have you taken a “master’s” class yet?


I had not taken a cooking class in years before this morning. The last cooking class I took was in a beautiful private home in Bryn Mawr. But it was less hands on and more lecture. This cooking class today, an Italian Baking Class, was totally hands on and fun!
The Italian Baking Class is one of the series of baking classes offered by The Master’s Baker in West Chester, PA. The classes are moderately priced and worth every penny!

We arrived at 11 a.m. Parts of our groups were friends, and others like myself, had just signed up by ourselves. I am a decent home cook, but there are plenty of thing I want to learn how to make. Like focaccia. I am not a facile yeast bread person. So this was a great class for me to start with!
We were taken back to the kitchen and were set up in what is normally the large decorating room and split up into pairs. Then the fun began with Pastry Chef Patricia Polin.

The hours flew by as we made Focaccia, Parmesan Rosemary Grissini (like a breadstick), Dolci di Amalfi (almond lemon olive oil cake), and Biscotti.

We learned a lot about the baking process. We baked using a scale- measuring the ingredients by weight.

I loved everything I made except my Biscotti. They are not super attractive because I was impatient cutting them before the twice-baked stage.


It was a lovely group of ladies and I will definitely be taking another class when I find one I want. I highly recommend taking one of the Master’s Baker classes. I am told plans for the future include mommy and me (mother and child) classes, and more!

The Master’s Baker is a fabulous specialty bakery (wedding cakes, custom birthday cakes, and special orders only, no regular bakery cases and street traffic, etc). They are located at 319 West Gay Street, West Chester, PA 19380. We are customers of theirs, which is how I learned about the class I took today.

rainy day kitchen tips

First of all, could it be any more miserable outside today? Since I’m housebound and I had not oiled my wooden spoons and cutting boards in a while, I figured I would do that today as it does not take much time.

Yes, cutting boards and wooden spoons should be oiled.

I can’t take credit for this kitchen tip or kitchen trick, my husband was the one who pointed out the obvious here a few years ago. I noticed in a cupboard he had a bottle of food grade cutting board and wood block oil. I asked what it was for, and he told me. I had never known to do that as much as I cook.

This is totally simple advice and if you take the time to buy the food grade oil, which is mineral oil based, you will extend the life of your cutting boards and your wooden spoons and your butcher block if you have one. Oiling the cutting boards means they don’t warp and don’t dry out. Oh and you won’t get splinters!

I use the Howard brand of cutting board and butcher block oil. I also love their furniture wax and oil.

It is totally simple to oil the cutting boards and wooden spoons. I use paper towels. I put the oil on the paper towel and I gently rub in the direction of the grain.

I should back up. There is a step for the spoons in the cutting boards before I oil them. I read about it somewhere and quite simply it’s you make a paste out of salt and lemon juice to help extra clean your boards and spoons. Or you can just wash them with soap and water and let them dry – I never let them soak in water because they will warp and split. And that goes for both wooden spoons and cutting boards.

I always keep my cutting boards very clean, and I also read that some people use peroxide after they have had raw meat on a cutting board.

Whatever you clean your cutting boards with before you oil them, they must be perfectly dry before you oil them.

When you apply the oil you need to do so evenly. And you need to give it a few hours I think to soak in. If after a few hours anything seems sticky or greasy, buff it up a little bit with clean paper towel to soak up any excess oil. (Again, this cutting board and butcher block oil is food grade and mineral oil based.)

Anyway, it’s such a simple and easy thing to do, and it helps extend the life of your wooden kitchen things. If you use wooden salad bowls and salad servers, you also might want to oil them once in a while as well.

I also oil my kitchen cabinets. They are vintage at this point and original to the house so they need occasional love too. I try to oil my cabinets once a month, and as for the other oiling of cutting boards and wooden spoons it usually ends up being twice a year.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay dry today.

hummus tahini

With the exception of a few short days between the flu and flu related viruses I have now been sick off and on but mostly on since the 28th of December. (On the news when they run through the list of people who are susceptible to flu, especially if they forget to get a flu shot, I’m right up there.

As a result I have become the master of sick food. It has not been a month where I have been overwhelmingly starving. And the foods I have been eating have been pretty basic. A lot of chicken soups, in particular. (I have to tell you having an Instant Pot to make bone broth, soups, and stews has been a god send.)

I am not a big giant sandwich eater for lunch most days so things like yogurt and hummus have also been up there on the list of things which have tasted good to me.

I love hummus tahini. My mother has been making it since we were little. When we were little it was a sure sign of company coming over because it was one of her “go to” hors d’oeuvres kind of things.

