Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Culinary Class: Knife Skills Test

Tonight, I had my knife skills test for my culinary class. We were tested five at a time. When it was my turn, I had to set up my mise en place, grab a carrot, half an onion, and some parsley, and wash them, then wait. When instructed, we had to demonstrate rondelle, diagonal, batonette, and dice cuts on the carrot, dice the onion, and mince the parsley.

While I was mincing the parsley, the chef told me I was done. I hope that means that he was satisfied with my work, and not that I did something so egregiously wrong that I needed to stop. Anyway, we had to put the finished product in bins, then sanitize our stations.

I feel pretty good about it. I spent several hours today practicing my cuts on carrots. I tried to pay a lot of attention last week when chef showed what the test would be.

Next week is our last cooking lab, on poaching. The last two weeks are tests; first an equipment identification test, then the final. Hard to believe that we are this close to finishing.

Monday, April 29, 2013

School Progress: Summer Registration

Registered for the summer semester today. I'm taking one class, Chocolate Preparation. I'm very much looking forward to this class. It will be rather intense, as the short six week semester means the class is two seven hour days a week. The chocolate class was one I really wanted. I did not want to have to teach myself the techniques, as chocolate can be a little fussy.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Registered for World Tea Expo

The spouse and I have registered to attend the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas June 5th through the 8th. This is the largest trade show in the world for the tea business. From what I can gather there will be between 5,000 and 10,000 attendees, and over 200 exhibitors. We are excited for this opportunity to get introduced to the business of tea.

We will be attending the New Business Boot Camp, two days of training for new businesses. The first day is all business classes. Some of those, like the "What do I Charge?" class, look like things we can really use. The second day is the World Origin Tasting tour. We will get to sample teas from China, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Nepal, Japan, and Taiwan. I think this will be a lot of fun, but probably an overwhelming avalanche of information.

Friday starts the convention proper. We are looking forward to checking out some vendor presentations, and just wandering the exhibitors booths.

Saturday, the spouse will be taking a class on marketing, while I will taking a class on how to properly evaluate tea. There is also a networking reception Saturday evening. That should give us a chance to chat with a variety of folks in the business.

We are not, currently, planning on staying for Sunday. We should be able to see everything by Saturday.

We are eagerly anticipating this event. It should be a fun and education few days. Unfortunately, they don't allow pictures in the exhibitors hall, or at any of the presentations. I'll see what I can legitimately get, and we will post them after the event, or even during if I can get Internet access.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Culinary Class: Asian Style Chicken Stew and Rice Pilaf

Yesterday was our penultimate cooking lab. Only one more left, in two weeks. Next week is our knife skills test. I plan to spend next Tuesday destroying carrots.

Anyway, we are continuing our survey of wet cooking methods. This time we covered stewing. Stewing generally involves cooking smaller portions of meat completely immersed in liquid.

For this class we made an Asian style stewed chicken. It was flavored with garlic, onion, ginger, vinegar, cilantro, and hot peppers. Slow cooking helped the chicken become permiated with the flavors, and become fall-off-the bone tender. The sauce was thickened at the end with a slurry of corn starch.

I think this may be my favorite recipe of the class so far.

To accompany the stew, we made a basic rice pilaf. In a pilaf, the rice grains are coated in fat so that they remain separate, and the rice as a whole is fluffy. The rice is sautéed fat until well coated. Water is added, and the pot covered. It is important to leave the pot alone at this point. The rice needs to be left alone for about 25 minutes. It can be finished either on the stove top, or in the oven.

We kept it simple, as we wanted the rice to accompany the stew, and not clash. It is flavored with a little garlic and onion. We used butter as the fat to fry the rice and coat the kernels.

We used parboiled rice. This rice is partially cooked, making the cooking time shorter, and there is less starch on the outside to gelatinize and make it sticky.

The rice came out perfect. It was a little al dente, and had not a hint of stickiness. It did a great job of soaking up the sauce from the chicken.

All recipes courtesy of Chef Joe Orate.


Chef Joe's Ginger Chicken Stew

1 chicken cut into 10 pieces, skin removed
1 onion, rough chopped
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup diced celery
1 Thai chili, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, diced
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced cilantro
2 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. corn starch
2 cups water

In a heavy stew pot over medium heat, sweat onions, celery, and garlic. Add chicken pieces, lightly brown. Add stock, soy sauce, vinegar, chili, pepper, and ginger. Bring to a simmer. Cover, let cook one hour and fifteen minutes.

