April 30, 2017

Brisket Tacos

I'm currently surrounded by dozens of screaming college students, and it's only 9am. I returned from a peaceful morning at the farmers market (I went at dawn to avoid the triple-wide strollers and confused geriatrics and actually see what was for sale before it sold out) to find that the campus descended into complete and utter chaos. It's Mifflin. Mifflin is a giant block party with thousands of people lining the streets--well, the lawns since open containers and all--and making bad decisions. My corner of campus is about a mile from Ground Zero, but there were still massive house parties raging all morning. I chose to focus instead on my studies and the delicious cronut I purchased earlier (check out my instagram it's pretty intense) since I prefer more food-based shenanigans, specifically Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo has all sorts of historical significance, but it's morphed into an excuse to eat, drink, and party. I'm all for tasty food, which is why I whipped up a giant batch of these crockpot brisket tacos. I braise a big slab of brisket with beef broth, apple cider vinegar, jalapenos, and plenty of spices. If you're willing to sacrifice a beer, that would make a delicious addition as well. The whole thing cooks all day or all night (should you prefer breakfast tacos) before being loaded into warm tortillas and topped with whatever you desire. I like cheese for the goo factor, some thinly sliced radishes for sharpness and crunch, a few slices of avocado for creaminess, and a drizzle of chipotle mayo for an extra punch of heat. You could also throw on some pickled jalapenos (or raw jalapenos if you're up to it), diced onion, fresh salsa, and/or a sprinkle of cilantro.

Given that this is a brisket taco, it's a pretty safe bet that the brisket is the most important part of the taco. I usually think of brisket as slow-smoked and topped with barbecue sauce or my grandma's not-so-secret recipe for Jewish holidays, but this recipe is far easier than either of those. Just mix up your braising liquid, pop in a brisket, and let your crockpot run for a few hours. I use beef broth for bulk, apple cider vinegar for a bit of tang, jalapeno for heat, onions and garlic because no recipe is complete without them, and a special spice blend. As I said before, if you have some extra beer lying around and choose to add that to the crockpot as well I certainly won't stop you.

Once the brisket is basically falling apart, it's time to shred it. You could cut it into cubes, but I think shredded brisket lends itself better to rapid taco assembly. I remove the brisket and either use my hands or some forks to shred the meat. That goes back in the crockpot with some of the strained braising liquid and cooks for maybe another hour until it soaks up even more savory goodness. When the beef is shredded, it has far more surface area to absorb the liquid, so it keeps it tender, juicy, and even more flavorful.

Once your beef is cooked, shredded, and cooked again, it's taco time. You can use hard or soft tortillas (corn or flour) and whatever toppings you have on hand. If you're having a big Cinco de Mayo party, consider setting up a taco bar so your friends and family can make their own tacos to their specifications and save you a bunch of prep time. I like to have a variety of textures, so make sure you have something crunchy, something creamy, something spicy, and something cheesy. That's better than the four bridal requirements, y'all. Make it go viral. A mix of colors is also appreciated, so keep your tacos pretty and the drinks flowing for the perfect Cinco de Mayo.

3 lbs Brisket (or whatever fits in your crockpot; can cut down for a better fit)
3 Cups Beef Broth
3 T Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Jalapeno, Diced
1 Small Onion, Diced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 T Cumin
1 T Chili Powder
1 T Paprika
1 1/2 tsp Cayenne
1 T Garlic Powder
1 T Onion Powder
Taco Fixin's

Stir the beef broth, vinegar, jalapeno, onion, garlic, and spices together in a crockpot. Season the brisket generously with salt and pepper and add to the crockpot. Cook for 6-8 hours on low or until very tender.

Remove the brisket from the crockpot. Strain the braising liquid and set aside. When cool enough to handle, shred or chop the brisket. Return to the crockpot with a few ladles of braising liquid as desired. Cook on low for 1-2 hours, adding more braising liquid as necessary.

Serve the brisket with the tortillas and toppings.

Serves 6

April 22, 2017

Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Quiche

Since the Dane County Farmers' Market is back in full force, my weekends have transformed from midterm studying frenzies to exploring the market, overdosing on brunch, and ignoring the fact that finals are just two weeks away. A lot of my cooking has turned to using fresh farmers market finds to feed my brunch addiction, like using local mushrooms and herbs to make a velvety quiche cradled in a flaky, buttery crust.

My family always hesitates when I say I want to make a quiche because to them a quiche is a pie crust full of cream with enough egg to bind it together. If the idea of a rich, decadent quiche is getting in the way of your summer bod goals, don't worry; this quiche isn't nearly as bad for you as you'd expect. What I tell myself is that it's mostly eggs with enough half and half to make it creamy (not straight up cream like a lot of quiche recipes), and it's loaded with any vegetable you want. You could make this thing half vegetable and it would still be delicious.