I have never really used a recipe to make my hummus. I just watched what my mother did for years and then I have created my own recipes as an adult.

I made it again today and I think it’s extra delicious this time, so I decided to commit the recipe to paper, or blog. (And yes I still have that draft of that unfinished cookbook on my computer desk top and this recipe will be added to it.)

Hummus Tahini Ingredients:

1 extra large can of Goya chickpeas – 1 lb. 13 oz. DRAINED

1 large sweet onion rough chopped

4 large cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 large red bell pepper rough chopped

Juice of two large lemons

A couple of dashes of Cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

Approximately 1/3 cup Tahini paste (you can add more or you can add less – truthfully it’s a matter of personal taste)

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste.

Olive oil and sweet paprika to dress the hummus before refrigerating.

A food processor or a blender that works like one. (I have a Breville blender it seems to do everything except take out the trash.)

Now to put it together…

I put into the blender the red pepper, onion, garlic, cumin, cayenne. I then add a couple of dashes of salt and pepper to taste and blend well.

Then I add the pine nuts and blend well.

Then I add the chickpeas, and blend well again.

Then I add the tahini paste in three parts because it’s a pain to work with and blend some more.

I taste it and adjust the salt and pepper as necessary, and also may add a little more lemon juice or a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar if I don’t think the acid balance is right. The thing about hummus is there is a balance to the acids you add, and when people omit the acid it doesn’t taste as good.

I will also tell you that I know some people who blend the tahini paste and lemon juice first to break down the tahini and make it more pliable. I do that sometimes too, but also breaking the adding of adding tahini in three bits also makes it manageable.

When my hummus tahini is velvety smooth, I put it in its own container and I dress the top of it with a few swirls of olive oil and sweet paprika. I then refrigerate until cold.

Hummus is fabulous with pita bread of course, but also goes well with carrots and other vegetables. it also makes a great base to a vegetarian type sandwich if you are so inclined.

Truthfully hummus is one of my favorite things especially for lunch. And not just when I’m not feeling well. I will buy prepackaged hummus tahini but I still think nothing is better than making it yourself and it’s so simple and takes very little time.

Enjoy!

foodie heaven and worth the wait: whole foods exton, pa

One of my Christmas presents was a lovely gift card to Whole Foods in Exton. Yes, the store we never thought would open. A giant construction project and a corporate buy out by Amazon later, and it finally opened on January 18th.

The Whole Foods in Exton is located at 175 N. Pottstown Pike in Exton. Is easily accessible from 100 and also from 30. The parking lot was a bit of a crush, but when we went today for the first time, a good spot opened up quickly.

I actually think this is the best Whole Foods I have been in. I used to avoid the Wynnewood store because the crowd was obnoxious and the parking lot worth your life. Even re-built in Wynnewood it feels cramped. I never liked the Devon Whole Foods because of the crowd and the parking lot. But Whole Foods Exton? It’s a whole new experience.

I also think Whole Foods Exton is going to kick Wegman’s behind and I will tell you why.

Wegman’s in Malvern is cavernous and dark. The aisle shelving is SO tall in spots you feel isolated in the aisles. I also do not find it well organized and the store since it opened doesn’t flow. You can’t necessarily find things easily, nor necessarily someone to help you when you need it.

I like Wegman’s all right, but I am thinking I am going to like Whole Foods in Exton better. If I managed a Wegman’s I would be “shopping” the Whole Foods in Exton.

When you walk into Whole Foods in Exton, it’s huge but light and airy. You see the mechanicals in the ceiling but the store has loads of natural and electric lighting and as opposed to the darker feeling of a Wegman’s or a Giant, it’s so much better lit.

Wegman’s is also spotlessly clean. And the staff is friendly, well-trained, knowledgeable, and also neatly dressed.

From produce, to the fish market in the store, to the butcher it’s clean and well laid out. First time in the store and I did not have a problem finding anything.

They have a wonderful array of very fresh pre-made food if that is your thing. For pre-packaged food which is NOT my thing, it’s quite appealing. Especially the array of salads and grains and roasted vegetables.

They have an amazing yogurt selection. And breads and bagels ? Yum. Cookies too. I tried a double chocolate chip and it was delicious.

I had way too much fun buying produce and fresh fish that did not smell fishy. One of their great deals today was a shrimp ring for $7.99. The shrimp was incredibly fresh and I loved the cocktail sauce.

Whole Foods in Exton also has a nice in store wine and beer store. Admirable wine selection which was very boutique-like. The beer selection my husband said was o.k. but could stand some improvement. But beer-wise we are spoiled in Chester County by The Beer Store in Lincoln Court Shopping Center on Route 30 in Malvern.The store was mobbed as it was a Saturday, so that was a little overwhelming. It was also at times amusing people watching as there were some folks who were just such serious food people.

