Sunday, June 1, 2014

Return to Blogging with Homemade Ricotta

I didn't realize how long it had been since I last posted here. Spoiler alert: it's been a long time. I recently left my pastry chef job, recently as in last week, and I'm already missing cooking/baking on a daily basis. In the first three days of not working there, just at my other job, I made homemade ice cream, homemade ricotta, and a lovely fresh berry ricotta tart. The ice cream was nothing special, and weirdly textured because I'd forgotten that my strainer at home is coarser than the chinois I'm used to using, so the smooth creamy mocha ice cream I envisioned was rather unpleasantly sprinkled with coffee grounds. The ricotta, however, was gorgeously textured, and as a bonus, used up a half gallon of milk and half and half that was dangerously close to going bad. The recipe is from Alana Chernila's wonderful book, The Homemade Pantry (Clarkson Potter 2012.) The last time I attempted ricotta resulted in a pitiful amount of rubbery curds that were completely inedible. This time, I followed her directions for a long, slow heating of the milk - resulting in creamy, small curds. (Check out her blog for another ricotta recipe and an explanation of the curd formation! http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2009/12/ricotta-again/) I'm not a huge fan of the dry, grainy ricotta often found in tubs at the grocery store, but I could eat this homemade version all day. A half gallon of dairy yielded about 2 cups of ricotta, and close to 5 cups of whey, which I am desperately trying to find a use for. Supposedly you can use it in place of water in bread, or in smoothies, but it's quite tart and I'm a little afraid of it, to be honest. At any rate, here's the recipe!


Ricotta
(adapted from The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila, Clarkson Potter 2012)

8 cups whole milk (I used a combination of 1% milk, half and half, and cream)
1/2 c heavy cream
1/3 c lemon juice (from actual lemons, please!)
salt to taste

Ice a large, heavy bottomed pot. (Slowly melt an ice cube in the pan, making sure every surface gets touched by the cube as it melts - will prevent the milk from forming a scorched, unappetizing skin on the bottom of the pot.) Pour in the dairy and lemon juice and set over low heat, stirring constantly for a few seconds, making sure to not scrape the bottom of the pot. Clip on a candy thermometer, and let come to 175° very slowly - seriously, it took me over an hour. Worth it, I promise. Stir a few times while it's heating, but you can pretty much leave it alone. Once it reaches 175°, turn the heat up to medium-high, and watch carefully while it comes to 205° - do NOT stir during these couple minutes! Remove from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes - now is a good time to get your draining set up ready. Line a sieve with dampened paper towels (cheesecloth if you have it - it takes forever to drain if you use the paper towels) and set over a deep bowl. Once the 10 minutes are up, you can either pour it all into the sieve if you have patience, or you can scoop off the curds and place those in the strainer. I decided it would be faster to just pour it all through, and had to put my setup in the refrigerator to drain overnight. Either way, you should have a pint of delicious, creamy ricotta cheese! You can salt it if you'd like, but I didn't. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.
 



Friday, November 4, 2011

Best Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Ever.

So this past week I made about 6 dozen cookies (and froze another 6 dz unbaked dough blobs) to mail to some friends. My favorite recipe from the 6 that I made were these oatmeal raisin cookies. I'd made them before, and the note on my scrawled out recipe from last time says "very good." I'd actually forgotten how good they were, and I'm glad I only baked exactly what I was mailing (plus a tester... can't send out cookies unless you make sure they're not terrible, right???) They're chewy and soft and delicious, and I'm really running out of things to say about them because I'm thinking about the dozen that I have in the freezer...

So here's the recipe!

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
makes approx. 3 dz

2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/3 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
3 T pure maple syrup (I like grade B - it's darker and more flavorful)
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3 c rolled oats
1 c raisins (I used 1 1/2 c and they were a little too raisin-y)

Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the salt, vanilla, and maple syrup. Once combined, add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl down as needed. Add in the flour and baking soda, mixing until just combined. Then add the oats and raisins, and barely mix so you dont squish the raisins or beat up the oats too much.

I always chill my cookie dough for about an hour before I bake it. It portions out better, and I find that they spread less. I was using a #50 disher, but then the stupid scraper part broke, so I went to a good old fashioned spoon. Drop the cookies a couple inches apart on a parchment lined sheet tray. Bake at 350 for 8 min, rotate the sheet pan, and bake for another 2-3 minutes until they're evenly browned and still soft looking in the center. Let cool on the pans for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool. (Or just eat them... you don't mind a burned tongue, do you?)


NOTE: I used both a thin nonstick pan and a restaurant-grade half sheet pan. The thin nonstick pan worked better for this, I thought. The ones I made on the thick half-sheet spread too much.

