Posts Tagged ‘kitchen experiments’

I have to tell you guys, I am cooking for 30 people this year.  Funny enough, this is our usual Thanksgiving at El Rancho Destructo–my in-laws invite all of their family and friends, and it’s a huge party.  I get the tasks of most of the traditional American dishes like stuffing, cranberries and mashed potatoes while they handle the South American dishes like rice with lentils, tamales and salsa.

One of the things that I’m also responsible for is the turkey.  Now, last year I went with the idea of roasting a 29 pound turkey.  FOLLY, my friends, it was pure folly.  Have you ever tried to wrestle a 29 pound bird?  This year, I decided to break down and cook three turkeys, and one of them would be smoked, which I could do several days in advance.  Although I have experience in smoking meats, this was my first time smoking a whole turkey, so after a little research, I worked out a game plan.

I know that there are people out there who hail from the Church of Brined Turkey;  me, I’m really not totally sold on it.  The breast meat can be kind of slippery, and I think the bird doesn’t release enough of those wonderful, delicious drippings that are so important for gravy and drizzling on the pans of stuffing before popping them into the oven while the turkey rests.  However, there is one time I absolutely kneel at the Altar of Seasoned Salt Solution, and that’s when it’s time to smoke poultry.  My worry was the long cooking time and what it would do to the breast meat;  I’ve smoked turkey legs plenty of times, both brined and just dry-rubbed, and the brined legs are far more tender.

As for my brine, I was suckered into buying a brining mix when I went to go purchase my wood at the local BBQ supply shop, BUT, if you want to do everything on your own, I have tried Alton Brown’s brine recipe with great success.  What’s the deal behind brine? you might ask.  The long scientific version is here, but the short version is that in soaking a turkey in a salt solution will cause some of the proteins in the meat to break down to not only create a tender piece of meat, but as the turkey cooks, proteins shrink and release water.  Fewer proteins in the meat means less water gets squeezed out, hence a juicy turkey.  This is necessary during the long, slow cooking process of smoking, which will dry out an unbrined turkey.

The night before, I prepared my brine (and even though I bought a mix, I still doctored it) and lined my small cooler with a plastic bag, filled it with cooled brine and several quarts of heavily iced water.  The turkey went in breast-down, I sealed the bag, shut the cooler, and left it on my porch overnight, where the brine stayed below 40°.  My Sunday morning consisted of pulling myself from my warm, cozy bed to face a damp and chilly sunrise.

You know it’s a good idea to truss your turkey, right?  Of course you do, because you know it helps the bird to cook evenly and keeps those legs looking neat and tidy.  After the long soak in the brine, use a few paper towels to dry off the surface of the bird and give it a little massage with some vegetable oil.  No need for seasoning the skin–the meat is now plenty seasoned enough.  I let the bird hang out on the counter for a bit while I got started on firing up the smoker.

I have a Weber smoker that uses charcoal as its main source of fuel.  I tucked in a few pieces of apple wood with the charcoal for the smoke.

The basin gets set in just above the coals and filled with liquid.  The basin serves a double purpose:  by adding liquid, it protects the meat from being cooked by direct heat, and the steam helps keep the meat moist.  This is also another excellent way to add more flavors by adding aromatics–here there is an orange, an onion, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves and allspice berries.  It also catches all the drippings from the meat, to keep the flare-ups from falling fat at bay.

Approximately at 8:15 AM, our 12-pound bird is placed in the smoker.   The smoker is kept at a pretty even 250° which is done by controlling the airflow to keep a slow burn.

Seven hours later, the thigh is registering 165° and it’s done!  At this point, the turkey has been wrapped very tightly and stored in the refrigerator–I haven’t cut into it for fear of drying out the meat between now and Thursday.  I’ll reheat the turkey before setting it out on the buffet, so I can’t tell you how it tastes right now–but all signs (and previous times I’ve smoked turkey legs) point to having created a smoked masterpiece.


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Every year, my mom and I are on a mission to have me make tons of homemade jams and treats to give out for the holidays.  She’s the financial backer while I do all the hard labor in the kitchen–I don’t mind.

Really, I don’t.  Don’t look at me like that!

