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Friday, July 30, 2010

~Quick Update~ Kitchen Makeover Edition

So as of last weekend, my father and I finally started our kitchen destroying in the process of renovating it...

As I write this update, we've taken off two layers of linoleum floor covering: 1980's followed by 1950's creating a veritable cheapo-floor time capsule.  Today we began installing the underlayment and ordered tile!

Alas, this work means not too many post for some weeks.  Hopefully it will go fast and I will post as post can with help from some great friends who have offered kitchen space, but it may be slower than usual...  I truly apologize for delays and I wanna thank everyone for sticking with me through this trouble!

Among following recipe posts, I'll definitely toss up some updates with pictures of the progress.  Thanks again everyone for bearing with me!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

~Pizzaπr∙Round!~ At home alternative to expensive, delivery, pizza-like objects

With the Tomato and Chevre Tarte Tartin post, I was skirting the crusts of really pizza-like recipes.  This time I thought I would go all the way and try my hand at copying one of my favorite things in the world: The Cheese Board's sourdough, thin-crust, goat cheese and tomato pizza!  With my herb garden really rolling and the Farmer's Markets full to the brim with fresh, sun-ripened-sweet cherry tomatoes, the phrase "no time like the present" holds water...  or olive oil as the case may be...

~Herb Tomato & Caramelized Onion Sourdough Pizza~
Printable Recipe

1 3/4 C Sourdough Starter
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Oregano or Marjoram
1/4 Teaspoon Basil
1 Small Clove Garlic
1 1/2 C AP Flour

Caramelized Onions:
     2 Large Sweet Yellow Onions
     1 Tablespoons Olive Oil
     1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
     1.5 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar
     1 oz Butter
Slow Roasted Cherry or Plumb Tomatoes:
     10-12 Cherry or Plumb tomatoes
     2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
     1 Teaspoon Chopped Oregano
     1/2 Teaspoon Chopped Basil
     Ground Black Pepper
Garlic Infused Olive Oil
10-12 oz crumbled Chevre cheese
8-10 Baby mozzarella
Finely Chopped Fresh Thyme and Oregano
Black Pepper

SPECIAL TOOLS: Pizza Pan or Stone
                              Cast Iron Skillet
                              Pizza Peel or Large, Thin Cutting Board or Cookie Sheet

Yield - 1 Large Pie (8 to10 servings)
Preheat your oven to 350f. Preheat your pizza stone (if you plan to use one) on the lower rack of the oven to allow one free rack near the top for roasting.

This recipe is my first foray into the world of at home pizza making, but with the help of my culinary school notes I feel it turned out well.  The trick with a sourdough crust is getting it thin enough because the sourdough starter can make it rise more that I at least had predicted...  All in all a minor issue but one to keep in mind.  Of course you can omit the herbs or substitute any spices you want to try!  Lets get going!

Begin by separating herb leaves and chopping them as fine as you like.  Remember that with stronger spices (like marjoram and oregano) the finer you chop and mince, the more cut surface area you have exposed to the other ingredients and the stronger the flavors will be. Mince garlic fine and combine with olive oil and herbs in a small bowl to "steep" covered for about 10 minutes at room temperature.

Thoroughly combine flour, salt and sourdough starter in a large bowl then add your herb olive oil and stir with the hands until it comes together and forms a slightly sticky ball.  Add a small amount more flour if needed.  It shouldn't cling to the fingers too much but will be slightly tacky.  Turn the lot out onto a well floured work surface and knead a few times just to get an even consistency, then wrap in plastic and let sit at least 30 minutes in the fridge.  Don't knead too much or you run the risk of bready, overly chewy crusts...

While that chills out for a bit, lets get to getting on the toppings!  You can use any combination of these you like but this is my recommendation based on an educated guess at the cheese boards recipe!


First for the tomatoes!  Cut them in half and toss with salt, pepper, oil and herbs.  Distribute them evenly in your cast iron skillet and roast at 350f for 1.5 hours or until just before done as they will bake further on the pie. You can also roast quickly at 425 for about 30 to 40 minutes if you're in a hurry but be mindful that this method doesn't develop the sugars as well, so they will be less sweet.

While the tomatoes are roasting, start caramelizing your onions.  Skin your onions and slice them in half, then into strips.  Place along with olive oil into a large skillet and cook slowly over low heat, stirring gently all the while until they become transparent and start to turn golden.  This may very well take up to an hour but don't be tempted to turn up the heat prematurely.  I always get a high stool to sit on, put on Beethoven's 9th symphony and make a time of it.

