Monday, June 22, 2009

By far, the best blogpost on Peruvian food. And it's not mine.

My friend Jenn just clued me into this blog by one of her favorite artists. Apparently, she just spent two weeks in Peru, studying art and eating.

This is one of the best blog posts on Peruvian food I've seen, and it makes me want to hop a flight.

Beware - the photos on this blog may cause involuntary and excessive drooling.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chiffon Cake, Part II

My father loves orange-flavored desserts, due to his Italian upbringing. Put a little orange extract or a little almond extract (or both!) in a batter and he'll demolish every little crumb. Biscotti, amaretti cookies, pignolis, cannoli (is the singular of cannoli "cannolus?), any scented Italian pastry or cookie is fair game.

Instead of trying the mocha cake again, I decided to make the orange version in honor of Father's Day. I love you, Dad!

Well, after my first chiffon cake disaster, I decided to try it again with the Joy of Baking recipe. What a difference the extra cup of flour makes! The batter was much more viscous, the meringue more stable (from the addition of cream of tartar and three tablespoons of sugar), which made everything fold together so much nicer.

Here's the cake as it was coming out of the oven. See how tall it got? Tall like the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and other masterpieces. Also, I have a kick-ass Top Chef oven mitt. I know you want one.

After 55 minutes of baking, I used my extremely technical and advanced tool to check the middle of the cake. It's a bamboo skewer. It's all-powerful. It's the iPhone of kitchen appliances.

You have cool the cake upside down, which is why the pan has the little prongs. There are two reasons for this, I think. First, if you cool the cake right-side-up, it will fall like a souffle - keeping the cake upside-down sets the proteins in the meringue and keeps them from collapsing.

Second, the air needs to cool the bottom, the sides, and the top evenly and completely (for about 2-3 hours).

Here's the finished product. I glazed the top of the cake before serving, and it was delightfully moist and tender, even three days after baking!


1 cup confectioner's sugar
3-4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest

Mix ingredients together and pour over cake.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chiffon Cake Catastrophe

For the longest time, about four months, I've been hankering to make a tall, fluffy chiffon cake like the one I made in Birmingham while I lived with Donna Florio (Senior Food Writer for Southern Living, and a good friend). The one I made there, as you can see, was nearly perfect. Tall, lemon-scented, and very moist.

Chiffon cakes are pretty close to angel food cakes, which you've probably seen/heard of/tasted at some point. Angel food cakes are basically whipped egg whites (meringue) combined with dry ingredients like flour, baking soda, etc. The only difference for chiffon cakes is that instead of dry ingredients being folded into the meringue, it's a batter (usually flavored) being folded gently into the egg whites. It's a fun, versatile cake that generally yields gorgeous results.

Not last night.

I finally found a pan that would work at Jo-Ann, Etc.

Do you like the kittens in the background? I do.

The thing about the cake is that it needs to creep up the sides of the baking vessel and stick to something to achieve that height. Non-stick pans just don't do the trick. I'm not sure why the only kind of pans I found for angel food cake/chiffon cakes were non-stick, because that totally defeats the purpose. I finally found a non-non-stick pan, and set to work.

The book I used is called Baking Illustrated, by the magazine Cook's Illustrated, a generally reliable magazine for extremely...well...we'll say "picky" cooks. Cook's Illustrated tests and retests their recipes over and over and over again using different methods and different varieties of ingredients to eventually end up with the flagship recipe for brownies, grilled steaks, banana bread, or other classic recipes. I figured this would be a good starting place. For the cake I made in Birmingham, I used Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible, another go-to favorite for bakers.

There were several variations listed for the Chiffon Cake. Banana nut, Chocolate marble, Date-Spice, Lemon/Lemon-Coconut, Mocha-Nut, and Orange/Orange-Cranberry. I'd just bought some new T-discs for my Tassimo, so I settled on the Mocha-Nut, which calls for 3/4 C espresso instead of water, and some shaved chocolate, and ground toasted walnuts. YUM!

While mixing up the batter, it felt extremely loose to me. Not like a cake batter at all, more like a crepe batter, or...just not a cake batter.

Here is the result.


The cake didn't rise, and for some reason, the batter just sunk to the bottom of the pan and made this rubbery, eggy layer on the bottom. Gross.

I pored over the recipe for about an hour, trying to figure out what went wrong. Then I went to the Joy of Baking website to compare. There's an obvious typo in the Baker's Illustrated book. It calls for 1 1/3 C cake flour, and every other formula I looked at called for 2 1/4 or 2 1/3 C of cake flour. That extra cup sure does make a difference.

I'll be trying again tonight; I'm just mildly pissed that I wasted 7 eggs and 4 Tassimo Espresso T-discs. But that's cooking, right?

Here's the recipe from the Joy of Baking that I'll be using this evening for the Orange Chiffon Cake.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Top Chef: Masters" Episode 1

Before I begin with my thoughts on the mini-season of Top Chef:Masters, I have to say, I'm starting to think that Top Chef really jumped the shark last season when they name Hosea (mediocrity) Top Chef instead of Stefan (perfection), mostly due to the fact that Stefan was completely unlikable as a character. They compromised skill for character, and that's not what cooking is all about. Cooking is about skill, technique, and inspiration. Hosea made some of the most boring food I'd ever seen (but not tasted, to be fair). Boring food does not a Top Chef make.

On to the show, though. I am excited for Top Chef: Masters, because it's a complete departure from the up-and-coming young punks and a focus on seasoned chefs making well-seasoned food, although I have a feeling that I'll eventually refer to Lefebvre (later in the season) as a "young punk." I really wasn't expecting the layout for the show, pitting only four chefs against each other to win a spot in the final challenge, but I suppose asking 24 master chefs from all over the country to leave their restaurants for 6 weeks for filming was probably too much. The layout makes sense.

In this episode, Chefs Hubert Keller (of Fleur de Lys, a former Top Chef judge), Christopher Lee (of Aureole), Tim Love (of Lonesome Dove), and Michael Schlow (of 606 Congress) went head to head to, first create a dessert to be judged by four Girl Scouts, and second, cook a three-course meal in a college dorm room using only a microwave, a hot plate, and a toaster oven. The elimination challenges are judged by Gael Greene, Gail Simmons, James Oseland (my future boss), and Jay Rayner.

The host, Kelly Choi, is adorable; more polished than Katie Lee Joel, but still approachable like Padma Lakshmi. I miss Padma, though. She wears skinny jeans like no one can.

Note: When the show was introducing Tim Love, they showed his little Texas flags on top of his dishes as they went out to the dining room. TEXAS TOOTHPICK FLAGS. Anyone who knows me knows how irritated I get when there are inedible things on my plate. This includes sprigs of rosemary or gratuitous branches of thyme. Wow. If I ordered a twenty-dollar steak and a tiny Texas flag was skewered in it, I'd probably walk out. Sorry. The kitsch isn't worth it.

The Dessert Challenge was fun. As one chef who has actually had dessert/pastry experience, I can see how trying to make an exciting dessert without any experience would be extremely difficult. I loved the red-haired Girl Scout and her brutal critiques that made the chefs cringe. She was so honest and unafraid.

Also, as soon as I saw Keller's little whipped cream quenelle mouse on the plate, with the cute little almond ears and chocolate tail, I almost squealed with glee. I would have voted for that immediately. I must have more whipped cream quenelle mice in my life. It's no wonder they gave him 5 stars.

Elimination Challenge: I think it's sad that executive chefs forget how to grocery shop. I love grocery shopping. I also think it's sad that they don't generally make pork chops. Bone-in pork chops are one of life's pleasures.

Surprise! The master chefs will not only be cooking dorm-room style, they'll be cooking in an ACTUAL dorm room, complete with students!

One note about the pasta showering thing Hubert Keller did. That's gross. I have to agree with James Oseland on that one. TMI. I remember how the showers were at BYU when I shared a shower hall with 25 girls. It wasn't completely clean all the time, and wow. I wouldn't have set the colander on that shower seat. No way.

