For real, though.
Yes, it’s as fancy, complicated, and mind-bogglingly time-consuming as it looks.
But it was worth it.
Later, I’ll tell you how I did it.
For now, I just want you to drool. Even if you don’t have to eat gluten-free.
It is seriously all I can do to not eat the entire bag of marzipan (a sugar-and-almond dough-like substance, used for modeling edible forms and flowers) I brought home from Cakes & Cake Decorating class.
We are supposed to practice making roses out of it, using the technique outlined in a video we watched in class. Although I can’t say my form is completely perfect, my second attempt (the first being at school) today was pretty darn okay.
Does that mean I can eat it? I. Love. Marzipan.
Here’s how I did it:
First, I rolled the marzipan into a 1″-thick or so log. I cut the following pieces with a sharp paring knife:
Each of these is rolled into a sphere, then into a cone shape. The first piece will be more conical than the others.
Using a plastic dough scraper/bench knife, you gently squash the cone into a flat, large oval, which will be thicker and wider on the fat end of the cone. Hopefully.
The guy in the video did this in two strokes, both at the same 45 degree or so angle across the cone. The first time, you leave some of the fat end untouched, and the second time you get the whole thing.
Next, I rolled the center of the rose with this largest piece, using the thick end toward the bottom. I used the extra at the bottom to squish out a base.
Next, I flattened the next two petals in similar fashion, gave them a little pleat in the side (see below) and stuck them tightly around the base.
My problem with my earlier attempt at school is that I let these drape widely, making the flower look too much like a pansy or something. Roses are more tightly wound in the middle.
Now I spread, pleated and placed the next three petals, from the remaining eight pieces.
Now, just the remaining five pieces await. These will stick on a little differently, so stay frosty.
Since these final petals will be visible from the outside, you’ll want to make sure each one tucks underneath the one before it. You know, to look all natural and junk. So before you completely press down one side, hold it open and position the next petal.
Aaaaand….voila. The finished rose. Like I said, I had some dumb luck this time, and it took a little pre-fiddling at class to get the idea. It’s worth giving it a try. You can purchase marzipan by the bucket at cake supply stores and online.
Besides, they’re delicious, whether they turn out pretty or not. So are the scraps.
I’m just saying.
Too bad I can’t eat it. Oh well. The hubs and kids will feast after dinner tonight.
Last night was our second lab in Cakes and Cake Decorating Class, and the first time we really got to go at it on a cake. So incredibly fun!
I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to decorate, since we took so long learning the ropes of splitting and filling cakes and making Swiss buttercream frosting. It is a little wonky in places, and I had to use someone else’s vivid green rather than my own pastel just because I ran out of time to bag it up. But not too shabby for a first try.
Swiss buttercream, by the way, is so incredibly delicious, I think I’ll never make the regular kind again. It’s shiny and not too sweet. You get…well…heck. I’ll just show you the ingredient list that Chef J wrote on the board:
Place the egg whites and sugar in the mixer bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir until the sugar is melted and the whole thing is just a little gooey, about 140 degrees. Then place this into your mixer with the whip attachment and kick it up to high for a while.
Conveniently, you don’t have to worry about overbeating, because the sugar acts as a stabilizer.
Once the mixture is well beaten, shiny and fluffy, check the temperature, which needs to come down closer to room temp before adding the butter. Usually the action of the mixer will do this, but some mixers add heat. If this happens, just place the mixer bowl into a bowl of ice for a minute or two and return your goo to the machine.
Now turn the mixer back on and add the butter, a room-temp chunk at a time (no need to be too pretty about cutting it up), while the mixer whips it together. Add the vanilla.
If you want to add chocolate, melt about 8 ounces of white chocolate or 12 ounces of semi-sweet, and let it cool slightly, then add. If you want to have some colors as well as chocolate, you can split up the batch and mix in the chocolate and the color bases separately, by hand.
I want to walk you through everything else we did recipe-style, but it will take for-eh-vah. I’ll just regale you with photos of each step so you can be jealous that I actually get a grade for this sort of activity.
Meanwhile, I’ve found a recipe for a gluten-free poundcake, which I think I’ll use for our next project.
In Garde Manger class, we’ve been studying cheeses and making a few of them ourselves.
There’s something about this that makes me giddy. I told several people, “It’s like, making food. From nothing.”
Last week, our group made a fresh (meaning unaged) lemon cheese, and our homework assignment was to develop a dessert recipe to prepare the next week. We decided to make a dessert lasagna, using a strawberry puree (tomato sauce), chopped chocolate (ground beef) and the cheese. There was some fiddling around with gluten-free options for my sake, but the supplies for such things are low at the school. So we decided to go with phyllo dough, making it more of a napoleon.
