Are you a Cook or a Chef?

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It seems like a very simple distinction but it is  a vital one in my opinion.  Chefs, admittedly my definition, are those individuals that go to culinary school and rigorously follow a recipe for the most basic things.  Cooks are those that learned from a loved one or are self-taught and that know that the best tasting food isn’t necessarily going to grace the cover of Bon Appetit anytime soon.

I’m a cook and I’m bloody proud of that fact.  I’m not afraid to open the pantry and the freezer and experiment with foods and spices.  Sometimes those experiments are horrible and the dogs thank me, but most of the time the experiments are successful and tasty.  I admit when I glance at recipes it is more for inspiration  than directions.  I don’t follow recipes.  The picture is one such lovely experiment that resulted in the best pot roast we’ve ever had.  I will share the recipe this week, I’ve been meaning to but I’ve been caught up in finishing writing my novel.

Chefs follow recipes and try to make food as intimidating and scary a possible.  All of those cooking shows are trying to sell cookware or cookbooks more than they are about getting people to try and cook for themselves.  They make it sound like making a loaf of bread or a batch of cookie dough is clinical science.  Sure, there’s science behind cooking but there were excellent cooks and amazing food long before it was reduced to cold, clinical measure that and measure this science.

Be bold, be adventurous.  Stop using so much salt that the “professionals” use in their recipes and experiment with other spices and ingredients instead.  Get the basics down and know what flavors and spices taste good to you and yours.  Once you know the basic recipe, then you will be free to experiment in changing up the basics.  Experimentation leads to the tasty goodness that is hiding in your cabinet waiting to bust out.

Pumpkin Bread

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I wanted to bake this morning but nothing in my usual rotation was striking the right inspirational chord with me.  So I went looking on allrecipes.com for inspiration and the results are fantastic.  The inspiration recipe can be found here but I made serious changes to the recipe. 

Recipe

1 can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)

4 eggs

3 cups sugar

1 cup applesauce

1/4 cup to a cup of Apple juice

4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Ginger

1 teaspoon Cloves

 

1.  Preheat over to 350 degrees and prepare two loaf pans.

2.  Combine eggs, applesauce, sugar, and pumpkin until smooth.

3.  Next add the dry ingredients slowly to the wet.  Combine until batter is well combined and the reasonably tight.  Depending on your humidity and how loose you like your quick bread batter, add apple juice as required.

4.  Evenly divide the batter into the two pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 

Tips

 

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As usual, spices measurements are approximates.  Spice the bread based on what flavors your family prefers.  We prefer more ginger and cinnamon, but I know others prefer more cloves paired with pumpkins.  Allspice and nutmeg would also be wonderful additions, I just didn’t have any in the spice pantry.

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This is the consistency of my batter.  It fell from the paddle slowly and in large sections, rather than dripping quickly in small portions repeatedly.  I let the batter rest for a couple of minutes before dividing the batter.

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I poured half the batter into a measuring cup lined with cling film and placed it in the refrigerator to set-up before transferring it to a container to place in the freezer.  With just the two of us, we won’t eat two loaves prior to one of them going to waste.

The remaining batter I added a couple of handfuls of dried cranraisins and mixed them in well.  I didn’t pre-flour the additions but you can to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the mixture.  The mixture is incredibly receptive to additions.  Future additions will be butterscotch chips, apples, and nuts.  I am thinking grated carrots or grated zucchini will also make this bread even healthier, although adding either of those definitely means being sure to reduce the liquid in the batter because of the moistness of carrots and zucchini. 

The bread was a hit with my husband and our parrot, Pickles, couldn’t get enough of it.  I think the bread is dense enough to make wonderful French toast over the holidays, and versatile enough to make a savory stuffing.  I know it will be amazing toasted with a smear of cream cheese.  The recipe is actually pretty healthy, the applesauce is a perfect replacement for the vegetable oil called for in the inspiration recipe.  Personally, I always replace oil with applesauce whenever possible.

