Pate a Choux Part Deux

Rather than leave you hanging, I thought I’d give you the final results of my pate a choux testing from yesterday.

I put a few of the puffs in the freezer to see how they’d fare and [drumroll please]….

  1. They thawed very quickly – I took them out of the freezer and put them on a baking sheet that I’d lined with some paper towels.  I set the baking sheet – uncovered – on the counter and made a quick trip to the grocery store.  When I returned they were completely thawed.
  2. They reheated well – because they were a little soft after thawing (which didn’t surprise me in the least), I put them in a 350 degree F oven for about 5 minutes to dry out and they were perfectly crisp.  I allowed them to cool while I made the chocolate velvets sauce and the filling, which took a total of 5 minutes to make both.
  3. They were scrumptious – I piped a little filling into each puff, made a beautiful zig-zag design on the serving plate with the chocolate velvet sauce, and artfully arranged the puffs on top of the sauce.  Then I piped a bit of chocolate sauce onto each puff and served them.

Finished Cream PuffsSo, to recap…

  • yes, you can use a scoop to form the puffs rather than piping them
  • the puffs get infinitely puffier if you mix the eggs into the dough using a food processor rather than doing it by hand
  • however, if you want a more uniform, less free-form finished shape – mixing the eggs into the dough by hand gave me that
  • yes, you can freeze the puffs – but you have to defrost them in a single layer and will probably want to re-crisp them briefly in a low’ish oven
  • Jeff likes his filling to be a little sweeter than I do (in case you wanted to know)
  • cream puffs are scrumptious!

I would encourage you [again] to play with your food – if there’s something you’re wondering about, test it….try it…play with it.  Experience in cooking, like in life, is the best teacher; and although you won’t always end up with perfect results, you’ll learn a lot along the way.

Macarons: A French Confectionary Treat or A Metaphor for the Inauthentic Life?

I’ve been baking a lot of French macarons lately.  When I say “a lot,” I mean a lot – hundreds…probably thousands in the last month alone.  All this is/was in preparation for two classes I taught/am teaching [one last week and one this coming week] at work.  The class is entitled MMM-Macarons!

As you would imagine, I taught/will be teaching folks how to make the perfect French macaron.  In order to teach it, I had to learn for myself.  And as is true with almost any skill you learn, to be good you have to practice and you have to fail in order to understand what doesn’t work and what you need to adjust in order to be successful.

Looking Good

So I’ve read anything and everything I can get my hands on about French macarons and I’ve practiced and I’ve practiced some more and I’ve even enlisted the help of others in my learning process [incidentally, THANK YOU to those who have helped along the way]. I’ve learned about the effects of time, temperature, humidity, ever-so-slight adjustments in the weights of ingredients, air flow,  different kinds of baking trays, baking more than one tray at a time, rest time, etc. on the finished product.

All of this work and research has made me a pretty good macaron maker – not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, as I believe it likely takes years of intensive work in a macaron bakery to become an expert – if I do say so myself. And I’ve learned what needs to be done in order to present the perfect macaron.

And all of this baking has given me a lot of time to think….which as most of you know can be both a blessing and a curse!

So today, in the midst of my most recent baking frenzy, I came to the conclusion that baking macarons is a little [or maybe a lot] like life.   Most of us only want to show the well-shaped, glossy byproduct of tons of work.  We only want people to see the perfect us and the perfect macaron.

We spend a lot of time learning how to make all conditions just right so that what people see is our best.  But what we don’t like to show are the lumpy, cracked, slightly lopsided results of our efforts.  In fact, we’ll do just about anything to hide or discard the “ugly” parts.

I found that the advice in one particularly good macaron troubleshooting guide can also be applied to life.  For example:

  • What do I do if my batter [self] appears too thick?
    It was underworked.  Increase the mixing [exercise] time.
  • What do I do if my batter [self] appears too thin?
    It was overworked.  Decrease the mixing [exercise] time.
  • What do I do if my macarons look like rumpled waxed-paper?
    They did not rest long enough.
  • What do I do if my macarons [priorities] are lopsided?
    They were rested on a surface that isn’t level [rested on something other than THE rock].
  • What do I do if my macarons are [spiritual life is] completely hollow?
    They were over-mixed [over-worked] and under-cooked [too little time rejuvenating].
  • What do I do if my macarons [emotions] are cracked?
    They were not adequately rested and/or the heat was too strong from the bottom of the oven [too much stress].

Oh yes, we can learn from the advice above – both with macarons and with our lives.  But please don’t miss the idea that we have to look at what went wrong in order to know how to correct.  We have to acknowledge the imperfect in order to work toward something better.

I believe we do one another a disservice if all we show other people is our well-shaped, glossy, perfectly put-together selves.  When we do this, other people learn [or are reminded YET AGAIN] that their efforts cannot live up to perfection and we either discourage one another or we start someone else’s ‘gerbil wheel of running to catch up.’

Now, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t strive to be our best or that we should settle for some less-than-God’s-best version of ourselves.  What I am saying is that we need to be authentic with one another.  We need to be honest on the days when all conditions are not perfect and we get a little lopsided or cracked.  Sharing our “humanness” with other people gives them permission to share theirs as well rather than hiding it in some dark, shame-filled place.

