29 April 2008

Weekend Dinner Wrap-Up

I didn't take a picture of Saturday's dinner, but Sunday dinner more than made up for it.

My brother helped my mom make an ancho chili sauce to cover the pork. Basically, it's a very simple sauce to make and makes you wonder why you used anything else.

After marinating the pork for a few hours, it was then cooked on low for another few hours until it's so tender that it falls apart with a gentle prodding of a fork. The pan sauce? It was incredible. We ate the pork in burritos with black beans, the ancho pork sauce, and lettuce in very warm flour tortillas.



28 April 2008

Daring Bakers and the Cheesecake Pops

This month's recipe was chosen by Elle from Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah from Taste and Tell for Cheesecakes Pops from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. I've never heard of cheesecakes pops before, so I was excited to make it because I prefer bite-sized desserts to their regular- and sometimes super-sized counterparts. Also, I liked the whimsy-yet-contemporary feel of this dessert especially.

Seeing that the yield for this recipe was high, I decided to only make a half-recipe. I'd still have enough to play around with, but not so many that I'm up to my ears in cheesesicles!

From the Daring Bakers board, many of the others had issues with the baking time; the cheesecake took much longer to set than the time stated in the recipe. Was that true for me? Yes, because although my cheesecake set in the minimum time as per the recipe, remember that I halved the ingredients so the amount in the baking dish was less than if I had made the full recipe, meaning it would bake more quickly.

Now about the cheesecake, I love this recipe! It's the first time I used a water bath and now I will never not use a water bath again. The cheesecake set beautifully and didn't crack. Also, the recipe said to use heavy whipping cream, but since I only needed two tablespoons I decided just to add buttermilk instead. It may not have been enough to do anything major (which wasn't the result I wanted, anyway), but I think it added an undertone of tanginess. Mmm! The texture was the perfect consistency. Dense, yet light and smooth at the same time.

After resting in the refrigerator overnight, I sliced the cheesecake into small pieces and placed the tray in the fridge to freeze the pops until firm.

If you remember from my chocolate post, I am enthralled with a particular brand of chocolate. As I was collecting the ingredients in the store, I came across:

Sing it with me! Oh, SB, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind...

That's right! Flippin' sweet! There was no way I was leaving without buying it. No way.

It's just... so beautiful! It seemed almost a crime to chop it up. I did notice the undertones of honey that the description spoke about, which I was only able to taste after I chopped the bar up.

I apologize for the digression.

Since we could choose what to coat it with after dipping the pops in chocolate, I had two ideas in mind. First, cashews. Second, cashews with Chinese five spice powder.

For the chocolate, I coarsely chopped the cashews. With the white chocolate, I finely chopped the cashews and mixed it with about 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder.

I couldn't wait to try these. The cheesecake tasted wonderfully and I was anxious to see how the chocolate against the cheesecake, and the cashews with spices against the white chocolate against the cheesecake would taste.

OMGooses. My first bite, as you can see, was the white chocolate. I couldn't believe how good the spices and cashews paired amazingly with the white chocolate. It was heavenly. Have you ever eaten something and just knew that it tasted right? This was it. I know I went on about the Scharffen Berger, but the clear winner tonight was the white chocolate pops.

The diminutive bites were actually just the right amount for a desert without causing epic distress on my stomach.

Thanks again, Elle and Deborah, for choosing a really fun and individual challenge!

And to you, the reader, don't forget to click on the Daring Bakers blogroll to read the many other wonderful posts from my fellow DBers!

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops (full recipe)


  • 5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

  • 2 cups sugar

  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 5 large eggs

  • 2 egg yolks

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • ¼ cup heavy cream

  • Boiling water as needed

  • Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks (My note: I used bamboo skewers that I cut in half)

  • 1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

  • (Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible) (My note: When I normally use white chocolate to coat, I find it isn't really that much harder to use than chocolate. The only problem I encountered was that one type of white chocolate had trouble melting, though pressing with a spatula helped. Ghirardelli, however, melts beautifully.)

  • Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional


Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan (My note: I did use an 8-inch springform pan, the bottom I covered in foil)), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes. (My note: It took 35 minutes for my cheesecake, all ingredients halved, to bake. If you make the full recipe, bake it for at least 55 minutes before you check it, though many of the DBers said it took about 1 1/2 hours to bake.)

