Yummy. I just baked another batch of muffins, cherry walnut to be precise. I am sure this would not surprise you. I’ve been baking a lot and writing about it here. The muffins and the recipe are tried an true.
There is an interesting difference between baking and cooking. I live alone and when I cook, I cook for myself. Baking on the other hand allows me to create a food substance that is easier to share with people. It doesn’t have to be hot, and if properly stored can last a while. Sharing is a key component of being in the kitchen and a reason for my enthusiasm. I put my best foot forward along with my time and effort to produce items that are not only for me, but to share with others. The results have been well worth it. Sharing is something that is easier for me to do through baking until I get to the point where I am in fact cooking for others such as family and friends.
I’ve taken my muffins and bread into the office and received thanks and praise from my co-workers and my family enjoys my creations when they come for a visit. Baking is an equal part art and science as is cooking in the kitchen. It’s perhaps less forgiving than cooking over a stove and yet it tends to be a relaxing activity employing the laws of nature and time.
As I continue my culinary education process and use the techniques I learn, I strive for balance between cooking and baking with the goal of being more well rounded with the culinary arts. Be assured though that I will continue my baking posts and share my experience good and bad. It’s just too tasty not to.
Friday night’s cooking class was a lot of fun. Just before class I parked down the street and walked around a cooking supply store that’s located a few blocks away. It took all the personal restraint I had to not buy everything in sight. They had everything and at reasonable prices as well. I walked out with a simple refrigerator thermometer pumped to get to class. The class focus was on moist heat cooking used in braising, stewing, blanquettes and fricassees.
I walked into the building to find our class was nowhere to be seen, one minute for six. Another classmate arrived with me and was equally as confused. Here was our fourth class and it looked like we were being moved again. After walking from kitchen to kitchen, a chef instructor found a schedule and stated that we were in the downstairs kitchen, “the dungeon” as a passer-by commented. Even more parties and couples classes were planned for the evening at the school requiring our move.
My classmate and I walked down the stairs to find everyone else waiting for us. They must have received the memo or have some sort of ESP. As usual, the class started with a review of the cooking techniques. The tougher cuts are best suited for braising we learned. The process loosens the meat fibers making them tender.
Chef Angie read over the recipes, Fricassee de Lapin (Fricassee with Rabbit), Pork and Butternut Squash Stew, Braise Short Ribs with Dried Cherries, Poulet au Vinaigre a L’Eestargon (Braised Chicken with Vinegar and Tarragon, Sea Bass over Fennel, Braised Red Cabbage, Blaquette de Veau (Veal Blanquette), Stovetop Braised Artichokes, and Ossobuco alla Milanese (Veal Shanks in the style of Milan). Before I had a chance to consider my options the Ossobuco and Short Ribs were taken. I had come to class hungry, and could see that I was about to be tortured by a slow and fragrant cooking process.
I paired up with one of my classmates to make the braised chicken. When he asked me what my name was, it dawned on me that no one had been introduced during our last three classes. It’s funny how that works, as class four was definitely the deciding point; asking for a name during class five or six would just pass the awkwardness line. Our stations were setup and we prepared our ingredients.
The pearl onions were scored and then blanched in boiling water for one minute and then placed on ice. In a braising pot we melted butter and our vegetable oil where we would brown the chicken.The chicken came whole, and we had to learn how to carve it into pieces for our dish. It was surprisingly easier than expected, although I’ll admit precision is something that could be improved upon.
The chicken took forever to brown. We were advised to use cayenne pepper next time we browned chicken as it would be natural with respect to taste but it would help the browning process and make the chicken a brown into a richer color.
Once the chicken was browned, we poured off the fat and sauteed the onions which were now peeled until they became a golden brown. The wine and vinegar were added and we deglazed the pan, added the tomatoes and reduced by half. Next some tarragon was added along with the chicken which we had taken out during the fat removal while we brought everything to a boil. The heat was then reduced to a simmer for 20 minutes using parchment paper and an inverted lid of foil and the pot lid. The recipe stated that the chicken would be ready when we could poke it with a skewer without resistance. This was tough because the lid made it hard to see what was going on in the pot and blocked access to the chicken. We checked after 20 minutes and decided to leave everything cooking for another five minutes. The second time around, the chicken was ready, but our saunce had cooked down too much.
