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Brooklyn Bacon Takedown 2014 on October 19 at Littlefield! I’m in!

It's bacon, it's Brooklyn, it's the Brooklyn Bacon Takedown!

Dear Friends,

It’s that time of year when Matt Timms gives me and 19 other amazing home cooks 15 pounds of Hormel Bacon to play with: it’s the Brooklyn Bacon Takedown!

Last year I served up some some blue bacon crystal meth rock candy dubbed Bacon Bad and won a year’s worth of bacon from Hormel. That was FIFTY-TWO POUNDS YO! Fifty-two pounds that I ate in one sitting shared with family and friends!

I have no idea what I’m doing yet, but I do know one thing:

I would be thrilled to feed smoky, fatty, crispy, pork belly to you all again!

Now the deets:

When will you guys be serving up your insane bacon creations? October 19th from 2pm-4pm

Where will all this bacon revelry go down? Littlefield in Brooklyn! 622 Degraw Street!  Please note that we have a change of venue to this year’s Brooklyn Bacon Takedown!

How much are tickets? $20 for 20 samples from 20 cooks! The event always sells out so be mindlfull! You can get tickets on Littlefield’s site here!

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Esquites (Mexican Corn on the Cob in a Cup)

It's elote for people who don't like to eat with their hands!

Who doesn’t love elote, that roasted Mexican corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, chili powder, and cheese, spritzed with lime juice, and served on a stick? I’ve come to associate it with summertime, when sweet corn is in season and I have my pick of local food trucks to sit in front of, snacking away.

As much as I love it, I have to admit that the fastidious Virgo in me doesn’t always love how sloppy elote is to eat. I get annoyed with how the grated cheese smears all over my chin, how the corn inevitably sticks in my teeth, and how glops of mayo always end up on my dry clean-only shirts. It’s the kind of annoyance that makes me hang my head in foodie shame as I go back to the truck to ask politely for a steak knife to cut off the kernels so that I can eat them with spoon.

That is why I really love esquites, which are essentially elote in a cup (or, as I prefer, a large bowl or a trough). Here, the messy work is done ahead of time and all you have to do is eat it, calmly and neatly.

Both elote and esquites are essentially street food and like most street food, there isn’t really an official recipe per se. The general consensus seems to be that there must be corn, it can be boiled but it is better roasted, there should be some kind of fat like soft butter, crema Mexicana,  or — even better — mayonnaise (I like my street food a little on the trashy side so it’s mayo for me). There should be some heat, some lime juice, and some salty, crumbly cheese like Cotija, but grated Parmesan or aged feta does the trick too.

Unlike eloteesquites often includes some chopped epazote, a traditional Mexican herb whose flavor is hard to describe. If pressed, I would say it kind of tastes like what would happen if cilantro and tarragon romped in a dusty field and had a herb baby. Epazote is worth seeking out; a little is all you need to add a wonderful earthy dimension to the corn. If you can’t find it, chopped cilantro is a good substitute.

Ingredients:

2 ears of corn

1 serrano chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

Olive oil

Butter

Salt

1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, crema Mexicana, or sour cream

The juice of half a lime

Cayenne pepper to taste

1 tablespoon of epazote, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of grates Cotija, Parmesan, or crumbled feta

Tajín Clásico Mexican chili seasoning (or you can experiment with a combination of Ancho chili powder, more lime juice, and salt)

How to prepare:

1. Remove the corn kernels from the cob. To do this with minimal mess, stand each ear of corn in a large shallow dish and slice down the length of each ear with a sharp knife. Keep the knife as close to the cob as possible. Rotate the ear and continue to slice down each exposed side until all the kernels are removed.

2. Sauté the kernels and the chopped serrano chili in a large skillet or cast iron pan with about 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

3. Once the kernels have started to brown, transfer them to a bowl and add the mayonnaise, lime juice, and enough cayenne pepper to suit your taste. Stir in the epazote and the grated cheese. Adjust the seasoning, dust with Tajín, and serve.

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Y Tu Mango También: Mango-Lime-Tequila Sorbet with Mexican Chili Seasoning

Go Shorty, It's Sherbert Day!

Summer is ending too soon. The weather is still warm, but college students are already filtering back into the city and the streets are starting to fill with people who have been out of town. Despite not having gotten away, this summer has been a great one. I’ve seen good friends and made a few new ones. I’ve eaten, drank, and danced. There have been rooftop parties, intimate dinners, and a lot of laughter. As a bonus, the weather has been unusually clement, so this summer has been a pleasure instead of a hot, sticky pain. All in all, it has been the best stay-cation that I could have asked for — and a sorely needed one at that.

Before work resumes and teaching takes over my life again, I want to fit in a few more blog posts, so …

Here is my write-up of this year’s Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown and the recipe for my  Mango-Lime-Tequila Sorbet with Mexican Chili Seasoning.

How did I come up with the idea?

In terms of flavors, I had two in mind: a tomato sorbet resembling frozen gazpacho, and a tart and juicy mango sorbet with limes and tequila.

I personally thought that a tomato sorbet would be amazing, but the general consensus was that it might be a little too weird for the competition.

My vision for a mango sorbet? I wanted it to taste just like those sliced mangoes topped with either hot sauce or dried Mexican chili seasoning. The kind that you get in plastic bags sold from pushcarts by those mango ladies in and around the city.

And that is exactly what I made :-D

Kitchen stories of triumph over adversity are terrific, but this is not one of those. This story is actually pretty humdrum because after the drama leading up to last year’s Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown, I swore that I would never again:

This isn't like some paper that you can write the night before!- Grossly underestimate how long it takes to prepare 2 gallons of ice cream at home.
– Fail to read the directions accompanying any new equipment in advance.
– Not have enough equipment to begin with.
– Wait until the last minute to start recipe testing.
– Have no back-up plan in case my freezer doesn’t get cold enough and/or my air-conditioner stops working.

I am happy to report that I took all the lessons I learned last year and this year, I started and finished early with (almost) no tears and minimal stress! Hooray!

What I have learned since the 2013 Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown:

1. Start early.  Those stupid insulated bowls — which never really work that well to begin with — need at least 24 hours to freeze hard enough to churn your ice cream satisfactorily. So make room in your freezer, lower the temperature as much as you can, and park those things in the very back of it until they are frozen rock solid.

2. Buy all of your ingredients at the same time. Don’t wait. Don’t come back later. Just get them all when you see them. And buy enough to make an extra batch. Trust me. Once I had settled on a recipe and calculated how much I needed to buy in terms of ingredients, I realized that I would need 36-38 mangoes and about 80 limes. Does anyone want to haul home that much squishy fruit all at once without a car? No. What did I do? I only bought half of what I needed.

Can you guess what happened? When I went back to the store THEY WERE SOLD OUT OF THE COMPACT, SUPER SMOOTH, BUTTERY, FRAGRANT, AND AMBROSIAL CHAMPAGNE MANGOES FROM MEXICO THAT I WAS USING AND ALL THAT WAS LEFT WAS THOSE GIANT GREEN, RUBBERY, AND  COMPARATIVELY FLAVORLESS KENT MANGOES.

I went to 4 different Whole Foods before finally being directed to one of the buyers who told me that, sadly, the season was over. There were no more Champagne mangoes.

As tears began to prickle the backs of my eyelids, I asked him if he could suggest another variety.

“Those Champagne mangoes,” he sighed and shook his head. His eyes went soft and dreamy, “You can make anything with those mangoes.”

He jabbed his finger towards the current display, “Not like these green rocks.”

This is one of those moments when I am so thankful that I live in New York. After calling almost every specialty fruit vendor in the city, I tracked down one of the last pallets in town.

Marry me, Manhattan Fruit Exchange.

3. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid. I agonized over this one after doing just one test run and loving the results. But a single test batch? Was it possible to find the one after just one try? There were a ton of super creative, delicious, and mind-blowing ice creams at the Takedown like Chicken and Waffles, Cherries and Sour Cream, Blueberry Pancakes with Hot Maple Syrup.

But I know my limitations and, more importantly, the limitations of my kitchen.  I would have loved to have done a crazy flavor, but making it in a kitchen the size of a shoebox would have driven me crazy.

“Maybe it’s not wacky enough?” I asked myself.

Maybe that’s fine.

4. Use a stabilizer. Unless you are playing with liquid nitrogen, you will need something to smooth out the texture and prevent your ice cream or sorbet from having an icy or chalky mouthfeel. Stabilizers are additives to frozen treats that work to inhibit the formation of bigger ice crystals. Within that category, you can use guar gum or xanthan gum. However, a stabilizer does not necessarily need to be so exotic. You can use gelatin, alcohol, fat, sugar, and invert sugars such as glucose, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and corn syrup.

5. Ripe ripe, Baby. If you are making a fruit sorbet, you want your fruit to be very ripe — verging on overripe. How will you know if your fruit is ripe enough? It will feel like . . . well . . . let’s try to keep this forum as family-friendly as we can.

6. Strain. Evenly-textured ice cream and sorbet doesn’t just happen. Smooth base in = smoother frozen dessert out.

7. A watched ice cream maker never churns. Ari watched me swear and smack my stupid ice cream maker on the side after it failed to churn sorbet after . . . 5 minutes.

“Daisy, it says it will take ‘as little as 25 minutes’ on the box. It hasn’t been 25 minutes!”

She was right. Go, go watch an episode of 30 Rock and come back later.

8. So your ice cream maker fails to churn satisfactory frozen dessert and you have a slushie instead of a sorbet. This is what happens when your freezer bowl is not cold enough, your kitchen is too hot, or the freezer bowl is so overfilled that it loses chill faster than it can churn your ice cream or sorbet. This is when you get creative. This is when you let the ice cream set up more in the freezer, stick your handy stick immersion blender in it, and use it to break up the ice crystals before letting it freeze the rest of the way. Do this a few times as it continues to set up and you will be rewarded with some super smooth sorbet.

An important word on stick immersion blenders:

THEY LOOK INNOCUOUS, BUT THEY WILL MESS YOU UP IF YOU ARE NOT CAREFUL.

One only needs to google “immersion blender accidents” to be scared.

The worst kitchen accident that I have ever had did not involve an immersion blender (knock on wood). I had put a saucepan in a hot oven and after about an hour, I reached in, grabbed the handle and hefted it onto the stovetop. As I had been cooking all summer, I had “kitchen hands,” tough, calloused paws that didn’t register that the handle was over 350° until it was too late. I left some skin from my palm and my fingers on that handle. I spent the rest of the week with my hand in a tub of arnica cream.

In any case, when dealing with immersion blenders, TREAT THEM WITH RESPECT AND ALWAYS UNPLUG THEM WHEN THEY ARE NOT IN ACTIVE USE!

Although I realize that some of these pointers are most applicable if you are churning out a massive amount for something like an ice cream competition, I think that many of them are equally as valid for smaller batches

A word on the recipe that follows: What is that chili powder stuff on top?

Tajín is the brand name of a Mexican fruit seasoning consisting of only three ingredients, three flavors: a chili spice blend, salt, and dehydrated lime juice. As the components are few, I imagine that you could probably hack the recipe pretty easily using a basic Mexican chili spice blend, salt, and either dried, powdered lime zest or squeezing lime juice on top before serving. That being said, Tajín is so darn inexpensive (mine was $1.25) that it seems silly to hack it. I got mine at the Mexican supermarket, but I have also seen online forum posts about people seeing it at Walmart, Target, and at their neighborhood supermarket in the “Ethnic Foods” aisle. For a few bucks more, you can also score it on Amazon.