For this particular quiche, I went with mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon, and (of course) cheese. I just picked up a bunch of ramps from the farmers' market earlier, and those would be fantastic as well. You can use this recipe as a base for all your favorite in-season vegetables (try adding some zucchini and yellow squash once they're in season in a few weeks) or adapt it to your taste and/or pantry.

I kick things off with a big skillet of bacon. Even if you just add in a handful of crumbled bacon at the end (or none at all), cooking the vegetables in the bacon fat adds an extra hit of salty and savory flavor. The mushrooms soak up all that goodness, and I throw in some garlic, fresh thyme, and any other fresh herbs I happen to have on hand. Since the quiche is going to be cooked for a while in the oven, you technically don't have to cook everything through here, but it's best to evaporate off as much moisture as possible from the mushrooms so they don't leach all their water into the quiche. You worked hard to make a velvety quiche that sets up perfectly, so don't ruin it with extra water from the vegetables.

I caramelize the onions separately; it's a pretty easy process that just takes a while so I tend to make way more than I need and use it for other recipes like burgers, focacciapizza, savory tarts, or steaks. It's the same amount of effort whether you cook one small onion or a whole farm. Well, maybe not. Anyway, all you have to do is throw some thinly-sliced onions into a big skillet with a little bit of butter and oil and let it cook for as long as you can stand it. I throw in a pinch of sugar and a pinch of baking soda at the end to add an extra smidge of sweetness and a deeper color, but it's a pretty simple process for such a tasty ingredient.

When I made this recipe, I was feeling a bit lazy and just did my regular pie crust. However, it's easy to upgrade it by throwing in some extra cheese. A gruyere crust would be fantastic here, or you can use any of your other favorite cheeses. There's also more cheese in the quiche itself, so I'd pair it carefully so you can still taste the other components. Either stick with the same cheese or do one mild melty cheese in the quiche and one flavorful one in the crust, but definitely don't do two separate pungent cheeses.

Once you have all the components prepped, it's pretty easy from there. I keep my pie crust chilled to keep it flaky, and there's no need to pre-bake it since it's in the oven long enough and I haven't had any problems with sogginess yet. I combine the eggs, half and half, and all my cheese, bacon, and vegetables before pouring into the crust so it's evenly distributed. It gets baked for about 45 minutes, so you may need a pie crust shield to prevent burning, but I found that mine was just on the upper edge of perfectly golden brown. You'll need to be a bit more careful if you add cheese to the crust, though. This quiche is rich enough to hold its own in a breakfast, brunch, lunch, or breakfast for dinner, or you can throw together a quick side salad to bulk it up a bit. This is one of my favorite recipes to use up farmers market produce; it's so versatile and so simple but can easily be dressed up to impress all your brunch guests.

1 Recipe Savory Pie Crust (See Below)
2 Sweet Onions, Sliced Thinly
1 T Butter
1/4 lb Bacon
1 lb Mushrooms
3 Sprigs Thyme
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
5 Eggs
1 Cup Half and Half
1 Cup Shredded Cheese (i.e. Mozzarella or Gruyere; something melty)

Press the pie dough into a greased 9" pie plate and chill until firm.

Heat the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook on low heat for 2+ hours or until caramelized, adding sugar and/or a pinch of baking soda as desired. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 400F.

Heat another large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove, leaving the fat in the pan, and dice.

Cook the mushrooms, thyme, and garlic in the bacon fat for 8 minutes or until the mushrooms lose most of their moisture, cooking in batches if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Whisk the eggs, half and half, cheese, 1/2 cup onions (or more to taste), the mushrooms, and the bacon. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 40-50 minutes or until just set and the crust is golden, covering the crust as necessary.

Pie Crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in the bowl of a food processor to combine. Add 1 stick of chilled and cubed butter (and 1/2 cup shredded hard cheese, if desired) and pulse until small lumps remain, then drizzle in cold water until it clumps together.
Pie Crust Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

April 12, 2017

Raspberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Ok I'll admit it: I like Easter better than Passover. I'm aware that this makes me a horrible Jew but I won't apologize for wanting to eat carbs. Brisket and matzo ball soup are delicious, and there are ways to dress up matzo to make it a bit more palatable for dessert (take it in bark or cookie form). However, Easter foods embrace foods of all kinds, especially since Lent ends and you can eat whatever you want again. It also lends itself much better to cute cupcakes than Passover, since there's something about the 10 plagues that just doesn't seem fit for cake decorating. I'd much rather eat cupcakes topped with piles of frosting flowers and Easter bunny ears than bugs and boils, but maybe that's just me.

