Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ingredient: Lavender



Lavender oils, lavender candles, lavender body splash, lavender this and lavender that! Lavender seems to be everywhere these days! Honestly I just can't stand it! I once got a massage with lavender oil and it was horrible, oh the smell. I gag as I walk by lavender candles in Triple B (Bed, Bath and Beyond).

All that aside I do think lavender is good for the purpose of cooking!
You: What?? Did you say cook with a FLOWER?
Me: Oh yes indeed I did!
You: You are crazy man! I'm outta here!
But seriously I have made some pretty awesome and dare I even say romantic dishes with lavender as a central theme.
I wanted to talk about lavender because I don't feel that many people understand how easy it is when you step out of the standard spice rack to make something elegant and fun. That is kind of my goal with this ingredient post. To talk about an uncommon ingredient or a common ingredient used in an uncommon way. I want this to help you break the mold and try something different.

My first cooking experience with lavender was a couple years back. I remember walking through my local giant mart and meandering into the spice area. So many daunting choices, I think this is why people just go and buy those prearranged spice kits. As I was standing there lavender caught my eye and I thought "There must be something awesome to make with this!" So I spent the semi outrageous price (I buy it online now for refills) and went home to investigate.


I found when I started digging that there are thousands of lavender recipes! With fish, chicken, rice, candies and on and on! With so many options and plenty of the ingredient on hand (a little goes a long way) I dove into it. Of all the things I've done and have seen to do with lavender I posted my favorite below. It's so simple and to add just a pinch will take any dish from routine to elegant with no real effort. I hope this makes you think about lavender in a different way and I challenge you to at least try my fun little experiment below. You never know with this on hand you may try something more amazing later on! Enjoy!

Lavender kissed sugar:
(Software)
1 cup sugar in the raw (or other raw sugar, I would only use raw large crystals this is meant to be a finishing sugar)
2 tbsp. of culinary lavender

(Hardware)
1 glass jar for storage
1 piece of cheesecloth 4x4in
1 piece of string

First take your cheesecloth and lay it on a flat surface
Then take your lavender and place it in the middle
Bring the corners of the cheesecloth up to make a pouch or purse
Tie the string around the top and leave a length of string about 3in
Pour a small amount of sugar in the glass jar about 1/2in deep
Place the lavender pouch in the jar
Finally fill the jar with the remaining sugar making sure to keep that length of string from being buried. You'll use that to extract the pouch later

Shake it once daily and after two weeks take out the pouch, and you will have wonderfully tasting lavender kissed sugar. Perfect for sprinkling on pancakes, cookies, add to coffee or tea, the possibilities are really endless!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Recipe: Fruity Pebble Cake!


I have to start by saying I am SO not usually a baker! I have dabbled here and there but never hardcore like this. I am so sick of box cakes. They do serve a purpose but I they just taste so...from a box. So my endeavor here was to make everything from scratch and I succeeded. I only have the one picture for now but I will get more put up soon!

This cake was in honor of my friend's birthday, really I wanted an excuse to make a cake and she provided me with the perfect one! I got the idea for this from Whisk Kid's blog. From the second I saw her creation of a rainbow cake I wanted one too! (food jealousy runs high with me) I liked her idea and presentation but I wanted to expand on it. I added some extracts and thus was born Fruity Pebble Cake! (I put the full recipe at the bottom of the post for convenience!)

First let's talk about the cake. I originally wanted to make it a six layer cake representing the six main flavors of Pebbles, however due to batter loss and time constraints (I am a last minute cook i.e. 2 hours before the party I started) it ended up with only five layers.

I pulled out an old colonial cooking book that I've had for years, I purchased it at Valley Forge when I was quite a bit younger. In the book there was a basic cake recipe so I used that. And I took a cue from the lovely miss Whisk Kid for the frosting and used her Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

For the cake:

(Software) A nod to AB!

2 cup white sugar

1 cup butter (I lean toward organic)

4 egg whites

2 whole egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk (I used whole)

Extracts 1/2 teaspoon of each (I think I would bump that to 1 to 1.5 teaspoon next time)

-Cherry

-Raspberry

-Orange

-Lemon

-Grape

-Lime (part of the missing layer)

Coloring Gel (Only use Gel! liquid coloring will not be vibrant enough)

(Hardware)

2 9x9 square baking pans (Any shape or size is ok however adjust cooking times accordingly)

Stand Mixer

Cooling Racks

Dolly (for frosting and optional)

Plenty of bowls! (you will be dividing the batter remember)

Spatula for utilizing all batter made (I didn't use one and that was the aforementioned loss)

Now for the Frosting:

(Software)

5 egg whites

1 cup sugar

2 sticks butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

(Hardware)

Stand mixer

Double boiler (or a makeshift one like I did)

Let's get started on the cake!

First get all your ingredients measured out and ready to be used. There is a good reason on every cooking show you watch they have all that set to go before they begin cooking! (It took me a long time to realize that was half my battle with learning to cook)

Get out the stand mixer (or hand mixer) and use a whisk attachment. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

We'll start by sifting the flour and baking powder.

Then we'll cream the butter and sugar together. Start the mixer off slow as they begin to incorporate into each other crank up the speed. You'll know it is ready when the mixture looks light and fluffy about 3-5min of mixing total.

Now we want to add the eggs, flour/baking powder mixture to the party. The best way to do this in order to ensure a light a fluffy cake is to alternate between one egg at a time and a little bit of the flour mixture. I started with the egg first I don't think there is a prescribed method to which should come first the flour or the egg (ok semi bad pun) but that's what I did. Also bring the mixer speed down, unless you want to have flour face!

After that is incorporated we'll slowly add the milk and keep mixing until the batter is smooth.

Now we have to split up the batter into 6 equal parts. Miss Whisk kid did this by weight. I didn't have a proper scale so I did it by volume. I took a 1/4 cup measuring cup and dealt the batter like I deal cards into 6 six bowls. After the batter is divided take a toothpick and add a fair amount of the coloring gel to each batter. Start with a little bit and after mixing it though decided upon how deep you want the color and add more if necessary. (I wanted the red and blue to be darker than it turned out but oh well)

Then let's add the extracts to each batter and mix thoroughly.

Now we bake them. I did them in shifts of two colors at a time. Pour the batter for one color into one of the 9x9 pans. Then do the same for another. Bake them for 10 minutes and do the toothpick check to see if its done if not give it a couple more minutes and check again, I would say that the longest it should take would be 15 minutes but don't use that as a benchmark you will end up with over baked cake.

When they are done cool in the pan for about 10 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. In no time you'll have 6 vibrant and flavorful layers!!

Now for the frosting. I think that Whisk Kid did such a good job at explaining it I will tell you to check her out here.

Follow her directions on making the frosting and then we'll put it all together here. I'll give you some time to check her page out...

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Ok back? Good good. She really knows her stuff!

So now we need to put it all together! Take one of the layers and put it on the surface you'll be frosting on. (mine was a dolly that spins) add a dollop of frosting to the top and smooth it out. I just used enough to make the layers stick.

Continue on this way until you reach the top and then frost the rest accordingly!

Final thoughts:

This cake was in the end not only easier to make than I had originally assumed but turned out to be a bigger success than I thought it would. Again I'll say next time I would add more extract but still it was a success after all! Finally Thanks to Sami for the picture of my work!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Volnay Bistro Bar (Wayzata)

A lovely Fall Areal of Wayzata

It is no big secret to my friends that my favorite place in the Twin Cities is a little suburb called Wayzata (Y-zet-ta). It is situated right off of Lake Minnetonka and it just has all the charm of a small town without the pick-up trucks.
So in this quaint little suburb is a equally quaint little place I love to visit called Volnay Bistro Bar. In recent months I have been to, what I call, the big three French restaurants in Mpls/St. Paul and this is number Un (that’s one in French, see I’m cultured).
I determined the “big three” by using this simple formula, they must serve typical French food, I need to not be able to pronounce at least 3 menu items, and the ambiance must remind me of Pairs’ cafés. So for your reference my “big three” are, in order, Volnay (Wayzata), Pardon My French (Eagan), and Meritage (St. Paul).
So back to Volnay, I may review the other two another time but I want to tout Volnay right now. Summer is a great time to go there as they have patio seating with live music (usually jazz or something smooth) and partial views of the lake. However I never balk at the ambiance of the main dining room. If I ever get my dream of owning a restaurant I want it to look like Volnay.
The dinner menu is just sublime. There are some very important staples of French cuisine, including duck a l'orange (best I’ve ever had) and Beef Bourgine, along with some more tame items for the less adventurous, French onion soup and an array of safety salads.
Their wine list is quite extensive however they only have a handful of wines by the glass and their cheapest bottle was $45. It would not have been a big deal if we can ever decide on a bottle for the table but my friends and I all have different tastes so I was left with only a coffee.
After ordering they bring out fresh baked bread with European style butter. The main difference between American butter and European is that the latter has a higher butterfat content, which makes it more yummy, to use the technical term. Along with the bread you are also served an amuse-bouche. Which in my experience is usually only enjoyed at the finest of five star establishments but Volnay is out to impress and they do! The presentation of the main course is just perfect, a design that draws all attention to the main focus of the meal. I of course had the duck a l'orange which is served on a mascarpone and walnut risotto. The duck was so tender and perfectly done I didn’t have to use my knife. The skin was nice and crisp and flavorful as well. The duck is orange marinated and drizzled with an orange glaze. The orange is subtle enough that I get all the flavors of the meal coming though. I have had at other establishments a l'orange that was completely over powered by the orange flavor that it was like eating marmalade. Not here though, perfect…just perfect.
After such a rich meal I couldn’t even think of dessert although as you can guess all the selections look as good as you would expect from a French bistro.
Overall I will be returning to Volnay. I need to try some other dishes after all it was hard to choose just one! The ambiance is just wonderful it did remind me of the cafés of Paris and the service is always a delight. Please if you are in the area spend an evening there and I promise you will remember it always!

*UPDATE: As of January 1 2011 Volnay closed their doors. I will truly miss them. Thank you for the good times!*

Reimagining the Blog


I know it’s been a long time posting a couple years but I had some issues in life come up…you know graduating college, losing a 5 year relationship, leaving a bad situation, starting a career so on a so forth! But I have a reimagining of a blog and I wanted to try it on for size!

I am inspired by all the food/cooking blogs out there especially I must say I love Noble Pig! She really introduced me into the cooking blogosphere and I love her for it. Please look her up and if you are into Wine buy a bottle or two from her. I will be soon! But I also want to give mention to Smitten Kitchen, Mama Loves Food, gimme some oven, Ceramic Canvas, and finally Picky Palate.

Now I don’t want to model my blog just like the ones I love to read, first and foremost I don’t get to cook that often :0( I have plenty of ideas though. I also am a kind of coinsure (read: snob) of that fine barley malt most commonly known as Scotch. Not to mention I live in Minneapolis and we do have some excellent and reasonably priced restaurants that I would love to talk about and talk up! I will try to post every couple days or so but it may be a week between posts. I will do my best!

So that’s the premise for this reimaging of my blog…let me see my notes here…I was told I should write what I expect from my blog as the creator. Well I think that I expect that no one will read this haha. I think that if anyone reads this it will be people from the Twin Cities. I suppose they will be drawn to it for the restaurant reviews, probably linked from some other site. In the end I figure if I get only one reader I’ll be excited. Enjoy!