Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Cloud 9 - Huckleberry Meringues

So before I was laid low by illness, I had thrown together a quick dessert. Quick being a relative term. I simply combined bits of two separate things to make something new.

I make soft meringue a lot. Mainly to be folded into dry ingredients in a foam cake or for Lemon Meringue Pie, but the beauty of Meringue is that, depending on the sugar ratio, it can be hard as a rock, crispy yet still melt on your tongue like a cloud plucked from the sky.

Soft meringues are usually based on an equal amount of sugar to egg whites, where as hard meringue usually contains up to 4 times sugar than egg white. They are then dried in a "slow" oven (being about 150-175 degrees) for about 2 hours, until hard and crisp. The nice thing is that these base shells will store for 2 weeks, if kept in a sealed container, away from moisture.

For a filling, I chose Huckleberries, 2 different ways. I first made my basic Huckleberry Sauce that I used on my Brussels Waffles a while back (Which is really a saucier version of what I use for my Huckleberry Tart). For Half of it, I folded in 1 cup of unsweetened Whipped Heavy Cream to lighten the texture. For the Second batch of Meringue shells, I simple added the tart filling and topped with A dollop of whipped cream.

Huckleberry Meringues

1/2 cup Egg Whites
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Cream of Tarter
1 3/4 cups Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 TB Distilled Vinegar

Beat egg Whites with Salt until foamy, then add the cream of tarter.

Continue beating until soft peaks are formed, then slowly add the sugar in a steady stream.

Once the sugar is incorporated, continue beating while adding the Vanilla Extract.

Finally, to stabilize the foam, add the Distilled Vinegar.

You're gonna have yourself a REALLY thick Meringue.

Move the mass into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.

Pipe rounds onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Then Pipe stars around the edge to form a "pie shell"

Place in a 150-175 degree oven for about 2 hours to dry.
Voila! Hard Meringues.

Store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Fill with your favorite filling such as Huckleberry, or Cherry Pie filling, even a cooked apple pie filling (though it's a little sweet), or better, Rhubarb pie filling (this cuts the sweetness of the meringues a little better)


Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Wanna Be a Cowboy......

And you can be my Cowgirl... er, I mean, Cookie....

Bad 80's Music aside, I apologize for not being around the last week. Not only was I tinkering, like a mad scientist, with Hot Air Poppers and Green Coffee Beans, but it appears that after 13 years of living in San Diego, I am no longer resistant to Pacific Northwest pollen... Oye! Whether 'twas sinus infection or an actual cold, I have been feeling wretched for the last week.

Then I suddenly remembered something of importance, through my Sudafed induced haze. (Yes, I crossed the border and got the REAL stuff from Washington cause that Sudafed PE junk is worthless) Anyway, the point is that, though I was doped up on Sudafed, so I could breath, the pseudoephedra cloud lifted just long enough for me to remember that I already had, in my possession, the perfect medication for a sinus issues...

OK, bear with me now, cause my logic is a little questionable (I was drugged up, remember?) So, since sinus pain is the byproduct of the pressure created by swollen membranes caused by a histamine reaction within the blood vessels, I decided that it might be wise to increase my circulation. How do I do this? Well via chocolate of course, cause Theobromine dilates blood vessels. Not to mention chocolate is full of antioxidants and flavinoids which will make me healthier. Right?

Oh, and since I am SO health conscious about these sorts of things, I figured as long as I was at it, I would improve my serum cholesterol levels too by consuming oat fiber. Yeah... Make that arteriol plaque a thing of the past! Thus, increasing blood flow even more... YAY!!! And walnuts, I need walnuts because they contain tannins which are antiviral and antibacterial. Yep, it was settled.... I need Cowboy Cookies.

OK, so my logic is a little twisted, but it made sense at the time. Gimme a break. LOL

I have NO idea why these are called cowboy cookies, but the recipe is my Great Grandmother Ruby's who traveled, via covered wagon, down the Oregon Trail to The Dalles, OR when she was a little girl at the turn of the century (the 1900 one). I assume that she actually KNEW real cowboys, and probably knew why the cookies had been given their peculiar name. Alas, that tidbit of information was not passed down and the internet has been less than helpful in deciphering the mystery surrounding the name. Although I did notice there seem to be a lot of "Cowboy cookie" recipes that include coconut. This perplexes me. Where is a cowboy going to get coconut? Yet another mystery. But one that points to the fact that cowboy cookies may not have been named so, because cowboys ate them. Hmmmm

Luckily, though the origin may remain elusive, at least the recipe has been passed down, intact from G G Ruby, to Grandma Reva, to my Mom and finally to me... Woo Hoo!

