Foodie Tuesday: Creamy & Dreamy

Given my love for dairy, eggs, sauces and the like, it can come as no surprise to anyone that I’m an incorrigible fanatic about puddings, custards, soufflés and their numerous smooth, fluffy, and plush cousins. They are not by any means created equal, of course, and my desired version changes with the weather, the occasion and a whole lot of other variables, so I’m very happy to sample the dish-of-the-day any time I can. Still, I’m very glad to have the best of the best, whatever the treat: great ice cream beats good ice cream, don’t you know. I was reminded of how much impact the slightest differences can have, even when I’m enjoying something I like very well, when I had a cone of soft-serve ice cream the other day and it turned out to be surprisingly thin and lacking the usual dense and creamy mouth-feel of the best stuff. Didn’t stop me from eating an ice cream cone, mind you, only it wasn’t close to the best I’ve slurped.

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Ice milk isn’t my idea of true soft serve, but it can at least cool me and fill me up with a bit of good vanilla flavor . . .

Certain of those creamy, dreamy treats that tickle my fancy are pretty reliable even in the strictly mass-produced and store-bought kinds, once I find the brand or sort I fall most in love with eating. A nice, thick and lightly tart Greek style whole milk yogurt is hard to beat, particularly when I blend in some good cinnamon and strong local honey or perhaps a tot of dark maple syrup and a sprinkle of cardamom. Pure, smooth happiness. It’s a good facsimile, when sweetened a bit, for another grand favorite, pudding or custard that’s softer, not set up quite like the also-lovable flans and baked custards and burnt-creams.

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If yogurt’s made into a low-fat version by adding thickeners, it has neither the same texture *nor* the same lusciousness. Go fat or go home, that’s my motto!

Frankly, that’s where a good mousse, fool, whipped cream or smoothie might wiggle its way into my heart as well. I’ve heard for some time that coconut milk makes a reasonable facsimile for whipped cream when chilled and whipped, so I decided to give it a go today, though I didn’t exactly follow the protocols I’ve seen online either–another unsurprising bit of my kitchen personality if you’ve read any of my other Tuesday posts! To make my own version of Coconut Cardamom Pudding, I mixed about 1 cup of chilled coconut milk, a half cup or so of cream, a tablespoon of plain gelatin (could easily use agar for setting the custard, if you’re vegetarian) that I bloomed on top of the liquids, plus a teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of honey and a teaspoon of ground cardamom, and beat them all until creamy, poured the custard into little ramekins, and popped them into the fridge for testing tomorrow after supper. I can’t speak for the texture until then, but as for the taste, it’s quite mild and subtle but a friendly grouping of flavors that I think will be just as tasty even if it doesn’t quite set up to flan texture by dinnertime. Never know until I try, anyway! Which, as you well know, is a pretty fair summary of my attitude toward most things edible.

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Tomorrow will tell whether the coconut pudding experiment ‘stands firm’ custard style or gets altered one way or another next time, but it’s a spoon-able dainty today . . .

Drizzling just a bit more honey on top is rarely the wrong thing to do with a cloud-like dessert (here, garnished with a pinch of pink peppercorns to bump up the floral spice of the cardamom in the pudding). But I think I’d better stop talking about it now or I might not wait until tomorrow to see if the texture changes. The thought of any kind of yummy, airy, smooth and creamy dessert tends to have that sort of effect on me.

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Update: after refrigeration, the coconut concoction set up as a very light, very fluffy mousse. Just enough heft to sit on the spoon for as long as it took to take a quick photo! The texture remains faintly grainy with the coconut base, but overall mouth-feel is smooth, feather-light and slightly buttery [grins shamelessly], and the flavor is very delicate. So I ate two servings. [Grinning again.]

Foodie Tuesday: There’s No Substitute for a Smart Substitution

Nearly every time I get in the mood to bake something I’m missing one or more of the necessary ingredients. This happens often enough when I’m making non-baked goods, but it’s almost a given with baking, because I simply don’t bake all that often: too much wheat flour and sugar makes this sweets-addict too likely to get tummy aches or just plain to overindulge. And the fact that I don’t bake terribly often means that, in that most scientific of culinary skills, I’m the least a genius about getting the fussy proportions and timings and temperatures correct. But I still do like to bake once in a while.

Though I feel pretty safe making all sorts of substitutions in cooked and raw dishes, simply finding analogous items–ingredients that have plenty of similar qualities and can therefore be expected to fill similar roles in the combination–I know less about what the ingredients used in baking are supposed to do, unless you’re talking about spices and flavorings, and so have always been more timid about fooling around with the recipes for baked goods. But lately, I’ve come to be more of a believer that life’s too short not to have a little kitchen adventure more often, and that if I’m not using outrageously expensive ingredients the worst that can happen is that a batch of something goes so far awry that it’s just plain a failed experiment. That’s what trash bins are made for, no? I’ll bet few scientists ever made their paradigm-shifting discoveries without a few boneheaded false starts and cock-ups and misdirections and outright failures along the way either, and, well, brownies are not exactly rocket science.

So I give you:photo

Texican Brownies

Ingredients: Plain ‘classic’ brownies call for the following ingredients and proportions:

4 squares (4 ounces/113 grams) Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate–I substituted semisweet baking chocolate. It’s what I had in the cupboard.

