Confection Section: Tips and Trick-or-Treats

Because I’m a first-year teacher (for this blog, not in real life – at least not yet), I’m subject to a lot of in-service time off, which I spend on researching and planning my next lesson, which is why the time between my first and second lessons was very long. On top of that, I have writing work over at another food blog called munchbrothers.org, so balancing between time here and time with the Munch Brothers is hard, but I manage.

Anyway, I’m back. I was planning on continuing my “Take Back the Basics” lessons (it was going to be about appliances and what you need if you’re a first-time cook), but it’s Halloween weekend and, really, what food blog would be complete without a blog about Halloween and Halloween candy, so I brought back Confection Section.

Even if you’re too old to trick or treat and going to costume parties isn’t your (trick-or-treat) bag, you can still make your own candy (it’s kind of too late to do it now, but, hey, you’ll have something for next year) – either to give to trick-or-treaters, as part of a spooky house party, or just to have as a change of pace from bingeing on M&Ms, Snickers, and Milk Duds.

As I said before in the first Confection Section (https://phillyfoodie85.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/confection-section-salt-water-taffy/), making candy by hand seems like one of those old-fashioned traditions that went out with typewriters, spats, and seeing women as little more than housewives and broodmare (Okay, it’s not in those exact words, but it’s close), but most candy shops that specialize in “from scratch” confections (particularly the boardwalk candy shops and any shop owned and operated by Amish farmers and their wives at the Reading Terminal Market in Center City) do keep taffy pulling and making candy by hand alive while kitchen supply and craft stores such as Sur La Table and Michaels’ have candy-making molds, tools, and guide books, so you can make confections of all kinds at home.

Before we get to how to make some Halloween treats, I’d like to tell you a spooky tale on how this holiday came to be. You probably never really sat down and asked yourself, “What’s up with this holiday? What’s with the bobbing for apples and dressing in costumes to bilk the neighborhood out of candy (and, on some unfortunate occasions, mini-toothpaste, pennies, floss, reflective tape, apples with razor blades in them, gift certificates to McDonalds [or any fast-food place near you], written advice, expired medication, or worst case scenario, nothing)? Who came up with it?” Asking that makes you look like you’re an alien, from a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween, or socially ignorant (like, Aspergers’ syndrome-level socially ignorant), so you just go along with the tradition. And besides, who are you to turn down free candy (unless it’s from a local creepy pedophile)?

Well, I got the answers for you on what Halloween is and why we have these crazy traditions. So hit the lights and hand me the flashlight so I can put it under my chin:

Halloween and its traditions have strong roots in three autumn celebrations: Samhain, Pomona, and All Saints’ Day (or All Soul’s Day, depending on where you live). If you’re Catholic (or know anything about Catholic holidays), you probably have some idea of what All Saints’/Souls’ Day is (I’ll still go over it for the benefit of the curious/non-religious), but not the first two holidays. Samhain? Pomona? Separately, they sound like the names of second-rate state universities, and together, it sounds like the name of an Irish-Italian supermodel/actress (“Samhain Pomona” – I gotta get that down for one of my stories). Well, they’re neither. Samhain and Pomona are ancient autumn harvest holidays from Europe.

Samhain (meaning “summer’s end” in Gaelic) is an ancient Celtic festival that marked the end of summer and the harvest season and the upcoming arrival of winter. Celts living in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England, and Northern France (specifically the Brittany region) got their food from herding and hunting, and when summer came to a close, the healthiest animals in the herds were taken to a winter shelter, while the rest were cooked and eaten. Samhain was also seen by the Celts as a time when the spirits of their deceased ancestors were free to roam among the living. These spirits were thought to possess powers of fortunetelling, warning the living of trouble ahead*. The villagers made offerings of food and wine to their ancestors, hoping to make contact with their departed family members. To avoid visits from any unwanted spirits, the living would wear “ghoulish disguises” so they can fool others into thinking they’re the spirits. The costumed villagers would then form a parade as a way to lead the unwanted spirits out of their village.

Pomona, in contrast, didn’t have any macabre undertones. In fact, Pomona was a wood nymph who was worshipped as the Roman goddess of bountiful abundance, especially when it came to growing crops. November 1st was the day when ancient Romans celebrated her with offerings of nuts, apples, and other orchard fruits, as if to say, “Praise Pomona for keeping us mortals fed and prosperous.”

So far, you’re seeing the “tricks” and the pageantry behind Halloween and the importance of fall harvest celebrations, but how did Halloween as the modern age knows it come to be?

Well, because of the Pomona festival’s proximity to Samhain, the two holidays converged after the Romans invaded Britain in 43 A.D. The Romans and Celts intermingled over the following centuries, turning Samhain and Pomona into a single holiday.

When Christianity began to grow throughout Europe, the previous harvest holidays became a Christian celebration known as “the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.” 835 A.D. saw the Roman Catholic Church officially making the first of November a religious holiday to honor the saints. Instead of offering food and wine to the spirits of ancestors, villagers baked “soul cakes,” spiced biscuit-like cakes offered to the poor, who, in turn, would pray for the deceased to find peace in the afterlife…unless, of course, they were doomed to burn in Hell.

