Riso Cacio e Pepe – Inspired by Massimo Bottura

A simple risotto spiked with handfuls of Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper would have been the safe route to take when putting together a dish inspired by Chef Massimo Bottura, the featured chef from the first episode of Chef’s Table.

I tried to stay away from that, to riff on the theme of risotto, but create something new, something that nods to the classic dish.

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Naturally, the solution was to watch what Mr. Bottura did when he sought to create a dish to showcase the best of Emilia-Romagna. I quickly realized that one item had to retain its star status, the cheese. As I said, this won’t be like making traditional risotto, but it graciously shows its respect. Everything is done separately and brought together at the end. At home, our rice making process is basic. High quality rice, butter and water go into a covered pot on medium-high heat for about 15-20 minutes. For the science of cooking rice, search elsewhere, this isn’t “How to Boil Water.”

Riso Cacio e Pepe

2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 lb chunk of Parmigianino Reggiano  (½  finely grated, ½  finely shredded with rinds set aside)
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp. butter
4 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

While the rice cooks, in a separate saucepan on medium-low heat, pour in the milk (organic grass-fed or raw if you can find it) and add the rinds from the Parmigiano-Reggiano so they can steep for about 20 minutes. You can steep the cheese on a lower heat and longer to achieve an even deeper flavor.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350°.

On a nonstick or silicone cookie sheet, make four small piles with the shredded cheese, and flatten them out so they are circular and level.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, they will be crispy discs of cheese, cracker-like in texture.

Once the rice is done, discard the rinds, and pour the milk into the pot along with the grated cheese and half of the butter. Turn the heat to low and whip the rice vigorously with a spoon or spatula until the cheese and butter are completely incorporated. You’ll end up with a viscous, rice pudding-like product.

Then, fry the eggs with the rest of the butter until they’re over easy, the yolks are going to be very runny.

To serve, divvy up the rice into four deep bowls, making a crater in the middle. Place your egg in the crater and break the yolk. Season with salt & pepper, emphasis on the pepper.

Place a Parmesan disc on top to cover each bowl to make a crispy, cheesy lid

Resist the temptation to stir it all together. I chip away at the Parmesan disk as if it were the top layer of crème brûlée, scooping up a little yolk, a little crispy egg, and a lot of the creamy, Parmesan tinged rice.

Elements of risotto, pasta, with Parmigiano as the star, all combine into one decadent bowl. I sincerely think this dish pays a great deal of respect to episode 1, and its focus on the magic of the Mr. Bottura’s home region. Enjoy!

Garde Manger Revisited

After only two visits, Garde Manger has entrenched itself deep in my heart. It’s not simply because the food hits the mark with near perfect accuracy, or that they’ve achieved such a warm and inviting atmosphere, but because it has quickly become forever linked to happy times with friends and family. On my most recent visit, I was bestowed the honor of minting two new oyster lovers. Only Garde Manger, with a constant supply of the most pristine bivalves North America has to offer, has the power to turn people’s preferences around on a dime. I ordered a beginners pack of oysters, featuring a pair each of Cooke from PEI, Chipaganne from New Brunswick and Montreal’s own Trésor du Large (thanks to Meggie for the spelling!). I’ve said it before, but in my opinion the oysters here set the bar, no where else even comes close. As a tasty accompaniment, we chose a tidy bowl of buttery smoked salmon and pickled onion.

Garde Manger spread 1

With five people, we planned on sampling a majority of the menu if possible, starting with a crisp beet salad with apple radishes in a buttermilk dressing. As you’ll tend to do at Garde Manger, especially in the winter, we left the light dishes behind and dove headlong into a plate of pork and mushroom bread pudding topped with mizuna and a soft-boiled quail egg. Keeping the rich train rolling was a hot reisten brioche topped with foie gras and cranberry sauce. The thick lobes of buttery foie linked up perfectly with the tangy cranberries. The brioche standing by to soak up all the glorious drippings.

Garde Manger spread 2

Everyone at the table, all loved ones of mine, did me proud with their selections. As this was Montreal, the lobster poutine was an automatic choice. Fresh cheese curds, thick gravy and a sprinkling of chives were mounded over succulent chunks of lobster meat. Somehow the frites managed to sustain the moist barrage and kept things crisp and salty, flavoring the crustacean nicely. On the other side of the table, the walleye with quinoa, artichoke and rosemary crisps was a hit with the ladies.

Garde Manger spread 3

A handsome plate of seared scallops soon arrived joined by Romanesco broccoli, buttercup squash and bacon topped with healthy slices of black truffle. Scallops are a tricky protein to get right. The chefs at Garde Manger will take you to school in the art of scallop searing, achieving a perfect caramelized layer on the outside, while leaving the interior pearly and loose, sort of like a medium rare steak. Speaking of medium rare, a grouping of slice venison looked like little targets, their deep crimson centers indicating where the choicest bites would be found. The sometimes gamey nature of venison was noticeably absent here. A smooth Jerusalem artichoke purée and crispy bits of kale gave contrasting textures to the beautiful meat. I was leery of the last seafood dish, a seared fillet of cod surrounded by clams in a fennel purée. I’m a notorious fennel hater, but I have full trust in Chuck Hughes and company, and with good reason. The purée was delicious, maybe it was the mixture of saffron and butter that tamed the licorice tinge that I so abhor, or it could have been the sweet caramelized endives. Either way I found a preparation for fennel that I could swallow, and dare I say, enjoy.

Garde Manger spread 4

Nothing could have prepared me for the dish I chose. Whole Cornish game hen, swaddled with winter veggies, stuffed with foie gras, mushrooms and red cabbage topped with truffle butter. The smell coming off this bird was enough to induce a truffle aroma coma. I will admit, I was simultaneously excited and intimidated by the fowl. The prospect of an entire bird, with ribcage and all replaced with a foie gras, mushroom mixture was almost too much to resist. Needless to say, I dispatched the bird along with the truffle infused veggies.

Loyal readers, I feel that I’ve made this clear in last post on the subject, but if there’s one restaurant you visit while in Montreal, make sure it’s Garde Manger.

Maple Custard Pie

“Ok, well…
This is the city of Lakeland,
And it always sleeps,
It may look like it doesn’t
But it does.
It doesn’t live and breathe nocturnally.
So when you’ve got no place to go find a pastry at night,
And you’re alone all huddled up by the oven,
Cause you’re cold,
Well, this recipe goes out to the bakers that’s forgotten.
Hey pie, take us home.”

This is the story of a pie for one. Triple the ingredients in a normal pie plate if you have friends. If there were stores open I would’ve added some pecans, if I had organic corn syrup I would’ve made a pecan pie. Sadly I found myself without both items, so I made a maple pie with some optional pretzel stick border. Do whatever you feel, the beauty of being alone is that no one will judge you when you fail, but you won’t fail, I’m here for you.

Crust
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cold butter (cut into small cubes)
2 tbsp coconut oil (the kind that you can scoop out that’s not see through)
1/4 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350º
In a small bowl, incorporate salt and sugar with flour
Fold in coconut and butter until a rough crumbly dough forms
Throw it on a square of Saran then wrap up in a ball and chill in fridge for a while. Once it’s chilled roll out the dough until it’s about 1/8″ thick, lay another sheet of Saran wrap on top. Place in a small baking dish or mini pie plate roughly 3″-4″ square. I used my La Creuset 4×4 dish. Poke the dough all over with a fork.
Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime make the filling, or watch one episode of Comedy Bang Bang and then make the filling.

Maple Syrup Custard
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg

Whip egg and sugar until creamed
Add the remaining ingredients
Add nuts into pie crust if desired
Pour custard into pie crust. If you want to do the pretzels, which really worked well, just line them around the edges. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. It will puff up high but once you remove the pie, the filling will fall like the walls of Jericho. Let it set and cool for 30 minutes.

Pie for one

This is a great pie to eat alone while bingeing on Netflix. You might cry tears of a pie.

Thank you Rancid for inspiring my pie-oem.

Piquant – Tampa, FL

As I stood, hunkered down under a small awning, the rain began to sway horizontally, denying me any chance of staying dry. Impatiently, I kept hoping for those doors to open, as I yearned for the privilege of being first in line, to get the pick of the litter.

piquant-hyde-park

The rain fell harder. I then attempted to secure a better spot to hide more successfully than the last, behind a small wall, intermittently coexisting with the glass windows that wrapped around the entire façade.

When the doors opened promptly at 8:00 A.M. the host jumped back a bit, as did I when I heard the door abruptly cause a loud clang. She didn’t know I was there, I am certain.

Piquant display

Before I could speak she inquired as to my intentions. You see Piquant is known for selling out of a particular item everyday almost instantly at 8 am. I am allowed to say the formula for creation they’ve figured out is the illustrious cronut. They however do not, as the original idea has since been trademarked by its celebrity pastry chef. If you find yourself searching in their display case, just look for a scientifically rule bending crown of pastry. Do not be intimidated by the height of each individual cronut. Although on the outside they kinda look like puffed up hockey pucks, you will find on the inside hundreds of layers butter, pastry and air. They are as light and as sweet dream creating as a Sobakawa pillow. Piquant offers a cavalcade of rotating flavors from a basic plain, which should be the first choice if this your maiden voyage, to a fantastically compatible vanilla creme filling which adds depth, but thankfully not too much sweetness. As the quarter Cuban that I am, I’m always magnetized to anything guava related. Their guava cronut is reminiscent of the best guava turnover you might find down in Little Havana

Guava Cronut Piquant cronut display

Not to go unnoticed, I sampled an individually sized brioche-like muffin thing that housed a sugar cube, which melted quite nicely into the dough. Try one of those too!! We also enjoyed a cinnamon roll that my brother deemed the best he’d ever eaten. He said it wasn’t what he expected, as it had a touch of golden raisin purée or maybe some crushed baked apples that mingled with the gooey cinnamon sugar swirls. I had just a small bite but wouldn’t disagree with his opinion. It was indisputably a special cinnamon roll. One which I could only compare to Dough’s stellar version, or if you happen to a child of the 90’s, a certain Buddy’s Bunz that might hold a special place in your heart.

Cinnamon roll

As I was handed my order, a thought crossed my mind. On a whim I ask if they had any baguettes. There were none on display. My host said that one could be baked on command if I was willing to wait ten minutes. I obliged and ten minutes later, a hot, toasty, crisp skinny baguette was presented. How sweet was that? I don’t deserve this kind of specialized service, but I get the feeling they treat all their customers this way.

Assorted cronuts

Piquant is a full service restaurant with quite possibly the best selection of French pastry and bread in the area. I have failed to enjoy an actual meal though, and struggled contemplating if Eat a Duck should only speak of one specific menu item. I’d have to say the sweets merit a whole bunch of words all on their own. See above for such words.

Piquant on Urbanspoon

2013 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival – Part II

Nearly a week after Logan’s merry jaunt around Epcot, I had the great honor to join my colleague in an all out attack on the world, the world showcase that is. I’ve compiled another half-dozen menu items on offer at the festival, along with a few pro tips for anyone planning a visit.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life in Florida, and I must sheepishly admit that this is my first year at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. I may not have over a decade of experience with the event like Logan,  but I do share his years of experience in the mosh pit. Let me first say that his comparison of said pit, to the hungry hordes of Epcot is terrifyingly accurate. Having spent the beginning of our day at the other Disney parks, we were somewhat acclimated to the crowds. Nevertheless, it was still amazing to see that many people milling around the 30 booths around the World Showcase Lagoon.

Food & Wine Festival Day 2

Let’s get the first pro tip out there straight away…

Pro tip #1: Grab a map and plan your route!

If your family is like ours, the days schedule will likely get stretched out beyond your expectations. So when you get to Epcot, get a map if you don’t have one already, and figure out which booths you want to hit before you even pass the Coolzone. Which brings me to…

Pro tip #2: On a budget? Limit your alcohol!

Purchasing adult beverages will drain your bankroll quicker than marrying Kim Kardashian. If you want to maximize the amount of dishes you get to try, grab a swig of Kinley or Smart Watermelon from the Coolzone, located in the last building on your right, just before you reach the bridge to the world showcase. If you’re dying for some booze though, there are many budget friendly options in the $2.50 – $3.00 range that’ll hit the spot.

But enough chatter, this IS a food blog after all. So let me dish out the meal Logan and I put together on our recent visit. Since Logan went left last time, we went right. First stop on our map was Canada, our eyes and stomachs set firmly on the wild mushroom beef filet with truffle butter sauce from “Le Cellier”. People in line were raving about the cheddar soup, which I’m sure was fantastic as well, but the tender filet with its truffle aroma had a stronger pull. I received a nice chunk of beef, smothered in mushrooms and truffle sauce. Naturally I would’ve like it to be cooked just a touch less, but when you’re feeding the masses, medium is a safe bet. No matter, the flavor was there and it was a great start to my first Food & Wine visit.

"Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce

Pro tip #3: Divide and conquer!

While I was in line for the filet, Logan wisely moored himself at the Refreshment Port, aiming to get his hands on the Dole pineapple fritters. Take this strategy and you’ll efficiently plow through multiple lines at once, garnering a couple of different dishes in the time it usually takes to get one. The more friends you have the better! We met up and exchanged our ooo’s and ahh’s, and promptly dug in. The fried batter had a light sprinkling of powdered sugar that stayed crispy despite the juicy pineapple below. It was refreshing and decadent all at once.

Dole Pineapple Fritters

With two dishes secured in our bellies, we made a beeline for France and its escargots persillade en brioche. You get three little snails tucked into puffy, golden and thoroughly buttered brioche pouches. I feel like snails are gaining in popularity in America as people get over their squeamishness at the protein. If you’re still on the fence about them, try them here, it’ll change your mind. They’re coated in a butter, garlic and herb glaze that gives them a rich flavor and ultra creamy texture, no balloon-like chewiness in sight.

Escargots Persillade en Brioche

Once again, while I was in line in France, Logan headed to New Zealand. We deliberated between the venison sausage and the lamb meatball and eventually agreed on the sausage. You get a nice, plump sausage link with generous amounts of pickled mushrooms and baby arugula, drizzled with a black currant reduction. This was definitely the “entrée” of the night. The sausage was hearty and full of flavor. Venison often tends to be gamey, which can taste like licking an iron tree. This had no sign of that off-putting taste. The meat was tender and almost sweet, with just enough fat content to keep things juicy inside the casing. The pickled mushrooms and black currant reduction threw their tangy and sweet weight around and balanced the dish perfectly.

Venison Sausage with Pickled Mushrooms

On our short walk past Japan, we lamented the missed opportunity to showcase some of that countries finest dishes. Instead of serving a hot cup of rich ramen, there’s a California roll. A slick stand serving takoyaki (diced octopus in a wheat batter, served with a variety of toppings) would’ve been more exciting than the chicken teriyaki you can get anywhere in America. It may be the result of demographic, but in my opinion, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival should serve to expand people’s culinary horizons…but there’s always next year (hint hint).

Just off the main path as you cross the border into “America”, you’ll find the “Hops & Barley” booth. We skipped over Ireland’s lobster and seafood pie in favor of a traditional lobster roll with lemon herb mayo. Let me sing my praises here, Disney does not skimp on the lobster and this ain’t no claw meat only roll either. You get a heaping mound of lobster with a good variety of meat from all corners of the crustacean. It hit all the marks you want in a lobster roll. Fresh meat, a nice coating of butter and just the right amount of mayo to give the whole affair creamy citrus twinge. It may seem expensive at $7.00, but you’d be lucky to find this quality, or quantity for that matter, at a better price point anywhere else.

Lobster Roll with Lemon Herb Mayonnaise

With our bellies filling and our feet aching (well my feet, Mr. Postman over there was running circles around me) we stumbled upon the cheese booth on our way to a previously planned stop at China. Logan had already sampled the tempting almond crusted blue cheese soufflé, so we went with the artisan cheese selection. We both consider ourselves major cheese heads, and not in the Green Bay Packers sense, but we were both impressed with the trio on offer here. First in the photo below we have La Bonne Vie Triple Cream Brie with apricot jam. Ultra creamy, buttery and full-bodied, unlike most average Brie you’ll find in the store. In the center, Beecher’s Flagship Reserve, a special cow’s milk cheese made only on days where the milk is just right. Here it’s paired with a small drizzle of honey to play off its rich, salty notes. Last but in no way least, Wygaard Goat’s Gouda with crispy Craisin bread. This had the salty kick of a fine Gouda with the creamy, sour notes from the goat’s milk. Surprisingly one of the best cheese plates I’ve had in a while, and I wasn’t even sitting down to enjoy it.

Artisan Cheese Selection

Sadly we didn’t make it to China and Singapore as was planned, but I’m sure we’ll be back soon, so stay tuned. My first visit to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was a resounding if exhausting success. Where else can you eat delicacies from around the world, WHILE you exercise? It’s a win-win. There’s less than a month left, so get it while it’s hot! See you there!

2013 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival – Part I

I used to be a young kid with a whole bunch of energy. From the ages of 16-24, most of my free time was spent going to punk rock shows. I’ve lived in the pit and emerged unscathed (most of the time). I can be sure that there was a change in the tide around 2005 when I slowed my concert attendance. I honestly believe that’s when my favorite genres of music started going stale. There are still great bands out there, but for me, they either aren’t fun to see live, don’t put out new music, don’t play near me regularly or they stopped touring all together. That was also the time that food programming and food and drink based personalities began to gain popularity. They became household names in the American psyche. I’m sure many of you could rattle off a dozen names no problem. Now we have food based shows on their own networks running 24/7. Chances are some of you may have just stopped watching Master Chef Junior Jr. to read this masterpiece. Anyway, at that same time, I became more and more interested in food culture, studying technique and becoming a fan boy to just about every great cook out there. Now there’s a circuit across the country of festivals and special events where chefs can promote themselves like a band through demos, interviews or exclusive dinners.

food-wine-fest-entry-the-hungry-masses1

Disney as I know it, is not about jumping on the bandwagon. They are about being on the forefront of innovation and trend. That’s why they have long since created what should be viewed as the Space Mountain of Food And Wine Festivals. Their annual fall time parade for the senses usually runs for about a month and a half, right when fall hits at the Epcot world showcase in Walt Disney World. If memory serves me correctly, this is the 18th year running, and it could quite possibly be the largest yet, as I witnessed on my first day.

What should you expect? In two words, sensory overload. The crowds can be daunting if you’re not used to swimming your way through a mosh pit like a king salmon on its way upstream to produce its delicious roe. In my experience over the past decade and a half, they’ve never run out of a single menu item, ever. I can’t compute how they keep the quality at such a high level given how quickly they move through the incredibly long lines.

I would advise you to do a bit of research, especially if you’re on a budget. Figure out how much you can spend per person. For example if $30 a person is your goal, you’re of age and chose to drink, your experience might consist of 4-5 different samplings of food and a couple tastings of wine or beer. Print out a guide, or get one from the front and begin mapping out a strategy. Try and pick some stuff that you can’t get where you live. I think you’ll be pleased by some of the more exotic offerings. As you wade into the fray, you have two options, right or left? I always have a phantom inclination to go left when I’m at Epcot. Maybe its science, I should ask Figment. In any case, my intuition served me well.

The first stall I visited was inspired by Brazil. Each booth has 2-4 food choices and a couple of drinks as well. Most of which are indigenous to the theme country. I chose based on pressure from my good friend Jeff Houck, the crispy pork belly with avocado on a mattress of thickened black beans. Listening to your peers pays off people. Jeff’s play calling was brilliant, reminiscent of Weeb Ewbank in Super Bowl III. The belly was indeed crispy, yet it had been cooked for almost a full work week so that the fat had rendered away just enough to keep my wife interested. She doesn’t like her bacon too fatty. It was rich and tender and was a wonderful contrast to all the vibrant flavor surrounding it. I would take my advice through Jeff’s advice. Make an all out ground assault on Brazil. Attack the belly!

Crispy Pork Belly with Avocado

At this point, I was searching for some Seoul food, by way of the infamous kimchi dog. The addition of Korea to Food and Wine’s stable of countries couldn’t have come at a better time, as I am presently embroiled in a public love affair with Korean cuisine. Meeting the kimchi dog was a premeditated rendevous I have no shame admitting. This might seem to be a normal looking hot dog at a first glance. When you dig into the meat, so to speak, you’ll find all those familiar tastes synonymous to the region. Spicy of course, as there is kimchi throughout, in the meat, in the slaw, in the mustard sauce, on my shirt. The bun and the encased meat lends itself to the sweeter side. Even though this is a festival for the public, you still have a touch of the Tyramine effect from the slightly fermented cabbage. Don’t be off put, it’s a wonderful sensation!

