From herbs in the last episode, the Good Eats trail takes us to spices in episode 98. So, what is the difference between a spice and an herb? An herb is a leaf, while a spice is a different part of a plant. If you want to keep your spices fresh longer, it is ideal to purchase spices in their whole forms, grinding them in a spice-only coffee grinder just prior to use. I remember that my dad began grinding his spices after watching this episode when it aired in 2004. Read on for Alton’s spice-friendly recipes.

Dried Pear and Fig Compote

A fruit compote is the first thing Alton made in this episode.

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Ingredients for fruit compote: white wine, dried figs, dried pears, vanilla bean, lemon zest, star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, Kosher salt, lemon juice, and honey.

To make his compote, place 4 ounces dried figs, 4 ounces dried pears, 2 T honey (Alton used orange blossom), 1/2 a vanilla bean, 1 C apple cider, 1 C white wine, a 1-inch strip of lemon zest, 1 T lemon juice, 6 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise pod, and 1/2 t Kosher salt in a medium saucepan.

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All of the compote ingredients placed in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, decrease the heat to low, and continue to simmer the compote for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. I found that it took the full 1 1/2 hours of simmering for my compote to thicken as Alton’s had.

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The compote, brought to a simmer and left for 1 1/2 hours.

After simmering, remove the cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and lemon zest; good luck finding the cloves – we didn’t find some of them until we ate the compote!

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The compote after simmering.

Serve the compote warm over ice cream or you can refrigerate it for later use. We ate the compote over vanilla ice cream and it was very flavorful and spicy.IMG_6930

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Compote over ice cream.

All of the spices seemed to be well-balanced, though clove was perhaps the most dominant spice. The compote was pretty sticky in texture and had little pops of crunch from the dried fig seeds, which were quite prevalent. Due to the rich color of the compote, and its spices, the compote seems to me like a good dish to make in the fall. This would also be great over a pork tenderloin. This is a recipe that truly shows how spices can contribute to a sweet dish.

Vegetable Curry

For a weeknight vegetarian dinner, consider giving Alton’s vegetable curry a try.

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Spices for Alton’s vegetable curry: coriander, onion powder, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin seed, mustard seed, and fennel seed.

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Spices, divided for their addition in the recipe. Yellow bowl has cumin seed, fennel seed, and mustard seed. Red bowl has coriander, onion powder, cinnamon, and turmeric. Green bowl has Kosher salt, sugar, and pepper.

The recipe begins with poking holes in a frozen bag of mixed vegetables. Microwave the veggies on high for 2-3 minutes, or until thawed.

Next, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, adding 2 T vegetable oil to coat the pan. To the oil, add 1 t cumin seed, 1/2 t mustard seed, and 1/2 t fennel seed. If you have a splatter guard, Alton recommends that you use it now.

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Cumin seed, mustard seed, and fennel seed added to hot oil in skillet.

Meanwhile, whisk together in a bowl 2/3 C plain yogurt and 1 t cornstarch, setting the bowl aside.

When the mustard seeds begin to pop in your skillet, add 1/2 t freshly ground coriander, 1/2 t onion powder, 1/8 t ground cinnamon, and 1 t ground turmeric.

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Coriander, onion powder, cinnamon, and turmeric added to skillet once mustard seeds began to pop.

It is also time now to add two crushed cloves of garlic and three dried red chilies with their stems and seeds removed.

Cook this mixture until the garlic begins to turn golden, but watch it very carefully as the spices could easily burn. When the garlic begins to brown, add the thawed bag of vegetables to the pan, along with 1/2 t Kosher salt, 1/4 t sugar, and black pepper to taste.

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Thawed frozen veggies, stirred in, along with Kosher salt, sugar, and pepper.

Stir the vegetables until they are heated through and coated with the spice mixture. Finally, quickly stir the vegetables into the bowl of yogurt.

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Spiced vegetables added to yogurt.

In the episode, Alton appeared to serve his vegetable curry as a side dish, but I opted to serve his curry over rice for a main course.

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Vegetable curry served over rice.

We thought this curry was pretty impressive, though the chilies really didn’t make it very hot. I would prefer to have more heat in my curry, but that is just personal preference. Otherwise, this curry had a nice combination of spices and came together in a matter of minutes. To get some protein, you could always add some tofu or meat. I would not say this recipe wowed me, but it is good for what it is – an easy weeknight vegetable dinner. And, it does have lots of spice flavor.

Broiled Salmon with AB’s Spice Pomade

Alton’s third spice recipe features salmon. It begins by placing an oven rack in the top third of the oven and preheating the broiler. Brush a sheet pan with canola oil, placing a skinless three-pound side of salmon on the pan; I opted for a smaller piece, or really two pieces, of salmon since there were only two of us eating.

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My salmon.

Sprinkle the fish all over with 1 to 1 1/2 t Kosher salt and with 1 t black pepper.

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My salmon, sprinkled with Kosher salt and pepper.

In a blender combine 2 t onion powder, 1 t garlic powder, 1/2 t cayenne pepper, 1 t whole cumin seed, 1 T whole fennel seed, 1 T whole coriander seed, and 1 star anise pod.

Blend all of the spices and pour in 1/3 C canola oil while the blender is running.

Brush this spice “pomade” all over the fish and let the fish sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

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Salmon, brushed with pomade and left to sit for 30 minutes.

After resting, broil the fish for 15 minutes and check it for doneness. To check fish for doneness, look for three things:  1- the fish should be firm and bounce back when touched, 2 – the fish should flake easily when scraped with a fork, and 3 – the fish should be at 131 degrees in its thickest part.

IMG_6921Keep in mind that Alton’s cooking time is for three pounds of fish, so you will need to modify cooking time for a smaller piece of fish. My salmon was honestly overdone on the edges. To me, a good salmon recipe is one that does not overpower the fish, yet enhances it. I think this recipe does that. The fish is flavorful and moist, but has the added flavor pop from the combination of spices.

