Archive for May, 2008

This stuff is fun.  I actually enjoyed preparing the yeast breads this week in class.  Likely because most of my favorite baked goods are derived from yeast doughs.  These include the great French baguette, crusty Italian bread, NYC bagels, pizza dough, and the wide variety of artisan loaves.  Yum!

I have tried in the past to make bread.  The final product was hard, dense, and certainly not something I thought was very pleasurable to eat.  It was very nice to have a professional demonstrate the techniques – and give tips along the way.  Seeing the process was important for me.

We made our dough by hand.  One mistake we were told that most people make with yeast doughs is rough handling during the kneading process.  Dough is kneaded to create gluten strands.  The best way to do that is to the stretch and fold the dough.  Use the base of your hands to push the dough away from you with mild force to stretch the dough.  Next fold to dough back toward you and then turn a quarter turn to the right.  Back to the first move of stretching.  This is how we learned.  It took only about 5 minutes to finish kneading a double batch of semolina dough.  The best way does not involve pounding, smacking around, or flipping the dough.  Rough handling is not necessary and not how to create gluten strands efficiently.

How do you know when the dough is done?  Our chef says by touch.  It should feel smooth and soft on the exterior, but still will have firmness to it.  Like a baby’s butt.  Another way to tell is to ball the dough on a work surface and using two fingers gently push into the dough quickly.  The dough should spring back.  This indicates that adequate gluten has formed.

I think this trick to kneading is a very important part of making good dough.  Second to that would be the fermentation.  This is where the yeast creates its by-products that include gas and flavor.  The longer ferment (especially a pre-ferment over night in the fridge) the better the flavor of the final product.  In order for the yeast to do its work, it must be revived from its dormant state.  This takes being stirred into a liquid at about 100-110 degrees F before being added to the dry ingredients.  Best way to tell the proper temperature for your yeast?  Use your finger.  When you stick your finger into the liquid it should feel totally neutral.  Not hotter and not cooler.

I am only an amatuer and have no good recipes to share yet.  It is unfortunate that I have discovered bread making as we embark on warmer weather.  In a tiny NYC aparment with one window, a hot oven in the summertime can be brutal.  When I am brave enough to endure the heat and find a good bread recipe I will certainly share.  I will make one comment about fresh bread right out of the oven – it is heavenly (and worth all the work!).



Read Full Post »

Everyone in NY knows that New York City bagels are the best around.  We have all heard a theory it is the water in NY that make them good.  I can now confirm this possibility.  Water contributes to flavor in the bagels since it is a key component of the dough.  They are also poached in water briefly before baking.  And all water is not created equal.  Depending on where you are or what you buy, water you drink may be treated, chlorinated, from a well, from a natural spring, from glaciers, or from the mountains.  They have different compounds added by man and/or minerals present from the ground.  All of these things can contribute to flavor development in a dough.  As a general rule – you should never use water for dough or baking that you wouldn’t drink.


“Everything”  and seasame bagels

Our bagels we made in class were not wimpy Lender’s bagels.  But real, 5 oz, large, dense, chewy, NYC bagels.  What made them authentic?  We followed a traditional NY bagel recipe and used the tap water in preparing and poaching the bagels.  Delicious!  Especially fresh out of the oven.  Warm, golden on the outside and white densely packed on the inside.  They were perfectly soft and chewy without being dry (like a day old or frozen bagel can be).  They tasted authentic.  We made them using a kitchen aid mixer and they took only about 1 hour from scratch to finished product.  If you have never had a fresh bagel in NY – I highly recommend you try one next time you are here.  Lender’s frozen bagels?  Not the same.

Nutrition Facts: One NYC Bagel (5 oz)

  • Calories: 360
  • Total Fat: 2 grams
  • Cholesterol: O mg
  • Sodium: 625 mg
  • Carbs: 70 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams
  • Protein: 15 grams

The Good: Like all bread products made with enriched flour, bagels are a good source of folate, thiamin, iron and selenium.  They are low in fat and cholesterol (that is – before butter, cream cheese, or other toppings are added).

The Bad: Bagels are high in carbohydrates and diabetics or those on carb-controlled diets should watch portion sizes.  Bagels are also high in sodium.


Recommendations: Bagels can fit into most diets safely.  I have even had some really delicious whole grain bagels.  While the NYC bagel is 5 ounces – and therefore high in carbohydrates and sodium – most bagels bought at the grocery store are only about 3 ounces.  A 3 ounce bagel in lower in carbs and sodium because of the portion size.  The thing to watch is bagel toppings.  Alone the bagel is benign.  Unfortunately bagels are vessels for saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and lots of calories.  Try low-fat toppings like a slice of reduced fat cheese and tomato.  Low-fat cream cheese or jelly can cut back on fat and calories.  You can make a pizza bagel with low-fat mozzarella, basil leaves and a tablespoon of marinara sauce.  Bagel sandwiches can be healthy if you choose lean cuts of meat, fresh lettuce and tomato, and mustard (hold the mayo).

