables until your entire pan is covered in vegetables. Pre-heat your oven to 275F (135C). In a separate container, whisk together a clove of minced garlic, two tablespoons of olive oil, the thyme, and salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon of each for me). Spread this mixture over the vegetables.

You could try first placing the vegetables vertically, then pushing over the last slice so they fall like dominoes. I’ve never tried it.

Cover the baking pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 2 hours, or until the vegetables are tender (poke them with a knife. If the knife runs through easily, the vegetables are tender). At the end of 2 hours, uncover the pan and bake for half an hour more. Remove from oven.

But in the movie it took them only 3 seconds to make! Pixar you bastard!

As the dish cools, whisk together all the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Equal portions of olive oil to piperade, and 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar for every tablespoon of oil. You want about 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette per portion of ratatouille. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

The Result

The vegetarian version of escargot.

Why would you ever spend so much time making this? I dunno. It is pretty good though. The vegetables are very soft, in a melt-in-your-mouth kind of way. There is a ton of compressed flavor within the thin slices of vegetables. I would even venture to say that this is probably as good as it will ever get for vegetarians. But for the rest of us, there is MEAT. Yes, I could go for a nice steak right about now.

Conclusion

The making of this dish was inspired by immaculate beauty. The result was… not quite the same? In the similar way in which God made man and man tried to make man but ended up with Frankenstein. How many Frankensteins will I have to make until I can make man? I don’t know, but keep your eyes peeled for a flood of monsters, each slightly better looking than the last.

Fun with Eggs


…Specifically, eggs of the chicken. Most people will agree that chicken periods are considerably more palatable than human periods. Furthermore, they are cheaper. Requests for human egg donors in the classified section of newspapers often offer thousands of dollars for a single egg.

This blog entry isn’t as much about egg dishes as it is about what you can do with eggs. The first dish is a broccoli and tomato salad with home made mayonnaise. The second dish is a cherry clafoutis. Both dishes use eggs in a supporting role, but the eggs are critical enough that the dishes will not work without them.

If you hate eggs, this is not the blog for you. And shame on you for hating on eggs.

Module 1: Tomato and Broccoli Salad

Hullaballoo

What came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken, of course. Eggs can’t come.

Prep Time: ~30 minutes
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 lb broccoli
1 lb tomatoes
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1 tbsp salt

Mayonnaise

1 egg yolk
1/2 cup dijon mustard
2/3 cup oil*
1/2 tbsp salt**
1/4 tbsp pepper (white pepper if you want consistent coloring)
1 1/2 tbsp wine vinegar or lemon juice

*Typically you will want to use a neutral tasting oil. I used half olive oil and half vegetable (sunflower) oil. Pure olive oil will have too strong a flavor for making mayonnaise.

**I tend to under-salt my dressings and my food in general. You may wish to up this to a full tablespoon for the final salad.

Cooking

Bring about two quarts (2 liters) of water to a boil in a pot with 1 tablespoon of salt. Meanwhile, cut your broccoli into bite-sized pieces.

I bet you can’t spot the egg in this picture.

Blanch the broccoli (which means to cook something briefly in boiling water) for about a minute, keeping the heat on high. When you first put the broccoli into the water, it may cause the water to stop boiling. The water should come back to a rolling boil before the minute is up. This will quickly cook the broccoli until it is slightly tender, but the broccoli should still retain some of its crispiness.

Just kidding, there weren’t any eggs in the previous picture.

Lift your broccoli out of the water and let it cool in a colander. Do not dump the hot water yet. As the broccoli cool, you can start on your mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is quite easy to make, but also easy to screw up if you do not pay attention. Crack open an egg and separate the yolk and the white. Discard the white. Deposit the egg yolk in a medium sized bowl. Add the mustard. Mustard is a good emulsifier, which means it will help bind the oil to the egg yolk.

Salmonella? Never heard of her. Is she hot?

Whisk the mustard and the egg yolk together while holding the bowl over the hot water. You will want to bring the two to room temperature without overcooking the eggs, so check the bottom of your bowl every now and then to make sure that it is not too hot. Oftentimes mayonnaise recipes will tell you to use “room temperature eggs”, and this is the best and safest way to bring eggs to room temperature. Simply leaving egg outside for a few hours will “age” the egg significantly and it will be considerably less fresh than if you used the method described here.

Once the yolk and mustard mixture is well whisked and at room temperature, you are ready to make mayonnaise. Have your oil ready at hand and add ONLY a few drops to the yolk. The key to mayonnaise is to start adding oil very slowly. If you add oil too quickly, the mayonnaise will never form and you will have to restart.

The mayonnaise starts out yellow and becomes paler over time. As a Chinese living in the United States, that’s the story of my life right there.

Whisk the few drops of oil into the yolk until it is smooth and uniform. Add a bit more oil this time, and whisk the oil in. Continue to add oil, increasing the increments each time, and whisk the oil completely into the mayonnaise before continuing on.

Whisk until all the oil has been incorporated. Now you can season the mayonnaise. Add salt and pepper, and vinegar or lemon juice for acidity.

The primordial ooze of French cuisine

The time for salad assembly is now. Cut your tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Throw in parmesan and toss your vegetables together with the mayonnaise (add as much as you need). Serve right away, or refrigerate and serve chilled.

Vegetables just aren’t the same without a ton of fat drenched all over it.

Module 2: Cherry Clafoutis

A custard had sex with a flan once upon a time. The flan got pregnant and gave birth to the clafoutis.

Adapted from Julia Child’s recipe
Prep time: ~1 hour
Serves 3-4
Makes 1 8-inch cast-iron pan

2 cups ripe cherries*
5/6 cup milk (or part milk, part cream)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla eggstract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
butter, for buttering pan
1 tbsp powdered sugar

You will also need: a vessel which is both stove-top and oven-safe, such as a cast iron pan.

*The traditional dessert can be made with either apricots or cherries (pitted or not). I used unpitted bing cherries, which allegedly gives a more intense flavor. You can either pit the cherries, or use pitted canned cherries. Drain the canned cherries of syrup before use.

