Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ham'N Cheese Rolls

Ham'N Cheese rolls are a favorite at our house. Friends ask me for this recipe often and I normally just give an oral version (because they really are so easy) without giving exact measurements. I have finally taken the time to measure the ingredients and even went as far as to make a video (the one I did for bacon was so much fun.) I thought it might further convince you to try them if you saw the process in action.  

These rolls make terrific breakfast or brunch rolls, but they are equally as tasty for snacking events like Superbowl parties, tailgating, or holiday gatherings. The only difference in preparation between events is to adjust their size. For breakfast I make them larger, which means instead of cutting each rolled log into 16 slices, I cut it into 12. The thinner slices are more appropriate for finger food events. Notice in the video when slicing, I start by dividing the log into 4 equal sections; slice the remaining sections either into 3 or 4 to get the number of rolls you are after.

Ham'N Cheese rolls have a terrific balance of honey sweetness with just a touch of tang from the mayo, cheese, and spicy mustard toppings. The mustard really sets these rolls apart, I don't recommend skipping it. These are an unexpected change from cinnamon rolls and rather addictive, I'd plan on at least two per person when serving, and have the recipe on hand; you'll be asked for it, I guarantee! 

Ham'N Cheese Rolls

1 recipe Bread Dough by Hand (feel free to substitute milk for the water, and butter for the oil)
   Friends tell me that frozen bread dough also works, two thawed loaves ought to do it. 

1/2 cup melted butter
2-3 tablespoons, plus 1/2 cup honey
3/4 pound ham, thin sliced
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (you can use Swiss, or any blend you like)
1 1/2 Tablespoons spicy brown mustard (I prefer Gulden's) 
Roll the dough after the initial rise into two 18" x 5" rectangles. Brush with melted butter. Apply approximately 1- 1 1/2 Tablespoons of honey to each, layer with ham, and roll up. Seal the seam by folding the dough on itself a second time to ensure they won't break apart while baking. Slice the logs into rolls and press flat on baking sheet. Brush with butter and cover to rise. 
TIP: I often make these the night ahead and put them into the refrigerator at this point. Then in the morning I let them come back to room temperature (about an hour) and then apply the filling. You can quicken this step further by turning the oven on and letting it heat up to about 200, then turning it off, place the pans in and about 20 minutes later the rolls will have proofed and be ready for filling and baking.
Add honey to the previously melted butter. When the rolls appear nearly doubled in size brush them again gently with the honey butter. Mix together the filling ingredients. Press a well into the middle of each roll and distribute the filling evenly amongst the rolls. Bake in a 400-degree oven for approximately 17-20 minutes or until golden brown. If baking two pans at the same time, rotate and switch them on the racks halfway through to encourage even browning. Remove to cooling rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Recipe makes 24-32 rolls.

Roll dough into two 18" x  5" rectangles.
Brush with butter.
Add honey.
Then apply ham. 
Roll it up.

Press flat and let rise.

Add filling and bake.
Bake until golden brown.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kohlrouladen - German Cabbage Rolls

There is a German restaurant in Chicago that makes fabulous cabbage rolls; perfectly seasoned meat, a hint of rice, tender chew, and an absolutely delicious white gravy over everything, including the ideally matched fried potatoes. At least that was my experience the first visit. Subsequent trips there did not end with the same delectable goodness; perhaps I got the end of the night's preparations, but the cabbage was slimy and the meat was overcooked and nearly burnt on the bottom; such a disappointment.

I was beginning to think that my delight in the German cabbage roll was more a side effect from the giant mug of beer and the oompah band accompaniment than a realistic culinary experience. It has taken a lot of experimentation to rework this simple peasant food into the dish I had locked in my memory.

I know I branch from tradition a bit, but I don't sacrifice overall 'German' flavor and the substitutions lighten the rolls a bit to mimic that 'all day simmer' that I suspect the restaurant is using to achieve the tender bite to their rolls. Almost all my attempts have resulted in a meat stuffing that baked into a solid mass, much like a sausage wrapped in cabbage leaves. Many of the pictures online accompanying recipes look to have the same problem. Not at all what I was after.

