Friday, May 30, 2014

Test Kitchen: Adventures in Gluten-Free Fried Cheese

Last weekend I made an initial test batch of fried cheese (which, by the way, was amazing when dipped in the salsa).  Here is where I started:

Don't mix this with everything else:
1 cup gluten-free baking mix flour blend
24 pack of string cheese 

Mix all of this together:
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup water

Mix indicated ingredients, then dip each mozzerella stick into the batter, roll it in the gluten free baking mix, and fry.  I found that it was a delicate balance between keeping the oil hot enough to cook them quickly without browning them too much.  Hint:  if your oil is smoking, it's probably too hot.

I attempted double dipping (batter, flour, batter, flour) on a couple, and while it kept the cheese from leaking out as much, it made the amount of cooked batter a bit too much of a mouthful.  Flavor reviews from test subjects were favorable (ie., they disappeared quickly). 

Tonight's experiment used the same basic ingredients in three different ways.

I separated the egg and water into one dish, and changed the amounts:

2 eggs
1/4 cup water

Blended in magic bullet.

Seasoned flour:

2/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup potato flour
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea slt

Seasoned bread crumbs:
4 slices dried (in the oven for 10 minutes at 300) gluten-free white bread, food processed into crumbs
1 tsp Italian seasoning

Okay.  For the first batch I rolled them in ONLY the flour, then the batter, then the flour again, and fried them.  The general consensus was that they were too grainy.  This is how they turned out:

For the second batch I rolled them in the flour, then the batter, then the breadcrumbs.  I filled in the gaps with the flour mix.  They got better reviews, but I was told that the first experiment was better.

At that point, I added 1 tsp of garlic and 1 tsp of seasoned salt to the flour blend, then mixed it with the bread crumb mixture.  I used the batter, then the new flour mix, then batter again, then pressed the breadcrumb/flour mixture around each stick.  The flavor was deemed a huge improvement, but the batter fell apart, as you can see from the photos.

You can see that as the flavor improved from left to right, the consistency of the batter got worse.  This is clearly going to take some more work.  If anyone has suggestions, feel free to help me on my way!

Left is today's first experiment, 
immediately next to that is #2, 
then the two on the right are from the last batch.

Test Kitchen: Gluten-Free Sauðamaðr Soup

.....Drumroll....and here's what I did with the leftover potato innards from my experiment the night before.  We're going with the whole Viking theme, so the name is in Old Norse, but it is my version of Shepherd's Pie Soup.  You'll probably notice that it shares some ingredients in common with my regular Shepherd's Pie.  NO ACCIDENT!

Sauðamaðr Soup

3 pounds beef
2 tbsp minced garlic
14 cups beef stock
10 extra bouillon cubes
1 cup red cooking wine (didn't like the wine flavor, you might consider leaving it out)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp thyme
5 tsp seasoned salt
2 tsp pepper
Innards of 20 potatoes, or approximately 8 regular potatoes
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp rice flour for thickening (or gluten-free flour of your choice)
2/3 cup parsley
1 tsp celery seed

Gluten free toasted bread slices
Sliced extra sharp cheddar cheese

Okay.  I cooked the beef with the minced garlic, then drained the grease out.  I added everything but the flour and let it simmer approximately 25 minutes, then added some of the liquid from the soup to the flour to blend it, and then returned it to the pot to thicken the soup.  Once the soup was done, I used my ceramic bowls and poured servings for everyone in the house.  I placed a slice of toasted gluten-free bread on top of the soup (floating on the surface), then placed two slices of cheese on top of that.  I put the tray in the oven on broil long enough to make the cheese bubble, like on French onion soup.  Everyone loved the concept and most of the flavors, but the red wine was not a hit.  I plan to try a variant of this recipe again this weekend, and post both pictures and results to see if eliminating that element will help with flavor.  I tried to retain the beef flavor with the added bouillon cubes, but the wine was a bit overpowering, so taking out the wine may change everything quite a bit.  We'll see...

Test Kitchen: Viking Gold

This is our go at potato skins - not super healthy, but hey!  They're gluten-free...  We tried both red and gold potatoes, and we're still deciding which we prefer.  It may take another batch to decide...yum.

