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Why hello, old friends! Happy 11-11-11! It’s been almost 2 years, but I’m making my way back to this portal of my life. The last time I posted here, I was just beginning my adventure at the bakery. And now that I have decided to leave that job behind, I am pretty much picking up where I left off.

Working at the bakery gave me the experience I wanted so desperately at the time. I was producing baked goods in a commercial kitchen and developing new skills, all while learning about an industry that has always intrigued me. Amongst all the fun I was having at the bakery, I continued to incorporate other personal and professional commitments into my life. I like staying busy but then, all of a sudden, I became a robot– routinely forcing myself place to place without the capacity to ever slow down.

Almost 2 years ago, I was searching for something– a sign, a spark of inspiration, a defined awakening that could point me directly toward where I am supposed to be, or rather who I am supposed to be, in this world. At the peak of my foodie frenzy, I allowed myself to accept an opportunity where I could explore whatever doubt I was maybe feeling. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. Never before had I committed to something on a whim, changing the course of my life plan.

Once my life started getting extremely hectic from bouncing back-and-forth between two jobs and classes, I began to waver between staying and leaving– staying because I truly love it or leaving because I wanted something more. In order to really focus on my long-term career goals, leaving was necessary so I could move forward. Ultimately, I did not choose to pursue culinary school and I am no longer continuing to work at the bakery, but I would still mark the past 2 years as a success. The experience taught me that baking is this big, and so sacred, part of me.

I may have left the bakery, but I don’t think I could ever completely walk away from baking. I am always thinking about what to make next– a recipe I’ve been aching to attempt or a creation idea I want to make real. I just can’t seem to ever turn those thoughts off. And I am sure my friends and loyal taste testers are thankful for that.

So this is where I’m at now… The holiday season is creeping up on me and I’m once again consumed by my kitchen and the persistent desire to create some delicious treats. I have been doing a lot of test baking lately to figure out which creations will make an appearance at Thanksgiving and Christmas. These are some sweets I’ve been experimenting with so far..

Apple Cinnamon Pop Tarts: Pate brisee with an apple cinnamon filling

Recipe for Apple Cinnamon Filling**
2 medium to large apples, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 Tbsp flour

**These are estimated measurements. I will probably follow up with better defined measurements and full recipe instructions in a later post.

Pear-Apple Rustic Pie: sliced apple and pear filling with cranberries and sliced almonds wrapped in a pate brisse

Cinnamon Crunch Pear Muffins: moist muffin with bites of diced pear, cinnamon crunch topping

Chocolate-Filled Thumbprints: buttery, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread thumbprint cookies filled with a silky smooth chocolate ganache

Recipe for Chocolate Ganache

8 oz. good semisweet chocolate, shaved
3/4 C. whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla

1. Place shaved chocolate in a bowl.
2. Heat whipping cream in a small saucepan on medium high heat.
3. Take saucepan off the heat as soon as cream starts to boil.
4. Add hot cream to bowl of chocolate. Stir gently until smooth and even consistency. Add vanilla and continue to until incorporated.
5. Let the ganache cool and set before using.

I hope you enjoyed the picture preview… I am excited to get back to chronicling my experiences in the kitchen! This holiday season is going to be a great one!

nom nom nom,

B

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I hate to see my blog steering solely towards baked goods and sweets. The truth is, savory food really hits the spot for me. However, unlike the meals I used to prepare with my friends in college, I am hoping to do more than just cook a 30-minute meal. I know how to grill. I know how to throw together a hearty meat lasagna. I know all the shortcuts. But now, I’m trying to avoid them all. I want to explore my abilities in the kitchen and bring something new to the table.. literally.

Luckily I have an open palette to match my open mind, so there is nothing holding me back. A serious foodie never discriminates against food! And with that said, part of my mission is to also honor dishes of various styles, backgrounds, and cultures on this journey.

This morning, I came across a half moon press in our baking drawer– 3 half moon presses, actually (small, medium, and large). My mom bought them many many years ago, probably thinking we could use them to make pastries.. even though she doesn’t bake. She really loves kitchen knickknacks. (Guilty. I get that from my mama.) But what’s the point in owning appliances and gadgets that aren’t being used? Big pet peeve. Hence my sudden urge to break in the ice cream maker and popcorn maker within the past couple of months.

It took me about 20 seconds to think to myself: Empanadas! The half moon press is perfect for empanadas! And I saved myself a trip to the grocery store, because I had all the ingredients for the dough. As for the filling, I quickly played around with a few ideas in my head as I scanned the kitchen. I wasn’t worried.