Then I had a breakthrough with mushrooms. I have been adding them to nearly everything lately; not because I particularly like mushrooms (honestly, I've never been much of a fan) but because they seem to enhance almost any dish. My most recent success was in adding them to the stuffing for my chicken ballotine to lighten the density of the meat; exactly what these cabbage rolls needed.

Note that in both recipes the mushrooms are pulsed fine in the food processor so that very little evidence remained (hide them from children detection) but even small they are sponges of flavor, absorbing all the simmering juices in the pan as they cook and in the end, little to no 'mushroom' comes through, just an additional depth of flavor. Cooking part of the meat with the mushrooms is no accident. This too lightens the stuffing but has the added benefit of providing a taste testing for seasoning before being wrapped in cabbage.

This recipe serves at least 9 with extra-large appetites, or as many as 15 'normal' hungry eaters when served with potatoes. I assemble the rolls the day ahead and bake them the next day, almost always for a group. Let cold rolls to come up to room temperature before cooking and/or allow for increased bake time.

Raw pulsed mushrooms, meat, onion, bacon grease./Cooked with parsley and bread crumbs
German Cabbage Rolls

1 Tablespoon bacon grease
8 oz white mushrooms, minced fine
1 medium onion, minced
1 lb ground pork
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup rice (optional)
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (approx. 1 cup)
2 lbs lean ground beef
2 eggs

2-3 cups chicken broth

In a large skillet, melt the bacon grease. Add mushrooms, onion, and ground pork. Cook, breaking pork into small bits and add tomato paste, paprika, marjoram, and the ground mustard. Cook until the pork has lost any hint of pink, stirring to infuse the spices and allowing any residual moisture from the mushrooms to cook off and the meat mixture to thicken. Taste to season the meat, remembering that another 2 pounds of raw hamburger are added to the stuffing, so the mixture should be salty to compensate. Allow the mixture to cool a bit and then add the vinegar, bread crumbs, rice, parsley, beef and two eggs. If preparing ahead without the intention of cooking immediately, allow the pork mixture to cool completely before adding the uncooked meat. 

To stuff/roll the cabbage leaves: 

1 head cabbage, tough outer leaves removed, thick stem removed

In a large pot of simmering salted water, submerge the cabbage completely. Allow the head to simmer a few minutes and when the outer leaves appear slightly translucent and wilted, remove with kitchen tongs. Continue to remove leaves until the leaves are too small to roll. Allow each layer to cook a few minutes if they do not easily come loose with the tongs. Let the leaves to drain of any water and come back to room temperature so they are easier to handle.

Large leaves can be cut in half and rolled with the thick middle spine either removed completely or cut thin. Smaller leaves should have the middle vein trimmed to match the thickness of the rest of the leaves so rolling is easier and they evenly cook.
Depending upon the size of the cabbage, there will be a varying number of leaves to stuff. The cabbage used in this recipe had approximately 40 leaves worthy of stuffing. Weighing the meat mixture revealed it to be 4 lbs. Dividing 4 lbs by 40 resulted in just under 2 ounces per roll, or about 1/4 cup. Based on these measurements, you should be able to make a reasonable estimate on how much each of your stuff-able leaves should have for filling.
Lay the meat mixture in the middle of the leaves. Fold the sides over the ends and roll to make a secure bundle. Lay the rolls seam side down in the pan. They can be stacked in two layers. Pour the chicken broth over the rolls and up to the edge of the pan. They can be refrigerated at this point or baked in a 350-degree oven (covered) for 1 1/2 hours or until they are bubbly and cooked through. They can also cook at 325-degrees for as long as 2 hours, depending upon the timing needed, cabbage rolls are forgiving.

I prefer to serve German cabbage rolls with fried potatoes, but they would be equally good with boiled or mashed. Fried potatoes are best made from baked russet potatoes. Allow them to cool and then slice. Fry in bacon grease. Salt and pepper to taste. I fry mine in batches and then move to the oven to keep warm (while the cabbage rolls are cooking.) The pan can then be used for making the gravy.

