dessert

Austin Gastro Graze 1: Michi Ramen, Moo Bawk Oink, and Krak 2

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I like trying new things. By “things” I mean food.

Living in Austin means I get an ever evolving restaurant scene in which to bask in beautiful tasty goodness.

This past weekend I ventured to the North Austin Trailer Yard, NATY. Some bites were simple meh, but one place was amazing.

This trailer yard is right outside my gym, which is…unfortunate. It makes circuit training much less effective. But that’s mostly due to the good food found within.

On Saturday we ordered a beef Snarky cheese steak from Boo Bawk Oink and a Black and White Donut from Krak 2 which is within the same trailer as Moo Bawk Oink and a bottle of water. The entire tab came to $13, which we considered to be a bit pricey for trailer food. The sandwich was overly bready and the meat what I believe to be pulled brisket, in fact at first I questioned if it was pork, a little dry, but not bad. I prefer the horrible cheesesteak sliced meat, but it was a decent sandwich. The jalapenos are not spicy and the cheese more like white goo sauce. Good enough to try, not sure if I’d go back, especially considering its competition at NATY.

The donut was actually a square piece of fried dough with a whole in the center, drizzled with icing, hershey’s chocolate sauce, and Cocoa Krispies. According to the prices on Boo Bawk Oink’s website our sandwich and bottled water was $8. There weren’t prices for Krak 2 and aren’t any on their website, but based on our tab the donut was $5. While the fried dough “donut” was tasty – what fried dough isn’t? – it wasn’t worth $5. It was essentially a large beignets. Now, if it came with a scoop of ice cream then I’d dig the $5…

We also ordered a bowl of ramen from Michi Ramen. Michi Ramen is, in a word, AMAZING. Flavor, rich, warm, traditional, the comfort food you never knew your craved. Michi only has the room to create 50 bowls of Ramen for lunch and 50 for dinner, so their twitter is merely a count down of the bowls they have left. At noon on a Saturday, however, Chip and I had no problem scoring a bowl. The line was steady, though, and for good reason: As an American who thinks of ramen as those dried 38cent packets you can get at the grocery store. What Michi serves is incredible, flavorful, and even served with a poached egg if so desired. The broth is cooked for almost TWO DAYS with all natural ingredients (this is their claim, but boy does it taste like it!), pork bones, leaking their delicious marrow and flavors into a rich base for a ultra flavorful lunch/dinner. The standard ramen is served with two slices of Cashu on top, gorgeous, fatty, soy marinated braised pork. It was $9, but in this case it was money well spent. I took home our left over broth, let it coagulate and then sauteed spinach in it with the next night’s dinner of grilled steak and mashed cauliflower.

Yeah. It was awesome.

Yes, under the pork and poached egg and mushrooms there are ramen noodles.

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Easy Fire-Free S’Mores

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In Austin we have the very weird problem of summer actually not being the season for S’mores. I love me some s’mores. All gooey, chocolatey, crunchy, sugary, and delicious. The thing is that here it gets entirely too hot to stand outside, have a fire toast a few ‘mallows, and throw together a s’more. Your chocolate will be melted by the heat of the sun, the flies will be all over you, and most of the time there’s a burn ban against fire pits anyway. Yes, we Austinites have 2 days of cooler days a year, Flash Not-Summer, where we can actually toast marshmallows for s’mores. Our seasons are as follows: Pre-Summer (January – February), Summer (March – October), Slightly Lesser Summer (November – December 29th), and, of course, Flash Not-Summer (December 30-31).

So, what to do? You can always microwave yourself one, but the chocolate is still hard as a rock and the graham cracker gets tough.

The simple answer: use your microwave for a simple ganache and make magic by swapping out the marshmallows for Fluff.

On a cookie sheet lined with wax paper I placed 14 graham cracker halves. I like a good amount of fluff, so in the center of each cracker I dropped s heaping tablespoon of the white stuff, allowing it to settle and spreading with a butter knife prayed with non-stick spray where needed. In a microwave-safe bowl I poured the contents of a bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips with 5-6 tablespoons of butter.

I microwaved the mixture in spurts for no more than 12 seconds at a time, stirring at each break. Once the chocolate was melted, I dropped a spoonful, about a level tablespoon, onto the fluff. I placed a graham cracker 1/8th onto the top of each so that the eater would have a place to hold with their fingertips without getting all gooey. Then I placed them in the fridge for 30 minutes to setup a bit.

I was tempted to add strawberry slices to a few and peanut butter to a couple. You could really do so many toppings that would stick perfectly to the fluff, even bananas with a little peanut butter on top for an Elvis inspired treat.

More than anything, though, I recommend these for any time you need an easy chocolate fix or a dessert you can make with your kids. You can keep leftovers in tupperware on the counter for about 3 days or in the fridge for about 5 until the graham starts softening.

Putting the Ass in Class: Champagne Jello Shots

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It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m hosting!…but I’m also cheap. I’m not as young as I used to be, but I still like to have a good time. This year to stretch the food spread and the booze budget I will be making Champagne Jello shooters.

This is a no-brainer: Jello is made of one part boiling water to one part cold water. Simply replace the cold water with chilled white wine, champagne, or other bubbly. Yes, you can also use vodka, but using champagne is far less Frat Boy esque. That being said I did once try watermelon jello made with coconut rum and, other than being so sweet that your could only keep down one sample of it, it was very tasty. You can get some decent tasting super cheap champagne nowadays (I assume the grapes are from the Champagne region of New Jersey, but it works, none the less). You can also use white wine or prosecco; red wine would be just too intense if using a flavored jello, which I am.

And, yes, you can use sugar free jello. But the fact of the matter is that if you’re drinking so much one night that you’re doing jello shots, than the last thing you’re really doing is calorie counting. And even the regular jello has only, like, 8 calories per serving. It’s just nil, so get over it.

So, jello shooters. Why the hell not? Let’s do this.

You will need:

*Jello/Gelatin. If using red wine you can use unflavored gelatin, which has no flavor, but smells like a wet dog when you add water. Tonight I will be using Lime jello to go with a spumante champagne, and strawberry flavored to go with a pink blush I picked up…because sometimes I’m girlier than other times.

*Boiling water. Follow the directions on the box. I purchased two of the larger sized boxes of jello; they call for 2 cups boiling water per flavor and that’s what I’m using.

*Chilled Champagne/Wine/Booze. A 750ml bottle will yield 3.5-4 cups of chilled liquid for jello. And it must be cold. You use equal parts cold drink as you use boiling water, exactly as specified on the boxed jello directions.

*Mini serve cups. I’m using paper dixie cups, but I would have really preferred something plastic or wax coated, which these are not. Not good for have a congealed liquid sitting in them for hours, but they will work just fine.

*A tray to hold all your mini serve cups. I’m using a pyrex baking pan and a cookie sheet.

*A fridge. Duh.

Boil water. Boil more than two cups; you never know how much will evaporate. While you’re waiting for your water to boil, pack your glass baking dish or cookie sheet with mini cups. Having them edge to edge means that if you get a little sloppy when pouring the mixture into the cups to chill, the drips will wind up IN the surrounding cups rather than around their bases.

Once boiling, measure 2 cups of water (if using the large size jello box or if making a double batch of the regular size packages. Again, follow the directions on the box.), preferably into a glass, pour spout measuring cup. Pour the the water into a heat proof bowl and stir with a non-stick spatula until the jello is completely dissolved. Don’t use a wooden spoon for this unless you want a permanently jello-dyed wooden kitchen utensil as a constant reminder of your clASSy jello shots.

When you go to open your bottle of champagne, wrap a towel around the cork so it doesn’t fly off, and slowly, gently pull. Sometimes it won’t even make that huge popping sound, but you’re guaranteed not to waste a drop of champagne this way or hurt an innocent bystander.

Once the jello has been dissolved in the boiling water let it cool for just a minute or two. Then measure equal parts champagne to your boiling water, in my case 2 cups. The measure is after the foam has subsided, so measure it out slowly. Again, a glass measuring cup with a pour spout is best for this and you can pick those up cheap any where if you don’t already have one.