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (My note: I sliced the cheesecake into pieces instead of scooping into balls. If you do that, rinse the knife with hot water and wipe clean between slices.) Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.


23 April 2008

Double, Double, Toil and Chocolate

I'm not a choco-holic. I don't consume nearly as much chocolate as I breathe drink coffee. That being said, I am really into chocolate. Its color, nuances, undertones, texture, "hints of (enter flavor here)", basically anything having to do with the excellency of chocolate, I am into. I take it very seriously, much like my coffee.

Two weeks or so ago I was in Marshalls, a discount store full of name-brand items. I never really pay attention to the food stuff they sell (dry goods, not produce), but while in line to check out I was casually browsing through the chocolate at the counter when suddenly, hidden behind a container of other chocolates, were these:

You have no idea what that means to me. Some people become overwhelmed at discovering a silhouette of Mother Mary on a piece of toast, well, replace that with Scharffen Berger and you have me. You see, the nearest I can get any of these chocolates, in 1 ounce bars, is about a forty-five minute drive, one way. Bambers, this little pretentious market in South Bend, quit carrying them a while ago. (I should check to see if that's still true. Last I checked, they still carried Scharffen Berger baking bars.) To see these chocolates at Marshalls was a very big shock. Pretty much a 10.0+ on the Richter scale. Yup.

The Bittersweet is my favorite; namely, it was the very first flavor I ever tried and I loved everything about it. The chocolate is deep without being overpowering and has orange undertones. It melts smoothly and coats your tongue with a lusciously lingering taste.

My favorite way to eat it is to break a smallish piece off, let it start melting (whatever you do, don't chew it), then take a sip of black coffee and swish it around your mouth, then swallow. The taste immediately following is a very pronounced emulsion of the chocolate and coffee flavors. Amazing.

A week later, my dad brought Dagoba. All I really knew about Dagoba was that it is one of Scharffen Berger's sister artisan brands. I was really looking forward to tasting and comparing, though I went into it mostly comparing it unto itself, as these were actually flavored and not simply chocolate with undertones.

Innards of Dagoba Lime

Lime - Hmmm... A citrus-y note that I swear tastes like something else I've eaten, but I can't describe. I couldn't really taste the lime, just some sort of citrus-y, tangy flavor. Not bad at all, and definitely interesting, and not "interesting" in a bad way. My brother says that you need to eat a larger piece than I did to really taste that it's lime. (**As I type: Yes, I can pronouncedly taste the lime with a bigger portion of chocolate. Yummy!**)

Lavender - Smells of soap. Tastes reminiscent of soap (probably due to the mind connection with soap, hm?), but it grows on you... In the words of my dad, This is what rich kids eat when they cuss. Unlike the lime, I could actually tell this was lavender with just a tiny bit.

Eclipse - Wow. My tongue was coated in a very dense, not-at-all smoothly melting chocolate. This chocolate was probably the least sweet chocolate I've had in a while, thought besides the annoying density it really wasn't that bad. Think: taste of cocoa powder, but with a slight note of sweetness. If that's your thing, as it usually is mine, you'll enjoy this chocolate.

I'm on the lookout for other chocolates to blog about. A few brands come to mind immediately, but if there's one you like then let me know and I'll check it out.



21 April 2008

Weekend Dinner Wrap-Up

The dinners I had this weekend were excellent and share-worthy, so here you are.

Saturday's dinner:

Grilled pork with mango-corn salsa and cherry peppers.

The pork was smoky, juicy, and hot and was a nice contrast against the cooling mango salsa. The mild cherry peppers added that extra dimension which made each bite of a slice of pork and salsa come together.

If you want to make the mango salsa, I followed the outline for the peach salsa recipe at the end of this post, adjusting where I wished.

Sunday's dinner:

Cashew chicken.

The chicken was cooked in the same manner the chicken in this post was. I used a different sauce, but with the same ginger-orange premise. While it would have been exceptional, I didn't add enough ginger and orange to really bring the flavors out, so it was very subtle and subdued if mixed with rice or soy sauce. Otherwise, the chicken was juicy, the broccoli wasn't mushy, the rice was perfect, and the crunchiness of the cashews was the perfect contrast.

I might make "weekend dinner wrap-up" a new reoccurring addition to my blog. What do you think?