Of course, this sorbet tastes amazing without it, but the seasoning really does make a difference. It is definitely worth seeking out! You can also use it on just about any kind of fruit or vegetable (delicious on corn).

Another word on the recipe that follows: Why are there so many mangoes in the pictures?

As I have scaled the recipe down from the one that I used for the competition, you will see more fruit and more ingredients in the photos than are listed below. My competition recipe was for 2-quart batches and this scaled down recipe given will make a third of that. To make a full 2-quarts, simply triple the recipe. For example, instead of 2 mangoes, you will need 6, etc.

Ingredients:

2 very ripe Champagne mangoes

1/4 cup of water

1/2 cup of cane sugar

1 tablespoon of agave syrup

1 tablespoon of tequila (I used Olmeca Altos Plato)

1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 4-5 limes), strained

Tajín Clásico Seasoning

How to prepare:

1. Gently peel the mangoes with a sharp paring knife and cut the flesh away from the pit. Do this in a bowl so you don’t lose any of the precious juice.

2. Purée the mangoes with 1/4 cup of water in a blender or using an stick immersion blender. Press the purée through a fine-mesh sieve with a silicon or flexible plastic spatula. Discard the solids.

3. In a large bowl, combine the mango purée with the cane sugar, agave syrup, tequila, and strained lime juice. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.

4. Churn the mango sorbet mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your sorbet fails to set up properly, churn it as best as you can in the machine, transfer it to a sturdy container, and let it harden in the freezer. After 45 minutes, use an immersion blender to blend the sorbet and break up any larger ice crystals. You can do this a few times to ensure that you have a really nice texture. When the mixture is smooth, return it to the freezer to harden completely.

5. To serve, scoop the mango sorbet into bowls and sprinkle liberally with Tajín.

Our Growing EdgeThis blog post is another contribution to the Genie De Wit’s Our Growing Edge. Our Growing Edge is a monthly event that aims to connect food bloggers, broaden our horizons, and encourage us to try new things. I am so happy to see Genie’s project grow and reach a larger and larger audience of bloggers and readers! Anyone can be a part of the party! For more information, please go to the page Genie has set up on her blog Bunny. Eats. Design.

This month’s host is Lindsey from Sneaks & Sweets. Thank you so much Lindsey! To take a look at the participating bloggers this month, click here.

 

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Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown Update: “Y Tu Mango También” takes 1st Place! The People Chose Me!

¡Y Tu Mango También!

Yeah, the Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown was a week and a half ago.

Yeah, it was okay.

Oh, who am I kidding?

IT WAS FREAKIN’ AWESOME, YA’LL! I GOT TO SEE SO MANY FRIENDS AND BY THE WAY I ALSO GOT A KITCHENAID STAND MIXER, AN ANOLON PAN, A WÜSTHOF KNIFE, A MICROPLANE GRATER, AND A LUCA & BOSCO GIFT CERTIFICATE BECAUSE . . .

THE PEOPLE CHOSE ME! FIRST PLACE BABY, YEAH!

A big write-up to is to follow but in the meanwhile, I would like to extend a giant thanks and many hugs to my friends who came out to the to support me. Thank you for letting me feed you full of frozen treats! Thank you as well to everyone who voted. It is such an honor! Thanks as well to all my fellow Takedowners! You guys make me excited for every event!

David Langkamp, you are the best ice cream bitch helper ever! Thank you for hauling all of my sorbet and for being the world’s best scooper!

And to Matt Timms, organizer extraordinaire, thank you and never stop rocking!

Recipe to follow soon!

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Homemade Basil Limeade

Tastes like a summer.

Like many people who love cooking, I loathe throwing food away. This is partly the reason why I have never been a member of a summer vegetable CSA: it’s just too much food for one person, maybe even too much for two or three. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to be a part of one and when T. asked if I could pick up her Roxbury Farm share in her place, I jumped at the chance.

