Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cooking Vs. Baking

It's been a while since I last blogged about anything. I have been cooking but I never seem to give my savory dishes the same attention that I give my baked goods.  I think it is because I see cooking savory dishes as something much easier than baking. I have always believed that cooking is something intuitive and driven solely by each and every person's individual tastes experiences and exposure to flavors when they were growing up.  There is nothing wrong with that because it makes us unique individuals.  Baking is a science. I am of the opinion that the sciences deserve a special respect and attention.  Sciences are the backbone of life, all matter and living; and must come together precisely in order to be able to provide life and living and a normal organism.  This is what baking is about.  All ingredients must come together exactly in order to yield a finished product and there is no forgiveness.  If one thing isn't right then the final product will be...off. I made cookies for Christmas and immediately ran for my camera.  I made some savory dishes and others had to take pics because I completely dismissed it.  I need to get on the ball!

Le Croque



I saw a recipe for a croque madame and simply had to try it.  I made it for a brunch for family on Christmas  eve and I do believe it was a hit.  Thick slices of artisan sourdough bread filled with ham, bechamel sauce, gruyere cheese and topped with a lovely fried egg.  One of the egg yolks got a little more firm than I would have liked but...I didn't have to eat it :-)  The other 3 were perfectly runny.  This classic was simply served with a side of warm spinach salad.  I enjoyed trying this recipe as I have never attempted to make this sandwich before and those who ate it thought it came out quite nicely so it was a success!

I hope to make some nice nibbles for New Year's Eve along with various drinks.  I don't know what it is about those around me lately, but nobody drinks.  I have never been a drinker and now it feels as though everyone around me is dry as well.  How odd.  I have all this alcohol and nobody wants it.

I think I'll start drinking.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Whipped Cream




Whipped cream is everywhere lately. It is my friend's birthday today.  His favorite dessert is tiramisu.  I had to make this for him but also do not like to serve raw eggs to people.  Most of the recipes called for folding raw egg yolks into softened mascarpone and sugar.  So I made the egg yolks, sugar and some chocolate liqueur into a zabaglione and that was it.  I made a chocolate zabaglione and folded in whipped cream.  The rest is a traditional tiramisu with the espresso soaked lady finger-style cookies and topped with coffee and rum flavored whipped cream unsweetened cocoa and shaved dark chocolate.  He tried it and and seemed happy!



I made powder puffs a few weeks ago.  They are almost like tiramisu except for the chocolate and coffee. Lady finger-like cookies (homemade this time), filled with sweetened whipped cream and raspberry jam.


I want to make different desserts now because with the holidays approaching traditional desserts will grace my table. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Is that Autumn in the Air and Sky?

Do I feel, see and smell autumn?  Every season has its appeal, but autumn is my favorite.  The end of the dog days of summer where you sweat like a pig 24 hours of the day without a break when the sun goes down and only intensified when the sun is up.  Summer here in Miami is rough.  The humidity engulfs you and keeps you sweating and looking like a wilted flower.  Every time the temperature rises I can't help but think that heat breaks DNA bonds and always wonder if this affects our bodies?  

"DNA doesn't actually decompose when heated. It just melts. DNA comes in two 
mirror image strands that you could visualize as a zipper. The chemical bonds that make up each strand of the zipper are permanent joins, but the teeth that connect the two strands are much weaker and sensitive to heat. So when you expose DNA to heat (for instance, by boiling it), the two strands of the zipper separate. By 
very slowly cooling that denatured DNA, you could actually get the strands to 
reanneal or zip up again.
Christine Ticknor, Ph.D.
Ireland Cancer Center
Case Western Reserve University"


As you can see above, slow cooling gets it to "zip" up again, but can it do that inside the body?  It just freaks me out and gives me yet another reason to dread summer temps and sets my mind to thinking about all sorts of things.  

I find the turning of the season to autumn, rejuvenating, inspiring and uplifting.  This means the best time of year beginning with my favorite holiday, Halloween! Everything about it is fun and unique.  Dress up in costumes, eat lots of candy and decorate with fun items.  Then have a more relaxed holiday with Thanksgiving where I can eat delicious turkey and enjoy my favorite pies that I only really eat once a year. Pumpkin, apple and pecan/nut.  Rich decadent pumpkin pie with globs of whipped cream.  Delicate apple pie, simply made with a touch of cinnamon and minus all those other heady spices, served up with a giant scoop of cinnamon ice cream.  And pecan/nut pies so rich and buttery and flecked with milk, white or dark chocolate!  Christmas is unnecessary to go into.  It is simply "the most wonderful time of the year," and the perfect time to get together with family and friends.

The weather is changing folks I can feel it in the air because our 90+ degree days are giving way to mid 80's and that is cool for us.   Our leaves don't change color, but instead our skies become orange-coral at dusk and breezes take on the burnished fragrance reserved for northern leaves.  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pear Frangipane Tart

Short crust pastry shell, almond frangipane filling and luscious ripe pears over the top. I think this turned out very good. I must admit it is not great because there is something way too subtle about it. Pears are one of my favorite fruit. When they are ripe they are yielding and soft, sweet and delicate. I thought they would pair well with an equally delicate frangipane filling. But everything was just...too subtle. It really needs a punch and I am thinking that maybe peaches would pack enough flavor to balance out the subtle frangipane. Maybe even cherries or possibly chocolate or a combo of those? I must say, each element on its own is perfect, the buttery crust, the almond-y flavor of the filling and the ripe juicy pears, and I am proud of my dish.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Eclairs


Have you ever had a freshly made eclair? It's all in the dough. Eclair dough is pate choux and it is not difficult to make. Unlike most baking it is not contingent on weather, humidity or heat. It is like a pop over only lighter. It starts with the usual suspects in dough making like flour, butter, water and a pinch of salt. First you cook this lightly over the stove and then add your eggs. That's it. Then pipe the dough onto a baking sheet and bake into the lovely boat shape for eclairs or round for cream puffs. I prefer a combination of pastry cream "lightened" (HA!) with whipped cream for my filling and they must be covered in bittersweet chocolate glaze. All culminating into a perfect eclair.

I used to think desserts like this were impossible to make at home. But don't be afraid! Try them! You will not be disappointed and if you don't get it right the first time, try again. It is worth it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Doughnuts






You know what I love about working with dough? The weird fact that even though most doughs for breads, sweet breads, even pizza, etc., are basically all the same ingredients that are introduced just a little differently. That makes all the difference in texture in the end product and during the process. Most doughs for sweet things are soft and tender even when they are raw. Bread and pizza doughs are firm and hearty. This is fascinating to me and I love it when everything clicks and I can "feel" how the product will turn out.

I love all sweets but my favorite home made sweets have to be doughnuts. I make some pretty mean cookies and cakes but doughnuts always turn out beautifully. There is one particular chain of doughnut shops that has a flashing sign that alerts all in the vicinity that they are removing fresh doughnuts from their fryers. I used to drive about 20 miles on the off chance that the sign was blinking. Sometimes I would even make the drive and just loiter around the area until the sign flashed. This all came to an end when I discovered home made doughnuts.

Have you ever had a home made doughnut? They are not difficult to make. As a matter of fact the ingredients are quite simple. You take some AP flour, a little sugar, dash of salt, little bit of butter, milk or water, maybe eggs and yeast. That's it. Those innocuous ingredients merge to create a heavenly little bite. Yeast raised doughnuts are my favorite. They even smell like doughnuts when the dough is raw. Creepy, trippy and absolutely maaaahvelous. These cuties come together in about 3 hours with most of your time spent waiting for the dough to rise. The actual cooking time is over in about 4 minutes in 365 degree oil.

My sister put these together today and I made the toppings. I had to have glazed. The glaze is just confectioner's or icing sugar and a little water, some were topped with chocolate icing, or a cinnamon sugar mixture. The filling today was either cherry or raspberry preserves. The jelly doughnuts weren't really filled. I just took a bite of the doughnut, either icing glazed or sugar coated and slathered on the raspberry jam (my fave!!). The chocolate glazed got the cherry preserves, sort of like a black forrest doughnut. They may not have had the perfect round shape of those you can buy at the store but I must say they are definitely more delicious because a fresh doughnut is something everyone must try. You can use any doughnut recipe. My sister "M" followed The Joy of Cooking recipe for these doughnuts.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Key Limes Rule




It happened suddenly. I have spent my entire life running from key lime pie. I am not a picky eater. I like to try new things and always look for a way to enjoy foods. This happened with yogurt too. I never enjoyed yogurt until I made a very concerted effort to enjoy yogurt. I just picked myself up by the ears and said to myself, "You will eat this and learn to like it because it is good for you." Of course, yogurt is good for you, in it's low-fat or non-fat healthy versions. This is not the case with key lime pie, so I simply avoided this dessert. I couldn't put my finger on it but it just didn't taste right to me. I thoroughly enjoy citrus in everything I can think of and how can you go wrong with sweetened condensed milk? These two ingredients are the bulk of this simple pie. Getting your hands on key limes can be tricky if you don't live in South Florida. These little cuties grow in someone's backyard and are easily accessible for us in supermarkets here so I have always enjoyed them in any recipe where you use the large green Persian limes. So what was the problem with me and the key lime pie?

Well folks, I went to the keys last week to mind my friend's house and dogs where she has about 4 carambola (star fruit) trees, 1 Japanese plumb tree, and key limes. (don't be too jealous it's August). In addition to the fantastic seafood, key limes (in season) and key lime pie are all over the place. I don't know if it was the oppressive heat every time I walked outside or I just got caught up in the drama of key limes. I sauntered over to a small place and purchased a slice of frozen key lime pie. Why frozen? Didn't I just mention it s August?? I was desperate for relief from the heat and didn't feel like eating ice cream or swilling any more diet soda, so I just went for it. I was flabbergasted. Key lime pie is the best! I had 2! As I devoured this beautiful thing I couldn't believe myself. Why am I doing this? Is the heat really getting to me? Is my brain fried? Is it the coating of chocolate? NO! A loud, resounding NO! This is key lime pie made with real, honest to goodness key limes! NOT Persian limes! And what a difference this makes friends. You MUST have key lime pie made with key limes and not Persian limes! The delicate, flowery, and softly tart flavor of key limes makes all the difference. Key limes are small, see above for scale against your average Chinese restaurant fortune cookie, but juicy as hell. I went nuts and made key lime ade, squeezed it in my Diet Coke and almost ate them with nothing else. I urge you to try to get your hands on this little miracle citrus and make your own key lime pie. It is very simple and for that very reason your ingredients must be perfect and the little key lime is perfect.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ham and Cheese Croquettes


It was 93 degrees in my kitchen at 1 pm today. I don't know how I survived to write this. It was 91 degrees in my kitchen when I made Martha Stewart's Serrano Ham and Manchego Cheese croquettes. Well, let me be honest. I did use Serrano ham (sweet Serrano ham), but I used Swiss cheese because when I went to the supermarket to purchase the Manchego it would have cost me approximately $10 for the small amount I needed for the recipe.

You can pick up croquettes almost anywhere here in Miami. They can be found to be made from ham, cheese, chicken, and I have even seen them made from spinach. But if you eat them on the street and compare them to these you will taste the difference. Martha Stewart's recipe is absolutely fabulous and very simple. I was reading her website and saw a video where she prepared them with Antonio Banderas. He is so charming and easy on the eyes so I stopped to see what he did on the show and this just took me in.

The ingredients are items I keep around the house like onion, milk, flour, salt and pepper. I only went out to pick up the Serrano ham and the cheese (Swiss worked great).

This is the link:
http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/croquettes-with-serrano-ham-and-manchego-cheese?video_id=0

Please make these, you won't be sorry. I know they are fried and everybody is the frying police and lard police, but the recipe only yields approximately 15 croquettes so invite people over. You can even play with the recipe, substitute cream cheese for the ham, or chicken or even any cooked meat you have on hand. Add spices and herbs.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nepenthes




Approximately one year ago I ordered a baby pitcher plant (nepenthes) from my favorite online greenhouse (Logees). It arrived in beautiful condition. I always order from this place because they are reliable and everything I've ordered is successful. This is no easy feat from someone who does not have a green thumb. I was ecstatic when I saw a tiny pitcher on my pitcher plant. I know, I know, I should not be surprised, after all, it is a pitcher plant. Every time I pick a fruit or a flower I can't help but feel that awful sin, pride (http://suburbanlifeinacollegetown.blogspot.com/). Sorry but I simply can't help it because only I know all the work and worry that went into that final satisfying moment. The pics are of my baby pitcher and a large pitcher plant that I had already purchased with some pitchers on them. I strategically placed the large pitcher plant near my sweet basil, Thai basil, lemon thyme and thyme plants to keep the bugs away. This is my attempt at some kind of natural gardening to keep pesticides away from my pets and me.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Bounty


Summer here in SoFlo is, I must confess, mostly unbearable. The temps soar into the 90's with stifling humidity hovering at around 85% and it makes breathing difficult. There are a couple of things that this miserable weather produces, besides frizzy hair, skin cancer, oily skin, sweat stains on your clothes and violent tempers and that's beautiful mangos.
My trees aren't exactly producing a bumper crop like last year, but considering I don't use any kind of fertilizer or pesticide these lovely tress always give me some fab fruit. I also have an orange tree, fig tree, avocado tree, lychee tree, lemon tree, 2 dwarf banana trees and a sapodillo tree. The orange tree is busting out with beautiful green orbs that will be great big oranges in a couple of months.
The long skinny mangos in the picture are the cute little gems that fall in my yard from my neighbors tree. These skinny little yellow, banana-shaped mangos can't really be peeled and sliced because they are very fibrous so you just sort of bite right through the peel and suck them dry. The bigger ones are Hayden mangos and go from hard green-reddish to ripe yielding sunset toned fruit. These can be sliced and cubed and should be enjoyed really cold.

My fig tree is also producing fruit at this time. I don't really know when fig are in season because I always thought they were autumnal fruits. My tree loves to provide big fat purple figs the minute it gets hot. I keep the tree in a pot to prevent the rotting humidity and constant rains of summer from killing my dwarf fig tree.

So here is a shot of my first bounty of the summer season. I can't wait to dig in.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tomato Powder


Dried tomatoes! I sliced a tomato into 1/8 inch slices and put them on a silpat into a 175 degree oven for about 5 1/2 hours. The result is a lovely dried tomato slice that I put into a coffee grinder and voila! I have tomato powder. Try it on pasta! you get an intense tomato flavor over anything you sprinkle it on and it is great! Bon appetite!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sweet Corn Pudding





This actually turned out very well. I am surprised. It started with fresh, tender, and very juicy yellow corn, that I did not get a picture of (sorry), then you have to grate the cobs until all the kernels are squeezed of their contents. Then squeeze the cobs some more, milk the cobs of all their liquid. Then add milk (or coconut milk or a mixture of the two) and strain, strain, strain until the mixture is perfectly free of any particles. Add a touch a vanilla and sugar to taste. Corn is very sweet anyway, so be careful! Then cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until thick but not too thick. This will not be the hurried madness of making a pudding using cornstarch because the natural cornstarch does not seize up at the raising of temperature the way the powdered cornstarch does. The natural cornstarch in the corn liquid yields a lovely result. The taste is a rich vanilla custard without eggs but much softer with the added benefit of no cholesterol. You get the hit of corn but it is a subtle aftertaste that manifests as richness rather than...corniness. I tried to bake one in a bain marie but the lack of eggs didn't allow it to work :-) I think I will try a savory version next time!

Here's Nano studying chemistry...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Exhibit Comes to Town!



A new exhibit came to town called "Instruments of Torture Throughout the Ages" at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. It is a very small but definitely interesting exhibit. In this museum starved town this is a welcome little morsel. Don't miss it! I took these pics outside and was looking for some books to purchase. Very (very) thin selection, but luckily I have a great book at home with all sorts of historical facts that supplement the trip.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Miami Walk

This weekend did not have me creating in the kitchen. The absolutely gorgeous weather had me out and about. It was a perfect 72 degrees and sunny! CNN has something called iReport fun weekend assignments for the readers to participate in and upload their entries. Each weekend, from February 19th through April 9th they are issuing different challenges. I am afraid I missed the one that I really wanted to be a part of that was held during the weekend of March 5th. "Your Signature Dish". It was a wash out. I did not get a chance to film myself creating the Christmas dish that is always served.

This weekend was the "Walk in our shoes" challenge. You have to make a 1 minute film walking in your city. The rules are pretty simple, start with walking feet and end with walking feet and your video should only be about 1 minute long. You have the option to have narrative or remain silent. These are my 2 submissions. Don't miss them on CNN iReports and check out the others, there are entries from London, Rome, Johannesburg, and NYC they are fun and exciting cities and I must say I was intimidated. But the perfect So Flo weather, beautiful beaches, lots of people out and about and fun soundtrack made my little films a great watching experience. I got some nice comments. Please check them out and let me know if my little films are as fun and/or exciting as the other entries.

Miami Walk Part 1
video
Please enjoy the music, "Entre Dos Aguas" by Paco de Lucia.

And here is
Miami Walk Part 2

video
Miami Walk Part 2, the music is Perez Prado's "Patricia"

I hope to have some time next weekend to bake or cook. Saludos from So Flo!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Banana Nut Bread

Banana bread is one of those sweets that I can have at any time because it isn't cloyingly sweet. I can have a slice for breakfast or for a snack or stud this moist tea cake with dark chocolate chips for a luscious dessert. I must confess it has always been my baking albatross. I usually get a loaf that is hard as a rock on the outside and way too bready on the inside. This time I hit it perfectly. I also spruced it up with crushed pineapple and chopped macadamia nuts. I had a some nuts left over in the freezer and didn't know what to do with them since I rarely snack on nuts. I think I should call it a Hawaiian banana nut bread. The buttery macadamia nuts are a definite replacement to the earthier walnuts usually found in this loaf. The crushed pineapple provides a tangy sweetness that counteracts the buttery nuts and mellow bananas. It is a gorgeous day/night here in SoFlo and there isn't a lot of humidity so I didn't have to play with the flour too much. I didn't write down the ingredients but it shouldn't be too hard to recreate. I can't wait for breakfast! (maybe blueberry buttermilk pancakes instead??)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Molten Chocolate Cake


What a gorgeous day here in So Flo. It was windy and cool and the sun was bright and warm, heady combo! So that meant some baking was in order. I saw a recipe for molten chocolate cakes and they are delicious. Ate them while still warm and runny with a lovely cakey crust all I needed was some cool vanilla ice cream! They are just too easy to make Wow! :-0

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chocolate Festival





Today is the 2nd day of the Chocolate Festival at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Local vendors were able to set up and let the community know about their businesses. It was great to be able to find out about all these great places.
These are some pics I took walking around the different kiosks that were set up at the festival. The chocolate is plentiful and varied. I found some French macarons in different flavors and truffles galore. The obligatory chocolate fountain with bananas, strawberries and marshmallows to cover. There are also some freshly fried mini doughnuts to dip! There is a wonderful kiosk filled with all kinds of fragrant and colorful spices and teas. I got some fenugreek, zatar and sumac. I can't find these anywhere and this is an extremely pleasant surprise. One place has these Hungarian "horns", these are very thin cinnamon rolls. These were very good and not overly sweet. There was a French bakery from West Palm with fantastic baked goods and the chef was nice enough to give me some tips and information about baking up good croissants! Can't wait to implement his tips! There are tables set up where you can learn how chocolate becomes the chocolate we know and love! There is the added bonus of the gorgeous gardens and the wonderful pictures you can take of the flowers.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Croissants and Viennoiserie

I have completed my first attempt at laminated dough and croissants. This attempt yielded a superb product. The croissants are flakey, light and buttery. The crispy exterior yields to a soft, buttery, yet light and feathery interior. The best moment was walking into the kitchen and smelling croissants. Weird as that sounds they actually smelled like croissants. My sister, M, walked into the kitchen and yelled, "Tania it smells like croissants in here." I walked into the kitchen and was floored by the delicate, buttery and uniquely pleasant aroma. It is a smell you don't forget. Interestingly the ingredients are quite plain and mundane, flour, sugar, salt, yeast and water or milk, after those are mixed and rolled out, you pound out 4 bars of butter and layer that on to the dough. Then just roll and fold at least, 4 times with a 1 hour rest and chilling period in between. Then they are shaped and proofed until puffed. Then just bake for approximately 16 mins. That is the part that freaks me out. All those hours of work (at least 8 but more than likely about 20, for just 16 mins, in the oven. Heavenly! I made about 5 plain, 3 filled with cherry preserves with either almond paste or cheese, 4 with extra-dark bittersweet chocolate, and 2 with cinnamon raisin and 1 with cinnamon raisin and cream cheese. I guess this is goodbye because I would need very cold, dry weather again. *sniff* *sniff* If I do make them again I better get them done by this weekend! hm? Some danishes, perhaps, the dough is VERY similar.
video

Enjoy the music of Yael Naim, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Tom Waits.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Loaded Cookies



My sis M baked some loaded cookies! Choc chip, cranberry, coconut, oatmeal cookies. Very delicious! Some bacon wrapped dates also made it to the table but the only pic is when they were raw. Those are delicious because the smokey bacon flavor is very pronounced and then you get hit with a soft sweet center, some were filled with a mixture of goat, gorgonzola and cream cheese. I must say, the cheese sort of gets lost but the sweet, creamy center is a nice complement to the bacon-y exterior. My next entry is my foray into the world of laminated dough and it is a video. I am editing so I may not post till tomorrow. Stay tuned!