Month: November 2013

Every Day I’m Trufflin’

Ok, maybe not every day. That’d be…well, wonderful, but fattening.

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Of course, we’re talking about chocolate truffles, the kind that are so easy you could make them every day as long as you’re ok with the clean-up (which really isn’t that bad, to be honest). They make wonderful treats for yourself, a nice little dessert with coffee for guests after a dinner party, or a treat to wrap in some cute packaging as a gift.

I followed this recipe from Real Simple, pretty much to the letter. I didn’t add the coffee liqueur because these were going to co-workers and I wasn’t sure people would eat them if they were all boozy. However, if you’re making them for a holiday party, I say go for it. The rest of the ingredients: chocolate, cream, espresso powder, vanilla, and cocoa powder, you can pick up in the regular grocery store. The trickiest thing to find might be the espresso powder. I found this kind, hidden behind one of those giant cardboard displays for some other kind of coffee. This was under $5 for a jar, and trust me, it’ll last you awhile, especially if all you ever plan on using it for is to flavour desserts.

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These chocolate truffles start out as ganache, a mixture of chocolate and cream. You’ll just warm the cream, add the espresso powder and make sure it’s dissolved well, then add your chocolate. Stir the chocolate until you get a thick, glossy ganache, letting the warm cream do the work of melting it, then add your vanilla and liqueur. 

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Pour the ganache into a shallow bowl (as recommended in the recipe) or even a brownie pan will work. I used one of those disposable aluminum 13 x 9 pans from the grocery store and it worked just fine. The ganache will need to firm up in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight. 

Don’t feel like you have to get fancy with the chocolate. I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and Lindt brand 70% cacao that was on sale (2 large bars for $5) at King Soopers. I’m sure chocolate connoisseurs would tell you it makes a difference, and they’re probably right, but unless you plan on giving these truffles to some friend who is a Giant Chocolate Snob, these will still be considered by most to be pretty effing delicioius.

Once your ganache has firmed up, you can scoop it out with a spoon, one of those tiny ice cream scoops, a melon baller, or whatever you have handy. I tried a little experiment of cutting the ganache into fairly even sized squares and then rolling it between my hands to get it into a ball. That was actually a lot more trouble because the ganache was pretty firm and I had to manhandle it a bit to get it to give up being a square.

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I ultimately went with my scoop. It was a lot easier to roll the truffles when they were already in a basic ball shape. Duh, right? Anyhoots, you’ll just keep rolling your little truffle balls, and then tossing them in the cocoa powder until all the ganache is used up. If you keep them all fairly uniform in size, this recipe will yield 48 truffles.

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If you’re not serving them right away, pop them in the fridge for awhile to firm back up. After that, they should be good to sit out for awhile, if they need to. Mine were out at room temperature for about 8 hours and they were fine.

If you wanted to infuse some other flavour into these, you can just replace the coffee liqueur with something different.  I think if you’re going to be a little snobby about an ingredient, it would be the flavour infusion you use. Don’t use those cheap flavourings from the baking aisle at the grocery store. If you’re going to use another booze, use good booze. I have some apricot brandy that I brought back from Glasgow that I might try next time.

You can also play around with the cocoa powder, if you want. I just used the regular Hershey’s baking cocoa for this batch, but I have some Mayan cocoa powder that has cinnamon in it that I think would play off of the apricot brandy quite nicely. 

Have fun with this one, folks! Instead of bringing cookies or pie to a holiday party, whip up a batch of these and watch them fly off the plate.

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Keep It Simple, Stupid

This isn’t going to be one of my photo heavy recipe posts. This is just an exploration of thought I’ve been trying to form. It’s not a new thought. Others have had it before me, and shared it out loud, even. But it’s important to me to say it here, on my blog, because I’m on a bit of a journey. So, indulge me, if you will.

Maybe you remember the first time you cooked something and were really proud of it. You spent time, and effort, and money, and there it was, this delicious thing you created. You probably served it to someone else, breath held as they took the first bite, and heart soaring as they smiled and declared it delicious. From that moment, you were hooked. You wanted to cook it all. You wanted it to be amazing every time, so you started looking for ways to make it all special, to put your unique stamp on everything from peanut butter and jelly to Thanksgiving dinner. 

And then, maybe, if you were like me, you thought the way to really stand out, to really get the applause every single time, was to make it all incredibly complicated. You thought if you didn’t chop and dice until your plastic, three dollar Ikea cutting board had Grand Canyon sized cut marks in it, if you didn’t have to strain something at least three times through five layers of $20 unbleached cheesecloth (i have no idea if that exists, just go with it), if it didn’t take you at least 10 minutes to explain to your guests every single specialty ingredient in each dish, there was no way anyone was ever going to believe that your food was good. It had to be hard work or it wasn’t real cooking.

I remember feeling defeated so many times because I’d spend hours in my kitchen putting together the most ingredient laden, technique heavy food, only to have someone eat it and not immediately stand up and declare me “The Best Cook Ever.” I truly thought that all that energy should translate into just a bit more fanfare, and a lot more appreciation. As I got even more frenzied, trying to best myself, always searching for the pat on the back, the accolades came even more infrequently. The more time I spent adding things, the less appreciative my audience became.

And then I took this little trip to San Francisco. I ate at a restaurant near the water, and I ate my very first perspective shifting meal. I didn’t realize it immediately, but those steamed crab legs, straight from the water; that warm, fresh from the oven sourdough; that ice cold Anchor Steam beer, were the beginning of the end for about half the gadgets in my kitchen, and all those complicated, over thought meals that I thought made me, and my food, so special. THIS meal was special. This meal was simple, straightforward, and made all my culinary pleasure spots tingle with excitement and pure, unadulterated joy. I was eating with my hands, I was chewing with my whole body, or so it felt. I was humbled. 

