Wednesday, July 28, 2010

WOOHOO!! New Textbooks!

I am such a nerd!!! I recently found two culinary related textbooks at used bookstores around here and I couldn't be more excited. One involves more of the business side of restaurant managing and the other is the culinary arts cookbook from the Cordon Bleu. Both were super cheap and in great condition. I even found a book about running an inn, which is a very cool idea. Who knows what the future will hold and it will be interesting to learn lots from all three books.

Now I just need a baking and pastry textbook and I will be all set for a long time!


There are many restaurants in the Atlanta area that are spoken of often. There are so many different types of places I would like to try, and only so much time. My husband and I try to limit dinners out to one night a week, both for caloric and budgetary reasons. He is the type of person that once he likes something, he isn't interested in trying new versions. So when he gets the larger vote of where we eat, he will choose from the same 4-5 places every time. I, on the other hand, love trying something new and different. So when its my turn for a larger vote, I try to find somewhere we haven't been before. The downside of this is that there are so many places I want to try that it will take forever to get to them all.

So I decided to treat myself to lunch last week at Watershed in Decatur ( It isn't far from my work and it is a restaurant that I have heard of many times. I heard that their vegetable plate is wonderful. The veggies on the day I visited were green beans, creamed corn, fried okra, peas and sliced tomatoes. Those are all veggies I love and if this was somewhere I would come back to often, I would have tried that.

But since I do not eat out all that often, I chose the garlic thyme roasted pork sandwich with fig conserve, fresh cheese and dijon mustard. I wasn't sure if I would like the figs or not, but I was determined to try something I wouldn't make for myself at home. I added a side of fried okra (and somewhere, my mom is having a heart attack. She tried many times to get us to eat okra as children, even fried okra, but to no avail, and now I not only ordered them for myself, I enjoyed it, too!!!).

The pork sandwich was really wonderful and I found out I like the flavor of figs. I will need to make something with figs here soon to further test my theory. I found a fig and goat cheese filled muffin recipe that looks scrumptious; but I digress... The pork was so very tender, it almost fell apart. I wanted to eat the whole thing, but knew my stomach wasn't quite big enough for that. I ended up warming the sandwich on my mini Foreman grill and it was just as good the second time around!

As I said earlier, I enjoyed the fried okra. I haven't bought okra at the store before, but that will happen eventually, I am sure.

I usually eat a very small lunch, but as I said earlier, I wanted the whole experience since I am not sure when I will make it back here. There were two desserts that stuck out to me..a chocolate cake and a caramel apple cake. I was torn between the two, but they were in the process of making more apple cake so I went with the chocolate. The cake wasn't as cloyingly sweet as I expected it to be, it was fairly tame. Not death by chocolate, but still had a very good flavor. It all depends on what you like. I am a die-hard super sweet fan, so I could have handled a stronger flavor, but for most people, the balance would have been perfect. It was served with some lightly sweetened whipped cream.

All in all, it was a great experience and I am glad that I went. The staff was very nice and professional and the food was great. I sat in the back room closer to the bar, but there is a room with a large window facing the street. Hopefully I can convince myself to eat out for lunch more often and make a return trip here. Though it may be after I try out Farm Burger, which is in the same building.

Chocolate Almond Cookies

I grew up outside of Baltimore and there is a company that sells this delicious cookie called 'Berger Cookies.' They are soft cookies with a huge amount of chocolate frosting globbed on top. Very yummy and are a frequent request any time my parents come to visit. I have found that they freeze well enough, though they aren't quite as good as fresh.

Since I can rarely feed my Berger cookie craving, I decided to make a version of my own. I tried a few recipes in the past and never quite got the right consistency for either the cookie or the frosting. I haven't gotten anywhere near close...until now.

This time around, I found a recipe for black and white cookies. I used that as a base, though I changed the lemon extract to almond extract. I made the cookies much smaller than that recipe called for, which doesn't make a difference, I just had to figure out just how long to bake the cookies. The batter is actually much more cake-like than cookie-like. I used a cookie scoop to portion out the dough and then a small offset spatula to spread the cookies into a larger circle. They were done when the edges just barely started to turn brown and a cake tester came out clean.

As for the topping, I used a fudge recipe since the cookies have a fudge-like frosting. I made a simple fudge using semisweet chocolate and let it set just a bit. I spread the fudge onto the cookies. Next time, I will need to make a double batch of fudge, since some of the cookies didn't get any frosting and the ones that did did not have nearly enough.

