Sunday, July 30, 2017

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bliss!

Ever since the Reese's commercial that said "Hey! You got peanut butter in my chocolate," I've been a huge fan of that flavor combination. Luckily, my oldest son loves the combo almost as much as I do, so when I showed him a picture of a peanut butter ice cream cake, he wanted nothing else but that for his birthday. 

The Today Show posted the recipe that Carson Daly's wife made for him for his birthday. Here's her version:


After reading the recipes, though, I tweaked it a little to get even more peanut flavor in there, and a little more texture by adding some chopped peanuts.  I also thought the ganache would be too hard once it was refrigerated again, and I want the gooey, almost ice cream sundae experience, so I switched the ganache for hot fudge sauce and added some of it in the middle of the cake as well. The following is my take on Siri Daly's original:


  • 1 package Oreos (I used peanut butter filled Oreos, because of course!)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 pints chocolate peanut butter ice cream (I used Talenti brand - the only chocolate-peanut butter ice cream I could find at the store), softened
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened (you can let this soften in the fridge while the chocolate ice cream layer is in the freezer)
  • 1 bag Mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, chopped and divided (I probably used 2.5 cups total, chopped)
  • 2 - 11 oz jars of hot fudge sauce
  • 1.5 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
To make the cake:
1. Butter a 10-inch springform pan (preferably one that is 3 inches deep), bottom and sides. 
2. In a food processor process Oreos until finely crushed.  With processor running, pour melted butter into the crumbs and process (you will need to stop and scrape the bowl at least once). Pulse a couple of times to get the crumb mixture to a wet sand consistency that stays together when you pinch it. Using a rubber spatula (or your hands, the bottom of a metal measuring cup works well, too), place mixture into prepared pan and evenly press over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place in freezer for about 10 minutes.
3. Scoop out the chocolate peanut butter ice cream into the cake pan and evenly spread. Pour about one jar of fudge sauce (you might have to warm up a little to get it to a pourable consistency). Sprinkle about half of the chopped peanut butter cups and about peanuts on top (enough to get an even layer over the fudge sauce. Freeze for one hour.  
4. Scoop out the vanilla ice cream on top of the peanut butter cups and evenly spread. Freeze for one hour.
Here's a pic just before I spread the vanilla ice cream:

Note: Steps 1 through 4 can be made a day or two in advance
5. About 15 minutes before you want to serve the cake, pull cake out of the freezer and put in the refrigerator to soften slightly.  This is what it will look like when you take it out of the freezer. Kind of boring, yes, but this is when the magic starts!
6. Just before serving, take cake out, run a thin knife between the crust and the pan side to loosen it, then pull the side of the pan away from the bottom. put the cake on serving plate. Drizzle the second jar of fudge sauce on top of the cake, letting it pour down the sides. Sprinkle with the rest of the chopped peanut butter cups and peanuts. 
7. Microwave the peanut butter in a small bowl until it is pourable. Pour over the top of the cake.  Here's what the finished product looked like: 

8. Serve. If you're having a bit of an issue cutting through, run your knife under hot water dry it, then try again. We also served with whipped cream, so you could do that, too. It's gilding the lily a little bit, but oh so good!

It was a huge hit! And ice cream cakes are so easy (you just need some patience with the softening and freezing), that this is a perfect summer treat!

Monday, June 26, 2017

My week at the CIA!

No, not THAT one. I went to the other one, better known as the Culinary Institute of America. I turn 50 next month, and for my birthday, my husband surprised me with a trip to California to attend a week-long boot camp at the CIA's Greystone facility in St. Helena, California. The "Best Of" Boot Camp takes all of their most popular boot camps and rolls them into one. So, instead of doing 5 days of knife skills and fundamentals, we did that one one day. Same with Italian food, Asian, French and baking. It was kind of a whirlwind, but a lot of fun.

Here's a view of the Greystone campus from across the street at the Charles Krug winery:

I was staying with my cousins, so I had to drive between Sonoma and Napa counties every day. Rough, I know. These are photos from my drive (kind of tricky to get good pics, because of windy, narrow roads, but trust me, the views were lovely!):

Generally what happens each day is that we would gather for lecture at 2pm. After lecture and demonstration, we would go into the kitchen. My class was pretty small -- 11 people -- so we were assigned to a team of 3 with one team of two that switched each day, and each team was assigned a menu, usually 3 items, to make. We tried to get our stuff all done by 8, but sometimes, especially if we took longer in lecture than usual, we went even later. After we cooked, we ate, so most nights I didn't get out of class until around 9pm.

This is my plate from the first night, which was knife skills and fundamentals. Even though I've cooked most of my life, I learned the proper way to hold a knife (higher up on the handle than I thought) and how to cut onions without crying (a sharp knife and slicing through with a back and forth motion, not just straight down). I also got to practice my piping skills with the potatoes duchesse. It was a lot of piping, so my teammates and I shared the work! We got into the kitchen pretty late, so the roast I was supposed to make didn't make it in the rotation that night (we saved it to make another night).

The next day we did Italian. It was neat because I got to work with an ingredient I'd never used before: caul fat. Interesting stuff, for sure! I used it to wrap around the stuffed pork roast. I also learned how to tie a roast properly! My teammate and I (we were a team of two that night) made the roast, gnocchi and stuffed zucchini. Here is our presentation plate:

The bolognese sauce (pictured below on the left) was fantastic! On the right is our full platter of the stuffed zucchini.

My plate for dinner that night. I tried to be conservative in my portions. It was still a lot of food!

Wednesday, we got to class early to take a tour of the whole Greystone campus. The CIA had bought the property from Christian Brothers winery, and you could see that heritage in the top floor, where they still kept some of the wine barrels:

They even have an outdoor oven for students to practice those kinds of skills.

Chef's crossing!

This is the classroom where they teach wine tasting, complete with spit sinks and lights to get a good look at a wine's color. Being in wine country, they have a pretty extensive class offering for wine tasting. Also, we were told on the tour that CIA students at the other campuses are sent here if they want to have a more in-depth background in wine.

This the view from the wine tasting classroom. I would find it hard to concentrate!

Views of the main building:

The foyer of the main building:

This is the Gatehouse, the on-site restaurant run by the CIA students:

Asia night was fun as well. My team made a curry, summer rolls, and crispy Saigon pancakes. In addition to the curry and coconut rice (so good), I worked on the plating for our team. :-)

The other dishes were really delicious! Potstickers, a pork stew and a papaya salad.

These were the presentation plates from all the teams:

That night, we got a bonus chocolate tasting from the chocolatier in charge of the chocolate classes at Greystone. That night, his class worked on single-sourced chocolate. We tasted 3 different chocolates from 3 different areas, and it was amazing how different the chocolates could taste. It was as delicious as it was interesting!

This is me in my chef's get up, which all of us were required to wear. Two sets were given to us as boot camp participants. Even at extra small, the pants were still amazingly long, yet uncomfortably tight at the waist (odd sizing all around).

I think baking day was my favorite. I was excited to be on the team that got to make profiteroles (cream puffs filled with ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce).  My mom made these when I was a kid at home, but I never made them myself, and my youngest loves cream puffs and eclairs, so I really wanted to do this one. :-)

Each team made a bread -- they look so great (I forgot to get a pic of the focaccia)!

Here are all the baked goods. Each team did a bread, a cookie and a dessert item.

Friday, our last day of class, we also got a lunch. We got to sit in the board room, and the food was super!

The salad with tomatoes and burrata (the first time I'd tried it) was fantastic!

Salmon with fried squash blossoms. I forgot to mention that they have their own gardens there, where some of their vegetables and all of their herbs come from.

Dessert was delicious, too. Loved that swipe of lemon curd to cut the richness of the creme fraiche.

Our last night of cooking was all about French bistro. I got to do the quiche, which was exciting, because I could work with pastry dough. Even though I didn't make the dough (I have to practice that, for sure), I did finally get advice on how to keep my crust from sliding off the sides when I do a blind bake. The key (which I didn't know) is to pack the crust with beans all the way up the sides, not just put them on the bottom. Then bake for a few minutes until the edges get dry-looking, then pull out the beans and parchment paper then bake some more so that the bottom can start to bake. It was great! I also got to practice my caramelized onions, which always take longer than I think they're going to. This night I had the time to really get them done. Below is the caramelized onion, smoked salmon quiche. I'm kind of proud of it!

More of the offerings that night, including Croque Monsieur and a hazelnut-crusted camembert with apple chutney. They were all so good!

Me with our instructor for the week:

Me with the pastry chef (on the left) and our instructor. They were fantastic!

It was such a great week! If you are in a position to do this (they offer 2-, 4-, and 5-day classes), I highly recommend it! It was kind of nice to putter in the kitchen (even if we did have time constraints) without having to worry about doing the dishes (yay!). It was also kind of cool to work on commercial equipment, which actually is different from working in the home. I met some great people along the way, too. Folks from all walks of life, younger (we had a recent college grad) to a little bit older than I, folks who mostly microwaved meals and didn't like cooked vegetables to food professionals. And the nicest thing was that we all got along really well, no drama or frustration, regardless of who was on what team for the night. A big thanks to my hubby for splurging on me and knowing exactly what would be a big treat! Now, I have to start planning something good for HIS 50th. Luckily I have a couple of years to figure it out...


Friday, November 4, 2016

Back to Basics: Sourdough Starter

I LOVE fresh bread! When I was in high school, my mom would buy the frozen loaves of bread dough by the bushel (ok, actually 5 loaves, I think), and I would take a loaf out of the freezer in the morning, then bake it when I got home from school. I would end up eating half the loaf myself, unable to resist the temptation of melting butter and gooey jam on the hot-from-the-oven bread slices.

Although I've been trying to limit our refined carb intake, I have been intrigued with making bread from sourdough starter I made from scratch, as the process is believed to have some health benefits. Maybe a way to have my bread and eat it, too! When I saw two different recipes from different sources within a month, I decided it must be fate, so I gave it a go.

The first starter I tried was a recipe from New York Times Cooking, but after two attempts at this one (both times, mold developed), I decided to go a different, even simpler route. The July edition of Cooks Illustrated had a method that was simply water and flour, so I didn't think I could go wrong.

This is not a quick process, taking a lot of patience. It takes a couple of weeks before the starter is even ready to use. Following the directions exactly, the first couple of days went according to plan. Things got stinky and bubbly, but eventually, it got a layer of liquid on top that was never mentioned in the article. Undeterred, I carried on, but the bubbles seemed to subside. I have been playing with the ratios of water to flour, so I'm hoping that it will eventually get to the right point. In the meantime, I am still using the starter to bake bread, with mixed results.

This was the beginning:

After about 12 hours:

It was exciting to see this come together from just flour and water. Makes me think that I could survive on my own (as long as I could grind stuff into flour and had a source of clean water, I guess. Oh, and fire and a pot).  Anyway...

I've tried a couple of different methods, but so far it hasn't quite worked, in that my dough always spreads out, rather than keeps its shape and rises up. I tried using less water, more flour, but I still got a flatter, more ciabatta-type bread in shape, but still distinctly sourdough flavor. The second time, I tried kneading more flour in after the second rise in an attempt to get the dough a little stiffer so it wouldn't spread out as much as previously. That didn't work, because I kneaded out all of the air bubbles, and it was really chewy.

I'm still not ready to give up on this, though, because the sourdough flavor is spot on. I'm still playing around with different flours (bread, AP, wheat) and their ratios to see if I can figure it all out.

Below is the method I used for the starter (adapted from Cook's Illustrated).

Sourdough Starter

Equal parts (by weight) of unbleached, all purpose flour and whole wheat flour
Room temperature, distilled water (chlorine in tap water can inhibit the yeast-making process)

I started with about 10 oz each of all purpose flour and whole wheat flour and combined them in a big jar. This is what I used to start and feed the starter.

1. Use one cup of flour mixture and 2/3 cup of room temperature water in a glass bowl until no dry mixture remains. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature until bubbly and fragrant (stinky, really). It could be as soon as 36 hours, or up to 72 hours, but it will look something like this:

2. Measure about 1/4 cup of the starter and transfer to a clean glass bow (or jar). Stir in 1/2 cup of flour mixture and 1/4 cup room temperature water and combine until no dry mixture remains. Cover and let sit for 24 hours.
Repeat step #2 every 24 hours (you will have to make more of the flour mixture before you are done) until the starter is pleasantly aromatic (doesn't make you gag to smell it) and doubles in size 8 to 12 hours after being fed. It could take up to 14 days. At this point, the starter is now mature and can be used to bake with. Cooks Illustrated suggests that you should us starter within 1 hour after it starts to deflate once it reaches its peak.
To store and maintain mature starter:
Measure 1/4 cup (2 oz) starter and transfer to a clean bowl (not metal) or jar. Discard (or use) remaining starter. Stir in 1/2 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup room temperature water (so a ratio of 2 to 1) and let sit at room temperature for 5 hours, then store in refrigerator. Feed weekly (more often if stored at room temperature).

Here's the bread recipe I've been working on:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
12 oz room temperature water
1/3 (3 oz) mature sourdough starter

Whisk flours and salt together in a bowl. Combine water and starter in a separate, large bowl. Add flour to the water/sourdough mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes together, then knead by hand until a shaggy dough ball forms and no dry flour remains (although the dough will seem a little dry -- that's okay). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 12 to 18 hours (I find the longer end of the range is better).

This actually needs a little more flour:

Lay a sheet of parchment large enough to cover the bottom and up the sides of a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (my cast iron one got the best results, although I also used my Le Creuset, and that worked fine, too) on the count and spray generously with vegetable oil spray (or just pour some oil on and spread until covered). Shape dough into ball by pulling edges underneath to the middle, then put the dough, seam (bottom) side down to the oiled parchment. Transfer dough and parchment to the Dutch oven and cover with plastic wrap.

This is how it looked when I first put it in the oven to rise:

Put Dutch oven into a cold (unheated) oven on the middle rack. On the lower rack, place a baking dish or cake pan and fill with boiling water (about 3 cups). Close oven door and let dough rise for at least 2 hours (I've left it up to 4) until doubled in size.

This is how it looked after the second rise:

Remove the pan of water from the oven and remove the plastic wrap from the Dutch oven. Lightly flour the top of the loaf (optional, I have found), then use a razor or sharp knife to make a long slash on the top of the loaf. Cover pot with lid and and place in middle rack of oven. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Bake bread for 30 minutes, starting time when you turn the oven on to heat. 

After 30 minutes, remove lid and continue baking until loaf is a deep brown and registers 210 degrees, about 20-30 minutes longer. Carefully remove loaf from pot and cool on a wire rack. The "remove loaf from pot" to cool is important, because I found if I left it to cool in the pot, the bottom crust of the loaf got crazy hard, almost too hard to bite through. You're also supposed to let cool completely before serving, but who are we kidding? There's nothing better than some melting and butter and jam on a still-warm slice of fresh bread. Just try not to burn your mouth (or fingers!). Enjoy!

It's still a little trial and error, and I will post updates to this if I have any breakthroughs, but if anyone else has tips for sourdough starters and baking, I am all ears!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Summer Project: Gravlax

Summer is quickly flying by, and I'm feeling like I didn't do as much as I had wanted to accomplish. It happens every summer, really. The kids didn't do any work to keep their minds sharp. In fact, I'm pretty sure my 11 year old has spent around 5 hours on either the computer or video games most days, except for the week we were gone on vacation and his week at soccer camp. Sigh.

I did, however, finally attempt gravlax, a Nordic version of cured salmon that uses sugar, salt and dill. The salt and sugar cure the fish, kind of like smoked salmon but without the smoke part. Because I didn't want to get stuck with a whole side of salmon in case things didn't work out (and because we are a family of 4 and really don't need to have 2 lbs of cured salmon to eat up), I started out small.

It really was quite easy. Just combine the salt and sugar, then I laid the salmon on plastic wrap, topped it with the dill, and then the salt/sugar combo. Wrapped up the fish, then put it in the fridge for 36 hours. Guess what?! It turned out great! You might be able to tell from the picture that my dill wasn't exactly up to par. It's kind of late in the season for dill, and most of mine from the garden was dried out. I found a few greenish stalks, though, and, because they still smelled "dilly," they would suffice. If I could do it over, I would've used twice as much dill, though.

As I mentioned, you just put your fish on a sheet of plastic wrap, then cover it with your salt, sugar and dill. This is what it looks like all wrapped up:

Then, you just leave it in the fridge for about 36 hours. I probably could have taken it out a little earlier, since it was a smaller piece of fish than the original recipe called for, but all-in-all, it looked good. Once your time is up, just unwrap and rinse the salt off. Then you are left with this:

Gorgeous, right??! All that was left to do was thinly slice across the top and add to whatever I wanted.

So, what do you do with your gravlax? For me, I was looking forward to a sandwich, a traditional smørrebrød with goat cheese, some fresh dill (this time I bought some from the grocery store), maybe a squeeze of lemon:

Then, I remembered we had hard-boiled eggs, so I upped the ante:

And, to go full "Old World Style" on dinner, I made cold beet soup, which consisted of plain kefir, a jar of drained and rinsed pickled beets, two grated Persian cucumbers, salt and peppers, garnished with cold, boiled potatoes and more hard-boiled eggs and dill. It was a perfect summer meal.

The recipe that was my guide can be found here, but I pretty much just used it for the ratios. Basically, it's one part salt to two parts sugar. For the size of fillet that I used, I used 1/3 cup salt and 2/3 cup sugar, then as much usable dill as I could scavenge from my garden. So easy and so good! I will definitely be making this again!