Also, you could divide the dough in half before adding the raisins. Add raisins to one half, and peanut butter chips to the other half, for those silly people who don't like raisins. (You know who you are.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hot Cocoa Mix

I am a Starbucks junkie. I'll admit it. I will also admit that Starbucks is expensive. So when I'm craving something other than just black coffee, I make mochas! I have several flavored syrups (I like Torani, or Caribou Coffee) that I use, and I always have a container of my homemade hot cocoa mix around. It's super easy to make, fairly inexpensive, and also makes a great gift!

If I'm giving it as a gift, I like to package up individual servings in little cellophane bags that I got at the craft store. Either tie with ribbon or fold the top over twice (to prevent the mix from falling out) and seal with a pretty sticker. (Great gift basket idea - a mug or two, packets of hot cocoa, and homemade marshmallows!)

If you want to skip making a pot of coffee, add about 5-6 T instant coffee powder to the batch of dry mix, creating an instant mocha mix. (This may vary depending on your brand of instant coffee - this is based on using 1 tsp per cup, 16 servings in the mix, so 16 tsp = approx 5 1/3 T.)


Hot Cocoa Mix
yields approx 16 servings

3 1/2 c nonfat dry milk powder
1 c powdered nondairy coffee creamer
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c cocoa powder (I like to use an extra tablespoon or two)
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk everything together and store in an airtight container. When ready to use, put 1/3 c mix in a mug and add 3/4 c boiling water (or hot coffee) and stir briskly to combine.

Note: I like to sift all my ingredients in a fine mesh strainer. Cocoa powder and dry milk powder tend to be a little clumpy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cinnamon Roll Cake - Completely Acceptable For Breakfast

Birthdays = cake. It was my best friend's birthday yesterday, and I made him a cinnamon roll cake. Pretty delicious, plus you can totally eat it for breakfast and just say you had a cinnamon roll if anyone asks. Or give them a piece of cake and then they won't judge you.

I made mine 3 layers, which is a lot of cake. If you only have 2 pans, or you don't feel like making that much cake, make your favorite 2 layer yellow cake. You'll just have a little extra swirl mixture and a little extra icing, which I don't think is an issue. Use the extra swirl in oatmeal, and eat the extra icing with a spoon. I'm such a problem solver!

I recommend making the swirl first, and setting it aside to firm up a bit while you make the batter. When the cake is cool, make the icing and put it in another container, then you don't have to wash the bowl before you make the filling. Here we go!

Cinnamon Roll Cake
adapted from these
makes one very tall 9" cake

Cake
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs, room temperature
3 1/3 c all-purpose flour
3 1/3 tsp baking powder
2/3 tsp salt
2 1/3 c sugar
2 t vanilla extract
1 2/3 c milk, room temperature

- Beat butter and sugar with salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
- Add approximately one third of the flour, plus the baking powder, and mix on low speed until combined. With the mixer still on low, add half the milk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour, then the rest of the milk, and the last of the flour.
- Divide batter evenly between 3 9" cake pans, greased. I recommend using parchment circles on the bottom of the pans too, it really helps get them out - the sugar from the swirl makes the cake pretty sticky.
- Pipe on the swirl mixture in a continuous spiral, going out to almost the edge of the pan. Save any remaining mixture for the filling.
- Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until cake springs back when touched and center tests clean with a toothpick. The swirl makes it a little hard to tell if it's done - if you're not sure, leave it in the oven for another couple minutes with the oven turned OFF. The leftover heat in the oven will finish it.
- Cool completely!! Spread half the filling on one layer, top with the second layer, spread on the rest of the filling, and the remaining layer. Give the cake a very very thin coat of icing - don't worry about making it look nice, this is called the "crumb coat." It prevents all the cake crumbs from sticking to your spatula and getting dragged through the final icing. Chill for 30 minutes, then go ahead and frost it again, nice and smooth and thick this time! Chill until about half an hour before you're ready to serve it. Cold cake (of any kind!) doesn't have a very nice texture!

Swirl
1 stick butter, very soft
1 c brown sugar
1-2 T cinnamon, i used about 1 1/2
1 T flour
pinch of salt

- Put everything in a freezer safe plastic baggie, seal it, and mash it all together. If you have trouble getting it smooth, place the baggie in a bowl of very hot water for 30 seconds, then try again. Snip the corner, and you're ready to go! Note - A regular baggie will burst when you squeeze it. The freezer bags are stronger.

Filling

The leftover swirl mixture
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 oz butter, softened
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

- Beat everything together until smooth.

