8 Ways Other Than Baking To Spend Your Month

Hi, guys. I’ve been MIA lately. The past month I ate an entire fish, traveled home for my future sister-in-law’s bridal shower, existed during Memorial Day but forgot what I did, and found a new home in my new home of Harrisonburg. Here’s how to spend a month doing things other than baking.

1) Make one “real” dish – aka something other than cereal or eggs – all month. Be sure that it’s something traditional with a twist, like Turkey Chilli with Kale and White Beans. Proceed to eat the entire bowl each time you serve yourself before you manage to take a picture of said bowl for that blog you write. Wallow in full-bellied remorse.

2) Allow friends to reciprocate your baguette and bruschetta dinner (oh yeah, and lasagna, but that was also eaten before we could take a picture). Realize that, considering that two are from Kurdistan and one is from China, you may encounter food outside your comfort zone. Tonight you will be eating fish for dinner. As in, whole fish.

Feel a sense of strength as you recognize that your mind has been broadened and you are a more seasoned person because of this experience. Feel appreciative for kind and fascinating friends.

3) Make sure your brother is about to marry a girl you absolutely adore. Take a bus home to Pittsburgh on a Friday night for the bridal shower. Forget a blanket and jeans even though you’ve done this trip many times and know the Megabus is freezing. Buy curly fries and a hot chocolate at the rest stop in West Virginia for comfort because you can’t stop shivering, and the guy beside you is drunk and asked to look at your Chuck Palahniuk book because he loves Snuff and thinks Palahniuk is the king of transgressive fiction. Although he kind of likes Burrough’s Naked Lunch better, but whatevs. Arrive in Pittsburgh and host the bridal shower. Everything is beautiful. The bride is happy. The Strawberry Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting are the icing on the cake (ha).

4) Let Memorial Day pass. Forget what you even did that weekend. Something about…oh, right. Something about a live band and a drag queen brunch. That weekend was interesting; you should remember it. Miss your friends in DC just thinking about this.

5) Find a home in your new home. Get excited about the move. Look at an apartment right next to the best coffee shop, the one named after a character in Oliver Twist.

6) Fall in love with the apartment next door. Spend the following weeks scouring apartment blogs on how to decorate a studio apartment. Decide that you want to decorate your living room like Ernest Hemingway’s writing studio in his Key West house. Pause to acknowledge how very untalented you are compared to Hemingway. Pour yourself a glass of Jack Daniels on the rocks. At least you two have that in common.

7) Visit a lavender field near your new hometown. Feel at peace. Remember that you are about to move to a new life, and day dream about all the bread and scones you will bake in grad school.

8) Promise yourself and your readers (hi, Mom!) that you will resume regular posts. Make another cup of coffee. Time to go to your day job like a real person.

Advertisements

Meringue Swirls of Lavender and Lime

All spring we’ve been making these puffy clouds.  Cinco de Mayo brought orange and lemon flavors in red and green stripes; Kelly’s bridal shower produced orange and lime in a pretty apricot shade; today a walk through my garden gave me an idea.  

Lavender is amazing.  Beautiful, fragrant and delightful to cook with.  As a member of the mint family it has a refreshingly astringent taste.  Each year I gather stems just as the buds are opening and hang them to dry.  Then I keep them in airtight containers for cooking.  Pretty soft lavender blossoms are pretty sprinkled over cakes; steeped in milk and then strained out for lavender scones and lavender panna cotta.  When my children were small we’d make a drink called Lavender and Lime.  It was delicious and refreshing  for a summer afternoon by the pond.  Why not swirl lavender and lime zest into meringue cookies?

This morning as I considered how to describe what makes meringue cookies so special (I confess I had never once chosen them from a cookie tray).  Until you sink your teeth…not so, no teeth required… until you press one to your lips you haven’t encountered the beauty of pillows of flavor bursting in your mouth.  If we could dine on clouds!Elle snapped this photo at a  picnic in the Laurel Highlands.

Don’t be frightened by past meringue failures. Meringue always flopped for me until I finally researched.  If you think meringue is difficult this recipe should help.

SOME TIPS

1. Egg whites room temperature and not fresh from the hen

2. Oven temperatures very low and it takes a long time

3. Best to use metal or glass bowls

4. Even a tiny amount of egg yolk or fat/oil will prevent eggs from whipping properly

5. Don’t do this when it is humid in the house.

If this information discourages you maybe you should not try these – but come now – are you kidding?  Think of it as an art experiment.