Processed with RookieProcessed with Rookie

Processed with Rookie

What we serve to others (our friends / our families) doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Even the cracked, lopsided macarons taste delicious.  So go ahead, serve/show the imperfect ones/self!!!

Individual Baked Oatmeal: Success or Failure?

I was reminded yesterday that for some crazy reason we have an abundance (some would say “overabundance”) of steel-cut oats in the pantry.  If I’m being honest, which I suppose I am, I will tell you that Jeff and I can easily go on tangents with food.  We find something we like and then we make it repeatedly until we get sick of it.  That’s probably what happened with the steel-cut oats – we went on a tear (or perhaps “tare” would be equally appropriate) with steel-cut oats and burned out!

Abundance of Steel Cut Oats

Abundance 2

Well, regardless of the reason for having 4 bags/boxes of steel-cut oats, I decided to use them!

Breakfast is a difficult meal for me – I’m usually running late and “don’t have time for breakfast.” AND I’m not someone who likes sweet foods in the morning. Since I’ve yet to find a pizza flavored breakfast cereal and I don’t make time to make eggs for myself, I need fast but healthful options I can grab on the way out the door.

Keeping my personality quirks in mind, I decided to make individual baked oatmeal cups using steel-cut oats.  I looked at several recipes for baked oatmeal online and cobbled together my own ideas and those recipes that would work with the ingredients I had on hand.  I used very little sweetener, but added some peanut butter and jelly to the middle for flavor and protein.  I also added a few chopped salted peanuts for crunch and a nod to the savory.

So, was my experiment a success or a failure?  I guess that depends on your definitions of “success” and “failure.”

Out of the Oven

I haven’t tasted them yet so it’s difficult to say.  I wanted to taste my creation while writing this post (and I will), but before I do I will share some initial impressions with you:

I thought using muffin papers would make my baked oatmeal cups more easily transportable, but I didn’t consider that the oatmeal had to soak in the dry ingredients overnight in the fridge.  I lined the muffin tins with papers and filled them with the oatmeal mixture.

Next time I make these, and I will make them again to play with the recipe, I will soak the mixture in a large bowl and divvy it out among the lined muffin tins just prior to baking.  The papers got soggy and created a mess in the tins and made the individual servings difficult to remove from the tins.  Some came out easily and others were a mess!

However, I still think using muffin papers will make transport easier than not using them.

I also think some of the servings had more moisture than others and therefore baked differently.  Again, a viable solution is soaking the entire recipe in a bowl overnight and then divvying it out just before baking – after the dry ingredients have had a chance to soak up the liquid ingredients.

So, success or failure?  The moment of truth is upon us.  I will now taste my creation and let you know the final analysis!

On the Cooling Rack

Well….peeling the papers from the oatmeal made me realize that more testing is necessary.  I thought, just a moment ago, that continuing to use muffin papers was a good idea; however I lost a lot of my baked oatmeal because it stuck to the papers.  Of course, that could be because the oatmeal soaked overnight in the paper-lined tins and if I added the mixture to the papers just prior to baking they wouldn’t stick; but it could be that the papers are just a bad idea…..more testing is definitely in order!

As far as taste and texture go, for my money they were right on.  The oats were still just a bit crunchy, they were not too sweet but every now and then I got a little hint of sweetness from the jelly, and the chopped salted peanuts added an interesting element of savory.

I will keep working on the recipe before I share it with you.  But I will tell you that for a non-sweet breakfast girl (and one who is usually eating breakfast on the fly) these are a great option.

Cooling Rack 2

Success or failure?  For me, experimentation in cooking is part of the fun; so I prefer to think of this as Thomas Edison might have.  He is quoted as saying, “I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

A Day Away Travel

Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a class for some travel writers from MATPRA, the Mid-Atlantic Public Relations Alliance.  They were visiting central, PA to learn about all it has to offer travelers and they made several stops throughout the area, including the Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School.

We had a fun morning, of course – I mean what’s more fun to me than cooking, eating, and entertaining? Not much!

For MATPRA’s visit, I made:

Bittersweet Chocolate Cinnamon Buns

Bittersweet Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls with Coffee Cream Glaze

Frittata

Roasted Tomato, Pesto & Goat Cheese Frittata

Napoleon

Pear Napoleon with Ginger Thyme Pastry Cream

Check out what Mary K. Tilghman from A Day Away Travel wrote about her experience:

Cooking Lessons in Carlisle

Thanks, Mary!  I hope you’ll visit us again at the Kitchen  & Cooking School when you’re in the area!!!!

Hillbilly Cherry Pitter and Delicious Cupcakes

Last Saturday my sister hosted a baby shower to celebrate the impending birth of my great-niece, Kendall (I can’t wait to meet her).  In preparation for the shower, my sister (Laura), my mom (Mimi), my niece (Vanessa) and I gathered together to make tons of cupcakes for the shower.

In the days leading up to our cupcake-fest, we all scoured recipe books, websites, blogs, and, of course, Pinterest for cupcake ideas.  We compared our top picks and decided on two recipes: Lemon Cupcakes with Raspberry Icing (inspired by Lemon Cupcakes with Blackberry Buttercream from Tide & Thyme) and Double Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes (inspired by Double Chocolate Cupcakes with Cherry Mascarpone Frosting from American Heritage Cooking).

