Bleu Ribbon Kitchen – Gluten Free Baking

AnthenaeumThis Saturday, I had the treat of attending a cooking class at the Bleu Ribbon Kitchen in Boston, MA.  Daniel gave me a gift certificate to attend a class at the Cordon Bleu’s Bleu Ribbon Kitchen and Gluten Free Baking was my pick.  My decision was based on our availability and our ability to get up to Boston for the weekend.  I was also excited to work on some baking techniques.  I hoped to work on some pie crust, since that is my biggest baking weakness.  I got to work on pie crust and more.  We made pizza dough, apple pie, buttermilk chocolate cake, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies.  It was a busy session from 9AM to 3PM.

Kitchen

When we first arrived in the kitchen, the Chefs gave us our own Bleu Ribbon Kitchen aprons and a list of recipes for the day.  They told us that we would be using a flour blend for many of the recipes.  This gluten free flour blend consisted of 35% Sorghum Flour, 35% Cornstarch, and 30% Tapioca flour.  Our head Chef told us that we could definitely experiment with the recipes using nut flour blends, but due to nut allergies, we worked with this blend along with potato starch, rice flour, and chickpea flour.  The pizza dough was first on the agenda (since that would be our lunch).

For gluten-free recipes, it is important for the dough to have a higher liquid ratio.  When heat is applied to the additional liquid in the oven, it helps leaven the dough (in the absence of gluten).  I always wondered why gluten-free dough for banana bread, pancakes, muffins, etc. seemed so drippy.  This answered my question.

Making the dough was fairly simple.  The tricky part was spreading the dough on a parchment paper lined tray once the dough was complete.  The gluten-free dough is extremely sticky (high liquid ratio) and you can’t exactly use flour to reduce the sticky factor if you are truly going gluten free.  When I was spreading the dough on the parchment paper, one of the chefs came over and said “Let me show you how to properly use a spatula.”  I was embarrassed, but excited to be enlightened.  It turns out that I hold the spatula far to close to the end of the handle, which creates a lack of control.  The Chef explained that the spatula should be an extension of the hand.  I felt like this tip will be life-changing.  It already made maneuvering the pizza dough a lot easier.

Once our dough was spread out, we put it in a massive refrigerator for 30 minutes.  The cooling of the dough allows it to be easier to manipulate after the resting period.  My partner and I topped our dough with fresh basil (putting the herbs underneath the sauce gives you all the flavor, but protects the herbs from being burned), sauce, cheese, mushrooms, red pepper, onions, and kalamata olives.

Lynne and Pizza

Our pizza baked in this awesome oven.  You could have four different temperatures at once and it was enormous.  The tools and machinery in this kitchen were amazing.

Pizza

When our pizza was finished it was time for our lunch break.  The pizza was really tasty!  I would definitely make this dough again.  Chef Mills told us that we could make a large batch of the dough and freeze it for later use.  This would be a great back-up meal to have in the freezer.

During the 30 minutes that the pizza dough was chilling in the oven, we started on our apple pie crust.  I was most interested in learning how to perfect a pie crust, gluten free or not, so I could feel more confident making pies.  I learned that you should put your fat (butter, shortening, or lard) in the freezer prior to mixing with flour and that you should only use your finger tips in order to mix the fat (shortening in this case) with the flour blend.  Using your whole hand creates too much heat for the fat and your crust will lose its flake factor.  When checking for chunks of fat that need to be mixed further, if you shake the bowl, the big ones will automatically come to the top.  Our Chef also told us that sifters are unnecessary when it comes to flour.  We can simply use a whisk to do the same job.  He said, however, that work with powdered sugar and cocoa powder require the sifter.  I’m all for creating less dishes to clean, so this was a welcome tip!  Our pie crust came out a little dry.  The Chef said he would have used milk instead of water, and would have added more milk than the water amount in the recipe.  Since the dough was dry and crumbly, it made it difficult to roll for the top of the pie.  With a little extra ice cold water, we convinced the dough to fit over the top of the pie with a couple cracks.  I told my partner that the cracks could be vents.  I’m not sure everyone got my humor.

Since our pie dough also had to rest in the refrigerator, it gave us time to pre-cook our apple pie filling.  The Chef explained that pre-cooking the fruit for a pie allows the fruit to release water prior to being in the pie shell.  This helps you to avoid the dreaded “soggy bottom” (soggy pie crust – ew) and also that void that occurs between the top of the pie and the fruit.  He encouraged us to chop fruit in generous pieces (apples were cut in eighths) so that our filling wouldn’t be applesauce.

