Week 5- Skirt Steak with Stout Pan Sauce and Cheddar Bacon Mashed Potatoes, and Gooey Butter Cake Squares

Meet the Contenders: 

  • Skirt Steak with Stout Pan Sauce and Cheddar Bacon Mashed Potatoes
  • Gooey Butter Cake Squares

Cooking Time: 30 min.
Rating: 2 heaping platefuls!
In three words: Gravy, gravy, gravy!

What we liked: Anything that combines meat, bacon, cheese, and gravy is bound to be delicious.  Everything was pretty simple and quick to make, though we diverged a bit from the recipe when making the stout sauce by adding some extra beer and sugar to cut the overwhelming mustard taste. Other than that simple fix, it was a delicious dinner and SO easy. It has all the panache of a fancy Sunday night meal but all the quick and easy for a 30-minute weeknight dinner. Oh! And…we used a secret ingredient to make our cheddar bacon mashed potatoes even better–bacon grease!  Perhaps not the most healthy of dinners, but hey, it was before the new year so resolutions hadn’t come into play yet.

What we didn’t: As we said, the sauce was a bit too mustardy when made according to the recipe but with our adjustments it was better.  As a couple of huge gravy lovers, it was important to us for the sauce to be perfect, and it ended up being pretty damn good. We would also be curious to try this sauce with a different cut of meat. Skirt steak worked well because of how thin it is, but perhaps a more quality piece of beef would have added a little more flavor to the dish.

The Cake Squares
(recipe from Gilt Taste)

Cooking Time: 40 min.
Rating: 1 LB SUGAR!
In three words: Sugar, butter, cream-cheese

What we liked: The novelty. These looked interesting and, in the holiday spirit, we tried to go all out with our Christmas colors. If you like lots and lots and lots of sugar, these are the desert for you.

What we didn’t: Lots and lots and lots of sugar. Like, too much. This probably should have been apparent from reading the recipe, but these squares are SWEET and there is nothing that cuts the taste of the powdered sugar. We used unsalted butter, and maybe it would have been better to add more salt, but, sadly, a lot of these little guys ended up in the trash. Our attempt at holiday spirit also ended up looking more garishly neon than “christmas” which didn’t help to make them seem more appetizing. Sorry, little butter squares, it just didn’t work out this time.

 


Week 4- Mushroom Lasagna, and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

Meet the Contenders: 

  • Mushroom Lasagna
  • Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting
This week we were lucky enough to host a few friends for our weekly TFB dinner and the NY times mushroom lasagna recipe seemed the perfect fit for a group dinner. It was a huge hit and provided some stiff competition for last week’s risotto!
The Lasagna
(recipe from New York Times)

Cooking Time: 3 hours (45 of those minutes are just sitting and smelling the delicious melty cheese)
Rating: cheeeeese
In three words: rich (ie. #opulent)

What we liked: 

Cheese.  Look at all the cheese!!!  CHEESE!!!!! As two meat lovers, we knew any vegetarian dish was going to be hard-pressed to make us fall in love, but this did a pretty excellent job. We used a number of different mushroom types (cremini, portobello, shiitake, and oyster) and the combination of all the different cheeses (fontina, gruyere, parmesan and smoked mozzarella) resulted in a delightful intermingling of flavors that was unbeatable. The middle layer of the lasagna was just the smoked mozzarella which really stood out. We used farm-fresh, small-batch mozz straight from Vermont and it was beyond worth it. The smoky flavor added so much to the dish as a whole.

Beyond tasting amazing, this lasagna smelled heavenly. The addition of the truffle oil to the mushroom mixture not only tasted good, but the earthy smell of the truffles took over the entire kitchen and we were sure glad it did. As the lasagna baked, it got better and better, making us more and more excited to actually dig in.

What we didn’t: Time and intensiveness of preparation–lots of slicing, dicing, grating, and sauteeing. We ended up grating 4 blocks of cheese total (that’s a lot of grating) and slicing a pound and a half of mushrooms (that’s a lot of slicing). Not to mention the shallots. The recipe called for 6 large shallots which had to be peeled (annoying) and minced. By the end, our eyes were killing us from the shallot-sting that we somehow couldn’t escape. And, let’s be honest, we love meat and this dish was lacking (although it was so delicious that we can’t really take off any points for that).

