29 January 2012

Fast Fact: Zest

It used to drive me crazy reading recipes that called for lemon zest only.  I could never manage to have enough fresh fruit on hand.  Either I had used the zest leaving me with a naked lime that dried out or I'd only needed the juice and had to toss out all that prime, waiting-to-be-zested peel.

Not anymore!! 

Fast Fact:  Freeze juiced halves of citrus instead of throwing them away.  You can zest them with a microplane (while frozen) to add zip and flavor to cakes, bread, muffins, whatever you're cooking up.

What of those zested un-juiced fruits?

Bonus Fast Fact:  I found that if I wrap them in plastic or fold them in a sandwich bag they don't dry up as fast and I can keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week!  The plastic steps in as a substitute peel keeping it from drying out so quickly.

No more waste.

23 January 2012

Putting the Puff in Pastry

I don't know about you, but when I decide to indulge in the calories that Puff Pastry brings to the table, I want those calories to come from butter.

Not oil.

Not shortening.

And I want my Puff Pastry to be additive-free, thank you.

I was so happy to find an all-butter version at Trader Joe's a while back.  I booked a catering job soon after my discovery and designed a couple of items on my menu around it.  But as sometimes happens with Trader Joe's, the Puff Pastry disappeared from the case.  Not one box found in any store within 15 miles of me!  Their explanation? Puff Pastry is a seasonal item!  When exactly is Puff Pastry season??  I'm gonna have to mark my calendar.  Mind you this is kinda the "go-to" response I get from them from time to time.  Irritated, I set out to find all-butter Puff Pastry somewhere else.  I went to five different stores before I found it.  I nearly passed-out when I saw the price!!

Flash-forward to the solution--making my own.

I've made laminated dough before with all the folding and turning and chilling.  It's not difficult to do, but it is a time sucker.  I don't know about you, but spending the better part of a day babysitting dough is not how I want to spend my time. 

I'm happy to report that I have a recipe that makes all-butter Puff Pastry for a fraction of the cost in under 2 hours--including chill time! 

"Jennifer, this sounds too good to be true.  I'm skeptical."

Friends, I wouldn't steer you wrong.  I promise it's true.

What Happened:
It was easy to put together especially because I could weigh it.  Believe it or not, weighing is usually faster than measuring AND the results are more consistent.

Maybe I'm weird, but I love the feel of dough.  It's airy and soft and just makes me happy.  This dough is beautiful and silky especially after you layer in the butter.

It's easy to roll out too.  The butter didn't break through or squirt out.  If it does ever break through the dough don't panic, just cover the butter patch with flour and do another turn.

The coolest thing I discovered was that the second, larger addition of butter was perfectly softened by the time the dough ball was assembled and rested so I didn't have to pre-plan and pull the butter out early or try to soften it in the microwave.  Yay!

Things I Would Change:
I upped the salt a tish.  It was just a little flat for me and the salt helps to highlight the luxurious creamy butter flavor.

The Results:
Flaky, crispy, fast.

From just one recipe I made an amazing Tomato Tart Tatin, creamy Chicken Stew Cups and Quick Apple Tarts.

I know what's in this dough and it cost less than $2.00 to make!

Double the recipe and freeze it.  It will also keep in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Say it with me: Fake Puff Pastry No More!!

20 January 2012

Introducing... Fast Fact

I had an idea for the blog while washing dishes the other day and the more I think about it, the more I really like it.

Most of my baking adventure stories are pretty long and involved and believe it or not, take me longer to put together than it does for you to read them!  Crazy but true.  So I've been trying to figure out how I can realistically do more without doing more...

That's when I thought about this spiral notebook I carry around with me.  I have loads of notes in there about baking that don't necessarily connect to the recipes I'm exploring, but are pretty groovy on their own.

That's the idea!

Why not post a short little blurb with these little baking hints, lessons & oddities?  Yeah, why not?  I can't think of reason, so that's what I'm going to do!

Let's get started.

Fast Fact: Egg Clean-Up

Ever try to clean up an uncooked egg you've dropped and broken?  It will drive you to drink!  You wipe and you wipe and the egg goo just smears everywhere. 

Next time, cover the egg with a lot of salt (1/4 cup?) and wait a few minutes before wiping it up.  The salt will dry the egg enough to make clean-up a cinch.

And scene.  (Sorry, a very LA joke!)

I'm very excited about this new feature.  Hope you are too!

18 January 2012

Two Dates Walk Into A Bar

Aaand I'm back.

I hope you're into catching up a bit.

Dialing all the way back to the holidays --I think it was a couple days after Thanksgiving--I was driving around and heard about a holiday gift idea that struck me just the right way.  Did you know it's possible to make your own liqueur?  I didn't.  Orange, Lemon, Kiwi Strawberry--pick a fruit and you're on your way.  What really perked up my ears was the idea of Date Liqueur.

