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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ask a Pastry Chef

Like many bloggers, I have set up a system to track what draws new people to my site. Search engines and other blogs draw lots of unique visitors. Of course, many of you who visit regularly are quite unique, yourselves... you know who you are. Many people land at my site because they are searching for a particular recipe or list of ingredients without knowing the recipe name. Now, I'm not html savvy enough to figure out how to put up one of those searchable recipe databases that some bloggers have on their site. So I'll do the next best thing...

I'll just ask you.
Are you searching for a particular recipe? Or perhaps you want to know a technique like say, how to get the most volume from whipped cream.

Go ahead, ask me, I can take it.

I may not have the answer right at the tip of my tongue but I have many resources including other pastry chefs (those who actually went to culinary school) at my disposal to ask if the need arises.

I'll hook up one of those funky sidebar things so searchers can ask a question without having to do a lot of additional searching within the site. We'll see how creative I can get without much sweating and cursing.

P.S. IF I get a lot of rude or indescent emails, I'll have to send MrG on a road trip to find you and wash your mouth out with LifeBuoy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

We Love To Hate -- Rocco DiSpirito

I used to like Rocco.
Cute and endearing on the surface. Recently, I caught an episode of The Restaurant2 (don't ask) and turned my opinion 180 degrees. In the episode I saw, he fired the head chef of his restaurant for (what sounded like) legitimate reasons... being a yes-man during meetings, then going back to the kitchen and continuing to run things the way he always had, which just happen to have resulted in success. Rocco called the chef's actions insubordination. The more I watched, the more it sounded more like a power play by Rocco.

After firing the head chef, Rocco volunteers to chef until they can hire a replacement. Rocco steps in, much to the dismay of the rest of the kitchen staff, makes a few meals, then sneaks up to make an appearance in the dining room. Busy looking cute and making new friends, Rocco forgets all about the poor chefs still in the kitchen, causing restaurant patrons to not only have to wait more than an hour to be served appetizers, but some are never served at all. Bad business, Rocco.

With the failure of the restaurant, Rocco is putting his name on lots of new stuff like wine clubs, items at QVC (yeah, Rocco is really using that FoodSaver, I'll bet), and of course tons of cookbooks. For only double the price, you can have Rocco write a personal message in your signed copy. For my $75, Rocco better give me more than a little ink.

You can read the transcripts of Rocco's radio appearances here. I'll summarize what you'll find there: lots of lame jokes by Rocco who is only interested in accessing your dollars. If you are a freshly implanted 20-year-old, Rocco might be willing to share his 5-minute flavor.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Original Recipe: Noodle Pie

Is that a great name for a pie, or what?

And see how great it looks?

This pie uses left-over, cooked spaghetti noodles as a binder rather than utilizing a pastry shell. The custard that surrounds the noodles is eggy, creamy, and only slightly sweet so it makes a perfect breakfast if you, like me, need a bit of protein to get your morning started off right.

For dessert, this pie would be great topped with a rosette of chocolate ganache, a bit of cherry coulis, or just a few perfectly ripe strawberries.

The next time you're making spaghetti for dinner, reserve a little to put in this pie and your breakfast the next morning will be fantastic.

Noodle Pie
makes 8 to 10 servings
2 cups cooked spaghetti noodles
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Bourbon vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk (or evaporated milk, or a combination)
[my basic custard pie recipe calls for 2 cups milk, but I found I liked it better with some cream]

Break spaghetti noodles into about one inch pieces and place in a 9-inch deep dish, glass pie pan.

In a bowl, gently stir together eggs, yolks, sugar and salt until sugar is dissolved. Do not whip as you don't want to incorporate air into the mix. Add vanilla and spices then stir in cream and milk. Pour the custard mixture over the noodles and gently nudge the noodles under the surface of the custard. If noodles are left sticking out of the custard they will become very chewy in the oven.
Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes. A knife inserted in the center should come out clean and edges should be puffed and light brown.

This pie is definitely better the next day so once it's cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. In the morning, slice, pop it in the microwave, zap on medium for a minute and a half *and presto! A super quick breakfast for those hectic mornings.

After much Googling with no results that I would consider to be the same end product, I'm satisfied in believing I have invented this. Of course, if you know this pie by a different name, by all means let me know.
The closest cousin of this pie is the
Noodle Kugel which typically contains cottage cheese. The Noodle Kugel was my inspiration for this dish.

I intend to try this pie with cheese ravioli instead of spaghetti, which would nudge it closer to that Noodle Kugel.

I hope you enjoy this recipe.
*of course, microwave wattages vary, so use your best judgement for your machine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Over The Edge with Thanksgiving Photos

Over the edge of the bed, that is. And back from feeling somewhat like a dead fish.

