Brownie Bust

* It’s been a crazy week – last cake decorating class, second week of food prep, last day of the job I’ve had for 8 years, my grandfather-in-law passing away. I’m doing a little back-blogging, so please bear with me. Thanks!

Friday, August 29th – my last day! I’ve been with this company for 8 years and I’ve finally cut the cord. It’s about time too. I haven’t felt respected or motivated in a long time. I was just there because it was easy, I was good at it and the pay was decent. I’m ready to take the plunge. Follow my dreams and become a baker. AHHH!!! It’s nerve-wracking and exciting all at the same time.

I wasn’t sure if they were going to throw me a party or anything. I didn’t find out until Thursday that they were planning on having lunch brought in. It was a nice gesture, but don’t you think you should find out what the guest of honor likes? Pasados? Not my favorite. Am I being too selfish and ungrateful? Shouldn’t I just be happy and honored that they appreciated me enough to throw me a farewell lunch – at the last minute? Especially since they bought me nice gifts from Willams-Sonoma. Granted, not things I would have picked out, but it’s the thought that counts right? Although I must say, those bowls are very sturdy. I haven’t gotten the spatulas yet or tried out the decorating tools.

peanut butter cream cheese brownies

It would have been nice for Hubby to have been there to share this with me, but he received a phone call that morning informing him that his grandfather had passed away. It wasn’t a huge surprise to anyone. He’s been in bad health for awhile and they really thought it was his time last week. So, Hubby took off for his parents’ house so he could be there to support his family. He came back that evening and all of us went back Saturday afternoon for the viewing and stayed until Sunday for the funeral.

Whenever I think funeral, I think food. Who doesn’t? The family doesn’t have time to be thinking about their next meal, let alone food for everyone else that’s coming. I figured I’d whip up a batch of brownies to take with us on Saturday.
 
I wanted to try something new. My IL’s are very enthusiastic taste tasters, especially my FIL. I found a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake Marbled Brownie that sounded delicious. I followed the recipe exactly – well, ok, I replaced ¼ cup of ap flour with ww flour, reduced the sugar by ¼ cup and used chocolate chunks instead of chips, but that’s it! This batter was not like any other brownie batter I’ve ever seen. I mean, just look at the shiny, thick consistency. I could barely spread the mixture into my pan. There was no “gently” dragging to be had. I think I got carpal tunnel. I wish I knew where I went wrong.

peanut butter cream cheese brownies

I can’t decide whether or not to try this recipe again. It seemed so promising. The title alone made me want to make these. But when they came out of the oven, I knew something was really wrong. And when I finally cut into them I was so sad. They were dry and just, SOLID.

peanut butter cream cheese brownies

Basic Food Prep, Week 2

* It’s been a crazy week – last cake decorating class, second week of food prep, last day of the job I’ve had for 8 years, my grandfather-in-law passing away. I’m doing a little back-blogging, so please bear with me. Thanks!

 

So guess who I was paired up with last night? Yep, Sushi-Lady (aka Carla, but will forever be known to me as SL). She was my cooking partner for the evening. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.

We found out Chef Charles won’t be our instructor anymore, they found a replacement, since he’s already teaching twice a week and works full time, I totally understand. Chef Paul will be starting next week, so I’m crossing my fingers I’ll understand him a little better. I mean, when you hear “radish” instead of “relish” there’s got to be something going on with the accent, right?

I don’t think we actually learned anything yesterday. We were given an assignment to read a chapter and answer the discussion questions at the end but, I don’t have my book yet! It left Earth City, MOyesterday. I didn’t mean to order my book so late, but when I called the college bookstore to ask them about it, no one answered the phone, so I left a message. Then they didn’t call me back, so I had to call again. When I finally got to speak to someone I compared prices and decided I had to order it online. I saved $20. Yeah me!

So, anyway, back to the class. Since we didn’t have anything to review from last week, we went straight into cooking mode. The other students in class are taking 2-4 classes and/or took classes last semester. They knew where everything was, where to set up, what sink was used for washing vegetables, which sink was for sanitizing dishes. We went over this stuff last week, but they were off and running and I was just trying to get my head on straight.

Menu:
Salad – spinach, romaine, roma tomatoes, red onion, homemade bacon bits and homemade croutons w/dijon mustard vinaigrette
Entree – peach glazed grilled pork chop with fresh peach relish
Side – white rice

Each group made their own vinaigrette and relish. Two teams paired up to make the glaze, one person made the rice, one person made the croutons (they were to come up with their own spice blend) and one person made the salad.

Wanda just took over. She was washing the spinach, had her partner cut up the romaine, slice the onions, she juiced the lime, then gave us some. I’m like, whoa lady. We need to learn how to do some of this stuff too. Luckily, Chef Charles asked me to cube up the bread for croutons. Otherwise I would have been standing around with my thumb up my…n/m.

The croutons started out a little big – I guess not everyone has a mouth as big as mine – so I had to go back and halve them. I thought we were going to bake them, but he wanted them fried. As much as I love most things fried, I found they retained too much of the oil. Plus, when Shanna seasoned them with Chinese Five Spice, the flavor wasn’t as pronounced as I think they would have been, had we seasoned them then baked them. In this instance, that was probably a good thing. I like Chinese Five Spice, but I do not like them so much on croutons, in a salad, dressed with a Dijon Vinaigrette.

After the bread was cubed I started mincing peaches and onions for the relish. I felt a little self-conscious with Chef watching over me, but that is what he’s there for. I’m not used to someone watching me in the kitchen…or anyone in the kitchen at all for that matter.

I was also tasked with grilling some of the pork chops and glazing them. No, problem, I can do this. Yeah, right. Sure would be nice to know that the grill has bad hot spots. Luckily I didn’t burn them, but I may have come close. We used a meat thermometer to make sure the chops had reached at least 150F.

Each of us had to plate up our meals then present them to the class. After that, Bon Appétit. We only have the option of blue or white plates. I went with the blue, because I thought it’d look nice against the yellow color of the peaches. The garnish was just a simple cilantro sprig – one of the ingredients in the relish.

After everyone presented Chef Charles went over how he may have done it and some things we should think about. For example, I put my pork chop over a bed of rice, and then topped it with the relish. He mentioned that when plating, rice could be used as a bed if the entrée has some sort of gravy. Hmmm…Another thing he mentioned was garnishing the rice itself with some color, to help with the “whiteness”. I half hid that sucker cuz it looked and tasted awful. Chef Charles & Wanda need to bone up on their rice cooking skills. Yes, most of the time I used my handy-dandy wonderful rice cooker. But, I know how to cook a pot of rice on the stove if needed. The rice was water logged and mushy, but not cooked.

One of the other points he mentioned was that no one mentioned the vinaigrette. We had made it from scratch and it was part of our menu. Oops. I was so nervous up there that I totally forgot about that part. I was only thinking about my entrée. Guess I need to pay attention to the little guys too.

Stay tuned for scenes from next week’s episode. 😉

Course 1, Class 4 – last one!

* It’s been a crazy week – last cake decorating class, second week of food prep, last day of the job I’ve had for 8 years, my grandfather-in-law passing away. I’m doing a little back-blogging, so please bear with me. Thanks!

course 1, class 4

My roses look more like carnations, don’t they? I don’t think my frosting was exactly the right consistency and my bases were crooked. It took forever just to do those six roses. And that was after I’d smashed a few with my fingers and some of them took a head-dive into the table. 

course 1, class 4

Our last class was spent learning how to make ribbons, leaves and finishing our roses. Once we’d “mastered” those, we decorated our cakes. We had the option to decorate with a bow around some roses and a message or just put some roses on with leaves and dots. Guess you can figure out which way I went. Just like with the clown or flower cake, I had to keep practicing, so I put a small free-hand bow at the bottom of my cake. A bit out of place, but since this wasn’t being made for anyone, it didn’t matter. 

course 1, class 4

The instructor was asking if we were going to sign up for the next class and I told her there was no way I could do it next month. I’m starting a new job, taking a class and still have to run a family. J Besides, I’m not sure if I want to take the next class or not. It’s fun to learn, but am I really going to use it much? We’ll see…

Mock-sagna

I used to be an avid 30 Minute Meal and Rachael Ray fan.  However, I’ve since decided she’s just a little too over the top for me. Her personality has really changed, or maybe it’s just her tv persona, since I first started watching her.  She’s louder, more obnoxious and all her meals are pretty much the same.

I was just mentioning to Hubby a few weeks ago that I was in need of a lasagna fix. When I saw this recipe posted on Sweetnicks last week and knew I had to make it for dinner very soon.  It had just about all the same components and took less time. Who cares where the recipe originated from, right?

I try to do all my grocery shopping on one day (usually Sundays, after church) so I don’t have to go during the week.  This week we had plans to see my in-laws, which meant, meal-planning and shopping fell on Saturday.  First thing on my list, Mock-sagna.  Sweetnicks called it Deconstructed Lasagna and Rachael’s title was way too long.  Plus, Mock-sagna sounds like something Rachael should have named it anyway.

I didn’t go through the whole process of chopping onions and garlic and making my own “red sauce”.  I know it’s supposed to be a 30 minute meal and making a red sauce doesn’t take alot of time, but I have no problem Sandra Lee’ing it when I want to. (I am not condoning Miss Cocktail Time, I’m just saying).  This was one of those times.  I used one pound of italian sausage and a jar of organic tomato basil pasta sauce.  Less ingredients and much easier.  No, I didn’t buy a jar of alfredo.  That stuff is gross.

Here’s my version of the recipe.  I modified and added so many things, Rachael’s recipe was more like inspiration.  It did take less than 30 minutes and it was fabulous.  I’d show you a picture, but it would have been of an empty bowl.  Some people can make that look artistic…mine would just look messy and dirty.  Hahaha.

Mock-Sagna
Yield: 4-6 servings
Inspired by Rachael Ray, as found here
Printable Recipe

Ingredients:
¾ pound whole grain short & curly pasta (closest I could find was a type of rotini – similar shape, but looser)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound italian sausage
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jar of marinara (use your favorite – mine is currently Classico Sweet Tomato Basil, but I couldn’t find any at the store this time, so I used Full Circle Tomato Basil)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
salt & pepper
½ cup grated parmesan
½ cup part skim ricotta cheese
fresh mozzarella, as much or as little as you’d like
fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped, enough for garnish

Directions:
Heat large pot of water to a boil, salt water and cook pasta to al dente; drain and set aside.

While pasta water comes to a boil, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic cloves and sausage. Sauté until sausage is brown and cooked through. Pour entire jar of marinara sauce into the skillet, reduce heat to simmer and cover.

While sauce cooks, melt butter in pot over medium heat (I accidentally omitted the step where Rachel rubs the garlic around the pot before melting the butter.  I would highly recommend doing this). Add in flour and whisk together a minute or so, then whisk in milk and bring to a bubble. Reduce heat, then season with salt & pepper (to taste).  Let the sauce thicken, about 8-10 minutes.

Toss pasta with white sauce, parmesan and ricotta.  Serve pasta in individual bowls and place a few slices of fresh mozzarella on top then a ladle of meat sauce. Garnish with parsley.

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

chocolate almond biscotti

I drink coffee every day.  Just one cup of half-caf with one splenda packet and milk.  (I’m not sure if Hubby knows it’s half-caf…guess he does now.) I like to enjoy my coffee with nothing else.  No muffins or donuts or scones.  Just my coffee.  So, when I saw that this month’s Cookie Carnivalcookie was Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti, I was excited because it was something I’d never made before, but a little disappointed because it was something I don’t usually eat. Oh well.  I was going to take a stab at it anyway, because that’s what this is all about, trying something new. 

Cookie Carnival is a monthly event hosted by Kate over at The Clean Plate Club.  Each month she selects a cookie that she wants to try and sends the recipe out to all the participants.  You can modify the recipe or make it as is.  And a roundup will be posted at the beginning of next month, for the current month.

chocolate almond biscotti
after first baking period

With all recipes, I couldn’t just follow it exactly.  😉  First of all, I’m not about to make 4 dozen biscotti cookies when I don’t think I’ll eat more than a handful, so I halved the recipe.  The hazelnuts were replaced with almonds, since I’m not a huge fan.  Mmmm, almonds.  I’m trying to incorporate whole wheat flour into my baked goods, just to see how it changes the flavors and textures, so I decided to go ahead and use it here as well.  I didn’t have any regular chocolate chips, so I substituted white chocolate chips. Which reminds me.  If I keep making things with what’s on hand, I’ll need to stock up again soon.  😉

chocolate almond biscotti
before going into the oven a second time

The biscotti turned out pretty good, well, the dozen or so that actually made it through the second baking period anyway.  It’s my fault really.  I cut one of the logs and went to transfer them to the baking sheet, but left the cutting board too close to the edge.  Tumble, crash, smash and pieces everywhere.  Argh. It was very disappointing to see my work go down the drain, but as Hubby puts it, there are going to be lots and lots of disasters in my kitchen career.  Thanks honey.  That really helped me get through it. 

chocolate almond biscotti

I ended up taking some to the in-laws this weekend and my fil, who honestly knows nothing about biscotti, commented on how it was good, but that he thought it’d go well with coffee in the morning, for dunking.  I smiled and told him that biscotti is usually enjoyed with a cup of tea of coffee. I’d say that makes it a success.  🙂

chocolate almond biscotti

Chocolate-Almond Biscotti
Yield: Approximately 2 dozen
Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 1999
Printable Recipe

Ingredients:
¾ cup almonds (I used slivered)
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, medium
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup white chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Grind ¼ cup almonds in processor; set aside.

Whisk flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl.

Beat butter and sugar in another large bowl until blended. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until well blended. Beat in flour mixture. Mix in ½ cup almonds, white chocolate chips and ¼ cup ground almonds.

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece on baking sheet into 2 ½ inches wide by 7 inches long logs.

Place logs on prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 ½ inches apart (logs will spread during baking).

Bake until logs feel firm when tops are gently pressed, about 35 minutes.

Cool logs on baking sheet 15 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Using long wide spatula, transfer baked logs to cutting board. Using serrated knife cut warm logs crosswise into ½ inch thick slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on 2 baking sheets.

Bake biscotti until firm, about 15 minutes.

Transfer to racks and cool completely.

Basic Food Prep, Week 1

I can’t believe I’m back in school.  I told myself after I graduated from KU back in 1998, that was it.  I was done.  But, here I am, at the local JC, taking culinary arts classes.  Well, one class.  I wanted to see if it was really what I wanted.  Plus, all of the classes are from 6-10pm and a good 45 minutes away from home. 

My instructor, Chef Charles, is a Cornhusker.  For those of you who don’t know, it means he went to the University of Nebraska.  No problems there, not a rival. 😉  He’s originally from Cncinnati, Ohio, currently works for Pilgrims Pride – R&D and has previously worked for ConAgra Foods.  He seems alright, if a bit of a slow talker, who likes to talk. But, one of the things that didn’t warm me to him was that he mentioned the term mise en place, but didn’t pronounce it as I’d heard it prounounced before, and he didn’t spell it correctly when I asked for the spelling.  Someone looked it up in the glossary and gave me the spelling I had written down. Maybe I just didn’t get his accent, who knows.  We’ll see how things goes next week.

We all introduced ourselves, reviewed the syllabus, then took a tour of the kitchen. Each week we’ll have a 30 minute lecture, then we’ll be cooking for the rest of the class. Chef Charles said everyone had to eat what they made, unless they were allergic, well, at least try it. No problem here.  I’m game for just about anything.  I’m no Andrew Zimmern, but I don’t think I have to worry about anything like that.  😉

When I meet people for the first time, I can usually tell if we’re compatible or not.  Let’s just say, I didn’t quite click with any of my classmates.  Not that I won’t try to be friendly or anything like that.  It just would have been nice to be able to relate to one of them.  And yes, I’m probably judging some books by their covers.  I’m not perfect.  Here’s the rundown (I can’t remember all their names! There’s only 10 of us, you’d think I could remember them all.)

S1 – female, glasses, brunette, pink polo shirt, jeans, huge belt buckle, pink & brown cowboy boots, 2 children, drawing unemployment, loves to bake, hates to decorate cakes
S2 – female, glasses, blonde, works for Love’s, going to open a restaurant with dad, smoker, skinny
S3 – female, older, owned a flower shop, cooking is second love, smoker
Carla – female, african-american, drives over 65 miles each way to come to class, 4 children, draws unemployment, finally has the opportunity to go to school, talks alot, said to me “I know you can cook good sh*t, all that sushi and stuff”
Shanna/Shawna – female, 18, hs student, wants to get out of school as soon as possible, has a 23 yo electrician bf
Heather – female, pitcher for JC softball team, loves to bake
Blake – male, 19, 2nd semester, hoping to graduate this semester, reminds me of Jerry O’Connell’s character in Stand by Me, only blonde, with glasses and a little bigger
LeWanda – female, african-american, wore scrubs
Tanya – female, hispanic, just quit her job due to health reason – cancer, just wants to learn how to cook
And Me.  Definitely an eclectic group of students.

I still need to get my book, chef coat and hat.  Hopefully I can get to the campus bookstore before my class on Thursday.  I’m excited to get started. 🙂

Course 1, Class 3 – Clowns & Flowers

wilton course 1, class 3

My cake decorating class has dwindled down to 2 students. I say dwindled down like there were a lot to begin with.  We had 3. 😛 We’re not sure what happened to the other girl – she was even talking to the other girl last week about carpooling. Maybe she’ll be back for the last class. She does have a 7 month old at home, maybe she wasn’t able to find someone to watch the baby.

Last night we learned how to make shell borders, drop flowers, balls, bears & clowns. Then we spent the last half of the class actually decorating our cakes.  As you can see, my frosting was not set.  It was raining all day and the cake was in the car, so the humidity took over.  But, that’s ok, it still turned out alright. 

We were supposed to choose to do a clown cake, or a drop flower cake.  I figured I needed the practice, so I did both. My clown was enjoying a relaxing afternoon in a field (ok, maybe not a field) of flowers.  My flowers didn’t quite turn out the way they were supposed to, but I think it still looks good…rustic, right? Haha!

wilton course 1, class 3

wilton course 1, class 3

wilton course 1, class 3
um, where’d my flower go?

wilton course 1, class 3
ah ha! caught purple fingered!

wilton course 1, class 3
and he’s going in for the kill