Cooking

A clafoutis is like a mix between a flan and a custard. It can be eaten either as a dessert or for breakfast. It is fast and easy to make. First, pre-heat your oven to 350F (175C) sift your flour into a bowl. Add eggs to the flour and mix together into a thick, yellowy batter.

Chopsticks, so named because they are excellent tools for chopping objects. If you disagree, it means your kungfu is weak.

Add sugar, mix thoroughly again, then add the milk slowly while mixing to avoid lumps. Add salt and finally vanilla extract. You should end up with a very thin batter.

If you stir 13 times counter-clockwise using your feet while doing a handstand underneath a ladder with a black cat as witness, a unicorn will appear and grant you one wish.

Prepare your cherries however you want them to end up in the clafoutis. Butter your pan. Turn the heat to medium on the stove top and place your pan on the stove. Pour a thin layer of batter into the pan, just enough to cover the bottom. Heat the bottom just enough for the layer to thicken slightly, then pull the pan from the heat. Place all of your cherries into the pan in a single layer and pour the rest of the batter into the pan.

This clafoutis just got clafruity.

Stick the clafoutis into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes. Check in at about 40 minutes. Once the edges are puffed and brown, and a knife stuck into the center comes out clean, the clafoutis is ready. Dust with powdered sugar and serve at room temperature.

Don’t forget to warn people about the cherry pits when you serve this to them, unless you secretly hate them.

Conclusion

Aren’t eggs useful? And not even in the impregnation/reproduction way either. Even when they are not the centerpiece, they serve as critical instruments that bind many dishes and sauces together. I like eggs, and so should you. Eggs are there to serve. They exist for your nourishment. Instead of beating your children or your wife, consider beating your eggs instead. You will discover that the results are much more desirable.

Caramel Quesadillas


Pull a dessert out of your ass, why doncha?

Don’t mind if I do. June is apparently a dessert month or something, since I’m doing a lot of these, and I don’t even have a pregnant wife or anything like that. At any rate, this time it is a dessert of my own concoction. The premise is simple: a sweet version of the quesadilla. I ran the idea past a friend of mine who is a pastry chef, and he said it sounded pretty good.

The idea is to mirror the savory quesadilla in its entirety. Toasted, crispy tortillas, gooey caramel in place of cheese, and roasted hazelnuts to complete the filling. On the side is a fruit version of pico de gallo, using fruits to reproduce the texture of your standard tomato and onion pico.

Ingredients

If it doesn’t have queso, is it still quesadilla?

Prep Time: ~1 hour
Serves 4-6

Tortilla:

4 medium-sized flour tortillas (about 6 inches diameter)
1/2 cup sugar + 1 tbsp for sprinkling
1/4 cup cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
3 oz hazelnuts toasted or roasted (about three dozen nuts or so?)

Pico de Gallo

1 medium sized Granny Smith apple*
2-3 dozen red seedless grapes**
1 tbsp fresh mint
2 tbsp honey
juice of 1/2 lime or 3 tbsp grapefruit juice***
1 kiwi (optional)
salt****
pepper****

*Or 1 1/2 small granny smith apples. Try to find apples that are as crisp and tart as possible.
**Red seedless grapes are the best because of their combination of sweetness and crispness. Their skin texture is tender and a good imitation of a tomato’s skin texture. You can also use plums, but make sure that they are very sweet and firm enough to be diced.
***I used lime juice, but grapefruit juice could add an interesting hint of bitterness
****You only need a tiny pinch of both, less than 1/4 of a teaspoon

Assembly

Pico de gallo becomes tastier over the passage of time as the flavors marinate together. Therefore, it is made first. Wash and assemble all the fruits. Dice the granny smith apple into roughly 1/4 inch (~3/4 cm) cubes.

Who is this Granny Smith, that people hated her so much they named the sourest fucking apple in existence after her wrinkled ass?

Follow it up by dicing your grapes into quarters. The work might seem tedious, but it is necessary to make sure the grape pieces are as close to the apple pieces in size as possible. Put both fruits into the same container.

What did Granny Smith do, pour acid on her grandchildren as a form of punishment?

If you have a kiwifruit, dice that as well and dump it into the container. Pick out a tablespoon or so’s worth of mint and slice it into fine strips. Put everything into one container, add salt, pepper, honey, and juice. Toss everything together and refrigerate for the moment.

I guess if you have grapples you can just use those instead of grapes and apples.

Now it is time to make the caramel. Measure out your sugar and place it in a heavy bottomed pan (not a non-stick one! you will ruin your nonstick pan). A lot of caramel recipes tell you to add water, but that isn’t really necessary. Simply keep an eye out on your caramel as it melts. You can stir it around, but not too much as that will form lumps.

I’ve found a way to turn white into brown! But Michael Jackson is unfortunately dead.

In a separate pot, bring your cream to the boiling point. Add vanilla extract and salt to the cream. Let the sugar melt until it is a deep amber but not brown color. Take the caramelized sugar off the heat. Stir it around to prevent it from solidifying, then pour the boiling cream into the sugar while constantly stirring. Ideally no lumps will form and you get your caramel sauce. However, if lumps do form, you will have to put the sauce back on low heat and stir until the lumps go away. At the end of the process you should have this:

Never lick melted sugar until it is completely cool, unless you wish to intimately discover how cooked human tongue tastes like.

At this time you are almost ready to move onto the tortillas themselves. Bring out your hazelnuts. If they are not already toasted yet, toast them (a small toaster oven is the easiest and most efficient. You can also do it in the conventional oven, or over the stove. Make sure you do not burn the hazelnuts if you use the stove).

Pre-heat your oven to 400F and set it to broil. Prepare a sheet pan by covering it with parchment paper. Place two rounds of tortillas onto the pan. Take a knife and stab a bunch of pinpricks into each tortilla. This will prevent air pockets from expanding and ruining the shape of your tortillas as you toast them. Butter each tortilla on one side only and sprinkle sugar all over the buttered side.

