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Uncrushable Laser Monkeys! (or, what I had for dinner)
Gluten Free Brownies
Friday, August 10, 2007, 01:12 PM - comfort food, dessert
After two batches of ruthless experimentation on guests, I have perfected a recipe for gluten free brownies. It has been modified from the original Betty Crocker to fit on the screen. Erm, that is, to fit the celiac lifestyle.

Wet Ingredients
4 squares of melted baking chocolate OR 3/4 cup cocoa powder and 3 TBS oil. Baking chocolate is usually fine, but some extra sensitive need the specially guaranteed gluten free cocoa powder. To melt baking chocolate, stick it in a microwave safe container and zap it for 15 seconds. then combine the other ingredients, then zap it for another 15 seconds, then maybe stir it a bit, then let it sit a while, then zap it another 15 seconds and stir it a bit. Eventually it will be nice and runny. It's easier than doing it on the stove, but the short amounts of time and long amounts of sitting in between are to make sure it doesn't burn, as chocolate in a microwave is in danger of doing.
4 egg yolks. You'll need the whites too, but they count as other ingredients.
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar

Dry Ingredients

1/4 tsp Xantham Gum
3/4 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup corn flour

Other Ingredients

4 egg whites
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Process

Mix your wet ingredients. Add your dry ingredients. Set aside your other ingredients. Throw everything back in the refrigerator and let it sit for a few hours. Well, you don't have to actually refridgerate the baking powder, nuts, and chocolate chips...mostly I'm talking about eggs here.

Take everything out of the refrigerator and let it sit for a while. The mixture will be pretty viscous and could do with warming up, and egg whites need to get up to room temperature. Once room temperature has been achieved, or you get really bored and don't want to wait around any longer, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare a 9x13 pan (I do this by spraying it vigorously with oil, but everyone has their own pet method, most of which involve more effort. More effort is a perfectly valid lifestlye choice, but it's not for me.) Beat the egg whites until they're fluffy and form peaks and all that. Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the dough. Then fold the rest of them and all the other ingredients into the dough. Pour it into the 9x13 pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes. It's done when you can stick a toothpick into the middle and pull it out and have it be mostly clean.



Rice Pudding
Wednesday, June 27, 2007, 05:59 PM - comfort food, dessert, breakfast
Rice Pudding
Today I made rice pudding for dinner. I know nothing about rice pudding. I have never had rice pudding. But we had leftover rice from Chinese food the other night, and I had a sudden hankering for rice pudding. So I perused multiple recipes online, and discovered that most people think you're actually going to make rice from scratch in milk instead of using leftover rice. This seems dumb. In my ignorance, I thought the whole point of rice or bread pudding was to use up leftover rice or bread before it went south. And to presumably use them in a different format, because if people wanted them in their previous format, they would have just gone ahead and eaten them and not left them hanging out in their fridge as leftovers.

I also discovered that most people think you're going to make rice pudding in your oven. Since it's unbearably hot, this also seems foolish. Sure, it'd be great in the winter, but it's not a June activity (unless you're down under). Fortunately I found one great recipe for quick and light rice pudding that said you could make it with leftovers and you could make it on the stovetop, which will heat your kitchen a bit, but not to the degree of running your entire oven for over an hour. However, this recipe didn't fit my preconceived notions of pudding, which involve more creamy, eggy goodness. So after eyeing a bunch of other recipes, I thought I'd just make something up and use the stovetop cooking method and hope it turned out ok. Here goes:

ingredients
1 small takeout Chinese food container almost full (but not packed) of rice --- this is probably somewhere between 1 and 2 cups, but I didn't measure because the measure was in the dishwasher. I don't think the quantity matters if it's in the ballpark.
1 can of evaporated milk
1/4ish tsp of salt
3 rounded TBS of brown sugar (not packed or messed with in any way that might involve effort, just scooped out of the container and dumped in)
1 glug vanilla extract
nutmeg and cinnamon to taste (I use more cinnamon than nutmeg, since nutmeg is very potent)
1 egg

process
Dump the rice in a saucepan. Add everything else. Stir it up really well so the egg is beaten and everything is pretty homogenous. Turn on the saucepan to high. Stir frequently until it boils, then turn it all the way down, put a lid on it, and go off and play video games and make a few phone calls. Come back periodically and give it a stir. This process should take half an hour to 45 minutes... shorter if you don't care about letting it oook---you do need video games you'll be able to pause once every 15 minutes or so. When it looks good and rice puddingey, either eat it or stick it in the refrigerator to have it cold for breakfast. It makes enough that 2 people could have a big serving now, and a little serving cold for breakfast. Or 4 people could have moderately sized servings whenever.

