British food rocks! Really.

I went to my second cooking class this week. I had purchased a silent auction item at the Sunset at the Ritz benefitting the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the ALS Association at The Kitchen Table. I had eyed the cooking classes for several months, trying to figure out which one to take. My summer has been busy, but I saw a break in my schedule this week and leapt at a recently added class celebrating the Olympics and British Food.

Chef Tom, surveyed the class on who had been to England and if they had a memorable meal. Most said the food was horrible, citing fish, chips and beer as the highlights.  Chef Tom taught us that the Brits were big on:

pickling, smoking

beer, ciders, tea

custard,  pies, savory puddings

beef

Sunday was the day to serve a grand meal as Monday was wash day and gave the cooks a break to clean up and eat the leftovers. Our menu was crab and asparagus salad, roast beef, savory Yorkshire pudding, horseradish cream, mint peas, gravy and a bread pudding.

The Kitchen Table pre-made creme fraiche (fresh cream) that we used for the salad dressing and the horseradish cream for the beef. Also pre-made for us was a veal stock for the gravy.

The first item we made was the bread and butter pudding with Bailey’s (oh yeah). We made a creme anglaise (English cream), a custard mixture similar to one for an ice cream. We layered apricot jam, circles of brioche, rum-soaked raisins, all soaked with the creme anglaise to ramekins. They were popped in the oven while we constructed the rest of our meal.

Next was to build our Yorkshire and pour into ramekins with lard in the bottom (oh yeah), make the horseradish sauce, and truss our beef. After those tasks we constructed our salad with a creme fraiche, lime and grainy mustard dressing.

After we munched on our fresh, lovely salad, with Paco y Lola, 2010 white wine we returned to the kitchen to braise our beef, make our gravy, and heat our buttered, mint peas.

Chef Tom’s Tips:

1) Creme fraiche is easy to make at home and tastes better than store-bought. Heat 1 C cream to 105 degrees in saucepan, remove from heat and stir in 1TBS buttermilk. Place in shallow container, cover with plastic wrap and leave on the countertop, warm area and stir every 8 hours for 2 days until thick. Refrigerate once set.

2) When removing bread and butter puddings from ramekins place the sharp knife along the edge and turn the ramekins, do not move the knife up and down. The pudding edge will come out smooth not jagged.

3) Don’t play with the beef, leave it in the pan to braise on all sides; let is rest after oven baked by tenting it with foil all before slicing it.

4) Good lump crab can be purchased canned. When added to the salad don’t break apart the crab, be gentle with it.

Patty’s Points:

1) I loved the horseradish. Now I want to buy one. It’ll go great in my sauerkraut (see https://thefearlesscookingclub.com/2011/09/). My husband loves horseradish cream with beef. It was so fresh.

2) I loved the Yorkshire pudding. I know crazy huh? all those carbs and lard? They puffed up so beautifully. Chef Tom said it was the cold egg batter poured into the hot ramekins with hot lard, popped into the oven that made them puff up.

One student in the class said this class was then next best thing to going to the Olympics (which was on her bucket list). It was fun. I learned great techniques and a little bit more about England.

The class found it fascinating and maybe scared (?) that I had a food blog. I assured them that I only make fun of myself in this blog. I made a few mistakes in the kitchen, using the wrong pan a couple of times. Chef Patricia set me straight and was a great resource in the kitchen. I bonded with another macaron fan and I have already lost her e-mail to send her my most recent macaron recipe. Send me a message okay?

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I took a macaron cooking class. See what I learned

4-H was my first leap in cooking. I learned how to make dishes from the project recipe books with lots of practicing. But, I have never taken a cooking class. I’ve seen plenty of food demonstrations (that will be a future blog post) but never taken an actual class from a chef.

Ever since the macaron adventure in February 2012 I’ve been obsessed with macarons.  I have looked at different recipes on blog posts and macaron cookbooks. jothetartqueen has a chocolate macaron recipe; The Seaside Baker, my BlogHer Food friend, makes tons of macarons and has several flavors posted on her  blog; and a friend went to France and brought back a package of French macarons and a macaron cookbook completely written in French.

I saw an opportunity to take a macaron cooking class. I thought I could learn from a professional chef and fine tune my technique. After all, I am self-taught, studying recipes and cooking by lots of trial and error. I wanted to see what an expert could teach me.

I was off to a rocky start as I rolled in 15 minutes late and as my online reservation wasn’t received. But, they had room in the class and I fell into an affable group of two women, Erin and Susan, who welcomed me to the class. Susan has a knitting blog, so we bonded quickly.

