Culinary life thus far…

This past Tuesday, I finish my second of five culinary course segments for the winter term. Before winter break, I had Introduction to Meatcutting and then started Fundamentals of Food Production for two days. The third day of the course was probably the worst day of culinary school. It was the Thursday right before our two week winter break, so that day was reserved for a “deep-cleanse” rather than class/production. I cleaned for four hours. FOUR HOURS. Pots, pans, measuring instruments, all utensils, every nook and cranny of that kitchen.  Needless to say it was exhausting, frustrating, and seemed almost fruitless especially when the “inspector” instructor came in and started to list off a billion other things we needed to clean. On the plus side, we did get out of class early, right around lunch time. Two classmates and I ventured to the Uptown area and had lunch at Vapiano’s, an Italian bistro where you order at different stations — pasta, pizza, salad, the bar, etc.. whatever you are in the mood for and they scan a card you are given by the hostess when you came in then the food is either brought to you or you can pick it up. We shared a refreshing vegetarian appetizer plate filled with green and black olives, sliced mozzarella and tomato,  toasted bread, and bruschetta. I had the bruschetta pizza, it filled my hangry attitude from cleaning all morning. The crust was freshly tossed to a thin consistency topped with arugula, bruschetta mix, olive oil, garlic, mix of cheese with a tomato sauce baked in a stone-pizza oven.

To be frank, I felt not so much in the culinary mindset when starting this term. After a week break for Thanksgiving, I was looking forward to getting back into the routine of classes and my afternoon/weekend activities around Charlotte, however I began to feel a detachment from my reasons to pursue culinary school and the type of courses I was going to have during winter term.  I needed to reevaluate how I approached my culinary school studies and practice. I desired some sort of validation in that the time, blood (seriously, knife injuries), sweat, and the piles of pots and pans I washed were actually worth it. I’ve tossed around the idea of applying for a few jobs but with the schedule of the next few weeks/weekends being not so concrete, it’s hard to imagine someone would want to hired me. But I have drawn up a resume — quite different from the resume I had during undergraduate studies — and emailed a few places I am interested in. That’s a good beginning right?

Introduction to Meatcutting

On our first day we watched a video about the brutal, inhumane treatment of factory farm animals from their living situations to their deaths at the processing plant. I am very well aware of this issue; it being one of the many reasons I choose  a vegetarian/pescartarian diet. I was interested in hearing my classmates’ responses and of course, the discussion with my professor about the culinary industry’s dilemma in utilizing those products. Though conversation did not go too in depth,we all agreed that the factory farm processing is wrong and change can happen when we as future chefs utilize our economic purchasing power to  source our meat products based on the conditions they were raised, fed, and slaughtered.

Each day our instructor led us through simple yoga-like motions, then we would run around the circular loop of the culinary lab hallways — we sure looked silly jogging in our checkered pants and undershirts. In between our stretches, we would point out certain parts of our bodies and relate them to the “cut” on beef, veal, pork, and lamb.  For example, our butt is known as the “fresh ham” on pork or “round” on lamb and beefs. I found the exercise very helpful to visualize the animal anatomy in relation to the cuts of meat we prepare in class and understanding where the tender meats are and tougher meats ideal for braising and stewing are located. Now I know where the tenderloin is!

This was a difficult course for me to stomach at some points — like seeing fabrications (cutting) of large carcasses. I still have various issues with meat-eating and the possibility of raising “humane” veal. But the tone my instructor set during those few days of discussion changed my former expectations of the course and garnered my respect for chefs and butchers who are being socially responsible.

Fundamentals of Food Production

Compared to my fall term culinary labs..this class seemed like a breeze.  I found myself quite frustrated by the lack of challenge. This course focused on three other “dry” cooking methods — sauteing, shallow frying, and baking. For practical, I pan fried chicken and made a creamy mushroom Marsala sauce.

