Macaron Class {recap and supply list}

Y'all, the first cooking class of 2018 hosted by CounterspaceBR was a SUCCESS! I opened up my mostly renovated kitchen to five classmates and our instructor, Ruby Bloch of Salt & Light Pastry Co. We walked through Ruby's preferred method and perfected recipe for macaron... She instructed us step by step in the process and everyone had the chance to ask questions and take notes along the way!

Ruby Piping

A highlight for me was Ruby's detail in textures to look for, consistency clues, and the stories and tips of figuring out different recipes while on her culinary journey!

We will definitely plan to host Ruby again SOON! In the meanwhile, here are some of the tools we used for the class along with some tips on WHY they are important!

First: a scale! This is the one we used in class. It is a digital scale with the ability to go back and forth between measuring units and a very reliable tare feature! Precise measurement is key in preparing this delicate dessert!

Candy Thermometer is next. This is something that I use for a bunch of different treats, including marshmallows! I use this polder version. But Ruby likes the Taylor brand with a digital read! I might be adding that one to my collection!! A candy thermometer is important so that you have the right temperature of heated sugar to make a proper meringue. 

Meringue

Another important factor in the baking, is a sturdy flat sheet pan. I have 6 of the Nordic Ware half sheet pans and could probably add another half dozen to my collection for good measure :) Having a flat surface ensures the macaron will cook evenly and not end up "tilted."

Ruby

In that vein... it's also important to have super flat parchment paper. I accidentally bought full sheet pan size, but those are easy enough to cut in half OR you can purchase half sheet pan size here! It comes with 200 sheets, so maybe a good investment to split with another baking buddy!

Piping bags are also on the list. We used 18" disposable bags. I use these for much much more than just piping macaron, and these are easy to find at local craft supply stores (Michael's or Hobby Lobby). 

spatula

And for the piping bag... a piping tip! We used the Ateco 806 tip.  Wilton has a comparable tip as well! This tip is 1/2" in diameter and allows for proper control in piping and size to get uniform macaron.

The best part about all of the equipment we discussed is that NONE of the items are macaron specific, and most all of them will be very useful if you are looking to learn and explore baking a bit more! For me, purchasing the scale and thermometer opened up a pandora's box of possibility!!

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Refrigerator Surprise!

My dear friend Melynn introduced me to this term, "refrigerator surprise!" Its key word for, I don't have anything to make ONE WHOLE meal but I do have a lot of food in the fridge that needs to be consumed. We have all been there... read a blog or thumbed through a cook book then when to the grocery store while STARVING and bought all of the food you could fit in one, narrow Trader Joe's shopping cart.

You come home. You make one REALLY good dinner... then the rest of the food sits in the fridge. It doesn't all work together really, although one time I had limes and ripe avocados and made the most delicious popsicles ever (seriously, that happened), so don't limit yourself! Then, BAMN, a work trip sneaks up on you; and suddenly you need to cook mushrooms + eat avocados + cook ground turkey + drink that LAST little bit of rose' + finish of the leftovers. NOT to fear! SJ is here!

Here are some things you can do on refrigerator surprise night:

Sandwich. This might seem obvious, but you can make ANYTHING into a sandwich. Before my most recent work trip I was able to use up the end of some braised chickpeas and a ripe avocado to make the most glorious open faced "health" sandwich!!

Pizza. You can pizza almost ANYTHING (last night I made mushroom, shallot, and prosciutto pizza... last week I made roasted sweet potato pizza). Root veggies, roasted chicken, leftover greens. Make it fun! Between great pre-made dough options at the grocery store and all of the easy at home dough recipes, it's a no brainer!

Soup. This is especially effective if you have some sort of ground meat to use up. Sautee some onions and garlic... add ground turkey or Italian sausage out of the casing... brown the meat then add in 4-8 cups of a broth/water combo then throw in chopped up veggies or even greens or noodles. BaBAM soup!

Pasta. Similar to pizza, you can pasta almost anything. Veggies/meat/can of tomatoes or heavy cream + noodles. Perfection!

Breakfast. You can turn almost any combo of veggies and meat into the best breakfast for dinner you've ever had. This is especially effective if one of the things you need to use up is eggs. Frittata some sausage and onions and root veggies + cheese and yumminess galore! Or, shred up carrots and potatoes to make a hash. Insert fruit into pancake batter. Combinations + options are endless!

Y'all. I'm now hungry and a little sad that I didn't go the breakfast route last night when enjoying some refrigerator surprise!

So, next time you open your fridge without a good meal plan and don't know WHAT to do, make some magic. Pick the type of thing you want to eat and consider what ingredients you have... then go wild! This is also a great exercise in helping to firm up your pantry. For example: "I always wish I had coconut milk handy and rarely do" OR "I really like refrigerator surprise soup, so I should keep a few cartons of stock handy" OR "I always have pasta handy, maybe I should have canned tomatoes for pasta refrigerator surprise at the ready as well." Really this is a good opportunity to expand your horizons, get creative in the kitchen, and test some new flavor combinations! 

What's your favorite "Refrigerator surprise" combo? What are your pantry staples that can make something out of nothing in a jiffy? Tell me more!

Banana Bread {aka browned butter can even make rotting fruit delicious}

A long long time ago (really just a decade ago), I worked for a campus ministry; and I was broke. Some of my best friends were also working for campus ministries and also broke.  During this time we honed many skills, most them involved cooking SUPER cheap meals and watching cable at other people’s houses.

We each had our go to for entertaining college students over coffee or dinner. Mine was baked ziti (and if I never make that dish again, I’ll be OK). My friend Allison pretty much owned banana bread. Think about it, cheap fruit + pantry staples = a delicious loaf of otherwise rotten fruit… and we were in no place to be throwing away food.