The Whoopie Pies
(recipe from Doubly Happy)

Cooking Time: 1.5 hours
Rating: WHOOPEE!
In three words: Use more bourbon.

What we liked: 

Wow. This was a spur of the moment dessert decision and it turned out wayyy better than we could have imagined. We’d toyed with the idea of making whoopee pies when we saw a whoopee pie baking tray at williams-sonoma. Though we didn’t purchase it, it got us thinking about the delicious little cookie cakes and we knew we had to try it. These were delicious. We were turned on to this recipe by the words “mini” and “bourbon” which are both always delightful, especially in cooking. As whoopie pie newbies, we weren’t sure how big they are normally, but by most standards, these don’t seem “mini.” At least two inches in diameter and almost the same in height, these little monsters were rich and gooey and delicious, but maybe not as mini as we’d imagined.

As our kitchen creativity took hold, we added half a tablespoon of allspice to the pumpkin mixture (a fabulous idea) and about two extra tablespoons of bourbon to the icing (also an excellent idea). I don’t think we’d change anything flavor-wise about the cookies if we were to make these again, but the bourbon flavor of the icing was completely dominated when it was inside the cookie cakes, so it definitely couldn’t hurt to add even more.

What we didn’t: 

These are some moist little cookie cakes. Once assembled, we let them chill a bit before serving, but even though they were fully cooked, they were so dense and sticky that it would have been off-putting if they weren’t so damn delicious. In the end, it almost made them taste better, but perhaps a few more minutes in the oven or a little less oil would have helped firm them up a bit more.

The Showdown

Savory 16: Mushroom Lasagna vs. Shrimp and Truffle Risotto with Seared Scallops

Winner: Risotto

The lasagna, amazing as it was, required way more prep and cooking time than the simple risotto. Both were, in our eyes, equally creamy, cheesy, and delicious, but the risotto is taking this one just because it was so, so easy. This one was a stiff competition, and it all came down to the simplicity factor. Either way, you should definitely try  both recipes because they are amazing.

Sweet 16: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting vs. Apple Pie Phyllo Rolls

Winner: Whoopie Pies

The whoopie pies beat our little phyllo rolls in almost every way–ease of preparation (ugh… phyllo) and seasonal appropriateness (perhaps this was our bad) being chief among them. That said, the bourbon butterscotch sauce on the apple pies could definitely beat the bourbon cream cheese icing (but that’s probably because the icing didn’t taste very bourbon-y at all and needed something to cut through the sweetness).

Week 3- Shrimp and Truffle Risotto with Seared Scallops, and Phyllo Wrapped Apple Pie Rolls with Bourbon Butterscotch Sauce

Meet the Contenders: 

  • Shrimp and Truffle Risotto with Seared Scallops
  • Phyllo Wrapped Apple Pie Rolls with Bourbon Butterscotch Sauce
The Risotto
(recipe from Epicurious)

Cooking Time: An hour, max. (That includes 10 minutes of hand-washing after you finish deveining your shrimp).
Rating: The Atlantic Ocean with a hint of truffle oil
In three words: Oh.Mah.Gawd.

What we liked: This was an amazing dish and so quick and easy to make. We made a couple edits to the original recipe such as using much more chicken broth than clam juice and adding a half cup of parmesan right at the end, which made everything even more delicious.  All of the ingredients in our preparation of the dish went amazingly well with each other–from the bit of clam juice we did use to the truffle oil.  Which brings us to the truffle oil.  YUM.  YUMMM.  All in all, the dish was beyond satisfying–rich, unique, flavorful but not overpowering, perfect for wowing company and wowing yourself, which is a very important and sometimes overlooked quality.

