Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Deep Frying

     Today, for the first time in my life, I attempted frying various items at home. We had canola oil, a pot, and a thermometer, so I decided that it might be fun to try. First, I looked up a recipe for potato chips. Here's what is said:


  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced paper-thin (I used a potato peeler for these)
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 quart oil for deep frying


  1. Place potato slices into a large bowl of cold water as you slice. Drain, and rinse, then refill the bowl with water, and add the salt (Didn't really notice what this did. I had to add more salt later). Let the potatoes soak in the salty water for at least 30 minutes. Drain, then rinse and drain again.
  2. Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 365 degrees F (185 degrees C). Fry potato slices in small batches. Once they start turning golden, remove and drain on paper towels. Continue until all of the slices are fried. Season with additional salt if desired.
Special thanks to: allrecipes.com (http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/homestyle-potato-chips/detail.aspx)
     This seemed to work pretty well overall, and it served my purpose even though I only used one potato and about 2/3 of a T. of salt. I chose potato chips to try the first time out because I figured that potatoes are easily replaceable, and I'd have enough to use in several small batches so I could get the hang of about how long they needed, and what color meant 'I'm done!'
     I burned to first batch. They were a deep gold color, and tasted uber bitter. Just kinda nasty. The second and third batches were a little raw, because I had only left them in until they were browning on the edges, but yellow in the center. The four batch on were all perfect. I left them in till the majority of the chip was golden, but on some the center was still yellow.
    The width was  a lot like a  Lay's potato chip, and although I liked that, I think next time I'll try for the slices to be a bit wider. I think that this would make for a less delicate chip, and thus; less delicate cooking. Think: Cape Cod potato chips.
     Once I got the  chips done I got all excited. Here I had nice, hot oil just begging to be used on some other beautiful piece of food. Who was I to ignore the call of the Canola?! That stuff could hurt you if it felt like it...
     So, I  bustled around the kitchen, trying to scrounge up some other delicious delicacies to deep-fry. I found a good selection of things. In total I fried small pieces of pizza, large marshmallows, pickle slices, cheesecake, Little Debbie Swiss Roll pieces, Oreos, onion, and mini peanut butter cups. Because these things needed an outer coating, I dipped them in scrambled egg then rolled them in Panko bread crumbs. This worked well only for the pizza, really. On the other things, the breading fell of even with plenty of egg, and on the pickles I only used the egg, no breading. In future, I think it would be wiser to use a batter rather than the crumbs, but for my first time frying, it was fine.

   Here's the rundown on what I used and how well it worked:
  • Pizza: Worked really well. Next time, though, I'll be sure to use a better quality pizza. This one was lame take-out, so it was lacking in the flavor department. My friend loved it though, and nearly bit my brother's arm of when he went for his piece. Don't worry, he's all set now, and he can't wait until next time.
  • Marshmallows:  Yes... these are for toasting, not frying. While they tasted good, they also inflated during the frying process, and the breadcrumbs fell off. Not so good, and I wouldn't try it again.
  •  Pickle slices: These were okay. I used sour dill pickles, which are never my favorite, so it depends  on the audience I suppose.
  • Cheesecake:  Leftovers from the Cheesecake Factory (go now please if you haven't been). It was the Godiva Cheesecake (which is delicious just sayin') and it fried pretty well, all things considered. I would definitely try it again, but with a batter.
  •  Swiss Roll: I would try it again with a batter. Not the most quality dessert, but it was available.
  • Oreos: tried theseat Story land in Glen, NH (wicked fun place), and they were incredible. Needs a batter. This also requires regular, or my favorite; Double Stuff Oreos. the only thing we have were reduced fat, which left something to be desired. I can't wait to make these agin, though, as they were really delicious in Story Land.
  • Onions: Needed a batter, but who doesn't love onion rings...?
  • Mini Peanut Butter Cups: While they were tasty melted, I wouldn't try this again. The breading completely fell off, and left me with melting peanut butter cups. Not good.
     Overall tips:
  • Freeze all the items before frying. Otherwise, they may begin to turn to mush before your eyes. They should be frozen for about 45 minutes to an hour for square inch bites. 
  • Once again: I recommend a batter!! Once I find a good one I'll post it.
Bon appétit!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Insalata Caprese

One of the easiest, most delicious summer foods is the Caprese Salad. With only seven potential ingredients (including salt and pepper), this is a well-known recipe that can be an appetizer, a side-dish, or a snack. The reason I'm posting about this is because with the right information, this salad can be perfect. However; some easy-to-make mistakes can ruin the whole thing! First I'll give the recipe, and then I'll bullet all the things that can go wrong.
  • 10-12 large Basil leaves
  • 12 oz. Buffalo Mozzarella
  • About 24 small, round tomatoes
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette (about 1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground Black Pepper
  • Grated Parmesan (optional)
Slice 12 oz. mozzarella into about 12 slices, and spread them out on a serving platter. Next, cut the tomatoes in half, and put as many halved tomatoes as you can on each slice of cheese, cut side down. It will probably be around four per slice.
On a separate plate, cut the basil into ¼ to ½ inch ribbons, and sprinkle them over the platter.
Approximately five minutes before serving, drizzle the vinaigrette over the entire plate, using as much as you like.