3/4 cup  butter–while baking recipes almost always specify unsalted butter, I almost always use salted butter anyway unless there’s a lot of additional salt in the recipe; salt heightens sweetness and intensifies other flavors as well. And I love salt.

2 cups sugar–I substituted dark brown sugar for a deeper flavor.
3   eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour–I substituted instant masa flour (a fine corn flour usually used for tortilla- and tamale-making)

Then I added a few ingredients of my own to make a darker-chocolate brownie and give it a slight Mexican twist:

1/2 tsp baking soda–since the masa flour wouldn’t have gluten like the wheat flour to make the brownies rise a little, I figured they should have a boost in leavening. Look at me, being all fake-scientist-like!

1/2 tsp salt plus 1/8-1/4 tsp ground black pepper–again, wanting to intensify the spicy chocolate of the brownies–plus 1 large tablespoon Dutch processed cocoa–yet more chocolate boosting–plus 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions:

Heat your oven to 350°F–mine runs hot, so I heated it to 325°.

Line a 13×9-inch pan with an oversized piece of baking parchment, folding it at the corners to fit and cover the sides as well as the bottom. One piece, no leaks.

Microwave the chocolate and butter together in a large microwaveable bowl on high until the butter is melted. Stir until the chocolate is melted and completely combined with the butter. Blend in the eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. Add them gradually to the wet mix, stirring until everything melds, and pour the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it into the folded parchment corners to fill them.

Bake 30 – 35 minutes (again, with my super-hot oven, I baked mine for more like 20-23 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Better to under-bake these than the opposite–fudgy, chewy brownies are good; dry, not.

The parchment will let you easily pop the whole sheet of brownies right out of the pan.

Makes 24 brownies. Mine were still a little too baked, thanks to the hot-hot oven, so I quite happily compensated for the slight dryness by frosting the ones that weren’t immediately devoured. (A number of them were. Clearly, the over-baking didn’t destroy them so badly that the members of this household wouldn’t cheerfully destroy them in another way.)

Thus, we have:photoRustic Red Frosting

No, I’m no fussy decorator. But I loves me some tasty frosting. And I wanted something that was earthy and yet juicy, something that would stand up to the depth of the spiced brownies and still have a little homey heartfelt quality to it, even if it wasn’t very frilly. I chose strawberry frosting; after all, las fresas are a fantastic favorite fruit treat in some of the Latin-American cuisine I’ve had the pleasure of inhaling eating. And this is just an easy take on buttercream icing.

Grind about one cup of freeze-dried strawberries to a coarse powder. I did mine in the blender, but if they’re dry enough you could even crush them with a wooden spoon in a heavy bowl–leaving some bits rough gives a little burst of berry flavor in the finished frosting and reminds us there are real berries involved. Add to the berry powder about a cup of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, a cup of soft butter, and a tablespoon or two of heavy cream. Blend them together well, adding more sugar and/or cream as needed for flavor and texture. Apply liberally to the brownies, cake, cookies, tongue, etc, as needed for improved state of bliss.

I sprinkled them with some edible glitter just for good measure. A little extra pizzazz never really hurt anything. But you could just sprinkle yours with the stardust of your affection and it’d be just as glamorous and grand.

This whole brownie-baking urge of mine was motivated in large part because I felt like making a sort of Valentine’s Day treat; since we’ll be in the car on a work-related jaunt much of the actual Valentine’s Day, I figured today was a reasonable substitution for the occasion. Since both my husband and I love chocolate and baked treats but do better with less wheat flour, I figured substituting corn flour could be a decent and respectable enough Tex-Mex way of dealing with that part of the equation. And since neither of us is a stickler for celebrating only on the official or ‘correct’ dates for anything, we’re both quite willing to celebrate the American holiday of love-and-romance any old time we can. Because for love, there really is no acceptable substitute.

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XOXOXO!

Foodie Tuesday: Last Suppers and Beyond

I Loves Ya, Cupcake!

I kiss your cherry-colored lips

And suddenly, straight over flips

My heart in loping, loopy leaps

As sugared-up as Mallo Peeps

Get kids at Eastertime to fly,

As ice cream piled on apple pie

And candy canes in cocoa make

Our livers strain, gallbladders quake,

Arteries cringe and capillaries

Bloat, collapse, and the Tooth Fairy’s

Rounds expand a hundredfold

When molars instantly grow old.

You get my drift: one little kiss

Of your sweet lips can lead to this

Extreme, near-paralytic dose

Of dearness, loveliness, and close-

Encountered expiration date,

But loving you is surely fate,

My cupcake, my delicious sweet,

And death of it the final treat.

 

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If one’s not careful, trimming one’s waistline can lead to wasting away. There’s an art to eating well, after all. What you eat can kill you, but what you don’t eat can, too. What to do?! Think I’ll just lie down here in this quiet spot in the graveyard . . .

The Great Equalizer

Willowy or wallowing?

Slinky or obese?

Ma likes the taste of salad greens

And Pater thrives on grease.

What’s odd is, their cholesterol

And blood pressure and weight

Don’t seem to correspond at all

With anything they ate.

I can’t quite comprehend how one

Eats lard, the other, toast,

And both don’t change; I guess

Food matters little

To a ghost.