In the last conversation I had with her a few days ago, I told her I was switching gears from all the late summer fruits to autumn flavors such as Brandied Apple Butter.  She asked, why not make a cranberry relish? And wouldn’t you know, I thought that was brilliant.   I have a deep love of cranberries that goes all the way down to the shameful admission that I wouldn’t even turn down the canned jellied cranberry sauce.  However, it seems that here at El Rancho Destructo, I am the only one who feels this way, so I usually make my cranberry sauce the way I like it:   Jezebel Sauce (cranberries with horseradish and dijon stirred in).  I decided I should make a batch of something cranberry, so with a few bags in hand, I pulled out things that I knew would be delicious and came up with something that even Choo thinks it could turn him to the Dark Side of these tart little berries.  Granny Smith apples, oranges, red wine and dried cranberries knock this sauce out of the park–and I really think the dried cranberries are what make this special, by bringing up the intensity of the cranberry flavor with very little of the tartness associated with the fresh ones.

I can’t tell you how easy this one is, too–throw everything into the pot, simmer it for a while, and DONE.  How easy is that?

Cranberry & Apple Relish

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1- 12 ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, finely grated
  • 2 tart apples such as Granny Smith or Pippin, peeled, cored & chopped
  1. Add all ingredients into a large saucepan and on medium heat, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. Simmer until fresh cranberries have burst and apples are tender, but have not lost their shape.
  3. Pour into bowl, cover and chill.

*Note:  if canning this sauce, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

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Back in 1984, Ronald Reagan passed what may have been the most important piece of legislation during his term:  designating July as National Ice Cream Month, and that the third Sunday in July to be observed as National Ice Cream Day,  with ‘appropriate ceremonies and activities’ to celebrate these events.

Well.  If the POTUS of my high school days declared it, I believe it.  Let’s celebrate some ice cream!

When the weather started to heat up, it was time to pull out my ice cream maker, but alas, my trusty old Krups maker, after 8 years of noble service, had finally developed a crack in its casing.  It was time for a new ice cream maker, and found that Williams-Sonoma is having a sale on the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker with the bonus of an extra freezer bowl, which only meant one thing:  getting to make double the amount of ice cream!  The maker arrived on Friday, and after giving the bowls a chance to freeze for 24 hours, I was ready to crank out some new flavors of ice cream.

Also, one important lesson learned today:  photographing ice cream before it gets all melty is quite the challenge, but a delicious (someone’s gotta eat it) one.

First up:  Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Loosely based off the Cheesecake Ice Cream recipe that came with the ice cream maker, I knew it needed some love in the guise of a raspberry swirl.   The cheesecake base is egg-free and no-cook, which makes this easy for anyone who is uncomfortable with the making of anglaises.  The combination of cream cheese, mascarpone, and sour cream add the richness; the raspberry swirl is easily made with frozen raspberries and a bit of Chambord to be added to the maker in the last few seconds of churning to create a ribbon of raspberry flavor buried in a creamy cheesecake ice cream.

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

  • 1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 12-ounce bag frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Chambord or any raspberry-flavored liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  1. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar until smooth and creamy.
  2. Beat in half & half, vanilla and sour cream until combined and pour into a covered container.  Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
  3. While the ice cream base chills, take 2 cups of frozen raspberries and add into a medium saucepan, reserving the remaining frozen raspberries (appx. 1/2 cup).
  4. Add sugar and Chambord to raspberries and on medium heat, bring to a full simmer.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and cold water, then pour into raspberry sauce and stir until incorporated and sauce returns to a full simmer.
  6. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds.  Fold in remaining frozen raspberries.  Cover and refrigerate.
  7. When the ice cream base is cold, freeze as per ice cream maker’s instructions.
  8. Once the ice cream is ready to take out of the maker, pour in the raspberry sauce and churn just long enough to create a swirl through the ice cream.  Ice cream will be of a soft-serve consistency;  pack into lidded container and freeze for 2-4 hours until firm before serving.

Next up:  Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

Man-oh-man, this just might be one of the best ice creams I’ve ever made.  It’s rich and deeply chocolate, not too sweet, with the hints of cinnamon, molasses from piloncillo sugar, and a touch of heat from cayenne pepper that makes it so uniquely Mexican chocolate.  This ice cream base gets its intense chocolate flavor from adding both cocoa powder and dark chocolate and the resulting base is more custard-like as opposed to a thinner anglaise.

A note about piloncillo sugar:  it’s a raw Mexican sugar, packed into cones;  you should be able to find it in the ethnic foods aisle of your market.  If you have difficulty in finding it, brown sugar is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 3 cups half & half
  • 1 cone of piloncillo sugar (or 3/4 cup brown sugar)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. In a saucepan, heat half & half, cinnamon sticks and piloncillo to a hard simmer, turning the heat off before the cream begins to boil.
  2. Turn off heat, and let steep for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Whisk cocoa powder into the cream and bring back to a simmer.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, then add about 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the yolks, and whisk until smooth.  Add another 1/2 cup of cream to the yolk mixture, whisk, then pour back into saucepan, and whisk until mixture returns to a simmer and thickens.  Remove from heat.
  5. Add in vanilla extract, chocolate, and cayenne pepper, and stir until chocolate has melted.
  6. Pour into lidded container and chill until cold, about 2 hours.
  7. Freeze as per ice cream maker’s instructions; pour into container and freeze until firm.

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It’s something that’s intrigued me since just barely dipping my toes in it during culinary school–making my own cheese.  I have a vague memory of making mozzarella in Garde Manger classes, but after that, I just never got around to doing it again.  There’s a thousand recipes out there on how to make your own ricotta, but I chose David Lebovitz’s recipe

In my humble little opinion, if you want to give cheesemaking a try, this is definitely the way to go.  Milk, a bit of yogurt, some cream, a little vinegar (or lemon juice), and some salt will give you freshly made ricotta that will be perfect for lasagna or my favorite use–with fresh fruit and honey for a simple summertime dessert. 

Kiddo wanted to help, and I used this as a chance to try to tell him about the process that was happening in the pot while we stirred the milk as it warmed up–how the acids and the heat worked together in coagulating the proteins in the milk, creating curds… yeah, he’s four years old, so I think most of it went over his head.  He still thought it was fun to watch the process.

Look!  It’s SCIENCE!

I think my only beef with making cheese is the yield of cheese that comes out of the amount of milk used–I doubled the recipe, and came out with just over 3 cups.  Sure, it’s the nature of the beast with making cheese, but I had kind of hoped for a little more.  Still, it was delicious and I’ll definitely do it again in the summer when all my favorite fruits are in season. 

Homemade Ricotta, by David Lebovitz (from SimplyRecipes.com)


  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • Optional: 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt


In a large pot, bring the milk, yogurt, heavy cream (if using), vinegar, and salt to a boil. Very gently boil for one to two minutes, until the milk is curdled.

Meanwhile, line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set it over a deep bowl.

Pour the milk mixture into the strainer and let drain for 15 minutes. Gather the cheesecloth around the curds and squeeze gently to extract any excess liquid.

Storage: Homemade ricotta is best served slightly warm, although it can be refrigerated for up to three days, if desired.

Makes 2 cups.

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You know, I have a surfeit of bacon fat in my fridge–I keep it every time we make bacon for breakfast, and with the exception of using a spoonful now and again when I sauté vegetables, I don’t really use it.  I wanted an interesting way to get rid of it as Lent is on its way and since I’ll be going meatless for 40 days, it wouldn’t be a very good idea to have it hanging around until April. 

I don’t know exactly what led me to making shortbread, but I’m glad I did it.  My favorite recipe for shortbread happens to come from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery–I did a little tweak in that I replaced half of the butter with some of that bacon fat to add that smoky-savory flavoring to the cookies.  Bacon fat has a tendency to be softer than butter, so the dough was a bit soft to work with, but not so much that it wasn’t a real issue.  With a little glaze made of powdered sugar, maple syrup and a bit of milk, and a generous sprinkling of finely chopped candied bacon, I ended up with this:

I think the next time I do this cookie, I may add a bit of chopped cooked bacon to the dough and perhaps add a bit of maple extract to the glaze to punch up the maple flavor in the glaze–it’s just a thin bit of glaze so it’s really only a hint of maple here.   As for the candied bacon, I think I would bake them for another minute or two in the oven, as the bits are still a bit chewy, and I’d rather have the crunch–but they’re otherwise perfect taste-wise.  The texture is fantastic with the right amount of crumble like a good shortbread.  I used a 1″ round cutter for a wee little button of a cookie; the picture I had in my mind from the start was to have a little delicate bite-sized rounds, and I don’t think I could do them any other way.  But, I could see someone else going the thicker bar or wedge route–those, in my opinion, would definitely require the addition of chopped bacon in the dough. 

Bacon Maple Shortbread


1/2 cup cold bacon fat

1 stick cold butter, cut into cubes

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  1. With an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat bacon fat, butter, and sugars together on medium for 3-4 minutes, until pale and fluffy.
  2. Add the flour in three batches, blending on low until flour is just combined with each batch, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  3. Turn out dough onto floured surface, press into a disc and wrap with plastic.  Chill until firm, for at least 2 hours (overnight is fine).
  4. Preheat oven to 350°
  5. On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/4″ thick.  Cut rounds with 1″ cookie cutter and place on parchment-lined sheet pans.  Pierce cookies with a fork (twice, parallel to each other–gives it a “button” look).
  6. Place sheet pans into refrigerator for about 20 minutes until dough is cold and firm.
  7. Place sheet pans into oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden. 
  8. Slide onto wire cooling rack and let cool completely before glazing.

Candied Bacon

6 slices bacon, cut into 1″ strips

1/4 cup brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 400° and line sheet pan with foil.
  2. Toss bacon pieces in brown sugar, coating both sides.  Place pieces on foil.
  3. Bake  12-15 minutes, turning over halfway through.
  4. When bacon is dark and glazed-looking, remove from sheet pan and drain on brown/butcher paper (it will stick to paper towels).
  5. When cool, chop finely and set aside. 

Maple Glaze

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons whole milk

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, syrup, and milk until smooth.
  2. Pour, spoon, or brush glaze onto cookies.
  3. While glaze is still wet, sprinkle finely chopped candied bacon on top, and let glaze set. 

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Kiddo is obsessed with waffles.  Every morning, it’s pretty much the same thing:

Mama, wake up.

[grumblegrumblesnort] Ok.

Want waffles and Spongebob.

Wouldn’t you want some oatmeal and CNN?

No, waffles and Spongebob.

How about Rice Krispies and Good Day L.A.?

Waffles.  Spongebob.

Eggs?  Fox News?

WAFFLESANDSPONGEBOB, MAMA! And chocolate milk, please.

Part of the problem was that I sadly lacked a waffle iron, so we were forced to buy frozen waffles.  It felt rather silly to spend about $4 a week on something I knew I could make easily, and in large batches that I could freeze.  They’d certainly be of better quality, and if I bought a mid-range waffle iron (about $30, I figured), it would pay for itself in 3 months.

Over the weekend, we finally broke down and bought a waffle maker.  My first batch of waffles were the standard recipe that came in the box, and with me switching out half of the all purpose flour with whole wheat, I think they turned out rather fine.  Of course, now I’ve been having flashes of ideas of what I could throw together in a bowl and turn into a waffle.

This morning, the last of the frozen waffles were consumed.  Now, it was time to stock the freezer with homemade goodness!

Banana Pecan Waffles

1 cup pecan halves

1/4 cup flax seeds

1 cup All Purpose flour

1 cup Whole Wheat flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

3 medium bananas, very ripe

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 stick butter, melted and cooled

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1. Toast pecans in either a 325° oven for about 10 minutes, or in a skillet on medium heat, tossing frequently, for about 3.  Set aside and let cool completely.

2. Put cooled pecans and flax seeds in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, about the texture and size of uncooked couscous.


Lesson Learned, Part I:  Flax seeds don’t break up very easily in the food processor.  I didn’t want to buy the whole bag of flax meal (I never get through it all before it gets old), so I bought a small amount of seeds from the bulk department, thinking I could just break them up in the processor.  HA!  Also, yes, I’ve said Kiddo doesn’t like nuts, but it’s a texture thing–I figured if they’re chopped so small that he wouldn’t notice them, he wouldn’t mind–I mean, he eats peanut butter like a fiend.

3.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, cardamom (yes, cardamom with bananas, why don’t you trust me on this?), nutmeg, and the nuts and seeds.


4.  Return the work bowl back to the Cuisinart, and add the bananas, eggs, and vanilla extract; pulse together until they are smooth.

5.  Pour the banana-egg mixture  into the dry mixture, followed by the melted butter and buttermilk.  Fold the batter until all the flour is incorporated and there are no dry streaks.

6.  On a pre-heated waffle maker, pour approximately 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the batter (depending on size of your waffle irons) onto each square, and cook as per the machine’s instructions.


Lesson Learned, Part II:  In fact, this was a lesson that I think will work out in my favor;  with the ratios I used, these waffles turned out soft.  I don’t think this is particularly a bad thing, considering that the main reason why I’m doing these is to freeze for future use.  The extra moisture will come in handy when they’re cooking a second time in the toaster.