serving suggestions
Serve with fake breakfast sausage and salad... because salad is easy to throw together really fast and you've got to have a vegetable. If you're clever with your dressing, a salad can go with this. I convinced someone else to make the salad and they dressed it with oil, malt vinegar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and coriander, which tied nicely with both the spice of the sausage and the spices in the rice pudding.

It might also be nice with one of those froofy apple sausages.

If I were the planning ahead sort, I might pick a different vegetable, but I don't know what that would be.


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Group Cook Crepes
Friday, February 17, 2006, 06:12 PM - flatbread, dessert, high falutin'

Group Cooking


A bunch of us made group cook crepes last weekend (yeah, I've been remiss about updating lately, but these things happen). Group cooking is the bastard child of dinner parties and potlucks. Like dinner parties, you have a bunch of people and some menu of stuff selected to go together. Like a potluck, everyone chips in and cooks. It's a good fun way to get a bunch of people to have a low cost hoity toity dinner and entertainment for the evening.

Group cooks are pretty much a spontaneous, emergent phenomena that just happen with minimal effort and a bit of prodding. To have your own group cook, you should hang out on aim and accost a local friend when they show up and say, "hey, we should have a group cook." The two of you then decide what to make based on what you know other friends in your circle would enjoy. Then you contact these other friends and convince them that this is what they want to do with their evening. Although this time I somehow ended up on a telephone and aim at the same time talking with two people at once, the other party on aim was on the phone with a fourth party, and the party on my phone was in the room with a fifth party. This is what technology is for. If you can't have 5-way conversations involving 2 phones, 2 computers, a few net connections, you're missing out on one of the fine things in life.

In any case, once you've sorted out the details, everyone will show up at your house at roughly the same time(ish) with all the ingredients you don't have on hand in tow. Then labour gets distributed between people, with those who are relative experts in the chosen genre delegating tasks to other people. It's good to shake up your genre periodically so different people get the opportunity to boss people around. One of these days, we've got to do a mediteranean group cook, which I'm a complete dunce at; I think I'll learn something.

Crepes


Ingredients
3 cups flour (fluff up with a fork before measuring to pretend it's sifted)
1/4 tsp salt
6 eggs (or 5 eggs + 3 TBS H20 if you have fewer eggs on hand than you thought)
3 cups milk
4 TBS melted butter (melted)

Directions
Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Mix it up to distribute the salt. If you do this with a fork, lumps will come ouf of the flour if there are any. You might ought to sift it before measuring, but of course I don't own a sifter and I don't even have a good mesh strainer in this part of the country, so fluffing it with a fork makes sure you get the right volume if you don't have a sifter. You always need to fluff things with a fork before measuring if they say to sift because unsifted flower is packed together and sifted flour is full of air. Don't do this, however, if your recipe doesn't require sifting or you won't have enough flour because you'll have extra air. But I digress...

Dig a little hole in the flour. Break the eggs into the hole. Whisk the eggs together, gradually widening your whisking to include more flour in the liquid part. If it seems too stiff, add a glug of your milk into the liquid to thin it back out. When the flour is entirely incorporated into the egg, gradually stir in the milk. Add melted butter and stir until it's completely smooth. People say crepes will taste better if you sit the batter aside for an hour or so before cooking, but I've never met anyone organised enough to do that. But if you're that organised (weirdo), you can do that. We just set it aside for maybe 20 minutes while we waited for the stuffing to cook up.

When you're ready to cook, hand a nonstick pan, a spatula, a 1/4 inch measuring cup, some butter, and the crepe batter to the franco-american you were clever enough to invite to the bash. Crepes will magically appear. If you weren't clever, you'll need to make the crepes yourself. Heat the stove to medium. When it's warmed up, smear butter into the pan. Dollup a 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and rotate the pan so that the batter runs out to the edges. When the top of the crepe is opaque instead of shiny, flip it. When you feel like it's done, remove it from the pan and put it on a plate. The first crepe will be bad, so expect to snack on it.

