Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Culinary Class: Penne Pasta with Tomato Sauce

We have finally gotten around to actually cooking something in my culinary class. We discussed boiling, simmering, and blanching, and got to try our hands at it. I must admit, I didn't think that the basic class would be quite this, well, basic.

We diced some onion, carrot, and celery to make a mirepoix. We turned one small head of broccoli into florets, and blanched them. We blanched, peeled, and diced two tomatoes. We also blanched a half pound of penne pasta. Finally, we minced five cloves of garlic and some parsley, thyme, and oregano.

With our mise en place done, we made the sauce. We browned some ground beef, then added the mirepoix, garlic, tomatoes, some tomato paste, some tomato juice, and the herbs. This simmered a bit (but not nearly long enough). We then added in the broccoli and pasta, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

To be perfectly honest, I've made better. The carrots added too much sweetness for my taste, and there was too much parsley and too little thyme and oregano. Not a fan of broccoli in a red sauce, either.

The focus for this class, though, is supposed to be on technique. I guess we get to talk about flavor in the intermediate class.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pastry Class: Puff Pastry and Pate a Choux

I was really excited about today's class. I've always been intrigued by the idea of making my own puff pastry. I'm glad to get the opportunity to understand laminated doughs. So far, it seems easier than expected. We'll find out for sure in a week, when we get to make things with the pastry.

Making puff pastry is more about patience. The pastry needs to be returned to the refrigerator between each step. The butter in the dough needs to be kept cold, so that it remains distinct from the dough.

The other thing we learned to do is pate a choux. Pate a choux is a slightly sticky, fluid batter that can be piped, and is used to make cream puffs, eclairs, crullers, beignets, and other things. We used it to make cream puffs, with a mocha whipped cream filling, and dipped in a dark chocolate ganache.

Both recipes are easier than I expected, though both require patience and attention to detail.

As always for the pastry class, are recipes are courtesy of Chef James Foran.


Classic Puff Pastry

9 1/2 oz by wt. butter at room temperature
16 oz by wt. bread flour
3/10 oz by wt. salt
2 1/2 oz by wt. butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
8 oz by vol. cold water

Roll the 9 1/2 oz butter between two sheets of parchment paper into a 8" by 14" rectangle. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

In a stand mixer with a paddle, combine flour and salt. Add water and melted butter all at once. Mix on low speed 8 to 10 revolutions until dough is just combined. Do not over mix.

Knead just until combined. Wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll dough on a floured surface into a 10" by 20" rectangle. Place chilled butter sheet on bottom 2/3 of the dough. Fold top 1/3 of dough down to cover half the butter. Fold bottom third of dough up, sot that butter is now enclosed in dough.

Roll dough into a 10" by 22" rectangle. Along long axis, fold both ends of dough into the middle, then fold in half to form four layers. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Repeat three more times. Wrap dough thoroughly, and freeze.

Pate a Choux

4 oz by vol. water
4 oz by vol. milk
4 oz by wt. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
6 oz by wt. bread flour
9 oz by wt. eggs

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine water, milk, and butter. Bring just to a boil. Add flour and salt all at once. Cook for one minute, stirring with a wooden spoon, over medium-low heat. Batter will turn into a ball almost immediately.

Remove from heat, transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Process with a paddle on low speed for 30 seconds to cool. Add eggs in four stages. At each stage, blend at high speed. Batter should be a shiny, thick paste.

To make cream puffs:

Place pate a choux in a pastry bag with a large round tip. While still warm, pipe onto a parchment lined sheet pan. Pipe quarter sized rounds of dough. Leave space for expansion between rounds.

Bake in a 375 F oven for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F, and prop door of oven slightly open to allow venting. Bake another 10 minutes.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely.

When cool, pipe filling into shells. Dip into ganache. Sprinkle with chopped almonds. Refrigerate to allow chocolate to harden.

Mocha Whipped Cream Filling

20 oz. by wt. cream
5 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. mocha concentrate
pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk. Whip to medium stiff peaks.

Chocolate Ganache

6 oz by vol. cream
6 oz by weight chocolate

Heat cream to just boiling. Pour over chocolate. Let stand for a couple of minutes. Whisk together chocolate and cream.

Happy Eating!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pan Asian Dinner

I have a couple of dear friends that have been very enthusiastically supporting my decision to go pro as a cook. Back in September I had the opportunity to cook for them, and they wanted to have me cook for them again this spring.

Since I did Middle Eastern last time, I wanted to go in a different direction. I decided to go Asian. There is so much variety to Asian cuisines. I ended up going Pan-Asian, with a Vietnamese style appetizer, Chinese inspired main dish, and a combination Thai/Chinese dessert.

For the appetizer, I made Vietnamese style spring rolls. These are great, as they are not fried, and are all about fresh greens. There were two dipping sauces to go with the rolls. One was hoisin with peanuts, and the other was a complex combination of fish sauce, lime, garlic, and sweet chili sauce. I think these were a great appetizer. The wrappers were rice paper, and in them I put shrimp, rice vermicelli, butter lettuce, mint, and basil. I worked from this recipe at

For the main dish, I made a beef stir fry with carrots, crimini mushrooms, and red, yellow, and orange peppers. My stir fry sauce is not traditional, as far as I know. I make a sauce of date vinegar and sweet soy sauce, with a little ginger and black pepper. I use a little corn starch to help the sauce thicken.

Somehow rice got left off my packing list, and my friends didn't have rice, either. I ended up using some Israeli couscous. It worked just fine. Not surprising, as it was created as a rice substitute.

For dessert, I really wanted to make something special. I wanted to have lots of contrasts; taste, texture, and temperature. I made a cold Thai jelly, with layers of coconut and coffee flavors. The jelly is based on this recipe. The jellies use agar agar as the jelling agent. Agar agar is a derivative of red seaweed.

To contrast, I made a Chinese eight treasures rice pudding, served warm. It consists of glutinous rice, coated with a mix of chestnuts, almonds walnuts, dried pineapple, dried papaya, and dried mango There is a thin layer of sweet red bean paste in the middle. I adapted this recipe for my pudding. The original called for lard. I substituted vegetable shortening, which worked just fine.

To tie everything together, I made a mango - lime sauce.As it turned out, the dessert is vegan.

I don't think the photo does it justice. I think it came out really pretty. I was really proud of the whole thing.


Vietnamese Spring Rolls

6 6.25 inch rice wrappers
6 large cooked shrimp, halved lengthwise
2 oz. rice vermicelli
2 Tbsp. chiffonade of basil
2 Tbsp. chiffonade of mint
1/2 cup chopped butter lettuce

Dipping Sauces
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp. finely chopped peanuts

1 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. sweet chili sauce
2 tsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. minced garlic

Whisk together hoisin sauce and peanuts. Set aside. Whisk together fish sauce, lime juice, chili sauce, sugar, water, and garlic. Set aside.

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add rice noodles, turn down to a simmer. Cook until al dente, then drain and rinse.

To construct a roll, dip a wrapper in a bowl of warm water for about 1 second. Place a small bundle of vermicelli in the center of the wrapper. Place two halves of shrimp on top of noodles. Sprinkle liberally with mint and basil. Add shredded lettuce. Fold ends of wrapper in. Fold one side of wrapper over top of shrimp, then roll tightly over other side.

Serve with dipping sauces.

Beef, Mushroom, and Peppers Stir Fry

1 lb. London broil, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups diagonally sliced carrots
1 1/2 cups mixed pepper strips
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced crimini mushrooms
1/4 cup date vinegar
1/4 cup sweet soy sauce
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2Tbsp. sesame oil

In a bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy, ginger, pepper, and cornstarch. Set aside.

Heat a wok over high heat. Add oil, swirl to coat. Add beef strips, stirring constantly. Cook until about 3/4 the way to medium rare. Remove beef. Add carrots. Cook, stirring rapidly, for about two minutes. Add peppers. Cook, stirring constantly, for another two minutes. Add mushrooms and return beef to pan. Cook until mushrooms are done. Add sauce, stirring to coat all other ingredients. Once sauce starts to thicken, remove from heat. Serve over rice or noodles.