There were also some of the Main Line flora and fauna who had ventured west and still shop while on their cell phones.

And of course, the cart zombies. They are the ones who wander and stop, oblivious of all around them. My husband said I was one, and to my fellow shoppers I apologize I was having so much fun checking everything out!We ran into a friend and her kids also checking the store out for the first time. Apparently, her husband was suffering from sticker shock elsewhere in the store.I will say that while things are not quite ACME or GIANT prices since Amazon purchased Whole Foods, the prices are vastly and definitely improved. It won’t necessarily be my every day grocery store all of the time, it is affordable enough to visit far more often than Wegman’s. Hopefully prices stay that way. If prices stay that way, Whole Foods will also eat into the business of Fresh Direct in this area.

Readers, I had a swell time. Can’t wait to go back! Next time I will check out their cafe/juice bar and Pike’s. It was totally worth the wait.

mmmm, that smells good!

I have never had the flu eight or nine days before… before now, that is. And I have had enough chicken soup to cluck. And yes, I make my own soup and bone broth (thanks Instant Pot!) so I know what is in it. Needless to say, I have made a serious dent in my freezer soup supply.

I need to eat something different for dinner, so since the Giant Peapod delivery got through yesterday’s snow and this morning’s roads (yes I do treat myself to this once in a while, no judging), my version of beef stew/ boeuf bourguignon is in the oven now doing the low and slow for a couple of hours.

This recipe will probably seem a little disjointed to some because it’s more like a guide to creating your own version versus a hard and fast recipe that is written down with precise measurements. Sorry, but it’s like when I am making fresh pasta – the measurements of flour I use depends on how the dough feels to me as I put it together.

It’s not hard to make this. It’s a 2 lb pack of stew meat, veggies, one can of crushed tomatoes, half a container of cooking broth, wine, herbs, spices, garlic salt and pepper. I used Herbes de Provence primarily. The fresh vegetables I used this time were mushrooms, two onions (one red and one sweet white), parsnips, small red potatoes, carrots, celery.

I tossed the beef cubes in a bowl with Wondra flour (yes the stuff that is the trick to a less lumpy gravy is also tremendous when you need to toss meat or chicken in flour for browning), Herbes de Provence, garlic, and a little kosher salt.

For this recipe I brown the meat in a combination of olive oil with a little added walnut oil. You go lightly on the walnut oil or the taste will overwhelm your dish. It’s just a couple small dashes and it adds a different flavor layer when you’re cooking.

I browned the beef for like 10 minutes in my big vintage Dansk stew pot or Dutch oven whatever you want to call it, and then added herbs and spices. The additional spices I added included cumin, sweet Hungarian or Spanish paprika (I keep both in my spice rack so it really just depends which I grab at the time), fresh black pepper, a little additional dried rosemary, and a nice pinch of the red chili pepper blend I get from Los Poblanos in New Mexico.

Then I add the onions, followed by the celery, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms. I add a little more salt and pepper to the vegetables. Everything browns together for a little bit (like 10 more minutes) and then I add the tomatoes (1 28 ounce can of crushed) and a half of a bottle of wine. Only a couple of gifted and too upscale reds for stew were in the wine rack so today I used the Rioja Rose I keep in as a Sangria base. And a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce. (I almost forgot!)

I let the alcohol cook off the wine slightly and then I added half a container of Swanson cooking broth. I also add a couple of pieces of orange peel (2″-3″ each- no white.)

I then turned off the stove and put into the pre-heated oven (covered and at 300°.)

It’s now in the oven for a couple of hours on a cook time timer which will shut the oven off completely when it hits two hours. This dish cooked covered in a slow oven, means flavors will meld together nicely.

I love stews and hearty soups in winter. Thanks for stopping by!

vintage cookbook sacrilege

On page 26 of the latest Country Living Magazine (Jan/Feb 2018) they have picked up on a new trend I find to be vintage cookbook sacrilege .

Basically you take cookbooks, tie them together with twine or a cord and jam knives in them.

To me it looks like messy loving hands at home crafting. Also doesn’t make sense from a practical standpoint for a kitchen you actually cook in.

But where I find this to be true vintage cookbook sacrilege is check out the cookbook second from the right above (screen shot of my magazine). One of the most famous and collectible cookbooks of the mid-twentieth century: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, first published in 1961 (and the Volume Two sequel was published in 1970).