In both cases, we used the cake recipe “as is;” however we had to adapt the icing recipes because the weather was predicted to be hot and humid – two enemies of buttercream frosting!!!!!  So for the icing, we used Wilton’s High Humidity Buttercream recipe as the base.

Because we wanted the icing for the lemon cupcakes to be less purple and more pink, we added puree’d and sieved raspberries and additional 10x sugar to the Wilton recipe.  For the chocolate cherry cupcakes we added half the cherry compote (that is included with the cupcake recipe) to the Wilton recipe. In both instances, we used Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste rather than clear vanilla extract.  I love the pure vanilla flavor and the specks of vanilla seeds you can see in your baked goods that result from using the vanilla bean paste.  However, if you want your icing (or other baked goods) to be pure white; then clear vanilla extract is the way to go.

So where does the Hillbilly Cherry Pitter come in?

The day before we assembled to bake, I grocery shopped for ingredients.  The list included fresh cherries and I was able to find some gorgeous specimens.  My challenge was that I don’t own a cherry pitter.  364 days a year not owning a cherry pitter does not even register a blip on my radar.  In fact, most years I don’t even buy cherries.  It’s not that I don’t like them…..but I digress.

You’d think working in a beautiful kitchen store that sells over 10,000 kitchen items (at least 6 of them being cherry pitters) would mean I got in the car and drove to work to make a purchase…..but I knew I wouldn’t use it very often and remembered my rule of thumb – “don’t buy a tool or gadget if you can’t think of more than one use for it.”  So I went with the old “necessity is the mother of invention” theory and made my own cherry pitter.

Now, it took a little modifying and a suggestion from Jeff – but I got it “up and running” in short order.  What did I use?  An empty beer bottle and the cover to my instant read thermometer!!!!

I set the beer bottle in the sink (I found this gave me better leverage), took the stem off the cherry, set the cherry on top of the bottle, cupped it with my fingers and thumb, and lightly pressed on the top of the cherry with the cover to the instant read thermometer.  With just the right amount of pressure, the pit went into the bottle and I repeated the process with all the cherries until they were done.  Every now and then I ran the cover to the instant read thermometer under running water to dislodge any cherry flesh that was stuck.  In case you have an inquiring mind, the beer bottle held the pits for approximately 5 – 6 lbs. of cherries.

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The cupcakes turned out beautifully.  The lemon cupcakes were so light and fluffy, which can be attributed to the long beating time.  And the double chocolate cupcakes were dense and richly chocolate – they were the smoothest cupcakes I’ve ever seen pulled from the oven.

Once decorated, fit perfectly into the pink and gray theme of the shower.  And when they were displayed on the pink and “gray” tiers of our home-made cupcake stand with the custom-made picks, they were gorgeous.  Of course, as with any recipe, the final test is the taste.  The speed with which the cupcakes vanished was a hint; but when we finally sat down to enjoy the cupcakes at the shower we found that they were quite delightful.

A few snaps of the cupcake making and the shower:

It was fun to listen to different comments that were made throughout the shower – one person “absolutely loved” the raspberry icing, another liked the surprise inside the chocolate cupcakes, someone thought there was too much icing on the lemon cupcakes (but I’m sure my icing-loving sister would argue that point to the death), another person’s only complaint was that they ate too many, etc.

For me, even better than the physical cupcake outcome, was the opportunity to (1) spend a day baking with my family (which, of course, included lots of laughs, a few mishaps, a nice lunch, and uninterrupted time together) and (2) celebrate the upcoming addition to our family….we couldn’t be more excited to meet Kendall and to watch Ashley and Jason embark on their journey into parenthood!!!

Knowing When to Call Time-of-Death

Because we all have that sadistic streak in us – ok, you may not be willing to admit you have it, but I am willing to admit it – I am going to share my frustrating afternoon with you.  Although I wish it weren’t true, sometimes when I’m having a bad day it cheers me up, if only for a moment, to find out that someone else’s day sucks too.  I’m not proud of that, but there it is!

I drove myself crazy this afternoon.  Now, there are those of you who would posit (and perhaps correctly so) that it’s not a far trip; but some days…..oh, some days it’s closer than I think!

I was working on my dad’s birthday cake – a recipe that I’ve made previously with absolutely no trouble. A recipe, in fact, that I would recommend to others.  It’s bon appetit‘s Coffee-Walnut Cake with Coffee-Mascarpone Cream.  And it is delicious.

My Well-Worn Copy of the Recipe

But today the process of making the icing could have made me lose my religion!  What has always been a smooth process (and a smooth icing too, haha) was a mess!

Within seconds – or so it seemed – of beginning to beat my icing it curdled.  Now that I am writing about it, I realize I should have taken pictures of the “don’t.” But in the moment (or moments), I was so frustrated that the last thing on my mind was snapping photos.

As is true to form for me in most situations, I DID NOT panic.  I didn’t panic because I know there are tricks for saving a curdled icing.  So I began to try those tricks one-by-one to no avail.  First I tried continuing to beat the icing through the curdled stage, which made it curdle even further.  Then I tried adding a bit of melted chocolate (which is an emulsifier) to the icing.   No luck. Finally, I tried pouring it into a saucepan, heating it until it smoothed out, transferring it into a glass bowl in an ice-bath to chill, and whipping it again. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  Ha.  Nothing worked.  But I still did not panic.

