Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why I Love...Cereal (or "Ode to my O's")

My goal with this blog is to post 4 or 5 times a week. I've decided not to leave a recipe every day, because I want to make sure the ones I post are really special. I have been thinking of other things I can write about like restaurant reviews, culinary school, baking experiences, etc.... I've decided to include a continuing post called "Why I Love...." where I will simply blog about food that I love to eat.

So without further ado... Why I Love Cereal

I really think I may eat cereal more often than anything else. I can eat it any time of day, and it's perfect as a snack or meal. Here are some reasons why:

1. Cheap and easy: I'm definitely not always all about cheap and easy when it comes to food, but, hey, when it's also good and often healthy, I'm not going to turn my nose at it. Even if a box of cereal costs $5 (and it's usually less), there's at least 5 or 6 bowls to be had in that box. That's quite a deal!

2. Healthy: Or at least sometimes. I am not a big breakfast eater. Well honestly, while I'd love to eat oatmeal and eggs, I usually just never get up on time to make myself a good breakfast. BUT every morning I try to have a bowl of Trader Joe's High Fiber O's, or maybe some Shredded Wheat, with fruit on top (berries or a banana). I think that's a pretty fibrous way to start my day, and it keeps me full. Lastly, cereals are usually fortified with lots of vitamins and minerals. This is pretty much the crappiest way to get your vitamins and minerals, but still it's better than not getting them.

3. Satisfying: It's not all fibers and grains with me. I love a good sugar cereal. As a matter of fact, it's my guilty pleasure. My favorites are Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Golden Grahams, and Cocoa Puffs. (sometimes I buy organic versions of these and tell myself that they're healthy...) These I don't eat for breakfast. They are crunchy and sweet and so good with 2% milk, that I usually have them for dessert. Sure there's calories and sugar, but a lot less than a piece of cake or a bowl of ice cream.

4. Comforting: I have childhood memories of my mom giving me cereal before bed, and once I saw my cousin giving her kids cereal before bed also. I don't know if it's a family thing or just practical, but when I want to wind down at night I reach for the box. It's perfect to eat while I watch stupid sit com reruns or check my email before bed. It's like my story and milk.

So there you have it. Why I love cereal. I know you will be looking forward to further editions of this blog. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Baby Girl Cake

For me, the most stressful thing about being a pastry chef isn't actually my job. It's doing cakes for friends. You'd think that I'd me more freaked out about making things perfect for paying customers, but you'd be wrong.

Of course I love it, because I love my friends and I am so happy to have a way to show that love. But I think sometimes I subconsciously feel like my friends will rate how much they think I love them by how nice my cakes are. Or perhaps it's just my ego wanting to show off. Hmmm....

In the course of one month, I have had two baby shower cakes and a wedding cake to do for friends. I have finished one and have two to go.

The first one was for a friend who is having a baby girl. I have noticed that most women don't eat much cake (what's up with that, ladies?), so I opted for baby cupcakes and one small 6 inch cake for a centerpiece. Normally speaking, my talent lies in making delicious cakes rather than extravagantly beautiful ones, so I was a little hesitant to go at it with fondant. I am very glad I did. It turned out oh so cute, and also was commented on by someone who's often hard to please as being, "The best cake I ever tasted." That made me feel good!

I actually even surprised myself at how good the cake tasted, even with the fondant. Being that the shower was for a baby girl, I opted for a strawberry cake in order to stick with a pink theme. Moms take note- this caked used for a birthday could seriously make a little girl flip her lid. The recipe didn't have a recommended icing, so I used a basic cream cheese icing, and all I have to say is mmmmm.

I can't believe I didn't take any photos of the finished cake table. I forgot about it all when the shower started, and if I keep doing that I'm never going to build up a decent portfolio. What I do have for you today is the recipe for that surprisingly delicious strawberry cake.

Normally I am a purist, and would not support putting something as unnatural as Jell-O brand gelatin in anything that I am making. However, a good strawberry cake is hard to find, and the Jell-O adds a lot in color and strawberry flavor- especially during the times of year when vibrant, sweet fresh strawberries might be lacking. It's fairly simple to make a 1/2 cup of strawberry puree. Just trim roughly 8 ounces of strawberry and stick them in a blender til there's no chunks left.

Strawberry Cake

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 (3 ounce) package strawberry flavored gelatin
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 4 eggs (room temperature)
  • 2 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup strawberry puree made from fresh strawberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and dry strawberry gelatin until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Combine the flour and baking powder; stir into the batter alternately with the milk. Blend in vanilla and strawberry puree. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
  3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a small knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in their pans over a wire rack for at least 10 minutes, before tapping out to cool completely.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Since My Mum Asked....

Sooo the Atkins diet is pretty out of style now. It was never really something I adhered to, being that I can barely even go an hour without eating something made of wheat (plus when it was all the rage I was in jr high, 5'7" and 105 pounds). And anyway, as far as I know all those avid Atkins dieters have had quadruple bypasses at this point.

However, there is something to be said about taking some carbs out of your meal here and there, especially when it doesn't seem like anything is missing:

1. As long as I don't follow the example of Kip and Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite and eat only steak, I usually end up eating a few more veggies than I would have.
2. I can have bread or dessert later.

I found this recipe a few weeks ago while I was looking for "summer lasagna" online. What I had in mind was maybe something with no meat, but what I found was lasagna with no noodles! Zucchini takes the place. I thought it would be a nice contrast to the all pasta dish I last shared, and today my mom asked me for the recipe, so here it is for you!

This is a great meal for my dad, who is diabetic and can't really have white pasta (also it's good for people with gluten intolerances). The best part, though, is that you don't eat it thinking, "Something is missing here..." It's just really darned good. It has ground beef in it, which can actually be really good for you, so long as you are eating organic, %100 grass fed beef (I will preach on this often).

I should warn you- something about this recipe that I am working on is that it is really watery because of the zucchini and there are no noodles to soak the water. I haven't figured out a way to fix this yet. It doesn't change how good this dish is in the slightest- the liquid just kinda pools in the empty spaces in the pan after you've dished up your lasagna. Any comments or ideas would be nice. So far, I have used dry mozzarella instead of fresh, and skim ricotta to lessen the moisture. I also tried to "sweat" the zucchini with salt a little bit before layering them. Oh, and make sure you drain the beef well.

Mr. Atkins, you would be proud of me!

Summer (or what I like to call "noodleless") Lasagna
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick strips.
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup shredded, part skim, low moisture mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a medium baking dish.
  1. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the ground beef until evenly brown. Drain juices. Mix the onion, green bell pepper, carrots, garlic, and tomato sauce into the skillet. Season with oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
  2. In the bottom of the prepared baking dish, layer 1/2 the zucchini strips. In a bowl, beat together the cottage cheese and egg, and spread over the zucchini. Scoop 1/2 the beef mixture over the cottage cheese and egg mixture, and sprinkle with 1/2 the mozzarella cheese. Layer with remaining zucchini, beef mixture, and mozzarella. Top with Parmesan cheese.
  3. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow to sit 10 minutes before slicing to serve.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Night Shift

There are two kinds of people in this world- those who wake in the morning with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts ready to face the day, and those who hate the world for the first two to three hours after waking up. I am the latter. My first job ever as a baker required me to be at work at the ungodly hours of the morning that mentioned in my previous post. I had to be at work at 5 am, which I know is nothing to some, but for me it was a living nightmare. For those who do like to rise early, I highly recommend this shift. I must admit it’s very nice getting off work at 2 in the afternoon. But for me, I was tired all the time and was pretty much a robot zombie at work until about 9 every day.
Fortunately there is hope for people like me- it's called the overnight. As I was weighing my options in my career as a pastry chef I decided that my talents were not being fully developed in those early morning hours, and that I could utilize the time of night (usually around ten) when I come alive and become very productive. For me, it was a LOT easier to stay up until four than to get up at four.
I baked overnight for a while, and then quit to start baking on my own. As glad as I am to be in my own bed at night, I still value my nighttime experience, because I learned a lot about myself during that period (for example, just how many inhibitions leave you at 3:30 am).

My husband, who is not a chef, baker, pastry chef, or anything related to culinary careers, is now working a night shift at his job. He leaves for work at about 4 in the afternoon, which means that most days of the week we do not have the luxury of sitting down to dinner together. He eats a LOT, and I need to figure out what to send with him to work every night. Each meal needs to be portable, easy to reheat, and complete with in itself (seared scallops and risotto need not apply). Most importantly, it needs to fill him up without putting him to sleep. For some reason, when I worked the night shift my favorite midnight meal was chili, but right now it’s summer and I want to send him with something lighter.
A few evenings ago, I stumbled on the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network making this little dish of pasta and vegetables with a creamy lemon sauce. It fits all my criteria, and is also quite tasty and (at least sort of) healthy. It’s also quite lovely, which is a plus in the doldrums of the middle of the night. When I made it, it turned out especially great because I lucked out with an insanely sweet batch of cherry tomatoes. I used penne instead of fusilli, simply because it’s what I had around.

Lemon Pasta with Arugula
(Courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa)

1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 cloves)
2 cups heavy cream
3 lemons
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch broccoli
1 pound dried fusilli pasta
1/2 pound baby arugula (or 2 bunches of common arugula, leaves cut in thirds)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the garlic, and cook for 60 seconds. Add the cream, the zest from 2 lemons, the juice of 2 lemons, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until it starts to thicken.

Meanwhile, cut the broccoli in florets and discard the stem. Cook the florets in a pot of boiling salted water for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain the broccoli and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the package, about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta in a colander and place it back into the pot. Immediately add the cream mixture and cook it over medium-low heat for 3 minutes, until most of the sauce has been absorbed in the pasta. Pour the hot pasta into a large bowl, add the arugula, Parmesan, tomatoes, and cooked broccoli. Cut the last lemon in half lengthwise, slice it 1/4-inch thick crosswise, and add it to the pasta. Toss well, season to taste, and serve hot.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Prepare to Meet Your Baker

People expect fresh pastries in the morning. Scratch that- people demand fresh pastries in the morning- and while you stumble into a bakery at 7:00 am, feeling like no one should have to get up as early as you did, guess who's already been up for five plus hours? That's right, I have! I have already snoozed five times, gotten mad at the world for making me get out of bed, gotten ready, driven to work, and been through nearly an entire work day long before you walk through the door in search of your morning coffee and carby breakfast.
I'm not bitter. On the contrary- I love it! Well, honestly the getting up early part bites (haha, bites), and I don't exactly get up that early anymore (more on that later). But no matter what the time of day, for me, and many other baker folk like me, there is nothing more satisfying than the joy on your face when you bite into the pastry that you have been craving all morning. It sounds cheesy, but goodness knows I'm not getting paid by the millions, so that is the real reward for the work (that and the leftovers I get to take home).
It has only been about two years since culinary school for me, but this baker, who has been in the industry for two decades, gives another, more "seasoned" opinion. Don't let us fool you though. The job is full of smiles and sprinkles, but being a culinary trained baker has its downfalls. The worst part is that I now know what high-quality baked goods are supposed to taste like, and this severely limits my options of recipes to use and places to buy pastries. In short, I am a food snob.
I do solemnly swear that I will continue to keep you (my fellow food snobs) updated on all the good food places and recipes that I find. Unlike morning pastries, however, I can't promise that they'll always be waiting for you when you wake up…
For those of you who have already subscribed to, and enjoyed this blog, fear not! As much as I wish we could live on sweets and bread, I know that dream will never become reality. In the future will have many other savory bits of food goodness to share with you as well.
It was nice meeting you!