Curry Powder Blend

The last recipe in this episode is for Alton’s curry powder. I have a lidded tin in my basement that contains nothing but curry powders. For as long as I can remember, my parents used this tin to house their curry powders, and I inherited it a couple years ago. We have sweet curry powder, Thai curry powder, hot curry powder, and maharaja curry powder. Never, though, had I made my own curry powder… until now.

For Alton’s curry powder, in a lidded container combine 2 T cumin seed, 2 T cardamom seed (I had to use ground), 2 T coriander seed, 1/4 C ground turmeric, 1 T dry mustard, and 1 t cayenne pepper.

Shake the mixture to combine. Since Alton’s curry powder contains lots of whole spices, you can grind the curry powder just prior to use.

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Alton’s curry powder.

I never knew my paternal grandmother, but my dad began serving me her curry recipe when I was very young, and it has always been one of my favorite things. It is fun to alter the curry by mixing different curry powders each time. To really test Alton’s curry powder, I used it exclusively in Grandma’s curry and it passed the test very well.

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A bowl of my grandma’s curry made with Alton’s curry powder.

Alton’s curry powder is a mixture of sweetness, nuttiness, citrus, bitterness, and moderate heat. I would call this a very good all-around curry powder, and it has been added to the tin for future batches of curry goodness.

The 97th episode of Good Eats was all about fresh herbs, how to use them, and how to preserve them. Growing fresh herbs in the garden is one of my favorite things, as I love being able to spontaneously clip what I need for a summer salad or cocktail. What are Alton’s favorite herbs? He listed his top 10 in the episode:  chives, mint, thyme, dill, rosemary, oregano, basil, tarragon, sage, and parsley. Personally, I’d put cilantro on my top 10 list, but that’s just me.

To store fresh herbs in the kitchen, Alton recommends that you lay them out on paper towels, spritz them with some water, roll them up, and then roll them again in plastic wrap. He maintains that the crisper drawer is too cold for herbs, so you should actually store them in the top of the refrigerator. To store long-stemmed herbs like cilantro or parsley, cut an inch or so off of their stems and stand them in fresh water in the refrigerator.

When fresh herb season is coming to a close, you can always dry your surplus. To do this, dip the herbs in boiling water for five seconds and then plunge them into ice water. Run the herbs through a salad spinner and lay them between two new furnace filters. Strap the furnace filters to a box fan and let them dry for 12 hours. Flip the filters over and let the second side of the herbs dry for an additional 12 hours. Once the herbs are dry, rub them between your hands to easily remove the leaves from the stems.

Finally, if you prefer to freeze herbs for later use, you can portion them out and freeze them as ice cubes. After a quick thaw, your herbs are ready to use. In addition to all of his herb tips, Alton did also include two herb recipes in this episode, the first of which is for tarragon chive vinegar.

Tarragon Chive Vinegar

To make Alton’s tarragon chive vinegar, begin by putting 1 t of household bleach in two quarts of water. Swirl 12 sprigs each of fresh tarragon and fresh chives in the bleach water for about five seconds, and then move them to a large bowl of clean water to rinse. The bleach is used to kill any spores that could be on your fresh herbs.

While your herbs rinse in the clean water, heat 6 C of white wine vinegar to 190 degrees in a saucepan.

Place your clean herbs in a lidded container and pour the hot vinegar over them. Place the lid on the container and let it sit in a cool room for two weeks.

After two weeks, repeat the bleach water/rinse process with 12 sprigs each of fresh chives and tarragon.

Divide the fresh herbs among glass bottles, and pour the vinegar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel over the fresh herbs; discard the original steeping herbs.

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Vinegar strained and poured over fresh herbs in bottles.

Store the vinegar in the refrigerator for five-six months or at room temperature for five-six weeks. Though this vinegar takes a couple weeks to steep, it is super easy and looks really pretty in the bottle. Hello, gift idea! So far, we have used this vinegar on salads and vegetables and we really like it. I would not be able to identify the flavor of chives in this vinegar, as tarragon is the predominant flavor. I was nervous that the tarragon flavor would be too intense, but the vinegar is actually very well-balanced and adds only a subtle tarragon flavor. This is a fun, easy project and you could certainly try it with other fresh herbs.

Parsley Salad

The other recipe in this episode is for a parsley salad. Alton seems to feel that parsley is a very underappreciated herb that is often viewed only as a garnish. Here, though, Alton makes parsley the star. For the salad dressing, whisk in a bowl 2 T lemon juice, 2 T lemon zest, 1 t honey, a pinch of Kosher salt, 2 t of toasted sesame oil, and 6 T walnut oil.

Fold four ounces of cleaned/sorted parsley leaves into the dressing, along with 3 T toasted sesame seeds.

Let the salad sit for 30 minutes before serving. Since only two of us were eating this salad, I made half a recipe, which gave us each a proper side salad portion.

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Bowl of parsley salad.

IMG_6851I liked this salad more than I thought I would. Parsley leaves are a little tougher/chewier than other greens, but the texture really did not bother me. I found the dressing to be an amazing compliment to the parsley flavor. The dressing had quite a lemony punch, but also had roasted and nutty flavors from the oils. If you, too, are biased against parsley, give this recipe a go. This recipe truly did make me realize that parsley has more uses than I give it credit for. Plus, this finally gives a way to use up that last half-bunch of parsley (does anyone ever actually finish a full bunch of parsley before it spoils?), rather than throwing it in the trash.

The 96th episode of Good Eats originally aired in December, hence the Christmas cookie theme. I say, however, that Christmas cookies deserve to be eaten at any time of the year, and March seemed like a perfect time to crank some cookies out of my kitchen. First up?

