Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers - Chocolate Valentino



This flourless chocolate cake recipe, called Chocolate Valentino, is meant to be baked in a heart-shaped pan. I have an excess of single-serving disposable aluminum cups that Dave bought at the dollar store as a gag because I generally despise anything involving hearts. Barf. Usually, I use them as a vessel to bake eggs, but the Chocolate Valentino provided an excellent excuse to use some of them up. I halved the original recipe and came out with 8 individual cakes. I adore flourless chocolate cake, one of the richest and most decadent treats I can think of, but this particular variation came out dry and cakey. I was a little disappointed, as I had hoped for a fudgy texture. Perhaps my egg whites were too stiff? I'll try it again some time, since the ingredient list is only 3 things.

I've been reading about ice cream a lot lately. It's one of my favorite things to eat, and I'm becoming obsessed with making a perfect version at home. The custard-based recipe included in this challenge is similar to many homemade formulas. I infused the cream with Mexican vanilla bean to keep the flavor simple. The ice cream is very good, with extremely pronounced, floral vanilla flavor and gorgeous speckles of black beans. A sprinkle of cocoa nibs added a crunch and contrasting flavor.

I've learned that using an inverted sugar, like honey, molasses, or corn syrup in place of some granulated sugar helps to reduce crystallization in ice cream. Adding powdered glucose to the mix adds pliability to the finished product, so it is scoopable right from the freezer. My biggest beef with homemade ice creams are that they are more ice and less cream until they've had a few minutes to thaw. It's impossible to scoop them straight from the freezer. I've bent a spoon or two trying to do it.

So, I'm on the hunt for ice cream formulas that already include an invert sugar and glucose. Let me know if you have any thoughts!

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shrimp and Broccoli

Despite my love of crispy bacon, juicy chicken, and medium-rare steak, I've decided to go vegetarian for a while. I've heard rumors that decreasing meat consumption leads to increasing energy levels, so to get through the last of the dreary winter slump, I'm including lots of seafood and beans, and maybe even a little tofu into my diet.



There's a recipe for roasted shrimp and broccoli that has permeated the blogosphere, and with good reason. It's speedy, flavorful, and healthy, making it especially perfect for weeknight dinners. I got the recipe from The Amateur Gourmet. I substituted garlic powder for the coriander called for in the original, sprinkled the top with a few toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, and served over a brown rice and quinoa medley for a nearly guilt-free meal.



Feel free to share your favorite animal-free recipes with me!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cafe Orchid

I didn't even know that there was a restaurant next to that one florist that's across the street from the Dunkin Donuts at the awkward intersection of Addison, Lincoln, and Ravenswood. It's hidden away, partially by location and partially by its complete lack of curb appeal. Last night, I had the epiphany that many others have already experienced. Cafe Orchid totally rocks.



Our group of six dined on flavorful Turkish specialties, including stuffed grape leaves, fried liver with red onions, kibbe, hummus, iskender, and baklava. Every item was fresh and full of flavor. Cafe Orchid's BYOB policy went a long way to keep the bill in check, and when I say "long way," I really mean from here to the moon.

Here's the fat:

Appetizers
2 orders of kibbe fried mixture of ground lamb, bulgar, and pine nuts shaped like mini footballs and served with thin yogurt
2 orders of stuffed grape leaves
1 feta platter feta, olives, sausage, tomatoes, honeydew melon
1 order of hummus
1 order of fried liver with red onions

Entrees
1 order of iskender like gyros meat, served atop bread that soaks up juices and yogurt sauce and covered with chunky tomato sauce
2 orders of manti Turkish ravioli that is reminiscent of gnocchi, served drenched in garlicy yogurt sauce and finished with either melted butter or tomato sauce
1 order of roasted chicken with rice

Dessert
2 orders of baklava super delicious and buttery, and I normally don't like honey
2 cups of Turkish tea

5 or 6 bottles of wine (I lost count) brought from outside of the restaurant. There is no corkage fee at Cafe Orchid.

And here's the skinny:
$23.00 per person, tax and tip included.

That's right, $23 measly dollars for an absolute feast! You've spent way more than that on dumber things (I know you ordered that Snuggie), and less tasty meals. Cafe Orchid hooks you up with great, fresh, home style food at a great price. Return that Snuggie and treat yourself to a fantastic meal at Cafe Orchid, or enjoy it in the comfort of your own home with delivery or take away.

Cafe Orchid
1746 W. Addison
Chicago, IL 60613
773.327.3808

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Paczki Day

Today was not a good day to wear black.

I stopped through Alliance Bakery this morning to pick up a dozen assorted paczkis, the delicious filled Polish donuts that are only available around this time of year. They're a little lighter on filling than I remember, but still quite yummy. The custard ones used to be dipped in chocolate fudge, which was over-the-top amazing, but now they get standard confectioner's sugar treatment.

I had a cheese one earlier. Since the coworkers haven't scooped them all up yet, I'm contemplating having a go at a strawberry-filled.

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Banana Bread with Walnuts



After many wasted efforts, I've finally beat my rebellious oven. I baked this banana bread in a regular loaf pan set atop an Air Bake sheet pan, with a regular sheet pan directly beneath it on a lower rack. This magical combination of metals managed to direct heat away from the fiery bottom of the oven, which regularly scortches every baked item to dark black. I feel well accomplished today.

I substituted whole wheat flour for some of the white flour in my usual banana bread recipe, adding fiber and a nutty flavor. Out of the oven, this quickbread yields a crunchy crust and tender crumb. It's great with a smear of butter.

Banana Bread with Toasted Walnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 1/8 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 blackened bananas, mashed
1/8 cup sour cream
1 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9"x5"x3" loaf pan, dust with flour,and knock out excess.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

Beat together eggs and sugar in bowl of electric mixer at medium-high speed until very thick and pale, about 10 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add oil in a slow stream, mixing, then mix in bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in flour mixture and walnuts.

Spread batter in pan evenly, and bake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Wait 10 minutes before loosening bread from the sides of the pan with a butter knife. Turn out of pan to finish cooling.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tidbits!



There is absolutely no way that you can fit this sandwich into your mouth. No freaking way. Perry's Deli, a Chicago mainstay for over 20 years, opened its second location at 719 W. Maxwell. Expect the same menu of jaw-stretching sandwiches, simple sides, and sodas that you would find at the original spot.

The camera phone doesn't lie. It may take crappy, out of focus, washed-out pictures, but it doesn't lie. Perry's makes a skyscraper of a sandwich. Deconstruction is your only hope for consumption. This is only half of one. The other half is somewhere in the background. Kind of ironic that Perry's is being filed under Tidbits, huh?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Chips, dips, wings, chili, and more dips. And chips.

Superbowl Appetizer Smackdown

a.k.a.

Something to hold my attention while others watch a 6 hour long football game.

a.k.a.

Fritos are a deliciously salty snack, and should be eaten with reckless abandon.

Check out this spread, and this was only about half of it! Crockpots housing chili, Thai peanut chicken wings, and something called "white trash dip," (can't identify what was in it, but can verify that it was yummy) didn't make the photo.




There was also a variation on the ever-popular snack food stadium, which garnered a symphony of "oohs" and "aahs" as well as The Hustler award for presentation.



Thanks to Sally and Jody for hosting a great party, and producing a lovely goat cheese and macerated beet appetizer. My veggie consumption for the day, all two tablespoons of it, came solely from those delicious little bites.