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CocoaLavender

After much agonizing  and many mildly disappointing desserts, we just bought ourselves an ice cream machine. More than excited, we were forced to wait the 24 hours it takes for the cylinder on our home machine to fully freeze, but this morning it was finally cold and we were ready to start plans for icy goodness. During a quick thumb through the included recipes, a dark chocolate sorbet caught my eye, both for sounding delicious and because we had all the ingredients at hand. We had to start the process early in the day, as it needs to rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

The first step in a sorbet is making a simple syrup with 3 cups of water, a pinch of salt, and a cup and 2/3 of sugar (we used coconut sugar). After all the sugar is dissolved, we added the 1 and 2/3 cups of cocoa powder, or at least we would have if we had not discovered that we only had a half cup of cocoa left. Since we needed more flavor in the recipe, we decided to spice up the sorbet with a few shakes of powdered chili pepper and, remembering some chocolate lavender brownies we made last week, we added about a tablespoon and a half of crushed lavender. We let the concoction sit in the fridge all day, then strained the mix into the ice cream maker. Twenty minutes later we had a thick and tasty sorbet. Now to wait another 2 hours for it to firm up in the fridge.

For those who just want a recipe:

Chocolate Lavender Sorbet

3 cups water

1 2/3 cups sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup cocoa powder

about 1 1/2 tablespoons lavender

crushed chili pepper to taste

Boil water, salt, and sugar until dissolved. Slowly stir in cocoa powder until all of it is mixed in, crush lavender and add, shake on crushed chili pepper. Cover and set in fridge to cool, at least 2 hours. Strain the mix and add to ice cream maker. After the sorbet has thickened, move to a freezer safe container and put in the freezer until it is as firm as you like.

Hamantaschen

We recently tried out this recipe for hamantaschen cookies. It comes on the can label of Solo poppy seed filling, the most delicious product that can be made with poppy seeds. I like poppy seeds in most things, but I love this stuff. It’s basically just tons of poppy seeds held together with a thick syrup. I’ve been crazy about it ever since I had it as a kid.

Robert had never had it before, and since I had tried this recipe a long time ago and liked it, we made these. They came out great, even better than I remember. The cookie dough is a little like a pie crust, but not quite as flaky. We were even discussing the possibilities of using it for a pie after we tasted the cookies.

Here’s the recipe on their website and below (so you don’t have to remove the label from the can to see what to buy):

Ingredients

2 3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoon milk
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon milk for brushing

Instructions

 To make this Hamantaschen recipe, stir flour, sugar, baking powder, orange peel, and salt in large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add eggs and milk and mix until dough binds together. Knead dough in bowl 5 to 8 strokes or until smooth. Divide dough in half and wrap each piece separately in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease 2 baking sheets and set aside. Roll out 1 piece of dough on lightly floured surface 1/4-inch thickness. Cut dough with floured 3-inch round plain cookie cutter. Spoon 1 teaspoonful poppy filling onto center of each circle. Bring 3 edges of circle together into middle of circle to form triangle. Pinch edges upward to make slight ridge, leaving small hole in center. Place on prepared baking sheets about 11/2 inches apart and brush with beaten egg yolk mixture. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from baking sheets and cool completely on wire racks.

I like making layer cakes, but every time I do I am reminded why they are (or are supposed to be anyway) a special occasion food. They take some time to make, although the steps are not all that hard, and seeing the amount of sugar, oil, flour, and butter that actually goes into a cake can be a bit disturbing. But when the occasion comes up and I can make the time, I always enjoy it. So here’s Robert’s birthday cake. It’s a chocolate cake with coconut frosting.

Chocolate Coconut Cake

I spent hours trying to figure out what kind of cake to make and basically ended up making my favorite cake. I did give him some choices on the frosting though. I also had to scrap the idea of surprising him with an awesome fully finished cake after work when I started the recipe without making sure I had enough cocoa powder. Oh well, I think we ended up having more fun making it together than I would have alone anyway!

