The benefits of a good pie crust

Look at that pie crust!

Just LOOK at it!

Isn’t it a thing of beauty?

All too often pie crusts are one extreme or the other:

The crust is either a bland, pale color all around.

Or, even worse, so burned on the edges so that the last bites are more  charcoal than anything.

How does someone get a multi-faceted, multi-hued glazed crust like the one above? Lemme tell ya…

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A word about butter (and a recipe for croissants)

First off, butter is simply glorious!

We should all be singing the praises of the dairy cow till…well, till the cows come home. This magical food from the gods is well worth a break in the diet now and again.

Not all buttery creations are worth your time. A freshly made butter croissant IS, trust me.

And you will have all of your friends and family singing your praises if you take some time and learn to make them yourself. Your pocket book will thank you too. Seeing as how 15 of these little beauties, delivered fresh frozen to your door by Williams-Sonnoma will cost you a mere $39.95. Gasp!* And you still have to bake them yourself no less.

What I propose is that YOU too can make these lovely pockets of buttery goodness yourself if you have a little time and patience. Patience is the REAL quality you must possess if you want to learn to make croissants… that and a little knowledge about butter: Continue reading

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Meringue Mushrooms : there and bake again.

So, I’ve been hoarding food pictures for months now. I find it very easy to head into the kitchen on a whim to whip up some ridiculous baked good or goodie. One that gets every single dish in the house dirty mind you, only to leave them piled in the sink for the week to come ( I weekly chastise myself for taking for granted the dishwasher I lived with a few years ago).

I find great pleasure in diving into a new recipe or and old favorite, just because the mood strikes.

Be it noon or midnight, when the baking addiction calls, I happily answer with a leap and a bound and a clatter… as I happen to be a bit of a klutz. (Please don’t tell any prospective employers. I haven’t lost any full digits yet and what they can’t see at first glance, they don’t need to know about.)
Yes folks, I love to play in the kitchen but this writing thing has me stumped most days. It does not come naturally to me except on rare occasions when it seems that everyone wants my attention and I am trying to (FINALLY) get the blog text done.

But here I am with iPad in lap and ready to bust out a blog entry.

Today’s topic: meringue mushrooms.  I got it in my head that I would make overflowing basket of french meringues to give out at my husband’s office for Christmas gifts this year.

I found the perfect, authentic recipe from a favorite book of Paris patisseries, went to the store and bought dozens of eggs and began cracking only to realize my foolishness once I remembered the cooking times required.
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Holy (home-made) Cheese!!!!!! I may be eating the best food on the entire planet!

Home made cheese on toast with basil and tomatoes from the garden

As I write this my mouth is happily chewing and I am trying my best not to pass out from sheer bliss!

OK…

I’ve finished my plate and taken a moment to reflect (and pant heavily) and now I simply have to tell you what just went down.

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Sunday Afternoon Home Made Rocky Road Ice Cream

The past year has been pretty darn great. We moved back to the LA area and closer to many of our good friends. Ryan got a great job with Disney that has helped our family in lots of different ways and I have been able to express my creativity in every which way my heart desired. I get to spend awesome amounts of time with my darling son and husband. And I have been more consistently happy and generally in a good mood since we moved back. I don’t normally consider myself a very social person all in all but now that I have been here for a whole year after being so far away from so many of our friends for the 2 years we lived in Palm Springs, I now realize that I DO need to see and hear and hug my friends fairly darned often for my mood not to get down right stinky! I actually have a multitude of reasons to be happy in my life but because in this blog I like to share recipes with you all, I’m going to tell you about TODAY’S big reason for my happiness…Chocolate Ice Cream.

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Wine cake

As I sit here typing this to you all, I am munching on one week old, left over cake from my son’s Famous Jungle/Diego themed party of last Saturday. The party was a big hit with my boy save the fact that there was one MAJOR item missing (which was not requested but I should have KNOWN being the perfect mother I am supposed to be)…the piñata. I was informed after the party, “ I had a lot of fun mommy but you didn’t give me my piñata. I wanted a dinosaur one.” Like, how was I supposed to know that one? Well it looks like we have next years party planning already begun. Note to self: “Don’t F up next year. Have dinosaur piñata ready in advance.” Got it! The boys are off at Disney land tonight and I am happily sitting on my comfy couch eating birthday cake (which on the day of the party I couldn’t stand!) that has stood up superbly to the curing time in my new “Black Beauty”. I call my new fridge Black Beauty because she is a perfect 10, just like her namesake. I never want to be without her again…EVER!!! I honestly don’t know how I ever liver without this fridge…seriously. Samsung has made 28.9 cubic feet of pure domestic bliss. I love her and I’m not ashamed to say I damn near worship her! But anyway, the real reason for this post is CAKE. You all must have this recipe. It is my go to, out of a box cake. When time is tight or I’m simply uninspired …when it comes down to it, this is the ‘recipe’ that I pull out of my um…pocket. ;-0 This is not a subtle cake, it is a workhorse (lots of horse references here tonight, hmmm….anyway). It can withstand lots of lack of baking knowledge, over baking ( just cut off the crust and make a smaller cake the center will most likely still be really good) under baking ( call it a pudding cake and be done with it). Mix and match flavors you have on hand or get creative with flavor creations. It’s kind of fun and the kids or hubby can mix it up in a bowl and it will come out just fine. So, what is the cake I speak of? “Wine cake”. And here ya go.