Empanada Dough

INGREDIENTS

2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2-in cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

1. Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.

2. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)

3. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring the dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.

*Recipe courtesy of Epicurious.

The empanada dough is comparable to a flaky Pâte Brisée (tart or pie dough). Same basic ingredients, same procedure. The addition of the egg, which differs from a Pâte Brisée, acts as a binding force for empanadas. When rolling out the dough, you will see that it has a semi-elastic quality that a Pâte Brisée does not. Thus, when baked, the empanada will be able to hold its shape (and the filling) and won’t immediately crumble apart when broken into to eat! The final empanada will have a bite to it.. a slightly tender chew.. with a flaky exterior.

Once you place the dough into the refrigerator, keep time in mind; you have an hour to spare. It’s better to let the dough chill in the refrigerator for a little bit longer (if the filling isn’t quite done) than have the filling be ready before the 1-hour chill time is up. It only took me about 30 minutes to make my filling, including prep time.

This is my original recipe for the filling I created:

Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Empanada Filling

INGREDIENTS

1 package of frozen sausage links (I used Hot Italian because I like the spicy flavor), defrosted
1 medium onion, sliced (cut in half vertically, then cut in slices end to end)
2 cups white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup uncooked spinach, washed and dried
3 tablespoons sour cream

DIRECTIONS

1. Cut a slit in each sausage link with a knife and remove meat from the casing.

2. Place sausage meat, onions, and mushrooms into a heated and lightly oiled pan. Cook on medium to medium high heat. Stir occasionally and break up large chunks of sausage to ensure thorough cooking.

3. When the meat has just about reached its doneness, stir in spinach. Let the spinach wilt down. Then add sour cream, stirring until incorporated. Turn the heat down to medium low and keep it on the stove for about 3 more minutes.

4. Take the pan off the stove. Let the filling cool down before placing it onto the empanada dough.


After you add the sour cream and let it all heat up a little longer, the filling really came together. The sour cream thickened the juices from the ingredients. By allowing the filling to cool down, the juices dissipate and get soaked up by the whole mixture.

So, let’s see how it’s all put together..

I removed my chilled dough from the refrigerator. Lightly flour the board and rolling pin.. keep some  flour around for additional use but avoid over-flouring. Roll out the dough to an approximate 1/8″ thickness. It should be rolled out fairly thin, but NOT paper thin. I just know I don’t want them to end up too doughy. I hate that.

For the next part, my medium half moon press comes into play. But, remember, if you don’t have a half moon press, don’t be intimidated. You can use the same procedure. Instead, cut your dough into circles (for a half moon shape) or rectangles (for a square shape) and pinch to close with your fingers or the back of a fork.

I was able to use the back of my press to cut out the circle shape into my dough. I rolled and cut, re-rolled and cut.. until all the dough was used up, placing all my circles onto a plate. I prepared an egg wash (one beaten egg) in a small bowl.

I placed the dough on the inside of my press, added the filling into the center with a little bit of shredded cheese (although the empanada surely doesn’t need it).

With a small dabble of egg wash, I brushed along the edge of the dough. This acts as the glue.. keeping it sealed up.

Then, all I had to do was press the two handles together. Tip: If the dough circles feel sticky, lightly flour one side (the side laying directly on the press) with your fingertips. Do so as needed.

Once all the empanadas were pressed. I place them onto a cookie sheet. Brushed each with the egg wash. Fit as many empanadas onto the sheet as you can without crowding.

I put the sheet into a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, checking them out periodically and rotating the sheet halfway through. I knew they were done when they turned a golden brown color.

And there you have it.. Empanadas! Or shall I say MmmPanadas.

nom nom nom.

B

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Last night was the season finale of Top Chef: Las Vegas. It was sad to see Jenn go last week, but I’m glad she made it to the final 4. The final 3 contestants– Kevin and Bryan and Michael Voltaggio– battled for the title of Top Chef. When presenting their dishes to the judges, each of the finalists had successful and faulty dishes. At the Judges Table, I honestly couldn’t figure out who would be pronounced Top Chef! For me, it was a complete tossup. Kevin, Bryan, and Michael have been the most consistent all season. They all deserved to be in the finals, and they are all great chefs. I particularly enjoyed the fact that each of them portray very different styles in their cuisine. Kevin: Flavorful simplicity. Bryan: Combining traditional and modern styles. Michael: Fearless innovation.

Kevin was eliminated first. Thus, like we suspected from the beginning, it was a battle between the Voltaggio brothers. The brothers have continuously proven their culinary proficiency by creating and successfully executing dishes with greater difficulty than any of the other contestants in the competition. So, though we may have foreseen this brotherly battle, which Voltaggio would take it all? The comments from the judges made it seem like Bryan had it; his venison dish and dessert were on point. Instead, to my personal astonishment, Padma proclaimed Michael Voltaggio as Top Chef. Yes, Michael Voltaggio one-upped his big brother with his passionate love for food, creativity, and his unwavering ability to take risks.

My reaction was: I can’t believe Michael won! I thought, sure enough, Kevin and Bryan both had a better chance than Michael. Then, once it came down to the brothers, I was still thinking Bryan.. Bryan.. It’s definitely Bryan. I was disappointed when I heard “Michael, you are Top Chef.” WHAT??!?! But after sleeping on it, I stopped being so bitter and started to understand why the judges chose Michael.

Both Bryan and Michael are very detail-oriented chefs with a great amount of skill and technique. However, Michael is willing to try something unique with the risk of failing. He doesn’t ever play it safe, and that’s the main reason why I believe he ended up winning the competition. The difference between a good chef and a great chef is the passion to create.. To do more than just produce tasty food.. To tell a story on the plate. When I think back to the previous challenges, Michael has always intrigued the judges in that sense. His odd pairings would always progressively come together with each bite. That. Is. Amazing.

Also last night, on Man v. Food, Adam Richman found himself in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He took on the Fat Sandwich Challenge at the R.U. Hungry Grease Truck. But before his challenge, Adam uncovered some massively delicious looking sandwiches at Harold’s Deli and Stuff Yer Face. Since the episode last night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the stromboli from Stuff Yer Face. I wanted one so badly, but NJ is so far away… Like over 3000 miles far. So, as I was up all night suffering from a serious stromboli craving, I came up with this idea to create my own stromboli! Oh, what I will do for food..

I have a tendency to make everything so much harder for myself in the kitchen. Though I could have bought a pre-made pizza dough at the grocery store, it wouldn’t have been as exciting to see the final stromboli product. My favorite part about cooking is the challenge– tackling recipes from all walks of food without really knowing how it will turn out. I want to know I can make anything! And since I started this blog– the encouragement I needed to expand from my normal repertoire– I’m slowly finding that I can.

I’ve only made pizza dough one other time and I don’t remember the recipe being that great. So, I looked for a new one that would be right for my stromboli. First, I look at the ingredients (to see if I have them all) and scan the directions. If it looks doable, I skim through comments or reviews about the recipe. Usually, I don’t risk using a recipe without any reviews.. that can’t be a good sign. Eventually, I came across Jay’s Signature Pizza Crust featured on AllRecipes. Very good ratings from almost 2,000 people. Sold. I began my mission with the dough.

Jay’s Signature Pizza Crust

INGREDIENTS

2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1-1/2 cups warm water (110 degreesF)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and brown sugar in the water, and let sit for 10 minutes.

2. Stir the salt and the oil into the yeast solution. Mix in 2-1/2 cups of the flour.

3. Turn dough out onto a clean, well floured surface, and knead in more flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Place the dough into a well oiled bowl, and cover with a cloth. Let the dough rise until double; this should take about 1 hour. Punch down the dough, and form a tight ball. Allow the dough to relax for a minute before rolling out. Use for your favorite pizza recipe.

4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. If you are baking the dough on a pizza stone, you may place your toppings on the dough, and bake immediately. If yu are baking your pizza in a pan, lightly oil the pan, and let the dough rise for 15-20 minutes before topping and baking it.

5. Bake pizza in preheated oven, until the cheese and crust are golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

Without a bread machine or even a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, my dough turned out wonderful! I tried to use only enough flour. So although in the INGREDIENTS section it says 3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour, this is just an estimate. If you read the directions, you start out with only 2-1/2 cups. From there, I kept the remaining flour nearby but gradually worked just enough flour into the dough. I didn’t end up using it all even after using some to flour my surface.

While my dough was rising for about an hour, I had time to make my filling. That’s the best part about making a stromboli; you can stuff it with whatever you want! I decided to go big.. spicy sausage, pepperoni slices, sauteed green pepper and onions, sliced tomato, and mozzarella cheese! Mmmmm. For the spicy sausage, I just removed the casing from the links and cooked the meat up in a saucepan. Threw the green peppers and onions into another saucepan. Then, after everything was to my liking, I let the ingredients cool for a little bit. Putting the hot ingredients directing on my dough might damage it! I intended to make a pretty large stromboli (I was incredibly hungry for it!), so I cut out 1/3 of the dough and rolled out a pretty good length. I made sure to give it some width, because I knew I had a lot of ingredients to get in there! Just do not roll your dough too thin– there is a good chance it will break while you are trying to seal it up or it won’t be able to carry the weight of the filling.