With my blood pressure rapidly rising and my sense of humor rapidly plummeting, I turned to the internet and researched what to do if your icing curdles.  I found many posts detailing what I had already tried; but I found no new information.

I didn’t have time for this – I had a list of other things to accomplish today.  My house really needs to be dusted and vacuumed!

Ready to just sit down and eat the cake by myself and show up at the birthday celebration with an empty cake plate, I realized it was time to call time-of-death on my failed icing.  While I hate to waste ingredients (and those of you who know me know I am FRUGAL when it comes to ingredients), I realized that my blood pressure and my sanity were worth the few dollars I would have to spend on new ingredients.  I guess God just didn’t want me to dust and vacuum this afternoon!

The good news is that the short drive to the store and back cleared my mind!  When I got home I was able to make the icing correctly and finish the cake in less than 30 minutes.

Decorating In Process

Now I could have just snapped some pics of the finished product and pretended that the process of making the cake was a walk in the park, but no one would have learned from that and I would have missed the opportunity to help someone who’s having a worse day than I was!  Because even if you pretend it’s not true I know there are times when you are cheered up – if only for a moment – when you find out that someone else’s day sucked too!

TBTIAAW: The Best Thing I Ate All Week – Tammy’s Cornmeal Cheddar Scones

I’ve decided that periodically I will write about the best thing I ate during a given week.  This week it was hands down my friend Tammy’s Cornmeal Cheddar Scones.

Before I tell you about the scones, I should let you know I ate some pretty great things this week – at least I tasted some really great things.  Lest you think I eat like a queen – which some weeks I admittedly do compared to what other people eat – I should be honest and tell you that like everyone else, sometimes I drive-thru, sometimes Jeff and I order pizza, sometimes we eat leftovers, and sometimes we have cereal for dinner!

But working at a cooking school dramatically increases the probability of me tasting really amazing foods!  This week, for example, I sampled beef tenderloin with a red wine reduction, stuffed mushrooms, pork tenderloin stuffed with butternut squash and blue cheese, and Bananas Foster, among other things.  So to say the BEST thing I ate all week was Tammy’s Cornmeal Cheddar Scones is to say that they were, in my opinion, marvelous!

Before baking they were brushed with butter (and to quote my friend, Barb, “Everything’s better with buttah!”) and sprinkled with sea salt; so they had a crispy, lightly browned exterior and a nice salty snap. Mmm mmm mmm!

Tammy is another one of the instructors at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School and a wonderful cook/baker.  Like me, she enjoys entertaining in her home.  So it is no wonder we have quickly formed a bond.  She and I spend a great deal of time together prepping ingredients for our classes and for classes given by guest chefs as well.  Some of Tammy’s upcoming classes include:

But back to the scones.  With Tammy’s permission, the recipe is below.  I made the scones at home today so that I could take some photos of the process for this post.  These scones would make a wonderful accompaniment to chili, a hearty soup, a main course salad or, let’s be honest, almost anything you make.  Being someone who prefers savory things to sweet things in the morning, I would have some scrambled eggs and fruit with one of these scones and be happy until dinner time!

Here’s how easy they are to make…

1. I started by preheating the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Next I measured the dry ingredients.

Dry Ingredients with Measurements

3. Then I measured the wet ingredients.

Wet Ingredients with Measurements

4. I placed the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ancho chili powder and salt in the bowl of the food processor and gave it a whir to combine the ingredients.

5. I added the butter in chunks and pulsed the food processor until the mixture resembled coarse meal.

Butter in Dry Ingredients

6. Then I placed the mixture into a large bowl and stirred in the cheese.

7. I whisked together the egg and buttermilk until they were blended.

8. I made a well in the center of the dry ingredients, added the egg mixture and stirred just until the dry ingredients were moistened.

9. I turned the dough onto a well-floured surface and kneaded lightly a few times to make sure all the ingredients were well incorporated.

10. I patted the dough into a 10 x 7 inch rectangle.

The Dough

Cutting the Dough

11. With a floured pizza cutter, I cut the dough into triangles and diamond shapes (but you can cut them into any shape you desire with the pizza cutter or you can use cookie/biscuit cutters to cut shapes as well).

Cut Dough

12. I melted about 2 Tbsp of unsalted butter, which I used to brush on the tops of the scones after I moved them to a cookie sheet lined with a baking mat (you could use parchment paper).

Melting Butter for Brushing Scones

13. Finally I sprinkled the scones lightly with sea salt and popped them into the preheated oven where they baked for approximately 18 minutes (watch your scones carefully as the baking time will depend upon your oven).

The result?  Some of the best scones you’ve ever tasted!

The Finished Scones

Flaky Interior

A special thanks to Tammy for her permission to share this recipe, but more importantly for the friendship we have built over the last year.  I love working with you. I appreciate your guidance, support and wisdom.  And I look forward to many more years of talks, laughs and shared recipes!!!!

What is the best thing you ate all week?

Update Monday MmmMmmMmm:…and Chocolate Lava Cake

I sort of left you hanging last night…..by the time I finished my post, I still hadn’t baked my chocolate lava cakes….so I thought I’d end the suspense.  I’m sure you figured this out on your own, but the cakes were WONDERFUL!

I was a little worried that the LONG resting time might affect the outcome in a negative way, but it did not.  The cakes were dense with a warm, oozy center….mmm mmm mmm!!!