Layered Coconut and Coffee Jellies

Coffee Jelly
1 Tbsp. instant espresso
2 Tbsp. warm water
2 Tbsp. agar agar powder
3 cups water
7 oz by wt.  sugar

Coconut Jelly
1 Tbsp. agar agar powder
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups coconut cream
2 oz by wt. sugar
1 tsp. salt

To make coffee jelly
In a small bowl, dissolve espresso powder in warm water. Set aside.

Place water and agar agar powder in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Heat until agar agar completely dissolves. Add sugar, cook until dissolved. Remove from heat, stir in coffee. Transfer to a metal bowl in a hot water bath to keep liquid while working.

To make coconut jelly
In a small saucepan over medium low heat, dissolve agar agar powder in water. Add coconut cream, sugar, and salt, cook until sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a metal bowl in a hot water bath to keep liquid while working.

To make jellies
Into silicon cupcake molds, place 2 tablespoons of coconut liquid in eight molds, and 2 tablespoons of coffee liquid into eight molds. Let cool and harden, about 5 minutes.

Alternate coffee and coconut layers, allowing to firm up after each new layer. Molds should hold about 6 tablespoons (3 layers).

Refrigerate until needed, unmold to serve.

Eight Treasures Pudding

8 oz by wt. glutinous rice
1 oz by wt. vegetable shortening
1 oz by wt. sugar
2 Tbsp. finely diced chestnuts
2 Tbsp. finely diced blanched almonds
2 Tbsp. finely diced walnuts
2 Tbsp. finely diced dried papaya
2 Tbsp. finely diced dried mango
2 Tbsp. finely diced dried pineapple
1/3 cup sweet red bean paste

In a small bowl, mix together fruits and nuts. Set aside.

Under running water, rinse rice. Place in a small saucepan, and add twice the volume of water. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook for twelve minutes. Rice will absorb the water, and become thick and sticky. Remove from heat, stir in 1/2 oz. shortening and sugar.

Take six ramekins. Using remaining shortening, apply a thick layer of shortening to the insides of the ramekins. Press fruit and nut mixture into the shortening, making sure inner surface is covered. Shake out any excess fruit and nut mixture.

Fill each ramekin half full with rice. Spread a thin layer of bean paste on top. If bean paste is too thick to spread easily, heat in microwave ten to twenty seconds.

Finish filling each ramekin. Cover ramekins with aluminum foil. Refrigerate until ready to steam.

To steam, place a couple of inches of water in the bottom of a steamer. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. place rack containing ramekins into steamer, cover. Let steam for thirty minutes.

Remove from steamer. Remove foil. Loosen puddings by running a butter knife or small spatula around inside of ramekin. Turn upside down onto plate to unmold.

Mango - Lime Sauce

1 ripe mango, peeled, seeded, and diced
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. sugar
pinch kosher salt

In a small saucepan over medium heat, simmer diced mango and water until mango is tender. Using an immersion blender, puree mango. Stir in spices, sugar, and salt.  Cook until sugar is dissolved.

Happy Eating!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pastry Class: Pizza and Dinner Rolls

In my most recent pastry class, we made our first excursion into the world of yeast breads. Up to now, we've only done products using chemical and mechanical leaveners.

Yeast is a wonderful micro-organism that consumes sugars, and releases carbon dioxide and  alcohol as waste products. When brewing, we keep want to keep the alcohol and release (mostly) the CO2.In baking, we keep the CO2 to lighten the product, and cook out the alcohol.

The thing that makes yeast breads work is a protein called gluten. Of all the grains, wheat has the highest concentration of gluten, so are by far the best for raised breads. Gluten is elastic, and can cross-link between molecules to form a web.

Up to now, we have done our best to avoid developing the gluten in bread. In cakes, pie crust, or scones, we want a soft, tender texture. For raised breads, we want the chewy texture, so want to develop the gluten.

