Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gravy 101

I've started a new column in the Topeka Capital-Journal called Food 411. Readers can write to me any food question and I’ll try to find an answer.

This week’s question was all about making gravy. Since a lot of people seem to be a bit intimidated when making gravy, I thought I’d share the answer here so my blog readers can find help if they need it. I just wish I had a pretty gravy boat photo to go with it!

Q: What is the secret to making gravy that doesn't taste too floury or is just plain-old blah tasting? I have yet to master it.
--Jan in Topeka

A: Jan, gravy is tricky. I took me years to feel comfortable making it, and many times I restored to the jarred or canned variety instead.

The first step to great gravy is great-tasting broth. If you are using pan drippings from a roasted piece of meat, add some onions, carrots, and celery to the bottom of the pan to boost the flavor. Whole garlic cloves and bay leaves also add good flavor. For canned broth, simmer some of these vegetables in it until they are tender, and then strain the broth through a sieve to remove the depleted veggies.
That floury taste is often caused by not cooking the flour long enough. You need 2 tablespoons of flour for each cup of broth. One method is to blend the flour with double the amount of cold water or broth (so 2 tablespoons of flour with 4 tablespoons water) to make a smooth slurry. I shake mine in a jar with a lid to combine. Then just whisk the slurry into the broth and bring to a boil to reach the full thickness. Simmer for about 10 minutes to cook the flour, stirring occasionally.
A second method, and one that adds a richness to the gravy, is to use a roux. Melt a fat (butter or meat drippings) over low heat, and then whisk in an equal amount of flour. Cook, stirring, until the mixture bubbles and cook for up to 3 minutes to rid the roux of the floury taste. Then whisk in the broth and bring to a simmer over low heat.
If you want gravy that tastes like Grandma’s, keep in mind that many cooks back in the day used gravy enhancers to add flavor. My grandmother used one called Kitchen Bouquet. Gravy Master was another popular brand. These enhancers can still be found at the grocery store if you want to give one a try.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

I had never really considered making my own Worcestershire sauce, corn chips, Ritz crackers, or Oreo cookies until the people at America’s Test Kitchen sent me their D.I.Y Cookbook. Ever since it arrived, I've been enamored with the recipes inside. Imagine, I can make my own Nutella, wine vinegar, and American cheese. Who knew!

Recipes from America’s Test Kitchen are wonderful to use. They are researched and tested to find just the right steps and ingredients for a positive outcome.  I don’t always follow what is written (we food writers are always changing something), but the recipes are a great place to start cooking.

I've posted before about the book’s giardiniera recipe. This time I decided to try making homemade Oreo cookies.

The original recipe calls for using 1/4 cup of black cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of Dutch-processed cocoa. I tried, but I couldn't find black cocoa powder in the store and I didn't want to wait for a mail-order delivery, so I used all of the later. You can get black cocoa powder from the King Arthur Flour Company or use Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder.

The cookies tasted great and very much like Oreos. Actually I think they taste even better since they’re made with ingredients in my own pantry and not with ones would never use.

Now I just have to figure out which recipe to try next!

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen D.I.Y. Cookbook
Makes approximately 40 cookies

For cookies:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

For filling:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

To make the cookies: (Don’t preheat the oven yet. The dough has to chill first.) In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, cocoa powder, and espresso powder until smooth.

Pour the butter-cocoa mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat in the softened butter, sugar, and salt until fluffy, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until combined, and then add the flour in three batches, mixing well after each. Mix until the dough forms a ball.

Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a 6-inch log that is about 1 1/2-inches thick. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove a log from the refrigerator and, using a sharp knife, slice into 1/8-inch circles. Place the circles onto the cookie sheets 1/2-inch apart. Repeat for the second log.

Bake the cookies until firm on the edges and only leaving a slight indentation in the center when gently pressed with a finger, about 14 to 16 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, and then place them on a cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the filling: With a mixer, beat together the filling ingredients until combined. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy.

To make the cookies: On a work surface, place half the cookies upside down. Place 1/2 teaspoon of filling onto each cookie, and then top with a second right-side-up cookie. Squeeze gently to spread the filling evenly throughout the cookie. Store in an airtight container. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Overnight Oatmeal Yogurt

I love oatmeal for breakfast. However, it never fails that, after eating a bowl full, I’m hungry again a short time later. I know the fiber in oatmeal is good for making you feel full, but I suspect the lack of protein doesn't make that feeling last too long.

I also love yogurt for breakfast, but I encounter the same problem of being hungry a short time later. In this case, the cause must be the lack of fiber.

What’s the answer? Putting the two together! This overnight oatmeal yogurt is both healthy and satisfying.

The night before, I mix all of the ingredients together, and in the morning breakfast is ready. I use vanilla Greek-style yogurt, but you can use any flavor. I make one batch with dried cranberries and raisins, which I enjoy in oatmeal. (It reminds me of autumn.) The other contains a fresh peach diced into bite-sized pieces. Both taste great, especially with the addition of a little cinnamon. The final mixture is very thick, so add a little milk if you want to thin it out.  

Overnight Oatmeal Yogurt

1 serving

8 ounces Greek-style yogurt (flavor of choice)
1/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/3 cup fruit, fresh or dried
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Milk (optional)

Mix all of the ingredients together in a 1-pint mason jar or other container. Add milk if the mixture is too
thick. Place in the refrigerator and allow to chill overnight. Enjoy for breakfast the next morning. Keeps in the refrigerator for 3 days.