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Monday, May 23rd, 2011

I want… candy

consumed 09/09/09

It took about three years since the last candy making attempt to try again. This time we were armed with a little more knowledge, better tools and a good night’s sleep.

I though it would be fun to make something from my vintage cookbook collection, so the first recipe, Dulce de Panocha (or Penuche) was from “Trader Vik’s Book of Mexican Cooking” (1973).  It tasted a lot like maple sugar candy–insanely sweet and slightly grainy. Not my favorite, but simple to make.

The second recipe was my old standby: peanut brittle. This year we made it in an enameled le creuset so we could clearly see the color of the syrup (which is crucial). But it was taxing (and damn scary) to lift a 30 pound pot of 295 degree sugar and pour it out onto sheets. The secret weapon was silpat; NOTHING sicks to these babies. I keep trying to find something that will, but haven’t so far. I didn’t even butter it and the brittle literaly slid right off. Last time (with buttered baking pans), I needed my spackling tool to force the brittle off!

The final recipe was my favorite: salted caramels! We made pans, and pans of this. I bought a cheap chocolate fondue pot, which was small (only holds about a cup) but i could dip around 50 caramels with one pot. It took about 10-15 minutes to melt on melt mode, then warm mode kept the chocolate at the perfect temperature for dipping—even down to the last caramel. We dipped milk and dark chocolate and finished with a variety of salts: Maldon Sea Salt, Australian Murray River Salt Flakes (a beautiful pale pink hue) and Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt (brilliant orange, but maybe a bit too coarse for this usage).

Next time my new gadget will be candy-making gloves (and a cooler apartment).

Friday, December 1st, 2006


It’s time for the annual Christmas gift making weekend with my mom and we’re making chocolate panforte. After a crazy week of wind storms my mom lost power, so we are cooking in my tiny apartment kitchen.

The first night we spent drinking too much, playing cards and trying to remove skins from hazelnuts. If there is a task that people are forced to perform in hell, it is probably this. It’s time consuming and slightly dangerous because it’s easiest when the nuts are really hot (resulting in several burns). The kicker? I’m highly allergic to the skin part that rubs off. Next year I’ll spend the money to buy hazelnuts that already have the skins removed.

The end product was over baked… Mom said something about a crumb test (like a cake), but they should be taken out when still moist in the middle. They turned out like large hockey pucks but I just told people, oh yeah, it’s supposed to be a cross between biscotti and a chocolate cake. I’m such a liar. But honestly, they were still delicious… just hard on the teeth.

Friday, January 6th, 2006

Starting fresh

It’s the new year and it’s time for a few resolutions:

Pay attention to my blog. I’ve been busy and my blog has suffered. I just realized that I have over 50 (50!) half-finished posts dating back to September. Some of them are even kinda good.

Eat more bacon. I know this sounds like an odd resolution, but I feel like my blog has wandered from its bacon roots and I want more posts about bacon. Look for additional bacon reviews, coming soon!

Try new restaurants. I am a creature of habit and I have been eating at the same four restaurants for the past three months. I am surprisingly not sick of said restaurants yet, but really, it’s time to explore new things.

Finish off last year’s to do list. Looking over last year’s to do list, I realize that I only accomplished one thing.

I have my work cut out for me—wish me luck.

Happy new year!

Sunday, June 5th, 2005

Wite Kastle Clones

The other day I was exploring the always lovely A Hamburger Today site and came across Adam’s post on making White Castle burgers. I thought it was absolutely hilarious and incredibly dedicated of him to make them at home. I’d never had a White Castle burger before and decided it was high time I figured out why people go nuts for them.

I followed the same recipe Adam used, with the glaring omission of the baby food. I just couldn’t go there. I mashed up my meat with the beef broth until it was almost soupy (p.s. it smelled really gross). I spread the beef mixture out on a tray, scored it and froze it. Adam said punching the trademark holes was optional, but I wanted the real thing, so I painstakingly punched out holes in the meat. After the final freezing, I separated my patties and thought they looked pretty good.

I soaked the dried onions in water (smelled extra gross) and fried up some wild boar bacon (covered up the yucky smells). Once the onions were, uh, “rehydrated”, I put them in a pan and fried them up with the burgers. I was intending to cook them just on one side, as true White Castle burgers are cooked, but it became apparent that if I didn’t flip them, I’d either end up with raw burgers or rubbery, over-cooked burgers. After the patties were cooked through, they neither looked nor smelled very appetizing.

I used cut up hot dog buns, on which I placed a single patty, a spoonful of “onions” and a dollop of ketchup. I ate it in about three bites. It was better than I expected, but it didn’t wow me. On slider number two, I added a slice of melted cheese and wild boar bacon. Better, but the strong “onion” taste overwhelmed the bacon—and it was still missing something. On the third try, I added a dab of mayo, a slice of unmelted cheese and salt. The salt was key and finally I understood why people love these burgers, in a closeted, guilty pleasure kind of way. I ended up eating quite a few.

Overall, it was a fun experience to make these, but it was pretty time consuming—and I’m not sure if they’re worth the effort. Maybe if you didn’t punch all the holes. I don’t know what real White Castle burgers taste like so I can’t really compare; maybe the baby food I left out really is the secret to making them outstanding… (shudder)

Sunday, March 13th, 2005

Wild Boar Bacon Tempura!

I finally caved in and decided to make the bacon tempura recipe that was in the latest issue of Saveur. The recipe sounded a little iffy, so I got cheap, Farmland bacon for the first test.

I fried the bacon until it was almost, but not quite crisp, then dipped each slice into tempura batter and fried until golden. I tasted. It was shatteringly crisp and good. I was surprised that it didn’t taste much like bacon at all. Or it tasted like bacon, but without all the salt—for some reason frying leaches out the saltiness. I thought the recipe was nuts because it called for the bacon to be salted after frying, but it truly did need it.

Now that I knew it tasted good, I decided to try it with nicer bacon. I pulled out the slab of wild boar bacon I bought yesterday and sliced it fairly thick. I fried it up, keeping a few pieces in the pan longer so that I could try the bacon plain. For some reason, when it’s frying it smells like ironing…

Wild boar bacon rocks. In fact, it’s the best bacon I’ve ever tasted. Ever. It’s really meaty and lightly smoked so that you can really taste the flavor of the boar. I wanted to eat all the bacon as is, but I managed to save a few slices for the tempura. It was good in the tempura, but it masked the flavor. I would recommend using non-fancy bacon for bacon tempura, but I liked the contrast of the thick-cut and thin-cut.

Saturday, February 19th, 2005

Making Mozzarella

After reading Adam’s post about The Spotted Pig, I rearranged my plans for the evening so that I could make gnudi. I found a recipe that sounded good and called for spinach and ricotta as the main ingredients. As a very happy coincidence, my Leener’s Mozzarella Cheese Kit arrived today—and it also makes ricotta! I decided to dress the gnudi in a tomato vodka sauce with pancetta, because I was raised in a home where meat took part in practically every meal and I am left with a residual feeling that a vegetarian main dish just isn’t right.

Zach stopped at the market on his way home to get fresh whole milk and eggs from the Creamery and pancetta from DeLaurenti’s. Then we went to the liquor store to get vodka for the sauce. We were shocked at how many new vodkas were available—the selection had expanded from one shelf unit to FIVE since the last time I was there. We chose the Crater Lake vodka because Zach had read a favorable review in The Weekly.

We were then ready to make cheese. I started by gently heating a gallon of milk, while Zach pre-measured out all the chemicals and flavorings needed: vegetable rennet, mild lipase powder, citric acid, calcium chloride and cheese salt. I can see why this is billed as a popular kid’s activity, because it’s somehow amazing to watch the cheese curd separate from the whey—like food magic. Zach and I were both standing at the stove peering into the pot saying “Oh my god! Oh my god! We’re making CHEESE! It’s really CHEESE! Look! CHEESE!”.

