Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peanut Butter Balls

To me, Christmas cookies are some of the best sweet items I eat all year. Everyone has a different method, recipe, or family tradition that they enjoy sharing with everyone else. I have had German cookies, Mexican candies, Chinese pastries, and many others. I love them all. My dentist hates them.

My personal favorite has to be peanut butter balls. I wont spend a lot of time on words, just enjoy the recipe (I know I'm making some this week).

A few notes on the recipe. First, the chocolate coating can be whatever chocolate you like. I prefer semi sweet (i just use semi sweet chips), but i have also made them with dark. The wax can be found in the baking aisle (I believe) and is used to help thin out the chocolate. I usually put in about 5 oz wax to each package of chocolate. The goal is to have a decently thin liquid to dip into. Also, this recipe probably makes 24-30 and can easily be doubled or tripled to accommodate a crowd

Peanut Butter Balls
1 C butter, melted
2 C peanut butter
2 C graham crackers, crushed
16 oz powdered sugar
12 oz semi sweet chocolate
paraffin wax

In a double boiler melt chocolate, add some wax to thin it out (melts faster if you use smaller pieces). In a large bowl combine the butter, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and graham crackers, mix well. Roll into small balls (smaller than ping pong balls), making sure to keep them packed tight. If you are not going to be dipping immediately, refrigerate them to help them set up. Dip each ball into the melted chocolate (use toothpicks or tongs) and lay out on wax paper to dry.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Crusty Love

To this day, one of the most temperamental items in the kitchen to most cooks is nothing more than four ingredients that make up pie crust. It makes most people who have not baked pies for 40 years shudder. Now, let me talk you down off that stool before you go grab your frozen crust. You can do better than that.

Pie crust is nothing more than four ingredients in its purest form. Flour, salt, fat, and water come together to give flaky goodness and make the entire room happy. However, it's often the ratio and prep technique that causes pie crust to decorate walls of the frustrated chef. If I pour in flour, add some water and butter followed by a sprinkle of salt, I am not going to get happy results. So let's break it down bit by bit, shall we?

First the flour. Using good flour is helpful in getting a good product. Use an all purpose, hopefully an unbleached and un-enriched type for a clean flavor (I like King Arthur). Salt? Well, its salt, but use table and not kosher, it helps meld better into the dough. As for the fat, there are many options. Butter is nice, and brings great flavor to the dough. Lard is also nice (yes, I said lard, its perfectly fine in small amounts, just ask Europe) and brings a lot of flakiness. Shortening (Crisco) is a bit of a blend of both worlds. So which one to use? Well, don't use pure butter or pure lard. You will not be happy. If you want to use one source of fat, use Crisco. I have used it to amazingly successful results. Since they got rid of the trans fat in it though, it has diminished in quality a bit (side note: trans fat is bad for you if you eat a gallon a day, just like anything else. It's simply a different structure of lipid that your body processes in an altered way. If you use 4T of Crisco in a whole pie and then eat 1/8 of that pie, you have better things to do than worry about trans fat). I will say though, that the generic brands of shortening have yet to follow suit, which makes me happy when I make pie. My favorite though, is a split between butter and lard, which provides great flavor and flakiness.

Lastly, it's the water. Ice cold please. I don't even give a measurement because its not worth it. Depending on so many factors, you never know how much your crust will take. Make sure its icy cold (just add some ice cubes to it) because this will help prevent gluten formation, thus keeping your crust from becoming too chewy. Another way to help this is to rest your dough. Pie dough needs to be rested for at least 30 minutes (and can keep up to 2 days) before rolling.

There are many different recipes for pie dough, its almost like biscuits, everyone has a way of doing it. This is an adaptation of the classic Fanny Farmer recipe, though I have been playing around with some others recently (that's another post). For now, I stand by this one as having produced some fantastic pies. Using this recipe will make your crust much easier to work with, taste great, and give you good texture.

Pie Crust
for a 9" double crust pie or a 12" single crust pie

2 cups flour
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1/3 cup lard or shortening
1/2 cup butter
1/4-1/3 cup ice water

In a medium bowl sift flour, salt, and sugar. Cut the fat into cubes and add to the flour. Mix with your hands (or pastry blender) and break up the pieces of fat, coating them in flour until you have small clumps left and most flour is collected in the fat. Slowly add the water a few tablespoons at a time, mixing in between. The amount will vary, but the main goal is to just get the pie dough to come together. if you can reach your hand in and press the dough, forming a loose ball, then you are set. Once you reach this stage, form a loose ball and wrap in saran wrap. Place dough in fridge to rest. Make pie.

One last note. In a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated, they used vodka as a tenderizer (don't worry, at a high temperature the alcohol bakes out). I have only tried it once so I have no real conclusion at this point. I will address it at some point. If you choose to use this method, use 1/2 vodka and 1/2 water. Let me know how it turns out.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Thai Essence

With the holidays in full swing, I will be posting probably once a week until I head for vacation the last week of December. Anything I post after today will be geared towards the holidays and some great recipes I love to make.

As promised, another restaurant review. This time of Thai Essence, the new restaurant that opened near where I work. I went in a few weeks after it opened, and I think since then I have been back 5 or 6 times. It's that good.

First, as seems to be a requirement, I have to talk about the setting. Simple, nice art, quiet place (It is considered upscale, though kid friendly), and they have comfy chairs. I do not like the new trend of uncomfortable seating in places to eat, so this was a welcome change. The staff is also super friendly and service is great. They also do takeout (usually in less than 10 minutes).

I have sampled various dishes in my visits to Thai Essence, and I cannot quite pick a favorite. They have the usual fare of noodles, satay, and curries (side note: I love that Thai restaurants have curries that are different than their Indian dish cousins. Yet funny enough, curries are English because of the availability of dried spices from English colonies. Cool!) Their pad Thai is excellent with a good simple sauce and lots of veggies and peanuts. My fiancée gets it every time, and raves about it just as much. Their pad see ew is freaking awesome, and I tend to get that almost every time I go there. A thicker noodle that is cooked in a pan almost to a crust, I could eat it three times a day. I have also tried their soup, which is a ridiculous amount of food and broth goodness. Any time I have gone to eat here, everyone in my party has loved their dish. The food is always fresh and hot (and spicy if you want it) and they have a great variety of dishes. It is also really good bargain, with lunch being an absolute steal.

So the end point here? Go eat there. Now. You will not find better Thai food within 50 miles.

Thai Essence
1534 Win Hentschel Blvd
West Lafayette, IN 47906


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP