Monday, May 28, 2007

Mini Turnovers

Sometimes you get an idea that changes the world. I very much doubt this was one of those, but it was fun anyway. I decided to see what would happen if I tried to make turnovers using store-bought canned biscuits. And why not? It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My first thought was to roll out the biscuits with a rolling pin. I even have a little fondant rolling pin that was just about the right size. But I also had a tortilla press, and I decided it would be faster. I cut a couple of squares of parchment, lined the press, and loaded in a biscuit, just off-center.

This made quick work of flattening the biscuits, which is good, because they ended up being a little more elastic than I expected, and they started to shrink pretty quick. I loaded up each flattened biscuit round with a half dozen blueberries, folded them over, and crimped with a fork.

In retrospect, I probably should have painted the edges with a little beated egg before folding and crimping, but I was only working with ten biscuits, and it seemed like kind of a waste. With all ten crimped, I took a paring knife and cut a couple of slits in the top of each one, for steam to escape.

These were put in the oven and baked as per the package directions. A few minutes later, they came out GBD (golden, brown and delicious).

As you can see, I had a few smilers. Gluing the turnovers together with egg wash would have helped to prevent this, but really, who cares? They were awesome anyway. Of course, you don't have to just use blueberries. I'm sure pretty much any fresh or frozen fruit would work, and you don't even have to stop there. I've made these with leftover shredded chicken mixed with salsa and corn, and I know they would work with sloppy Joe filling, chili, even stew (so long as it's not too soupy). I've even used pepperoni, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Just remember, the more flavorful the filling, the better the turnovers.

These are great for portion control, snacking, lunches for the kids. You don't have to stick with turnovers, of course. You could lay down one flat round, add filling, and then another flat round on top. It's up to you.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sometimes, Brand Really Matters

I've been doing some experimentation lately with things like rolled fondant, a no-cook variation of buttercream, and cream cheese frosting. All of these things use powdered sugar (aka icing sugar, confectioner's sugar, 10X sugar). I've always operated under the belief that for the most part, sugar is sugar. I'm generally more apt to buy store-brand than name-brand sugar, because while it may only be a few center cheaper per package, I tend to buy it in bulk. I go through a lot of sugar. Some may argue that cane sugar is vastly superior to beet sugar, and that's not something I can get into, since I rarely see anything in the store that doesn't specify that it is, indeed, cane sugar.

The fondant that I've been making lately tastes okay, but there's always been something about it that I didn't really care for. It's still been tasting like powdered sugar. I don't know how else to describe it. My best guess was that the sugar granules were still a little big. None of these recipes require cooking (though the fondant does require some warming, and not to the sugar), so there's no chance for the sugar to dissolve. I remember Art Pollard at Amano Chocolate telling me once that he needs to grind his chocolate to smaller than 20 microns, because anything larger will taste gritty on the tongue. Perhaps this was the case with powdered sugar in general, I wondered.

Last night I needed to make another batch of rolled fondant. The store that I went to didn't carry their own store brand of powdered sugar, so I just went with the popular name brand. Sugar is sugar, right? Maybe not. The batch of fondant that I made was identical in measurements and procedure to the previous batch, but the taste was far superior. It didn't have that "powdered sugar taste".

Later on that night, I found a bag of store-brand powdered sugar and used it to make cream cheese frosting. I used to make this stuff all the time when I was a baker, and we always used the name-brand sugar because that's what our supplier carried. The stuff I made last night tasted different. It was grittier, and again, had that "powdered sugar taste".

It seems apparent to me that in the case of powdered sugar, the popular name brand really is a superior product. It may cost an extra 20 to 30 cents a bag, and when you buy cases of 20 bags as I occassionally do, that can really add up. But if you're trying to produce a superior product, then that's a cost that you probably want to just deal with.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lemon Cheese

Sometimes I get this wild hair and end up wanting, no, needing to do something that may be just a little bit... different. I mean, how many people do you know nowadays that make their own cheese at home? And when was the last time you saw lemon-flavored cheese? Believe it or not, this is actually pretty good stuff. I present the ingredients:

1 qt whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Seems simple enough, doesn't it? It really is. Step one is to heat the milk in a saucepan to 185F. I used medium heat for this, to keep from burning anything. I used my candy thermometer to keep an eye on things, and I made sure to stir on a regular basis, to keep things from burning on the bottom of the pan:

When you reach 185F, add the rest of the ingredients and stir until the milk has seperated into curds and whey:

When you have seperation, pour the mixture into a container lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth.

