So after some cajoling from friends and family, I’m getting back to the blog with renewed energy. Tonight I experimented with a Paella recipe and I should have it refined and on the blog in no time. I also expect to publish a beer review, a winter chili recipe, and some tips for over wintering your pepper plants. So, keep an eye out in the coming weeks.

After the holidays, it seemed impossible to want any more sugary sweet treats.  Still, early January found the test kitchen empty and our heads full of ideas.  In the midst of winter boredom, cooking dinner was not satisfying our desire for culinary experimentation, and we turned once again to its evil stepsister, cake baking.

Cake-venture 2010 began innocently enough.  Following a quick debate, we decided to do a modern take on the classic Black Forest cake recipe.  A traditional Black Forest cake is made with up to five layers of dense chocolate cake sandwiched with whipped cream, cherries, cherry syrup and liquor, all frosted with a whipped-cream frosting and topped with chocolate shavings.  Being lovers of berries and knowing that there was no way we’d get any sort of decent (and cheap) fresh fruit at this time of year, we decided to forgo cherries in favor of a more natural, tangy raspberry taste.

From there, we went straight to the pinnacle of all culinary research – that’s right, the Internet.  We were intent on not using any particular recipe, so like a puzzle, we cobbled our cake together using several different blogs and instructions (credit given below). For the most part, we stuck to the recipe for the cake itself but played around with the extras.

Oddly enough, it was the by-the-books cake that gave us the most trouble! We mixed our wet and dry ingredients and combined them using a handheld electric mixer to create a batter of what appeared to be perfect consistency.  We then spooned it into two 9-inch round baking tins as directed, set the timer, and went about our business, confident that we’d have our base ready to assemble in no time.

After about fifteen minutes in the oven, though, it was clear that our cake had a mind of its own.  Indeed, it had risen above the lip of the baking tins and fallen, not at all gracefully, all over the oven and racks.  A quick check of the recipe confirmed our fears – we’d used one-inch pans, when the recipe called for two-inch ones.  Oops.

In a valiant (if not somewhat insane) display of kitchen prowess, we started emptying the burnt batter and cleaning up the tins to an acceptable level, and then stuck them back into the oven.  We were skeptical that they could be salvaged, but after coming so far we didn’t want to throw in the towel just yet. We were pleasantly surprised when half an hour later we pulled out two very normal looking rounds of chocolate cake.

Cake crisis largely averted, we set about preparing the other components while our layers cooled.  For the raspberry syrup, we mixed the berries in a food processor and then simmered them with honey and a little bit of sugar, then added in some raspberry liquor and let the mixture cool.  Meanwhile, we poked tiny holes into the cooled cake layers and drizzled them with more liquor.  Finally, we made a whipped cream frosting by adding a cooled sugar and cornstarch mixture to heavy cream and vanilla, and using the hand mixer to beat it to the desired thickness.

It was finally time to assemble the cake – and not a moment too soon.  By now, we’d racked up many hours of kitchen time and just wanted to see the adventure come to an end.  We laid down whipped cream and syrup on the first cake layer, topped it with whole raspberries, and then placed the second layer on top.  We then carefully cleaned up the edges of the cake and applied the frosting, first in a thin crumb-coating and then more evenly over top.  When all possible sides were covered, we topped the cake with minced chocolate pieces and decorated it with the remaining berries.

The verdict?  Delicious!  Despite a rocky start, this cake proved resilient and lived up to the consistency and taste of its classic predecessor. The tartness of the syrup was a good contrast to the sweetness of the frosting and liquor, and the cake itself was moist and dark.  The frosting held up well against the stronger textures but felt pleasingly smooth and even against the tongue.  Those who prefer a less-sweet confection might want to reduce some of the sugar used, but that would be the only alteration necessary.  And even though this cake could only have half of the recommended layers, it still managed to be a rich and extravagant dessert – a surprise happy ending to what could have been quite a disaster. We’d recommend it for birthdays, special events, and any time when you need a bit more than a basic brownie after a meal.  For best reception, serve with a cup of espresso or a dark-roasted cup of American coffee taken black.

(Modified) Black Forest Cake Recipe

For the cake layers:

Adapted from Gourmet (March 1999) and Smitten Kitchen (July 2007)

3 ounces semisweet chocolate

1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee

3 cups sugar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process!)

2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3 large eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Make cake layers: Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease two 10’’ x 2’’ cake pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly (5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.

Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about one hour.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks.  When cooled, you may slice each layer into two one-inch layers or you may leave them whole, depending on how many layers you want in the final cake and how thick you prefer the layers to be.

