Saturday, 27 August 2011

Fish Tacos a la Bobby Flay...sort of

The nice thing about cooking (as opposed to baking) is that it's not an exact science. Substitutions are allowed when cooking that help to customize recipes to your own liking. Such is the case with Bobby Flay's Fish Taco recipe presented in an episode of Throwdown. I have never had Fish Tacos before, but have seen them on numerous Food TV shows, so I was curious. When I checked Bobby Flay's recipe I was intimidated: tomatillo salsa from scratch, slaw with scratch dressing, guacamole--also from scratch, and mango relish--once more from scratch. Though delicious, I'm sure, it just wasn't practical for a tired mother of three at dinner time. I decided to go ahead with the recipe, but with substitutions to make it more manageable.

Bobby used snapper in his recipe. I was adamant to use snapper. The grocery store I frequent sold whole snapper and wouldn't filet it for me because there were too many bones. Luckily, they did have prepackaged snapper filets. We removed only a few bones prior to cooking and no one complained of bones while eating. We spiced the snapper with whatever was handy in the kitchen pantry (i.e., garlic powder, onion, powder, seasoned salt, paprika, cayenne, etc.) and grilled the fish.

I purchased one bag of pre-shredded green cabbage and one bag of pre-shredded red cabbage and mixed half and half in a bowl. I used Kraft coleslaw dressing until the cabbage was coated. This added a wonderfully creamy aspect to the tacos, as well as a crunch. I don't think the recipe suffered at all with this substitution.

I used a container of fresh salsa, the kind you purchase in a plastic tub in the deli section. I find it has a fresher, homemade flavour, while the bottled stuff tastes like chunky ketchup. I chose mild, because I find the medium too spicy.

I didn't substitute for the guacamole. My recipe is simple: a whole avacado, mashed; half a medium red onion, diced, the juice of a lime, kosher salt and pepper to taste. The result is so creamy and just a little spicy (because of the onions). We like to eat the guacamole plain on corn chips at my house, its so popular.

Bobby used soft taco shells. His opponent used fried taco shells (hard). I bought flour tortillas for the soft and a package of Taco Bell hard shells (for the kids because they like the crunch). To assemble, I put the fish in first, then the slaw, then the salsa then guacamole. The result was interesting. Usually, taco night winds up tasting like sloppy joes in taco shells. This was a nice change. The snapper was flavourful, the slaw creamy, the salsa tangy and the guacamole spicy, slightly sour (from the lime) and with another dimension of creaminess. Overall, this is a great recipe. If you decide to go whole hog and try Bobby's recipe, or my shortened version, let me know.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Eunice Feller's Boston Cream Pie

What does one do when recuperating from hip replacement surgery? If you're a foodie like me, you watch a lot of the Food Network. Bobby Flay is like the golden child of the Food Network. He is featured on several shows including Grill It!, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Iron Chef and Throwdown. In addition, he's often featured as guest judge on shows such as The Next Food Network Star and Top Chef. Eunice Feller's Boston Cream Pie was featured on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay recently. The premise of Throwdown is that Bobby Flay finds people reknowned for a single dish. He challenges these people to a throwdown, putting his version of the dish up against theirs, unbeknownst to them until the actual competition occurs. Judges are brought in, the dishes are evaluated in a public forum and a winner is declared. In this episode, Bobby Flay baked a traditional Boston Cream Pie which was pitted against Eunice Feller's pumped up one. Eunice's recipe was the one featured on the Food Network web site, so that's the one I made. Because cupcakes are such a hit at my house, I tried them as cupcakes.

I love Boston Cream Pie, but I have yet to taste one as creamy, moist and tender as this recipe. In fact, I have yet to taste any cake recipe as creamy, moist and tender as this recipe. Then again, I have yet to bake a cake using as many eggs, or as much butter and whole milk as this recipe. The recipe is marked as "intermediate" in difficulty, probably due to the amount of work needed in its manufacture and assembly. Don't let the "untested" disclaimer fool you - the cake itself is quite easy to make.

First the cake. The recipe was straight-forward, but I had difficulty mixing it the way the recipe specifies. Because I'm not using a heavy-duty professional mixer, I couldn't add the wet ingredients in 3 parts. The batter was so thick and bulky that it wound itself around the beaters (I don't have a paddle attachment) and I was forced to add all of the wet ingredients without the beating inbetween additions. I used the same cupcake pans and ice-cream scoop as before to fill the cups. The batter rose up and over the edge of the cups. When I tried to remove the cupcakes from the pan, the spillage was so soft and moist it wanted to fall off and I lost most of it (which accounts for the sloppy appearance of the cupcakes in the pictures). The batter yielded about 26 cupcakes. I cut the baking time by about half.

This was my first attempt at pastry cream. I followed the recipe to the letter with the exception of the infusion of thyme. I infused it with orange peels as the recipe calls for and really liked the flavour it brought to the pastry cream. I did find the pastry cream rather sweet without the inclusion of the whipped cream. I think I liked the texture of the pastry cream better without the whipped cream, though I liked the flavour better afterward, as it was less sweet.

Eunice cuts the mid-section out of her top layer of cake, fills the void with pastry cream, and then covers it with the cubed cake. My problem was where to put the pastry cream in the cupcakes. I tried a small ice-cream scoop to hollow out the middle of the cupcake, but it was plastic and tore up the cake. I tried a plastic melon-baller which was slightly better but stuck to the cake. I also tried a "quarter-moon" shaped ice-cream scoop, but the sides weren't sharp enough and the scoop itself was a little too large. I finally settled on a teaspoon and that worked well. I ladeled the pastry cream into the hollow and capped it with the scoop of cake I removed.

