Saturday, August 31, 2013

Intermediate Culinary Class: First Two Weeks

So, I've already started my next culinary class. According to the instructor, this class is less about technique, and more about taste profiles and presentation.

The first week was the usual organization stuff. We did have to choose our teams, and we did a little team building challenge, which my team won.

The second week, we talked about menus a little. We talked about writing menu item titles and descriptions. We also covered a list of criteria to use when evaluating food.

We also learned how to sharpen our knives. We got to practice on a variety of oil stones.

Part of the class assignment is putting together a 'creativity journal'. Chef's been kind of vague on what all is supposed to go in there. In an example he had available to look at, most of the entries seemed to be images from magazines, cut out and criticized on presentation. I don't think that will be my bent, but I suspect a lot of my entries on the blog will be printed out and placed in my journal.

Ladies of the Rose Tea

Within the medieval group I play with, there is a group of women that have served previously as Queen. They are know as the Ladies of the Rose, and their symbol is a yellow rose. I suggested to the current queen that I'd like to do a tea for these ladies. She thought this sounded like a great idea.

Now, there is nothing remotely medieval or renaissance about a formal tea. It is a Victorian invention. However, our group has strong roots in Victorian Gothic Romanticism. I don't think it is a great sin to acknowledge that. Besides, how cool is it to sit in the shade, nibble delicacies, and chat the afternoon away?

The Queen expressed a preference for leaning toward savory. I tried to pick a menu that reflected that.

For the savory course, we made two items. For the first, I did a riff on the classic BLT. When shopping at the El Cajon Farmer's Market, I found a little local company, Jackie's Jams. She had a tomato jam, and I just had to try it. It was really good, and I bought a jar. I thought it
would be a great idea to build a BLT around the jam. We got some good, crusty sourdough bread, and I toasted it on the grill. I then cut it into squares. We spread a thin layer of tomato jam on the bread, place a piece of bacon the size of the bread on top. We put a little dab of jam on the bacon, to act as glue for the chiffonaded bronze leaf lettuce that went on last.

The second savory item was a lettuce cup with curried tuna salad. The intent was to use all endive, but the head we bought didn't have quite enough leaves, so I used some heart of romaine as well. The tuna is a simple mix of canned tuna, mayonnaise, curry powder, and hot curry paste.

For the scone course, I decided to keep it simple, and I made just one kind of scone, the cream scones I made for the Princess Tea, the only difference being that I did not sprinkle the top with sugar after brushing them with cream.

I also made some gluten free scones, as we had an attendee that was gluten intolerant. The gluten free scones were made with Bisquick Gluten Free Mix. I followed the biscuit recipe on the box, but substituted heavy cream for the milk, to get a richer scone.

We then made a choice of four toppings, two savory and two sweet. For the savory, I made a chili lime butter, and a pesto butter. For the sweet, I made kiwi curd and the spouse made mock Devonshire cream. The kiwi curd was sweeter than I'd expected, and set up a little soft, but it seemed to be popular.

For the sweet course, the spouse made rose tea shortbread cookies, and I made safflower infused white  modeling chocolate roses.

I wanted to make yellow roses, and I'd hoped to use natural color to do it. I originally planned to use saffron, but realized I was out, and couldn't find any on short notice, but safflower was easily available. I couldn't get a deep enough color, so added some commercial coloring paste. The safflower added a bit of a savory note to the rather sweet modeling chocolate. Modeling chocolate is just white chocolate and corn syrup.

I included instructions for making a modeling chocolate rose in this post.


Curried Tuna Salad

3 cans tuna, drained
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 1/2 tsp. hot curry paste
salt to taste

In a bowl, mix all ingredients until tuna is well moistened.

Chili Lime Butter

8 oz. by wt. butter, softened
1 ripe jalapeno chili
zest of 6 key limes
juice of two key limes
kosher salt to taste

Char outside of chili over open flame. Remove skin, seeds, and inner membranes. Mince.

Mash together butter, chili, zest, juice, and salt until well blended.

Pesto Butter

8 oz. by wt. butter
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. minced garlic
kosher salt to taste

Place all ingredients in  a food processor. Run until butter is smooth.

Kiwi Curd

1 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup kiwi fruit puree
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.

Mock Devonshire Cream

8 oz. by wt. cream cheese
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip cream cheese until fluffy. Add rest of ingredients, whisk until stiff peaks form.

Rose Tea Cookies

1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp. Scottish Breakfast tea
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. rose water
1/2 cup butter

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix together rose water and water. Set aside.

 In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, sugars, salt, and tea leaves until tea is well incorporated.  Add vanilla, 1 tsp. of the diluted rose water, and butter. Pulse until a dough forms.

