Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Chocolate Eclairs

OK, I joined the Daring Bakers. What a great name! And, they did cool things.

Honestly, though, they need to change their name. Something more like Humble Bakers. Or, Let's-Make-You-Cry Bakers. Maybe the second suggestion is a bit far, as I didn't cry while making the chocolate eclairs. I did, however, want to bend one of my baking sheets around my stove.

Yeah, this cooking experience didn't go so well. Coming off of a concussion and a flu that required antibiotics to eradicate ... not the best time to make three separate items which you've never done before and assemble them.

Still, they're the Daring Bakers! And, I wanted to join ... wait, I did join. So, carry on, James! Brace up and try!

te de Goo

These eclairs were really four recipes in one. First is the pâte de chaux. This is the dough makes up the crust. I didn't have any trouble making this. Very straight-forward. Kind of an odd paste-like dough.

After making it, I was looking forward to piping it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. How hard could it be to use a piping bag? Oh, how naïve I am! Turns out, just loading the Bag From Hell is hard enough. The slippery little devil kept wanting to slide out of my hand and onto the floor ... filled with the goo (dough).

Several false starts later, I have the dough in the piping bag. OK, all is well, right? Wrong! Like a total fool, I loaded the bag too full. So, when I went to squeeze, the goo came out the top (yes, simple physics ... path of least resistance ... and to think of all those physics courses I took in college ... the shame of it!).

So, I unloaded part of the bag, twisted the top, and was now ready to go again. Amazing, holding the top closed meant that the goo was forced to go out the tip. Fantastic! I was able to lay down appropriate sized lines of the goo.

Unfortunately, this being my first time with a piping bag, my little lines of goo looked more like Hellish Abominations than future eclairs. Still, I wasn't daunted. These things were going in the oven!

375F (190C) for 20 minutes. The recipe called for cracking the oven at 7 minutes and turning the pan around at 12 minutes. So, I followed the recipe carefully.

When my little abominations came out of the oven, they looked good! Oh my! The goo was forgiving! I was happy ... until a few seconds later when I watched my puffy little future eclairs fall like punctured balloons.

Not to be outdone by a piping bag filled with goo, I piped out a second sheet. These actually looked acceptable before going in the oven. Maybe things will get better. This time, I put them in at 375F (190C) for 20 minutes and just left the oven closed the whole time. This resulted in a better set for me.

I was a bit disappointed when I cut one open. It wasn't the gaping empty chamber that I expected. I was close, but not quite close. Still, good enough!

OK, shells down ...

Pastry Cream Filling Blues

While I like chocolate, I'm not a total chocolate nut. So, I decided to fill the eclairs with vanilla cream rather than the chocolate cream that the recipe wanted. I found a good recipe on the Internet and set about making it.

Things were going well, I was boiling, stirring, whisking away. Things were back on track and I was happy. The vanilla pasty cream looked like pastry cream, had the texture it was supposed to have. Yes, this was coming along nicely!

Finally, we're at the stage where I'm going to add some vanilla, let the mixture cool, then fold in some whipping cream. I decide to taste it. Normally I taste everything ... on this one, I didn't taste until late into the process.

The recipe called for 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Somehow, through the Magic of Stupidity, I managed to put in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 cup of salt. I don't have words for the taste. Somehow "disgusting and vile" just doesn't seem to go far enough.

At this point, my Ego is starting to write a suicide note ...

Pastry Cream Redux

Given that my vanilla cream was ruined and parts of my psyche were retreating into bunkers for safety, I decided to make the chocolate pastry cream that the recipe originally wanted. Much to my surprise, this went together well. Quickly and easily. I even managed to temper the egg yolks without creating chocolate scrambled eggs.

For those keeping score here, I'm now one win, one loss, and one tie. I have one more chance to redeem myself here.

Glaze Gone Thin

I made the glaze as directed. First, you make a chocolate sauce. Then, using that sauce, you make the glaze. Both called for heavy cream. Oh, sure. That's going to happen around here! (for those who haven't read here before, the only way I manage to get milk is through powdered milk ... dairy is not well represented here in the rural Philippines)

So, I made the recipe using whole milk instead. I knew it wasn't going to go well. But, I was curious if I could even get it close.

Short answer: no. The glaze was way too thin. You can see in the picture above that the coverage was nowhere near what it should have been.

So ... one win, two losses, and a tie. Not my best evening of cooking.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious ... gone in less than 15 seconds upon contact with the testers. So, while I struggled with these, at least the final result was good tasting.


In the end, I learned a lot from these. I learned about what I didn't know about baking (that being: a lot). Up until now, I've been more of a cook than a baker. Maybe I'm splitting hairs here.

I have a feeling that there's going to be a lot more frustration ahead baking with the Daring Bakers. Oh well, nobody said cooking well was supposed to be easy.

To prove what a masochist I am, I've saved the remaining chocolate pastry cream so that I can make these again. I'm going to have to find a different glaze recipe. The one, as written, just won't work for the ingredients I have available.

Overall, I'm happy. Things could have gone far worse. And, people loved them.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bacon Cheeseburger Buns ... Bread-Filled Beefy Goodness!

I love cheeseburgers. I love them very much. So, after making the other buns, I knew I had to make a cheeseburger variant.