These two tortillas are the most Mexican part of this dish that you will see, so savor the moment.

Broil each tortilla for approximately 5 minutes or so. I say approximately because the tortillas can go from completely white to thoroughly burnt within the span of thirty seconds, so you should start checking them at around 3 minutes. As soon as some parts of the tortillas start becoming dark brown, remove them from the oven.

When they are reasonably cooled, turn them over and spread the caramel sauce on the untoasted sides of both tortillas. Sprinkle one of the rounds with your crushed hazelnuts. Place one tortilla over the other to form the quesadilla.

If you didn’t turn your tongue into a slab of well-done meat by tasting the caramel while it was hot, you’ll probably enjoy what is about to come a lot more.

Serve the quesadillas while they are fresh alongside the pico de gallo.

The Result

This one is dedicated to all the vegetarians out there. So you can all get diabetes faster MUAHAHAHA

It’s pretty good. The first time I made this dessert I used plums instead of grapes, but I find that grapes are superior due to their tenderer skin and their sweeter flavor. Both parts of the dessert can be eaten separately or together.  The tortilla is a bit chewy, so the dessert is not for those with bad teeth. Where is the sour cream you ask? Well, you can use whipped cream or ice cream to replace sour cream for this dessert. I did not do it because I never liked sour cream anyways.

Conclusion

What is with all these desserts? I have no idea. They just keep popping into my mind so I make them. I think this one turned out rather well, but I don’t exactly have a large number of people to back me up on that, so you’re just going to have to make this one yourself. Tell me how it turns out, and if you have suggestions for improvement, tell me about it as well.

Mac N’ Cheese


Good old macaroni and cheese. From my personal experience, it was a staple elementary school cafeteria dish, usually served as a mess of congealed macaronis stewing in a puddle of melted processed cheese. When I moved on to middle and high school, I tried to recaptured that nostalgia with 25 cent packs of Easy Mac, which somehow managed to taste even crappier with its faux cheddar tang (that tasted nothing like cheddar) and unnatural orange coloring. The venerable mac n’ cheese is one of the most iconic and yet most bastardized of American comfort foods.

Here is a basic recipe for real macaroni and cheese. Nothing fancy, nothing difficult. From this recipe endless modifications can be made, to spawn as many variations of baked pasta as you would like (but not lasagna, which is something different). If, like me, it has been a while since you have had macaroni and cheese, this is a good dish to try.

Ingredients

Such lucious breasts you missed out on.

What? Real cheese? Preposterous. But the dish is called "macaroni and cheese", not "macaroni and processed cheese product (now with real milk!)".

Cooking time: ~1 hour

8 oz dried macaroni*
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
milk**
bread crumbs***
2 cups cheddar****
salt
pepper
nutmeg

You will also need: A pan, a pot for pasta, and an oven-safe vessel which will be the ultimate resting ground for your finished dish.

*Many varieties of pasta can be used, really. I’ve even seen linguini cut into small pieces to make this.
**You need at least 1 1/2 cups, so make sure your milk carton/bag/jug isn’t almost empty.
***You can buy them or make your own. Method for making own bread crumbs is shown below.
****Fancier recipes call for a mixture of cheddar and gruyere, and possibly some goat cheese. I decided to forgo gruyere since it is quite expensive in the US.

Cooking

First, let’s start with the breadcrumbs. If you have store-bought breadcrumbs you can skip this part. Some weeks ago when I first conceptualized this blog I intended to make baguettes ahead of time to make breadcrumbs, but that didn’t happen for various reasons.

All you need is a baking sheet, aluminum foil if you need it, and a few slices of bread. White bread is preferred so you can make white breadcrumbs, which are useful mainly due to their ability to turn various shades of golden and brown to indicate doneness (or burnt-ness). I only had store-bought wheat bread, which makes it much more difficult to tell doneness, but whatever. Place a single layer of bread slices onto your sheet and toast in the oven at 250F (120C) for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until bread is completely crisp and dry. You may need to turn the bread a few times through the process.

Oh look! The same photo from the cheesecake entry! Just kidding it's wheat breadcrumbs. Or is it?

Once the bread is toasted, toss either into a food processor or a zip-loc bag and crush until into tiny bits (but not powder, which is too fine). If you are going the zip-loc route I highly advise actually using a zip-loc type bag, which are quite sturdy. I’ve tried doing the crushing in various other ghetto plastic bag, including the bread bag that the original loaf came in, but all of those bags tend to tear rather easily. So don’t do that.

To the finished breadcrumbs you can add a variety of herbs and spices which are purely optional. I added some black pepper, basil, parsley, and garlic powder. Onto the main dish.

Prep work comes first. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the macaroni. Meanwhile, shred either with a grater or a knife about 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese.

Picture of shredded cheese for the uninitiated, and people from Kazakhstan.

Melt your butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Sprinkle all of your flour over the melted butter and mix around for a few minutes. Try not to let the concoction brown. If it is starting to turn brown, turn down the heat and move on to the next step, which is…

"I'M MELTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINGGGGGG!!!!! AHHHHH!!!" "SO AM IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!!" Was what the butter squares said to each other.

…adding milk to your roux. Some recipes recommend adding room-temperature milk to avoid lumps or some shit like that, but cold milk is just fine if you add it slowly while whisking until each bit of milk you pour into the pan is absorbed by the roux. You’ll end up with a nice thick shiny sauce.

AKA Bechamel sauce, which was invented by the French so they had something white to surrender with at all times, even when cooking.

Now is a good time to season your sauce. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste, but keep in mind that cheddar also has salt content. At this point your water is probably near or at boiling. Pre-heat your oven to 350F (176C, or probably 180 on your oven dial).

Add macaroni to your boiling salted water. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until they are just short of al-dente. Turn the heat off for your milk sauce. Add all but 1/2 cup of cheese to your sauce and stir incorporate. Save this 1/2 cup of your cheddar for later.