To fix this, we placed the chicken on a plate with foil to keep it warm while we worked with Chef Angie to fix our sauce. We added chicken stock and corn starch to the pot along with some white wine and whisked vigorously. the sauce started to thicken and we put in tarragon and salt to enhance the flavor. After a few minutes it was ready to go. We got out a serving platter and plated the chicken, ladled on the sauce and sprinkled tarragon on top. We also garnished our plate with tarragon sprigs.
The plate tasted great. I was not really familiar with tarragon as an ingredient, so I didn’t know what to expect. The sauced was salted perfectly and was no overpowering. The chicken was moist and tender. Another success, although it took forever to make. This clearly is a weekend meal.
I was also looking forward to Chef Angie bringing in a marinated flank steak that would be used for carne asada I had requested to make. As promised she brought in a marinated meat which turned out to be a brisket instead. Since this week called for braising, she seared the meat on both sides and finished in a covered pan in the oven, cooking the meat to a perfect medium rare.
This class was incredibly fun. The class is definitely more comfortable in the kitchen which allows everyone to be more social. Our instructor is also really encouraging and flexible, always making sure we are learning what we want to and getting the most out of class. Even though I started off incredibly hungry, and was forced to endure the sounds of delicious food cooking and smell it as it transformed from raw ingredients to wonderful dishes, I left full, stomach hurting. Especially good were the rabbit and short ribs. I can’t wait to try them out on my own.
This Friday at work, we are having an international buffet lunch where everyone that wants to gets to cook and bring in a dish from anywhere in the world. I will try out my own attempt at carne asada with the hope that I win the prize for best dish, while representing not only my amatuer cooking skills, but my latin heritage. Stay tuned to see what I can come up with and learn how I fair during the competition.
I just finished up writing about my French Apple Tart attempt. As I read my culinary books and learn more about what it’s like to work in the industry I am more in tune with the efficiency required in the kitchen when cooking. This was a problem in last Friday’s cooking class. I am also more aware of waste and how unused food can be re-crafted into other creations to avoid waste and save money. Tonight I tried to tackle both lessons head on.
First, I was left with extra apples and pie dough from my French Apple Tart since it was smaller than the recipe called for after cutting it. The only thing that came to mind given the quantity that I had was an apple pie. I figured I had enough pie dough for one of my ramekins and I also had enough apples to fill it. I rolled out the dough and lined the ramekin and then placed the apples inside with butter and some apricot jelly.
I then covered the top with the remaining dough and poke vent holes in it. I brushed the top with melted butter and placed it into the oven along with the tart with 30 minutes to go.
It only took about 25 minutes for the pie to bake, and once the crust looked nicely browned I pulled it out to cool.
Once it cooled enough to eat, I was able to enjoy my second gym workout-destroying dessert of the night. I was very happy with the result. The addition of the apricot jelly added some nice texture and flavor to the end result.
The second thing that I have noticed is that I create things in single batches and don’t leverage a pre-heated oven or the fact that I already have my tools and machines out for making food. I decided to leverage this by creating chocolate-chip walnut muffins that I can eat for breakfast throughout the week. I’ve had a lot of practice making the muffins, so this was an easy task.
I had turned down the temperature in the oven to 375 degrees F as the recipe required. I then mixed up my batter and greased the muffin tin. I was feeling pretty confident with the batter and decided to put in more chocolate chips and walnuts than usual and set my timer for 20 minutes before putting the batter into the tin.
They muffins were placed into the oven and set to bake as usual while I began the clean-up process. While I was more efficient with my time and tools, the kitchen at this point was quite croweded and needed to be cleaned up to make space. Cleaning up as you go is something so simple and yet so important when working in the kitchen. After 18 minutes the muffins looked perfect and I took them out to cool.
I realized that after 5 minutes of cooling I had forgotten to take them out of the tin and put them onto the cooling racks. I did this as quickly as possible fearing that the hot tin would cause them to become mushy as they cooled as was stated by the recipe.
The muffins finished on the racks, but they were noticably different than previous batches. They were a bit softer to the touch and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of my carelessness with the recipe with respect to the addition of chocolate chips and walnuts without measuring or if it was forgetting to pull them out of the tin and place them on cooling racks immediately. Luckily taste was unaffected and delicious as usual.