Fried potatoes can also be made the day ahead and reheated in the oven uncovered for approximately 30 minutes at the end of the cabbage roll baking time, stir as they reheat to encourage an even browning.
2 1/2 Tablespoons milk
2 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 Tablespoon cooking Sherry (or 1-2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the milk and cornstarch in a small bowl. Remove the cabbage rolls and place on a high-sided serving platter, covered with foil to keep warm. Strain the cabbage roll cooking juice into a large fry pan and bring up to a simmer. Add the milk and cornstarch mixture, stirring until the gravy has thickened. Remove from heat and add the sherry/vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. 

Pour over the cabbage rolls in the platter and serve immediately with potatoes and a nice German beer.

Recipe makes 12-15 servings. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

TIP: Freezing Hamburger

Work from home? Single? Married and work ridiculous hours? Huge family pulled in every direction; need meals ready in minutes? Frozen hamburger patties are great for nearly any meat-eating situation (vegetarians may not appreciate this tip as much.) 

This post is more about saving hamburger in a ready to use way than about serving it inside a bun. Building upon the tomato paste idea, I use the same trick with hamburger and it has proven to be a stroke of brilliance (if I do say so myself.)

  • A gallon-sized Ziplock bag will easily hold anywhere from 1 pound to 1 1/2 pounds of meat with this method, less meat may fit better in smaller bags. More may fit, but the burgers will be significantly thicker.
  • Roll the meat into an even flat layer within the bag. Leave the corner of the bag open to let the air escape and then seal it tight once the air is removed.
  • Use a chopstick or other straight edge tool to make an indent into the meat. Draw the end across the indent to make a deeper groove. Portion the meat into equal sized servings. Turn the bag over and draw the lines again to reinforce the divisions.
Lay the bag on a flat pan or cutting board and place it in the freezer until frozen solid. Then remove the pan and store in any position.

The benefit?  
  • Thin meat thaws at a fraction of the time the solid chunk does so it is ready for any use beyond burgers much quicker. 
  • Thin burgers are ready for lunch or a snack anytime the mood strikes. Toss them on to any hot pan and fry them straight from frozen. Salt, pepper, and a bun is all that is needed. Toast a frozen bun on the warming pan to thaw it. 
  • Frozen flat hamburger is easier to store in the fridge than an odd shaped lump.
  • Portion control.
  • Air (oxidation) causes freezer burn. Forcing the air out keeps the meat from taking on any unpleasant flavor (freezer burn is actually safe to eat, just tastes bad) but this makes the meat so accessible, that it probably won't last long enough for that to happen anyway. 
The meat will freeze into a somewhat solid chunk but a good whack on the counter will break it apart along the score lines. Remove the meat from the bag while still frozen, they practically pop out; much easier than if thawed.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Vegan Russian Potato Stew with Parsley Dumplings

This inviting (and inexpensive) bowl of hearty vegetable stew topped with a savory 'buttery' dumpling is one of the oldest recipes in my hand-written book. Friends of ours made this for us in college and I have never forgotten that lovely meal. I have made it several times a year ever since.

This is comfort food to be sure, but even without meat it is delicious enough to serve to guests with the guarantee that everyone will leave the table completely satisfied. The stew can be made the day ahead and then warmed up to a low simmer again on the stove just before adding the dumplings so it makes for an easy entertaining option when a vegetarian/vegan option is needed.

I added dumplings to the dish years ago and now I never make it without them. The soup is thickened into stew when one cup is pureed with a blender, giving the soup a hearty, creamier body. The flavors of the soup are delicious with or without the dumplings, or even without the pureeing, but I offer here the full version; pick and choose the parts you wish to complete. The soup is finished with a couple of different acids that add significant flavor, don't skip them. I offer variations, depending on your diet constraints. 