Now, I wanted to make bacon cheeseburger buns. But, I had a small problem. One of the members of my family is insane. Not just a little insane, a lot insane. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest insane. Crazy, nuts, loony!

Why, you might ask? She doesn't like bacon. I won't mention who it is. It's just too disgraceful. Bacon is one of Nature's Most Perfect Foods. To say you don't like bacon is like saying that you enjoy Stir-Fried Kittens over Puppy Fried Rice. It's just wrong.

  • 800g ground beef
  • 1/2 cup diced onions
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cheese
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons mustard

I browned the ground beef in a frying pan. Broke it up into small pieces. I added salt and pepper to taste. Large pinches, really.

The onions I sweated in a small frying pan. I used a little bit of spray oil in the pan before cooking. I cooked over a low flame until the onions were translucent.

When both the onions and ground beef were done, I mixed them.

I then cut up some semi-frozen bacon into small pieces. Fried them in the previously-used onion pan (why let that good taste go to waste?). Cooked it fairly well, but not yet to crunchy.

In a small bowl, I mixed the ketchup and mustard. The McCormick's mustard here is fairly strong, so I didn't use much. You can see in the picture how little I used compared to the ketchup (Heinz, of course). I used a fork to mix this thoroughly to evenly distribute the mustard.

I made the dough according to my previous post. This time, I weighed out 90 gram pieces for each top and bottom. This still resulted in a fair-sized bun when rolled out to about 1/8-inch thick. Each piece of dough, I rolled out into something resembling a circle.

On half of the dough-rounds, I spread a heaping tablespoon of the ketchup-mustard mixture. I used the back of the spoon the spread it outwards, like one would apply pizza sauce to a pizza crust ... drop the ketchup in the middle, then spiral outwards with the back of the spoon to spread it around.

For most of the buns, I then put a thin layer of bacon on. On all the buns, I then put on a nice thick layer of the ground beef-and-onion mixture. I made sure to put on plenty so that everyone got a generous serving.

For the last bit of topping, I put a dollop of the cheese (I was using Cheese Whiz this time) on each. A big dollop because these are cheeseburger buns.

Finally, into the oven at 350F (175C) for about 15 minutes. When they come out, immediately brush the tops with melted butter. You'll be happy you did.

Let them cool ... then devour.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Fantastic! Insisted on eating them all.

Test Group C: Lost out due to the avorice of the Primary Test Group.

Test Group M: Also lost out.

Potential Variations

I'm definitely going to have to vary the cheese. I wasn't that happy with the Cheese Whiz. While it's good, I know we can do better. Maybe a medium Cheddar would be good for most (I know I want SHARP).


I love this bun recipe. It's so easy. Anything that can go in a sandwich looks like it'll go in this bun.

I'm thinking Philly Cheesesteak next ... or a sliced chicken with cheese and chili powder.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pizza Sauce

Living here in the rural Philippines, there are some things that just don't seem to be available. One of them is a good commercial pizza. Back in Seattle, I had so many choices. Getting good pizza was as easy as picking up the phone or driving less than a mile.

Here, the pizzas are all lacking somehow. And, it's not for a lack of trying. One place has really great toppings, good sauce, but a crust that belongs in cardboard packaging. Another place has a good crust and adequate toppings, but just can't seem to put on enough sauce. One name-brand place (I'm leaving off the brand intentionally) puts ranch dressing on their all-meat pizzas (YUCK!). I've often wished they'd get together and make a good overall pizza.

Last night I just couldn't take it anymore. I wanted a decent pizza and I knew I wasn't going to be able to call up someone and just buy it. So, I hit the kitchen.

First up, the sauce. This is the most important part of a pizza for me. Without a good sauce, a pizza falls flat.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 kilogram tomato sauce
  • 750 grams tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 4 teaspoons dried basil
  • 4 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 bay leaves

Over low heat, sweat the onions and celery in the olive oil and butter. Cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent. I took the photograph above at this state. The smell, so good!

Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Notice that I've listed the amount by weight. That's how they are sold here. For those buying in cans, I believe that would be about 32 oz. tomato sauce and 24 oz. tomato paste. Stir until smooth.

Lastly, add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer slowly for as long as you have the patience. 30 minutes is good. 60 is better. As with any red sauce, the longer you simmer (within reason) the better it'll be.

When using on your pizzas, be sure to remove the bay leaves. Wouldn't want some poor unsuspecting soul to bite into one. Not yummy!

This makes enough for 16 twelve-inch pizzas. Since my dough recipe makes a pair of twelve-inch pizzas at a time, I split the final sauce up into eight parts. Seven of the parts I put until sandwich-sized zip-top bags and put into the freezer for another day.

The eighth part went onto my pizzas. But, that's another post ...

Chocolate Chip Wonders

I know I've been a bit quiet over the past week. Sorry about that. I managed to give myself a moderate concussion ... I've been cooking some, but just couldn't seem to write words. Very strange feeling.

Anyway, I'm feeling much better now. Time to start writing again!

First up is my attempt at the now-famous New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies. People have been raving about this recipe since it was published. Of course I had to try it! Chocolate chip cookies are one of my very favorite desserts.

  • 240 grams cake flour
  • 240 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 310 grams butter
  • 280 grams brown sugar
  • 225 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 565 grams chocolate chips

Procedure-wise, these are fairly normal cookies. Use the cream method. In your mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until they are fluffy. Be sure to give them plenty of time in the mixer. This is important ... really! Once nicely fluffy, add the vanilla and eggs. Mix briefly to combine.

In a second bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Using a whisk, combine them. This helps ensure that the smaller ingredients are dispersed well throughout the flour.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix briefly to combine, maybe 15 seconds at the most.

Finally, add your chocolate chips. Again, mix briefly.

Now, here is the hard part: wrap your dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 36 hours. Yes, you must wait. Yes, it's hard. Oh ... so very, very hard. It's worth it!

Now, if you have the self-control and will power that I do, you'll go ahead and make one of the cookies now, just to taste. It's OK. You're human.

36 hours later ... preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Scoop out 100 gram balls of the dough. These will be large golf ball-sized. Put them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I cooked them on a half-sized baking sheet ... six fit comfortably.

Cook them for 17 to 20 minutes. You want them to change to a nice golden brown color on the top, but want to stop cooking before they get too dark on the bottom. This balance results in a nice crunchy outside ring and chewy inside.

Your patience will be rewarded with a dozen-and-a-half large, delicious chocolate chip cookies.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious, marasa, terrific! Giggles with glee when presented with more.

Test Group C: Very good. Bring more!

Test Group M: "Very good, now I'm spoiled!"

Potential Improvements

I always like it when there's a little cinnamon in chocolate chip cookies. I'm going to have to try some variations here.

The Recipe Girl suggested that lemon juice and pulverized oatmeal make for better cookies. Definitely going to have to try these, too.


I always like it when there's a little cinnamon in chocolate chip cookies. I'm going to have to try some variations here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sign Me Up!

I had fun with Tuesdays with Dorie, so, I went and joined the Daring Bakers, too. With a name like Daring Bakers, how could I resist?

I can't talk about this month's challenge. The Daring Bakers like to keep their monthly challenges locked up under double secret security. I will say this: it involves making a food that I've never made before ... not even close. So, this will definitely be a challenge!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Cookies Are Coming

I haven't been myself lately. I managed to give myself a moderate concussion and pick up a nasty flu. Not the best of combinations. I've barely been outside for the past week.

Tonight, I could take my inactivity no more. I went downstairs and made a batch of the now famous NYT 36-hour cookies. The majority of the dough is resting nicely in the fridge. Sunday morning, I'll break it out and make some fabulous cookies. I'll also post a complete blow-by-blow report.

So, where did I get the picture for this post? Notice I wrote "the majority of the dough is resting nicely in the fridge." The rest of the dough was cooked and is now resting nicely in my appreciative stomach.

Even without 36 hours of rest, this is a fine, fine recipe.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Parmesan Cheese Crackers

I subscribe to a lot of food blogs. I just can't get enough of what people are doing, what they're using, so many cool things going on every day. So, when I saw a post for Natasha's Pac Man Crackers on Tastorama, I knew I had to make some.

She used Cheddar. Very high on my list of loves. But, I didn't have any and didn't feel like dealing with afternoon traffic just to get some. I did, however, have some Parmesan. Oh yes ... some savory crackers were going to get made.

I must apologize for the pictures here. I wasn't paying much attention to the picture taking while making these delicious crackers ... and, sadly, it shows. Still, I like to show step-by-step, so ... here we go:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 250 grams grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 tablespoons water

So, so easy. Preheat your oven to 400F (200C).

Put everything into your mixer. Mix on medium until everything is nicely combined. Put the bowl in your fridge for 20 minutes.

Once chilled, roll out. I rolled out directly onto the parchment I was going to cook on. This worked well given the amount of oil in the dough. Then, I just used a wavy cutter to pre-cut the crackers before cooking.

Cook for 18-22 minutes, depending upon the consistency you like. We tried some that were on the softer side and some on the crunchier side. Both sets were fantastic.

Definitely move to a cooling rack nearly immediately after removing from the oven to help prevent overcook on the bottoms.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Amazing! Delicious! Make more soon!

Random Test Group: I took it as a good sign when one of the members was clearly trying to keep the bag to himself and not share.

Potential Improvements

I'd love to try this with Parmiggiano-Reggiano. Unfortunately, that is not available here and costs far, far more than the simple bagged Parmesan. Still, I start to almost drool thinking about the flavor!

The rolling-out process was a little awkward. The dough doesn't like to roll out much. I was thinking about trying to roll it out in a pastry machine next time to get a nice, thin, uniform cracker. My only concern is that this might be working the dough too much.

Potential Variations

Tons of variations possible with this recipe. Cheeses, spices, etc. A chili-cheese version with Cheddar, Jack, and chili powder could be very good.


Definite winner! I loved these. The only problem is the expense of the cheese (the two bags of Parmesan cost P410, or about $9.32). So, they're not a daily snack item. Once-in-a-while, oh yeah. Most definitely.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dim Sum Cryogenics

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about making one of my favorite foods ever, Nor Mai Gai. I made quite a lot of them, too many in fact.

So, rather than letting the family devour them immediately, I secreted a couple of these bundles of joy into the freezer. I wanted to test! Can they be made in advance, frozen, and then resuscitated?


Put a steamer on the stove. Get it good and hot, lots of steam.

Take one frozen Nor Mai Gai. Toss it into the steamer and seal it in. It's OK, it's not going to scream at you like a live lobster will.

Wait one hour.


Test Results

Being the selfish brave soul that I am, I was the lone tester. I must say, it was quite good.

As good as fresh? Not quite. But, close enough that next time I make Nor Mai Gai, I'm putting a bunch into the freezer to have on days when I just don't feel like making a big production.


Definite winner! Nor Mai Gai when I want it without all the fuss ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Burning Tuesdays with Dorie

I joined the Tuesdays with Dorie virtual baking group. This sounded like something fun. And, because they require that you own the book from which we're cooking, gave me an excuse to buy another cookbook. I love excuses to buy new toys.

This is my first official posting for the group ... very exciting!

As I write this, keep in mind that perhaps I'm a little annoyed than others might be because I had to first make the granola to use in this Science Fair Gone Wrong episode. Don't worry, everything turns out OK in the end. It's a happy story with a sad middle. I'm still thoroughly impressed with the quality of Dorie's book, Baking.

Ingredients & Procedure

Normally, I list exactly what I use. But, since this is from a book that is in-print, I'm going to respect Dorie's copyright and leave the ingredients to be a mystery to those who don't have the access to the book. Sorry.

I will, however, say what I did differently. Not a whole lot, really. First, I used cashews rather than peanuts. Why? Because there were no peanuts for sale here right now. Supplies of some kinds come in waves. Right now, it's ebb tide for peanuts. Next week we'll have tons.

I also substituted oatmeal for wheat germ. Why? Again, not available here. And, not just "now" ... more like "never". I put 1/2 cup into the food processor and gave it a few pulses ... the oatmeal quickly got the consistency of wheat germ. And, I had the 1/3 cup that I needed.

Besides those two substitutions, I followed the recipe precisely.

And, that's where things went wrong ...

See, the recipe calls for baking these delicious balls of yummy nutritional goodness at 375F (190C). Even in my addled state (I'm recovering from a moderate concussion sustained last week ... which just compounds my usual brand of stupidity), I thought "hey, isn't that a bit hot for these sugary, buttery, carb balls?" To top that off, the recipe said 10-12 minutes in the oven.

Let's pause for a minute here (mostly because I need to, the gerbil powering my brain is tired) ... I'm a BBQ fanatic. I'm in the camp that is nearly zealous about the difference between grilling and BBQing. Slapping a steak on the grill at 600F+ is NOT BBQing. It's GRILLING.

Why does that matter? Because I love a good glaze on ribs. And, a glaze is basically tasty sugars suspended in some kind of solution with a secret blend of herbs and spices. I know the dangers of getting sugars too hot. They burn. They burn fast. And your food is destroyed.

So, the Granola Grabbers ... what are they? Butter, nuts, granola (which is just nuts and sugars, mostly), flour, and a little extra. You know, your typical granola-filled mound of snack-food wonder.

What does that mean? High temperatures are the bane of their golden brown and delicious (thank you, Alton) existence. These cookies can be made at that temperature, and I'm sure many of the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers are doing so, but it makes the process risky. Home baking shouldn't be risky.

Anyway, even with some trepidation, I pushed forward. I made the recipe as it was written. Dorie is clearly someone who has forgotten more about this topic than I will ever know. I've been known to be wrong in the past (not that I'll admit to that in court).

I put a dozen heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of dough onto each of two baking sheets and pressed them down slightly as instructed. Then, into the 375F oven with them. Two thirds of my cookies were dead. Oh, the humanity! The tops looked so good. But, the bottoms, oh, the bottoms ... dark brown to black.

Maybe my oven was set wrong? No, oven thermometer read 375F on the nose. What about the time in the oven? Only 9 minutes. I check the start time and stop time on my cell phone (I have a second "hand"). So, they weren't even in the full 10 minutes.

By the looks of the results, some time about 6 or 7 minutes they would have been fine. Still, that's not what the recipe said.

I still had a third of my cookie dough left. I was not going to give up.

I fell back on my BBQ skills and decided to go lower and slower. 300F (150C) for 15-18 minutes. That seemed much more appropriate for these butter-sugar-carb balls.

The cookies turned out perfectly. Golden brown on the bottom, cooked on top and in the middle.


Why is important to me. It's why I love watching Alton Brown. It's more than just "hey, slap this and that into a pot and cook it" ... one walks away from his shows with a deeper understanding of the cooking process.

375F for 10-12 minutes is fine if you can watch the cookies like a hawk. If they cook a little faster for some reason in your oven, you're there and can take them out immediately upon completion. This is just fine for a professional kitchen. From what I saw, I think there's a 30 second window when the cookies are perfect with this technique.

However, this book is intended for the home audience. I don't know about you, the reader's home, but we have distractions here. Life happens daily. For this kind of environment, a 30 second window is just too narrow.

At 300F, the cookies stay in the "perfect" state for a lot longer as they aren't browning as quickly. This allows the distracted home cook to blink or, more likely, have to deal with one of their offspring and still produce the fabulous and delicious results that we all want.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious. Fantastic. Marasa. They even ate the burned ones!