Sorry, I just can't help but make fun of France whenever it comes up. They're kind of like Canada in that way. Except when you make fun of Canada fewer people get offended.

Drain your cooked macaroni and fold it into your sauce. It probably looks like a lot of sauce at first (about 1:1 volume ratio between sauce and pasta), but it’s perfectly fine. Deposit all of this sauce/macaroni amalgamation into your oven-safe vessel. Sprinkle your remaining cheddar cheese on top and top off with a layer of breadcrumbs. Stick this into the oven for 30 minutes.

This would look a lot less brown if the breadcrumbs were white and not wheat. In other words, it's not burnt.

After 30 minutes have elapsed remove your pan from the oven. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

The Result

If you were French, you could eat the top part and surrender with the bottom part. LAWL.

4.6 / 5 These ratings are just getting more and more arbitrary. It tastes good. Crispy topping, gooey cheese, pasta with creamy sauce. If you’re not someone who likes cooking you might take a look at this and think, “who could even bother to make this souped up version of mac n’ cheese? It’s ridiculous”. But in reality once you’ve made mac n’ cheese this way, you’ll realize that this is how mac n’ cheese is meant to be. It’s not souped up at all, and anything less is just some bullshit that is only fit to be fed to young children in shitty American elementary school cafeterias.

Conclusion

Have you ever felt that feeling where you’re writing a rather long piece, and somewhere in the middle you realize that you’re slowly running out of steam? Your writing turns to crap and you lose the inspiration to keep churning out interesting sentences. That’s what happened with this conclusion.

Anyways I apologize for not writing these blogs as often as I’d like. Oftentimes ideas come up but I didn’t have ingredients, or sometimes I try to alter a recipe to use cheaper, different ingredients only to have the result come up sub-par. I do usually have at least 3-4 ideas floating around at all times, so each blog is a combination of luck with ingredients, time constraints, and my own limited skill. Happy cooking.

Cheesecake II


Hello gentle readers, it’s been a while. This hiatus wasn’t intentional. Blogs and dishes were planned… beautiful plans. But the stars of the universe fell out of alignment and re-arranged themselves into the “FUCK YOU” constellation. I got sick. I injured my wrists. Life sucked.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

The only hope laid in a single block of cream cheese left in the refrigerator. It was time for the return of the cheese cake. This time I know how to make it right. And as always, there is a twist to the theme: a fusion dessert between a cheese cake and an apple crisp. Cinnamon crust, creamy vanilla cheese cake filling, spiced apple topping. It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I’m health conscious so I chose to chew sugar-free Trident gum instead.
Ingredients

No spread this time, so you're just going to have to reverse engineer the ingredients from this photo instead. Good luck.

Total Time: 3-8 hours (depending on how you’re counting)

Crust:

20 squares of graham crackers, crushed
6 tbsp rolled oats*
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp butter/margarine, melted
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon

*Do not used instant oats. Rolled oats may also be known as old-fashioned oats.

Filling:

One 8 oz block cream cheese, room temperature*
8 tbsp sour cream, room temperature
6 tbsp white granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, with yolks and whites separated, room temperature**
2 tbsp cream or half-and-half***
1 tsp vanilla extract

*Allow 3-4 hours at least to bring these ingredients to room temperature.
**This isn’t essential, but I’m told by TL poster fire_brand that it results in a lighter filling.
***This also isn’t essential, but makes beating eggs easier.

Topping:

2 medium crisp apples, such as Fuji or Granny Smith
Juice of 1/2 lemon or 1/2 orange
3 tbsp brown sugar*
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tbsp flour
6 tbsp of water, as needed**
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

*This is for Fuji apples. You may need 4-5 tablespoons of sugar for a tart apple such as Granny Smith.
**More or less, depending on desired thickness of sauce.

You will also need: A (preferably two) muffin tin mold, at least two somewhat large bowls, a small pot, among other things.

Cooking

We begin with the filling. Take your pieces of graham crackers and stick them into a sturdy bag, such as that of the Zip-loc variety. Then either using your fingers or some other implement, crush the graham crackers into tiny bits. You can also beat them into submission with a rolling pin if you are feeling particularly violent.

If you have a bomb shelter, simply place the crackers in a small pile in the center of the bomb shelter, toss a grenade into the bomb shelter, and close the door. Let the grenade do the work.

In a separate container, melt the butter. You can do this in a microwave by microwaving at 5 second intervals and swishing the melted butter around until everything is melted. Add your tiny graham cracker bits and all the other ingredients.

This flour looks like cocaine cut with feta cheese. But it's flour. Really.

Mix thoroughly. Preheat your oven to 300F (150C). Butter your muffin tin and spoon about 3 tablespoons of this mixture into each mold. Using a spoon or a small butter bowl (what I used), press the mixture into a hollow bowl shape against the sides of the mold.

Possibly the most annoying step in making mini-cheesecakes. A lot less annoying with practice, but still annoying.

Bake these crusts by themselves for 7 minutes. Meanwhile, onto the filling! You can use a mixer or do the filling by hand. Making the filling by hand is obviously more difficult but not impossible, especially if the ingredients are softened at room temperature. Measure out 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup of sour cream into a bowl. Mix this by itself for a bit so that you coat your bowl with sour cream, which will prevent cream cheese from sticking to the sides of your bowl. Dump your block of sour cream into the midst of sour cream, and mash everything together.

White-on-white dairy product action. What luck, to not be born lactose intolerant!

Somewhere along the line, when sour cream and cream cheese have intertwined themselves into a near congruous mass, add sugar. The sugar will lighten and somewhat fluff up this mixture. While you are doing the mixing, especially by hand, your blind-baked crusts may be ready. Remove them from the oven. If at this time your filling mixture is already done, do not pour it into the molds right away! Let the molds sit for at least 5 minutes to cool down, or it will instantly cook the part of the filling that touches it, and you will receive the game-over screen have a disaster-flavored cheese cake, which doesn’t taste very good.

I know I listed "cream" on the ingredient list, but your mother just happened by, and I noticed she was lactating... two for two, yeah?

Now prepare (or add to your cream cheese/sour cream mixture) your beaten, separated egg yolks and egg white. You can add a bit of half-and-half or cream to the egg parts at this time to make it easier to beat. Add the eggs, salt, and vanilla extract to your filling. Mix everything until smooth.

I was kidding about the above image caption. The flavor of this cheesecake would be totally ruined if I added sour milk. MUHAHAHA

While you are doing all this, you will want to reduce the oven temperature to 250F (120C) and prepare a pan filled partially with water as a water bath. Filling your muffin molds to the brim with cheese cake filling. Bake for about 25 minutes.

Okay, I was kidding about the above comment also. I'm sure your mother is a very nice woman. And if she smacked you while you were young, well, you deserved it.

After 25 minutes, check your cheese cake. It should still appear soft, but solid. At this time turn off your oven heat and leave the door open for about a minute. Then, close the door and leave the cheesecakes in the oven for another hour. This will let the cheesecakes finish cooking to perfection.

Meanwhile, you can start on your spiced apple topping! First juice your lemon/orange into a container. This is so you can dunk your apple pieces into the juice as soon as they are chopped to prevent oxidation (browning). Peel and core your apples.

Have you seen how Sakai peels his apples on Iron Chef? He uses his chef knife, does it 3x faster than I do it with the small knife which is what most people use, it's fucking ridiculous.

Chop them into bite-sized pieces (preferably 1/2 inch, or even smaller than what I have chopped here). Dump them into the citrus juice and toss them around. Add all the spices, flour, salt, and sugar. Mix together. Chill for at least half an hour to marinate.

When people call other people the apple of their eye, I wonder if they think of all the terrible things we do to apples that involve sharp objects or intolerable heat levels.

Take your apples out of the refrigerator. Cook your apples over medium heat until the sauce starts to thicken, then add as much water as needed to thin out the sauce and partially cover most of the apple pieces. Once the liquid comes to a boil, bring the heat down to low. Put a lid over your apples and simmer them for 8 minutes or so. The steam will cook through your apples. Add water as necessary.

Let me just say here that apple sauce tastes like shit. Apples have nice texture as well as nice flavor. It's like bacon in that way. Would you puree bacon into bacon sauce? Of course not, you lose the crispy texture. Don't fucking puree your apples and make it into mush.

Once the apples are cooked to your desired texture remove them from the heat and set aside. At this point in time your cheesecakes may have finished cooking. Deposit them into the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour. If, like me, you have only a single muffin tin, you may move onto making your second batch of cheese cakes. Otherwise, top your chilled cheesecakes with your spice apples and enjoy.

The Result

Cheese, or cake? Cheese, or cake? For millenia have men struggled to answer this question. But now, you can have both at the same time.

4.9 / 5  Cheesecakes are one of those things that take a long time to make, but the procedure is rather easy and fool-proof to producing a great tasting product. It is also flexible enough to allow for easy experimentation. In this case, apple crisp cheese cake. Apples are one of the cheapest fruits in the United States, next to bananas, navel oranges, and occasionally grapefruit. To work them into a cheesecake is a natural step in the logic of a budget cook. If you have most of these ingredients in your house, consider investing in a bit of cream cheese and sour cream to make this dessert. You won’t regret it.

Conclusion

…Thus man and cake were united, first at the lips, then through the esophagus, and then into a bath of hydrochloric acid, then…. the tale doesn’t end happily every after and becomes a bit disgusting. Well, at least the beginning of the tale is deliciously sweet. And what more can you ask for? We’re born with taste buds on the tongue and not around the rectum for a reason. The end. Happy cooking!

Cheesecake & How to Learn to Cook


When I first started learning how to make pastries, I promised myself that I would make cheesecakes if strawberries ever went on sale. Well, here it is.

In previous installments of Food in Mind, I have always presented an item, its ingredients, and the cooking process. For this installment, however, my main goal is to share the learning process of how I approach learning to cook a new dish. I will do this using this attempt at making cheesecake as an example.

In a Day9 Daily-esque fashion, this blog will detail my research and thinking process during my first attempt to make cheesecake. Total time for prep, cooking, and waiting is about 4-5 hours.

Step One: The Idea

The first step to learning to cook is to picture in your mind how you wish for the dish to turn out. This is much easier if you are trying to learn to cook a dish you’ve eaten before. You should try be as specific as possible when you attempt to identify all of the salient features of the finished dish that you wish it to have: the taste and texture of the various components, which ingredients you might need, the effect you are trying to achieve with the combined ingredients, and the colors and smells your finished dish will have.

You missed out bro

I first tried blending cheddar cheese and a regular cake together in a blender, but that didn't work.

When I first tried to make bread pudding, I had never tasted bread pudding in my life, so it was a blind venture where I had to first simply follow a recipe I found online just to find out what it might look and taste like. Fortunately, I have had cheesecake a few times in my life. For my first attempt, I wanted to make something simple: a classic cheesecake flavored with vanilla, a golden graham cracker crust, and topped with a bright red strawberry sauce. Three isolated components, none of which I have ever made before.

Step Two: The Research

When you are truly trying to learn a dish, simply finding and following a recipe is not enough. You must dig deep into the components to find out why each ingredient is used, and what effect do these ingredients have in the dish. There are many, many cheesecake recipes out there, each with their own slight differences in ingredients. It is important to identify these differences.

First, I googled around and read through a bunch of recipes. Be careful when you look for recipes online! There are many sites where your average cook can post their own recipes which often contain errors or things you are not supposed to do. Even on Youtube there are hundreds of cooks far worse than I am skill-wise who confidently put up video walkthroughs for dishes when they in fact have no idea what they are doing. Generally, recipes posted on Food Network are decent, since they are crafted by established cooks and chefs. I have also recently come across the food blog Smitten Kitchen, where all the recipes, underneath layers of housewife babbling, reveal very lucid descriptions of the cook’s reasoning process behind her cooking procedure and choice of ingredients. Finally, Good Eats has hundreds of episodes uploaded on Youtube, which is always a good source of knowledge for whatever you may want to cook.

