Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Culinary Goals for 2009

2008 was really a great year for me in the kitchen. Obviously quitting my paying job and stepping into a kitchen full-time was a momentous occasion. Beyond that, I started paying more attention to details, whereas previously I spent my time playing with flavors, textures, temps, and the like. I still play almost daily, but a tighter production schedule has made that secondary to putting out quality finished products. The increase in my output has also, however, highlighted my shortcomings. Typically this meant me wanting to do something that I wasn't prepared or able to do. So, with that in mind, here are my culinary goals for 2009:

1. Piping skills
I can't tell you how many times I've poured glazes and thrown on tempered chocolate shards, only because my piping skills are lacking. I'm not looking for a Wilton look here, but there are times when you need a border or flair that only piping can create.

2. Sugar work
On my recent entrement I was playing with sugar and started seeing those beautiful stripes and the glissen of the pulled sugar. The ribbons naturally snapped since I was pulling on my cool countertop, but I knew from reading how to do more with the sugar. I'm not ready to buy a sugar box, nor make one, but my guess is that you'll find me on the floor in front of my warm oven sometime soon seeing what I can create. Isomalt will be in my near future orders.

3. Edge work on cakes
There's a good tutorial on eGullet on how to achieve a perfect edge on a cake. I've attempted it a few times, but never have created a Perfect edge. That will happen this year so I can stop relying on the Exotic Orange cake technique for my "perfection."

4. More entrements
I enjoy making I will!

5. Cooking meats
While last on my list, this should be tops. Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that I do primarily sweets and pastries. Now that I'm running my kitchen, I should learn how to cook a piece of meat. I haven't decided how I want to pursue this yet, but I'll work on it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Year in Review

Are you tired of the "Top Movies of 2008," the "Top News Events of 2008," or the "Worst Dressed Celebrities of 2008?" Of course not! So here we top lists of 2008.

Favorite Meal: Thai Salmon

Worst Dessert: Castagnaccio HANDS DOWN THE WINNER!

Best Dessert: My 40th birthday cake

Favorite Ingredient: Celery HERE, HERE, & HERE

Least Favorite Ingredient: Roasted Chestnut Flour

Favorite post of 2008: My day of baking couldn't get any better!

Chile Roasting Day

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Daring Bakers: French Yule Log

Pushing the limits of Tri2Cook's nickname for myself, "the chef who never sleeps," I joined one more group - The Daring Bakers. You may have seen their work spread throughout food blogs. DB was a no brainer since I like to learn by doing, and this gives me something challenging to do each month. And what a way to start!

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

For those of you who know my preference (dessert sadomasichism!), this was a perfect launch of a new relationship for me and DB. Here is what I had to prepare:

1) Dacquoise Biscuit
2) Mousse
3) Ganache Insert
4) Praline (Crisp) Insert
5) Creme Brulee Insert
6) Icing

No problem - I said. Done them all before, except the praline insert. And so I did:

This was the first time I had included a creme brulee inside of a pastry, and it worked very well. Once all of the components were set up inside of an encasing of mousse, they were thrown in the freezer to harden.

I was happy to make this log, since the more commonly known version with rolled cake and buttercream is just not my thing. This was also one of the desserts I served at the recent cater for a local doc.

Once it was frozen, I applied the poured glaze, did a bit of piping to the top and cut away!

As if often the case, I didn't get a chance to try this so I can only assume it was outstanding based on the response from the docs. I'll be sure to keep this in my repertoire.

Here are a couple of other variations I did for customers

Friday, December 26, 2008

Recipe: Coco Ginger Cookies

A few days ago I shared this cookie using Ginger People Ginger Chews for the holiday baking season. I also made it for the FoodieBlogRoll Ginger People contest. But then I read the not-so-fine print.

It says clear as day that I needed to use crystallized ginger and I didn't. And so now I submit the official, rule-abiding, entry - Coco Ginger Cookies aka color inside the lines cookie!

