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How We Made the Turducken of Cheese Balls

Here's how we made The Turducken of Cheese Balls: a layer of cheese stuffed inside another layer of cheese stuffed inside another layer of cheese. It was more challenging than we thought it would be. Construction-wise, it needed a solid core onto which we could mold more pliable layers. We hit on using a small washed or bloomy-rind cheese as the central building block, and cream cheese mixed with other shredded cheeses as the layering materials. We also wanted the cheese ball to look stratified, like a cross section of a planet from a kids' science movie. But what toppings would taste good with what cheeses? READ MORE

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Forgetful Baker

If a cookie recipe calls for softened butter, I'm out of there. Who thinks, "I'm going to bake in four hours," and remembers to take the butter out of the fridge? My life is not like that. If I'm going to make cookies, it's right now, damn it, so I need a recipe that moves with me. And when I say "cookies," I mean chocolate chip cookies because really, is there any need for any other kind? If there is a platter of cookies with chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, sugar, and peanut butter, the chocolate chip goes first every time. And then people take the oatmeal raisin by mistake and sigh sadly after their first bite.


SF Food Wars Bread Bake-Off

Sunday's SF Food Wars event was dubbed "Yeast Affliction." Indeed. I've never experienced a rougher carb and sugar crash than I did after sampling 20 different breads and a handful of craft beers. The latest incarnation of the popular food-nerd cookoff series centered around artisan bread (past battles have featured themes such as Mac ’n' Cheese, Holiday Fixins, and Mini Cupcakes). The contestants were chiefly amateur bakers who had never entered a food competition before, and their entries ranged from wild (all manner of nuts, berries, seeds, and alterna-flour) to classic. READ MORE

Vegan Cassoulet

I love this Emile Henry cassoulet pot from Sur La Table, pictured at right in the "Fig" color. Cassoulet, a French dish of braised white beans, is usually loaded with duck confit and/or sausage. But when I had a great vegan version in a San Francisco restaurant, I decided to re-create it at home. How hard could it be? I put together the version below, which turned out great. The breadcrumbs are of massive importance, kind of what makes the dish, and making your own fresh ones is the way to go.

Vegan Cassoulet
Mirepoix: 2 leeks, 1 celery rib, 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
Olive oil
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
3 cups cooked white or whitish beans (I used green flageolet, cooked them myself in the trimmings from the mirepoix, and used the bean broth for the vegetable broth)
1 can diced tomatoes (the normal-sized can, not the big one)
Vegetable broth (make your own from boiling water with the vegetable trimmings, a bay leaf, and salt)
Some white bread that is stale or toasted, made into crumbs, then sautéed in some olive oil with salt and pepper
Parsley (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In an oven-safe braising dish or pot, sauté the mirepoix in olive oil on the stovetop until soft.

3. Add the thyme, bay leaf, and salt and pepper, stir, then add the beans, tomatoes, and 2 cups of broth. Bring to a simmer.

4. Put in the oven and cook for 20 minutes without a lid.

5. Remove from the oven and top with breadcrumbs. Increase the temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and return the pot to the oven to brown the breadcrumbs, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, if desired.

WTF: Hot Chocolate Maker?

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with superfluous appliances, and this one actually has a lot more potential uses than, say, a pair of Tater Mitts, but I could never bring myself to buy this $99.95 Bialetta hot chocolate maker from Williams-Sonoma. Because after that absolutely satisfying first cup on Christmas morning, it would inevitably sink to the bowels of my kitchen cupboard never to be seen again.

You can watch a video of it in action from Williams-Sonoma here but, if you're going to watch one hot chocolate gadget demo video, I'd go with this one instead:

Make Your Own Lox

People look at me like I'm crazy when I start making my New Year's resolutions in early December, but I just love thinking about all the ways I'm going to  better myself. Besides trying to smell less musty, climb Half Dome, and play electric guitar, here are my (cooking) resolutions:

1. Cure my own lox. Check out this great recipe from Heeb magazine. I'm going to cross-reference it with the tried-and-true version we did at CHOW. Maybe I'll even try to make bagels to go with it.

2. Make my own soft pretzels to dip in mustard and eat with beer.

3. Make Japanese hot pots from this book.

4. Make kinpira gobo, Japanese braised burdock root.

What do you want to make in 2010?