Pour the champagne into the bowl with the hot water and dissolved jello and gently mix. Gently! Then pour slowly into dixie cups. They will foam up quite a bit so fill them each only about 1/2-2/3 of the way full and move onto the next cup until the foam settles. You can top them off later if you’d like.

Once your cups are full or you’re out of boozetastic jello mixture, refridgerate for at least 4 hours or over night.

Then enjoy!

I thought that the champagne bubbles would become transfixed in the jello making an almost Pop Rocks-like sensation when you’d suck one back. It doesn’t, not completely…so, sorry to – wait for it – burst your bubble.

 

 

Christmas Eve Starts with Dessert: Chocolate Cheesecake

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I wanted something special for holiday dessert this year, but I am not normally a treat maker. I often have prewrapped chocolate in my house, a box of Skinny Cows, or, if I’m really feeling an indulgent dessert, I’ll make cookies, but it pretty much stops there. I tried twice in my life to make pies and both ended terribly: At high altitude I couldn’t get my apples to cook after being in the oven for two hours, and on a torrential downpour day, my pecan pie came out as mere ice cream topping rather than anything even close to solid.

So, naturally, I choose Christmas Eve when I’m hosting guests to try an intermediate level recipe I’ve never tried before. No practice, no nothing. If it didn’t work out, we’d be having Rolos for dessert.

I have to admit, I’m not super clear on the whole rating the level of difficulty in a recipe thing. I mean, you follow the directions. Tweak it if you’re gutsy. There’s either less directions or more directions and all you have to do is follow them. Really, I think recipes should just be based on time, such as less time or a crap ton of time. Because you’re supposed to refrigerate a cheesecake for a while, this would get a Crap Ton Of Time rating.

This is more of a chocolate mousse cheesecake; it has cottage cheese in it. That’s not the norm, no, but I hate eating a slice of cheesecake and then immediately feeling like I’m about to have a baby because I’m so full and fatty-fat  fatfat. And this one comes out sweet, but not sugary, fluffy, but very cheesecake-creamy. Amazing with coffee. And I realized the the problem with lighter cheesecake is it’s hard to stop after one piece…

I think I had consumed so much food at this point that I was lying on the floor, but, like a champ, this didn’t deter me from another slice.

Like all good cheesecakes, this one begins with water. I preheated my oven to 325 and placed a roasting pan filled with about 2 inches of water on the second to last rack level. I went out (prior to heating my oven), bought a spring-form pan, took it apart, played with it, struggled to put it back together (I’m no winner), and then coated the inside with cooking spray. I also wrapped the outside bottom edge in aluminum foil to stop any of our cheesecake filling from leaking out.

Next came the crust:

1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs, about 10 full sheets. (The recipe called for chocolate graham cracker crumbs, but I wasn’t on the ball or paying close enough attention to the recipe when I went shopping.)

2 1/2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp water

2 1/2 tbsp melted unsalted butter

Crushing the graham crackers is a great task for kids to do. Or, if you harbor any ill will toward mankind, it’s a great way to work that angst out, as well. In my case I improvised a giant pestle and mortar and worked out regular holiday tension.

Wine bottles: Not just for Boozing it up any more. They make good rolling pins & great pestles.

I mixed everything together until moist and pressed it into the bottom of the spring-form pan. The recipe then called for the crust to be frozen for 15 minutes, and who am I to argue? I was doing this while watching Ancient Aliens on Netflix anyway, so it’s not like I didn’t have other things going on.

Next was the filling:

2/3 cups Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips. The recipe called for 2 ounces of semisweet chocolate, but I like bittersweet and who the hell knows what the measurement of an ounce of chocolate is? (I do. It’s about 1/3 cup to every ounce.)

24 oz container of cottage cheese.

8 oz room temperature cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

I’m starting to get bored now. Someone put on the Never Ending Story.

2 tbsp flour

1 egg

2 egg whites

2 tsp instant espresso powder (Don’t skip this. Use decaf if you’d prefer, but this really intensifies the chocolate.)