Once the cheese rested and started to really look like cheese, we scooped it out of the whey and kneaded it until soft. Then it went into the microwave for a heat blast until it was about 130 degrees and turned really shiny and stretchy like taffy. Then Zach donned plastic kitchen gloves and started stretching the mozzarella. He was really quiet so I asked him if he was having fun and he told me that it was the best thing he’s ever done with food. In the meantime, I added another 1/2 gallon of milk to the leftover whey to make the ricotta.

I sometimes experience a turning point during cooking where I start to get tired and disinterested. Strangely enough, this usually coincides with when I start drinking. Stranger still, I know this about myself but conveniently “forget” every time. To make matters even worse this evening, the vodka was delicious. So delicious that we were just drinking it on the rocks with no mixer, which is always a bad idea.

The mozzarella was finished around 9pm and we were ravenous and tipsy. We got out the good olive oil, balsamic and five different kinds of salt (red salt from Hawaii, fine sea salt from Italy, gray salt, Maldon salt and truffle salt) and we devoured the still warm mozzarella. It was fantastic with just olive oil, but it was sublime with a pinch of truffle salt.

I checked the timer on the ricotta and realized it still needed to sit for another half hour before we could even start making the gnudi. We were still hungry and I was starting to get drunk, so we decided to save the gnudi for another night and headed out to Dick’s for dinner. I had a cheeseburger and it was so, so good.

Then we went to check out the new Jules Maes, which I had just read about in Laura Cassidy’s blurb in the weekly. My brother used to love the old Jules Maes and was really upset when it closed down several years ago. Oddly enough, a friend of a friend had bought the building to use as a woodworking shop, so I asked if I could throw a little reunion party when my brother came to town. I made all sorts of delicious and fancy bar snacks (like frico and sopressata chips) and the party split up with half of us sitting on the bar stools and the other half playing bartender behind the bar.

Remembering the space as a wood working shop and walking into the new Jules Maes was a little odd. The beautiful bar was still there but almost everything else had changed. There were a bunch of booths lining one wall, a new pool table and the entire back room was filled with video games and pinball machines. It also seemed oddly clean. We played a few, sad, rounds of pinball (we both suck) and then headed next door to the 9# Hammer for some pool.

Monday, January 31st, 2005

The Best Pork. Ever.

Ever since our trip to Vancouver last week, I haven’t been able to get the Su Dong Wild Boar dish we ate at Wild Rice out of my mind. I did some research and found a recipe at Times Online in the U.K (update: the recipe is no longer online at the UK Times, but you can find it on my recipe website). Apparently Su Dong Po was considered one of the greatest Chinese poets and was a bit of an epicure. It is said that he invented this recipe because of his love of pork—something that we both share.

Once I found the recipe I was determined to make it. I started out by trying to locate skin-on, uncured pork belly (Wild Boar seemed too ambitious for my first go, but next time…). I called both A&J Meats and Don & Joe’s Meats, but they both referred me to Uwajimaya for the pork. I went down and purchased three pounds of it (labeled as rind-on pork side) and was surprised at how cheap it was. I think I paid about $1.50 per pound (Niman Ranch sells it for $4.50 per pound if you’re desperate).

When I got home and opened up the packages, I was delighted by how much it already looked like bacon and had a brief moment where I considered turning it into bacon instead. But I persevered.

I salted it up and let it sit for two hours for a brief cure. Then I boiled it for a few minutes to get the meat scum (i.e. blood albumen) off. Then I rinsed it and started the braise. I used about 1/2 pound more pork belly than the recipe called for and this resulted in not having all the pork fit in a single layer in my oval French oven. In hindsight, this is actually fairly important as having the pork in the liquid for the first two hours of cooking helps to render a lot of the fat.