When I jumped in, Erin was sifting the almond flour with the powdered sugar. Tip #1 was to sift the dry ingredients twice for a finer flour and to throw out the bigger pieces. You could even put it in the food processor first before sifting. You can’t over sift the dry ingredients.  Tip #2 store your almond flour in the freezer so it doesn’t spoil.

Next was the egg whites. Tip #3 whip them until foamy on a medium speed before adding the sugar and when the sugar is incorporated whip at a high-speed until stiff peaks are achieved. Deborah our chef said the bowl did not have to be cold but the egg whites should be at room temperature and “aged” at least one day.

Tip #4 use a Silpat liner under the parchment paper to prevent burning as well as an extra cookie sheet underneath. Our first batch of blueberry macarons turned out great. Perfect in fact.

Then we learned how to make a berry cream filling. That was new for me because I have used pre-made fillings like curd, jams, Nutella, or caramel in the past. I volunteered with three other students to go to the stove and make the filling. It turned out to be a lovely curd-like filling using cream, marscapone cheese, berry filling, eggs and sugar.

So I took those techniques from class and fine tuned my macarons.

Problem #1: Too hot an oven. The recipe called for 375 degree oven. After the first batch I turned it down to 350-360 degree F. See the first batch on the left is a little too brown compared to the light green batch on the right.

Problem #2: Cracked macaron. I think this happened because I didn’t let this batch dry completely for 30 minutes, I might have popped them in at 25 minutes.

Problem #3: Powdered mango. The mango macaron recipe called for powdered mango. In our class we had powdered mango. I asked Chef Deborah how to make it and she said to food process dried mango. As you can see below that did not happen. I dried it in the oven twice and pulverized it 2-3 times in the food processor and I got maybe 2 pinches of mango powder into the mix. I added some water to it and used it to make my filling.

I made two fillings Lime Cream and Mango Cream. I can’t believe I used a stick of butter for each of these fillings with the curd flavoring. They tasted good. mmmm butter.

While I was in the class, I asked lots of questions and I think Chef Deborah liked that. There were four groups of students, 15 in all, and four helpers clearing away our dishes. If I was taking the class for the first time I would’ve been overwhelmed. Making macarons calls for many details. I knew my subject and kept up with a fast paced class. All in all, I am glad I took the class. I felt more confident making my macarons today.

Pièce de résistance (my fine accomplishment). Embrassez le cuisinier (kiss the cook)

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A Mother’s love: Alfajores.

I tasted my first Alfajore cookie a few years ago when my husband brought home a box from a business trip in Argentina. It was love at first bite, melt in your mouth deliciousness.

I saw a recipe for Alfajores last year from Relish May 2011. The article mentioned that these cookies are a traditional Mother’s Day cookie. Any mother who loves to bake will have no trouble making these cookies for their children because it is all about love. I’m an empty-nester so I shared these cookies with my husband who had no complaints.

Patty’s Points:

1) The half flour, half cornstarch combination was a first for me. It made the cookie melt in your mouth.

2) The dough was very tender, but rolling the dough in the cornstarch was easier to accomplish than I thought. I used a biscuit cutter to cut out the cookie. I used a metal spatula to lift the cookie disc off the cutting board so as to not damage it.

3) The boiling of the can of sweetened condensed milk was an interesting method to caramelize the sugars for the filling. If I use this method again I would place the can on some type on metal sieve or plate in the bottom of the pan. My pan had a film on the lining of my pan from the can and stained the bottom of my pan.

The cookie was melt in your mouth delicious, great with a cup of tea or coffee.

Now that I have accomplished the basic Alfajore recipe I am ready to move on to different flavors like from 6 Bittersweets website for Chocolate Nutella Alfajores. I absolutely love Nutella so looks like a great recipe to try next.

I also sent a Mother’s Day wish out to my children at my other blog site May 8,2012 posting at the patty beat . Check it out! Happy Mother’s Day.

Baklava: No Fear

In Alton Brown’s  Good Eats: Baklava episode he shows a food gallery of most feared foods to make:  Baked Alaska, Tarte Tatin and Baklava. I laughed when I saw this episode since Baklava was the recipe to tackle this month.

