Sunday, August 24, 2008

On Politics and Cooking...

Have you heard that Joe Biden, theoretically Obama's top choice for VP, loves to cook?

I have to say, I'm not sure what to think about this tendency to attribute "home cook" status to our presidential candidates and their associated flocks. Is this supposed to make them friendlier? More "American"? More approachable and down-to-earth? Because honestly, it would be more American to admit you eat out 6 or 7 nights a week and use your refrigerator to store extra clothes. And also, nothing about Cindy McCain makes me think "approachable and down-to-earth," least of all her cookie recipes.

But I guess I see their point. After all, American's have a long history of believing one thing and doing something completely different.

Monday, August 18, 2008

KitchenAid Mixer Follow-Up

KitchenAid agreed that the lift mechanism should NOT sound like a portcullis, and they're sending me a new mixer! They were so pleasant and nice on the phone, and didn't even make a big deal out of the problem. They said the new mixer should arrive in about a week and will include a mailing label for returning the other mixer.

Sweet! Thanks, Carla from KitchenAid!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"M" is for Mixer!

A KitchenAid Pro 600, in fact! Wheee!! Thanks, Internets, for making it oh-so-very easy to locate and acquire expensive pretty things! Thanks, Food Writing Career, for providing me with the suitable justification for this purchase! Thanks, Engineer, for making me hit "Purchase" and also validating my color choice!

This is a shot of its maiden voyage kneading some ciabatta. I've been longing to make ciabatta forEVER. It's such a sticky, wet dough that it's near impossible to make it without a standing mixer. I'm happy to say that it mixed and whirred and kneaded without missing a beat! (More on the ciabatta itself later)

For interested parties, I decided on the KitchenAid 600 over the 500 only after much weighty thinking and wringing of hands. 600 has a slightly larger capacity (6 qts to 5 qts) and a stronger engine. There are other small differences, but since I plan on doing a lot of bread baking with this mixer, these were the two selling points. You can check out the full breakdown on the KitchenAid website.

The price difference is about $100, no small sum for someone relatively unemployed such as myself. But in the end, I decided that down the line I'll be more grateful to have the mighter power of the Pro 600 than the extra $100.

One small problem I've noticed so far--the mechanism for lifting the bowl up to the mixer-head really jerks and clunks. It locks in place and unlocks again without any problems, but the lifting and lowering reminds me of one of those creaky portcullises (portcullisi?) from medieval castles.

I've never had this experience with any other KitchenAid, and at first I just thought it needed some time to let the lubricant work into the gears and whatnot. But after raising and lowering the lift several dozen times and talking to a few fellow KitchenAid owners, I think this is actually a problem. Maybe the lifter-belt-thingy got thrown off the track during shipping? Who knows. I poked around the internet this afternoon trying to see if anyone else had this problem, but didn't come up with much. In any case, I'm going to call KitchenAid tomorrow and see what they think.

I'm not actually all that worried about it. KitchenAid has a great reputation for both their mixers and their service, and I'm sure it will get sorted out. I'm just happy it works and that I can still play with it in the meantime.

So...yay! Mixer! Ciabatta! Bing...Level Up!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Master Recipes: Sweet

I've had it on my list to write down all these master recipes FOREVER, but kept procrastinating for one reason or another. Why procrastinate something that you actually want to do? Something that you know will be darn useful to you in the future? And that you will probably kick yourself for if you don't to do and then end up forgetting everything in the fog of post-culinary school life?

Humph. Eeenyways, here are all the master recipes that I memorized for my culinary school final practicum. Apologies for the short-hand--goal #1 is to get the recipes down, goal #2 would be to flesh them they, you know, make sense to more people than (In the meantime, if you feel like making one of these, give me a hollar and I'll flesh out the instructions for you).

All the recipes for savory stuff to come...eventually...I mean VERY SOON

From my noggin to yours:

Pate a Choux

oz butter (1 stick)
1 c. water
1 c.
4 eggs
pinch of salt

Bring butter, water, and pinch of salt to a rolling boil. Off the heat, add the flour all at once and stir until it's like mashed potatoes. Put back on the heat and stir to dry out the paste. It's ready when the paste glistens, there's starch build-up on the bottom of the pan, and the spoon stand straight up.

Dump paste into a bowl and work it until it's cool. Combine the eggs and add them into the paste in four additions. Stir completely each time until the egg is completely absorbed and it's like mashed potatoes again. Read when you see motion in the dough when you hold a bit upside down on the spoon.

Ready to pipe/shape/form. Bake 425-degrees, then lower to 375, prick holes in puff and then 300 to dry out.

Pate Brisee / Pie Crust
3:1:1/2 = 2 crusts (top and bottom)

3 cups flour
1 cup butter
1/2 cup ice water
1 tsp salt

Cut butter into flour until crumbly. Make a trough in the middle, add in a tablespoon of water, fluff with fingers. Repeat until dough is heavy and cool. Smoosh against countertop once or twice to just bring the dough together.

Bakes at 425-degrees, lower to 350-degrees when golden.