The process to develop the gluten is called 'kneading'. It can be done by hand, or by various machines, like a bread machine, a mixer with a dough hook, or a food processor. When done by hand, the procedure involves repeatedly pressing, stretching, and folding the dough. This can take up to ten minutes. I love the moment when you can feel it go from a slightly lumpy and reluctant mass, to a smooth and fluid dough. One way to check to see if the dough has been kneaded enough is called 'the windowpane test'. To do this, cut off a small bit of the dough, and gently stretch it. If you can stretch it to a thin enough membrane to see through, the dough is ready.

At this point the dough needs to sit and allow the yeast to do their thing. If everything is working the way it is suppose to, the yeast will inflate the dough to double it's original size. This is best done in a warm, moist environment. Commercial kitchens frequently have proofing cabinets, boxes that allow for precise control of temperature and humidity. At home this can be done in an oven which is turned off. Place a bowl of hot water in the oven with the bread to provide heat and moisture.

Once the dough has doubled in size, it needs to be 'punched down'. This just involves letting the trapped gas bubbles escape. At this point, the dough can be divided into the appropriate portions. The dough should be cut, not torn. Let the dough rest, covered, for a few minutes, then shape as desired.

The bread is then allowed to rise a second time. Once it doubles in size, it gets baked.

For our first foray into yeast breads, we made pizza and dinner rolls. The pizza dough was shaped into two approximately eighteen inch diameter rounds. We were provided with various toppings, which included tomato sauce, cheese, cooked sausage, mushrooms, black olives, and fresh basil. Once assembled, the pizza was baked in a screaming hot oven. Our oven was set to 600 F. If you have a pizza stone to cook on, that will make the crispest crust. You can, however, use a well greased sheet pan.

We made three shapes of rolls; round, knotted, and cloverleaf. These were given an egg wash, and baked in a moderate oven. As always for the pastry class, all recipes provided by Chef James Foran.






Pizza Dough

Dry Ingredients
13 1/2 oz by wt. bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast

Wet Ingredients
8 1/2 oz by vol. water (at 110 F)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt

Dissolve yeast in water, let stand five minutes. Stir together yeast mixture, flour, and olive oil. When combined, mix in salt. Knead 5 to 8 minutes, until smooth, and passes the window pane test. Place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover, let rise until double in size, approximately 45 minutes. Punch down, divide into two equal pieces.Cover, let rest 10 minutes. Shape into flat rounds. Use cornmeal to prevent dough sticking to stone or pan. Add sauce and desired toppings. Bake in a 550 F oven until brown and cheese is melted.

Dinner Rolls

Dry Ingredients
2 1/2 lbs by bread flour
4 oz by wt. sugar
3/4 oz by wt. yeast
3/4 oz by wt. salt

Wet Ingredients
20 oz by vol milk(at 110 F)
4 oz by wt. butter melted, at room temperature.
4 oz by wt. eggs

Egg Wash Ingredients
1 egg
2 Tbsp. water
pinch salt

Dissolve yeast in milk, let stand 5 minutes. Mix together all wet ingredients. Sift together all dry ingredients except salt. Add wet ingredients to dry all at once. Once all are combined, stir in salt. Knead 5 to 8 minutes, until smooth, and passes the window pane test. Place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover, let rise until double in size, approximately 45 minutes. Punch down, divide into 2 ounce pieces. Cover, let rest 10 minutes. Shape as desired, place on parchment covered cookie sheets. Cover, let rise until doubled in size. Brush with egg wash, bake in a 375 F oven until golden brown, approximately 15 - 20 minutes.

Happy eating!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Culinary Class: Poultry Processing

In this week's culinary class, we learned how to reduce a chicken into its component parts. A really useful class. This is definitely a skill I need to practice at. It's not terribly difficult, just a little fiddly here and there, to get the cleanest possible cuts, and not waste any good meat.

We discussed the classification of chickens by age. The youngest, and most tender, broiler/fryers. Next are roasters. Last are stewing hens. Honestly, I haven't seen a stewing hen in a supermarket for decades. I remember seeing them as a kid. Then there are capons, which are castrated roosters. Capons tend to be very large.

