Tag Archive: baking

Why I Cook

There are lots of reasons to cook. I cook because I’m hungry, because someone else is hungry, because it’s there or because no one else will if I don’t.  There are the logical reasons to cook; it’s how we get nutrition, it’s how I can control what goes into my body (and my people’s bodies….I wish for my people to also eat good food), because on Weight Watchers, it’s easier to make your own food so you don’t get stuck eating diet frozen meals every night. That’s a “HELLO! to sodium right there if I ever saw one.

But I don’t cook because I have in the traditional sense. I love to cook and bake and I get a lot of enjoyment out of it and out of watching people eat and enjoy what I make. But I’ve noticed lately, since around the holidays that I actually kind of, well, need to cook.

The holidays were tough this year, for a multitude of reasons. And they never really got any better by the stunning denouement of Christmas then they had been when December reared it’s ugly head.  In order to deal with it all emotionally, I became a one woman baking machine. Anything that crossed my mind to bake, I baked it. Cookies, peppermint part, cheesecake, raspberry squares. Christmas Day saw a ham dinner (I am the worst Jew ever, I know…but I like pork) that was a little silly, but delicious, for the three people it fed.   It was a lot of food and a lot of baked goods.  And so, I thought.  I thought about what possessed me to cook/bake like it was going out of style.

The beginning of January came and it hit me, like a ton of bricks…it was about control!

The one time during the holidays when I felt in control of the situation, my emotions, anything was when I was cooking or baking something.  For someone like me who has a bit of a thing about control anyway, you’d think I would have thought of this sooner.  Well, sometimes distance makes your head work better.   When I’m cooking, I am totally focused on it. I lose myself in the cooking but I feel in total control at the same time. I feel confident about what I’m doing and that it’s going to turn out, for the most part, fine.  I know that if I follow the steps of the recipe, then things are going to turn out. And even if I’m just experimenting, I’m in control.

I know people who don’t cook who don’t get this.  For them, the kitchen and it’s mysteries don’t make sense. To me, they do. It’s probably the one place in my life where things make the most sense. I know certain ingredients do certain things, have certain tastes and will give me certain results.  It’s comforting to me.   I feel at home among my tools and appliances. And I can tell when something is not in it’s right place.

So, I cook because I love it but I also cook because sometimes, I just need it.  I need to focus that strongly on something so that another part of my brain can either rest or work on other problems.  There are plenty of nights when I don’t cook but then I start to miss it and have to do something. Today, I broke in my new stand mixer and made brownies.  That was a labor of love for me. But, I also noticed that I worked off some frustrations I was feeling in another part of my life.

And seriously people, these brownies are good!



You know people, I put a lot of thought into these titles….so, I hope you appreciate them.

I love cookbooks…I collect them. When I travel, I try and pick up a local cookbook if I can. It’s a reminder of where I’ve been, the food I’ve eaten and the people I was with.  They are also something I don’t feel translate well to a Kindle. That may change with the purchase (one day maybe) of an iPad, but I doubt it. I think cookbook pages need to be flipped through and used and they need to get stained.  For Christmas, my best friend got me this: http://www.amazon.com/Cook-Like-Rock-Star-Culinary/dp/0307886751/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325273140&sr=8-1

I love Anne Burrell. She makes cooking like fun. She dresses in great colors and has awesome hair. How can you not love her? And it seems most people do. I grew to respect her a lot on The Next Iron Chef: Superstars because she did get nervous and worry about things, but she always put her heart on the plate and you can’t ask for more than that. She’s also great on “Worst Cooks in America” and it’s hard not to root for her team.

So, I am pretty excited about this book and will be trying recipes from it…and will post a review of the book itself soon.

Onto the holidays. I did a little more baking than usual. I hit sugar cookies, a chocolate chip cheesecake, raspberry squares, lemon souffle (or mousse if you’d rather either…which by the way, until I get a standmixer, I am not making this again. There is a HUGE amount of beating [heh] going on here) and the thing I was the most excited about; dark chocolate peppermint bark. I love bark. I love it because in general, I think I am the only one in the house that eats it, much like Peppermint stick ice cream. So, I used this recipe that my friend Christine posted from Bethenny Frankel. I love dark chocolate too so yay for this. I decided to try it. Here’s one thing that annoys me whenever I see one of Frankel’s recipes…she’s all about healthful eating and such, Skinnygirl…blah blah. Yeah, try and find nutritional info on her recipes on her site? Yeah…go ahead. I can’t find it…am I looking in the wrong place? I can’t even track her SkinnyGirl drinks because there’s no nutritional info. I gather it can’t be a lot…not the point. I don’t expect her to go all Hungry Girl and give us the points, but some info so I can figure it out would be nice. Bethenny, do a sister a solid and post some nutritional info every once in a blue moon.

Anyway…the bark is freaking delicious. Next year…I’m going to do it with white chocolate.  But, some photos of the process!