As the tradition grew in later years, young men would travel door-to-door singing songs in exchange for money, food or ale, which, to me, sounds more like a Christmas tradition than a Halloween/fall festival one, because who among you hasn’t wanted to give Christmas carolers money, food, or booze just so they’ll stop singing? And, before you ask, yes, this tradition is the ancestor to trick-or-treating. The practice of wearing costumes while doing this was a way to honor the saints, rather than warding off unwelcome spirits**. The more extravagant churches would display relics of the saints on All Saints’ Day, while poorer churches would encourage the parishioners to dress up as saints in lieu of displaying relics. I remember my Catholic school doing something like this when I was enrolled there. I don’t know the specifics, sadly, but my second grade class was involved with it.

Several of the ancient traditions associated with Samhain, Pomona, and All Saints’ Day were brought to the United States when Irish immigrants came to the United States in the 19th century. The tradition of pumpkin carving stemmed from Irish immigrants carving faces onto potatoes and turnips as a means to welcome in spirits of deceased family members. Yes, I know it sounds like a stereotype, but it is true. Besides, carving faces into potatoes and turnips sounds more like Europe trying to copy voodooism. The pumpkin just feels more right. I don’t want to have to re-imagine the legend of The Headless Horseman with a turnip for a head. It’s not as scary as a flaming jack-o-lantern.

Halloween as an American holiday finally became what it is today in the post-World War II world, when the holiday was aimed at the younger crowd and people put out cookies and cupcakes — as well as whatever candies were popular back then, like Atomic Fireballs, Charleston Chews, candy corn, and Candy Cigarettes [now changed to Candy Sticks or not sold at all due to worries over tobacco companies encouraging minors to smoke] – to kids roaming the streets dressed as witches, vampires, or Frankenstein’s monster***, among other things.

Halloween tradition has evolved from a fall harvest/occult celebration to a children’s celebration to a holiday for all ages, whether your taking your younger sibling through the neighborhood to get candy or you’re shaking it in your hospital hottie/naughty nurse costume at an all-night costume party.

But it all boils down to…the treats.

The amount of candy eaten on Halloween has long outnumbered the amount eaten at Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Heck, even Easter has nothing on Halloween when it comes to candy consumption. In 2011, $2.3 billion was spent on Halloween candy and the entire Halloween candy industry is worth eight billion. It has grown significantly since then. A recent survey from the National Confectioners Association states that 72% of all money spent on candy this Halloween will be on chocolate. Last year, more than $12.6 billion was spent on chocolate in the United States, which is 3.8% more than the year before. Americans spent $3.9 billion to buy 3.5 billion chocolate bars, bags and boxes under 3.5 ounces, the standard size consumers pick up at a grocery store checkout. Reese’s candies (peanut butter cups, pieces, and their ilk) and M&Ms (all kinds) each accounted for more than $500 million in sales.

The chocolate industry is extremely concentrated among just a few competitors. Hershey and Mars are the two heavyweights in the chocolate industry, not just in America, but throughout the world. The nation’s oldest top-seller, Hershey’s brand chocolate, has been available since 1900 (that’s 114 years of soaring blood sugar and chocolatey goodness) while Mars has been around since 1911 (which is 103 years of the same thing as Hershey’s). These brands not only compete for customer dollars at the checkout line, they also sell their products in snack sizes (those miniature versions of full-size candy bars and packs that are usually seen in Halloween candy bags). While most of the top standard size brands also rank among the highest for sales of snack-size chocolate, there are some exceptions. M&Ms and 3 Musketeers are relatively less popular in snack size than in the standard size****.

So, how are you gonna compete with Hershey’s and Mars to get trick-or-treaters’ attention? You probably won’t, but with quality ingredients, trial and error, and a lot of imagination (especially when it comes to packaging), you can make Halloween treats that will have all the little witches cackling and werewolves howling.

Caramel Apples

My first recipe is a Halloween/fall traditional treat: caramel apples. They’re hard to eat, will rot your teeth (or cause you to lose a baby tooth – or a permanent one), and do take a little time to prepare, but they are good…for some people. I don’t like the taste of the buttery caramel mixed with the tart Granny Smith apple. I like caramel and Granny Smith apples, but not together. On top of that, those type of apples are already sweet. Adding sugary stuff to it just serves to increase your waistline, but I know there are people out there who don’t care and like caramel apples regardless. So here’s the recipe, courtesy of CookingLight.com (it’s 221 calories, even if you try to make it healthy):

Ingredients

small apples, chilled (green/Granny Smith apples preferred, though you can experiment with Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, whichever you like)

2 cups granulated sugar

½ cup light-colored corn syrup (or simple syrup)

½ cup water

2 cups half-and-half

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

Supplies Needed

Wooden sticks

Candy thermometer

Large saucepan or Dutch oven

Teaspoons

Measuring cups

Wooden spoon for stirring

Bowls for hot water bath

Baking sheet lined with wax/parchment paper

Preparation

1. Push wooden sticks into the top of chilled apples. Return apples to the refrigerator until caramel is ready for dipping.

2. Place sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan; boil, stirring until dissolved. Boil, without stirring, 9 minutes or until light golden.

3. Combine half-and-half, vanilla, and salt; slowly stir into pan. Boil until candy thermometer reaches 235° (45 minutes), stirring frequently.

4. Pour caramel into a bowl sitting in a hot water bath. Swirl apples in caramel, and place on baking sheet lined with wax paper.

The next candy recipe is a favorite of mine and one of many reasons why I wanted to start this blog: to show that it is possible to make store-bought foods from scratch. This is the recipe for homemade Reese’s peanut butter cups. They make look hard to make, but they’re really not. Credit goes to www.fifteenspatulas.com


Homemade Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Ingredients:

2 (12 oz.) bags semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Supplies Needed

Muffin tin

Paper muffin cups (12 large or 24 miniature)

Small spoon or cookie scoop

Airtight container for storage

Double boiler or large saucepan filled with boiling water with heatproof bowl on top (or microwaveable bowl)

Electric hand mixer

Directions:

Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Melt one (12 oz.) bag of chocolate either in a double boiler or by microwaving in short increments, stirring after 30 seconds, for about 2 minutes.

With a small spoon or cookie scoop, evenly distribute melted chocolate into each muffin cup. Drop pan repeatedly on the counter to help chocolate flatten and smooth out. Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine peanut butter, powdered sugar and butter. Whip with an electric hand mixer until smooth. If your peanut butter mixture is not completely smooth, stir in an additional teaspoon of melted butter or vegetable/canola oil.

Remove pan from freezer and place small spoonfuls of peanut butter mixture on top of each chocolate layer. Drop pan repeatedly on the counter again, to help flatten peanut butter layer. Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes.

Melt remaining 12 oz. bag of chocolate. Working quickly, portion small spoonfuls of chocolate into each cups, three cups at a time, immediately dropping the pan repeatedly on the counter to flatten cups (or the 24 mini). Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes to set the top layer of chocolate.

For a peanut butter cup with a firmer texture, serve chilled. For a softer, creamier texture, serve at room temperature. Store refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days. Don’t fret if they don’t look exactly like a Reese’s cup. That’s how they’re supposed to look.

This final candy recipe is another chocolate delight, hailing all the way from Brazil. It’s called a brigadeiro. I have had Brazilian chocolate before (it was a chocolate bonbon whose name meant “Dancing and Dreaming” in Portuguese, which, like Spanish, is different in Europe than it is in South America. I’m not all experienced at speaking Portuguese, but I can recognize what it looks like. The same can also be said for the following languages I have seen and tried to learn: Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Greek, Polish, Thai, and Swedish) – very creamy mouthfeel, is better than American chocolate, but it was not as decadent as Belgian or French chocolate. Of course, that’s not what they look like originally. This is what you can do with them to freak out trick-or-treaters.

Olho Brigadeiros

Ingredients

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 oz. (one bag) white chocolate chips or white chocolate melting chocolate

1 teaspoon red food coloring, or as needed

1 teaspoon blue food coloring, or as needed

1 teaspoon black food coloring, or as needed

Supplies Needed:

Medium saucepot

Rubber spatula

8″x8″ baking dish (greased)

Double boiler or boiling saucepot of water with heatproof bowl fitted over it

Tablespoon

Thin paintbrushes

Instructions

1. Combine sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter in medium saucepot over medium-low heat.

2. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is very thick and rubber spatula holds its line across bottom of pan, about 25 minutes. Pour into a greased 8″x8″ baking dish and refrigerate until cooled, at least 30 minutes.

3. Working with approximately 1 tablespoon pieces at a time, roll into 1-inch balls. Set aside

4. Melt white chocolate chips or discs in double boiler or in bowl over boiling saucepot. Stir until thoroughly melted.

5. Dip 1-inch balls in white chocolate. Freeze until hard (anywhere from an hour to four, depending)

6. Paint white chocolate-dipped balls with food coloring to make it look like an eyeball.

7. Freeze again, this time for 30 minutes or until food coloring does not run

NOTE: If you really want your candy eyeballs to raise eyebrows (and some people’s lunches), use colored royal icing for the eye detail to make it more realistic. If you’re putting them in a bowl, I recommend smearing them in strawberry or cherry jelly/preserves, for that pulpy, bloody look.

Well, that’s it for my Halloween candy lesson. Good night, happy eating, and, if you’re out partying and need a 2:00am spot to eat, stop on by the Diner of the Living Dead…if you dare!

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*Irish/Celtic culture has a lot of stories about spirits warning mortals of death and future misfortune. Ever hear of banshees?

**And I’ll bet the ancient peoples who did this didn’t have to deal with people wearing sleazy, moronic, or insane costumes like people today do – or, at least, knew how to publicly humiliate the ones who had the sack to do so

***A little literary trivia: even though Frankenstein’s monster is known as Frankenstein, his name in the actual novel by Mary Shelley was Thomas [pronounced “Toe-ma,” because he was French]. Frankenstein was actually the last name of his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

**** As someone who has eaten both M&Ms and 3 Musketeers in standard and snack sizes, I can tell you snack sizes just isn’t enough for M&Ms and 3 Musketeers…and neither are Snickers bars or 100 Grand bars.

TV Dinners #1: A Cooking Lesson from Cartoon Network

“And then, the Three Little Bacon Steaks WERE PUT IN THE OVEN and baked at 350, SMOTHERED IN CHOCOLATE! The end.”

The Red Guy, Cow and Chicken

This was an actual line from the late 1990s animated show, Cow and Chicken, Cartoon Network’s answer to Nickelodeon’s Ren and Stimpy (only it wasn’t that over-the-top with gross-out humor, but it did make fun of gender identity and transsexuality a lot — not in the same way as South Park and Family Guy have done, but a lot of the jokes would be considered a little near-the-knuckle for more prudish audiences) and part of Cartoon Network’s original programming series, Cartoon Cartoons, which also includes popular series like Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Codename: Kids Next Door, and Johnny Bravo, along with lesser-known shows, like Sheep in the Big City, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Whatever Happened to Robot Jones, and a favorite I watched in high school, Time Squad*.