Tie up the cheesecloth and pour out the whey. Suspend the cheesecloth-wrapped bundle over a container (I just used the same one) to finish draining. I used twist-ties left over from other applications to tie the bag up, and then tie it to a couple of chopsticks, which were used to suspend it over the container.

This will all go into the fridge for at least an hour, and up to three hours if you wish. When it's done, you can remove the cheesecloth if you wish, and store the cheese for up to a week.

You don't have to stick with lemon, of course. Lime would be very nice, indeed. The recipe that I based mine off of used cider vinegar. Of course, it's the acidity that curdles the milk, making it possible to turn it into cheese. The problem that I see with using straight vinegar is that it limits you a bit on flavor. I decided to go with a lemon base, and when it didn't seem acidic enough to my mind, I thought that a little white wine vinegar would compliment the flavor nicely.

What's it good for? Well, you could just eat it straight. It is quite good on its own. Today I crumbled some up over some shredded chicken leftover from a Mexican restaurant the other night. It also crumbles quite nicely into salads. I think your imagination is the only limit.

Guru Labs

A few people have expressed concern that I haven't posted in so long, and I appreciate that. I have a bit of news that I think will explain that. About a month and a half ago, my company went through a group layoff. Unfortunately, I was one of those who was given the opportunity to pursue other opportunities. At the time, at least one person told me, "well, I guess now you'll have plenty of spare time to work on your blog, right?" And as it turns out, my previous post was indeed posted after I got laid off.

Having a blog with a decent amount of readership, I had some decisions to make. I could announce on my blog that I was looking for work, in the hopes that my readers would be able to help me out. After many weeks of unemployment, I'm still not entirely convinced that choosing not to was the best idea. Within a couple of days of the layoff, several friends at other companies heard the news and asked for my resume. With over a dozen such requests, I didn't expect to be out of work for more than a week. I knew that many companies were looking to hire, and that the odds were in my favor.

I spent the first week at a career seminar that my company had paid for, and my free time that week were spent building a wedding cake for a dear friend of mine. There was no time to blog. By the time that was all over, I had still only interviewed at one company. They had expressed interest, but had not yet made an offer. Not being one who counts unhatched eggs, I continued to look at other companies. I decided that it was in my best interest to spend my time studying and brushing up on career-related subject matter, working on my resume, and applying and interviewing at various companies. The blog had officially been put on the back burner.

Three friends from one company in particular suggested that I apply there. After some hesitation based on the job's travel requirements, I finally did so. It was a company that I had known about for years, and had wanted to work at for almost as long. I spoke on the phone at length with one of the owners, and then interviewed with him and the other owner. By this point, I was still interviewing, but hoping that this particular company would make me an offer. They did, and despite other offers that I have been expecting, I have decided to accept this one.

I am happy to say that starting next week, I will be working as a trainer at Guru Labs. As one who is becoming a more active member of the open source community, I love that there is a company who is offering training services for that community. I am also thrilled for the chance to work for them. I have had the opportunity to teach training classes at other companies before, and I have always enjoyed the experience. I have also had some small opportunities to write technical documentation for several companies, and I have always jumped at the chance, and have always been disappointed when the writing assignment has ended. At Guru Labs, these two things will be my primary job functions, and words cannot express how happy that makes me.

As it turns out, this change in employment also means a change in direction for my blog. I will be spending a good deal of time on the road, hanging out in hotel rooms without kitchens. This means that I will also be eating out quite a bit. My only chances to cook much of the time will be on weekends. I hope to experience foods and cultures in other areas, and log my thoughts and experiences here. When I am cooking at home, I will still try and cook something blogworthy. While I still plan to study pastry when I can, I will once again start posting non-pastry recipes as well. I also plan to continue posting the occassional tech article, and even have one currently in the works.

For those who have been wondering, that's a brief recap of my life since leaving my previous company. I do miss working with all my previous coworkers, and I hope that those who are there are surviving with the increased workload, and that those who the company really couldn't afford to let go but had to anyway have managed to find work as well. I'm looking forward to my new job, and my new coworkers. Life is good.