Viking Gold

10 red potatoes
10 Yukon Gold potatoes
24 oz jalapeno bacon (or bacon cooked with a jalapeno with no seeds or core)
Shredded Mexican blend cheese
Seasoned salt (Lawry's)
Cooking oil

Okay.  First we baked our potatoes in the oven at about 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, until they were just firm enough to stay together, but definitely cooked through. While they were baking, I sliced the bacon into small pieces, then cooked them until golden brown, draining them on a paper towel.  Once the potatoes were out of the oven, we hollowed out the skins and set the cooked potato innards aside for more experimentation.  We left about a quarter to a half an inch of potato "meat" inside the skin.  We discovered that frying makes the best crisp, though oven broiling is an option.  Let's be honest, though.  No one makes potatoes skins to have a "healthy treat," so we fried those bad boys.  Once they were crispy, we immediately (if you don't, they get too soft) sprinkled the interior of the skin with seasoned salt, filled each with cheese, and topped them with jalapeno bacon bits.  We put these on a baking sheet and broiled them until the cheese was melted and a little bubbly.  These were a huge hit with the family test subjects, and the hollowed out skins can be frozen for up to a week for easy prep, as long as they go straight from the freezer into the oil.

Kicking Off the Test Kitchen: Salsa Control and Experiment #1

So, we have taken the plunge.  We are campaigning here to sell t-shirts with our company logo and catchphrase in order to start funding our "eatery." We decided not to call it a cafe, because we don't want to be obligated to serve 20 million kinds of coffee drinks, but instead, we want to focus on the food.  Speaking of food-focus, I will be posting my test kitchen experiments and results as we go along.

Salsa Control Batch - Mom's Recipe

4 tomatoes
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup tomato bouillon (bouillon powder plus water)
1 white onion
4 dashes red pepper flakes (I totally forgot to buy jalapeno at the store!)
8 dashes dried cilantro
salt to taste

This was my attempt at my mother's salsa recipe, though I screwed up with the red pepper and by not using fresh cilantro.  To start, take all ingredients except salt and tomato bouillon and cook in a pot on high until they soften (about 10 to 15 minutes).  Pour everything into a blender or food processor and blend to desired texture.  Return mixture to pot and simmer to thicken to desired consistency.  Add bouillon, then salt to taste at this point, then remove from heat.  Serve either warm or chilled.

Okay - responses were fine.  Everyone liked it, but we knew we could do better.  Hence:

Experiment #1

4 Sunset Heirloom tomatoes
1 red onion
1 small jalapeno, half of the seeds removed, no center
1/2 red bell pepper, small, bright red, no center
3 cloves garlic
5 stalks fresh cilantro
2 tsp tomato bouillon powder (no water)
1/8 tsp cayenne powder
salt to taste

Same as above, cook until softened, blend to desired texture, simmer to thicken, add salt and bouillon powder.

This batch had a much more favorable response.  The flavor was much heartier, but it needed more kick.  The color was much darker also, due to the almost purple color of the tomatoes we used.

 During initial cooking

Returned to the stove to simmer and thicken

Monday, May 5, 2014

Homemade Potato Skins

Homemade Red Potato Skins

So, Ritz and I were experimenting in the kitchen with a recipe for the cafe.  We decided that homemade potato skins would be worth exploring, but that neither of us really like russet potatoes.


About 8 or so decent-sized red potatoes, washed
1 bag Mexican blend cheese
Bacon ends and pieces
Lawry's Seasoned Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Ritz started the potatoes off, baking them at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes wrapped in foil, though the larger potatoes stayed in the oven a bit longer until they were tender.

After the potatoes cooled off a bit, we sliced each potato in half and scooped out the insides, leaving about a quarter inch or slightly less of the innards around the skin.  After they were hollowed out, we made two separate batches to check taste with our teenage boy audience.

Both batches were fried (I used peanut oil because no one has allergies to that, but I'll use sunflower for the masses, since it has lower occurrences of creating allergy problems).  I seem to have misplaced my lovely home frier with its basket, so I fried them in a pot instead.  Unfortunately, that means I can't estimate the temperature, but I basically just watched them until they were nicely brown.

The first batch was filled with cheese (each got enough cheese that the cheese came up to the level top of the skin, rather than a set amount for each one) and we sprinkled the fried bacon pieces over the tops.  These were then baked in the oven until the cheese got nice and melty, which was around 7 or 8 minutes at 325 degrees.  The boys liked these, but said they were a little bland.

The second batch was sprinkled with a gentle dash of seasoned salt and pepper before being stuffed with the cheese and bacon.  I made half of that batch with the seasoning on the bottom of the potatoes and half with the seasoning inside the bowl of the potatoes, with the taste test winner being the potatoes which had the seasoning inside the bowl area immediately after frying.