This quote was from the season three episode, “Going My Way?”, in which The Red Guy is a drifter who gets adopted by Cow and Chicken’s insane parents and treat him better than their own offspring. One of the ways The Red Guy impresses Mom and Dad (that was their names) is by reading a “fairy tale” from a cookbook.

In this era of food blogs, people emulating food dishes that appear on their favorite show has become common, from people trying to recreate Skittlebrau (Homer’s beer and Skittles concoction from the season nine Simpsons episode, “Bart Star”) to someone setting up a  Tumblr blog centered on making real-world versions of the Burger of the Day specials seen in the background of the FOX animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers (including an especially dubious one from the first episode called “The Child Molester – Served With Candy”).  I’m jumping on the bandwagon as well, but my twist is I’m going to find out if any of the dishes in my favorite TV shows can be recreated in real life.

Welcome to “TV Dinners.” Today’s Special: Bacon Steaks Smothered in Chocolate.

Savory Chocolate Sauce

It may seem like a pregnant lady’s or 20-something stoner’s favorite dish (I mean, really? Who mixes chocolate with anything that isn’t cookies, cake, or candy?), but that’s because chocolate has been pigeon-holed as the stuff of desserts, pastries, frozen delights, breaking dietary taboos, warm winter drinks, sweet summer treats, and, if you really want to let your mind wander into the red-light district, sex. Seriously, who among you hasn’t had prurient thoughts of drizzling someone’s naked flesh in hot fudge and licking it off in sensual voracity? Adult toy stores online and in the real world cater to those who believe chocolate is an aphrodisiac, whether it’s in the form of body paint or performance enhancing bonbons, but that’s another blog entry for another day.

Savory chocolate dishes aren’t rare, but, outside of ambitious young cooks and eaters with an open mind, no one really thinks to try them, which is a shame, as savory chocolate dishes aren’t as nasty as you’d think. In savory chocolate dishes, dark chocolate is commonly used, but some dishes, like this take on baba ghannoush (or ghannouj), uses white chocolate to bring out the creaminess of the mashed eggplant.

Even if you don’t want to dive in headfirst into a savory chocolate dish, you can try a savory chocolate sauce. The one most people would be familiar with is mole (pronounced “mo-lay,” not “mohl,” like the underground animal, a treacherous double agent, or the benign skin tumor that can either be a beauty mark, a sign you may have cancer, or, in some ancient civilizations, a sign you were into witchcraft if you stuck it with a needle and it didn’t bleed), which is served on chicken. Mole sauce is actually the generic name for the dishes served with that kind of sauce, with mole poblano as the most common type outside of Mexico.

Much like a lot of stories of how popular dishes are made, mole was made purely by accident and with limited ingredients. A visitor had stopped at a Mexican convent and two nuns were scrambling for whatever they could provide for him. The nuns had little in the way of food and used a molcajete (a stone mortar and pestle used in traditional Mexican cuisine) to grind every ingredient they could find and simmered it in liquid until it thickened.

Traditionally, mole is made with guajillo chiles (roasted, stemmed, seeded, and chopped), stewed tomatoes, cinnamon, unsalted peanuts, and cocoa powder (though you could substitute that for Mexican chocolate or a bar of dark chocolate that’s been melted in a double boiler). Speaking from personal experience, mole sauce tastes like barbecue sauce without the sweetness and with a little more heat and it goes great with grilled chicken.

However, if you just want a barbecue sauce with a dark chocolate edge, you can prepare this. It’s the homemade barbecue sauce I first made when I decided to take culinary arts at Job Corps, with some minor adjustments.

Dark Chocolate Barbecue Sauce
• 2 tbsps unsalted butter
• 1 oz semisweet chocolate (chopped)
• 1/3 cup brown sugar (packed)
• 2 tbsps cider vinegar
• 2 tbsps unsweetened cocoa powder (I recommend Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa)
• 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tsps dry mustard
• 2 tsps chili powder
• 2 tsps kosher salt
• 1/2 tsp ground coriander
• 1/4 tsp cayenne
• 1 cup apple cider vinegar
• 1 cup stewed tomatoes
• 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
• 2 tablespoons minced garlic
• 2 tablespoons liquid smoke (optional)
• 1 tablespoon paprika
• 2 teaspoons dried oregano
• 2 teaspoons dried thyme
• 1 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation:
Melt butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add remaining ingredients (vinegar last), reduce heat and simmer over low for 20 minutes. Allow to cool. Optionally, you can puree this sauce to make a smoother barbecue sauce.

Bacon Steaks

A bacon steak (also known as a bacon chop, but not a pork chop, because a bacon steak is from the part of the pig where we get bacon – the belly if you want the streaky, fatty strip bacon that you can enjoy from breakfast to dinner; if you want Canadian bacon, you have to take it from Porky’s back) is just bacon cut thick enough to pass for a steak, hence the name. It can also be regular beef steak with bacon wrapped around it if you want to get fancy, but, for the sake of this blog post, a bacon steak is a thickly-cut slab of bacon that looks like a steak.

