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Remembering Christmas (2/2)

Posted by Ted on Dec 13, 2009 in Food & Drinks, Memories

There are a few tastes that remind me of childhood. Two of them happen to be donuts.

The first was Morton’s frozen cinnamon donuts. I lived on these when I was a kid. They came in a brown box, and they were OMG good. Small, they could be eaten in a single bite, but I usually took two. Pop a few of them in the toaster oven for a few minutes, and they were cakey and soft on the inside, crispy and coated in cinnamon sugar on the outside. They haven’t been around in a long time, but there are those like me who remember them fondly. The closest that I’ve found have been the occasional apple cider donut from a New England farmstand in autumn, but really, these were like crack. Even more so than Krispy Kreme.

The second donuts of childhood were my grandma’s chocolate donuts. There was just something about them that was special. They didn’t taste like any other chocolate donut that I’ve ever had. When I was a kid, I remember watching her make them, eager to make sure that they were good enough for everyone else. They were often in the Christmas box along with cookies and pound cake. To be true, I never had eyes for anything but the donuts. It wouldn’t matter what else was in the box, even if it were a toy that I’d had on my wishlist compiled from the Sears catalog.

I’m sure they were made with love, but it wouldn’t be until my aunt gave me the recipe that I realized they were made with potato flakes and buttermilk. How odd! That would certainly explain the unique flavor. Even after my grandma passed away, my aunt would still send them to me at Christmas. Not having had them for a number of years now, I’ve meant to make them, but living a healthier life now I’ve shied away from their deep fat fried temptation.

Feeling inspired and unemployed, I decided this was the year to do try my hand at them, and share the calories with my family at Christmas. I bought a candy thermometer and a quart of canola oil, and tried to recreate my childhood. The recipe card that I have has ingredients, but not directions, so I looked to the net. What I found interesting was that very quickly I found similar recipes involving mashed potatoes or buttermilk. Opting to stay true to grandma, I followed the card;
Ingredients

* 1/4 cup shortening (butter)
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 cup potato flakes (Add 1/2 cup boiling water to reconstitute)
* Pinch of salt
* 1 Egg
* 1/2 cup buttermilk
* 1 1/2 cups flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 2 squares melted chocolate
* Vanilla (I used a teaspoon)

Preparation

* Beat the sugar and eggs together until creamy.
* Melt the butter and chocolate together in a small saucepan or double-boiler over low heat. Then beat into the sugar and egg mixture.
* Add the vanilla, buttermilk, and potatoes into the sugar mixture.
* Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir into the liquid mixture.
* Chill the dough for an hour to make it easier to handle.
* Roll out half the dough on a lightly floured board to a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into doughnuts. Allow the cut doughnuts to dry for 10 minutes.
* Heat 2 inches of oil to 370 degrees F (185 degrees C) in a large skillet or pot. The dough should be at room temperature before frying.
* Transfer the doughnuts to the skillet, one every 15 seconds. Fry each doughnut about 2 minutes per side. Remove the doughnuts and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough.
* Roll the doughnuts in powdered sugar after they have cooled.

After the first test batch, I was eager to see how close they were to the ideal seen through the chocolate-colored glasses of my childhood. Sadly, they were not as amazing as I knew that they could be. I could detect a hint of the distinctive taste that I loved, but they were not the same. Assuming the recipe to be correct, the difference must be in the ingredients. Maybe she used shortening instead of butter. Potato flakes probably have no discernable difference, but I can imagine that there is variation in buttermilk flavor. Maybe they need more salt.

Clearly, more research needs to be done.

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Remembering Christmas (1/2)

Posted by Ted on Dec 13, 2009 in Food & Drinks, Memories

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice, or Kwanzaa, one thing unites them all, and that is the gathering of family and friends to celebrate being together. Lights play prominently in the form of candles or blinking trees, in part as a counterpoint to the shortest days of the year. Another commonality that goes hand-in-hand with celebrations is the food that is painstakingly prepared for days ahead of time, and is usually consumed all too quickly. This year I decided to remember my mom and grandma, making holiday treats to share with my new family.

The first memory was of bourbon balls that my mother made a few times. I’ve wanted to make them for years, but they are best when left to “age” for a couple of weeks, and I would never remember in time. Bourbon is not only my spirit of choice, but it was my mom’s as well. Her favorite was Wild Turkey. Mine happens to be Old Rip van Winkle. However, given that it is somewhat expensive and hard to get, I settled for an old standby, Maker’s Mark. If you google for bourbon balls, you’ll find a couple of divergent recipes – made with Nilla Wafers or not (most recipes call for it), and whether there is chocolate or not, and whether it is in the mix, or simply used as a coating. After trying two variations, my third attempt is as follows;
Ingredients

* 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
* 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
* 2 1/2 cups vanilla-wafer crumbs (from about 75 cookies)
* 3/4 cup pecans, toasted, cooled, and chopped fine
* 1/3 cup bourbon
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 3 tablespoons honey

Preparation

* In a small deep bowl whisk together 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar until combined well.
* In a medium bowl stir together wafer crumbs and pecans. There are many methods one might use to crush these, I used a gallon ziplock bag and a rolling pin, which worked perfectly.
* In a small bowl whisk together bourbon, remaining 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, vanilla, and honey. Then pour into crumb mixture, stirring with a fork until combined well.
* Form mixture into balls about an inch or so in diameter and shake, 3 at a time, in cocoa mixture.
* Bourbon balls may be kept, in layers separated by wax paper or plastic wrap, in an airtight container in a cool dry place for at least 1 week. Not having a basement, I added a packet of Do Not Eat to the tupperware and put it in the fridge.

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Yume

Posted by Ted on Aug 14, 2009 in Food & Drinks

On Park Street in Alameda, between a nail salon and a gift shop is an unassuming open door. Stairs lead up to a small landing with 6 chairs and a tasteful Ikebana, an arrangement of fresh-cut flowers below a painting, meant to calm and focus the mind. Despite the fact that their stated hours are open until 9:30p, they turned their sign around to closed right after we showed up at about 7p. We waited patiently outside for an hour and a half as the three couples ahead of us slowly replaced those leaving. Yume doesn’t take reservations, and they don’t seat parties of more than 2 people, with good reason.

Dining here is an intimate experience. A sushi bar with just 8 seats, there could be no room for larger parties. Sushi master Hideki Aomizu stands behind the bar. and with exquisite skill, takes diners on a tailored gastronomic ride. He smiles as he says “I have just the thing for you”. His wife, Yoriko, makes sure that people have tea and sake, and takes any orders bound for the kitchen. The quality of the fish is excellent, and the cuts are generous. Real crabmeat and fresh-ground wasabi are but two of the touches that make this restaurant a place where one can easily become a regular. Just be sure to get there early.

Yume Sushi
1428 Park Ave. Alameda, CA 94501
Hours Wed – Sat 5PM – 9:30PM
Closed Sun & Mon & Tue

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Posted by Ted on Nov 30, 2008 in Food & Drinks

A man stood outside a nondescript door next to a portable heater and took our phone number.  “I’ll call you when there’s space available.  It’s not a big place.”

Death & Co. is a bar on the lower east side of Manhattan with $13 drinks, and they are worth every penny, and every drop.  The cocktail is craft at this modern speakeasy. Six of us sat around a small table, and ordered a round of drinks.  A fan of bourbon, I chose the ‘Kerala Cocktail’, which contained rum, bourbon, muddled cardamom, lemon and pineapple juice, and bitters.  It was complex, and every sip tasted just a bit different than the last.

Their drink menu changes seasonally, and their winter “flips” have replaced the juleps of summer.  These  feature a whole egg as a primary ingredient, giving the drink a creamy texture.  Not your momma’s egg nog, that’s for sure.

They have a limited food menu, but includes a nice variety ranging from soft pretzels and mini pitas to bacon-wrapped filet mignon and maple pork belly.

Next time you’re in The City, stop in and let the mixologists at Death & Co. give your taste buds a treat.  Be sure to bring friends, but no more than 6 of them.  After all, it’s not a big place.

433 East 6th St, New York, NY – (212) 388-0882

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Review: Death & Co., New York, NY

Posted by Ted on Nov 30, 2008 in Food & Drinks

A man stood outside a nondescript door next to a portable heater and took our phone number. “I’ll call you when there’s space available. It’s not a big place.”

Death & Co. is a bar on the lower east side of Manhattan with $13 drinks, and they are worth every penny, and every drop. The cocktail is craft at this modern speakeasy. Six of us sat around a small table, and ordered a round of drinks. A fan of bourbon, I chose the ‘Kerala Cocktail’, which contained rum, bourbon, muddled cardamom, lemon and pineapple juice, and bitters. It was complex, and every sip tasted just a bit different than the last.

Their drink menu changes seasonally, and their winter “flips” have replaced the juleps of summer. These feature a whole egg as a primary ingredient, giving the drink a creamy texture. Not your momma’s egg nog, that’s for sure.

They have a limited food menu, but includes a nice variety ranging from soft pretzels and mini pitas to bacon-wrapped filet mignon and maple pork belly.

Next time you’re in The City, stop in and let the mixologists at Death & Co. give your taste buds a treat. Be sure to bring friends, but no more than 6 of them. After all, it’s not a big place.

433 East 6th St, New York, NY – (212) 388-0882

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