Unfortunately, due to the burn damage, there weren't enough to pass out to the usual suspects for testing. I'm not going to hand out burned cookies to my friends ... I even told my family to toss the burned ones, but they refused and ate the blackened little guys.


This is a great recipe. It just needs a slight adjustment ... 300F (150C) for 15-18 minutes ... to make it appropriate for the home baker.

My entire family of highly picky eaters wants more ...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Experiments with Cooking Granola

As I previously posted, I need some granola to make the Granola Grabbers for Tuesdays with Dorie. Shopping for granola here reminded me of a visit to an orthodox Kosher deli that I went to in Annapolis (was near there on business).

See, I'm from Seattle. We do strange things with food (years later people started calling it "fusion"). We mix it in different ways and it's OK. Apparently, from an orthodox Kosher standpoint, one of the ways I like my roast beef sandwich is bad. Well, beyond bad, just not done. I like roast beef with cream cheese on sourdough. I innocently ordered this and the deli man looked at me with an emptiness in his soul that is reserved for people on death row and grooms starring on the WE Network's Bridezillas show.

I was young and ignorant. I had no idea that Kosher law prohibits the mixing of meat and dairy (this was explained later by a friend of mine).

He actually refused to make it as I liked it. We compromised by having him insert a leaf of lettuce between the meat and the dairy. Actually, that was nice. The cool, crisp lettuce added a new dimension that I enjoyed ... so, I've ordered this sandwich that way from then on.

I've received similar looks here ... granola just doesn't seem to exist here. I guess that should be no real surprise.

So, guess I'll make granola from scratch. Doesn't look that hard. I've taken Alton Brown's recipe (almost never go wrong with his) and modified it a little. Dorie's recipe calls for raisin-less granola and I'm not a big shredded coconut fan. I dropped those.

Since the raisins and coconut comprise a fair portion of the solid ingredients, I cut back on the sugar, oil, syrup, and salt by 25% to compensate.

Yields about 5 cups of granola.

  • 3 cups (240g) rolled oats
  • 1 cup (90g) slivered almonds
  • 1 cup (130g) cashews
  • 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (80g) maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

I tried heating my oven to the required 250F (120C), no joy. My oven is rated to go down to 275F (135C). It only really wanted to get down to 300F (150C). This is normally acceptable ... except in this case. I don't want to burn the granola. So, I turned my oven onto gas stop #1 (275F/135C) and started to make the mixture. I figured that I would run with the oven door cracked.

I measured and put all of the ingredients into a bowl. I started with the dry ingredients, finished up with the brown sugar, vegetable oil, and maple syrup. I used a silicone scraper to mix it all together thoroughly.

Then, I put the mixture onto two half-sized (12" x 18") baking sheets. I spread it out then and went to look at my stubborn oven. Don't get me wrong, I love my oven. It's the only model being sold in town that will fit a full-sized (18" x 24") baking sheet. So, it has it's benefits.

The recipe called for the granola to cook for 75 minutes, checking and turning the granola over every 15 minutes. This turned out to be a bit of a hassle as I'm supposed to be resting due to a concussion right now. I should probably take care of myself better. I didn't want to miss my first Tuesdays with Dorie posting.

I put the two baking sheets into the oven and cracked the door about 5". I let them sit for 15 minutes.

When I came back, the oven thermometer was reading 180F (82C). Not good. I need hotter. So, I turned all the granola and set the oven onto gas stop #3 (325F/160C). And, again, left the granola alone in the big, bad oven for 15 minutes.

This time, when I come back, the oven is nicely up to about 225F (107C). I'm happy about this. This is good enough for making granola. I noticed, however, that the granola that was drying in the rear of the oven was browning faster than that in the front. Ooops.

I didn't adjust the temperature because I was happy with that, but I pushed the granola mixture forward about 1/4 of the tray. Again, 15 more minutes into the oven.

When I came back, I found that the trailing edge of the granola had scorched just slightly. So, I had to toss out a few tablespoons of granola. The rest was looking good. I turned the granola again. This time I had a new idea: the oven seals well, just get the oven up to 250F (120C) and shut it with the gas off. So, I did that for 15 minutes.

That worked well. Very well. I still had 15 minutes to cook, but the granola had already reached a nice golden brown state. Didn't want to tempt fate.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Very good. In general they'd like it sweeter.

Potential Improvements

Next time I'll cook it in 15 minute segments by turning on the gas, getting the oven to 250F (120C), and putting the pans in with the gas flame off.

Potential Variations

Too many to mention. I used an industrial-quality maple syrup (oh how I miss the good stuff from Vermont). Next time, perhaps I'll make a brown sugar syrup to replace it.


Great, great recipe. I need to set some aside for teh Granola Grabbers I need to make for Tuesdays with Dorie. And, I need to set a bit more aside to photograph (I'd love to get onto Foodgawker someday). Aside from that, this stuff's getting eaten. I guess I should set some aside for the other test groups, too. Gah!

I think I have some plain yogurt left ...

Requests From Above

Anyone who knows me knows that I am utterly perfect. Truly the most wonderful person ever. In fact, I'd say those who know me are lucky. Very lucky.