What we didn’t: A very minor (and purely aesthetic) complaint is that the scallops didn’t have that amazing golden brown sear on the outside. They had a little bit of crunch, and tasted amazing (and very well cooked!) but for some reason just didn’t get as golden-y delicious looking as we would have liked. Also, if we had followed the original recipe, it would have been too clam-juice-y.  That said though, we made a small batch without the clam juice, and it wasn’t quite the same. We might sound like whiny girls right now but deveining the shrimp was a borderline traumatic experience (just kidding, but it was not enjoyable in the slightest).  Some of them also oozed an orange creamy substance, gross… But they tasted good and we’re still alive so we guess that’s normal??

The Pie Rolls
(recipe from Evil Shenanigans)

Cooking Time: As long as it takes to figure out the phyllo dough. Plus about a half hour.
Rating: A (as in Apple)
In three words: Fussy but tasty.

What we liked: The flavors.  The spices we used for the apples were a perfect blend, combining your traditional cinnamon and sugar with cardamom, which we think added a unique and highly delectable twist.  The bourbon butterscotch sauce was intensely delicious–sweet, buttery, caramelly, warm, with perfect viscosity.  And it goes without saying that vanilla ice cream is the ultimate complement to anything involving apples and caramel.  Also, just look at how pretty the plate is, and it was so easy to put together.

What we didn’t: The ratio of apple filling to phyllo was a little off.  More filling, less flakiness please.  And phyllo is a pain in the ass to work with. We also tried to go off book a little and make extra sauce. Unfortunately, we didn’t have quite enough brown sugar and none of the stores close by did either, so we thought about improvising with some sweetened condensed milk. This, however, did not go as imagined and was as much of an epic failure as the first sauce was insanely delicious. Somehow, it didn’t caramelize but instead turned into a mass that looked like a mix of dog food and brain. Needless to say, that went straight into the trash, and we will be sticking to recipes for the foreseeable future.

All in all, it was a hugely successful week for TFB and we will be sleeping soundly tonight with tummies full of incredible (incrEDIBLE) food. Next week, the risotto will be going head to head with a delicious-looking mushroom lasagna and we’ll be spending the rest of the week trying to find an acceptable matchup for our little apple phyllo rolls. We can’t wait to see what we come up with.

Week 2- Southwestern Pulled Brisket, Frickles, Green Onion Slaw, and S’mores Cookies

Meet the contenders

  • Southwestern Pulled Brisket
  • Frickles
  • Green Onion Slaw
  • S’mores Cookies

The Brisket
(recipe from Smitten Kitchen)

Cooking time: 5 hours
Rating: 2 forks and a dutch oven
In three words: Tender, tangy, and terrific.

What we liked: This brisket. Even though the recipe calls for a slow cooker, we used a dutch oven and cooked it at 350 for four hours and it came out perfectly. The brisket pulled apart with the slightest touch and was so flavorful it seemed too good to have come out of this kitchen. It had great spice to it (we used two big chipotles) but the other flavors came through and nothing got lost in the heat.

Beyond how delicious it was, it was easy. Even for two amateurs, it was simple and seems like a recipe that would be hard to mess up. If you ever need to show off your kitchen acumen, this is an awesome place to start.

The brisket was made even better by the green onion slaw which added a refreshing crispness to the meal. It would make a great sandwich, though, or a taco, or a Chipotle-style “bowl” or even a salad. We can’t wait to experiment with the leftovers throughout the week to see what other excellent uses we can find for it.

What we didn’t: Nothing. This brisket is delicious and very versatile. We plan on making it again, preferably soon.

The Frickles
(recipe from here)

Cooking time: a few minutes
Rating: 1 million
In three words: so frickling delicious

What we liked: Everything. Anyone who says that fried pickles aren’t one of the greatest foods ever invented is a fool, and these are better than we’ve found in a lot of restaurants. Since we see ourselves as frickle connoisseurs, we used the best frickles we could think of as our model, and if we do say so ourselves, made something that could easily stand up to any restaurant or state fair competitor.