For the syrup:

This can be made ahead.  To prepare, spread evenly between liquor-soaked cake layers.  The syrup can also be used to garnish the serving plate or spooned, hot or cold, over the cake slice prior to serving.

Roughly 2-3 cups of raspberries (frozen is fine – make sure to thaw prior to use)

Sweetener of choice (we used honey, but sugar is fine)

Raspberry-flavored liquor or brandy

Water

Using a hand mixer, blender, or food processor, puree the raspberries.  If you’d like a smoother syrup, strain mixture to remove the small seeds using a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the raspberry mixture to a simmer.  Stir in sweetener and liquor to taste.  Add water, in small quantities, until desired thickness is reached.  Syrup will gradually thin out as it heats up.

When you are satisfied with the taste and consistency of the syrup, take saucepan off of heat and allow to cool prior to use.  Can be reheated.

For the whipped-cream frosting:

Make a large batch of this frosting – possibly a double batch, if you prefer a very thick layer of frosting on the cake.  You’ll use it alongside the syrup in between cake layers and to frost the entire round cake once it is assembled.

3 cups of heavy whipping cream, chilled

1/4 cup granulated sugar (or less, depending on desired level of sweetness)

1 tbsp. cornstarch

2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, whisk the sugar and cornstarch together.  Add in ½ cup of the cream.  Bring the entire mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly. Continue until the mixture has thickened, or for about 3 minutes.

Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool to room temperature (about 20 minutes).  In a large bowl, mix the remaining cream and the extract together using a hand mixer on low speed (about 30 seconds).  Increase the speed to medium and slowly add in the cornstarch and sugar mixture.  Continue to whip the cream until it forms soft peaks (about 2-3 minutes).

Assembly:

1. Using a skewer or toothpick, poke small holes in each cake layer.  Drizzle with leftover liquor and allow time to soak (about an hour).

2. Place first cake layer on plate.  Spread an even layer of syrup on top, followed by a layer of whipped cream.  Press remaining raspberries into the whipped cream in a circular pattern.

3. Carefully, place the second layer of cake on top of the first.  Press down gently.

4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as needed for each remaining layer.  Do not put syrup on the top layer of the cake.

5. When the cake is assembled, use a flat spatula or butter knife to frost the cake with the whipped cream frosting.  Allow time to cool, and then garnish with chocolate curls, chocolate chips, and raspberries.

Store cake in the refrigerator.  Keeps several days when kept cold.

3 oz. Gin + 7 oz. Lemonade + 1.5 oz Club Soda = Tom Collins = Friday Night Fun With Friends

Basically add gin, ice, and lemonade to a shaker. Pour and add a splash of club soda.

This is a great drink for several reasons and one of our favorites. A cheap Collins still tastes pretty ok, but each incremental upgrade really pays off.  Furthermore even the most picky bitch guest can enjoy a Tom Collins. Even better, good gin comes much cheaper than other spirits of comparable quality. As a word to the wise, when entertaining on a budget avoid tequila and think gin.

Whiskey, whether Bourbon or otherwise, is generally the favorite spirit here at the Garlic Press. The word “whiskey ” comes from an English approximation of the Gaelic uisce beatha, itself a translation of the Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life.” As an ingredient or beverage this spirit certainly lives up to the name. In fact, as of 1964 whiskey is the official spirit of the United States, in honor of its importance culturally and as a trade good in the development of the nation. Steeped in history and full of flavor, it should come as no surprise that we are among the devotees of this spirit. As such, we hold this complex drink to very high standards.

This month we have decided, after a friend’s recommendation, to review Bulleit Bourbon. The Kentucky native is unique among whiskies, weighing in at 30% rye – the highest by far of any non-rye whiskey. This results in a sweet, nutty, and complex flavor. Bulleit is aged  for a minimum of six years in the traditional white oak barrels.

Review

The bottle is an absolute classic, with a shape inspired by antique medicine bottles. The raised lettering in the glass and cork stopper give Bulleit the look of a much more expensive bourbon (Think 1792 Reserve.) The label is inspired in a similar fashion and applied diagonally, giving the aesthetic character of a true small batch whiskey.

Tasting notes begin with honey and herbs and a mild spice note. As it rolls across the palate the careful taster will pick up oats and sweetness, not unlike corn. The finish is long and warm but without the fire typical of Jim Beam products.

On the nose, Bulleit is equally complex floral, earthy, sweet, and has in its background a slight cinnamon aroma. The smell should be pleasant even to those that may cringe in the face of Irish water.