19 April 2008

Italians are Turning In Their Grave

Do you think that if I told my Italian relatives about this pizza I'd be blacklisted? I'll risk it!

This is the result of having pizza dough in the fridge, chicken that needed to be cooked, and a desire for Asian cuisine -- Chicken Teriyaki Pizza.

I made pizza last week and put half the dough in the fridge. By the looks of it last Tuesday I figured it needed to be used.

About forty-five minutes to one hour ahead of time, I took the dough, still in the plastic bag, out of the fridge to come to room temperature.

The extensibility of the dough greatly improved after being refrigerated for a few days, to the extent that I wanted to keep stretching it to see how far it would go before tearing. But I didn't.

On the left, that's what happens when the dough sticks to the peel and refuses to transfer to the baking stone. Oops!

When deciding how exactly to make the chicken, stir-frying was the first choice. After remembering this recipe for Sesame Chicken Salad from Anticiplate, I kept thinking about sesame chicken, specifically because of the breading. I remembered a recipe for Sesame Orange Shrimp from an Everyday Food magazine that I loved. It featured a tempura-like batter. (Recipe at end of post.)

Stir-frying spatters less than this did.

For not being marinated, the chicken was very moist and juicy. Not overcooking it also helped.

If you are wondering why the pan seems sauce-less, it's because this was the very last batch that was not used on the pizzas -- just enough sauce left to coat lightly.

When all the chicken finished pan-frying, I added the teriyaki sauce to the skillet on high heat until reduced and thickened. The amount of chicken per pizza was tossed in the sauce to coat lightly, then placed on the pizza, already sprinkled with a bit of cheese, and sprinkled with a bit more cheese.

The pizza was actually very good. The crunchy, breaded chicken (very moist) held just enough of the sauce, which had an essence of orange and a gingery-garlic bite. I was worried that I wouldn't like the chicken-pizza dough contrast, but I thought of it as an open-faced dumpling.

Despite the apparent deliciousness, in the back of my mind I kept thinking that I was committing some Italian sin. Shhh, don't tell!

Chicken Teriyaki Pizza

Teriyaki Sauce:
Recipe adapted from: Cyber-Kitchen

  • 2 ½ Tbsp packed brown sugar

  • 3 Tbsp teriyaki sauce

  • ¼ cup sliced green onions, white parts and halfway up the green part

  • 2 Tbsp water

  • ⅓ cup chicken broth

  • Juice from half an orange, strained

  • 2 Tbsp grated ginger

  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Recipe adapted from: Everyday Food

  • 3 large egg whites

  • ¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp corn starch

  • 2-3 Tbsp sesame seeds

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • ½ teaspoon white pepper

  • 1 or 1 ½ pounds of chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • ¼ cup canola oil, plus more if needed

Prepare teriyaki sauce:

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl; stir, and set aside.

Prepare batter:

In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites, cornstarch, sesame seeds, salt and pepper until frothy. Add chicken, and toss to coat.

Heat ¼ cup oil in a large skillet (they say nonstick; I used cast iron) over medium-high heat, adjusting the temperature if needed. Working in three or four batches, cook chicken until golden and crisp, 2-3 minutes per side (some of my pieces took less time). Transfer to a paper towel-lined cooling rack to drain. Add more oil to skillet if necessary for remaining batches.

After all the chicken has been cooked, turn the heat up to high and pour in teriyaki sauce. Cook until reduced by about half and thickened (go by eye; I didn't time it). Add only enough chicken as you'll need to top each pizza to the skillet, and toss with a slotted spoon to lightly coat. Sprinkle pizza shell with a light coating of mozzarella cheese, top with chicken, sprinkle with an additional light coating of cheese, brush crust with olive oil, and bake until cheese is bubbly and browned.


16 April 2008

Delicious Design Studio

There are many different aspects of having a foodie blog, and one of those is to make your blog look as good as your food pictures do. I came across the Delicious Design Studio website from another blog, Quirky Cupcake. If you are in need of sprucing up your blog's looks, this site would be a great way to find answers to your questions. On the site, it has links to blogs that DDS has worked on and a page where you type in your information about updates and ideas for you blog and can receive a quote as well as other relevant information. Give it a look!