Combine corn starch and water, making sure there are no lumps.

Add cilantro to stew. Slowly stir in corn starch slurry, until sauce is desired thickness. You may not need all of the slurry. Cook for an additional two minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand five minutes.

Chef Joe's Basic Rice Pilaf

2 cups rice
1/4 cup minced onion
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 oz. by wt. butter
3 cups water
salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter. Sweat onions and garlic. Add rice, stir thoroughly until rice is well coated. Add water, and season to taste.

Cover, let cook undisturbed for 25 minutes.

Blog News: Milestone

Just this morning, this blog received its 100th hit for the month of April. This marks the first time ever that I've had more than 1000 hits in one month. Yeah, I know, in the blog world this is small potatoes. I read blogs that get that  much traffic in one minute.

Still, this is very significant for me. Thanks to every one who reads this blog. I appreciate you all, and hope we can continue to build this ever larger.

Please let me know if there is anything you'd like to see me talk about. I'm always open to suggestions.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chefs Fire Up The Iron Horse Event

This weekend I helped, along with a lot of the other students in the Grossmont College culinary program, at a culinary event. This event, titled Chefs Fire Up the Iron Horse, was a co-operation between The Chefs de Cuisine Association of San Diego, the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association, and the Southern California Vintner's Alliance. It was a food and wine tasting out at the Campo Depot of the museum.

We did preparation for the event Friday morning. We gathered at the school, and made the salads. We made a Caprese salad, potato salad, Caesar salad, seafood salad, and ceviche. I originally was assigned to do the Caprese salad with another student. We washed grape and cherry tomatoes, and did a chiffonade of a tub of basil. We mixed the tomatoes and basil with mozzarella balls, olive oil, and black pepper. We finished quickly, and helped cut up romaine lettuce for the Caesar salad, and cut up more basil for the seafood salad.

Saturday, we met at the school early, and worked out carpool arrangements for the drive to Campo. The reception was held in a large hanger full of engines and cars. The food and alcohol booths were set up along either side of the central walkway, with tables in the middle.

There were stations for salad, seafood, sushi, carved meats, grilled sausage, and desserts. There were tables from a number of wineries in the San Diego and Temecula areas.

There was a mess car with a coal fired stove. The oven was used to braise pork belly in beer, and bake ham. Chili was cooked on the stove top.

We set up a grilling area out back. That's where I got assigned to work. We had to grill a lot of sausages.

The day was perfect. Sunny, a little warm, but with a cool breeze. We got there around ten, and helped set up. We worked cooking and serving most of the day. We did get breaks toward the end. That gave us a chance to try the food, and check out the wineries.

It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun, too. And, it counts as extra credit for my culinary class.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Creampuffs with Strawberry Orange Pastry Cream and Galangal Dark Chocolate Ganache

I owed a friend some cream puffs in exchange for a favor. I decided to use the opportunity to experiment a little. We had purchased some strawberry oranges at the Farmers' Market. This is a variety whose technical name is Vaniglia Sanguigno. This is Italian for 'Vanilla Blood'. It is also marketed as a Vanilla Orange, or as a Mango Orange. It is an almost acidless variety, with none of the tartness one expects from an orange.

I thought the strawberry orange would make a really great pastry cream. I adapted this recipe for orange pastry cream. Since the strawberry oranges are sweeter, I needed less sugar, and because they lack the acid, I could increase the amount of juice without worrying about curdling the milk.

The pate a choux for the cream puffs is the same recipe I used here. That was not my first intention, though. I still have a lot of buttermilk, so I thought I'd try a buttermilk pate a choux. When I googled it, however, I found no recipes. None, whatsoever. With the number of food bloggers out there, every combination of food that makes any sense, and quite a few that don't, have been done. So, I was suspicious, but decided to try it, anyway.

I learned why there are no buttermilk pate a choux. As soon as I started heating up the mix of buttermilk, water, and butter, the buttermilk curdled. But, as I learned as a science student, we learn as much, or even more, from the experiments that fail as from those that succeed. So, now I know why there are no buttermilk pate a choux recipes, and the next person to google looking for one may find this blog post.

For the ganache, I used a semi-sweet chocolate with 58% chocolate liqueur. I added some galangal. Galangal is a relative of ginger, but with a more peppery taste. Since orange and ginger are such a classic combination, I thought it should work. I kept it light, however, as I did not want the galangal to overwhelm the delicate orange flavor of the pastry cream.