These are just a few healthy ways to enjoy a bagel.  The next time you are in NYC – you can consider indulging in a 5 oz NY bagel with a flavored cream cheese.  My favorite combinations are whole wheat with raisin walnut cream cheese, everything with vegetable cream cheese, and cinnamon raisin with plain whiped cream cheese.  Buyer beware – extra time at the gym may be necessary.


Read Full Post »

Puff Pastry

Apple Tart

Wow – what can’t you do with this stuff?  Today in class we made a variety of treats – sweet and savory – with puff pastry dough.  Everything was very delicious.  But how can you go wrong with a dough made from equal parts butter and flour?  I gathered from my earlier culinary classes that the French are masters of finding ways to incorporate butter into anything and everything.  This tops it all.  Somehow they figured out how to fold a large two pound cube of butter into a two pound mass of dough.  Then they figured out how to roll and fold it in such a way to create over 700 layers of flour and butter in the final dough.  Pastry chefs love this stuff.  They have created a large variety of treats from puff pastry dough.  Many decorative treats on display bakeries I have seen here in NY are made from this dough.

We attempted about nine different ones today.  We cut shapes out of the dough and sprinkled them with cinnamin sugar before baking.  We made long twists of dough with parmesan cheese and and herbs sprinkled on.  We cut circles and layered them on top of each other with sweet filling in between.  We braiding long cuts of dough to create the treat pictured below.   The most elaborate, and delicious creation was the apple pastry pictured above and below.

Apple Tart2


My pet peeve about this stuff is the amount of time it takes to make.  It took an entire class, four hours, last week to make the dough.  Seems to me like a lot of work.  The big pay-off was today.  I would not recommend anyone attempt to make this dough at home without demonstration or full assistance from a professional.  It is tricky and easy to botch if you do not know what you are doing.  Even if you do, like my class, many doughs break, tear, or become misshapen beyond use.  Very frustrating after hours of work.  If I ever use puff pastry in the future – it will most likely be from the freezer section of my grocery store.

Nutrition Facts 1 oz of puff pastry

  • Calories: 154
  • Total Fat: 11 grams
  • Total Carbs: 13 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams

The Good: Tasty and has many uses.  It provides a small amount of B vitamins from the enriched flour.  Butter provides vitamin A, E, D and K (all of the fat soluble vitamins) – but you have to consume a large amount of butter (and therefore many many calories) to get these vitamins in a significant quantity.

The Bad: Very high in fat and calories.  If homemade – it is saturated fat from butter with cholesterol.  If it is store-bought, it maybe a margarine and therefore lower in cholesterol and saturated fat, but still high in total fat.  It provides very little nutrition and can easily contribute to weight gain and cholesterol.

Recommendations:  This is a true indulgence.  Not meant for regular consumption, or in large quantities.  Enjoy it on special occasions in moderation.  The frozen dough is the most convenient.  Fresh homemade dough tastes better, so try ordering your treats from a good bakery to experience puff pastry in all of its glory.

Read Full Post »


When most people hear this word their first instinct is to utter some sort of guttural sound like “ugh” and follow it with a repeat of the initial word with a sound of disbelief – “Meatloaf?!?!?”  I used to feel the same way.  The word induced a flashback to a mound of meat, wet and glossy from the heat of the oven, sliced onto a plate with a squirt of ketchup.  I think the real nail in the coffin was “loaf” at the end of a word beginning with meat.  That kind of word will never make people jump out of their seats and run to the dinner table.

This is unfortunate.  Meatloaf is a vessel for so many interesting combinations of meats, vegetables, herbs and seasoning.  Recently there has been a burger revolution.  It has evolved from a hunk of ground beef between two pieces of white bread to creations like a lamb curry burger on English muffin with cucumber raita.  Why not the same flavors baked into meatloaf?  There are sliders, the mini burgers.  Why not bake meatloaf in muffin tins for mini loaves?  There are gourmet burgers with Kobe beef, gourmet mushrooms and shaved truffle.  Why not shave truffle on a Kobe beef meatloaf?  To me, meatloaf is the low-carb, super moist, less clean-up, no grill required, version of a burger.  Yet it remains in the shadows.

Let me tell you a story.  A very simple and delicious meatloaf was one of the first things I learned to make for myself.  It was easy, healthy (my version), and fed me for several days at a time.  It was one of the first things I cooked for Matt.  Which in retrospect, was completely unromantic and not sexy.  Yet whenever I cook meatloaf now, he recalls this first meal I cooked for him and how delicious it was.  Obviously I made an impression.  And why not?  It’s comfort food.  It reminds people of home and family meals.  If guys love burgers then logically they should love meatloaf.

