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. 
 






Saturday, December 26, 2015

Merry Christmas ... Cake

Merry Christmas Lady E Cooks readers. Wow! 365 days sure does fly by quickly. I've been so busy between work, studying and writing I forgot to post the 2015  Christmas cake.
This year I decided to go beyond my normal Holiday Sweet Potato Pie and try something thats been floating around in my head for a couple of years. A peppermint cake. Does that say Christmas, or what?
I'm a belivever in doctoring up some store bought cakes. Why? If it's a good brand they pretty much have mastered a moist cake... our job is to add personal and artistic touches. I'm also a believer of  taking the seasonal things you love and be creative. I enjoy the fresh taste of peppermint sticks. In a saucepan, take about 6-8 peppermint sticks and dissolve then in 1/2 cup of simmering water and create a syrup. Don't add sugar...trust me it doesn't need it.
Prepare the cake as instructed. I recommend a blank canvas cake, like white cake, that way the peppermint will shine. Once the cake is cooked and out of the oven, pour 1 tablespoon of the cooled syrup over the entire surface of the warm cake and allow to cool. Careful ... be sure to pour the icing on the cake directly, not allowing any of the syrup mixture to drip down the sides of the cake into the pan. The sticky syrup can form a seal a the bottom of the pan and make removal of the cake from the pan very ... challenging. Avoid putting holes in the cake to seep the syrup into the warm cake. It sounds like a good idea, but also can cause a sticky hard to remove mess and goopy mess.
Now, for the icing. Plain ole white icing of butter and sugar will be creamy and allow the peppermint, again, to shine. There are hundreds of white icing recipes on line and are very easy to make. Add the cooled peppermint syrup by adding 2 - 4 tablespoons, to taste, to the icing with mixer on. Be sure to taste after adding 1 tablespoon at a time. We're looking for a hint of peppermint, not make it taste like toothpaste.
On cooled cake spread with an off-set spatula all over the first layer, then place second layer. Spoon the rest of the icing in the center of the cake and gently spread over the cake.
Final touches, place more candy cane in plastic bag and crack with mallet or rolling pin. Sprinkle over the top of the cake and sides.
That's it. Not too sweet...fun and full of flavor for the holidays!  

Next? Champagne cake for NYE..ohhh!
Merry Christmas from the Lady E Cooks family
Every recipe tastes better with love...and a little creative inspiration.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Garys ... JLB Biscotti.

 
Man-oh-man, am I a good friend. When my friend Gary Prevost requested baked goods for an outing ...what did Lady E do? Brought on the goods with homemade biscotti.  
Now, I can't take full credit for the Culinary Creation, but I can be happy I saw an old show of Gilda at Home featuring holiday biscotti. Giada's recipe calls for the biscotti to be dipped into melted white chocolate. But, since I was making the treats for breakfast, I opted to leave out the chocolate.
 
If you've never made biscotti... don't hesitate. Run... not walk to your nearby pantry and begin the divine journey into the world of biscotti. I used dried cranberries and almonds for the recipe.
Now, most of you might be saying, "biscotti"? Those dried out pieces of bread that you dip in freshly brewed coffee or espresso? Yuck! Yes, those tasty treats aren't dried out or hard when made at home. Especially, if you reduce the cooking time for both sessions in the oven.
 
Yes, biscotti is a twice baked biscuit with so many alternatives with dried fruited, nuts and even a jest or two of orange. I even made a second batch to take to work the following week with dark chocolate chips and orange jest. Which in both cases were eaten... every last one.
 
Adventure on the Italian side of the world and bake a biscotti for the holidays for family and friends. They will know that you cooked it love .... and that makes any recipe better.
 
Happy Holidays from Lady E and crew.