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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

May the Force be With You

Character Cakes

So along with my exploring and practising in baking, I have been blessed with a lot of cute little boys in my family and my wonderful friends kids that love everything that has to do with Star Wars and any other Marvel characters.  Since I love to bake and try new ideas, I've got to practice making some fun cakes for the boys.  
Who dosen't want to own or at least appreciate the millenium falcon

Darth Vader's head on a plate 

Marvel Heads, actually not made for a boy but for my brother-in-law

Sorry to say, don't remember the name of this ship, definetly a star wars ship
fun to play with before flying one into your mouth

Chez Pannise

                                 Relating to Alice Waters

I just recently read the book "Alice Waters Chez Pannise," which is sort of a biography of Waters life and the restaurant she opened, Chez Pannise.  I really related to her with her sense of adventure and enthusiasm with food, especially in French cuisine.  She really inspires me to go for my dreams and to not take no for an answer.  I would love to eat at her restaurant one day and be surprised by what ever she feeds me, since it is a pre fix menu that changes everyday with season to season and whats available.  If you are interested in how restaurants get started, the struggles to make it work with passions and dreams, you would enjoy this book. Also, its just inspiring to see how someones hard work and determination will succeed in their goals. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Food That Takes You Back

                               Bread in it's Simplicity

I like the idea of food bringing people together.  The many amazing things that you can do with it, the natural way of where it comes from and how food is an art in itself.  I find an inner peace when I am in the kitchen making bread, seeing the yeast work on the sugars and causing the gluten strands to expand and the end becomes this beautiful product inside and out.  It is so amazing in texture and flavor compared to store bought, modified and chemically bound breads.  How the smell of fresh baked bread is intoxicating and can bring this warmth when you walk into the room.  It makes me think of the first day I woke up in Italy, when I spent a summer there,  my nose literally woke me up to the over powerful smell wafting up from the bakery downstairs through the green shutters in my room.  Slowly waking up from terrible jet lag, I slowly started taking in the stark white walls around me, a warm breeze coming in from the slates in the shutters that opened out to a porch.  Down below, I can hear the faint sound of a broom being swept slowly over soft cobble stones.  I will always remember this moment like it was yesterday and I hope that everyone that has a fresh baked product from my kitchen will have a similiar experience as me.  Something that takes them back to a moment they will never forget and it slows down there day enough to have that moment of peace, of intoxication. 



Strange to see how a good dinner and
feasting reconciles everybody.
Samuel Pepys

     Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
Harriet Van Horne

The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star.
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

 Cheese- milk's leap towards immortality.-Clifton Fadiman

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Big Egg

The Eggstraordinary Wrap

My last couple days in Portland have been an adventure of trying as many places to eat before moving on to a new city, ready to explore.  One place that I read about, that locals claimed had amazing breakfast sandwiches, is "The Big Egg" cart in Historic Mississippi area.  I ventured there on a cold morning, after work in late January only to find that they closed for the month and would return in February to serve up their famous sandwiches.  So last weekend, on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday morning, I drove across the 30 hwy bridge to try this again. There were more people this time, enjoying the sunshine and getting a late breakfast at one of the many carts there.  When I got to the window, I told them it was my first time there and what do they recommend?  There are about 5 choices, one being a wrap, the others, sandwiches, with the choice of meat, vegan option also available.  They have a seasonal sandwich that looked amazing, but they said that the most popular was the wrap.  I decided to do as the locals do, go for the wrap. Yay! There is a 45 minute wait.  Well as I have seen with Oregonians, they don't mind waiting for good food, even from a food cart.  I was up for it, especially since it was such a beautiful day, I preceded to waited in anticapation.
Well, it was worth the wait. It was hot, tasty flavor, good texture, and not too much of anything standing out. Those who know me, know I don't like anything overpowering another flavor.  Usually it's the "too much bread" that tends to over powers anything else; texture, flavor and mouth feel.  This did not have any of that.  It is a little messy, but what's that phrase, "If it don't get all over the place, it don't belong in your face."  So true here. If you are ever in the Portland area, you should have breakfast with the Big Egg.  