My questions remains.  Why has meatloaf been left behind?  We are witnessing the evolution of the burger in restaurants all over the country.  Gourmet fast foods served from trucks and updated comfort foods are creeping onto menus.  My prediction is that we will see a meatloaf revolution.  Mario Batali will make an Italian style mix of beef, pork and veal formed into meatloaf, baked, and served with a spicy tomato sauce.  Eric Rupert will create a poached ground fish loaf with a red wine reduction that will send taste buds soaring.  Alice Waters will add to her menu a locally raised 100% organic beef meatloaf flavored with organically grown roasted tomatoes and herbs.  Emerill will add his special seasoning, chopped peppers, some onions and then BAM – it will be dinner!

Equally important as the meat is the potatoes.  I served garlic smashed potatoes.  Yum!  But any potato dish that you can execute well will do.  Now let us all watch and wait, myself anxiously, for the meatloaf revolution.

Read Full Post »


Kiwi Tart

These past two days in school we have been preparing pie shells, pastry shells, pastry cream, frangipane, and various fruits.  This is hard stuff!  There are so many little tricks to know about the dough.  Proper handling, resting, mixing, docking, blind baking, and more.  Ingredients for the creams and frangipanes have to be mixed in just the right order, at just the right speed to get just the right consistency.  All this careful preparation took up so much time.  Days!  There aren’t many things you eat for dinner that take days to make. 


Strawberry Tart

Large Tart

But here is my problem – after all that work dessert is not a meal.  Dessert does not give me the same feeling that eating a nice meal can.  A meal is nourishment.  You feel good after a meal.  It can provide nutrients, energy and protein that your body needs.  On the other hand you have dessert.  Nobody needs dessert.  You may feel good eating dessert, but you usually feel bad afterward.  It is not very nourishing.  Typical desserts provide tons of sugar and fat – which contribute to extra calories at the end of the day.

Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy dessert now and again.  But I find learning to cook much more interesting and practical than learning pastry and desserts.   Maybe I will change my mind as the time passes.  There are a few things I am very interested in learning.  I would love to learn how to make a perfect baguette, breakfast muffins and pizza dough.  More pratical baking applications.  I’ll keep you posted.


Read Full Post »

Our class has now entered the pastry and baking part of the culinary arts program.  It is six weeks of croissants, baguettes, muffins, cakes, pies, tarts, chocolate, fruits and more… and I thought our French technique classes were full of butter.  These five weeks were dreaded by half of my class, and highly anticipated by the other half.  I fall into the later category.  First of all, I love to bake.  Second, baking will be a nice change – something different than my last six months of cooking.  I am ready for the slower paced classes where more attention is paid to details and presentation.  Then, of course, there are the take home goodies.

Today we started with fruit.  We dried, baked, roasted, poached, macerated, candied, and grilled.  Yes, grilled fruit.  My favorite grilled fruit is pineapple.  Great dish for a summer BBQ.  You cut slices of pineapple about 3/4 inch, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, add your spices, grill on both sides, and enjoy!  I like cinnamon on mine with a pinch of ground red pepper for heat.

Macerating fruit is another really simple, but tasty, fruit preparation.  To macerate fruit, you toss the chopped fruit with a mixture of sugar and an acidic liquid, such as alcohol or vinegar.  You can also add spices or chopped herbs.  Cover and chill the fruit to allow all the flavors to mingle and liquids to exchange.  Water leaves the fruit, but the sugar and acid enter.  The fruit becomes sweet and tangy.  It is very nice.  We prepared strawberries in this manner today that were exceptional.  The recipe had an ingredient that we all associate more with cooking and savory foods – tarragon.  But tarragon worked very nicely with strawberries.  Who would have thought?

Some of our poached fruits tasted like canned fruit to me.  A bit boring.  For those who don’t already know, canned fruit is poached fruit.  However, adding spices to the poaching liquid gave the fruit a new dimension.  Spices we used included cinnamon stick, star anise, and vanilla bean.  You could even use herbs in the liquid to infuse the fruit.  I once ordered a rosemary infused pear tartin with rosemary ice cream from a restaurant for dessert.  It sounded crazy, and that was why I ordered it, but it was really quite nice.  The aroma of earthy rosemary and sweet poached pear was amazing.  Rosemary elevated the dish and took it somewhere totally unexpected.  A great wintry dessert.

Nutrition Facts:  Fruit desserts have the potential to be very healthy.  That being said, they can also to be a diet disaster.  Most fresh fruits are fat free, cholesterol free and low in sodium.  They have natural sugar encased in a fiber-filling with antioxidants galore.  For the most part, the best way to preserve their nutrient value is to do as little cooking as possible.  Cooking reduces the fiber in foods and heat can denature vitamins and important micronutrients.  To get the most bang for your buck, the best technique I mentioned is maceration.  Maceration involved no cooking at all.  This isn’t true for all fruit, however.  Scientists discovered within the last few years that lycopene, the nutrient found in tomatoes (which are a fruit), is more concentrated and better absorbed by eating cooked tomatoes.  But until more research is done on other cooked fruits, less is more.

The diet disaster is the sugar soaked or coated fruit.  This includes pie filings cake toppings, and tarts.  Sugar adds calories and carbohydrates which are bad things for dieters and diabetics.  And tell me what restaurant serves fruit for dessert without ice cream?  When you want to indulge, this can be great, don’t get mewrong.  But don’t do it everyday, and try to share it other people for damage control.

Read Full Post »


Morels are wild, edible, foraged mushrooms that usually sprout in May in New York.  Chefs and foodies go crazy for them!  In a way, they are a sign of spring.  When you begin to see asparagus soup with morels on menus – you know warmer weather is on the way. New York city chefs love to serve seasonal, local foods at their peak and morels are no exception.  Dreaming up recipes in April and anticipating the first morels is probably common practice.


(Morels foraged from New York this past weekend – photo courtesy of forager)

Morels are the first of many edible mushrooms to sprout during the spring and summer months in New York.  Like the black trumpet mushrooms and hen of the woods mushrooms, they are special because they cannot be cultivated.  Trained and knowledgable foragers to go out, scavenge, safely identify, and sell them.  There are regulations involved in selling wild mushrooms, but I’m not sure of the details.  I will be on the look out at our farmer’s market – but I have a feeling I would have to wake up very early to buy morels.  Cooks and chefs sweep through the markets early in the morning and snatch all the best produce for their restaurants.  This is something I’ve become privy to by walking through the market at 8:00am.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to taste my first morel ever.  An experienced, trust worthy forager (and member of a mycology club here in NYC) had gathered about a pound of them this past weekend.  Many mycology guide books and other experts had worked together to identify and ensure the safety of the mushrooms.  Morels have a very distinct appearance, but there are two look-alike mushrooms that sprout earlier and may cause food poisoning.  If you have never seen one, imagine a sea coral, in the shape of a pine tree, propped on a thick stem.  The colors can be black, brown, grayish or orange-brown.  The forager had what seemed to be 3 varieties of morel, each about 3 inches long.

We cooked them in a saute pan with butter, salt and pepper (the best way to have mushrooms).  They tasted wonderful!  Earthy adn nutty, similar to a portobello, but stronger and more intense.  There was a smokey taste that lingered in my mouth from the mushrooms.  Soft and creamy in the mouth without much chew (like some can have).  I now understand the anticipation of this mushroom.  In fact, I have since considered signing up with a foraging club to go see what I can find.   There are several clubs here in the New York City area.  They arrange hikes in parks upstate throughout the summer.  Everyone breaks off and foragers in the woods and near the trails.  At the end, with help from the more experienced foragers, the edible mushrooms are identified.  I can’t wait to see what restaurants are cooking up with morels this month.  I will be looking for them… and will keep you posted.

Nutrition Facts: Serving: 3.5 Oz

  • Calories:  9
  • Fat:  trace amount
  • Protein: 2 gm
  • Cholesterol: 0
  • Carbs: 0
  • Sodium: 2 mg
  • Fiber: 2-7 gm (could not find consistent nutrient analysis of fiber)

The good: Mushrooms, specifically morels and shitakes, are a good plant source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D is a mineral that has received a lot of press recently for the prevention of certain cancers, depression, and bone loss.  Mushrooms are a good source of the B vitamins including folate, niacin, and thiamin.  They also contain potassium, selenium, copper, phosporus, and zinc to name only a few more antioxidants in their profile.  All of this nutritional punch without fat, cholesterol, or a significant amount of sodium.  Low in calories, low in carbohydrates, high in protein for a plant food, and high in fiber.  Mushrooms are a great, wonderfully tasty addition to any meal.  They bring flavor and depth along with nutrition.  Ancient civilizations, especially in Asia, believed mushroom had many healing and nutritional benefits, perhaps this holds true.

The bad: Mmm… perhaps this would be that foraged mushrooms can be hard to come by, and must be from a very reliable source in order to consume safely.  Otherwise, you can purchase cultivated mushrooms (not morels) and enjoy similar nutritional benefits.  Though each variety has its own nutrient profile, all are loaded with micro-nutrients.

Recommendations:  Eat and enjoy!  Morels are nutritious and delicious.  Buy from a reliable source and never consume wild mushrooms on your own without expert help to identify them.  Find a restaurant that serves them locally, but hurry because they don’t sprout forever (only a month usually).

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »