Month: November 2014

Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving! …with Sauteed Green Beans

Hello Friends,

Yesterday I was enjoying family time way too much, so I didn’t post anything.  I hope you all had your own wonderful Thanksgivings, with lots of food!  One of the other reasons nothing was posted yesterday was because the dish I would have posted wasn’t made until right before dinner: Sauteed Green Beans.  I always love making this for Thanksgiving–I think it goes well with roasted turkey and gives your plate some color when it’s otherwise shades of mashed potatoes and white meat.  Only one problem…green beans are hard to come by in Wisconsin in November.  But we found some!  And so here it is, my favorite thing to do with green beans all year round–not just for the holidays! (Though they’re mighty fine for company).

You can expect pictures sometime soon, I promise I haven’t given up on pictures!

Sauteed Green Beans

Yield: about 6 servings

Ingredients:

1 lb green beans, cleaned with stems cut off

2 T. olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, minced

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Method:

Blanch and shock the green beans–put a pot of water (3 qt or bigger) on the stove and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  While it is heating, prepare a large bowl of ice water nearby.  Once the pot of water is boiling, add the green beans and stir them around for about a minute, or until they become a vibrant green color.  Immediately drain and transfer them to the ice water, to stop the residual heat from cooking them further, lest they turn brownish.

Put a large pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.  When the oil is hot (if you’re watching closely, it’ll seem to shimmer), add the garlic and sautee that for 30-60 seconds.  The idea is to impart the flavor of the garlic into the olive oil, without crisping the garlic.  If the garlic starts to get color to it, you’ll know it’s time to add the green beans!  Add green beans and sautee some more–tossing and stirring occasionally–to heat the beans through and blister their skin a bit.  Beware of hot oil jumping out of the pan if you haven’t fully drained the green beans!

Take the beans off the heat, transferring to the serving dish, and add salt and pepper to taste.  To me, this would probably mean approximately 1/4 t. of salt and 10+ grinds of pepper.  I can’t say I’ve ever measured it.  But just remember–you can add more, but you can’t take out what you put in!

Enjoy!

Another Wonderful World of Butter

So, this is another week of no time for recipes.  Don’t be surprised if this lasts for the rest of the semester.  Sorry, guys.  But, we do get to talk more about butter, so that’s good, right?

First of all, something that I forgot to mention last time, but is something necessary to talk about: salted versus unsalted butter.  Technically, when a recipe calls for butter, (especially a dessert recipe), it means unsalted butter.  Now, I usually have salted in the fridge, so I use that, and it’s not a HUGE deal.  But do this with the same amount of hesitation that you would walking barefoot in the costume shop.  If the salt ratio is off in the end product, you have no one to blame but yourself if you used salted butter.  One main reason is this: different companies put different amounts of salt in their butters, so you won’t get a consistent outcome…unless, I guess, you used only one brand of butter for the rest of your life.  But what’s more is that the recipe already calls for salt.  (And if the recipe doesn’t call for salt, well, you don’t really want to use that one.)  The amount of salt in the recipe has been formulated on the assumption you’re using unsalted butter, so you would need to reduce the amount of added salt if you use salted butter.  BUT HOW, when you don’t know how much salt the company added to their butter in the first place?  Told you it’s tricky…

But, I am still not going to come at you with pitchforks if you use salted butter.  As I already mentioned, I use it.  This is due in great part to the fact that unsalted butters aren’t always what I want them to be.  What do I want them to be?  I want them to say “Ingredients: Cream”.  More often than not, they say “Ingredients: Cream, Flavoring”.  And you can (I can, at least) totally taste the fake butter flavoring.  I rebel against margarine flavored like butter.  My family has to deal with my complete intolerance about it as I refer to it as “Fake Butter”, sometimes in public.  I’m particular about my dairy products. So, naturally, I don’t want my REAL butter tasting like fake butter.  Salted butter often has two ingredients: cream and salt.  The salt must bring out a lot of butter flavors, enough that companies find it necessary to flavor the unsalted variety.  Long story short, check your labels for the respectable butters that only list “Cream” for their unsalted variety’s ingredient.  I prefer the salted gamble if I can’t find the unflavored unsalted.