Tomorrow I'm giving thanks for my bed and for that dear young woman, Sara* who worked way more than she should have been expected to. When I left the second time, she had been at work for 24 hours straight. We were basically done at that point and only one wedding cake remained to be decorated. You'll be relieved to know she has the next 4 days off... quite uncommon for our industry but well deserved, I must say.

I know you're excited to see the photos, so let's get to it.

The turkeys lined up in the catering kitchen and ready to be seasoned before going in the ovens.
In the foreground are pumpkin muffins baked for a big day of salad sales in the cafe'. Rather than a roll or breadstick, we serve a pumpkin muffin with each meal salad. Pumpkin muffins are also popular as a side item with catered meals.

The Cakes.
Well, a few of them anyway. We had them stashed into every cranny we could find. Hope caterers found them too!
On a typical weekend day we have orders for ten to twenty decorated cakes and five frozen pies (chocolate mousse, key lime, etc.) or cheesecakes. For Thanksgiving we did... *drumroll*
90 decorated cakes
167 pies and cheesecakes

We had only a few dozen specialty breads, which I thought was odd. I didn't count the number of pumpkin muffins but it also was rather low for a big holiday, probably somewhere in the range of 20 dozen.

The hardworking bakery after a long night... not too filthy but don't ask me how that happened.
The clock on the wall says 5:00. That's a.m. Finished early. I think it was a miracle.

Besides sleep, what do I use to recover from a long night in the bakery?
  • tomato soup
  • grilled cheese sandwich
  • Sobe Energy drink
  • Allegra allergy meds.

  • And that's all I need.

    Later tonight I'll be baking my own pumpkin pie and my own invention: noodle pie. I'll be posting photos and recipe soon.

    *Names changed to protect the innocent and my hiney.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2005

    On The Edge

    I have slept 9 of the last 70 hours and I'm antsy. More antsy than my kid who has been bored and virtually alone for two days of the 5-day Thanksgiving week off from school.

    My house is cleaned (as much as my house gets clean), my dishes are done... except the ones that are cooking on the stove as I type. Am I preparing for a Thanksgiving banquet? No. Am I famished after a long day in the bakery? No. I miss the kitchen.

    It's a sickness, I know.

    I miss the excitement of the chefs yelling caliente and racing past with full steamer pans on their way into the catering kitchen from the line. There is a certain something possessed by anyone who chooses to work in a kitchen. Something that makes each one of us love that push; the rush. Not a rush of adrenaline (although one of you might tell me that's part of it) but a rush of pushing the food out as quickly as it is made to the waiting hands of a customer and crossing fingers in hopes they are satisfied.

    I miss seeing how my new boss deals so gracefully with the pressure of the bakery's busiest days of the year. A few people have asked me if Christmas party season isn't busier than Thanksgiving and it is, but the number of orders is spread out over a longer period of time so there isn't the same concentrated blast of pressure that we have this week.

    I also feel a little guilty for not being able to help Sara* more. Not only to help her with the monstrous workload, but to divert the attention of the worst of the raving lunatics in the bakery from casting an evil eye and wicked hot breath in her direction.

    I worked at 3 this morning (despite being delayed a full 40 minutes due to a traffic accident which caused me to find a new route to work). I plan to go back to bakeryland as soon as MrG comes home from work. I will be there all night but then I'll get my rest at some point tomorrow before baking my own pumpkin pie. And I will be happy and exhausted and satisfied at doing a fine load of baking.

    Photos of the craziness to follow soon.

    *Names changed to protect the innocent and my hiney.

    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    The Holidays Are Coming! The Holidays Are Coming!

    You might think with the holidays approaching that I would attempt to remove as much stress from myself as possible. You would be foolish in thinking this. For many people this is the most stressful time of year. I personally am hoping to distribute my stress over several weeks rather than having one or two montrously stressful days that would undoubtedly transform me from mild-mannered pastry chef into mega-bitch on wheels.

    It is my first Thanksgiving at my current place of employment and I'm told that Thanksgiving is the worst time of year for our bakery. So far this month we have lost two employees, lost one manager and gained a new one, and gained a cake decorator with no experience (and who is paralyzed by her fear of making an ugly cake). All of these things alone would make a typical day in the bakery into a nightmare.

    Now compound these things into quintupled orders all due on one day.

    I'm told that everyone who worked in the bakery (and most of the people who worked in the catering kitchen) last year worked 36 hours straight in order to fill all the orders on time.