Polish Goodness on a Sunday: Mazurki

Many decades ago, just writing that phrase makes one feel old, my little brother discovered a love for an incredibly rich and decadent Polish delicacy, Mazurki.    Growing up it was in his top two favorite cookies of all time, although it is much less of a traditional cookie than it is an indulgent morsel of goodness.  I remember fondly his face lighting up whenever we’d come home from school and discover a fresh pan of Mazurki waiting for us.

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Recipe:

2 sticks of butter softened

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

2 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1 jar Strawberry preserves, 10 oz

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 tsp Vanilla

8 oz walnuts

Powered sugar to taste

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Pre-heat oven to 350.  Melt butter and combine with flour and eggs.  Make sure they are well combined and then spread evenly in a 13×9 pan.  Bake until golden brown.

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Combine sugar eggs, and vanilla.  Gently fold in the walnuts .

Remove from oven and evenly spread the jar of preserves over the top of the cooling cookie crust. 

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Then cover the jam with the egg and nut mixture. 

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Place back in the oven until golden brown.

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Allow to cool completely, and then cut and sprinkle with a dusting of powder sugar.

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My husband doesn’t like walnuts so today I tried something new, I substituted lightly salted cashews for the walnuts.  I crushed the cashew before folding into the egg mixture.  Not traditional but it will be a sure fire hit with my husband.  I did keep it traditional and cut into diamond shapes, simply because that’s how Mum always did.

A couple of tips.  Resist the urge to spray the pan with cooking spray.  The is more than sufficient butter in the base of the cookie to prevent sticking.  It won’t necessarily harm the recipe if you spray the pan but it won’t help either.  These need to be refrigerated to keep them fresh.  They can be made ahead of time and frozen.  They keep well in the freezer and thaw nicely on the counter for a quick dessert when unexpected company arrives.

And here is my secret weapon, for any recipe calling for sprinkled powered sugar:

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It’s my loose tea holder.  It has a super fine mesh which allows for a perfect light dusting of powered sugar without it flying all over the kitchen in the process.

 

I just taste tested and the cashews are simply amazing!  The lightly salted cashews cut through the sweet nicely which my husband will appreciate.  It should be safe to substitute the favorite nut of your choice if you don’t like walnuts or cashews.

Sunday Goodies

It was a rainy, gray, thunderous morning here and we needed a good dose of morning sunshine to kick start the day. So I threw together an impromptu batch of what are now known as Sunrise Muffins. They were immensely good and we finished the muffins before I could take pictures. However, there was enough excess batter to throw in a small loaf pan to make one muffin loaf.

Hiding inside are fresh strawberries and nectarines which were marinated overnight in sugar and Kraken Spiced Rum. The fruit reminds me of an Arizona sunrise in July, brilliant reds peeking through oranges hues as the sun climbs over the horizon.

The muffins were moist and tender. The fruit was not overly sweet over so drunk on rum that all you could taste was the rum. Instead, the muffins, and by extension the loaf, were slightly sweet, nicely spiced, and light.

The perfect start to a Sunday was followed up with the perfect late lunch condiment, salsa! I love salsa, no seriously I love salsa that is fresh, homemade, and so spicy my mouth is on fire. Well, I succeeded in my last batch which included two small and extremely spicy peppers from our garden.


I made the salsa a week ago and put it in the refrigerator to marry the flavors. Any great salsa requires time to blend and become one and boy howdy, was the salsa blended perfectly. To be honest salsa is simple to make and healthy, and tastes nothing like the jars of salsa sold on supermarket shelves everywhere. Best part of homemade salsa is you control the heat and the ingredients. The recipe for mine is simple:

Roasted peppers – peeled and deveined

Onions

Tomatoes

Cilantro

Garlic

Lime zest

Lime juice

 

Dice the roasted peppers, onions, and tomatoes into small bite size pieces. Finely dice the garlic and cilantro then add it to the diced ingredients. Zest one lime into the mixture and lime juice to taste. Salt and pepper to taste (I never do).

 

Can be eaten immediately but for best results, refrigerate for at least a week.

 


Now you are set for the perfect accompaniment to almost any meal. Enjoy!


 

Slutty Brownies

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So, surfing out of boredom a couple of weeks ago I found this blog posting for a recipe for a concoction known as slutty brownies.  The name is appropriate given the simple but decadent list of ingredients: chocolate chip cookie dough, Oreo cookies, and brownie batter.  It had been a tough couple of days here and so I decided to be adventurous and try the recipe.

I picked up all the ingredients while we were out shopping yesterday afternoon and promptly made the brownies when my husband opened the first bottle of chocolate wine we had ever tried.  (Yeah I know, the wine sounds AWFUL but it was surprisingly great.  Closer to Bailey’s than wine, but with less of an after bite if you don’t like the taste of whiskey.)  Chocolate wine definitely begs for chocolate dessert to be enjoyed at the same time, thus the brownies went in the oven immediately after dinner.

My husbands reviews “Waste of an excellent brownie mix” and with those simple words he adequately summed up the brownies.  Don’t get me wrong, they are RICH but there is simply too much going on to be enjoyed.   Fresh & Easy makes an excellent brownie mix, Double Fudge Brownies to be precise, and honestly, it is just as good as my brownies from scratch and they come together much faster. 

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I won’t be making Slutty Brownies again.  They were too rich and no individual component stood out on it’s own.  Rather they were a mix of great flavors we love without the taste of the great flavors.  Chocolate chip cookies should not have to compete with Oreos and brownies for attention.

Update: These brownies are MUCH MUCH better the next day.  Neither of us could believe the difference in taste and enjoyment was so dramatically improved just by letting them sit over night.

Sourdough bread … heavenly

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When my parents were married 45 years ago, they honeymooned in San Francisco and until recently, not quite sure but within the last six years, some of the best sourdough bread on the planet came from San Francisco.  On one of their yearly trips back to the city they love, they returned home to report that our beloved source of sourdough bread was no longer to be found anywhere.  I was deeply disappointed but began the search of decent sourdough. 

None was to be found however.  It was either to dry, barely sour, or just a poorly conceived excuse to charge slightly more for “artisan” bread.  Fed up, I tried a couple of starters of my own over the next several years and they were reasonably good attempts.  Still not what I was searching for however.  So I let one starter after another dwindle as my interest died. 

Then two weeks ago I was inspired.  I through out the pre-existing recipes for starter and set about on creating my own sourdough starter.  Energized, inspired, and salivating I set out to create the perfect sourdough starter and bread.  So, I grabbed that huge empty pickle jar and lid, the bread flour, yeast, sugar, and liquid and began my science experiment.  After dumping all the ingredients in the jar and stirring, I set it aside, uncovered, for a week.  When I remembered, I stirred it and the lovely sour smell and bursting bubbles were my reward.  A week later, the starter was ready. 

I dumped a cup of starter in the mixer, tossed in the ingredients for bread and started the mixer.  After letting it rise, I popped the bread into the oven.  Soon, hubby was wandering around the kitchen asking what that wonderful smell was and how soon could he have a piece.  The whole house smelled amazing.

The bread was perfect.  It was so sour it had an almost cheese like flavor to it but not so sour that it was inedible.  The next morning the smell of sourdough bread smothered in butter and freshly brewed coffee was the perfect start to a busy week of vacation.  The loaf didn’t last long, but then again homemade loaves of bread are meant to be eaten and enjoyed within a few days.

While the bread was baking, I replenished the starter and put it in the refrigerator for the first time.  I ran out of milk in the process and had to use water, I’m not hopeful it will brew the same magic but hey, sometimes a cook makes do with what there is versus what she wants.  This morning, I used the starter again and the results are pictured above.  This loaf was not nearly as tangy but still sour.  I know what to attribute that too and so this morning only milk went into the starter when I replenished it, hopefully resulting in a much more sour loaf next time. 

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