~ FOOD SCIENCE NOTES: Pyrolysis acting in caramelization of sugars in the onions

Once the onions smell sweet and have a nice, even golden color, turn up heat just slightly and add butter, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook further until the onions have absorbed most of the liquid and the remaining syrup is thickened and very sweet.  I use quite a bit of balsamic but if you aren't as big of a fan as of it as I am, you can easily cut the amount in half.

Now that most of the hard work is done, its pizza time in earnest!  If you slow roasted the tomatoes, turn up your oven temperature to 400f.  Remove your  pizza dough from the refrigerator and let stand 10 minutes to take off the chill then punch down into a fairly flat circle.  Toss or roll out until its just under 1/8" thick and place on a well floured pizza peel or baking sheet to work.  The coarser the flour the better for this.

Rub the tossed pie with olive oil and minced garlic. Top with caramelized onions and herbs then add tomatoes, Chevre and mozzarella cheeses however you like it.  Season with a small amount of black pepper and bake on your pizza stone or pizza pan 15 - 18 minutes until the cheese is melty and the crust is golden brown!

Pizza is one of those recipes that can be easily compared to many household chores...  it can seem intimidating but once you get yourself going on it its a lot of fun and can be much simpler than it seems.  Pizza dough also just happens to be one of the most versatile things in the culinary world!  Once you have pizza dough, you can add practically anything you like to it and it will turn out great!  You can even make a sweet pizza by adding honey, cinnamon, and lots of Raisins and apples to a plain flour/water crust!  As always, don't go taking my word for it!  Go and have fun with it and experiment, experiment, experiment!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

~Onion's Day Out~ Walla Walla Onion Festival Farmer's Market Extravaganza!

This last Saturday was the not only the Farmer's Market but the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival on downtown Main st.  Despite roaring Walla Walla valley July sun really rolling up its sleeves and getting down to business, it was drowned out by the roar of the crowds of local and visiting folks gathering for the festivities.  Live music, great food, hot sun, cold drinks and all kinds of fresh, local produce make for quite a day out!  Here are just a few of my favorites from my visit!

Gotta make mention of all the wonderful produce first and foremost!  Beautiful local rainbow chard at half price right when I arrived!  One of my favorite things from when I was small and the only way I would eat vegetables (according to my mom) was steamed chard with lots of onions and bacon!
Fresh local Oregon strawberries, blackberries, loganberries, sylvan berries, marionberries raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, black currants, red currants...  Only berries that I didn't really see this time (and sadly so) were black caps.  Win some, lose some I guess... but I'll count this week in the big win column!
Also picked up a seedless Hermiston-grown watermelon and a few little jewel sweet cantaloupes (from Bellinger Farms) for a little summer punch later on...  more on that later I promise.

You'll find no bigger fan of high quality apple cider than me any day of the week but I often shy away from flavored ciders natural or no.  They often take away from the apple too much but that isn't the case with Sheffield Cider's Cherry blend, heirloom apple cider!  
Subtle and fresh with a tangy "cherry pie" flavor tone (from tangy pie cherries of course!)  Sheffield's also makes an apply Classic Sweet, a slightly more tannic Vintage Dry, and a fresh harvest grape and apple cider called Harvest Crush.  Check it out and you'll be glad you did.


Another can't miss at the regular farmers market is Stone's Throw Farm's booth.  Located just a few miles out of town on Frog Hollow rd, Stone's Throw focuses on growing both their farm and all their produce using local, sustainable, honest practices and materials with heirloom and seed saver stock.
Just getting their orchard up and running, this year they're offering delicious raw juice for thirsty market goers.  With any combination you like of loads of apple, carrot, beets, and fresh ginger, raw juice lovers and folks just searching for a healthier alternative to soda or sugary lemon drinks will not have far to look!


Last but by far not least was a little trip to satiate my love of cheese!  I'm not gonna deny it...  Monteillet Fromagerie, the first true farmstead fromagerie in the Walla Walla area, creates artisan cheeses from a blend of high butter-fat, pasture-fed Freisan-Lacaune sheep and Alpine Goat milks, ensuring the creamiest, most flavorful and of course additive free end products.
While browsing and making my choice, I sampled 3 different cheeses from Monteillet including a paprika crusted subtle, tangy, tender-soft cheese; a Larzac nutty, semi-soft cheese divided by a layer of grape leaf ash; and (I think my favorite) a mild, earthy, soft, D'affinoise-like creamy Cardabelle Chevre!

These and so many other taste treats, along with as many skilled local musicians, potters, painters, and other craftsmen, all come together for a definite good time!  Summer inferno be damned!  If you're in Easter Washington and it's summer time, stop by.  I don't suspect you'll be disappointed!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

~Choco-Nanner Cup... Breads~ Chocolate banana flavor for summer fair season!

