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    Tuesday
    Feb222011

    No, really, I can cook! - Urban Homestead Style**

    Okay, so the chocolate cake in a cup was an epic fucking fail. I don't blame myself at all. It's a crappy recipe and nothing will convince me otherwise.

    So, as proof that I'm not as klutzy in the kitchen as I am in an analytical laboratory (I still hold the record for most broken thermometers in a single day) I decided to pre-empt my intended post for this week and make something a little more challenging.

    Crepes.

    No, not pancakes. Not even really thin pancakes. Crepes and pancakes are totally different things. Pancakes are a quickbread. They include oil and a leavener. They're flipped during cooking, and meant to be served flat, and they are almost always served for breakfast.

    Crepes on the other hand are more of an egg dish. They include a relatively small amount of flour for binding purposes. They don't rise, they don't get flipped, and they are served rolled or folded. And they're dessert! Yes, I know, some people take advantage of the egg base and stuff them with savoury things like ham and asparagus and pour bernaisse sauce over them for lunch, but I prefer them sweet and fruity.

    And so I give you:

    Raspberry Crepes

    I made them for brunch and I was a little hung over so I forgot to include all the ingredients in the ingredients pic and I miscalculated how long the cream had been in the fridge so there's no whipped cream... um...

    Back to the post where I know how to cook.

    What you need:

    2 eggs

    1 1/4 c milk

    1/2 tsp vanilla

    3/4 c flour

    2 c raspberries

    1/4 c sugar

    cream cheese and / or whipped cream

    icing sugar for dusting

    (yes, I know there's no milk or cream cheese in the picture; part of being hungover is forgetting what ingredients you need when you're collecting everything)

    What you gotta do:

    Rinse the berries, and combine them and the sugar in a small pot. The little bit of water in there is just what you need. You can mash the berries yourself, or let the heat break them down. Either way, you want them over medium heat.

     

    With a whisk, whip the eggs, milk and vanilla until it's frothy. (this is the point at which I remembered I needed milk; thankfully, there was some in the fridge)

    Slowly add the flour, a quarter cup at a time, and whisk well after each addition.

    You're looking for a perfectly smooth and creamy batter here. No lumps allowed. It should also be quite thin, more like a creamy soup or thin gravy. You want it to spread out in the pan, not sit where you drop it.

    This batter was a little thick, so I added a couple tablespoons of milk.

    Check on your berries. The sugar and juice should be a nice thin syrup and there should be a bit of foam and bubbles on top. If you've ever made jam, this will be looking a little familiar. If not, this is what jam looks like when it's cooking.

    Heat a wide, flat, nonstick pan over medium high heat. You want that pan hot.

    Using a ladel or measuring cup, scoop about 1/2 cup of batter into the hot hot pan and immediately lift it up and tilt it.

    Tip it around in a circle so that the batter spreads out super thin. I'm talking an eighth of an inch or less.

    They cook quickly! They'll be dry to the touch on top, and barely golden on the bottom when they're done. No, you don't need to flip them. This is eggs over fairly high heat; it doesn't take much to cook them. Genly lift the edge of the crepe with a spatula, then peel it out of the pan.

    I keep the done ones on a plate in a barely warm oven (175 degrees), and I cover them with a damp towel so that they don't get crispy and curl around the edges. Crispy is not what we're going for here.

    Check on your berries. They should be thickening nicely. If you're worried about them getting too thick, you can turn them down a bit. You're going for something between the consistency of syrup and jam.

    When you get a bit more experienced at pouring the batter into the pan, try pouring into an already lifted and tilted pan. You can get a wider, thinner crepe that looks beautifully lacey around the edges. Not like an octopus. Oops.

    Able to cook. Totally am.

    Right.

    Moving on.

    Once you've made all 6 crepes, it's time to start assembling. Spread a tablespoon or so of the fruit onto each one, then fold into quarters.

       

     

    I love cream cheese so I spread mine with about a tablespoon of it, and then folded them.

    The 2 cups of berries will make enough to fill all 6, with a bit left for the top. But since mine had cream cheese in them, there was lots to go on top.

    If you want to dust them with icing sugar, put a teaspoon or so in a fine sieve and gently tap it as you move around over the plate.

    A lovely breakfast with a bit of OJ and some dark roast coffee.

    Unlike pancakes which are supposed to be fluffy, crepes are a little more on the tender-chewy side of things. But they're not dense at all; they have a strange lightness to them that only comes from swiftly beaten eggs. The folds perfectly hide the smooth cream cheese, and the berries are tart and tangy.

    There's a breakfast place in town here that makes giant ones filled with Nutella and bananas. And I have made ham and asparagus ones, I just prefer them sweeter.

    What would you put in your crepes?

     

    ** re the title: Some jackasses have managed to trademarke the phrase "urban homestead" and are pissing circles around it all over the internet. Including on my friends Kelly and Erik and their book "The Urban Homestead". The Electronic Frontier Foundation is helping them and others affected by this bullshit. And a few people are flaunting the phrase by using it everywhere possible. The Dervaes Institute can kiss my ass. Fuckers.

     

    Friday
    Feb182011

    Not your Grandma's Macaroni and Cheese.

    Or perhaps it is.  The inspiration for my version of Mac n’ Cheese does, in fact, originate with my grandmother.  Although she never actually made it for me, my dad improved upon her recipe and fed it to us over the years.  I have since made changes of my own, until getting to where it is now.  Perfection.  That’s right, I said perfection, and I’m standing by that.  This isn’t made with a cheese sauce or topped with bread crumbs, it’s not the mushy gloop you might find at the deli or on a buffet, and it certainly isn’t that neon orange Krap from a box.  It’s hot, bubbly, cheesy, bacony goodness, like you’ve never experienced before. 

     

    What you’ll need:

    1 ¼ cups each, of 3 different kinds of cheese*

    ½ pound bacon*

    1 pound macaroni

    4 or 5 green onions

    1 ½ cups milk

    Liberal amounts of salt and pepper

     

    *Ingredient notes:  Use good quality cheese.  Don’t buy the pre-grated stuff.  Grate your own.  For a commercial brand, I like Tillamook, but I also like to buy local and imported cheese from the cheese monger.  You can get pretty good stuff from the cheese counter at most grocery stores these days.    

    As for the bacon, use one that’s just a regular slice.  The thickly sliced stuff isn’t the best in this dish.  Also, I am very passionate about the treatment (or mistreatment) of pigs, so please buy bacon that comes from humanely raised pigs if you can.  Niman Ranch and Beelers are a couple of good examples. 

     

    Onto the actual cooking.  I like to cook bacon in the oven.  It’s easy to make, and easy cleanup.  Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and lay out your bacon slices.  That way, when it’s all done, and the bacon grease solidifies, you can just take the foil off and throw the whole thing away.  Slide the pan into a cold oven and then turn it to 350°.  If your husband is around, you might want to make two pans so that you'll still have enough after he's finished snitching.   

    Now is a good time to chop your green onions and grate the cheese.  The combination of cheeses I used was Colby Jack, Extra Sharp Cheddar, and an Apple Walnut Smoked Cheddar. 

     

    Ok, back to the bacon.  The thickness of the slices can really affect the time it will take to cook.  After it’s been in for about 12 to 15 minutes, start to check on it.  You might even want to flip the slices over.  To me, bacon is not cooked until it’s crisp, so it should look about like this:

     

    Move it to some paper towels to drain.  For the pasta, fill a pan with plenty of salted water, and bring it to a boil.  Follow the package directions, but make sure the pasta is al dente.  It’s going to cook some more in the oven, so you don’t want it too soft now.  Drain the macaroni and rinse it with cold water.  After allowing the excess water to drain off, pour the noodles into your casserole dish, drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and stir to coat.

    Now, let’s chop our bacon.

     

    If your oven is not already preheated to 350° from cooking the bacon, do so now.  On top of the macaroni, sprinkle salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Reserving about ¼ cup of each of the cheeses, spread the rest on top, mixing them together as you do so.  Set aside a couple tablespoons each of the bacon and green onions, and throw the rest into the pot. 

     

    Now stir it all together until everything is evenly distributed.  Drizzle the milk over the top, covering as much area as you can. 

     

    Top with the remaining cheese and press the mixture softly into the pan with your hand. 

     

    At this point, you want to cover the pan, but some steam needs to escape as well.  My dish has a lid, so I like to fold up a piece of foil to place under it, which creates a bit of a crack. 

     

    If you’re covering your dish with foil, just poke a few little holes in it after you’ve got it in place.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until it looks like this:

     

    When you put a spoon down the inside of the pan to the bottom, there should be very little or no liquid down there.  That’s how you’ll know it’s done.  If there is still liquid down there, simply remove the cover and bake for a few more minutes. 

     

    Allow to rest for a good ten minutes before serving.  It’ll be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, but it really is worth it. 

     

    Garnish each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining bacon and green onions and serve with your favorite vegetable.  You’ve got to have something nutritious on the plate, right?  I went for roasted asparagus. 

     

    If you have leftovers, freeze them in individual servings, and you’ll never have to feed your kids (or yourself) that artificially flavored and colored stuff again. 

     

    Have a macaroni and cheese recipe you think can outdo mine?  Without posting the whole recipe, tell me what's special about yours and why I should try it.  The one that interests me most, I'll make and feature here on our blog.