While the cakes baked for about 12 minutes, I had some fun decorating the plates with the caramel.  I wanted to see what would happen if I put the caramel into a squeeze bottle – you see, I wasn’t sure if it was too thick to “pipe” onto the plates.  As it turns out, it was just the right consistency.  I used a funnel to get it into the bottle and had to wait a few minutes for it all to drain through the funnel, but it wasn’t bad at all. The squeeze bottle made it easy to get the caramel right where I wanted it on the plates….

 

Plate

After decorating the plates, I waited for the timer to buzz…..when it finally did, I wasn’t sure the cakes were done.  I know they’re supposed to be soft in the center – after all, they are lava cakes – but they just didn’t look “set enough” on the edges; so I left them in for one more minute.  And I’m glad I did.

They unmolded perfectly.  I ran a knife around the edge and turned them out onto the plates.  The recipe indicated that you needed to leave the ramekins on the plate for approximately 1 minute so the cake would slide out of the ramekin; but my cakes slid out as soon as I overturned them.

They were perfectly cooked and looked quite pretty on the zigzag of caramel.

Unmolded Lava Cake

An easy to make dessert and the perfect end to my Monday MmmMmmMmm!!!!

Investing in the Future

Over the years Jeff and I  have made our share of financial mistakes and learned our share of financial lessons.  To quote my friend Andy, for a while Jeff and I were a “financial train wreck.”  But in 2001 we decided to do something about it.  Since then we have paid off all our debt, except our mortgage, and have done what we can to help others either become debt free or start off on a firm financial footing in their marriages.  Neither of us has a formal education in finances; but earning a degree from the School of Hard Knocks sure teaches you A LOT!!!

Today we spent the day with two great couples who will be married in the next few months. We shared our story with them, looked at what the Bible says about handling finances, and hopefully taught them some practical tools for paying off debt and living debt-free.

We also ate well!  You know I love a good opportunity to cook for other people and today provided one!  So yesterday I spent the majority of the day shopping and preparing food.  I was in my element.

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Manly Cookies

My husband, Jeff, has been having a challenging week at work. One of those Murphy’s Law kind of weeks – “anything that can go wrong will.” You know that kind of week….you’ve HAD that kind of week.

As he was telling me about some of the challenges yesterday, he said, “Ryan and Zach (co-workers in his department) really stepped up and I really appreciate it.” The HR in me kicked in and asked him, “Did you tell them?” To which he replied, “Not yet.”

I wholeheartedly believe in expressing my appreciation for people’s actions – and so does Jeff; however it does not always occur to him as quickly as it does to me. Maybe it’s the difference between men and women, maybe it has to do with our upbringing, maybe it is the time I spent working in HR, or maybe it’s just how we’re wired. Either way, it doesn’t matter – as long as we eventually do it!

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Inspiration

You never know where you’ll get your inspiration!

I have read thousands of magazines over the years – probably  half of them cooking magazines.  In fact, in my very first post on the blog – Welcome! – I wrote about my love of cookbooks and magazines.  I wrote about how on my birthday Jeff brings me cooking magazines and a cup of coffee in bed and I am immersed for hours.

This week was NOT my birthday (I am not celebrating them more frequently than I absolutely have to), but I was thrilled to receive a magazine from our friends, Alicia and Jason, while I was “recovering” from some outpatient surgery.  Although we haven’t known each other for very long, they clearly know me quite well.  They made Jeff and I a wonderful dinner and sent along a copy of one of my favorite magazines, La Cucina Italiana.

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Generations

I received a text message from my younger niece, Ashley, last night.  It read, “hey!  wanted to tell you I just made my first banana bread! but I used oatmeal flour and added white chocolate chips! :)”

I am happy as a clam (funny phrase, isn’t it) that Ashley texted me her news.  Having no children of my own, I am immensely grateful for my relationship with my nieces and nephews.  They are my link to the next generation and generations to come.  They keep me as hip as I possibly can be and they are the reason I keep up with technology!  Texting has kept me in contact with my nieces throughout their college careers and I can glimpse into their lives and the life of my older nephew on Facebook (no, I don’t consider it stalking)!

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Hope & Soap

Saturday night was full of fun and laughter.  We spent it with 3 couples from church enjoying a meal, playing games and competing in a cookie bake-off.  Don and Rena invited everyone over for the evening and came up with the idea of the cookie bake-off.  Don and Rena provided the main course, each couple contributed a side dish and each person brought a batch of home-made cookies.

Jeff and I plotted and planned throughout the week and didn’t tell each other until Saturday morning what kind of cookies we each were baking.  I decided on Lavender Shortbread Hearts with Lemon Filling and Jeff made Triple Chocolate Pistachio.  We engaged in the kitchen ballet while making our cookies and trying to stay out of one another’s way.

After arriving at Don and Rena’s house, we ate dinner and talked.  Somehow the subject “To Which Click Did You Belong in High School” came up.  We had fun telling stories about our younger selves and learning more than a little about one another!

After dinner Don explained the judging.  Continue reading

The Best of Bread!

A 70’s rock band, a colloquialism for money, or a sandwich platform – any way you slice it, it’s delicious!