The Bottom Line

Overall, for $23 – $32 dollars Bulleit Bourbon is a great choice, especially in states where it is closer to $23. Look for this whiskey in PA or MD to really impress your friends on the cheap. The attractive bottle makes Bulleit more than appropriate as a gift, especially for friends in their mid twenties.  At $23 for 750ml of 90 proof deliciousness you can drink yourself clever without so much as ice or a glass to pour it into.

  • For bonus points marinade a filet in a mix of Bulleit, honey mustard, garlic and rosemary.
Photo Credit to The Perfect Pantry LLC

Photo Credit to The Perfect Pantry LLC

We here at the test kitchen take our baked goods very seriously.  Experimental dessert dishes – such as delicately flaky pastry crust, tangy fruit-and-spice sorbet, and decadent mousse- are always an entertaining challenge.  Sometimes, though, our inner child calls out to us after a difficult day requesting a sweetly simple treat.  And when our inner child demands cookies, we listen. (On the days when our inner child demands gin-and-tonics we listen as well, but that is a story for another post.)

For those times when nothing less than utter chocolaty goodness will satisfy your sweet tooth, baking and consuming this cookie is akin to a sublime experience.  We started with several recipes for a basic chewy chocolate cookie studded with chocolate pieces.  We wanted the texture to resemble that of a moist brownie, but we also wanted to strike a balance between a rich, decadent dessert and an overly sugary, butter-laden mess.  Think Mom’s cookie jar – but for a slightly refined palate.

In terms of the flavors of this recipe, the bite of the coarse sea salt and the unsweetened cocoa help to even out what would otherwise be an egregiously saccharine recipe. To ensure that we kept a modicum of healthfulness in the final product, we omitted eggs and oil from the list altogether, making use of yogurt as an alternative wet ingredient. This substitution not only lightens the dish, it also contributes to a more raised, less greasy cookie. Lastly, we wanted to make sure that these cookies had the classical hallmarks of greatness – crisp exterior, soft inside – and that they tasted better the longer they we around.  If yours can last for more one night, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how they transition from somewhat airy to much denser interiors.

We think that this recipe would be perfect for any number of occasions, from informal dinner parties to an office birthday to an after-dinner snack to have in the pantry. Keep in mind that these store best when kept tightly covered, preferably in a plastic bag or a Tupperware container.

For a variation on the old standard, other small ingredients may be added in addition to, or in place of, the chocolate chips.  Toasted nuts (pistachios and walnuts), minced dried fruit (cherries, apricots, or strawberries) or diced caramel squares could all serve as stunning complements to the rich, dense flavor and texture of this dish. However, these are so good as is that you may be tempted to just follow the minimalist approach.  And remember – as with all cooking and baking, buying the best quality ingredients that you can afford generally leads to the best results.  In this recipe, the richness of the cocoa powder and the quality of the chocolate pieces and the vanilla extract are the greatest variables. We suggest using Green and Black’s Fair-Trade Cocoa and a diced chocolate bar of your choice, ideally with a cocoa percentage greater than 75%. Our favorites here at the test kitchen include Lindt’s Excellence 85% Cacao bars and, for a special treat, any of the offerings from Dagoba Organics.  It’s up to you, though – take what you like and make this recipe your own.  We’re pretty sure these would be a crowd favorite no matter what you add to them!

Anytime Double Chocolate Cookies

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp coarse sea salt

4 tbsp (half of a stick) unsalted butter, softened

6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup plain yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup chocolate pieces (or other small ingredients of your choice)

Coarse natural sugar for topping, if desired

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350º. In a small glass bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.  In a large glass mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter, the sugar, and the brown sugar, stirring until well blended.  Sift in the cocoa powder while you continue to stir. The dough should be pasty but smooth – use a fork or your fingers if you must to break up any visible clumps. Add in the yogurt and the vanilla and mix well.  At this point, the dough should appear moist and will be very sticky to work with.  Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients from the first bowl and fold them together with the wet mixture until all of the flour is entirely absorbed.  This may take several minutes of moving the dough around in the bowl.  Stir in chocolate pieces. When you’re finished, the dough should be solid and slightly dry, with an even dark coloring and no extraneous pockets of flour.

Scoop the cookies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper* using two tablespoons or an ice-cream scoop/melon-baller.  On a standard size sheet, you ought to be able to fit about half of the dough (roughly 10 cookies).  Press each cookie down slightly with your thumb, and top with a pinch of coarse natural sugar (if using). Bake each batch for 10-12 minutes.  You’ll know the cookies are done when they begin to harden on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cookie comes out clean.  Remove from oven and allow the cookies to solidify and cool for several minutes, then transfer them to a baking rack and wait another ten to fifteen minutes before serving.  Allow the cookies to completely cool before covering or moving to a storage container.