WINE CAKE

  • 1 box cake mix (any flavor)
  • 1 small box instant pudding mix (any flavor but not the sugar free kind)
  • 3/4 cup cream sherry (I have also used unsweetened sour cherry juice and other not so sweet juices)
  • 3/4 salad oil
  • 4 eggs ( I’ve used 3 and I’ve used 5 when I forgot the recipe and it still came out yummy) –
  • optional
  • mix-in’s like chocolate chips, frozen fruit like blueberries, sprinkles, chopped up marachino (sp?) cherries, or whatever else you wanna play with.

Give it a try.

Just go lightly with it the first time, if you are unsure, and see how it turns out) Put all this stuff into a big bowl and mix it with a big wooden spoon. Don’t even worry if there are some lumps of cake mix that don’t get all the way broken up. It never seems to make dry bits in the cake.

Note; this batter will be pretty darn thick but don’t freak out, it’s supposed to be.

Now, just pour it into 2, 8 or 9 inch round cake pans or divide it up evenly among what ever pan sizes you want to use and bake those babies at 350F in the center of the oven ‘till they set in the center.

To check that, here is what I do: first move the pan a bit, if it is wobbly in the center leave it alone for a while more, if it looks solid on top when moved, touch the center lightly. If it stays down where you touch it let it bake some more. If it springs back up slowly when you touch it then take it out. ( Cake will also start to shrink away from the sides of the pan a bit when it is done.)

Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes then turn them out of the pan and let them cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack if you have one. This cake doesn’t need frosting but most people want it anyway.

Here is a recipe for an that my mom made a lot when I was growing up;

Old fashioned butter frosting

  • 2 sticks of butter soft, room temp)
  • 16 oz powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons milk (or a bit more if you like)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla

mix the butter and the sugar until there are no lumps.

Add the vanilla and gradually add the milk ‘till it is the consistency you like.

You can also add other flavors besides vanilla or use other liquids besides milk (Irish crème, amaretto, rum and then whisky always goes nicely with a chocolate cake J Play with the flavors of the mixes too.

White cake with pistachio pudding, strawberry cake with lemon pudding, chocolate cake with chocolate pudding and a flayer of raspberry jam between the layers, coconut cake with lemon pudding and lemon curd between the frosted layers…the choices are endless.

I’ve even tried it with berry jello mix and that wine they serve at Passover (that I can’t remember how to spell right now) instead of pudding and sherry, it came out different but still, nobody threw it away.

Let me know what YOU come up with. I always want to try something a little new. Hope you have fun with this.

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what am I

I’ve been wondering lately what label to give myself. Not because I lack a term to identify or introduce myself at social gatherings or anything. I usually tell people that I am a stay at home mom for the time being but that I’m trained as a pastry chef and that that is what I still consider myself.  But beyond that, I’ve been wondering how I really see myself. I do intend to continue baking when I return to the “workforce” but my hope is that I will not have to be limited to just one way of bringing in an income throughout my lifetime.

I’ve called myself…

an opera singer,

a camp counselor,

an actress,

a sculptor,

a seamstress,

a shop girl,

a crafter,

a chef,

a pastry chef…

 

and that’s not all.

 

The list goes on and on.

I’ve had more labels and more jobs that I can remember but most of them do not define me. I’m sure most people feel the same.

We are not, usually, what we do for a living. So what AM I?

I am most undoubtedly and happily the wife to my wonderful husband and I am blissfully honored to be the mother of my son but still…who else am I. Do I need a label? For some reason I want to give myself one and I want it to be neat and fitting.

Perhaps I am an artist.

Now for some reason when I say this, the hairs go up on the back of my neck and not in a good way. I’ve been getting all weird and judgmental with myself.

