Day Seven: Avocado Milkshake

Finally. The last day of the Weird Food Challenge is here. Even though the last day was technically supposed to be yesterday… I spent yesterday checking out the Getty Museum and Villa instead. It was well spent, but alas, I’m behind one day. This has been a fun, but stressful experience. Prior to starting, I already had 3 recipes planned, which made the first 3 days easy, but when I started running out of ideas, it got hard. And sometimes, even though I had ideas, I didn’t have the necessary ingredients, which was incredibly frustrating. 

Image

Tasting the concoctions was by far the most interesting part, however. It sometimes proved to be even more stressful than the process of making the foods (ahem ketchup macarons). The winner of the week was definitely the bacon cheesecake while many competed for the worst spot, I think the ketchup macarons took it. Most didn’t turn out as bad as I expected, which was relieving because I didn’t know what I was going to do with all this food. I do admit that a lot went into the freezer, and will probably get tossed in a months time. I did learn something from this seemingly pointless challenge. Try new foods and try to mix seemingly disparate ingredients together, because you never know what the result will be. It could be as disgusting as you expected, but it could also be amazing. Despite being tired of it after a week, I know that from now on when I bookmark recipes, I’ll take note of the sketchy ones. 

Image

So, today was the last day of spring break. Which means… time to do all the homework I put off during the week. I didn’t have much time to make something complicated, so I just threw together an avocado smoothie. I’ve never made any healthy or “green” smoothies before, and this is the greenest I’ve gone (even thought there’s ice cream in this). On day one, I made avocado truffles, and they turned out better than I thought, so I expected the same for this. It didn’t disappoint, partly because I expected it to not taste good. The ice cream dominated the flavor, while the avocado provided a nice taste to it. I wouldn’t drink this over say, a strawberry shake, but it definitely was not in the bad category. 

Rating: 8/10

Avocado Milkshake (Adapted from Jesus Saves Mary Spends)

1/2 ripe avocado

1/2 cup vanilla ice cream

3/4 cup milk

Blend all the ingredients together in a blender until smooth. And that’s it. 

 

Day Six: Strawberry Tofu Mousse

I like strawberries. I like tofu (I have to note that I do hate soymilk and can’t stand the taste). These are the two main ingredients for the strawberry tofu mousse, so I thought, what could go wrong? You throw everything into a blender, refrigerate it for a couple hours, and ta da! Easy mousse. 

Image

After I added about half of the strawberries, I stuck my finger in for a taste test. It tasted like strawberry soy milk (refer back to my second sentence). Things weren’t looking good, as I was stupid to think that blended up tofu would taste different from soy milk. But then I proceeded to add the rest of the strawberries in, and thankfully, the strawberries mostly covered the soy taste. I had an issue though – this was like a milkshake. No way was this a mousse, and panicking, I added some gelatin and threw it into the freezer. 

Image

Here I am, an hour and a half later, holding in my hands a half mousse – half milkshake concoction. To complete the challenge, I have to make something every single day, and since the sun was setting, I needed to take a couple pictures before the sun was gone. Therefore, at this point in time, I have no idea if this strawberry tofu milkshake will completely set into a mousse yet, but I can tell you that for a strawberry tofu milkshake, it’s quite good. Top it with some fresh strawberries, and it makes a wonderful snack. 

Rating: 8/10

Strawberry Tofu Mousse (Adapted from Whipped Baking)

8 servings

12 ounces tofu, patted dry

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved

1. Blend all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Refrigerate to thicken.

Day Five: Mini Bacon Cheesecake

This one’s a keeper. Ohh yeah. 

Image

While yesterday’s brownies were definitely good, these single serving bacon cheesecakes are amazing. I never expected these to be gross before making them, but I certainly never expected the flavors to meld together so well together. The almond crust, the cheese, and the candied bacon are all perfect complements and they balance each other out perfectly. The saltiness of the bacon goes well with the sweet, creaminess of the cheese and the almond crust gives everything a nice nutty finish. I might even prefer this cheesecake to a normally flavored one, like a blueberry cheesecake. For those of you who still have doubts about this, I urge you to give it a try. It’s impossibly easy to make, and it tastes ridiculously good. The fact that they’re in small servings makes these perfect for a party or to just help control yourself (because I tend to control myself better after telling myself i’ve already eaten five cheesecakes). My mom absolutely agrees with me, so come on, what more convincing do you need. Go makes these now! 

Rating: 11/10 (I’m even throwing an incomplete fraction out there – I’m breaking all the rules today!)

Bacon Cheesecake (Adapted from the Food Network)

Makes 10 muffin sized cheesecakes

1/2 cup almonds (this does not have to be blanched, nor does it have to be fine)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature

1 large egg, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 strips bacon

brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 F

2. In a food processor, grind the almonds, sugar, and salt together. Once the almonds are ground into a powder, pour in the butter and mix well.

3. Scoop around a tablespoon of the almond mixture into the muffin cups, and using the back of a spoon, pack it tight.

4. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the crust has hardened (keep in mind that it will harden as it cools), and let it cool at room temperature. Turn the oven down to 325 F.

5. In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar and the cream cheese together using the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the egg, lemon juice, and heavy cream and mix until everything is incorporated, while scraping down the sides with a spatula.

6. Pour batter into the prepared muffin cups and bake for 18-20 minutes. If the center of the cheesecakes no longer jiggles when you move the pan, they are done.

7. Let the cheesecake cool to room temperature, and refrigerate for 4 hours before adding the bacon.

8. In a saucepan, cook the bacon 3/4 way through. When it’s almost done, sprinkle brown sugar and let it caramelize. Remove from the pan, and let it cool without touching each other. 

9. Cut the bacon up into segments, and place on top of the cheesecakes. Serve with gusto.

 

Day Four: The Baked Jalapeño Brownie

After an easy day three, I was a little nervous for day four. I love brownies. I love chocolate. (who doesn’t?) But I’m not particularly a spicy person. My spicy threshold is quite low and whenever I go to a restaurant and order a dish where I can choose the spiciness level, I go with mild. Every single time. Call me a wimp, but my tongue doesn’t exactly enjoy the feeling of being burned alive. And how spicy are five jalapeño peppers? I had no idea what to expect.

Image

Turns out, five jalapeño peppers are nothing. I could barely taste the jalapeños and the brownies were most definitely not spicy. I’m pretty sure, however, I did something wrong. I removed the seeds for fear that the brownies would turn out deathly spicy, and it turns out, unsurprisingly, that I’m not a very good judge of spiciness levels of a jalapeño. So, if you want your brownies to actually turn out spicy instead of just having a mild jalapeño-y flavor, keep the seeds in when mincing the jalapeños. 

Plus, having heard about the amazing thing that is the Baked Brownie (from the Baked bakeshop), I decided to use that as the base recipe, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. It’s good stuff.

Rating: 10/10

Jalapeño Brownies (Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)

Makes 24 brownies

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder

11 ounces dark chocolate

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly pressed brown sugar

5 large eggs, room temperature

5 large jalapeños, minced

1. Preheat oven to 350 F and grease or line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa

3. Melt the chocolate, butter, and espresso powder in a large bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (a bain-marie). Turn off the heat, and add the in the sugar. Whisk until completely combined, and remove bowl from pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.

4. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Do not overbeat to prevent the brownie from becoming cakey. 

5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate and fold it in using a spatula (not a whisk). 

6. After all the flour has been added with a little flour still visible, fold in the jalapeños. 

7. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. The toothpick should come out mostly clean. 

8. Let brownie cool and cut. This is optional, but sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. 

 

Day Three: Spinach Bacon Muffins

Image

I know – day three isn’t that impressive. I don’t think I could handle another ketchup macaron fiasco today, so I decided to play it safe (and I was actually really hungry, so I needed edible food). I’ve actually never made savory muffins before, so this would actually be a first – which means, i’m only kind of cheating today.