Don't Expect too Much....

Do you ever experience an expectation that hightens when you hear about a new product or movie, everyone talks it up. The reviews come in with a lot of hype and you finally get a chance to experience what you have put on a pedestal and are expecting to be amazed!  When you finally get to participate in this amazing moment, you don't see what the big fuss is about.  In fact you are disappointed, maybe kick yourself for building your expectations up so high.  I have been a victim of this fall too many times and have learned to use this thinking, "have an open mind" take everything in as an opinion, think about all aspects of it.  What is it trying to sell?
I think of it as buying a car.  I can read all the reviews, hear everyones opinion of how they like it, but until I get behind the wheel and test drive it, I don't know if I will like it for myself.  Does it meet my needs? 
One thing I do when I hear about a new place to eat, I read the reviews from food critics, consumers, and talk to people I know that have tried it.  I try to see what they see it as, their view point.  Is it on the actual food appeal?  Or the atmosphere or the familiarity of the food to them?  Of course these are all great factors that play a part in the experience and how one enjoys their food, just not letting it overtake the actual product that you are trying to savore and the seller is trying to bring across.  

To diet or not to diet?

                               Food for Stomach

I have never been a fan of "dieting," I don't think anything good comes from starting a diet, it's hard to stick to and it just seems like so much work. How can you enjoy anything when you have to count calories all the time? 
I grew up with no sugar, very little processed food and not a lot of red meat, so I guess you can say I have an advantage of not having a palette for "bad food," thanks to my mom.  When I started going to college I slowly discovered processed food and coffee.  I couldn't drink coffee without lots of sugar and cream and I  lived off candy.  I still have a weakness for candy but now I drink my coffee black.  I have grown to appreciate more things like coffee, wine, beer, spirits and all forms of culinary food because I took an interest in them and improved my palate.  I did this, not to become a snob, although I'm sure I can come across that way some times, I discovered it taste better and is enjoyable when you pair certain things together.  It improves the flavor and makes the meal so much more enjoyable.  My motto is to "diet" like the French. They take the time to enjoy natural ingredients and food that takes time to prepare; slowly and a little at a time. They also walk a lot, and are less stressed than Americans because they don't take life as serious as we do and they take vacations regularly. But that's beside the point. 
When I was traveling through Europe, I acted like a true American, eating fast and rushing off to see the next thing.  When I sat down to eat, I would look around at all the tables where locals were sitting, eating a pairing like a fattening butter croissant and a glass of wine, soaking in the day.  I thought, why don't I just relax and enjoy this amazing food before me? 
I am still learning how to slow down and enjoy food, take in the flavors and textures, and through this, not needing huge American size portions. I am learning to be satisfied with less and enjoying more. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On to bigger and better

Where the Food Trail begins..