4 oz (113g) Coarsely chopped chocolate (the darkest you can get - I used Lindt 85%)
1 3/4 C. (211g) AP Flour
1/4 C. (20g) Cocoa powder
1 t. Baking soda
Pinch Salt
1 C. (227g) Unsalted butter
1 C. (227g) Brown sugar
1/2 C. (100g) Granulated sugar
2 Eggs at room temp
1 T. Vanilla
1 C. Ginger People Crystallized Ginger, coarsely chopped
3/4 C. Chocolate chips

Heat chopped chocolate in microwave until just melted, allow to sit 5 minutes.

Whisk flour, cocoa, soda and salt in a bowl. In mixer, cream butter until light, then add sugars and beat for 3 minutes. Scrape sides of bowl and add eggs one at a time. Then the vanilla and chocolate. Once combined, stop.

On low speed, add the flour mixture in three portions until just combined. Hand stir the ginger pieces into the dough.

Scoop the dough onto your baking sheets, chill for 30 minutes and bake at 350F until done.

Nice zing buried in an intense dark chocolate!

How we spent our Christmas

Our tradition began when we moved to Silver City and opened our store. We work such long hours leading up to Christmas that the best thing we can do is go for an overnight camp or a good long hike. This year we opted for the hike, but we started with breakfast.

A ham steak from our 4-H pig, butternut squash seasoned with garam masala, and our favorite French toast using pannetone with a hint of brandy.

Then we were off for a trail at Iron Creek in the Black Range. I've tried to find this trail before with no luck. This attempt was no more successful. We cut brush the entire hike, following a beautiful frozen creek. We just had to look away as the dogs showed no fear on the 45 degree ice slides. Here's Lexi trying to figure out why Tyler is able to stand on the ice even though he doesn't have claws...or does he!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Only in our house...A Bizarre Christmas Gift

I received everything I really wanted this year...and if you know what this is, then bully for you :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Recipe: Ginger People Shortbread

Over at FoodieBlogRoll, we were challenged to create a holiday cookie that incorporates Ginger People crystallized ginger. I mis-read that little detail and made a cookie with a Ginger Chews. That's fine, I'll just make another cookie tomorrow!

But ploughing ahead...

4 C. AP Flour
2 t. Baking Powder
1/4 t. Salt
1 lb Butter at room temp
4 Yolks
2 C. Sugar
Bag of your favorite Ginger People Ginger Chews

Combine flour, powder and salt. Beat butter until pale, and then add yolks and sugar. Add the dry ingredients. Form into a rectangle about 2 inches thick. Wrap in saran and chill.

After a few hours, or the next day, take your hard block of dough and run it through a grater. This is a technique I picked up from Baking with Julia, and is a great way to keep your shortbread light and crisp. I shred directly onto a silpat, then gently press down. Using a pastry cutter, form into rectangles.

Take a Ginger Chew, unwrap it, and microwave it on the lowest setting for 10 seconds (adjust as necessary for your microwave). This should make the chew soft, but not flowing. Press it into a long thin strip and set on the shortbread. Freeze the tray at least one hour.

Oven to 350F
Separate the cookies by about a half inch - they only spread slightly. Bake 15-20 minutes or until slightly browned on the edges. If the cookies have come together, gently run a pizza cutter through them to re-separate.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TGRWT #13: Caraway & Cocoa/Chocolate

For newcomers: TGRWT (They Go Really Well Together) is a monthly open invitation to come up with dishes that combine certain given ingredients that are supposed to match well. The hypothesis is that foods containing one or more common major volatile compound will work well in combination. The result of this might thus be a range of new and, sometimes unlikely, good combinations of ingredients. In an earlier trial I went for the direct truffle approach HERE In that round I had trouble infusing the flavor of the caraway into the water based ganache.

For my real attempt, I went for a Brooklyn classic - Egg Cream! First toasted the caraway, then infused it into hot water.

1 C. Sugar
1 C. Cocoa Powder
1 C. Water
1 T. Caraway

I left the caraway in the water when I combined it with the other ingredients to further the steep beyond the one hour I already gave it. This was all heated in a pot over medium flame, whisking, until it began to thicken. After I got tired of looking at it, I covered it and let it think about its naughty deeds for another few hours.

I brought a jar home for dinner...who knew that Tyler had prepared a meal that included caraway - serendipity! So we took our new glasses from my late Grandma Irma, and added 3 T. of the chocolate syrup, 1/4 C. cold milk and finally seltzer water. Stirred and drank.