Let us next discuss butter and the refrigerator.  Straight from the FDA: “The product is not held hot or cold for safety. [When shipping,] the product is held at low temperatures for quality reasons.”  Quality as in, you don’t get melted-then-cooled deformed butter blobs.  But there you have it, short and sweet.  You don’t HAVE to refrigerate it.  But I would advise against leaving a bunch of pounds on the counter.  The best place for butter that you’re not trying to spread on toast throughout the week is in the fridge.  Keep it someplace where it won’t pick up too many of those unwanted flavors, though!!!

Let me know if you enjoy these posts, because I usually enjoy researching and writing them–the kind where you might actually learn something!  (I hope you do, because I usually do).  See you next week with inevitable Thanksgiving-ly things!

The Wonderful World of Butter

So, I bet you were all expecting this to be “Candy Apples Part 2”, weren’t you?  Well, let me tell you something, kiddos…so was I.  Alas, the final recipe needs more tweaking than I have time for this week (which is what happens when one leaves the house for nearly 12 hours at a time–Happy Tech Week, theatre people!).  Needless to say, a new recipe was not on the schedule either.

Sooooo, instead, we get to learn about BUTTER.  Butter is one of those words that means more to me than it does the average person, as my great-grandmother after whom I was named (well, “middle-named”) apparently LOVED butter, as does my grandpa.  And as a child I guess I was quite fond of it myself.  I can taste fake butter from a mile away–don’t try to fool me, fools!

Anyway, TO BUTTER.

Let’s all just get this over with: Butter is a fat.  More accurately, in the USA, it is at least 80% butterfat, the other 20-or-less% being water and milk solids, according to the Joy of Baking website. The fact that butter is a fat is important in many ways for baking and cooking.

For one, there’s Taste.  I’m sure most of you have heard the phrase “Fat Equals Flavor”.  This, as a broad comment, could be true–but literally, fat is a flavor-enabler.  Fat has little flavor of its own…bite on a stick of unsalted butter to figure that one out (please don’t). What fats actually do is transmit the flavors surrounding it.  Ever pulled a stick of butter out of the fridge or freezer to find that it has a certain “presence” about it resembling that pizza it was sitting next to?  It can’t be just me, here.  Butter picks up the flavors around it and kind of spreads them over your tongue–giving not only a pleasing texture, but a slow-melting environment to prolong the amount of time the other flavors stay on your tongue.  It should be noted that not all flavors are, shall we say, fat soluble–so fat won’t absorb every flavor. (This paragraph brought to you loosely by Gizmodo…and a source from years ago that I forget).

Secondly, butter helps form the texture of a multitude of things!  As the Gizmodo article is keen to point out, the crispiness of potato chips is thanks to fat.  The creaminess of ice cream is the same.  “Mouthfeel”.  (Try to not put your tongue to the roof of your mouth while saying that word, I dare you). As Joy of Baking reminds us, butter is the reason why pie crusts are flaky, when pea-sized chunks of butter are trapped between layers of flour.  Finally, as the ever-delightful Alton Brown points out, cakes rely on butter for an even crumb, as one might say.  The tiny air bubbles that give cakes their lift are much the result of a leavening agent such as baking powder–however, baking powder on its own will give you a cake whose inside looks like craters.  I wish I could show you the video–it’s so short and informative–but Alton needs to make his living somehow, and it’s not by keeping videos on YouTube for free. Look for “A Cake on Every Plate” if you happen to have the Good Eats series.  Anyway, you may be surprised to know that a lot goes into the oft-overlooked first step of creaming butter and sugar.  You see, when you beat the two of them together, the sugar granules pierce the butter evenly and in a minuscule manner, making “seed bubbles” for the leavening to expand later… which leaves, not craters, but nice, same-sized bubbles throughout.

To help with texture in cakes as well, butter helps stifle that pesky protein GLUTEN.  Too much gluten in your cake, and it will be tough.  What is the main source of gluten in cakes?  Water and flour meeting.  So how does butter come into play to stop this?  Well, maybe you have heard the rule that, when alternating between wet and dry ingredients in a cake, you should start with the dry.  This is because, that way, the flour goes directly into the butter mixture already in the bowl, getting a nice coating of fat to repel the water from the milk or other liquids.  The liquids are repelled, not as much gluten is formed, and you have a soft cake.  Yayyyy!

Let us briefly discuss milk solids before I finally leave you for the week.  In clarified butter, the milk solids are removed to make an even smoother texture (and appearance!).  In browned butter, the milk solids are kept and used for their toast-ability.  Maybe I’ll do a little tutorial about those some day.  NOT IN THIS APARTMENT, THOUGH.  (Our stove has bad lighting). Til then, I think you have enough fun info about butter to inspire some fine baked goods.  Adios for now!

Candy Apples, Part 1

Hey People.  This week’s post is…as much as it could be.  There are three major things I do nowadays: school, theatre, and food.  The two former things had to take precedence this week.  That being said, I feel like I learned a lot this week in the world of food.  The world of candy making, specifically.

I stared for a long, hard time at some informational websites that told me the different temperature stages of candy making.  I was really confused, because I swear that my caramel was near burnt before it was close to reaching the “Caramelization Temperature” listed on those sites when I was doing my popcorn balls.

IMG_2519

Like my crafty candy making setup? This is from the popcorn balls adventure, but I used it again for this!

HOWEVER, I am not in possession of a candy thermometer (told Mother to put that on the Christmas list today!), which is an integral part to making candy, go figure.  I have a lovely meat thermometer.  The meat thermometer surprisingly gets up to a high enough temperature!  …But it also thinks that water boils at 204.5 degrees.

(Water should boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, to my less-science-inclined friends, including myself who had to look that up before testing my thermometer.)

So, there was problem number one. “Problem” number two isn’t a problem so much as an observation–sugar water takes FOREVER to reach 200 degrees…but once it gets past that, the temperature skyrockets so quickly that between dipping one apple to grabbing another, it went up more than 50 degrees, even on my slow-moving meat thermometer!

This brings me to the point of this little post, then: I wanted to test the candy apple process.  Everyone says “cook sugar until it reaches the hard-crack stage”.  I said, “But why?”

So I took six granny smith apples, a pot of sugar, water, and a cinnamon stick, and dipped an apple each time it reached a certain “stage”, adjusting for the stupidity (ahem: inaccuracy) of my thermometer.  I intended there to be six apples, but with the skyrocketing of the temperatures, the Soft Crack stage got skipped.  So we have FIVE apples instead.  Therefore, this post will amount to me discussing my findings.  Shall we begin…

Stage 1, Soft Ball (235-240 degrees F): Sticky to the touch.  Sugar crystals formed underneath the apple and have broken off from the rest.  The layer of sugar on the apple is extra thin, easy to bite.  It does not crackle.  It tastes like sugar with little cinnamon flavor.

Stage 2, Firm Ball (245-249 degrees F): Sweet.  Tacky to the touch, thin layer that crackles before PERMANENTLY ATTACHING TO YOUR TEETH. Until it slowly melts away, that is. I would not recommend eating plain sugar from this stage.

Stage 3, Hard Ball (250-265 degrees F): Stronger cinnamon flavor up front.  Smooth surface cracks like a crystal ball.  Very sweet. Doesn’t stick badly to teeth.

Stage 4, Soft Crack (270-290 degrees F): Missed this one on account of inattentiveness.

Stage 5, Hard Crack (300-310 degrees F): Light caramelization, spicier flavor.  Caramelization covers up the fact that I don’t really care for the type of cinnamon I used in this recipe. Rounds out the flavor so the cinnamon is the star without bragging about it.

Stage 6, Caramelized (338 degrees F): Strongest cinnamon flavor.  Enters into the perfume zone.  Finishes nicely, but up front is reminiscent of potpourri.

As you may be able to tell, I liked the one from the Hard Crack stage the most.  I guess there actually IS a reason why people make candy apples in that sugar stage.  My second-favorite was the Hard Ball stage, and this was the favorite among my housemates who volunteered to taste my stuff. One found the Hard Crack stage to taste almost burnt, one liked the un-crackled nature of the Soft Ball, one found the Hard Crack cinnamon-to-apple ratio odd, one had the Caramelized apple as the runner-up.

What’s more is that these apples may not have even been in the precise stages, since my thermometer is whack. So, take from this what you will, friends.  What will I be taking from this?  Candy stages themselves may be narrow frames requiring accurate equipment, but candy apples are not.  As long as your molten sugar is somewhere between 250 and 338 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re sure to please someone in your group.

Next week I hope to have a completed batch up here for you!