What's great about these cupcakes is that you can make the base recipe all year round and decorate them how you like. The raspberry lemonade flavors remind me of Spring, but you can get raspberry jam and lemons regardless of the season for an endless stream of tasty cupcakes. These are essentially lemon cupcakes with a swirl of raspberry jam, and you can switch it up with different citrus fruits and jam flavors. The key to infusing the lemony flavor into every bite is my usual trick: rubbing the zest into the sugar so the fragrance permeates every bit of batter. Like a typical cupcake batter, the sugar and butter are beat together, the eggs and vanilla are added, then the dry ingredients are alternated with the liquid ingredients. It's a pretty standard cupcake recipe with upgrades from the lemon sugar and a splash of lemon juice.

If you've read any of my previous recipes you'll know I have a bit of an obsession with buttermilk, and I actually omitted it here in favor of regular milk. That's because all that extra citrus packs an extra punch of acid, and the reasonably acidic buttermilk would be overkill. It would also impact leavening, and these cupcakes are already perfectly light and fluffy.

Now for the raspberry part of the raspberry lemonade cupcakes. I find that a dollop of jam swirled into the center of each cupcake is sufficient. However, if you really like raspberries (and they're almost in season, so you'll be looking for ways to use them), you can add some raspberry puree to the batter or make a raspberry frosting, depending on how you plan on decorating the cupcakes. I usually use a store-bought seedless raspberry jam, but if this cupcake baking gets you channeling your inner Ina Garten, you can always step up to the challenge and make your own. I've been learning all about pectins in my food science classes this year, but homemade jam really isn't that hard, especially if you use it quickly and don't have to worry about microbial growth and spoiling.

I stuck to my basic vanilla buttercream recipe to keep things simple and make decorating easier. Like I said, you can always add some flavoring like raspberry or more lemon, but I wanted special Easter decorations that required a white base that could be dyed the necessary colors. To make my frosting, I whipped some very soft butter with powdered sugar, vanilla, and a splash of milk until soft and creamy. You want it to be soft enough to spread on the cupcakes but stiff enough to hold its shape when piped if you're making flowers, so don't be afraid to split the frosting in two and add a little extra milk or a little extra sugar for softer and stiffer versions of the frosting.

As you can see from all the pictures, I made two types of decorations. The first, the Easter bunny ears, couldn't be easier. I just swiped some of my soft buttercream on each cupcake and topped with a marshmallow. To make the marshmallows look like bunny ears, I cut them in half with food scissors diagonally and quickly dipped the exposed sticky side in pink sugar. You can position them in the frosting so they look like little ears, and it's a quick and easy cupcake topper with adorably festive results. I also like that they're not only edible but you want to eat them; too often cupcakes are loaded with fondant and other decorations that look great but aren't particularly tasty.

My other cupcakes are covered in flowers. I got a set of Russian decorating tips for Hannukah, which are giant metal tips punched so that they pipe out a variety of flowers with minimal effort on your end. I've tried to master piping roses on nails and various flowers with petal tips, and I can honestly say that these are much better. They weren't too expensive and I got a set with at least 2 dozen kinds of flowers, and all you have to do is stick them in a piping bag and squeeze for a variety of intricate blooms. I played around with two of them here and added some foliage with a leaf tip I had lying around. If you're really into cake decorating and love frosting flowers as much as I do, I highly recommend looking into these Russian tips because I was able to pipe tons of flowers in the time it would take me to make one subpar rose on a nail. Please note that I'm not getting paid to advertise these and didn't receive any free samples (but if you want to send me free samples I wouldn't complain).

The way I decorated these cupcakes is perfect for any Easter festivities you're planning for the weekend, but the base recipe and the flowers would be great for any occasion. You could probably repurpose the bunny ears for a themed party or something since they're just so adorable, too. Cupcakes just seem so much more elegant than stuffing your face with a giant slice of cake, though full-size raspberry cakes can look equally gorgeous. These cupcakes make me feel like I'm at some fancy luncheon rather than stress-eating hangrily in my pajamas between endless midterms, so I'd say that's a win.

1 Cup Sugar
1 Lemon, Zested & Juiced
1 Stick Butter, Softened
2 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 Cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Milk
3/4 Cup Raspberry Jam
Frosting (See Below)

Heat oven to 350F and line a cupcake tin with paper cups.

Rub the sugar with the lemon zest until fragrant. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and lemon sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Whisk the milk and lemon juice together. Add the flour to the butter mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions.

Scoop the batter into the cups and swirl with the raspberry jam. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden and cooked through. When cool, frost with buttercream or other icing and top with marshmallow bunny ears (see description above), icing flowers, or any other decoration.

Beat 1/12 sticks softened butter in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until fluffy and light. Gradually add 3 cups powdered sugar, then beat in 1T milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Add more milk or powdered sugar as necessary.

Makes 12
Cupcake Recipe Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction