Mrs. Iron Chef needed a dish for a work pot luck recently and of course she turned to me to ask if I would make something. I debated making my Mac and Cheese, but we weren’t sure if there was any way to heat it up and it has been too bloody warm to make Mac anyway. I figured that since the event was outside and during the heatwave we have been going through that a nice Caprese Salad would be a good choice and I would do it with a twist. Tomatoes are just about in season, watermelon is in season and I have more basil right now than I know what to do with so it seemed like a good candidate with easily accessible ingredients. It would be quick to make and easy to transport also. So I went with it. At the event there was a contest for best dish and guess what took home the top prize?
1 ¼ lbs. ripe, in season, tomatoes, cut into ½ in pieces
8 oz. Fresh Mozzarella, preferably Ciliegine size, drained, patted dry and halved
8 oz. Watermelon, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 ½ tablespoons coarsely minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
2 table spoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, mozzarella and watermelon and toss gently to combine. Add basil, oil vinegar and salt and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust salt and add fresh ground pepper as desired. Let sit at least an hour to combine (don’t refrigerate it) and toss just before serving. That is it, there is nothing else to do but enjoy.
The key to this is to use in-season tomatoes. The riper they are, the sweeter they are so if you grow your own, this dish will be much sweeter than if you use store bought ones. I prefer roma or cherry tomatoes for this dish, but just about any tomato will work except for the ones that you will find in the supermarket labeled as “slicing tomatoes”. The mozzarella should be available in the deli section of most mega marts and the ciliegine size are about the size of the tip of your thumb. You can use just about any size mozzarella balls (don’t use the slicing mozzarella, it doesn’t have enough moisture), you just want to cut the pieces into roughly the same size as the tomatoes and watermelon. If you are using home grown tomatoes that are really sweet, I would recommend using red wine vinegar rather than balsamic – otherwise you risk a very sweet salad. A nice trick for mixing the oil and vinegar – put them into a small container with a lid and shake vigorously a couple of times until combined. I usually have a small container of the two handy so I just need to shake it up and pour over a salad. Adjust the recipe to taste – if you want more tomatoes, or basil or mozzarella, or watermelon, add it. You may need more oil and vinegar, if you do increase the other ingredients – just do it slowly. This salad is also great with some raw sweet onions sliced thinly added to the mix and served over grilled bread.
I don’t generally like to bake, partially because I hate following recipes and partially because I usually end up eating too much of the finished product. However, when it comes to parties, it is nice to have something sweet on hand that can feed a large number of people easily, and brownies fit that bill very well. The better the chocolate used in these, the better the brownies will be. There are so few other ingredients that you will actually be able to taste the more subtle flavors that the chocolate will carry, so use one that you like the taste of when eating it on its own. The recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
Make a Foil Sling using the following steps: Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and fit into width of pan in the same manner, perpendicular to the first sheet (if using extra-wide foil, fold second sheet lengthwise to 12-inch width). Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk cocoa and boiling water together in large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted. Whisk in melted butter and oil. (Mixture may look curdled.) Add eggs, yolks, and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and homogeneous. Whisk in sugar until fully incorporated. Add flour and salt and mix with rubber spatula until combined. Fold in bittersweet chocolate pieces. (this may seem like a bunch of steps, but it comes together very quickly)
Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool 1½ hours.
Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
This is a very easy recipe and makes a big pan of chewy, dense, intensely chocolaty brownies, just prep everything in advance. These are nice with a small sprinkle of sea salt on top, but really just work fine on their own. I like using chocolate in the 70-85% range for this (my preferred chocolate is Kallari), but the original recipe calls for 60%, so you can use that. I wouldn’t use chocolate under 60% (the brownies will be very sweet) or over 85% (never tried this, but I suspect that the chocolate chunks won’t end up melting enough). The notes from the Cook’s Illustrated recipe:
For the chewiest texture, it is important to let the brownies cool thoroughly before cutting. If your baking dish is glass, cool the brownies 10 minutes, then remove them promptly from the pan (otherwise, the superior heat retention of glass can lead to overbaking). While any high-quality chocolate can be used in this recipe, our preferred brands of bittersweet chocolate are Callebaut Intense Dark Chocolate L-60-40NV and Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar. Our preferred brand of unsweetened chocolate is Scharffen Berger. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
I don’t normally do breakfast, but when I do, I tend to gravitate more toward pancakes and French toast. On occasion, I will get a waffle, but generally it is something I may eat once a year. On a recent trip back to the Iron Chef homeland, my mom purchased a waffle iron. Well, she needed a recipe; I knew a good one from Cooks Illustrated, so here you go:
The secret to great waffles is a thick batter, so don’t expect to pour this one. Make toaster waffles out of leftover batter—undercook the waffles a bit, cool them on a wire rack, wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze. Pop them into the toaster for a quick breakfast.
