Tuesday Tip: Stay Cool

It has certainly been a hectic few days full of planning and travel and this blog has been sorely neglected!

But it is that time of the week again, and in light of today’s event (my first job interview in my new location!!!), today’s Tuesday Tip is simple:

“Stay Cool”

I have been telling myself this all morning in preparation for my interview, but on the way home, I couldn’t help thinking how this phrase could be applied to so many things. Yes, we had to “Stay cool” so the summer heat didn’t kill us, but now that the heat and humidity has broken, we must also stay cool so our nerves don’t get in the way of our goals.

This same them can apply in the kitchen, we can’t be afraid of trying new techniques or recipes… and more literally, how many recipes have you read that said “let cool completely” but you just couldn’t be patient enough. The moral of this little post is: stay calm, cool, collected and patient and as always, bake on!

On a more food related note, I will share briefly my home made fresh raspberry chocolate chunk sorbet I made last week. It was certainly the best way to keep cool with the tart flavor being off set by a light simple syrup and dark chocolate kick. Try making your own with this guide here!

It may not be as pretty as the guide, but I'm sure it was just as Yummy!

It may not be as pretty as the guide, but I’m sure it was just as Yummy!

Chocolate Pot de….

Creme…

I prefer to call them Chocolate Pots de YUM! (corny, I know, but I just can’t help myself when it comes to chocolate!)

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The other night I had a craving of the sweet chocolate variety, having just made chocolate chip cookies and only having chocolate chips left, I resisted the urge to consume the little morsels straight from their confining yellow package and decided instead to make a type of pudding out of them.

Topped with a fresh strawberry and fresh whipped cream, there is no better quick and easy to prepare dessert than these little beauties.

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I am sure my version could have been a bit more firm, but the taste was out of this world. I used this source as a starting point, but I didn’t use any exact measures, I only wanted to make a small quantity. I didn’t use a blender, the mixture came out perfectly smooth just combining the chocolate chips with the warmed cream. If I were to make this again, I would most certainly think about adding some complementary extract or zest to knock back the pure chocolate chip flavor. I’m thinking orange! Considering the spur of the moment that I whipped these together in, I was very impressed with how these came out!

Next time, I’m making Mousse!

Tuesday Tips: Types of Meringue

I firmly believe that the best way to make an amazing product is knowing as much about it as you can. Recently I came upon this amazing description from Domino Sugar about the fine differences in types of Meringues.

Italian and Swiss meringues are cooked. French meringue is baked.

Italian meringue is made by slowly beating hot sugar syrup into stiffly beaten egg whites and is used in frostings and atop pies and cakes.

Swiss meringue is made by dissolving sugar and egg whites together over simmering water and then beating in an electric mixer. It is often used as a base for buttercream frostings.

French meringue is made by gradually adding ultrafine sugar to whipped uncooked egg whites until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. The meringue is then piped into shapes and baked. It has a light, crisp texture and is often used as a “nest” to hold fruit or sorbets.

Sweet Fact: You need at least 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar per egg white to get a stable meringue.

Sweet Fact: French (hard) meringue = 4 tablespoons of sugar per egg white.

Sweet Fact: Italian (soft) meringue = 2 tablespoons of sugar per egg white.”

-Domino Sugar

What type of Meringue are YOU making??

Have you ever…

Have you ever heard of a fish pie? … a fish and potato pie? … Yes? No?

Click the image above for Jamie Oliver's Fish Pie Recipe

Click the image above for Jamie Oliver’s Fish Pie Recipe

I most certainly hadn’t up until the other night. But it made such an impression on me (in the very good way) that I just had to bring this to the attention of others. It is simple, easy and comforting, exactly in the way you would find a shepherd’s or cottage pie. In fact, you could even call it a variation of a Shepherd’s pie: A layer of fish, a layer of vegetables, mashed potato, YUM.

The best part is there doesn’t have to be an exact recipe. What we did the other night was place a layer of fish (you can use anything but we used cod and haddock) on the bottom of your dish… whip up some mashed potatoes (from scratch, none of that boxed stuff!). If you have any extra fish that wouldn’t fit in one layer on the bottom of your dish, mash it into the potatoes as well, spread it over the layer of fish, sprinkle a little cheese on top and bake until golden brown. Even without the veg (okay, we forgot this part, but working for the best mashed potato isn’t easy!!) it still came out fantastically.

Just culinary adventure #1, what will your adventure be today?!

Interesting treats at Olives

As I have said before, I am no culinary expert or master, but there are a few names in the culinary world that always stand out to me and I tend to take a second look. That was what first drew me to this next book by Todd English and collaborators at the Olives Restaurant.

The Olives Dessert Table: Extraordinary Restaurant Desserts You Can Make at Home

Todd English, Paige Retus, and Sally Sampson

Olives

I wanted to like this book… No. I wanted to love this  book. As an amateur baker, I know there are skills that are still just out of reach and will require far more dedication, practice and research still. Yet, I still felt as if this book would be  one more step in that progression, another source I could learn from and the closest I might ever get to learning from these professional chefs.