Lastly is the chocolate ganache. Because I had at least half of the pastry cream left over, two pounds of semi-sweet and bitter-sweet chocolate seemed like a lot of ganache for two dozen or so cupcakes. I cut the recipe down by 1/3. I used only 1 stick of butter, about a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream, but found the ganache too bitter. To compensate, I added about 1 cup of icing sugar. What I wound up with was very thick and only enough to cover about 18 cupcakes. Next time I would add a bit more whipping cream to thin out the ganache before assembling.

The verdict for this recipe is amazing. The cake is soft, supple and buttery, the pastry cream is decadent, the ganache velvety and, even with the addition of icing sugar, just enough to cut the sweetness of the cake. Though this cake is not for the calorie-wise, it is worth the splurge once in a while. I would most definitely try this recipe again, but as a cake. Thanks for sharing this with us, Eunice.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Eat Shrink and Be Merry's Must Bake Carrot Cake

For those of you who don't know, Eat Shrink and Be Merry is a show on the Canadian Food Network. It stars sisters Janet and Greta Podleski. They sample fat and calorie rich food and remodel it so that you can enjoy your favourite foods and still eat healthier (to learn more about the Podleskis or the show, see the Eat Shrink and Be Merry web site). I have tried a few of their recipes, but the one I'm reviewing today is their Must Bake Carrot Cake recipe with Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting.

I baked this cake exactly to the recipe (except I made cupcakes - small portions help with weight control as well) and it turned out phenomenal. The cake was so moist and light I was tempted to have two (so much for portion control). The orange in the frosting was an amazing addition, bringing another flavour profile to the cake.

Confessions: I had a problem with the consistency of the frosting- totally my fault. The original frosting recipe calls for a small quantity of frozen orange juice concentrate. Not wanting to purchase and open an entire can of frozen orange juice (it never occurred to me that I could drink the leftovers), I first tried orange extract in the recipe and was left with something that tasted like a cross between mouthwash and cough syrup. Thinking waste-not-want-not, I attempted triage by juicing the orange I had zested into the frosting. This helped the flavour immensely, but left me with something closer to a glaze than a frosting. No matter. It tasted wonderful, not at all tart, in spite of the cream cheese in the recipe.

The second time I made this recipe, the cake was once more splendid, but my orange had rolled out of the grocery bag and hid under the car seat until it was near dessicated. Another triage attempt, this time using the only citrus fruit I had in my fridge: a grapefruit. The frosting was okay, still more of a glaze and a little on the sour side, not the best thing I've ever made.

These cupcakes freeze well, too, so you can make a double recipe if you like and store them away until you feel for something a little sweet and only slightly decadent.

If you choose to make cupcakes rather than a layer cake, don't forget to adjust the bake time. I like to start with 12 minutes and bake in increments of 5 minutes from that point onward until a toothpick comes out clean.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Buddy Valastro's Red Velvet Cake

Cake Boss is a laugh to watch. I love the personalities, but mostly, I love watching the cakes being decorated. Everybody raves about Buddy's Red Velvet Cake. Up until a few years ago, I'd never known what Red Velvet Cake was. Rumour has it, Red Velvet Cake was popular at wartime when ingredients - such as cocoa - were rationed and in short supply. People boiled beets or used food colouring to enhance the chocolatey colour (see for more). My family, especially my husband, was curious about the flavour of Red Velvet Cake and so I began to experiment with recipes.

Buddy's recipe is not the first recipe I've tried, but its certainly the best. I'll admit that the first time I tried it, the flavour was bang on, but the texture was lacking. This is because I neglected to bring all ingredients to room temperature before mixing. I've made the same recipe three times since and each time has been better than the last. Buddy's Red Velvet Cake recipe is by far the BEST cake I've ever baked. EVER!

Buttercream frosted Red Velvet Cake
I've used this recipe for both layer cakes and cupcakes and it works well each and every time. The cake is moist and faintly chocolatey, but not at all sweet. The link I've provided pairs the cake with it's traditional cream cheese icing. The first time I made the icing, I used a brick of light Philedelphia Cream Cheese and didn't care for the tartness of the cream cheese in the icing. The last two times I made it I used a traditional butter cream (link also provided) and enjoyed the cake much more. To make the buttercream even creamier, I use whipping cream instead of milk in the recipe.

One tip is to watch for baking time. Each oven works differently. Buddy uses industrial ovens to bake his. I've found that convection ovens do not work well for baking. When you bake this as a cake, underbake it by 5 to 7 minutes and then test with a toothpick to see if it is done. If it is not done, continue to bake in 5 minute increments until a toothpick comes out clean. When I use this recipe for cupcakes I use a pan that makes small-to medicum sized cupcakes. I purchase medium to large cupcake cups (depending on the make) and fill each with a standard ice-cream scoop-sized dollop of batter. I cut the baking time in half and continue to bake at 5 minute increments until the toothpick comes out clean.

About My Test Kitchen

I love to bake. I love to cook. It stands to reason that my favourite go-to channel is Food-TV. Some of the recipes I've seen look so amazing, I want to know what they taste like. My vow is to chronicle my journey here. I promise to follow the recipes as closely as possible, to reveal where I've deviated, and to describe the results - full disclosure.

If you have ever tried any of the Food Network's recipes and had unbridled success or horrible failure, I'd love to hear about it.

And now, on to the first recipe...