Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Baking EMULSIONS--So Much Better Than Extracts

One of the most valuable things we've learned while editing the Cook'n Magazine is that emulsions are much better for baking and cooking than typical extracts.

We first ran on to them in a local cooking/kitchen store, Gygi's. We asked the Gygi folks, "What is the difference between a bakery emulsion and a flavoring extract and what are they used for?" Here's what they told us:
  • A flavoring extract is flavoring dissolved in alcohol, while a flavoring emulsion is flavoring suspended in water with an emulsifier. Citrus oils such as lemon, for instance, have a stronger flavor when placed in an emulsion than an extract, and that is why they often come that way.
  • As far as uses go, bakery emulsions keep the incorporated flavors more stable while your mixture changes temperature, and they combine more easily with other emulsions (butter, sugar, egg for example) than extracts do. (These characteristics make them especially useful for pastry cremes.)
So the bottom line: Emulsions are specially formulated for use in baking and cooking where exposure to heat during the baking and cooking tends to flash-off flavors. The vegetable gums in the emulsion base helps to retain flavor. Lemon, orange, banana, vanilla, almond, and coconut are some common emulsions. They range in price between $3 and $4 for a 2 oz. bottle, depending on where you shop.

Intrigued, we bought some to use for a magazine project--flavored sugar cookies. All results were positively astounding. We had NO idea there could be such a difference. Just as the sales folks at Gygi said, flavors are enhanced--full-bodied and deep. We're convinced and won't use anything else going forward.

Have you tried flavor emulsions, and if so, what are your thoughts? Have a recipe to share using an emulsion? Please do. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy, and even tastier as we incorporate emulsions into our cooking and baking!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tips for Successful Picnics


We mentioned PICNICS yesterday. We love them—they’re a great way to enjoy an afternoon without spending a ton of money. It’s much cheaper than taking the family out to a restaurant, and if you do it right, the food is just as good. It just takes planning for all contingencies so your picnic can be a big success.

First: Consider seating. For a small group, a blanket can work. A good choice has one cloth side and one water-resistant plastic side. Amazon.com sells the TUFFO Water Resistant Outdoor Blanket for $39.95 (with carrying case). Larger groups might need picnic tables. In that case, remember tablecloths (ones that wipe clean are best). And to keep older friends or family comfortable, remember the folding chairs. 
 
Second: Packing the goodies. This is a big key to picnic success. You use plastic bags for things that can easily leak, such as meats, fruits and vegetables, but have you thought about wrapping sandwiches in parchment paper (they stay fresh and it looks classy). Sandwiches made with baguettes or wraps won’t get soggy. And bring Wet Ones, or a moist dish towel tucked into a plastic zippered bag (for sanitation and cleaning spills).

Third: Transporting the goodies. Consider how long cold stuff will have to keep cold, and how to keep warm stuff warm. To prevent things from sliding around in the car, use a big cardboard box, or large plastic tub (Rubbermaid, for instance) to keep everything together. Don't you love those coolers on wheels? We've even packed the non-food stuff in wheeled luggage. It's so much easier to pull something than it is to heft it.

Finally: Dealing with locale. If your destination is buggy, bring citronella candles and mesh tents to place over the food (back to Amazon.com for these--a food umbrella sells for $6.61). For night picnics, bring a portable gas heater and some lamps. And be sure your car is prepared for any contingency that could ruin the trip--jumper cables, a usable spare tire, and the number for a towing company (ask us why we suggest this…).

Picnicking is a great way to keep the family eating together through the summer, and good preparation makes it successful. So here’s to family dinner made easy, a la fresh air!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

FOOL-PROOF Pie Crust!

We wanted to share just a quick note today, something you'll put us in your will for!

Summer is a fun time to try new baking adventures and summer is the time for picnics. Then why not combine the two--bake an amazing pie and take it to a picnic?

So the reason you'll be putting us in your will? Jeanne's FOOL-PROOF pie crust recipe. It'll be showing up in our Sep-Oct issue of the Cook'n Magazine, but until then, you need it now.

JEANNE'S FOOL-PROOF PIE CRUST (enough crust for about 2 pies)

4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 3/4 cups butter-flavored Crisco
1/2 cup iced water
1 egg
1 tablespoon vinegar

Mix dry ingredients well. Work Crisco into crust (Alice uses a pastry blender, Jeanne uses her fingers) until mixture resembles crumbly meal. (Careful here...don't overwork.) Whip egg and vinegar together; add to water. Pour over flour/Crisco mixture and work it all together quickly and lightly. Cover dough and refrigerate about 30 minutes. Then roll out the best crust you'll every make in your life!

TIP: Alice prefers rolling her crust between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, rather than sprinkling her counter surface with flour, the way most folks do. Clean up is easier and you avoid adding extra flour into the dough.

Do YOU have a pie crust recipe you feel as strongly about as we do this one? If so, please share. We're all in this together, remember. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we ramp up the 'ol pie-making endeavor!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Have a Family Restaurant Night Using this Great Recipe!

Do you love it when someone comes up with a reasonable facsimile (or is even "dead on!") for a favorite restaurant dish? We sure do.

And we have a dilly to share with you today. If you haven't already seen this recipe, you're in for a treat. A reader just sent into the cooking newsletter Alice writes for, the recipe for Olive Garden Fettucine Alfredo.

We've been trying to duplicate this recipe for years, with so-so success. Our reader says this recipe is floating around the Internet, so if you've already tried this, then let us know what you think. We're planning to cook it up this weekend and throw a "Family Restaurant Night" gathering. Heck with going OUT to eat. Let's stay home and enjoy this treat. We can compare notes on what we all think of this dish...

So if it's not already in your repertoire, add this to your arsenal of amazing family recipes. And lastly, here's to family dinner made easy, and really awesome as we include a restaurant favorite dish now and then!

OLIVE GARDEN FETTUCINE ALFREDO (serves 4, unless Alice is at your table, then it might serve 2 or 3!)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
dash of pepper
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup Italian shredded cheese (we're not sure what this is--do you know? If so, please tell us.)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Put cream in saucepan; cook over medium heat (do NOT boil). Add pepper and butter; cook until butter melts. Add cheeses last; stir until thick and all cheese is melted. Pour over favorite pasta and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One Less Outdoor Eating Frustration!

Here's a switch from our Dutch cocoa discussion of the last couple days: Let's talk about weighting our picnic or deck tablecloths.

It's so much fun setting a pretty and interesting table when we eat outside. But it's no fun at all when the wind comes up and attempts to blow the tablecloth away. Thank goodness for filled serving dishes sitting atop the table, or the cloth would truly be gone. Yet even though the cloth may stay on the table, the overhangs are blown up onto the food and we've ended up with potato salad dibs and dabs, or butter smears, or oil from the tossed salad soiling the cloth. Then there's the  lemonade-filled paper cups that get knocked over, too. Grrrrr...

Can you relate? So what to do? We're now weighting the corners of our al fresca tablecloths. We've sewn a color-related assortment of buttons to the corners of our gingham checked coverings. We've drilled tiny holes in vintage silverware and hung groups of three from each corner of our cloths. And we've even clustered odd pieces of junk jewelry to tablecloth corners. These touches are not just cute, they are dang good at foiling the pesky afternoon micro-bursts we tend to get in our area.

So there you have it--a sure-fire way to protect your pretty outdoor table setting. Have fun with this idea, and lets eat more meals outside this summer. Here's to family dinner made easy and a little less frustrating!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Super Source for Dutch Cocoa & Mixing Up the Routine

Shall we keep talking Dutch cocoa? Several people contacted us yesterday asking us where we get ours.

We first tried the brand shown in yesterday's post, Pernigotti. We got it at Williams and Sonoma, and paid $15 for that 12 oz. can! While it is amazing, and we're glad we splurged, we have since found just as awesome a product, for much less.

We now get our Dutch cocoa from The Prepared Pantry. We've talked about these folks many times, and rightly so. Their service is terrific, their products are as well, and their prices are so good! Here's the link if you'd like to go to their site and look into their Dutch cocoa, Ramstadt-Breda: http://www.preparedpantry.com/ramstadt-breda-dutch-processed-cocoa-powder.aspx. They ask $6.99 for 16 oz (a one pound pack). That's a killer deal!

Now another idea for the day: Summer usually comes with, if not slower, at least a looser schedule, don't you think? It's a good time to try new things, mix things up a little, and get out of ruts. So that said, how about some fun but simple changes at the dinner table this summer? For instance:
  • Consider using your serving pieces in new ways. Why not serve soup in teacups with saucers? Or serve pudding from a soup terrine? Or create individual pudding cups using egg cups or hollowed-out orange rinds? Or roll paper plates into a cone, hold in place with a staple, and fill with French fries, chips, grapes, etc. Set a cone at each place setting. Put desserts in wine glasses and hot chocolate in small bowls (very French). You get the idea.
     
  • Things ought to be used, not just taking up space, so bring out the heirlooms and put them to work at your table. They add warmth, enchantment, and a chi-chi factor that the everyday serving pieces don’t. Do you collect white hobnail milk glass? Why not serve your salad in it, for instance? 
  • One more simple idea: vary the arrangement of the flatware. It doesn’t always have to sit at the sides of the plate. Why not place it in the center of the plate, or sit it inside a tall drinking glass (placed at each setting). Or place it inside a folded napkin. Have fun with this idea—simple changes make a set table more interesting.

So this summer let's add some thoughtful and creative touches along with our love and see how much fun it is to jazz up that typical serving routine! Here's to family dinner made easy, and lots of fun, too!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Take Your Baking Up Several Notches with DUTCH Cocoa Powder!

Many of our favorite cake and brownie recipes call for cocoa powder. While most of these recipes call for sifting the cocoa with flour, you can catch its full flavor by combining the cocoa with a small amount of boiling water prior to adding it to a recipe. (If you want to try this in a recipe, substitute some of the liquid in the recipe for boiling water.) 

There are two types of  unsweetened cocoa powder: natural and Dutch-processed. We’re seeing that more and more people prefer using Dutch-processed cocoa in their baking. This is because a slight bitterness can be tasted in cakes using natural cocoa. And we're part of the group that favors Dutch cocoa. Here's why:

  • Dutch cocoa has around three times the cocoa butter of grocery store cocoa (the natural type). The cocoa butter content in Dutch is between 22% and 24%.  Store-bought natural-type cocoa usually has only 8% cocoa butter. More cocoa butter means a richer cookie, cake, and brownie--much more chocolately! 
  • Good Dutch cocoa is processed with alkali which helps neutralize cocoa’s natural acidity. 
  • Its delicate flavor makes it ideal in baked goods, where its subtle flavor complements other ingredients. Store-bought cocoa  doesn’t have this advantage.     
It's important to note that natural (think Hershey's that you see in the grocery store) and Dutch cocoa can’t be switched out successfully. It is best to use the cocoa type specified in the recipe because the leavening agent used is dependent on the type of cocoa powder. Droste, Lindt, Valrhona, Poulain and Pernigotti are some popular Dutch brands.

Alice made brownies last week while children and grandchildren were visiting, and the crowd went wild. Here's her recipe--using DUTCH cocoa, of course. And if YOU have any cocoa recipes your family favors, please share. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy, and even tastier thanks to the discovery of Dutch cocoa!


BROWNIES TO DIE FOR

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup Dutch cocoa
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 to 1 cup chopped nuts (optional, but they're SO good!)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil and sugar an 8x8x2-inch pan. In a medium saucepan melt butter. Remove melted butter from heat; add cocoa and stir until well blended. Add sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well. Add vanilla and mix well. Stir in flour and salt. DO NOT OVERBEAT. Fold in nuts. Spread in prepared pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.