As for whether or not you can bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius, or 4 on the gas mark if you’re using a gas oven), you…actually can. Depending on your oven (I’m going by the electric oven I have in my house currently), bacon steaks/chops take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes to cook in the oven, turning ever so often so it cooks on both sides. Compare with pork chops, which can take 35 minutes to cook (maybe a little longer, depending on your oven). And yes, you can smother the bacon steaks in chocolate (or rather, the savory chocolate sauce) in chocolate as it cooks. The end result will taste salty, smoky, incredibly rich, and (depending on whether or not you puréed the sauce) very smooth.

And that’s how you make bacon steaks smothered in chocolate.

Thanks, and happy eating

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*There are some Cartoon Network-made shows that have aired on the channel, but aren’t Cartoon Cartoons: Samurai Jack, Class of 3000, Megas XLR, anything made during Cartoon Network’s failed attempt at airing live-action shows (Out of Jimmy’s Head, Dude What Would Happen, Destroy Build Destroy, Incredible Crew, Tower Prep, and Hole in the Wall [even though that was a short-lived game show that aired on the FOX Network]), and the post-Golden Age Cartoon Network shows, like Adventure Time, The Looney Tunes Show (not the installment show of classic shorts, the sitcom), Regular Show, Steven Universe, Uncle Grandpa, MAD, Robotomy, and The Amazing World of Gumball.

Happy Birthday, TBTK

 

It may not seem like much, but it has been a year since I first started Take Back the Kitchen, a food blog that not only encourages people to go the “from scratch” route, but also teaches them food history and gives them insight on how we as a society treat food.

I know I haven’t been consistent with the blog, since I’m also trying to look for employment. Currently, I have at least three AmeriCorps programs interested in me and I’ve been phone interviewed by two of them. I’ve also entered a screenwriting contest because, hey, I have to do something with that Writing for Film and TV degree I earned back in 2007 and am collecting as many top-shelf Hollywood talent agency phone numbers as I can so I can pick one and start pitching. I’ve been trying to find time for the blog, but I take my time in planning and drafting what I write. And don’t get me started on offline obligations (i.e. housework and errands) and the occasional day where I just feel that I’m not the good writer I think I am. Those are dark days, as dark as the chocolate on that cake in the picture (or at least what the non-frosted inside is. I like to imagine that cake as a devil’s food instead of an angel’s food).

Through it all, I have been going over the months I have blogged (even if it was for a day), looked back on my work, and…it’s pretty good. I may not have had a lot of readers, but if I keep at it, I’ll get more. And, even if I don’t, these blog posts will make excellent portfolio work for a food writing job, and my career counselor, Ms. Emily Rappaport of San Francisco, California, told me she was a fan of Take Back the Kitchen for its informative and witty writing (the wit is inherent; the information is from experience), so that counts for something. I think my best work from the year I worked on this is the multi-part piece on Thanksgiving, because I’ve always wanted to pick apart the food history of that holiday and separate the B.S. I learned in school (public and private/religious) that was probably only 40% accurate with what most scholars and historians have found in recent years. On top of that, I had a cranberry sauce/relish recipe that needed to be shared.

Since I’m trying to be more organized in launching my writing career (be it writing screenplays or for food), I’m currently laying out a schedule I can stick to for how frequent I’ll be writing on this blog. Details as of now are fuzzy, but I’m hoping to at least post twice a week.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank all of my readers for checking out my blog and commenting whenever necessary. I’m sorry if I didn’t approach this as frequently as possible and I hope to change that, and here’s hoping I continue to inform and entertain you guys.

 

–Canais “phillyfoodie85” Young

Accidental Foods

I have heard of how the sandwich, chocolate chip cookies, ice cream cones, potato chips, and popsicles (ice lollies, if you’re UK-born) are a mistake, but the nachos one is a new one. I also have heard that the naming for “chimichangas” was a mistake, as it was from a Mexican mom who was trying to cover up her cursing in front of her child. Another culinary mistake that became popular was the chocolate lava cake. According to food legend, a pastry cook took out a batch of mini chocolate cakes too soon, but since he was in a hurry, he just told the customers that they’re a new dessert made by the kitchen.

Creating accidental foods is how I got through some of my culinary classes, like that tomato-flavored cream cheese that I tried to pass for dip (goes great on bagel sandwiches, especially ones with lox or smoked salmon. Not so much the greasy breakfast sandwiches where sausage, ham, a sunny side-up egg, or bacon is your protein). Or that Mexican cheese and chicken dish I did in Chef Wagner’s Bistro class that I made after I successfully made sopas (pictures below).

Sopa and Fried Plantain Platter

This is the sopa platter, decorated with fried plantains, some salsa (homemade, natch), and lime pieces (with kosher salt on them for that bold, sassy virgin margarita flavor).

This below is the chicken and cheese dish I made for fun:

P04-12-12_11.35

Now, if memory serves me correctly, this was made with roasted red peppers, queso fresco, roasted chicken, and refried beans. You can eat it like a cheap casserole or use it in filling for tacos, quesadillas, or homemade Hot Pockets or mini-pizzas.

Thank you, and happy eating!

Rantings of an Amateur Chef

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. I think accidents are the father.

When you think along the pantheon of food, there have been more than a few accidental inventions:

  • Sandwich – The Earl of Sandwich was at a gambling table and didn’t want to get up. I’ve been there and know that feeling. He ordered his dinner of meat to be brought to him between two slices of bread.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies – A baker at the Toll House Inn (yes, that Toll House) was making chocolate cookies one day and ran out of chocolate powder.  Taking a bar of semi-sweet chocolate, she broke it into chunks and put it into the batter, thinking that the chocolate would melt evenly. It didn’t and thank God for that!
  • Ice Cream Cone – At the 1904 World’s Fair an ice cream vendor ran out of dishes. Lucky for him…

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Oreo Day (or The Sieve and the Sandwich Cookie)

Image

The old packaging I remember from the 1990s.

Another food celebration day has crept up on me. This time, it’s Oreo Day, though I would have gone with “Sandwich Cookie Day” for two reasons: a) Oreos aren’t the only sandwich cookies with a creamy center out there (especially since Nabisco is doing all it can to make Oreos different), and b) you know some overly politically-correct activist is going to get on his or her soapbox and declare that the name is racist. For those who don’t know, “Oreo” is a derogatory name for a black person who “acts white” (read: doesn’t listen to rap, has a good credit rating, isn’t on welfare, has a respectable job, etc). Other variations of this include the “banana” (an Asian who acts white), a coconut (a Hispanic or black person who doesn’t have African roots [like a Brazilian, a Jamaican, or someone from India] who acts white), and a “backwards Oreo” (a white person who acts black). While being called an “Oreo” may be a compliment (because, hey, you don’t follow the stereotypes of your race and cookies are always good), it does have the sting of “You should be ashamed of yourself for selling out to The White Man, the same White Man that enslaved your ancestors and took their sweet time giving us the same rights they have, and still keep us down today, albeit in more underhanded ways, never mind that we’re keeping ourselves down and, therefore, making ourselves look bad.” I guess whoever came up with these was only racist when he or she was hungry and, rather than get something to eat, decided to fan the flames of hatred a little more.

I can’t think of a time when Oreo cookies weren’t part of my life. It’s always been in my pantry, whether it’s the real deal or some discount store knock-off. Even as I’m typing this, there’s a discount store Oreo knock-off in my pantry, called Benton’s Chocolate Sandwich cookies waiting to be devoured by everyone in my family within the span of, oh, say, five days. And even when I couldn’t have the cookie, I’ve always had a dessert with Oreos in it (or flavored like a chocolate sandwich cookie), be it ice cream, cake, pie, or pudding. Oreo cookies are a lot like some of the cartoons I watched when I was younger: kids love them and are the main demographic, but the periphery demographic is mostly adults.

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The competition: 1908-2001, with a brief comeback in 2008

Oreos were created in 1912 (making them a little over 100 years old, 102 to be exact) as a competitor to Hydrox Cookies, which, sadly, aren’t around anymore due to mergers, rebranding, and Oreo kicking Hydrox’s butt in sales. The last time Hydrox were seen was when they were sold as part of the product’s 100th birthday in 2008. Compared to Oreos, Hydrox’s filling wasn’t overly sweet, it was kosher/halal  (Oreo’s original recipe had lard in it, and, as Jewish and Muslim dietary laws will tell you, pork products are verboten, as pigs are seen as dirty, disease-ridden scavengers), and Hydrox’s chocolate wafer could stand its own when being dunked in milk.

When Oreo first started, it was known as the “Oreo Biscuit” (which is somewhat true, as a “biscuit” is what Americans and Canadians call a “cookie” and not a quick bread that’s used in a sausage sandwich for breakfast and served alongside chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, and the product was originally made for British people in mind). It was developed and produced by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) in New York City (Chelsea area) on Ninth and 15th (which is known as “Oreo Way”). The original packaging was in novelty cans with clear glass tops and they sold for 25 cents a pound. Keep in mind that $.25 a pound in 1912 would be $5.86 today when adjusted for inflation, which is how much Oreos are priced in some of the mom-and-pop delis and kwik-e-marts I’ve been to. Okay, maybe not that much, but I’ve seen them go anywhere from $3.50 to $4.99 — minus tax, of course. As for the original packaging, Nabisco probably switched over to the “We Three Sleeves” packaging to keep the prices down and for freshness reasons, though I’ll bet you there’s a farmer’s market out there that has homemade, heart-smart, gluten-free, vegan Oreos in a decorative can (made of recycled materials, because that’s how the fair-food, go-green crowd works) that’s probably somewhere between $1.50 to $2.50 a pound (maybe more).

As mentioned before, the filling to the Oreo cookie had lard (pork fat) in it, making it unsuitable for eating if you were Jewish, Muslim, or just didn’t like pork and pork byproducts (and, unlike today, people didn’t really care if you were any religion other than Protestant or some kind of Baptist or Anglican Christian. Even Catholics were ragged on because they had a pope as their conduit to God and Protestants didn’t…or, if you want to put a modern perspective to it, maybe Protestants knew that Catholic priests did unsavory things to children, but it wasn’t a major concern until the 1990s, the 2000s, and now). Of course, to cover it up, they used vanilla and sugar. There was even a lemon-flavored cream filling in the 1920s, but has since been discontinued (though if you ever go to Japan or to some American markets, you will find lemon cream Oreo cookies, albeit with the Golden Oreo wafers instead of the chocolate ones. Lemon and chocolate don’t really make a good flavor profile, which is probably why it was discontinued).