Sugar Cookies

This is a recipe that I actually made years ago (maybe in 2005?) for Christmas at my parents’ house. It was the first Christmas Ted spent with my family and I remember decorating the cookies on Christmas Eve prior to Ted’s arrival. My brother and I were going to head to Christmas Eve mass with our parents, and we somehow ended up with two martinis in our systems prior to church. Let me just say that mass was a little more entertaining than usual, and I ended up with very brightly (and abstractly) decorated cookies. The cookies were a hit then, so I knew they would be good when I made them this time around. This recipe begins by sifting together 3 C flour, 1/4 t salt, and 3/4 t baking powder.

Also, in a small bowl, combine 1 egg and 1 T milk.

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Wet ingredients – egg and milk.

Oh, and place a sheet pan in the freezer. Next, in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together 1 C butter and 1 C sugar until light and fluffy.

Slowly add the wet ingredients to the mixer until mixed in.

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Wet ingredients added to mixing bowl.

Then, slowly add the sifted dry ingredients on low, mixing until the dry ingredients are incorporated and the dough forms a ball.

Divide the dough in half, patting each half into a flat slab. Wrap the dough in plastic or wax paper and place it in the refrigerator for two hours.

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Dough, divided into two equal slabs, and ready to head into refrigerator.

When you are ready to cut out your cookies, sprinkle your work surface with powdered sugar (Alton prefers sugar to flour because flour causes the dough to develop more gluten). Roll the dough to 1/4″ thick, lifting the dough every so often to be sure it isn’t sticking; I found that I needed quite a lot of powdered sugar to keep the dough from sticking to my counter.

Remember that frozen sheet pan from earlier? Place it on your rolled dough for 10 minutes to re-chill the dough before cutting.

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Cold sheet pan placed on top of rolled dough.

Use cookie cutters (FYI Alton likes plastic ones) to cut cookies from your dough, transferring them to parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for four minutes at 375, rotate the pans, and bake them for four to five more minutes. I found that my cookies needed a little more time than this. Let them cool completely on racks before frosting.

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Cookies, after baking.

This sugar cookie recipe is fantastic. The dough comes together super quickly and is very easy to work with. The resulting cookies are crispy on the outside and slightly tender on the inside, and they have a rich, buttery flavor. I highly recommend this one! Oh, and how should you decorate said cookies? With Alton’s recipe for royal icing, of course! See below.

Royal Icing

If you are looking for a way to decorate your sugar cookies, look no further than Alton’s royal icing recipe. To make his icing, beat four egg whites or three ounces of pasteurized egg whites (I used pasteurized egg whites) with 1 t vanilla, using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer.

Gradually add 4 C of sifted powdered sugar until you have a smooth, lump-free icing.

Divide the icing among small bowls, adding coloring as you desire. As far as coloring goes, Alton prefers powdered food coloring because it lasts the longest and has no additives. I only had liquid food coloring, so that is what I went with.

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Royal icing, divided and colored.

Frost your cookies and let them sit until the frosting has set up. Oh, and if you end up with a bad color, Alton recommends adding cocoa powder until you have covered it up.

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My decorated sugar cookies.

This icing could not be easier to make and it sets up beautifully. Since royal icing is thin, it can be a bit messy to deal with, but it looks and tastes great. This is a fool-proof royal icing recipe that pairs perfectly with Alton’s sugar cookies. I threw a bunch of my frosted cookies in the freezer for later enjoyment, so you can always make these ahead.

Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies

Last in this episode was Alton’s recipe for chocolate peppermint pinwheel cookies. I actually made this recipe years ago also, but for a cookie exchange when I was in graduate school. I remembered liking these cookies then. These cookies start with a batch of Alton’s sugar cookies.

Divide the sugar cookie dough in half (it is best to do this by weight), and place the dough in two bowls.

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Dividing sugar cookie dough in half by weight.

One half of the dough will become peppermint dough, while the other half will become chocolate dough. Add 1 t vanilla to one of the bowls of dough, and add 1 t peppermint extract to the other.

To the peppermint dough, add 1/2 C crushed candy cane (or peppermint candy).

To the dough with vanilla extract, add 3 ounces of melted unsweetened chocolate (you can melt it in the microwave, stirring until melted).

Use gloved hands to mix the peppermint and chocolate into the two doughs. Additionally, add 1 egg yolk to the peppermint dough, mixing it in by hand.

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Crushed peppermint and egg yolk added to dough with peppermint extract.

Chill the two doughs for five minutes. Roll out the two doughs to 1/3-1/4″ thick rectangles, using powdered sugar to keep the dough from sticking. You want your chocolate rectangle to be slightly longer and thinner than your peppermint rectangle. Place the chocolate dough on a non-stick mat or a pliable cutting board (I rolled my dough out on a non-stick mat, so I wouldn’t have to transfer it).

Place the peppermint dough on top of the chocolate dough, pressing the doughs together.

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Peppermint dough placed on top of chocolate dough and the two are pressed together.

Use the edge of the non-stick mat or cutting board to roll the doughs into a log. Wrap the log in wax paper and refrigerate it for at least two hours.

When ready to bake, slice the log into 1/2″ slices, placing them on parchment-lined sheets.

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Dough sliced into rounds.

Bake the cookies for 12-13 minutes at 375-degrees, rotating the pans once during baking. Cool the cookies for two minutes on the baking sheets before transferring them to racks.

These cookies are chewy and dense, and have little pockets of crunchy peppermint. They are pretty and fun to make, and they definitely have a seasonal feeling to them. That being said, though, why is peppermint only popular at the holidays? Peppermint ice cream is one of my very favorite flavors, but you can only find it for a couple months each year. Anyway, these cookies are worth a bake, and, yes, you can freeze these too!

 

I have begun dabbling in cheesemaking, which has taken some of my time away from this project recently, but I aspire to get back into more of a regular rhythm with this blog. I have a long list of different things I want to cook/bake, in addition to this project, and I have to find time to do them all. Honestly, I should probably try to make one thing on my list each day, and maybe I could eventually catch up! With only two of us, I can only make so much food at a time, though. I did find occasions to make Alton’s sweet potato recipes from Good Eats, so here are my write-ups of those recipes.

Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes

I kind of had a negative perception of sweet potatoes until a few years ago. When picturing sweet potatoes, I would picture the classic sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping, which is a dish I just do not care for. Now, though, I love to use sweet potatoes in a variety of ways, including in a breakfast hash, as “noodles”, and as oven fries. Alton’s first use for sweet potatoes was a smashed form. For this recipe, place a steamer basket in a pot over a quart of water. I used my small steaming pot. Once you see steam, place 1 1/4 pounds of peeled/cubed sweet potatoes in the top of the steamer and cover the pot. Let the potatoes steam for 20 minutes.

Drain the water from the pot and dump in the steamed potatoes, adding 2 T butter and 1/2 t Kosher salt. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher to your desired consistency.

Finally, finish the potatoes by mixing in 1 chopped canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, along with 1 t of the adobo sauce.

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Chipotle smashed sweet potatoes.

First off, this recipe could not get easier or quicker, making it great to make anytime. Second, this is a really tasty dish! I added a bit more adobo sauce and salt after tasting the finished potatoes, but that is just personal preference. The sweetness of the potatoes is a great match for the smoky heat of chipotles. I will make this one again. Actually, I think I will pick up some sweet potatoes when I head to the store today, and we will have these as a side dish in the next week.

Sweet Potato Waffles

It seems that post people strongly prefer either pancakes or waffles. Although I do like both pancakes and waffles, I’d have to say that I am a waffle person. On a recent lazy weekend morning, I made Alton’s sweet potato waffles. To make these, first sift together into a bowl 2 C flour, 1 T baking powder, and 1/2 t Kosher salt. You will also need to peel, cube, and steam (for 20 minutes) enough sweet potatoes to make 1 1/2 C of mashed sweet potatoes.

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Peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, to be steamed.

In a second bowl, stir together 1 C milk, 1/4 C light brown sugar, 1 T orange zest, 1 1/2 C peeled/cubed/steamed/mashed sweet potatoes, and 1/4 C butter, melted.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.

In a third bowl, beat 6 egg whites until you have medium peaks. Fold the beaten egg whites into the sweet potato mixture in three installments; the first installment can just be stirred into the batter to lighten it, but gently fold the second and third installments into the batter.

Dish the waffle batter (Alton recommends two scoops with a #20 disher) onto a preheated waffle iron, cooking for 5-6 minutes or until crispy.

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Batter placed on heated waffle iron.

Top the waffles with butter, syrup, and toasted pecans, or whatever strikes your fancy.

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A sweet potato waffle with butter, syrup, and toasted pecans.

These waffles were really good, but they do take more time and effort than typical waffles. Is the extra effort warranted? For a special occasion, I would argue they are worth the effort. The waffles themselves are lightly sweetened from the sweet potato and brown sugar, though I would not be able to identify the sweet potato in them from flavor alone. Their yellow hue, however, does give some evidence of their star ingredient. These waffles definitely have more flavor than your typical waffles, and I actually preferred them simply with some melted butter on top.

Sweet Potato Pie

Pumpkin pie seems to be a polarizing dessert, with people either loving or hating it. I really like pumpkin pie, but Ted happens not to care for it. Alton claims that his sweet potato pie is superior to pumpkin pie, stating on his web site that, “This pie is everything I ever wanted out of pumpkin pie, only without the pumpkin.” Begin Alton’s pie by steaming 1 1/4 pounds of peeled and cubed sweet potatoes for 20 minutes.

Place the steamed potatoes in a stand mixer, beating them on low speed with a paddle attachment until they start to fall apart. Increase the speed and beat them until fully mashed. Next, add 1 1/4 C plain yogurt, beating to combine.

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Yogurt added to sweet potatoes, after mashing potatoes in mixer.

Mix in 3/4 C dark brown sugar, 5 egg yolks, 1/2 t cinnamon, and 1/4 t nutmeg, beating until incorporated.

The batter will still have some lumps.

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Pie filling.

Pour the pie filling into a 9-inch pie shell placed on a sheet pan, and smooth the top of the pie with a spatula. Sprinkle the top of the pie with 1 C of chopped/toasted pecans and drizzle the pie with 1 T maple syrup.

Place the pie (on the sheet pan) in a 350 degree oven for 50-55 minutes, or until its internal temperature is about 170 degrees. Cool the pie for an hour before slicing.

For easy slicing, Alton inverts his pie onto a cutting board, removing it from the pan. He then slices the upside-down pie with an electric knife before returning the pie to the pan. Store any leftover pie in the refrigerator.

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A slice of sweet potato pie.

So, how did Alton’s sweet potato pie fare in our house? I liked the pie, but not as much as pumpkin pie. Ted, on the other hand, preferred the sweet potato pie to pumpkin pie, though this still wasn’t one of his favorites. Alton’s pie is less sweet than pumpkin pie, and you really taste the tang of the yogurt. It does have a lighter, fluffier texture than a typical pumpkin pie, which I liked. I did also like the addition of toasted nuts and maple syrup on the top of the pie, and I could see that working well on pumpkin pie also. This pie was definitely good, but it wasn’t an all-time favorite in our house. If you have a household of people who do not care for pumpkin pie, this could be worth a try on your holiday table.

 

As someone who likes to cook regularly, my dad came up with a great Christmas gift for me in December. He and I do not live in the same town anymore, but he called a gentleman where I live and arranged to have all of our kitchen knives sharpened. I dropped the knives off at the knife sharpener’s house one morning and had them back a few hours later. He sharpened 13 items, including our serrated knives and two pairs of kitchen shears. Our knives are just like new again! If you know someone who cooks a lot, keep the knife sharpening idea in mind as a gift! FYI:  The knife sharpener told me to never try to sharpen my knives at home, nor to hone them with a steel. Instead, he told me to use a strop to hone our knives prior to each use; a strop is a piece of leather that was traditionally used to sharpen straight-edge razors in barber shops. Now, onto the 94th episode of Good Eats, which was all about candy.