As expected, the haul was huge: two giant heads of lettuce, bagfuls of tender leaves, a big bunch of lacinato kale, an arrowhead cabbagepurple kohlrabi, zucchini, yellow squash, garlic scapes, green onions, Italian parsley, cilantro, and basil.  That wasn’t even the entire share; I had to leave some of it at the pick-up site because I couldn’t carry it all.

Back at home, it was food prep triage as I decided what needed to be eaten right away and what could be stored longer and consumed later. Of the most perishable, the basil was at the top of the list.

It is tough to keep basil fresh. If not used quickly, the leaves rapidly and easily oxidize; what starts off as vibrant and green can quickly turn grayish and sad. I’ve found that the best way to keep basil in prime condition is to treat it as you might fresh-cut flowers: stems trimmed, in water, in a vase, and covered with a loose plastic bag. It looks a little awkward on the countertop, but it does the trick. However, even with this nifty storage method, basil doesn’t stay fresh indefinitely.

A giant bunch of basil is a lot to work through unless you are planning on making pesto. As I am frantically trying to empty my fridge and freezer in time for the Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown, I wasn’t looking to make an excess of something to store. Instead, I was trying to think of a way to use up all the basil and consume it in the same day. That’s when the thought came to me: don’t eat it, drink it. Should it be lemonade? No, limeade.

Basil and limes are a lovely pairing. Pungent, herbaceous basil finds its perfect counterpoint in aromatic, tart and juicy limes. There is something that feels a little Thai, a little Vietnamese, a little Mexican in the pairing too — something reminiscent of a tropical beach vacation. Toss in a splash of gin and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice gimlet-esque summer sipper as well.

A word on one of the ingredients in the recipe that is to follow: who would ever have guessed that innocuous-looking agave syrup (nectar, Wikipedia informs me, is a marketing term) was worse for you than high-fructose corn syrup? Whereas high-fructose corn syrup, the bête noire of conscious eaters everywhere, is around 50% fructose, agave syrup can clock in at a whopping 90% fructose.

Consider for a moment how much processing has to occur for that to happen. Nope, it’s not pretty. Furthermore, your liver apparently turns all that almost-pure fructose straight into fat. Joy.

But like that poor pair in Brokeback MountainI wish I knew how to quit you, Evil Agave Nectar. You and your clean, bright-tasting sweetness. You and how easily you dissolve in cold liquids.

*shakes fist at sky*

The only defenses that I have is that I use it rarely: only when I make lemonade and, I guess now, limeade. Either of which only happens once or twice a year. Plus I hardly eat any processed foods (so abstemious of me, I know!), so my yearly fructose intake is likely low enough that I don’t need to worry about turning my liver into foie gras every summer.

However, if what I just wrote about agave syrup gives you pause, I would recommend making your own simple syrup with cane sugar to use instead. It’s a 1:1 ratio, which means that there are equal parts sugar and hot water. Simply stir the sugar into hot water until it dissolves, and then wait for the syrup to cool completely before using.

Alternatively, you could sweeten your limeade with honey or maple syrup, but I don’t really know what that would taste like as both have strong and distinctive flavors. It might be interesting . . . or it might be gross.

If you have a relatively low-in-fructose diet like myself or just want to throw caution to the wind, by all means reach for the agave!

Ingredients:

The leaves from 1 bunch of fresh basil

1 cup of cold water

1 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 6-8 limes)

Simple syrup or agave syrup to taste (I used about 2/3 cup of agave syrup)

A scant pinch of salt

Special equipment:

A blender or a stick immersion blender

A fine-mesh sieve

How to prepare:

1. Using either a blender or an immersion blender, blend the basil leaves with one cup of cold water until you have a uniform slurry.

2. To this, add the lime juice, the simple syrup or agave syrup, and the scant pinch of salt. Stir everything together and let sit for about 5-7 minutes.

3. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and add enough cold water to make one liter of basil-limeade.

4. To serve, pour over ice. As fresh basil oxidizes quickly, try to drink the basil-limeade the same day it is made.

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I’m in! Come see me compete in the Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown on July 27th!

Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown 2014

This is a quick post to let you know that I’m competing again in the Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown on July 27th at the Bell House from 2-4pm!

Last year I had so much nerve-wracking fun making my Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet that I have to make something else just as crazy this year. It’s hot, steamy, and sticky out there and when the weather is this gross, is there anything better than ice cream?

Especially ice cream made by me? :-)

So please come out and let me feed you! As always, there are only a limited number of tickets available. Once they are gone, there are no more!

Tickets for the event are now available on the Bell House website at:

https://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/622153

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Shredded brisket and pappardelle

P1070430

Now this, I thought to myself as I dined at Rosette with a friend, is what you should eat in the summertime. I wasn’t referring to the glorious mess of shredded brisket and pappardelle that you see above. No, I was thinking about the crunchy, raw asparagus spears that I was dipping into dukkah-dusted walnut tahini.

I made that giant batch of shredded brisket back in February, when the weather was arctic and I continued to hope that I would finally ween myself off Seamless and cook for myself.  How little I cook during the academic year has become a common lament on this blog. This past semester, it was really close to zero unless you count putting slices of steak (leftovers from a dinner with my mother at BLT Steak) on top of stale Ritz crackers and eating them over the sink as cooking. From that same steak house dinner, there were also leftover hen-of-the-woods mushrooms that I scrambled with eggs and piled on top of of pasta because I had run out of bread.

Even though the semester has been over for about a month, there still hasn’t been much cooking. It hasn’t felt like much of a vacation either. First, my mother decided that the final exam period would be the perfect time to come to visit (it’s not; it never is). After she left, I was practically comatose for about a week from the visit and the end of the semester. Then, my almost 91-year old grandfather took a tumble in the garden and hit the back of his head (the sun’s fault, he claims). I had to stay with him for a couple of nights per the doctor’s (unnecessary, in Grandpa’s opinion) orders.

My dad: “How is Grandpa doing?”

Me: “Um, a little unstable on his feet.”

Dad: “Maybe be had a mini-stroke. Is he favoring one side more than the other?”

Me: “No. Doesn’t seem like it.”

Dad: “What is he doing now?”

Me: “He is using a pair of kitchen shears to pry open a key ring that he says is too small.”

Fall or no fall, Grandpa’s fine motor skills seem more or less intact. However, that does not mean that he has completely recovered. This summer, he seems frailer and more fragile. His legs get weak — which scares me. He forgets more things more often and is sometimes confused. It is to be expected at his age, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for him and emotionally draining for us.

Doctors’ appointments and follow-up appointments have been frequent, sometimes unexpected, and long. Thankfully, my friends have been wonderful at keeping me out of my apartment in the evenings so that I get to eat something decent and think about something else. I did desperately want to get away to Europe this summer, but unfortunately failed to get organized early enough to afford airfare. And although Grandpa continues to live on his own and be very independent, his health has put some restraint on any vacation plans. Still, it would be nice to get away somewhere like . . . Gourmandistan ;-)

(Dearest Michelle and Steve, I promise you a visit! The summer isn’t over yet!)

Does this shredded brisket with pappardelle look good? It is damn good, but I would hold off on making a dish like this until the fall unless you have a very powerful air-conditioner and money is no object in terms of electric bills. For those dear readers south of the equator, this is the perfect late fall and wintertime warmer.

This recipe has been heavily adapted from one on Epicurious. You can find the original here.

Ingredients:

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 ribs of celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 beef brisket (about 1.5 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and silver skin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 cups of veal or beef stock

1 16-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

2/3 of a cup of red wine

2 bay leaves

Pappardelle

Special equipment:

A large Dutch oven or another oven-safe casserole with a lid

How to prepare:

1. Preheat your oven to 325°. You may need to lower or adjust your oven racks so that you can fit your Dutch oven or casserole in it easily.