Russian Potato Stew

One recipe Vegetable Broth, use 6 cups water and add 1/2 bunch parsley to the pot for flavoring as it simmers.

3 Tablespoons margarine/butter
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 celery ribs, sliced
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and chopped 
1 bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base (or salt)
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or Spanish if smoked is not available)
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional) 
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (or 2-3 teaspoons soy sauce for vegan diets) 
1 Tablespoon cooking sherry or dry vermouth 

  1. Prepare the vegetable broth according to the recipes directions. 
  2. In a dutch oven or large stock pot, saute the onion and garlic in the margarine just into transparent. Add the other vegetables, toss to coat with the hot oil, allow to cook a few minutes before adding the strained vegetable broth and the bay leaf. Cook on medium low heat until the vegetables are tender. 
  3. Adjust salt level with bouillon if available, alternatively add salt as needed. 
  4. Remove the bay leaf. Measure out 1 cup of vegetables and enough broth to allow them to blend easily; use a stick blender if available and blend until smooth. Add the mixture back to the pot with the remaining ingredients. 
  5. Return to low simmer and add dumplings.
Heat oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit.

Parsley Dumplings

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup parsley, minced fine
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup milk of choice (I prefer almond for a vegan option)

1/4 cup melted butter/margarine
1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  1. Combine all dry ingredients together including the parsley. Add the oil and milk, stir just until no big lumps remain and the mixture is uniformly wet. 
  2. Drop by large teaspoons full on to the top of the simmering liquid and place into hot oven. 
  3. Bake 15 minutes, remove from oven and brush with garlic butter. 
  4. Return to the oven for just a few minutes under the broiler if a golden hue is desired.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Swedish Apple Pie

This delicious twist on the apple pie is a recipe from my mother-in-law's collection. The recipe is printed on the back of an old workplace newsletter and states 'Recipe of the Week' with no other attribution, so we are claiming it as our own family keepsake. This one is too good to misplace, and well worth sharing!

The tang of the sour cream in this custard pie balances the sweetness of the apples perfectly and the streusel topping ties it all together with a punch of cinnamon that bakes up to a beautiful golden brown color. Swedish Apple Pie is best served at room temperature and needs no accoutrements in the form of additional sweet creams giving it a very elegant serving appearance.

Swedish Apple Pie

3 1/2 - 4 1/2 cups sliced tart cooking apples such as Granny Smith
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

  1. Boil the apples just until they beginning to soften. Drain well. (This step could be done in the microwave.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350-degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. Beat eggs and vanilla together, add sour cream, and fold into apples. 
  4. Pour into pie shell and bake approximately 40 minutes or until set. 


1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter

While the pie is baking prepare the topping:
Combine all topping ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over pie after the first 40 minute bake and return to oven for another 15 minutes. 
Cool to room temperature to serve. 8-10 servings.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tip: Tomato Paste

Many of my recipes call for a tablespoon or less of tomato paste and in the past, had I noticed that in a recipe, I might be inclined to just leave it out since opening a 6 oz can of tomato paste for only one tablespoon seemed a real waste. Paste will mold within about a week's time in the fridge so storing the leftovers and using them before they went bad has always been problematic.  Buying the paste already in a tube is a great alternative but the cost is triple that of a can, hardly practical for the amount of cooking in this family.

Solution: Store the paste in a Ziplock bag in the freezer. Depending on how much is left in the can, use a snack or sandwich bag and press the paste to an even layer, forcing out all the air to the edges. Then use a finger to draw through the bag and divide the paste into approximately tablespoon size squares. For reference, a 6 ounce can is approximately 10 tablespoons of tomato paste (it says so on the can.) If 2 are used in the current recipe then the remainder when pressed into an even layer can be divided into 8 equal tablespoon-sized portions. Place in the freezer flat until it is frozen, then when you need paste, simply open the bag to remove an already measured portion.  

Tomato paste has a number of flavor enhancing acidic compounds and can be added to almost any savory dish without making it 'tomatoey', but instead adds richness and depth to almost any stock, gravy, or sauce no matter the ethnicity of the cuisine. With this tip you never need to be without a premeasured bit of tomato paste, providing you the opportunity to add it without hesitation to all your favorite recipes. 


Monday, February 24, 2014

Pastitsio (Pastichio) Greek Lasagna

Many years ago in a hole-in-the-wall cafe in old town Athens I had the pleasure of enjoying a near perfect meal of pastitsio and spanikopita; both recipes I have longed to recreate since. The cook there put a lot of love into their food for sure; just thinking about the lamb and okra stew my father-in-law ordered has my mouth watering (and I don't even like okra.)

The pastitsio at that little cafe had a very light but substantial béchamel topping. I am certain they whipped the egg white to get that lift, so my last few efforts have been experimenting with egg white proportions and I finally feel as though I've come close to reproducing that legendary dish. I recently served my version to a gathering of nearly 30 guests, with over half of them returning to the buffet line for seconds and all them raving about the results.

One pan will easily feed 10-12, and it is very manageable for any group since it can be made the day ahead. I used the standard disposable casserole dish (11 3/4' x 9 1/4" x 1 1/2") and filled it to nearly overflowing, but it did not spill out over the edge as it baked, making clean up for that big party a breeze. This is a recipe I will be coming back to in the future.

Greek Pastitsio

Meat Sauce: 
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
2 pounds lean ground beef/lamb or any combination
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
1 chicken or beef bullion cube
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
3 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Saute the onion in the oil until translucent, add meat and cook, breaking up chunks until no pink remains. Add all remaining sauce ingredients with the exception of the bread crumbs and allow to simmer and reduce until sauce is thick and very little liquid remains in the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in bread crumbs. Allow to cool.


1 pound pasta, ziti, bucatini, or penne
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoons slices
1 1/2 cup (6 oz) Swiss or Kasseri cheese, shredded

While the meat sauce cooks, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the noodles according to the package directions to al dente, or firm to the bite. Pour noodles into a colander to drain and run under cold water to cool. Use the residual heat from the pan the noodles cooked in to melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, return the cool noodles to the pan and toss to coat. Combine the remaining ingredients and toss to coat the noodles evenly.
Place approximately two-thirds of the noodles in the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 casserole, cover with the meat sauce, making an even layer. Use the remaining noodles to top the meat sauce and proceed to making the béchamel topping.  
The top layer of béchamel will have slightly more lift if made the same day as baking, but the casserole can easily be made the day ahead, refrigerated overnight, and baked the next day with very little appreciable difference in the lightness of the cream top. Note baking times will be approximately 20 minutes longer when baked directly from the cold refrigerator.

Béchamel sauce:

4 cups milk, heated
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup salted butter
1/4 - 1/2 tsp nutmeg, fresh ground
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan or Kefalotyri, grated
4 eggs, separated

1/2 cup Parmesan or Kefalotyri, finely grated for topping

Heat milk on the stove or in the microwave to warm (warm milk reduces lump formation in sauce.) Melt butter and stir in flour, allow to cook over medium heat 2-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the warm milk and whisk constantly until the mixture is evenly smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes.

While the sauce cools, beat the eggs whites to soft peaks. Add nutmeg, pepper and 1/2 cup cheese, whisk to combine. Remove 1/2 cup of the warm béchamel and whisk it into the egg yolks to temper them, then add the yolk mixture to the sauce, whisking to combine. Repeat with the beaten egg whites to temper them and then folding them into the sauce. Salt to taste.
Pour the béchamel sauce over the top layer of noodles and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese over all. Pastitsio can be covered and refrigerated overnight to bake the next day or placed directly into a 350-degree oven on the middle rack for approximately 50 minutes. The top should be golden brown. Allow to cool 15 minutes before slicing and serving for the best presentation. 

TIP: To test if a dish is heated through to the middle, carefully poke a fork through the top layers and let it set in the middle of the dish for about 1/2 a minute. Feeling the fork will indicate if the middle is sufficiently hot or not. If the top browns too quickly before the middle cooks through, tent the top with aluminum foil. 