A few weeks ago I turned on the the TV to watch the Food Network, a common occurrence these days. The Barefoot Contessa was on with a “back to basics” special, so I decided to stay tuned in. If only you could order a cable package with just the Food Network. One items she made caught my eye, a French Apple Tart. It looked simple to make and when done, looked delicious. I figured, why not make it when I have some free time? I bought the apples and apricot jam that I needed and put them away until I had time. Tonight was such an occasion. I don’t know why I chose to spend my time this way. My cupboards and freezer are jammed packed with bread and cookies, and now I have more items to add to them.
I created my dough and put it in the fridge to stay cool for one hour. I then started peeling the apples and realized my peeler sucks; this is the first Oxo product that I would have to say is no good. Once peeled, I realized coring them would be a problem. I don’t have a melon baller, so I had to use a pairing knife. This is the second Oxo product that I have that is no good. The handle was just too big, and the apples were just too delicate. I was able to cut my slices and get them ready. Time passed and my hour was up. My next task was to roll out my dough. The dough was tough to roll and a bit dry and started to split as it became thinner and thinner. As I pressed on, I realized that I would have to do some serious cutting to make it rectangular and uniform. This left me with some extra dough
With the dough rolled out, it was placed on parchment paper set on top of a non-stick cookie sheet. The oven was preheated to 400 degrees F and I started to place my apples on top diagonally as described. I next placed the sugar on top and then cubes of butter throughout.
I set my timer to one hour and then placed the cookie sheet into the oven. The recipe said that it should take between 45 to 60 minutes so I figured at 45 minutes I would check in for doneness (…is that a word?). At 45 minutes, it looked close to ready so I let it stay for another 10 minutes. That clearly was too long. My edges burned and as I opened the oven door smoke billowed out causing my smoke detector to go off. I’m sure my neighbors love me. I pulled out the apple tart and set it to cool.
In the meantime I heated up some apricot jelly and rum in a sauce pan to thin it out. I then drizzled the mixture on top of the tart and let it cool before taking the first bite.
Despite the burnt edges, the apple tart is amazing. My tart was smaller than it was supposed to be, and that might have contributed to the baking results. I also shouldn’t have let it stay for another 10 minutes, but I was afraid of opening the oven too many times and causing the temperature to drop. I envy those with a glass window in their oven doors that allows them to check their food. I also envy those with gas stoves and ovens, but I don’t want to get too greedy. One can dream.
Tonight’s focus for class at Cambridge Culinary was on stocks, soups, and salads. I was especially excited about this class because learning about stocks is key to sauce making, the focus for the final class in the series.
Last week were given the recipes on our way out so we would have time to study them. It didn’t take me long before I knew what I wanted, and I came to class with the intent of making French Onion Soup and Salad Niçoise. I arrived at school to find that we would be learning in a different, smaller kitchen. A large private class was using “ours” and as chance would have it, a few classmates did not show up for this class so we had plenty of room. We opened with a brief lecture about stocks. Given the time required to make a proper beef, chicken or veal stock we would not be making any, although we would be using some that were created by a professional program class. Once we decided on what we would be making we went to work.
I started with the French Onion Soup as it required heat and extensive cooking time, hoping that I could move onto the Salad Niçoise as I had time. I melted my butter in a pot on the stove and then moved onto slicing the onions. They were placed into the pot with the melted butter and I covered the pot to let them wilt down. Once sufficiently wilted, sugar was added to begin the caramelization process.
Once the onions were caramalized, beef stock was placed into the pot. It was reduced down so that the liquid was just barely covering the onions. Salt, pepper and burgundy wine were added along with more stock and reduced down again at a slow simmer.
Unfortunately there weren’t any small ceramic ramekins for the soup, so we improvised with a large one. Enough French bread was cut to cover the bottom of the rameking and then the soup was poured over the bread. We also couldn’t find the gruyère cheese, the kitchen was a mess at this point, so we improvised with a gruyère smelling cheese. It had a very sharp flavor and after coating the top of the soup I questioned if it was a good choice.
The next step was to put the soup into an pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F until the cheese browned and there was some bubbling. I took it out and set it on the table next to the other soups and then the real fun began.
With all of the soups on the table we were able to try each one. They were fantastic! Everyone did a really good job. I felt like my soup was a bit too sweet, but overall it had a well balanced flavor and texture and the cheese was good too. At this point the class was near over and I had no time to make the salad I had hoped to make.
This week I hope I can re-make the French Onion Soup using store bough beef broth to compare the results. I have no doubt it will not be the same, but given the time and effort required to make a proper stock, store-bought is going to be my likely alternative.
I just got back from dinner with my cousin Gladys celebrating my birthday at Oishi, a Japanese restaurant in Boston’s South End. I was still feeling like making something, anything at all for practice. I know I am supposed to be working with eggs to further my skills, but I don’t think I can stomach another omelette, fritata, scrambled egg or anything of the sort for a while. My plans for making mayonnaise for my lunch sandwiches was thwarted by the power outage that I experienced and continue to experience as I can’t use deli meat for sandwiches anymore and need to get some more. Keeping up with the Irish theme I searched for something quick and simple and settled on Irish Shortbread cookies, what I hoped would be a great end to the evening as dessert.
The recipe for “Irish Shortbread Cookies” was simple requiring flour, sugar, salt and butter. How could this go wrong? I mixed my ingredients and rolled them. This dough was really sticky and stuck to my “non-stick” rolling pin. The cookies were easy to cut with a pizza cutter, a trick I learned from Alton Brown on his show Good Eats and were put on a cookie sheet. The dough was pricked with a fork as the recipe requested and I set my timer.
After about 10 minutes I knew something was wrong. The cookies were just flattening out on my cookie sheet and some of the thinner ones began to brown. I took them out earlier than the recipe called for at 15 minutes, flat and missing the fork prick marks with the thinner ones close to burnt.
Unfortunately I don’t know what went wrong, yet this incident did remind me that recipes can’t be blindly followed. I wasn’t expecting them to rise, but instead harden up as moisture evaporated from the dough. I suspect that the heat was too high causing the butter to melt faster than the moisture evaporated. On the bright side, the non-burnt cookies do taste good although they are a bit on the oily side.
For St. Patrick’s day (and my birthday) I wanted to test my skills with something traditional and Irish and with something that I could share afterward. Last night after I got home from the gym I did some searching on the internet for easy Irish recipes and decided on a traditional Irish soda bread recipe, although technically it was a recipe for a “spotted dog” since it had raisins in it.
I setup my work area, preheated my oven and got to work on mixing my dough. Soda bread is interesting because unlike traditional bread where yeat is use to make it rise, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), an alkaline, in combination with buttermilk, an acid produce a chemical reaction that creates gas that makes the bread rise. I mixed the dough in a bowl and once kneaded, I placed it into a loaf pan.
With the temperature set at 450 degrees F, I placed my loaf inside the oven and set my timer to countdown to 15 minutes. At 15 minutes I lowered my heat to 400 degrees F where it was to remain for 30 minutes. At 25 minutes to go the power went out in most of my apartment. Mysteriously the bedroom lights worked and the stove was still on. Something tells me I should have paid more attention to the the electric company trucks parked on the street with works moving about. With 13 minutes to go all of my power went out; the timer continued to count down. At this point I didn’t know what to do. I wondered, was my bread ruined? Would it bake correctly or even bake all the way through? Would I have to conceed to defeat? I decided to let the timer count down and after the 30 minutes were over I decided to leave the bread in for another 15 minutes as the temperature continued to fall. I hoped this would be enough to compensate as I had nothing to lose.
When I pulled the bread out, I slid it out of the loaf pan onto a cooling rack. Once cool enough to touch, I picked it up and tapped the bottom and heard the hollow sound that I was looking for. I kept it in tact until morning and then sliced it before bringing it into work to share and get opinions. Overall I and my co-workers were impressed. The flavor was delicious and I was very happy with the result.
Incidentally, the recipe is so easy to make, I was able to whip up another loaf in no time with the lights out that using candle light. A chef is never deterred.
I wasn’t able to bake it of course since I was without power and so I put the loaf in the fridge to keep with the hope that I might be able to bake it in the morning before work. This wasn’t meant to be and I had to bake it tonight before heading out to dinner. Amazingly I was able to produce another loaf equally as delicious.
