Archive | April, 2011

Some Days Are More Difficult Than Others (A Boyfriend Post)

It’s a difficult thing to watch when someone you love is being having a rough time. And there can be a feeling of helplessness knowing there is not much you can do about it. On this specific Friday, however, I took it upon myself to do what I could within my power to make sure this difficult day didn’t get any worse than it already was–I arrived home after work on that Friday with a bag full of culinary delights and flowers.

IMG_20110409_125941

In the grocery bag were a few of her favorite things: there was cheesecake, there was lemon ice cream and the ingredients for a delicious home cooked meal too. Chicken, lemons, cream, butter, potatoes and cheese–there are just a few of her favorite things. Do you see a theme here? We got cooking and had gnocchi and chicken with a lemon cream sauce! Oh and a “Kelly Riley Salad” made of iceberg lettuce, red bell peppers and cucumber with a light, homemade vinaigrette. It turned out to be a wonderful evening. We hung-out in our kitchen, worked together to create a meal and for a few brief hours Kelly forgot her woes.

Just because you get some release doesn’t mean the difficult things in life go away. That’s how things work, though, and we all learn to work through every day in our own way. As you can see, our household focuses on food–and here we come to the following night’s meal and the recipe of this post: Pasta with Chestnuts, Pancetta and Sage via Epicurious.

IMG_20110409_190819

We happened–don’t shun us because this might sound pretentious–to have a jar of chestnuts in the pantry and pancetta in the freezer. Though we didn’t have the called-for tagliatelle, we did have some angle hair pasta on hand. So, Saturday being Saturday, we opened a bottle of wine and began that evening’s work. Mise-en-place is common phrase at our place. While Kelly watched, talked and listened we had Girl Talk on in the background and the preparations began.

The recipe called for ‘crumbling’ the chestnuts. When you see a jar of nuts, you don’t usually associate that word with the limitations of what you can do with the ingredient. The things crumbled with ease however, since they are already roasted and ready to go. Very convenient!

From there it was easy–chop, dice, grate and you’re ready.

IMG_20110409_191120

Then you saute, boil, toss and it’s done!

IMG_20110409_193312

Some days are more difficult than others.

Posted by on April 17, 2011 in Food

Love = Laminated Dough

DSCN1977

Traditions are important–birthday traditions even more so. In my house the very best birthday tradition is that you get to eat whatever you want. I can’t remember the last time I celebrated my birthday with a traditional frosted cake.  Infancy, perhaps. For me? Cheesecake all the way. I’m a loyalist, too, so it’s cheesecake every single year. Sometimes I’ll switch the flavor up a bit–plain cheesecake, raspberry swirl, salted caramel, whatever strikes my fancy.

My birthday isn’t until July, though, so cheesecake will have to wait. (Sorry. Didn’t mean to get your hopes up, there).

David’s birthday was in March, though, and he definitely knew what he wanted:

Croissants. I love croissants. I love the girl who bakes croissants. And she must love me–otherwise, why would she make them for me? They were damn good.

One of our annual traditions is making a food item for one another on their birthday. I think the initiation of the tradition happened when I made fresh Cod with sun-dried tomato tartar sauce (at the end of the night I found out Kelly doesn’t like sun-dried tomatoes…or tartar sauce) and fresh fava and jalapeno salad (she doesn’t like beans either). She enjoyed the meal and in subsequent years began baking for me on my birthday. She’s an excellent baker.

Kelly had previously mentioned (numerous times) that she had always wanted to make croissants. So why not provide an opportunity?

This year, when she asked what I wanted I immediately replied “marzipan croissants”. Hell yeah. When I lived in Germany, I used to go to this bakery for breakfast whenever I had class in the schloss. I used to get two things: a warm marzipan croissant and a warm ham and cheese croissant.  So damn good. The only issue: what’s marzipan? Well, in Germany it’s almond paste. An almond paste that by law (yes, by law, much like the Reinheitsgebot) is two parts ground almond to one part sugar, only additional flavoring allowed being rosewater. Apparently here, Kelly discovered, marzipan is a type of almond dough. More for baking independently or as part of cake, than stuffing pastry. After some additional research on both sides, we agreed that Kelly would make an almond paste then.

As such we spent the better part of my birthday proper sitting around the house, relaxing and every few hours beating butter or folding and rolling dough with butter. It was a fun, long process. But worthwhile. The almond paste was spectacular by itself. Baked into homemade croissant: amazing.

So. Croissants. From scratch. What had I gotten myself into?

Croissants are a lengthy ordeal centered on something terrifying called “laminated dough.” Essentially, that means that you make a dough and layer it with butter about a thousand times. When you put the croissants in the oven the butter melts, leaving flaky pockets behind. Mmmm.

DSCN1982

I’d never made a laminated dough before, and they’re rumored to be pretty high maintenance. Keep the butter and your work surfaces cold! Work fast and roll out accurately! Don’t panic!

Luckily there’s a built-in step in the croissant-making process to help you get out all your fear and anxiety. Beating the butter!

  1. This is the first video I ever took with my phone, and it shows. Apparently it doesn’t reorient itself the way the regular camera does?
  2. “Pasturized” butter. Obviously, the butter is pasturized! What I meant to say is that the butter was made using milk from pasture-fed cows. David thinks this mix-up is hilarious.
  3. Unintentional cleavage shot. Sorry!

After that, things just seemed to fall into place…

DSCN1955

DSCN1956

DSCN1957

DSCN1958

DSCN1960

DSCN1966

DSCN1971

DSCN1969

DSCN1967

DSCN1972

DSCN1973

DSCN1974

DSCN1976

DSCN1977

DSCN1978

DSCN1984

The verdict?

The very best part is that David had the brilliant idea to freeze the shaped croissants before the rise. That means we have a whole stockpile of croissants in our freezer and we can just take them out, thaw, rise, and bake ’em, and have fresh, homemade croissants on a whim! As a matter of fact, we had some for breakfast this morning. DELICIOUS.

Happy, happy birthday, my love! Hope your croissants are everything you wished for! I am so excited and also terrified to see what you’ll request next year…

DSCN1985

I have to say that making these was a blast. Time-consuming? Yes, but not nearly as scary as I thought they’d be. Rather than try to detail the process here, I’m going to redirect you to Julie’s excellent tutorials at Willow Bird Baking.

I’ve been reading her blog for over a year. She issued a croissant challenge to all of her readers, and without  her encouragement and painstaking instructions and photo tutorials, I wouldn’t have known where to begin. If you want to make croissants look through all of her amazing suggestions and success stories and get in the kitchen:

http://willowbirdbaking.wordpress.com/2010/07/03/secret-garden-recipe-homemade-buttery-croissants-and-pains-au-chocolat/
http://willowbirdbaking.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/homemade-croissant-phototutorial/
http://willowbirdbaking.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/croissant-masters/
http://willowbirdbaking.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/croissant-masters-round-2/
http://willowbirdbaking.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/croissant-masters-round-3/

I made my own almond paste using this recipe:
http://www.mysisterskitchenonline.com/2008/12/10/you-mean-i-can-make-my-own-almond-paste/

And then used that to make almond pastry cream:
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Twice-Baked-Almond-Croissants-103999

(I also used the orange vanilla simple syrup in that recipe to glaze the croissants before baking so the almond slices would stick to the top).

Posted by on April 7, 2011 in Food