Monday, October 30, 2006

Baking in the City

Soon we will have to link to our new blog "Bakers-in-the-City" :) Since Larisa and I decided to buy and share cookie books, here are some recipes that may be helpful --and might have been helpful before Larisa did her Weekend Tour of Baking Supply Sections of New York Grocery Stores...

Egg White Royal Icing

3 oz fresh or pasteurized egg whites (about 3 eggs)
1 lb confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Lightly whip the egg white on medium speed, using a paddle until the whites form stiff peaks -- about 3 minutes. Lower the speed and gradually add the sugar. Add lemon juice and beat on medium-high speed for 5 to 8 minutes, until icing forms medium to still peaks. (use within 1 day because of egg)

This recipe makes good "flood icing" for the center of cookies with a piped border, but its more drippy:

Glace Icing

1 lb confectioners sugar
3/8 cup milk
3/8 cup light corn syrup

Thoroughly mix sugar and milk first, until the icing is soft with a heavy-cream texture. Add the corn syrup and mix until just combined. (use within 2 weeks)

I too have been continuing with my adventures in cookies. The below creation was meant to have five or six cookies, with one reading "Happy Birthday" for my friend Michelle. Unfortunate, several cookies were damaged with icing of the illegible kind, and I was left with this.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Meringue Powder Mayhem

This weekend I did a little baking. It was a very little baking– I only made 8 cookies, but the process took an entire weekend. As you all know, Kendra has been learning to make decorative cookies. Her blogs and stories have inspired me to try making decorative cookies. Here's the story…

It all started on Saturday. The process began with a trip to the book store to pick up Cookie Book: Creating Edible Works of Art; a stop at a pastry supply store to purchase some cookie cutters, pastry bags and other piping necessities; and, an exhaustive search of Murray Hill grocery stories to find meringue powder. Rather than launching into decorative cookies in the shapes of ladybugs, ice skates or Thanksgiving turkeys, I decided a basic cookie cutter shape would be better for my inaugural decorative cookie experience. I chose a heart-shape cookie cutter as it seemed the simplest, and one of the cutest!

I began by making the cookie dough, which consists of several pounds of butter, some sugar, vanilla and of course the basic dry ingredients. According to my cookbook, the recipe should produce 36 cookies, but for some reason I only had enough dough for 8 cookies. You do the math, that is not my expertise, but I am baffled….

My icing, which in baking terms is called Meringue Powder Royal Icing should really be called a Royal Mess. First, does anyone know what meringue power is? I learned that it is really a doctored up dehydrated egg white, but it is often confused as cream of tartar. Meringue power can be found in specialty baking supply stores, not in your local grocery store. I figured that out after I went to 6 different grocery stories. What is carried (sometimes) in your local grocery store is dehydrated eggs whites, which come in a container similar to baking powder and is found no where near the eggs, but in the baking aisle. Dehydrated egg whites are a decent substitute for meringue powder, but not endorsed as a substitute by the major cooking websites.

Okay, fast-forwarding to the fun part, the icing has to be molasses-thick for optimal piping. After a few piping stalls, the icing consistency was somewhat perfected – but no where near mastered. My piping abilities are lousy at best, and as you can see from the pictures I have a lot of work to do. My creativity is also lacking and I am feeling a bit defeated. My piping experience reminded me of a coloring incident in the first grade when my first grade teacher reprimanded me for my inability to color within the lines during art class. I guess I am still a bit affected by this experience and I was a little piping-shy with my cookies. But, hopefully, with enough practice, I will have some decorative Christmas cookies!

Until next time…

Monday, October 23, 2006

All About Food

This weekend was all about food. The weekend was about the 3-C’s: conversation, consumerism and consumption! A wonderful fall weekend was spent in the Berkshires with George’s family. We were about a week late for ideal leaf-peeping season, but the colors were still beautiful, the weather was crisp and the food was plentiful.

Our first meal in the Berkshires was a venison chili. It hit the spot after our morning drive and seemed to nicely compliment the region, the season, and certainly our appetites. Friday evening was spent in Great Barrington, MA where we dined at a trendy Berkshire restaurant called Pearl. We were all food critics during and after the meal, and despite a few seasoning shortfalls, it was a delicious meal.

