Monday, September 21, 2015

Oreos and the Grand Rheological Study of Frosting

Recently, after talking to a friend, I was left wondering what I would sell if I could market any of my crafty confectionary crafts. As difficult as this may be to believe, my favorite treats to bake are Whoopie Pies and not Cupcakes, so I started pondering just how viable of a product they could be. While I think the flavor is top notch (especially the coffee version), they do have a tragic flaw in that the filling is far too soft for longevity and transport outside of being nearly constantly refrigerated. Clearly, the best way to approach this would be a comprehensive scientific experiment comparing how various filling respond to stress, shear, and warmth. Or I could just make two different ones, eat a bunch of cookies, and let my stomach brain decide.

Chocolate, sugar, and butter. Yes please.
Adapted from Flour owner Joanne Chang
Servings: ~ 20-25 oreos
Time: 4 hours (inactive for 3)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
Fluffy buttercream
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Buttercream Filling
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp milk
Pinch of salt

Your log of dough presented without further comment...
  1. Whisk the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl until combined. Then whisk in the vanilla and melted chocolate. Stir in the egg until fully incorporated.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together.
  3. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mix with a wooden spoon until a thick dough forms. 
  4. Realize you forgot to add half of the butter, hastily add the rest, and pray to God it doesn't affect the final results, but vow to not let your readers make the same mistake by actually writing how many sticks it is...
  5. Cover and set aside for 1 hour at room temp until firm.
  6. Put the dough on a long sheet of parchment paper and roll it out into a rough log approximately 10" long by 2.5" in diameter. 
  7. Laugh at what your rough log looks like because you are an adult.
  8. Put the log at one of the edges of the parchment paper. Then roll it up and into a nicer log fully covered by the parchment paper.
  9. Refrigerate for 2 hours. You may need to re-roll it every 15-20 minutes or so to maintain its shape. I highly recommend you just be lazy and roll the dice. 
  10. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  11. Cut the dough into 1/4" thick pieces. Then place the slices on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and space them ~ 1" apart.
  12. Bake for 17-20 minutes. Take them out when they are firm when touched in the center. Let them cool on the cookie sheets so they firm up slightly more. Be careful not to overbake them. 
  13. Make the filling by beating the butter on low speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 30 seconds. Add in the vanilla and powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk and salt until you have a somewhat thick yet spreadable mixture.
  14. Put ~ 1 tbsp of filling in between two fairly consistently shaped cookies and make your cookie sandwich.
  15. Prepare the other filling 
They look so lonely without the cream filling.
Let's start with discussion of the cookies. These were super tasty Oreo substitutes that were definitely worth the effort. I did find them to be a little salty, but that could be a major plus for those who are super into the whole salty-sweet combo (or you could drop the salt to 1/2 tsp if that's not your thing). The chocolate really came through, and the resulting taste was a beautiful mix of brownie and traditional Oreo. Structurally, the cookies highly resembled their Oreo counterparts, so be careful as they may be somewhat brittle if you try to break them or cut them up. The accompanying crunch was just begging to be counterbalanced by delicious creamy filling, and fortunately, we had two options.

Oreo Filling
Also the world's most delicious caulk.
From King Arthur Flour
Servings: just barely enough
Time: 5 minutes

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cold water, or enough to bring the filling together

  1. Beat together the sugar, shortening, salt, and vanilla until you have large dry crumbs. 
  2. Add the water and beat until stiff but spreadable. 
  3. This is best used by first rolling into a ball and then smushing between two cookies. 
Traditional Oreo filling that is resistive to the elements

The much fluffier and sweeter buttercream counterpart
Each filling presented its own unique strengths and weaknesses. The buttercream filling from Flour was by far the sweeter and tastier of the two, which worked wonders with the aforementioned salty cookie. However, it was still like any other buttercream and would likely not respond to warmth as well, although it did handle being out in room temp for an entire work day pretty well (and much better than my usual cream cheese based ones would have). On the other hand, the more traditional, shortening based Oreo filling was an almost exact rendering of the product we all know and love. It was essentially a brick wall when it came to heat and force to deliver the best prospects for future sales. Unfortunately, it was the clear loser in the taste department (although still quite good) as the buttercreams disappeared far more rapidly. With some tinkering, though, I think this could be exactly what I was looking for. Perhaps some hybridization of the two would provide exactly the balance I seek, or maybe some additional flavors being incorporated could sweeten things up just the right amount. Despite some remaining questions, this was a rare experiment where everyone came out a winner.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Chicken Gyros

Every year, Lay's subjects our overly curious and gluttonous selves to some of the weirdest combinations in the history of chips with their "Do us a Flavor" contest. Despite the fact I should've known better after last year's winner, the disaster known as "Wasabi Ginger", I still found myself compelled to run the flavor gamut this year with Reuben (tastes like vienna sausage but works surprisingly well with beer), Southern Biscuits and Gravy (tastes surprisingly like gravy and is my favorite of the bunch), and Gyro (imagine dusting a chip with the gyro seasoning and some tzatziki leading to mostly positive results).