Kimchi Hot Dog

It didn’t take long, once I’d cleaned my shirt, to stumble upon the cheese tent. They offered a selection of cheeses, some of which we might discuss at a later date. I completely overlooked the almond crusted soufflé paired with fig jam. For three bucks, How could I pass it up? I waited in a shorter line than normal, getting looks at what everyone else was leaving with. At least 10 cheese courses flew by with little samples of Disney themed wines. I can’t remember the names, maybe one was Snow White Zinfindel or something. Write that down, I may need to get a trademark! I didn’t see anyone else order the soufflé, so I began to curb my excitement, as there have been a misstep in my future. After I found a quiet spot to take my first bite, I found a little old lady eating a soufflé by herself. I asked what she thought of it. She said in a sweety pie southern accent “I didn’t realize it had blue cheese when I ordered it, otherwise, I wouldn’t have”, but did she like it or not? Who cares if it was a mistake or planned, right? “I loved it! One of the strangest things I’ve ever eaten, but it was mighty tasty”. I couldn’t have agreed more. Approach this soufflé as more of the crustless quiche that it is. 

Almond Crusted Blue Cheese Soufflé with Fig Preserves

I made a conscious effort to stop at four dishes this trip because I knew I’d be back before long. So for my last dish, I set my coordinates to Belgium, arriving close to dusk. The sun was fading but the crowds were growing. Rock moms were flooding the walkways and food stalls, perhaps hoping Ken Block might make a surprise appearance. Upon our arrival in Belgium, I presented my papers and promptly joined the longest line of the day. If the Belgians know how to make one thing right…, it’s frites. But if the Belgiumese know how to make a second thing well, waffles or gaufres would solidify the number 2 spot. People were going waffle crazy, with three different variations, two sweet, one savory.  I went rogue, trying my hand at a mashed potato and leek waffle topped with braised beef and a smattering of salty butter. I never thought of taking mashed potatoes and wafflizing them.  I have had savory waffles many times, but not like this. It was a testament to creative thinking.

Mashed Potato & Leek Waffle with Braised Beef & Butter

There’s so much good stuff to be had at this festival, and as I said before, no matter the crowd size, they’ve never run out of food or drink on me. Besides the obvious quality in product Disney is always going to be known for, to me, that is the most impressive part of the whole event.

You can be a fan of food, wine, beer or a combination of all three like me, and have a blast.  Our culture is evolving to include these kinds of gatherings to attract just as many people as the traveling musical festivals that have grown stale. Maybe I’m getting too old to be in a circle pit, or maybe it’s because it’s easier to bring the family.

Stay tuned next week as the boys of Eat a Duck sink their teeth into a food filled day two at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival! If you want to plan your own outing, the festival runs through November 11th, so there’s plenty of time!

Svenska-Floridian Strawberry Cookies

Sometimes, when I’m milling around my kitchen whipping up my latest tasty treat, I’m not always sure that everyone will like what I’m making. It’s not because I lack confidence, it’s simply inevitable since creating something that appeals to every palate is exceedingly difficult.

There is a lovely lady at work who brings in homemade baked sweet treats regularly. Every time, she kindly offers me a sample of her wares. I have to say, she really knows her way around the kitchen. Sometimes when it’s slow we’ve been known to converse about food, wine or our favorite chefs. It’s great for me because my job has nothing to do with food, save for the odd Omaha Steaks package zipping past on its way to some hungry consumer. About a week ago she brought in a gigantic flat of Plant City Strawberries. They were the most beautiful shade of ruby-red. I was surprised when she gave me a whole carton to take home for myself. Surprised, because if our places were reversed, I’d have eaten all of them myself without sharing a single bite. All of us Floridians know what time it is, it’s strawberry season. We’ve the got the little beauties coming from all directions. So many it seems, that we resort to giving them away to our co-workers for goodness sake!

With my strawberries in tow, I promised my buddy at work that I would try to make something for her using her sweet gift. A few days went by and other things preoccupied my time and kitchen. One day after dinner, after everything calmed down at the house and there was nothing good on T.V., I got bored and started exploring the fridge. I had completely forgot about the promise I had made just a few days earlier. When I opened the produce drawer, it hit me! Shortbread cookies, with macerated and roasted strawberries on top. This was perfect because the strawberries were starting to lose their crimson luster.

I already knew the recipe I would use. I had read an article in Bon Appetit about one of my wish list restaurants called Faviken in Sweden. The chef, Magnus Nillson, shared a recipe for one of his favorites, whole wheat shortbread cookies. With the recipe in mind, I began taking inventory to see if I could pull if off with what I had in my pantry. These ingredients are all basic staples one should always have on hand. I tweaked a few things to give it that “Logan Flair”, but I feel like I respected the original concept and created a nutty, hearty cookie that isn’t just an empty sweet. You can make the strawberry part ahead of time, because it takes a while to pull the juices from the fruit, or you can make the dough a day or two in advance as well just to have it ready to go when the time is right.

Ingredients for Cookies

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature

Ingredients for macerated strawberries

  • 20 strawberries cut into rough chop
  • 2 Tbsp light brown cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • zest from 1/2 lemon

Preparation

  • Place strawberries, 1 Tbsp sugar, lemon juice and almond extract in a bowl. Let sit 1 hour. strain jus through sieve, into a small sauce pan on low-mid heat.  Put strawberries back in bowl and add last Tbsp of sugar. Let sit again for 15 minutes while the strawberry liquid is reducing. Strain strawberries once more into sauce pan. Let liquid reduce for another 15 minutes. Combine reduced juice/syrup and strawberries together and set aside. You should end up with a loose preserve.
  • Pre-heat oven to 400°. Whisk flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Add butter; using your fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms. Whisk egg and yolk in a bowl; add to flour mixture; stir just to blend.
  • Butter 2 non stick cookie sheets. Measure dough 2 tablespoons at a time and roll into balls. It might take a while to get used to rolling the highly crumbly dough. Be patient. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 2″ apart. Make an indentation in center of each ball; fill each with 1 teaspoon of strawberry mixture. Bake cookies until golden, 12–14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. You have to do this immediately!!! These cookies are very fragile. Don’t ruin them! 

Let me explain a few things before you go out and conquer this great recipe like a modern-day Leif Ericson. The reason I spend the time to extract the juice from the fruit, instead of just cooking everything down together in a sauce pan, is because you’ll lose that distinct strawberry flavor. All you’d end up is a sweet mushy goo, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’re going for a punchy strawberry flavor here. It really doesn’t take much effort. You can go off and do something else like make the dough while you wait. Also, I add salt instead of using salted butter because I want to feel the coarse grains in the finished product. This cookie is not what I would consider super-sweet. It’s just plain good. I described it to all that partook as a cookie/scone hybrid because those are the characteristics that I saw in the texture and taste. They might not be for everyone but they were a hit at the office. This recipe makes about 14 cookies, so do some math if it’s not enough to feed your crew. Skål!

Chocolate Chocolate Brownies!!

I know you’ve all found yourselves in the following situation before…

It’s 8:30 pm on a Wednesday night, you’re sitting on the couch, not knowing who you are anymore, watching a repeat of Gilmore Girls season 4 episode 10. You know, the one where Lorelei and Jason decide to keep their love affair a secret, then Rory gets mad at Paris for dating her professor, yeah that one. You are without question, feelin’ snacky. Dinner has been over for some time, yet you can’t help but be drawn to the fridge. You open the doors wide, nothing. You walk away and go back to the couch. Five minutes of browsing Netflix instant watch, but that fridge keeps calling. Once again you return to the fridge, and weirdly enough it’s the same as it was the first time. Time to call in the cavalry and scavenge the pantry. After browsing through the 8 bags of rice and 4 different brands of macaroni you never will use, you see a dusty box of Brownie mix. Victory is yours. All you need is an egg, some oil and you’ve got your fix. Pre-heat the oven and mix. Forty-five minutes later and it’s business time. Skip ahead to Thursday. It must be Groundhog Day because you find yourself hunting for a sweet treat at 9:14 pm. Lorelei just dropped a bomb on Rory, she finds out Rory’s boyfriend is still married even though the relationship is getting very serious. She is conflicted and won’t break-up with him. You still have 1/2 a pan of brownies from Tuesday. You go to unwrap the Saran to cut yourself a slab and find out that the dang thing is dried out and brittle. Not the soft fudgey bars of black gold you had just 2 days prior.

Here is where I start to make a point…

You bought that box of brownies and you may, at the most, get 3 days worth of edibility out of them. Of course this all depends on how many civilians you’re feeding, as well as how much guilt your conscience can handle because you alone conquered a 9×9 pan of brownies.

Or…

You could make them from scratch, using high quality ingredients that won’t make you feel like garbage later. The only drawback is that this takes slightly more time and a few extra bucks. However, most of the things you need to make a brownie, I bet you already possess.

Instead of 3 minutes of prep time, mixing your dry and wet components, then melting your chocolate and butter will take about 15 minutes max.

Assuming you have the bare basics in your pantry, it might cost $5-$10, where a boxed mix will set you back $2-$4.

Herein lies the biggest difference, and I know this to be true as I’m speaking from recent experience. I assure you, if you make the brownies from scratch, using naturally awesome ingredients, those brownies will be as moist, chewy and/or gooey as the moment they came out of the oven. Although I seriously doubt they will still be piping hot 166 hours later.

Pro Tip! *moisten a paper towel, wrap brownie in said towel. Place in oven on 250 for a few minutes and it will be perfect*

I’ll never buy a red box filled with a sack brownish grey powder again. I will however continue to use this recipe I tweaked from one I found in a book.

Chocolate Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients:

  • 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for melting in the pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 ounces Dark chocolate, chopped ( 60 %. The best you can afford)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. Pure Vanilla extract.
  • 2 Large cage-free eggs
  • 1/3 cup Organic Non Hydrogenated Vegetable based shortening.

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9″ square baking pan with butter. In a bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, set aside.
  2. Place butter and chocolate in a large heat proof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water. Heat, stirring, until smooth; remove bowl from pan. Add sugar; mix to combine. Add eggs and shortening, and mix to combine. Add flour mixture; mix just until moistened (do not over mix). Transfer batter to pan. Bang pan on counter to even batter.
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 40-45 min. If you like them cakey, I lose a little respect for you, but you can leave them in an extra 5-10 minutes. Cool in pan for 30 minutes, or as long as you can take it.

Play with the recipe. Make it with whatever mix-ins you enjoy. Just don’t give anymore money to The Duncan or Hines families, or that spinster Betty Crocker.

Mings Bistro: Restaurant or Sorcerer’s Den?

What do you do when you’re craving something you can’t have? For all you guys with their mind in the gutters, I’m talking about food of course. When you just can’t squeeze that extra $50 for a night free from the stove and the dishwasher, what do you do? What is the one dish that you just can’t cook as well as your favorite restaurant, no matter how hard you try? These are the kinds of things I think about constantly. When my mind wanders to the side of hunger and satiation, it consumes me like the third level of Inception. The only difference is my belly is my totem. Keep in mind the limits of this discussion don’t have to apply strictly to your favorites, but more on your own cooking limitations and the time it takes for preparation. For me the answer to these questions is this: The most logical conclusion as to why we all fail at some of the simplest of dishes is that, there must be some sort of spell or wizardry going on that only a few select beings know which allow them to make certain things taste so good, at least that’s how it seems to us normals.

My entries are as follows:

To make a long story short, I can’t make Peking duck. To explain why would take longer than your attention span will allow. It’s basically a 2-day process and I’m not really in the position to be able to spend that much time on a bird. That’s why I try and go to Ming’s Bistro (1212 Woodward St # 6 Orlando, FL) to get my fix. It’s some of the best duck I’ve ever had, but just speaking locally, it can’t be beat. Especially since I can’t do it any better myself.

When I crave sushi, I would not even fathom of making it at home. Here’s why:
1. I don’t trust any local fish market to have the same quality fish as any of the better sushi restaurants within a 50 mile radius.
2. If I could trust a fish monger, the cost of all the fish I’d want would be substantially higher than just buying pieces individually at a sushi bar.
3. If I could afford the fish and it was of excellent quality, I will never be able to make sushi rice anywhere near as good as the most untalented of sushi chefs.
4. I’ve tried all of the above and I stink at it. The best sushi in my area is at Shin Sushi 803 N. Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL. When I can afford sushi I go there. I will not settle for mediocre and I will do without until I can go.

For the sweet tooth:
I don’t know what else could be in this thing called an Ooey Gooey Butter from a place called Fresco’s Bakery & Bistro (132 S. Kentucky Ave Lakeland, FL 33801) but in any case it can’t be more than 5 ingredients. Why I won’t ever try to make it.
1. Making a tray might add up to 5000 calories and a couple hundred grams of fat. Butter is in the name so do the math.
2. I would eat the whole sheet at once.
3. I bar will do the trick for at least a couple months.
4. They’re only $1.50. Why make a mess?

What are your thoughts on this matter? What foods befuddle you when you try to replicate them at home, and what do the restaurants got that we don’t got?! Audience participation is strongly encouraged and lavishly rewarded (just kidding about that last part, but we will leave you a witty reply!)

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