Here goes nothin’

I haven’t posted in a long while, and I’ve struggled with how to explain why. I feel like too much detail is, well, too much, and not enough is a cop out. I know there are people who would tell me to keep the personal out of the professional, and that I shouldn’t explain myself at all, but that’s not how I roll. What I do and why I do it are incredibly personal, whether I’m doing it for a living or for fun or some combination of the two. So, I’ll just stick with the facts and write from my heart and hopefully that’s enough.

I’ve been broke. Not just Can’t Afford to Go Out With Friends broke, or Had to Cancel My Hair Appointment broke, but… Haven’t Been Able to Go Grocery Shopping and I’m Struggling to Scrape Together Rent and Bus Fare broke. This following your dream thing… it’s fulfilling, and inspiring, and satisfying; but it’s also challenging, terrifying, frustrating, and occasionally, soul-wrenchingly difficult. This blog, and my followers, feel like friends, and every single time I’ve looked at my “Blog Stuff” bookmarks folder on my laptop, I’ve been struck with a sense of guilt and shame and embarrassment that I was basically avoiding a friendship I’ve worked so hard to cultivate, and quite frankly, that’s not the healthiest place to write from even if I did have the money to cook, which I haven’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that are going well. I got A’s in both my classes for this quarter, and I’m just a little over three months from graduation. I am working again, finally, and getting enough hours to make a difference (slowly but surely) for my situation. Things with the boyfriend are going really well. He’s amazing and supportive and so incredibly patient and going through all of this would be so much harder without him. So, I don’t want anyone to get the impression that my life is horrible. It’s not. I’m blessed in a hundred different ways. But, when you’re struggling financially to cover even the most basic of needs, sometimes it just feels like your entire life is on hold, even if that’s not the reality.

Things are getting stabilized again, though, and getting things back on track here is a major priority for me. I’m learning so much in school and at work and in life, and I’ve had some wonderful opportunities over the past few months that I can’t wait to tell you about. I also have a ton of new recipe ideas to try out, and a whole buttload of experiments I want to attempt. So, I’m definitely not “broke” in the content idea department. As soon as I’m situated, it’s SO on.

I just wanted to poke my head in and say hi. I’ll be back soon. Thanks so much for sticking around.

 

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I am not a morning person.

So, I’m taking Intro to Baking & Pastry this quarter. It is on Monday and Tuesday mornings from 7am to Noon. Yeah. 7 MOTHER EFFING AY-EM. It’s kind of sucked some of the fun out of Sunday afternoons with the boyfriend, because there’s this huge “You have to go home and finish the ridiculous amount of handwritten homework for Baking and Pastry tonight” cloud looming over the whole thing. It stinks. And also, the waking up early on Monday morning so I can catch the bus to school. That isn’t fun.

Fortunately, there’s only three weeks left in the class. Also fortunately, I have managed to function well enough to learn something. Mostly, that if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to make them a pretty, edible dessert or face my immediate demise, I could now do it and save myself from death by massive head wound. So, yeah, I’ve got that going for me.

There will be a recipe coming later this week, I hope, but just to prove to you that things have been learned, I thought I’d share some photos of the work I’ve been doing this quarter.

We spent most of the first four weeks working on breads… including one of my favorites– Challah. That braid is a lot tougher to learn than you might think, but once you figure it out, it sure is pretty, yeah? I had tried Challah once before on my own and it was ok, but this time I was really pleased with the results. I love using Challah for French toast and bread pudding, so I’m glad to have finally learned how to make it properly.

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After week four, we moved on to slightly more advanced stuff. This was about when I started to figure out that I like plating desserts a lot more than I like baking them.

We made pate a choux dough… which I’ve made before here on the blog so I felt a little more comfortable with this one. We’ve made it three or four times this quarter, and I feel a lot more confident. I’m not really sure when I’ll use it again, but it’s good to have in my repertoire.

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File this one under, “I can’t imagine why anyone would do this to themselves on a regular basis.” It’s puff pastry from scratch. Granted, once it’s made you can turn it into so many things, from cookies to tarts to napoleons, like this one. But getting there… hoo boy. It felt like the never ending recipe. Make the dough. Roll out the dough. Beat the butter into submission. Roll out the butter. Cover the butter with the dough. Roll it out, fold it, freeze it. Wait. Repeat at least five times. Someday, when I have an entire day to do nothing but make puff pastry, I’ll show you how. (Don’t hold your breath.)