Peanut Brittle

I have made some candy in the past, such as fudge, divinity, and caramels. Peanut brittle was the first type of candy Alton made in this episode. For this recipe, you will need a heavy saucier with a lid, a wooden spoon, and two half-sheet pans; line one pan with a silicone mat, and lube the back side of the other pan liberally with vegetable oil.

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Two half-sheet pans, one with its back oiled and the other lined with a silicone mat.

Begin by rubbing the sides of your saucier with a vegetable oil-coated paper towel, as this will help with crystal formation on the sides of the pan.

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Saucier with its sides oiled.

Next, put 3 C of sugar and 1 1/2 C water in the saucier.

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Sugar and water placed in saucier.

Place the pan over high heat. Note:  If you are worried about your stove producing uneven heat, Alton suggests placing a cast iron skillet between your saucier and your burner to diffuse heat. Stir the sugar/water mixture occasionally, bringing it to a boil. Once boiling, cover the pan and set a timer for three minutes. This will allow the steam in the pan to wash down any crystals from the sides of the pan.

After three minutes, remove the lid and decrease the heat to medium. Meanwhile, toss 1 1/2 C lightly salted peanuts with 1/2 t cinnamon and 1/2 t cayenne pepper.

Continue cooking the syrup until it reaches a light amber color and has slow bubble formation, which Alton says is at 350 degrees; Alton says you really do not need a thermometer to make this brittle, as you can just eyeball it. I decided to use the thermometer, as “light amber” seems subjective to me. Yeah, so Alton’s temperature of 350 degrees is COMPLETELY WRONG, and will result in scorched syrup. I had to discard my syrup and begin again.

This time, I decided to eyeball the light amber color.

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Second attempt at syrup – this is what I determined to be light amber.

Once you have reached light amber, turn off the heat and dump in the peanuts, stirring.

Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared silicone mat, distributing the nuts evenly with a spatula. Press the mixture down with the lubed backside of the second prepared pan. Set the brittle aside to cool completely. Once the brittle has hardened, place the second half-sheet pan, this time inverted, on top of the brittle pan. By shaking the brittle between the two pans, you can easily break it into pieces. So, my verdict of this recipe is not that favorable. I have no idea how Alton recommended 350 degrees for the syrup, as it was just way too high. The second time I made my syrup, I think I probably pulled it off the heat too early, as my brittle did this weird foaming thing when I poured it onto the mat.

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Brittle poured onto mat and beginning to foam.

My resulting brittle was opaque, somewhat gritty, and had an odd white hue. The candy tasted fine, but it wasn’t what I think of as brittle, which is normally caramel-colored, shiny, and clear.

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Even my dog thought my brittle looked weird.

I think this recipe would have been much more successful if Alton had provided the correct temperature for the syrup, which a Google search says is around 300 degrees. In theory, the eyeballing technique could work for someone who makes candy often, but candy making requires more precision than eyeballing. I’d follow a different peanut brittle recipe next time for sure.

Acid Jellies

When we were kids, our parents would give us each a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. I preferred nut-free candy (still do), so my box was typically a mix of caramels, creams, and jellies. It had been years since I had last had a jelly, so I was pretty stoked to see jellies appear in this episode.

To make Alton’s version of jellies, combine in a saucepan 1/2 C fresh lemon juice, 1/4 C fresh lime juice, 1/2 C water, and 8 packages of gelatin. Set this saucepan aside with no heat.

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Gelatin, lemon juice, lime juice, and water combined in a saucepan off of heat.

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Gelatin mixture after sitting.

In a second small saucepan, place 1 C sugar and 3/4 C water, and place the pan over high heat. Again, you can use a cast iron skillet as a diffuser, if you wish.

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Sugar and water placed in small saucepan over high heat.

Stir this mixture until the sugar dissolves and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, place a lid on the pan and set a timer for 3 minutes. As with the recipe for brittle above, the steam in the pan will serve to wash crystals down that may have formed on the sides of the pan. After 3 minutes, remove the lid from the pan and attach a candy thermometer. Cook the syrup until it reaches 300 degrees.

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Sugar syrup cooking to 300 degrees.

Once at 300 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and pour the syrup into the gelatin mixture, stirring constantly.

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Sugar syrup being poured into gelatin mixture.

Place the mixture over low heat, continuing to stir until the gelatin dissolves. I had some difficulty with this phase of the process, as a solid mass of sugar seemed to form in the bottom of my pan. I am guessing this was because my sugar syrup cooled too much too quickly. I opted to increase the heat under my pan, allowing the sugar to dissolve again, which worked.

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Gelatin mixture placed over low heat to dissolve.

Once you have a smooth, clear mixture, add 2 T lemon zest and 2 T lime zest, and pour the mixture into an oiled 8-inch square pan.

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Completed jellies, poured into greased pan.

Let the jellies sit at room temperature for four hours. Once set, turn the jellies out and cut them into 1-inch squares with a pizza cutter.

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Jellies, cut into cubes.

Transfer the cubes to a bowl and toss them with the remaining 1/4 C sugar until coated.

Move the cubes to a cooling rack placed over a sheet pan, and allow them to dry for 24 hours at room temperature before eating.

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Alton’s jellies.

Alton’s jellies had intense citrus flavor and a great balance of sweetness and tartness. I did find them to be a bit more rubbery than I would have liked, but that could have perhaps been due to my difficulties with combining my two mixtures. I am tempted to try these again to see if I can get a better result, as they were pretty and their flavor was great. My only other complaint with these candies was that they remained very sticky and damp on the outside, and they never really dried out as Alton said they would; I found that this was a common complaint in the online recipe reviews, and I am not sure how to fix that issue.