This week, the chef turned us loose to create our goodies. We made the napoleon, as pictured above. The sauce was particularly fun…I got creative (er, bossy) with my group and added balsamic vinegar and red wine to some strawberry puree and sugar, and cooked it down. De.LISH.
So, long story short, we present our napoleon to the chef, and she loves it. We think we’re done. We mention that the original idea was using real pasta, and she says…”Okay, make me one like that.” Oooookayyy…
No problem, actually. This class is fun because we get to play and make stuff up on the fly, even if the beginning is a prompt from the instructor. One of my group partners is quite adept at making pasta, so he whipped up a quick batch, adding some red food coloring as the instructor requested.
We decide on making raviolis, filling them with the lemon cheese and dressing them with two sauces, the strawberry and a white chocolate sauce. While Pasta-Guy and I have done this, the other two students hadn’t, so much of the rest of their class was spent playing and filling. PG and I boiled the pasta and finished the sauces and the plate, which turned out pretty nice, considering its impromptu provenance.
It was also a fanTAStic week in Food IV. And that is saying a lot. Things are looking up; I may know how to cook after all. More on that later.
If you’ve been online at all today, you’re probably wondering what all the hubbub is about peanut butter pie. The reason is unfortunate and heartbreaking, but it’s also one of the greatest demonstrations of love and support I’ve ever seen online.
Last Sunday, fellow food blogger Jennifer Perillo lost her husband, Mikey, suddenly and unexpectedly. He was young, as are his lovely wife and two kids. I’ve never met any of them. Before Sunday, I couldn’t swear that I had ever read her blog, although we had crossed paths a few times on Twitter.
She asked that anyone wanting to “do something” do this: make a pie. A pie for Mikey, and for those we love. Mikey’s favorite, a peanut butter pie. Today, on the day of his memorial service, hundreds of pies have been made and posted. CNN, Food Network, TasteSpotting and others are featuring them.
Having now gone gluten-free, I did have to make a few adaptations to Jennifer’s recipe. The cool thing is, so did just about everyone who did the pie. Take a look around online and see.
I used Pamela’s Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Cookies, which are gluten- and dairy-free. I didn’t have quite enough to make a crust, so I added a few Mi-Del Ginger Snaps.
While I’m making the pie, my hubby Joe is sitting at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, hogging the laptop which is displaying the recipe. I have to keep asking him to read me the next step.
I love him for the snarky way he gave me grief about needing the computer. (I knew he really didn’t care. Would he have repeatedly read the recipe for me if he minded?)
I love him for how hard he worked today, just like every day, taking care of his work and taking care of us. I love him for letting me stay home with our kids and for letting me go to culinary school. I love him for being supportive of my wanting to turn this food thing into a business, while still being home with our babies. (Well, kids. They’re almost-4 and 9.)
I love him for being different than me. I told him this yesterday. I love that he’s passionate and occasionally obsessive. We make a good mix.
I love him for the things we agree on, the things that matter. Our faith, our family, our dedication to each other. I love him for not getting too bent out of shape about the things that don’t matter. I love him for knowing the difference.
I love him for being gentle and patient with me, even when I know I don’t deserve it. And I especially love him for his amazing sense of humor, which constantly has me rolling. (Thank God I didn’t marry a boring man!)
I love him for sitting at the breakfast bar, just to be near me, while I made this pie.
After I had poured the filling, he tasted a bit that was left in the bowl.
“Mikey had good taste,” he said.
So did I.
Yes, I still owe you photos and details from the last of my just-finished semester at Arkansas Culinary School. But meanwhile, I thought I’d share a little lovely from my kitchen:
My daughter was recently lamenting that, because of my heavy load at school, we hadn’t cooked together much lately. I agreed. She suggested Rice Crispy Treats as my absolution. The day after my last final, this was our creation.
As I’ve previously shared, she likes to add crazy ingredients to things as much as I do. We started with the obvious…M&Ms. Red sprinkles. Even a little white chocolate over one side, because she didn’t think she’d like it.
Then we decided to go a little crazy: mint extract. Just 1/8 teaspoon or so (I don’t really measure) was perfect.
I’m starting to plan my attack for teacher gifts, and I’m thinking this year’s will include some Rice Crispy Treats. But don’t be alarmed if I go really crazy.
I’m thinking white truffle oil, browned butter and pine nuts.
Hold me back!
I had a large container of very fresh strawberries. I wanted some combination of sugar and balsamic to go on them. A dipping sauce? Sure, but it’s been done. How about candy? Nah, it would wilt the berries.
Or would it?
I had to try.