This makes enough crepes to give 2 dinner crepes and 2 desert crepes for 5 people and have a nice box of crepes leftover that will last quite a while in the refrigerator and make you a decent number of solo meals.

Tofu Mushroom Green-bean crepe stuffing


Ingredients
mushrooms
olive oil
black pepper
salt
white onion
firm tofu
green onions

Directions
Slice up a bunch of mushrooms. I'm not sure how many---maybe 4 cups? Who can say? Sautee them in a pan with olive oil and add a bunch of black pepper. Add a diced white onion. Slice up a block of firm tofu into striplets and throw it in the pan. Add salt to taste. Decide, after it's cooked down a bit, that it might not be enough for 5 people and raid your freezer for some frozen green beans: about 2 cups worth should do the trick, but I didn't measure, I am just guessing what was left in the bag. Put a lid on the frying pan and allow to ook.

Dinner Crepe Sauce


Ingredients
2 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
milk
swiss cheese
parmesean cheese
salt
pepper

Directions
Melt the butter in a pan on medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir it until it's bubbly and the sauce gets translucent. That means the flour's cooked. Slowly add milk and stir it until it's smooth. I have no clue how much milk I added; I just did it um... until it looked right. Helpful, aren't I? I added about a 1/4 cup of swiss cheese that I had lying around and let that melt into the sauce. Then I added maybe 1/4 cup of parmesean, but I didn't keep track of that either. I added salt and pepper to taste. If you're hoity toity, you'd use white pepper here so the pepper wouldn't show. I'm not organised enough to be hoity toity.

Dinner Crepe Assembly


Put a crepe on each plate. Spoon filling in a line down the middle of each crepe. Roll each crepe and push it to the side of the plate. Put another crepe on each plate and repeat. Center the two crepes. Pour the Sauce over the top and serve.

Chocolate Goo


Ganache is the hoity-toity word for chocolate goo. Chocolate goo is basically just chocolate melted with some other stuff to make it liquidy and yummy so you can pour it over something.

Put 1/4 cup of butter in a pan on low heat. Melt, then add 1/4 cup of butter. When that's melted, add 6 pieces of baking chocolate and stir it until it's smooth. Slowly add milk until you feel like it's just about right. Yeah, no measuring. Just stick your finger in periodically and taste it and to see if the texture is right. Add a glug or two of cognac.

Desert Crepes


Ingredients
Crepes
Sliced Strawberries
Blackberries
Frozen blueberries
chocolate goo
whipped cream

Directions
Put a crepe out on each plate. Put a heap of sliced strawberries down the center of each crepe. Roll closed and push to the side of the plate. Repeat, replacing strawberries with blackberries. Center the crepes on the plate. Spoon chocolate goo over the top of the crepes. Squirt whipped cream onto the top of the crepes. Sprinkle blueberries on top of the whipped cream. Yum.
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Chocolate Fudge
Friday, December 9, 2005, 01:48 PM - dessert

Fudge



It's the time of year when everyone realizes that hanging out in a hot kitchen, although sometimes unpleasant in the summer, is a great winter activity. I've been itching to make fudge for a while now---ever since someone told me that he actually liked fudge, even though he's been against all my previous fudge-making proposals.

When I was growing up, we usually only made fudge in the summer... after we'd been to the fair and seen the fudge makers and been told that fudge at the fair was overpriced and if we behaved we could make some. We always made it with marshmallow creme. Which is easier than the conventional method, but I wanted to try the old-school way. Marshmallows contain gelatin. And, unfortunately, we don't know anything about gelatin. It might have dead cows in it, or it might have dead pigs in it, or it might have something less objectionable in it, but still dead. By now, given all the corn subsidies, I bet they've come up with a completely unobjectionable corn-based product... I mean, exactly how many products are there left that don't have a corn alternative? There's corn-based fuel, corn-based packing peanuts... I bet someone has a corn computer. But labels never tell you what the gelatin is made from. Maybe it's 100% safe, but they won't tell you. I couldn't serve it to vegetarian friends. I wouldn't want to serve it to Jewish or Muslim friends, because it might have pork in it. And I wouldn't be comfortable eating it myself, since it might have beef in it. I wouldn't mind small quantities of poultry or pork, but I still wouldn't be able to share it. So sad. Making labor intensive deserts is all about sharing. They're fun to make, and fun to eat, but you don't want to eat the whole thing. So I decided to figure out how to make vegetarian fudge.