O.k. that is just dumb. Forget about the fact this is a cookbook bible that every home chef should have in their cookbook collection (more so than The Joy of Cooking in my opinion), the earlier editions as I previously said are highly collectible….which means if you don’t use it, don’t love it — SELL IT!

As my friend Shirley said, Julia Child’s most famous cookbook should be open on the counter…in an altar setting.

Now I saw this idea before in 2017 and was horrified! It was this past August on a blog called Town and Country Living. The author was inspired by something she saw in Flea Market Style Magazine. (See other screenshot)

The author pictured one of my favorite novels, Lalita Tademy’s Cane River. Another book was by an author of the early 20th Century, Inglis Fletcher. The book pictured was Raleigh’s Eden. Which I read years ago along with many of her other novels.

I love books. And I love to read them. It’s nice having them on my tablet but it’s not the same as the feel of the paper. And I use my vintage cookbooks all of the time.

I am all for adaptive reuse, but please show the old books some love. Go score yourself an old knife block and clean and oil it up, or do what we do- hang super strong professional magnetic knife strips on the wall and free up some counter space.

I am sorry but I do not see a true home chef or professional chef embracing this unfortunate fad.

#SaveBooks

Biscotti Two Ways

Christmas always means biscotti, or should.  Only my inner Italian hadn’t made them in a few years. So, I decided to drag out my recipe and tweak it. Biscotti, also called cantuccini, are Italian biscuits that originated in Tuscany if memory serves (traditionally almond or anise) .

They are twice-baked, oblong,crunchy, and delizioso.  The word originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning “twice-cooked.” They are also so truly uncomplicated and simple to make that I reminded myself today I should make them more often.

I updated my recipe and tried a new twist.  I created Cranberry-Almond and Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti.  And yes they are that good.  I blame Ancestry.com for making me remember my Italians today!

Without further ado:

BISCOTTI TWO WAYS

BASE RECIPE:

8 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

1  cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 large eggs

2 cups flour

Coarse sprinkling sugar (you know the sparkly fancy holiday stuff – Home Goods always has it!)

To turn them into Cranberry-Almond also add:

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup sliced almonds

1 teaspoon anisette or ½ teaspoon anise extract

To turn them into Chocolate-Pistachio also add:

1 teaspoon coffee extract

1/3 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

3/4 cup chopped fine pistachios

4 oz (1/2 bag) Heath Toffee Bits

2 teaspoons cinnamon

How to mix it all together and bake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line pan with baking parchment paper or use silicone baking sheets (I use commercial sheet pans from Chicago Metallic with silicone liners I bought separately – I do NOT use dark pans they burn everything – aluminum – silver only.  Also known as Uncoated Large Jelly Roll Pan, 16-3/4 by 12-Inch)
  2. In a big bowl, beat the butter, sugar, salt, extracts, and baking powder until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
  3. Beat in the eggs; the batter may look slightly curdled. At low speed of your mixer, add the flour, stirring until smooth; the dough will be sticky.
  4. REFRIGERATE the dough a couple of hours wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. ( A lot of recipes and chefs say you do not have to, but I refrigerate a lot of my cookie doughs before dividing and baking.) Allow to warm up about 15 minutes before dividing and shaping.
  5. Plop the dough onto the baking sheet. Divide it in half with a knife(carefully, don’t mess up your silicone baking sheets, parchment paper, or pans), and shape it into two approximately 9 1/2″ x 2″ logs, about 3/4″ tall. Straighten the logs, and smooth their tops and sides- I use my fingers and the back of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle with sparkle sugar and press that in top
  6. Bake the dough for 25 minutes. Remove it from the oven.
  7. Using a spray bottle filled with room-temperature water, lightly but thoroughly spritz the logs, making sure to cover the sides as well as the top. Softening the crust just this little bit will make slicing the biscotti much easier. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
  8. Wait 5 minutes, then use a sharp serrated knife to cut the log crosswise into 1/2″ to 3/4″ slices. Be sure to cut straight up and down, perpendicular to the pan; if you cut unevenly, biscotti may be thicker at the top than the bottom, and they’ll fall over during their second baking.
  9. Set the biscotti on edge on the prepared baking sheet. Return the biscotti to the oven, and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes (NOTE: Chocolate ones took almost 32 minutes on the second bake), until they feel very dry and are beginning to turn golden. They’ll continue to dry out as they cool.
  10. Remove the biscotti from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Store airtight at room temperature; they’ll stay good for weeks.

 

You will get about 30 biscotti a batch depending on size. Sometimes a couple less, sometimes a couple more.  Depends on the dough Lincoln logs.

Buon Natale!