2. Using a food processor, pulse the carrots, celery, and onion together until they are finely chopped.

3.  Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and generously season it on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven or casserole over medium-high heat until it begins to just smoke. Sear the brisket on all sides. If your brisket is too large to sear at once, you may need to cut your brisket in half and sear each half individually.

4. Remove the brisket to a plate. Lower the heat to medium and in the same Dutch oven or casserole, sauté the chopped vegetables and finely minced garlic until they give up their liquid and just begin to brown. Add the stock, the chopped tomatoes, the red wine, and the bay leaves. Stir to combine before adding the seared brisket back to the liquid. Make sure that the brisket is completely covered by the liquid before covering the Dutch oven with its lid and transferring it to the oven. Let the covered brisket cook slowly for about 3 hours. After 3 hours, the brisket should be fork-tender. Remove the pot from the oven and carefully skim off any fat from the top of the sauce.

5. Remove the brisket from the sauce and use two forks to gently shred it. Add the shredded brisket back to the sauce and stir to re-incorporate it. Adjust the seasoning.

6. In a large pot of salted water, cook the pappardelle to package directions. When the pasta is al dente, drain it but reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Add the pappardelle to the shredded brisket sauce along with some of the pasta cooking water if needed. Toss to combine, adjust the seasoning, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.

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Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown Update: Mac-sagna!

The heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese + lasagna!Most of you who follow this blog know that for the past couple of years I have been a regular competitor in a series of cook-offs here in NYC known as The Takedowns. However, it occurred to me the other day that for all of my blog posts announcing competitions and updating you on what happened at each one, I have never actually written about what it’s like to prepare and compete in one.

In contrast to what one might think, there is no cooking on site; the venue just isn’t set up to accommodate that. Rather, all the cooking happens at home and then the competitors — known collectively as the Takedowners — tote their creations to the venue about an hour early to stake out a table and set up the tastings. The tastings are open to the ticket-buying public — not just the judges — which means that each of us has to prep about 250 1-oz. samples for everyone to taste.

If 250 1-oz. samples sounds like a lot, it is! The majority of Takedowners do multiple test runs before deciding on a final entry, and most try to plan ahead so that they are not scrambling at the last minute to put together something that is both tasty and winsome.

I wish that I was one of those people, but partly due to my schedule and mostly due to my inability to get organized early, I am usually the Takedowner pulling out her hair and freaking out less than 24 hours before the event. I do console myself by thinking that stress and time constraints are the mothers of invention. Sometimes it works in my favor like last summer when I brought home two ice cream makers for my Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet.

Sometimes it just results in something damn weird that I am still damn proud of like my Miso Awesome Cookies.

I had a couple of ideas for this year’s Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown (pizza mac and cheese? garlic bread-inspired mac and cheese? chocolate mac and cheese?). Ultimately, I decided that a baked mac and cheese was the way to go.

My entry for this year’s Brooklyn Mac & Cheeze Takedown? Mac-sagna, the heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese and lasagna.

Using a gallon of homemade, three-hour pork and beef Bolognese, a gallon of béchamel, four pounds of macaroni, two pounds of shredded mozzarella, two pounds of grated Parmesan, and half a pound of garlic and parsley-buttered bread crumbs, I made two gigantic 21 x 12 inch trays of mac-sagna for champions.

It was delicious and I had to stop myself from eating it like this:

Om nom nom nom nom!

Sadly, there were so many other excellent mac and cheeses that I did not win. I did, however, get to see and spend time with good friends, taste a lot of amazingly creative and imaginative dishes, and be part of another drunkenly excellent Takedown. That alone is worth every sweaty second in the kitchen.

A scaled down recipe is forthcoming. In the meanwhile, you can check out my fellow Takedowners here and here, and read more about the lovely winner here.

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Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown (I’m in!)

Mac & Cheeze, pleeeeeze!

After taking a competitive cooking hiatus, I am gearing up for the Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown this coming Sunday, March 23rd, at the Bell House from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. The event sold out in a ridiculously short amount of time (tickets were gone faster than I ever remember any Takedown selling out), which can only mean one thing: NYC is READY FOR CHEESY GOODNESS RIGHT NOW!