Icing
10 oz cream cheese, softened
6 oz butter, softened
roughly 20 oz powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a few drops of orange extract (optional)

- Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add salt and extracts, beat again. Add the powdered sugar gradually, with the mixer on low. Once combined, beat on medium-high for a minute or so, until the texture is nice and spreadable. Can be made ahead of time, store tightly covered in refrigerator. Bring back to close to room temperature before using.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Homemade Pizza and Freezing Vegetables

I am the worst blogger ever!! Almost two weeks since my last post. Time has been flying by lately! So what brought me back today? Well, I fell asleep on my futon last night. My old, metal frame, squished mattress, taken-to-four-different-apartments futon. It is not very comfortable, and my back is killing me. It's the perfect excuse to not clean my house, so here I am!

Last night I made homemade pizza. I almost ordered in, but I spent my "fun money" budget from my last paycheck already, and I'm desperately trying to stick to that plan. So I threw together the dough, and watched an episode of Mad Men while it rose.

I highly recommend investing in a pizza stone. It's really difficult to get a crispy bottom crust without it. You could preheat the sheet pan you're going to bake it on, that should help. But really, I got my pizza stone at a kitchen outlet store for 12 bucks. You can't even get a large pizza for $12 at most places. Do yourself a favor and get one.

Let's talk dough. It's not as scary as some people think. If you have a stand mixer, it basically makes itself. My latest favorite dough recipe is from somewhere on the internet. It's nice and bread-y, with a little bit of chew, and bakes up with a nice crispy outside on the edges.

Homemade Pizza
makes 1 large pizza, or 2 thin crusted pizzas

2 c bread flour
1 1/3 c all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 c very warm water

- Gently stir together the yeast, water, and sugar in a small bowl. Let stand until foamy - usually I mix this first then let it hang out while I get everything else in the bowl of the mixer. If it does not get foamy after 5 min or so, either your water was too hot and you killed the yeast, or it has been in your pantry/fridge for a long time and it's dead. Start over. If it's bubbly, proceed.

- Pour the yeast mixture into everything else. Fit your mixer with the dough hook. Start on low speed, until a mostly cohesive dough forms. Then you can turn it up to medium, then medium high. Knead for about 5 min.

- Remove the dough hook, and pick up your dough. Form it into a smooth ball, and drizzle a little olive oil into the mixing bowl. Roll the dough around in it so it's covered. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or plastic wrap, and go do something else for an hour. Don't mess with the dough, just let it rise.

- Now would be a good time to get your toppings ready. If you're using frozen veggies, pull them out of the freezer and spread them out onto a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels to drain as they thaw. I also took this time to caramelize some onions, because they're way better than raw onions. I also thawed some crushed tomatoes. (I buy a can and portion it into small plastic containers, like the kind you use for jello shots... not that I know anything about those...)

- About 30 min into the rising, put your pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven, and preheat to 425.

- Once your dough is ready, carefully remove the hot stone from the oven (or baking sheet.) Stretch the dough out (I stretched out in the air most of the way, then put it onto the stone and finished pressing it into shape. You could roll it out on a floured surface if you prefer.) The dough will immediately start to cook on the hot stone.

- Spread your sauce on, sprinkle with cheese, then your toppings. (Or toppings then cheese if you like to do things that way.) Pop back in the oven (do NOT forget that your pizza stone is still hot - use an oven mitt or you will be sorry!) and bake until the crust is evenly browned and the cheese is bubbly. I'm not exactly sure how long this takes, but I think it was half an episode of Mad Men - 20 min or so.

- Let cool for 10 min so you can cut it without the cheese going everywhere!

- Leftovers can be reheated in a 350 oven for 5-10 min.


As far as toppings go, obviously pizza is great because you can put whatever the heck you want on it, and it's a great way to use up stuff in the fridge and/or freezer. I love lots of veggies on my pizza, but I rarely have fresh ones since I don't eat as many vegetables as I should. When I do buy fresh, I eat what I can then freeze the rest. Some instructions for my most common frozen vegetables:

Peppers - I usually buy bell peppers in all colors and poblanos (they're spicy but not as hot as jalapenos.) Slice off the tops and bottoms (those can be diced and frozen as well) then cut a slit down the side of the pepper so you have one big strip. Trim off the ribs and remove any seeds that don't want to let go. Slice into strips. Lay out on a sheet pan lined with plastic wrap. Make sure no pieces are touching. Freeze until firm, then pop into a plastic freezer bag. Label with the date and the type of pepper.

Onions - For some reason, I always decide that I need two onions when they're on my grocery list. I don't know why I do this. I never use them all. So I peel them, and slice into rings (usually about 1/4 of an inch for me, but whatever you like.) Freeze in the same manner as the bell peppers. I like rings because I can trim them into strips if I want (just cut the rings in half!) or dice or mince or whatever. You can't un-dice or un-mince an onion, so this gives you more options.

Broccoli and Carrots - A little more labor intensive, but it's really about as difficult as boiling water. Seriously. Just boil a pot of water, trim the broccoli into florets. I usually cut my carrots into rounds but it's up to you. (Peel first please!!) Pop them in the boiling water with a pinch of salt for a minute or two, shock them in ice water to stop the cooking and keep the color, then drain well and freeze as described above.

Zucchini - Shred and pack into plastic freezer bags. Squeeze the air out and press the zucchini flat. When ready to use, drain in a paper towel lined colander - use for potato and zucchini pancakes, or zucchini bread, etc. (And no, I don't put carrots or zucchini on my pizza!)


I just had some reheated pizza for lunch - just as good as it was last night!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Freezer Scones

My mom recently had a birthday. In place of a cake, I made her a big batch of scones and froze them individually, so that she can pop one in the toaster oven whenever she wants one. What you need to know is that a) you will make a floury buttery mess making these, b) they are pretty much all fat and flour, but c) they're delicious.

The recipe below makes 5 dozen scones. If you want to make a smaller batch, it's easiest to divide it by 6, with one single batch making 10 scones. For my mom, I divided everything up and added different flavorings to each one so she had a lot of different kinds. To freeze, just lay them out on parchment paper or freezer paper, in a single layer. Once they're frozen solid, transfer to labeled bags or containers.

Pictured: Chocolate Chip and Rosemary Parmesan. (Pic courtesy of Mom.)



Cream Scones
adapted from the America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

12  c all-purpose flour
1 1/4  c sugar
6  T baking powder
1 1/2  t salt
15  oz butter, cold
5-6  c heavy cream
Flavorings/add-ins see note

Whisk dry ingredients together. Cut butter into cubes, work into the flour mixture with your hands until the pieces are barely visible. It should have a texture similar to coarse cornmeal, with any large pieces of butter pea-sized at most.

Slowly pour in cream, a little at a time. You may not need it all. The dough should barely clump together, with some dry patches of flour. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead 5-6 times until a very stiff cohesive blob of dough forms. Divide this into 6 pieces.

Shape each piece into a flat rectangle. I usually aim for about 10 inches long by 2 inches wide, so that my scones will be approximately 2 inches. Divide this rectangle into 5 squares, then cut the squares on the diagonal to make a total of 10 triangles. Repeat with the other 5 pieces of dough.

If you're going to bake them immediately, chill for at least 30 min before baking at 450. Frozen scones are best baked at 425, especially if you have dried fruit in them. 400 is usually a good temperature for the toaster oven because they brown faster.

Note: I typically only use dried fruits and/or nuts for flavoring, as fresh fruits will make the dough too wet. I usually soak the dried fruit in the cream that I'm going to use in the scones for a few hours or overnight (in the refrigerator.)Favorite flavors of mine follow.
  • Vanilla Bean - Infuse the cream with the scrapings and pods of 2 vanilla beans. When ready to make, add 1 T vanilla extract to cream. Remove pods, squeezing out liquid.
  • Cinnamon Raisin - Soak 1 1/2 c raisins (or more if desired) in the cream. Add 1 T cinnamon to the dry ingredients.
  • Cranberry Orange - Soak 1 1/2 c dried cranberries (or more if desired) in the cream. Add the zest of 4 oranges to the dry ingredients. (I usually juice 2 of the oranges and use that as some of the liquid.)
  • Lemon Poppyseed - Add 1-2 T poppyseeds to dry ingredients, along with the zest of 6 lemons. (I usually juice 4 of the lemons and use that as some of the liquid.)
  • Toasted Almond - Add 1 c toasted slivered almonds to the dry ingredients. Add 1 T almond extract to the cream.
  • Chocolate Chip - Add 1 1/2 c mini chocolate chips to the dry ingredients. Add 1 T vanilla extract to the cream.
  • Rosemary Parmesan - Add 2 T finely chopped rosemary and 1 c grated Parmesan cheese to the dry ingredients.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Expired Yogurt = Dessert? Trust Me.

I have good intentions about eating healthy. I swear. I just have this terrible compulsion to buy 8,000 containers of yogurt at a time. (I'm exaggerating. It's more like 8-12.) Anyway, when I buy it, I'm in a "yogurt mood" and convince myself I will surely eat them all before the expiration date. Yeah. Not so much.

Feeling guilty after spending $100 at the grocery store, I decided to clean out the fridge and came across four containers of expired yogurt. I opened one - it smelled like yogurt. Tasted it - definitely tasted like yogurt, so I figured I'd use it up. I also had some milk expiring today. Since I am also afflicted with a compulsion to eat ice cream every day if I have it around, I figured I could make almost-fat-free frozen yogurt. (Let's just ignore the fact that I bought a container of vanilla ice cream and a package of Drumstick cones on said grocery trip...)

Quantities given are rough estimates, given my aversion to washing dishes - one large measuring cup, a spatula, and the ice cream maker are more than enough dishes for me!


Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

- 4 6-oz containers fat-free or low fat yogurt
(I used one each of Dannon Light&Fit in Strawberry, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Pineapple Coconut, and one plain Greek yogurt.)
- 1/4 c strawberry preserves
- 1/4 c simple syrup or corn syrup
- skim milk

Whisk the preserves and syrup together in a 4 cup glass measuring cup, and add yogurt, whisking after each container to help break up the preserves. Whisk in enough skim milk to make one quart. Pour into your ice cream maker, and freeze according to the directions. (I used my Cuisinart - I swear it was 15 minutes and it was done.) Pack into a container and freeze.

It's soooo yummy - sweet enough to feel like dessert, but tangy enough to eat as a snack and justify that it still counts as yogurt. Plus the only fat was from the 6 oz of Greek yogurt - you could definitely substitute fat-free yogurt!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

First Post - Covering the Basics

So, to start, I suppose I should give you some background. I am currently working in the pastry kitchen of a fine dining restaurant. We make and plate the desserts, as well as produce almost all of the bread served in the restaurant. I also worked in a bakery for about 3 years. There was a time when I was actually working full-time at both places. Such long hours and little time at home meant that I ate a lot of fast food, single-handedly kept Starbucks in business, and ate a LOT of sweets.

Now that I am only working one job, my income has substantially decreased and I have come to the realization that there is NO reason for me to waste money and calories on fast food. I know how to cook, I don't want to waste my limited extra cash on food that isn't filling or nutritious, and most importantly, I really enjoy cooking and baking. So, with the exception of a monthly pizza or trip to Panera, I have made it my goal to cook most of my meals at home.

I live by myself, which means that my freezer is my best friend, and not just because every girl's two favorite people live in it - Ben and Jerry. When I check my mail, the first thing I read is the grocery store ad. When things are on sale, I buy them, and I freeze them. When I can't bring myself to eat another helping of leftovers, into the freezer they go for a day when I do want them. Extra baguette/ciabatta/rolls that have gone stale? Freezer, destined for bread crumbs or bread pudding.

I have also been known to be a bit of a hoarder when it comes to plastic containers. They're great for portioning things before they go in the freezer, excellent for keeping the cookies I mail in good fresh condition, and it keeps them out of the landfills. I also keep a package of blank address labels and a permanent marker in my kitchen drawer to label and date the containers.

Now, as mentioned, I do love to bake. Which can get expensive. It has become a tradition that in place of gifts, my friends and family know that they will be greeted with a cake on their birthdays. And I generally start pestering them about flavors, fillings, and frostings a good month or two before the actual day. And, as my sister will tell you, I will NOT make you a cake from a box. If you demand Funfetti, I will put sprinkles in it. And I will let you complain that "real" Funfetti does not have brown sprinkles mixed in with the bright ones, because it is your birthday. But I will not bake you a cake that isn't made from scratch. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it's pricier than a box of mix, a few eggs, and some oil. If you're going to take the time to make and ice a cake, you might as well take the extra time to make it a really really good cake that's worth every cent and calorie.

I also ship a lot of cookies overseas. My boyfriend is currently in the middle of a deployment to Afghanistan, and on more than one occasion, he has been ordered by a superior to ask me when the next box of cookies is arriving. Flat rate boxes from the post office are another item I would include in my container hoarding. Thirteen bucks will allow you to mail a large box weighing up to 20 pounds to an APO/FPO address. So I try to account for that in my monthly budget.

And finally, I should mention that I do not have a fancy camera, and I frequently take pictures with my cell phone. So if you are going to be disappointed by a lack of pretty, artistic photos, well, you should probably just stop reading now. If you're looking for exact recipes, you also should probably look elsewhere. I'm not much of a measuring kind of girl when I create or modify a recipe. But if you want good guidelines for cooking for one, or two, or occasionally a small group, without cleaning out your wallet, then I hope you will come back.