Ultimately I reduced by search down to four main recipe sources which I found most helpful:
http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/01/key-lime-cheesecake/
http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/04/new-york-cheesecake/

http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/perfect_cheesecake/
And of course,

From these four sources I could craft a recipe that meets my own needs for all three components of my cheesecake: a graham cracker crust, strawberry compote, and cheesecake filling. Of course, I still lacked a proper pie tin, so I will be falling back on that old muffin tin to make mini-cheesecakes. I will have to guestimate the bake timings and temperatures for my cooking process.

Step Three: Planning the Ingredients

Who the fuck ever came up with the phrase "when life gives you lemons"? Lemons are fucking expensive, nobody's going to give anybody fucking lemons. See that half-grapefruit there? That's lemon substitute. At 3 for a dollar they're about six times cheaper than lemons.

Here is the ingredients list I compiled, and my reasoning for them below:

Crust:

16 graham cracker squares, crushed*
3 tbsp butter**
1 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt

*You need about 32 squares for a full-sized cheesecake crust. But since I’m using a muffin tin, I estimated I only needed half. Also, no parchment paper is involved, since I plan to “wall off” the filling from the muffin tin using the crust.
**5 tbsp for standard crust. Again, this number is adjusted for my muffin tin.

Filling:

8 oz (one block) of cream cheese*
8 tbsp (1/4 cup) of sour cream**
6 tbsp sugar
salt
1 egg + 1 egg yolk***
vanilla extract
1 tbsp flour****
1 tsp vanilla extract

*You need anywhere between two to five blocks of cream cheese for a full-sized cheese cake, depending on the recipe. The reduced amount takes into account the reduced amount of filling muffin mold crusts can hold.
**New York style cheesecakes do not use sour cream, but many other recipes do. Sour cream makes for a lighter, tangier filling. Exactly what I am looking for.
***You need about three eggs to three eggs plus five yolks for a standard cheese cake, depending on the recipe.
****Some recipes call for flour, some do not. Some also call for heavy cream. Since I did not have heavy cream but did have flour, I decided to add some to see what happens. It wasn’t until later that I learned what purpose flour serves in cheesecakes; more on that below.

Strawberry Compote:

1 cup fresh strawberries, diced
juice of 1 lemon OR 1/2 grapefruit*
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt

*Lemon juice is traditional. The acid is supposed to prevent sugar from re-crystalizing after melting. At first I was afraid that the fragrance of grapefruit juice would overpower the strawberries, but that did not happen.

Step Four: Planning the Execution

The ingredients list has been assembled. Now is the time to plan how the cheesecake will be made. No detail is too small to be unaccounted for. From a combination of the four source recipes, here is the amalgamated process:

Crust:

And so I says to the terrified graham cracker, I will crust you with my bare hands.

Graham cracker crusts are very common among cheese cake recipes. They are generally a mix of graham crackers, melted butter, and a little sugar. I added a pinch of salt because salt adds a nice balance to sweet things.

First I stuck all the graham crackers into a ziploc bag and crushed them into small pieces with my hands. You do not need the pieces to be as small for a full-sized cheesecake; but for mini-cheesecakes, the pieces of crust must be smaller.

Then, I combined the crushed graham crackers with melted butter, salt, and sugar, and mixed everything together. Do not worry if the crumbs appear to be dry when all the butter is absorbed; all is as it should be.

Construction in progress, wear a hardhat.

I preheated the oven to 300F. Meanwhile, I took out my muffin tin and lightly buttered the insides. I poured about 3 tablespoons of crumbs into each mold and used a tiny butter bowl to press the crumbs into the sides of the bowl. This was more difficult than anticipated, since the crumbs preferred to stick to the small bowl than the sides of the muffin pan. I was worried that the crust would simply fall apart during the blind baking process.

Once the oven reached target temperature, I blind baked the crusts for 8 minutes, which is 2 minutes shorter than the time it takes to blind bake a full-sized cheesecake crust. The graham cracker crusts came out golden and perfect.

Murphy’s law states if I don’t fuck up here, I’ll definitely fuck up somewhere later on.

Filling

Here’s the tricky part. As someone who has only tasted cream cheese and sour cream maybe only once or twice in my entire life, I am far from comfortable with the ingredients required for the filling. All recipes I found online called for the use of a mixer to combine sour cream and cream cheese; I have a plastic container, some forks, and some spoons.

First, as per instructions from Good Eats, I measured out the sour cream and spread it around the container to prevent the impending arrival of cream cheese from sticking to the walls. Then, I put the cream cheese in…. and discovered why people recommended using a mixer. Mashing cream cheese into sour cream is fucking hard work. Oh well, time to lose some calories since I’ll soon be gaining a lot of it. Using a combination of fork and spoon, I slowly worked the cream cheese into the sour cream, and added sugar and salt and flour.

In a separate container, I beat together an egg and an egg yolk with some vanilla extract and just a splash of milk to aid the beating process. I then dumped this mixture into the sour cream/cream cheese mixture.

The most unappetizing photos of food before it's cooked, just for you.

Everything eventually came together nice and smoothly, except there were still small lumps of cream cheese within the mixture. I found out later from here that the cream cheese must be at room temperature before you use it in order to prevent lumps. It just shows that some things you’ll only learn by doing, and not from reading alone.

When I removed the crust from the oven, I reduced the temperature down to 250F, and placed a pan full of water into the oven. I planned to cook the cheesecake in a water bath as per Good Eats’ instructions. Meanwhile, I let the crust cook for a few minutes before spooning my filling into each crust. I then lifted the muffin tin about an inch off the tabletop and let it drop a few times to even out the filling and let the air bubbles surface from the filling. Then, I put the cheesecakes into the water bath. My estimated reduced cooking time for mini-cheesecakes was about 45 minutes; I checked first at 35 minutes, and the filling had already solidified, which signified slight overcooking, but there were no cracks on the top of my cheesecakes, which meant I was still doing okay.

