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Monday, March 30, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Corned Beef

I'm posting this mostly for me; every March for the last several years I have called my mom to ask for a reminder on how to cook corned beef. It's not hard, but for a meal I manage to cook only once a year I just can't remember the details.


St. Patrick's Day Corned Beef

1 package flat-cut corned beef (point cut is too fatty)
Red potatoes

Place the corned beef in a Dutch oven. Empty the spice packet into the pot, and add plenty of water, an inch or two above the level of the beef. Boil corned beef for at least two hours, up to five.

About an hour before serving, prepare the vegetables. Peel and cut carrots into 2-inch pieces. Wash and cut red potatoes into 2-inch chunks. Trim and core a cabbage, then slice each half into 4 wedges. (Depending on the size of your corned beef and your taste for cabbage, you may prefer to use only half of the cabbage.)

Thirty minutes before serving add carrot chunks.  Twenty minutes before serving add red potatoes. Ten minutes before serving, add the cabbage wedges. (Or 5 minutes if you like your cabbage crisp tender.)

Once the vegetables are done to your preferred texture, remove and slice the corned beef. It's nice to smash each potato serving on the plate and soften them with a little of the broth. Enjoy!


Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage

Source: Cook's Country

1 3.5-4 lb flat-cut corned beef brisket roast, rinsed and fat trimmed to 1/4 inch
1 T pickling spice
1 1/2 lbs red potatoes, unpeeled
1 lb carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
1 small head green cabbage (1 1/4 lb)
6 c water

Place beef in the slow cooker and sprinkle with pickling spice. Tuck potatoes and carrots between beef and sides of slow cooker, if possible. (In mine, I just put them on top.) Cut cabbage into six 2-inch wedges through the core, leaving the core intact so wedges stay together while cooking. Add the cabbage to the slow cooker, then add water. Cover and cook 6-7 hours on high or 8-9 hours on low.

Turn slow cooker off. Remove the beef, moving vegetables as needed. Tent with foil and let the beef rest for 15 minutes. Cover slow cooker to keep vegetables warm. Slice the beef against the grain and serve with vegetables, dotting with butter as desired.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Creme Brulee

I don't remember exactly when I discovered creme brulee; I am absolutely sure I didn't run into it as a child and likely didn't learn of it until I moved overseas in my early thirties. I've adored it since the beginning of my acquaintance with the dessert. Fortunately I have found it isn't too hard to make and it works here at my high altitude. This is much like making homemade ice cream except there are no worries about curdling the eggs with hot cream. However, it helps to feel comfortable using a torch to melt the sugar.


Creme Brulee

Yield: 8 (I always end up with an extra; maybe my ramekins are just a bit small)

4 c chilled heavy cream
2/3 c granulated sugar
pinch table salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
12 large egg yolks (the left over whites are great for a homemade angel food cake)
8-12 teas sugar, granulated, turbinado, or Demerara

Preheat your oven to 300F after placing rack to the lower-middle position.

Combine half the cream, salt and sugar in a saucepan. Slit the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the mixture as well as the pod. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring from time to time so the sugar dissolves. Remove pan from heat and let the mixture steep so that the flavors infuse, at least 15 minutes.

Place a kitchen towel in the bottom of a large baking dish, cake pan, or roasting pan. Place the 4- to 5-ounce ramekins into the pan and arrange so they all fit. As you get close to the end of the infusing time, heat a kettle or so it will be ready to make the water bath (bain-marie). I think for my roasting pan I used at least 3 quarts of water so I had an electric kettle heating water as well as some in a pitcher heating in the microwave. It's better to have too much than too little.

After the cream mixture has infused, stir in the remaining cream which will cool the mixture. In a large bowl whisk the egg yolks until they are combined. Add approximately 1 cup of the cream mixture into the yolks and stir until combined; repeat with a second cup. Add the rest of the infused cream mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. It will have a uniform color and no streaks of egg yolk. Using a fine strainer, strain into something you can pour from--a large (at least 2 quart measuring cup) or a pitcher. Pour the cream mixture into the ramekins. You can also use a ladle if pouring is difficult.