Chocolate Taffy

I suppose you couldn’t really have a candy episode without including something chocolate, so that’s where chocolate taffy comes in. This recipe requires only a few ingredients, beginning with combining 1/2 t salt, 2/3 C Dutch cocoa, and 2 C sugar in a large saucepan.

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Salt, sugar, and cocoa.

Stir this mixture with a whisk to combine, and add 1 C light corn syrup, 1 t white vinegar, and 1/4 C + 1 T water. Stir the pot over medium heat to dissolve the sugar, and then increase the heat to bring the chocolate to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to low and attach a candy thermometer.

Cook the chocolate until it reaches 260 degrees, and then stir in 1 1/2 T butter.

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Chocolate cooking to 260 degrees.

Pour the taffy onto a silicone mat-lined pan, smoothing it with a spatula, and set it aside to cool for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, don latex gloves and lube them with butter. It is time to pull the taffy. First, use the mat to fold the taffy into thirds.

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Taffy, folded in thirds.

Next, fold the taffy in thirds again, but in the opposite direction. Knead the taffy with your hands, as if working with dough. The chocolate will still be quite warm.

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Taffy, folded in thirds the other direction.

Pull the taffy from both ends, folding them back into the middle.

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Pulling ends of taffy back to the middle.

Then, pick the taffy up and continue to twist and pull the taffy until it has striations in the middle and is very hard to pull.

Roll the taffy into a log on the silicone mat and cut it into four pieces with kitchen shears.

Roll each piece of taffy into a snake, cutting each log into 1-inch pieces. If the candy becomes too hard to cut, you can place it in the microwave for about five seconds to soften it. Keep the taffy pieces separate while you work, or they will stick to each other.

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Taffy cut into individual pieces.

Roll each piece of taffy in a piece of wax paper and place them in an air-tight container. This one was disappointing for me because my taffy came out rock hard, while Alton described something like a Tootsie Roll. I am guessing that my taffy was not pulled enough to reach the desired texture, but I did pull it until it felt like it was solidifying. Maybe I needed to soften my taffy again, and pull it more? Or, maybe the “T-Rex” nickname my brother gave me as a teenager was more justified than I realized? Either way, I don’t think I will do this one again. All-in-all, this episode was pretty “meh” for me.

The 93rd episode of Good Eats is all about ways to utilize a variety of grains in the kitchen; wheat berries, bulgur, and couscous are the stars of the show. Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels that have not been processed. Bulgur, on the other hand, is whole wheat that has been cracked and partially cooked. Finally, couscous is actually not a grain at all, but a pasta that is often mistaken for being a grain because of its nutty flavor and usage in grain-like recipes. First up:  wheat berries.

Basic Cooked Wheat Berries

Alton first demonstrates his go-to method for cooking wheat berries, which can then be used in a variety of recipes. To begin, place 2 C of wheat berries in a large skillet, toasting them over medium-high heat until they begin to smell nutty. This toasting step is omitted in the online recipe, but certainly imparts more flavor in the finished wheat berries.

Place the toasted wheat berries in a pressure cooker, adding two heavy pinches of Kosher salt and 4 C of water, or enough to cover the wheat berries by about an inch.

Close the lid of the pressure cooker and bring it up to pressure over high heat. Decrease the heat and maintain the pressure for 45 minutes. If you have an electric range like I do, you may find that you have to adjust the burner temperature regularly to maintain pressure.

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Pressure cooker, being brought to pressure.

After 45 minutes of cooking, release the pressure from your cooker. I had never cooked wheat berries before, so I was not sure exactly what a perfectly cooked wheat berry would look like.

I found the wheat berries to have a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy al dente texture. I took Alton’s recommendations and used my wheat berries to make the next two recipes in the episode:  wheat berry tapenade and mushroom wheat berry pilaf.

Wheat Berry Tapenade

The first way Alton suggests to use cooked wheat berries is in his wheat berry tapenade. For the tapenade, combine three minced garlic cloves, 1 C chopped Kalamata olives, 1/2 t Dijon mustard, and 1 t Kosher salt.

Stir in 1 C of cooked wheat berries, and serve the tapenade with crackers or toast.

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Cooked wheat berries added to olive mixture.

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Wheat berry tapenade.

We ate this as an appetizer one evening and both thought it was super tasty. In fact, we ate a whole bowl. This tasted like any great Kalamata tapenade, but with much more to offer in the texture department. The salty, briny flavor of the olives supplemented with the tang of the mustard paired well with the nuttiness of the wheat berries. I did end up adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to my tapenade, as I felt it could use a small kick of acid. This is a healthy and fast appetizer to make (once the wheat berries are already cooked), and I will be making it again very soon.

Mushroom Wheat Berry Pilaf

I can only assume that Alton is a huge fan of his mushroom wheat berry pilaf, as an updated version of this recipe appears in his newest cookbook. The biggest difference between this version and the updated recipe is that the updated recipe uses no rice. For the pilaf, heat 1 T olive oil in a large skillet, adding 1 1/2 C chopped onion, a pinch of Kosher salt, 5 minced garlic cloves, and 1 T butter. Stir after each addition.

Increase the heat to high and add 1 pound of sliced mushrooms (I used cremini), and 1 T soy sauce.

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Mushrooms and soy sauce added to skillet.

Continue to cook the mushrooms until they have reduced by half, which will take a little while.

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Mushrooms, cooked until reduced by half.

Once the mushrooms have reduced, add 1/4 C chicken broth, 1/4 C red wine, 1 C cooked wheat berries, 1 1/2 C cooked rice, 1/2 t chopped fresh thyme, 1 t chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 t chopped lemon zest.

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Mushroom wheat berry pilaf.

We ate this as an entrée and both really liked it. For a vegetarian entree it had a lot of flavor and a variety of textures. The mushrooms and soy sauce give this dish a lot of umami flavor, while the herbs give it a nice freshness. The lemon zest comes through in this recipe in a big way, giving a refreshing, bright tang that really lightens everything up. Plus, this is another healthy, delicious way to incorporate whole grains. This is a fantastic recipe that could be used as either an entree or a side.