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Cake week was the first time I’ve ever tried to actually frost a cake with any sort of intent. My fallback for cakes has usually been to just frost the whole thing with white icing and then stick candy or cereal or something all over it. That, or sheet cakes, which require very little skill at all in terms of decoration.

I don’t think any professional cake decorators anywhere should be quaking in their boots that I’m about to steal their livelihoods. But, it was sorta fun and turned out pretty ok for a first try, I think.

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And that brings us to last week, which was Plated Dessert Week. It’s the week we spend a full class period prepping elements we’ve learned how to make all quarter, so that on the second day of class we can plate them all up in interesting ways and invite in all the other classes to try out the goods.

One of mine was this chocolate torte, which I garnished with chocolate sauce, salted caramel sauce, and some pepita brittle I whipped up in a hurry because it needed some crunch. Flavor-wise, I think this one was the biggest hit. I think my plating got a little sloppy, though.

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We also made a batch of crème brûlée. The dessert itself is already in a pretty ramekin, and I can’t imagine jacking up that lovely crispy sugar topping by putting anything else on there, but we added some interesting touches to the base plate to up the glamour factor.

HINT: If you’re ever making crème brûlée at home, do your sugar topping in three layers to get a restaurant quality crust. Lay down your first layer of sugar, brûlée it, then let it harden. Repeat that two more times, and you’ll have that lovely caramelized, crunch sugar we all love about crème brûlée.

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Until next time… Bon Appétit!

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Wuv… twue Wuv

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. We all know this. When I was single, I was always very determined to ignore it completely. Now that I’m not, well, I’m not ignoring it completely because while I’m not a total mush monster, I do appreciate a well thought out romantic gesture, just not exclusively because Hallmark says so. What was my point? Oh yeah! I think this cake could definitely fall under the category of a not over-the-top but will definitely be appreciated Romantic Gesture. It’s a serious cake for people who really like it rich, but pretty easy to make, and combines three of my favorite things: beer, coffee, and chocolate.

I actually made it at work, for a party, so most of the pictures you’re about to see are what it looks like to make this recipe multiplied by… well, a lot. We needed to make 750 little cakes. The original recipe also includes a chocolate ganache topping, but you can pretty much decorate this cake however you like, and bake it in whatever shape and size you like. I’ll give you the directions as they’re written, because I’d like to imagine one of you making a three layered beauty dripping with chocolate. If you do, send me a picture, yeah?

Equipment:

hand mixer or stand mixer
whisk
large pot or saucepan
medium pot
two large mixing bowls
spatula or mixing spoon
knife and cutting board (if you’re chopping up the chocolate for the ganache)

Ingredients:

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups stout (chocolate stout, milk stout, regular stout– whatever kind you like)
1/2 cup strong black coffee
2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup sour cream

For the ganache:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or just use semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Preheat your oven to 350º. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper, then butter the paper, too.

In the large pot, bring the stout, coffee, and butter to a simmer over medium heat.

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Add the cocoa powder and whisk, whisk, whisk until everything smooths out. Allow the mixture to cool while you work on the rest of the recipe.

Whisk all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt) together in a large bowl. Set aside.

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In your stand mixer or with your hand mixer, beat the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla together until well combined.  With the mixer running, slowly add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture until it’s all incorporated.

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NOTE: Make sure the chocolate is cooled off… it doesn’t have to be cold, by any means, but if it’s too hot, it’ll cook the eggs.

Add the dry ingredients and blend until just combined.

Divide the batter equally between the three baking pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow the cakes to cool for at least 10 minutes in their pans, then turn them out onto a rack if you have one and let them finish cooling.

While the cakes are cooling, bring the heavy cream to a simmer in the 2nd pot. Take the pot off the heat, and add the chocolate. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Refrigerate it for awhile until the ganache is spreadable.