Crushing Candy Canes

It’s 10 candy canes in total…5 mixed in, 5 crushed on top…you can do them all at once or in 2 batches. However works best for yo

I melted some chocolate….I only had 10 ounces of dark chocolate chips, so I supplemented with 2 oz of semi-sweet morsels, because it’s what I had.

Before the melting

After the melting, but before the candy canes get mixed in

mixing in of the candy canes

It took me several minutes to figure this one out. It’s not on the stove and the bowl is floating in mid air?! Really?  I must be holding it in one and taking the snap with my phone with the other hand. It’s weird. But that’s multi-tasking for you.

And the finished product…trumpets sound!  Actually, they sound in my head whenever I finish something that turns out ok. I lead a very rich inner life.

Becoming Bark

FYI, this is totally a picture of the inside of my fridge.

Anyhoodles, it was a great deal of baking and with Christmas dinner to make…I’ve done practically NO cooking this week, save heating up some ham and potatoes and sauteeing some mushrooms.  I think next year, a smaller ham will do.   Of course, I am going to take the big ole  bone and make some split pea soup with it. Soon. Really. Soon.


I did take the summer off. It was hot and aside from my baking class, I didn’t really do much cooking.  Or baking. Or moving. I hate the heat. I like fall and winter. That’s the stuff of pies and stews and soups and pies. Did I mention pies?

The baking class ended well and as much as I would like to take Baking 2 with my classmates and my teacher, it is not to be. At least not for now. Next month, I eat and drink my way through the Germany. I am coming for you Riesling,  beware wine growers of The Rhine!

A couple of weekends ago I decided I wanted a pie, an apple pie. From scratch. Because I’m like that. Why walk when you can run? Why start small, with a small tart? Go for the pie! It’s like when I decided to make Coq au Vin. Why? Why not? I got a hair across and decided I had to make it.  I am not a fan of my Coq  Au Vin. I may try it again but I couldn’t get past purple chicken. Damned red wine!  I saw a recipe recently where it was made with Riesling and I wish I could remember where because I love Riesling (Germany, once again, you’ve been warned).

Anyhoodles…I made a pie. From scratch. Proof! Here is the dough.


See! Dough! On my kitchen table! That’s my floor!  And it looks right! It was a bit drier than I think it should have been but it stayed together and it rolled out. I like doing pie dough. I actually find it, and kneading bread fairly cathartic.  So, this pie was made with granny smith apples, which I pre-cooked (handy tip…when you pre-cook, you will need 2-3 more apples…they cook down kids, at least I have gleaned this from every recipe I looked at) with some lemon juice, cinnamon, allspice (killer by the way!), brown sugar and white regular sugar. I like the bite of ye olde granny smith apple. I love apples but am not big on Macintosh or Red Delicious. I do prefer an apple with a bit of bite.   I got a bit lazy and did a crumb crust of flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and BUTTER! Pretty freaking delish. It’s the same topping I use for cobbler.

And lo…a pie!

Looks good, no?! Yes! And it was damned tasty, I am not even kidding.  Even I was impressed with it and I am tough on myself.

So, yes…we ate dessert first. But I did follow up this pie with a lemon rosemary roast chicken…which aside from the fact I didn’t like the chicken itself (forget you Tyson…holding out for Perdue or just not you next time), was very tasty. I have more proof!

roast chicken

It still had a bit longer to cook but I grabbed a photo of it before I put it back in for a bit, covered. See that bottom bit? That took forever to cook. Perdue doesn’t do me like that, why you want to do that to me Tyson?! I was really warm and hungry and tired by then so I wasn’t happy.

Last night I made the lasagna that ate Cleveland…no pics. Later in the week, Quinoa pilaf and maybe something with shrimp. I was watching the chick who won the Next FoodNetwork Star (Aarti Sequeira ) and she made this…it sounded really good. I am doing my pilaf with some different things so we’ll see how it turns out. And I may use Panko on the shrimp. I love Panko. I would marry it if I could.

So…what are you all eating? And cooking?

We didn’t just make creme puffs, I am a creme puff. I could never last in a commercial bakery. 3 odd hours on my feet and this old girl hobbled home. Well, I hobbled to the cab stand.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.

So, first baking class was this week and yayzers for it.  But baking is a real laborious process if the creme puffs are any indication.  There are 7 of us in class and all of us are women. No surprise there. I thought we might get one or two gay men but that would be it.   The instructor, Dot (it totally fits her) started out by demoing Gougeres. These are made using pate choux, which is the pastry part of the creme puff. You can use this recipe to make savory puffs as well as sweet ones.  And it also gave us something to snack on during class. Although, I eat cake for dinner so I can snack on the sweet and be happy.

We worked in teams. So, I’m almost 41 and obviously the oldest person taking the class. My partner was 18. She had just graduated high school and is going to MIT in the fall. They have no meal plan to speak of, so her parents thought it would be a good idea to give her cooking and baking classes so she can eat.  FABULOUS idea, by the way. Now, I had assumed that in the unevenness of the class, I would be partnerless. Nope, 18 year old actually asked ME to partner. I must radiate calm. HA! I think I radiate “I will be nice because you are young enough to be my child” for an aura.