So it seems like chocolate banana is the flavor combo of the season on a LOT of blogs, with all the local fairs and festivals and their chocolate dipped banana sensations.  I personally have had a long time love for that blend so I went in for making my own variation on a classic with a touch of early childhood nostalgia: Honeybutter+Peanutbutter sandwich spread goodness!

~Chocolate Banana Cupcakes with Honey Peanutbutter Buttercream~

3 Mashed Old or Roasted Bananas
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 C Melted Butter
1/3 C Water
1/4 C Vegetable or Canola Oil
1 1/3 C Cake Flour + 1/3 C Non-Dutch-Processed Cocoa
1 C Bakers Sugar
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/4 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp Fresh ground Cinnamon (3/4 Tsp pre-ground)
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

Peanut Butter and Honey Butter Cream

                               Paper Cupcake Pan Liners 
Two-parter this time!  You can always use whatever frosting you like but this Peanut Butter and Honey Butter Cream is one of my favorites!  You can even use a banana buttercream (great stuf btw) if that sounds better.  The one problem I had was that my kitchen was a tiny bit too warm near the end of the 

Lets get started with the cakes!

Start by preheating your oven to 350f unless you are going to roast bananas ahead of time.  If you do roast them, follow roasting instructions then turn your heat down and let the oven cool while you prepare the batter.  I like to roast them especially when making a chocolate banana recipe as I think the "roastedness" complements the cocoa flavors!

FOOD SCIENCE NOTES: Tannic Acid Chain Oxidation

In a  large bowl mash Bananas then add beaten egg, water and oil as needed.  You can add less or more oil and egg yolk as you like here where more will give you a more cakey crumb and less will give you a more bready or brownie-like consistency.  Speaking of...


Guess its been a while since I talked about something new here!  Only so many different common food science issues I guess but there are always more if you look deeper!

When it comes to cakes, especially sponge cakes, we want fluffy, light, flavorful crumb.  The true trick to getting what we want is a finely played balancing act between sugars, flour, eggs, fats and liquids.
Sugar to fat ratios are important in forming air bubbles for leavening through creaming but uneven ratios can cause the butter to melt too slow or too quickly giving you too much or not enough leavening.  
Excess sugar, more importantly high sugar to egg/flour ratios, can also interfere with protein structure formation, yielding a crumb that is too tender to hold its own weight after the initial rise in the hot oven and collapses into an undercooked puck... bleh.
Fat to egg protein ratios are also integral to proper crumb.  As fat acts to tenderize, keeping the eggs (as well as flour) from forming excessively long and complex protein networks, the eggs act to keep the fat emulsified, preventing dougeyness and large air runs/pockets....


As simple as a cake may seem, there are a LOT of factors, all balancing each other and maintaining cakey-delicious equilibrium!  Like a delicious chemical equation.  Bet you'll never be able to look a cupcake the same way again...  and if so, I feel I've done my job!


Whisk to oil, eggs, banana to blend thoroughly then whisk in butter and set aside on room temp.

Twice sift flour, sugar and cocoa to be sure its all evenly distributed.  Be sure to sift thoroughly whenever using large amounts of unsalted cocoa, especially non dutch-processed as it likes to clump and there's no joy in a clump of dry/burnt/bitter cocoa in the middle of a cupcake or cookie. 

Stir together spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt then sift everything once more.  I like to blend these together then add them to the other dry ingredients to guarantee a more even distribution.  Like taking all the hearts out of a deck of cards then shuffling them back in evenly but far less illegal.

Add dry ingredients in two parts, whisking to blend completely after each addition.  Don't worry if it looks a bit lumpy from the bananas.  Any lumps will bake out as heat softens all the ingredients.  Fill cupcake pans 2/3 full for proper rising room and even heating...  Enter the most troublesome part of cupcake baking:  Filling the cups evenly and without getting batter everywhere.  My own answer to the problem is simple and I suppose apt in its scientific approach.

Whilst fiddling around aimlessly I found a type of veterinary saline syringes that really fit the bill, having graduated cylinders for even measuring and long, wide-mouth tips fit for extruding even the thickest of cake batters.  With this method, I ended up filling the cups with about 60cc (or about 1/4 C) of batter.

Bake 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans half way through, until a tooth pick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  De-pan and cool on a wire rack before frosting.

