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Archive for August, 2011

You know what I love about baking? It allows me to put together all these random things I enjoy, and happen to be somewhat good at (I think). I could never figure out what I wanted to do all throughout my growing up, and even after I “grew up.” I was always good with numbers and logic, but never wanted to be a mathematician or accountant or analyst. I like figuring things out but never had the passion to be a scientist or do research or investigate homicides. I like creating things but being an architect just didn’t hit the spot for me (and if you’ve seen my burn and cut marks you’d know that I should never ever have a hammer and nail in my possession). I started writing poetry in the 8th grade, and thought I really enjoyed it and hence wanted to be a writer and started going to PSU for an English major, but it’s funny that I found myself more often in the kitchen then with my nose in a book. But baking still affords me the creative outlet that writing did, just in a visual way.

So there you have it. I get to geek out with numbers while my scientific side figures out why a recipe does or doesn’t work, all the while I’m creating this (hopefully) beautiful piece of edible art (doubly rewarding) that I get to be creative not only with its production but also in photographing it, and then when all is said and done, I get to write about it! What could be better? I love it when things just all seem to come together.

But, what I don’t love about baking is that sometimes things just don’t work out. I’ve made three different desserts in the last week or so and none of them have really turned out as planned. First I made a coffee cake with blackberries, bananas and concentrated pineapple juice. It was actually pretty tasty but the streusel recipe I used didn’t have anywhere near the amount of butter it should have had so the top of the cake wasn’t exactly superb.

Then I made key lime pie. Well, I made lime pie – where the hell they keep those key limes I’ll never know but I couldn’t find any. And when I was googling vegan key lime pie recipes I didn’t really like anything I saw. So I went to my Professional Baking textbook and looked up the classic version: two cans condensed milk, two eggs, lime juice. The idea is that the acid in the limes coagulates the proteins in the eggs, firming up your pie without baking it. I don’t know if lime juice coagulates tofu proteins but I gave it a shot, with the help of some agar agar… and I made my own vegan condensed milk. Crazy? Maybe, but the pie actually worked. The coconut whip cream that I was going to put on top did not however, so I don’t have a very pretty picture. I have an idea on how to stabilize the coconut whip though, so maybe next time.

And then a couple days ago I made a chocolate merlot cake. I’ve made chocolate merlot cupcakes before but, though they taste good, you can’t really taste the wine. So I poured some wine in a pan and reduced it by half – this evaporates the water and concentrates the flavors. The cake tasted ok but still not merloty enough for me. And my icing was just all wrong (texture was jacked – think I’m going to stop using vegan shortening). I attempted to do rosettes over the whole thing but screwed it up so…

So, all this is why there haven’t been any totally awesome (or kind of interesting) baking posts in the last week. Maybe the fourth time is the charm? Hopefully my oven will give me a little more love next time I visit him.

Have a great weekend!

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A reader of my blog emailed me last night asking that I post something about an accident that happened in Los Angeles back in June.

16 year old Carissa Bodner was with a large group of bicyclists late in the night on June 16th when a drunk driver evidently plowed right into them, sending Carissa and I believe several others flying. Carissa survived the crash but her and her family are now facing monstrous hospital bills and the road to recovery is still very long ahead of them. Below are links to a more in-depth blog posting, news reports and other information regarding this incident.

The family is asking for help raising the $3,000 they need to pay “co-pays” in order for the insurance to pick up the remaining tab. From what I’ve read so far, the police report/ investigation is taking some time to conclude so many things are still unclear and unsettled – such as if the women driving the car had insurance or not.

I do not know Carissa, her family or the woman who emailed me and asked that I re-post. I decided to re-post because it seemed the least that I could do to help. I am not asking that you donate to the cause – if you decide to do so that is entirely up to you. I am simply asking you to take a minute and look at what has transpired. Drinking and driving is a major problem in this country. People don’t ever intend to go out and get hammered and then jump in their car and crash into people on the way home, but it continues to happen all the time.

Personally, I am also a biker. Portland is a very bicycle-friendly town but it’s still scary out there riding beside cars when you’ve got nothing around your body to protect you. I don’t often bike at night because I am afraid of exactly what happened to Carissa happening to me; this whole thing hits very close to home for me. It wasn’t me this time but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be tomorrow. So everyone, be careful out there. Go out, have fun, drink away, but don’t drive home. Take a bus, a cab, the light rail – anything but your own car. You never know what’s going to happen.

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Bread. Lots of it. I’ve always loved bread. And luckily I’ve always had the metabolism to allow me to eat a bunch of it without it really showing. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m seriously sick of bread. Seriously.

The past two weeks of culinary school have been nothing but bread. Whole wheat bread. Potato rosemary bread. Pitas. Pane pugliese. Ciabatta. Focaccia. Pain au Levain. Sourdough. Rye bread. Pane di como. Pizza. Etc. Etc. Etc. We’ve got more bread than we know what to do with. It freezes well, thank god, but we have a tiny freezer. It’s jam packed right now.

But wait, there’s more! We’ve got baguettes, bread sticks, olive rolls, whole wheat rolls, butterbraids, pretzels, bagels and other items that I just can’t remember at the moment.

The good news is that I’ve learned a whole hell of a lot about making bread. I’ve been making my own pizza dough, pitas, tortillas and sandwich bread for quite sometime, but I’ve never had anybody show me the right way to do it, and the internet is crammed full of people telling you the wrong way to do things (not that they do this on purpose, they just don’t know any better). For example, you don’t actually “punch” your dough down. You fold it; three times actually. And recipes that tell you to “rest for 20 minutes” really aren’t guiding you in the right direction because for them it might take 20 minutes, but your kitchen might be cooler so it could take 30 minutes. And technically resting is what happens after you punch down, portion and round your dough (and you only want to rest for 10 minutes). The resting that takes place once you’ve formed your bread is called proofing.

So it’s been a wonderful learning experience. It’s also been an eye opener for me, in regards to seeing just how much you can accomplish in a small amount of time. The other night I mixed, fermented, folded, portioned, rounded, rested, formed, proofed and baked two breads, formed, proofed and baked another loaf, made three different pre-ferments (yeast starters) for bread to be made the following day, scaled out ingredients and had my dishes and work bench clean all within three hours. I was really quite tired afterward. =) But it’s great to be pressed to the limit sometimes so you can see what you are capable of. But now I’d like a vacation. I very long one. Full of mai tais and sun tan lotion.

I’m not going to write out recipes for all these breads but if you’d like one of them or need info on how the process works please feel free to email me. AND… I just might get the chance to bake something at home next week, so there’s possibly another blog post in the immediate future. =)

Until then, have a great weekend! And enjoy the sun, if your city is so kind to give you any (Portland’s being a little stingy with it… still).

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