While I was fortunate with my first loaf, it was a clear reminder that not everything works out as expected in the kitchen and that surprises do pop up. Remaining calm while willing to find a solution to my problem proved to be rewarding.
Skill and learning come from practice and diligent study. This week’s cooking class focused on eggs, so I’ve decided to continue that focus through the coming week with practice creating food that utilize eggs as a key ingredient. Tonight I decided to create a quiche based on the recipe from class with the addition of bacon for no other reason than the fact that I think Bacon is fantastic. Bacon is a key component to a Quiche Lorraine recipe which is pretty much what I decided to make. There are literally hundreds of variations available throughout the Internet to my surprise, but as I mentioned I chose my class recipe.
After a tough workout at the gym, I was quick to question my decision to make a quiche. The process of making pie dough became a task that I did not want to do but I pressed on and slowly worked the butter into the mixture of flour and salt. Next I worked the water in to complete the dough before putting it into the refridgerator for 30 minutes.
I cooked up the bacon and as its aroma filled my kitchen I continued my task with renewed enthusiasm. I whisked my egg batter together and pulled my pie crust out of the fridge. It was a bit firmer than before, but it was still a bit wetter than I imagined it should be even though I did not use all of the water I had measured out to make it. I added a bit more flour and rolled it out before placing it in a pie tin. I poured the egg batter in, mixed in the cooked bacon and added cheese on top before placing it into the oven.
When I pulled the quiche out of the oven 35 minutes later, I let it rest on my counter for 5 minutes before plating.
If I had been making this for my family or friends I would have spent more time making the outer edges of the crust a lot more even, thus making the finished product more visually appealing. I plated my quiche and set it on the table with some wine I had picked up from Trader Joe’s.
This recipe yields a fluffy custard. I much prefer a firmer quiche with more cheese. I noticed that the cheese and bacon sank to the bottom in stead of being evenly dispersed and hope that my next attempt is a little more consistent. I also think that the quiche could have benefited from more bacon for added flavor and texture.
All and all I was pretty happy to have made this dinner for myself. Each success adds to my confidence level and I feel like I am always learning. Another great thing about this dinner is that there is plenty left over for an easy lunch or dinner during the week, something I am not accustomed to since I usally make single serving meals.
This evening i attended my second cooking class at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. This week’s focus was eggs, and it would be the first class that we would be given the opportunity to cook. This was a bonus as I would not leave hungry but equally as terrifying was the fact that we would be cooking for and in front of each other. As I entered the class I noticed there were new faces that were not present during last week’s class. I signed in, grabbed a recipe booklet from the chef instructor and took my seat. It turned out, that our “new faces” were unable to make their class this week and therefore were allowed to make up their class during the one I was scheduled for. The room was looking full.
The class began and we went over the recipes in the booklet. It contained many different recipes ranging from sauces to full family-sized meals. After reviewing the recipes, discussing tips and noting what we had experience with making in the past, we were given the chance to choose recipes that we wanted to try and if there weren’t any, we would be assigned to them based on what had not been chosen by others. Our choices were, poached eggs, hard cooked (hard boiled) eggs, coddled (soft cooked) eggs, Hollandaise Sauce, mayonnaise, crepes, cheese soufflé, Italian fritata, quiche and pipérade and scrambled eggs. We were told that there would be plenty of time to cook and try recipes since there weren’t many and so I decided to start with some seemingly easy ones that I had not tried before, Hollandaise Sauce and mayonnaise, two mother sauces in classic French cuisine.
We entered the kitchen, donned our aprons and began the preparation of our work areas. Then it all started…chaos. Everyone started running around frantically raiding the pantry for ingredients, grabbing eggs by the hand full, grabbing utensils, pots and pans. The kitchen transformed into a pseudo Kitchen Stadium from the Food Network TV series Iron Chef America.We had our own time limit and everyone seemed keenly aware of it.
I worked on the Hollandaise Sauce first, measuring my ingredients and then heating up my water and lemon juice, heating it until became a concentrated acid reduction. Next the eggs were added into the sauce pan. I then worked my butter cubes in and whisked vigorously to add volume while moving it on and taking it off the heat so it remained warm; too warm and the eggs would curdle I was warned. Once all of the butter was melted in, I added salt and ground white pepper for taste. I tasted it and really enjoyed the silky texture and light buttery flavor with a subtle hint of spice. The night was off to a good start.