So how was it?

First off, I was able to get the caraway flavor to stick with the chocolate this time. The chocolate is already subdued in an egg cream due to the seltzer, so it was nicely balanced with the caraway. We both enjoyed the drink and found it to be a nice pairing. I kept fending off the idea of a hot chocolate, but do think the caraway would be even nicer in a drink that is warm and more receptive by the mouth.

Interestingly I wouldn't do this combination again, but only because its a bit too "normal" for my liking. It was too good together, and not enough "wow" factor. That said, more appreciation to the folks at Khymos and for hosting the event.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recent Dinners

We're certainly not afraid of tofu, and this baked tofu dish was a real winner. Tyler also served it with an outstanding butternut squash casserole from Cooking Light.

Then he improvised this stuffed chicken breast that was filled with Niman Ranch bacon and avocados. This was damn good!

And finally, brats with a potato cucumber salad (odd combination, but very good).

Recipe: Pecan Pie

The first pecan pie I made this year...and it was for a customer.

2 cups pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt

Oven to 350F

Combine eggs and sugar, whisking until foamy. Then stir in the salt, vanilla, butter and maple. Add the pecans and pour into the shell. I bake my shell a bit before to make sure it gets fully cooked. Bake until it browns and stops jiggling.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Days Are Counting Down

Tonight kicks of Hanukkah for our Jewish friends. Eight days of celebration, remembrance and family. In just a few short days we finally get to Christmas. Its a time of year when I start to think about time with family in front of the TV watching our favorite holiday episodes. The politically correct "favorite" in my family should be A Mom For Christmas staring Olivia Newton John - only because my cousin is one of Santa's helpers. And the obvious favorites are shows like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But for me its the more obscure that lingers in my mind each year.

First, there's A Very Brady Christmas, or what about when Mr. T played Santa for Nancy Reagan...the grand ol' days of television! Alf had a pretty snappy Christmas episode too if I remember correctly. But my favorite was the Jefferson's in 1983, an episode called Father Christmas. The plot was simple. George, being the gruff dry cleaning despot that he was, refused to go caroling with Louise, Helen, Florence and Harry, so he and Tom sit around at home decorating their tree.

They spend the night reminiscing about their family's and it gives glimpses of George's soft spots. Isn't that a big part of why we love the holidays?

We get to return to our childhood's, be a family again, enjoy our family favorite foods and just be ourselves. This year, I'm not able to be with family again, relegated to the annual phone call where we talk to everyone for about 30 seconds each. But I know that back home they'll be enjoying plenty of wine and beer, some "new" version of green bean casserole, mom's sugar cookies, and maybe even a few bags of White Castles - no cheese.

As for Tyler and I, we'll enjoy our new family and friends down in the Southwest. I'll let my oven have a little break. And we'll go for a good long hike with the dogs.

As I wrap up these last few days of baking for customers, I'll get a post or two in just for good measure. I'll be wrapping up all of my December baking challenges. And I'll enjoy the joy our customers experience by finding that perfect gift in our store. Happy holidays to all of you!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Current Day Dreams

Lest you, my loyal readers, think I only dream about pastries and food, here is what I am currently dreaming about. But before I get there...who are my loyal readers?! I show hundreds of readers of each post, but I only know a few by name. You certainly are men and women (and maybe dogs and iguanas) of mystery!

So, about a month ago, I took a hike to an area I hadn't previously visited. It was near the trail head of the Twin Sisters mountains just north of town. Somewhere along the hike I came across a short, but titillating, little cliff that was formed in the middle of water run-off. Cliff + Water Run-off = Ice Climbing!

Did you know that ice climbing and alpine mountaineering are possibly the only pursuits that top pastries for me? It was a passion formed during my time in southern Colorado. Every free moment would be spent exploring new trails, not peaks, and new ice patches. In 2006, I logged 170 climbing days...not too bad for having a full-time job. I enjoy rock climbing, but for me, there's more solidity in ice than in rock. Not sure why, but there is.