You can layer these with however much icing between the layers as you want. If it was me, I’d do a thin layer of icing on each of the first two layers, and then really slather it all over the top layer and around the sides. But, I’m one of those people who can’t resist sticking her finger in the icing on the outside of the cake, so I like to make sure there’s enough for the finger sticking/licking bit without damaging the cake to icing ratio too much.

I found some pink chocolate in our walk-in so I just used that to cover the whole cake and then did a little thing with some sprinkles and icing sugar and melted chocolate. Go crazy, though. This is a very rich, deep chocolate cake so it would pair well with just about anything, from fruit to something creamy like ice cream to, well, more chocolate.

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Happy Baking!

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Oh, Stuff It!

I’ve been doing a lot more cooking at home, lately, and planning ahead on my shopping trips to take advantage of specials at the grocery store. I used to be really good at that, and then started spoiling myself with all kinds of fancy food and just shopping all willy nilly without a list because apparently I thought there was a money tree out back.

NOTE: There’s not. I looked.

So, now, I plan a little. I think about when I’ll be home for dinner during the week, and how much effort I want to put into cooking for myself. Whether you’re a semi-professional like me, or not, it seems to be so difficult to get motivated to cook for one, right? Or maybe you are always cooking for an army and you want to smack me upside the head right now for complaining about this. That’s ok, too. For me, it’s just way more fun on the weekends when I get to cook for the boyfriend or make food to bring to someone else.

This recipe for Pork Chops Stuffed with Kale and Red Bell Peppers made use of a sale on boneless pork chops, some kale I already had on hand, and half a red bell pepper that wasn’t going to make it to the end of the week.  It was super easy to pull together in the absolutely laziest way I possibly could, and bonus! I had a leftover chop for lunch the next day.

Equipment:
oven safe skillet
baking sheet or pan (if you don’t have an oven safe skillet)
knife and cutting board
spoon or spatula
small spoon to use when stuffing the pork chops
toothpicks (optional)
aluminum foil
platter or plate

Ingredients:

salt and pepper
2 boneless pork chops
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 of a red bell pepper, julienned
2 cups baby kale, or regular kale, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 375º.

Cut a pocket into one side of each pork chop. Be careful not to cut all the way through.

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Season both sides as well as inside the little pocket with salt and pepper (or use whatever spice blend you like).

Heat your skillet to what I can best describe as “screaming hot.” If you can’t hold your hand one inch above the surface for longer than 5 or 6 seconds, it’s hot enough. This is so you can get a good, quick sear on the outside of your chops. Do not put any oil in the pan.

Lay each chop into the pan, and just leave it alone for a couple of minutes. Don’t smoosh it or move it around or anything. Let that hot pan do its job. Flip the chops over and do the same thing on the other side. You want to see some good color, but you’re not trying to cook the chops through right now.

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When both sides have been seared, remove the chops from the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Give the pan a few minutes to come down in temperature, then add the oil to the pan. Toss in the garlic and let it cook until it just starts to get some color… it should take less than a minute. Then add your bell peppers and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until they start to soften.

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Add the kale and give it a stir to get the wilting started, then season the veggies with a pinch of salt and pepper. The kale will reduce down quite a bit.

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Take the pan off the heat. Spoon the kale/red pepper mixture into the pocket of each pork chop. I kind of over-stuffed mine, and I didn’t use a toothpick to hold it shut. I probably should have, but I am sometimes a lazy mofo. If you want your chops to look a little prettier than mine, go ahead and grab a couple toothpicks to hold them closed.

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If you have an oven safe skillet, you can just cover it with foil and put it directly into the oven. If you don’t, just transfer the stuffed chops to your baking sheet or pan and cover that with foil. Pop them into the oven for 15-18 minutes, or the internal temperature of the thickest part of each chop reaches 155º. Once they’re out of the oven, let the chops rest, covered, on a plate or platter for about 10 minutes to let the juices redistribute and so the carry-over cooking can bring the meat fully up to temp.

I ate my pork chop with some pan roasted Brussels sprouts because I am currently very obsessed with them. You can eat yours with whatever tickles your fancy, since these already have some veggies inside of them.

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Happy cooking!

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The Apple of My Eye

Him: “So… what do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?”

Me: “Umm… I dunno. What do you want to do?”

Him: “We’re nice to each other all the time. Do we have to make a thing of it?”

Me: “Well, I definitely don’t want to go out to dinner with all those other couples being gross and weird.”

Him: “Agreed.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of the boyfriend and I’s conversation about Valentine’s Day. I suspect there will be dinner at home and some binge watching of something on Netflix and if I’m very lucky and ask nice, he’ll make me popcorn. He makes the best popcorn. So, yeah, pretty much what it’s like almost every weekend.

I’ve been trying to come up with some options for a dinner/dessert combo that says, “This day is maybe a little special but not like… a big deal in the grand scheme of things.” Dinner is still a little bit of a mystery, but dessert might be sorted.

It might be this Mini Apple Brulée Tart. I am a broke culinary student without a lot of funds for just playing around, so my experiments typically have to be limited to what I already have on hand. The ingredients in this tart can all be purchased for less than $10 total, assuming you have a few staples like cinnamon, honey (or agave) and sugar on hand.

I have apples. I have one sheet of puff pastry. I have cinnamon and a tiny sample sized jar of jam. I can work with that! I have just enough of everything to make two of these fun little tarts, and BONUS! I get to use the brulee torch I bought myself for Christmas.

Equipment:
baking sheet
fork
parchment paper
knife and cutting board
small bowl
small pot
spoon for stirring
measuring spoons
vegetable peeler
apple corer (if you’ve got it. if not, just cut the cores)
box grater or hand held zester/grater thing
1 sheet of paper towel
Brulée torch

Ingredients:
1 sheet of puff pastry
2 apples (The bag literally just said “Pommes/Apples” on the side, so I’m not sure what kind I used. McIntosh, Braeburns, or Fujis would work.)
2 tablespoons of any sort of jam that you think would taste good with apples
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (maybe)
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 425º.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut two 4 in. x 4 in. squares from your sheet of puff pastry, then cut eight 1/2 in. x 4 in. strips. Use the strips to create a border around the edge of each square. Poke holes with the fork in the center, not on the border, to keep them from puffing up too much.

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Bake them in the preheated oven for 12 minutes. If the centers still look a little too puffed, you can push them down a bit.

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Peel and core both apples.

Grate one apple against the small side of your grater. Basically, this is going to puree the apple. Yes, you could use your food processor or blender for this, but do you really want to pull that whole thing out and have to wash it later for 1/2 a cup of apple puree? I didn’t think so. So, grate the apple until you end up with that 1/2 cup of puree.

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Cut the other half into thin slices. You only need about 8 slices, 4 slices per tart, but I recommend just eating the rest because apples are delicious and good for you. Gently dry the surface of each slice with a paper towel and set aside for a minute.

NOTE: This recipe comes together pretty fast, so your apples probably won’t have time to go all brown on you. If you get interrupted, you will need to sprinkle a little lemon juice over them to keep them from oxidizing while you do whatever it is that you need to do. Just remember to dry them before you put them on the tart.

If you don’t have a Brulée torch, go ahead and set your oven to broil.

Put the puree and the 2 tablespoons of jam into the pot over medium low heat. I used this little jar of Pear and Spice jam from Jam Lab that I got in the mail.

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Once that mixture has started to bubble, add the cinnamon, honey, and vanilla and stir to combine. Simmer the mixture until it’s lost about 1/2 its liquid.

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Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the apple mixture into the center of each tart.

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Shingle four apple slices over the top of each tart.

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Sprinkle the apple slices generously with the granulated sugar. If you have a Brulée torch, this is where you’d turn that puppy on and use it to caramelize the sugar on top. If you don’t, just a minute or so under the broiler should do the job. It’ll happen fast, so keep a close eye on it. (FYI, I’ve also used one of those extended camping lighters to burn sugar. That’s probably some sort of no-no, so I’m not advising you to do it. I’m just saying that if I was worried about the pastry burning under the broiler and I wanted a better way to direct the heat right to the sugar on the apples and I didn’t have a Brulée torch, I might do that.)

And just like that, your tarts are ready. You can keep it simple and just dust them with a little powdered sugar like I did, or you can put a little scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream on the plate with them with a final sprinkle of cinnamon and that’d be really yummy, too.

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Enjoy!