Sam “Mr. Oreo” Porcello (exact day and month unknown, but the birth year is somewhere between 1935 and 1936 – died May 12, 2012) was a food scientist from New Jersey credited for devising the modern Oreo cookie filling, in which the lard is replaced with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (still not healthy, but slightly better than lard). It wouldn’t be until 2005 that the Oreo would switch over to non-hydrogenated vegetable oil in an effort to rid food of trans fats (which, despite what you’ve heard or read, doesn’t affect the flavor, so those episodes of American Dad (“Live and Let Fry,” season four, episode 11) and King of the Hill (“Trans-Fascism,” season 12, episode 11) where Stan Smith and Hank Hill respectively fight back against the new “no foods with trans fats” laws because the no trans fats foods lack flavor is a fallacy.

The etymology behind “Oreo” is a mystery. Some say it’s partially from the French word “or,” which isn’t a conjunction used to denote a decision or choice in this case (in French, that word is “ou,” without the left-leaning accent. If it’s spelled with the left-leaning accent [où], then it’s the French word, “where,” as in “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?”). In this case, “or” in French means “gold,” possibly meaning that this cookie is the gold standard. Another theory is that “Oreo” is from the Greek word “όμορφο,” meaning “beautiful, nice, or well-done” (Quick word: I don’t know Greek all that well, except for the alphabet, and that was back in sixth grade when I was taught about the Greek and Roman Empires and from watching TV shows and movies about college frat and sorority houses getting into trouble that would get real-life frats and sorority members hurt, expelled, arrested, shut down, put on academic probation, or, worst case scenario,  deported. I got the word off Google Translate). A final, and simpler, theory is that the name was made up by the company and it was chosen because it was easier to pronounce and remember.

Through the years, Oreo has become so much more than a chocolate sandwich cookie. Its filling has been everything from lemon to mint to chocolate to peanut butter — heck, if you go to China and Japan, you can get green tea filling in your Oreo, while other countries, like Chile, Argentina, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia have blueberry ice cream filling, orange ice cream filling, strawberry filling, and dulce de leche (a milk-based confection that’s common as muck in the Hispanic world, particularly in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the South American countries that have Spanish as an official language. Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname are the only ones that don’t) filling. There’s been Oreo pies, cheesecakes, regular cakes, brownies, ice cream, and frozen dessert dishes. The wafers, when ground up into crumbs, have been molded into pie crusts (or edible dirt, if it’s Halloween and you want to make a food-based scale model of a cemetery. Someone in my high school senior class did that, and it was amazing) and used as mixin’s for yogurt and ice cream. Basically, if something on the dessert menu says “Cookies and Cream [something],” you can bet that Oreos or an Oreo-inspired chocolate sandwich cookie (whether pre-made or homemade) are involved.

As part of Chocolate Sandwich Cookie Day, I’m going to leave you with a fool-proof recipe for how to make your own Oreo cookies (or, at the very least, the wafers, so you can use them for desserts or just eat that part without worrying about the creamy center). “You can make your own Oreos?” you ask incredulously. Yes, you can. It may seem hard, as the dark chocolate wafers are easy to overbake (their color obscures browned edging, which is an indicator of doneness in most cookie recipes) and the filling is very easy to foul up (coming out either too sweet or not sweet enough. I’ve had enough Oreos and no-brand sandwich cookies to know the difference), but this recipe fixes those mistakes.

The cookie/wafer part is prepared the same way as vanilla icebox cookies, only you substitute part of the flour for Dutch process cocoa (or a mix of black cocoa — which can only be found online or at gourmet grocery stores — and Dutch process cocoa), though you don’t have to bother with the cocoa powder if you’re making mock Golden Oreos. As for the filling, it’s a simple blend of confectioner’s sugar, water, vanilla extract (for best results, try and find clear vanilla extract, as that makes it as white as the actual Oreo filling), and a pinch of salt. That’s it. You don’t need lard or hydrogenated oil for it.

So break out the milk (doesn’t matter what kind. I had my Benton Sandwich cookies with Almond Vanilla Milk. I’m not lactose-intolerant, but everyone else in my family is and I’m open to trying new milks, like when I tried goat’s milk with spiced tea at Three Stone Hearth) and have a happy Chocolate Sandwich Cookie Day with this copycat recipe:

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Black cocoa (found in specialty shops or online) is what gives these cookies their distinctive dark color and deep flavor; if you can’t find it, substitute additional Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Also, if you can find it, clear vanilla extract will make a bright white–colored filling.

COOKIES

2½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

¼ cup black cocoa powder

¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 teaspoon instant espresso or instant coffee

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) all-purpose flour

FILLING

4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2½ tablespoons water

FOR THE COOKIES:

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter, then combine with the cocoa and espresso powders in a small bowl to form a smooth paste. Set aside to cool, about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat the cooled cocoa mixture, remaining 16 tablespoons butter, granulated sugar, and salt together using an electric mixer on medium-high speed until well combined and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour in 3 batches, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until the dough forms a cohesive ball, about 10 seconds.

Transfer the dough to a clean counter and divide into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a 6-inch log, about 2 inches thick. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Slice the dough into ⅛-inch-thick cookies. Lay the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spaced about ¾ inch apart.

Bake the cookies until the edges begin to brown and firm, 10 to 12 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough using freshly lined baking sheets.

