Sunday, January 30, 2011

Roasted winter vegetables

Tonight I made some butternut squash and sweet potatoes for lunch and dinner this week. The roasted butternut squash has become a favorite this winter. It's super easy, healthy and delicious.

I split the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, rub a little olive oil on each and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Bake cut side down at 425 for about 45 minutes then turn off the oven and leave inside for about 15 additional minutes. Scrumptious! Tonight I also cooked up a few small sweet potatoes. I washed the potatoes, pierced with a fork a few times on the side facing up and sprinkled with a little sea salt.

I'm not sure if it was leaving the sweet potatoes in the oven after turning it off or I just happened to get some extra special potatoes, but they came out so incredibly smooth, silky, flavorful and delicious. They look sort of shriveled up and deflated but they tasted fantastic!

cooked butternut squash (flipped over after cooling)


delicious sweet potatoes

Bye for now...

My brother's birthday dinner

My sister-in-law, who is originally from Japan, actually made all of this food for a family birthday dinner for my brother (except the pecan tart, which I made). However, everything is so gorgeous - and tasted wonderful as well - that I had to post some pictures.

curried chicken

fried noodles with egg on top (l), breaded and sauteed zucchini, asparagus and beef (r)

vegetable and shrimp sushi with egg on top

gyoza - hers are the BEST

strawberry and cream birthday cake

my small contribution, a pecan tart

Bye for now...

In the classroom: classic doughs and fillings, Jan. 2011

This is sort of a part 2 of the previous post and my adventures in keeping busy during this snowy January.

In first week of the classic doughs and fillings class with Chef Delphin, we focused on the doughs. We learned to make pâte foncer and pâte sucre. Pâte foncer is a great all-around dough which gives you a gorgeous flaky crust and would work for both sweet and savory fillings. Pâte sucre is a sweeter dough, with an almost shortbread-like finish. If made with powdered sugar, it produces a super smooth and very easy to manage dough (it was beautiful), if made with granulated sugar, the dough finishes with more of a sandy texture.

To fill our beautiful doughs, we made a pear and almond creme tart, a brown butter and apricot tart and pecan tartlets. Everything was delicious. I love almonds, but I normally don't like things with almond extract flavoring or almond-flavored food (marzipan - yuck!)...however, Chef Delphin's almond creme filling has turned out to be one of my favorites. It's made with almond flour so the almond flavor is not too sharp and overpowering. In class we used canned pears - they were too soft and flavorless - if I make this one again, I would use fresh pears and poach them myself.

pear and almond creme tart in a pate sucre crust

pecan tartlet

brown butter and apricot tart in a pate foncer

my three tarts

In week two, we made more of the above doughs and made lots of little tartlets. We made an Italian meringue (to use as a stabilizer in the mousses and on top of the lemon and orange tartlets), chocolate mousse and caramel mousse, lemon cream tartlets and orange cream tartlets, a chocolate tart with fruit and nuts and mixed fruit tartlets topped with a sabayon.

We made so many different items - I felt like we were in a bakery when everything was done and all laid beautiful!

caramel and chocolate mousses, sabayon topped fruit tartlets

sabayon topped fruit tartlets and chocolate tarts with fruit and nuts


orange tartlets and a few lemon tartlets on the right

Bye for now...

In the classroom: techniques of baking, Jan. 2011

We've had so much snow this month - more than is normal for the entire season in most years! And, sadly another foot is predicted for this week. I'm definitely on the big countdown to spring. Here springy spring...

this was after the first nor'easter... in one month we've had FOUR more storms

So, to keep me busy on these cold winter days, I signed up for some more classes at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, a 4-part class on the techniques of baking and a 2-part class on classic doughs and fillings (with Master Pastry Chef Delphin Gomes - he rocks!). See here for the entry on the classic doughs and fillings class.

In techniques of baking we spent a class on each of the following: pâte à choux, pies/tarts, breads and cakes (although, sadly I was really sick and had to miss the cake class). The pâte à choux was much easier than I had anticipated from having read the directions in a Julia Child cookbook. We made creme puffs with a light pastry creme filling and gougères, a savory puff with gruyère cheese and chives. The gougères were so delicious and easy enough to make as appetizers for a dinner party.

creme puffs with a small hole on the bottom to cool them thoroughly and then to pipe in the filling

pastry creme

whipped cream to add to pastry creme

finished pastry creme, ready to pipe into the puffs

finished puffs, all in a row

boxed up to take home

I made the gougères again at home but they were not quite as delicious as in class. I think the teacher used a different second cheese and I also overcooked them and they collapsed a bit. I'll keep trying though, because they tasted great.

ingredients ready

my mise en place (translates to everything - measured ingredients - in place)

piped onto sheet pan

topped with more cheese and ready to bake

slightly deflated, but still delicious

I forgot to bring my camera to the second class, but I made a fantastic lemon curd tart. The lemon curd was so delicious that I've made it again in the two week since class. Instead of using the lemon curd for a tart, I'll stir a couple of tablespoons into plain, Greek-style yogurt. It's incredibly good.