So, for the puff (sweet puff) itself, you put butter in a pan with water and bring to boil, making sure the butter melts before the water boils. Remove from heat and then add flout and mix, put back on heat so that it gets kind of shiny and greasy to the touch. Remove from heat and add one egg at a time. And this could be anywhere from 4-7 eggs depending on the recipe.  And then, you pipe them into a baking sheet.

So, let’s discuss piping. Piping is hard y’all. It really is. I am not the most coordinated at the best of times so piping caused me some issues. But here is how I feel about it. Do they taste good? Yes. Am I baking them for business or pleasure? Pleasure. Who cares then? Not me. They looked creme puff like. That is good enough for me.

And then, onto the creme! We chose to do the coffee flavored creme, never expecting that it gets stiff (insert your joke here) and that putting it through a strainer was going to be an ordeal that actually pissed me off. Eventually, we made it look smooth and per the instructor, just dumped into the bowl.  Then to make it less..ahem…stiff, you mousseline it (adding whipped cream) until you get a consistency that looks right. Because  yes Virginia, there is more piping. You have to pipe the creme into the puff.  And this time, I had a wobbly tip and that made it difficult and messy. So now, I have to get piping bags and tips so I can master this bad boy.  If there is more piping when we do cakes in a few weeks, I am pretty well screwed.   But, they tasted really good and that’s all I need.

A few random thoughts: the assistant was just graduating as a pastry chef and they use a mixer to mix the pastry and such. So, should I do this again, I too will use a mixer. There is a lot of upper body work to mix this stuff and then the creme.  I want to make gougeres, a lot. She used toasted slivered almonds, scallions and emmenthaler cheese.  She piped but I don’t think these need to be pretty so I may try those this weekend.  Because I am paying for this, I will ask the “Stupid” question.  This could be another reason that the 18 year old gravitated towards me. The other women had some baking experience. I have none so if I don’t know, I’m asking. It’s how you learn. If you are supposed to share your creme puffs with the class and you are the only team that made chocolate and you don’t share, you seriously kind of suck.  So don’t expect me to share with you if I make something awesome (and I will).  Don’t forget to drink water when you bake, flour is dry so you will get dry and if it’s hot, you should stay hydrated. Really really good shoes. I just wore Chucks and while comfy, not enough support. My feet and legs were humming with pain when I got home. I’ve got some foot issues anyway but this didn’t help. Next week…my workout sneakers will be worn.   Seriously, the next day…I felt hungover, it wasn’t pretty.

So, I do like baking. I like the alchemy of it and how it’s all a chemical reaction. It’s fascinating. But after one class, I now know, that it will be something fun I do at home. I don’t want  sideline baking. I want to bake for people, for pleasure but not because they’re paying me. I don’t want to HAVE to do it.  Sometimes, having to do something can seriously ruin it.  I already have a feeling that cupcakes are going to be my thing. I love eating them so I suspect I’d love making them. This way, I can make the flavors that I want to make.

Next week…we’re doing the pie thang!

Baking Class

For those interested…here is what I’ll be doing in my baking class each week, I got the reminder this morning. Oddly, they had week 3 listed after week 4 in the email but I changed it here.  My one problem is that if I take to this, I have no counter space. I generally use my kitchen table for most things. And it’s tile, so that won’t do. BUT, I did think of something; I am going to go have a largish piece of marble cut so I can use it when I bake. I can just set it on the table and have at it.  I am pretty sure that will do it. I already have ideas for about a dozen different kinds of bread I want to try!

Week One—Pâte à Choux: In week one, we will discover the art of making pâte à choux, also known as cream puff paste. Pâte à choux is a versatile paste that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Students will prepare and sample dishes such as assorted savory Gougère, Cream Puffs, Éclairs, and Cream Puff Swans. The class also makes pastry cream and glazes.

Week Two—Pies and Tarts: Students explore the fundamentals of making the perfect pâte brisée (pie crust) in week two. Each student will prepare a standard pâte brisée recipe, learning how to roll out the dough and use it in various recipes. Students will make Frangipane and Fresh Fruit Tart, Blueberry White Chocolate Cheese Pie, Lemon Tartlets, Praline Sweet Potato Pie, Cranberry Crumb Pie, and Cherry Pie.

Week Three—Cakes: This class instructs students to prepare a cake from scratch and to bake and frost it with simple decorating tips. Students will prepare various recipes such as an all-purpose Butter Cake, Rich Flourless Chocolate Cake, Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing, and a vast array of different buttercream, ganache, and simple glazes.

Week Four—Breads: Students learn how to work with yeast doughs, rich doughs, and batter doughs in week three. The instructor will demonstrate how to knead, shape, and bake the dough that is prepared in class. Students will make Focaccia, Rosemary Garlic Bread, Maple-Pecan Sticky Buns, Rye Bread, and French Bread.