There were some positive notes though — my group and I enjoyed the liberties of experimenting with whatever ingredients we were assigned. It was almost like a “Chopped” competition. Usually, we were assigned a specific protein to be prepared with a certain sauce, to practice our pan sauce technique. For the carb and vegetable side items, we wanted to get more creative than mac&cheese, potato gratin, and green beans saute with olive oil and garlic– boring! (Especially if you have had it for 3 days..) We also become the “Soup of the Day” group too! I think I made more soups in this course than in the Stock, Sauce, and Soups course last term.

Here are some photos from production:

Asparagus Cream Soup

Asparagus Cream Soup

Other soups my group made were light vegetable, Thai Sweet Potato, and Tortilla Tomato. A heartwarming bowl of soup was perfect for those chilly days last week.

Pan-Fried Pork Cutlets with Marsala Mushroom Pan Sauce

Pan-Fried Pork Cutlets with Marsala Mushroom Pan Sauce

Chicken En Croute Chicken stuffed with Spinach, Bacon, and Cheese, wrapped in Puff Pastry

Chicken En Croute
Chicken stuffed with Spinach, Bacon, and Cheese, wrapped in Puff Pastry

Vegetarian version of “En Croute”…

Spinach & Ricotta Puff Pastry

Spinach & Ricotta Puff Pastry

Vegetarian Stuffed Red Peppers Brown rice, mushrooms, onions,  garlic, and zucchini

Vegetarian Stuffed Red Peppers
Brown rice, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and zucchini

Ok, so maybe I influenced my group to make more vegetarian dishes…but no one complained and the serving dishes were always empty during clean up.

Can’t wait to shared my next post about my Introduction to Beverage course! Have a wonderful weekend & Happy (early) MLK day!

-A

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Chocolate Fig Bites

I have the biggest sweet-tooth and moderation around anything with dark chocolate takes plenty of willpower. In a world of refined sugars, processed foods, and a never-ending Pinterest feed of delicious desserts and baked goods, feel good beginnings is not about restriction but trying healthier alternatives and minimizing added sugars!

These sweet bites were pretty easy to put together. I blended about half a container of black mission figs with (6 oz.) with 1 tbs of almond butter then rolled up 1 teaspoon scoop sizes into little bonbon-like balls. I dipped them into dark chocolate melted with some coconut oil. You can also make them vegan by using vegan chocolate chips. I also found that this treat is relatively inexpensive too. One 12oz container of dried figs from Trader Joe’s costs about $3.99,  I only used half the container and ended up with about 30 bites!

ChocolateFigBites_1

ChocolateFigBites

 

This is the recipe from Giada’s Feel Good Food

14 oz. dried Mission figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped ( about 3 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted creamy almond butter

1 cup vegan chocolate chips (41% cocoa)

2 teaspoons coconut, safflower, or grapeseed oil

3/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt

1. Process the figs, almond butter, and 2 tablespoon water until smooth

2. Scoop out 1 teaspoon portion sizes and roll into 1-in balls*, place fig balls on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper to prevent sticking

3. Melt the chocolate chips and oil in a double boiler (heat-proof bowl set over simmering water)

4. Once chocolate is completely melted, using a fork dip the fig balls in the chocolate to coat, allowing the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl

5. Return dipped fig bites onto parchment paper and sprinkle with the salt

6. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes for the chocolate to set,  store for about 1 week.

Makes 34-35 bites; Calories – 56 each

*I made mine a bit smaller, a good trick to satisfy the sweets craving yet not over do it.

-A

New Orleans Eats

During the Christmas holidays, my family and I spent some time in  New Orleans! It has been one of the travel hotspots on my bucketlist so I was pretty excited when my parents planned our Christmas there. Of course, I was most hyped about tasting food that defines NOLA culture and history, tasting dishes of the various ethnic groups, and witnessing the creative productions of emerging chefs. My only regret from the trip is that there were not enough meal times to try all the place on my list!.

Our first night we drove outside the city to try some Vietnamese eats. There’s a large Vietnamese community in the New Orleans area and though the Vietnamese hotspot I want to try was closed for the holiday week, Tan Binh was a delicious alternative.