I heated about 2 cups of sugar, along with about a 1/2 cup water and a couple tablespoons of corn syrup to stabilize it. (I know, I know, you candy pros out there can skip that. I get a crystallized mess if I don’t do it this way.) Added a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar. When the goo reached 300ish degrees, I grabbed the berries by their greens and dipped oooohhhhh so carefully — that sticky, scalding-hot sugar won’t let go if you touch it!
In fact, let me interrupt myself to just suggest you use a skewer in the top of the berry. So I told you. All blame/guilt removed.
A few seconds after dipping into the sugar, I gently pressed the berries against a pile of freshly grated parmesan or lemon zest. Use really good parm here; mine was a sorta-good brand but wanted a more robust flavor. You’ll get the hang of how long to wait before dipping…too soon, and you’ll smoosh the sugar coating and melt the parm, and too late, it won’t stick.
The result: a crunchy, delightfully bizarre summer treat.
If you try this, prepare to eat or serve immediately. As beautiful as they were right after dipping, they did start to wilt and bleed within about 20 minutes.
Cheesecake? Low fat? Can (and should) these words even go together?
In my recently-completed Professional Food Writing course at Pulaski Tech, we were challenged to write a piece on making a dish of our choosing more heart-friendly. I wrote about cheesecake. No recipes, per se, but notes that the experienced baker could possibly use. If you wanted to.
Today the mailman brought me a joke in paper form: an Express catalog, a brand of youthful, tiny clothing that I haven’t worn in about 20 years. Why, pray tell, did they see fit to send me images of size-two models wearing swimsuits and 80s-style ruffle miniskirts?
I huffed and sat the mail down next to my plate. I’m having a little snack of Girl Scout cookies, which are fabulous, but not exactly what I want. And I’m not so hot for the celery I’d have to eat to wear those clothes, either.
Cheesecake. That’s what I want. Creamy, sweet, luscious, and a little bit sinful. Rich. Fattening. I can feel my heart slow down just thinking about it.
Let’s look at the basic ingredients for your standard cheesecake: graham crackers and butter for the crust, cream cheese, eggs, sour cream and flavorings. Just about every one of these (minus the flavorings, such as vanilla or lemon zest) is loaded with artery-clogging, jeans-busting fat.
Before I relegate myself to a lifetime of fat clothes and cholesterol meds, I think we should give this a closer look.
The graham crackers can be replaced with a low-fat version. That’s an easy one. The butter in the crust, however, not so much. What could possibly replace the texture and flavor of butter?
After a bit of research, I found a solution. Canola oil. Who knew? It has no cholesterol, and when blended with (get this) frozen apple juice concentrate and spices, it makes a darn tasty crust.
As for the cream cheese, I believe the best heart-healthy replacement is Neufchatel cheese, sometimes labeled as “low fat” cream cheese. It still has enough fat and flavor to give the cheesecake some body, without the blandness of going completely nonfat. The sour cream, however, can go nonfat without losing the tangy creaminess that it brings to the party.
Whole eggs can be either partially or completely replaced with egg whites. Personally, I would leave in one or two whole eggs, but I haven’t tested my cholesterol lately, either.
Some recipes add nonfat cottage cheese (blended to smithereens), cornstarch, and/or flour to replace some of the cheesecake’s body originally given by fat content. Not having done this myself, it sounds a little odd. I’ll report back after further experimentation. Cottage cheese is actually a surprisingly versatile ingredient and works well in a variety of recipes, as seen here – https://www.goodculture.com/recipes-1.
Remember that little bit early on about the flavorings? They don’t contribute to the cholesterol count and are therefore heart-healthy, for the most part. Vanilla and lemon zest are the usual players, but the adventurous cook may try coconut extract, cinnamon, chile powders and the like. They add nearly zero calories and add interest that replaces the fat lost in the recipe.
Overall, with a bit of ingredient tweaking, my cravings for cheesecake can indeed be met with heart-healthy, lower-fat eating. I’m not sure if I’ll actually make it this way anytime soon, but I’ll file it away for future reference. Maybe one of those models will need a chef consult to get them a cheesecake fix.
We didn’t have any big plans for New Year’s (I know, we’re old and boring), so I decided to bake a little. Ever since Cupcake Wars on Food Network, I’ve craved some coconut lime cupcakes. OK, so I didn’t actually *see* the show…somehow I missed it…but I saw the flurry of tweets about it. Anyway.