2 1/2 tsp vanilla (I like things extra vanilla-y)

I pureed the cottage cheese with an immersion hand blender. I then poured it into a kitchen aid mixer so that could do the rest of the blending for me. Often you can use a food processor to really make your cheesecake SUPER smooth. I am neither smooth nor the owner of a food processor, so I used a stand mixer. To the cottage cheese I added the cream cheese and then all the dry stuff. Once that was blended smooth, I added the egg & whites, the vanilla, melted the chocolate in the microwave and added that, too.

I poured the mixture onto the crust in the pan and into the oven it went (with the roasting pan of water still in there) on the upper third rack and baked it about 50 minutes, until the center jiggled like my gut. Then I let it sit in the oven for an additional hour with the heat turned off.

After that time I plated the cake and poured a ganache over the top.

Super simple Ganache topping:

1/2 cup semisweet Ghiradelli chips. Yes, I used semi-sweet instead of bittersweet for the ganache and there is a difference.

3 tbsp unsalted butter

Microwave the butter and chocolate together until melted and smooth. Pour over cheesecake. Viola.

After I let cool at room temperature for an additional hour, I put the cheesecake into the fridge. The final step, according to the original recipe, which I’d long since ditched, was to refrigerate for 8 hours or over night so it could really setup.

I let it chill for about 7 hours before it was time to dig in and it was great; no need for the 8+ hours. When plating I topped it with beautiful, sweet fresh raspberries and a dusting of powered sugar. I plan on having a left over slice for breakfast.

True Thai Taught in the slums & Perfect ChocoChunk Cookies

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I don’t hide the fact that I truly enjoy food. It’s part of the reason I have an all American waistline. I believe that what and how people eat can be very indicative clues to their culture and lifestyle. Two of my friends were recently able to go to different parts of Thailand. Part of their trip was a culinary experience and, after some digging around on the internet, they found a woman who would teach them to cook real Thai food in a very honest setting while in the slums of Bangkok. They brought these recipes back to the states with them and cooked them for us last night.

Needless to say, all the courses were beyond wonderful. The evening started with roasted silk worm larvae in sesame oil and cilantro. I can tell you that they tasted a bit like roasted tomatoes with the texture of steamed edamame. I can tell you this because that is what I was told. I’ve eaten crickets before and enjoyed them, but I could not bring myself to eat worm larvae. It was poor of me to at least not try it and I should have.

Next up was Pomelo salad. A pomelo, also known as a “Citrus Maxima”, is a giant grapefruit. Friggin’ huge. And delicious. Thai Pomelo salad is a dish normally called Yam Som – O; it’s fresh, flavorful, and filling on it’s own. The salad was made of pomelo, shrimp, coconut flakes, shallots, hot peppers, cilantro, and garlic with a dressing of lime juice, coconut milk and a dash of fish sauce. It was fantastic, the shrimp perfectly done, and the pomelo adding both sweetness and a bit of tartness that made the entire dish spicy and, yet, refreshing.

The third course in our evening was easily one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten all year. It was, to put it simply, amazing. The levels of flavor were such that I rarely, if ever, had experienced them before. It was a soup called Tom Kha: creamy coconut soup, with thin, small mushrooms that acted more like noodles, lemon grass, perfectly tender shrimp, and hot chili oil. This soup cleared your sinuses, but not in an unwelcoming way; I’m generally a coward when it comes to heat, but I could have eaten this until the cows came home. It was so flavorful that the spiciness was only secondary, though it helped that I had a beer to quell some of the heat. I wish I could have a big, heaping bowl of this soup right now and I’m not even hungry. It’s something that I know I will search for whenever I visit Thai restaurants in the future.

The main entree of the evening was classic pad thai, served with sugar, as it is the usual accompaniment to this dish in Thailand. Also, everything was eaten with forks and spoons, as it is not customary to eat these meals with chopsticks. Needless to say, dinner was fantastic.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with fresh blended mango poured over the top. I don’t have a picture of that because I inhaled it. We ended the evening with excellent conversation and the Vice Guide to North Korea. I highly recommend watching it. It is on Netflix Streaming as well, so you have no excuse to miss out. Hey, have you watched Troll Hunter yet? I’m thinking of watching it again…

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Cookies Make a Baker a Better Person

So, I’m super picky about chocolate chip cookies. Often times I found recipes result in bland, merely sugary sweet crackers, and, all too commonly, these baked treats seem to come out of the oven flatter than Kate Moss’s chest. A few months ago I decided I’d had enough. I wanted to make a cookie that was just as delicious to look at as it was to eat, something fluffy and chewy, and just all around awesome. This led me to the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I have yet to find any cookie recipe that even comes close to matching the quality of this one and every batch earns me accolades as a chef to those munching away on them.