Carefully place the baking dish on the oven rack. Even more carefully, pour the near-boiling water into the baking dish, making sure you don't splash the water into the cream in the ramekins. This can be tricky; just go slowly and pour close to an edge of the pan. As you pour enough water in, the water will move into areas that are farther away from you. Water should reach about 2/3 the height of the ramekins.

Shut the oven door and bake until the centers of the custards are just barely set about 30 to 35 minutes. Knowing when creme brulee is done can be a bit difficult, too. Test by gently shaking one of the ramekins with a pair of tongs (again avoid splashing). If the liquid is sloshy and  moves around a bit like a wave, it is still not done. If it moves more like jello (especially jello that is piled in a bowl) then they are done. You can also use an instant-read thermometer placed in the middle of one of the ramekins (don't touch the bottom). It should be at 170F. Begin checking the custards at the 25 minute stage to be sure you don't overcook them.

Remove the custards from the oven. This is easiest one by one but it is best to use rubber tipped tongs so you don't have slippage. (If you are a home-canner you likely have a bottle lifter that would work, too.) Alton Brown makes his own rubber tipped tongs by wrapping the ends with rubber bands. I also have a towel or hot pad in my left hand to support each ramekin as I remove them from the water bath. Place each custard on a cooling rack and cool to room temperature (about 2 hours). Cover with plastic and refrigerate until cold which will take 4 hours (custards can last in the refrigerator for 4 days, if someone doesn't eat them). I usually cover each ramekin separately but you can place them on a rimmed baking sheet and cover all together. It is usually easier for me to find room in my fridge for individual ramekins rather than a cookie sheet full.

Before serving, take custards from the refrigerator and remove plastic. If there is liquid from condensation on top of the custards soak it up with clean paper towels. Sprinkle with about 1 teas of sugar and, if needed, you can even things out by tilting and shaking the ramekins. Ignite your torch and in a safe place and on a safe surface caramelize the sugar. I use a regular shop torch because I find it easier to keep a supply of fuel, but I find I need to dial it down so the flame doesn't blow the sugar off the ramekin. You may return the ramekins to the refrigerator to return to a chilled state but don't allow them to remain for longer than 30-45 minutes. You may also just go ahead and eat them.


The last time I made this I infused this with espresso and cinnamon.  I lightly crushed 1/4 c espresso beans and 3 cinnamon sticks (in a zipper bag) and put them in the cream with the vanilla. It was fantastic combination.

Other flavors can be infused as well. I've eaten (but haven't cooked) lavender infused brulee and I've read about infusing it with cardamom. Maybe that is the next test.

Monday, March 9, 2015


I tried a new yeast bread recipe last week that sounded promising--it's a 90-minute sandwich bread from Cook's Illustrated. Although I make sourdough bread regularly we do sometimes run out and I like the idea of a yeast bread that I can make quickly. Unfortunately the effects of elevation were disappointing--the loaf fell significantly. The flavor was good but the texture left a bit to be desired. Someday I will figure out a high altitude version of this recipe, but I don't have a lot of time for recipe testing at the moment! I feel quite depressed about baking in the mountains, and I am frustrated that so many of my favorite recipe sources are based at sea level.

So the last couple of times I've baked, I've turned to Susan Purdy's Pie in the Sky. Following the guidelines for 5,000 feet I've learned from experience that I can trust these recipes to avoid altitude baking problems. Here's a nice, quick recipe for popovers, which I haven't eaten much in my life. They are eggy, chewy, and light, and so reminiscent of oven pancakes that Michael calls them baby Dutch babies.

after cooling


High Altitude Popovers

for approximately 5,000 feet above sea level

Source: Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitudes by Susan G. Purdy
Yields 12 popovers in a muffin tin

1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 teas salt
1 teas sugar
3 large eggs
1 c whole milk
1 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 450F. Grease the muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Whisk the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Form a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the eggs, milk, and melted butter. Blend together the wet ingredients, then mix completely with the dry ingredients until combined.

Fill the muffin tin with batter, no more than half-full for each cup. Bake at 450F for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F for another 10 minutes. The popovers should be puffy, golden brown and crisp. Place the muffin tin on a wire rack to cool, or serve immediately.