I just found out this week where I will be doing my internship as I conclude my last class at culinary school.  It already been a wonderful full year of learning from fast pace classes, to working two jobs and volunteering at events through the school.
  My journey with food and cooking started ever sense I was a child.  Both my parents are great cooks and my mom made a point to make dinner every night from scratch, along with every meal we had.  My mom had to learn how to cook when she was little because she had to help take care of the house with her mom being a single, working mom.  She then went to college and minored in Nutrition which I think influenced the way she cooked for us.  My mom didn't have any role models on how to raise kids, cook or keep a house other then watching her very busy working mom.  When my mom and dad got married, they got pregnant soon after and my mom decided to be a stay home mom, home school and cook healthy whole made food.  I didn't have sugar when I was a kid and some how my mom found amazing ways to make everything taste great and I didn't know what I was missing until I went to college and discovered sugar and caffeine. 
My dad grew up in a family where it was socially unacceptable for a man to be in the kitchen, but he wanted to help my mom when he could, so somehow, like most men I meet, he just started to cook and always ends up making amazing dishes. 
My mom thought it was just as important as schoolwork to teach me and my sibling how to cook and have housecleaning duties.  She would make waffles, granola, and whole made bread for breakfast food, that we all learned to make along with her.  Dinner was always an important meal, we all helped cook, set the table and would be ready for my dad to come home so we could all sit down to dinner together.  As you might of read in another blog, this is where I picked up on the "perfect bite."  I thought this was normal, sitting down together, everyone contributing and enjoying a whole made meal together.  My sisters and I would clear the table, grumbling, but end up singing and throwing the left over water on each other and slapping one another with wet towels while doing dishes. 
Another thing that my mom would work into a school project was picking a place to do a paper on the traditions, culture and food and along with this, we would make a meal from that region, city or area.  I always enjoyed this project, because I found it fascinating how people around the world ate different than we did. 
As I got older, one thing that my mom and I could always talk about and share together is food.  We started a tradition of reading or watching food channels of the best places to eat and we plans trips to these cities and try all the best foods and drinks.
I appreciate every day what my mom taught me and how her passion for food passed down to me. I still love that my whole family loves to cook and we have amazing meals together, no matter how simple they are. I believe that through my background, my parents influence, my friends and my travels, I have grown to appreciate and love the many ways that food brings people together and how many ways you can enjoy food.  Food is beautiful and it can make you fall in love, heal you, satisfy you and comfort you.  Love what you make and care enough about what you put into your body.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Entering The Screen Door

Entering the Screen Door

There are always those hole-in-the-wall places in each city that all the locals are religions about frequenting because its good and lets admit it, it's hard to find a place that we can trust and know we won't be disappointed.  When you ask around for a good place to eat, you trust that locals are going to most likely not lead you too far astray or, at lease, it won't be a disappointment. One place that I have heard about and driven by that caught my attention seeing a crowd of people take up the whole corner waiting to get in, is the Screen Door.  I thought, unless it's a chain restaurant, a small restaurant that people will wait an hour to get in for brunch, has to be descent.  I read reviews, and asked around and of course everybody had heard of it and eaten there; some loved it, others weren't as convinced about the hype.

I am leaving this beautiful city of Portland soon to pursue my passion and dreams of being a baker, so naturally, being a "foodie," I had to experience it myself before leaving.  I had a good friend that was willing to wait out the hour in the cold and rain with all the Portland dressed locals waited with us, some with coffee they offer you to sip on in their ceramic cups.  It didn't feel that long before they called our name and offered us a seat in their heated patio that was small but cozy, with patio tables you have to slide your legs around to get in.  Those of you that don't know this place, it is a kinda southern meets Cajun place that specializes in brunch items. 
The kitchen is open with a large room of tables and the small patio to the side.  There are some specials that are seasonal or a trial run.  I chose two items, one sweet and one savory to get a taste of both sides of the menu.  There are different egg options with a choice of potatoes or grits on the side and french toast and waffle options (with fries chicken, if you so wish).  I got the banana foster french toast made with brioche dough and also a sourdough slice with Gruyere cheese, 2 over-easy eggs with ham and a side of grits.  For some reason, being Scotch/Irish we got southern influences in our cooking that always included grits in our brunches, so this was very close to home for me.  I loved it, the french toast was light and fluffy with a slit crunch and a maple-caramel syrup that was very sweet but so scrumptious.  The sourdough was lighter than I would expect from a sourdough but made up in the Gruyere cheese melted over it, toasty with slight sweetness from the thinly sliced ham and the bright yellow egg yolks that oozed over the stack of deliciousness.  Along with Stumptown coffee, this was a very tasty brunch that will leave you stuffed and satisfied. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Besaw's Brunch

