Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cocktail Hour: Bacon-Infused Bourbon

A couple of weeks ago, Karl emailed me a link to a New York Magazine article containing a recipe for a Bacon-Infused Old-Fashioned. I had the feeling he had sent it to me for its shock value, or even in an attempt to induce his favorite response of mine (apparently, my face is capable of evincing both horror and scornful disdain simultaneously). Imagine his surprise when I emailed him back and told him that we would be conducting the experiment of infusing bourbon with bacon flavor as soon as possible!

I really, really like bourbon, and the idea of the smoky flavors of bacon mixing with the spicy aromatics of a good bourbon tickled my fancy. As the process described by New York Magazine did not seem very difficult, I thought, "Why not?"

Karl and I chose Elijah Craig bourbon for our experiment, even though Maker's Mark is my usual bourbon of choice. We felt that the powerful vanilla notes in Marker's Mark would not pair well with smoky bacon flavors. Elijah Craig lacks the vanilla and boasts a much spicier taste (think cinnamon and black pepper). We bought a hickory-smoked maple bacon for our infusion.

Essentially, the infusion process consists of cooking the bacon, and taking 1 oz. of the rendered fat (while it's hot) and pouring it into 750 mL of bourbon in a nonporous container. Then, while eating the bacon, you then let the mixture sit at room temperature for several hours, then put it in the freezer until the fats solidify on the top of the bourbon. You can then remove the fat with a slotted spoon, and voila! You have bacon-infused bourbon.

There was still a good amount of fat floating around in the bourbon (in particle form) after I had spooned out the large pieces, so I also poured the bourbon through cheesecloth to get the last bits out.

The resulting infused bourbon tasted a lot less like bacon than I thought it would. However, it took on some smoky back notes and a more viscous mouth-feel (thanks to the fat, I'm sure). Karl compared the taste and mouth-feel to a nice Scotch Whiskey. Overall, we were both very pleased.

We also took the suggestion of the New York Magazine article and made a variation of the Old Fashioned (which traditionally consists of bourbon, Angostura bitters, sugar, and a slice of orange). The variation substitutes the bacon-infused bourbon for regular and maple syrup for the sugar. What a delicious and elegant cocktail! Granted, we did not have the proper glass (you should use an old fashioned glass), but I thought the cocktail looked rather charming in a wine glass.

I will definitely be pulling this recipe out for parties, and maybe even for when I try a bourbon I'm not wild about. At the very least, it's an interesting way to get a few extra miles out of bacon fat!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fruity Booty: What to Do With 25 Pounds of Apples

"I need you to think of what we can do with 25 lbs of apples."

This was the text message I received from Karl last Friday as I was on my way to have one last relaxing day at the pool before really settling in to my law school routine. What followed was a conversation on the phone, somewhat miffed on my part and unrelentingly jubilant on his, about where he had come by a garbage-bag full of apples, just who was going to peel and cut up all those darn things, etc.

Of course, I never really felt too annoyed that he had acquired so much free fruit. He had discovered an apple tree on Duquesne University's campus and simply helped himself.

A couple of days later, we both sat down (I was still pretending to be grudging about my assistance) and started peeling with the intention of making a big pot of applesauce. We had also scored some $1-per-pound strawberries at Stan's in the Strip District of Penn Avenue that were just past their peak (but all the sweeter for it), so we were also planning to make a strawberry-applesauce.

Making apple sauce couldn't be simpler...well, unless you prefer what I call "baby food" applesauce, which has the silky smooth texture. If you like chunky apple sauce, all you need to do is chop up your peeled apples, throw them in a large pot with a few inches of water, and cook away until they are soft. Add a little salt and the spices you like to taste (we added lots of cinnamon and a few pinches of nutmeg) and you are on your way! We used a potato masher to help break down our apples, but some apples, I am told, will simply break down on their own. If you have sweet apples like we did, you probably don't need to add much, if any, sugar. Tarter apples can handle more sugar (Disregard the latter two sentences if you like your applesauce super sweet). We added about 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar, which gave our applesauce a lovely golden brown color.

For the strawberry apple sauce, we sliced up the strawberries and began cooking them down separately from the apples. Then, when the strawberries and apples were soft, we added a few cups of the soft apples to the strawberries. We also added a little brown sugar to this, but I don't think we needed it. No spices necessary either! I must say, of the two, the strawberry applesauce is my favorite. We made buckwheat pancakes the next morning and put the strawberry applesauce on them, and wow, was that delicious!

We also set aside a good number of apples to make an apple cake (recipe courtesy of Karl's mother) and an apple pie. I haven't made the apple pie yet, and I may mix in some apples from the store because, though these apples from Duquesne are as sweet as sweet can be, they are completely devoid of any acidity. For my tastes, a little tartness in an apple pie is absolutely vital. I also felt that the applesauce was a bit lacking for this reason, but it still tasted great. There's nothing like "free" to make something taste better (I'm starting to sound like my sometimes freegan sister!).

The apple cake turned out wonderfully. I got to use my bundt cake pan finally (I have had the darn thing for 5 years and I've never once used it until this week). We put it out for my and my roommate Ruchi's No-Meat-Week potluck/recipe exchange extravaganza, and everyone who made it to dessert (we had a lot of food!) and had a piece of cake really enjoyed it. The cake is moist and just sweet enough. My sister said it needed a glaze of some sort (an optional one was included in the recipe, but I decided against using it at Karl's behest), though I had a slice with vanilla ice cream and thought it tasted just heavenly. I'll definitely be adding that recipe to my collection of keepers, and I hope you will give it a try, too, if you are of the baking bent.

Apple Cake
(from the kitchen of Helen Andersen)

1 & 1/6 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
4 medium-sized apples, sliced fine and roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325˚F.

Mix the oil, sugar, and eggs together, and beat on low speed with electric hand mixer until well-blended. Fold in the apples and chopped nuts. Sift the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then and stir in to other ingredients, also adding the vanilla. Grease and flour your baking pan(s). Bake in two 9-inch pans for 35-40 minutes, or 1-13x9 inch pan for 45 minutes. You may also bake in a bundt pan for 35-40 minutes. Test with a toothpick for doneness.

Side Note: I just noticed that Helen's recipe actually says to place your cake batter in a cold oven, set the dial to 325˚F and keep it in there for 45 minutes. I will be trying this method next time!

Glaze (optional)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla

Melt butter with light brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the evaporated milk and allow the mixture to come to a full boil for 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat, and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes. Add vanilla and mix well. Frost cake.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How to Make Eggrolls

My brother's former roommate Helen taught me how to make egg rolls! Perhaps this isn't the most mysterious kind of food, but I have definitely had difficulty maneuvering those little wonton wrappers in such a way that they don't explode. I have had some small success with steaming them, but frying is a whole different matter.

Helen taught me how to roll the egg rolls properly and tightly in order to prevent the wonton wrappers from coming apart during the frying process. She scared me a little when she was tasting her filling for saltiness (it contained raw pork, and I don't recommend trying this at home!), but boy, oh boy, were those egg rolls delicious when finished. We took the egg rolls to a really delightful "Arrested Development"-themed party (complete with chocolate-dipped frozen bananas with accompanying stand!) where they were, of course, a big hit. Who doesn't like delicious, greasy finger food with their caipirhinas? Yum!

Helen has told me what she puts in her egg roll filling, but I can't remember it off the top of my head, so I sort of made up my own. I think it's close enough. Try your own favorite flavors, though...egg rolls are very versatile, so make the filling to your own taste.

I've included a step-by-step "How to Roll" photo series. I'm a visual learner when it comes to cooking and baking, so I figure others out there would appreciate a visualization of the process, too. Also, as you know, hot oil is dangerous and can burn you very badly if enough of it makes contact with your skin. Please exercise extreme caution when frying on the stove.

Mini Egg Rolls
1 lb fresh ground pork
1/2 lb raw shrimp, chopped well
1 cup finely shredded carrots
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
generous salt and pepper, to taste (but please beware of tasting raw meat and eggs!)
2 eggs
1 TBSP soy sauce
1 TBSP fish sauce
1 package of triangle shaped wonton wrappers (available in Asian markets and some other grocery stores in the frozen or refrigerated sections).
several cups of oil (vegetable, canola, peanut...whatever you like to fry with)

Mix all ingredients (except wonton wrappers and oil). Mixing with hands is, in my opinion, the best, but if you don't like getting your hands messy, a wooden spoon will do. If you mix with your hands, remember to wash thoroughly with soap and hot water afterwards.

Prepare a space for rolling the egg rolls. Make sure to keep the wonton wrappers moist (if you roll quickly, this isn't a problem, but wonton wrappers dry out easily. I find it easier to keep a damp paper towel covering them, and have an assistant separating each wrapper from the stack as I need it). Place the wonton wrapper flat and spoon about a tablespoon of filling into the center. Shape it with your fingers into an egg-roll-shaped-log.

Take the right corner of the wonton wrapper and fold it across towards the left corner of the wonton wrapper very tightly. Do the same with the left corner, bringing it towards the right. There will be a bit of corner hanging over. Fold it back on itself so there is no wonton hanging over on either side.

Using your fingers in the center, tuck the wonton wrapper tightly into itself and roll towards the top point of the triangle. Continually check to make sure the roll is tight. Make it as tight as you can!

When you reach the end of the triangle, dip your finger in a dish of water and lightl brush the triangle tip to help seal it. You don't need much water.

There you have it: your first egg roll! Put it aside on a plate or in a shallow dish, and keep on rolling until you run out of filling or wonton wrappers. If you have leftover filling, you can use it in a stir fry or something.

Once all your egg rolls are rolled, heat 3 or 4 inches of oil in large or medium size heavy-duty sauce pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot enough, carefully place the egg rolls into the hot oil. You'll have to work in batches. Only put as many in as you can fit in one layer. Watch the egg rolls carefully. When they reach a delightful golden brown color, they are done. Remove the cooked egg rolls to a plate lined with paper towels (to absorb the grease). Allow to cool for a few minutes before taking a test bite.

Continue with the rest of the egg rolls until they are all cooked, then take them to a party and watch them disappear!