Strawberry Orange Pastry Cream

2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. strawberry orange zest
1/4 cup strawberry orange juice
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
pinch kosher salt

Sift cornstarch. Add egg yolks, whisk until light colored and smooth. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium low heat, combine milk, sugar, vanilla, zest, salt, and juice. Bring just to a boil. Remove from heat. Slowly add 1/2 cup of hot milk mixture to the egg mixture while whisking continuously. Add mixture back to pot, return to heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Strain mixture, cover directly with plastic wrap, to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool.

Chocolate Galangal Ganache

4 oz. by wt. semi-sweet chocolate
4 oz. by vol. cream
1/4 teaspoon ground dried galangal
pinch salt

In a double boiler, melt chocolate. Slowly whisk in cream. Add salt and galangal. Whisk to combine.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Culinary Class: Roast Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables, and Funnel Cake

We are continuing our survey of dry cooking methods. For this class, we were exploring roasting. We made a marinade, halved some chickens, and cut up some vegetables. Probably our easiest prep yet.

The marinade was made up for us, so it had time for the flavors to blend. It had oil and vinegar, and was flavored with a variety of herbs, spices, and prepared mustard.

We cut up an onion, some celery, a sweet potato, carrots, and a beet. We tossed them with the marinade, and roasted them
in the oven. They were quite good.

We cut some chickens in half, and tossed them with the same marinade. We roasted them until the skin was crispy, and the meat juicy and tender.

It was good, though it could really have used some sauce or gravy. Wish we'd made a pan sauce from the drippings. Seemed a waste.

To keep busy while everything was roasting, we made funnel cakes. That was fun, I've never done that before. We did not get to make the batter ourselves, it needed to sit for a bit. The batter was placed in squeeze bottles, for easy of piping.

We pan fried them in a skillet half full of oil. One touch I liked, we used heart shaped cookie cutters to contain and shape the funnel cakes. We piped the batter into the outline of the cutter, then removed the cutter as the funnel cake set. Once browned on the bottom, we flipped them over to finish.

We had the option of sprinkling the funnel cake with powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or cinnamon sugar with cayenne. I chose the last. I liked the kick it gave the funnel cake.

It came out very light and tender, but crisp on the outside.

As always, all recipes courtesy chef Joe Orate.


Chef Joe's Spiced Oil for Roasting

2 cups salad oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. prepared yellow mustard
1/2 Tbsp. curry powder
1/2 Tbsp. paprika
1/2 Tbsp. dried basil
1/2 Tbsp. black pepper
1/2 Tbsp. salt

Blend together all ingredients.

Chef Joe's Funnel Cake

2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups flour
4 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

oil for frying
powdered sugar for garnish

Mix together all ingredients, place in a squeeze bottle.

Place 1/2 to 3/4 inch oil in a heavy skillet.  Heat oil to between 350 F and 375 F. Place a metal ring in pan. Pipe batter into ring. When dough is set, remove ring. When brown , flip and allow to cook on the other side. When brown on both sides, remove from oil. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Happy eating!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sauteed Chicken with Kohlrabi - Potato Puree and Wilted Kohlrabi and Radish Greens

We picked up a nice looking kohlrabi at the El Cajon Farmers' Market the other day. Mostly, I was curious, having never worked with one before. Kohlrabi is a cabbage that has been bred for its stem, rather than its leaves.

I've also never tried to do a puree before. I've seen enough of them on cooking shows, however, that I decided I wanted to give it a try. The kohlrabi alone would not be enough, so I combined it with some potatoes. I boiled them together until soft, then pureed them in a blender with a little butter, cream, and salt. The kohlrabi added a great flavor to the puree.

I cut up a large chicken breast into strips, then pounded them flat. I simply sautéed the strips in a little olive oil, and seasoned them just with a little salt and pepper. After removing the chicken from the pan, I de-glazed the pan with some champagne, and finished the sauce with a little butter and cayenne powder.

For the vegetable, I combined the kohlrabi greens with some radish greens. I cooked them in a little olive oil, them added a little lingonberry vinegar and let it steam for a little bit. I seasoned them with a little salt. The mild bitterness and acid from the greens made a nice contrast with the smooth, mild puree, and the chicken/


Sautéed Chicken with Champagne Pan Sauce

1 large chicken breast, cut into 3 strips
2 chicken tenderloins
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup champagne
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder
salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken pieces between two layers of plastic wrap. Pound to 1/2 inch thickness. Season with salt and pepper.