Purple Cabbage Necco Wafers

Good news for people who are sensitive to artificial colors and flavors: Necco Wafers are going all natural. The new Necco colors will be sourced from natural material: purple cabbage, turmeric, beet juice. The flavors will also be natural … which is sort of a good thing, except that the manufacturer will continue to offer wintergreen (pink wafers), licorice (gray), and clove (purple), along with more popular flavors like orange, lemon, cinnamon, and chocolate.

There was a casualty in the switch, though: There are no more green Necco Wafers. No great loss. They were reputedly lime flavored, though as one commenter cracked on Slashfood, “They taste like Pine-Sol.” Slashfood also points out that the same company that makes Necco Wafers also makes Conversation Hearts at Valentine’s. Yeah. That makes sense.

Image source: Flickr member House Of Sims under Creative Commons

Candy Corn Riffs for Grannies and Stoners

After you’re done making your homemade fake blood capsules for Halloween, try your hand at homemade candy corn. Thank you, Serious Eats, for figuring out how to produce this wickedly nonartisanal sweet the old-fashioned way. Apparently it’s very time-consuming, involving fondant and so forth. But I bet you’re up for the challenge.

And bless your heart,
Chicago Tribune, for some hot tips on how to use the little buggers. Put them in your sugar bowl if you’re serving coffee at a festive coffee klatsch, because they dissolve in hot liquid! (I just know my granny would appreciate that one.) Or, if you’re really stoned, try slicing up an apple (the Trib says you can substitute a pear—though the paper doesn’t make reference to being stoned …) and baking it in the oven with melted candy corn all over it, which creates a “flavorful sauce.”

But hey, maybe you just want to get drunk and eat massive amounts of the stuff. What does one pair with candy corn booze-wise? Watch this video to find out.

Image source: Flickr member Muffet under Creative Commons

Ice Cream or Paint?

Now, from the same wry impulse that brought you Cheese or Font? comes Ben & Jerry’s Flavor or Pottery Barn Paint Color?, a quiz from the prankish pucks who write for Mental Floss magazine. I got 50 percent. Ouch. If that quiz gets you primed for more hot question-answering action, the Venti Quiz on Quirky Sizes is brilliant. Though I don’t know how the Large Hadron Collider snuck in there.

Jean-Georges Makes Spices Comfy

Last weekend was the second annual New York Culinary Experience at the French Culinary Institute, where participants attended hands-on cooking classes taught by famous chefs. Among them were Marcus Samuelsson, Zak Pelaccio, and Jacques Pépin. I got the chance to check out the Jean-Georges Vongerichten session on Saturday morning, and April Bloomfield from the Spotted Pig’s pork-focused class the following day. It was a great juxtaposition of refined versus rustic.

Jean-Georges led his class through three dishes that contained his characteristic use of Asian-influenced spices. “People buy these spices, and then they sit on their shelves for a year, and they don’t know what to do with them,” he said. “I want people to feel comfortable with them.”

The first dish was tuna tartare, cut into ribbon shapes, with an intensely gingery dressing made in the blender. Next, he showed the class how to dredge fish in ground, toasted nuts, and coriander seeds, pan-fry it, and serve it with a mushroom broth liberally built with melted butter. The last was squab with a sauce of orange juice that had been steeped in smoky oolong tea. Jean-Georges, calm and cheery, noted after the class that he was opening no less than five restaurants in the next three months, and that he is very excited about the black pepper he is importing for all of them from the city of Cochin, in the Southern India state of Goa.

Bloomfield’s class put less emphasis on buttery, delicate, sauces, and made simple, gastropubby dishes of root veggies and meat that would go great with beer. First was roast pork loin with fennel-rubbed skin on that got crispy, served with a spicy tomato sauce and roasted chunks of fennel, carrot, and onion. While that was in the oven, the class made a pork hock and apple soup in which the hock is used to make the stock, and the root-vegetable-laden soup is finished with prepared mustard. The last was shockingly easy meatballs of ground veal and pork cooked in tomato sauce, draped in blanched chard.

The chefs’ very different presentations represented, to me, the two sides of home cooking: the stuff you make when company comes over (Jean-Georges), and what you make for your family every night (Bloomfield.) It’s good to develop both ends of your repertoire, and not diss one or the other.