Cheesecakes, in your future is only death, destruction, and the gnashing of teeth.

I shut off the heat for the oven and left the oven door open for a minute after baking, then closed it with the cheesecakes inside for another hour. This is the process of gently letting a water-bath baked cheesecake finish cooking. Once the hour is up, I chilled the cheesecakes in the refrigerator for another hour. Onto the compote.

Strawberry Compote

Some of the red pieces might have been the spleens of small children.

Finally we come to the easiest part. I combined diced strawberries, sugar, grapefruit juice, and salt in a small pot over medium heat. Then I simmered everything until the sugar was melted and enough water evaporated to create a glossy, slightly thickened sauce, which took about half an hour. Then I shut down the heat and let the sauce cool.

Step Five: Assembly, Consumption, and Post-Mortem

Can't believe you missed this picture, brah.

Urgh, at this time of writing I've already eaten three of these things trying to get a decent photo.

I ran a knife around the edge of each cake and removed them from the muffin molds. Just before serving, I topped them with the strawberry compote. They came out pretty good, despite all the small mistakes I’ve made along the way. But you can be sure that the next time I make cheese cakes, they will turn out even better.

Here are the things that I will take note of the next time I make cheesecake:

-Bring sour cream and cream cheese to room temperature before mixing.
-For water bath cheese cakes, no flour is needed.
-I should start checking mini-cheese cakes at about 25 minutes.

A relatively short list overall, thanks to all the research done ahead of time. Through this single process of making cheesecakes, and in taking the time to read through multiple recipes, I have gathered all the information I need to create fantastic cheesecakes of any type I wish in the future.

Conclusion

Thus concludes this demonstration of my approach to learning how to cook. I hope this will help some of the readers who are also serious about learning how to cook, and learning how to cook well. The general steps are to 1) construct a clear idea in your head of what you want the dish to be like, 2) do research on various recipes for the dish, 3) craft your own recipe based on these other recipes, 4) plan your ingredients and execution), 5) follow through on your plan, and 6) analyze what you have learned after the cooking process.

The next installment will return Food in Mind to its regularly scheduled programming of how to make random food items from whatever ingredients I have on hand.

Corn Bread and Ratatouille


It’s not easy being an ultra-cheap cook. Your ingredient options are limited, and you must always keep your eyes peeled for things that can be nabbed while on sale. But the cool thing is that every once in a while all the stars will align, and you just happen to have all the ingredients for some particular dish.

As a general rule, I almost never buy vegetables that cost over $1.00 per pound, and I never buy meat that costs over $2.00 per pound (not that I buy much meat anyways). But in the past week… asparagus for $0.99 per pound? Fuck yes please. And tomatoes were on sale too. And eggplant. And green peppers. Ratatouille instantly came to mind. Yellow squash and zuchini not on sale? Fuck them then, I like asparagus better anyways. It’s time to make some real food.

NOTE: If you are planning to make both items concurrently I recommend making the ratatouille first and corn bread second. Ratatouille is good at all temperatures (and increases in flavor as time progresses) but corn bread is at its peak hot from the oven.

Operation 1: Corn Bread

Deliciousness is just around the corn-er. The corn-iness is just beginning.

For the uninitiated (by which I mean the international readers), corn bread is a quick-bread made using a mixture of regular flour and cornmeal. The cornmeal adds a yellow hue to the resulting bread and creates an intriguing and wonderful gritty texture that must be experienced to be understood.

Total Time: 30-45 min

Ingredients

This is for six muffins. Double for an 8-inch pan.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted*
1/2 cup cornmeal*
5/8 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp white granulated sugar**
2 tbsp butter/margarine, melted

*This is very important! I know for most other batters there are ways to make a lumpless batter without sifting, but for corn bread sifting is essential. More on this later.
**The cornmeal-to-flour ratio can be adjusted to taste as long as the total sum of dried ingredients comes out to one cup. More cornmeal produces a more pronounced corn texture. Since cornmeal is more expensive that normal flour, this is a good balance between texture and cost.
***Honey is also wonderful here. Sugar quantity can be adjusted to taste; add one more tablespoon if you are making sweet cornbread or muffins.

Cooking

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Meanwhile, mix together all the dry ingredients (sifted flour, corn meal, salt, sugar, baking powder) in one container. Beat egg and milk together in another container. Melt the butter in a small bowl and set aside.

I don't actually own a sieve (yet) so I sifted the flour with a fork. No tool, no problem.

Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. The key to good cornbread is to stir the batter as little as possible, hence sifting the flour beforehand to reduce lumpage.

Once the oven has reached temperature. Stick your empty muffin tin into the hot oven for about 30 seconds. Remove from the oven, then add enough melted butter to cover the bottom of each muffin mold. Return the mold into the oven for about fifteen seconds to heat the butter.

Take the mold out of the oven yet again, and fill each mold up about 3/4 full with batter. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean. Do not worry about the edges browning. Cornmeal browns faster than regular flour and creates a fantastic crispy crust. If you are using an 8-inch pan with twice the ingredients, bake for about 25 minutes, but start checking a bit earlier.

Would you call this... food cornography? Except for that muffin tumor growing over there...

Cool muffins for at least two minutes before removing from mold. Serve immediately if possible.

Operation 2: Ratatouille

Ingredients as far as the eyes can see. Up to the wall. The wall is not a part of this dish.

Total Time: 45 min – 1 hour

Ingredients (for 2-3 servings)

1 green pepper
1 medium onion
8-9 asparagus spears*
4 roma tomatoes or 2 regular tomatoes
1/2 eggplant
2 tbsp vegetable oil
parsley
basil
thyme
garlic (or garlic powder)**
salt
black pepper

*Traditional ratatouille calls for yellow squash and zuchini. For this specific ratatouille recipe the cook times for yellow squash/zuchini and asparagus are about the same. This is a faster version of “real” ratatouille, which takes a few hours to make. One day I definitely will make (and blog) the traditional French recipe.
**All herbs can be fresh or dried. Dried is obviously cheaper.

