cooking

How to Fix those #bakingfails.

These croissants came out very dense, but will be cut, frozen and used for a decadent bread pudding!

Baking requires a lot of invested time and it can be really easy to get frustrated when it doesn’t work out. Instead of taking failure as a reason to give up, stop and consider what went wrong. It could be the temperature of your ingredients, your technique could need refining, it could be something as simple as your mood.
This baking-fail was a result of impatience on my part, and while I wish I was able to enjoy some homemade croissants this morning, I’ll have to settle for some from the boulangerie on the corner.

Remember that when you begin to bake, your failures can sometimes outnumber your successes. Don’t be discouraged, and above all, if they still taste good, do not throw out your failures!

Food waste is a huge problem. In 2016, The Atlantic reported that not only does the U.S. lead the world in the most food wasted, Americans waste about 50% of food that is produced. While a huge portion of this waste is the result of supermarkets throwing out undesirable products, consumers also have a responsibility to make sure they use the food they buy. Throwing out baked goods that still have a good flavor is completely unnecessary. Just because you didn’t get the result you wanted, it doesn’t mean that it needs to end up in the trash, unless you’ve made the grave mistake of confusing salt for sugar.

Here are a few tips on how to give your own baking failures a new life:

  1. Freeze your failures: If you don’t have time to use up your baking-fails right away, prepare them for use later by freezing them. Since you do not plan on using the baked goods as is, you don’t have to worry about the freezer drying them out. Frozen baked goods usually keep for 1-2 months. When you’re ready to use them, just defrost overnight for use the next day.
  2. Cookie dough: If you are making a cookie dough for the first time, test a small portion to see how it turns out. Cookie dough that spreads out too much can be spread out in a pan and made into cookie bars, just bake at 350 degrees F until set. Alternatively, already baked cookies can be crumbled and mixed with melted butter to make a cookie crust for pies and cheesecakes.
  3. Cake/Quick-Breads: If a cake or quick-bread comes out too dense, or crumbly, fear not! Crumble the failure and toast it in the oven for about 5 min at 350 degrees F to use on top of ice cream, or as a way to decorate the sides of a cake (you can also do this with cake trimmings). Toasted cake crumbles can last for about a month if they are stored in an air-tight container. You can also take un-toasted crumbles and use them to make a bread pudding, or cake pops.
  4. Yeasted Breads: If your bread is savory, you can cut it into cubes and use it for a savory bread pudding. This is a perfect breakfast dish for large groups! If the bread is on the sweeter end of the spectrum, it is a perfect candidate for a dessert bread pudding.
  5. Pie: Did your pie filling ooze out, resulting in a soupy mess? Just serve it in a nice bowl with a scoop of ice cream, pie is delicious in any iteration. If you want to up the plating game a bit, you can always place individual servings in oven-safe ramekins and top with meringue.

Do you have any baking-fails that you were able to save? Comment below with your own tips!

Banana Coffee Cake with Mexican Chocolate Streusel, ft. Mexican Chocolate Donut Glaze


Baking is a source of meditation for me. When I begin to feel overwhelmed, I drop everything, dive into a baking project and emerge, fully refreshed. The problem is that my husband and I can only eat so many pastries, so I have to find somewhere to send all the baked goods when I am done.

This recipe, like many that I come up with, was a result of feeling the need to use up ingredients I didn’t want to go to waste. I had received some cast-off bananas and had a surplus of chocolate donut glaze from trying to refine my donut recipe, so I decided to come up with something to bring to my fellow MA candidates who were facing a similar level of paper-writing induced stress rather than toss them out. We have some nut allergies in the group, so I wanted to find a way to bring the crunch of nuts to banana bread without killing my colleagues. Luckily, my experiment succeeded, and the result was a delightfully moist coffee cake with a nutty (though nut free) Mexican chocolate topping.

A few notes on the ingredients:

When I say butter, since I am in France, I am using European butter. I do not think this is necessary for the recipe. However, European butter has a much higher fat content than American butter, and I feel it is necessary to let you know that it might change the recipe a bit.

Also, the cinnamon I am using is Ceylon cinnamon because it is all I can find here. I do recommend using it for this recipe as the flavor works much better with chocolate than the cinnamon traditionally used in the States. I have found Ceylon cinnamon in whole sticks at Mexican markets in the States, but if you do use a “regular” cinnamon I would suggest reducing the amount by ¼ tsp.

Important Banana information: If your bananas don’t look like this: they do not belong in any type of banana bread/cake. The bananas must be over ripe and have developed enough sugar (the black spots indicate increased sugar levels) in order to work, otherwise they will dry out what you are making. If you need to ripen bananas quickly, you can place them in a brown paper bag near a heat source. Also, don’t puree the bananas, it may just be a matter of preference, but I feel that mashing the bananas gives the bread/cake a better texture

 

Mexican Chocolate Donut Glaze

1 can condensed milk
5 oz semi-sweet or 70% dark chocolate, chopped
1 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground chipotle
1/8 tsp salt

Heat condensed milk over medium heat, stir constantly until boiling. Remove from heat, add chocolate and spices and mix until all the chocolate is melted and it is smooth. Keep warm to glaze donuts or cakes with.

Banana Coffee Cake with Mexican Chocolate Toffee Streusel

Streusel

½ c butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 ¾ c flour
1 c packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
¼ tsp clove
¼ tsp chipotle
½ cup cold Mexican chocolate glaze, in tablespoon-sized portions reserve
½ c glaze to drizzle over the top of the cake

  1. Mix the flour, brown sugar and spices together in a bowl.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, food processor, or using a pastry cutter place all the ingredients together. Make sure to separate the Mexican chocolate into tablespoon-sized portions.
  3. Mix the ingredients until they resemble this picture:

Note: you may need to use your fingers to break up some of the butter, I would recommend using the pastry cutter method, it takes longer, but I was worried about over mixing the streusel when I used my stand mixer. Because the addition of the Mexican chocolate glaze, you run the risk of the mixture clumping up together very quickly. You need to be very careful when making this, but the toffee-like crunch it offers to the cake is worth the trouble!

Banana Coffee Cake

2 ¼ c flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt ½ cup (4 oz) butter, softened
1 ½ c sugar
½ c maple syrup
2 eggs
1 c yogurt
1 tsp Mexican vanilla (traditional vanilla will work too)
3 ripe bananas

  1. Grease and line a 9”x13” pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.
  3. In medium bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher, and then mix in the maple syrup, vanilla, and yogurt, set aside.
  4. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  5. Add eggs one at a time, scrape bowl and then add the banana mixture.
  6. Scrape the bowl again, and make sure there are no large chunks of butter and sugar that have not been incorporated.
  7. Slowly add the dry mix and mix until incorporated. Be sure to mix briefly by hand to make sure the batter is even.
  8. Pour half the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle 1/3 of the streusel over the top, pour the remaining half of the batter over the top, and then sprinkle the rest of the streusel over the top.
  9. Bake for 50- 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 c of glaze over the top of the cake.
  11. Allow to cool and enjoy!

This cake is very moist and if it is wrapped in individual pieces it maintains its freshness for 2 days after baking, provided you can resist eating it all!

Simple Roasted Chicken with Root Vegetables.

So, the new year is upon us, and my husband and I are trying really super hard to kick our delivery habit. The other day, I drooled as I watched an UberEATS cyclist go around my block 5 times before they finally delivered my lukewarm Lebanese food. It was, honestly, not worth it.

So, this morning I woke up late and thought, “Well, rough start to those resolutions, but we’ll pick this up by the end of the day.” I shook off the defeat and decided that I was going to make dinner tonight.

I coaxed the slumbering lawyer out of bed and we went on a walk with our dog to the local butcher. It was great. The sky was grey, per usual, the snow turned to rain, so we put the dog’s ridiculous raincoat on him, which was hilarious, and it wasn’t as cold as it was yesterday.

We got to the butcher, and I was like “Oh, I have to speak French now.” Which I totally did, and I even learned how to ask the butcher to disembowel my chicken, which I promptly forgot, but I will ask again. Then, with disemboweled chicken in hand, I went home and got ready to make this beautiful dinner.

Unfortunately, the outdoor market wasn’t open, and the Monop’ has a sad selection of produce, so I wasn’t able to find parsley, but I love this recipe because it is easy to make, and is easily adaptable to everybody’s tastes.

 

Simple Roasted Chicken with Root Vegetables

4-5 lb Chicken
4 tbs Butter, melted
1 tbs Dried herbs (optional)*
2 tbs Kosher salt
1 tsp Cracked black pepper
1 Sweet onion (red, or yellow)**
2 cloves Garlic
Assortment of Root Vegetables, peeled
(parsnip, beets, and carrots are really nice)
3 medium-sized red potatoes
2 tbs olive oil
Chopped parsley