What can go wrong?
·        First off, the tomatoes. For this recipe, I prefer to use small tomatoes rather than a slice out of a big tomato because it helps me pace myself. I figure: ‘If I can only eat one half tomato at a time, then I will have to take three or four bites, rather than say; two. Also, with smaller slices of tomato, you don’t need a knife; you can just cut with the side of you fork.
·        The cheese is a delicate one, so it can be over-powered by too much vinaigrette.
·        Basil is a powerful herb when it’s fresh, so too much of it also tends to overpower the delicate flavors of the dish.
·        The vinaigrette ratio is very important. Actually; in the picture shown I had tried to marinate the cheese in just the vinegar so there would be more flavor from the vinegar. Unfortunately, this only dried the cheese out, so make sure you have enough olive oil.
·        Adding too much salt can be a very easy thing to do when using cheese, as you don’t always know how much salt is in there already! For this recipe (and especially if you are using any parmesan), bring the salt shaker to the table and allow the eaters to judge how many of the little crystals they want. That way, it’s not your fault if it’s too salty!

Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Creamy Pesto Pasta

    This recipe is my own, and may I say, it is AH-MAZE-ING :O (My brother insisted on the smiley). I love it, probably because I love the sauce, and I love pasta, so, there you go (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, anyone?). Anyway, this recipe is so simple, it's great for weeknight dinners. 
  • Creamy Pesto Sauce x4 (see recipe)
  • 1 box Rotini pasta
  • Approx. 8 oz bite-sized tomatoes
  •  Buffalo mozzarella
  • Mini cucumbers
   Alright, so, if you have made the sauce in advance, then you've done half the work already. Be sure that you've quadrupled the recipe, though, because otherwise you won't have enough for four people.
   First, cut the mozzarella into cubes that are about the same size as, or smaller than the tomatoes. Put the cubes into the bowl of sauce, then let them sit until the meal is ready. This way, the mozzarella begins to get a little flavor from the basil. This should sit for as long as possible, or at least half an hour. if you can, though, let it sit for 2-3 hours.
   Start boiling the pasta about 15 minutes before you'll be completely ready to eat. 
   Peel then cut the cucumbers into wide slices, again, about the size of the tomatoes, and set aside in a small bowl.
   Wash the tomatoes and put them in their own small bowl. Make sure they are free of any remaining pieces of the vine.
    After straining, put as much pasta as you want in a bowl, ladle on some sauce (don't forget the mozzarella), and put on as many, or as few tomatoes, and cucumber slices as you want. You could use other vegetables for this meal, but I think these ingredients make the dish very summer-y and fresh. It also adds enough vegetables, so you don't even really need a side-dish. Different pastas could also be used, such as rigatoni, but the sauce seems to grab onto the rotini best.

Bon Appétit!

Creamy Pesto Sauce

    Two of my all time favorite flavors are basil, and mayonnaise. Combining them? I swear, my tastebuds explode. This recipe is my own, but it's essentially a re-creation of a sauce I had at a local restaurant. I've gone back after eating mine, and, frankly, their's now tastes watered down...
  • 17-20 small to medium basil leaves, slapped
  • 1-2 small garlic cloves
  • Juice of 1/8 of a lemon
  • 2-ish t. tap water (I like Hellman's)
  • 1/4 c. Mayo
  • Rosemary
    First, wash the basil, and slap it. This is a technique I saw on Top Chef, but there it was used on mint (yup, I'm a Food Network addict...). Basically, wash the leaves, then take up to 3 at a time and clap your hands together. Hard. When you've done it right, you'll see that the leaf is a darker green, and may tear as you pull it away from your hand. From what I understand, this seems to allow the oils in the leaves to come out and play with the other flavors, so to speak. I have no idea if this actually does anything, but it seems to work for me...
      Smush the garlic under the side of your knife to remove the wrapping, then throw it in the blender. Put the basil and 5, or 6 rosemary needles in the blender. It could be a food processor as well (I find that a small one is easiest), and blend. This is the first place where you can personalize this recipe. The pieces of basil can be any size you like, but I think the smaller the better, only because more basil flavor comes out, and your teeth don't end up looking rotten... After, put the chopped basil in a small, or medium bowl. After, after this I put the lemon on the basil to get the acid vs. the basil war started. Just kidding.
   Finally, mix in the mayo. Now, this tastes great just like it is, but I add the water to stretch the ingredients, and the flavors don't seem to thin out at all. I find that the 2-ish teaspoons seem to bring the sauce to the perfect consistency for putting on sandwiches (I recommend rosemary focaccia, the combo works nicely.), using as a dip for veggies, and an hour, or so, ago, I tried it on grilled chicken. Mmm.

Bon Appétit!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chocolate Croissant Secret

Okay, I am about to expose the big secret behind the Chocolate Croissant. If you try it, I personally guarantee that it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE! The secret is: Trader Joes. That's right. The supermarket; Trader Joes. They make THE most UNBELIEVABLE frozen chocolate croissants this side of the Atlantic. All you have to do is let them rest overnight, slather them with beaten egg in the morning (to make them shiny), and bake for 20-25 minutes on 350 degrees. This isn't an ad either, they're just that good. They come in boxes of four, and taste like they came from an expensive bakery. If you live near a Trader Joes, do yourself a favor: go buy some!

Almond and Pear Tart

Almond and Pear Tart from Epicurious, originally published in Bon Appétit; February, 2005.

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 medium-size firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled (each about 7 ounces)
Here, rather than go to the trouble of preparing the pears, at my Mom's suggestion I bought canned pear halves at the store. The pears were perfect for the recipe, but perhaps a little big because I could only squeeze on five. The pear halves I bought came in “light syrup,” which I reduced over medium heat for probably about 15 - 20 minutes. This made a perfect glaze for the whole top of the tart, and the crust. Read on to find out when I put it on.

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
This was a VERY good crust. You can really taste the butter, so if you don't like butter: A) You're weird (no offense), and B) I wouldn't recommend this crust to you. It also adds to the overall richness of the final product. The consistency was flakey and golden, and held well. It also did not become mushy after the pears and almond filling were added.
I used shelled almonds, only because I could not find them slivered and blanched. They worked fine; they just needed a little extra time in the food processor. DO NOT assume that the almond grounds will become smaller after you add other ingredients. THEY WILL NOT! All you will have is lumpy dough. I only say this because I nearly stopped the almonds when they were about the size of quartered pencil erasers, thinking: "Oh, they'll shrink." Luckily I quickly came to my senses...

Almond Filling
  • 2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • Powdered sugar (optional)
Pretty tasty, and adds nearly all of the moisture (aside from the pears, of course). Again, be sure to grind the almonds to their desired consistency, because they will not get any smaller after you stop grinding them. I have yet to know what the powdered sugar is for, my guess is to go on top of the final product, but frankly, I think the dessert looks more impressive without it. Plus, that way you know you won't get "white lung disease..."
For pears:
Bring 4 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Again - canned is perfect. Why waste the time?
For crust:
Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough comes together in clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)
Easy, and self-explanatory. Make sure to make it a disk, though. It makes rolling easier, and freezing more consistent.
For almond filling:
Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)
Again, self-explanatory.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Poke crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 10 minutes.
Ok, so this part was quite interesting. First, I was trying to minimize the freezing time, so the dough was in the freezer for about half an hour, and then I moved it to the fridge. The next day, it was hard as a rock, so I took it out while reviewing the recipe's directions again. It became a little too soft then, so I put back into the freezer for probably ten minutes. I took it out, rolled it on a silicone mat without flour (I was idiotically thinking I didn't need the flour -- WRONG!), then proceeded to wreck all my work when I tried to pick it up with a flat, metal spatula. I squished it into a round disk again, froze it until it was hard, and started again, this time with just enough flour (don’t overdo it). It worked fine this time, and I was able to place it into the fluted pan without using any parchment paper. Don't worry about the cracks that will form around the base against the sides when you try to fold the dough up, they will fix easily if you gently push them back together with your fingertips. I also did the next step before the final 10 minute freeze, and that didn’t seem to affect anything. Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that this dough recipe is occasionally-cocky-16-year-old proof, and that you will have to try VERY hard if you want to mess it up. 
Line crust with buttered foil, buttered side down, then fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Bake crust until sides are golden and bottom is set, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 10 minutes longer. Cool crust in pan on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
I lined the tart with heavy duty foil too, only because I’m lazy when it comes to cleaning up. The only thing I had to do differently was make sure it was all pressed into each ‘dent’ in the fluted sides. After wards, I used a non-stick cooking spray. I only waited until the crust was mildly warm after it came out of the oven. I’m terribly impatient when cooking…
Spread almond filling evenly in crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center.
The almond filling doesn’t seem to like spreading, so I put dollops of the filling around the pan, and used the plastic wrap that was covering the bowl and pressed it down on top of the dollops. This flattened it enough to place the pears on top. Cutting the pears was not all that difficult because you don’t even have to cut the pears at an angle, just up and down. The spatula trick worked well if you have a perfectly flat spatula with no holes, or slots. If you cut a rectangle out of the center of a heavy-duty paper plate it should work about as well. During the second and final time baking the tart I covered the whole thing with a piece of regular aluminum foil. This prevented the crust from baking any more than it already had.
Bake tart until golden and tester inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.) Cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.
Again, I don’t get the powdered sugar because the pears were still moist, and I think they would have absorbed the sugar before you could blink, leaving an ugly, light brown, cakey…thing…all over your beautiful tart.
What I loved about this recipe was that the cook times were spot-on, so in the final five minutes of baking, I removed the piece of aluminum foil that had been over the tart, and brushed on the glaze. I let this bake until the timer went off, then I turned on the broiler and watched while the glaze caramelized b-e-a-utifully. That did not take long at all.
By the time I put the tart in the oven, I realized that I had enough dough to make another small tart, so I followed the same procedure for baking the big tart, only with a 4 or 5 inch pan, and stuck it in the oven for the same amount of time. It also came out perfectly, so maybe I’ll make many smaller crusts next time and have different filings. I finished it with a few layers of  ¼ inch strawberry slices coated in the pear glaze, a mountain of homemade whipped cream (1 c. heavy cream + about 4 T. granulated sugar, depends on how sweet you like it), and a few more strawberry slices on top. Yum!

Overall Rating :

Taste: 8/10: Only because the flavors did not really make too much of an impression on me. Next time I might figure out a way to add 1 t. almond extract to the crust, just to give it a pop. If you like delicate flavors, though, you’ll love this exactly how it’s written. Also – please know that my affection for chocolate has some influence on my grade. I am a self-proclaimed chocoholic, and so I don’t tend to enjoy things without chocolate as much as things with the lovely stuff.

Time: 10/10: For the time spent on this, it comes out perfectly. Obviously if it didn’t take quite so long I’d be happier, but so many of the elements are fine if done ahead, and it’s supposed to be served cool, so it’s great for parties and for the holidays.

Difficulty (10 being the highest): 4: Some basic skills are required, such as being able to slice things consistently, but otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary.

Beauty: 10/10: Difficult to mess up; this dessert looks professional, difficult, and is slightly more impressive than your average birthday cake.

Cost: Not very expensive with the canned pears. The almonds were the most expensive item, and even those were not bad. In future, I will figure out the total cost and post it.

Monday, June 6, 2011


    Hello world! Welcome to my blog. Here, I will be sharing my learning experiences with you along my journey to become learned chef... kinda. What will we be learning about, you ask? Why, how to cook, of course! Not just any cooking, though. I will also explore baking, and occasionally review websites, products, etc.
    I realize how very cliché this is: writing a blog about food while learning to prepare it. Some may call me a Julie Powell wannabe. I wish to say, though, that this blog is purely for me. Whoever else enjoys it, and even (GASP) learns from it; I hope I do not lead you astray. No, this will be my path to learning the beautiful art of cuisine that I have such a passion for. I must say, though, I have a little more under my belt than just Mac and Cheese, and toast...
    Hopefully along the way I will make some friends, share my funny, successful, and embarrassing experiences, and help both improve, and maybe even provide, some recipes for you all to try yourselves. I love feedback, whether positive, or negative. I don't mind, as long as it's constructive. Please feel free, should the mood strike you, to share your tips for me to try. If I find it works well, I will certainly give an honorable mention.
    I find that the best way for me to learn is to surround myself with others who are experiencing the same problems, or triumphs, so that I can be a resource for them, and vice versa, to continue the learning process with increasing vigor and excitement.
   So far, I've made this blog sound boring, and institutional with all this pompous-sounding talk of learning. I wish to be clear in saying that I'm very excited for every mistake, pit-fall, and pie-in-the-face scenario I encounter. The whole point of this is to have fun! After all, how long is a rising junior in high school going to maintain an interest if they're not having fun to a certain degree? That's why I'm getting bored with this post already.
   Enough of this talk. On to the recipes!