Bulgur Gazpacho

You had me at “gazpacho.” I absolutely love a spicy, tangy gazpacho, so this recipe piqued my interest right away.

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Ingredients for bulgur gazpacho: cucumber, scallions, bulgur, cumin, tomato puree, tomato/veg juice, tomato, garlic, green bell pepper, balsamic vinegar, hot sauce, and Kosher salt.

Start by bringing 1 C of water to a boil with 1/2 C tomato puree; I did this in the microwave.

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Water and tomato puree being heated to a boil.

Pour the tomato mixture over 3/4 C bulgur in a bowl, sloshing to combine. Cover the bowl with a plate and set it aside for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add 1 minced garlic clove, 4 sliced scallions, 1 C seeded/diced cucumber, 1 C chopped tomato, and 3/4 C diced green bell pepper.

Next, stir in 1/2-1 C tomato juice (I used spicy V8), 2 T balsamic vinegar, 1-2 t hot sauce, 1/2 t cumin, and 1 1/2 t Kosher salt. Stir the gazpacho until combined and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour before eating.

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Bulgur gazpacho.

Sure enough, we really enjoyed this recipe. Though this isn’t soupy, it does have the vibrant, zesty flavors of a gazpacho. Also, with the addition of bulgur, this gazpacho has enough substance to stand alone as an entrée. There is also a lot of texture to this dish, coming from the variety of vegetables and the bulgur. This would be a really nice summer entree or side dish.

Steamed Couscous

Couscous is something we used to eat a lot, and this episode made me realize it is something we should eat more often. Alton begins his couscous segment with his recipe for steamed couscous, which can then be used in any couscous recipe. To make Alton’s couscous, prepare a steamer basket by adding water to the bottom pan, keeping the water level a couple inches below the bottom of the top basket. Heat the pan, allowing steam to begin to form. I used my pasta pot.

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Preheating steamer.

Meanwhile, rinse 2 C of couscous with water and turn it out onto a sheet pan. Sprinkle the couscous all over with Kosher salt.

Once steam has formed in your steamer, line the top part of the steamer with a damp kitchen towel and dump the couscous into the towel. Fold the towel over the couscous, forming a bundle. Place the lid on the steamer and set a timer for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, use tongs to lift the couscous-filled towel, dumping the couscous onto the sheet pan again. Drizzle 1/2 C cold water over the couscous, tossing.

Next, spritz the couscous with oil or non-stick spray, also lubing your hands. Rub the oil into the couscous for about three minutes, breaking up any clumps.

Once again, transfer the couscous back into the towel-lined steamer, folding the towel over the couscous. Place the lid on the steamer and steam the couscous for a final 10 minutes.

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Couscous after final 10 minute steaming.

I have to say that this couscous method is the most labor-intensive one I have ever used. The resulting couscous was fluffy and lump-free, but I don’t think I would go to the trouble of making couscous this way again. I did what Alton did and used my steamed couscous to make his cherry couscous pudding, which follows below.

Cherry Couscous Pudding

Although I have eaten my share of couscous, I had never had it in a sweet application… until this recipe. For this one, heat 1/2 C whole milk, 3 T sugar, and 1/4 C dried cherries. Once warm, set aside for 10 minutes to steep.

After 10 minutes, add the pulp of one vanilla bean to the milk.

Pour the milk mixture over your steamed couscous (see above), stirring to combine.

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Milk mixture poured over steamed couscous.

Add 8 ounces vanilla yogurt and refrigerate the pudding for at least an hour before serving.

Sprinkle individual servings of the pudding with cinnamon.

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Couscous pudding, sprinkled with cinnamon.

This recipe was a real dud. It was dry and flavorless, but I think I know what the issue was. In the episode, Alton cooked his steamed couscous as written above, using the full batch of couscous to make this pudding. In looking at the online recipe, I see that it calls for only 1 1/2 C of the steamed couscous. This may be a first, but I think the online recipe may be correct, while Alton’s preparation in the episode resulted in a super dry couscous that was anything but pudding-like. I am somewhat tempted to make this again with only 1 1/2 C of couscous, as surely it would have better flavor and texture. Honestly, this is the first couscous recipe I have not liked, and I cannot recommend it as it was prepared in the episode.

Red Snapper en Papillote

When watching all of these Good Eats episodes, certain recipes really jump out at me. In this episode, the recipe for snapper en papillote was the one that made me super enthusiastic. I really loved the red snapper in a salt dome that I made way back in episode 10, so another snapper recipe made me excited. Unfortunately, the seafood store where I previously found whole red snapper has closed, so I had to turn to the grocery store; the fish monger was unable to get a whole red snapper, so I wound up with some other type of snapper (honestly, I don’t know exactly what it was). My fish was also not cleaned, so I had to do that myself, with a little help from my husband. If you do happen to be shopping for a whole red snapper, be sure to check the eyes of the fish, as true red snappers will have red eyes. If, like me, you cannot find red snapper in your area, Alton says you can substitute whole trout, tilapia, arctic char, or tilefish in this recipe. Regardless of the type of fish you use, for this recipe, a 1-2 pound fish will work best. Start by rinsing 1 C of couscous in cold water; sprinkle it with Kosher salt and set it aside while you prep the fish.

Prep the fish by rinsing your whole fish under cold water, scraping it with a knife to remove any remaining scales. Trim off all fins, but leave the tail intact. Pat the fish dry, including inside the fish, and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper, leaving a long overhang (the parchment needs to be large enough to fold over the whole fish). Place the fish diagonally across the parchment, sprinkling it all over (including inside the cavity) with Kosher salt and black pepper.

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My whole fish, sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Place a handful of fresh oregano and parsley inside the fish, along with a few slices of lemon and red onion. You can stick anything extra under the fish.

