Monday, March 31, 2014

Cake Decorating Class: S'mores Cupcakes

We had our first lab for our cake decorating class. The first half of the semester will be more focused on baking and construction, and the second half more on decoration.

We started off with something fairly easy. We started a cheesecake, which we will finish in the next class session. We also did S'mores cupcakes, that while fairly simple, looked and tasted great.

These cupcakes are a rich chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, graham cracker crumbs, Swiss meringue, and a little square of milk chocolate with smoked salt. We baked it in a square shape.

We torched the meringue to give it the toasted marshmallow flavor. The smoked salt was to give it a little taste of the campfire.

I really liked the look and taste of this cupcake. It manages to be both homey and elegant.

We did not explicitly cover the recipe for the ganache, but I expect it is probably the one here. For the chocolate, we tempered milk chocolate, and spread it thin on a sheet of acetate. It was sprinkled with smoked salt, and allowed to harden. It was then cut into squares.

S'mores Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes

dry ingredients:
5 oz. by wt. all purpose flour
7 oz. by wt. sugar
1 1/2 oz. by wt. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

wet ingredients:
1 egg
2 oz. by vol. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. by vol. brewed coffee
4 oz. by vol. buttermilk

Pre-heat oven to 350 F. 

Sift together dry ingredients. Whisk together wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet, mix until well combined.

Scoop into lined cupcake pan. Bake 18 - 22 minutes. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Swiss Meringue

4 egg whites
8 oz. by wt. sugar
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/8 tsp. salt

Heat all ingredients in a double boiler over simmering water while whisking continuously. Heat to 165 F. Transfer to a stand mixer and whip on high until cooled to room temperature.

Happy Eating!

Healthy Lifestyles Class: Healthy Appetizers

Last week in my Healthy lifestyles class, we were to make a number of healthy appetizers/ hor d'oeuvres. We were given a number of recipes to work from. One of the interesting things about the way Chef Kim organizes his labs is that he doesn't micromanage us. He gives us recipes, but gives us leave to deviate from them in our own creative fashion. Also, he basically gives us a goal, gives us product to work with, then lets us work out how it gets done.

As a group, we were to make four appetizers, two hor d'oeuvres, and a salad. We had four recipes given us, and we were to adapt two of them to work as hor d'oeuvres. For the salad, we were on our own to create something. Presentation was to be a big part of things.

I made both an appetizer and an hor d'oeuvre from the recipe for Vietnamese style spring rolls. They were very similar to the ones I did for my Pan Asian dinner. The rolls have cooked shrimp, lettuce, rice noodles, julienned carrot and daikon radish, cilantro, and slivers of yellow bell pepper.

The dipping sauce is a mix of rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar, garlic, and sriracha.

I garnished the plate with a little minced peanuts.

For the smaller version, I cut the rice paper wrappers in half, and  left out the shredded lettuce.

This is a great, refreshing appetizer. Very healthy, with no added fat.

For the salad, I collaborated with one of my teammates on a seafood salad, using some of my leftover shrimp, and some of the scallops from another appetizer made by a different teammate.

We included mixed greens, sauteed baby shitake mushrooms, tomato, and some sweet yellow and orange peppers. My teammate made a nice vinaigrette to go with it.

All and all, I'm happy with both the flavors and presentations we did. Chef had some minor critiques, some ideas for improvement, but there were no terrible missteps.

Sanitation Class final grade

Finished the one credit sanitation class with an A. Other than memorizing specific temperatures for specific foods, it was really just a matter of common sense and be aware of what you are doing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Roots and Greens

We got our second box from Farm Fresh to You today. This was a good haul this week. It was heavy on the root vegetables and greens. For greens, we got lettuce, green cabbage, kale, and frisee. I see a lot of salad in the near future. I haven't worked with frisee before. From what I can find, it seems to be best eaten raw, with an acidic vinaigrette.

For roots, we were given beets, fennel, carrots, and radishes. I kept the greens from all of these as well. The spouse is not a huge fan of fennel, but I enjoy it in small amounts. I have a couple of beets left from the last box, so am planning on pickling and canning all of them.

We also got some fruit. An avocado, a pint of strawberries, four blood oranges, and a couple of navel oranges. Need to do something cool with orange and strawberries.

Looking forward to playing with everything.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Healthy Lifestyles Class: First Cooking Lab

We finally got around to actually cooking in my healthy lifestyles class. It is interesting to note the significant difference in how Chef Kim organizes his labs vs. how Chef Joe does. Chef Joe is a very rigid authoritarian. He requires everyone to wait to do anything until he authorizes the specific action. He also allows only limited variation from his recipes for the session.

In  contrast, Chef Kim gave us a pile of material, six techniques to demonstrate, and freedom to decide which vegetables to use for which techniques, how to cut the vegetables, and who was to do what. It was an interesting experience.