Why am I avoiding calling myself something so simple and creative? On one hand I feel like a fraud. I decided to just look up the definition. One definition I found states, “A person who creates art; A person who creates art as an occupation; A person who is skilled at some activity; Artistic”

Heck! That’s me! I don’t even need to find another version of it’s meaning. I create art, whether “good” or “bad” in anyone else’s eyes and I can try to let that be enough to sustain my internal dialogue.

Perhaps some of the judgment comes from how I perceived my fathers view of artists. ?… I have a memory of my mother and father having a knock down drag out argument about what constitutes a valuable member of society. And I remember my dad arguing the point that unless a person was “producing something of value” then they were a drag on society and therefor a blight. I remember my mom asking, “So because I and the kids (we were around 12 and 14 at the time) don’t produce anything, we are a drain?!!!” and his response was, “Yes!” And then I have another memory of my dad asking me what I was going to “do” with my life after college. The tone in his voice was not kind. He knew I was going to school to study opera and nothing else and I think he was worried that I wouldn’t have anything to “fall back on”. It’s not that I think my dad didn’t value art or artistic creations, it just wasn’t as important as making money. The way that he spoke so severely to me about art during my formative years contributed to my deep beliefs about my own self worth as an artist. He attended some of my performances, and spoke favorably about a few of my artistic goals but overall he was always concerned with what my “job” was and how I was paying my bills. I understand I guess. I was a flighty young girl and very unfocused most of the time. My grades in school were usually low (except in music and art classes) and I think he worried about me as most fathers do. But it’s rather sad for me sometimes to look back at all of the conversations I might have had with him about all of the creative things we were working on.

I don’t agree with my fathers statement that a person is only worth what they can produce. I think a person’s value and worth come from inside themselves, how much they love and share of themselves. How true they are to their heart and how open they are to allowing others to live their joy as well. When we strive to live while allowing bliss and passion for life to flow out, then we are living a worthy life.

To me being an artist is not some grand thing. It is simply the way I choose to live my life. To me being an artist is enjoying the creative process, trying new things and sharing what I create. I think everyone can be an artist in any field. It’s a way of seeing and valuing the beauty in every detail, perfect and imperfect, and enjoying those details. “Life is in the details” after all. And it really is the journey not the destination that interests me.

So, I am an artist and I will go forth and create something new… to delight myself.-Mika

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Crash bang boom

Last night at about 10:30 pm I was wrapping up a 2 hour session writing a post about how to make croissants from scratch. croissantA post I will have to rewrite for sure because they are so tasty and I want to be invited over to many houses to taste your trials. *yumm, trials*  It was after sitting happily for these 2 hours when my computer CRASHED!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOO0000ooooooo……. computer crashIt’s pretty funny to me that I ever even started a blog. I’m glad I have mind you but I’m not a tech savvy person in the least… I have never claimed to be so. But in this day and age this is not something to be proud of. I never have been all that into computers and their programs, what to do to trouble shoot problems when my computer does crash or all of the newest computer and tech toys on the market (aside from my iPad and netflix which I LOVE to pieces!!!) and yet if I set aside the frustration that comes from not knowing all of the stuff that a person of my generation “should” know I actually harbor a tiny bit of peace knowing that I don’t have to stand completely in the new millennium. It’s a scary place sometimes. And it’s not just all of the social and political issues that set me on edge. It’s the ever changing  and revolving door of new stuff one has to learn to keep up.overload UGH!  This is one way I  know I’m getting older….change scares me. 🙂 okay that’s not truly accurate. SOME changes scare me. (It is in my nature to embrace changes of the artistic type) For a while I thought that it could be my severe case of arrested development that was  keeping me from wanting me to know how to take care of these tech problems but I have come to a shy resolve that says it’s okay to be tech dork. I simply don’t know what I’m doing most of the time here and I’m really flying by the seat of my pants. If I can’t put it down on paper and touch it it’s hard to get my mind around it. Yes, I have been able to learn some of the basics but even these have to be constantly reinforced by my VERY tech capable husband. Thank God for fortunate partnerships.savior

I know that computer crashes happen to even the most capable computer loving people computer crashand this lets me be more forgiving with myself.  And I am choosing to continue with my tech lessons so that I can share my thoughts, crafts and information with others who may be interested in the things I have to say. I hope you all enjoy the fruits of my stress and I’m sure that all of this newness will become easier as I repeat the process of blogging. I’m sure that in a few months these posts will be much more about fun, creative and insightful stuff bubblesthan me boohooing about all of the little glitches and my notknowings. For now I must remember to “save draft, save draft, save draft”.hope saying

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springtime pink and strawberry love