8. There are three methods of making meringue: Swiss, French and Italian. I encourage you to look this site over http://www.epicureanpiranha.com/2010/meringue-types-techniques/. She has done her homework.  I’ve tried them all and they all work as long as you apply the aforementioned 5 rules.

While this recipe uses lavender and lime, you can just as easily make them vanilla bean, orange, lemon, almond; use your imagination and have fun.

*The tiny holes you see in the meringues I made are because I did this last night and I think we were at 80% humidity. Should have seen that one coming – we’ve had torrential rainfall since midnight.

YOU WILL NEED:

4 egg whites

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or vinegar

pinch salt

2 tablespoons dried lavender buds

1 teaspoon lime zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 vanilla bean, scraped

parchment paper or Silpat

food color gel

small paint brush

pastry bag and large tip (I’ll show you)

Great tool!

METHOD:

Divide eggs. Save yolks for something like Pasta Carbonara or pound cake

Take the lavender buds and sugar and whirl them in a food processor until they are blended and the sugar isn’t completely powdered but fine. Then stir in the lime zest.To the bowl of room temperature egg whites add the cream of tartar/vinegar, vanilla and pinch of salt.  With electric mixer beat whites at high speed for about 30-45 seconds until white and foamyContinuing to beat on high speed add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. Beat just until all is incorporated.  Following are some photos that will show the stages the meringue goes through until it is ready. It has to be very firm to hold it’s shape through the baking process.

Starting to hold shape

NOT YET

PERFECTION!

At this stage the meringue can take on any shape at all and hold it beautifully.

Now how to make those swirls:

Take the assembled pastry bag with the large tip on the end, lay it on the counter and make sure it’s open.  If you use a jar, take a tiny paint brush and draw three very thin lines, spaced evenly, up the sides of the bag -starting from down at the base and draw lines to about two inches from the top.  If you use a tube of gel it will make a perfect line, no brush needed. Then place the bag carefully inside a sturdy glass or something similar so that you can fill it with meringueCarefully fill the bag with meringue, pushing it gently down to the bottom.  Don’t worry if a little of the gel smears, it will still work.Twisting from the top to add pressure and force the meringue out, start making small circles on the silpat or parchment on a cookie sheet.  As you make the circle use less pressure as you reach the top and allow it to form a peak.Space them just so the edges don’t touch.

Place them on the middle rack of a preheated to 250 degree oven (for meringues that are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter).  If you choose to make larger meringues you may want to use a 300 degree oven.  Bake them for somewhere between one and two hours, checking to see that they don’t brown.  The goal is to cook them very slowly, which allows them to dry thoroughly.  It is advisable to then turn the oven to off and let them remain in the oven with the door closed for several more hours or over night.  A test when you are checking them is that they don’t feel at all sticky when touched lightly.  And beyond that test is that they don’t adhere at all to the parchment or silpat when lifted.  When all that is good, turn off the oven and leave them to finish drying.  Not doing this will result in gummy or deflated meringues-pillows-clouds

Orange and Vanilla Bean Meringues – why won’t this photo turn upright?

Giant Lemon and Orange Meringues make pretty Bridal Shower favors

Perfecting the Quiche

It has been awhile since you’ve read about any of the goings-on in this gals kitchen.  There’s a reason.  A wedding – our son’s wedding brunch and I get to be part of the cooking staff and have been experimenting. I’m trying to perfect recipes. The wedding is in two weeks! Yikes!

I don’t mind making and eating mistakes.  But this is A WEDDING!!!  It will go down in history.  What we eat is a small part, but every small part adds up to an experience that is either excellent or somewhere below that mark.  My goal is excellence. *Same with what dress to wear too, but hey, aren’t you glad this is a cooking blog?  Maybe I’ll share a picture later.  Nix that. Here’s my dress.  Land’s End. It’s beautiful! That’s not me in the pic. 🙂

This is where and when the ceremony will take place. Sunrise.

Followed by a brunch a little later (Watch the ceremony in your pajama’s, they said. YES!)

So I’ve been trying to perfect the quiche.  Don’t get me wrong.  My quiche has always been good.  But there are those quiches that are incredible, and mine have not been that.  Incredible means a perfectly smooth, creamy thick custard delicately balanced over bits of bacon, onion and cheese.

I’ve asked a dozen professionals for advice and have read just about everything I need to know to become an egg scientist.  To bath or not, ratios of eggs to cream – or milk or half and half.  The crust – or no crust.  Then the temperature and method of cooking.  Every book offers something different on all those issues.  It’s no wonder “Real men don’t eat quiche.”!

But now they will: watch me work.

Do you see in that photo the little bit of shine at the center of the quiche?  This is important. Do not ever overcook eggs.  They continue to cook after they are removed from the oven.  This is key if you want a good silky texture. Otherwise the quiche will shrivel and be too dense and dry; like most of mine in the past. But never again!  The test  is to insert a butter knife about an inch from the edge of the pie when it starts to turn a little golden on top.  When the knife comes out clean, with no bits of custard on it, it’s done. It won’t seem done, but will finish on the cooling rack.  Don’t be afraid.  It should still be jiggly in the middle.  For me, since mine will be in the deep freezer until that morning, I had to under cook them even more so that when they’re re-heated they won’t be over done.

So many variables in kitchens.  Every oven is different.  If you use a shallow or deep pan, the thickness of your crust, or no crust at all.  How much bacon and cheese and other ingredients all have a direct affect on the time of cooking and the finished product.  That’s why the learning is in how ingredients react and balance.

I used 9″ fluted, disposable cake pans for this recipe because they have to travel and I don’t want to bring empty pans home.  I chose to use the recipe for the crusts from the Strawberry Rhubarb Slab Pie from the May 22nd blog.  I rolled them out very thin, pricked them with a fork, brushed with an egg wash and did not precook them.  Oven was at 400 for 15 minutes, reduced to 300 for 30 minutes.  This worked out perfectly, except I had to take mine out after only 25 minutes. 

Ratio: 4 extra large eggs to 1 1/2-2 cups of cream.  My pies were deep dish so I used 2 cups cream.  For a pie pan I’d go with 1 1/2 cups of cream. Or half and half or whole milk can work.

Another tip is that the richer the dairy, the silkier the finished product.  Can you use skim milk? Sure.  But to obtain a rich and silky quiche use at least half and half.  

Using a wire whisk, whip the eggs for a minute or two and then add 2 cups of cream. Whisk till well blended.  Add spices.  For this quiche I used a dash of cayenne pepper, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Whisk together.

Next is the assembly line.  It’s important to have a balance of ingredients and you place them in the pie shells by weight: heaviest at the bottom and build.  Since I really like to see a thick layer of custard on top I try to keep the fillings under an inch in height at the base of the pan.

For these quiches I added caramelized onions.  Quiche Lorraine doesn’t use caramelized onions. This is a variation that I was told is “to die for”.  Chop the onions to make 1/2 cup.

Then cook them in a bit of butter over medium high heat, stirring until they’re brown and soft but not burnt.

This photo shows them caramelizing, but you want to cook them beyond what they look like in this photo to no whiteness left, but rather a golden yellow well browned mess of onions.  Set aside and cook about 1/4 pound of chopped bacon until there are no more bubbles and they are crispy but not burned.

Now comes the assembling.  Start with the onions, then the bacon on top of the onions.

Next comes the cheese.  A word about the cheese.  After much counsel the consensus is that a good Swiss or Jarlsberg, or a combination of the two, is great.  You can add Gruyere or Emmentaler cheese, which are both incredibly nutty and rich in flavor, but cost $$$$.  The key is good quality ingredients so you don’t have to break the bank on a good quiche. I was making 4 quiches and spending lots of $$$$ everywhere, so I went with the advice of caterers whose livelihoods depend on perfection.  Does it sound like I’m trying to relieve my guilt?

One cup of freshly grated cheese goes on top of the bacon:On top of all this pour the egg and cream mixture, making sure you cover everything but don’t overflow the pan:In the preheated to 400 degree oven, carefully place the quiches on the middle rack.  Bake for 15 minutes at this temperature, then reduce the temperature to 300 degrees and continue to bake for 30 minutes.  After 25 minutes check the quiches to see if they are finished.  Otherwise, at about 30 minutes insert the knife about 1 inch from the side and if it comes out clean. It’s the knife test that counts more than the time. These are done even though you can see that they are not completely cooked in the middle.

Cool on rack and serve at room temperature.  Or, cover with aluminum foil and chill until you need them, then bring them back to room temperature.

I’m sure you’ll see photos after the wedding and we’ll see how these turn out after all the travel they’ll go through.

DRY ICE: An interesting note about traveling with foods like this.  I had to figure out how to make these in advance, freeze and then travel for several hours in a car, then to the plane across the lake to the island, and then to keep them frozen for two days at a hot cottage with little refrigeration space. Dry ice is amazing stuff, I’m told.  Not only is it lighter weight, but it will hold things cold or frozen for several days.  Regular ice can even be placed over it, with a piece of cardboard in between and it will prevent the ice from melting.   So dry ice has more value than making a volcano in science class in elementary school! Cool, huh?