Image

As I was making these, I actually realized that apart from the bacon, these are actually really healthy. It’s filled with spinach and onions, and it tastes like a quiche in muffin form. These were delicious and I would definitely make these again (unlike the past two days..) I didn’t have a single recipe to follow, so I tested out the amounts a bit. I found that I didn’t add enough bacon, which is a big source of flavor for the muffin, and I also could’ve increased the amount of parmesan.

Image

Rating: 9/10 

Spinach Bacon Muffins

2 1/4 cups cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 large eggs

3/4 cup milk

2 teaspoons vinegar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (one tablespoon for the onions, and the other should be added to wet ingredients)

1/2 onion, diced

6 strands of bacon, diced

1/2 bunch of spinach 

1/2 cup grated parmesan

Makes 12 muffins

1. Preheat oven to 400 F

2. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Set aside.

3. In a pan, heat one tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the diced bacon and onions, and cook until the bacon and onions brown. Take the pan off the heat, and add the chopped spinach, stirring it until the spinach wilts. Set aside.

4. Add the vinegar into the milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

5. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and one tablespoon of oil. Add the sifted dry ingredients, and mix well. Don’t overdo this however, because you want to avoid creating gluten, which results in a tough muffin.

6. Stir in the spinach mixture and the parmesan.

7. Bake for 18-20 minutes in a greased muffin pan. Insert a toothpick into the center to test if the muffins are done (if the toothpick comes out clean, it’s done). 

8. Serve warm, and spread some butter on it if you’re feeling indulgent. You won’t regret it. 

 

Day Two: Ketchup Macarons

With my slight obsession with macarons, you didn’t think I would pass on an opportunity to make some crazy macarons, did you? Of course not. 

Image

I first saw the recipe for these ketchup macarons on David Lebovitz’s blog a couple years ago, and I was intrigued. He said that it was Pierre Herme’s recipe, and Pierre Herme is basically my hero. No joke. Pierre Herme has never failed me thus far, and I decided to put utmost faith in his capabilities by going ahead and making this. Because honestly – it sounded disgusting. And David Lebovitz didn’t even sound like he really enjoyed them, either. 

I have nothing against ketchup. In fact, I quite enjoy my ketchup on a hot dog, or dipping my fries in them. Replacing a buttercream or ganache filling with the same amount of ketchup was seriously pushing my boundaries however. My biggest fear was the possibility of hating ketchup afterwards. A couple months ago, my friend and I decided to do the Chubby Bunny challenge (a game where you try to stuff as many marshmallows in your mouth as you can, whilst saying “chubby bunny” after each one) on the last day of english class. Let’s just say, I haven’t had a marshmallow since. If you couldn’t tell, I hold food grudges. And this fact makes me nervous, because since I already dislike mustard, what else am I going to put on my hot dogs if I can no longer handle the taste of ketchup? What a travesty…

Image

But I soon got over myself and I made them. On the outside, they looked harmless. You could mistake them for maybe strawberry macarons, with a jam filling. Looks are deceiving though. I took a little bite, and I swear, I started feeling dizzy. My dad had the same reaction, but strangely, my mom was not so adverse to it. She thought it was better than she expected (which were probably at barely edible level). It’s not that it was incredibly gross, it was just really not good. The pickles also really didn’t help the situation. I refused to take another bite, but the friend who ate all the truffles almost ate three whole ones. She didn’t particularly like them either, though. 

Ranking: 3/10 (I feel like a Dancing with the Stars judge) 

Ketchup Macarons (Adapted from Pierre Herme’s Macarons)

Follow the recipe on Foolproof Macarons: The How-to Guide for the shells. When beating the meringue, add 7-8 drops of red food coloring. 

