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I don't know if anybody ever still looks at this but I think about it constantly - I feel I'm definitely in a good position to start blogging again. I've learned so much in the last 1 (or 2) year or so - It's incredible. I've completed one year at the CIA, completed my externship at a well known 3-star restaurant in NYC and I want to write about all that is incredible about baking and pastry - my love and passion and thankfully, my career, as well.

I'm coming back!


It's A Wonderful Life

There has been so much going on. Right before I moved to school, everything was chaotic and now I finally feel settled in here at the CIA. So, here I am to tell you, mostly like what you think I might, the CIA is amazing.

I feel so utterly fortunate to be able to pursue my baking and pastry dreams here at the CIA. Right now - I'm rounding out the last few days of Hearth Breads and Rolls class. My chef for this class has really pushed me and although frustrated and tired at times, I wouldn't have it any other way. In the beginning baguette shaping was such a task; My only thought was will I ever get the feel for this? Now as I'm slightly saddened moving onto the next class, Baguette shaping and all the other class tasks have become natural motions and a delight to work on everyday. The shaping of our baguettes, batards, and strands of various multi-piece challah has transcended to something more than what it seems. All over the CIA, weather they know it or not, students and patrons are savoring our breads, more beautiful by the day, and that is something to be proud of.

I really hope to return to this blog someday soon - I really enjoy writing it and being able to share this love with few who may read from time to time. Hopefully I'll get some pictures of our breads before it's too late.


If you give a mouse a pizza, she's going to want a cannoli...

There hasn't been much going on on the culinary front in the past week or so. We are getting ready for a big move out of a house that we've lived in for 10 years; despite finding a plethora of exciting recipes and new, unused cookbooks sitting on the shelf, the drive to bake is temporary stunted. Moving is stressful as most know and more so in special situations as such; My parents were recently divorced (recent as in this past Wednesday) and we are moving out of our beautiful home and relocating to a new house February 6th. This is only 6 days before I will make another epic move to the Culinary Institute of America. The excitement and sadness is confusing; at times I'm giddy with thoughts of baking away in the kitchens of the CIA for 6 hours a day and others I am trying to process how to deal with leaving behind our home nestled in the quiet, two acre forest in the heart of upper-middle class suburbia. Quite picturesque, eh?

Although there may not be much heating up in my kitchen; I have been eating. In the midst of happiness and sadness, we eat and we eat good. I live in Fairfield County, the suburbs of Connecticut, about a 40 minutes from New Haven and 60 minutes from my former residence, New York City. And in the words of Alton Brown, these cities offer up some seriously "good eats". I claim to be no gourmet but rather a serious gourmand. I love food; good seriously tasty, flavorful food. I do not discriminate; the big guys from the humble little guys, say Thomas Keller's esteemed Bouchon, from your aromatic neighborhood bakery. While my palate may not have the sophistication of some; I care deeply of the quality of food that enters my mouth and consequently, inches to my hips. This serious relationship branches out to many cuisines, particular foods or ingredients; one of which being pizza. Living in New York, I considered the best of my experiences with pizza to stretch as far as a subway ride to Brooklyn or down on my corner at Arturo's. Shame on me for not exploring the greater lengths of great pizza; I suppose I'll be easy on myself for not knowing better but I was falling short before the wonder that is New Haven pizza.

If you are unaware of New Haven pizza, as I was, tread carefully upon these next words- they'll be hard to stomach and may prompt a food excursion. The famed Sally's Apizza and Frank Pepe's from New Haven are by far the best pizza I've ever had in my life; I can't eat at a local pizzeria to satisfy the craving for pizza. My taste buds have been forever spoiled; It's the way pizza was meant to be. Every flavor and texture of your average pizzeria just incomparable, from the crisp, sturdy coal burned crust from the oven's of Sally's to the tangy tomato sauce that is perfectly sweet and salty.