Over the years, her recipe has been my go to… but just recently I started to play with it, and well… browned butter later, here we are.

I almost always make two loaves at a time. Once I see bananas starting to turn south faster than I can eat them, I either freeze them or put them in the fridge if bread making is nigh! So here is a nice blend of Allison’s classic recipe with a few fancy twists and turns.

Chocolate Chip, Brown Butter Banana Bread (two loaves and very easy to half)

6-8 bananas (for me 7 is the magic number)

1 ½ cups butter

2 cups sugar (you can skimp a little on sugar if you want… but who would want to?!)

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

3 cups all purpose flour

1-2 cups chocolate chips (however many float your boat)

1.     Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease two 9x4 loaf pans (butter, pam, coconut oil spray, whatevs... we just don't want it to stick!!).

2.     Put the butter in a sauce pan on the stove to melt down and brown. This removes a lot of the water from the butter so there is crackling and popping and it takes a minute to get it browning then BAM watch out or it’ll burn before you know it (kind of like a roux). Then pour the browned butter into a separate bowl to cool off while you mash up the peeled bananas. I almost left out the detail of PEELING the bananas then I realized some people might need that note, so it’s there. I’m not assuming anyone here is an idiot… just attempting to be thorough!

3.    Mix in the sugar with the bananas then add the brown butter. Stir thoroughly (but don't OVER stir). Add the eggs and vanilla and fully incorporate.

4.     Then mix in the baking soda and salt.

5.     Fold in all the flour till it’s fully incorporated and there are no pockets of flour hanging out.

6.     Mix in the chocolate chips!

7.     Bake at 350 for 55ish minutes. I say that because every oven is a little different. I have an electric oven and this recipe takes about 5 minutes less than Allison originally noted… Basically at the 55 minute mark I use my cake testing stick to see if the stick can go in and come out dry. If it’s still not done, bake it in 5 minute increments till it is ready!

I typically cool the banana bread IN the pans for a good long while… maybe 30 minutes or so? THEN flip them onto a baking rack to cool the rest of the way. I’m not gonna lie, the smell alone makes waiting hard. Be warned.

I store it wrapped in aluminum foil and have never had to wonder how long it will last… cause we can finish a loaf within about 2-3 days. Don’t judge my life.

So, when you have the urge to bake and you don’t want to waste those almost gross bananas… there is a way out! What is your cheap and easy entertaining staple? Is banana bread a go to for you? Tell me! I always enjoying discovering new things, and what better way than asking an internet full of imaginary friends!

Meal Planning. It's a Thing.

If you have ever been on pinterest or owned a slow cooker, you have probably considered meal planning. Well, I have both been on pinterest AND own a slow cooker… so I have embarked down the meal planning rabbit hole.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about that hole:

1.     It CAN be cheaper, but isn’t always.

2.     It CAN be healthy, but it isn’t always.

3.     It CAN be a time saver, but it isn’t always.

Y’all, I don’t meal plan cause I’m on a strict diet or because I have a $4 budget per meal. I meal plan because I like to be prepared, I’m a solo parent, I work full time, and I LOVE TO COOK. So, here is how I do it. I start with a formula. This is what works for me, adjust accordingly depending on your family’s schedule and commitments (I use a note pad similar to this one and keep it on my fridge for the week):

Monday: Cook

Tuesday: Slow Cooker Meal (I LOVE my slow cooker! It even has a browning function!)

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Quick Easy/Eat out on the Cheap

Friday: Something NEW!

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday: Refrigerator Delight! (basically clean out the fridge and start fresh)

My first and biggest tip: plan on eating leftovers some nights (although, I have ONE friend ::cough cough amy cough cough:: who doesn’t LIKE leftovers… whatever, that’s just more cooking. But I love you, Amy! I promise!), and I plan on eating out one night. I realize you might not eat out, no biggie. I will say this, there is nothing MORE annoying than grocery shopping for the week then ending out one night you didn’t plan for then having extra groceries to figure out… ok, there is a lot more annoying such as political posts on facebook or people who can’t properly navigate four way stop signs. But you get my point.

I really do love incorporating as much new food as possible. I also am typically cooking for myself and a toddler, which means cooking for myself + macaroni and cheese. Whatevs.

What’s on the docket this week, you might be asking?

Monday: Red lentil curry with spinach (I would link to the recipe from pinterest but I can’t find it… will do my best to transcribe and post soon!)

Tuesday: Roasted veggies + hummus

Wednesday: ALL of the leftovers

Thursday: This will most likely NOT be an eat out night because my babysitter just had brain surgery… so it will probably be a “what veggies are going bad? Hurry slice them and put them on pizza crust” night

Friday: Turkey biscuit bake! This isn’t a NEW recipe, but I haven’t made it in ages… so it counts.

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday nights are spent reviewing cookbooks for ideas, typically…. Or in this instance blogging and telling you what I do while not doing it, then grocery shopping Monday afternoon before school pick up (or after if I’m feeling brave).

I realize that I have a flexible job and the luxury of taking a quick grocery trip during the day; you probably don’t have that. BUT YOU MIGHT either have a spouse to watch the kids while you grocery shop OR no kids at all! In the end, we all make it work amirite!?!?!?!?

If I’m feeling super bold, I’ll remember to take a photo of my shopping cart to share with you and do a recap of what ACTUALLY went down in the kitchen. In the meanwhile, do you meal prep? Why? Why NOT?! Do you even like to cook? What’s your go to week night meal?!