Ketchup filling:

40 g Heinz Ketchup

1 teaspoon finely diced pickles

2 tablespoons water

3 g powdered gelatin

1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Microwave it for 10-15 seconds to dissolve the gelatin in the water. Stir to remove any lumps.

2. Spoon some of the ketchup into the gelatin, and mix well. Don’t add the gelatin into the ketchup, as it might lump up. 

3. Add the pickles. Let the gelatin set a little in the refrigerator first for about 15 minutes or so. Pipe onto the shells, and immediately return to the fridge to let it finish setting up. Do not let it sit out at room temperature before it has harden because the ketchup mixture is quite wet. 

 

The Weird Food Challenge

So, after an incredibly stressful college application process, it’s finally over and spring break is here! And not a moment sooner either. But I thought… what better way to spend my spring break other than challenging myself to make (and eat) weird foods for a week.

You might ask… why in the world would you do that?

Well, why not? I’ve come across so many recipes that I’ve shied away from because it just sounded so disgusting, that I would need serious motivation to commit myself to making it. 

Consider this the serious motivation. The kick in the butt. It’s starting, and honestly, I’m terrified. As Cathy, my British friend, so eloquently warned… “This could be highly damaging to your psyche, Emily.” Hopefully, my psyche will be prepared for whatever beating it will endure for the length of this week. 

There are only two rules. 

1. I have to incorporate an ingredient in an unique way that I’ve never previously done so.

2. I have to taste it. And so do my parents (force will be used if necessary). 

If anybody has any recommendations, let me know! I’m still in dire need of some awesome (but could be totally gross) recipes. 

 

Please note: If I don’t make it through this process – I died for a worthy cause. 

Austrian Potato Salad (Kartoffelsalat)

I think one of the most memorable foods I tried in Austria was the potato salad. It was everywhere, and often came as part of the “mixed salad”. Instead of being creamy like American potato salad, it tasted sweet and tangy, the perfect accompaniment to heavy meats or greasier foods.

DSC_7035

However, I could not find the recipe for this anywhere. At least not in English. Finally, I decided to put Google Translate to work and attempted the search in German. I got a basic idea for what ingredients were required, but no ratios were provided. After much tinkering around, I finally got something similar and below is my closest interpretation. Keep in mind that you can change all these ratios according to your tastes, amount of potatoes, type of vinegar etc.

mustard vinegar mixture

Austrian Potato Salad 

3-4 medium sized potatoes

1 tablespoon German mustard

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons vinegar (I used plain rice vinegar)

10 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons sugar

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons finely diced onion

cilantro to garnish

potato salad

1. In a saucepan, boil the potatoes in salted water until very soft.

2. Skin the potato in cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Place in a medium sized bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the mustard, oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper together. Add the water.

4. Pour the dressing over the chopped potatoes and mix well. This mixture should look too wet at first (with quite a bit of water still at the bottom), and the potatoes will eventually soak up the extra liquid, which is what we want. The texture should be quite wet, and the potatoes should be partially broken down.

5. Add in the onion and cilantro, serve.

Pierre Herme’s Lemon Tart

Recently, I was browsing through the cookbook section of my local library and found Desserts by Pierre Herme tucked into an obscure corner. Now, I’m a huge fan of Mr. Herme. When I went to visit one of his shops in Paris, everything looked ah-mazing and way too pretty to eat (just kidding, I ate it without hesitation). So, you can imagine my delight when I happened upon this gem.

The first recipe that really caught my eye was the Lemon Tart. I’d seen lemon tarts in his store and had marveled at the sight. The recipe was straightforward: fill a pre-baked tart shell (pate sucre) with a lemon cream, glaze, and serve. The fact that this recipe is so easy is really quite a danger to waistlines around the world. You’ll see what I mean once you try it.