1. Heat waffle iron. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Whisk yolk with buttermilk and butter.
2. Beat egg white until it just holds a 2-inch peak.
3. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients in a thin steady stream while gently mixing with a rubber spatula; be careful not to add liquid faster than you can incorporate it. Toward end of mixing, use a folding motion to incorporate ingredients; gently fold egg white into batter.
4. Spread appropriate amount of batter onto waffle iron. Following manufacturer’s instructions, cook waffle until golden brown, 2 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately. (You can keep waffles warm on a wire rack in a 200-degree oven for up to 5 minutes.)
That is it. Serve with syrup, butter, whipped cream, fruit, fried chicken or whatever you like.
I recently got asked for this recipe again and realized that I have made a few tweaks to it from the original. Basically, make a graham cracker crust rather than using a pie crust if you want this to actually look like a cheesecake. It is easy if you have a spring-form pan. I also updated the recipe to use a single type of chocolate rather than the blend that I was originally using.
13 oz Chocolate – roughly chopped (Dark Chocolate, somewhere around 70% works the best
1/3 cup coffee liqueur or strong coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound Silken Tofu (extra firm) drained
1 tablespoon honey
1 9 inch graham cracker crust or pie crust
Pre-bake your crust (if necessary) and let cool. If you need to know how to make a graham cracker crust, check here (just leave out the sugar, you won’t need it). Melt the chocolate, liqueur or coffee and vanilla in a bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water, stirring often. (This can also be done in a microwave, but be careful of burning the chocolate). In a blender or food processor, combine the tofu, honey and chocolate and spin until smooth, about 1 minute. Pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. That’s it. You have dessert. Serve with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, or just eat it as is.
I personally use a good single origin, 70% chocolate, but if you don’t have access to a really good chocolate shop, you can use pretty good chocolate like Callebaut or Schaffen-Berger, which are available just about everywhere these days (read – most mega marts carry them). Just remember, chocolate is the dominant flavor in this dessert, so go with one that you like the taste of. If you like it sweeter, add more honey, but I would recommend waiting until after everything is combined and tasted. This will set into the consistency of something resembling a dense cheesecake. If you want something more pudding like, I would recommend using a less firm silken tofu.
Well, the Mayans were wrong and what a better way to celebrate the fact than throwing a hedonistic feast in their honor. I will do this post in a couple of parts – this one with the menu, descriptions and any links to existing recipes that I used to make them (along with any tweaks) and a second set of posts with the remaining recipes (some of these are a pain to write out, so it will take a bit to get them out there). I really wanted to have fun with the meal, so I opted for simple preparations with fun plating and names. So, without further delay, I present to you “Meal of the Apocalypse”!
Cocktail: Heart of Darkness
I am pretty sure that I didn’t make this one up, but I have absolutely no idea where I would have come across it either. It is a champagne based cocktail, which are always delicious and refreshing and this takes about 1 minute to make.
Here is what I wrote about the drink on my menu:
The story Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is the inspiration for one of my favorite movies, Apocalypse Now. It seemed appropriate to make a drink based on that, given the theme of the night.
Since I like you, I will give you the recipe here.
The drink is 1.5 oz. blood orange juice or soda, 4 oz. sparkling wine, 3 drops Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters and a frozen strawberry, served in a wine glass.
I would recommend using a drier sparkling wine for this so that you don’t get overloaded with sweetness. I personally used Washington produced Treveri Pinot Gris sparkling wine in this version.