The dough is very elastic, so I was able to seal it up with a few pinches! Instead of 425 degrees F, I set my oven to 45o. I turned over my stromboli (pinch side down) and plopped it on a lightly greased baking sheet (just a little cooking spray). To ensure that I would get a nice crisp exterior, I drizzled a little less than a teaspoon of olive oil into my palm and rubbed it over the stromboli– a light coat. Then, I sprinkled a little Italian seasoning and shredded parmesano reggiano on top. About 15-20 minutes later..

Sure, it looks like just a piece of bread with a very nice golden crust.. But when you cut it open..

There are no words. It was heaven on a platter. This is the only way to eat a stromboli.. hot from the oven with everything oozing together! LOVE IT.. making more more more!

Thank you, Adam Richman.. After watching you eat that stromboli in last night’s episode, I got inspired (and hungry) and accomplished this homemade feat.

nom nom nom.

B

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What a great week for food. Jenn, my favorite on Top Chef: Las Vegas, made it to Napa. She won the Quickfire Challenge but the inconsistency of her unilaterally-cooked salmon had me worried. It was Eli who was asked to “pack his knives” on Wednesday’s episode after delivering a rare, inedible steak. Sorry, Eli.

With the sun nowhere in sight and the pitter patter of rain on the windows, food is safely indoors.. being created in the comforts of my kitchen. After watching Julie & Julia for the first time last night, I woke up craving crepes. Inspired by all the French cooking, I flipped through my handy Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and examined the Basic Dessert Crepes recipe.

Basic Dessert Crepes

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1/8 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS

Combine all ingredients and beat with a rotary beater till blended. Heat a lightly greased 6-inch skillet. Remove from heat. Spoon in 2 tablespoons batter; lift and tilt skillet to spread batter. Return to heat; brown on one side. (Or, cook on an inverted crepe pan.) Invert pan over paper toweling ; remove crepe. Repeat to make 16 to 18 crepes, greasing skillet occasionally.

Likes: 6 ingredients. 6 staple ingredients that are most-likely stocked in the kitchen. One bowl and one batch that goes a long way.

I have always been somewhat intimidated by crepes. And now, I don’t know why. Flipping the crepe is much easier than it sounds. By spraying the pan lightly with cooking spray, my crepe remains perfectly in tact. A spatula can be used to help with the flip, as well. Also, the size of the skillet doesn’t matter. Just make sure the entire skillet is greased and it is important to eye ball the correct about of batter. The correct amount of batter is enough to cover the bottom of the skillet thinly, evenly, and completely. Use the “lift, tilt, and spread” technique stated in the recipe. It works. I suggest pouring the batter into the center of the pan and using the technique to work the batter around the rest of the pan. Drizzling around the pan will most likely leave gaps in the crepe, and gaps will cause the filling to leak out of the final product. We don’t want that! So, be careful. Make sure the skillet is only heated; if the skillet is too hot, it will be difficult for the batter to spread evenly. The most important piece of advice I can give you is: work quickly! And if you mess up, try again. You’ll get the hang of it.

As for the filling, use your imagination. Fruit filling, Nutella, cheese.. with toppings that can include (but are not limited to) chocolate syrup, maple syrup, powdered sugar.. the possibilities are endless. Mix and match some of your favorites. Be creative. The Cookbook offers a few filling recipes like Lemon-Filled Crepes. But, I decided to go with something simple using what I had laying around the kitchen. I sliced a small banana and thinly sliced a quarter of a peeled apple (with all apple and no banana, I used the whole peeled apple). In a small skillet, I sauteed the fruit with a little bit of butter (Julia Child always said that everything is better with butter!.. or was that Paula Dean?!) and cinnamon, heating until the apples were softened. The crepe was stuffed and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar.

When I made the crepes with only apple filling, I cut the peeled apple into thicker slices. The sauté time is a little longer, but the final product of apple-butter-cinnamon in a crepe reminded me of apple pie.. in a lighter, somewhat less guilty, version. I also considered dicing the apple. But then I realized that I would rather fork and knife my crepe with the large apple slices than scramble with the little bits of apple. I’ll probably try it eventually.. Today just isn’t the day.

Dessert crepes can finish off a great dinner. But for me, crepes can be eaten.. well, whenever. Light, fluffy, and easy to make. Crowd-pleaser.. Guaranteed. Bon Appetit!

nom nom nom.

B

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