After the first phase of cooking was done, I cooled the pork and put it in the refrigerator overnight. I think this step shouldn’t be overlooked, because when I put it into the fridge it didn’t seem all that fatty, but when I pulled it out the next day I was surprised that there was a 1/2 inch of creamy white fat coating the entire surface.

When I finished prying off all the cold fat with a fork, I noticed that the “juice” underneath the surface was like Jell-O from all the collagen. The recipe called for straining the juice, but when I tried to remove a piece of the pork, the entire contents of the bowl came out in one solid piece—like a giant, gorgeous meat aspic. So I added the step of re-heating it gently in the microwave to turn it back into liquid form before straining. I was worried about the amount of fat still in the pork, as there were giant striations of fat between the thin layers of meat, so I used my fingers to scoop some of it out.

The pork and the juices went into a makeshift steamer and steamed away for four hours. I can’t even tell you how good my apartment smelled. I was working at home that day, but it was hard to concentrate because I kept day-dreaming of pork. After four hours of steaming, I opened up the package. The pork was swimming in fat and smelled incredible. I tried to gently remove the pieces of pork so I could skim off the fat, but the pork was falling to pieces as I lifted it out. It was the most tender piece of meat I have ever laid eyes on. By the time I got all the pork out, I had caused so much chaos in the bowl that the fat had commingled with the juices again. I absolutely couldn’t wait to eat it, so I proceeded with minimal fat removal, but next time I will either skim before removing the meat or wait for the juices to resettle.

I made a sauce by boiling the juices with a little cornstarch and then pored it over the pork and steamed brown rice. It was truly one of the best things I’ve ever cooked—and possibly ever eaten. The soy marinade just barely flavored the pork giving it a nice salty taste, but the predominant flavor was pure pork. It was still insanely fatty and that took a little getting used to, but it’s also what made it so good and rich; like eating foie gras. Given its richness, I don’t think I could eat this every month, but I’m thinking I’ll be making this at a bare minimum of once a quarter.

I think this amazing dish should be seen and shared with as many people as possible, so I am submitting it as an entry to MeatHenge’s Meat Platter Contest, even though I suspect that Kitchen Monkey’s beautiful entry will win.

Sunday, January 2nd, 2005

Happy New Year!

After a food-filled December, I’m taking a much needed break from eating and cooking. I have, however, been spending time thinking about food and gearing up for some fun parties and food projects in the new year.

Here’s what made the short list for 2005:

Clam Bake – A real one. At the beach. With freshly collected seaweed.

Iron Chef Cook Off – This has been a long-time dream and I’m so mad that my brother beat me to it and held one in NYC, but at least I’ll get to learn from it—apparently, the favored chef lost and was so pissed that it ended some friendships. My dad has agreed to play the role of Chairman Kaga (okay, actually he begged). I want to be the whiney actress judge.

Cheese Making Party – I’ve mentioned this idea to my friends on several occasions and no one seems interested. I’m going to throw a Mozzarella making (and eating) party anyway, just to prove them wrong.

Third Annual Pulled Pork Party – Always delicious. Always fun. Always well attended.

Makin Bacon – I want to build an Alton Brown cold smoker out of cardboard and a hotplate and smoke my own bacon.

Dim Sum Party – I’ve been collecting dim sum recipes for about five years and want to try them out. I plan to make all the fillings and then invite my friends over to help stuff and eat them.

Feed My Farro Nut Obsession – Zach bought a bag of these amazing Lentz Spelt farro ‘nuts’ at a local farmer’s market and now I’m hooked. They have an amazing crunch and nutty flavor; like how I wish soy nuts tasted, but don’t. The problem is that Lentz Spelt is sold out, so I need to figure how to make my own.

Cooking series with Yen-Yen – My grandma is getting on in years and I want to get her recipes down before they’re lost forever. I especially want to know how she makes tai doi and her amazing soups.