The duo of Frank Pepe's pizza and Sally's has been a dual for best of the best of New Haven pizza. Both are delicious; however, Sally's has won my heart with their consistent, bursting with flavor goodness that in my opinion has a an edge on Pepe's. Some may argue there is a trio in this battle including Modern Apizza but I'm here to set the record straight.The only thing their "M" logo stands for at Modern pizza is messy and mediocre at best. When I plan to expend my calories indulgently, I expect to walk away smiling and satisfied, high from settled anticipation and full bellied delight. That night at Modern Apizza on State Street in New Haven, I pouted over each fallacy as they exponentially unfolded. The first sign of doubt came as the menus were tossed down on the table in front of us; the menus included something other than pizza. I say this because at Sally's and Pepe's there is one thing on the menu; the perfection that is their pizza and they don't practice the trickery of filling up on sides notes of garlic bread or salad because you've only come for one reason, the pizza! The second sign was that of the garlic bread that arrived at the table that appeared to just be grocery store quality french bread piled with a heaping glob of greasy mozzarella. I squirmed but remained poised; I mean the pizza had to be good with all of the "talk" prior to this visit. The first pizza arrived and so did my third qualm; the pizza looked ordinary. My disappointment set, the pizza looked fine like an average pizzeria cheese pie, but fine is not why I come to New Haven, not what I waited all week to devour. Then our pie arrived, a medium cheese (you must ask for cheese in New Haven) with half broccoli and half sausage; this was among the variety of pie's we've had at Sally's and Pepe's. The pie descended on the table, slicked with a thick sheen of water/oil/who knows on top. I wondered if there was some sort of mistake, maybe we should call back the waitress but as the pies continued to arrive each was a mirror image of the former. I reached to lift up the first piece; the cheese and sausage slide like an avalanche onto the saturated paper of the pan. I was left with a wet noodle like dough supposed to be a pizza crust. Now I was miffed, how did they think they could serve a pie like that? I ate in hungry disgust as I picked off the sausage chunks and tears of outer crusts which were really the only edible portions. The way this meal was redeemed was to heading to our favorite Italian Bakery on Wooster Street (neighbor of Pepe's), Libby's, to buy cannolis to revive our spirits in good food. Okay, and there were some cookies involved in this revival, about a half pounds worth. After that disaster, it was bound to take a lot of "nourishment" from creamy ricotta and feathery butter balls to feed my disheartened food soul.

"Modern" had to be given the chance, as given to each establishment before it in the tri-state area concerning pizza so far. At least now, I could return to my true lover with even more devotion, Sally. I'll never return to Modern Apizza; even if it happened to be an "off" night for this pizzeria, I don't see how they could produce a good pie after having my first and last pizza there. If you serve something of such poor caliber as our sloppy, wet pie you don't deserve another chance on the mere fact of quality control and pride. As a baker, even as an amateur, I take pride in knowing I produce baked good of quality in my kitchen. Anything I bake (or cook) that comes out of my kitchen shaped with my hands, I believe I created to my best ability to provide a flavor and joy to others (and myself). So with any establishment, in this case Modern Apizza, I find distaste in serving something of poor quality. The only thing I can do now is carry on knowing that I've tasted what's out there and get to the gym to prepare for my next date with Sally.


House Warming Banana Muffins

The plague of rotten bananas. Everyone party in our house currently buys their own groceries; hence, we usually end up with surplus bananas which is good for the baker in the house and usually for everyone else.

However, these bananas would were meant to reside in a different house- my oldest and dearest friend's new apartment. I know that if were moving (and I will be soon), I'd need some homey baked goods to relieve the stress and lighten the overwhelming load of move-in chaos. When I walked into to her new, large apartment still in shambles from move-in day, I knew the muffins would definitely provide relief, even if just for those few minutes while savoring one of these golden,moist muffins.

Exhausted, I made a trip to her late Tuesday to deliver the muffins; this was after waking up at 2:45am to work at the Bakery; did I mention I'm working for free?

The muffins were nice; very moist, golden and chock full of banana however I realized afterwards there were no added spices to these banana muffins which I do prefer but a lot of banana muffin recipes do not have any. So, I'll leave that up to your discretion. The walnuts are also a great addition; I did half with and half without - I like to try to accomodate everyone's tastes. These muffins are incredibly moist; I could imagine a nice pinch of nutmeg to skyrocket there delicious factor then it would be the ideal banana muffin, in my humble opinion.

Banana Nut Muffins
Yield - 12 regular muffins
adapted from Simply Recipes

3 ripe bananas
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 - 1 cup chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven 350 degrees. In a large bowl mash bananas and add melted better and mix well.

Mix in sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add baking soda and salt and mix in.

Add flour and mix until just incorporated. Fold in walnuts if desired.

Pour mixture in to prepared muffin tin. Bake 25-30 minutes. When toothpick inserted in muffin center comes out clean, muffins are done! Cool on wire rack.

I also forgot to mention that these muffins are so easy to prepare. In a pinch for a gift or you simply want fresh banana muffins in the morning, these muffins would be a great go-to for impromptu events calling for muffins.


No-Knead Bread Completion & 2007

I'm sorry but I have writers diarrhea lately; although, it's not unwelcome (but I'll include some photos this time). Everything around me is inspiring me to write, create, and just be. A good feeling for the start of 2007. I started 2006 in shambles; feeling like I missed the transition into the New Year not being on firm ground at the stroke of midnight (literally and figuratively). 2007 feels like home, like, I've finally returned into myself after a year of treading rough streets and lonely alleys. These moments were not vein.

Notes to Myself for 2007:

- Bake more bread

- Be the best culinary student; engage in my environment at school and it use it to it's full advantage (I hope mom sees this one).

- Smile because nothing is that bad.

- Write often; just for yourself or for anything or any reason.

- Visit ethnic bakeries (and tons of bakeries in general)

- Learn a lot more about Indian food and India's culture.

- Try to embrace my soon-to-be less spacious, less technological, less marble counter top kitchen in our new house (more on that another time; ode to kitchen post to follow some time soon).

And that's that... Onward with the food!

R.I.P Glorious No-Knead Bread

At proximately 2:03 pm, eastern standard time, Lauren's first loaf of Jim Lahey's No-Knead bread was laid to rest by Lauren herself as she tore the last humble wedge in two and munched. Loaf had a short but fulfilling life, giving joy and full bellies to many, living up to every expectation (except maybe a short a few teaspoons of salt).

The ease of preparation in the this bread has been boasted all of the internet and now I can attest to this statements veracity. Some notes about my preparation are that I left the bread for approximately 18 hours for the first rise and used wheat bran as my non-stick agent and slipmat underneath instead of a towel. I used 1 1/2 cups water, as instructed in the video and not as listed in err as 1 5/8 cups in the text recipe as posted. I also do not own a dutch oven but I do have ownership of a few of my great grandmother's cast iron pans which worked beautifully. I used the smaller one to hold the bread and the larger to cover it for the first 30 minutes. I'm writing these notes with the assumption that you know about this bread or have tried it yourself but if not please check out the article on the New York Times website.

I'm obviously dreaming up variations for the next loaves. I have a large bunch of fresh rosemary leftover from the accompanying soup for dinner last night, Chickpea-Tomato Soup with Fresh Rosemary from Orangette's recipe archive. This fresh rosemary may just find it's way into a loaf of bread this coming week. As for the soup, smooth, simple and full of flavor; the fresh rosemary does not overwhelm any of the other ingredients, just compliments (for those iffy about rosemary, as my mother is). The only thing I changed in the recipe was reducing the total amount of olive oil from 3 tbsp to 1.5 tbsp which is used to sautee the garlic and rosemary; I wouldn't use more than the 1.5 tablespoons, anymore would be too oily, in my humble opinion.

Hopefully this year will continue as the preparation and eating of this No-Knead Bread did, with ease and delight.

Ice Cream Maker, No-Knead Bread, & Abandoned Cranberries

Is this thing on?

Well, I write because I love it so if anyone else is reading today; I hope you find what I have to say semi-entertaining or interesting. Maybe everyone is on an after-holiday lull.

Yesterday at William Sonoma, partially with a Christmas giftcard, I purchased the Kitchenaid Ice Cream Maker Attachment for the stand mixer. I had my eye on this even before I owned the mixer itself; I knew this would have to be in my kitchen. The mystery and wonder of creating such delicious delectables in my own kitchen still tickles me every time I bake and I wanted to take that with new heights with ice cream. I want this mixer to get its deserved place as a pillar in the kitchen and use it in as many ways possible. The bowl is in the freezer putting in it's 15 hours before usage as instructed my the manual. I put in around 8pm last night, I believe, so it's been 15 hours and I haven't even picked out a recipe yet. Suggestion and recipes welcomed!

I'm also in the market for great recipes with the use of fresh cranberries. I bought these with the intention of making a cranberry upside cake but it hasn't happened yet.

Last but not least - I'm taking up the rear on the No-Knead Bread recipe. Last night around ten o'clock, I was web surfing and came across a NYT article and it struck me that I had not ever tried Jim Lahey's, from the Sullivan Street Bakery, No-Knead Bread. How did I forget for so long?? When I lived in the city, the Sullivan Street Bakery, was about 2 blocks from my apartment. I would often sit in the tiny space and devour slices of pizza pomadoro and slices with just dots of plum tomatoes with little splashes of extra virgin olive oil (I don't recall the name of this one however). I often visited at off hours in the afternoon, so I'd get the sit in peace and enjoy ever little bit until it was time to walk home. Oh.. how I miss that.

Anyway, that was a nice memory, I'm on hour 14 of my no-knead bread; I figured I'll keep it going until after I come back from the gym edging on the longer rest times. The bread will be piping hot out of the oven just in time for dinner. I haven't even thought of a dish to accompany my bread; the bread is always the star, however.

Pictures to follow sometime later, enjoy your Friday.


Apple Crumb Pie Tartlettes

New Years has lost it's debauchery factor as I continue to grow up. New Years was the night to see and be seen and, of course, the night not remember the next day. Waking up at three o'clock in the afternoon still groggy and parched to boot was not the way to start the New Year. These libations were left the others and I rang in the New Year in an nontraditional, certainly cozy way.

My boyfriend and I, once he arrived home from work, cozied up in our bumming gear. We ate, drank (in a mild manner), and were merry in bed all night and watched the SVU marathon and tuned in with the rest of America five minutes to midnight to watch the ball drop.

Food, as with any holiday or any excuse, is a large portion (no pun intended) of any festivity and New Years Eve would be no different. After all, this was the last "hurrah" before we resumed back to strict healthy eating. Cavatelli with Broccoli was the main meal for myself that evening, as the boyfriend was still hard at work; This pasta and I go way back, very fond memories. Cavatelli and broccoli was a quick evening meal my mother made growing up and it always a favorite. Chewy ricotta caves dabbled with garlic, parmesan and olive oil with large sprinkles of my favorite vegetable, broccoli; a wonderful childhood comfort of Italian American cooking.
I suppose I should get the dessert portion of this post. As I've blogged about previously, the apple crumb pie made my mother since I can remember is without a doubt my favorite dessert. I dream about this pie, literally. I couldn't think of a better candidate to ring in the New Year than a variation on my families traditional apple crumb pie with Apple Crumb Pie Tartlettes. I made them into little tartlettes because I received tartlette pans for Christmas and was eager to try them out. Also, these tartlettes allowed for no fighting over crumbs or large slices since you had an individual pie all to yourself to pine over and indulge as slow or as fast as you pleased. A perfect way to start the New Year, hope you all had a great one!


Walnut Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

The first creation from my new mixer! As fatigued and unpleasant as I felt on Friday night, cupcakes prevailed. Hungry folks needed these (although they didn't know they did) and I knew baking would help raise my mood as well.

Cupcakes stuck in my mind to share as the first baking creation from my new Kitchen Aid mixer. Cupcakes just shout "celebration!" and this mixer is worth the celebration.

Not only did I want the first mixer creation to be a cupcake, I wanted it to be special, or perhaps - different, in some way. Everyone has seen vanilla and chocolate; not to down play these flavors, of course... they are wonderful in there own ways. Just not what I wanted.

Martha came through with this wonderful recipe as she did during my cookie baking this Holiday. However, throughout holiday baking I did come across some problems with her; but, I'll save that for another post.

This Walnut Cupcake is fun yet sophisticated but most of all absolutely, down-right delicious. I decided to accompany this cupcake would be Brown Sugar Buttercream, also from Martha. The buttercream is an Italian-meringue style with the sugar and egg-whites being heated together before whipping. The buttercream was very temperamental and I didn't know what to expect but even after I thought I ruined it by over beating; I was able to bring it back (thank god!).

The cupcake was moist, nutty and sweet which was a perfect compliment to the pure buttercream frosting. Neither were overwhelmed by the other or overwhelming in flavor or sweetness. Overall - great experience with my mixer, the cupcakes and just plain ol' baking joy.

Note to self (and any others looking for advice on this recipe): I baked 9 regular cupcakes and 4 mini cupcakes. I halved the recipe and used 2 eggs. Mini-cupcakes took about 7 minutes; regular about 25.