In a skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil. Add chicken. Let cook until brown, then turn. When cooked through and brown on both sides, remove from pan.

Add champagne, and de-glaze pan. Add cayenne, and season with salt as needed. Let sauce reduce slightly.

Plate chicken, spoon sauce over meat.

Kohlrabi - Potato Puree

1 3 inch diameter kohlrabi, peeled and diced
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. butter
salt to taste

In a pot with plenty of water, boil kohlrabi and potatoes until tender. Drain vegetables, transfer to a blender. Add cream and butter, blend until smooth. Add salt as needed.

Happy Eating!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Angel Hair Pasta with Carrot Green, Dry Jack, and Pistachio Pesto

We picked up some lovely carrots at the El Cajon Farmer's Market the other day. They add lovely greens, so I knew I'd be making pesto soon. I've made pesto with carrot greens before. I really love the sharp, parsley-like flavor of them.

This time, I used dry jack cheese, and pistachios. This may be my best pesto, ever. The dry jack adds a lot of umami and a real depth of flavor. The pistachios add just enough sweetness to balance out the mild bitterness of the carrot greens.

I tossed the pesto with some whole grain angel hair pasta, and a little olive oil. To accompany the pasta, I sautéed some onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. I flavored the vegetables with a little dried thyme and basil.

Carrot Green, Dry Jack, and Pistachio Pesto

3 cups rough chopped carrot greens
3/4 cup shelled pistachios
1/3 cup grated dry jack cheese
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil (approximately)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine greens, nuts, cheese, and garlic. While processor is running, drizzle in olive oil, until pesto is smooth. Add salt to taste, process a few more pulses.

Happy eating!

Business Progress: Califonia Seller's Permit.

Made one more step toward getting a business started. We applied for, and received a California Sellers Permit. That should allow us to attend the new business bootcamp at the World Tea Expo in June.

I still need to get my food handler's license from the County board of health. We are still researching commercial kitchen facilities. And, we have to consider options for starting capital. Still a lot to do, but we are really excited.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Buttermilk Chiffon Cake with Key Lime Curd

I had an awful lot of buttermilk and egg whites left over from the Baseball and Princess parties we did recently. I wanted to find a way to use them up. I found this recipe, and adapted it a little to my understanding of the foaming method.

Looking in the store for inspiration, I saw that key limes were inexpensive. I love key limes, so I decided a key lime curd would be awesome as filling in the cake. I adapted this recipe for my curd.

The frosting is a vanilla lime Swiss butter cream. It is flavored with a little key lime zest, and some vanilla extract.

To garnish the cake, I candied some key lime slices in a simple syrup.

I really like this cake. This recipe is a keeper. The cake is not as fluffy as the chiffon cake I learned to make in school. It still has a very tender crumb, and there is definitely a bit of buttermilk tang to the flavor. It is a sturdier cake, and would hold up to more manipulation, if one was inclined to do something interesting with the construction.

The key lime curd is bright and acidic, and very intensely flavored. I added just a touch of green food coloring, to help with the visual cue that this is not lemon.,

I am very pleased with this cake. It is firm, but still moist and tender. I like the intensity of the curd. I think it's acidity helps cut the sweetness, and that plus the buttermilk helps give depths and complexities of flavor. The lightly flavored butter cream frosting complements, without overshadowing, the cake.


Buttermilk Chiffon Cake

3 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 + 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. almond extract
6 oz. by wt. egg whites
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Grease and flour two nine inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with wax or parchment paper.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture in stages, alternating with buttermilk. Beat to combine thoroughly between each addition.

Beat egg whites until foamy. Add almond extract and cream of tartar. Whip to soft peaks, then slowly add 1/2 cup sugar. Whip to medium stiff peaks.

Fold 1/4 of egg whites into batter to lighten. Gently fold in remaining whites, until whites and batter are well combined, with no visible streaks of whites remaining.

Divide batter between cake pans.

Bake 25 - 30 minutes, or until cake is firm. Remove to rack to cool.

Key Lime Curd

1 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup fresh squeezed key lime juice
2 Tbsp. key lime zest
pinch kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until curd thickens, about ten minutes.

Strain curd. cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in freezer for 20 minutes, then transfer to refrigerator to finish cooling.

Vanilla Lime Swiss Butter Cream Frosting

6 oz by wt. sugar
4 1/2 oz by wt. egg whites
1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. water
1 lb. butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of one key lime
 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

Heat sugar, egg whites, and water in a double boiler to 160 F, whisking continuously. Whip in a stand mixer five minutes, or until mixture decreases to room temperature. Add butter one chunk at a time, until all the butter is Incorporated. Add salt, vanilla, and lime zest. Whip until smooth and glossy.

Happy Eating!

El Cajon Farmers' Market

A new farmers' market has started in El Cajon. It takes place Thursdays from three to seven PM at the Prescott Promenade in downtown El  Cajon.

The spouse and I have been wanting to go since it first opened a few weeks ago. We've had conflicts that prevented us from being able to. We finally got to go last night. It's rather small, yet. There were three produce sellers, a handful of specialty product vendors, and a few food booths.

Despite the small size, we did manage to pick up some nice locally grown produce. We acquired some white radishes, carrots, beets, and a kohlrabi. We also got a big bag of strawberry oranges. These are a sweet, non-acidic variety of orange. I've never tasted anything quite like them before.

We also picked up some Dry Jack cheese from Spring Hill Jersey Cheese. Dry Jack is an aged version of Monterey Jack. It is a hard cheese, like Parmesan, with a mildly nutty flavor and a crumbly texture. I want to try it in a savory scone. I'm also planning on making a carrot green pesto this week, and may use it in that.

Hopefully, it will continue to grow. I appreciate the opportunity to shop for locally grown seasonal produce, as well as unusual food produces like artisan honey, or cheese.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Culinary Class: Tempura Battered Chicken and Onion Rings

After two weeks off (Spring Break, and written mid-term) we were finally back in the kitchen. We continued our exploration of dry cooking methods with deep frying. We have been moving from least to most oil in the frying methods. We used a batter to coat the food for the first time. Also, we made an aioli from scratch, which was fun. I've never done my own mayonnaise before. Now that I know how ridiculously easy it is, I may do that a lot more.

We took boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and cut them into strips. We pounded the strips flat. They were dredged in a mixture of seasoned flour and cornstarch. We coated them in a tempura batter. We learned the swim method of deep frying. In the swim method, the food is held in tongs. It is half submerged in the hot fat, and gently moved back and forth for ten seconds. It is then carefully released. It should float, and not touch and stick to the bottom. Just as with pan frying, it is important to not try to cook too much at once. Adding food drags down the temperature of the oil. If the oil is too cool, the result will not be pleasant. The chicken is then drained on a paper towel lined tray.

It came out crispy and juicy. The batter was light, and not thick.

We did the same thing with onions. We cut the onions into half inch wide rings (about a fourth of an onion. As I have said before, I am a sucker for good onion rings.

Just like the chicken, the onions were first dredged in a mixture of flour and cornstarch. They were then battered and deep fried, using the same swim method.

We used a commercial tempura mix. Tempura batter is generally based on a low gluten wheat flour, and commercial mixes may include rice flour, corn starch, or leaveners like baking powder. We used it plain, with just some salt and pepper, for the onion rings. The batter for the chicken was more interesting. It was flavored with curry powder and cayenne pepper.

It is important for the batter that the water used is ice cold. It should be mixed as little as possible, it's OK to have some lumps left. You do not want to develop the gluten. If you develop the gluten, you will get a tough and chewy coating. Not what you generally want in fried foods.

We made a spicy aioli as a dipping sauce to go with the chicken and onion rings. An aioli is essentially a mayonnaise. It is an emulsion of oil and water (in this case lemon juice and vinegar) stabilized by the lecithin in egg yolk. Soy lecithin can be used to produce a vegan mayonnaise. The secret is to slowly drizzle the oil into the vinegar and egg, while whisking vigorously. We included onion, garlic, and sambal for flavor.

If you are concerned about potential salmonella contamination, you can use pasteurized or irradiated eggs. Alternatively, you can heat the egg yolks in a double boiler to 160 F, while whisking to prevent coagulation.

The aioli went really well with the chicken and the onion rings. The acid from the lemon brightened the flavors, and the heat from the sambal enhanced them.

As always, all recipes courtesy of chef Joe Orate.


Chef Joe's Spiced Tempura Batter

2 cups Tempura Mix
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
Ice water as needed

Mix together tempura mix and spices. Add ice water while whisking, until batter resembles thin pancake batter.