Tamarind Sauce Stir fry Tofu with rice noodles and fresh herbs and lettuce

Tamarind Sauce Stir fry Tofu with rice noodles and fresh herbs and lettuce

Our morning fuel for French Quarter wanderings Monday morning was from the Old Coffeepot. I picked a NOLA tradition — calla cakes. They are fried rice cakes with origins tracing back to the rice-growing slaves brought from West Africa. This was a typical street food the slaves would sell on their law-granted day off, ususally Sunday. Mine were paired with buttery grits……maybe not so healthy, but a balance of sweet and savory!

Breakfast at the Old Coffeepot --Callah Cakes : Rice and Pecan fried balls topped with powdered sugar and served with hot buttery grits

Breakfast at the Old Coffeepot –Callah Cakes : Rice and Pecan fried balls topped with powdered sugar and served with hot buttery grits

My brothers’ tried a NOLA classic sandwich the muffuletta. from Franks! You got to like green olives for this feast. This ginormous sandwich originates from the Italian immigrant influence in New Orleans. We did not get the chance to make it to the Central Grocery, where the original sandwich was concocted by the founder’s daughter.

Hoagie like sandwich with layers of marinated green olive salad, mortadella, salami, emmental cheese, capicola, and provolone

Hoagie like sandwich with layers of marinated green olive salad, mortadella, salami, emmental cheese, capicola, and provolone

At the Redfish Grill,  an awarding winning seafood restaurant, we tried lots of yummy seafood samples from the menu including their famous BBQ oysters — flash-fried oysters, tossed in a tangy sauce and topped with a blue cheese dressing and crumbled Silton cheese.

Famous BBQ Oysters from Redfish Grill

Famous BBQ Oysters from Redfish Grill

We finished the meal with a rich, warm double chocolate bread pudding topped with vanilla ice cream. I’ve never been a bread-pudding fan, but this was an exception.

Double Chocolate Bread Pudding drizzled with white and dark chocolate ganache

Double Chocolate Bread Pudding drizzled with white and dark chocolate ganache

Christmas eve, after watching the great bonfire lighting along the Great River Road, we were left with deciding on a Chinese buffet dinner..ehh. We went Indian instead at Nirvana Cafe located in the Uptown area.

Naan Happy

Naan Happy

Christmas Day, after mass at St. Louis Cathedral, we slurped up almost as good as my mom’s Pho at Dong Phuong Bakery. Beside their delicious lunch menu, they are renown for their french bread that is served in various restaurants across the city. Next door to the restaurant is their 30-year old bakery filled to the brim with Asian sweets like steamed banana cake with coconut sauce, a variety of Vietnamese puddings, and savory steamed buns as well as French-inspired treats like chocolate eclairs, cakes, and cream puffs.

Chocolate Cake with Coffee Flavored Iciing

Chocolate Cake with Coffee Flavored Iciing

A trip to New Orleans is not complete without a trip or multiple to the beignet cafes. My favorite was not from Cafe Du Monde, but the cafe next door. On a walking tour of the French Market, I learned that at Cafe Du Monde, the dough is all machine mixed and pressed, then (I witnessed) thrown into hot oil. Of course, this is the most efficient means for the cafe to serve the long lines of customers 24/7. Old French Cafe produces handmade flaky pastry dough giving an airy, light beignet compared to its doughy competitor next door.

Cafe Du Monde

Cafe Du Monde

Fresh, flaky beignets with cafe au lait

Fresh, flaky beignets with cafe au lait

Other tasty eats we had throughout the trip were Red Beans and Rice, a traditional Monday grub, jambalaya, po-boys (oh, plenty of po-boys), more Vietnamese food, and even Happy Hour Sushi for Christmas dinner…because nothing else is open.