Friday, February 7, 2014

Baconology: 10, 5, Flip, Finish Method

I have cooked a lot of bacon over the last few months. I jokingly coined my efforts 'Baconology' and have documented notes and weights on at least 25 lbs of bacon cooked by various methods. This was hardly a deep-dive scientifically speaking, but the measured observances and extensive taste tests led to a number of rather interesting discoveries.

My intention was to come up with a cooking method that would consistently yield great bacon. After I met that criteria I worked to make it as effortless as possible, which included reducing cleanup and cook times. The results are the '10, 5, Flip, Finish', and as recorded in the video, prove that not only does it work for one pound of bacon, but it works just the same for two.

Watch the video to learn more: 

Breakdown: 10, 5, Flip, Finish 

Place bacon straight out of the package fat side down in a cold nonstick pan. Place on burner over MEDIUM heat.

Set the timer for 10 minutes, don't touch it.

At 10 minutes, separate the rashers to fill the pan.
Cook another 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, FLIP it all over.

Push the least cooked rashers to the sides and use the middle of the pan to FINISH.

If the pan spits grease, turn the heat down.
If they cook too quickly, turn the heat down.

Remove from pan as they turn golden and allow to drain on paper towels.

Don't allow the bacon to steam, move it to a plate while still warm.
It will continue to crisp up as it cools.

The concept here is that the fat takes longer to cook than the meat. Cooking it fat side down protects the more tender meat proteins and allows the fat to render, creating a more tender and delicious rasher. Admittedly the process takes a bit of time, but the first 15 minutes are nearly hands off, and the benefit of those last 10 minutes of extra attention means fewer grease splatters and greatly reduced mishaps of burnt bacon.
I should also note that I tested all kinds of pans, stainless steal, cast iron, and nonstick. Each of them performed well, but I settled on the nonstick pan for the ease of clean up. It is certainly not essential to have a nonstick pan to make great bacon, it is just my pan of choice.

Other Bacon Geek Discoveries:  

Baked vs Fried
As mentioned in the video, I measured the weights of grease and meat with the expectation that baked bacon would weigh less in meat and more in grease than that of fried, since I believed the myth that baked bacon is lower in fat (thinking more grease would render out.) However four different methods, two on the oven and two on the stove, using exactly the same raw meat weight revealed the post-cooked weights of all four methods also was exactly the same. Which leads to the assumption that baking only removes flavor/moisture, not fat (since it did not taste nearly as good.)
Great Bacon has a High Fat to Meat Ratio 
The bacon from the video.
Weighing bacon this way revealed a pattern in the relationship of great taste to rendered grease.  The bacon with the most flavor nearly always rendered out the same weight in grease as in meat. This meant in almost every instance that the national brands did not even compare to the lower cost/generic or regional brands. When purchasing bacon in the past I always picked through the selection looking for the 'meatiest' looking package. Measurements and tastes tests confirm that is completely unnecessary and even undesirable.
 Meat Weight
Strained bacon grease.
I weighed dozens of pounds, uncooked, cooked, along with the grease left in the pan. Not all bacon is a full pound out of the package, despite what it says on the wrapper. I found many that came in a full ounce short. This is actually more appalling when you learn that those 15 ounces cook down to less than 4 ounces of edible meat. If you consider the cost per pound equates to only a quarter of that amount in cooked product; that makes bacon a very expensive cut of meat. The cost alone should be reason enough to get serious about a cooking method. 
Additional Bits of Bacon
Home-cured and smoked bacon is darker in color,
but has no off-putting flavor unlike commercial bacon
when allowed to get this browned.
Bacon grease, like any other fat introduced in your diet should be consumed sparingly, but is does enhance almost any dish. Rubbed on the outsides of baked potatoes, sauteed with onions and garlic for tomato sauces, omelets, hash browns, and every sort of green veggie benefit from frying in bacon grease. The fat content is not any higher in bacon grease than other fats, but it does contain sodium, so keep that in mind when adding salt. Allow the grease to cool a bit, then strain any cooked meat bits out and store it in the fridge in a lidded glass container.
Bacon's cost, its unequivocal flavor, and its potential health implications make it all the more important that when you do indulge, you make the most of the little bit of meat you get from your efforts. I hope you find as much success with this method as I have.