This last weekend I decided to go to a new place I've been wanting to try, Besaw.  I also thought it would be a nice treat since it was my birthday and my day off.  I had read reviews on Besaw and driven past it a couple times and realized this is the last probable time I could eat here. 
Driving up to it, the quaint restaurant has the look of an old ice cream parlor.  Beware of when you go though, people surround the corner of the front door if you happen to go on a Sunday morning for brunch. Walking in through the big glass door there is a cramped but homely feel, with servers dressed in normal clothes talking to customers as old acquaintances.  A long bar with antique parlor stoles line the maple wood bar where single patrons sip there drinks and read the paper or people watch. I was eating alone, so I asked to sit at the bar because I was pretty hungry at this point and I wouldn't have to wait long.  I was give a menu right away that consist of one page, front and back, then nicely asked by the bar man what I would like to drink.  I decided on a cup of coffee, reading that they brewed Stumptown Coffee, a local coffee roaster, this being my first cup of the day and I like this brand of coffee.  I then scanned the menu and saw a lot of tasty choices from french toast to egg scrambles all using organic local produce. I also noticed a separate card with the specials on it that I assumed they change with the local fresh ingredients available.  I ended up choosing something that wouldn't be too filling: two over easy eggs with bacon, avocado, sun dried tomatoes served on a house made brioche bun with rosemary pan fried red potatoes on the side. 

I was too hungry to take
a before picture.

After I put my order in I scanned the room a little more.  The room had a warm, light feel to it even with wood covering the walls, the bar and an old worn wood floor.  Most of the walls had big wide windows with blinds covering them with a few old pictures on the windowless walls.  Along the top of the bar was the popular Portland style of Mason jars filled with assortment of pickled vegetables.  Overall, if you can handle tight spaces and a crowded room, it a fun atmosphere and I bet if you became a regular,the employees would get to know you and treat you like family, which is what I saw.  I ended up bringing a food magazine and enjoyed reading it and taking notes while I took in the atmosphere and enjoyed my food. 

The only negative thing I could say about my food, is it was slightly cold, and the best thing was the mimosas, one of the best I've ever had, I ended up treating myself to for my birthday. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How to make laminated brioche dough

Brioche dough is a light and slightly sweet dough that is used for gourmet sandwiches and burgers.  They are very eye appealing, usually brushed with egg wash to give them a darker, shinny top. Delicate when broken  open, very little dough inside, which is why they are great for sandwiches, less on the "bready" side, helps to capture the fillings more. 

Brioche dough is made with very few ingredients: bread flour, yeast, salt, milk and sugar.  Lite kneeding and let rise, and to get the best result, refrigerate overnight.  With the fact that there are few ingredients and it contains all milk for the liquid, this makes the dough light and rich. 

Laminate means to form or construct into thin layers.  So how to apply this to brioche dough?  Measure out a set amount of butter needed for the amount of dough from recipe.  The most tricky part is getting the temperature of your butter and dough right.  Once you can roll out the butter, it’s important to get it in a rectangular that will fit in the rolled out dough that is an inch from the edges and covers 2/3rds of the dough.   Usually after rolling out the butter, it becomes too soft, so put it in the frig till it’s the right temp. 

Once you have the brioche dough rolled out and at the right temp and your butter is the right temp, place butter on top of the dough on the left side.  It’s important to be gentle and love your dough or you could end up chucking this beautiful thing across the room after the many folds and huge amount of sweet, amazing butter that makes everything better, next to bacon. 

Fold the unbuttered side 1/3 over the buttered dough, then fold the left 1/3 over that.  Work quickly but gently, by rolling it out again till its 1/2 in. around edges to another rectangle.  Fold again in thirds same way, indent on one side with the blunt of a knife to keep track of your folds.  You will do three of these folds, refrigerate in between to let it rest and to keep the temperature low so the butter won’t melt through.  When you get to the last fold and roll it out again, you can decide how you want to cut out the dough.  In rolls, biscuit like, cut outs, they will all be beautiful.  Once you get them all cut out on a parchment lined cookie sheet, brush the tops with egg wash, let sit for a little, then bake these beauties. 

The end result will be, when you break into them, will have layer    upon layer of buttery dough and the outside might be a little crispier  when you bite into them.  All-in-all so worth the labor.  Just have patience and lots of love, which I think you will acquire when you see the amount of butter that goes into this and how beautiful the dough turns out.  Enjoy!   

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to eat the perfect bite

 I have been teased about being a meticulous eater all my life.  When I was a kid, my dad would always tease me about having a “scraped clean” plate. So my fascination with food, I guess you can say, started when I was a kid.  My mom was always big on having every food category on the plate: starch, vegetables, protein and usually a dessert after, (even if it was the left over rice to make rice pudding).   Another thing she ingrained in us, was to eat what was put before us and chew slowly, which sad to say, the last one did not stay with me into adulthood.  I never felt forced to eat my food, I think it taught me to appreciate what I had and what made eating what was put before me even easier, my mom is a damn good cook. 

So with this well constructed plate of edible items that compliment each other, I assumed they would be best eaten together.  The first step of accomplishing a perfect bite, is cutting a small piece of the offered protein, second, a piece of the chosen vegetable, both skewered onto the fork.  Try to get them both close in size so nothing is dominating in flavor and are able to fit an etiquette amount in your mouth.  Then comes the starch, which usually are potatoes or rice, which would have to go on top of the fork, and last, the best part, is the sauce or juices, that usually accompanies the protein.  Run the well constructed fork of perfection through the sauce. 

When you bite into this equally portioned art piece, your senses explode, you taste every flavor that is so beautifully melded together for this dish and you realize, how could you have enjoyed a bite any other way?  So now that the perfect bite has been perfected and it's toward the end of the meal, what is left is a "scraped clean" plate. 

Now there are some exceptions to the rule, for example, spaghetti, which is a dish already melded together for your enjoyment, just sop up the rest of the sauce with a piece of french bread.  The all amazing casserole dishes that includes everything but the kitchen sink.

If you want to try this at home or even better when you go out to eat, generally chef's will have equal amounts on your plate. Get equal portions of each item on your plate, try to construct your perfect bite and let it rock your world.  Another bonus to this way of eating is it will slow down your eating and make you fuller faster.  It's an all around perfect meal.    

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Who said eye balls are gross

Who can't say that they have turn their nose up or at least made a face that makes the brow scrunch up, head shakes vigorously and maybe the tongue sticks out when a unfamiliar part of meat is on the menu? We avoid it like the plague and resort to a familiar dish we have had before, because it's what we know.  We are creatures of habit, the unfamiliar scares us and we want something we know, for sure, we will love.  When that dish comes out and is put under our nose, our senses are open and it brings us to a comfort level and we can't wait to scarf it down.  We already know what that first bite will be like, there are no surprises. 

So who started this idea that meat that comes from certain areas of the animal are so good to consume and other parts are a big No-No!  How did we become so disgusted when we see pig ears or tongues at the supermarket that we quickly move on to beef shank or pork chops?  I am mostly talking about Americans, because in Europe or even Mexico, this is not the case.  They look at a pig hoof just as good and beneficial in their cooking as a stuffed pork loin. 

The interesting thing is there are positive quotes everywhere, on cards, facebook and websites about taking chances, "live your life to the fullest", "Think out side the box." Then when it comes to going to a restaurant where the chefs can make food taste better than you might be able to at home, we tend to not trust them when they put "cow tongue" on the menu for our consumption.

I am thankful I we raised with the thought "Always try something once."  Thus far, this has stuck with me and I have to say, I am rarely disappointed.  Another thing that follows trying something for the first time is an enhancement of your pallet, you will want to venture out more and get excited about the new "big thing" in food.  So I encourage you to step outside the box, once in a while order something you have never heard of and have a positive thought that you are excited about venturing into a unknown territory of the animal.