FOR THE FILLING: In a large bowl, beat the confectioners’ sugar and salt together with an electric mixer on low speed, slowly adding the vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the water until the filling is uniform and malleable, about 1 minute. If the filling is dry and crumbly, beat in the remaining ½ tablespoon water. Transfer the filling to a clean counter and roll into a log slightly smaller than the cookie dough (about 1⅔ inches wide). Wrap the filling in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. 7. Slice the filling about ⅛ inch thick. Pinch each slice of filling between your fingertips to soften it, then sandwich it firmly between 2 cookies and serve.

Thanks, and happy eating!

To see where your favorite Oreo cookie type places, read this article from the food section of Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/06/oreo-flavors_n_4904442.html?utm_hp_ref=taste&ir=Taste

Copycat Recipes: Cuckoo For Cocoa Bombs

This is episode one in a new “Take Back the Kitchen” segment centered on making your favorite restaurant meals and pantry/refrigerator staples from scratch.

Welcome back, readers! It’s January 3, 2014, and, where I live, it’s an ass-biting 14ºF and is going to hit 5º by nightfall (and feel like 14 below). It’s times like this I wish I were back in San Francisco, where their winter weather is no different than what it’s like in early spring (mild and a little rainy).

But, this blog isn’t about the weather or where I’d rather be. It’s about food…and, in this case, drink.

In weather like this, hot drinks are the way to go, be it tea, coffee, cider, toddies, or cocoa. Nestlé, Swiss Miss, Ghiradelli Premium, Trader Joe’s, some Save-a-Lot no-brand — whatever your taste (and your budget), there’s nothing like a hot mug of hot cocoa (especially with marshmallows, but I’m not a marshmallow person, unless it’s roasted over a fire and sandwiched between a chocolate bar and some graham crackers or melted down and used to make Rice Krispie treats). But what if I told you that you can actually make hot cocoa mix and save yourself the time and money? Initially, you’d give me an incredulous look or dismiss me as being crazy, and, prior to that, I’d agree with you, but, yes, it is just as possible to make hot cocoa mix just as it is to make herbed crackers, egg foo young, or Fruit Roll-Ups (which I will touch on in later installments of “Copycat Recipes”). And this take on hot cocoa mix won’t leave a gritty, powdery aftertaste, which is one of the things I don’t like about hot cocoa.

The first thing you’ll notice about this is that it’s not a powdered mix, more like melting chocolate, then chilling it and turning it into pseudo-truffles or an edible fizzing bath bomb. That’s to reduce the mess you get with powders and to put you in control of how you want it flavored. What if you want some mint hot cocoa, or nutmeg, or cinnamon or Mexican-style (with dried, ground chiles)? Yes, you can flavor the powder with spices or add a flavored syrup, but it won’t mix well. Here, you get a better blend of chocolate plus whatever you’re flavoring it with (and, yes, you can use your favorite dessert liqueur, like Remy Martin, Kahlùa, Bailey’s Irish Cream or crème de mènthe if you want to make your hot cocoa adults only).

Instant Cocoa Bombs
(adapted from American Test Kitchen’s recipe)

Ingredients

12 oz (1 bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
Optional flavorings (mint extract, vanilla extract, crushed peppermint candy, smoked sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice, dried ground chiles, your dessert liqueur of choice, ground coffee, etc)

1) Combine the chips, heavy cream, whatever flavoring you’re using (if any), and salt in a microwaveable glass bowl (I swear by Pyrex).
2) Microwave for 2 minutes (your microwave time may vary). If you don’t have a microwave, then melt the chocolate in either a double boiler or place the bowl with the mixture in it over a boiling pot of water (or the flame on your gas oven if you’re feeling ambitious). Either way, you’ll want to stir your melting mixture until it’s smooth. If you’re flavoring it, taste it to see if the flavored chocolate is where you want it to be.
3) Wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (or use a shower cap and some rubber bands) and refrigerate for two hours or until firm.
4) After the mixture has hardened, take the bowl out of the refrigerator and unwrap.
5) With a tablespoon or a small disher scoop (Disher scoop is what laymen call “an ice cream scoop”. In restaurant supply stores, their sizes range from #6 to #100. A #6 or #8 [which is small and used for cookies] is ideal for this recipe), scoop the mixture into balls.
6) If you’re not going to use the cocoa bombs right away, wrap them in plastic and put them in a resealable freezer bag (or just put them in a freezer bag if you don’t have plastic wrap). They’ll keep anywhere from five days (refrigerator) or two months (freezer)
7) To use the cocoa bombs (either right away or later), place a cocoa bomb in a microwaveable mug (material doesn’t matter. It just has to be able to handle microwave temperatures), add milk (doesn’t matter if it’s cow, goat, soy, or lactose-free), and place in the microwave for 2 minutes (again, your microwave cooking time may vary). Stir until the cocoa bomb melts into the milk. Enjoy either with marshmallows, by itself, with whipped cream, or with a warm pastry, cookie, or brownie of some kind.

*You don’t have to use semi-sweet chcolate. Experiment with milk chocolate chips and white chocolate chips, or use Nutella (or any type of chocolate-hazelnut spread, whether store-bought or homemade)

As an added bonus, I’d like to include this video of how to make homemade marshmallows, along with the video illustrating how to make the cocoa bombs. The marshmallows take a bit more time to make, so you are better off getting store-bought, but, if you hate store-bought or have the time and energy to make homemade, then give this a try:

Instant Cocoa Bombs Video:

Homemade Marshmallows Video:

Happy New Year and happy eating!