We were given some zucchini and yellow squash, carrots, tomatoes, and broccoli. We were to demonstrate six techniques: sauteing, stir frying, steaming, poaching, braising, and en papillote (in parchment). The other members of my team quickly claimed various methods, leaving sauteing and braising for me. I was the only one to do two techniques.

I thin sliced some carrots, yellow, and green squash for sauteing. I was happy that I was able to saute the vegetables just by flipping them in the pan. I did not use a spoon or spatula at all. I cooked the carrots for about a minute before adding the squash. It went quickly, as it should.

I then went back and thick cut some of each squash for braising, and cut up some chunks of tomato. I seasoned some water with salt and pepper. Once it was up to a simmer, I added the squash and covered the pan. I let it cook for a bit, then added the tomatoes. Once the squash was cooked, I removed it from the water.

I felt I did a good job. My team thought the braised veggies were the best, and the sauteed the second best. Chef liked both as well, and thought I had properly cut the vegetables for both. The only criticism was that I had been a tad aggressive with the pepper in the sauteed veggies, and I think that was a fair cop.

We also were to create two flavored vinegars and a flavored oil for doing salads next week. We made a red wine vinegar with blueberries and lemon, and a white wine vinegar with thyme and lemon. For the oil, we went with a classic, garlic and rosemary. Apparently so did all the other tables, independently.

Should be an interesting semester.

Slow Baked Pork Chili and Kirschwasser Strawberry Shortcake

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. The day before yesterday, I had pulled out a pork roast to defrost for dinner, and I had the strawberries from my CSA that I planned to make into strawberry shortcake. I did not have a plan for the roast. Then, I saw a post from a foodie friend on Facebook announcing that it was National Strawberry Day, and National Chili Day. I thought, OK, I have half of that covered. And, as the day was cold and rainy (by San Diego standards), it was a perfect day for chili.

I have fallen in love with doing my chili by slow baking it in an enameled cast iron dutch oven. I think it gets the best texture that way, and there is no danger of scorching the bottom. It also gets the flavors to meld  to perfection.

I had a two pound pork sirloin roast, It was very lean. I cut it into 3/4" cubes. I dredged it in flour seasoned with berbere (an Ethiopian spice mix) cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, and salt. I seared the pork pieces in small batches in a little vegetable oil in the bottom of my dutch oven.

After pulling out all the seared pork pieces,  I added diced onion and green and red bell peppers to the oil, and sweated them.  To that I added diced fresh tomatoes, a can of crushed tomatoes, and a little pinot noir. I brought that to a simmer, and let it cook for about 45 minutes, to reduce the liquid some.

I seasoned the chili with oregano, rosemary, dried cilantro, thyme, cumin, bay leaf, chili powder, pepper, and salt. I returned the pork to the pot, then put on the lid. I placed it into a 280 F oven, where it cooked slowly for three hours.

After three hours, the pork was tender, and just starting to fall apart. The flavors had melded beautifully.

Strawberry shortcake has always been a major comfort food for me. And, I mean real strawberry shortcake, not stale store bought sponge cake rounds. Proper shortcakes are scones or biscuits, maybe lightly sweetened.

It was a summer favorite my grandmother made. Sliced strawberries are macerated in a little sugar, to get them to release their own juices. The biscuits are soaked with lightly sweetened cream or half and half. It's a simple dessert, but one I adore.

In this case, I tried to elevate the dessert by adding a little kirschwasser to the strawberries and sugar as they macerated. I also added a little of the kirschwasser to the heavy cream, with a little sugar. I used a whisk to whip it until moderately thick, but stopped well before it reached even soft peaks.

For the biscuits, I used my basic scone recipe. The spouse had made them to take to work, and had more than she needed. She rolled them and cut them out, to the stage where they were ready to go into the oven. She then froze about half the batch. I pulled the frozen scones out, and placed them on an ungreased baking sheet. I baked them for 20 minutes in a 375 F oven, and they turned out just as nice as if they hadn't been frozen. This is actually good news for the business.

I thought the kirschwasser added a nice touch. We both enjoyed the dessert very much.

Slow Baked Pork Chili

Coating Flour:

1 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. berbere powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder


2 lbs. pork sirloin roast, cut into 3/4" cubes
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
7 ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 28 oz. can peeled crushed tomatoes
1 cup pinot noir
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried cilantro
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together all ingredients for coating flour.

Heat oil in a large enameled cast iron dutch oven over medium to medium high heat. Toss pork pieces in coating flour, shaking off excess. Sear pork pieces in the oil until brown on all sides. Remove from dutch oven, set aside.

Add onion and bell peppers to oil, cook until softened. Add fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and wine. bring to a simmer, let cook for about 45 minutes, until somewhat reduced. Add herbs and spices, and return pork to the pot. Cover, place in a 280 F oven. Bake for three hours, until pork is tender.

Happy Eating!