Chocolate Coconut Cake Detail

I got the cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which I have been reading a lot recently, and the frosting from Baked Perfection. It worked out well, but if you try the same combination you might want to make a little more frosting. The cake uses 10 inch pans, and the frosting (which was originally for cupcakes) just barely covers it. The coconut flakes covered it up well and it looks pretty good, but if you don’t use them, or you like a heavier frosting coating and filling I would recommend increasing the amount.

While at Mekong market we were wandering the fish aisle, looking for some interesting seafood to cook when we saw a bag labeled “Apple Snail Meat.” On the back was a recipe for Snail Linguine noodles to say we bought it on the spot. What follows is the recipe for Garlic Apple Snail Linguine as written on the package. Yes you can get it by looking on the bag, but its good and maybe reading it here will give you other good food ideas.

Ingredients

1 pack cooked apple snail meat rinsed and patted dry

1 pack linguine

2 tbsp each, butter and olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1/4 cup white wine

2 tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsp finely chopped parsley

3/4 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 pinch crushed red pepper

Cooking

1. Chop snail meat, set aside

2. Melt butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in pan and add shallots and garlic until shallots are translucent, but not browned and garlic is fragrant. Deglaze with wine and lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Add snail meat and parsley. Cook on medium low heat for a few minutes until sauce is thickened.

3. Cook pasta.

4. Drain pasta and return to pot. Stir in 1 tbsp olive oil and place in serving dishes.

5. Spoon garlic snail sauce over pasta and enjoy.

We did thoroughly enjoy this, the snail meat is a bit chewy, so chop it into small bits. Stays good as leftovers.

Chicken Heart Soup

Chicken Heart Soup

In my continuing efforts to cook and eat interesting things I have not tried before, I picked up a pound of chicken hearts from the local Asian market.

The heart is a unique muscle. It is the only cardiac muscle in the body, so if you have not tried heart before you have never had anything quite like it. I will give a basic recipe for hearts with onions and for a chicken heart soup.

To prepare Chicken Hearts and Onions you will need:

some olive oil

1 to 1 1/2 lbs chicken hearts

1/2 onion cut in small strips

about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup red wine

a dash of Worcestershire sauce

a dash of fish sauce

ground black pepper

aleppo pepper

sage

First, heat a medium sized pan, add oil, and sweat the onion. When the onions have become soft, add the chicken hearts and cook them on the outside, then pour in the red wine, Worcestershire sauce, and fish sauce. At this point the liquid should half cover the hearts, put on black and aleppo peppers to taste, cover and let simmer for five to ten minutes until hearts appear cooked and the liquid now almost covers them. uncover until the liquid has reduced down to a sauce and serve. This dish can be a side or main course and goes well with eggs, bread or vegetable sides.

Chicken Heart Soup is something I make when one of us is sick. The hearts work well here because of their texture, and the fact that they are already soup size. Like most soups, this one can use almost any combination of vegetable you prefer. I will list the ones I commonly use. For this recipe I also make some simple noodles.

You will need:

olive oil

1 diced onion

1 or 2 peppers ( I use jalapeños but this varies depending on the heat level you want )

About 10 cups of water

2 chicken bullion packets ( you can use chicken broth, but I find bullion easier to keep around )