Chiffon Cake Reprise

The most challenging thing for me that we have made so far in my pastry class was the chiffon cake. My icing and piping skills still need work. I thought it would be a good idea to practice making one by myself. The cake itself is unchanged from the recipe in the previous post.

I did want to play with the flavors a bit, however. Since I did not have any of the commercial raspberry filling we used in class, I needed to do something different. I had some strawberries left over from Valentine's Day. I mashed those, and made a quick strawberry jam.  Instead of the lemon syrup, I made a mandarin orange syrup to soak the cake with. I also added the zest of a mandarin orange to the Swiss butter cream frosting.

To decorate the cake, I dipped blanched almonds in dark chocolate melted in a double boiler.


Quick Strawberry Jam

1 cup mashed strawberries
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
pinch kosher salt

In a sauce pan over medium  heat, combine all ingredients. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook until mix reaches 220 F. Transfer to a metal bowl in an ice bath.

Mandarin Orange Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
juice of one mandarin orange

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine all ingredients. Bring just to a simmer, making sure all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Strain.

Happy Eating!

Carrot, Butternut Squash, and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

In practicing knife cuts for my culinary class, I destroyed most of a bag of carrots. A lot of it went into carrot sticks for snacking, but there were a lot of roundels and diagonal cut pieces that needed used up as well. I thought an appetizer soup would be a good use. I also had part of a squash that needed used, as well. I wanted to bring a little more flavor to the table, so added some canned roasted red pepper.

The soup is flavored with some ginger and cumin, and garnished with sour cream and finely diced carrot and fresh onion sprouts. I found that just a touch of honey really brought out the flavor of the carrots.

Carrot, Butternut Squash, and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup

4 cups chicken stock
2 cups sliced carrots
1 cup diced butternut squash
2/3 cup diced roasted red peppers
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. honey

finely diced carrots, onion sprouts, and sour cream to garnish

In a saucepan over medium heat, simmer carrots, squash, and peppers in stock until tender. With an immersion blender, puree soup. Add spices, salt, and honey, and simmer for a few minutes.

Ladle into bowls. Place a tablespoon of sour cream in the middle, and sprinkle diced carrots and a pinch of onion sprouts on top.

Happy Eating!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine's Day Dinner: Cocoa Rubbed Sirloin, Spicy Couscous, Asparagus with Hollandaise, and ChocoVine Sabayon

As a rule, the spouse and I do not go out of our way to celebrate Valentine's Day. We try to do little romantic gestures each and every day, so having a day set aside for romance seems silly. Still, I was in the mood to go all out at dinner, so I thought I'd make it special. Besides, I knew the spouse was going to have a trying day at work, so thought I would help with stress relief.

As a starter, I made a simple salad, with bronze leaf lettuce, ripe bosk pear, and chopped pecans. I made a simple vinaigrette of date vinegar, sesame oil, and a little sugar and salt.

While simple, the vinaigrette really highlighted the sweetness of the pear, and the pecans added a really nice textural contrast to the pear and the lettuce.

This was a nice opener, really whetting the palette.

For the main course, I grilled sirloin steak that I rubbed with a mixture of cocoa powder, cumin, chili powder, onion powder, and kosher salt. I love bitter chocolate with beef. I think it helps create a super nice crust, and really compliments the heartiness of the beef.

For starch, I made couscous flavored with onion, parsley, and berbere, an Ethiopian spice mix. Berbere is wonderfully complex, and fairly hot.

The spouse had picked up some wonderful asparagus. This is just about our favorite vegetable. I just lightly grilled it, to get a little char, but keep it al dente. I do not like my asparagus limp. I went with a classic, and made hollandaise to go on the asparagus. It was the first time I have tried it, but I followed this recipe by Tyler Florence, and it was really easy.

I had been gifted with a bottle of ChocoVine, a kind of cream liqueur flavored with red wine and chocolate, made in Holland. I used it to make a sabayon, adapting the recipe from the Moscato Zabaglione I made for my wine class last November. I garnished it with some ripe strawberries macerated with a little sugar, and piped a heart of dark chocolate.

The acid in the strawberries helped cut the heaviness of the sabayon a bit. The dark chocolate brought out more of the chocolate flavor of the ChocoVine.