So before the weather turns definitively spring-like, this will be rich comfort food’s last stand before making way for tender lettuces and baby veg. For those of you who have tickets, I look forward to seeing you there! And for those of you who were not able to score them in time, I promise I will keep you all updated!

In the meanwhile, here is how you can help me out. I am still mulling over ideas for the Takedown and haven’t decided what to make yet! Any and all ideas are welcome! 

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Scotch Eggs

Go ahead. Eat like a Welsh rugby player.The first really, truly mind-blowing Scotch egg that I ever had was at The Breslin. The breading was shatteringly crisp, the sausage was moist and savory, and the yolk . . . oh the yolk! Just liquid enough, it oozed and spread over the plate like runny gold. I may have moaned. I most certainly peppered the server with questions: “But HOW???? How do they get the egg so PERFECT????? How do they possibly PEEL it so that the egg stays so intact????? The whites must be barely set! DO THEY HAVE THE DELICATE FINGERS OF ANGELS BACK THERE????” In response, I only got a coy smile.

Sous vide!” my friend Jason hissed, “It must be sous vide!

Possible, but doubtful. It was hard to imagine anyone going through the trouble of sous-videing the quantity of eggs that a restaurant would require every night. As we pondered and chewed, and pondered another round of Scotch eggs because anything good should always be ordered twice, I thought that this would be my deep-frying project. I will make this at home, I thought, and all the Scotch eggs will be mine!

As I must be the world’s worst egg peeler, I let the eggs boil until the yolks were firmer — about 5 minutes. Next time, I’ll let them be a little runnier as I found out that a layer of sausage hides a multitude of fingernail gouges and fingertip-sized divots.  The most important thing is that the oil remains hot — between 350-375° F — and the layer of sausage must remain reasonably thin.

All in all, it’s a pretty decadent affair for such a simple preparation. Deep-frying is messy business, but the final result is unbelievably satisfying.

Ingredients:

6 eggs + 2 eggs, beaten

1 pound of breakfast sausage

2 cups of panko bread crumbs

Vegetable oil (for frying)

To prepare:

1. Place 6 eggs in the bottom of a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them. Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil. When the water begins to boil, cover the pan, remove it from the burner, and let it stand for 3.5-5 minutes, depending on how set you like to have your yolks (3.5 minutes for runny yolks, 4 minutes for just set yolks, 5 for perfectly set yolks) .

2. While the eggs are cooking, prepare an ice water bath. Carefully drain the water and gently roll the eggs around in the pan to crack the shells. Plunge the eggs into the ice water bath and let them sit there until they are cool enough to handle and peel. Once peeled, very gently pat them dry with paper towels.

3. Divide the sausage into six equal portions. Flatten and shape each portion into a thin disc about 1/4 of an inch thick.  Lay the patty in the palm of your hand and gently rest a soft-boiled egg in the center of it. Wrap and mold the sausage around the egg, pinching and sealing the seams shut as you go. Make sure that the sausage layer is no thicker than 1/4 of an inch, otherwise the sausage will not cook through before the outside of the Scotch egg begins to burn. Repeat with the remaining sausage and eggs.

4. In a large, heavy pot, pour in enough oil so that you have a depth of about 2-2.5 inches. Insert the deep-fry thermometer and bring the oil up to 375°. While the oil is heating up, whisk the remaining 2 eggs in a shallow bowl. Keep the panko crumbs another shallow bowl.

5. Right before the oil reaches the right temperature, work quickly and dip each sausage ball in the beaten egg and roll it in the panko crumbs. While keeping an eye on the temperature, carefully place each Scotch egg in the hot oil. You will need to work in batches and the temperature should never drop below 350° F.

6. Turn the Scotch eggs occasionally so that they cook evenly. When they are golden and crisp — about 5-6 minutes — use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil. Let them drain on a paper towel lined plate. Serve immediately.

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