Following my brave trek to questionable Flavortown, I found myself in charge of making dinner for the evening. Utterly devoid of the ability to think for myself due to "chip belly", I drew inspiration from my day's adventure and decided to make some Gyros. Given a lack of ground lamb and the ever present and judging wedding diet, I decided the healthier chicken variety was the way to go.

Would Lay's evil finally lead to something good, or would "chip belly" be my undoing?

Chicken Gyros
Adapted from All Recipes
Servings: 4 Gyros
Time:  2 hours (inactive for ~ 90)

16 oz Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, peeled chopped
1 1/2 tsp dill weed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

I <3 you, tzatziki
The Rest
4 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of one lemon
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dried oregano
Pinch of red chili flakes
Salt and pepper
4 Pita rounds
1 tomato, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1 red onion, sliced
lettuce, shredded

  1. Get your greatest inspiration of the day from potato chips and question your life.
  2. Prep the tzatziki by blending the Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper together in a blender until smooth. Refrigerate until ready.
  3. Make your chicken marinade by whisking the garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes together in a bowl. Cover the chicken with the marinade in a large ziploc bag or bowl, tossing to coat. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
  4. Preheat your oven's broiler and position the top rack ~ 6 inches from it.
  5. Broil the chicken (removing excess marinade first) on a baking sheet lined with foil for 2-4 minutes per side until it is lightly browned and cooked throughout. 
  6. Heat up your pitas rounds for ~1-2 minutes per side in a pan over medium heat until warmed throughout. 
  7. Top your pita with chicken, tomato, cucumber, red onion, lettuce, and glorious tzatziki.
The amount of tzatziki was tripled following the picture.
These chicken gyros were exactly what I was looking for and far exceeded the day's earlier potato chip witchcraft. Surrounding meat, cheese, and fresh, crunchy veggies with warm pita bread is one of the greatest ways to dine, but the true star was the creamy, smooth, cucumber-packed tzatzki sauce that I will now attempt to put into tiny packets that I carry with me to put on everything.

Robin's preferred method of eating a gyro was far more efficient but far less appetizing. It looks like it's talking to me with a full mouth.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Slow Cooker Butter Chicken Sliders

My first introduction to butter chicken came during one of my many pre-move visits to Charleston. While looking for proper sustenance, I was shocked to find that (thanks to her busy doctory schedule) the only safely edible thing Robin had in her fridge was some butter chicken that her mother had made for her. Fortunately for me and my tummy, my future mother-in-law is quite adept at making delicious Indian food, so I was in an amazing treat.

Following a long week of work, I wanted to welcome Robin back with this favorite comfort food of hers while giving it an American (and lazy) twist.

Slow Cooker Butter Chicken Sliders
Adapted from Kiwi and Bean
Time: 5-7 Hours
Servings: Happy hour amounts of sliders
So many spices

3-4 tbsp butter (pick how "healthy")
1 onion, diced
5 cloves glarlic, crushed
2 thumb-size pieces of ginger, peeled and grated
3 tsp garam masala
2 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp cayenne
15 oz coconut milk
5 oz tomato paste
Not pictured: mango chutney
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
1- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp cornstarch
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Sriracha to taste
Red Cabbage, shredded
Jalapenos or other spicy pepper, sliced
Mango Chutney
Cucumbers, sliced
Slider Buns

The heart of butter chicken

  1. Get really bored while your fiance is working out of town.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion until tender and translucent. Stir in the garlic and ginger. Cook until the onion are browned, stirring frequently to keep from burning. 
  3. Coat with the garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant. 
  4. Pour in the coconut milk and tomato paste. Mix until smooth. Then bring to a boil. 
  5. Transfer the sauce to a slow cooker along with the chicken.
  6. Cook over low for ~ 5 hours until the chicken is very tender.
  7. Remove the chicken and shred. 
  8. Whisk the cornstarch into the sauce in the slow cooker, ramp the heat to high and let thicken. 
  9. Return the chicken to the sauce and coat well. Add salt, pepper, and sriracha to taste. You'll likely need a lot of salt.
  10. Assemble your sliders with chicken, red cabbage, jalapeno, cilantro, mango, chutney, and cucumbers on preferably toasted buns.
  11. Be amazed at how much more amazing they taste the second day.
One day I'll use the book Robin gave me on food photography, so you can stop enjoying shadows in pics.
The veggie toppings provided wonderful freshness, flavor, and crispiness reminiscent of a banh mi, while the mango chutney added a nice hint of sweetness to keep the fire at bay. As with most slow-cooker made deliciousness, the results were even more amazing the second day once the flavors had a little more time to meld together. To make these even more awesome, I would either try to incorporate some yogurt into the mix or try to emulate a nice banh mi a little more by using char-grilled chicken instead of shredded (thus pretty much nullifying the entire recipe and its inherent laziness!). Despite some very minor room for improvement, these provided many days of magnificently tasty and spicy leftovers that I never found myself tiring of. More importantly, they seemed to satisfy and not offend Robin's love of butter chicken.