My next task was the mayonnaise. This would prove to be a surprise with respect to how much effort was involved in its making. I placed the eggs, dried mustard, salt and lemon juice into a bowl and combined them with my whisk. One of my classmates offered to help so we both could learn how it was made. He added the vegetable oil slowly as I whisked vigorously. Each drop of oil made this task harder and harder. My whisking became slower and slower. I read the recipe again, glancing over key words “Sauce, when finished will be very thick.”. When we were half way through the oil, he offered to whisk and let me pour. I gladly switched places with him and began pouring the rest of the oil in slowly. The whisking slowed even more and the strain was evident in his eyes and his breathing. This was no easy task. I switched places with the final bit of oil left and completed the whisking. What presented itself before me was an unfamiliar substance. It was yellow, thick and spicy to the tongue. This was unlike any mayonnaise I have ever had before and yet very pleasant, a superior compliment to any hearty sandwich for sure.
My next project was an omelette. It was pretty straight forward. I cut up some fresh chives on my cutting board to use as a garnish and to add some extra flavor. I then whisked the eggs and greased the pan. I poured the eggs in and started moving them around as they coagulated. Once cooked, I brought the pan to my plate and folded the eggs over and added the chives. So delicious.
I finished the evening making a poached egg and crepe and was able to taste my other classmates’ creations. The best part of the experience was the fact that I left feeling more confident in a kitchen preparing food with a time limit. My classmates enjoyed my Hollandaise Sauce with their poached eggs ala Eggs Benedict and it was a great experience to be able to try several fritatas, soufflés and omelettes, noticing the subtle and sometimes dramatic taste and texture differences. We all started with the same base ingredients and recipes and yet were able to end with dishes uniquely our own. This was perhaps due to technique, measuring, or the overall application of heat. Experience will teach me to know the difference I am sure. Next week our training will challenge us with soups and stocks. I eagerly await the classes for the weeks to come.
If you listen to the news, talk to anyone on the street or walk the lonely halls of America’s shopping centers you’ll see and learn that times are tough. Everyone is looking to save money in these uncertain times and I am no different. The “timing” could not have been better as I make an effort to go out less, save money and focus my time and energy on my culinary learning.
One of the great things about food is its capacity to tell a story and transmit history. I’m not talking about fancy cuisine invented by chefs at exclusive restaurants, but the simple wonders that are passed down by generations of family whose sight and smells evoke memories of childhood and glimpses into another person’s life.
While trying to save money I’ve resolved to ditch the $1.50+ Starbucks muffin or scone or the $1.00 bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts. I have replaced them already with the muffins I have been diligently creating and have decided to add to my breakfast lineup with something simple and equally fulfilling. My southern muse Cassie suggested a recipe for southern-style biscuits that was reminiscent of the ones that her mother used to make her while growing up in rural West Virginia. I couldn’t think of a better way to connect with her past while also providing a tasty treat in the morning as I start my day at work.
I combined my dry ingredients in the food processor and then moved them to a large bowl. I worked in my shortening and frozen butter quickly, being careful not to melt the butter with my body heat. I added the buttermilk, gently working it into the doughy mixture and found myself the unfortunate
possessor of what Alton Brown calls “club hand”, a hand covered in sticky almost glue-like batter. Luckily I had a free hand and was able to wash my hands in the sink with a flick of the faucet handle. A spoon might be a better instrument for mixing, but this gave me valuable insight into what the dough should “feel” like. I moved it onto a floured surface and folded it over several times before flattening. Since I did not have 2″ cutters, I used a glass as my muse advised and cut out the biscuits. The left-over dough was re-combined and used to create the remaining biscuits. They were baked for 15 minutes and then cooled on racks for 5 minutes before eating. One word: perfect.
With one bite I could imagine the subtle saltiness which would combine with cured breakfast meats and eggs in the morning. Eating these along with waffles and pancakes and sweet syrup also came to mind as a delicious combination. I wondered what other Southern treats Cassie could share with me and how I would have to bribe her for her knowledge. So far so good with my learning. I can’t wait to find my next challenge.