All in all, I was very satisfied with this meal. I got the steak cooked to a perfect medium rare, the hollandaise had a nice tang, and really complemented the asparagus well. The sabayon was thick and creamy, and not too sweet.


Date Vinaigrette

4 Tbsp. date vinegar
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Whisk all ingredients vigorously until an emulsion forms.

Cocoa Rub

4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. chili powder

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Liberally sprinkle on steaks at least five minutes before grilling.

Simple Hollandaise

4 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
pinch salt
1/2 cup melted butter

In  a double boiler over barely simmering water, whisk together egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt until thick and doubled in volume. Slowly drizzle in melted butter while whisking, until butter is incorporated and sauce is thick and smooth.

ChocoVine Sabayon

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup ChocoVine liqueur
1 cup heavy cream
3 large ripe strawberries, sliced thin
2 tsp. sugar

In a small bowl, mix together strawberries and sugar. Set aside.

Whip cream to medium stiff peaks. Set aside.

In a double boiler over barely simmering water, whisk together egg yolks and ChocoVine together until thick and smooth. Place bowl with egg mixture  in an ice bath, continue to whisk until room temperature. Fold cream into egg mixture. Pour or spoon into serving containers. Garnish with strawberry slices.

Happy Eating!

Pastry Class: Chiffon Cake

We are now getting down to some serious business in my pastry class. We made a chiffon cake with lemon syrup, raspberry and whipped cream filling, and Swiss buttercream frosting. The chiffon cake was much more involved than the other things we have made.

The cake was used to illustrate the Foaming method. In this method, eggs are whipped to incorporate air, then added to the batter. The air bubbles in the egg foam provide leavening, resulting in a light and airy product.

There are several parts to this cake. There is the cake itself, the lemon syrup, the fillings, the frosting, and the decorations.

The cake is a vanilla chiffon cake. It begins with the Mix Method, where the dry ingredients are sifted together, the wet ingredients whisked together, then added to the dry. The change begins when egg whites are whipped with powdered sugar to a meringue, and added to the batter. This is a French meringue, where the eggs are uncooked in any way. Not an issue, as the cake will be baked at a sufficient temperature to kill any unwanted micro-organisms.

The syrup is a simple syrup of water, sugar, and lemon juice.

For the raspberry filling, we used a commercial filling. I suspect a raspberry jelly or jam would work just fine. We used a sweetened whipped cream as well for the filling.

The frosting is a Swiss buttercream. It involves making a Swiss meringue. In a Swiss meringue the egg whites are cooked with sugar and water over a double boiler until they reach a temperature of 160 degrees F. This ensures that micro-organisms are killed, so Swiss meringues can be used as decoration or other applications that do not require cooking.

Once the cake is baked and completely cooled, and everything else is made, the cake can be assembled. The cake is split horizontally into three equal layers. This is a very delicate cake, so when cutting, spreading, or frosting, care must be taken not to tear the cake. Once cut, a thin layer of raspberry filling is spread on the first layer. An approximately one quarter inch thick layer of whipped cream is placed on top of that. The second layer of cake is added next, and the same procedure is done, ending with placing the top layer on.

Next, a thin layer of frosting is applied to the the top and sides of the cake. This is called the crumb coat. It will lock in stray crumbs, and keep them out of the frosting. Refrigerate the cake for ten minutes. This will set the crumb coat hard. Apply an even coat of frosting.

For the outside of the cake, we coated it with toasted chopped almonds. We piped a shell on each piece, and added alternating a chocolate straw, and a triangle of chocolate with a cool transfer design. We didn't make either of the chocolate decorations, I think they were left over from Chef James chocolate class. They do add a particularly professional flare, though.

As always for the pastry class, all recipes are provided by Chef James Foran.


Vanilla Chiffon Cake

dry ingredients
9 oz by wt. cake flour
7 oz by wt. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

wet ingredients
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup water
4 oz by vol. oil
1 Tbsp. vanilla paste

8 egg whites
3.5 oz by wt. sugar
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

Sift together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry all at once. Mix just until everything is Incorporated.