The final result is the closest that I have come so far. I added just a little too much almond extract to the batter. I was happy with the taste, but I can see how it would be too strong for most people. But other than that the cookies turned out great! The consistency was soft and smooth, just like I had hoped for. I am also tempted to try a different topping next time. Maybe a chocolate buttercream? I am not sure if it will harden enough for this cookie, so I will have to think about it further.

Until then, my Berger cookie craving has been temporarily slaked.

What's so hard about making cheese?

I made it my mission this past weekend to make mozzarella. I looked up some information online and decided it was well within my abilities. Well...I found a few ways NOT to make cheese! Since this blog covers my journey, I guess I have to fess up to my failures and write about them, as well. After all, you can learn just as much from your disasters as you can from successes; sometimes more so.

I found some Junket rennet tablets at Kroger and I was excited, I was afraid I would need to order this ingredient off the internet. After a few tries, I found a source for the citric acid (a local natural foods market). Those were the ingredients I needed to track down before I could get started.

My husband picked up a gallon of whole milk from the store. Surprisingly, the store brand did not mention if it was pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized. The first is alright, the second will not work for cheese making. I decided to forge ahead anyway.

I poured my milk, added the 1 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid dissolved in tap water and started to heat the mixture to the recommended 90F. Then I removed the pot from the heat and slowly added the 1/4 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 cup water while stirring. I anxiously awaited the formations of curds. And I waited, and I waited. Nothing ever happened.

So I changes this up a bit. I bought some distilled water (in case there was chlorine in my tap water that was interfering with the process) and a new gallon of milk, this time it was labeled as pasteurized and homogenized, which should work. I started again, and I even increased the amount of rennet to 1/2 tablet. I also heated the milk to a slightly higher temperature, which is recommended if there is difficulty in creating a good curd. And again I waited. There were some chunks that came to the top, but even after a few hours there wasn't much to write home about. Especially since the process should take 5-20 minutes.

In looking online, I have formulated my next attempt. First of all, there are evidentally different forms of rennet and the Junket brand does not seem to work well for cheese making (though it is supposedly very good for custard making, which I may do so that I don't waste the rest of the tablets from the box). I found a wine store in north Atlanta that has rennet in stock for cheese making, I plan on making a stop by there this weekend.

Also, no one ever seems to mention stirring the milk while it warms to 90F. Out of habit, I stirred the pot to make sure the heat was evenly distributed. Maybe that is a no-no. I want to look for a cheese making book at the wine store this weekend in hopes that it gives more information than I am finding online. It would be nice to have lots of different types of cheese recipes all in one spot.

So there is no cheese yet, but I am far from giving up. I have a few more things I want to try to make sure it goes smoothly. I guess that is the scientist in me coming out, I want to experiment until I get it just right. Hopefully you will be hearing about my wonderful cheese and the great things I make from it next week.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Veggie Pasta

So to solve many of the food related restrictions, I came across a spinach fettuccine recipe on ( I started out attempting to follow the recipe, but found myself making many substitutions and changes.

I was looking forward to spinach fettuccine, which I have seen in the store in the past. I know it is something that my husband would not like, so I was glad for the opportunity to use it in cooking and not have to worry about making a separate dish for him. But of course, there was none to be found on the day I was gathering for dinner. I opted for garlic parmesan fettuccine instead, since it would go well with the other flavors of the dish.

I had a monster zucchini in my garden that I wanted to use, so I just used lots of that rather than a mixture of zucchini and yellow squash.

I was not about to buy a whole carton of cream just for this recipe (though I am sure I could have found uses for the rest of the carton, I didn't want to put pressure on myself to make sure I used it all when I wasn't sure how much time I would really have later in the weekend), so I just went with the 1% milk I had on hand. I ended up adding a bunch more greek yogurt and milk than the recipe called for, since I wasn't happy with the consistency and sauciness. I also added in lots of extra grated parmesan, as well as some dried basil, oregano and parsley flakes because the final flavor was not very strong. All the extra additions made the dish that much better.

The fact that I was able to taste the dish and not only realize that there was something missing, but figure out how to make it better is exciting for me. There have been lots of times in the past where I could tell something wasn't quite perfect and couldn't figure out just what to do to fix that. I feel energized that I am making progress in understanding flavors and how they interact. There is a long way to go yet, but every step in the right direction helps.

Oh My, A Cherry Pie

For some reason, I have been craving a cherry pie, especially since I have made some apple pies and some pecan pies recently. I have been feeling a lot more comfortable with making and handling pie crusts so I naturally thought of a pie for my girl's dinner. A month or so ago, I made several pie crusts in an attempt to get over my fear of mixing pie dough. I put six disks in the freezer for use later.

This time, all I had to do was take out two from the freezer and let them thaw overnight in the fridge. I couldn't find tart cherries in the freezer section and I wasn't ambitious enough to pit fresh cherries, so I went with the sweet frozen cherries I could find. I just reduced the amount of sugar from 1 cup to about 1/2 cup. The thickener was a mixture of cornstarch and tapioca. Before I knew it, the filling was finished on the stove and into the fridge it went to cool before baking.

I went to the cake shop with the intention of buying a pastry wheel to make a lattice top crust for the pie. The cutter was around $10. In walking through the store, I found a stencil for a lattice crust for $3.50. I am usually one to go the traditional route, but this time I opted for convenience since I knew I would be making the pie on a weeknight after a very long week. The cutout worked alright, but I didn't press down quite hard enough, so I needed to use a paring knife to cut out the small sections before baking. A quick swipe with an egg wash and into the oven it went.

I stored the pie in a container overnight in the fridge and placed it in a 250F oven during dinner to take the chill off. I usually like my pies warm and this worked out well without having to microwave each slice.

The final pie looked great and I was extremely proud of it. I kept the cherries whole, which I liked, but I think in the future I will at least chop them in half so that they are a little bit smaller in case other people want smaller pieces.

I did determine what will be the next kitchen related item I will buy will be: a pie shield. Putting those stupid pieces of foil on a hot pie and keeping them in place is just annoying!!

Almond Sponge Cake with Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream

So this is the last entry regarding my girl's dinner last weekend. I came across this recipe in a Culinary Institute of America Cake Books and it completely appealed to me. I thought this would be a great cake to try and I was going to make it at some point during the weekend anyway, so why not make it for the dinner.

I ran into several problems with this cake, but in the end it still tasted good. The presentation was definitely not what I wanted it to be. I feel like I should be able to make things that look better than that. I need to figure out where I went wrong on the buttercream, since it was just way too soft and that will help me out significantly in the future.

I baked the cake in a quarter sheet pan for the suggested amount of time. After cooling on a rack, I realized that it was far from being cooked through. So I returned the cake to the pan and the pan to the oven. I ended up rebaking the cake for even longer than the original time suggested. The recipe called for 15 minutes, but I think I baked it for a total of 35 between the two tries. I thought the cake would be a lost cause by this point, but I figured I may as well keep going.

Then on to the buttercream frosting. I beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and made the soft-ball stage sugar syrup and everything looked like I expected it to. When I added the syrup, I could not get the frosting to reach stiff peaks again, it was very shiny, but much more runny than I had expected. I let the mixture whip a while longer in am attempt to bring back the peaks, but when I realized that it wasn't going to happen, I moved on to adding the room temperature butter and the Nutella. I think this is where the next problem occurred... I think my house is warmer than the suggested room temperature because my butter was like mush. It was probably supposed to be soft, but not gooey. The final frosting tasted really good (of course it did, it was full of butter and sugar and Nutella!!!), but was much runnier than I had hoped. I put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes, but couldn't wait any longer because people were going to start showing up before long.

I cut the cake in half and put one piece on the platter, covering it with the buttercream. I add the second piece and frosted the entire cake. The buttercream was still softer than I would have liked, but it was starting to firm up a little bit. The entire thing went to the fridge in hopes it would set up further by the time dessert rolled around.

When I took it from the fridge, the buttercream looked a lot more like it should, though I had to fix the sides since it had slid down a little bit. After dusting with cocoa powder and confectioners' sugar, I took a picture and took it to the table. I was a little annoyed that it didn't look as pretty as I thought it should. I want my cakes to look closer to professional than something someone just threw together without caring what it looked like. Hopefully if I refrigerate the buttercream longer it will spread better and not just fall right off the sides of the cake.

Even though the cake didn't look the greatest, it did taste good. So I guess all the troubles I ran into during the day were appropriately resolved. I will just need to retry making buttercream in hopes of getting a better consistency in the future.

Garlic Cheese Foccacia and White Whole Wheat Pitas

This is the second time I have made pitas using my King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. This time they could not have turned out better. My mom gave me a pizza stone that had been sitting unopened in the box in her basement for years. That really did make a great difference versus baking the pitas on a baking sheet. They ballooned like they should and the consistency was just like anything you would buy in the store.

I cut some of the pitas into wedges and served them with store bought hummus and cucumber from my garden. I wanted to make the hummus from scratch as well, but that usually involves olive oil, which I don't have. I know olive oil is used often in the chicken, but olives are the one thing that really bothers my tastebuds, so I have a tendency to use canola oil any time olive oil is called for in a recipe. I didn't want to mess up a hummus recipe or spend the money on a bottle of olive oil that would not get used, so I just went with store bought.

One of my friends asked right away if I had made the hummus, when I responded that I didn't make that, but I did make the pitas, her eyes bugged out. She had no idea people could make their own pitas at home. She was happy it was made with whole wheat, as well. I have a few whole pitas left over, which I will either use for my lunch this week or freeze for later.

The pitas were not the only yeast bread that I made this weekend. I found a no knead recipe through King Arthur Flour ( The recipe was simple to follow and I didn't even miss the pizza dough flavor that was optional. Of course, I skipped drizzling olive oil in the bottom of the baking pan, opting for using cooking spray to keep the bread from sticking. And I used canola oil in the recipe. The other change that I made was I sprinkled basil, oregano, parsley flakes and onion powder on the top.

The resulting bread was soft and fluffy, which is perfect for my husband who hates crunchy bread. The fact that there are chunks of cheddar throughout were a major draw, as well. All the girls also enjoyed the bread, which could not have turned out more perfect. For the minimal work, this is a great option for in the future, especially since it has great presentation.

Chicken Corn Bleu

To supplement the pasta, I wanted to make chicken cordon bleu, which is something I haven't made before. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of the final product, but I want to write about this so I have the recipe for future reference.

I pounded out boneless skinless chicken breasts to a very thin layer. I placed some ham and mozzarella on half and folded the chicken over, securing with a toothpick. I know some people make a large roll, but I just wanted to fold the pieces in half. I put the chicken bundles in a glass baking dish and added salt and pepper. I sprinkled plain bread crumbs on top and topped with some dried oregano, basil and parsley flakes. After baking in a 350F oven for 35 minutes, I add some more slices of mozzarella to the tops and baked for 5 additional minutes. I cut each large breast in half and transferred to a serving platter with perfect timing for dinner.

The resulting chicken was juicy and well seasoned. My husband mentioned that his mother usually made a sauce using cream of chicken soup, but I didn't go that route. I did use mozzarella rather than the typical swiss per his suggestions. I am very happy with the final product and will add this to my 'tried and true' recipes so that I don't forget it in the future.

Girl's Dinner

I had a few friends over this weekend for dinner and a trip to Stone Mountain to see the laser show. I had a bunch of restrictions to keep in mind while creating the menu: one is vegetarian, the only meat another would eat is chicken, no mushrooms, not spicy. The easy way out is lasagna, but I didn't want to make that. Also, I didn't want to make something like black bean or chick pea burgers, since those are best made after everyone gets here and I didn't want to be out with the grill with everyone here.

So here is the menu I planned: whole wheat pitas and cucumber with hummus, salad, veggie pasta with a greek yogurt sauce, chicken cordon bleu, garlic and cheese foccacia. I also made a cherry pie and an almond sponge cake with a chocolate hazelnut buttercream frosting.

I spent some time on Friday night making the pitas and the cherry pie. On Saturday morning, I prepped the salad (a simple mix of romaine lettuce, spinach, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and parmesan cheese. I made the foccacia in the morning and had time to make the cake in the afternoon. I was able to make the pasta just before people got here, and had the chicken in the oven baking. So lots of time in the kitchen on Friday and Saturday, and I was very happy.

I will write more about all the parts of the process in other entries, I wanted to give an overview of it all first. But to prevent any undue suspense, I will tell you that despite some snags along the way (particularly with the sponge cake and buttercream frosting), everything turned out really well. I am very proud of all the creations and to top it off, I had fun doing it.