We found a southwestern seasoning salt at Whole Foods to use in the batter, and instead of breading them in panko crumbs as the recipe suggested, we re-dipped the pickles in the flour after coating them in stout batter. To make things more exciting, we twice-battered the frickles which made them even better. We love our frickles to be thick-cut (but not spears–those are too hard to eat!), and cut these to an ideal 1-inch thickness. Once fried, they stayed crisp and tart while the thick coating had great southwestern kick and some delicious crunch.

To dip them in, we mixed some mayo and some diced chipotle in adobo (and a liberal amount of the adobo too) and a little bit of pickle juice. Tasting the sauce from a spoon, we were a little unsure, but once we had frickles to taste it with, we could see how they made a perfect pair. The sauce was spicy, but not too much so, and paired perfectly with the little deep fried bits of heaven as they came off the stove.

What we didn’t: The clean up. Little droplets of the frying oil somehow managed to get everywhere. But it was so, so, so worth it.

The Slaw
(recipe from Smitten Kitchen)

Cooking time: 5 minutes
Rating: 2 rubber gloves
In three words: Refreshing, zesty, spicy.

What we liked: This was delicious! As far as coleslaw goes, this is at the top in our books. It didn’t have the thick, heavy, mayo-y-ness that most coleslaws have and instead tasted very refreshing and perfectly complimented the brisket.

This was a simple and great dish, and we highly recommend it. Unfortunately, it’s really not a fair fight for the poor slaw going up against the frickles. No fair at all.

What we didn’t: Serrano chile oil…on bare hands…hands that touch faces…ouch. Tip from the pros (ha!): if and when you try this recipe, use gloves when you handle the serranos. No matter how much soap and water we use, the burning won’t stop!

The Cookies
(recipe from here)

Cooking time: 3 hours
Rating: 1 lighter
In three words: Ooey, gooey, chewy

What we liked: While we wouldn’t want to eat a cookie by itself, the cookie marshmallow sandwich was pretty good.  The texture of the cookies was right on–soft, thick, chewy, and melty chocolate chips.  We suppose they were intended to taste somewhat like graham crackers but in cookie form, and perhaps flavor wise there were some similarities, but texture wise these were very much cookies and not crackers.  They were sweet (lots of butter) but not too sweet.  Getting the marshmallows to be the right consistency for the filling was a bit of a challenge.  First, we microwaved a plate of them and tried to spread the “goo” between the cookies…that led to a very messy sandwich (but delicious).  Then, we decided to skewer and roast individual marshmallows with a lighter and put those in between the cookies.  This was a little bit less messy and the toastedness of the marshmallows was a welcome addition.  The sandwiches were fun to eat because of the messiness and gooey-ness, and the texture of the composition was highly enjoyable.

What we didn’t: Way better in theory than actuality.  As mentioned above, the cookies themselves were not anything special alone.  Making the marshmallow filling was a bit more challenging than we thought.  They didn’t really work well as “s’mores”–they have to be made on a cookie by cookie basis, they can’t be prepared all at once because if the marshmallow filling hardens, the cookies are not going to be as enjoyable (or easy) to eat.  Not inedible by any stretch, probably just not worth the effort.

The Showdown

Savory 16: Beef and Beer Chili vs. Southwestern Pulled Brisket
The brisket took this one. The complexity of flavors, the tenderness of the meat, and the “impressiveness” factor put it over the top. But the chili was good. Damn good. We definitely recommend it, but not quite as much as the brisket.
Winner: The Brisket

Savory 16: Green Onion Slaw vs. Frickles
As we said, this just wasn’t a fair fight. The slaw was great, but just couldn’t compare to marvel of frickles. Sorry, slaw. We really do like you.
Winner: Frickles. Hands Down.  

Sweet 16: Momofuku Milk Bar Cornflake Crunch Cookies vs. S’mores Cookies
The cornflake crunch cookies may have had a little too much butter in them, but the innovation (cornflakes…in cookies!) and the effective use of marshmallows (sorry s’mores cookies… the marshmallows didn’t really work here) gives the cornflake crunch cookies the edge here.
Winner: The Cornflake Crunch Cookies.  