In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip egg whites on high speed until frothy. Turn down to medium speed, and slowly add sugar and cream of tartar. Turn back to high, whip to medium, stiff peaks.

Fold one quarter of the meringue into the batter until just combined. Fold remaining meringue in gently, until no streaks of batter or meringue are visible.

Divide batter evenly between two ungreased nine inch cake pans lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 325 F oven for 30 minutes, or until cakes are golden and springy to the touch. Remove from oven, and cool on a rack.

Lemon Syrup

4 oz by vol. water
4 oz by wt. sugar
4 Tbsp. lemon juice

Bring water and sugar to a boil. Remove from heat, add lemon juice. Allow to cool.

Vanilla Chantilly

12 oz by vol. cream
.7 oz by wt. powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch salt

Whip all ingredients together to medium stiff peaks.

Swiss Buttercream

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
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 and vanilla. Whip until smooth and glossy.

Happy Eating!


Culinary Class: Basic Knife Cuts

In my last culinary class, we finally got to do some actual lab time. No real cooking yet, though we got to destroy some carrots, onions, and parsley. We learned proper techniques for honing the knife, as well as cutting, slicing, and mincing.

We also covered basic shapes for cutting. These included rondelle and diagonal slices,  oblique cuts, and 3 sizes of julienne (batonette, alumette, and fine) and four sizes of dice (large, medium, small, and brunoise).

The somewhat random switching from English to French names does not help clarity.

Next class we disassemble poultry.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bacon Flavored Caramel Corn

Friends of mine wanted to give me a food related present for Christmas. But, they didn't want to give me just anything, they wanted it to be the weirdest thing they could find. What they found was Torani Bacon Flavored Syrup. Now, not sure that was all that weird, but it is a bit unusual. (Maybe I should have a poll to name the weirdest thing in my pantry). I was thrilled. One thing that I thought it would be spectacular in was caramel corn. Go for that sweet, salty, crunchy combo.

I looked for the best method for popping corn I could find. I found this recipe on the Simply Recipes  website. I was really pleased with this approach. It leaves very few unpopped kernels. I made four batches, each recipe makes about two quarts. Wipe out the pot carefully with a paper towel between batches.

The caramel corn is adapted from this recipe by Paula Deen. I replace the light corn syrup with the bacon syrup.


Perfect Popcorn

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels

Heat oil in a three quart sauce pan over medium-high heat. Place 3 or 4 kernels in pot, and cover. When kernels pop, remove pan from heat, add rest of popcorn kernels, cover pan. Let stand 30 seconds. Return to heat. When popcorn just finishes popping, remove from heat, pour into a bowl. Makes about two quarts.

Bacon Flavored Caramel Corn

8 quarts popcorn
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup bacon flavored syrup
1 tsp. baking soda

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees
Place popcorn 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.

Happy Eating!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pastry Class: Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Chunk Cookies

In my pastry class, we are starting to get into technique. Most of the class is focused on labs, rather than lecture. We've picked groups, and I ended up with a good one, I think. Three of the other guys have industry experience. I've done large scale cooking in the SCA, at science fiction conventions, and catered some LARPs. Everyone takes initiative, and just get things done. We communicate well. Just by random draw, I ended up being sous chef for our group for this lab. We seem to be fast and efficient, so may find ourselves doing Chef's mise en place, as well as our own. Sometimes there is a price to pay for being teacher's pets.

Our first recipe was a banana cake with cream cheese frosting. This was a very moist cake, and I loved the tanginess of the frosting. We were focused on professional methods, so much of the ingredients are measured in weight, not volume. The way we cut the cake, there was a row for each person in the group, so we each got to decorate our own. I just followed Chef's scheme. Others in my group came up with their own designs. My row is the second from the left.
The point of this exercise was to illustrate the Mix Method. This is the simplest of methods for combining ingredients. Dry ingredients are sifted together, wet ingredients are mixed together, then wet are added to dry and combined quickly. A lot of cakes and quick breads are done this way.

