“How-To” Baking – Folding

A common technique in baking is called “folding“. It is a mixing technique that’s used to combine two ingredients or mixtures with different densities, such as a thick batter and fluffy egg whites. If delicate, airy ingredients aren’t incorporated properly they will lose their loft and baked goods will not rise properly.

When folding, add about one fourth of the lighter ingredients to the top of the batter. Using a rubber spatula, slice down the middle of the mixture to the bottom of the bowl and sweep the bottom, gently lifting and bringing the heavier mixture to the top. The goal is to “fold” the heavy batter up and over the lighter mixture without deflating it.

Rotate the bowl 1/4 turn and repeat. Continue this motion until everything is lightly incorporated. Folding in just one fourth to start allows the rest to be folded in more easily. Add the remaining lighter mixture and continue to fold it in quickly but gently just until everything is evenly incorporated. Over mixing will deflate the lighter mixture.

“Shrewsbury Cakes” – aka Sugar Cookies

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Years and years ago back when I was in college, my husband (then boyfriend) took me to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg for a few days one summer. It was hotter than Hades the week we were there. I am talking stifling, sweltering, oppressive heat and humidity. Colonial Williamsburg was particularly torturous as there is very little shade, dust kicking up everywhere, and the smell of hot horse poop everywhere. Needless to say, I couldn’t have been more cranky that day. After a few hours I had enough so we decided to grab a snack, take a break, and relax. That is when I discovered not only the best ginger ale I ever tasted but also, “Shrewsbury Cakes”.

Shrewsbury Cakes are really nothing more than sugar cookies but with a slight citrus note to them. They are absolutely delicious and I was in love at first bite. I ended up going back to the “Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop” where we found them and buying a whole bunch more to take home with us. They were THAT good! I also came across a little cookbook as well which contained all kinds of colonial era baking recipes and as luck would have it, the Shrewsbury Cakes were in there. Score!!

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The below recipe is taken right from, “Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop” by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The only changes that I made to the recipe was to replace vanilla extract with vanilla paste and I decided to use vanilla sugar instead of plain granulated sugar. Other than that I followed the recipe as written, increasing the baking time by 8 minutes because I made larger sized cookies than what was called for. The recipe listed a yield of 36 cookies, I was able to get 24 cookies using my medium cookie scoop.

The cookies are light, slightly crisp on the edges, and absolute perfection. You will not be disappointed with this recipe. They would be a terrific addition to your Christmas cookie list, just use some red and green colored sugar to roll them in and you will make Santa Claus one happy little elf!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange peel (or 1/2 tsp dried orange peel)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbs milk or half and half
  • 2 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter, shortening, and sugar.

Add the orange peel and vanilla extract.

Add the egg and milk.

Combine the sifted flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar then sift together. Slowly incorporate to the wet ingredients. Mix until well combined.

Scoop the cookies into 1″ balls and then roll them in sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until very light golden brown. (Remember to increase the baking time for larger sized cookies)

Cool the cookies on the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Enjoy!

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Chicken Lombardi

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When I came across this recipe I bookmarked it immediately and couldn’t wait to make it. Between the melted, bubbling cheese and the rich sauce it just screamed cozy comfort food. Let me tell you, it was every bit as delicious as it looked. Even my kids loved it and they are without a doubt the hardest sell of all. Typically they will put ketchup on literally everything they eat but shockingly, they ate this just as it was.  Jaw on floor!

I adapted this recipe from one that I came across on Facebook which was originally posted by a site called: 78recipes.com . For the most part, I followed the recipe as it was written making only minor adjustments or additions. I added sherry wine and thinly sliced prosciutto which really kicked this dish up a notch and gave it that little something extra in the overall flavor profile. The only thing that I would do differently in the future would be to take out the mushrooms. Try as I might, I just cannot get past their spongy texture. I am thinking this dish would do well with some caramelized onions in place of the mushrooms so I think I might give that a whirl the next time that I decide to make this. By all means though, if you love mushrooms then don’t change a thing.

Overall, this is a really a delicious, easy to make meal that is perfect any night of the week. I served it alongside seasoned rice however, it would pair equally well with mashed potatoes or any other seasoned vegetable. This recipe is an absolute keeper for sure!

Ingredients

  • 8 oz package of sliced mushrooms
  • 4 tbs butter
  • 6 skinless chicken breasts, sliced and pounded thin
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup stock
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup sherry wine

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a large skillet, melt the 2 tbs of butter over medium-high heat. Saute the mushrooms for 3-5 minutes stirring constantly.

Remove the mushrooms and saute the prosciutto until slightly golden and starting to crisp. Remove and set aside.

Cut each chicken breast in half horizontally and pound thin between two sheets of plastic wrap. Coat the chicken in the flour and season both sides with salt and pepper. Melt another 2 tbs of butter in the pan and cook the chicken over medium heat, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the chicken and place in a baking dish, leaving all of the drippings in the saucepan. Cover the chicken with the mushrooms and set aside.

In the saucepan, add the broth and sherry wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour the sauce all over the chicken. Top the chicken with the prosciutto then the Parmesan and shredded mozzarella cheese. Finish by sprinkling the chopped green onion all over the top. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

**Tip** – To thicken up the sauce, add in a few shakes of Wondra (a gravy thickener) while it’s boiling on the stovetop.

 

 

 

 

In the Kitchen with Kids

My kids love to cook and bake, especially my daughter, and while I enjoy having them in the kitchen with me it can be a bit chaotic at times. My kitchen (unfortunately) isn’t very big so we’re usually tripping over each other constantly and then of course there is the constant bickering between the two of them. They bicker over who gets what spoon or whisk, who got to stir longer than the other, who did more than the other, and on and on. It’s usually a very noisy, messy experience with them but even with that, they always end up having fun and they are so proud of the meals and treats that they create.

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I’ve learned that in order to have a successful experience in the kitchen with them there needs to be some guidelines for both the kids AND for me so that we have fun and don’t drive each other completely crazy. As with anything where kids are concerned, having routines and expectations in place really help to make things run a little more smoothly. With that being said, here are my top tips to survive having kids in the kitchen with you!

Choose A Recipe Together – It’s important to involve your kids in this step because if you don’t cook/bake something they are excited about they will lose interest, be completely bored, and end up walking away leaving you to finish on your own. Give them a few kid friendly options to choose from and let them pick which they want, they will appreciate feeling like they have a say in the cooking process.

Gather Your Ingredients – Teach your children to first read through the recipe and then pull everything they need from the pantry, fridge, and freezer so that it’s ready and accessible as they go through each step of the cooking/baking process. Having your ingredients organized, prepped, and ready is called “mise en place” which is just a fancy term for having everything in its place. Your little chefs will love knowing that fancy French term, my kids do!

Teach Them Good Kitchen Hygiene – Make sure to encourage hand washing both before you begin cooking and throughout the process. Also, remind them that good cooks do not stick their fingers in the food, lick their fingers or hands, or lick any of the utensils being used. If your kids are anything like mine, they will need CONSTANT reminding of this.

Get Ready, Get Set………. – Hair up, hands washed, aprons on!

ANNNNNND Cook!!! – Read through each step with them and then let them take ownership of each phase of the cooking process. Depending on their age and ability, assign them different tasks such as dicing, slicing, measuring, sifting, mixing, etc. Let them do as much as they can as you supervise, jumping in to help them only as needed.

As they are cooking/baking take this opportunity to teach them. Teach them about flavors, cooking technique, what certain tools are used for, kitchen safety, etc. The goal is for them to grow into competent, knowledgeable cooks as opposed to just getting one recipe over with.

Be Patient, Expect Messes – Things go much slower in the kitchen when you cook/bake with kids. So allow yourself some extra time and remind yourself to be patient with them. They don’t have the ability to measure, chop, and stir as fast as you or I. Give them the space to work at their own pace.

Also, kids are messy little creatures by nature so cooking with them is not usually a very neat and tidy experience. Expect that they will get messy as will your kitchen. Once you accept that fact, you’ll be a lot more relaxed throughout the whole process.

Don’t Forget To Enjoy Yourself – Remind yourself to enjoy the experience. My kids get SO excited to be in the kitchen and as chaotic and messy as it gets while we’re in there, I always try to remind myself to have fun with them, laugh a little, and enjoy our time together. Cooking and baking together should be a fun experience that you share. So enjoy it. Every crazy, loud, messy minute of it!

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Food memories are some of the strongest memories we have as humans. Don’t believe me? Just check out this article: Why Food Memories Feel So Powerful When I think back over my own life some of my best memories center around food. I specifically remember the times when I was in the kitchen cooking with my family and those are same kind of memories I want to create for my own children. I would love for them to be 40 years old, cooking “Mommy’s Tomato Sauce” for their own kids, and thinking back to that time when they learned how to make it cooking alongside me! That would be awesome!