The third class was breads. I've made regular loaf bread at home, mixed in a breadmaker and then formed and baked in a loaf pan, but I hadn't experimented much so I was really looking forward to this class. I made a whole wheat rosemary garlic bread and some goat cheese scallion biscuits. The whole wheat loaves were a little heavy - I would use less whole wheat and more white flour next time - but the flavor and texture were really nice. The biscuits were fabulous. They were easy to make and baked up light and flaky, but moist (from the goat cheese).

mise en place for whole wheat rosemary garlic bread

my dough, after the first rise

shaped and midway through the second rise

heart-shaped goat cheese scallion biscuits

round biscuits

A few pictures from my classmates' creations.

pizzettas - these crisp mini-pizzas were fantastic and I definitely plan to make them myself

focaccia topped with fresh herbs, garlic and cheese

jalapeno cheddar corn bread - yum

Bye for now...

Christmas eve & Christmas 2010

A few pictures from Christmastime, 2010. We had the family over for dinner on Christmas eve and then went to my brother and sister-in-law's for Christmas morning. My 4 year-old niece was so good and waited for all of us to get there at 10:00 before tearing into any presents. We were impressed!

My mom wanted an apple pie for Christmas, I was happy to oblige!

dotted with butter and ready for the top crust

before it goes into the oven, it's brushed with heavy cream (for browning) and sprinkled with
sanding sugar (to make it shimmer)

fresh out of the oven...yum!

also made twin apple tarts for dessert

Yippee, Christmas morning! Can't wait to dig into this amazing spread made by my sister-in-law!


Merry Christmas

Bye for now...

Gingerbread house making party, Dec. 2010

My sister-in-law (who also loves to cook) and I hosted a gingerbread house making party for adults and kids. We had nine adults and three it was mostly for adults ;)

Two days before the party I made the gingerbread dough and baked the house pieces (scroll down for links to recipes). I wanted there to be a variety of house sizes and shapes so I used about 7-8 different patterns. I think I made 10 or 11 houses total. The hardest part was keeping all the pattern pieces together as you're baking.

baked house pieces, cooling

after they were baked and cooled, I put each house in a bag until we assembled them the next day

more houses, waiting to be built

The next day, sis-in-law and I assembled all of the houses.

assembled houses just crying out for some decoration

another view of the houses

cute little mini house

Luckily my cats weren't interested in gingerbread so they left the assembled houses alone overnight. The next day was the decorating party! It takes a loooong time for the icing to dry so that's why we did all of the assembly before the party and then just had everyone decorate their own house to take home. I used a piece of cardboard, covered in tinfoil, as the base and "glued" the house to the base.

The houses could have been eaten, however I used a "structural" dough recipe so they would be stronger, so they were hard as rocks and probably would have broken a tooth! To this end, on the day of the party, I also made some gingerbread people and sugar cookies that could be decorated and eaten (and wouldn't break a tooth).

gingerbread and sugar cookies, ready for decorating (and yummy sushi, made by sis-in-law)

the decorations - so much candy!

The final products. Everyone's houses lined up and looking delicious!


more houses

Here are a couple of houses I made for Christmas 2009. I was doing dinner at our house, for the family, and made and iced a small house for each place setting. I did it all in one night so it was kind of a nutso (i.e. exhausting) project, especially since I was cooking a full English dinner in honor of my British hubby - for 7 people - the next day!

two of the houses from xmas 2009

gingerbread house dough - this recipe is great. The only thing I changed is to use molasses instead of corn syrup (because all of the pictures on this site were too light-colored and I wanted a nice dark brown house). I also added traditional gingerbready spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves) so they'd smell as good as they looked.
icing - I used the wrong amount of powered sugar - and didn't realize what I had done wrong until the next day - so my icing, when building the houses, was too runny and took a really long time to set up.
google "free gingerbread house patterns" for loads of free patterns to download

Bye for now...