Are you a Cook or a Chef?

WP_20140313_008

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.

Advertisements

Pumpkin Bread

WP_20131222_008

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

 

WP_20131222_004

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.

WP_20131222_006

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.

WP_20131222_007

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.

WP_20131208_013

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

WP_20131208_002

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.

WP_20131208_005

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. 

WP_20131208_007

Then cover the jam with the egg and nut mixture. 

WP_20131208_009

Place back in the oven until golden brown.

WP_20131208_010

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

WP_20131208_012

 

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:

WP_20131208_011.

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.

Real Bread Campaign

WP_20130806_054

As you know, I routinely bake bread.  We as a family prefer the texture, taste, and quality of homemade bread to that over processed crap that you grab from the supermarket shelf.  Bread making isn’t difficult, in fact, it is nowhere near as difficult as professional chefs try and make it out to be.  Honestly, I throw the ingredients in the mixer, knead the dough, let it rise and bake it.  Not complicated, not time consuming and the end result is the wonderful smell of homemade bread baking and the incredible taste and texture of the bread as the ultimate reward.

Over in Britain there is an amazing campaign called Real Bread.  Focus of the campaign is to provide better quality bread products to residents and to teach residents how simple and easy it is to make bread themselves.  The campaign is striving for lofty goals of preservative free bread and bread that has ingredients that are pronounceable and everyone knows what they are.  Lucky UK residents can join the campaign for a mere £10 a year and get a large number of membership benefits.  The movement is open to non-UK residents but the quality of membership is much diminished because lack of proximity to events, classes, and sources.

We here in America need to start a grass roots movement like this and take back what good bread means.  Nothing quite beats a loaf of bread fresh from the oven.

Here is my husband’s favorite bread recipe*:
Ingredients:

4 cups of bread flour

2 eggs

Pinch of Salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast

1 teaspoon of sugar

One stick of unsalted butter, small cubes

Water or milk

Preparation:

Toss the ingredients in the mixer and kneed with the dough hook attachment.  Add enough liquid until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Separate into two loaf pans, cover and let rise.  Punch the dough down a couple of times just to let the air bubbles pop, and then cover and rise again.  Bake in a 350 degree oven until golden brown.  

Tips for Success

Milk will make a more tender loaf, but only if you use milk with a 2% or higher fat content.  The amount of liquid you need will vary depending on where you live, more humid climates will require less liquid than dry climates.  Bread prefers to rise in a warm environment, any house temperature above 75 should be sufficient.  Best tip, don’t worry about having a perfect looking loaf or trying to become a world class bread baker overnight.  Experiment, try what works for your tastes and your family’s preferences.  Add ingredients that sound like they’d taste good.

Experimentation leads to failure sometime and it also leads to amazing successes!  So join the growing movement of bread bakers and bake a loaf today.

*Not pictured above, the above loaf was Steakhouse Bread.

Consolidation of Social Media

ScreenShot00008

I hereby admit the following, this exact posting will be reposted as a new post to a couple of blogs and I am horrible at managing a multitude of social media outlets for various projects at the same time.  I am consolidating the social media circles to one twitter feed, one facebook feed, one pinterest feed, and one Google plus feed.  Consolidation lets me manage all of my blogs, my Avon business, and the things that make me a complete human being more simply and concisely.

I decided to do this for a couple of reasons.  First, trying to manage and maintain multiple social networks was taking over my life and certain ones were neglected in preference to more active ones.  Secondly, a girl needs time to herself so that important activities like gardening, scrapping, stitching, gaming, or reading can actually happen!  It’s very difficult to write about what’s happening in the kitchen or the garden if I’m never making cookies or picking flowers and vegetables.  And lastly, having so many separate social feeds is beginning to make me feel like many one dimensional people all at the same time.  I am SO over that feeling!

So, please update your links or add links as necessary.  Existing separate accounts separate from the above listed sites will be deleted at the end of next week.  Hope to see all of you on the new sites!

Slutty Brownies

 WP_20130305_001

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. 

  WP_20130305_007

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.