Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monday, the longest day, or Why haven't I made pita bread before???

My semester began on Wednesday January 6th, but because of the holiday, I just had my Monday classes for a second time yesterday. It's been a little hard to get in the groove of a new semester so far, partially because we had a holiday but also, I think, because i only have classes two days a week. It's also a little weird because it definitely doesn't feel like school.

I have two classes on Mondays. The day is a little longer than my Wednesday, but I have a break in the afternoon. I started the day with Cake Design and Decorating. Two weeks ago, we had to bake two types of cakes with which we will practice decorating for the first part of the semester. We used the same ingredients and measurements but two different mixing methods. The first was the creaming method, which most people know, especially if you'd ever made a pound cake before. You cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs, then alternate the dry ingredients and wet ingredients. This makes a nice dense cake that holds up well to the weight of a large cake. The other method was the Two Stage Method. I was not familiar with this, but I like it. You add the dry ingredients, the sugar, butter, and a little of the liquid (in this case the milk and eggs combined). You mix until fluffy then add the liquid in two stages... hence the name! It makes a lighter, fluffier cake.

This week, we split and filled the cakes and iced them. We practiced border decorations and writing. While it's not Cake Wrecks material, it wasn't fabulous either. I need to practice getting my icing more smooth on the sides. The top was pretty smooth though. That's much easier. This week, my homework will be to bake a cake, make buttercream, and practice piping. Pretty crazy homework, huh?

Here's my cake:

Monday afternoon and evenings are occupied by Artisan Breads. Best. Class. Ever. This is, as I expected, my favorite class. The subject mater is great, the instructor is great, my classmates are AWESOME! My lab only has 6 people in it. It's a nice size. Everyone is really interested in learning, working and teamwork. Our text is The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Last week we made a white pan bread and a light wheat. The white bread was good, but the light wheat was fantastic. This week, we made french baguettes with a preferment called pate fermentee and pita bread. Both breads were great, but the pita was unbelieveable. It was so easy to make and a super-speedy bake. They puff up like little pillows then slowly deflate. The bread is soft and chewy. If you have any interest in baking bread at home, I'd suggest getting a copy of this book and also trying the pita at home.

Go here if you'd like to see photos of our bread from this week and last.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

This is how I started my day.

Be back tomorrow with more details!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Babushka! Babushka!, A Veselka Dinner.

New York City is home to a Ukrainian restaurant called Veselka. The New York Times had an article about Veselka the other day. This restaurant also happens to be a favorite of my friend, M, who lived in New York City for a while. He was recently given the Veselka cookbook. Somehow several of us came up with the idea to have a big dinner party using recipes from this book. Last night, my friends and I celebrated Ukrainian Christmas Eve. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have friends that can cook? Assignments and recipes went out by email last week. I was assigned borscht. It's a special meatless beet broth in which mushroom dumplings are added. R & E were assigned the dumplings. It was agreed that Team Borscht did a smashing job!

The cookbook has information on the history of Ukrainian Christmas Eve and also included the order of the courses. We began with this little dish of wheatberries, honey, poppy seeds and toasted walnuts. It was pretty good. Wheatberries have an odd texture, chewy, springy and crunchy all rolled into one. Up next was Team Borscht. For those who don't know, I'm half Polish. Therefore I prefer a Polish borscht, hearty, chunky, a wee bit tart with lots of dill and sour cream. This was essentially a beet consomme seasoned with vinegar, sugar and allspice. It's a little sweet and sour. After a few bites, I got more used to the taste. It was especially good with the dumplings.

Course One:

The wheatberry poppy seed dish, kutya, traditionally served as the first and last courses. Since we had SO MUCH food, it was the first course only.

Borscht with vushka, mushroom filled dumplings. Very pretty!

I have to admit that by this point, I was getting full. We still had a ton of food. Oof. We moved on to the cabbage leaves stuffed with kasha and topped with tomato sauce, potato and onion pierogi, sauerkraut and peas, and mushrooms. We also had a couple loaves of challah.

My plate, clockwise from top right: sauerkraut with peas, kasha holubtsi, simmered mushrooms, pierogi with sour cream (I had to cheat on the no-dairy thing, sorry.) and a bit of challah.

The challah

Our final course was the uzvar, a dried fruit compote. My tummy was officially at critical mass by this point, so I had a few bites. I also brought some home to put on oatmeal. It was awesome. It tasted like Christmas.

Dinner was amazing. I think i actually have a food hangover this morning and may possibly still be too stuffed to drink my coffee. With any luck, my friends and I will make this a regular thing, with a different country each time (hint hint).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ring in the New Year with possums, nuts and weiner cobbler!

I know you all are dying to know what I did on New Years Eve. I know you are. My friends, R & E, live in a pretty rad condo in the heart of Raleigh. They also happen to be a block from where we drop The Acorn and shoot off fireworks. Yes, my friends, my city drops a giant nut each year. Squirrel food if you will. We drop a giant piece of squirrel food to ring in the new year. Could be worse, I suppose. Mount Olive, NC drops a pickle. They make pickles there, you see. Or it could be way worse than that. We could be Brasstown, NC, the alleged Possum Capital Of The World where they drop a LIVE possum and count down to the new year on the Possumtron. If only I could make this up!

This year the party theme was retro food. We had cocktail weenies in sauce, meatballs, a chicken liver pate, slices of pickles wrapped in cream cheese and ham. I brought cream puffs full of butter, smoked salmon and dill, recipe courtesy of my grandmother's cookbook. We had wine, beer, brandy slushies, and some peppermint stick cocktail thingy. And then there was weiner cobbler. Think about it. Weiner. Cobbler.

A visual aid.

Here's how I remember the recipe as told to me:
1 package of turkey cocktail weenies, wrapped in crescent rolls, covered with a mixture of brown sugar, maple syrup, toped with sliced almonds and baked.

All I can say is that it's delightfully weird.