One of those lucky people is my mother. She gave me life so I guess I should try to be nice to her. I would like to point out that I become utterly perfect with no help from her (or my father) what-so-ever. I was born perfect and remain that way to this day.

I like to humor her by making things she likes. Makes her feel like I might actually have some affection for her. I probably do at some level, I just don't feel or express it. I say something nice from time-to-time purely out of pity.

So, without further explanation (as I've gone on too long blathering about this person who is supposed to have some kind of meaning in my life), here's the list of recipes that my mom has requested that I make for her (with her comments, she does her best to help):

Apricot Bars - You could substitute a Philippine fruit for the apricots.

The Best Damned Oatmeal Raison Cookie Recipe EVER - Add nuts to make the cookies more nutritious. (ed: what's mom doing looking for recipes on the Beastie Boys site?)

Chinese Restaurant Fried Rice Recipe - (ed: I'm not sure mom understands that we're in the rural Philippines ... Basmati rice isn't exactly common around here. Recipe sounds great, I'll experiment and do the best I can)

It's A Cream Puff Renaissance - This is a great article on cream puffs. Save it. And make some cream puffs! (ed: after I make these, she'll comment about how we should be eating healthier ... she's right, but who has that kind of will power when faced with such food?)

Banana Bread - Bake this banana bread recipe. (ed: no please, no thank you, just "do it" ... and, to think, I learned my manners from her!)

Note for the humor impaired: the first few paragraphs of this post were written with my tongue thoroughly planted-(and stapled)-in-cheek. I love my mom and happily cook for her, my lovely wife, and the wonderful boy who I'm lucky to have as a son.

If you don't understand that they were meant to be a joke (sarcastic, not true, etc.) ... please, go to the video store, rent as many things with Eddie Izzard that you can find (if you can find only one, make sure it is Dress To Kill, at one point he gives a fine explanation of how the Britiash, the puny island nation that it was, managed to hold half the world), watch them all, repeat until your sense of humor grows to a reasonable size.

Should your humor fail to grow ... start over with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) ... if you fail to laugh now, you're dead. Find the local morgue and turn yourself in. You're late for your celestial appointment. Not a good way to start the afterlife.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tuesdays with Alton

I just signed up for the Tuesdays With Dorie group. They cook a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home To Yours every Tuesday.

This sounds like fun. I like the virtual group participation idea.

I like to plan ahead. I try to do that, too. Not always successful. This time I was. I looked at the upcoming recipe.

What's the first ingredient? Granola. Oh, hahahahahaha. That's rich.

Needless to say, I'm going to have to make the granola myself. So, I turn to my favorite cooking celebrity, Alton Brown, for help (Alton is my favorite celebrity, I consider him a food scientist ... Gordon Ramsay is my favorite chef). An early episode of Good Eats has a nice sounding granola recipe. So, I'll try it.

Stay tuned ...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cultured Fruity Goodness ... Homemade Yogurt

Recently, a friend of mine gave me a yogurt starter. Here in the Land of the Dairy Deprived, that's a pretty cool gift. I've been playing with making yogurt since. Three batches already. Really very simple, yet so satisfying.

There's something about the tang of a good yogurt that can't be matched by anything else. I think that's why I like it. I like really yeasty bread, too. Pattern?

My only problem? Matching the texture that I grew up with. In a way, I'm being stubborn. Here I am in the rural Philippines trying to match the texture of commercial yogurt mass-produced in the States.

I figure it this way: why not try to produce what you want? Why give up easily? It only took me three days of experimentation to get very close. By the next batch or two, I'll have it down.

Oh my, now that I have yogurt, I can make frozen yogurt. Yum. And, I can make some simply great sweet baked goods. I find it very satisfying to have ingredients available to me ... and to have made them myself.

  • 1.5 liters water
  • Full-cream powdered milk (enough to make 2 liters)
  • Plain gelatin powder (enough to make 1/2 liter)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt starter
  • Fruit with syrup

Wisk together the water, gelatin powder, and powdered milk. Put them over medium heat and bring up to about 180F (80C). This is to kill anything that might be living in the water or the pot. You don't want anything to interfere with the growth of your yogurt culture.

Once up to temperature, take the mixture off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Actually, don't let it cool to room temperature. Let it cool to 85F - 100F (30C - 40C). Here in the Philippines, that's room temperature. Elsewhere, maybe not. For getting bread to rise and making yogurt, the heat here is pretty convenient. No searching for a "warm spot" in the kitchen. It's all warm.

Add the yogurt starter and mix thoroughly. Cover and let sit for about eight hours. This should set up nicely. It will get stronger as the yogurt culture grows and takes over the milk.

Once the culture has grown nicely, move the pot to a fridge. This will effectively stop the growth process. You don't want it to grow further. Yogurt gets rather pungent and not-at-all pleasant if you do. And, this isn't a blue cheese "yes, this smells funny but ho-boy this cheese is great"-style pungent ... it's a simply a "what in the name of All That Is Holy and Good ... this is disgusting"-style pungent.

Not many folks like plain yogurt (I like it, but I'm not exactly what one would call ... um, normal). So, I mixed in some fruit.

