Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cooking School - Week 1

A few months ago a gem of a Groupon popped up into my inbox - a 6-week professional cooking class at Prep Kitchen Essentials. I sat at my desk, impatiently waiting for my husband to sign onto Skype so that I could ask (see: beg) if I could spend the ungodly amount of money to attend this course. (note... the price was ungodly but it was 50% of.. umm.. whatever is double-ungodly!) My dear husband, without even thinking twice, said "Go for it!" Yay! I'm going to school!

My first class was this last Monday. Of course I was a big bone-head and scheduled my car to get maintenance done that day and was almost totally late to class but I made it! This week's class was taught by Rahm Fama who is a chef on Food Network's Meat & Potatoes. It was kind of exciting to be in a class being taught by someone that, not only is a chef by career choice, but is good enough to be on TV! Score! Rahm was a great teacher. I am sort of bummed he's not our normal teacher, but happy to have shared one class with him. Thank you, Chef!

Since this was week one we pretty much focused on kitchen basics and some knife skills. I am happy to say, I can now dice, julienne and bias-cut all vegetables in a mirepoix, as well as potatoes. I can also slice and dice kiwi, strawberries, apples and pears. Watch out vegetation - I am coming for you!

A few pictures to show my skills...

Perfectly diced carrots (Check out my knife!)

Perfectly julienned & diced onions

We have a week off for the Memorial Day holiday but I am super excited to go back and learn more in a couple weeks. 

On the syllabus for the next class.... Sauces, Stocks & Soups! 
On the edge of your seat.. I know.

Cheers to the Cook!

Monday, May 14, 2012

When Life Hands You Lemons....

... make Lemon Loaf!

My mother-in-law has an abundant lemon tree and last week she was nice enough to bring us a huge bag of lemons - correction - another huge bag of lemons. I love baking and cooking with lemons. It is such a versatile fruit - savory or sweet - delicious either way. 

Last week was also Teacher Appreciation Week. Those things are always off my radar somehow but a few co-workers mentioned it and I thought it would be nice for us to show Drew's day care teachers how much we "appreciate" (and worship) them dealing with Drew on a daily basis. 

I found a good recipe (fail-proof Williams-Sonoma!) and then have messed with it a bit over time. What is the fun of baking if you can't mess with things and make them your own?! As I mentioned before, I love baking with lemons but one of the things I frequently find is that the actual lemon in a recipe is pretty minimal. To make a loaf of banana bread you have to have 4+ bananas... but for lemon anything, you usually need only one. Until now!

My massive bowl of Lemons!

The finished batter tucked nicely into their greased/floured pans

Right out of the oven - beautiful!

The glaze takes this loaf from good to AMAHZING!

Lemon Bread
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest... or more!
Top Secret Ingredient: I add 3-4 drops of yellow food coloring. I have to admit there is something about yellow lemon loaf that is just plain exciting. My mouth starts to pucker with anticipation of the sour-sweet of the lemons!

For the Lemon Syrup:
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice


Preheat an oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour a 1-lb. loaf pan.

In a bowl, stir and toss together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until blended, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture along with the milk and lemon zest.
Beat until blended and smooth, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and lemon juice. Set aside, stirring occasionally; don't worry if the sugar does not dissolve completely.

Remove the bread from the oven and transfer the pan to a wire rack. Using a fork, gently poke the top in several places. Stir the syrup, then slowly brush it over the hot bread. Let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto the rack, top side up, and let cool completely.

Makes one delightful loaf. 

Note, I doubled this recipe for Teacher Appreciation; it works fine to double - no need to do separate batches. Yay! 

I wrapped these up nicely and gave them to Drew's teachers with some home-made Strawberry Jam and they were very excited. I am pretty sure there is nothing better than home-made treats.

Cheers to the Cook!

Friday, May 4, 2012

May the Fourth be with you...

Get it? Like May the Force be with you..? Force.. Fourth... Ha.ha.ha.

If you haven't guessed, May 4th is Star Wars Day. Admittedly, I am not a big Star Wars fan but I couldn't pass up the chance to make cupcakes with pictures of Yoda on them. I was going to try to actually create Yoda on each cupcake but I didn't prepare well enough & didn't have anything to make his ears out of. 

For next year I am already brainstorming ways to do Princess Leia using Oreos as her buns. Yes.....

Ok... so I didn't know what flavor they would have eaten in Star Wars... so I decided to make a simpel Chai Spice cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting. The original idea was to dye the frosting green, like Yoda. But then my sous chef found a container of green sugar and after much deliberating we decided to change course and just use the colored sugar instead.

Then we decided that festive cup cake toppers were a must. 

Happy Star Wars Day, everyone!

Chai Spice Mixture (adapted from Dessert First)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamon

Combine the spices together in a small bowl.

Chai Cupcakes (adapted from Dessert First)
Makes about 36 mini cupcakes
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons chai spice mixture
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg plus 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a mini muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Stir in the chai spice mixture.
Cream the butter and sugar together with mixer on medium speed until soft and creamy.
Add in egg and egg whites, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition to combine before adding the next.
Add in the flour mixture and milk mixture in three alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just to combine each addition before adding the next.
Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, fill each cupcake liner about 3/4 full with batter. Bake in oven for 13 to 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the cupcakes comes out clean.
Let cupcakes cool in tin on a wire rack until cool before decorating.

Note: These cupcakes are super light & airy. It is best not to over-fill the cups or you could end up breaking the cupcake top if over-handled once it comes out of the oven.

Cream Cheese Frosting 

  • 8 oz block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • (Optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla)

Beat cream cheese with mixer on medium until smooth – about 1-2 minutes. Add in powdered sugar. Beat until completely mixed. Mix in vanilla, if desired. 

Cheers to the cook!
(and Happy Birthday, Mom!!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites

You know what the best invention was? Peanut Butter
You know what the second best invention was? Brownie Bites

You are cordially invited to the marriage of the two best inventions ever... Peanut Butter Brownie Bites!

Roughly adapted from a blog post on Baked Perfection but with a few tweaks here and there. 
Normally I do not use boxed anything... I am sort of a snob about it. But for these, I wasn't sure how a normal brownie batter would work out so I just sucked it up and used a box mix. (Don't tell!)

This is my crazy sous chef... he demanded I photograph him.
Prepare the brownie batter per the directions on the box but instead of making them in a 9x13 pan, make brownie "bites" in a mini muffin tin. I cheated and lined my mini muffin tin with little paper liners. I definitely think that mini cupcakes, brownies, muffins, etc. look better if they are liner-free but it is a work night and I am just that lazy today! So, paper liners it is. Scoop batter in the liners until they are about 3/4 full. 
My homage to Jackson Pollock... I'm just messy

Bake according to the box's instructions - but definitely start to watch them a couple of minutes early. Over-cooked brownies are no bueno! Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (or mostly clean if you like them super gooey!)

Once the brownies are out of the oven, take the back of a teaspoon and push a "sink hole" in the middle of each brownie. This creates a nice well for all your peanut butter goodness!

This is where I sort of digressed from the Baked Perfection recipe - I'm wild that way. I mixed a cup of peanut butter and about 1/3-1/2 cup of powdered sugar in a bowl. This gives the peanut butter 2 things - a sweater taste (sort of like Reese's) and a firmer texture. I then scooped it all into a frosting bag & piped little blobs of the PB magic into each brownie "well." 

The finishing touch - a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips. 

 And there you have them! 

Amahzing! (and pretty easy too!)
Cheers to the cook!