* If you are using a baking stone, you may skip this step.  You may also want to add several minutes to the cook time of the first batch.

Yield: about 20 – 24 cookies, depending on size

To quote an angry Peruvian,

“If you don’t like the smell of burning meat, get off the planet!”

Here at the Garlic Press, we agree wholeheartedly. As the grilling season comes to a close (for cowards, anyway) here on the Mid-Atlantic, we decided to craft the best burger ever. In a lot of ways, we succeeded – and in a few, it ended in bitter, bitter failure. Nevertheless, the Ancho Relleno burger delivered a serious smack in the taste buds that brought me to the verge of a flavor-gasm of the hottest variety. This burger is a Southwestern take on Minnesota’s famous Juicy Lucy Burger. The Lucy Burger, invented in the Twin Cities, is essentially 2 burgers pressed together with a core of molten cheesy goodness. After being introduced to this beautiful crime against nature, we knew we just had to make it our own.

I’ve loved Southwestern cuisine since long before I learned how to say mas carnitas.  Of course, by ‘Southwestern cuisine’ I’m referring to the earthy and unpretentious food popularized by the kind of Texan we love. This is not to be confused with that chipotle mayo garbage promoted by morons like Guy Fieri or a that particular chef who runs a certain bar and grill in the city. Flaming aside, the Lucy Burger begged for the spicy treatment and some gourmet flair. Some hot inspiration came in the form of a shaker of chili flakes and powders from the good folks at Dave’s. Really, you should get some.  Now. Furthermore, I was seriously missing Keswick Creamery‘s Dragon’s Breath pepper jack cheese, my absolute favorite! As a side note, this cheese hails from central PA, close to where I attended college. However, you can pick it up at the DC farmer’s market every Saturday, and you may recognize it from their feature in the Washington Post. Although I have run out of their sexy dairy products, I had some random pepper jack around that would suit the recipe nicely.

What resulted was a match made in West Texas Hell, sinfully delicious and a touch north of picante. The test kitchen often has a pound of 80/20 ground chuck on hand, because anything made of 90%+ lean ground beef is crime,  the punishment for which involves having to eat that crap. It is one of those staple items we can’t be without, and thus we have a standard burger format: 1 lb. of 80/20, 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup of grated hard cheese, sea salt, cracked pepper, and some oil. This burger base is almost infinitely versatile and easy to style up. Spices, herbs, and other bits of amazing can safely be mixed in without fear of destabilizing our beef sculpture. Once the ancho chili and pepper jack had been selected, it was just a matter of raiding the garden and pantry. Some ciabatta bread, spinach, thyme, mushrooms, orange pepper, and Inglehoffer Sweet Hot Mustard made the cut. We fucking love that mustard. Arugula would have been better, but someone behind the scenes here at the Garlic Press refuses to plant or buy any…ever. Such shortcomings aside, we all thought the burger was better than opium and Fake Plastic Trees.

Ingredients

Burger Mix

1lb. 80/20 ground chuck (no substitutions)

1 egg beaten

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

2 tsp. oil

1/4 cup finely chopped thyme (or marjoram or oregano, just as long as its fresh)

1 tsp. fleur de sel (kosher salt is okay too)

2 tsp. cracked pepper

1 tbsp ish Ancho Chili Pepper

1 tsp Green Yucateco Sauce *9000SCU

The Rest

2 slices pepper jack cheese

1/2 orange bell pepper

1/2 cup sliced baby portobella mushrooms

  • 2 tsp. butter (for mushrooms)

4 slices of ciabatta bread

  • 1 tbsp oil

Inglehoffer Sweet Hot Mustard

Process

Add all of the burger mix ingredients to a large meat safe bowl. Mix carefully by hand until the ingredients are evenly spread throughout the the ground chuck, but do not over mix. Remember this isn’t an erotic massage, the beef only has egg holding it together. Next divide the meat into 4 sections as shown below.


This should be done by hand and roughly as shown. Next, move the meat to the refrigerator. Brush the orange pepper in oil and char it lightly on a hot grill. Then begin sauteing the mushrooms in butter on low heat. Retrieve the burgers, and remove 2 of the 4 sections. Roll each and press lightly onto a plate as shown.

oh yeah

From here, simply fold one slice of cheese in half twice and place it in the middle of one of the patties.

Place the other pattie on top and begin to carefully crimp and mold the edges together until the seam disappears.

Repeat the process with the two remaining portions of burger mix. Then mold the the two burgers roughly into the shape of your slices of bread, only a little larger as they will draw up as they cook.