-A

Feel Good Beginnings

I’m back. It seems the craze of the holiday season and beginning my winter term courses left little time or should I say, energy to post updates about culinary school life. As always, the new year usually marks for many of us a time to set resolutions, break old habits, and develop new ones. I have been thinking about the sort of challenges I want to achieve in 2014. One of them is to be a better blogger. I started blogging while studying abroad in Vietnam, it served as a communication line to my family and friends back home and most importantly, a journal documenting my unique experience. I often skim through some of my posts, reflecting on how I grew and the impact on the person I was at the beginning of the semester to who I became when I departed. That is the goal of this blog as well, to share my culinary school experience with my friends who are scattered all across the country working their jobs, pursing graduate degrees, and overall experiencing the ups and downs of post-graduate life.  My goal into this year is to at least post one blog a week, doesn’t seem like too difficult a challenge, but that’s what I told myself when I started this blog. I also was to take my postings in a new direction, I’ll still post here and there about culinary school, I want to share healthy recipes and tips i come across and tried in the kitchen.

Over the years, I have collected all sorts of cookbooks and I seem to have a growing list of cookbooks I want. Usually though, I make a few recipes from the cookbook then leave it collecting dust on the bookshelf while referring to Pinterest posts instead. So, in combination with decreasing my smartphone dependence, I want to utilize my print collection more this year starting with Giada de Laurentils’s Feel Good Food.

FeelGoodFood

I aim to prepare at least 2-3 recipes from the book each week, a perfect way to align my new year fitness goals with creating healthy, fresh dishes, snacks, and desserts. Here are picks from the first week of January::

Mini Carrot-Fig Muffins (adaption of Mini Carrot-Apple Muffins)

Carrot_Fig_Muffins

Without added processed sugar, I find that these mini muffins satisfy snack time grumbles, pre-workout fuel and sweet-tooth needs.  I didn’t have currants or apple juice concentrate on hand, so I substituted with dried figs and orange juice. I’m sure the apple concentrate would have made the muffin a bit sweeter. Giada serves her muffins with a dollop of honey-flavored greek yogurt.

Mint-Spinach Pesto

A refreshing, lighter twist on the traditional basil and pine nut pesto that leaves you lingering for the memories (and warmth!) of last summer.  Gaida suggests topping it on her lemon-cumin grilled chicken, but as a pescartarian, I mixed it into whole baked sweet potatoes and topped on roasted sweet potato fries for dinner tonight.

SweetPotato_MintWalnutPesto

Cheers to a new year! Good luck with your resolutions too!

-A

Homemade Thanksgiving: Apple and Fig Cornbread Dressing

I’m not talking about fashion. And I’m not talking about salads (though I will be posting some post-Thanksgiving detox salads next week!).

My favorite thing about Thanksgiving dressing or stuffing, if you like to “stuff” your bird cage with this savory, seasoned crumbly side, is the interchangeability of the flavors and products. For this year I made an Apple and Fig Cornbread Dressing and spontaneously, with a leftover batch of cornbread, I also made a sweet Cranberry Orange Pecan Dressing too.

1 yellow onion, diced 2 stalks celery, diced 3 small Granny Smith Apples, diced 1 tsp fresh rosemary 1 tsp fresh thyme 1/4 cup dried figs, diced

1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 small Granny Smith Apples, diced
1 tsp fresh rosemary
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/4 cup dried figs, diced

Saute onions first in 1 Tbs butter until translucent than apples and celery

Saute onions first in 1 Tbs butter until translucent than apples and celery

Saute until celery is fragrant, and onions and apples are slightly browned

Saute until celery is fragrant, and onions and apples are slightly browned

Make your cornbread (the day before preferred), cut into 1in cubes, and toast 15 mins at 350F

Make your cornbread (the day before preferred), cut into 1in cubes, and toast 15 mins at 350F

Toss cornbread cubes, apple mixture, herbs, and about 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth

Toss about 2/3 of a sheet pan filled of cornbread cubes, apple mixture, herbs, figs, some salt and pepper and about 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth, then add 2 whisked eggs

Apple & Fig Cornbread Dressing ready to bake tomorrow

Apple & Fig Cornbread Dressing ready to bake tomorrow

You want a slightly moist consistency but not mushy soup. Bake 350F about 25-30 minutes.

Here’s my spontaneous Cranberry Orange Pecan Cornbread Dressing...and apologizes for the lack of measurements..I eyeballed everything.

Heat handful of fresh cranberries with orange juice and some granulated sugar

Heat handful of fresh cranberries with orange juice and some granulated sugar

Let the cranberries burst their sweet tart goodness out

Let the cranberries burst their sweet tart goodness out

Add in roughly diced navel orange slices

Add in roughly diced navel orange slices and pecans

Toss in leftover cornbread and just enough spiced apple cider to re-moisten the cornbread but not create a cornbread soup mess

Toss in leftover cornbread and just enough spiced apple cider to re-moisten the cornbread but not create a cornbread soup mess

I fashioned this into another casserole dish to be baked tomorrow as well. Have fun in the kitchen this Thanksgiving eve!

-A

Homemade Thanksgiving: Sweet Potato Casserole

The million dollar question…is sweet potato casserole a dessert or a side item? No matter the answer, you will definitely find this gooey, sweetened dish settling somewhere in between the cornbread dressing and green bean casserole on my Thanksgiving plate. It’s my holiday weak spot. I love sweet potatoes in any form in general — fries, baked, roasted, latkes, mashed, raw (just kidding) — but oh, the casserole remains a prevailing favorite. I’m team pecan. Though the marshmallow topping is delicious, I prefer my marshmallows with my s’mores, the crunch of the pecans, and tasting the sweetness of the potatoes rather than the overpowering sweetness of melted marshmallows.

Peel, wash, and boil about 3lb sweet potatoes until fork-tender

Peel, wash, and boil about 3lb sweet potatoes until fork-tender

As the potatoes are boiling away…

Filling mixture: 1 cup coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey, 1 Tbs molasses, 1/4 cup melted butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tbs cinnamon, 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 egg

Filling mixture: 1 cup coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey, 1 Tbs molasses, 1/4 cup melted butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tbs cinnamon, 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 egg

Mash sweet potatoes -- I ended up with about 4 cups

Mash sweet potatoes — I ended up with about 4 cups

Mix in the filling

Mix in the filling

Pour into desired oven-ready casserole container

Pour into desired oven-ready casserole container

Since I am not baking these until Thanksgiving, just wrap and refrigerate.

Of course I didn’t forget the pecan topping!

1/2 cup AP flour, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup butter (diced)

1/2 cup AP flour, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup butter (diced)

"Cut" the cold butter into the mixture using a fork or using your hands

“Cut” the cold butter into the mixture using a fork or using your hands

Gently toss in the chopped pecans

Gently toss in 1 cup chopped pecans

Don’t add the topping until you are about to bake.

Bake at 350F for about 25-30 minutes.

-A

 

Homemade Thanksgiving: Green Bean Casserole

No holiday meal is without a serving of green beans tossed in creamy mushroom sauce and topped with crunchy caramelized onions. Perhaps we go for that second serving because we justify that it is a green vegetable dish. Green bean casserole was one of the first dishes I made for a family function once a upon a time ago when I began cooking. As you can imagine, celebrating American holidays in a bi-cultural household molds a unique blend of traditions and food. I can still remember my American Godmother’s face when my mom put both fried rice and a green bean casserole dish on the table during our families’ Thanksgiving feast years ago. That’s the beauty of the holiday season, of social gatherings, of the meddling of food and culture, new and old traditions — there aren’t any rules to how to do a “real” Thanksgiving, lest you want just roasted duck, shellfish, and sides of peas, roasted walnuts, and squash. I’m content with my quirky Vietnamese-American Thanksgiving traditions.

Saute 1/3 cup finely diced yellow onion in 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil till slightly caramelized

Saute 1/3 cup finely diced yellow onion in 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil till slightly caramelized

Add 8oz sliced mushrooms, about 2 tsp fresh, minced rosemary and thyme, 1/4 tsp salt, and 2 tsp olive oil

Add 8oz sliced mushrooms, about 2 tsp fresh, minced rosemary and thyme, 1/4 tsp salt, and 2 tsp olive oil, saute ~8 min.
Then cover with about 3 Tbs All-Purpose flour, cook 2 mins

Add 2 cups whole milk, stirring continuously while bringing mixture to a boil

Add 2 cups whole milk, stirring continuously while bringing mixture to a boil

Cook at a boil for 3 minutes, careful to not burn the sauce  Reduce to a simmer, notice how the sauce thickens

Cook at a boil for 3 minutes, careful to not burn the sauce
Reduce to a simmer, notice how the sauce thickens

Toss in 1.5 lb of trimmed, boiled (7 mins), then blanched green beans The green beans should have a tender but not mushy texture

Toss in 1.5 lb of trimmed, boiled (7 mins), then blanched green beans
The green beans should have a tender but not mushy texture

Pour into casserole dish and top with caramelized onions, bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes to warm up the day you serve it

Pour into casserole dish and top with caramelized onions, bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes to warm up the day you serve it

Homemade Thanksgiving: Cranberry Sauce

You might think there is some irony in my post’s title. When you picture that upcoming meal you are going to devour in three days, you think about the people — immediate family, family you saw last Thanksgiving, and close friends who have spent most of Thanksgiving eve and that holiday morning putting together a bountiful feast of traditional dishes.  It’s practically homemade right?

Since I have been in culinary school, I think my appreciation for truly made from scratch products has deepen. I’m not belittling those whose green bean casserole is a combination of canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, with that extra special secret addition, and topped with store-brought fried onions. That’s the way I have been making green bean casserole for years, the recipe never fails, and only positive reviews abound. But now that I am beginning to build my own repertoire of sauces, soups, stocks, broths, marinates, brines, and even baked goods, it’s hard for me to turn back to store brought products. I would be cheating myself and wasting the time/money I have invested into my culinary arts education. I have challenged myself this Thanksgiving and throughout this holiday season to truly embody “homemade” into my dishes.

Tonight, I began with cranberry sauce. I always thought cranberry sauce could only be a bright red gelatinous tart-n-sweet log dumped from a can (leaving the attractive imprints of the can on the sides), placed on the table merely to add a pop of color within a orange/yellow/brown sea of roasted turkey, gravy, sweet potato casserole, and mashed potatoes. Few ventured to touch it. Its unattractive presentation aside, I enjoyed the tartness of the sauce paired with my cornbread stuffing or atop a roll or biscuit. It adds a sweet break in between all the savory. Last week, at my bible study’s Thanksgiving social, someone brought cranberry relish/sauce that was not in that canned form. I knew that was one thing on my list I need to make for this week, and it turned out to be quite simple. No more canned cranberry sauce for me!

Ingredients:

12 oz fresh cranberries (reserve 1/2 cup)

1/2 peel of orange

2 Tbs fresh orange juice

1 cup sugar

Combine fresh cranberries (set aside 1/2 cup),  orange peel, sugar, and orange juice

Combine fresh cranberries (set aside 1/2 cup), orange peel, sugar, and orange juice

Over low heat, stir combination together to dissolve the sugar

Over low heat, stir combination together to dissolve the sugar

Once, the sugar has dissolved, turn heat to medium

Once, the sugar has dissolved, turn heat to medium

Stir occasionally so that the sauce doesn't burn at the bottom, you want the cranberries to burst

Stir occasionally so that the sauce doesn’t burn at the bottom, you want the cranberries to burst

With the reserved cranberries, roughly chop and add into sauce, stir, then remove from heat

With the reserved cranberries, roughly chop and add into sauce, stir, then remove from heat

Pour into storage container, allow to cool before refrigerating

Pour into storage container, allow to cool before refrigerating

Cranberry sauce is ready for serving on Thursday!

-A

Ripen Banana Woes

Dilemma:

Overly ripped banana = Many healthy possibilities

Overly ripened banana = Many healthy possibilities

We can all remember those times when those bananas we brought two days ago have, in a blink of a eye, overly ripened. Well, don’t just toss them out! That’s money going down the drain.  When I spot these not so eye appealing bunches, I jump on utilizing them for banana ice cream, banana oat breakfast cookies, banana pancakes, frozen bananas tossed in a green smoothie and my favorite– banana quick bread.

Here’s the basic recipe:

1. Combine

3 cups mashed bananas

1/3 cup melted Earth Balance Butter (regular, unsalted butter is fine as well)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2. In a separate bowl combine

1.5 cups flour (I used whole white wheat)

1 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

3. Slowly combine the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until all flour is incorporated and you have a slightly lumpy batter

4. Pour into desired, greased baking pans and bake in oven preheated to 350F. For a 9X5 loaf pan, baking time is from 50-60 minutes. I suggest setting your clock for at least 30 minutes, and checking out the bread.

Creative variations!

The additions to this banana is endless — chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, coconut flakes, nuts, dried fruits, blueberries, or a cinnamon pecan swirl (see below)

For the cinnamon swirl — combine 1/4 cup sugar with 1 Tbs ground cinnamon. Pour half of your batter into the pan then coat with about half of the cinnamon sugar mixture and toss in a few pecans because you feel spontaneous and like a little crunch complimenting this ultra moisture bread. Pour in the rest of the batter and cover top with cinnamon sugar (I didn’t end up using all the cinnamon sugar). With a clean knife, gently swirl your batter around creating a starry night-like twirl of the cinnamon sugar and the batter.

This morning I enjoyed two warmed slices of this sweet bread with a smear of creamy peanut butter (and maybe a drizzle of chocolate ganache) on top.

Solution:

Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread

Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread

“C is for cookie and cookie is for me!” — The Cookie Monster

Coming in a close second to ice cream, cookies are just one of those sweet goodies that hits the dessert spot. Though oatmeal raisin cookies are not a popular favorite, My dad and I will eat them over any other type even chocolate chip cookies (and that means a lot coming from two chocoholics), of course if both are available…who says we are limited to one?

For cookie day in Baking and Pastry, my class produced six types of cookies: traditional chocolate chip, gingersnap, cranberry oat, peanut butter and chocolate chocolate chip

Cookie Monster's Heaven

Cookie Monster’s Heaven

A funny observation I noted was how different some of the cookies turned out after baking even though each group used the same recipes and method of productions. It truly indicates how sensitive little changes by human error or not so thorough understanding of certain parts of production can change the outcome of the product. 

My group made chocolate chip and gingersnap cookies. I often imagine gingersnaps as small, vanilla wafer sized spiced cookies with a crunch. But the ones I made in class were on the opposite spectrum — a soft, chewy molasses based cookie with spicy hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. mmhmmm.

Scooped out gingersnap cookie dough rolled in a bit of sugar for caramelization during baking.

Scooped out gingersnap cookie dough rolled in a bit of sugar for caramelization during baking.

Cookie Baking tips:

Use the creaming method — using the paddle attachment of your mixer stand, whip your butter and both the brown and granulated sugar until the mixture appears white and fluffy. The tiny granules of the sugars are cutting into the butter creating air pockets that will eventually play an important role in allowing your cookie dough to spread evenly as it bakes. 

Creaming the brown sugar with shortening for the gingersnap cookie

Creaming the brown sugar with shortening for the gingersnap cookie

If you don’t have brown sugar, just use all white sugar.

Incorporate your eggs slowly into the creamed butter and sugar to ensure even emulsification.

Scoop your cookie dough out with a small ice cream scoop. Even distribution every time!

Evenly scooped out chocolate chip cookie dough

Evenly scooped out chocolate chip cookie dough

Producing even, flat produce with slight browning on the bottom and edges

Producing even, flat cookies with slight browning on the bottom and edges

and my ginormous gingersnap cookies.

and my ginormous gingersnap cookies.

Seriously, these cookies were huge.

Seriously, these cookies were huge.

And I ate a substantial amount. #sugarcrash. My favorite culinary creative outlet is to “veganize” my favorite baked goods. A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies, instead of dairy butter, I used Earth Balance, a vegan butter alternative and to substitute the moisture the eggs would have contributed, I used pumpkin puree. The cookies did not spread as much, most likely because they were lacking the fats from the egg but I promise they are still delicious!

And I’ll leave you with this sweet quote from the cookie monster: “Sometimes me think, ‘What is friend?’ and then me say, ‘Friend is someone to share the last cookie with.”  Happy Beginnings of Holiday Baking! nom nom nom.

-A