So here is my Great Grandma Ruby's Cowboy Cookie recipe. They're good for what ails ya. Oh, and as an added bonus, they go GREAT with Freshly Roasted Coffee... ;)

Cowboy Cookies

8 oz Unsalted Butter
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla extract
2 Cups AP Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
2 Cups Quick Oatmeal
12 oz 63% Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (or higher) Not Semi-Sweet, they usually contain milk which will aggravate sinus problems
1 cup Chopped Walnuts

As with all cookies, the best place to start is by preheating the oven to 350 degrees; after which, begin creaming the butter and both sugars together until they are light and fluffy.

Add the eggs and vanilla, beating until incorporated

Whisk the flour, baking soda and baking powder together in a small bowl, then add slowly to the mix.

Mix until a soft sticky dough is formed.

From here, I fold in the remaining ingredients, starting with the oatmeal.

Once the oatmeal is distributed evenly, add the chocolate chips and fold some more.

Now if your not a nut fan, you can simply stop here.... They will spread a little more in the oven, but they will still be delicious. :)

But I come from a loooooooong line of nut hounds, so I always add the walnuts.

Using a cookie scoop, measure out the dough onto parchment lined baking sheets, keeping at least 2 inches between the cookie mounds.

Bake for 13 minutes, until golden; then cool on a rack.... (although I like them best when the are still slightly warm and the chocolate is still gooey)

I'm not really a Doctor, I just play one on this blog.... So if you are feeling under the weather for any reason. Take 2 of these and call me in the morning. :) It worked for me.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cool Beans! - Empowering The People

To everyone out there in the Blog-verse, this is a really long one.... But your patience with my meandering mind will be rewarded......

I know it will come as a surprise to you all, that I tend to be just a little...

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

opinionated about food & wine. (This is where you raise the back of your hand to your mouth and gasp in utter shock and dismay) ;)

But, (you can drop your hand now) what should not come as a surprise is that I absolutely adore coffee in all it's shapes & forms... In fact, I have 3 more posts, regarding various brewing methods, waiting in the wings, but they are all in various states of incompleteness. LOL

However, one that I have finally completed, as you may have guessed, has to do with my slightly cryptic Something Wicked-Awesome, This way Comes post.

A long time ago (10 months) in a galaxy far far away (San Diego).... I was wandering through the concrete jungle (Gaslamp Quarter) when I chanced across my favorite watering hole (Pannikin). The beauty of Pannikin is that they roast their own coffee (in the back), but on THIS day, they happened to have a small 1 lb roaster sitting out front of the shop. It was happily tumbling some green beans around a glass chamber, using hot air to roast the coffee. That was when the gigantic light bulb went off above my head. (blinding all innocent unsuspecting pedestrians within a 3 block radius)

If spinning hot air is a common method of roasting coffee, then why could you not use a Hot air popcorn popper?

Being somewhat familiar with popcorn mechanics, I assumed that the element would provide enough heat. I mean it's hot enough to transform the water in the popcorn into steam thus producing that satisfying "POP" sound and providing light and fluffy kernels that are much more palatable than their un-popped counterparts. But would the fan be strong enough to move the coffee beans around the chamber properly to provide an even roast? Or worse than uneven roasting, would the beans sit there and burn? Yikes! These were all questions that I took to the Oracle? (The Internet) So I began to read and read and read.... And then a bunch of life altering stuff happened and experimentation was halted.

So now it is 10 months later, and I have a functioning Hot air popper of the proper design and here we go!!!!!

The Coffee - I ordered from 2 places... Mr. Green Beans and U-Roast-Em. Armed with 1 lb each of Mexican Chiapas and Yemen Mocha Harazi

as well as Gualamalan Huehuetenango and Tanzanian (not peaberry - Highly overrated and inconsistent)

I chose to start with my favorite - Guatamalan Huehuetenango (from further north than Antigua) The Chiapas and Huehuetenango are similar coffees as they are geographically close, however the Huehuetenango (way-way-teh-nawn-go) has a little more body than the Chiapas - A peppery aroma; almost smoky that blends well with the savory spiciness. Very mild in acidity. Hinting at Chocolate and Caramel. THIS is my cup of standard "Joe"; Sadly, most pre-roasted Huehuetenango is on the lighter side... Just like Antigua... But I like mine just shy of "Full city" (medium dark).

I hear a questions forming.... "Do you have to roast all 4 lbs of that coffee?" and "How are you gonna drink that much coffee before it becomes stale?"
Well as to the first one.... Nope, unlike roasted coffee, green coffee will store, without issue, at room temperature for a year; where as roasted coffee goes stale in about 1 week. Pretty wicked awesome huh?

As for the second question.... heh heh... I drink A LOT of coffee... ;)

OK, so we have Green Coffee and a Hot Air Popper - Speaking of which... I recommend that it be at least 1250 watts, although the holy grail of air poppers seems to be West Bend's "The Poppery" 1500 watt model. The most important thing is the design. The Proctor-Silex and West Bend models have vents in the sides and blow around the bottom of the chamber creating a vortex, thus mixing the beans for a more even roast...

Where as the Presto models have a screen in the bottom and they blow up. This can dislodge your beans from the chamber, blowing them out of the popper or worse, possibly catching the resulting chaff on fire. (this may be an urban legend, but I am not taking any chances)

You are going to need 4 more things to produce your own home roasted coffee. Though the last one is optional (dependent on weather) You need a large stainless bowl to catch the chaff, a wooden spoon, for stirring at the beginning, and a colander of some type, preferably mesh, to shake your beans while they cool. Now IF the weather outside is cold and wet, you will need a box that is big enough to hold the bowl and the popper; this will protect the popper from the outside chill.

Which brings us to the only issue I have found with roasting your own coffee. You will WANT to be outside. By some strange twist of quantum mechanics the chaff resulting from the roasting process smells like toasted dirty socks. I am sure that all eaters of Microwave Popcorn out there are snickering up their sleeves right now... LOL

Your clothes will inevitably smell like the chaff after your done. Yeah, it's a somewhat smelly job, but your persistence will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams.

Plan ahead, cause your coffee, as good as it will smell, once it's away from the toasted chaff, it will have to "Gas-Off" for 24 - 48 hours. I don't like this term, so I will now refer to it as "ripening".

So, let us begin.

Go ahead and set up your popper and chaff bowl in the box, making sure that your wooden spoon is handy.

Oh, and in the interest of perpetual caffeination, make sure your travel mug is filled with some sort of brewed deliciousness. LOL

Measure out 85 grams of coffee......

As luck would have it, this is about 1/2 cup...

or the same amount that just happens to fit in the butter warmer. (Serendipitous, huh?)

Turn the popper on, and wait about 30 - 45 seconds for it to warm up before pouring your green coffee into the cylinder.

Let them kind of hang out for about 30 seconds, just kind of spinnin' round and round.

I periodically stir mine with the handle of the wooden spoon, with the "lid" off......

Until it turns yellow...

(it will already be blowing chaff at you, to watch your eyes)

Then place the hood on and listen. (don't keep removing the butter melter like I did, I was just trying to get pictures. You want to keep the heat IN the popper)

After about 3-5 minutes you will hear a popping sound, though to me it sounds more like a "tink" (kind of like the sound little tiny pebbles make against the glass of a second story window, being thrown by a love sick teenage boy in his parachute pants at 1:30 am) eh, hem... Never mind.

This sound is called "First Crack" and is about where "City Roast" occurs, being a medium roast.

For Huehuetenango, this is where most roasters stop, I took mine on to the next level and continued roasting for an additional 2 -3 minutes...

Until I thought the beans were dark enough for me....

You can take them further to the "Second Crack" stage, which is a much deeper sound than the First Crack "tink"..... This is called "Full City" roast, being a dark roast, and the beans begin to release more of their oils to the surface making the beans slightly shiny. (this is where most espresso blends are taken to)

Photo courtesy of my brother Chris -- Full City Roasted Mocha Java and green Mocha Java

If you let them go beyond "Second Crack", you start moving into the French Roast; but at this point not only are most of oils on the surface of the bean, but they being to carbonize. (a little too dark for me)

Photo courtesy of my brother Chris -- his French Roast

When you have achieved your favorite roasting stage (OK, I tried timing it, but I did 5 batches of coffee and all the times were very different.... So sadly, all I can do is explain the process as best I can) Turn off the popper and quickly dump the beans into your mesh colander.

Begin shaking them back and forth....

In an effort to cool them down as quickly as possible..... This will minimize the further roasting that occurs from the heat "Carry Over".

You will notice that the beans appear larger.... They expand quite a bit as they roast. (but still not as fluffy as popcorn)

Photos courtesy of my brother Chris, again

Once cooled, you will need to let your roast "Ripen" by allowing the beans to sit and throw off CO2 for about 48 hours. I used the handy 1 way valve bags,

but you can also store them in a glass canning jar with a few holes punched in the lid...

Yes my friends, breathe new life into that old Hot Air Popper, never purchase stale coffee beans from the store or your local coffee shop, again! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

Cool Beans, huh?

For more information on roasting your own coffee beans in an Air Popper, check out Sweet Maria's.
I have already made 1 modification thanks to my brother's experiments... (we were both having a blast trying this out) I have covered the inside of the lid with aluminum foil to reflect heat back into the popper.

There are a few modifications I will be making to my popper in the near future... by installing a thermometer so I can judge a little easier by watching the temperature of the beans.