I was a little disappointed. Almost from the get go, the reader is made to understand that these recipes are made and executed for and by a professional kitchen and that one should not expect to achieve the same results. The components of each dessert are so intricate and intense that the average home cook may only look to achieve one component at a time.

That being said, there is a lovely little feature in this book if you can learn to love it and not be taunted by it. Next to certain recipes, you will notice a star, indicating that this recipe can be cooked and used on its own, or made in advance. I find this a very useful feature as, (just like the introduction warned), these dishes are complex and you could end up needing a whole day to figure it out. I also appreciate how this little indicator allows for individual flair and personality. It is nice to know you could take a 5 star element and use it to spruce up your favorite home recipe.

But you won’t be wasting any time flipping though  pages, that is for certain. In addition to the stars, there are also  multiple recipe repeats. Don’t you always hate it when a cook book tells  you to refer to a different page? Okay, so it isn’t that big of a deal unless you are trying to measure flour for a cake with one hand and trying to figure put the ingredients together for the frosting with the other. It certainly is handy to have it all there in front of you!

This cookbook is definitely worth a flip through, you will certainly be learning quite a few new skills by going through ANY of the recipes in this book, just don’t expect to pick it up 3 hours before your next dinner party and end up with a presentable dish!

Tuesday Tip: Humidity

Having just returned home from a road trip to the wild south west, I thought a fitting tip for today would be about humidity. Okay, so the South Western United States is not the most humid of places, but boy, mid-late August is it HOT! So here is the low down on humidity and how it will effect you meringues.

Have you ever had a meringue that was slightly chewy, or stuck to your teeth as you bit into it? If you have, you have experienced a meringue made on a humid day. Meringues should be crispy, melt in your mouth adventures, not prompt a trip to the dentist for pulling out a filling.

When the weather is too humid, meaning, there is a lot of moisture in the air, that moisture will be attracted to the sugar you have added to your egg whites. This is what causes the chewy texture. Remember when we talked about any residue or particles being in your bowl and effecting the outcome of the meringue, well, the concept is the same. Just like you need a clean bowl, you need dry air to make the perfect meringue.

If it is a humid day, there are a couple of ways to get around it and still achieve a decent meringue.

  • Do whatever you can to decrease the humidity in the vicinity of your cooking space. A dehumidifier works fantastically, but I have found from experience, turning on an air conditioner or a fan will work just fine as long as you work quickly and follow the remaining tips.
  • Work quickly to get your meringues into the oven. When you put them into the oven you are doing less cooking and more drying out. (This is why most meringue recipes call for such low temperatures for such a long time)
  • You may want to add a few minutes to cooking time, just to ensure the moisture has been completely removed from the whites.
  • Once the proscribed cooking time is over, leave your meringues in the oven to cool. Once cooled place immediately into an air-tight container.
    • Try to use Ziploc Tupperware containers. I have found these to be the best airtight option. You can find them so cheaply at any major store such as Wal-Mart and with a little ribbon and some colored paper they also make great gift containers.
  • If, after baking, you weren’t able to put them straight into an airtight container and your meringue becomes sticky: sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the bottom of a large cake pan, put a piece of parchment paper over the baking soda and then add your meringue to the pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave over night.
    • *This works best for small meringue cookies or meringue nests*

Humidity can be your worst enemy when making any meringue dessert, but by following these tips, you can certainly mitigate disaster!

Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Retro!

I wouldn’t really call myself Retro, maybe old-fashioned at times, but Retro seems to connote an idea of some coolness or fashion that has maybe gone out of style and is starting to come back in again. If that is the case, this next book couldn’t have been more properly named!

Retro Desserts: Totally hip, Updated Classic Desserts from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s

Wayne Harley Brachman

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If you have ever gone out on Halloween, or gone to a costume party, you know there is a group of people that enjoy dressing up, but tend to through everything together at the last minute. The end result is something deeply rooted in their memory, or some stereotype of a generation, profession, or lifestyle. These costumes are the ones that make us giggle and shake our heads in slight embarrassment for them, but hey! They are having fun so we have fun with them.

This is the feeling I got from reading this book! It is by no means supposed to be a historical treatise on the decades from the 40s through the 70s (although it does have some interesting little sections of how certain desserts got their cleverly confusing names and what hip movie and television stars were baking), it was certainly a fun little read. But that is about where the fun stops.

The suggestions seem improbable (No matter how good an Oreo is, I think my nephew would enjoy it more than any type of really fancy dinner party!), and the recipes seem somewhat uninspired. I don’t claim to be any type of expert, and yes, they are certainly updated classics, but they still have a feeling of being the same boring thing you had as a kid that you never really liked. Flavor combination is all about preference, and that being said, there were a few I would try, certainly the “Lemon Bars” and “Strawberry Chiffon Pie”.

In doing my research for this review however I must give a little warning. It seems there is a significant amount of people who have run into problems in the recipes. Having not had the opportunity to try anything out, I can’t say for certain, but hopefully I will be able to get my hands on a copy soon, and fully evaluate this disappointing statement.

It was an interesting read, I will say that much… but I also said as much for my Nancy Drew books in the 5th grade: Fun but predictable.