Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sweet Potato Fries and Aioli Demise

I started out determined to make both sweet potato fries and garlic aioli. The first attempt on the fries was seamless. They came out beautifully and were very tasty. They were so tasty that they disappeared before I got to take a picture. Sadly, the aioli split. After over heating the immersion blender and attempting mixing it with a food processor, I placed it in the fridge and ate fries with garlic flavored mayonnaise. Normally anti-mayonnaise, I was pleased with the taste of garlic in the mayonnaise as a dipping sauce for the fries. Attempt 1.5 on aioli was a rescue mission. I tried to recover the split aioli according to some statements made by others online. This was to no avail. I decided to start over from scratch for attempt 2. I used a hand mixer with a wire whisk attachment. This also failed. I moved the aioli to the food processor. This did not help either. Again, the aioli was placed in the fridge for a future date of rematch. In this process of battling aioli, I wound up making 3 rounds of sweet potato fries that were devoured. I even have a pending request for another batch. I'm glad at least one part worked and determined not to let the aioli win! When I defeat it, I'll post what worked for me.

The good news is, sweet potato fries do not require garlic aioli and they are pretty easy to make!

Fries after first frying

Sweet Potato Fries

2 large sweet potatoes
1/4-1/3 c. brown sugar
1/8 c. salt
4 cups water
oil for frying (I used vegetable oil)
(a little extra salt and brown sugar for sprinkling over finished fries)

Cut the sweet potato fries into 1/4 x 1/4 x 3-4" (or however long you like fries) segments. Mix 1/4 to 1/3 c. brown sugar and 1/8 c. salt in 4 cups of water in a mixing bowl. Stir until sugar and salt have dissolved. Add fries and wait one hour. Heat oil for frying. Place fries in the oil for 6 minutes. Remove and allow to rest 2-6 minutes. (If desired throw more fries in for 6 minutes. If all fries fit in your container, you only wait a couple of minutes.) Place rested fries back in the hot oil for 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and sprinkle lightly with salt and as desired with brown sugar. I recommend very little salt and maybe used 1/8 c. brown sugar for sprinkling.
Devour them before the others at the table get them first! Note: Frying them twice gives them a crispy texture. I didn't think it would matter and I tried some from the first round. They were ok but really not the right texture.

Finished Product

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

I wonder sometimes if the food I crave is any reflection of my state of mind…I know, when people are sad, scared, or lonely that might crave comfort food. However, there seems to be more to food choices than an emotional selection. I’m sure there’s someone who has spent lots of time psychoanalyzing the food choices people select. I’m also sure this analysis is done for marketing products and deciding how to change the same old boring menu at chain restaurants. Beyond the restaurant, though, to the food people crave to cook, I wonder if there is a common thread or if it is a personal reflection. The old “you are what you eat”, may well be true. However, I think it’s possible that we look at food as a way to change situations in our lives or take control of them…Or maybe I’m tired.

Maybe I really just like trying new things and whatever hits me sometimes ties together loosely. I’m not trained as a philosopher. I’m an engineer. Maybe I just want the challenge of things that look complicated and the added bonus of getting to “fix them and make them better.” Yep, that sounds fitting. This week was no exception to my fix it and make it better approach to things I encounter in life. How I got lasagna rollups, ganache truffles, and peanut butter balls in my head, I may never know. The one thing that all these items have in common is that they are all rolled.

I saw a recipe for spinach lasagna rollups as an ad in Bon Appetit. Advertisers seem to go into a Superbowlesque effort to make their product irresistible in this magazine. In this case, the picture was not enough to get me to use their recipe entirely but it did get my head on the path. Besides, I rarely use any recipe completely. As I was thinking about the rollups, I flipped through a recipe book a friend of mine left for me to keep up with for a bit. Oddly, I stumbled on a similar recipe and decided to sort of combine the two recipes and change them a little too. It was inevitable to change them. Besides, one of them didn’t even include GARLIC! Madness!

Spinach Lasagna Rollups

12 lasagna noodles

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 ½ c. ricotta cheese

2 ½ c. mozzarella cheese, shredded

½ c. grated parmesan cheese

1 pkg. (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground black pepper

¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

1 medium yellow onion

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (for cooking onions and garlic)

Cooking spray, (I used Pam Canola)

For the sauce:

2 cans (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (14.5 oz) stewed tomatoes with peppers, onions, and garlic

1 chopped yellow onion

3 cloves minced garlic

¼ c. (30+ leaves) of fresh basil, chopped finely

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (you EVOO and OO lovers can substitute, I just picked up whatever was closest)

The Composite:

Begin by cutting up your onion and garlic for the cheese mixture. Heat vegetable oil in a pan and cook until the onions are transparent. Remove from pan and place in the bowl for the cheese mixture.

If you are making your own sauce, this should be started next. You could totally cheat and purchase Classico or something but in this case, I made my own. I used 1 can of stewed tomatoes to mix it up a bit. I think the flavor was minimally affected by the extra spices inside based on the amounts of other spices in the mixture. For the sauce, chop the onion and mince the garlic. (I’m also going to suggest that you throw the chopped onion and garlic in a food processor before cooking to have a smoother sauce. If you like it chunky, forget the food processor but be warned that you might find yourself shocked by some garlic bits. I didn’t process it but I think I would next time.) Heat vegetable oil in a pan on medium heat and cook the onions and garlic together until the onions become transparent. Warning: Avoid browning the onions to reduce risk of flavor loss. Pour in tomatoes and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

While the tomato sauce is simmering, cook the lasagna noodles 8-10 min in boiling water. When the noodles are done, remove the tomato sauce from heat. Add basil, salt, and pepper. Pour sauce mixture into a blender and blend it to a texture you desire. You want it to be fairly fluid but you can still have a little chunkiness if you want as long as it is spreadable.

Preheat oven to 350 F. (My oven doesn’t take long to heat so this is a good point to start the oven.) A smart idea at this point is to pour about a cup of tomato sauce into the bottom of your 9x13 pan. However, if you only read part of the directions before starting and your sauce isn’t done but the noodles are ready, no problem. Not that I would ever do something like that but I would suggest if you do, that you go ahead and drain the noodles. Rinse them in cold water and spray lightly with cooking spray to prevent sticking. If you didn’t read through the directions and mix your cheese mixture while the noodles and sauce were cooking, I would definitely recommend the cooking spray.

Amazingly, I had already mixed the cheese mixture…thank you very much…but it could’ve easily gone differently on another given first time making day. The cheese mixture is made by combining the eggs, the three cheeses, spinach, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Why nutmeg? I have no idea but it was in 2 recipes so I figured, why not. I didn’t really notice it in the taste but perhaps it was a subtle flavor.

To prepare for rolling the noodles, I recommend getting out a medium to large sized cutting board. This way, if you make a mess, you can put it in the sink to clean it. Spread out a lasagna noodle and place 3-5 heaping Tablespoons of cheese mixture. You are unlikely to add too much but for those who love measuring about 1/3 c. per noodle will work well. Spread the cheese mixture evenly across the noodle and then roll the noodle slowly. If you lay the noodle vertically (flat ends at the top and bottom), you can easily roll it from top to bottom. Then sit the roll seam side down in the 9x13 on the sauce. If the sauce isn’t ready yet, go ahead and roll the noodles and place them in the 9x13. Repeat rolling the noodles and place them by rows into the 9x13. Pour the remaining sauce over the noodles. If you didn’t pour sauce into the bottom of the pan before laying the noodles, use a spatula to gently lift the noodles and allow sauce to flow under them to prevent noodles from sticking to the dish. Bake uncovered for 20-25 min at 350 F.

The supposed yield is 6 servings. This varies according to the eater. I learned I am full at 1 ½ noodles. Next time, I would make a half recipe in an 8x8 pan. Also, I would recommend a red onion for the sauce and probably just 2 garlic cloves (in the sauce) to keep from overpowering the other flavors. I enjoy garlic but I think most people would enjoy this at 1 clove and that it would be quite tasty with 2 in the sauce. Since I didn’t see a recipe that called for garlic, I went full force. I had no worries about vampires all week.

As if I didn’t have my hands in enough, I had decided earlier to make truffles for my friend Jen’s birthday. She likes coffee and dark chocolate, so I thought I would modify a ganache style truffle recipe with some hazelnut instant coffee. While looking through recipes, I was thinking about people who didn’t like coffee. Chocolate covered peanut butter balls popped into my head. Well, then I was stuck. I couldn’t decide which to make, so I made the decision I usually do when asked about cake or ice cream…BOTH. I didn’t find a coffee based truffle so I split a ganache truffle recipe in half and made half by the recipe and half modified. When I got to the store and compared chocolate, I wound up making the truffle recipe on the back of the Ghirardelli bag of 60% cacao baking chips.

Ghirardelli Truffles (* items and method is rather different from the package’s instructions)


2 c. Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Baking chips

1/3 c. heavy cream

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter

*optional to make coffee flavored you need 2-3 Tbsp instant coffee


1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa

*for coffee flavor ¼ c. instant coffee, 1/8 c. cocoa

Simmer cream in a small saucepan. Add butter and stir until melted. Add chocolate to saucepan. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. (If desired to make coffee flavor, add 2-3 Tbsp of instant coffee and stir until dissolved. I made half regular and half with coffee.) Pour chocolate mixture into a shallow bowl. (When shallow is indicated, its ambiguous. You don’t actually want this to be too shallow. I suggest pouring the mixture into a shallow container that allows there to be 1 ½ inches depth of chocolate if not a little more. If the chocolate is too shallow, It is harder to scoop it into balls.) Cool, cover, and place in the refrigerator until firm. The recipe suggested at least 2 hours. For me, 2 hours was still a bit soft. I recommend 3-4 hours. I do not recommend 8 hrs. At eight hours, the chocolate is almost as firm as a Hershey bar. This makes it a bit of a struggle to scoop into balls. It is doable with some determination though. After chilling, the recipe recommends rolling the mixture into 1” balls. I recommend not touching the mixture with your hands any more than necessary. The chocolate melts very easily. Try using a melon baller. If you can’t get whole balls, make half scoops, touch the center with your finger and it will melt. Stick the other half sphere to the melted center and run your finger around the border to smooth. Sit it on a plate and don’t touch it anymore for a bit. After rolling the balls out, I recommend placing them back in the refrigerator for 5-10 min to solidify. Once solid, roll the plain ones in cocoa and the coffee flavored ones in a 2:1 blend of instant coffee and cocoa. Place back in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Yield: 25-30 half inch round candies

Peanut Butter Balls (This is a pretty standard recipe with an improvised method)

1/2 c. butter

1 ¾ c. creamy peanut butter

1 tsp. vanilla

1 lb powdered sugar

1 package chocolate chips

2 Tbsp. shortening, or ¼ block paraffin wax (I used shortening)

Cream together butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. Add powdered sugar slowly until you can form into balls. (This amounts to about the whole box. I used all but ¼ c. of 1 lb of powdered sugar. Using the whole lb of powdered sugar is probably a good idea in terms of producing firm candy.) Roll mixture into 1 inch balls and place on waxed paper lined plates. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to dip.

Melt chocolate and shortening (or wax) in the top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.

At this point many recipes recommend using a skewer or toothpick to dip the peanut butter ball. Julie and I wound up laughing as my skewer shot completely through the peanut butter ball and then the ball tried to fall off the skewer. Not to be outdone, I grabbed 4 spoons. Julie dropped peanut butter balls into the chocolate. I rolled them around until coated, picked them up with two spoons to drain the chocolate, and sat them on a spoon for her. She let remaining excess chocolate drain and placed the coated peanut butter ball on waxed paper. This method was very effective and quick. We had no need to reheat the chocolate but it was easier as a two woman job. If the chocolate starts to set during the dipping process, place it back over the double boiler until it softens (1-2 minutes). I recommend placing the peanut butter balls in the refrigerator overnight to allow them to solidify well. Solidification allows them to be removed from the wax paper with ease. It takes about 1 full day in the refrigerator (if they last that long) to allow them to be solid enough to pull away from the wax paper easily. Yield: 30-35 one inch round candies.

The truffles and peanut butter balls went over well for Jen’s birthday. I think she liked the coffee ones best, as did a number of others. Some made sure to let me know if I was trying to decide what to make again that they really liked the coffee ones. Julie said she liked the peanut butter best…then admitted that she didn’t really like coffee flavored things so her opinion might’ve been a bit biased. It was very scientific of her to disclose her bias though. I liked that! In general, it seemed most people preferred the coffee or peanut butter but that all were tasty. Success! For future notes, since the process for making these is a little time involved, I highly recommend asking someone else to help. (Yes, I really can do that.) Someone you know is likely to be willing to help make chocolates so they can eat some too! I think I liked the peanut butter balls best...but I think they would be even better with increased peanut butter.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The wait is over

I'm finally writing my first post. On Thursday, I decided to make Egyptian Chicken Panne. The original recipe is from www.recipezaar.com, posting #201246. However, I'm typically not likely to be following a recipe (especially a new one) to a tee. It is quite common for me to split a recipe to try the original author's intent and then compare to my own ideas. In this case, I ALMOST followed their original recipe and definitely tried two different variants. As indicated by the blog title, I like garlic...a lot. What is not indicated is that I also like curry powder a lot too. These two preferences influenced the change to the recipe as well as how I would make it next time ...shocking...but I would definitely use more garlic and more curry powder!


4 boneless chicken breasts
1.5 Tbsp of lemon juice
1 small-medium onion
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp garlic powder
curry powder (honestly I didn't measure but I used around 1 tsp.)
4 slices of toasted or dried bread crushed into breadcrumbs or 1 -1.5 c. plain breadcrumbs
frying oil

1. Slice chicken breasts into thin strips (3-4 strips per breast)
2. Cut up onion and grind into liquid using a food processor or other weapon of choice.
3. I split the chicken in half into 2 ziploc sandwich bags so I could try two flavor options. You could use bowls if that is your preference but make sure you have lids if you want to shake the marinade around.
4. I combined the lemon juice and garlic powder with the onion and poured half the mixture into each bag of chicken.
5. Add curry to one bag of chicken.
6. Close and place both bags of chicken in the fridge for around an hour. (You can leave it in longer if you have the time, patience, or forethought.)
7. I fried this in a fryer so I poured the oil in the fryer and heated it to 375F. If you want to make on the stovetop, pour oil so that it will cover about half the chicken in the pan and flip the chicken. The stove top method is great for those who love to stir but be very careful of popping grease. Feel free to use a deep pot and tongs to decrease cleanup and keep your hands distanced from the grease.
8. After preparing the oil and letting the chicken marinate as long as I cared to wait (surprisingly I waited an hour), each piece of chicken was rolled in breadcrumbs and placed in the fryer. The fry time took about 8 minutes with one thicker piece that required 9 minutes.

Notes: When this is repeated (not if, because its good) I will not bother with garlic powder but instead use 2-3 garlic cloves. Also, I recommend using a stronger onion. I used yellow but it was mild as yellow onions go. The flavor was close to a white onion so for me a little disappointing. Further, I would definitely recommend more curry powder... at least 2 if not 3 Tbsp for 4 chicken breasts. That being said, I really like curry, so someone else could try going by the yellowness or the fragrance of the spice.
Unlike southern fried chicken, I would not recommend double coating this chicken with breadcrumbs. I think it would make it too crusty and take away from the spice flavors but to each their own.

I made sweet potato fries along with the chicken and attempted making garlic aioli to go along with them. The fries were great but I didn't think of taking a picture until the plate was empty. I plan to repeat them very soon. The aioli didn't go as smoothly as anticipated. By this I mean, round 1: aioli: 1, me: 0. However, I demand a rematch! Maybe the next round will be more in my favor.