Week 1- Chili and Cornflake Crunch Cookies

Meet the contenders

  • Beef and Beer Chili
  • Momofuku Milk Bar’s Cornflake Crunch Cookies 

The Chili (recipe from Bon Appetit)

Cook time: 5 hours (most of that was just on the stove)
Rating: A big ol’ wooden spoon
In three words: Beefy, smoky,  cozy (like if a snuggie were a food, this would be it)

What we liked: All of the above. Eating this chili was like diving into a warm and comforting bowl of warmth and comfort. Really. The smokiness of the chipotles (we doubled the recommended amount) and the richness of the beef and stout made this a dish ideally suited to a freezing cold winter day. Even though we made it in November, we didn’t quite have that ideal chili-eating weather, but it was still delicious.

After an unfortunate beer disaster which cost us a delicious looking Belgian stout, we ended up using New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk Ale in the chili. It had a rich caramelly thickness to it that went nicely in the chili, so we’ll say that it was fate that led us to use that beer. We also let it simmer for way longer than recommended in the recipe (4 hours, to be specific), which made it even more delicious (as frequent taste tests during the cooking process proved).

Topping the chili with freshly grated sharp cheddar, green onions, and a dollop of sour cream not only provided balance to the meatiness of the chili but also aesthetically completed the meal.

What we didn’t: It was a little oily, and while it was plenty flavorful, it could have been a little spicier.  This is no fault of the chili, but our accompanying cornbread was not quite up to par. We searched and searched at Whole Foods (which, according to one patron, “has everything, even the really obscure stuff like coconut milk”), but weren’t able to find either corn meal or canned cream corn, so we were stuck with a mix which wasn’t great. And while the chili was delicious straight from the pot, after a day of sitting the flavors were able to continue developing and the chili thickened a little more. It definitely makes great leftovers. Another big FYI–we halved the recipe, and still had enough food to feed 5 for dinner, with more than a week’s work of leftovers for two people. A whole pot of this chili would probably last all winter, if not longer.

The Cookies (recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook)

Cook time: Long story. We baked 5 to a batch (because of the spreading) so it took quite a while to bake the full batch of 24-or-so cookies. 
Rating: 1,000 cookie cutters. (We love the ninjabread men.)
In three words:
Butter, butter, mo’ butter.

What we liked: Oh man. These cookies are buttery. Like super buttery. They’re made up of “standard” (i.e. extra buttery, but otherwise normal) chocolate chip cookie dough, plus mini marshmallows (!!!) and “cornflake crunch” (cornflakes, tossed in butter, and baked until crunchy). Nothing about these cookies doesn’t sound like the best thing ever. They are decadent, though, and, as one would expect, sweet. But not too sweet, unless you plan on eating more than one cookie…which is almost impossible to resist.

It’s easy to point out the “bad” parts of these cookies (nothing about them is even close to bad in the true sense of the word), and a little more difficult to describe just how delicious they are, straight out of the oven, with the gooey marshmallows, the melty chocolate chips, and the crispy cornflakes all coming together in a near heavenly cookie mouthful. You’ll have to try it for yourself to really understand how good these are.  They are everything you could want in a cookie–sweet, chocolatey, crunchy, crispy, soft, chewy, gooey, buttery, salty, sinful.

What we didn’t: These cookies were almost too buttery (if that’s possible). Because of all the butter in the recipe, they spread a ton in the oven, so we recommend spacing them far apart on a cookie sheet when baking and doing it in small batches. You could probably even cut some of the butter and play around with cooking time/temp.  The best batches we made resulted in chewy, golden, discs that managed to retain some form and thickness, while our less successful rounds produced something akin to when Alex Mack melts into a puddle of sorts (imagine that hardening into a more crispy flat state).  We also used salted butter and added salt, which (because of all the butter in this recipe) made them a little salty (although it did cut through the sweetness nicely).

Results

All in all, it was a successful week 1, and we can’t wait to see what we come up with next, because based on this week’s results alone, it’s going to be insanely delicious. Next week, we’ll see how the chili and the cookies fare against their first round competitors, Southwest pulled brisket and S’mores cookies!