The other recipe we did was chocolate chunk cookies. Like chocolate chip cookies, but bigger pieces of chocolate. This recipe produces a moist, chewy cookie. We used a bittersweet chocolate, with 58% cocoa liqueur. That was fine with me, as I prefer darker chocolates. This recipe was to illustrate the Cream Method. In the cream method, the fats and sugars are beaten together to add air and provide leavening.

Both these recipes are provided by my instructor, Chef James Foran. As these are professional recipes, much of the measurements are by weight rather than volume.


Banana Cake

Wet Ingredients
9 fl oz vegetable oil
6 oz by wt eggs
12 oz by wt peeled bananas
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 fl oz cream
5 oz by wt brown sugar

Dry Ingredients
10 oz by wt sugar
10 oz by wt cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Prepare  a half sheet pan, oiled and lined with parchment or wax paper.
Preheat oven, 325 degrees for a convection oven, 350 degrees for a conventional oven

Using an immersion blender, blend together wet ingredients. Sift together dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients all at once to dry ingredients. Whisk together until just combined. Pour batter into half sheet pan, and smooth. Bake 12 - 15 minutes, or until cake is browned and springy.

When cake is completely cooled, invert onto cutting board, and frost.

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 oz by wt cream cheese
3 oz by wt room  temperature butter
6 1/2 oz by wt powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer. Cream with a paddle until smooth.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

fats/sugars ingredients
5 oz by wt butter
4 oz by wt sugar
5 oz by wt brown sugar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt

wet ingredients
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

dry ingredients
8 1/2 oz by wt all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder

garnish ingredients
9 oz by wt semi-sweet chocolate chunks

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Preheat oven, 325 degrees for a convection oven, 350 degrees for a conventional oven

Using a paddle in a stand mixer, cream together fats and sugars for at least five minutes, until smooth.
Add egg and vanilla, cream until smooth.
Add dry ingredients in two stages, remembering to scrape down the bowl periodically.
Stir in chocolate.

Scoop out dough in approximately 2 tbsp. balls onto sheet pan. Top each cookie with a few grains of sea salt.

Bake about 5 minutes, or until flattened and brown.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

School Uniform

My school uniforms arrived today. The fit is good. I have always liked the double breasted look, so chef's coats are cool. The hat, well, I've worn muffin caps with renaissance costumes before. But, what is up with the pants?  Baggy plaid pants. We are not golfing, people.

I tried to get a decent shot of myself with my cell phone. Here's the best of a bad lot.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Piping Practice

Today was my first lab in my pastry class. We melted a little chocolate, then made piping bags from parchment paper. We practiced piping filigree, borders, and letters. I seem to be able to make the bags fairly reliably. Really need to work on hand steadiness for the borders and letters. It's calligraphy in chocolate, and I have really lousy handwriting.

We also practiced piping frosting, using this nasty artificial stuff with a sticky consistency somewhere between twinkie filling and drywall spackle. This stuff doesn't spoil, ever, and is temperature stable. It can be recycled and re-piped endlessly. Worked on rosettes and shells. I did better with the shells than the rosettes. I need to practice, a lot.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Knives and Tools

I picked up my knives and pastry tools yesterday from The Knife Merchant. A very dear friend had promised to buy them as my Christmas present. She is very supportive of this career change. She came with me to pick them up, as she wanted to actually see her present.

There were a couple of choices available for the knife set. Of course, I liked the feel of the more expensive set better. I preferred the balance, and they seemed to be better quality. That kit came with a steel, a 10 inch chef's knife, a 6 inch boning knife, and a 3 1/2 inch paring knife. It also came with a thermometer, peeler, knife guards, thermometer, and carrying bag.

The pastry kit came with a variety of tools. It has a pastry bag and tips, spatulas, pastry brush, pizza cutter, bench knife, bowl scraper, microplane, measuring spoons, and digital thermometer. When I went through it this morning, it was missing the zester and one pastry tip. When I called the Knife Merchant to let them know, they were very polite, and promised to ship them to me one day UPS, so I would have them for class Monday.   I bought a tool box at Wal-mart to keep everything in.

We hit the ground running next week. Looking forward to it.