The book claims that this lemon cream is “sublime” and “stunning” and the results were no less than described. The cream itself is absolutely phenomenal. It’s silky smooth, while still giving a lemon punch. I could probably just eat spoons of it by itself, but when I think about the amount of butter that went into it, I set the spoon right back down. So, in an effort to eliminate some of that guilt that accompanies each bite, I decreased the butter. By almost half. In my opinion, the taste did not suffer whatsoever. My guilt, however, did subside dramatically so I indulged. A lot.

Sweet Tart Dough (Pate Sucree)

Adapted from Desserts by Pierre Herme

2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/2 cup lightly packed ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean pulp

2 large eggs, room temperate, lightly beaten

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Makes three 10 1/4 inch tarts or four 8 3/4 inch tarts.

1. If using a mixer, place butter in the bowl and beat on low until creamy with the paddle attachment. Add sugar, almonds, salt, vanilla, and eggs and continue mixing on low to blend. Scrape down the sides if needed. Don’t worry if the dough looks curdled, just don’t overwork it to ensure a crumbly texture when finished.

2. Add the flour in three or four additions just until a soft, moist dough is formed – a few seconds. Don’t overdo this step and I actually didn’t add in all my flour, as I thought it already reached the desired consistency so make adjustments accordingly. Divide ball into three or four pieces. Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic. Leave the dough in the fridge for at least four hours before using (and up to two days). The dough can also be frozen at this stage for up to a month.

3. When rolling it out, lightly flour a surface and continue making sure surface and dough are amply floured throughout the process. Once the dough is large enough to cover the tart pan, roll the dough onto the rolling pin and unroll it on top of the tart pan to transfer it over. Fit the dough on the sides and bottom. Run the rolling pin across the top to cut off the extras. If the dough cracks or splits, use the extra dough to patch it up. Don’t stretch the dough to fit the pan because it will just shrink back when it’s baking. Prick the dough using a fork (unless it will be filled with a runny filling) and chill for 30 minutes in fridge or freezer.

4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Fit parchment paper or aluminum foil on top and fill with dried beans or rice to prevent bubbling. Bake for 18-20 minutes for a partially baked crust. Remove the foil/beans and bake for another 5-7 minutes until golden.

Lemon Cream 

Also adapted from Desserts by Pierre Herme

1 cup sugar

Zest of three lemons (finely chopped)

4 large eggs

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4-5 lemons)

2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened (I probably only added 1 1/2 sticks)

1. Rub the sugar and the lemon zest together in a large bowl so that the sugar is moist and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, and then the lemon juice.

2. Fit the bowl onto a double broiler. Cook, stirring with a whisk, until the cream thickens and reaches 180 F. Once the whisk starts to leave tracks in the cream, it should be close to being done. This process can take up to 10 minutes.

3. Strain the cream into a blender and let it cool until 140 F, about 10 minutes.

4. Set the blender on high and beat the cream while adding the butter, 5 pieces at a time. Once all the butter has been incorporated, continue beating the cream for a couple more minutes, just to make sure the creamy will turn out extra fluffy and light.

Once both the tart shell and the lemon cream has cooled completely, fill the shell with the lemon cream (around 1 1/2 cups). Use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Heat jelly until it liquefies and pour the glaze evenly on the tart. Serve immediately. I did not have any jelly on hand so I omitted this last step.

Foolproof Macarons: The How-to Guide

Ever since I did a project on French cuisine, I’ve been obsessed with certain little almond meringue cookies called macarons. Now, I use the term “cookie” loosely because I really have no idea how to categorize these finicky little things. And this obsession was reignited with a fiery passion after trying macarons made by Pierre Herme.

After that moment, I proceeded to waste an obscene amount of egg whites, almonds, and sugar. It wasn’t like I was planning on eating all those calories, so in the trash went each cracked and misshapen batch. 

However, after testing various ratios and temperatures, I’ve finally come up with what I’ve deemed as the perfect macaron recipe, which also happens to be very simple.