So get your kids in the kitchen and get cooking! More importantly, enjoy every single second of it so that they do too!! Have fun, make memories, and eat well!

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“How-To” Baking – Pastry Bags

A pastry bag is used to pipe frosting, whipped cream, or similar mixtures on to cakes and cupcakes. They can also be used to insert fillings into cakes (jelly, pudding, cream, etc) or to pipe soft mashed potatoes.

There is an almost endless selection of different pastry tips available to purchase, everything from lines to swirls to flowers. Pastry tips also come in a multitude of sizes, some big enough to pipe frosting to cover a whole cake easily and quickly. A basic beginner set is all that is needed to start creating beautifully decorated baked goods.

Wilton Master Decorating Tip Set, 55-Piece decorating tips, 2104-0240

To use a pastry bag just follow these easy steps:

  • Fold the top edge of the pastry bag down to form a “cuff”.
  • Fill the pastry bag about halfway with frosting, cream, etc. Do NOT overfill.
  • Unfold the cuff and press the frosting down towards the tip, twist the top several times to seal.
  • With your dominant hand, grip the bag at the twisted part. Lightly support the bottom of the bag behind the tip with your other hand.
  • Keep the pastry bag at a 45 degree angle holding the tip close to, but not touching, the cake and gently squeeze.
  • Squeeze with steady pressure for an even line. More force will result in larger shapes, less force will result in smaller shapes.
  • Twist the bag regularly to keep it smooth and taught.

“How-To” Cooking – Simmering vs. Boiling

Simmering

When liquid is maintained at a temperature just below a boil, it is called a simmer. When there are tiny bubbles barely breaking the surface it’s considered a “gentle” or “low” simmer. If the bubbles are larger and moving faster, it’s considered a “rapid” simmer.

Simmering cooks food gently and slowly, perfect for delicate foods such as fish or fibrous root vegetables like potatoes. Keeping potatoes at a simmer allows them to cook more evenly.

Boiling

When liquid is brought to a boil, the bubbles will be numerous, large, and consistently breaking at the surface. At this point, the liquid will also quickly evaporate.

Because boiling keeps food in motion it helps to cook it quickly and prevent it from sticking to itself which is ideal when cooking pasta. Tender green vegetables also do well with boiling because it helps to maintain their color and flavor. Lastly, because boiling causes speedy evaporation of liquids it’s also the best method to use when trying to reduce sauces.

Pizza Margherita

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I was dying for my favorite margherita pizza in Port Jefferson however, it’s Monday, it’s kind of yucky out, and I am just flat out too lazy to drag the kids there this evening. Instead, I decided to make my own! Granted, it’s not quite the perfection of my favorite place but it was pretty damn delicious. When the kids ask for thirds and your husband can’t stop eating it, you know you did good.

I found this recipe on Epicurious, it was the Pizza Margherita by Melissa Roberts and Maggie Ruggiero. I didn’t deviate at all from the recipe except to use San Marzano tomatoes in place of regular whole tomatoes. I also doubled both the sauce and the dough so that I could make two pizzas. I used my large, round pizza stone to bake the pizzas and they came out excellent. The recipe suggested to use parchment paper on the pizza peel and then transferring that directly to the stone. What a fantastic idea!! It made the transfer of the pizza from the counter to the stone to the cutting board a cinch. I was also able to assemble both pizzas at one time which was very convenient so as one pizza came out of the oven I was able to slide the next one right in. Easy peasy.

Overall, this recipe made a delicious pizza that was pretty easy to make. The only “trouble” you might encounter is when making the dough, getting it to be less sticky requires that you keep adding extra flour. That usually makes me a little nervous because I don’t want to end up with a brick in the end but if you don’t add a little as needed, you will have a giant, sticky mess on your hands. I used my stand mixer with the dough hook to bring the dough together and then proofed it in my oven as I have a “proof” setting. If you do not have that feature, just be sure to allow the dough to rise in a warm area free of drafts.

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 1 (1/4 oz) package of active dry yeast
  • 1 3/4 unbleached all purpose flour, divided (plus more for dusting)
  • 3/4 cup warm water, divided
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil

For the sauce

  • 1 (14-15 oz) can of whole tomatoes in juice
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 4 basil leaves, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp sugar

For the pizza

  • 6-8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced

Instructions

In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, 1 tbs flour, and a 1/4 cup warm  water (105 – 110 degrees). Let stand until the surface appears creamy, about 5 minutes. (If the mixture does not appear creamy, throw it out and start over with new yeast)

Add 1 1/4 cups flour, remaining 1/2 cup of warm water, salt, and oil and stir until smooth. Stir in enough flour (1/4 to 1/3 cup) so that the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Dough will be slightly wet.

Knead on a floured surface or use the dough hook of your stand mixer and work the dough until smooth, soft, and elastic. About 8 minutes. Form a ball, place into an oiled bowl and dust with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a draft free place for about 1 1/4 hours. Dough should double in size.

While the dough is rising, make the tomato sauce. Pulse the tomatoes with the juice in a blender to make a chunky puree. (You can also just squeeze the tomatoes in their juices as well and avoid the blender.) Cook the garlic in oil over medium low heat until fragrant and pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, sugar, and 1/8 tsp salt and simmer until thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 40 minutes. Season with salt as needed and cool.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, heat the stone in a 500 degree oven on the lower third rack.

While the stone is heating, shape the dough. Do NOT punch the dough down. Dust with flour and transfer to a parchment lined pizza peel or large baking sheet. Pat out the dough evenly with your fingers and stretch into a 14″ round.

Spread sauce over dough, leaving a 1″ border. Arrange the cheese. Keep the pizza on the parchment and slide right onto the hot stone. Bake until the dough is crisp and browned and the cheese is golden and bubbling, about 13-16 minutes. When the pizza is done, use the peel to transfer to a cutting board. Cool 5 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh basil, slice, and serve hot.

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“How-To” Cooking – Emulsion

An emulsion is a stabilized mixture which contains two or more liquids that wouldn’t ordinarily combine, such as oil and vinegar. Some emulsions are temporary such as a homemade vinaigrette however, other emulsions like mayonnaise are more stable and permanent.

All emulsions require vigorous blending in order to get the ingredients to combine. A stable emulsion (mayo) will require a emulsifier to help hold the ingredients together. A common and popular emulsifier is egg yolks. Mustard and cream can also be used.

“How-To” Cooking – Braising

Braising means to simmer food slowly in liquid. Braising liquid can be wine, stock, beer, or even water. Herbs, seasonings, and vegetables are added to the braising liquid to create a depth of flavor to both the meat and the resulting sauce. Typical meats for braising are those that are tough cuts such as briskets, chuck roasts, and short ribs.

When braising meats, they are first seared (browned) in a pan on all sides in a little bit of fat, usually butter or oil. The meat is then removed in order to saute the mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots, etc) Once the mirepoix is nice and caramelized it’s important to deglaze the pan being sure to scrape up all of the delicious browned bits. The meat is then added back into the braising liquid, covered tightly, and left to cook for hours in the oven. The resulting meat is extremely tender and flavorful.

Braised Short Ribs

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“How-To” Baking – Chocolate Ganache

Making chocolate ganache is a very simple task that you’ll be glad you mastered as it’s an incredibly versatile accompaniment to many desserts and baked goods. While warm, it’s a fantastic pourable glaze however, once it cools and thickens, you can also use it as a frosting, fudge filling, or even to make truffles! My “go to” recipe for ganache is from the “Williams-Sonoma Mastering” cookbook series. Get it here:

 Williams-Sonoma Mastering: Cakes, Frostings & Fillings

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (20 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup (5 fl oz/160 ml) heavy cream, plus more to adjust consistency
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

If using chocolate bars, chop the chocolate with a serrated knife.

Heat the butter and cream over medium low heat. Heat until the butter has melted and tiny bubbles have formed along the edges of the pan, about 2 minutes. Do NOT allow the mixture to boil or it could scorch which will make the ganache taste burnt.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in the chocolate. Let the chocolate sit in the hot cream mixture to soften, about 30 seconds to a minute.

Using a whisk, mix the ganache until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Let the ganache cool to the desired texture and it’s ready to be used as follows:

  • To use as a smooth pourable fudge sauce, use right away
  • To use as a pourable cake glaze, allow to cool for 10-15 minutes
  • To use as a thick fudge filling, allow to cool for 1-2 hours
  • To use as a frosting for cakes/cupcakes, allow to cool completely

**Tip** – If your finished ganache looks broken or curdled, heat it again over a double boiler and let it melt down. Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge and whisk it to bring it back to the desired consistency.

Chocolate Bundt Cake with a Ganache Drizzle

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