Cooking

Slice your medium onion into strips. Chop asparagus into roughly 3/4 inch pieces. Cut tomatoes, green peppers, and eggplant into 3/4 inch pieces as well.

Over medium heat, saute onions in oil until they are soft and slightly browned on the edges.

Megan Fox making out with Scarlett Johansen

Onions making you cry? Just rip out your tear glands. Problem solved.

Add eggplant, salt and black pepper, garlic powder, and thyme. As you may have noticed by now, we are going to add the vegetables individually with respect to their cook times. I personally find it easier to also add salt in increments to taste with each new addition of vegetables.

Cook the eggplant with onions for 7-8 minutes, or until the eggplant is starting to be softened on the outside. Add the asparagus, green peppers, and basil. Fold everything together and cook for another 7-8 minutes. Asparagus and green peppers generally cook fast in dishes such as stir fries. However, ratatouille calls for a softer consistency. Undercooking the green peppers will result in a bitter taste which you do not want.

Look at this healthy shit. A bowl of this is the real-life equivalent of a Mega-health in Quake.

Once the green peppers and asparagus are nice and tender, add the tomatoes and basil. Cook until the tomatoes are at your desired softness. For me, it’s about another 7-8 minutes.

Ratatouille can be served at all temperatures. Tastes even better the next day.

The Result

By our powers combined... CAPTAIN PLA- err I mean, corn bread and ratatouille!

4.7 / 5 Tasty and healthy? Well, at least the ratatouille part is healthy. It still bothers me a bit now that I’ve stumbled upon the proper way to make ratatouille that this isn’t it, but getting to it is only a matter of time.

Conclusion

Corn bread is an invention of the South, more properly the south-east region of the United States. It is usually consumed with a thick hearty chili, but unfortunately my beans are still dry (that sounds completely wrong in hindsight) and I forgot to soak them. Ratatouille is a rustic French dish. The two items pair together rather well, although not as well as chili and corn bread. Technically, I have written a blog entry on chili, although it could use some updating. Digressions aside, both of these items are fucking good and if you have some spare time, you should give them a shot.

Carrot Cake


“Let them eat cake”. These words are famously (and falsely, according to scholars) attributed to Marie Antoinette when she was told that the peasants of France did not have bread to eat.

Well. I’m not starving, but I am pretty ghetto. Such is the state of the world today, when even the poor can eat cake. Carrot cake, specifically. Perhaps if Marie Antoinette were alive today her words would only have been a political gaffe and not so guillotine worthy.

Before we begin, I should clarify that there are actually two items involved in this installment, the cake and the sauce (dulce de leche). The cake requires about half an hour of prep time and an hour to bake. The sauce, while not very difficult, takes approximately three hours of total time to make. Plan accordingly.

Ingredients

Some cakes are lies, but not all lies are cakes.

Cake (for a small pot. Double everything for a 9×13 cake pan):

2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
5/8 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
Optional chopped nuts

Dulce de Leche:

1 can condensed milk
water
1 clean sock*

*You don’t actually need a sock specifically. Clarified instructions below.

Cooking

Part 1: Dulce de Leche

Let’s start by making dulce de leche, which takes a long time. Dulce de leche is basically made by boiling a can of condensed milk for two hours until the sugars caramelize. You will need a pot deep enough to completely contain the can while it is completely submerged in water. You will also need some form of padding between the can’s metal surfaces and the pot surface, as direct contact for long periods of time can cause your pot to rust.

Cue MacGuyver music

An old sock is my solution, as it completely covers the can and allows me to cook the can horizontally, lowering the height requirement for the pot. Stick your can into the sock and tuck the excess underneath. Place this contraption into the pot and submerge completely in water.

You can just put a sock in it.

The submersion is important because it helps equalize the pressure inside the can. If you just heat the can without submerging it, the can may explode, cause injury, and most importantly, possibly lower the reader count on my blog. Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat low, and simmer the can for two hours. You should check every 20 minutes and replenish any evaporated water.

The Bau$$ of Sau$$es

Dump the contents out of the can into a bowl or container, and stir in enough milk or water to create a smooth, creamy caramel sauce.

Part 2: Cake

Start by shredding your carrots, either with a shredder, a knife, or a food processor. You will need about three medium-large carrots to create the amount of shredded carrots necessary.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Combine all the dry ingredients together: flour, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder. Crack the two eggs into the dry mix and stir vigorously until almost all the flour is incorporated. Add the oil and vanilla and stir to make a thick homogenous batter. The egg yolk is the emulsifier that allows the oil to combine smoothly with everything else. Add the shredded carrots.

You ever wonder who was the first person to look at a carrot and think about how it could be worked into a cake?

Grease the bottom of the pot or pan that you are going to use. Pour the batter into the pot/pan and bake for roughly 45-60 minutes, or until a knife stuck into the cake comes out clean.

Carrot Cake

What niche craving do you think the carrot cake was meant to satisfy? All the millions of people in the world who desperately searched for a way to get their vitamin A and diabetes at the same time?

Let the cake sit for a few minutes before cutting and serving. Pour warm dulce de leche over cake slices, serve.

The Result

Cake with Sauce

Who needs bread when you have cake

4.5 / 5 The cake itself is pretty good. Aromatic, moist, though not quite dense enough for my tastes. But dulce de leche, it makes everything amazing. I almost choked myself stuffing my face full of that caramel drenched cake. You can dip everything from pretzels to fruit in that stuff. Try it over a weekend when you have some time. You won’t be disappointed.

Conclusion

These types of cake are really quite easy to make. The key is to pull the cake out of the oven as soon as a knife stuck into the cake comes out clean. This is an easy way to prevent the cake from becoming dry without a thermometer. I think the real challenge in cakes is in matching the appropriate type of cake with the appropriate type of cream or icing, and in the physical appearance of the cake. Hopefully I can progress onto more elaborate creations in the future.