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Archive for June, 2012

How To Fill Cupcakes

Friday, June 29th, 2012

I never realized how easy it is to fill cupcakes.  It definitely takes some extra time, but the results are well worth the extra effort.

To fill my cupcakes, I used a corer that I picked up when I purchased my mini cupcake pan.  I have a feeling I’ll be using this corer a lot more in the future.

I inserted the corer into the cupcakes once they were fully cooled.  I twisted the corer slowly in a circle and slowly removed the corer.  I gently removed the circle of cake to place over the filling later.

 

Fill a pastry bag with the cupcake filling.  To steady the pastry bag, I folded the edge of a bag over a tall cup and then filled the pastry bag.  Pipe the filling into the hole left from the corer.

Once the cupcake is filled, replace the round piece of cake from the corer.  Then, frost the cupcakes!

There are several other techniques to fill cupcakes.  Some articles I read on the subject mentioned corers, others mentioned small biscuit cutters, and still others mentioned using injection tips to fill cupcakes with completely smooth fillings.  Now that I have a corer, I think I’m going to stick with this method.

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Playing with my food… food photography that is!

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

My very generous husband got me a new camera for Christmas.  I love my old school film SLR, but I must say, that I really love the new digital camera.  Since my present arrived, I’ve been playing around with all the features, from taking black and white photos to the landscape and macro settings.

The thing I love most about this camera, though, is the instant gratification of seeing what lighting setting looks best.  I don’t have to worry about wasting expensive film, and I don’t have to wait weeks or, I’m not going to lie, in some cases, years to see my masterpieces.

I’m going to call this my study in tomatoes.

Not to sound like Goldilocks, but one of these is too light, one is too dark, and one is just right.  The one on the left is what I’m calling just right.  You get the nice red color of these cherry tomatoes.

That being said, there are two things I don’t like about this photo.  First of all, it was taken at night.  I read an article a while back about how much of a difference natural light makes in food photography.  Looking back at these photos now, since they were taken back in February, I can see the difference.

Second, I don’t like the white balance in the cutting board.  The cutting board looks a little yellowish, which I don’t think is very appetizing.  Other articles I’ve read about food photography note how important a white background is.  While I don’t think it’s essential (I personally love the photography on Smitten Kitchen, and she rarely uses a white background), if you’re going to use a white background, it needs to be really white.  I will not be using this cutting board as a background again anytime soon.

So, what have I learned from this exercise?

  1. Using a tripod makes a huge difference.  You are better able to control the lighting by allowing for longer exposure times without worrying about the camera shaking.
  2. Play around with the height of the tripod.  I almost always had the legs fully extended. As a result, I was always shooting at a downwards angle.  I recently tried not extending the legs completely and instead extended, what I’m calling, the neck.  The difference was astounding and will change how I shoot going forward.
  3. Just like plating in a restaurant, the background of your photos makes a huge difference.  Pay attention to what the food looks like against the surface you’re shooting it against.
  4. Natural lighting helps make your photos look more vibrant.  Even if you’re playing with the light readings on your camera, natural light is much more pleasing in the final photos.
  5. Composition matters.  Use the rule of thirds.
  6. Pay attention to how food on your favorite blogs is shot.  You’ll learn a lot just from looking at other people’s photos.


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Pick of the Week

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

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Vanilla Spiced Caramel Pear Tart

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

I have never fancied myself a baker.  Especially since moving to Colorado, recipes I thought I had mastered didn’t work so well.  After many failed attempts, I gave up.  That is, until recently, when I again took up the challenge of baking in the Rockies.  If I do say so myself, I made several awesome desserts:  Alsatian Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Friands, Dulce De Leche Cupcakes, and Apple Caramel Upside Down Cake.

So, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, and my mother-in-law and I were trading recipe ideas, I was pretty confident that I could make what I thought was a pretty complicated tart recipe at sea level.  Considering there was only one slice left after dinner, I would say my efforts were successful.

Vanilla Spiced Caramel and Pear Tart (adapted from Bon Appeitit)

1 Sheet Puff Pastry

For the Pears:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cinnamon stick

3 whole star anise

3 whole cloves

pinch of salt

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

6 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut in half lengthwise

For the filling

1/2 stick unsalted butter

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 cinnamon sticks

2 whole star anise

6 whole cloves

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

pinch of salt

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 egg white, beaten

 

Roll out the puff pastry into a 12 inch square.  Trim the edges to make a round crust.  Transfer the pastry into a 10-inch springform pan.  Press the pastry firmly into the bottom and sides of the pan.  Cover and freeze until firm.  The original recipe indicates this should take about an hour and a half, but I just left the crust in the freezer overnight.

Start by preparing the pears.  Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over low heat.  Add the sugar, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and salt.  Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the mixture and add the bean.  Increase the heat to medium high.  Stir until the sugar melts and turns brown.  Once the sugar is melted, add the pears, rounded side down.  Cook until the pears are almost tender, about 15 minutes.  Be sure to move the skillet around frequently to ensure even cooking.  Carefully turn the pears and cook until very tender, another 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and cool the pears in the caramel mixture.

Next, prepare the filling.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Scrape in the vanilla bean seeds and add the bean.  Add the cinnamon, star anise, and cloves.  Increase the heat to medium, and cook until the butter is golden.  Remove the vanilla bean and the spices from the butter.  Whisk the sugar, egg, and salt in a bowl.  Slowly add the browned butter to the egg mixture.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Brush the puff pastry with the beaten egg white.  Pour the filling into the crust, spreading it evenly over the bottom of the crust.  There isn’t much filling, so it will be very thin. (I almost didn’t haven enough to cover the crust.)  Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears from the skillet.  Drain the excess syrup into the skillet, and place the pears, rounded side up, in the filling.  Reserve the syrup in the skillet.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set and brown at the edges, about an hour.  Let the tart stand uncovered until warm.  Before serving, reduce the syrup and discard the spices.  Serve the tart with the syrup.  I also served mine with some vanilla whipped cream.

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Star Anise Versus Star Fruit

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

What do you mean these things are not the same?  You might think this is a laughable subject.  Clearly, star anise and star fruit are not the same thing.  Alas, a few months ago, I went to the grocery store in search of star anise, per my recipe, but I was looking in the produce department for star fruit.

I’m not sure how I was so convinced that star anise would be in the produce department as star fruit would be.  Thinking about it logically, anise seed would be in the spice aisle, but for some reason, I kept thinking star fruit, which I was first introduced to as a teenager and did not like.  While searching for star anise, I was exasperated that I could not find anything in the produce section.  As I eventually thought that I might be looking in the wrong place (I didn’t have cell service, so I couldn’t check my iPhone for what I should be looking for or substitutes)  I was equally exasperated when I couldn’t find anything in the spice aisle.

What was I doing wrong?  Well, note to self:  make sure you know what your ingredients are before you head to the supermarket.  So, allow me to explain the difference between these star shaped ingredients.

According to Larousse Gastronomique, star anise is the reddish-brown eight-pointed star shaped fruit of an evergreen shrub native to China, commonly used as a spice.  It is used in the West for making liqueurs and in pastry.  In Asian preparations, however, it is an ingredient of five-spice powder and used as a seasoning for meat.

Star fruit, or carambola, on the other hand, is a golden star shaped fruit native to the West Indies and Indonesia.  The flesh of this fruit is acidic, and has been described as a combination of apple, pear and citrus.

As I said, I have no reasonable explanation for how I confused these two ingredients.  So, I’m offering this post only as a cautionary tale:  make sure you know what your ingredients are.  Otherwise, you might end up wandering a South Florida Publix looking for an ingredient, while your increasingly worried family calls repeatedly without you answering.  For an explanation as to why I was looking for star anise:  stay tuned for a pear tart that received rave reviews at Thanksgiving.

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On the Docket– Week of June 18, 2012

Monday, June 18th, 2012

From now on, On the Docket will be posted first thing Monday mornings.  I generally cook for the week on Sundays, so I spend a lot of time menu planning over the weekend.  While it takes a lot of time, it’s something I love to do.  Saturday morning, while my husband went mountain biking with a friend, I watched the Food Network and perused all the recipes I’ve clipped, a few magazines, and a couple of cookbooks to pick out a few meals for the week.

A few things I already tried

Broccoli Parmesan Fritters: These were delicious!  Rather than mashing the broccoli with a potato masher, which oddly enough is one of the only kitchen gadgets I don’t own, I put the broccoli in a food processor and pulsed it a couple of times, for a few seconds for each pulse.  My broccoli was a little smaller but still recognizable, as the recipe calls for.  I’ll definitely be adding this recipe to my side dish repertoire.

Nutella Buttercream Frosting: I’ve been on a baking kick lately.  Each time I tell my mom about my baking adventures, she mentions Baked by Melissa, a cupcake shop in New York that specializes in miniature stuffed cupcakes.  Since we’ve been talking about these mini cupcakes so much, I decided to try my hand at making them.  More to come on what I tried.

A few recipes I’ve clipped

Baked Oatmeal:  I’m always looking for breakfasts that my husband and I can take with us to work.  I’ve seen a couple of baked oat meal recipes, and I think it’s about time to give it a try.

Lemon Basil Chicken Salad:  Chicken salad is one of my favorite summer lunches.  This one looks nice and light.  ‘Nuff said.

Grilled Salmon with Chilled Somen: My pantry is a disaster.  I have multiples of a couple items, some half full sauces, andthe remnants of a few ingredients that were purchased for one recipe.  One thing I’m trying to find a use for is a bottle of Ponzu sauce.  This recipe seems to fit the bill, so I’ll give it a shot.

 

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Pick of the Week

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

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On the Docket– Week of June 11, 2012

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

I love Zite and Flipboard.  Every night before I go to bed, or right after I get home from work, I read through the Food and Cooking section on Zite and read the most recent posts from the magazines I’ve added on Flipboard.  As a result, I clip a lot of recipes to try when I have some time.

Here’s what I clipped last week.  I most certainly won’t try them all this week.  Let me know if you have tried any of these or if you have any tips!

Mojito Cupcakes from Brown Eyed Baker:  I think a drink-themed bakery sounds like a great idea.  I recently tried Mint Julep cupcakes for a friend’s Derby party, so I think another cocktail based cupcake would be delicious.

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes:  One, I love potatoes.  Two, twice baked potatoes are one of my husband’s favorite things.  Adding a sweet potato to the mix just sounds delicious.

Mediterranean Chicken Salad:  I’m a big fan of salads for lunch.  This just looked good to add to my repertoire.

Salmon:  I’ve been a salmon kick lately.  I like tried and true recipes, and this seemed to fit the bill.

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Starting Over

Monday, June 11th, 2012

So I think it’s time to start over… with this blog at least.  Over the past year and a half, I have repeatedly ignored this blog. “I’m too busy” and “I don’t know what to write about” were common excuses I made to myself as to why I hadn’t posted.  To be perfectly honest, though, I haven’t posted because I have never been happy with the photography and posts I have published.

Well, that stops now.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog, and my motivation for creating it.  This blog has never been about perfection– it’s a learning experience for me.  It is about what I’ve learned in the kitchen and the photographic evidence of my adventures.  It might not always be pretty, but I would be lying if I claimed all my culinary exploits are successful.

This time, I’m going to do things a little differently– focusing more on what is important to me and on what I learn as I go.

Some things I’m thinking about so far

  • Where do ingredients come from?  I’m not talking about the local supermarket or a farm share program but how were ingredients originally used and how has that changed?  This was inspired by a recent trip to a supermarket, when I thought I was looking for one thing but was really looking for something completely different.
  • What is the history of a particular food item?  Sure, Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake” but what were 18th century French cakes like?  Are they similar to the boxed mixes we can get today?  How do food items evolve?  Is it even possible to answer this question?
  • What distinguishes good food photography from bad?  I’ve never been particularly proud of the photography on this site, but I love photography and want to improve.  How does lighting, background, and your camera impact food photography?
  • Why didn’t this recipe work?  I certainly don’t expect every recipe to be a winner.  That being said, there are times when I try something that, based on previous experience, I think will work pretty well, but it turns into a mini-disaster.  Why does this happen, and how can I prevent it?

While I cannot pretend to have the answers to these questions, these are questions I want to answer for myself.  So here’s to starting over and to many, many attempts to answer these and other questions in the kitchen.

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Pick of the Week

Sunday, June 10th, 2012


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