Saturday began with a wonderful potato frittata, homemade squash and pumpkin bread, strong coffee and a conversation relating to food-related activities for the day. We all took a trip back into Great Barrington to visit the Mecca of all cooking stores. It is truly a foodie’s Disneyland. I wanted to buy everything in the store, ranging from the Viking mixer to a colorful silicon baster. I, unfortunately, found the strength to forego purchasing fun little kitchen gadgets that while I needed, knew would never find a proper storage place in my tiny New York City kitchen. I guess I will continue to juice my lemons with a fork, rather than a proper lemon juicer….

Despite the emotional setback at the cooking store, this all about food weekend continued flawlessly. Saturday’s dinner consisted of a medley of fall dishes, including sautéed apples, a corn fritter of some-delicious-sort and a glaze to the chicken that was out of this world. When I get the recipe I will pass it along… Saturday ended with a competitive scrabble game, in which the winning word was again, food-related. George and I took home the gold with “Nacho” – a nice triple word score that brought us into the lead.

This all about food weekend was gastro-fabulous. It seemed as if every conversation centered on food (Rutgers football conversations aside…). I even found my next supper club recipe – a pork and apple turnover dish! All in all, a weekend spent with like-minded gourmands is never a disappointment.

Until next time…

Sunday, October 15, 2006

My Culinary Bible

Every chef has their cooking bible of sorts, right? For many, that cooking bible, or favorite cookbook, might be "The Joy of Cooking" or Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." For me, it is "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook." Seven years ago, my Mom gave me Marion Cunningham's great classic cookbook for my birthday and since then, it has served as my everyday cooking guide. Like "The Joy of Cooking," arguably the first user-friendly cookbook, Fannie Farmer is complete with helpful cooking and baking tips, liquid and dry measure equivalents, temperature and oven heat definitions, and of course a comprehensive glossary of every culinary term imaginable.

What I like most about the cookbook is its simplicity. There are no frills to the recipes, no complicated steps, no laborious preparations for a simple roast chicken – just easy to follow, simple, but perfectly tested recipes. The recipes are also basic enough that any dish could be doctored to your own sophistication.

This weekend, Fannie and I bonded over pumpkin bread. I wanted to bake this weekend, rather than cook, and as it was a glorious Fall weekend in the Big Apple, I decided on pumpkin bread. Fannie's recipe, which calls for flour, sugar, baking soda, a pinch of salt, pumpkin puree, a medley of aromatic spices, a tad of vegetable oil and ground walnuts could not be more simple. In no time, my pumpkin bread batter was assembled and my kitchen was taking on the smells of something far better than City living.

Of course no dish in my apartment is made without drama, and there is always some culinary twist (like an oven that takes three times as long to cook anything), but Fannie's simple pumpkin bread recipe was far from tasting simple. After three hours of baking (I could have baked the bread faster using my hair dryer), the bread was perfectly pumpkiney, perfectly seasoned and perfectly delicious. I owe it all to my Fannie Farmer Cookbook!

Until next time...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Autumn in New York

As briefly mentioned in Larisa's harrowing story below, we had a grand 'ole time at our Fall Harvest meeting on Monday. Larisa's soup was amazing and it's going to be near the top of my "to try" list of recipes. Besides being gorgeous, it had a rich, sweet taste and velvety texture.

Kendra, our lovely hostess of the night, made a maple syrup glazed roast pork loin. I forgot to get a picture of it before we sliced in, but you can see it on the plate below. It was juicy and the glaze was just right.

Taking on the vegetable once again, I cooked down some ratatouille. When thinking of fall vegetables, this simple stew of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, onion and herbs leapt to the forefront of my mind.

To end our evening of laughter, stories, recipe sharing, and talk of borrowing Kendra's loveable dog and forgetting to return him, our hostess whipped up a dessert of roasted pears and ice cream. Although it didn't feel like fall with temps reaching 80 degrees, I think we've prepared ourselves for the autumn in New York that is to come.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Veritable Squash Squall

The theme for this month’s supper club was “A Fall Harvest.” Since the leaves are starting to change colors, and the fall is certainly here (despite NYC’s perpetual 75 degree summer heat) and the fall vegetables are just too delicious to pass up, a fall harvest themed supper club was in order. Since there is nothing more “fall” then squash and pumpkins (well maybe apples, beets, and perhaps brussel sprouts), I decided a squash soup would be appropriate for the occasion. Specifically, I chose a butternut squash recipe as my contribution to this month’s supper club.