On a floured surface, roll dough very thin. Cut out cookies, place on an ungreased sheet pan. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.


Safflower Infused Modeling Chocolate

1 cup corn syrup
1 cup safflowers
10 oz. by wt. white chocolate

In a microwave safe bowl, combine corn syrup and safflowers. Heat in microwave until syrup just begins to boil.

Remove from microwave. Let cool to room temperature. Strain.

In a double boiler, melt chocolate to 100 F. Add 1/3 cup of the safflower infused corn syrup. Mix with a spatula until smooth and shiny. Let stand at least 4 hours before using. If kept refrigerated, good for up to one month.

 Combine with rubber spatula until smooth and shiny. Let sit 4 hours to over night.
Happy Eating!


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gltuen Free Vegan Alternatives to the Renaissance Italian Lunch

Whenever I'm cooking for a large number of people, I try to provide alternatives for the most common dietary restrictions. If someone contacts me about other issues, I'll do my best to accommodate them. About the only thing I cannot do is hardcore kosher, as I can pretty much guarantee that every cooking implement in my kitchen has contacted both dairy and meat products at some point.

For the lunch, I knew that I would have both vegans and gluten intolerant people eating. To keep it simple, I just combined those issues, and made pastries that satisfied both issues.

To make my life simpler, I made one 12 cup muffin tray with crusts, blind baked them, then added cheese substitute and herbs to half, and modified fruit and nut filling to the other half.

My first attempt at gluten free pie crust was an unmitigated disaster. I tried a straight substitute of multipurpose gluten free flour for regular flour in my pie crust recipe. This resulted in way too much fat, making the hand pies completely melt in a smear of goo all over the sheet pan. That prompted me to use the muffin tin, to give some structure to hold the shape of the dough in my second attempt.
My more successful attempt was based on this website, which I modified and adapted a little. I think next time I will use disposable mini tart tins, as getting the crumbly tarts out of the muffin tin was challenging.

The flour I used was Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour. It had a slightly grainy texture, like a find grind corn meal. The resulting crust was a bit crumbly, and grainier than I would like.

For the cheese tarts, I used Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese as a substitute for the ricotta. I was very surprised at how good it was. It really had a good texture and taste. It's major downside is cost. I paid about the same for a half pound of Tofutti as I did for five pounds of ricotta.

For the Neapolitan Pizza, I substituted 1/2 cup of water and 1/4 cup cornstarch for the egg. Seems to have jelled up nicely.

Gluten Free Pie Crust

1¼ cups All Purpose Gluten Free Flour Blend
½ cup vegetable shortening
2 to 4 tablespoons ice cold water
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. kosher salt

Measure shortening, and place in freezer for 30 minutes.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt. Pulse a few times to combine. Add shortening to processor. Pulse in short bursts, until mixture resembles course crumbs, about 6 - 8 times.

With food processor running, dribble in water one tablespoon at a time, until mixture just clumps together. Form into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Dough tends to be crumbly. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Lay out a sheet of wax paper, lightly dust with gluten free flour. Place disk of dough on top. Dust top with more flour. Cover with wax paper. Roll out to about 1/8 inch thick.

Lightly grease cups of muffin tin. Cut 3inch diameter circles of dough. Gently press dough into cups. Dough will be delicate and crumbly, may take some careful pressing to fully fill cup.

Line cups with wax paper, and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake in a 350 F oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool. Remove wax paper and weights.

Add filling. Return to oven. Bake 20 minutes, or until filing is set and crust is golden brown.

Happy eating!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Renaissance Italian Lunch

For a local SCA event, I was asked to provide a lunch. I wanted to do something based on late 16th century Venetian cookery. I did some searching online, and found out about Bartolomeo Scappi, who published an enormous cookbook in 1570. I found menus and recipes online at various places.

I will be the first to admit that the food I do is period inspired, not period accurate. My first concern is to provide a tasty, filling, and fulfilling meal that doesn't scream modern. I realize I am cooking modern ingredients for a modern palette, and first and foremost, must have happy customers. I do like to push the palette a little, making food that is familiar, but still different.

I decided on a menu of spiced chicken, salad of mixed greens and edible flowers with a simple vinaigrette, a cheese and herb pie, and Neapolitan pizza for dessert.

The recipe that I used for inspiration called for the chicken to be boiled, then have a mix of sugar and spices sprinkled on. This was an appropriate way to treat a 16th century chicken, but not a good approach to a modern bird. I decided to grill chicken breasts, and I made a mix of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, and kosher salt to season them.