They said it was really easy, tasty and FAST.  Who doesn't like the sound of that?  Unique too.  No danger of, "Oh thanks, but Judy gave me one of those last week" embarrassments.

The date thing hit me because back in September Cody and I went on a mini-vacation with a few friends to Palm Springs.  One of our adventures involved driving out to the Salton Sea.  Little did we know that the biggest feature of this so-called "sea" was its (fish) skeleton-lined shores.  YIKES!!

The Salton Sea fish bones may have been a bit creepy, but the trip led us to discover two huge roadside Date markets.  Dates are a big crop in the California desert.  (See it's all coming together now, right?)

I was in heaven.

Just inside the door sat a huge round table with baskets full of every variety of date you can imagine for sampling!!  Wee!  I think there were at least 10 kinds and I tasted every one--my pals bowed out after 2 or 3.  Amateurs!

Frankly, I came late to the date party--dates were not a staple ingredient in my mom's Ohio kitchen.  Who knew they were so caramel-ly delicious?  After tasting all that I could, I bought bags and bags of my two favorite varieties and stuck them in the freezer waiting for a great idea to hit me.

Enter, The Great Idea.

Supposedly, all I needed to do was cover dates with vodka and keep them in an airtight container in the dark for a couple of weeks and voila--Date Liqueur.  Also, they claimed there was enough sugar in the dates that no additional sugar was necessary. The extra added bonus surprise was that I would be able to then use the vodka infused dates to make, and I quote, "the most delicious date bread ever."  Sold.

I went home and put some of my prized dates in a big latch-top jar, covered them with hooch and shook the jar every few days.  I even found some lovely glass bottles so I could gift the caramel liqueur.

Two weeks later I popped open the lid, gave it a stir and took a taste.


Awful.  Like pure vodka.  So many dates and I couldn't taste them at all.  I figured I still had a few days that I could let the concoction sit before I had to bottle my gifts.  I was nervous.  I wasn't sure a few days was enough to make the magic happen.

Turned out I was right.  Luckily, I had scratched around and found a recipe for cranberry liqueur that worked really fast.  Paired with a cranberry-banana-walnut bread, the liqueur made a festive gift.  But what about the dates??

Apparently it takes at least 7 weeks to make Date Liqueur!!

It's a thick caramel liqueur that's nice to sip on its own, makes a fun martini, works in recipes and flavors whipped cream and custards brilliantly.  I did add a touch of honey to cut through the little bit of vodka bite.

Now, even after making a batch of date nut bread from the vodka-ed date pulp, I have loads of it in the freezer whenever I need it.  Nothing wasted!  I love that.

If I were to do it again, I'd probably use dark rum just because I think it would give the liqueur that much more depth.  Even though the holidays are long gone, the first bottle is winging its way to our fellow Salton Sea Adventurers (you know who you are!!) and I still have some nice impromptu gifts to share at any time because the flavor will continue to develop in the bottle for up to a year.

Maybe I'm just that far ahead on my holiday gifts for 2012! 

07 January 2012

Shootin' Pie

I know, I know.  Where the hell have I been, right?

Well, first there was the holiday crush for Fresh from the Oven (THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO ORDERED!) and now even my latest baking endeavor has planted itself firmly between me and my keyboard!

Let me tell you about this latest thing.  I'm baking for a cookbook photo shoot.  A first for me.  Goes to show you never know where a conversation at a baby shower will lead!

So it's a book all about pies written by Krystina Castella (fellow Art Center grad) author of:  Pops!, Crazy About Cookies, Crazy About Cakes, Crazy About Cupcakes, A World of Cakes, Booze Cakes, and Discovering Nature's Alphabet.  We've been baking and shooting everything from knish purses and googly-eyed pop tarts to traditional pumpkin pie (which I dropped pulling it out of the oven and had to remake in record time!  Not a banner moment.)

It wasn't so long ago that I spent my days on a set and this time is no different, except for all the flying flour, sugar and marzipan!

What typically happens is Krystina gives us a recipe and we try to make the most perfect version of her creations for the camera.

We?  Yeah, we.

I'm working with the awesome food stylist and photography team of Jenny Park and Teri Lyn Fisher.  It's great spending my days around other food obsessed folks.  Jenny and Teri have a blog you should check out Spoon Fork Bacon.  Their blog is just like being in the room with them--smart, funny and chock full o' food.  (I should clarify--they're not chock full o' food, they're skinny girls, they just talk about food a lot.)

That's what I'm doing these days.  I promise to be diving deep into recipes with you soon.  I've got a stockpile of things to share.