I know it’s cold outside for most of us but spring is in the air n’est-ce pas ? dewdropsValentines day is just around the corner and for me that means SPRINGTIME! Whoopieeee! I actually dislike most of the “springtime” stuff that one sees in the stores around this time of year. I don’t like mass produced holiday gifts like stuffed valentine dolls and prepackaged gift baskets. (Almost) All of the Valentines candies put me off completely and there is something sickening about the thought of spending (or having someone spend) $100 for a dozen sad roses.  Don’t get me wrong, I dig valentines day and all, but it’s the way we tend to think about celebrating it that puts me off. A store bought card, a bouquet of flowers and the obligatory dinner out? These things do not reflect the love that I feel. Romantic love is fresh and exciting. It sparkles and dances. It refreshes and renews your spirit after a long day roughing it out in the real world. Nothing says love and springtime to me like fresh strawberriesstrawberries and growing things in gardens. tendrilsLittle buds popping out on trees, bright green grasses leaping up from the ground. Poppies, ranuculus and jasmine pink poppy

vines beginning to curl upwards to the warming sun.   tendrilI’ll take a simple day outside with the ones I love and a fresh strawberry ANYTHING over whatever you could find being pawned off as a “love offering” at a RightAid store. Spring is coming and love is in the air…it’s just not found at the check stand of a grocery store.whiteberry

Strawberries will be a continuing theme for me in the weeks to come I’m sure. berry bouquet

Right now I’m thinking of something very simple to start my seasonal obsession. Strawberries in whipped cream.berries and cream

In a small bowl put 2 pints of fresh cut up strawberries (mixed berries could work nicely too if you can get your hands on some beauties) and sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Let them sit in the fridge or on the counter for about an hour to let the juices start to come out. Just before serving get out another good sized bowl and mix 1 cup very cold, heavy whipping cream, 3 Tbl powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Using a wire whisk or a hand mixer beat the cream until soft peaks form.Be careful not to over whip it or you will get butter. To serve just put an amount of berries and syrup into the bowl and top with a nice dollop of whipped cream. There you have the perfect and most simple expression of springtime in a bowl.

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Frustration

Okay, I was just about to totally give up on writing on the blog today… But I didn’t want to give up. I had planned ( starting last night around 8 pm actually) to write a nice post about puff pastry and late night baking. I wrote the blog out and took about a billion pictures

I got all of my pictures downloaded onto my computer and sat down to insert and complete it all when the sky crashed down. The saved draft had not in fact been saved! At least it’s not in any place I’ve looked.

The recipe (I thought) had been a failure anyway so I was at least thinking that I could save the pictures and use them for another post about puff pastry in the future.

But still I was frustrated and wanting to post. I still had 2/3 of the previously prepared dough in the freezer waiting to be made into a pot pie or something not needing a great crust and I got the idea that perhaps I shouldn’t just give up on that dough just yet…Maybe it could give me a decent palmier after all.When I decided I wanted to make a palmier last night it was already kind of late to get started making a puff pastry dough.

Granted, you can let it rest for quite a long time during phases of the production but still I wanted to see if I could show y’all how to make an easier version at the same time so I went searching for a “blitz puff” dough.

Since I couldn’t find the recipe I had used when in school…(a shame now that I look back on it because  the one I made last night was not all that good,even tho it got fairly good reviews) I tried one from allrecipes.com. it turned out tough and chewy and not at all what I had hoped for.

By the way…I refuse to believe that it could be due to the fact that it was late and late night baking is usually a poor timing choice for involved pastries. Nor will I accept any comments that state it might have been poor technique on my part…that simply couldn’t be the case *ahem*. 🙂 No. I actually DO think it was not the best recipe out there.

But I had this dough and it was calling to me and so I heeded it’s sad little call from my freezer and I swiftly retrieved it and set to work giving it another chance. The recipe had called for 3 “turns” of the dough (a turn is when you fold it into 3rds like a business letter and roll it out). A traditional puff pastry calls for 6 turns and since the palmiers from last night were tough and heavy I though I’d try giving it another turn and then try changing the baking temp and time.the dough was like rubber but I persisted!

I turned it once more and rolled it out making sure to roll it extra thin this time. This was not easy as even though I was letting it rest (giving the gluten a chance to relax and not be so springy) the dough had a decidedly rubbery feel to it.I was not giving up here folks.

You needed a blog post, and I was bound to deliver!

I rolled it out in sugar, rolled up the ends and sliced away, heated up the oven to 375 and placed em on my silpat lined cookie sheet eager to see if even I could rustle up a save from this poor flop.

I put them in the oven and sat down to start writing and posting my new entry while waiting to see what would come out….

So, how did they turn out?

So, so.I’ll have to make them again and give you an actually good recipe rather than this poor excuse for a sugar fix.

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