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My fish, stuffed with fresh oregano, parsley, red onion, and lemon.

Sprinkle the rinsed couscous all around the fish, along with 1 C of drained/quartered artichoke hearts, 1 C halved cherry tomatoes, and 2 t garlic. Place lemon slices and sliced red onion along the top of the fish, and drizzle everything with 1/2 C white wine. Finally, dab 1 T of butter along the top of the fish.

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Couscous, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, garlic, lemon, red onion, wine, and butter added to fish.

Fold the parchment paper over the fish, creasing the three open sides of the packet. Staple the whole package shut, placing staples about every inch.

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Parchment folded and stapled over fish.

Place the fish in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for 30 minutes.

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Fish packet in 425-degree oven.

Once out of the oven, cut the parchment packet open and serve the fish.

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Fish after cooking for 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, this recipe didn’t wow me as much as I hoped it would, but some of that may have been due to my fish, which was kind of “blah.” I am open to trying this again with a different whole fish. I did like that this recipe is a one-pan dinner with built-in sides of couscous and vegetables, and the fish was nicely cooked. My couscous did end up being slightly gummy, but the combination of flavors in the dish was great, and I did like the presentation. If you can get whole red snapper where you live, I think this might be a great recipe to try.

Salmon Fillet en Papillote with Julienned Vegetables

The second recipe in this episode is super easy and is made in individual servings, making it easily adaptable for any number of guests. As with the snapper recipe above, parchment paper is used here to create a pouch, but this time there is one pouch per person. Start with a fairly large rectangle of parchment, folding it in half. Use scissors or a knife to cut a large half-heart shape from the creased side of the parchment. Unfold the parchment to reveal your full parchment heart. Ahhh… takes me right back to 3rd grade.

On the right side of the parchment heart place 1/3 C carrot strips, 1/3 C fennel strips, 1/3 C snow pea strips, and 1/3 C leek strips.

Place an 8-ounce salmon fillet (skin side down) on top of the vegetables and season everything with Kosher salt, pepper, and 1/8 t ground coriander.

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Salmon fillet placed on top of vegetables. Seasoned with salt, pepper, and coriander.

Place the wedges of a small peeled orange on top of the fish and sprinkle the whole mound with a “wee shot” of vermouth.

Fold the parchment over the fish, creasing the edge at the top of the heart, and folding the edge up. Go halfway down the length of the fold, make a crease, and fold again, sort of like sealing a calzone. Continue creasing and folding all the way around the heart, twisting the parchment tip and folding it under.

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Parchment folded over fish and sealed by creasing/folding all the way around.

Place the whole packet in the microwave and cook on high for 4 minutes, or cook for 12 minutes in a 425-degree oven. Since there were two of eating Alton’s salmon packets, I opted, for comparison’s sake, to cook one packet in the microwave and the other in the oven. My microwaved fish was moist and flaking easily after 4 minutes, but my oven fish needed several more minutes to be cooked.

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Fish after cooking in the microwave.

I found this to be a successful recipe, resulting (in the microwave case) in nicely cooked fish. The orange wedges paired nicely with the fish and contributed a lot of moisture, and the whole dish had just a hint of vermouth.

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Salmon en papillote with oranges and vegetables.

Once again, this was a nice one-packet meal, as each packet included the fish and accompanying veggies. Plus, you can have this on the table in less than 30 minutes and it is healthy.

Ramen Shrimp Pouch

The third recipe in Alton’s series of pouch recipes is for shrimp lovers and is definitely a quickie that could be prepped any day of the week. As with the salmon pouches above, you can make as few or as many of these packets as you need to suit your number of diners. To make this one, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lay out a large square of foil for each diner. On the center of each foil square, layer in this order:  1/2 of a block of noodles from a ramen package, 2 T chopped dried mushrooms, 5 large shrimp that have been peeled and deveined, 2 T chopped onions, 2 T chopped scallions, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a pinch of Kosher salt.

Ball the foil up around the top of the shrimp, leaving a small opening at the top. Use the opening in each foil packet to pour in 1 T vegetable broth, 1 T mirin, 2 t soy sauce, and 1 t sesame oil.

Crimp the foil closed tightly, leaving a tiny steam porthole in the top of each packet. Place the packets in the preheated oven for 15 minutes; you may want to place them on a baking sheet, just in case they leak.

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Shrimp packets in the oven.

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Shrimp packet after 15 minutes in the oven.

Though I am not a shrimp lover, I thought this was a very clever and tasty dish. The shrimp were perfectly cooked after 15 minutes and you could taste all of the flavors in the pouch. I will say that some of my noodles were a bit chewy, so I would suggest breaking the noodles up slightly before putting them on the foil, and maybe adding a bit more liquid directly over the noodles. With a little tweaking, I think this could be an outstanding weeknight shrimp recipe.

Stone Fruit Pouches

Alton finished up his pouch cookery with a dessert. For each person eating, lay out a large double layer square of foil. In the center of each square, place 1/2 C crumbled gingersnaps, 1 quartered plum, 1 sliced apricot (8 pieces), 2 t sugar, 1 t lime zest, a pinch of Kosher salt, and 1 T cubed butter. I had no choice but to adapt this recipe a little bit, as it was certainly not stone fruit season when I made them. I opted to use mango and quince in my pouches.

Fold up the foil, leaving an opening at the top, and pour in the juice of half a lime and a shot of brandy.

Seal up the packets, leaving a tiny porthole. These packets can be cooked in a 500-degree oven or on a grill. If using a grill, they should be done in 10 minutes, or after 15-20 minutes in the oven. Serve the warm fruit with vanilla ice cream.

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Warm fruit served with vanilla ice cream.

The gingersnaps almost caramelize, the fruit softens, and you taste hints of lime and brandy. I bet these pouches would be good with peaches or pineapple too, and they would make for a super easy prep-ahead dessert during grilling season. Yes, this is one to keep in your back pocket.