These little cakes have a versatility in what you can add to them as well as what you can put on them that comes from the original banana bread as well as the cake-like variation.  You can frost these with almost anything whether it's berry buttercream paired with the chocolate, banana cream, peanut butter cream with the banana, or even double up on the chocolate with a ganache frosting or simple glaze.  They can even be made to act like muffins, just tossed in the oven then sliced with butter or jam or even dipped in coffee for a breakfast treat!  Don't let me keep you!  Go on and try it and see for yourself!


~P,B,H,B, C and B Again~ Truly a mouthful by any definition

Here we have an old favorite of mine turned retro-nouveau butter cream!  One of my personal favorites from my preschool lunchtime days is still honey peanut butter so why not put its delicious sweet-salty-nutty harmony through its paces and make some butter cream!


~Peanut Butter Honey-Butter Butter Cream~

6 Egg Whites
Pinch Cream of Tartar
Pinch Salt
1 3/4 C Baker's Sugar
1/2 C Cold Water
16 oz Unsalted Butter
4 oz Creamy Peanut Butter
1 Tablespoons Honey
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

SPECIAL TOOLS: Counter Top Mixer
                               Candy Thermometer
                               Pastry Brush

NOTES - It is important that you have a fairly cool work 
                space to make this recipe, as a hot ambient temp 
                can cause the butter to melt and cause the end 
                product to become thin and unstable.

Some may note that this is an Italian Meringue Butter Cream recipe and as such is the most touchy of all the butter creams...  Even if it is, I will stand by it through thick and thin because it really does yield the lightest, fluffiest, creamiest frosting of all time.  Here are a few other butter cream types including American (the simplest and easiest) and French (a cooked egg white frosting.)

Enough talk!  Lets get some butter cream going!

First make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature (aside from the water for the hot sugar.)  This is a very important part of any semi-soft or custard like recipe as temperature variations can cause...


well... not cause food science content...  well!  Maybe it does...  Yes.  It can cause this but only in blog form on the Internet.  OK...

Temperature variations are very important in cooking.  All the physics of the actual cooking cooking can be boiled down to "Heat" in the thermodynamic sense of the word.  Heat is flow of thermal energy between multiple mediums at different temperatures in order to achieve a uniform temperature in both.  This rate is also affected by thermal conductivity of the two media.  When we cook, its less about how hot something is and more about the difference in temp as cooking occurs when heat flow is greatest not when temperature is greatest.  

 Dry Ice chunks can burn like hot metal skillet
(Photo - Mark S, Wikipedia Commons)

This distinction is most easily made via dry ice:  at almost -110f, it is a full 200f different from your skin and can burn just like burning hot skillet.

In recipes that require quick cooking of high-fat and/or high-protein via hot sugar syrup or other hot liquids, this physical science principle comes into play in a big way.  If you expose 38f-cold-from-the-fridge ingredients to 212f-240f scalding hot liquid, the extreme differences can cause a number of unpleasant effects including seizing/curdling fat, sugar and protein.
In Italian meringue butter cream this means not soft and creamy with evenly cooked egg and stable sugar crystallization but lumpy and gloppy with "sweet-scrambled" eggs and hard, potentially sharp sugar beads.  Not really what comes to mind when you think of meringue...
So keep in mind that sometimes, you should leave the groceries on the counter!  Might help out here and there... Temperature stable ingredients = creamy smooth and sweet results!



First you'll want to make your butter base for the fat content of the frosting.  In a large bowl or food processor, cream butter until its nice and fluffy.  Add your honey and peanut butter and blend until smooth then set aside at room temp until you're ready for it. 
Now for the meringue!

Separate your egg whites and put them, along with the cream of tartar and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer with a whisk attachment.  Start the mixer on medium low speed just to keep things moving and mixed and to prevent the eggs and dry goods from skinning over.

In a medium sauce pot over medium high heat candy thermometer in tow, start cooking your sugar for the meringue.  As always, keep a pastry brush with water nearby to brush down the sides of the pot to prevent crystals forming!  Once the sugar reaches 240f on a candy thermometer, douse the bottom very quickly in cool water just to stop cooking.
Turn up the mixer speed on your egg whites to medium speed and slowly trickle in the hot sugar, being careful to not get sugar syrup on the whisk wires (to prevent hard sugar chunks.)

Once all the syrup has been added, turn up the speed and whisk on high until the mixture has reached firm peaks and is completely cooled to room temp.  Don't give in to impatience or worry about over-whipping here because too much leftover heat from the sugar can melt your butter and ruin the butter cream!

Once your meringue is cooled turn the speed down a bit to medium speed and start adding your peanut butter mixture to the meringue a tablespoon at a time.  As you incorporate more fat, the meringue base will begin to deflate but don't worry as it will come back in the end!  Once all the fat is incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to high until light and fluffy