I really wanted to do this fall harvest thing properly and thought the most proper butternut squash was one bought in some country pumpkin patch or the Union Square Farmers Market. Unfortunately, I didn’t have easy access to a country pumpkin patch and instead of taking a 30 minute break from work to dash down to Union Square; my oh-so demanding boss thought it would be better if I spent our clients’ money by researching proper croquet attire for her upcoming weekend garden party. (No Joke). As such, I resorted to purchasing two butternut squash at the local specialty store, which doesn’t carry any ripe produce. The butternut squash I bought was the size of a football and had the weight of a bowling ball. Actually, George used the butternut squash as a football while watching the games on Saturday. We were subsequently fined by the landlord after an incomplete pass resulted in a squash size crater in the floor….

Anyway, so this simple squash soup turned out to be an arduous and dangerous task. In order to make squash soup, the rock-hard squash had to be peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes. Sounds simple, right? Well, with a dull knife, albeit the size of a machete, the task was not simple. I almost accidentally amputated my hand. After quickly realizing that I would loose a limb and slowly bleed to death as I was home alone on this squash peeling adventure, I decided to use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin. After what seemed to be an eternity peeling, my squash was ready to simmer in the soup pot.

The rest of the recipe was quite simple and my soup turned out quite nicely. After I had roughly 8 pounds of chopped squash, I diced an onion and let the onion-squash mixture cook for about 20 minutes. I then added chicken broth, a little salt and pepper, and a few shakes of nutmeg. The recipe actually didn’t call for nutmeg, but without the extra spice, the soup was a bit boring. I then let the soup simmer for about 40 minutes. At the last minute, I added a few teaspoons of heavy cream and paprika to garnish. Some pictures are attached.

I believe my fall harvest soup was a success, but even more of a success is that I am alive to tell the story!

Until next time.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Adventures in Cookies

As you can see, I've recently had more adventures in cookies as I ride the rocky road to cookie-basket nirvana.

My cookies seem to be progressively getting better, at the least. And I joyfully learn little fun lessons along the way....for example, take great care with food coloring as it may drip and you may inadvertently step on it, and spread little red marks all over the floor and carpet as you walk this way and that...

I also eat cookies along the way...leaving a crumbly trail of broken hearts, legless stars, and bitemarked pumpkins in my wake.

Of course, I only do so in the name of research, seeking a stick-sturdy, low crumble, yet deliciously edible creation.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Magical Roast Chicken

I believe Julia Child routinely preached that there was nothing finer than a roast chicken. She was right – there is really something quite special about a roast chicken. For me, a roast chicken is my comfort food, it would be my last supper and it's Proustian effects - the dozens of memories that are only ever resurrected by the smells and sounds of a roast chicken cooking in the oven - are just some of the finer things about a roast chicken.

The house I grew up in was architecturally ideal for roasting a chicken. If I stood in the upstairs hallway on any given Fall Sunday evening, I could smell the tarragon, the herbed butter and that delicate roast chicken fat cooking in the oven. If I listened very closely, I could hear over the Broncos football game the crackling of fat drippings on the bottom of the roasting pan.

A roast chicken, accompanied by mashed, or smashed, potatoes and a Fall vegetable is immeasurably magical to me. The meal becomes so much more than the taste of the chicken. A roast chicken means that it is a new season, the evenings are crisp and the days are shorter. But, perhaps more importantly, a roast chicken means a family dinner.

On Saturday, George's brother, who is a chef in New York City, made a delicious roast chicken (a picture is included). He stuffed the skin of the chicken with a truffle-herb butter spread that added a golden crispness to the skin that when bitten was immediately humbling. At first bite, I was transported back to when I was 13, quietly sitting in the upstairs hallway of my parents house on an October Sunday, enjoying the smell of a chicken roasting in the oven, listening to the slight crackle of the drippings in the roasting pan, and hearing the sounds of an instant replay detailing a Hail Mary thrown by John Elway. There really is nothing finer and magical than a roast chicken.

Until next time…