I used Alton Brown's chocolate fudge recipe since I knew he'd be thorough but didn't really know anything about the makers of the other recipes. I substituted brown sugar for white sugar, because we didn't have enough white sugar.

How not to be angry



After much poking around the web and reading reviews of recipes, I've concluded that fudge makes people angry. If a recipe works, people are fine. But if it doesn't---and apparently it doesn't a lot---people get pissed. They complain loudly about lost ingredients... they're probably more upset about lost time, though, and the fact that they were all ready for a bite of fudge... In any case, there are a lot of extremely angry people out there, and they're either mad because their fudge didn't set, or because their fudge came out like a solid rock. I didn't want that to happen to me, so I researched it heavily, just what makes fudge come out like a solid rock as opposed to creamy, chocolatey goodness?

I've concluded (and of course I have no evidence) that the problem is that people didn't do enough research. So I did a lot of research in hopes of avoiding the major mistakes. I concluded that you should never just follow the recipe. You should follow the intent of the recipe.

What in the world is the soft ball stage?


Every fudge recipe out there says to boil the concoction until it reaches the soft ball stage. They tell you that means ~235 degrees Farenheight. This is really hard for people. Soft ball stage tells you something about the sugar concentration. This is different from temperature. Now, I've made condensed stock before, so I'm pretty confident that you can get rid of a lot of water without being at a rolling boil. It stands to reason that if you top out at 230 degrees F for a long time but never make it up to 235, you're still above boiling and will be losing plenty of liquid. This is just a guess, but I bet this is what happened to all the people who ended up with brick-like fudge despite using their thermometer properly and following the recipe slavishly. There are a surprising number of these people out there, and they're very, very angry.

The temperatures in candy recipes should be used as guidelines. They're the temperatures that usually happen to correlate with appropriate sugar concentrations if you are losing water at a certain rate. Altitude is going to affect this, humidity is going to affect this, and having "medium" on your element not be the same as "medium" on the element of the person who gave you the recipe will affect this. In short, thermometers are probably good things, but the thermometer isn't actually measuring the thing you want to know about; it's measuring something that's usually correlated with the thing you want to know about.

I actually didn't use a thermometer. My candy thermometer is 3000 miles from here, and it was supposed to snow for 12 hours today (it didn't) so I thought I'd leave the driving to the Albanians and keep my southern Californian self off the road. I used the cold water test, which actually tests the sugar concentration. I have absolutely no idea if I ever got anywhere near the target temperature. Everyone says the soft ball stage is when the chocolate syrup forms a ball when dribbled into cold water, but that isn't adequate information when you're trying it for the first time without a thermometer as backup. I found this kick-ass web page that had really thorough explanations of the various sugar stages as well as video to complement the verbal description. Check out the science of candymaking web page if you plan on trying this at home. I ended up testing it about 5 times in a ramekin with ice water in it until I got the right temperature. I rinsed out the ramakin each time to make sure I wasn't mixing the old drops with the new drops and messing up my results. I left 2-5 minutes between each test. I think my stove runs cold compared to most stoves (which is odd, given that the oven runs about 200 degrees hotter than it ought to).

I took the pot off of the heat the minute it was clear I had a soft ball. I reasoned that I'd rather have something too soft than something too hard. There's an urban myth that someone had to throw away the pot because the chocolate solidified and there was no getting it out. Probably false, but I'd prefer storing it in the fridge (or freezer) and still having it melt in my mouth to having something rock-like, which a lot of people complained about in fudge recipe reviews. Bottom line: if you have too low a sugar concentration, it will be runny; if you have too high a sugar concentration, it will be hard.

What about sugar crystals?


No one actually complained about sugar crystals, but from what I've read, they can really screw up any sort of candy making process. I used one of those new fangled spoonula things that is supposed to be safe at candy-making temperatures instead of a wooden spoon. I wanted to be able to scrape the bits of the mixture that got up on the side of the pot back into it so that there wouldn't be undisolved sugar on the side of the pan.

What do they mean by matte?


I don't know. In one review of some recipe or other, someone said that when she stirred it until it was matte, it solidified in the bowl and she couldn't get it into the pans, but she tried it again and stopped stirring before that point and it worked perfectly. The stirring process at the end of the fudge making is supposed to encourage the development of lots of little sugar crystals. They're what make the fudge thicken up properly. I stirred mine until it had lost the really wet-looking sheen, but it still had plenty of sheen. I wouldn't call it matte, it was simply matter than it was when it started out. I payed more attention to the texture. It got really viscious towards the end. I had to stir for a long time, but without a thermometer I'm not sure I had cooled it to some ideal temperature before I started stirring. When I declared it done, it had reached the point where it was mildly tiring to pull the spoon around the bowl, and when I flipped a spoonful of fudge from the edge into the middle, it took a while for the fudge to ook back down to cover the bottom of the pot. I think I stirred it the right amount, because the stuff that was left in the pot after I'd poured the fudge off into the pan had pretty much set to an appropriate fudge consistency by the time I got myself settled in a comfy chair to lick out the pot.

Results


Well, we tried the fudge. I used roasted walnuts in it, which I think are a little too potent. Some people say they taste like bacon. I think they taste good and nutty, but a little overpowering. The fudge itself set up pretty well. It was a little on the soft side when I tried it, but I hadn't put it in the refrigerator or anything. It was sufficiently hard that it maintained its structure for several hours at room temperature after pieces were cut out of it. All in all, I'm pretty happy with it.

Gingerbread
Wednesday, November 30, 2005, 11:33 PM - flatbread, dessert
I made gingerbread and cranberry chutney again today. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful---processed foods and pizza. I don't think I've been eating properly. Tomorrow I'll eat something healthy.

Gingerbread Recipe


ingredients:
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup butter
1 TBS lemon juice
~1 tsp baking soda
~1 tsp baking powder
~1 TBS powdered ginger
~1 TBS cinnamon
~1 tsp allspice
x tsp nutmeg, where 1/8 < x < 1/2
y tsp corriander, where 1/8 < y < 1/3

I payed more attention this time, aren't you proud of me?

procedure:
People who know what they are doing will mix up the wet ingredients first then add the dry ingredients. However, people who know what they are doing will have to plan ahead and be more organized than you need to be for this recipe; they might even use more dishes. Incidentally, brown sugar counts as a wet ingredient.

Make a pot of tea. Be sure to make more water than fills the teapot. Some of this water, naturally, you'll want to use to preheat the teapot. But measure off half a cup and dump the butter into it. (Um... that would be the measured off portion, not the bit that you're going to drink.) The butter will melt nicely and you won't have to worry about mucking around with a microwave, or worse, planning ahead enough to leave it out to soften ahead of time.

Pour the lemon juice into the dry ingredients. It's important to do this first because it's exciting... remember the vinegar/baking soda volcanos? Less impressive, but lemon juice still bubbles a little when it hooks up with the baking soda. Now add the water and butter and stir it up. You could do it all at once, but you'd miss some excitement. Don't wait too long, though, because you want the bubbles to be inside the dough, not used up while you were watching them fizz.

Mix the dough up and stick it on a floured baking sheet. Smoosh it out so it's pretty flat. It should be maybe 1/4" thick. It will rise a reasonable amount; I think mine doubled in thickness, maybe a little more.

Bake for ~10 minutes at ~350 degrees F. I started mine with the knob turned to 250, which was really 350. I thought I'd appropriately compensated at the time, but no. I didn't realize quite how psychotic this oven is because I don't use it enough. Did I mention that you shouldn't trust your oven and should get a supplemental oven-safe thermometer so you know what's really going on? When I checked on it after about 7 minutes, the gingerbread was mostly done, but the oven had decided that it should actually be 450. It wasn't quite done so I left it another 2 minutes with the oven turned off, so maybe it cooled down to the 350 range by the end, but who knows? In short, the cooking time/temperature is pretty flexible. In any case, you can tell if it's done by pushing down in the middle with your finger. If it's done, it will spring back up. If it's not done, it will make a dent.

Top with cranberry chutney.


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