I found a recipe on Food Network, and of course, I had to tweak it. The result is different enough that I think I’ll just rewrite it here:
Coconut Lime Cupcakes
Adapted from Food Network recipe by Jamie Nondorf, Ultimate Recipe Showdown
Lime Buttercream Frosting
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Using a stand mixer and the paddle attachment, cream the butter until it’s light and fluffy, a couple minutes on high. Add the sugar and continue until they’re well combined. Turn down to medium speed and add the eggs, vanilla, zest, juice, and cream of coconut; blend until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. (If the kosher salt doesn’t go through your sifter, just make sure all the other stuff has gone through and dump it into the bowl.) Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk into the mixer, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. I’m making the actual coconut optional, since many folks find the stringy shards offensive but like the flavor. But if you like it (and I do), fold it gently into the mixture at this point.
Tip: If you don’t normally keep buttermilk on hand and don’t feel like buying it just for 1/2 cup in this recipe, do what I did….make your own! Measure some regular milk (2% or whole is fine) just shy of 1/2 cup, and add a tablespoon or so of lime or lemon juice. Stir it up and let it sit out at room temp for 15-30 minutes. (Hope you read this part ahead of time!) 😉 It will curdle and turn into an instant, fabulously usable buttermilk.
Line your cupcake/muffin tin with paper liners, and scoop about 1/4 cup into each one, or until they’re almost to the top, as they don’t puff up a whole lot. Bake at 325 degrees for about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream frosting. I changed this pretty significantly from the original to be more tart and, well, fattening with the addition of more Lopez. Trust me, you’ll forgive me.
Wash your mixer bowl and paddle attachment (sigh), unless you’re a foodie goddess or something and have an extra set. Cream the butter until fluffy, and sift in the powdered sugar about a cup at a time. As you get close to the final 1/2 cup or so, check for the consistency you want…depending on your preferences, the humidity, how you’re holding your toes, etc. the amount of sugar will vary. When it looks right, add the vanilla, lime juice and cream of coconut. I like things really tart, so I opted for the higher amount of lime juice. Adjust as you wish.
When the cupcakes are done, cool them in the pan for a few minutes, then completely cool on a wire rack. Then (and only then) you can spread on the buttercream. You might notice in my very poor quality photo that I didn’t wait, and the warm cake melted the frosting a bit. I didn’t really care at that point.
Sprinkle on some zest, and you’re ready for some really awesome ‘cakes!
My next cupcake adventure will probably be salted caramel. I’m seeing a lot of great recipes for these. I’ll keep you posted.
Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be losing weight for the new year. Whatever.
Earlier I wrote about making some Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Muffins for my DS’s teacher. They turned out pretty decent! Here’s the whole story, for anyone who cares, along with the “recipe,” if you can call it that.
At Kroger, I picked up some flours that I knew were acceptable, but I wasn’t ready to invest in all the supplemental ingredients (Xanthan gum, for example) necessary to make a good consistency. So I trucked on over to the health food store in search of a mix of some sort. I usually don’t believe in mixes, but in this case, I was willing to concede, if only for the sake of completing my mission. And sure enough, I found this, a GFCF Vanilla Cake Mix by Namaste Foods.
I wanted to add chocolate and found the dairy-free chocolate chips by Enjoy Life, which are also GFCF acceptable. So, I put the mix in the bowl of my stand mixer, and I found it to be awfully lumpy. The health food shop keeper said this often happens, just because of the nature of the products used. I sifted the mix through a wire sieve, pressed out all the lumps, and dumped in the rice grain part that was too big to go through. After adding the wet ingredients (egg, oil and water), I mixed in the chips, along with some nutmeg and cinnamon. (My recipient doesn’t have any allergies, but you should check before doing any add-ins.)
One dozen of these in the oven, and I’m getting my typical itch to experiment. Thing is, that itch can be dangerous when it comes to special diets. Luckily, my teacher friend doesn’t have any allergies, so I decided just a few “experimental” muffins wouldn’t hurt. I wrote out every ingredient, just in case. The next batch, I stirred in some coconut and walnut pieces.
These had a wonderful texture, and the coconut seemed to help suspend the chips, which partially sunk to the bottom of the earlier batch. I’m guessing one cup of coconut (to the remaining half-batch of cake mix) and 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts. I sprinkled brown sugar on the tops, but this didn’t turn out like I planned, as the batter rose over the sugar. It did leave kind of a neat brown swirl in the top, though.
One problem…since I didn’t plan for experimentation while at the store, I only had “regular” coconut and nuts…with additives. BHT and some other preservative junk. I wrote it all out for my friend, and I told her she could feed those to her hubby if necessary. 😉 Lesson for you: Ask first, then shop accordingly. If it’s for a surprise goody, then get all pure products.
She sent me a note later and said she was really happy about her surprise, and that she and the girls enjoyed them. (I am assuming this means the additives were OK, or at least OK enough for someone-else-made-it status.) Give it a try yourself, if you know someone with gluten issues…or even if you don’t! They’re darn tasty, and I’m eating an “extry” as I write this tonight.