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Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Secrets of Baking

If this looks familiar, this post is for you.
There are few things as truly satisfying as a cook, classic cookbook. A few cookbooks have emerged over the past 50 years that have established themselves as golden standards. Most homes probably have at least one of these volumes: “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, James Beard’s “American Cookery,” and/or “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook.” 

These volumes are passed down generation to generation and there is something comforting about making a recipe and seeing your grandmother’s (or, in my case, grandfather's) or mother’s handwriting in the margins, telling you to add more wine or cook it a few minutes longer than the recipe calls for.

Once I learn a recipe, I like to play with it (as in last month's pot roast posting). Being a creative cook is pretty easy, all things considered. But the scientific exactitude that underlies baking means that baking experiments do not always go well.

We've all been here at some point
Case in point, I make a delicious dark chocolate cupcake with a raspberry cheesecake center (my own recipe). One time I decided to change it up by using a lavender buttermilk cupcake and lemon curd cheesecake. Complete disaster! After 40 minutes in the oven they still hadn't set. Something about the curd and buttermilk substitutions threw off the chemical makeup of the cupcake. I made a mental note not to try that combination again and moved on.
For my birthday this year, my friend sent me a new baking book that promises to become a family staple. The book is “The Secrets of Baking,” a James Beard book award winner by pastry chef Sherry Yard. Unlike most baking books, the chapters are organized into master recipes followed by variations. For example, the first chapter is all about ganache. Yard shows you how to make perfect ganache, then shows you what you can do with it: truffles, parfaits, souffles, tortes, mousse, frosting, etc. Chapter five is  all about mastering pâte à choux, then moving on to cream puffs, cannoli, dumplings, beignets, gougères, etc. 

Along the way, Yard explains why recipes are written the way they are: HOW butter, eggs, sugar and flour work together on a chemical level, WHY some cookies are crunchy and some are chewy and HOW to fix a curdled or otherwise unsuccessful batter/sauce/dough. Once the reader can understand the science behind baking recipes, they have the tools to create their own recipes, rather than just copying someone else’s (for a cooking version of this concept, I recommend "What's a Cook to Do" by James's a lifesaver at my house).

This book has me realizing that experiments like my cupcake one do not have to remain mysterious failures. With a few tweaks, I may be able to create a perfectly delicious lavender buttermilk cupcake with lemon curd cheesecake center. A whole new world of baking has been opened up (my brother jokes that the mad scientist can return to her laboratory and my Mum sighs that we'll have to start buying butter and flour at Costco again...such comedians).

Frankly, the book is genius. If you are looking for a book of dessert recipes, this is not the one for you. However, if you want to learn, really learn and not just mimic, how to make the basics that almost all dessert recipes are based on, this is the perfect book. I look forward to cracking it open this weekend and making my own notes in the margins. I guarantee that this is a book I will want to pass on to my kids and grandkids.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Best Smoothie Recipe!

Last night, my friend Shannon texted me to say she had discovered the ultimate smoothie recipe. I was intrigued for several reasons. First, Shannon (known affectionately as Shorty) is a competitive athlete with a picky palate, so I knew her creation would be both healthy and genuinely delicious. Second, this is the girl who failed apically at making EZ Mac in college, so any cooking achievement is to be lauded. And third, she is also an avid crafter (particularly with fabric and yarn projects) so she was a shoe-in as guest writer for this blog. She also has her own blog which I encourage you to check out at Here is what Shannon has to say about exercise, food, craft ideas and life in general:

So I have diagnosed myself as ADHD because I have an incredibly short attention span and I can't seem to sit still for an extended period of time.  I do triathlons of varying lengths, marathons, and love to craft.  After being able to meet literally hundreds of people at various competitions I have determined that being ADD/ADHD is a very common trait in triathletes, that or it's a side effect of all the training we do and high energy level we all have from our training.  

All of the runners have technical gear, their own superstitions/rituals, and nutrition that they follow before and during every race.  I've had nearly the same nutrition routine for the past couple of years and have been looking for something new in order to add some variety to my diet.  Running miles, biking miles, swimming hundreds of laps, and weight lifting takes a toll on your body so in order to recover properly and be ready for the next day you need to give your body the fuel it needs.  My post workout routine typically includes stretching, shower, and chocolate milk of form.  I prefer Silk Soy milk with milk chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast.  That combination gives you a drink that is about 16 fl oz with 12g of protein. I could get more protein in my drink by using a different powder but after some of my experiences those other higher protein powders leave a weird taste in my mouth, have a strange texture, and I just simply don't like having to chew something I'm trying to drink.  

I have been on the look out for new smoothie ideas and finally decided to make my own.  I have a new obsession with smoothies and decided that it would be a lot easier on my budget if I simply learned how to make my own, also I get to experiment with different flavors and supplements without spending $5 or more per drink.  My experiment yesterday was a huge success!  What you'll need for my experimental smoothie:

1 cup Mango (I used Dole Fresh Frozen mango chunks because I am too impatient to peel and cut up my own)
5 or 6 large Strawberries (those I actually cut up myself)
1 packet chocolate Carnation instant breakfast
4-8 oz Tropical V8 Splash (depending on how thick you want your drink)

I blended the mango, strawberries, and V8 until fairly smooth before adding the Carnation because I didn't want the powder to stick to the bottom of the blender.  The end result has enough chocolate flavor to satisfy any chocolate lover while still enough fruit to make it a great fruit smoothie.  This drink is about 250-300 calories which is high for a drink, but considering a 20 oz smoothie at Smoothie King has between 300-750 calories this isn't too bad.  The Smoothie King Peanut Power Plus Grape is 749 calories for 20 oz and only has 6g of protein.  Mine has 5g of protein for a 12 oz glass and about 300 calories.  All of my smoothie didn't quite fit in my glass but it was so good that I didn't mind topping it off to finish the rest.  The entire blender had 5g of protein and slightly over 300 calories, loads of Vitamin C.  I have a strong feeling that as my training progresses this summer that a nice cold smoothie with lots of protein and vitamins will be just what my body needs after long hot runs and rides!

About that crafting bit earlier.  Who doesn't love home made gifts or just making treats out of bright colored fabric, yarn, and paint?  Recently my fiance and I bought a house which means that my crafting area has exploded.  It originally only took up a bookshelf and a couple boxes along a wall in our little apartment, now it takes over an entire bedroom.  

My summer crafting is kind of lean because being buried under yarn and fabric is just too warm, not to mention I love being outside in the sun!  I am far more crafty during the winter when I don't want to go outside to train because I  would much rather stay curled up under a blanket and knit, sew, or read. Fortunately for the crafting part of my brain there are quite a few weddings this summer, and a couple of my friends are having babies which means lots of crafting opportunities!  

My new baby tradition includes a baby quilt and a diaper bag/purse for mom.  I don't have a wedding tradition yet but after this summer I'm certain I'll come up with something.  Last winter I was quite busy and was able to knit 8 scarves, 3 hats, 10 pairs of wrist warmers, sew 4 quilts, 2 aprons, 3 purses, a set of 6 place mats, knit 2 sets of 4 dish cloths all between October and Christmas!  

Well the sun is shining and I've been sitting for about half an hour, I think that I am now feeling a 9 mile run!  Happy training!