When I got back home, I found myself backing off the ingredients list… de-cluttering my recipes. I slowly figured out that being able to identify each ingredient in a meal didn’t steal its mystery, but added to its enjoyment. I learned that there’s nothing wrong with using just a little salt and pepper instead of half my spice cabinet to create, and bringing forth, flavour, and in fact, if there are so many seasonings in a dish, instead of creating a flavour profile, I was really just creating the culinary equivalent of mud. 

My food is better now, because my brain takes a back seat to my heart, and my instinct— one that more often than not now very wisely tells me when to tweak, when to taste, and when to just leave it be. 

I’m thinking about all this, and that long ago lesson, because I start culinary school in about eight weeks, and much like in other aspects of life, I’m realizing that in order to be a good student, and to really learn, I’m going to have to get over the fact that I don’t know everything. That all my years of cooking, and serving, and learning that came before this are what brought me to this point, but to make this next phase of my education valuable I have to bring the skills but leave the ego at the door. I am going to fail at some things, maybe even some things I thought I already knew how to do. That basic meal of crab, bread, and beer will be the thing I remember when I start to get ahead of myself, or when I get frustrated because I’ve missed the mark, as all students will, and must, in order to eventually learn the lesson. And really, that’s why I’m doing this in the first place, right?

momofuku:

let’s just say i’m an ‘excellentist’ because perfection is an unattainable goal. perfection isn’t that interesting. it is more interesting to do things with sincerity and a certain quirkiness. with perfection there’s no tolerance for failure, and there are enormous benefits to failure because of the valuable lessons they impart.

– charlie trotter from “lessons in service from charlie trotter” by edmund lawler. thanks to sat bains for the primo find

indeed, Chef. 

I went on vacation and ate a lot and then came home and made Pumpkin Custard Pie that is so easy all of you should make one, too.

*taps the mic* this thing on?

I’m not going to make any excuses for my absence. i’ve been busy, and on holiday in Scotland. it was super duper amazing and i ate a lot of things that were very delicious…

such as this:

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and also, this (p.s. smoked haddock is delicious but it is very similar to asparagus in that your pee the next day will smell vaguely of smoked haddock.) :image

and various things such as this for dessert:

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i have lots of observations about eating out in Glasgow, and Glasgow in general, that i’m not sure i can articulate just yet. i think maybe some people still have the impression that all food in the UK is either fish and chips or boiled things. that is sooooo not the case. i had some sincerely gorgeous meals there— things i’d never had before, and things i’d definitely had before but they were prepared so simply and perfectly at these restaurants in Glasgow that it was like i’d never had them before. 

also, it was very affordable to go out and have a nice meal there. three course meals that would have cost me, at the low end, around 60 bucks here at home were typically less than £20 there (about $32; $40 with a glass of wine).  granted, i was on vacation and back in the real world i still wouldn’t be taking myself out to $40 meals every night, but i went there planning to check out lots of restaurants and i was able to eat out a lot more than i thought i could because of how (in comparison) inexpensive it was. 

at some point, hopefully soon, i’ll be able to put into words how i felt/feel about my trip, but for now i’ll just say that it was kinda magical and very hard to come home.

but now, i’m back at home, and it’s starting to be that time of year when i want to have something happening in my kitchen nearly all the time. i’ve volunteered to make all the sides for a friend’s thanksgiving dinner just because the idea of spending all day cooking sounds about as close to perfect as you can get.

i kicked off this flurry of culinary activity with something simple, but rather iconic of this time of year— the pumpkin pie. this was actually a pumpkin custard pie, which came from this recipe over at allrecipes.com. you should bookmark that recipe, because it was so easy, and if you follow the recipe, plus the author’s instructions to chill your pie crust until just before you pop the pie into the oven, you will have a delicious, creamy, crowd pleasing pumpkin pie. i made one to take to work today, and everyone who had a piece absolutely loved it. this will be my go to pumpkin pie recipe from here on out.

this might be a no brainer for other people, but it was a bit of a revelation for me to cook the pumpkin puree before adding the rest of the ingredients. you know how when you open a can of pumpkin it really doesn’t smell like much? in this recipe, you cook the pumpkin in a pot for about 10 minutes on medium heat, and within just a few minutes all those natural sugars start caramelizing and it really starts to smell all pumpkiny and wonderful. i believe it made for a much clearer pumpkin flavour in the final product.

the only substitutions i made (purely because i was just working with what i already had rather than making a special trip to the store) were to use a can of evaporated milk instead of the heavy cream, and to replace the ground ginger with the same amount of nutmeg. i will absolutely be trying the recipe as written, because i believe very strongly in really rich, creamy custards and the heavy cream would certainly make this into that, and i definitely prefer ginger to nutmeg almost every time. 

i used one of those pre-made roll-out crusts because i have zero counter space on which to roll out dough. i did get the shiny, smooth finish and creamy texture on the pie that comes from chilling the dough, but i feel like the crust was a little thin at the edges and was slightly darker than i really like. i have a pie shield, though, and i feel like using that next time will keep the crust from going too far in that direction.

i’ll repeat this— BOOKMARK THAT RECIPE! when you absolutely can’t think of what to bring to a holiday party, i promise this pie, humble though it may seem, will be one of the most popular items on the dessert table.

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