Sunday, December 28, 2014

Leftover Eggnog Pancakes

We have a lot of eggnog in the house. Ninety-six ounces per person, in fact.

It's fortunate that both B and I love eggnog. It's great in coffee, for example, and pairs well with a variety of liquors a mostly teetotaling homeowner might re-discover in less-used cabinets and the backs of shelves as remnants of parties and former roommates and well-intentioned but never completed dessert recipes. 

However, 192 ounces of eggnog is a lot of eggnog, even when it's spiked with God-knows-how-old spiced rum and whiskey. I won't go into detail on why we have so much (a mid-week pre-holiday dinner party was planned then cancelled day-of, after the food and refreshment had already been purchased). Just know that there's a lot of eggnog, and it's mostly going unconsumed and putting my Catholic guilt on overdrive because I'm sure there are starving children and homeless animals and needy lepers out there who could really, really use this eggnog that we're mostly not drinking.

Searching Google for creative eggnog recipes doesn't really help. In the days after Christmas, the last thing I need is a holiday eggnog cheesecake since I already can't fit in my jeans. Also, eggnog lattes are a cop-out -- if you've been to Starbucks in the past 13 years you'll know why.

I'm not going to pretend that these eggnog pancakes are more savory than sweet, but they're certainly no Brown Butter Eggnog Snickerdoodle Donuts (!!! ???). I personally think they fall somewhere in the middle. The wheat germ helps. 

Also: My father-in-law introduced me to the wonders of adding whipped egg whites to pancakes. If you're a food texture person, you'll love the way stiff egg whites make pancakes springy and light. It's well worth the sore arm (or extra dishes if you go the electric mixer route).

Chewy Eggnog Pancakes

Adapted from The Commonsense Kitchen
Serves 6 to 7

3 c all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
3-4 T wheat germ
3 eggs at room temperature, yolks and whites separated
4 c eggnog at room temperature
4 tsp butter, melted
oil for cooking the pancakes

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Beat the egg yolks.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and wheat germ in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, eggnog, and melted butter. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until just mixed; gently fold in the egg whites.

Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Oil lightly once hot. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto the griddle and let the pancakes cook. When bubbles begin to form, flip and cook on the other side. Press a finger lightly on the pancake to test doneness; if it bounces back, it's ready for action. 

Serve immediately with your favorite toppings -- butter, maple syrup, blueberries, whatever.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Homemade brioche

I got such a kick out of making homemade marshmallows earlier this month. Remember how I mentioned that they had been on my culinary bucket list? That was probably part of it--the thrill of checking something off the list and even succeeding at it. (The other part was how wacky they were to make, how delicious they turned out to be, and the crazy blue mold that started growing on them five days later.)

So I started thinking more about my culinary bucket list. And I realized that it isn't a list that actually exists, either in zeros and ones on the Interwebs or on a piece of water-crinkled paper on my fridge. In fact, I didn't even know I had anything on it until I thought about homemade marshmallows.

If I had been responsible about my hopes and dreams and had made such a list, though, you know what would have been up at the top, near the marshmallows?


Like with the marshmallows, my fascination with brioche started at the natural foods co-op I worked at in college. I was a barista on the cafe side of the store, and I often worked the opening shift with an awesomely die-hard feminist lesbian with a thick Michigan accent named Beth. We'd pop an Enya CD in the cafe stereo and put the morning pastries out together: croissants, bagels, coffee cake, and brioche rolls. She'd regale me with stories about the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and how San Francisco was a mecca of queer, attractive, available women who congregated en masse like a cattle call at the Lexington Club in the Mission. As soon as she finished her Masters in Social Work, she was headed out there, no qualms about leaving her Midwest roots in the dust for greener, more lesbionic pastures.

(When I moved to San Francisco three years later, I found her description to be mostly true. San Francisco felt like a mecca, yes. The women were really queer. And they were attractive, for sure, and many of them could be found at the Lexington Club, like she said. "Available" is where Beth's description fell short, however, which is how I found myself outsourcing true love to Portland. One afternoon during an out-of-the-ordinary trip to the East Bay not too long ago--we San Franciscans rarely cross the Bay voluntarily--I ran into Beth at a pizza joint in North Oakland. She had just moved to Berkeley with her girlfriend.)

Anyway, this was my first encounter with brioche. It looked like a bready cupcake and no one ever bought it. Beth called it "breee-ohh-shh." I thought that was a great way to ridicule an undesirable pastry, so, to one-up her, I would put it on really thick and call it "BREE-YO-SHH" and hurl the leftover rolls against the wall and into the compost bin at the end of my shift. I only realized later that Beth wasn't making fun of it when she extended the vowels like that--that was just her accent.

In retrospect, it wasn't fair for me to treat the brioche like that. I had never tried it; I just assumed it was nasty since no one bought it and because Beth's accent made it seem like she disrespected it as well. As it turns out, though, brioche is pretty good. It's amazing in French toast, and can make a superb hamburger bun. So I added it to my bucket list.

I found a recipe for homemade brioche on Epicurious. The reviews said that it was a cinch to make, and I couldn't disagree with them more. This is one of the most high-maintenance things I've ever made. You beat the shit out of it with the bread hook on your mixer until you think your mixer is going to break into pieces. You let it rise for an hour at room temperature. You put the dough in the fridge for two hours and deflate it every 30 minutes. You leave the dough in the fridge overnight. The next day, you take it out and let it rise again (anyone feeling Biblical here?) for another 2 hours. Finally, you bake it, and by the time it comes out of the oven you're not sure you want it anymore.

Taste-wise, the bread came out good, although it has a bit of a yeasty aftertaste to it (try reducing the amount of yeast called for in the recipe if you're going to make it yourself). I made rolls and not loaves (bake rolls for 12-15 minutes, not the full 30 minutes in the recipe), and I added a couple of bittersweet chocolate squares in the middle of some to give them a pain-au-chocolat vibe. Next time, I'll add more than just a couple of squares, though, because two just wasn't enough.

There is SO MUCH BUTTER in brioche.

First time I'd ever used my bread hook on my mixer!

This is what the dough looks like after you've beaten the shit out of it. This was also the best part of the whole experience: I had beaten it so hard that the mixing bowl GOT STUCK IN THE MIXER. B had to help me get it loose--it was so tightly stuck that it required TWO PEOPLE to dislodge it.

Fast-forward to day two. Here's what it's like to knead the dough into roll-esque shapes and put what turned out to be not enough chocolate in the center.

After rolling it out, you let it rise for two whole hours before popping it in the oven. It's so high maintenance.

Finally! Finished!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Homemade marshmallows: The conclusion

A couple of people (close friends, not random strangers) have inquired about my marshmallows. Did they turn out okay? If so, would I be so kind as to make a batch for an upcoming birthday?

I feel guilty about leaving you with a cliffhanger on my last post. I didn't realize anyone actually read entire posts on here. Thank you for proving me wrong.

So, let's close the chapter on the homemade marshmallows. Together.

I cut into the pan of marshmallows last night. I expected something gooey and unwieldy, a big mistake. This one time I made peppered pecans using both of my baking sheets and somehow completely destroyed both pans (after setting off the smoke detector, twice). The combination of an unchecked oven and the thick glaze of sugar and butter on the nuts may have had something to do with it--anyway, I had to throw both baking sheets, half-blackened with molten confection, away. I imagined something similar happening to my knife when I cut into the marshmallows (but hopefully less ear-splitting): maybe a thick coating of quickly hardening sugar or something similarly horrifying that would destroy the knife and therefore declare victory over my amateur candy-making skills. Marshmallows: 1. Katherine: 0.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find my knife glide (really!) effortlessly (yes, really!) through the marshmallows. And I could even peel them out of the parchment-lined pan, and dust them with a bit more cornstarch to make them less sticky. All of these things happened.

And then we had hot cocoa. With a giant, creamy marshmallow on top. And it was awesome.


Feeling confident, I decided that I'd try one in my morning coffee today. I toted it to the office in a separate container and popped it into my mug after arriving (because I had to be able to watch the marshmallow dissolve in real-time). In about 5 minutes, I had a sugar-to-coffee ratio of about 3:1 and took one step closer to Type 2 diabetes. So I won't be taking a marshmallow to work anymore. My mug is far too small.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Homemade marshmallows: A coming out story

I LOVE MARSHMALLOWS. I used to be ashamed to admit it. Growing up, when it came to s'mores, it was always the chocolate that disappeared faster than the graham crackers and, yes, the bag of jet-puffed marshmallows. When the other kids were sneaking squares of Hershey's around the campfire, I, of course, joined them. I did it to fit in, to be like everyone else. But it was actually the bag of marshmallows I wanted to cradle and consume, not those waywardly melting squares of chocolate that smeared all over our hands and mouths like we were recklessly stuffing ourselves with mud.

After all, chocolate comes in all sorts of things. You could, technically, have it in every meal. Chocolate chip pancakes. A mole burrito. Chocolate-marinated steak. Don't even get me started on desserts.

But marshmallows? Marshmallows are something rare. Sorry, chocolate. You're kind of regular, especially compared to a fluffy, spongy marshmallow. You lose.

And then there was that moment when I discovered vegan marshmallows. It was probably at the natural foods co-op I worked at in college--that place exposed me to a lot of things. You can read between the lines on that one if you want. Anyway, these vegan marshmallows were square. These vegan marshmallows were delicious. These vegan marshmallows meant that marshmallows were not some weird Kraft Foods creation meant to push you ever closer towards obesity--marshmallows could be made in a million different ways. Marshmallows could be made by you (and some agar-agar, whatever that is).

So it was always in the back of my brain to make marshmallows of my own, but I still wasn't out to the world about my secret. Last week, I was thinking about how I wanted to make something I had always wanted to make but had never made before (yes! I actually think these things!), and marshmallows popped up. I would make marshmallows. Finally!

I trolled the Internets to find a recipe and was disappointed that most included corn syrup (I'm over the vegan thing so the gelatin, another consistent ingredient, didn't bother me). I'm convinced that corn syrup and Kraft are in bed together. They laugh together about pushing people ever closer towards obesity, then they start making out. In my quest, I discovered other passionate marshmallow lovers like this guy. He seems pretty legit (former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and self-professed marshmallow enthusiast? Okay!).

So, maybe loving marshmallows isn't something to be ashamed about.

Maybe I shouldn't feel so alone in these desires.

Guys. I love marshmallows.

I bet what you really want to know is not that, though. I bet you want to know if I found a corn syrup-free recipe. And yes! I did. It's a marshmallow recipe that uses agave nectar. No corn syrup.

Did I make the recipe?

Yes! I did.

I copied it word-for-word (minus the confusing part where grey salt is listed as an ingredient but never shows up in the actual recipe), so I'm not going to re-post it. Go click that link and look at it yourself. And be warned that I haven't actually tried a finished marshmallow yet--I have to let them set a bit longer. But the warm marshmallow goo was really good and actually tasted like a marshmallow, so I'm confident. In the meantime, satiate yourself with some photos of the process.

This picture is misleading. You actually use egg whites (not yolks) in this recipe. You also use four eggs, not three.

The recipe also involves boiling sugar and the agave nectar to the "hard ball" stage. This means using a candy thermometer, but don't panic--it's not hard ("hard" as in "difficult," not "hard" as in "hard ball"). You just stick the thermometer in the saucepan with the sugary stuff, turn the heat to medium, and wait until the mercury hits around 265 degrees. Then you remove it from the heat. That's it.

The recipe involves lots of beating, so don't attempt without a heavy-duty mixer.

After all that beating, the goo is sticky. Like a marshmallow. LIKE A MARSHMALLOW!

Then you pour it in a pan, coat it with cornstarch, and wait.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder FTW!

I thought about posting this on Facebook. I already told my mom and my wife, and one of my best friends from high school over Gchat. I really want to tell the world, but I think I have a limited qualified audience.

I just discovered the life-changing properties of adding unsweetened cocoa powder to my morning coffee.

It started the Monday after a rainy weekend. My wife had to work (she's a gardener) on the stormiest day of the season--on a Sunday morning, no less.

The night before, I programmed the coffee maker to start brewing at 6:15. I portioned out a teaspoon and a half of fine granulated sugar in a sealable plastic container. I lined up two drinking vessel options: a steely silver coffee mug emblazoned with my company logo and an old-school Thermos I found on the curb in the Haight a few years ago (very thoroughly washed since then). I thought about the packets of Swiss Miss that we picked up while traveling for a friend's wedding in upstate New York/our elopement in Vermont/an unexpected stop in Denver for an unexpected memorial service.

(How did it end up with us back in San Francisco? Why did I not throw it away before returning the rental car or boarding one of the planes in Boston, Milwaukee, or Denver?)

B once added Swiss Miss to her coffee. It may have been during that very trip, actually--perhaps at the breakfast bar at the hotel in Roxbury, New York. Maybe that's what inspired us to pick up a box for the remainder of the trip. I don't know when it happened, but I know she loved it. So I grabbed a pack for the stormy morning coffee. And I noticed the unsweetened cocoa powder on the shelf just behind the Swiss Miss.

Would she like that instead? I set both out, between the sugar and the drinking vessels.

She ultimately chose the Swiss Miss and not the unsweetened cocoa, but I had already piqued my own curiosity. I spooned a little of the cocoa into my coffee the next day, and magic happened.

I don't know if I actually owe it to the cocoa powder, but I've noticed that my mornings are much more...relaxed. Calm. Zen. Since I started it, I haven't tried a workday without it, so this is completely unscientific.

I wanted to research the effects of unsweetened cocoa--the box I have has a big green sticker on it that says something about antioxidants. The only good resource I could find in my five minutes of searching this morning was Wikipedia (if any of you know of a good food resource on the web, please share!). Alas:

"Cocoa powder contains several minerals including calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. All of these minerals are found in greater quantities in cocoa powder than either cocoa butter or cocoa liquor. Cocoa solids also contain 230mg of caffeine and 2057mg of theobromine per 100g, which are mostly absent from the other components of the cocoa bean.

Cocoa powder is rich in flavonoids, a type of polyphenolic ... Flavanols are one of six compounds futher classified as flavenoids. Flavanols, which are also found in fruits and vegetables, are linked to certain health benefits linked to coronary heart disease and stroke. The topic of how flavanols benefit cardiovascular health is still under debate. It has been suggested that the flavanols may take part in mechanisms such as nitric oxide and antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiplatelet effects. Benefiting these mechanisms may improve endothelial function, lipid levels, blood pressure and insulin resistance."

Nothing about zen, but I suspect that when my heart is happy, so is my brain.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Breakfast: Champagne-Braised Pork Belly and Eggs with Bacon Popcorn

First of all, for some reason, I woke up at 11:15 this morning, completely appalled that I had slept until 11:15 but also extremely angry that B interrupted my dream where I was on a beautiful, warm tropical vacation on some clear water, white sand beach somewhere.

Secondly, I made a tasty experimental breakfast: Champagne-braised pork belly and eggs with bacon popcorn.

I'm not going to pretend that I was out of bed by 11:17 and whipping this breakfast together with random bits from the fridge and pantry. It was around 11:45 when I finally forced myself out of bed. And I actually spent yesterday afternoon braising the pork belly in anticipation of this meal.

I bought popcorn from the bulk section at the corner greengrocer a few months ago for a movie night on the couch that never happened. The bag has been sitting in the fruit basket on the counter ever since. Growing up, my parents used to make popcorn in this funny little vertical hot-air popper that resembled a 1980s space-age grain hopper. It had a cup on the top of it that would melt butter as the popcorn popped; at the end of the popping cycle, you'd take the cup of warm butter and drizzle it on the warm popcorn. I loved loved loved the popcorn bits that would get extra-soaked with butter (excuse me, margarine--this was the late 80s). The ones at the top of the bowl, near the center, where my dad would start the warm-butter pour. Something about the combination of the chewy popped texture on the outside and the crunchy inside kernel, and the fact that there were only a few of these per bowl, made popcorn night so delicious.

So it dawned on me that a fried egg could have the same effect. The gooey yolk, soaked up by the outer warm softness of a piece of popped popcorn. The same crunchy inside kernel.

I was thinking about a good hunk of meat that I could pair the egg-and-popcorn combination with, and pork belly popped into my head. Pork belly is the original bacon gangsta--it's the cut of meat that is cured to make the bacon we all know and love--so it seemed appropriate for a hearty breakfast. Bacon itself can be a little overpowering (and salty) on the flavor front. Working with pork belly would give me more control over the flavor profile of the final dish.

We keep a jar of bacon fat in the back of the fridge for such uses as cupcake filling. I thought it would be fun if I used the OBG (Original Bacon Gangsta), which isn't actually bacon, and then use an actual bacon by-product (bacon fat) in something else, like the popcorn. Get it? I'm totally deconstructing bacon in this dish! Like one of those fancy chefs on TV! A quick Google search informed me that bacon fat was actually used quite often in stovetop popcorn in ye olden days. So, down with margarine. And, those 1950s families really knew how to eat.

I'm not going to give you a recipe for the pork belly braise because it wasn't that great. It was good (what slow-cooked fatty piece of pork isn't?), but not very interesting. Next time, I might try a braise that's a little sweeter to evoke another breakfast staple: maple syrup.

Here's what the final product looked like. I recommend popping the popcorn (1/2 c of kernels + 2 1/2 tbsp of bacon fat), then letting it sit for a few minutes to really soak up the bacony flavor. The eggs need to be over easy so that you can burst the yolk all over the bacony popcorn and let it sop up some more good flavors.

Enjoy! Then take a nice long walk to clear the arteries.


After. Let the amazingness ensue!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Marriage of Oatmeal and Cream

I'm probably not the only person in the world who counts heavy whipping cream as one of her guilty pleasures. There are a lot of delicious recipes out there that call for a tiny, tiny bit of heavy cream. I'll gladly buy a half pint of it, use the half tablespoon the recipe calls for, then easily rationalize using it in anything I possibly can.

There it is, a mostly unused half pint of heavy whipping cream, just sitting on the top shelf of the refrigerator. I swear it's seducing me with wanton eyes from its perfectly conspicuous spot next to the can of this morning's cat food.

I can't let it go to waste!

Do you know how good coffee tastes with heavy cream instead of 2% milk or even half-and-half? Oh, god.

Here's another great example: A warm bowl of steel-cut oatmeal. A teaspoon of brown sugar, all melty and crumbly on top. Wrapped in a moat of heavy cream.