February 29, 2008

Surrendering to the challenge...

Sometimes the challenge is in finding the ingredients (or the implements)...

Sometimes the challenge is in a new technique, like pastry crust...

Or a scary one, like caramelizing sugar...

This month the ingredients were simple ones: flour, salt, water and yeast. And the recipe... the recipe was what our hostess called Julia's 18-page love letter to French bread, a treatise on combining simple ingredients into bakery-worthy bread. What I love about Julia is that her recipes and her techniques are accessible to the home cook. She takes something you're convinced you'll never master, walks you through the process, at the end of which you've done it. You've beaten boeuf bourguignon and bouillabaisse, conquered cassoulet and coq a vin.

In February, the challenge for me wasn't about the ingredients or the technique. It was about carving out the time. And I regret that between professional and personal commitments, I wasn't able to fit it in this month. So you'll have to check out the Daring Baker Blogroll to see how my brothers and sisters in pastry fared with this month's challenge.

I'm sorry Mary. I'm sorry Sara. Know that I was with you in spirit. And that when I *do* make the time to work through this recipe (and I *will*) , it will be in the spirit of the challenge the two of you presented...

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February 26, 2008

Better with Butter (Healthier with Whole Wheat)

When Ashley of Eat Me, Delicious announced that this week's Dorie recipe would be Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits, I had mixed reactions.

On the positive side, I was looking forward to a sabbatical from sweets, and traditional breakfast fare would fit well into my Saturday routine -- the only open space in a busy week and weekend. On the downside, I've had my share of challenges with the butter-flour combination, and (admitting that my childhood experience with them centers around the Pillsbury Dough Boy) biscuits aren't high on my list of favorite foods.

But these challenges are about stretching my skills and reaching outside of my comfort zone. And it was kind of appropriate that this breakfast would fuel my first session with my new personal tormentor trainer. What better pre-workout treat than homemade biscuits?

Like last week I strayed slightly from the published recipe, incorporating a half cup of whole wheat pastry flour and opting out of the pecans, which aren't a favorite in my household. The result? Yum! Move aside Pillsbury...I've found a biscuit I can get excited about and a recipe I'll definitely return to.

Check out fifty-some other experiences with this recipe at the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll.

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February 23, 2008

Click! Flour!

I've watched from the sidelines as you interpreted the image of the incredible, edible egg. Negotiated the art of the noodle and the nut. And captured the motion of liquid love in megapixels. In awe of your creative genius.

My little point and shoot camera and I are simply not worthy.

But when flour was announced as February's photographic focus, I knew I wanted a part of the action. Don't get me wrong... my photography's still not prize-winning material. But it's something I'm proud of and wanted to share.

I took these photographs last summer when I tried my hand at the very first Daring Baker challenge: the soft pretzel. I was mostly playing with the settings on my camera and not expecting a lot... but I love the "before, during and after" theme I inadvertently captured here. I hope you like it too.

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February 20, 2008

Pesto? Caprese?

I got this one from Glenna...

Mindless and amusing... just what I needed on a rainy Wednesday evening.

You Are Basil

You are quite popular and loved by post people.

You have a mild temperament, but your style is definitely distinctive.

You are sweet, attractive, and you often smell good.

February 19, 2008

Glorious Gateau

Today my lean six sigma team launches the customer survey that will define our project's scope and direction...

I've spent the last two weeks suspended in survey questions, tweaking and testing and tweaking some more to ensure we're exploring every avenue, asking the right things the right way...

I managed to make my Lemon Meringue Tarts within days of the January Daring Baker challenge post date, but it's taken me three weeks to get the post up...

I've got outlines and drafts galore, but less than two months in I'm several weeks behind at the whole Blog 365 thing...

Yeah, this is the PERFECT time to take on yet another challenge in the kitchen.

But I've been drooling over other people's posts for far too long now. Tuesday's with Dorie, here I come...

Dorie belongs to the 'three D' club in my kitchen... I discovered her (and David Lebovitz and Donna Hay) with a little help from my ever-expanding blog network. (And they each own at least partial responsibility for my ever-increasing waistline).

Brought to us by Nikki over at Crazy Delicious, today's challenge is an "Almost Fudge" Gateau. "Almost Fudge" indeed.

In a belated tribute to Valentine's Day, I baked these in the small heart shaped springforms I purchased for last summer's award winning "Peabody". One recipe filled four little pans and each heart-shaped treat serves four without leaving anyone deprived or overwhelmed. Guilt-free indulgence, my favorite kind!

Except for the downsizing, I followed the recipe as published, and dressed it up with the last remnants of of Tierra's Strawberry Chipotle Jam. The result: a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, rich and creamy chocolate love.

Thanks Dorie! Thanks Nikki! Thanks Laurie! Can't wait to try next week's recipe...

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February 11, 2008

A rose by any other name...

When Nicole paired me with Steph over at the Cupcake Project for Taste & Create VI, it took no time at all to decide which of her recipes I would try.

Those of you who've been reading for a while are already aware of my slightly incestuous love affair with Nutella. If Nutella represents a smooth and rich older cousin of sorts, the Ferrero Rocher is my sweet and sassy niece. Born in 1982 she grew up one of the most popular kids in her class.

And Steph makes a divine cupcake inspired by the chocolate hazelnut goodness of the Ferrero Rocher. I made a couple of modifications to her recipe -- some worked really well and others came back to bite me in the (_]_). I started by substituting half of the white flour for hazelnut flour, which gave my cupcakes a bit more hazelnut punch and a nice hearty texture. Then, since the European version of this chocolate delight carries a bit of an alcoholic punch, I spiked my gooey filling with a splash of Frangelico... enough to cause my tasters to take notice without impairing their ability to drive.

The one place where I wish I'd followed the recipe more carefully was in filling the cupcake foils. Steph is very clear... fill them half way as the cakes will rise. But since she said the recipe makes twelve cupcakes and I thought perhaps the hazelnut flour would calm them down a bit (yeah, and because I was too lazy to reach up into the cupboard for a second cupcake tin), I got a bit overzealous in the filling... and my cupcakes runneth over. Fortunately the deep rich chocolate ganache hides a world of sins. So while they may not be as pretty as Steph's, they taste quite nice.

Next time I make these (and there *will* be a next time), I'm going to try them in mini-muffin tins, so they more closely resemble their confectionery cousin.

Oh, and Steph? That's pronounced feh-REH-roh roh-CHAY...

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