  1. Pat your chicken as dry as you can, this helps the skin get crispy.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 F
  3. Mix together the salt, dried herbs, and pepper. Sprinkle this mixture all over the chicken and rub inside the cavity of the bird, you may have some left over. Allow the chicken to rest on a rack in a roasting pan until it comes to room temperature, about 1 hour.
    Note: You can also leave the chicken like this overnight and uncovered in the fridge for an even more flavorful chicken tomorrow!
  1. Cut the peeled root vegetables and potatoes into 1-2” pieces.
  2. Mince the garlic, dice the onions and add to root vegetable mix. Mix this with the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
  3. When the chicken has come to room temperature, arrange vegetables in the bottom of the roasting pan. Pour any liquid over the chicken.
  4. Rub the butter into the skin of the chicken, and inside the cavity. Place the chicken breast side up, and put in the middle of the oven.
  5. Roast for 20 minutes and then flip the bird over, so it is breast-side down. Bring the temperature down to 375 and roast the chicken for another 30 minutes.
  6. Carefully flip the bird over one additional time and roast for another 10 minutes, or until done.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  8. Carve the chicken, and toss the vegetables in the roasting pan so that they are dressed with the pan drippings, add the chopped parsley.
  9. Serve with a light green salad and maybe some cornbread!

 

*Fresh herbs can also be used, but chop them finely. I used thyme on my chicken, but rosemary, sage, or any herb blend you like will work.

**You can also use young green onions but, if you do, use spring onions not scallions. The green onions will have a larger bulb. Use 4, cut off the dark green parts (save to make Bone Broth)and halve the onion lengthwise.

Edit: I forgot to tell you guys the best part about this recipe! The leftovers make a great lunch just shred the remaining the meat (save those bones for Bone Broth too) and mix it with the leftover veggies. Wrap butter lettuce around a 1/4-1/2c of the mix with any sauce of your choosing. I prefer mustard, but I know there are weirdos out there with a vendetta against it. These are perfect to brown bag to the office, or send with the kids to school! 

 

Mindfulness and Cooking

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Braised rabbit with leeks and saffron tagliatelle.

I recently came across this NPR article on using what the author describes as “mindful muffins,” to relieve post-election stress. I think that we can expand this idea beyond just mindfulness, but as a means to find a way to incorporate cooking into our increasingly busy lives.

As I enter into my prep for a Thanksgiving dinner that I am putting on for fellow expats and MA students, as well as prep for my thesis proposal on Monday, I have been thinking a lot about mindfulness and cooking. I have always used the practice of cooking to deal with stress and center my thoughts, but even so, I sometimes find myself feeling too exhausted to think about entering the kitchen.

Unfortunately, this means that I then succumb to either eating instant noodles (my love for them will never die) or delivery, which is inevitably disappointing and expensive, not to mention, unhealthy. Convincing myself that I am too tired or too stressed to make my own food does nothing but perpetuate an unhealthy cycle. When my diet is bad, my brain doesn’t work, when my brain doesn’t work, my stress levels increase, when I’m stressed out, I feel exhausted, when I’m exhausted I don’t want to cook, when I decide not to cook, my diet gets worse. This is something I have to remember to tell myself every time I open up Deliveroo on my phone.

I know that you may not like to cook, or even think that you don’t have time, but you are making the same mistake I am. You do have time, and you may not like it, but you can learn how to. You have to change the way you think about cooking.

In fact, this is what I am focusing my research on for the next year, more specifically, the evolution of culinary discourse in the United States throughout the last half of the nineteenth century, in relation to how the Industrial Revolution drastically changed the ways Americans worked and lived. At some point, Americans began to see food only as a means of sustenance, we stripped the practice of cooking and dining of all of its cultural importance and only looked at it in terms of its practicality.

This is how we got hooked on processed foods, they are ready to eat, they give us time to work more, they have the base level of nutrients we need. This is how we convinced ourselves we don’t have time to cook, it takes away from our earning potential. But, what does that mean for us? What does it mean that we look at the practice of cooking in terms of our economic presence in the world? This may not be a completely conscious association, but it is most likely that you feel like you don’t have time to spend fifteen minutes in the kitchen because you get home too late from work. The long hours you work probably make you stressed, the food you don’t cook is probably not great for your diet, this diet makes you exhausted, your exhaustion makes your job more stressful. Do you see? You are also perpetuating an unhealthy cycle.

So, how do we change this? Look at feeding yourself as a meditative practice. Start changing the way you perceive cooking. Consider cooking as a moment that you can stop thinking about your responsibilities, take it as a moment to reflect. Consider cooking as an excuse to take care of yourself. Find a recipe you want to try, or sign up for services like Blue Apron (though, I would only use them as a means to avoid going to the market, I am not a big fan of their recipes). It doesn’t matter if you decide to make yourself oatmeal for dinner, what does matter is that you allow yourself to take the time to do it. Each time you do, you might find that you enjoy it more.

I’ll leave you with this, I got some pie crusts to make!

I volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner, now what?

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Dessert Spread from last Thanksgiving. I really like making pie.

Did you accidentally tell your friends and/or family that you wanted to make Thanksgiving dinner? Do you now realize that you’ve made a horrible time-consuming mistake? Don’t fear, I did the same thing, we’ll get through this together.

When I started my own custom-order baking business, I decided to take on the task of pie orders a few years in a row. This involved two weeks of ingredient gathering, pumpkin puree making, spending hours elbow deep in pie crust and pie filling, bribing my sister and best friend to help me, all in a tiny kitchen. I would show up at thanksgiving dinner, haggard, my arms fresh with new exhaustion-related carelessness burns, and a feeling of accomplishment. Despite the fact that I would have compromised my immune system by exhausting myself and ended up in Urgent Care on Christmas Morning each year, I still get the urge around November first to do it again. In recent years, I have successfully talked myself out of this desire, but the season just feels ripe for cooking, and so I have taken on the task of Thanksgiving dinner.

The trick is to treat your kitchen like a professional kitchen for the next week. If you are prepared you can pull that dinner together, with time to shower and change, and still get dinner on the table on time. How, don’t worry, I’ll tell you.

  1. Make a detailed menu.

If you haven’t made your menu yet. Make it today. I cannot emphasize this enough, if you do not do this, you will be going to the store blind. Write out each dish, what you will need to buy for each one, and whether or not it needs to be made the day of. Remember that Thanksgiving is probably not the time to try a recipe you are not familiar with, make things that you know you can make or at least make sure you aren’t overloading your menu with complicated recipes.

  1. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

I’ll admit, I am not good at asking for help in the kitchen. This is partially because I’m a little bit of a control freak when it comes to watching the way other people cook, but it is also because I can generally do it faster. This being said, I have to remember that I am just one person, and it is nice to have help with the dishes, prep work like slicing and dicing, setting the table, and running to the store. Ask your guests to bring beverages, or things like bread, hors d’oeuvres, and desserts (I always make my own desserts, but that’s just because they’re my favorite thing to make).

  1. Start your pies now.

So, you didn’t delegate the pies, don’t fret, you have time to get ahead. As soon as you are done reading this, make your pie crusts. You can freeze them, thaw them Sunday night, roll them out and put them in the tins on Monday. I freeze my crust like this until I am ready to bake off the pies on Wednesday. On Tuesday, make all of your pie fillings (if you are doing your own pumpkin puree, make it today, and freeze it until you’re ready to use it). This way you avoid spending all of Wednesday focused on making the pies, and you can just put them in the oven. I always think that pies should be made the day before, the filling benefits from sitting for a day, and you’ll need that oven space on Thursday. Cream pies should go in the fridge, but I leave my pumpkin, pecan and fruit pies out at room temp overnight, the refrigerator ruins the crust.

  1. Plan your schedule for the week, and the oven.

Do your last minute shopping this weekend. Yes, this weekend is last minute. Gather up all of the ingredients you need, this gives you plenty of time to look for harder to find ingredients, or change your menu. Consider how long everything needs to be in the oven and how long it needs to rest before being served. Write out a schedule for when you plan to bake off each item, consider which items can be baked off in the morning and then warmed over right before you serve.

Monday: Finalize your menu, that specialty item that you wanted to use on your sweet potatoes is a lost cause, save that dream for next year. If you are making stuffing from scratch, dry out your bread.

Tuesday: Brine the Turkey if you are planning on doing so. Cut any veggies that need to be diced, like onions, carrots and celery, trim the ends of your green beans, do all the little prep things that should be ready before you begin cooking

Wednesday: Make your salads, but do not dress them. This can also be done on Thursday morning if you find yourself short on fridge space. I also would get any casseroles prepped so that you can just pop them in the oven at their allotted time. Boil your potatoes so they are ready to be mashed on Thursday. Set your table and do any cosmetic things you need to do around the house.

Thursday: Get that turkey out of the fridge ASAP. You want your turkey to be room temperature before you put it in the oven, so get it out an hour before you intend to roast it. Keep to your schedule, and don’t fret if things don’t turn out perfectly.

  1. Take a spa day on Friday.

Seriously, do it. You’ll need it. At the very least, don’t get out of your PJ’s and watch a bunch of Netflix.

Hope this helps with the holiday madness! Feel free to comment below with any further questions, or tips I may have forgotten.