Saturday, June 25, 2016

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Carrot cake is one of those desserts that you don't feel quite as guilty about eating. After all, it does have servings of vegetable in it. It's also easy to make if you have all the spices and especially if you have leftover carrots that need to be used. I usually like making it in cupcake form because they're easier to serve if you make it for an event and they don't look as odd if you choose not to frost them. Even though carrot cake pairs well with cream cheese frosting, I really like that this recipe is still good on its own. It makes a moist cake with just enough sweetness that frosting isn't absolutely necessary. You can add walnuts as a topping instead. If you are not using frosting, you also want to be careful of not over baking or else you lose the cake moisture. Of course, carrot cake isn't the same without cream cheese frosting so I still included it with this recipe.


Carrot cupcakes
(Makes about 18-24 cupcakes)
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 pound carrots (about 6 medium), peeled and grated (about 3 cups)

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 cups confectioners' sugar

Directions

For the Cupcakes

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard-sized muffin pan with baking cup liners. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves together in a medium bowl.

2. Beat the eggs, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture turns thick and creamy, 1 to 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly beat in the oil until thoroughly combined and emulsified, 30 to 60 seconds.

3. Sift half of the flour mixture over the batter and gently whisk in by hand. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and continue to whisk the batter gently until most of the lumps are gone, do not overmix. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir in the carrots.

4. Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 22-24 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time.

5. Cool the cupcakes in the pan on a wire rack for about 5-10 minutes. Remove the cupcakes directly onto the wire rack and cool to room temperature.


For the Cream Cheese Frosting

1. Mix the cream cheese and vanilla together in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until thoroughly combined and smooth.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mac & Cheese - using sodium citrate

The typical mac & cheese that you can make from scratch is started by making a roux, which is a thickener usually made with a mixture of butter and flour. This method doesn't always make the smoothest cheese texture, but with molecular gastronomy there is a way to more closely match the texture of boxed macaroni & cheese. You need an ingredient called sodium citrate.

Sodium citrate is an emulsifying salt that's often used in the dairy industry to improve cheese texture and reduce the amount of separation that occurs. So how does it work? To understand the mechanism, we need to get into a little biochemistry. Casein is the primary protein component of milk and cheese. Biochemically, it is rather hydrophobic and likes to join up with other casein proteins to form micelles, single layer spherical membranes with hydrophilic portions of the protein pointed outwards and hydrophilic portions pointed inwards towards a non-polar core (in this case, milk fat). When rennet or acids are added to milk, the hydrophilic ends are lopped off or denatured, making the casein very hydrophobic. The now extra hydrophobic casein proteins begin associating with each other due to hydrophobic interactions and make curds and eventually cheese.

In cheese, the casein proteins are tightly bound with each other and each protein contains and inorganic calcium component. Sodium citrate sequesters the calcium from casein and replaces it with sodium, making the protein slightly less hydrophobic and more hydrophilic. This causes the proteins to interact more readily with water and weaken their association with each other, allowing for a looser protein framework. This loosened framework translates to a smooth and silkier cheese sauce.

Ultimately, by using this one ingredient, making mac & cheese from scratch becomes a whole lot easier.

Mac & cheese
Adapted from Modernist Cuisine

Ingredients

265 g or 265 mL/1 1/8 cups water or milk
11 g Sodium citrate
285 g or 4 cups Cheddar cheese
Water as needed to cook pasta
240 g or 2 cups dry macaroni
Salt to taste

Directions

1. Combine water/milk with the sodium citrate in a pot, whisk to dissolve, and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. Add cheese into simmering liquid gradually until melted
3. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta and cook al dente according to the package directions, 5-6 minutes.
4. Drain pasta but do not rinse it.
5. Stir in warm cheese sauce, and fold any accompaniments you wish to add.
6. Season mac and cheese with salt, and serve immediately.

For our mac & cheese, we served it with sauteed spinach and mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, chicken sausage, and garnished with chives. Celantani pasta also works well in lieu of macaroni.


Monday, March 16, 2015

10 Ideas for Cooking Inspiration



Considering our blog's name is Cooking Inspiration, we thought it's fitting to write about what inspires us when we cook and bake. There are so many outlets to get recipes from and sometimes it's hard to narrow down what you're actually looking for. Even when you have go-to recipes, it's good to change it up once in a while, and there are days where we wonder, what should we make today? Here are 10 ideas to look for some inspiration.


1. Media - Books, magazines, websites, television shows, etc.

There are countless sources for recipes in the media like recipe books, food magazines, food blogs, and cooking shows. Start browsing a few that you find interesting, try some recipes, and soon enough you'll have favorites that you rely on more often. Some examples of sources we use are Serious Eats, America's Test Kitchen, Food Wishes, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, and Jacques P├ępin's Complete Technique.

2. Make your way through an entire cookbook

It's easy to buy a cookbook and then at most make only handful of dishes from it. Challenge yourself by making sure you go through all the recipes from start to finish. You'll have more variety in what you make and chances are that you'll also learn something new.

3. Look to your favorite chefs

People usually have a few favorite chefs. There are countless renown chefs and most of them have cookbooks or television shows. It helps narrow down your sources if you're looking for recipes from a specific chef and you'll be more interested to find ideas from your favorite ones.

4. Reinvent/modify existing recipes

Once you get the hang of cooking and baking, you'll start to become familiar with how to modify recipes according to your preferences and what you know tastes good. Recipes you find become a base or just guidelines to help you create something you might start to make regularly. If you're more of a beginner baker or cook, it makes sense to follow recipes more closely at first, but you can still reinvent or modify them by making variations of recipes or making small adjustments. For example, you can take inspiration from other cuisines to reinvent a dish. We've created burritos using Korean style fried chicken we made combined with rice and pickled nappa cabbage, radish and carrot as the filling. One of our variations of recipes is a combination of flan and panna cotta or flanna cotta.

5. Recreate a dish you've had at a restaurant

Sometimes you have a delicious dish from a restaurant that you'd want to eat it again. What better way than to recreate it and make it yourself? You can look for a similar recipe or create one on your own based on your memory of the dish. For example, we tried recreating a halibut dish with an aromatic spice broth from Jean-Georges in NY. We ended up creating our own aromatic spice broth by using what we knew about the dish, which had a light curry flavor and included zucchini, and added ingredients that we knew went well with those flavors like jalapeno pepper and lemongrass.

6. Work with complementing flavors

We can easily see that some ingredients pair well with others like peanut butter and jelly, but some combinations are not as intuitive until you try them together. Savory ingredients tend to pair well with sweet ingredients, and there are some ingredients, like bacon, that go well with many other things. Some flavors that work well together in desserts include strawberry and tarragon, raspberry and thyme, maple and bacon, and green tea and white chocolate.

7. Create dishes based on ingredients you have on hand

More often than not, you probably have what seems like a random list of ingredients in the fridge which are likely left over from dishes you've made recently. Some of those ingredients may actually go together and help you make something new. It's also great to know how to cook with few ingredients and make do with what you have.

8. Family recipes/childhood favorites

Your parents, grandparents or relatives may have recipes they've passed down for generations or they might make something often enough that they know the ingredients and proportions by heart. Now all you have to do is ask your family for a recipe or learn how to make it from them. There may even be some favorite dishes you've had growing up that you can now learn how to make yourself.

9. Experiment with new ingredients

Some ingredients can be very exotic or unfamiliar because you've never used them before. It can be fun to experiment with these kinds of ingredients to learn or try something new. You can also use ingredients in recipes you wouldn't normally think to find them in. New ingredients that we've tried include celeriac (also called celery root), kohlrabi, and dandelion greens. We turned celeriac into a mash much like mashed potatoes, used kohlrabi as a replacement for cabbage in slaw, and stir fried dandelion greens Asian style with minced garlic and served with oyster sauce. We've also used beets as a main ingredient to make vegan red velvet cake.

10. Learn and use new techniques, equipment and non-traditional ingredients

Another fun thing about cooking is learning to use new techniques and equipment that allow you to make something interesting. Recently, we've been playing with dry and wet brining, sous vide cooking and sodium citrate. Brining, whether wet or dry, seasons meat and allows it to retain its moisture during cooking. Sous vide cooking uses a hot water circulator and allows food to be cooked and held at their ideal temperature (this does a lot of interesting things with regards to texture and flavor; in general, very delicious things). Lastly, sodium citrate is an emulsifying salt seen in products like Velveeta and Kraft Singles; we use it in lieu of a roux in macaroni and cheese and it allows for a cleaner cheese flavor as well as some interesting cheese combinations. Trying new things gives you the opportunity to make something better and more delicious, and isn't that what becoming a better cook is all about?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Meatless Meatballs

Vegetarian dishes can be just as good as their meaty counterparts. Meatless meatballs is one good example of a dish that has similar texture to regular meatballs, but instead of meat, it's mostly made of mushrooms. Cooking down and subsequent browning of the mushrooms give these vegetarian meatballs a meaty flavor and texture. 

Meatless Meatballs
From Chef John

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound fresh white mushrooms, finely chopped
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1 ounce very finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, packed
2 eggs, divided
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 pinch dried oregano
3 cups pasta sauce
1 tablespoon very finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or to taste
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, or to taste

Directions
1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms to the hot oil, sprinkle with salt, and cook and stir until liquid from mushrooms has evaporated. Stir butter into mushrooms, reduce heat to medium, and cook and stir mushrooms until golden brown, about 5 minutes.


2. Stir onion into mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir garlic into mushroom mixture until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl.


3. Mix oats into mushroom mixture until thoroughly combined.

Gently stir 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into mixture.

Add bread crumbs, 1/4 cup parsley, and 1 egg; season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and oregano. Mix together with a fork until crumbly. Stir in remaining 1 egg. Mixture should hold together when pressed.



4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours. For best flavor and texture, refrigerate overnight.
5. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
6. Form mixture into small meatballs using a 2-tablespoon scoop. Roll meatballs lightly between your hands until smooth, if desired; arrange meatballs on prepared baking sheet.

7. Bake in the preheated oven until meatballs are lightly golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

8. Bring pasta sauce to a boil in a large saucepan; reduce heat to low. Gently stir meatballs into sauce until coated. Simmer meatballs in sauce until cooked through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with 1 tablespoon Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and 1 tablespoon parsley.

Notes

-Baking the meatless meatballs is the healthier route, but, alternatively, if you want to cook them faster, you can fry them in oil until brown and then finish them in a pasta sauce.
-If you add a good amount of salt in the beginning when you are drawing out the liquid from the mushrooms, it's best to slightly decrease the amount of salt that you add later on or else the meatballs will be too salty.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pad Thai



 

It may sound intimidating to make because it incorporates some ingredients a typical household may not have, but Pad Thai is actually a simple and quick meal. Once all the prep work is done, everything comes together in a stir fry and lunch or dinner is ready in less than an hour total. There are many variations of Pad Thai recipes, some with varying ingredients or different proportions of ingredients, so chances are that you may need to tweak a recipe to your liking. I've found that there's a lot of variability in tamarind paste strength so the amount used in the recipe can change. Personally, I've been using a concentrated tamarind paste (shown right) that I bought from Whole Foods so the amount I put is cut down. When I used watery tamarind concentrate from an Asian supermarket, I needed to increase the amount to 1/4 cup. With regards to the sugar, palm sugar adds a bit more complexity to the dish than white sugar; it adds molasses notes and makes the sauce more overtly sweet.

Pad Thai
Adapted from Chef Jet Tila's recipe

Ingredients
About 8 oz rice stick noodles
Vegetable oil for stir frying
4 cloves garlic, minced
Choice of protein, about 4 oz
2 eggs
2 scallions, cut into 2 inch strips
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 cup bean sprouts, for garnishing
Lime wedges, for garnishing
Sauce:
1/4 cup palm sugar/5 tablespoons of white sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon tamarind
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon sriracha (optional)

Directions

For the sauce:

In a  small bowl, combine all ingredients together making sure the sugar is somewhat dissolved. Set aside.

For the noodles:

1. In a large bowl, soak the rice noodles in boiling water until just before the noodles reach al dente. Drain the water and set aside.
2. Place a wok or large pan over high heat and coat the pan with vegetable oil. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.
3. Add protein and cook until no longer pink. It's okay if the protein isn't fully done. It will finish cooking as you continue making the stir fry.
4. Push the protein to the side of the pan and allow the oil to settle in the center of the pan.
5. Crack the eggs into the pan and mix them only enough to break the yolks and lightly scramble until half cooked. Add the scallion whites and cook until slightly browned (they cook pretty quickly)
6. Add the drained noodles to the pan and then add the sauce. Fold the ingredients together so that everything is incorporated until the noodles absorb all the liquid.
7. Add the rest of the scallions, allowing them to steam for 30 seconds.
8. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the peanuts.
9. Transfer to serving plate and garnish with bean sprouts and remaining peanuts. If you don't have bean sprouts or you don't like them, feel free to omit. Garnish with a lime wedge.


Enjoy!