The salad was half a commercial spring mix, and half fresh lettuce, arugula, basil, and edible flowers from a friends garden. Salad dressings in the 16th century tend toward simple vinaigrette. The original recipe called for red wine vinegar. I didn't have any in my pantry, so used a mix of balsamic and white wine vinegars. That was combined with olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

The pies were a standard 3-2-1 pie crust with a filling of ricotta and fresh basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley. They were brushed with an egg wash, to get a nice color. Both the salad and pies were based on items mentioned in a lunch menu by Scappi.

The Neapolitan pizza, really a fruit tart, had a base of pie crust that was blind baked. The filling was a paste of almonds, pine nuts, fresh figs (from the garden of the friend that provided the greens), dried dates, raisins, cinnamon, sugar, and eggs. We spread that over the crust, and garnished it with slices of dates and pine nuts. We baked it until the filling set., then sprinkled them with rose water.

I think this lunch went well. It was simple, but balanced and filling. I was very happy with the pizza. It was rich and sweet, and had a great texture.


Grilled Sugar and Spice Chicken

4 large chicken breasts
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Mix together sugar and spices.

Pat breasts dry. Liberally sprinkle both sides of breasts with sugar and spice mix. Place on a medium hot grill. Allow to cook 6 - 10 minutes, then turn over. Cook another 6 - 10 minutes, until a good color on both sides, and about 90% done. Move to top rack to finish, until breast is cooked through, but not dry.

Italian Vinaigrette

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a liquid tight container. Shake vigorously, until ingredients form an emulsion.

Ricotta and Herb Pies

For crust:
9 oz. by wt. flour
6 oz. by wt. butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and chilled
3 oz. by vol. ice water
1 tsp. kosher salt

Sift together flour and salt. Cut butter into flour, until it resembles course crumbs. Add ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until dough just clings together. Roll into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.

For filling:
3 cups ricotta
1/2 cup chiffonaded fresh basil
1/2 cup rough chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. kosher salt.

In a bowl, thoroughly mix together all ingredients.

For pies:
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup cold water

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut two three inch circles per pie. Place one teaspoon of filling in the center of each bottom crust. With a finger, wet edge of bottom crust with water. Place on top crust. Use a fork to crimp edges together. Transfer to an ungreased sheet pan. brush each pie with beaten egg.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until crust is cooked and golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Neapolitan Pizza

1 1/2  recipes of above pie crust
9 oz. by wt. Almonds
6 oz. by wt. Pine nuts
4 1/2 oz. by wt. Dried dates
4 1/2 oz. by wt. Fresh figs
4 1/2 oz. by wt. Raisins
6 eggs, beaten
9 oz. by wt. Sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. rose water

Pre-heat oven to 350 F

Line a half sheet pan with aluminum foil. Spray lightly with oil. Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to lined pan. Cover with wax paper, then press another half sheet pan onto dough. Bake for ten minutes. Remove from oven, and remove top pan and wax paper. Let cool slightly.

In a food processor, grind almonds to course crumbs. Transfer to a bowl. In the same processor, grind together figs, dates, and raisins. Stir into nuts. Add sugar, eggs, and cinnamon. Thoroughly mix together.

Spread filling in even layer over crust. Bake 20 minutes, or until filling is firm.

Remove from oven. With a pastry brush, lightly sprinkle pizza with rose water.

Happy Eating!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Chocolate Class: Final Project and Grade

Sorry I didn't get this up sooner. I've been crazy busy and sick since the middle of last month.

For our final project, we were to make molded chocolates with ganache filling. We could either use a recipe from class or our own. I made dark chocolate shells with a white chocolate chili-lime ganache filling. I ran a swipe of red cocoa butter on the inside of the mold, by way of decoration.

For the filling, I adapted the vanilla lemon ganache we made earlier. I replaced the vanilla with chili oil, and used key lime zest in the cream.

Overall, it went well. I got 19.5 out of 20 on the final. My shell was perfect, very thin and super shiny. The ganache had a nice, smooth mouth feel. The lime came through nicely, though I lost the half point because chef felt the chili wasn't strong enough. I was conservative, as chili oil can be aggressive.

I did finish with an A in the class.

Chili - Lime White Chocolate Ganache

5.4 oz. cream
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
 1 tsp. chili oil
zest of 4 key limes
.8 oz. by wt. cocoa butter, melted
 8 oz. by wt. white chocolate

Line an 8" x 8" pan with plastic wrap.

Combine chili oil and cocoa butter, set aside.

 In a small heavy saucepan over medium heat,  combine cream, corn syrup, and zest. Bring just to a boil. Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes. Return to heat, bring back just to a boil.

Strain liquid into chocolate. Let stand two minutes.

Whisk to combine. Whisk in cocoa butter mixture. When smooth, Pour into pan. Allow to cool. When thick, transfer to a pastry bag.
Happy Eating!