First Course: My Last Meal
Being Italian, it seemed logical to start off the meal with pasta. I did a meat ravioli with a taleggio, shallot and sous vide egg cream sauce and topped it with a sprinkle of guanciale, just because I could. It was decadent and over the top, but it pared nicely with the 2010 Wilridge Pinot Grigio, which has a bit of sharpness to it that cut the richness of the dish.
My notes on the dish:
One of the components of my last meal on earth, if I got to choose it, would be something that my dad made for me when I was growing up. This is my adult version of the meal that I enjoyed as a kid.
Second Course: The Mayan Slaughter
I wanted to make mole without making mole, so I basically took a bunch of the spices that are used in mole and made a spice rub for some pork tenderloins. Then to get the chocolate component of the dish, I made a chocolate gastrique as a side sauce that was meant to be eaten with the pork. I really felt like I nailed this one as the combination of the spices and the chocolate really reminded me of a mole, although a more complex one than you might expect since the fruit notes in the chocolate really came out. I served it with a toasted quinoa hash (quinoa, black beans, queso fresco) that I got the basic idea from Modernist Cuisine at Home. I pared this with a completely killer Argentinian Malbec from my cellar that a friend brought me back from Argentina – 2006 LaGarde Riserva Malbec.
There was one problem with calling this dish the Mayan Slaughter:
The Spanish brought pigs to the new world and they became a main protein of Mexican cooking well after the Mayans. A deconstructed mole sauce is a tribute to the Mayans, although the Mayans didn’t really invent it and quinoa is actually from South America. We will just ignore those little details.
Third Course: Side of the Road Salad
Just a simple salad of wild arugula, dandelion greens, truffle oil, 30 year old balsamic vinegar and alder smoked sea salt. I wanted to add some sun chokes to this, but my attempt at making a sun choke crouton didn’t work. I served this with a 2009 NHV Rose which wasn’t a fan favorite by itself, but worked well with the salad.
No picture of this since: A) salads are boring and B) I forgot to take a picture of it before I started eating.
My story about the salad:
You could, in theory, survive in Seattle eating nothing but foraged food (there are people who do this willingly), if you know where to look. This just proves that you can do it and still eat well.
Fourth Course: Raid the Emergency Supplies
This was one that I went really creative with the presentation. What better to celebrate the world not ending then with eating your stockpiles of emergency supplies? I made my Belgian Beef Carbonnade recipe, topped it with a potato slice and served it in a tin can. Of course, since I went with the really classy presentation in a can, I had to serve a great bottle of wine, in this case the 2001 Conti Sertoli Sforsato in a mason jar.
Here are my thoughts on this:
You should have a stockpile of emergency supplies including canned goods in the event of a natural disaster. If Dinty Moore beef stew tasted this good, I probably would be eating it every night. When serving stellar food in a can, it is only appropriate to serve a killer wine in a mason jar, just to keep it classy.
Dessert: Last in Line for the Human Sacrifice
I really needed to have a human sacrifice as part of this meal; it just seemed fitting and, after much debate, decided that it would be at the end of the meal. So how do you have a human sacrifice without killing an actual human? Well, you first take an altar made out of chocolate pudding. You then take a human made of a sugar cookie and place him on the altar. Then you take some raspberry blood and dot that on the plate. Then you take a spoon and kill your cookie man and enjoy. Just for the hell of it, you pair this with a Maison de Pagett Pillow Talk Vanilla Port. Human sacrifice has never been as fun or delicious as this one.
The gory details:
A line from a George Carlin bit about being lost. No proper post-apocalyptic meal would be complete without a sacrifice at the end. There was also much debate among my friends about where in the meal the sacrifice belonged. We will try it here.
So I am going to show you want to do with the instant pudding recipe. I have modified the original recipe and that change will be described in the notes. This is fairly quick to make and tastes so good when it is done.
1 ¾ cups of pudding mix
4 cups of whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the mix and milk in a medium sauce pan. Whisk together until combined. Heat over medium heat until mixture begins to boil (7-10 minutes) constantly whisking gently. When boil is reached, reduce heat to low and simmer for 4 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove heat and whisk in vanilla. Transfer mixture to a single bowl or individual serving bowls. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding if you don’t want a skin to form. Refrigerate or just eat it warm. Using your finger or a spatula, remove any chocolate pudding still in the pot and consume.
The original recipe called for 2 cups of heavy cream and 2 cups of milk. I replaced the cream with the milk and did not really notice much difference in the texture or flavor. I need to try it with replacing some of the whole milk with skim milk to see how that affects the product. I also tried doubling the recipe. It increased the cooking time from 10 minutes to almost 30 since there was much more cold milk to bring up to temperature.
I like simple desserts. I am not a baker and I don’t like spending a ton of time putting things together if I don’t have to, but I do like chocolate and specifically chocolate pudding. Yes, you can buy it premade (which tastes like crap) or the instant pudding mix in the store but really, do you want all of the chemicals and stabilizers in it? Here is the ingredients list for Jell-O Chocolate Pudding:
SUGAR, MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE (FOR THICKENING), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, TETRASODIUM PYROPHOSPHATE (FOR THICKENING), MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES (PREVENT FOAMING), RED 40, YELLOW 5, BLUE 1, ARTIFICIAL COLOR, BHA (PRESERVATIVE).
They actually add food dye to chocolate pudding? Sheesh. What if I told you that you could make your own instant pudding mix at home with a handful of ingredients and have it taste about 100 times better than any box mix that you can get? Well, thanks to the culinary genius that is Alton Brown, you can.
4 oz. Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
2 oz. Cornstarch
6 oz. Powdered Sugar
1 ½ oz. Non-Fat Dry Milk Powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Take all the ingredients and combine them in a large bowl or container with a lid. Cover and shake until completely combined. That is it. You are done. That took about 2 minutes. Store covered in the fridge for 3 months.
I actually increased the amount of cocoa in this recipe by 1 oz. (it originally called for 3 oz.) because I wanted to. A teaspoon of espresso powder added to this mix would throw this totally over the top. Use a really good cocoa powder, it is your dominant flavor and you want the best you can get. I suppose you want the recipe for making pudding, huh? Well, you will just have to wait a few days for my next post to get that one.
The Odd Bits dinner I made a while back was supposed to end with a Pig’s Blood Ice Cream. Everyone cringes when I say this, but don’t knock it until you try it. It is actually healthier than traditionally made ice cream as the blood replaces the eggs as the thickening agent and you need to use less volume of blood than you do eggs and the blood is higher in vitamins and minerals and lower in fat and cholesterol than the eggs. It is also the most intensely flavored chocolate ice cream you will ever have and no, it does not taste like blood – you actually wouldn’t even know blood is in there unless someone mentioned it.
That being said, it is freaking impossible to find usable blood in Seattle. You can get a “blood solution” but it is like jelly and will not return to a liquid state, which is fine for making blood sausage, but not so much for ice cream. As a result, I had to go to plan B on desert and went with Bacon Bread Pudding. Not exactly odd bits, but you generally don’t find many people having bacon for dessert (although you should). The nice thing about this recipe is that it is easy and can easily feed a large number of people with a minimum of effort. I adapted this recipe from Chef Larry Monaco’s original Maple Donut and Bacon Bread Pudding.
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 loaf (1.75 lbs) brioche, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup bacon fat
1 lb thick sliced bacon, cooked crispy
1 1/2 cup of cream
1/2 cup brandy or bourbon
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup bacon fat or 1 stick of butter
The Bread Pudding
Spread the cubed bread on 2 rimmed baking sheets and put into a 300 degree oven for 1 hour a to 1 hour, 15 minutes until they are dried, rotating the pans half way through the process. You are essentially making brioche croutons. Let cool and place in a large bowl
Cook the bacon until it is crispy, reserving all of the fat. Dice the bacon into 1/4 inch pieces and set aside
In a bowl, combine the eggs, sugar milk and vanilla and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture over the bread and toss gently to combine (you don’t want to break up the bread). Let sit for 10 minutes for the liquid to absorb.
In a separate bowl, combine the bacon fat, brown sugar and bacon and toss to combine.