Pate Sucree / Sweet Pie Crust
Same as pate brisee, but replace 1/2 cup of flour with sugar, and replace the water with eggs.

Creme Anglaise

1 1/2 c. milk, cream, or half and half
4 yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla or other flavorings
pinch of salt

Scald milk. Whisk together yolks, sugar, and salt. Whisk in milk. Return to medium heat and stir until silky, thickened to coat the back of a spoon, and about 170-degrees. Strain over ice bath. Stir in flavorings. Yum.

Ice Cream
Same as creme anglaise. Probably have to double it to fit into the machine.

Creme Patissiere / Pastry Cream

1 1/2 c. milk or half and half (NOT CREAM)
4 yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla or other flavorings
pinch of salt

Scald milk. Whisk together yolks, sugar, flour, salt, and flavors. Whisk in milk. Return to heat, stir constantly, and bring to a boil (mixture will start 'plopping' with big bubbles). Strain over ice bath.


1 1/2 c. milk, cream, or half and half
4 yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla or other flavorings
pinch of salt
1 1/2 T. gelatin
2 c. heavy cream

Scald milk. Whisk together yolks, sugar, and salt. Whisk in milk. Return to medium heat and stir until silky, thickened to coat the back of a spoon, and about 170-degrees. Strain over ice bath. Stir in flavorings.
Dissolve gelatin in 6 Tablespoons of hot water. Stir into the cream base while it's still warm and stir until it gets thick and is just starting to set. Whip heavy cream to stiff peaks and fold it in before the base is completely set. Pour into molds and refrigerate until firm.

Puff Pastry and Semi-Puff

2 cups flour
1 cup butter
2/3 cups ice water
1 tsp salt.

Instructions for full puff later.

For semi-puff, cut butter into flour/salt, but leave in large chunks. Fluff in water as with pate brisee. Form into a square and give it 4 turns.


6 eggs
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour
6 T. butter--melted
1 tsp flavorings
pinch of salt

Combine eggs and sugar. Put over bain marie (or VERY low heat). Whisk constantly (electric mixer preferred) until mixture is lemon yellow and tripled in volume.

Transfer to a shallow mixing bowl. Fold in flour and salt in three additions. Lighten melted butter with a little batter and then fold it in. Pour into pan gently. (Pan must be greased and floured)

Separated Sponge Cake

Same ingredients as genoise but the butter is optional.

Separate yolks and whites. Mix yolks and sugar, ribbon until light lemon. Don't need the same volume.

Whip whites until stiff. Fold 1/3 of whites into yolks/sugar. Put remaining whites and the flour on top, and fold it all together. Pour into pan gently.


Soft meringue: 2 T sugar per egg white
Hard meringe: 4 T sugar per egg white

Mousseline Buttercream

1 c sugar
1/2 cup water
6 whites or yolks
pinch salt
2 c. butter--room temp
1 T vanilla

Heat sugar and water to softball stage (238-degrees). Meanwhile, beat yolks and salt until thick (or whites until soft-peak). With the beaters on, stream the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. Continue beating until the mixture is cool (bowl is cool to the touch).

At medium speed, beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Beat until buttercream holds soft peaks. Add flavorings.

Whew. You're welcome! Next up: master recipes for savory...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Adventures in Catering

A few months ago, long before culinary school final exams were a worry to be fretted, the Engineer's mom asked me to cater a small party she would be throwing in honor of a friend's 50th birthday. This party was going to be in July (ie, last weekend), but she knows me very well and wanted to give me plenty of advanced notice. She's a swell lady.

Of course, I accepted and immediately started making lists, mining my trove of Successful Recipes for ideas, doubting my culinary prowess, trying (unsuccessfully) to convince Mama Engineer that I wasn't nearly skilled enough to cater her party, and generally getting excited about the whole thing.

It turned out to be quite a lot of fun and rewarding in that "take a step back, fold your arms over your apron, and sigh deeply while people enjoy food you cooked" kind of way. Also to my complete and utter surprise, it was not at all stressful! Shocker!

It was a mid-afternoon party of about 40 people (although about half that number actually turned out). We were planning four main dishes--two salads, a cold soup, and a hot dish--with other little snacks scattered around the room. Here was our final line-up:
Pretty much everything except the pork and the rolls could be made in advance. I intended to make the pork the day before but there was a bit of a snafu with the pork--I hadn't realized it was still on the bone and once I'd deboned everything, I no longer had enough meat. Sigh. That ended up going in the slow cooker around midnight the night before and cooking through the night. You can assess my general state of triumphant exhaustion by the shaky picture below.On the plus side, the Engineer and I awoke Saturday morning to the sweet smell of barbecue. Let me assure you that barbecue smells just as mouth-watering at 8am as it does any other time of the day. I had to slap the Engineer's hands a few times to get him to back off and make some bacon instead.

