Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cooking the Web - Homemade Candy Corn

It’s no secret; I’ve never been a fan of candy corn. To me, it’s an odd tasting candy that only gets stuck to your teeth. However, when I read about Cakespy’s recipe for homemade candy corn on Serious eats

I thought a homemade version of the Halloween classic might make turn me on to candy corn.

With only 7 ingredients, including the food coloring, this didn’t seem like a challenging recipe. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I started that I noticed Cakespy didn’t give any temperatures in the recipe. I should have known that making candy without temperatures is a surefire ticket to disaster, but I persevered.

To begin, 2/3 cup of light corn syrup, 1/3 cup salted butter, and 1 cup granulated suger were added to a sauce pan.

From there, everything was brought to a boil

Here is where this recipe goes awry. Once the mixture has reached a boil, Cakespy calls for the heat to be turned to medium and stirred for five minutes.

After the five minutes was up, the 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract was added.

This doesn’t look right at all.

Now it’s time for the rest of the sugar.

2 ½ cups of sifted confectioner’s sugar and 1/3 cup of powdered milk were added to the wet ingredients.

The wet ingredients wouldn’t absorb a thing. I thought maybe the wet ingredients had cooled down too much.

I tried putting everything on very low heat.

Slowly, everything started to mix.

After a lot of stirring, I get an oddly colored pan full of sugar.

The next step calls for the dough to cool and then be separated into three equal amounts. However, that was not to be the case.

30 minutes later, when I came back, I had a rock solid mass of sugar. My best guess is that during that five minutes of cooking on medium, the sugar had rocketed past the hard crack stage and gone solid as a rock.

Not to be a quitter, I looked back at the recipe and scrolled down to the comments. It was more than happy to see someone had posted another recipe from the Washington Post.

This one came with temperatures, and the ingredients were practically identical. The only major difference was using salt and butter instead of salted butter.

Like before the sugar, corn syrup, and butter were added to the pan. I preferred how this recipe called for the vanilla to be added here. There wasn’t any of that annoying spatter that comes from adding vanilla to boiling sugar.

Once everything is brought a boil

The heat is reduced from high to medium-high and cooked for five minutes or until it reaches 225-230 on a candy thermometer.

With actual temperatures to work with, it was less than 3 minutes before my sugar hit 225. It’s no wonder my first batch turned into a rock.

Now the wet ingredients would absorb the mixture of confectioner’s sugar, powdered milk and salt.

After several minutes of wrist breaking stirring, I had something that actually looked like the white part of candy corn.

After everything had a chance to cool, I peeled it out of the pan and separated it into three portions.

It was now time for food coloring.

Thankfully the Washington Post also recommended mixing each portion inside a ziplock bag. No orange hands for me this time.

With a fair amount of kneading, I had something I could work with.

This is where it started to get ridiculous, but in a good way.

I didn’t have enough counter space to roll out all my ropes of candy corn.

After sticking the ropes together and flatting with a rolling pin, the ropes seemed to hold as one.

It was quick work with a knife and I had candy corn.

Yes, I know it doesn’t look like normal candy corn, especially since I got the color order wrong. What I was going for was taste and this blew the store bought version out of the water. There was the delightful combination of sugar and vanilla in every bite. It might take a few tries and little work, but the next time someone turns down candy corn, I’ll introduce them to some of the homemade variety.

Cooking the Book – Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook – Beef with Cumin (zi ran niu rou)

It seems that Sunday has become the de facto day for me to try out new recipes. Not knowing what I was in the mood for, I took a look at my ever growing collection of cookbooks. Almost by instinct, I went for a Fuschia Dunlop book. This time it was her “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook”. Trying to find a way to use all of the beef from the Flying M Farm, I turned the pages to look at the short beef section. Knowing what ingredients I had in the kitchen, I knew only one dish would do: beef with cumin or zi ran niu rou

Once I dug a sirloin steak out of the freezer, I knew I would have more than the 12 ounces of beef that Dunlops’ recipe called for.

Conveniently, after slicing the sirloin into thin slices, I was sitting damn near 24 ounces of trimmed meat. This meant I could easily double the recipe without any foreseeable repercussions. Of course, I did my best to achieve Dunlop’s pedantic instructions. It’s hard to slice beef into exactly 1 ½ by 1 ¼ inch pieces.

Next it was time to make the marinade.

Added to the bowl was 2 tbsp of shaoxing wine, 1 tsp of salt, 2 tsp of light soy sauce, 2 tsp of dark soy sauce, 2 tbsp potato flour, and 2 tbsp water. Incidentally, I didn’t have any potato flour, but after some deliberation, I used potato starch. I didn’t see any adverse effects.

All of the beef was added to the bowl, making sure to mix well.

With the beef marinating, I got the rest of the ingredients together.

4 tsp of finely chopped ginger, 2 tbsp finely chopped garlic, 4 fresh chilies, finely chopped, 8 tsp of chili flakes, and 4 tsp of ground cumin were all tossed together in another bowl.

Since the ingredients would all be added at the same time, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mix them now. Also, I figured it was worth the time to grind the cumin seeds, especially since it was in the name of the dish.

Now it was time to start the cooking. First I added about 2 cups of peanut oil to my wok, heated it to 275 and added the beef.

The idea is to only cook the beef until the pieces have separated. As soon as they did, I removed them from the wok, drained the oil and set them off to the side.

Leaving just 3 tablespoons of oil, the flame was kicked to high and the other bowl of ingredients was added.

I love it when a recipe says stir fry until fragrant, it’s so deliciously vague. Anyway, once the mixture was really pungent, I reintroduced the beef.

A little salt to taste and I was good to go.

The last fresh ingredients were 4 scallions (green parts only) that had been finely sliced.

You’ll have to look on the top right of the picture to see them. However, now that everything has been added, the whole lot was tossed together and ready to serve.

One last thing, you need 2 tsps of sesame oil stirred in at the last minute.

Here you can see the beef with cumin in all its glory.

Not that attractive is it?

Still, everything looks better over rice. Regardless, what’s important is the taste, and I’ll admit it took me a minute or two to warm up to this dish. I’m not used to so much cumin in Chinese cuisine. However, this is a Hunan cookbook. I’m more accustomed to a Sichuan style of cooking. Once I got over the cumin mental hurdle, I became a real fan of this dish. The full beef flavor is really complimented by the cumin and I love all the extra spice to the dish. However, my favorite thing about this dish is how easy it is to make and how many of the ingredients I always have on hand. This really could be a go to recipe for when I need a quick, easy, and delicious meal.

Cooking the Book – Bones – Lamb Roasted over Potatoes

I have a daunting task in front of me. In my garage freezer is two lamb’s worth of lamb meat. Personally, I love the stuff, but it’s incredibly hard to find recipes for ground lamb. Sure you have the odd kebab or burger recipe or that great stuffed zucchini recipe off Food & Nevertheless, as hard as it is to find something for ground lamb, finding a recipe for lamb shoulder seems like the quest for the Holy Grail. Thankfully, Jennifer McLagan has come to my rescue with her book “Bones – Recipes, History, & Lore”. Inside this masterpiece is a recipe for lamb roasted over potatoes, but not just any cut of lamb. This recipe gives the option of lamb shoulder or leg of lamb, but that’s enough talk, let’s get to work.

First things first, let’s see what sort of meat we have to work with.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never really seen a lamb shoulder. I’m not even sure what the cut is supposed to look like.

Complaining about lack of experience won’t do me any good, so I starts by trimming any excess fat.

With the extra fat in the garbage, I used a paring knife and made a number of ½ deep slits throughout the shoulder.

Then, I added a sliver of garlic into each slit.

Next, the lamb was drizzled with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

After the oil, I sprinkled the lamb with 2 teaspoons of dried oregano. McLagan emphasis the use of Greek oregano; I’m sure it’s great, but I just used the McCormick I had on hand. The last step of the lamb prep is simple, let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

After preheating the oven to 450, I started working on the potatoes. Using a handheld mandolin, I sliced 5 potatoes about 1/8 inch thick.

I wasn’t sure if McLagan intended to slice them widthwise or lengthwise, so I figured a mixture wouldn’t hurt. Before I could place the potatoes in the pan, I drizzled a tablespoon or so of olive oil in the pan.

Now the potatoes can be added and seasoned with the usual salt and pepper.

Since an hour had passed, I seasoned the lamb with salt and pepper and placed the rounded side down on the potatoes.

From here it was into the 450 degree oven to roast for 15 minutes.

Now the temperature is lowered the usual 350 and the lamb is left to roast for 1 to 1 ¼ hours or until 135 degrees.

About an hour later, I took the temperature of the lamb and was shocked to see it had already crested 140.

I immediately pulled it out of the oven, put the roast on a platter, covered it with foil and let it rest for 15 or so minutes.

In the meantime, I turned the oven back to 450 and put the potatoes back in to crisp up.

In no time at all, I had a pan of crispy, lamb scented potatoes.

Now it was time to carve the lamb.

My previously mentioned lack of experience with lamb should meant I wasn’t really sure how to cut this roast.

Even so, I managed to cut off a few test slices and they were a beautiful medium rare. The flavors were wonderful, and McLagan’s recipe had performed flawlessly, as usual.

With its unusually large number of recipes for joints of lamb, I’m sure I’ll be paying a number of visits to Jennifer McLagan and her book, “Bones”. In the meantime, I’ll do a little studying to see if this was a normal cut for a lamb shoulder or did those butchers in Kosciusko do something odd again?