And it turns out bread is also a great vehicle for getting to know people better! Friday Jeff and I had the pleasure of spending the day at the beautiful home of a great couple – Darrell and Donna – that we know from church.  They invited us to their home to learn Darrell’s techniques for no-knead bread making after hearing me bemoan the fact that I don’t have the best luck baking bread.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Friday

Ooohhhhh, what a fun and productive day we had yesterday!

My friend Holly, who has a Costco membership, was gracious enough to accompany me and my Mom, Mimi, there so that we could buy some things for our Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

The day began at my house at 9:00 am……my mom met me there for a quick bowl of savory oatmeal and a cup-a-joe.  Next we met Holly at her house at 10:00 and the day was officially under way.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Thursday

My lunch with Ashley (my beautiful niece) and Mimi (my mom) got off to a slow start……I was at the appointed meeting place – Pizza Grill – at 11:30 a.m..  At 11:56 I texted to Jeff the following, “I should have known better than to make Ashley and Mimi responsible for getting one another here. What was I thinking? It’s like the blOnd leading the blind!”  LOL!!!!

When they finally arrived, we had a good laugh about our less-than-smooth execution of a plan!  And then we had a great lunch!  We ordered a sun-dried Tomato and Feta Salad, a Crab Pizza on whole wheat, and a cup of Seafood Soup.  Everyone was sooooo hungry, but once we ate we were all quite satisfied with our choices and were fortified for an afternoon of cookie baking.

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A New Cookie Recipe

Earlier this week our good friend Ben stopped by to plant a tree in our yard – yes, I told you, he is a good friend and he also owns a landscaping business – and while he was here he said had a question for me.  The question was related to the Apple Cider Caramel recipe I posted in early October.

Ben makes cider and was kind enough to share some with us.  From the cider he shared I made some apple cider caramel for he and his wife to try, which led to his question.  He asked, “Do you think you can make a molasses-type cookie with the caramel you made?”

Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I replied, “I’ll give it a try and let you know.”  So I did.  Today I delivered a batch to Ben and his crew at a job site.  I am awaiting their assessment, but while I wait I thought I’d share the recipe with you.  As soon as I hear back from him, I’ll let you know his thoughts,.  But for now I can tell you that Jeff has not been at all disappointed that I’ve made multiple batches!

I had the caramel already made, so the work was pretty easy.  I’d recommend you make a batch of the caramel and keep it on hand.  It’s good on plain yogurt, great in the appetizer on the home page of the blog, and I also think it would be great on grilled meats or even over vanilla ice cream….there are so many possibilities.

The recipe for the caramel is:

Apple Cider “Caramel”

Meal type Condiment, Dessert
This recipe was a happy accident. I envision it being excellent over vanilla ice cream, perhaps drizzled over a bagel with cream cheese or over oven roasted sweet potato fries. The possibilities are endless!!!! Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Apple Cider
  • 1 pinch Kosher Salt
  • 1 pinch Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Brown Sugar (divided)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. Put cider, salt, pepper and 1 Tbsp of brown sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan, stir well and bring to a boil.
2. Lower heat to medium low (low if you have a particularly hot burner) and reduce to 1 cup.
3. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of brown sugar, increase heat. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and reduce to 1/3 cup.

Now for the cookies…

Melt 3/4 cup of butter and add it to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 egg and mix until smooth.

 

 

Add 1/4 cup of apple cider caramel to the butter mixture.  Mix until smooth.

 

 

 

 

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Blend into the butter mixture.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Using a 2 Tbsp scoop, scoop dough into balls.

Cut each scoop in half and roll between your hands into a ball, working quickly to keep the dough cool. Spread the remaining 1 cup of sugar onto a plate and roll each dough ball into the sugar to completely coat.

Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 8 minutes (time may vary depending on oven), until tops are cracked.  (Photo below taken at approximately 6 minutes into the cooking time).

Cool on wire racks and enjoy!!!!

As I wait for feedback from Ben and his crew, I am mulling over the name for these.  I thought of calling them “Bennies,” but that reminded me of a friend’s dog.  I thought of using Ben’s initials, but then they’d be “BS Cookies” – not too appetizing.  So for now I’ve landed on “Sawgrass Apple Cider Cookies.”  Sawgrass is the name of the street Ben and his crew were working on today when I delivered their samples….stay tuned for a name change….let me know if you have any suggestions, particularly you, Ben!!!!

To learn more about Ben’s business, visit http://www.souderlandscaping.com/!

Sawgrass Apple Cider Cookies

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups butter (melted)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup apple cider caramel
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup sugar (for coating cookies prior to baking)

Note

mmm mmm mmm at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, 1 c. sugar, and egg until smooth.
2. Add the apple cider caramel and mix until incorporated.
3. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices and mix into the butter mixture.
4. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Toasting Pepitas
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Using a 2 Tbsp. scoop, scoop dough into balls.
7. Cut each dough ball in half.
8. Roll the halved dough into balls and then roll each one in the remaining 1 cup sugar.
9. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
10. Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven (time may vary depending on your oven setting) until tops are cracked.
11. Cook on wire rack.

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipitē/

Noun:
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.

On Wednesday evening I was in my office paging through a book entitled, The Cake Bible (those of you who read my post What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1 will understand why) when another book on the shelf caught my eye – Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti.  Jeff and I are hosting a dinner party on December 1st; so we’ve been planning the menu and other details.  When I saw Four-Star Desserts, I thought I’d browse through it to see if includes any recipes that would be a welcome addition to the dinner party menu; but what I found was even better than the best dessert for December 1st.

I found a recipe for which I’ve been searching for 5 years or more!  When we still lived in our old house, I made a cake that I really liked and wanted to make it again; but I could not for the life of me remember which cookbook it was from.  And when your cookbook collection numbers over 200, it is difficult to just thumb through them all in search of one recipe.  Every now and again, I am reminded of this cake and I look at a few books hoping to find the recipe – always to no avail and great frustration.  In fact, I’m sure I reach for the same books over and over hoping to be successful in my search. What was that definition of insanity again?

But on Wednesday – when I wasn’t looking for the recipe – it just appeared to me, presented as a gift from the cake gods!  So it must be time to make it again!

This is a great cake to make when you are entertaining people who are watching calories.  Of course, it IS cake; so it isn’t a diet dish.  But it is one of those cakes that you don’t have to say, “just a sliver” when it’s being cut!

The recipe says it can be made several days ahead and stored wrapped in plastic at room temperature, but it was best on the first day.  Fortunately it’s so good I don’t think it will last too long!

Espresso Chocolate Chip Angel Food Cake from Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/3 cup cake flour (sifted)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cup egg whites (about 12 large eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon freshley squeezed lemon joice
  • 3/4 cups chocolate chips (coarsely chopped)

Note

Recipe from the book "Four-Star Desserts" by Emily Luchetti

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together the espresso powder, cake flour, and the salt. Set aside.
3. Put the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Increase to high speed and slowly pour in the sugar. Continue whipping until the whites are stiff but still shiny, about 3 minutes.
4. Reduce to low speed and add the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Add the reserved flour mixture. When the flour mixture is almost completely incorporated, remove the bowl from the machine and fold in the chocolate chips. Make sure that the chocolate chips are spread throughout the batter and that the flour is evenly mixed into the egg whites. Do not overmix.
5. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and cut through it a few times with a dull knife to break up any air pockets.
6. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Invert the cake on a rack and let it cool upside down in the pan.
7. Unmold the cake and slice it with a serrated knife.

Hint: To prevent the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the cake, mix the chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour before adding them to the batter.

If you make this cake, I hope you look back on finding this post as a serendipitous event!!!  Enjoy!

What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1

Last week, when I was working at the Kitchen Shoppe, an intriguing challenge arose from a student’s question to the instructor.  The instructor was talking about the flour he was adding to a roux and one of the class members asked if you could substitute other types of flour.

The instructor began talking about different types of flour – bread flour, all-purpose flour, and pastry flour (a.k.a. soft flour or sometimes substituted by cake flour).  He challenged class members to try each of these types of flour by making the same recipe multiple times only changing the flour.

Well, never being one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to give it a whirl.  But rather than simply try one recipe, I decided I would try two.  Chocolate cake and foccacia.  This post details my findings in the chocolate cake category.

I began by making a very basic chocolate cake recipe with bread flour, with all-purpose flour and with cake flour (since I didn’t have and couldn’t easily locate pastry flour).  I drafted a team of six tasters – including one of the world’s foremost authorities on chocolate cake, my buddy Jackson, and his dad, Tim.  Incidentally, it’s not that difficult to draft a team of tasters when chocolate cake is on the menu; however I wonder if it will be so easy should I decide to test brussel sprouts!

I must admit, I went into this experiment with a preconceived idea of which flour would be the best.  I was surprised to find that the results were somewhat different than I thought they would be.

I was also surprised to find during my research that there are differences between Southern all-purpose flour and Northern all-purpose flour.  Who knew?  Not me.

I fully expected the cake flour to make the best cake – I mean, duh, cake is in the name.  And were we only judging on taste and texture, I would have been right.  But when we included appearance into the criteria, pastry flour fell flat – pun intended.

 After researching the different kinds of wheat flour, I put together a chart I hope is helpful:

Bread Flour All Purpose Flour Pastry Flour
Southern Northern
Protein Content 12 – 13% 8 – 10% 11 – 12% 9% (Cake flour 7 – 8%)
Gluten Content high medium low
Weighing and Measuring 1 cup = 160 grams 1 cup = 140 grams 1 cup = 130 grams
Wheat hard, high protein wheat Blend of hard and soft wheat soft winter wheat
soft winter wheat
General Good for breads and some pastries, best choice for yeast products Good for cakes, cookies, breads and pastries Good for cakes and cookies where a tender/delicate texture is desired. / Cake flour is slightly different than pastry flour but is a good substitute
Shelf-Life Cabinet – several months in a cool, dry cabinet in sealed container / Freezer – up to 1 year Cabinet – up to 8 months in sealed container / Refrigerator – up to 1 year Cabinet – up to 8 months in sealed container / Refrigerator – up to 1 year
Crumb / Texture Produced Chewy Delicate, tender

MY RESULTS:

The following are the results of my first experiment, during which I baked the cakes for exactly the same amount of time; however, I want to see what happens if I alter baking times based upon the type of flour –  my hunch is the cakes made with the all-purpose flour and cake flour could have used a little more time than the one made with the bread flour.  I will also dust the cake pans with flour the next time, rather than my usual dusting of sugar (which people always love, but which makes it a little more difficult to remove the cake from the pan).

The taste tests were blind in that the testers did not know ahead of time which flour was used in which cake.  The cakes were simply labeled A, B and C and only I knew which flour which cake.  The cakes were single layer and did not have any icing on them.  Testers were asked to comment on appearance, texture, moisture, taste and ‘other.’

Cake A – Bread Flour

This cake looked the best.  It was 1 1/8 inches high and held its shape nicely.  It was easy to remove from the pan – no coaxing necessary.

Appearance: Testers commented that it looked brownie-like, nice and even, lightest color, compact, and cakey.

Texture: There were a wide variety of opinions on the texture. Testers commented that the texture was dense, toughest of the 3, soft and chocolatey interior, and spongy.

Moisture: Again, there were a wide variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, moist and good without frosting, a bit dry, medium – on the dry side, evenly moist, driest.

Taste: Testers said sweet – not overly chocolatey, least like chocolate, dull, like a brownie, and good.

Other: Testers comments included, I liked this, least flavorful, no frosting needed, and small holes on top.

Cake B – All-Purpose Flour

This cake was the tallest.  It was 1 1/2 inches high and took just a little coaxing to get out of the pan.  Except for a damaged corner, it held its shape.

Appearance: Testers commented that it wet (moist) and light (fluffy), thin and chocolatey, tallest overall, and tempting-looking.

Texture: There was less variety in opinions on the texture of cake B than on the texture of cake A. Testers commented that the texture was spongy, fluffy, gooey, moist – cake like, fluffy, and light in color.

Moisture: Again, there was less variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, very moist, gooey, better than A, evenly moist, and medium moist.

Taste: Testers said sweet/good, a super sweet brownie, better cake taste than A, not too sweet or too chocolatey, and chocolatey.

Other: Testers comments included, cracked top, no frosting needed, tastes like cake, very good, and I liked this too.

Cake C – Cake Flour

This cake was the shortest.  It was 1 1/16 inches high and took a lot of coaxing to get out of the pan.  The middle of the cake stuck to the pan and had to be placed back into the rest of the cake once it was coaxed out.

Appearance: Testers commented that very moist (wet on top), crumbly, fallen – least visually appealing but darkest, uneven surface, darkest color and big holes on top.

Texture: Of all the cakes there was the most variety in opinions on the texture. Testers commented that the texture was moist and light, fluffy, denser than the others – not light and airy, very light – almost angel food texture, and crumbly and airy.

Moisture: Of all the cakes there was the least variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, very moist, most moist of three, very moist throughout, and most moist.

Taste: Testers said good – different than others but not sure why, chocolatey, best taste – seems chocolatier, and delicious chocolate flavor.

Other: Testers comments included, didn’t like as much as others, like taste but not appearance, and can picture raspberry mousse, peanut butter, vanilla fillings or frostings with this.

There was no clear favorite, nor was there a clear loser. Each cake had its merits and downfalls.  As I said earlier, I will try my experiment again – at least once – and will report back.  For now I would say for an overall good result, the all-purpose flour takes the cake!

Just Peachy

Last week in the Outer Banks was terrific.  I truly can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed.  We let each day unfold like a surprise.  We had no plan, no itinerary, and no stress!

On our way home, just before we crossed from North Carolina into Virginia, we stopped at a roadside produce stand to pick up some late-summer peaches.  And boy are they good!  Jeff and I usually overdose on PA peaches in August; but this summer we just didn’t find any great peaches near home.  Fortunately, North Carolina not only delivered on a great vacation, but on great produce as well.

As a salute to vacation, I decided to bake today; which is funny since our fridge is bare. After scanning the contents, I decided to make a crostata – a rustic Italian tart.  But I wanted to amp it up a little so I added some brandy to the last of the blackberry syrup Jeff used to make a refreshing blackberry gin drink on vacation and I added a little bit of fresh thyme from the garden.

I used the 3/4 cup of blackberry syrup that remained and added to it 6 Tbsp of brandy and 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh thyme.  I cooked it over medium low heat for 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until it reduced and became dark and thick.

While the syrup reduced, I made the dough.  This dough is a very simple recipe with just a few ingredients:

I pulsed the flour, salt, sugar, lemon zest and thyme in a food processor until just combined and then added the cold butter.  I pulsed the food processor until the butter incorporated into the flour mixture and resembled coarse crumbs.  I added the ice water a bit at a time until the dough began to hold together.

Then I turned the dough out onto a board, gathered it together, shaped it into a ball, flattened the ball into a disk, wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for approximately 1 hour.

I rolled the cold dough into a rough 12-inch “circle” – remember this is a RUSTIC Italian tart –  and transferred it onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

I then topped the dough with the blackberry, brandy, and thyme reduction – kind of like you top a pizza crust with sauce.

I sliced two ripe, juicy peaches and arranged them on the crostata.  I folded the edges of the crostata toward the center – no need to be precise.  In my opinion, the more rustic looking, the better.

I brushed the crust with egg wash and sprinkled it with some white (I’m not quite sure why they call it white when it is really clear) sanding sugar and baked the crostata in a 400 degree oven for approximately 35 minutes.

The end result is a delightfully mouth-watering treat.

I rewarded myself with a piece of the crostata dusted lightly with powdered sugar and a steaming cup of Jeff’s yummy coffee.  I’d say my day is going to be just peachy!