And so as I walked above this little run-off formed cliff, I couldn't help but feel the buzz of anticipation. Please oh please, I thought, even though I am near the Mexican border, and even though this cliff faces south, please let there be a huge snow fall, a good melt, and a good freeze! Just one day, that's all I ask. Please!

And so now I wait. And wait. And wait. I wait as long as you always do in the Southwest - for everything. They call it the land of mañana for a reason. You can wait months for rain. You can wait weeks for a returned phone call. And I can wait years for that one perfect freeze that will let me strap on the crampons and sharpen the ice picks.

I'm waiting...and day dreaming. Did I mention we have a winter storm warning in effect today til 4?

Posole / Pozole: Sign of the Season

In the Southwest, there's nothing like a pot of posole this time of year. I've been arguing with folks lately about whether its more seasonal to have posole or tamales...there's been no definitive answer.
So I added posole to our recipe list. We had that fresh local pork, and I knew I had the posole corn in my freezer at the store, so I turned it over to Tyler to do the rest.

My ties to posole go back to my time in Alamosa, CO (the coldest spot in the lower 48). This time of year I would go to house parties and every single event would have a huge pot of posole with green chile corn bread. One event in particular was an annual gathering and we would sit around with songbooks and sing together. The group was all grown hippies so all of the songs would be 60's peace songs and such.

Well, our guests for the posole I'm sure are hippies in some way, but more along the lines of foodie hippie friends. Previously mentioned tamal/tortilla instructor, Consuelo and local intellect, Tom joined us, as did computer whiz/classical guitarist Ron and Therapist/mood uplifter, Kat.

Two bottles of wine were downed before the first bite, courtesy of our down/up the street neighbors.

Ron and Kat kicked off the meal with this fantastic salad weighted down with voluptuous blackberries.

Then came the soup. Tyler filled the table with every chile we had in the cupboard for folks to season their own soup: habañero, pequin, New Mexico red, and nora Spanish chiles. He also included the traditional oregano.

A little bit of my sourdough and...

Look at how hearty that spoonful is!

And finally, a revamp of Elvis' poundcake using dried cherries and pistachios.

This essentially ends the pre-holiday since there are no more events planned. I have no more caters, just a few small dessert orders. That means, we just hunker down and make sure our customers get all of the holiday joys that they need. For some that will be gifts, for others just the joy of time with friends (and/or store clerks).

Today we also celebrate the passing of one of our employee's husbands who passed last night. We also lost a dear church friend the same day. I sure look forward to solstice and the promise of a new season!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cater: No Limits

I got to do a catering job that didn't restrict me financially - for the first time ever! How fun! This past weekend I catered a local doctor's office staff party. While there were some financial restrictions, they were hardly restrictive, so it allowed me to play a bit. The doc also specifically requested more playful food for himself and his wife, while also accounting for his more culinarily conservative staff.

I created, essentially three menus for them, with some shared items. Everyone had organic green salad, sourdough rolls, roasted potato wedges and green beans with toasted piñon and lemon. Then I added tri-olive tapenade set in olive oil crisp cups seasoned with anise, topped with candied kumquat:

Goat carnitas with avocado in fillo cones:

A sous vide cooked tenderloin, simply salt-n-pepper pan finished:

Sous vide tenderloin that was seasoned with molè dulce prior to sealing in the bag, and then pan finished with the same molè. While not pretty in the pic, this was amazingly good. I served it with a savory granola, hazelnut pudding with szechuan peppercorns and chocolate soil. What a combo!

I'd like to try this again encasing the tenderloin in the granola then pan finishing it. I think that would be nice.

Finally, three desserts. A traditional French Bouche Noel (I'll post on this later), a flourless chocolate orange cake, and this Tres Leches Egg Nog Cake which I spiked with brandy:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Homemade Goodness: Marmalade, Pomegranate Curd & More

Last week I shared my concerns over how the financial universe is playing out. It's a scary time. It's a humbling time. It forces one to practice their mindfullness and positive, constructive attitude. I also have been thinking about my cold, dark walks to the store each morning (it really is a retrospective time of year!) and what I'm doing with my life. I mean really - I have a PhD, 20 years of great experience in various forms of management, and here I am baking cookies for a living. We're barely surviving financially and have to figure out where our next meal and mortgage payment are coming from. What the hell am I thinking/doing!?