I made three different kinds. Strawberry, blueberry, and mango. Strawberries and blueberries aren't native here. So, they were from a can. About 1/2 cup of fruit mixture for each cup of yogurt.

For the mango, I just made a simple fruit reduction (2 cups diced mango, 1/2 cup white sugar, cook slowly to reduce). Mixed this into the yogurt at the same ratio as above (2 parts yogurt to 1 part fruit mixture).

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Mixed results. Those that grew up with yogurt, in other words ... the Americans, really loved it. The Filipinos either thought it was merely OK or really didn't like the yogurt. The Filipinos liked the mango flavor better than the strawberry or blueberry (no shock there, a familiar flavor).

Potential Improvements

Maybe a little thicker. The consistency now is much like Yoplait (commercially available in the United States). I like this very much. Others aren't so keen on it.

Potential Variations

Want to explore other fruits that are available. Also, might try adding cocoa powder to make chocolate yogurt. My son has asked for that.


Definite winner! So much better than store bought yogurt from back home. I'm looking forward to adding this to cakes and trying out a few others things with it, too.

I have to remember to make a little yogurt twice a week. Don't want my starter to get to strange or die out. This gives me an excuse to use it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Making Sour Cream

One of the big things that's missing here on Leyte is sour cream. There are so many things that just beg for that off-tasting dairy ambrosia. Too many things to ignore its absence.

In the past, I've used UHT milk. Around here they call it "fresh milk". Really, it's anything but fresh. If kept sealed in its carton, the UHT milk has a six-month shelf life. Once opened, 4-5 days maximum in a cold fridge.

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 5 tablespoons white vinegar


I used powdered milk to make 2 cups of full cream milk. We don't have fresh whole milk available here. So, powdered was the best option.

Then, I added 5 tablespoons of white vinegar to the milk. Stirred well. Then, put into a covered bowl for 12 hours. This long period allows the curds (solids) to separate from the whey (liquid).

Finally, I poured the resulting curds and whey through a fine mesh strainer (a permanent coffee filter works very well for this). Let the milk-and-vinegar mixture sit in the strainer for 6 to 12 hours, depending on the consistency you want with your sour cream.

When it's ready, scoop out of the strainer, put into a sealable container and store in your fridge.

Test Results

Batch Alpha had 3 tablespoons of vinegar per cup of milk. Batch Beta was 2:1. Batch Delta was 2.5:1. Batch Delta's ratio is the same ratio as the previous favorite mixture when using UHT (ultra-high temperature pasteurized) milk.

Primary Test Group: Mostly Batch Delta with a couple liking Batch Beta.

Test Group C: Batch Delta with a single Batch Beta preference.

Test Group J: Batch Delta.

Test Group M: Rained out. I was riding over there on my motorcycle and the sky decided that the time was right to dump gallons of water on my raincoat-less self. Oh well, next time.

Potential Improvements

When one makes yogurt, the milk is heated before processing. I'm wondering if heating the milk for the sour cream would help in the process. Something to try at least.


Looks like I have a better sour cream substitute than before. Good. Easy enough to make, just have to ensure that I make enough in advance.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Alcohol Done Right ... Basi

I usually don't care for alcoholic beverages very much. They either taste bad, taste bad and tear out your throat, or taste moderately acceptable but have a sugar content that will drive small nations into diabetes and have moronic names designed to make sorority girls laugh at Spring Break.

What do I like? Typically something good. Like a Macallan 25-year Anniversary Malt. None of that blended garbage. Smooth single-malt goodness.

I also like tuba. That's palm wine made here in Leyte. Made right, it's very good. And, a friend of mine makes it very, VERY right. Just next week, I'm told I get the pleasure of sampling one of his two-year old bottles. Don't plan on missing it.

I was at the golf course yesterday morning practicing when I ran into the Captain (pronounced cap-EE-tan). He's the President of the golf course and definitely a VIP, in general. He told me that he was going to be back yesterday afternoon with some special alcohol from his home and that I should be sure to drop by to try. How could I say no?

So, I go back, play nine holes and wait. Here comes the Captain with a bottle of what looks like Chivas Regal. That was just the carrying case for the dark, rich, smooth alcohol I was about to enjoy.

The alcohol is called basi. Fortunately for him, the leader of Test Team M was with me. The Captain poured us both generous glasses of alcoholic perfection.

The Captain told us about the Basi Rebellion in the early 1800's. The Spaniards wanted the locals to stop making homemade basi. Their love of this fine alcohol was so great that the people rose up in protest.

Turns out, what we had was five-year old basi made by a friend of the Captain's in Ilocos Norte. Very, very good. In fact, typically reserved for national level politicians (presidents, senators, visiting dignitaries). We were very, very lucky.

The basi was amazing. Best alcohol I'd ever had in my life ... by far. Smooth, rich flavor, not even a hint of throat-destroying harshness. And yet, it was potent. It burned slowly inside ... sending its effects out through you at a slow pace. Even 30 minutes after drinking, I could feel the warmth slowly moving out my arms and legs.

This is definitely a sipping drink. And, a very happy drink. Not harsh, not a big slap in the face, but a huge, warm hug of fermented cane sugar love.

I have a new favorite alcohol. We were very lucky indeed.

So, maraming salamat po Captain!

I Found It!

In one of my first posts, I talked about one of my favorite cookbooks, The Frugal Gourmet on our Immigrant Ancestors. Well, I found it today!

Now I have that amazing pierogi (Polish dumplings) recipe again. As soon as we get our house cleaned up from my son's fifth birthday party, I'm making some!

I can feel my arteries clogging already ...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Nor Mai Gai ... Lotus-Wrapped Heaven

I love Chinese food. Yes, I do. I love it very much. I love dim sum even more. I could eat it every day ... for just about every meal.

And, my very most favorite dim sum dish is Nor Mai Gai. I first ate this in the Dark Ages (1989) at a restaurant called Sun Ya in Seattle's International District. A workmate of mine suggested it. I've loved it ever since.

Like borscht and pierogi at the now defunct Kaleenka, I taught myself to make Nor Mai Gai because I wanted to eat it often.

  • 20 lotus leaves
  • 18 cups cooked sticky rice
  • 20 pieces Chinese sausage
  • 750 grams ground beef
  • 750 grams ground pork
  • 400 grams pork tenderloin
  • 400 grams chicken breast
  • 2 cups oyster sauce
  • 1-1/4 cups hoisin sauce
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar (optional)

The first thing I did was start making the rice. 18 cups of cooked sticky rice is three batches in my rice cooker. This takes a while.

Take your lotus leaves and cut them down the spine. They typically come folded in half and we only want to use half a leaf per serving. Once cut, take the leaves and put them in lukewarm water to soak. They come dry, so you want to hydrate them to soften them up for later. They won't want to go to the bottom of the water. So, weigh them down with whatever you have around.

While the rice is cooking and the leaves are softening, start in on the sauce. I brown the ground beef and ground pork together. It's faster that way. Brown these and drain them completely. You don't want this dish to be greasy.

Cut up the pork tenderloin and chicken breast while the other meats are browning. I cut them into cubes about 1cm on a side. If this is hard to imagine, just cut the pieces up the size of your thumbnail (unless you have freakishly large thumbs, then get out a ruler to measure). Fortunately, my thumbs are approximately normal-size.

Once the ground meats are browned and drained, toss the chicken and pork tenderloin into the pot and cook them. Cook these over medium flame. It's good to cook them completely, just don't char them. We want tender and yummy ... not well done horrors ready to be fed to the dog. Once cooked, drain the fat from the chicken and pork, too. Again, we don't want greasy.

Put all the meats into the pot. Add the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and oyster sauce. Keep the pot over a medium flame and stir thoroughly. If you want your sauce to be a little less salty, add the optional white sugar at this point. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves. I like this dish on the slightly salty side, so I left that out.

At this point, take your Chinese sausage and cut each one into four equal pieces. Microwave these for 40-50 seconds. You want the sausage to warm up, not really cook. Don't cook it over the stove because you don't want the pieces to show any searing.

Take the soaking lotus leaves out now and drain them of their water.


The assembly process is very straight-forward. At first, it seemed slow. But, once I got onto the process, I was able to mass produce these little pieces of Culinary Heaven fairly quickly.

1. Take a lotus leaf and lay it out onto your workspace. Lay the leaf dark green side down. I do that because I think it's more attractive that way.
2. Take about 1/4 cup of sticky rice and spread it out into a 4-inch wide circle or square. If you see holes in the leaf, don't worry. Unless the hole is huge, when you roll the leaf up, it'll get covered.
3. Take 2-3 tablespoons of the sauce and place it on the sticky rice. Then, place two of the cut pieces of Chinese sausage into the sauce.
4. Add another bit of rice on top. Again, about 1/4 cup of rice spread out into a 4-inch wide circle or square. The rice doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs to be placed on top nicely.
5. Fold the sides of the lotus leaf inwards. Pull on the sides a bit while doing this to neaten up the rice-and-sauce stack.
6. Fold the bottom portion of the lotus leave up and over the rice and sauce portion. Pull the bottom portion of the leaf up snugly.
7. Finally, roll the whole assembly forward, tucking extra leaf under and neatening it. While rolling, try to tighten up the insides a bit. Make a nice package.
Test Results

Primary Test Group: Very good. Everybody liked.

Test Group C: Ate two of them. Still not enough. Oy!

Test Group M: Ate only one-and-a-half (because another friend stole half while M wasn't looking ... said food thief had three-and-a-half). Very much liked them.

Random Test Group: Played in a small golf tournament this weekend. Brought 36 of these up there. Took none home. Very, very well received. The picture to the right shows what I brought.

Potential Improvements

No real improvement needed in the food itself. However, it occurred to me during preparation that there might be a faster way to make them. I thought one could spread a layer of sticky rice out on two baking sheets (sprayed lightly with cooking spray). I'd then put the sausage pieces in what would later be the middle of each unit. Spread a layer of sauce on one of the sheets of sticky rice, over the sausage pieces. Finally, place the second sheet on top of the first with the sauce and press. Put this all in the fridge for 30 minutes to let things cool. Then, cut it like you'd cut a rectangular cake into perfectly square parts. Then, wrap those.


I love these. Apparently, so does everyone else. So glad I have a lot of lotus leaves.