Grease a 9x13x2 baking dish with either butter or bacon fat. Put the bread mixture in first, arranging in one even layer, adding any remaining liquid from the bowl. Sprinkle the brown sugar bacon mixture on top in an even layer and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes until set (you are looking for an internal temp of about 165-170 degrees). Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Add the fat, sugar and cream to a saucepan over medium heat, whisking until the sugar is incorporated, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add the alcohol and bring to just below a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes until slightly thickened. Drizzle over the bread pudding.
I used bacon fat, but butter can be substituted for it. I would recommend using very high quality bacon in this dish as it is going to be a dominant flavor. I would caution using bacon that has been cured in maple syrup as it might cause this dish to become too sweet. The drying out the bread in the oven is critical to the creamy texture of the dish – stale bread does not absorb the liquid as well as the dried bread and will lead to a less creamy dish. If you can’t find brioche, you can use just about any bread (challah will work really well), just make sure you can slice it thickly. This recipe will serve 12 people easily, so you can scale it down accordingly.
One of the benefits of living in Seattle is that you have access to some interesting stuff – great foraged mushrooms in the fall, nettles and fiddleheads in the spring, geoduck and spot prawns throughout the summer, great cheese makers and some of the best ice cream in the U.S. There are also a ton of places that do some really creative things with the local bounty.
Case in point is Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Shop. They have made some interesting seasonal flavors in the past from things that you would not necessarily expect to find in ice cream, most of which are worth trying. They recently produced an ice cream using another local ingredient – Beecher’s Flagship Cheese. I tried it on a recent trip into the Molly Moon shop in Wallingford and found it interesting, but not something that I necessarily would order. I commented to Mrs. Iron Chef that I was surprised there were no special sundaes on their menu board around the Beecher’s ice cream.
After thinking about it, the gastronomic wheels started spinning and I had a brilliant idea of what to do with the ice cream. If my forays into molecular gastronomy have taught me anything it is that the goal of cooking should be to take familiar flavors and present them in new ways without really changing the taste of the original. This lead me to the brilliant conclusion, if someone makes an ice cream using one of the cheeses that I love on a grilled cheese sandwich, then why don’t I just turn that sandwich into a sundae?
At a recent dinner party, I unleashed my creation on the unsuspecting guests. I have found that the easiest way for someone to not like something new is to tell them what it is before they eat it. In this case, I did not reveal what everyone was eating until after they finished and the creation was generally pretty well received.
So I present to you, Molly Moon’s Beecher’s Flagship Grilled Cheese Sundae.
1 lb. heirloom tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon dry vermouth
1 pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
3 slices bacon, cooked crispy and sliced into 1/8 inch lardons
1 cup brioche crumbs
1 pint of Molly Moon’s Beecher’s Flagship Ice Cream
Cut 3-4 slices of brioche into 1 inch cubes. Place on a sheet pan and dry in a 275 degree oven for 90 minutes or until the bread is completely dried out.
Remove and pulse in a food processor until a coarse crumb (about 5 pulses, one second each on my machine).
Store in an air tight container if not using right away.
Add the tomatoes, vinegar, salt and vermouth to a medium sauce pan over medium heat and cook until the tomatoes break down, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Transfer the tomatoes to a blender and puree until smooth.
You are looking for roughly the consistency of a really thick tomato sauce. If your compote is too thin, return to the heat and reduce, stirring occasionally. If it is too thick, you can add water to thin it out.
In a ramekin, take a tablespoon of the tomato compote and put it in the bottom. Add one scoop of the ice cream and top with the brioche crumble and bacon lardons. Serve to an unsuspecting public.
The recipe should serve 4 to 6 people.
I used some really nice heirloom tomatoes that were sweet enough that I did not need to add any sugar. If the tomatoes you are using are not very sweet, add some sugar to the cooking process, a small amount at a time and let dissolve before adding any more. You are looking for slightly tart to balance the sweetness of the ice cream. I suppose that any bread would work for the crumble, but I really like the buttery flavor of brioche. I used Skagit River Ranch’s uncured bacon for this recipe because I like the balance of smoky and sweet it has. Use whatever bacon you would normally use on a grilled cheese sandwich for the recipe.