Oh and for you vegan fans, I haven't left you out. You can find my version of tofu 'bacon' here

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Whipped Cream Cake

Whipped Cream Cake takes an entire quart of heavy cream to make and is absolutely decadent with whipped cream flavor; no other cake I have ever had even compares. Italian cream cake recipes may come close, but they tend to have a buttery mouth feel, whereas this cake is light like sweet cream.  The inherent problem with whipped cream as a frosting is also solved by using a stabilizer in the form of instant pudding mix, which gives the cream enough structure that it will hold up in the fridge for days (if it lasts that long.) Using the white chocolate version of the mix adds the lightest possible flavor, so the sweet cream takes center stage and every bite tastes gourmet but the effort is far from it. In fact, I recently made this cake in a vacation rental with only a blender to whip the cream and disposable aluminium pans for baking. It may have been a little short on lift from usual but it was still a huge success with all our guests. 

The only trick to this cake is the bake time. There is no butter or oil in the recipe, so the heavy cream acts as the fat. As a result it can dry out very easily if it is over-baked. I have experimented with adding oil, beating the cream nearly to butter, beating it less, or not at all, but just watching the bake time turns out to be the best solution to maximize the cream's flavor and maintain a light crumb. Watch the cake as it begins to take on color. As soon as the top feels firm and has just a hint of golden brown it is probably done. If you wait until the sides pull away with this cake, it may already have dried out. Don't let that scare you off from trying it though, this cake is worth every bit of the extra attention needed, which will be confirmed the second you taste the scrumptious batter. If you can resist licking the bowl, you have far more will power than I!

Whipped Cream Cake

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 eggs 
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups cake flour (2 cups all purpose)
Heat oven to 350-degrees. Line two 9-inch rounds with parchment, first spraying each with cooking spray. Measure out the flour, salt, and baking soda on to a piece of waxed paper, blend gently with a fork to break up any clumped bits of flour.

To save on washing bowls, beat all the whipped cream first. Making sure all bowls, beaters, and cream is very cold, start with the whipped cream measured for the frosting and filling below, beat it to medium firm peaks with the sugar and set it in a bowl in the refrigerator for later. Then beat the whipping cream for the cake to very firm peaks (as shown in the picture below.) Mound the whipped cream on to a plate or shallow bowl and proceed to use the mixing bowl to mix the rest of the cake ingredients. 

Blend the eggs, vanilla, and sugar until lemon colored and thickened. On top of the egg mixture add the flour and whipped cream and fold until combined. The batter should be uniformly mixed. 

The batter is thick, so divide it equally between the pans and spread it to make an even layer.

In my oven it bakes for 20-22 minutes but it should be checked before then. Do not let the cake overbake. The most accurate method I have found for testing it is the finger touch. It should bounce back when touched, it may have an uneven golden hue, that is perfectly acceptable. Allow to cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely before frosting/filling.

Whipped Cream Cake Filling and Frosting

2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup white sugar
2 3.3 oz White Chocolate Jello instant pudding mix
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk the pudding mix and vanilla into the milk in a large bowl and add the cream whipped earlier to combine. Divide the frosting into three equal portions and put one on each of the cakes. Spread the cream nearly to the sides and place one cake on top of the other. Use the final third of cream to frost the sides. You will the find the whipped cream has far more body and is easier to work with than most other frosting and will allow deep, creamy swirls to be formed on the top and sides. 

The cake is neither too sweet, too light in body, or too heavy. Don't be alarmed by the amount of frosting, one taste will tell you that it is going to be divine on the cake, be sure to use it all.  Whipped cream cake easily feeds 16, but there are sure to be some guests who want seconds. Enjoy!