Friday, October 30, 2009

Mad Food Scientist Friday: Edible Eyeballs

It's Mad Food Scientist Friday at Foodspiration and we're going to share how to make Malted Milk Eye-Balls.

But first a food science fact about white chocolate:

White chocolate is primarily made of cocoa butter ( from the cacao bean), sugar, and milk-based ingredients. In the U.S. white chocolate must be at least 20% cocoa butter, at least 14% total milk solids, at least 3.5% milk fat, and less than 55% sugar or other sweeteners. Click here for the full requirements of white chocolate in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Some people don't consider white chocolate to be truly chocolate but when it comes to decorating, white chocolate is an essential "paint color" in the edible color palette. And it was my medium of choice to create edible eye-balls.

Here's how I did it:

1. I bought some malted milk balls and dipped them into melted white chocolate using a toothpick and twisting it into the malt ball. Use a small bowl and melt the chips in the microwave in 20-30 second intervals, stirring in between. Do not overmelt as the chocolate can separate. I used a small bowl to give enough depth for dipping and because I didn't want to waste chocolate--this doesn't reheat well. Also, I found the Ghiradelli white chocolate to melt more smoothly, dip easier and have a glossier shine than the Whole Foods brand.

2. I then used a toothpick and red food coloring to create the bloodshot streaks. I stuck the dipped eye balls into an orange to dry. It sets up remarkably quickly.

3. For the iris, I used a bit of Wilton melting chips to create the green circle. Then a dab of white chocolate and a dash of black sprinkles finished off them off.

What better spooky treat than a box of eyeballs for Halloween (insert creepy witch's cackle).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Creepy Treats and Tasty Eats: Halloween Food Ideas for You

I had to write this extra post to share some AMAZING Halloween ideas! We had a little party at work today and gave it our best Martha efforts!

Here are photos and some "how-to" links:

1. Dulce de Leche Bat Cookies: My co-worker made these tender cookies with a delicious dulce de leche center. Click here for the recipe.

2. Ghoulish Punch: We made this using a Halloween mask and gloves as ice molds. Click here for the how-to and punch recipe. If you want to use dry ice for a fog effect, use one large bowl for the dry ice and water and nest the punch bowl on top of the dry ice. You should NOT put dry ice into food.

3. Meringue Ghosts: Meringue is the perfect medium for spooky ghosts! It's also a relatively light and healthy treat! My co-worker whipped out these tasty treats! I'm not sure which recipe he used but I am thinking about using this one here at 101 Cookbooks.

4. Malted Milk Eye Balls: I made these creepy confections starting with a malted milk ball, dipping it in chocolate and embellishing it. I'll post the step-by-step on Friday.

Do you have a favorite Halloween treat we should try? Please share!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One Word Wednesday: Wrapper

I love this sweet wrapping paper from Chronicle Books. It's part of a Confectionary Wrapping Set. Click here to buy it yourself. Darling!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Figuring Out Food Photography...

So we know our food photography isn't as good as a lot of food bloggers out there and we recently bought this photo set up to improve our photos. Our kitchen lighting is terrible and I am a night baker which doesn't help. I've also started using Justin's good camera but I must confess that I am still learning about the different settings. So, bear with us as we figure it all out.

Sadly, our light box is set up in our dining room ruining the Martha Stewart effect I was going for...oh well, Martha would understand.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall Baking: Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Frosting

This was the runner-up in the last poll we posted to help us choose what to bake. And this recipe from Martha Stewart is a winner. This is a dense cake that isn’t too sweet with a decent frosting made of butter, cream cheese, and honey. This is the easiest frosting every- no sifting and hardly any measuring. I can’t wait to try it on cupcakes! Justin thinks we should up the sugar content in both the cake and frosting but I liked it as is.

Similar to the pumpkin bar recipe, this cake starts with the usual dry ingredients including the familiar characters in pumpkin pie spice: allspice, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.

Because the butter is melted, you don’t need an electric mixer for the batter. There’s something nice about stirring by hand that I appreciate. This cake takes two eggs, pumpkin, sugar and melted butter which get blended with the dry ingredients. You can put this batter in a loaf pan or a square pan or probably most any shape. I chose square.

Now it did take a bit of time to bake and it cracked on top- but that’s what it took for this cake to be fully cooked.

The honey frosting is marvelously indulgent. Once the cake is fully cooled, mix a package of cream cheese ( yes, the full fat one) with a stick of butter and a quarter cup of honey.

I used the electric mixer to whip this up even though Martha says to stir. I think the mixer is better to whip some air into this and make sure there are no lumps. I also didn’t let the cream cheese come to room temp so it was a bit stiff. The mixer did a fantastic job.

And the result…yummy. Again, this isn’t as sweet and pumpkin pie like as the bars from last week. This is spicy, dense and rich. Perfect with a cup of coffee or tea. You can see the pretty uniform texture with tiny bubbles.

Definitely worth a bake!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Food Science Friday: The heat in hot peppers!

(Thai chili peppers from the garden, about 50,000 - 100,000 Scoville)

Do you ever wonder what makes chili peppers spicy? How hot is the heat from a habanero? A jalapeño?

Well, the answer to the first question is capsaicin. That's the name of the compound that gives peppers their heat and causes a burning sensation in the mouth. In fact, there is a scale called the Scoville scale to measure the level of capsaicin and therefore the level of spiciness in peppers. The original scale was developed in the early 1900s with a panel of tasters. The ground peppers would be dilluted with water until the tasters could no longer preceive spiciness. The more water needed to dillute the pepper, the higher the number. While more precise analytical methods using chromatography have been developed today, they still use the Scoville unit in honor of Wilbur Scoville, the pepper pioneer. An extract of pure capsaisin has a value of about 15,000,000 to 16,000,000 Scoville. When formulating a food product with medium or mild spiciness a producer may literally add only a drop of hot pepper to a large batch.

Scott Roberts has a handy chart of peppers and food products that cover this Scoville scale. You'll see the hotest pepper, the Bhut Jolokia (also known as the "Ghost Chili"), can register about 1,000,000 on the Scoville scale . . . that's over 200 times hotter than the jalapeño! The Green Bell Pepper comes in on the lower end (below 100 Scoville).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One Word Wednesday: Pumpkin

Pictured: Pumpkin-cinnamon pancakes with slivered almonds on a warm fall morning at the Putah Creek Cafe in Winters, CA.

Multiple news sources are reporting a canned pumpkin shortage as a result of poor weather last year that resulted in a small crop. There are worries about the 2009 harvest as well. We've found canned pumpkin in some local retailers and not in others . . . one grocer told me that they hadn't received any Libby's shipments in two months. Apparently, some folks are resorting to getting their canned pumpkin on the internet. However, buyer beware, some are reporting receiving dented cans!

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Best Way to Eat Brussel Sprouts

When I bought these brussel sprouts, the checkout woman said, "I can't believe someone as young as you is buying brussel sprouts." And I replied, "Well we are going to eat them with apples and bacon and they will be delicious." She was definitely intrigued but after this post, hopefully you will be convinced that Brussel Sprouts with Apples and Bacon are wonderful.

We were inspired to try this after having this dish at a good friend's house. And, it's apple season, so what better time to taste this! It's pretty easy to make. We bought a small bag of brussel sprouts (Trader Joe's and Safeway have them) and we sliced them in half or in quarters depending on size.

We used a honeycrisp apple and chopped that into chunks. These are terrific apples and if you haven't tried them, we recommend them.

In a frypan, we fried up some thick-cut bacon and drained the grease.

A bit of butter, and in went the brussel sprouts. I even added a bit of water and covered them to steam them through.

Once they were mostly cooked through, we added the apples and sauteed until slightly cooked. A bit of red wine vinagrette was sprinkled on top and the crumbled bacon was added. With salt and pepper to taste, this dish was good to go!

Who knew brussel sprouts could be so tasty!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

People's Choice: Pumpkin White Chocolate Blondies

As a result of the pumpkin poll, I made the pumpkin white chocolate blondies that were recommended by Cate of Cate's World Kitchen. Click here for the recipe. They are delicious, moist and cakey bars that have all of the Fall flavors and spices of pumpkin pie- but in a bar.

And, my first attempt didn't exactly go as I expected because I accidentally bought milk chocolate chips and I misread "can" instead of "cup." This recipe takes a CUP of pumpkin puree not a can! If you put in a whole can, you will get a pan of pumpkin blondies where the toothpick comes out clean but the blondies are super wet and under done. The original recipe that Cate modified (from Martha) uses chocolate chips. While I am not a huge white chocolate fan, I think it complements the spices in the bar a bit better than the milk chocolate. So "if at first you don't succeed, try again" is the motto in our kitchen and I remade these bars with the white chocolate and the correct amount of pumpkin and they were great.

Here's a few notes about the recipe before you try it:

1. Here's the mountain of dry ingredients. If you don't have pumpkin pie spice, you can make your own blend. I actually prefer this. For 1 Tbsp of pumpkin pie spice use:

1 and 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp of ground ginger
1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg ( I freshly grated this from whole nutmeg)
1/2 tsp of ground cloves
1/2 tsp of ground allspice

2. As Cate mentioned, when you add the cup of pumpkin, it doesn't completely mix in smoothly- it looks curdled. Make sure to use a spatula to scrape your bowl as the butter can stick to the sides.

3. Once all of your ingredients are added, spread and bake. After my first attempt, I wanted to make sure these were done! I baked for about 36 minutes and it was still on the moist side, the recipe says 30-40 min. Next time I might even bake them closer to 40 minutes.

These are a wonderful Fall treat and I hope you enjoy them.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Food Science Friday: What exactly is food science? And a trivia quiz...

Food scientists like to dress up as donuts.

We’ve been posting Food Science Fridays for a few weeks now but we haven’t explained what exactly food science is!

Food science is the study of the chemistry, microbiology, engineering, and the sensory attributes of food. It involves creating and maintaining a safe, plentiful, and quality food supply and includes research and product development applications. Food scientists can work in academia, in government or in industry. Both Justin and I have worked in industry, specifically in product development. Food scientists often create the recipes or formulations for food you might buy in the supermarket.

They also like to wear t-shirts about food science.

Justin and I both studied food science at UC Davis where we both received Ph.Ds in food science. Justin also has a B.S. in food science and a B.S. in nutrition from the University of Minnesota, while I have a B.S. in biochemistry from UC Davis.’s a little quiz:

True or False:

1. Food science is the same as nutrition.
2. Taste-testing is part of being a food scientist.
3. Alton Brown is a food scientist.
4. A degree in food science means that you have the same culinary training as a chef.

Bonus: Name the movie where the lead character was a food scientist.
Bonus Bonus: Name the food invention he was famous for in the movie.

We’ll let you post some guesses and then put the answers in the comments!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

One Word Wednesday: Wood-fired!

Mmm, this is a breakfast pizza. That's right, pizza for breakfast. This is a chorizo, pasilla pepper, and potato wood-fired pizza from the Putah Creek Cafe. It was so spicy, savory and flavorful!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Bat-mobile

Two words inspired this latest project: Construction Gingerbread. I was inspired by Cookie Swap by Julia M. Usher. It has several ideas for ways to bake your holiday decorations. I'm proud to say that this idea was my own...but I used her construction gingerbread recipe which uses bread flour to create a stiffer dough that does not expand or puff very much in the oven.

These cookie cutters were given to me by a good friend. I had made Christmas ornaments using royal icing and gingerbread in the past and they have lasted for years. Click here to see. So, why not some Halloween bats to hang from the chandelier in the dining room?

Before you bake, don't forget to poke a hole in the cookie for hanging. I baked the cookies and made an outline consistency royal icing using meringue powder. I also outlined the hole so that it wouldn't fill up with icing.

You can buy black food coloring either in liquid form or gel form. Beware that you need to use a lot of it, so I recommend gel food coloring because it doesn't thin your frosting. I made flow consistency royal icing and flooded the cookies. Brown sprinkles and white oyster pearls finished off the cookies.

Justin helped me use fishing line to hang the bats. "Right off the bat", we broke a bat because I didn't tie a good knot. Here's a link to the uni knot that Justin tied for this. I was so happy with the results and I think these will keep for a few years!

Happy Fall!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Celebrating with a Selection from the Bottom Third

Sometimes I wonder what I am going to do with all those bottles in the bottom third of the wine cabinet that makes up my own personal reserve section. It's a collection of bottles that I've acquired over time . . . sometimes the purchases have been deliberate and more often made when I've been plied by a few too many sips in the tasting room. Because of the investment that has been made (both dollars and the time that they've aged) I'm reluctant to crack them on a whim so there is a risk that some of these wines may start to diminish . . . and that's the biggest sin for any wine lover.

Luckily we had an unexpected occasion that struck our Friday night and overcame any inhibitions about digging deep for a celebratory bottle: two of my life-long friends and their wives had their babies on the exact same day . . . twin boys to one and a little girl to the other!

So what was the wine that fit the occasion of October 9? I went with the 1999 Pine Ridge Cabernet Stags Leap District, it was as deliberate of a choice to drink as it was to purchase. Ten years to the day the grapes would have been freshly macerating in the tanks, starting the life of this awesome wine that still held big, dark fruit flavors with soft tannins. This is a wine I would have purchased back in Minnesota, during my early and impressionable wine buying days. I remember being motivated in part because this was named as Wine Spectators #4 out of their Top 100 wines the year it was being sold . . . back in the days when that mattered to me. Even though I was such a newbie then I know that this bottle was purchased with MUCH anticipation and then lovingly carted around the country until now.

Cheers to Henry, Charlie, and Isla!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Food Science Friday: Salt

(Large and flaky crystals of Maldon sea salt)

Salt (sodium chloride) is one of the simplest and the most flavorful ingredients in food. What is it doing for food and why is it so hard for manufacturers to reduce sodium in food products?

Throughout history, salt was often used to preserve foods. In fact salt was once so valuable, the Romans were paid in salt, hence the word salary! For a great book about the history of salt, try Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

While salt is a functional ingredient in some products, today salt is commonly used for its flavor and flavor enhancement properties. Salt provides more than just salty flavor, it is also potentiates and amplifies other flavors in food and reduces bitter flavors. The love of salt is learned and this acquired liking isn’t easy for consumers to give up. It is estimated that Americans consume 3500 to 4000 mg of sodium per day instead of the recommended 2400 mg of sodium per day. The salt ingested in the diet comes from both processed foods and salt added by the cook/consumer when flavoring to taste.

Currently, no single ingredient is available that identically matches the taste and functionality of salt--which makes it difficult to replace without drastically affecting taste in processed foods. Very few ingredients elicit true saltiness. For sweetness, another basic taste, there are many compounds and sources of sweetness from natural sugars to artificial sweeteners. Unlike sweetness, and it typically takes a mix of several other ingredients such potassium chloride, spices, and flavors to replace some of the flavor of salt. These substitutes aren’t exact matches either--potassium chloride, a very common salt replacer, has a bitter off-flavor for some people.

But what about sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, fleur de sel, Hawaiian salt and other artisan salts? These premium salts come from unique sources and have different amounts of sodium and other natural minerals. These less pure compositions give them distinct flavors and colors. However, salts can be standardized and purified--you can buy sea salt that is as pure as traditional salt.

Another difference seen in artisan salts can be the crystal size. Be aware of the crystal size of your salt when measuring it by volume for recipes (e.g. teasposns, tablespoons). The larger crystals don't pack as well and teaspoon for teaspoon you deliver less salt with larger crystal salt than the standard granulation.

So, what do we use for salt? We use the standard fine Morton's for baking, we keep Diamond Kosher salt in a small dish next to the stove for flavoring dishes as we cook. We also have an assortment of premium salts for special occasions. But no matter what we use, we have a lot of respect for this simple yet incredibly flavorful ingredient.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One Word Wednesday...Runny

Sometimes "runny" is good. This polenta with roasted mushrooms and a fried egg was a really easy weeknight dinner, courtesy of TheKitchn. Click here for the recipe. Do you have a favorite egg recipe? Tell us!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Weeknight Cookie: Snickerdoodles

Do you ever need to do a quick round of baking on a weeknight for a party, a bake sale or mid-week event? Well, I wanted to share a classic cookie recipe from my childhood that is easy enough for a weeknight: Snickerdoodles

I’m not sure what’s more fun, the name or the cookie! This roll and drop cookie is pretty easy to make with only 7 basic ingredients that you are likely to have in your pantry on any given night: flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, eggs. I love the recipe in Martha Stewart's Cookies book, but I can't seem to find it online. This one is close but the one I used has 1 cup of butter (2 sticks) instead of the shortening and butter in this recipe. The recipes are so similar and I think you could substitute the 1/2 cup of shortening with butter for a total of 1 cup ( 2 sticks) of butter.

Start with your dries- sifted into a beautiful mountain! Soften your butter in the microwave for a few seconds and cream that with the sugar in your mixer. Add the eggs and once that’s mixed, you add in the dries. It’s that easy and everything blends well into a homogenous dough.

Roll a little ball by hand and then roll it until completely covered with cinnamon and sugar.

This recipe has you line your cookie sheets with parchment paper- which results in an easy clean up. I used the same parchment liner for multiple batches without any problems.

And bake until edges are golden- you can see the cookies don't get very brown. These cookies really spread out and get crackly on the top so be sure to leave enough space in between. I baked in batches of 9 per sheet. They come off the parchment paper very easily- so no fuss there.

And the result is light and buttery cookies with a bit of cinnamon. This delicate and simple flavor is perfect with a glass of milk or cup of tea!