Basic Macarons (French Meringue) 

Makes 32 shells (16 macarons)

50 g ground almonds, blanched

50 g confectioners sugar

40 g room-temperature egg whites (around one large egg)

40 g white sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F (This is the ideal temperature for my oven. Because each oven is different, you may want to start at 325 F. I know that my oven is on the cooler side, which is why my temperature is higher than normal, so make adjustments according to your oven.)

1. Sift the almond meal and confectioners sugar together. Set aside.

2. In a pristine mixing bowl, start whisking the egg whites at a high speed.

3. Once it begins foaming, start slowly pouring in the sugar. Continue whisking the egg whites until glossy and medium-stiff peaks appear.

4. Pour in 1/3 of the almond meal/confectioners sugar mixture in and fold it in    thoroughly using a spatula. There’s no need to be extremely gentle at this stage. This step is called the macronnage and it is key to the success of the macarons.

5. Pour the rest of the almond/confectioners sugar mixture into the egg whites and fold it so that everything is incorporated thoroughly. The mixture should become more glossy and it should be able to form ribbons when lifting the spatula. However, there is still more folding to be done. Be more gentle at this stage. The egg whites should not be able to hold their form, and they should slowly sink down until somewhat flattened. When making a ribbon on the surface, the ribbon should sink in and disappear at around 20 seconds.

   

6. Fill a pastry bag with the batter and pipe onto parchment paper or a silpat mat. When piping the macarons, keep the piping tip still while piping to get a round macaron. Swirl the tip on the top to finish piping. If you’re like me and you can’t pipe evenly spaced or sized macarons for your life, a handy-dandy template will do the trick. I used this one from yumarama.com and I’ll never go back again. Print two to fit on either half of the baking pan and lay your parchment on top. Make sure to slide out the paper before baking it! The batter should perfectly fit one pan.

By the time you finish piping a row of macarons, the first macaron you piped in the row should already be almost perfectly settled.

7. Tap the pan to get rid of the air bubbles within the batter. Sometimes, using a toothpick to burst the bubbles at the surface can really help. Let your macarons rest until a skin forms on top. The macarons will become less glossy as the skin forms.

8. Put the macarons in a preheated oven, with an empty pan on the rack below it. Having the double pans lets the macarons rise more evenly, especially if you have an oven with uneven temperatures. If you started at 350 F, turn the temperature down to 325 F at around the 5-6  minute mark. Rotate the pan when you decrease the temperature.

9. The macarons should be done at 12-13 minutes. If the tops don’t move from the feet when nudged, they are done. The macarons should not brown, but slightly overcooking is better than undercooking. The macarons will stick and the feet will shrink if they are undercooked. Once you add the filling and refrigerate it overnight, slightly crunchy macarons as a result from overcooking won’t be a problem. Gently remove the macarons from the parchment and let it cool on a wire rack.

– If your macarons are cracked on top and/or there are no feet, it is probably a mixing problem. You might have over or undermixed during the macaronnage step. Letting it rest (if you haven’t already done so) may also help.

– If the macarons don’t smooth out on their own after you’ve piped them, you’ve undermixed.

– If your feet look like they exploded and have overgrown, decrease your oven temperature. However, if your feet look very small and minimal, increase the temperature. The feet should start to form at around the 4-5 minute mark.

– If the macarons have crooked feet, use the double pan method as the temperature in your oven isn’t equal. Often, the macarons around the edges of each batch come out crooked due to my terribly uneven oven, despite using a double pan.

– Aging your egg whites isn’t really necessary, but having them at room temperature helps a lot. They whip up much faster and easier. Separate your egg whites straight out of the fridge then let the egg whites come to room temperature.

– If your macarons stick to the baking sheet or the feet shrink after coming out of the oven, bake them for a little longer. Each oven is different so baking times and temperatures will differ as well.

– You technically should blanch your almonds but I’m just lazy. The little specks you see are the skin – I call them specks of lazy. Quite fitting, I think. However, if you decided to blanch them, make sure to dry them!