I was impressed with those students at the judging table. When I was in college, I really had no idea about gourmet food, and the idea of a scallop carpaccio or salmon crudo (with popcorn!) probably would have scared the pants off me.

Critics Table: I miss Ted Allen and Colicchio. It seems like the fun is totally gone from the Table. The seems like a total departure from the original Top Chef, a great example of how the right combination of personality can really change the dynamic of the show.

The great thing about these chefs is that they're not afraid to take risks. The risotto made by Christopher Lee was really an issue. To do risotto on a hot plate in a dorm room and then serve it to the likes of the critics is pretty ballsy. If this was a usual Top Chef episode. We'd probably see a lot of maple-seared salmon and microwaved, instant rice tossed with dried fruit, chervil, and walnuts. That's probably what I would have done. Boring.

I was glad Keller won. Lee just seems a little too cocky for me, and Schlow didn't translate well to camers (a little sluggish for my taste), and man, Tim Lee, please get rid of those stupid toothpick flags.

Learn to make Hubert Keller's Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese dish HERE!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Victims: Strollos, Beluga, What-a-Burger

Time for some unfortunate news. Three decent (not fabulous, decent) restaurants have gone the way of the economy and shut their doors: Strollo's Cucina Due in Winter Park, Beluga in Winter Park, and all of the Central Florida What-A-Burger restaurants (3, I think). I'll offer eulogies for these establishments now.

I only went to Strollo's once, but I was so impressed with their array of artisan dry pastas. I now regret not buying several boxes of bucatini (thick spaghetti with holes through the center, perfect for carbonara), and about a case of Orangina. The goat-cheese/portobello panini I had for lunch was divine, and they didn't scrimp on the goat cheese, an error too many places make. Strollo's had a gorgeous case of cheeses, olives, and salumis, perfect for organizing a cocktail platter, and they offered cooking classes in their fully-equipped cooking class kitchen, located in the far corner of the restaurant. It's really too bad this place is gone. Really.

My theory: too many things going on at once. Either do a case of deli food, bread baking, pastries, be an ethnic food store, have a cafe, and do cooking classes SEPARATELY, or don't do them at all. If you try too many things at once, you'll most likely implode.

As for Beluga, I read several articles online talking about why Beluga closed, and there was no conclusive evidence until I actually went to the location, in the Winter Park Village, and saw the property lien tacked to the glass doors. Non-payment of taxes can be a bitch - ask Wesley Snipes. I never went to Beluga, but it always looked swanky and fun, with potentially good signature cocktails. I guess I'll never know. I always imagined delicate caviar served on ice with shots of smooth vodka on the side. Probably unrealistic, but I'll just leave my dreams where they are.

My theory:
Pay your taxes.

To me, the real tragedy is the What-A-Burger. Orlando has such a hard restaurant market to crack, but these guys really knew how to make a burger. I would choose a What-A-Burger over most of the fancier burger joints (did I just say 'fancy burger joints'?) like Graffiti or Hue. The fact that I could order pickled jalapenos on my burger was such a plus. Their fries were amazing. I miss the breakfast burrito.
Sure, Five Guys does burgers better than almost everyone, but I held a special spot in my heart for What-A-Burger. During the early days of my relationship with my current boyfriend, after a long night of watching horror movies or "studying," What-A-Burger would often be the only thing still open, and we'd frequent the place as a midnight love snack. You'll be missed, What-A-Burger. You can read the full What-A-Burger story here, from the Sentinel.

My theory:
No one will take down McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's. To be honest, I'm surprised Sonic is still in business. But they have the girls-on-roller-skates thing going for them.

My sources tell me that the Drunken Monkey coffee bar on Bumby might be in trouble as well. They've cut down their menu severely (only 3 fabulous soups now, instead of the usual 6 or 7), as well as recently raised their prices. All signs of a nervous captain and crew.

My theory:
Dunkin' Donuts. Also, I love the Drunken Monkey, but their service is horribly slow and they closed down briefly last year for health code violations. Pick your poison. Doomed from the start, in my opinion. Unfortunately.