They also have a contest running that began on the 13th and ends on the 19th. The blog that generates the most traffic back to their site wins a "full blog package", and second place wins a custom header for their blog. Either one is greatly needed, as I'm just learning about web design and stuff, so please help me out by clicking on their link after you finish reading this.





15 April 2008

Eatsa Pizza

I'm going to share with you the recipe I use to make pizza crust that's almost as comparable to what you'd find in a real pizzeria. It produces a very crisp, well-structured shell with a pleasant buttery taste. Now, obviously, some would differ as to the technique this recipe uses versus traditional recipes (though upon comparison, this recipe is leaning more toward the traditional side than the majority you'll find), as per this recipe here, but even though I use a different recipe with different techniques and I may not be able to duplicate all aspects of what is stated in that site, I can learn from it to better my recipe and find answers to the questions I have had.

If you want a better-than-normal pizza dough than what you would get cheaply at pizza chains, a certain amount of time is required of you. Once you are used to the recipe, however, you will find that you can make it around your schedule.

I'm still playing around with the consistency of this dough. If you look at my Flickr badge, you'll see how the dough is wetter than in this picture. It certainly helped the extendability of the dough to have a higher hydration level than it is here, but I've found that I can just about duplicate the extendability even when the dough isn't as wet, though it still is wetter than for a traditional sandwich dough (which would be a bit tack and be able to hold a mound-like shape easily).

This dough could have stood to have more water added to it. I didn't want it too wet, but even after mixing the dough with a metal spoon for 4-7 minutes the texture didn't turn smooth, it remained shaggy. (Once you are used to dealing with high-moisture doughs, it doesn't matter as much if it has a high hydration level.)

After mixing, the dough should pull itself away fairly easily from the bowl, yet still stick. If you touch the top lightly as I did, it will stick to your fingertips easily.

One issue I've always wondered is that sometimes, even after 2 1/2 hours of rising time, it doesn't quite look as if it has risen much at all. The yeast has worked, though.

The changes in texture are what is key. If you touch it lightly it won't stick to your fingertips as easily, and once you get it to stick you'll find the extendability to be much improved compared to before rising.

To shape for the resting, which helps the gluten to relax and makes it easier to shape, dust a large board or counter with a light, but adequate coating of flour or brown rice flour. (I've found that the dough doesn't absorb the rice flour as much as regular flour, so it doesn't stick as badly.)

After plopping the dough on the board, divide into four equal pieces. As an experiment, I placed two portions into a very lightly greased gallon bag and refrigerated them. (I'll be blogging about those once I make pizzas with those.)

To shape all the pieces, even the ones I refrigerated, you gently stretch the outside of the dough into the middle to make a nice, neat ball with a taut outer skin.

Finish by tucking the sides underneath, pinching with the sides of your hands, and turning the ball around a few times on the board to created a seal. Dust your hands and the board lightly whenever needed, but just enough so the dough won't completely stick. (You want to maintain a certain amount of traction between the dough and the board to give it a nice skin.)

Cover with a piece of plastic wrap (rub the tops of the dough lightly with flour/rice flour to prevent it from sticking).

About 50-45 minutes before the end of the resting time, heat up your pizza stone, if using, otherwise just your oven, to 525°. (I'm still playing around with oven temperatures.)

Prepare your toppings, too. For these, I decided to forgo a sauce and use thinly sliced Roma tomatoes (the yellow isn't Roma), coarsely chopped garlic, and chopped fresh oregano.

This is about what it will look like after resting. It should be flatter, but not look deflated.

Pat the dough out into a disc like above, then continue patting from the center until it's about an 8-9-inch circle. After that, lift it, near the edge, onto your knuckles and rotate in a circle, gently extending the dough out as your turn the dough. If you don't feel comfortable doing that or if the dough looks as if it might tear, place it back on the board, making sure it's lightly dusted so as not to stick, and continue pressing outward until it's about 11-12 inches. Place on a pizza pan or a peel (I use a makeshift peel with a dusted rimless cookie sheet).

Here's where I experimented again. I made one pie without pre-baking the crust and one pre-baking the crust. My reason for pre-baking is that my oven doesn't heat up enough to ensure that the crust won't get soggy, even though I don't overload the sauce and toppings. Also, it means that the final cooking time will only be to adequately brown the cheese, though still being enough time to brown the shell as much as it needs to without being too much time between one or the other. This time, however, I wanted to try it just because.

Brush with olive oil first, then place one layer of tomatoes on, garlic next, oregano last. Sprinkle very lightly with coarse salt.

If using a baking stone, with one quick motion jerk the dough off the peel, attack the edge of the pie to the stone, then quickly pull the peel out (don't lift it very high) from under the dough while extending the dough backwards to maintain the length of the pie.

VoilĂ !

Immediately place on a wire rack to cool for five minutes before slicing.

This was took about 7-10 minutes (less time, obviously, if the shell is pre-baked). I didn't time it really, so after 5 minutes watch you'll want to keep checking about every 2 minutes. Judge by eye, using the the cheese and the crust as your guide.

For the pre-baked shell, which is also a good option if you want to get a head-start on dinner, brush with olive oil and, with a fork, prick a 1/2-inch rim around the pie, then the entire insides. You only want to keep it in there until very lightly browned in spots and the shell no longer looks doughy.

If it puffs too much in the center, press down on those portions with a fork. Place on a wire rack if not topping immediately.

The verdict:

I was surprised that it did brown and cook evenly, though the insides were a bit doughy and you could tell it was a tad soggy, though the bottom was crisp and not soaked.

With the pre-baked shell it wasn't the least bit doughy, but soft. Also, you can clearly see that it browned better on the bottom, resulting in a crisper, less soggy crust.

The taste? The contrast between the crisp outtards, the fluffy innards, and the buttery-ness is really a great experience. Even the first time I used this recipe it was stellar.

UPDATE - This dough takes a while to rise, and by "a while" I mean much longer than 2 hours. If you make it early in the day, this won't be a problem. It will also help the dough develop more flavor. Give yourself plenty of time when you make this dough.

To make it ahead of time, divide the risen dough into balls and place in a greased gallon ziploc bag. Refrigerate overnight - remove as much dough as you need from the fridge and let rest on a floured surface until it comes to room temperature (usually about 1-3 hours).

Pizza dough
Recipe from: Forno Bravo
My notes in bold

Authentic Vera Pizza Napoletana Dough Recipe


By Volume
4 cups Molino Caputo Tipo 00 flour (I used bread flour)
1 ½ cups, plus 2 TBL lukewarm water
3 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dry instant yeast

By Weight
500gr Molino Caputo Tipo 00 flour
325gr water (65% hydration)
20gr salt
3gr active dry yeast

We highly recommend cooking by weight. It is fast, and easy to get the exact hydration (water to flour ratio) and dough ball size you want. Personally, I do not use recipes or a mixing cup when I cook dinner for the family, but pizza and bread dough is different. Being exact counts, and nothing works better than a digital scale.

Mix the dough in a stand mixer, by hand or in a bread machine. If you are using a stand mixer, mix it slowly for two minutes, faster for 5 minutes, and slow again for 2 minutes. (I mixed it with a metal spoon for about 5 minutes)

Cover the dough and let it rise for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, or until double. Punch it down and push out the air bubbles. Form the dough into a large ball, then cut it into 4-5 equal pieces. (I never bothered punching it down, I just use a rubber spatula to prod the dough out)

To make your pizza balls, shape each piece of dough into a ball. Gently roll your dough into a ball, then stretch the top of the ball down and around the rest of the ball, until the outer layer wraps around the other side. Pinch the two ends together to make a smooth ball with a tight outer "skin." Set your ball seam-side down where it can rest. Dust your pizza balls with flour, and store them under a damp towel, in a proofing tray, or under plastic wrap. This will prevent the outside of the ball from drying out and creating a crust, and becoming difficult to work with. The top of the pizza ball should be soft and silky.

Your pizza balls will need to rest for about an hour to become soft and elastic, so that they can be easily stretched into a thin crust pizza.

If you won't need your dough for more than an hour, refrigerate it until you are ready to start.

This is where I mostly winged it with shaping and cooking. Visit this section of their website for more tips on how they say to shape the dough and top it, and this section for how to bake it as per their directions.

For topping, definitely less is more. You want a light layer of everything, even the sauce. Spread the sauce so that just the thinnest amount is used. The bottom need not be completely covered in sauce, but it should all be moistened. Sprinkle the toppings, then the cheese.

Practice is definitely key, too. Part of the reason I enjoy making pizza is so that I can experiment and take note each time.

Have fun!
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