These brioche buns were my favorite thing to make. My house smelled like a bakery. They should make candles that smell like that. Or else I might have to make these buns every day.
The recipe is from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which if you haven't discovered it yet, is the best book ever for bakers on the go. I made their master recipe here on the blog a few months ago, and have since reviewed the book at the Kitchn. It's full of excellent recipes that are really just...well, good! Don't get me wrong--I love my sourdoughs with the preferments and the kneading and all that lovely stuff. It just need a quick loaf to get you through the week or to impress some new friends or something like that.

Anyways. These brioche buns are very good. The texture isn't quite as fine as brioche that I've made the long way, but I'm not telling. For sandwiches like pulled pork, they were perfect.

The salads were both a hit. The walnut-gorgonzola salad is just a solid mix of flavors. The gorgonzola is actually in the tortellini--purchased from Trader Joe's and consumed shamelessly by this particular chef. I threw in toasted walnuts for some extra walnut flavor (the gorgonzola kinda overpowers it in the tortellini, which is honestly fine by me), along with apples, argula, and caramelized onions. The dressing is a simple balsamic.
I loved the little endive scoops with the beet salad. They were so much fun to eat! Also, I'm pretty sure I've made that beet salad in one form or another every week this summer. It's that good. Go forth and make it.The only recipe I wasn't thrilled with was the argula vichyssoise. It tasted a bit flat and bland to me. I made it a few times and fussed with the recipe (especially by adding lemon), but never got it quite right. (Oh, my review of the recipe is over at the Kitchn, though reading it again now, I think I was a bit generous.) I came across another cold soup recipe the other day that used yogurt, and another one today that used buttermilk. I'm wondering if either of these would help give the soup a better flavor.

Maybe it's just that I don't really like vichyssoise or potato-leek soup in general. Or cold soups for that matter. Or pureed soups, either, now that you mention it. Huh. Mama Engineer loved it, though, so that's what really matters.

Operation Catering-for-Mama: Success! While I probably could have done something like this before culinary school, I definitely recognized how much more confident and relaxed I felt. That's definitely affirming. Pats on the back all around.

Ok, who's up for some breakfast barbecue?!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dreaming of Chili Peppers

Last night I dreamed of chili peppers.

I've been having trouble getting my pepper plants to pollinate, and have been fretting over them. Watching the pale white flowers unfurl so enthusiastically only to shrivel up a few days later and fall off--stem and all--is rather heartbreaking. Besides, I want my peppers.

So far I've only got the one guy pictured above, an anaheim. So obviously I dote on him by taking far too many pictures and nearly knocking him off the stem trying to get a good angle. That's love, alright!

In my dream last night, I was checking up on this pepper when I suddenly looked down and saw fully ripe chili peppers nestled in the dirt. They were bright orange and yellow and red. They seemed to laugh at me, saying, "Silly woman! All you had to do was look for us!"

Anyone who's ever grown fruits or vegetables knows that these plants have a mysterious way of showing nothingnothingnothing. Nothin' but leaf. Then one morning you're casually watering your plants without even expecting anything and you notice one, no two, wait THREE! little fruitlings where there was nothing a minute ago, you

So this is why I half-expected to come out to the garden this morning and find yellow and orange hot peppers winking at me from between the leaves.

Alas, nothing. Just this guy. So we go back to waiting and pretending to expect nothing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Coffee Crunch Cake and To-Do Lists...

This was the last picture to make it into my final portfolio for school. I made the cake in class on Thursday night and then the Engineer forced me to hit SEND on Friday morning to get all the pictures off to Snapfish for printing.

It's called a coffee crunch cake--angel food cake layered with whipped cream and these coffee crunches on the outside. The crunchies were fun to make--essentially, you boil sugar until the hardcrack stage and throw in some baking powder. The sugar foams up and when it hardens, you've got this odd, honey-combed candy. A DIY crunchie bar, kinda like this one! Good stuff.

So the end-of-year countdown is on! Two and a half weeks until I'm officially done and gradumikated from culinary school!

Here's a look at my to-do list for the next few weeks:
  • Finish futzing with portfolio pictures HA! One down!
  • Put pictures in photo album and be dun wit it
  • Keep experimenting with dessert gnocci (my original recipe for one of our finals. More on this later!)
  • Make flashcards for American cuisine
  • Make flashcards for Asian cuisine
  • Memorize things
  • Bid my roommate farewell on Saturday. Sniff sniff. (Don't be too sad--she's moving back to California--where it's sunny? all the time? huh?--and also just happens to be going to Hawaii for vacation next week.)
  • Say "Hello! I love you! Hi!" to the Engineer who is MOVING IN on Saturday (wooHOO!)
  • Iron my red polka-dot dress
  • Wear said dress to my friend's wedding next week (Thumbs up, Kate and Adam!)
Additionally, I need to purchase the following:
  • A photo album
  • Photo corners
  • Teacup and saucer (for original recipe)
  • Butane cartridges for creme brulee torch (for original recipe...aren't you getting curious!)
  • Coffee grinder (cuz my roomie's taking hers with her and I am bereft)
  • Candy thermometer
  • Gelatin
  • Plants for container garden before summer is suddenly over
Totally do-able, right? I'm not going to go insane in the next two weeks, right? Heh? Who wants to taste test some dessert gnocchi?!