a dash of fish sauce

black pepper and aleppo pepper to taste

4 or 5 potatoes cut in small squares

3 or 4 carrots cut to a similar size

1 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken hearts

For the pasta

one to two eggs

one to two cups all-purpose flour

First, add a small amount of oil to a large pot on medium high heat, heat the oil, then add the chopped onion and pepper. Sweat the onion and then add water, bullion, fish sauce and spices, cover and keep on medium low heat to help them combine. At this point, I like to chop the vegetables, when that is done, add them and the hearts to the soup, leave uncovered and bring it to a simmer. This will simmer for a long time, until the potatoes and carrots are soft, so in the mean time make the pasta. This is not as hard as it sounds. First, get your electric mixer, or do it by hand if you want to be boring, add one or two eggs depending on the amount you want. I use two because I like a lot of noodles in my soup. Add a little of the flour, and mix slowly, keep adding small amounts of flour until the dough is holding together in a ball but is not too sticky, if you add too much flour and the dough starts to fall apart, just sprinkle it with water until it is back together. flour a flat surface and roll the dough as thin as you like (remember it will double in size when you cook it) then take a long knife or a pizza cutter and cut it into long strips, then lay them flat, loosely cover, and leave aside. When the potatoes are soft, add the noodles and let them boil for about five minutes, or until they float. Always taste a noodle before deciding if they are done. When the noodles are finished serve and enjoy, or don’t, up to you really.

During our recent trip to Seattle we had dinner at Mistral Kitchen, which was amazing but is covered in another post, so I won’t say too much more. While there, the table next to ours was delivered a cocktail served in a decanter filled with smoke. Renata immediately wanted one, while I immediately started thinking of how they got the smoke in there. Turns out they use one of these, but having no idea they existed at the time, I started thinking something along the lines of a mad doctor’s chemistry set, complete with glass tubes and bubbling beakers.

This fascination could have ended there, but as luck would have it, the next day I spotted a book about cooking in cast iron, something else I am always interested in, and this book had a way to smoke fish in a cast iron skillet (which is also great and I will cover in more detail later on). Armed with this knowledge, I began to conceive of a way to get the smoke from a cast iron pan into a drink so that Renata and I could make these smoked drinks at home.

Overly simplified, first we soaked hickory wood chips in water for about an hour and a half, then put them in a tinfoil lined cast iron pan. From there I used more tinfoil to guide the smoke toward a funnel, attached to a short length of drip line hose, and aimed that at a jar (because we don’t actually own a decanter) tied it all to the microwave to hold it up, and covered as much of the contraption as I could in ice, to cool the smoke and keep it from floating away. Then I turned on the stove and waited for the wood to begin burning. The result was quite successful, and we got a pretty passable smoked cocktail and a kitchen filled with smoke. There are still some bugs to work out, how to keep the plastic hose from absorbing odd smoke flavors and spitting them into your drink top among them, but overall that is how to make a DIY cocktail smoker.

The Smoke Machine

 

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After enjoying the Courting Rachel at Mistral Kitchen on our recent trip to Seattle, we couldn’t resist trying to make our own smoked cocktails. As soon as the cocktail came to our table, Robert was imagining ways to duplicate it at home. I found the recipe online and some suggestions about how to create and capture the smoke, mostly fairly expensive handheld smokers. Fortunately Robert had already come up with another way. After reading about a method of smoking fish in a cast iron skillet, he threw together a makeshift smoke collector, which he will be detailing in another post, and I mixed up a cocktail to smoke.

As the Courting Rachel is based on a modified Old Fashioned, I tried to work with some similar flavors. I used Jim Beam Rye, Cherry Heering and Angostura Bitters. I also added some orange blossom water on my second attempt, which improved it a bit. I didn’t add any sugar or syrup which probably would be a good addition for next time (the Courting Rachel uses Rye syrup). For our first attempt we used jasmine tea for the smoke, because we had some on hand, and had recently used it successfully to pan smoke some salmon in the cast iron skillet. I mixed the drink while the smoke was collecting, then poured it into the jar, through the smoke. We allowed it to sit with the smoke for a few minutes (I’m not sure whether this was actually necessary or not, it seemed to pick up the smoky flavor quickly and easily) then we poured it from the jar into a glass with some large ice cubes.

Although we were able to make it all work with the jasmine smoke, we agreed that its flavor did not work very well with the drink. The next night we bought some hickory chips and made some minor improvements to the smoke catcher and the drink (more ice for the smoker and orange blossom water for the drink). It turned out much better. The only downside is how much smoke it creates in the kitchen. Ventilation is definitely an important thing to remember!