The burgers should then be placed in the refrigerator again. Finish the mushrooms, and brush the ciabatta with oil. Grill the bread a little on each side until grill marks appear. Go back or the burgers, and place them on a hot grill for 4-5 minutes on each side. Do not press or poke the burgers EVER. Remember they, are 1/2 lb. each.  Remove them from the grill, and let them sit 1-2 minutes while you add mustard to your bread and cut and slice the cheeks of the pepper. The cheese needs a minute to cool inside the burgers. Assemble roughly in accordance with the following or initial photo and enjoy.

From there its up to you to man up to a mighty burger, and to remember that ketsup is for poseurs. Enjoy this burger with with a strong ale or lager. We like it with Chimay Red Ale, and Rogue Dead Guy Ale.

-Chase

We’ve temporarily moved to a new test kitchen after a move and a long break. I’ll try and post some photos soon. Stay tuned for great food and great ideas.

photo credit to luke.nicholas at Picasa

photo credit to luke.nicholas at Picasa

While working on a citrus-based marinade in the test kitchen last week, we accidentally made something so unbelievably thick and spicy that it couldn’t be called a marinade, but instead had to be named a hot sauce. The accidental dish was based primarily on thick pulpy orange juice, orange blossom honey, and my favorite pepper, the habanero. The habanero tips the scales between 100,000 and 350,000 Scoville units, so for those of you who can’t stomach Tabasco sauce (topping out at 5,000 SCU, max) it might be time to pack up and go home. This fiery chili, for those with the properly-suited palate, has a wonderfully fruity citrus flavor that absolutely sings in the presence of sweeter fruit-based flavors such as oranges or  honey.

Once we decided to develop a hot sauce, there were several things we needed to consider. Color, flavor, heat, and geschtalt are all crucial to concocting the perfect sauce. We proposed early on to avoid the use of vinegar in all of our sauces, as it is a poor excuse for an ingredient in hot sauces that is used more often to dilute than to flavor. Heat was an easy feat to accomplish – we just played with the number of habaneros and the use or exclusion of the seeds and veins (the spiciest part of a pepper). The orange juice , honey, and our ubiquitous garlic did the heavy lifting in the flavor department. Color was a bit of a trick, because at the Garlic Press, we don’t use food additives like coloring or dyes. The milky yellow that resulted from the blending of garlic and orange juice just didn’t cut it aesthetically-speaking, so we had to root around for something colorful, tasty, and subtly flavored. Ultimately, a container of paprika and a bag of organic baby carrots came to the rescue. The result was a pleasantly orange sauce that danced spicy-hot circles of fire around our mouths.

Ingredients:

2 habanero peppers, whole

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup Orange Blossom honey

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup carrot, chopped

2 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. sea salt

Process

Combine all of the  ingredients in the blender and pulse until you have a thick but pourable consistancy. Use with caution.

Wet Ingredients

2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil

Dry Ingredients

1/4 cup white rice
1/4 cup lentils
2 cups veggie stock
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped carrot
1/8 sliced red onion

handful green onion (finely chopped)
Gouda

Spices

1 tsp. paprika
cayenne
oregano
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper

Process

Combine the wet ingredients and a pinch of sea salt in a medium sauce pan and heat to medium. Once the honey dissolves add the red onion, garlic, and carrot.  Bring the soup to a a slow rolling boil for 2-3 minutes, and add the rest of the spices. I would take it easy on the oregano, more than a dash or two will over accentuate the lemon. 1 tsp. of paprika will add color and a smokey taste that pairs well with the Gouda used to finish the soup. As for the cayenne, use your own discretion, I prefer a lot, but start slow or you’ll ruin your whole meal. A few more minutes will give the onion and carrot some time to soften and release their flavor into the soup. At this point it is time to add the lentils and rice. Most white rice has about the same cook time as lentils, which is one reason why I don’t use brown rice. Simmer on med-low for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked.  When you are ready to serve the soup add the green onions and grated Gouda to each bowl and serve.

Spicy lentil soup is a great 3 season lunch or dinner. The quick prep time, under 30 minutes, gives you plenty of extra time to spend with the person you’re cooking for. As an added bonus lentils are full of protein which is great for vegetarians, and for those of use who love meat, this soup pairs well with a nice chorizo sandwhich. If you enjoy wine with lunch, I would reccomend a semi dry tempranillo like La Vendimia. The fruity notes of this variety of wine are excellent with any mild to moderately spicy dish.

Welcome to The Garlic Press and Company, a new blog with a new spin on culinary press. We provide a number food information services. But what are food information services? Quite simply, they include recipes, restaurant reviews, video guides, and product reviews to name a few. Each week we will be in our test kitchen, crawling the pubs, and drinking a lot of wine all so that you can benefit from our experience.