When I talk about the Fearless Cooking Club and the premise of tackling our cooking fears, I will hear someone say, “Oh that’s easy to make, why would you say that is hard?” It’s all about perspective, that’s why we have our cooking club. It’s easier to accomplish difficult tasks in a group, fear loves company. We have members of our club who call me the gourmet cook and I laugh. I am just stubborn and determined. All of our members have varying skills and we get along because we are all learn from each other.

Cindy was our hostess for April’s cooking and dining meeting and the theme was Greek cuisine. Cindy has made Pastitio which is a wonderful Greek comfort dish. So when I arrived I assumed that she had experience in making baklava. She announced that she was going to learn right along with us.

Phyllo dough, butter, sugar and nuts are the basis of baklava. The phyllo is the trickiest part of baklava. It is thin and tears easily, taking patience and technique and it dries out quickly.

1) Butter a 9×13 inch pan. Pull up the phyllo sheets and place two sheets into the pan like making a bed.

2) With a pastry brush “paint” the top sheet with melted butter.

3) Sprinkle 2-3 TBSP of chopped walnuts across the sheet. Then repeat the steps: 2 sheets of phyllo, melted butter and chopped nuts.

4) As you near the end of the layers keep 6 sheets to put on the very top of the pan. Cut the sheets in the serving sizes prior to baking.

5) Bake at 350 degree F oven for 45-50 minutes until golden brown. After you pull it out of the oven have a pre-mixed combination of 1C granulated sugar, 1C water, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/2 C honey that was heated over a stove-top until it becomes a golden syrup.

Patty’s Points

1) Phyllo dough is found in the freezer section of the store. Put it in the refrigerator overnight for it to thaw. Alton Brown suggests you pick the box in the back of the freezer section as it is the freshest.

2) Phyllo dough can dry out quickly so when you are ready to use it, focus on the task of completing the assembly of the baklava. A damp towel or a water spray bottle can be use to keep is moist if necessary. We tried a towel but it was too damp and the first phyllo dough adhered to the towel so we skipped that and just worked quickly.

3) Have all the ingredients ready before assembly. Have a really sharp knife for cutting the phyllo dough shapes. We actually pulled out a ruler to measure the size of our cuts and triangles.

4) The phyllo sheets sucked up every bit of that syrup mixture and made the baklava very moist. Cindy bought some baklava from a local Greek restaurant and we thought ours was better 🙂 Just think, two triangles of baklava cost $4.00 so our entire pan was worth $72.00!

The rest of our Greek menu was Pastitio, Moussaka, Spanakopita, Sliced lamb, Pita bread, Greek salad, Loukoumathes (honey puffs) and of course Baklava. We received copies of the recipes to all the dishes which were delicious and delectable.

After some ouzo and wine we learned of Cindy’s first trip to Greece and traveling adventures as a young new college graduate. She decided to go to Europe because she got several driving ticket violations and couldn’t drive for three months. She was a free spirit and much bolder than I at that age.

OPA! Greek for party down which we did!

I can’t believe I made macarons

I first read about the macaron in the December 12, 2011 edition of Time Magazine. The macaron was being sold at a NYC French bakery with lines around the block. It claimed that it was going to overtake cupcakes in popularity. Since that article, I have read and watched numerous macaron blog posts and videos all over the internet.

There are many interesting takes on the history of macarons. The Serious Eats introduction to and history of macaroons is an interesting take on this 500-year-old delicacy and confectionary treat. They are extremely popular in France but originated in Italy.

So in my fearless quest to make to macarons I had to do my research. In Denver D Bar Desserts is one of a few bakeries that make macarons. So I checked it out. Petite, tasty little treats that would be good with a cup of tea or a glass of champagne.

The most comprehensive blog on macarons I found was Food Nouveau. She had step-by-step directions, along with a several of her own posts on trouble-shooting tips.  Four ingredients of almond flour (meal), powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and egg whites. How hard could it be? Six batches later culminated with the Fearless Cooking Club (FCC) members meeting to celebrate all things macaron and Valentines Day.

Macaron ingredients

210 g powdered sugar

125 g almond meal/flour

3 large egg whites

30 g granulated sugar

So with so few of ingredients I learned that this adventure was all about cooking techniques. It’s like playing a sport, you have to have the basic techniques.

Technique #1 -Prepping the dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients are measured in grams, which are important to know when preparing. I actually pre-measured the almond flour and sugars in advance and bagged them to be ready for the next batch to trial.

The powdered sugar and almond flour must be placed in a food processor to bring the ingredients together. Following that the combined ingredients are then sifted to a fine state of powder.

Technique #2 – All about the egg whites

Egg whites must be separated from their shell partner, the yolk, and placed in a sealed container, refrigerated 1-5 days in advance of using them. Before whipping them, they must be brought to room temperature for a couple of hours.  Then place your egg whites in a very cold steel bowl and whip them until frothy. Add the granulated sugar in three stages to the egg whites until they are stiff peaks, which takes about 3-4 minutes. Some recipes I saw indicated that the egg whites should also be measured in grams. I didn’t choose to get that technical, but it is recommended that you use large eggs.

Technique #3 – Folding in the ingredients

If you want pastel-pretty macarons, then this is the time to do it. Many sites say to use only powdered food coloring, which I didn’t have access to, so I used Wilton gel food coloring. I folding in the food coloring so as to not deflate the whites.

Once combined, I then added very small amounts of the almond-powder sugar mixture at a time. I accomplished this in 5-6 portions, again, folding the ingredients until each portion is combined.

Technique #4 – Piping out the macarons

All the mixture went into a piping bag with a 1/2 inch wide tip to pipe out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Food Nouveau had downloadable templates to place under my parchment paper so I had a guideline for uniformity. That was pretty awesome. Make sure to slide out the template before baking!

Pick up and drop or bang the cookie sheet to get out the air bubbles and let them rest for 20 minutes.

Technique #5 – Baking

Set the oven at 275-300 degrees. This is where practice will tell you the right temperature. Place the cookie sheet into the oven on top of another cookie sheet so as not to burn them.  Bake them for 14-18 minutes, again another point of practicing. I turned my cookie sheet half-way through the baking time for uniformity. I’ll have to read more on macarons whether that is a good idea or not.

So that was the technique, but what did I really think once it was all over and done with? I made six batches of macarons this week. A labor of learning it was.

  • Two of the six batches were tossed in the trash; completely wrong texture.
  • The circumference of the cookie probably determines the adjustment of the time and temperature in the oven.
  • Sifting was tough. I had a very fine sifter which was great for consistency but it took a good 30 minutes to sift the entire mixture.
  • I made chocolate, lemon-yellow and the pink macarons. We had a variety of fillings from Nutella, cherry jam, and lemon curd. But the favorite was the one Sarah brought which was salted carmel!

Now that I have officially made macarons I have an appreciation for pastry chefs. Attention to detail is the key. They were good but I need more practice and a few tips to fully perfect them. But I really think going to France and appreciating them first hand would be a better place to start.

Soup Swap Party

The Fearless Cooking Club gathered yesterday today to celebrate January as National Soup Month and January 21, 2012 as National Soup Swap Day. If you want details on how to organize your own soup swap, check out my fellow blogger Soup Chick‘s website.

The Fearless Cooking Club members are more about socializing than having rules to follow, so it was a long afternoon soiree of enjoying each other’s company and partaking in different types of stews and soups. The spouses and a few additional couples were invited making a houseful of 14 people celebrating all things soup. Char and her husband  Dwayne were spectacular hosts and their home was the perfect setting for this occasion.

Our rules were that each club member made two batches of soup: one was pre-made and packed in 1-pint containers ready for freezing and sharing; the other batch was brought in a crock and ready to serve. Each member went home with four pints of soup.

I absolutely love soup, but in preparing for this cooking club adventure I realized I never had a favorite one to share. I surveyed Soup Chick’s blog and tested three recipes before deciding on which one to bring. I am known in the group for alway trying something new, hence the name as Fearless Cook. It took some research and cooking trials for me to find a recipe to share with a group of people. I tried a Spicy Ground Beef and Bean Soup with Cabbage and Spinach from Kalyn’s Kitchen that was awesome and a Apple Pie Soup from Soup Chick. I eventually chose to make African Chicken Peanut Stew. It was fabulous so I think I have found a signature soup recipe for me. It was kind of a cross between a traditional stew and a Thai type dish. I served it with rice and cilantro. It was a pretty hearty stew at that, one serving was pretty filling.

The soup choices were:

Italian Wedding Soup with sausage and kale

Walkabout Split Pea and Ham

Bruce’s Beef Stew

African Chicken Peanut Stew

Black Forest Potato Soup

As you can see it was quite a variety of soups and stews.

A soiree it was. Wine, bread, crackers, and lots of water to cleanse our palates. After all the tasting, we had coffee and light desserts to cap off the afternoon. My freezer has four kinds of soups to get my husband I and through the busy week of work. Bon appetite!