Deep Fry Party – I want to borrow my mom’s new deep fat fryer and make all the fried recipes I’ve been saving up. Then I’ll go on a diet.

Learn to Cure Meats – I am absolutely devastated that I didn’t get into Salumi’s Adopt-A-Prosciutto program. So as a [poor] substitute, I’m going to try and find some classes in Seattle where I can learn about the curing process.

Homemade Gravlax – I’m a chicken. I love to eat gravlax from restaurants and stores, but for some reason the idea of making my own gravlax scares the hell out of me. But this year I’m determined to overcome my fear of food poisoning.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Someone just told me where you can get those delicious farro nuts: The Pike Place Market (in Seattle)—enter near the newsstand at DeLaurenti’s, go past the donut shop on the right, and the farro nut place will be on the right; directly across from Pike Place Fish. Woo hoo! I can check that of my list…

Sunday, December 5th, 2004

Hard Candy

Every December for the past few years, my mom and I have gotten together to make food gifts for family and friends. So far, we have made marmalade, candied and spiced nuts, mango chutney and brittles. This year, I thought we should do something easy and simple, like making candies.

Here is what I learned this weekend:

1. Candy is insanely time consuming and not easy to make.
2. Sugar is hot.
3. You really do need to grease the pans well.
4. Using recipes that can’t be doubled or tripled is not smart.
5. You should always set a timer when toasting nuts in the oven.
6. When the recipe says to get the candy to a specific temperature, this is for a very good reason.
7. Burnt caramel smells really bad.
8. Drinking hot toddies in the middle of the day makes you sleepy.
9. Hand chopping six pound of nuts to make them ‘really even’ is really stupid. Especially when you have a cuisinart.
10. There is no easy, nor fool-proof way to temper chocolate.
11. Dipping over four hundred individual pieces of candy in chocolate takes a very long time.
12. Caramel and toffee turn back into liquid form if you store them near a heat vent overnight.
13. Candy thermometers are wildly inaccurate.
14. It actually is possible to eat too much caramel.
15. Alcohol does not counter a sugar high.
16. Never attempt more than one new recipe at a time. I know this rule by heart and even quote it to other people, yet I always seem to ignore it.

Despite a grueling weekend in the kitchen and more than a few burnt disasters, we ended up with a great batch of candies.

Toffee covered in bittersweet chocolate and almonds/pecans – After this recovered from the heat vent melt-down, it was great. Still a little chewy, but I expect it to set up a bit more over the next day or so.

Plain caramel – This batch of caramel didn’t reach a high enough temperature so it was really soft; when dipping it in the chocolate, it just melted. They tasted great though, so we just wrapped them up plain.

Caramel dipped in bittersweet chocolate sprinkled with Alaea Hawaiian Sea Salt – Beautiful. Tasted just like Fran’s!

Caramel dipped in milk chocolate sprinkled with Maldon Sea Salt and Grey Sea Salt – These were my favorites. Mmmm.

Macadamia nut brittle – This turned out not to be a brittle, but more like sugar coated nuts.

Almond brittle – This tasted okay, but was so pale it looked anemic.

Peanut brittle – A strange, bright orange color (because we didn’t have any dark corn syrup), but it tasted fantastic.

Next year, I’m thinking every one gets a package of hot cocoa that I’ve spooned into a fancy bag.

Saturday, October 30th, 2004

Caramel Apples

I’ve always wanted to make real caramel apples and decided that this was the year. I was worried about the recipe I had found, only because it had so many ingredients, but it turned out great. It was fun, slightly dangerous, very sticky and way easier than I thought it would be.

We had some leftover caramel after dipping our apples, so we ate it like fondue—dipping in sliced apples and sprinkling them with nuts and fleur de sel. I think the sugar made me hyper because all of a sudden I was scouring the kitchen looking for other things to dip. Let’s just say that I don’t recommend the caramel cheese.

But the caramel was the best I’ve ever tasted. Seriously.