Since these were to be frozen, they were laid out on a wire cooling rack until completely cool.


Once cooled, they were stacked with slips of parchment paper (or wax, if you prefer) so they don’t perform some Vulcan-Waffle Mind Meld in the freezer.  Trying to pull waffles apart at 6:15 AM is not high on my list of pleasurable morning activities.


Store in a freezer ziploc bag or tightly wrapped in saran. This recipe made 20 4″ square waffles.


Oh, you know I went there.  And it was good.

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First, let me share a kitchen tragedy:  I have this high shelf where I store most of my dry goods, along with my most loved cookbooks and recipe card box.  My shelf, let me show you it:


I’m not joking, really, when I say I have an odd kitchen.  It’s very long, but very narrow;  I am blessed with a fair amount of counterspace, but no pantry, and just a few cabinets for storage.  I didn’t want to fool anyone into thinking I had some huge dream kitchen.  ANYWAY.  I was after my recipe box down there at the very end, and when I moved one of those plastic containers about an inch, it pushed off a mason jar of powdered chicken stock (I know, I know, but it’s there when we need it in a pinch for flavoring rice), where it met its end on our tiled floor.  If I hadn’t been barefoot and kind of spazzing out about OMG BROKEN GLASS I’d have taken a picture because it was this perfect splat of powder and glass pieces.  It looked kind of cool, to tell you the truth.

Once all was swept and mopped, it was back to business.  I had a few zucchini hanging around in the fridge, and I remembered a favorite zucchini muffin recipe that I had kept for a long time; in fact, I distinctly recall making a batch of them when I was in Eighth Grade, 25 years ago.


I remember spending one summer (just before 10th grade, I think) copying down some of my favorite recipes onto 3×5 cards just like this, from the pile of newspaper clippings Mom kept in a drawer in the kitchen.  I find it interesting that my handwriting hasn’t changed all that much since then.

So, it was time to update this recipe to my standards today.  To start, I didn’t quite have 3 cups of zucchini–you can do this with the full 3 cups of zucchini, but since I only had 2, I added 1 cup of grated carrots.  I would have also gladly made this with a cup of grated apple if I didn’t happen to have carrots.  That would have been mightly tasty, too.

One-and-a-half cups of oil?  Seriously?  I’m no fat-phobe, as you know, but even I think that’s excessive.  I took it down to a 1/2 cup of oil, and a stick of melted butter.  Oil’s great, but it lacks flavor, so some butter it is.  I still had to replace the 1/2 cup of oil with something that would still help keep the muffins moist–buttermilk!


I know not everyone just keeps buttermilk on hand (I know I usually don’t), but either a 1/2 cup of warm milk with 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice added or a 1/2 cup of plain yogurt would be acceptable substitutes.  Another thing to get the heave-ho is a cup of all that sugar.  With my substitution of shredded carrots, which are naturally sweet, I wasn’t going to to miss it anyway. To add another dimension of flavor, I switched a cup of sugar to brown sugar.  Eggs were just the right amount, and I went ahead and added a teaspoon of vanilla, just because.

Now, to the dry ingredients:  I stayed with the 3 cups of All Purpose Flour, but if you lean towards wanting more whole grains, you can substitute up to half with Whole Wheat Flour without hurting the texture.  I kept the same amounts of leavening, and with the addition of acid in the buttermilk, it helped give the muffins some extra lift in combination with the baking soda.  Skipped the nuts, since not only Kiddo isn’t into them, I’m sharing them at the office tomorrow and someone has a nut allergy.  As for the spices, I didn’t have allspice, and I wanted to go in a spicier direction.


The 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg (fresh!) stayed; instead of allspice, there’s a 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon of ginger, and a 1/4 teaspoon of ground clove.  This was smelling lovely already.

Oh, can we talk about grating your own nutmeg?


That Microplane was the best $15 I’ve ever spent.  I’m like Alton Brown in that I prefer to purchase items that can multi-task in the kitchen, and that Microplane is great for zesting citrus and finely grating hard cheeses, fresh ginger, garlic, and spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.  If you’ve not had it before, freshly grated nutmeg is unlike anything you get that’s been sitting on a shelf in a metal tin for a year–it’s far more aromatic than you could imagine, and whole nutmeg stays fresh for much, much longer.  It’s worth the investment.

I think it’s time for the recipe.


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