Chef Joe's Spiced Aioli Sauce

5 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. minced onion
juice of 1/2 a lemon
10 oz. by vol. olive oil
1 tsp. sambal chili paste
salt and pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and onion. Slowly drizzle in oil, while whisking vigorously. Whisk in sambal, salt, and pepper.

Happy Eating!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Baseball Party

A friend of ours oldest son wanted a baseball themed birthday party. He much enjoyed the opportunity to be able to articulate his desires, and have adults listen and take notes. I think it's something that doesn't happen enough for most kids.

We sat down with him and his parents. We asked leading questions, but sincerely listened to the answers. He wanted a cake with a baseball diamond and someone hitting a home run. He wanted vanilla cake with creamy cherry filling. He wanted ball park food; hot dogs, cracker jacks, peanuts. Carrots and grapes OK, but no vegetables.

He and the spouse also worked out what kind of games and activities he wanted to do.

The hot dogs were easy. We have a propane powered slow cooker. It worked perfectly to steam the hot dogs in the park.

I made my version of Cracker Jacks. I modified the recipe I used for bacon flavored caramel corn. I used dark corn syrup instead of the bacon flavored syrup.  I oven roasted some raw, unsalted Spanish peanuts, then tossed them with the popcorn and caramel. The spouse packaged up the snack with it's own prize, a set of temporary tattoos.

I like caramel in just about any form. Cracker Jack was certainly a favorite as a kid. The prizes have gotten lame, however.

The cake was a collaborative affair. It was a half sheet cake. I baked the cake, scaling it up from the yellow cake recipe I used for the chocolate marble cake at the Princess tea we did recently.

I really like this cake recipe. It finds a nice balance between robust enough to work with, yet with a moist and tender crumb.

The filling was a cooperative effort between the spouse and myself.  It consists of whipped topping, cherry pie filling, and a little salt. We whipped together the topping and the pie filling. We used whipped topping instead of whipped cream, because we knew it would be unrefrigerated at the park for some time.

I think cherry was a great choice. The bit of tang of the sour cherry helped counter the sweetness a bit.

The decoration is all the spouse's work. She used a special tip to make the grass, and the base path is covered in graham cracker crumbs.

I think she did a great job on the decorations. She's immensely creative and imaginative. By all accounts, the birthday boy was thrilled with the cake.


Homemade Cracker Jacks

1/2 lb. raw, unsalted Spanish peanuts
8 quarts popcorn
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 tsp. baking soda
Spread peanuts on a baking sheet. Bake in a 300 F oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees
Place popcorn and peanuts in a large roasting pan.

In a three quart sauce pan over medium heat, combine butter, sugar, salt, and syrup. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer. Let boil for five minutes. Remove from heat, add baking soda. Caramel will foam up. Pour caramel over popcorn. Stir thoroughly. Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread out on wax paper to cool. Store in air tight container. If caramel corn softens, re-heat in 200 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Yellow Cake

2 cups butter


Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Grease and flour a 1/2 sheet size rectangular cake pan. line bottom with wax paper.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Business: Names Registered

The first step in starting a business, apparently, is registering a fictitious name with the county clerk. The spouse and I went over to the clerk today and registered the names of our companies. They are Royal Tea Party Planners, and Epicuriosities Catering.

We also had to arrange for the names to be published in a local paper, for them to be legal. Is this the only way newspapers will stay alive, because of antiquated laws that only consider newspapers as publication?

Feels good to make that first step. It is a somewhat dark and intimidating road, though. Next is establishing a business account, so we can apply for state and city business licenses.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Culinary Class: Mid-term Exam

Had my mid-term exam for my culinary class today. Fifty multiple choice questions. It covered basic sanitation, the techniques we've covered so far, and recipe conversions.

I'm happy to report that I aced it. It pretty much followed the lecture notes. A few questions referred to our labs, but I haven't missed a class, so that was no problem.

New Blog Network!

Hey, cool news! I was invited to join a food blog network, Cook Eat Share. I've added the link button on the right. I'll be adding recipes from the blog as time permits.

Check them out! Looks like a lot of really good chefs over there.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Princess Tea

The spouse and I are seriously contemplating starting a business doing party planning and catering. As kind of a dry run, we did a princess tea party for a friend's daughters' birthdays. The spouse did a great job with all the party stuff. She made custom handmade invitations, extravagant goodie bags, table settings, and came up with interesting, fun games. I focused on the food.

I made a modified afternoon tea. There were tea sandwiches, scones, and cupcakes. There was a mock Devonshire cream to go with the scones.

The tea sandwiches were fairly boring. They were what the girls wanted, however. There was peanut butter with strawberry preserves, American cheese, and turkey. The kids seemed happy, however. I had sandwiches for fourteen, and the eight kids ate all of them. They were cut in cute shapes, so that may have helped.

The kids had asked for three kinds of scones; plain, chocolate chip, and caramel apple pie. I think I have implied that the scone recipe I got from Chef James Foran is a good basis to riff on. So, I want to explicitly state that his cream scone recipe is the best I've ever tried. I will be including the plain recipe here, so that you can play with it yourselves. The chocolate chip scones are the same, with six ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips added just before the wet ingredients. Any dry garnishes, like dried fruit, candy, chips, or nuts can be added without changes. Moist or wet ingredients may require adjusting the liquid to maintain the same texture.

The plain scones were dusted with pink sanding sugar, in keeping with the pink and purple color scheme of the party. For the chocolate chip scones, I garnished the top with mini chocolate chips. I cut them round to evoke a chocolate chip cookie vibe. The caramel apple pie scones are the same ones I served at the Black Hat Tea, with the exception that I used two granny smith apples instead of one gala.

The cupcakes were chocolate marbled. I used different recipes for the yellow and the chocolate
batters. The yellow cake recipe is based on this one. I like this recipe. It is quite moist, and lighter than most yellow cakes. I attribute that to the use of cake flour over all purpose flour.

The chocolate batter was based on this recipe. I essentially used the ingredients, but re-arranged the process to bring it more in line with my understanding of the creaming method. It makes a much more fluid batter than does the yellow cake recipe.

To make the marbled cupcakes, I alternated batters in the cupcake liners for four layers (yellow/chocolate/yellow/chocolate) then used a fork to give one or two big swirls through the batter.

I can't take any credit for the decoration, that was all the spouse. She is much better at that sort of thing than I am.

We also made a couple of little cakes, so each birthday girl had one to blow the candles out on. One was chocolate marbled, the other plain yellow cake. Again, the spouse gets complete credit for the decoration.

I used to think that the whole cake/pastry/all purpose/bread flour thing was a scam. My experience in the pastry class has convinced me otherwise. All purpose does live up to its name. It does an adequate job for either pastries or breads. However, if you want the best pastries, a lower gluten flour will make a lighter, moister product. Conversely, for bread, a higher gluten flour will rise better, and provide for a chewier mouth feel. Cake and bread flour are both more expensive than all purpose. So when baking, you have to decide if the improvement in quality is sufficient to justify the added expense.


Basic Scone Recipe

1 lb. 3 oz. all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking powder
3 1/2 oz. by wt. sugar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
6 oz. by wt. chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
16 oz. by vol. cream

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in butter until it resembles course meal. Add cream. Stir until dough just comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out to one inch thick. Cut into desired serving size and shape, and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Brush with cream, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 375 F oven for 12 - 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

For chocolate chip scones: Add 6 oz. by wt. semi-sweet chocolate chips just before adding cream. Brush tops with cream, sprinkle with miniature chocolate chips.

Yellow Cake Batter

1 cup butter

2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1/2 cup hot water2 tsp. instant espresso powder
4 large eggs
Dissolve espresso powder in hot water. Set aside, let cool to room temperature.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder, set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, oil, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, allowing each to incorporate before adding the next. Mix in vanilla.
Combine espresso and milk.
In three or four stages, add dry ingredients, alternating with milk mixture, letting each addition fully incorporate before adding the next. Start and end with dry ingredients.

To Make Marble Cupcakes:

Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Alternate layers of yellow and chocolate batters until liners are 2/3 full. Use a fork to give batters one or two good swirls.
Bake in a 350 F oven for 25 - 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Happy Eating!

Pastry Class: Final Grade

Grades for my pastry class were posted. I got an A, which I expected, but am still pleased to see. The next pastry course I expect to take is the chocolate class, which is being offered over the summer. It's a short semester, only six weeks, so that means seven hours a day, twice a week. I am really looking forward to that class. Chocolate is just fussy enough that learning from someone that really knows their stuff is much more attractive than trying to teach myself.

In the fall they are offering the bread course, which should also be a lot of fun. I expect to get my shoulders in shape with that one.