But, possibly for the first time in my life, the world feels right. Even with all the chaos around us, I believe I am where I should be, doing what I should be doing. I have this cockamamey test that I do. When I'm in the shower, I stand on my tiptoes. Before this career, when I did this, I couldn't stand without wobbling over for more than a second or two. Now, I can stand for as long as I want. It feels like an alignment or balancing of my universe. So every morning that I stand on my toes, I suck up the fatigue, splash my face with water and head down for another morning of baking and cooking.

I think about my friends and family (and my previous self) who get rutted into a career where you get decent money, but you always want more. I did that for 20 years and loved every single job: running the campus fitness center, outreach to underinsured and Sudanese immigrants, ski resort worker, temp receptionist, homeless youth services, youth camps. Loved each and every one of them. And I loved the pay. But, I always wanted more.

So is my purpose in life to bake cookies? Hardly. But is my purpose to bring joy to people through my creations? Absolutely. I've been getting feedback this week on my sugar cream pie that I sold over Thanksgiving. Everyone has been effusively praiseful and thankful because their guests loved the pies. I got to help them create memories. How fun and rewarding is that?! And, while memory creation may not pay well, I believe it will pay for itself in the end.

So here's a few items I've created for sale in the store the past week. They've been flying off the shelf and I'm having trouble keeping up with demand. First, using the rest of my pomegranates from the Mimbres Valley, I made pomegranate curd:

I also made this beautiful orange marmalade with blood orange and jasmine pearl tea. nice and chunky with a good mix of sweet and tart.

And using the leftover syrup from the lemon peel candying, I made lemon caramels with toasted piñon and French grey salt.

Tomorrow I'll try to crank out a bunch of lemon curd which sells as fast as I can make it. I also want to create French nougat because all of these curds are leaving me with (literally) gallons of whites. As we like to say at the Kumquat...Life's a Banquet!

blog updates

You have probably noticed that I've added a few widgets and such to the blog. If they're annoying, just let me know and I'll zap them. If you like them, do the same.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Truffle Pillow: TGRWT Trial #1

Wouldn't you love to just nestle your tired little head into a pillow of soft chocolate?
This month's They Go Really Well Together flavor pairing is chocolate and caraway. I have an idea for my final product, but I wanted to taste the combo first, so I steeped toasted caraway in water for three hours, then I made a water based ganache. Water ganaches really are great since you get a pure flavor - no dairy to cloud the issue. I didn't measure amounts on this batch and ended up with a perfect texture - just strong enough to hold, but so incredibly soft that they oozed to engulf your mouth the second your breath hit them.

But how was the taste? Well, I didn't taste the caraway at all. That's a bummer. So, next I'll try an oil infusion...butter or a neutral oil. I've got lot's of time on this one, so plenty of practice to be enjoyed. It also led me to package my truffles and put them on the shelf for some lucky customer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"I'm going to smile for the camera...why?!"

Why is Tyler smiling for the camera? Because its second nature in our house. There's food. I have a camera. He just happens to be in the shot. Congratulations! You didn't even get cropped out of this one.
And why should I crop him out. He made a great tagine with chicken, meaty olives, preserved lemon and carrots. It was very good, and made on the fly.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just what the arts ordered - speculaaskoekjes

Okay, so the title seemed like it would be funny, but only our Dutch speaking readers will get it. In Dutch, "arts" means "doctor." And since Klary recommended I eat some speculaaskoekjes to get over the tough week, and she's from the Netherlands...get it...never mind.

Stupid title aside, I made a batch of cookies this morning with some spices that Klary had sent me a few weeks ago.

Then I found her recipe at eG HERE. It just so happened it fell after our first snow.

So while my morning routine was cranking out, I stopped, enjoyed some speculaaskoekjes fresh from the oven (I sold the rest...always looking to make a dime!) and converted some leftover ganache (which is always readily available in my kitchen) into hot chocolate. I took a rare moment to sit and enjoy the hot cup and cookie in our front window.

Then it was back to work for what turned out to be a really fun and prosperous day!