Tuesday, August 2, 2016

BONUS ARTICLE: Galette season? Oh, yay!

How did my Culinary blog journey begin? It started with cocktails and then graduated to Crostata and then elevated to my favorite all time recipe ... the Strawberry Galette. Fresh fruit Galette are the best to highlight at the peek of the season. And the light flaky crust of a Galette are to die for. Before the fresh season ends... run, don't walk to the nearest Farmers Market and buy, buy, buy strawberries. You can freeze them, roast them to chewy candy but make a Galette to share, give or eat with friends and family.
What do I like about Galette so much? The ingredients are simple: flour, salt, butter and sugar with ice water. Yep that's it. I've posted over the years several different recipes but never with powered sugar to top off the finished Galette.
 
This bonus article was brought to you by my Sweetheart who demanded, yes... demanded a Strawberry Galette after I made one for my Mother.
 
Both were made with love ... so, as we say in Lady E Cooks kitchen, the recipe tasted so much better. Off to make my second favorite Galette... Blackburn ... or maybe peach! Yaazzz!

Monday, August 1, 2016

MISSION: Vanilla extract, possible?


For those avid Lady E Cook readers you noticed I posted an article about  making your own vanilla extract. Well, I felt a little like a herblorist or alchemist while making this necessary and essential ingredient in my arsenal of baking "must haves". The ingredients for making your own vanilla extract are simple and easy... the worst part is something that my Sweetie says, I don't exactly have an abundance of... patience. Daily shaking for almost two months for two different bottles was fun and even taking a whiff or two in the process. At the end of the 60 day waiting period was the payoff worth while? Well.... kinds of.
Before I jumped right in and started baking I thought let me investigate a couple of things on the internet. 1) Should I filter the extract before diving in? I found no mention of filtering out the remnants of vanilla beans even though my guy at the Oaktown Spice shop said it's a step I might want to add. 2) Should the vanilla actually sit for a while longer? If so ... how much longer? A few websites said... 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, etc. No recipe was the same. Lastly, should the vanilla have a certain color? All just said caramel brown. Duh.
 
Anywho, the only way to find out the vanilla was ready ... was to try it. The good news is the extract had the right color, scent and texture. The bad news was something I didn't expect. Instead of sweet vanilla extract with NO hint of booze, what I tasted was Kentucky Bourbon with a hint of vanilla. Even filtered it wasn't similar to the extract I buy at the spice shop. All I could say, was "Bummer". But, being the Culinary Explorer I am ... I decided to go ahead and make whip cream. And, maybe... just maybe it would taste different. Nope. Not a chance it was more like bourbon whip cream dolloped on Jenny Craig Triple Chocolate Cheesecake. Not exactly the expected results. Tasty, but not what I want for my own chocolate chip cookies.
So, what's a woman to do? Try again. I used the batch of Vera Cruz vanilla beans bottle. Too bad it didn't work out as planned. The Vera Cruz beans smell delicious and most likely would be a welcome addition to a bourbon sauce or Bananas Foster over ice cream. It won't go to waste.... trust me.
Back to the drawing board with the Madagascar vanilla extract and possibly give that bottle just a few more months. What did I do with the left over Vera Cruz vanilla beans? I decided to dump them in the left over bourbon bottle and just see what happens. Nothing to waste, as my Daddy used to say.
This Culinary Explorer will try again... maybe call a friend or two and see what they've discovered.
 
Either way ... love will continue to be the main ingredient and I know one day my vanilla extract will make every recipe taste better.
 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

OMG!

What an awesome day in Yountville celebrating Bastille Day with locals, travelers and visitors from foreign countries. I have so many photos to share. But for now....enjoy la jour!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Celebrer le jour Bastille!

Yesterday, all around the world was the celebration of Bastille Day for those in France, French enthusiasts and descendants all around the world and those who embrace the rich heritage of France.
We in San Francisco flock to restaurants, bookstores, venues and oceanside to join in the celebration to a country we hold dear to our hearts. My intent is to venture north to the City of Yountville this weekend to have some summer time fun with friends at Chef Hubert Keller's event at my favorite restaurant Bouchon Bistro.
However, today our hearts are heavy and in sorrow for lives lost and suffering injuries at the hands of terriosts who continue on their quest for revenge against innocent citizens.
Although our hearts bleed and are in mourning for the beautiful City of Nice, France... I am reminded that our hearts are resilient under any attack or storm.
See additional posts on www.202020Quest.blogspot.com.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Go BIGGER or go home...


Ever wonder how they make those larger than life cookies without drying them out or burning them? Well, me too! And to boot my Sweetheart asked, very nicely, "...could I just have one big fat cookie instead of 2 or 3 dozen of the small ones...?"
Well, being a loving person I said, "Sure, Baby... whatever makes you happy!" While at the same time I was thinking to myself ... How the heck am I supposed to do that? Will the edges burn before the center is done? Will the cookies be raw? Will the cookies still have the chewy texture he loves? What if? If I've learned anything from my Sweetheart in the past months, it's "face your fears" and I decided to dive deep and figure it out with a quickness.
 
First, I researched anything on the internet about large cookie dough recipes. There were a few recipes, but none had the end results I was looking for. Others were just a little too complicated for a cookie. So... I just used my standard cookie recipe and hoped for the best. The recipe I consistently use is Ina Gratin's Chocolate Cookie recipe found on Food Network. I prefer this recipe because it uses a larger quantity of brown sugar in the recipe than most. The molasses in the brown sugar adds that rich smoky flavor we love ...and also creates a chewy texture.
 
With recipe in hand, I just decided to take a chance and divide the raw dough into four parts, dusting them with All Purpose Flour, Ina's recipe has a tendency to be wet. After the dough was molded into rounds and dusted with flour I left the rounds in the fridge for over an hour just to firm them up a little before baking.
Actually it could have been longer... we went to the movies, Top Dog and the Marina for a while. When we got back the rounds were firm to the touch but pliable.
 
I flattened one for the first test recipe and put it in the oven at 350 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes. The smaller cookies take 8 minutes, so I figured that 15 minutes would be more than enough time.
Watching them closely, I noticed the cookies edges weren't burning, The butter melting as normal. The cookie spreading out to a uniform size ...forever now know as, "Damn, Babe that's one LARGE cookie!
 
End results, the cookies were perfect! Still chewy. Still rich in flavor, especially butter and the nuts were roasted ... all the pecans, almonds and walnuts. Yep, he likes his cookies full of nuts.
 
True to form ... cooking with LOVE makes any recipe taste better. And, in this case a some big ole cookie love. Thanks for the challenge, Babe.

New article posting on August 1, 2016 .. Mission: Vanilla extract, possible?
 
 



Sunday, May 15, 2016

Baking discovery...

To say, I've been baking a lot would be an understatement. Since Valentine's Day baking in the kitchen has become my joy almost every weekend.  Not just for the sweet satisfaction it brings to my Sweetheart, my loved ones and friends, but for the fine art of baking and discovering what makes a great cookie recipe. Test, after test, after test proved one thing... not all cookie recipes are created equal and depending on your preference may or may not match your expectations.
 So I put down my mixing spoons and set aside my mixing bowls and did some research starting with what I preferred. For starters, I prefer a buttery cookie that is chewy and just a little firm. Not overly crowded with nuts, dried fruit, chocolate or candy. That's a personal preference ....and a well balanced cookie is not as easy as one would assume. 
Ingredients are key and should be respected from the start. This doesn't mean running to a totally organic store and choose only organic ingredients. Or, by buying some chickens to have the freshest possible eggs on hand... or even milling your own flower. I have to admit I've considered owning chickens, but I'll tell that story another day. Good ingredients mean treating them with care. Fresh eggs for instance, bringing them to room temperature. Or, choosing fresh chocolate rather than rancid. Making sure the baking soda is fresh and not left over from Holiday cooking spree. Taking the time makes a big difference.
During my research I landed on Ina Graten's cookie recipe which I pleasantly found I prefer. It has more flour and sugar in the recipe than most. The end product was very tasty, chewy, moist and flavorful.
With the chosen recipe down making cookies boils down to a few main and staple ingredients.... Eggs, sugar (brown and white), flour, salt, butter and one highly valuable and yet the smallest quantity of all the ingredients ... vanilla. Which is what lead me to my recent discovery.  

Vanilla is a go to ingredient during the holidays, but it's so expensive. Now here comes the good part... what I found out, while watching Southern At Heart, is that vanilla is something that you can actually make at home. For less money and in larger batches than those tiny bottles they sell in the grocery or specialty stores for $6.00 to $25.00.
When they say 'extract" they aren't kidding. To make vanilla extract it's the combination of vanilla beans sliced open and put into a bottle then pouring bourbon or vodka over the vanilla beans.

Over time the alcohol "extracts" the "caviar" from the bean and most everything else  Interesting concept that bourbon or vodka mixed with vanilla beans creates a liquid we predominately use for baking. Once, the liquid is included in the bottle it a 30 day waiting game with a healthy dose of  aggressive shaking. I shake mine at 5:00 amish and found this little act helped wake me up... just a tad.
 
I bought fresh vanilla beans from my local spice shop ( see previous article on Oakland Spice shop). I choose Madagascar and Vera Cruz vanilla means. Both are very plump and the caviar in both is tightly packed and fragrant. Madagascar is what we are accustomed to seeing on the shelves. By the way ...take the time to read the ingredients on the bottle at your local grocery store. I did and was surprised to find that all of them use plain old ordinary run of the mill tap WATER. How can you extract vanilla beans with water???? I asked my Oakland Spice Shop man and he was as baffled as I was. We concluded that they probably use sugar and boil the beans in water.... which is why the store bought vanilla extract is bitter in taste. Never tasted it straight from the bottle? This was a life lesson my Dad taught me. He thought most life lessons could be learned in the kitchen. This lesson was ...what might smell and look good doesn't taste good to the tongue.... which was a lesson about boys. They might look good and even smell good... but up close ...not so much.

But, back to the beans....I gotta admit the Vera Cruz is becoming my favorite over the past 18 days. Yah, I had to take a quick sniff and found the Vera Cruz to be more intensely "vanilly". It's 30-45 day process of daily shaking, placing in a shaded area and practicing patience and acceptance. Guess my Dad was right... most lessons can be learned in the kitchen.
 
Once the vanilla extract is done I will be back in the kitchen baking my heart out and making the world I live in just a little sweeter..
 
Remember cooking with love makes any recipe, ingredients and end product better...
More to come....

 
 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spring ....

Castello di Amorosa
Spring is just around the corner. And in most corners of the world, it means the crisp chill in the air subsides ever so slightly and a renewed warmth fills the air, the soil on the ground and vitality to branches the have been baron for months at a time. Napa Valley is no exception and it's one of my favorite times of the year to explore this quiet little area to be awed in it's new awakening.
Speaking of exploration and new awakenings, I have also risen from my deep slumber and hibernation from writing on my blog. To my world wide fans, I do apologize for my disappearance from the world wide web and culinary arts. Just like a blossom on a branch, I needed that spark of inspiration and I found it in the City of Calistoga.
 Its funny to me how one slight change can shift your viewpoint from "ho-hum" to "OMG". After having a delicious lunch at my usual haunt, Farmstead Restaurant, and instead of turning left and heading home. I decided to turn right and venture further North towards Calistoga. I have to admit the vineyards in this area are less commercial and small sites that allow you taste wine and shop to what seemed like a vortex that transports you to another Country, land or picturesque photograph.
The long driveways with breathtaking landscapes and hillsides that beckon you to ride to the top on a motorcycle (at least that what my Sweetheart says) and surprisingly .... Castles, with real live actual moats and one curious, yet vein Roster, to protect or amuse the visitors.

Roster ...I'll name him Valiant.

I had promised myself that I would not return to Northern California's wine country because of a "been there, done that" sarcasm and self inflicted yawn of boredom and venture to the South past Carmel for new adventures. But as my Sweetheart pointed out ...why? It's only an hour away and truthfully after venturing further North ...Obviously I've been limited in my scope and not the countryside itself. We didn't go into the wineries themselves and taste their spirits, but the strategic open eye from the vantage point of a motorcycle I might be yet again be inspired.

More to come. More to explore.