Make Something New Every Day

This blog is inspired by all those who love to cook, whether experienced or not, and who continue to experiment with new ideas & ingredients, and best of all, share their passion with others.

The first entries are recipes prepared by the students of Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, CA. Fifteen students with varying cooking experience participated in my weekly workshop (via Tutorpedia), and successfully prepared various meals, snacks, and baked goods as part of an after-school program.

Along with the recipes from that class, I will continue to add new seasonal items, spanning every genre of the culinary world, as well as a helpful list of links to recipes, instructional videos, and places to shop and volunteer in your area.

Feel free to ask me questions and share your recipes and ideas as well. I look forward to cooking with you.

November 19, 2011

Gorgeous Gruyere Gougeres

What appetizers should I serve at Thanksgiving? This is a tricky subject, as you want items that are not terribly filling, but are jaw-droppingly drool-inducing. The answer? Cheese puffs. I make these bad boys twice a year (for the holidays and Easter). The dough is simple to prepare, but the piping takes a while since the recipe yields about 150 puffs. This is a good thing because you can freeze half of them and reheat them for holiday parties in December. Make them ahead of time and save your oven, and your energy, for other dishes on Thanksgiving Day. 
8 eggs at room temperature (+ 1 extra for an egg wash)

2/3 cup whole milk (+ 2 tablespoons for later...)
1 1/3 cup water
1 cup (1/2 #) unsalted butter
Salt (about 2-3 teaspoons, depending on how salty your cheese is)
Freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups flour

2 cups finely grated Gruyere cheese (about 1/2#) (the one from Trader Joe's is good & cheap)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped green onion

In a 4 Qt. heavy pot (Le Creuset) heat the milk, water, and butter until boiling, and the butter is melted. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat, and stir in the flour. The dough will form into a nice, clean ball. Move back onto medium heat and stir for about a minute to cook out the raw flour taste.
Dump the ball of dough into a mixing bowl. Beat in the 8 eggs, one at a time, waiting for each one to be incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the 2T cold milk, the grated cheese, and the fresh herbs.
Fit a pastry bag (or gallon size ziploc bag) with a coupler. Fill the bag about halfway with some dough, and pipe even balls onto a parchment lined baking sheet (about the size of a quarter, 1" apart from each other). The trick to piping is to stop squeezing the bag as you twist the tip away from the ball of dough.

Brush the tops of the balls with an egg wash, and bake at 400' for about 15-20 minutes. The puffs should be nice & brown on top. Serve immediately, or store cooled puffs in freezer bags for up to 3 months. Reheat in a 350' oven for about 5 minutes.
To make sure your cheese puffs are delicious, sample at least 3 from each batch. This could go on & on, but I have faith in your dedication.

This versatile dough is the foundation for many baked goods. A sweet version is used for eclairs, profiteroles, and can also be fried to produce a varied result. The process is simple, but its success can be easily altered by glossing over tried & true techniques. If you have any questions about this, or any other recipe, please drop me a line, and I'll do my best to help you out.

November 10, 2011

Warm Clouds of Heavenly Chocolate: Gluten Free!

Even after baking for over 30 years (yes, I count my childhood cookie baking as experience), I never fail to be amazed by what eggs+chocolate+sugar can produce. These cookies have no flour, and the only fat is from the chocolate (bittersweet has less than 12%), but they are surprisingly rich and cakelike.
This recipe is very basic, and success is imminent if you follow my tips. As usual, my instructions are detailed, and for beginner/ intermediate cooks. More experienced bakers can skim over the details if they wish.

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. You can make your own double boiler by fitting a bowl over a pot of about the same width. Fill the pot with about 2" of water. Place the bowl of chocolate over the pot. The bowl should sit inside the pot, with plenty of room between the bottom of the bowl and the water. DO NOT GET ANY WATER IN THE CHOCOLATE. It will make the chocolate seize up and harden, rather than melt smoothly.

Once the water in your double boiler comes to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. There will be enough heat from the steam under the bowl to melt the chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, turn off the heat, and stir the chocolate to melt any lumps.
When dividing your eggs, make sure not to break the yolks. If yolks or any fat gets into the whites, they will not beat into stiff peaks, which you need for a successful cookie.
Beat the whites in a clean, dry bowl until foamy. Add a pinch of cream of tartar to help stabilize the whites. Continue beating until soft peaks form when you lift the beater out of the whites. Sprinkle the sugar over the whites, and continue beating until the whites look glossy and the beater forms stiff peaks when lifted out of the whites. (Slowly lift the beater straight up out of the whites. The whites should make a point that doesn't droop over - see photo.) Overbeating the whites will dry them out, giving you a drier, airier cookie. Beating the whites to just the right point will result in a soft, cake-like center. This is a technique you will learn over time.

  • Keep your eggs at room temperature (at least 1 hour before baking).
  • Be careful when separating the yolks from the whites. Don't break the yolks!
  • Add a pinch of Cream of Tartar to help stabilize whites.
  • Use a medium-high setting on your mixer, and be patient. Before you know it, you'll have stiff peaks!
Stir in the vanilla extract. Use a folding motion to combine the chocolate with the whites, and always move the spatula in the same direction (down through the whites, and around the bowl). Fold the ingredients until just combined (when you don't see any more white streaks).
For best results, line baking sheets with parchment. Do not grease the baking sheets. Use a small ice cream scoop (a little smaller than a golf ball) with quick-release handles for ease, and evenly sized cookies. If you don't have a scoop, use 2 spoons - 1 to scoop the batter, and the other to scrape the batter onto the sheet.
Bake at 350' for about 12-15 minutes. All ovens seem to bake differently, so check after 12 minutes. Gently touch the top of a cookie. If it feels set & has a crust, it should be done. Taking the cookies out too early might make them collapse (they're like meringues in that way).

If all goes well, your cookies should have a light, cakey texture inside. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container for up to one week. They are delicate, so transport them in a structured container rather than a bag.

For a variation, replace the vanilla extract with peppermint, orange, or almond extract. These tend to have a much stronger flavor, so use 1/4 teaspoon or less.

You can double the recipe, but may loose some volume in the process. I get better results by making the recipe twice. One recipe makes about 24 cookies.