    Over the last two weeks my stress level has increased but I wouldn't say it has doubled quite yet.
    Despite the increase in stress I have managed to agree to:
    make 12 gingerbread houses for my daughter's Brownie troop to decorate at their next meeting.

    I've taken a 150-piece pastry order.

    I have yet to complete and mail my Blogging By Mail3 requirements which were due last weekend.

    I also invited a friend to my home for Thanksgiving, which will require me to cook
    rather than relying on MrG to bake a frozen pizza for dinner.

    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    We Love To Hate -- Paula Deen

    Maybe it's just me but watching Paula cook with all of that oil and buuuutter makes my stomach do flip-flops. Down home cooking with her 'boys', a dog in the kitchen, and more grease than you'll find on Brad Pitt's forehead, Y'all.

    Paula Deen, with her silver tidal wave of hair and multiple diamond rings that she forgets to remove before every cooking program, has a charm that, for many that is reminiscent of hanging out in grandma's kitchen.

    From a book review of The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook:
    I love her warm, upbeat manner and I'm impressed with her Cinderella story which has been recounted by countless other reviewers. Her charm is found all through this title and its sequel and reading the stories behind the recipes is just as enlightening as the recipes themselves. Paula writes the way she speaks, and you can even hear her easy Savannah drawl as you read. The recipes are down-to-earth, mostly pretty simple, and decadently satisfying. Those doing Atkins or Weight Watchers need not apply here...we're talkin' SERIOUS cheese, butter, and cream (yep, the real stuff!).
    In his enthusiastic introduction, John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, writes: "Authentic Southern food is not about pretension." Sure enough, this book doesn't put on any airs. A great many recipes unabashedly list prepared foods among the ingredients. As an appetizer, Garlic Cheese Spread includes an eight-ounce package of cream cheese and an eight-ounce jar of Cheez-Whiz. Shrimp or Lobster Bisque contains, in addition to seafood, a can each of condensed tomato soup and condensed mushroom soup. The restaurant's most popular dessert is Gooey Butter Cakes, which starts with a box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix. Still, some of the recipes attain a high level of regional authenticity: Georgia Cracker Salad is made with crushed saltines, tomato, scallions, hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise; Southern Fried Chicken acquires its crispy coating with a batter of eggs and self-rising flour. Readers concerned about high fat content should skip this book.

    From the time she was a young girl, Paula has suffered from agoraphobia. That may explain why it's tough to find any interviews with her. I did find her restaurant website which features, what else? A write-up of her brother Bubba's new oyster house, y'all. "Bubba and I are so excited about it. He's even letting me serve some of my home cooking there." Gee, what a swell guy that Bubba.

    And don't forget, "And did I mention I have a new cookbook come out soon?" We'll be sure to look fer it, darlin'.

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    Chocoholic Stupor of a Different Sort

    When I was a kid, chocolate was not one of my favorite sweets. Caramel, marshmallow and sugar plums: that's what my dreams were made of. I learned to really taste chocolate only a few years ago when I met my husband who was (and still is) one of the biggest chocolate fiends I've seen.

    Since the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, of course it became my goal to learn how to handle chocolate. To bake with it, to melt it and roll it into truffles, to dip strawberries in it.

    Three years ago I attempted my first truffles. I carefully followed the recipe for the gorgeous chocolate dipped beauties in the cookbook except, I didn't own a double boiler (still don't) so I improvised. Not with two cooking pots as I had seen my mother do a thousand times, no. I wanted to be stingy with the chocolate... hey, chocolate is expensive, right? My bright idea was to put a ceramic plate holding the chopped chocolate over a pot of boiling water. Can you guess what happened? I know you pastry chefs out there cringed, I heard you. The chocolate got runny, then it got hard, then it turned white as a sheet. In pastry circles we call that white stuff bloom. Bloom is what happens when the chocolate is heated incorrectly; the cocoa butter separates out from the cocoa solids and lays nicely on the top for the whole world to look at.

    To avoid bloom and stay at a workable consistency, chocolate must be tempered (my mother always told me I had no temper... HA!). Tempering is holding the chocolate at a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. Kids, this should only be attempted by professionals, really. It took hearing this and tempting fate many times before I actually believed it.

    So, now I believe it, now what? Do I convince my dear husband to fork out hundreds of dollars for a chocolate tempering machine? (I WISH!) Am I banished from baking with, truffling or dipping with chocolate? No, not quite. You see, there are chocolate tricks (not the kind found in Baltimore City). Tricks that professional chocolatiers don't want the average Jo to know about and rightly so. Let's face it, if You can make truffles any old time then Godiva and Chocolate Garden are out of business.

    When I started at my current job I saw some of the other cake decorators doing amazing things with chocolate. Things I didn't think were possible, certainly not by me. Here were ladies dipping strawberries, drizzling chocolate on cakes with abandon, drenching full cakes in liquid chocolate and writing on cakes with chocolate in a bag!

    These ladies showed me how easy it was to simply pour the chocolate nuggets out of the box, pop the disposable cup into the microwave and zap! it was ready.

    Not possible. Not possible. Not possible my brain said.

    It looks like real chocolate... my eyes told my brain.

    It tastes like real chocolate... my tongue told my brain.

    My hands agree, this is not the chocolate that ended in fiasco so many times before. This chocolate is pre-tempered (kinda like me in a napping state). How is this possible? I have no idea. Where can you get this chocolate? Ahhh... there's a question worthy of many hours of searching our dear friend, Internet.

    Pre-tempered chocolate is not indestructible, however. It will still bloom if heated too long or too quickly (though it's not as finicky as the regular stuff). The oddest thing about pre-t is, if it blooms one time, it can actually be salvaged by heating slowly and adding new, unmelted chocolate.

    Just for the sake of argument, let's say I got cocky working with this beautiful pre-tempered chocolate found in my workplace. And let's pretend I decided to dip strawberries and truffles at home, with my regular old chocolate, forgetting all of the previous disasters. Would my chocolate miraculously behave simply because I have been working with melted chocolate for a year without many problems? Let's just say... the chocolate wasn't the only one losing its temper over the weekend.

    I am more determined to conquer the chocolate animal now than I had been previously. If I get a few more big jobs before the end of the year, maybe I'll just get me one of those fancy schmancy tempering machines. In the meantime, I have to find someone who will sell pre-tempered chocolate in the United States! sheesh... Canadians. Belgians. You're all out to get me.

    But guess what? MrG is a chocolate purist. No fruit, no nuts, no caramel, no luscious nugat... nothing to muddy up his milk chocolate experience. So, any chocolatting I do from here on is all for me... and my pride. And my waist. And my booty.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    We Love To Hate -- Rachael Ray

    Seems it's easy for many to hate Rachael Ray. But why? She's cute (I know I don't look that good at 37), she's sweet, she seems like a genuine person. The former high school cheerleader has followers on both sides of the fence. Her cutesy-pie catchphrases - sammies for sandwiches, stoups for soups that are as thick as stew - are so grating on certain people that they inspired a drinking game in which players take a sip when she uses one. If she creates a new and completely unnecessary abbreviation, they have to swallow the whole drink.
    "This is awesome," she said as she looked over the list for the first time last week. "But man, people are going to get hammered."
    She told the New York Times.

    I love the quotes found at Too Many Chefs:
    I have to change the channel when Rachel Ray and her joker smile comes on the screen. I get so distracted by her annoying presence that I lose interest in her recipe and her show! Her fake laughs, wannabe cool lingo (i.e., e.v.o.o., yummo, the g.b.), and her hand and arms gestures for every syllable that comes out of her mouth, by emi
    ninnyjane says, I also find her soooooooo damn annoying yet some sickness in me just won't let me change the channel.

    chance disagrees, I love Rachael Ray! I don't care what anyone says-it's all jealousy-and she is just so fun to watch. The people that turn up their noses at her act as though they eat pansy a** gourmet meals off a silver platter each day.
    Cord N Bloo expresses what many (men in particular) feel toward Rachael, I want to marinate her little rump roast and baste her tenderloins! What red blooded American guy would'nt love to throw her on the kitchen counter and ride her till she screams YUMMO!!!

    In July, Becks and Posh asked us to Be Rachael Ray for A Day by showing off the best of our local dining on a budget of just US $40 a day. Despite tooth gnashing by some bloggers, the round-up seemed to turn out quite nicely with participants from all over the globe showing how they could dine, with or without the perky.

    I was surprised to learn that 30 Minute Meals began as a cooking class in a grocery store where Rachael was a food buyer and store manager.

    More from the New York Times: Next week, she will introduce her 11th book, "365: No Repeats," which takes the 30-minute concept and offers a different dish for each day of the year. "That was the stupidest idea I ever had," Ms. Ray said. "That many recipes nearly killed me."
    Within a couple of weeks, she will start selling her own extra virgin olive oil, which she calls E.V.O.O. on her shows.

    And the Times tells us Rachael is slated for a talk show next fall... ugh. There I must draw the line. Rachael is good at what she does but she should stick to food. Perhaps there will emerge a new drinking game surrounding the talk show. Remind me to invest in Smirnoff and Hazelden.

    And by the way, thank you to the person who found my blog by googling "babe of the week". I needed that.