Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summer Baking: Learning the Basics with BU Gastronomy {Class #1}

This summer I'm enrolled in the Culinary Lab: Baking course as part of my graduate program - the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy at Boston University. For the next 6 weeks I'll be spending 2 nights a week in the professional kitchen learning all about baking. The course requires students to keep a journal of the experience and I've decided to record my adventures here on the blog. I hope you enjoy! You'll get the calorie-free version of my decadent baking experience. 


Back to the kitchen! No I haven’t been eating only takeout  –  it’s back to the professional kitchen at Boston University to continue learning. Following up on my fantastic experience two years ago in the culinary lab for cooking, this summer I am enrolled in the culinary lab for baking. For the next 6 weeks I will be immersed in the sweeter side of the kitchen. This course focuses on pastry basics – all the building blocks for a world full of delicious goodies. My classmates and I will work on recipes that span the globe – from Paris to Texas to Turkey.

Even as an adult, the first day of school jitters are still there. Will I forget my chef coat? Did I buy the right size offset spatula? The agenda for the first night included crepes and a delicious filling to turn them into Gateau de Crepes a la Normande. I’ll admit, the prospect of crepes had me a little scared. I always imagined that you needed a special pan and special talent. Thankfully, my fears were allayed as we moved through the process (and a foolproof recipe from Jacques Pepin).

We started with a rapid-fire lecture on the building blocks needed for baking. Did you ever stop to think about all the ingredients? Good old all-purpose flour and white granulated sugar are just the tip of the ingredient iceberg. There are multiple classes of wheat that get transformed into flours and a seemingly endless amount of alternative flours (think chickpea, oat, nuts, and more). Sweeteners come in many varieties too. Even what you might think of as sugar can come from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Next was a whirlwind tour of the options for fats and leavening agents.

With our heads filled with all this new information we donned our chef coats and hats and headed to the kitchen to transform these simple building blocks into something impressive and delectable.

As you can see in the photo of the recipe, there isn't much to a crepe batter! The secret lies in how you mix the batter and how you handle the pan. We learned that when you are making a batter it is important to mix only until combined. When mixing a batter with flour and liquid the more you mix, the more gluten is developed. That means that more mixing equals more gluten. The trick to keeping these crepes light and tender lies in the method. By mixing in only half of the milk at first, you can work out the lumps with less mixing. After the batter is smoothed out the remaining milk and melted butter are added in to reach the desired consistency. This would also be a good trick for mixing up your pancake batter at home to keep them light and fluffy.

The secret to turning this perfect batter into a perfect crepe lies in the wrist. The thickness of the crepe depends on the speed with which you swirl the batter into the pan. The faster the batter is spread the thinner the crepe will be. My first crepe came out a little pale, uneven, and ripped from a flipping mishap. However as I continued on I started to get the hang of it!

The great thing about crepes is that they are a perfect vehicle for just about any pairing you dream up. Nutella and jam? Yes! Peanut butter and marshmallow sauce? Definitely! Turkey and brie? Tasty! We went the fancy route - a layered crepe cake! Inside our layers of mostly-successful crepes we spread apples cooked with Calvados, cream, and almond flour. To top off this already decadent stack we poured on melted butter, sprinkled sliced almonds, and sprinkled granulated sugar for a little crunch.

The ingredients for this are pretty ordinary - and not too expensive. We learned that some bakeries charge $50 or more for a cake like this! Sadly I don't see this as a viable income source for me, but at least now I can wow my friends and family with a fun dessert!

Stay tuned for new posts after each of the classes. Next up - cookie night!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I left my stomach in Lima, Peru

I had the opportunity to travel to Santiago, Chile and Lima, Peru for work at the beginning of March. Even though the days were packed with meetings, of course I still found time to squeeze in some fantastic dining experiences. Here is a shot of the gorgeous ceviche we tasted at Cebicheria La Mar with giant choclo corn, aji pepper, Peruvian sweet potatoes, and plenty of leche de tigre (the liquid that cooks the fish):

While I digest my experience and put together my photos, I wanted to share a recipe from a post way back in March of 2011. As part of the Daring Cooks challenge we made Peruvian recipes. Since I am missing the bright lime and zesty flavors of the many ceviches I had on my trip, I wanted to share this recipe to try to relive the experience!

I used a Wild Alaskan Halibut steak and plenty of fresh lime juice and cilantro. A finely diced red fresno pepper added a little kick to the dish (no aji peppers here, like they have in Peru). The fish "cooked" for about 10 minutes, until just opaque. Here's the fish in the 'cooking' liquid:

Ceviche de Pescado (Fish Ceviche):
Adapted from recipe by Annik Franco Barreau
1 lb. Wild Alaskan Halibut steak
1 garlic clove, mashed
1 red fresno chili pepper, minced
1/2 - 3/4 cup  freshly squeezed lime juice (enough to cover fish)
1 tablespoon  fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Rinse fish and pat dry
Cut into 1 inch cubes (anywhere from 1/2 inch - 2 inches, depending on your preference)
Place fish in a thin layer in a non-reactive dish
Combine lime juice, chili pepper, garlic and cilantro in a dish
Pour marinade over the fish and lay sliced onion on top
After 10 minutes (approximately) fish will be 'cooked'
Remove from the liquid and serve

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Best of Intentions: Make it happen with Glenwood Garden

I find myself having the best of intentions to write blog posts, but with kids, life, and work blogging always seems to get pushed aside. I also have the best of intentions to support independent producers and try new foods. Sure, my local grocery store carries a few things, but what about all those great handcrafted artisan foods out there that aren’t at my store? While I’d love to have the time to find them on my own, it just isn’t a possibility. That’s where the e-commerce site Glenwood Garden fits in. They do the hard work of sourcing and bring it all together into one place.

Glenwood Garden contacted me to see if I would be interested in learning more about them and trying out a product from one of the artisans featured in their online market. I was intrigued by the possibilities- maple syrup, jam, shrubs – what to choose? They bring a wide variety of artisan products from around the country together into one online marketplace. Not only do they provide a distribution channel for these producers, they also have a shop-for-cause model where a large portion of the profit from each sale is donated to a specified non-profit. At checkout you choose one of the participating non-profit organizations to receive a portion of the profit of your sale. The organizations are focused on sustainability and food security. A triple-whammy! New discoveries, supporting independent producers, and contributing to good causes all at the same time.

I decided to try some jam and in just a few days received a well-packaged trio of jars. After passing the bubble wrap over to my appreciative two and a half year old, I found three unique flavors of jam from the Jam Stand in Brooklyn, NY: You’re My Boy BLUE-berry Bourbon, Drunken Monkey, and Not Just Peachy Sriracha. I wouldn’t have dreamed these flavors up on my own but they sounded incredible. I tweaked a few of my favorite recipes to incorporate the jam. First I put a twist on my grandmother’s apricot chicken wings. Swapping out the apricot jam for the Jam Stand’s Not Just Peachy Sriracha resulted in a sweet and spicy appetizer. For a sweet treat with a kick, I glazed my mini-banana bread with the Drunken Monkey. The combination of sugar coated bananas, splash of rum and a dash of lime makes for a fun twist on a classic recipe. We don't cook pork at our house, but I can imagine that the BLUE-berry Bourbon might be good on a roasted pork tenderloin or as a topping for pork chops.

There are items at many different price points, the process is simple, and the joy of discovering new products is thrilling. It doesn’t hurt that you are also supporting good causes. Thanks to Glenwood Garden for providing me with a free delivery of a trio of fun jams. I would encourage you to do a little browsing of the site and discover something new and exciting to try for yourself. On to the recipes!

Not Just Peach Sriracha Glazed Wings 

True to grandmothers everywhere, this recipe is measured by eyeballing and intuition. And if I’m being totally honest, I forgot to jot down my adaptations to the recipe while I was cooking. The basic instructions are to make a glaze of dry white wine (or chicken broth) and jam and set aside. Season chicken wings generously with salt and pepper and bake, covered, at 350 for 45 minutes. Remove cover, toss with glaze, and bake for another 15 minutes. If you want to crisp up the outside a little more, broil for a few minutes and serve. Sweet, spicy, messy, and delicious! And look at those slices of peaches in the jam.

Drunken Monkey Banana Bread with Drunken Monkey Glaze. 
I finally got to make this over the weekend with the help of my toddler sous chef. You’ll see his influence in the styling for the photos.

I had a little help on this one, using a tried and true recipe from King Arthur Flour:   I added in 3-4 heaping tablespoons of jam to flavor the bread from the inside out. Instead of one big loaf, the batter was divided into four smaller baking dishes.

Mini desserts are always more fun! For the glaze I mixed about 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar, a tablespoon-ish of jam, and a few splashes of milk to get the desired consistency.

I was provided with free product by Glenwood Garden. I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are honest and belong to me. 


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