First thing: This ain’t no TollHouse guide. Take everything you’ve ever learned about baking cookies and chuck it out the window. Fire it out of a canon into the sun, because it’s that worthless. Then preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a big bowl mix together 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 3/4 cups flour. Then put it in the corner and forget about it for a while. Now comes the fun part: Take 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and melt it in a sauce pan. Melt it and then start swirling the pan, over heat, until the butter is browned and nutty smelling. You want your house to smell AMAZING? Bake these cookies. Just like the look and taste, even the aroma goes above and beyond in mouth watering goodness.

You then take this gorgeous, transformed butter and pour it over – you guessed it – more butter. In a heat proof bowl, mix the melted 10 tbsp butter with 4 more cold tbsp unsalted butter. Stir or swirl until everything is melted. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar to the butter. Have you figured it out yet? The base of this cookie batter is a caramel! I know, your mind is blown. Take a minute. Regroup. Then let’s get back to baking.

Once you stir in the sugars, the mixture will look pretty gritty. That’s okay, the magic of adding eggs changes everything. Remember, though: we’re essentially making a caramel, so one egg is okay, 2 yolks are better. To the butter & sugar mixture add one full large egg and one additional yolk, a dash of salt, and vanilla extract. I generally also add a 1/2 tsp of almond extract; I find its flavor helps keep the cookies from seeming too sweet and adds a little something unexpected to a well known snack food without getting too far from the basics. When it comes to the eggs, separate them with your bare hands. Do it. We all have sinks and soap. Use your hands. I bought a fancy egg separator from Crate & Barrel for $4 that is just shit. Doesn’t work at all. It would have been a better use of money to buy lottery scratch-off tickets. See the useless uni-tasker below. Just use your freakin’ hands.

After the addition of the eggs, the directions get a little picky. Whisk the mixture for 30 seconds. Then let it sit for 3 minutes. Do this 2 more times, so that you whisk a total of 3 times, 30 seconds each time. The batter will completely change from dark brown and gritty, to thick, golden, smooth, and shiny. Also, make sure you don’t taste the batter at this point. It tastes just like a gooey, somewhat liquified Werther’s Original candy and you may not be able to stop guzzling it once you start.

Now you can add the caramel mixture to the flour and baking powder. Try to incorporate everything together without over mixing. Limit your stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon for right around a minute. Finally, add 1 1/2 cups of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. It really is best to use these. The different in cost between those and any other brand is minimal. They melt much better in the cookies as they’re flatter, thinner, and larger, and have a better flavor. They really make a difference in these cookies.

You may find the batter to be so buttery that it is difficult to get the chocolate chips to stick to it. I find that essentially cutting the chips into the batter and gently folding everything helps embed the chocolate into the batter without over mixing anything. After trying this recipe with regular chocolate chips, I can tell you first hand that the shape of the Ghirardelli stick much butter to the batter. You may have to get pretty handsey in forming these and it really does seem like a lot of chocolate. And there’s a good reason for that: It is a lot of chocolate.

At this point, the original recipe states to divide the batter into sixteen servings to make rather large cookies. I don’t like my cookies that big, so I generally make 20, 8 per cookie sheet, and 4 on the final. They’re still very large cookie, but not crazy in size. I bake them for 5 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet in the oven and cook for an addition 5 – 7 minutes, just until the edges are barely turning brown. If you can master pulling them out of the oven at the right point, you wind up with a chewy cookie with a bottom that is crunchy due to being caramelized and crisp. It makes for an amazing treat and added punch to an already fantastic treat. And, like a child, I enjoy mine with milk.