Apple Filling

After we sauteed the apples in butter and added cornstarch, sugar, and cinnamon, the filling was the perfect consistency.

Apple Pie

Despite our struggle with the top, the pie came out pretty well.  Not the best looking apple pie I’ve seen, but it was delicious.  The other groups in our class made an apple crumble, and that looked really tasty as well.

Ingredients Chef Mills

After our pie was finished, it was time for our buttermilk chocolate cake.  In the picture above, you can see all the ingredients ready for use and our head Chef, Chef Mills.  The buttermilk chocolate cake was a fairly easy recipe to follow, and the cake was delicious.  I wish I got a picture of the whole cake right when it came out of the oven – it was gorgeous.  Instead here is a picture of a quarter of it once we were home in CT again.

Cake

Very simple cake, but great flavor!  The cake really didn’t need icing or frosting – though you could add some and it would be delicious.  We sprinkled powdered sugar on top.

Chef

After our cake was finished, we moved on to brownies.  I learned that when making brownies with traditional flour, if you use bread flour, the brownies will have more chew to them.  When melting butter and chocolate to make brownies, you should always melt the butter first and then the chocolate.  Then you have a lower risk for burning the chocolate.  When using a double boiler to melt chocolate and butter, the bowl should not touch the water in the pot and the water shouldn’t boil (the steam should heat the bowl to cause the melting – boiling water is too hot).

Mixing

Once the brownie batter was mixed, we spread it thin on a 9 x 13 baking sheet.  I thought it was far too thin for it to be successful, but this ended up being one of my favorite creations of the day.  I might experiment with baking these in a smaller pan though.  Since the brownies were so thin, they were kind of crumbly.  I don’t have a picture, but the whole sheet ended up as little crumbles once removed from the parchment paper.  Perfect ice cream topping?

Last, but not least we made chocolate chip cookies.  I think if I made this recipe again, I would change the flower blend and include a nut flour.  I think the chickpea flour gave the cookies a texture that I don’t usually associate with cookies.

Chocolate Chip Cookie

Despite my critique of the texture on these, I still enjoyed sampling them right out of the oven.

Overall, it was a dream to work in a Cordon Bleu Kitchen.  When I was living in Los Angeles and considering changing careers, attending culinary school was high on my list.  I toured the Cordon Bleu in LA and was envious of all the students there.  It was exciting to be able to experience one of their kitchens, even just for a day.  I thoroughly enjoyed the class, learned a lot, and hope to return some day.

Dream

Thank you Bleu Ribbon Kitchen for the excellent day of baking!

Salkantay Trek Training – Our Last Walk

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It is hard to believe Daniel and I are finished with our training walks and we leave for Peru tomorrow.  For our last walk, we wanted to have more of an uphill challenge, as most of our other walks were on level roads.  We were between Bear Mountain in New York and Sleeping Giant in Hamden, CT.  We ultimately decided to do Sleeping Giant because we thought we could get there and back home in a little bit less time.  We were also trying to race the weather.  Rain and wind was expected later Saturday afternoon, so we hoped to get back to the house before that started.

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The hike was perfect for trying out a lot of the gear that we are brining to Peru.  I was excited to try out my new day pack and hat.  Above I am trying to channel my Hiram Bingham.

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Overall, it was a good hike.  There were challenging moments which made me feel a little worried about what is in store for us on the Salkantay, but I will just have to take some breaks and try my best.  I’m excited for the challenge and the scenery that this trek promises.  I’ve wanted to hike to Machu Piccu for about 10 years now.  It is hard to believe I will be realizing this dream in about a week.

When we return, I promise to blog about our entire experience, and I will also have a packing list for those interested in the trek.

Wish us luck!

Salkantay Trek Training Photo Dump

So we’ve been doing a lot of walking and not a lot of blogging.  Here are some photos and walking maps from the last month.  I’ve been slammed with end-of-year stuff at school, which leaves me little time to blog.  As much as I miss blogging, I’m just glad we’re fitting our walks in.  We officially have less than one month before we leave for Peru.  Wow!

Week 5

Salkantay Trek Training Week5

When we walked through Waveny Park in New Canaan, we caught the tail end of a car show.  So cool!

Week 6

Salkantay Trek Training Week6

This walk was GORGEOUS!  We have an offer on a house in Milford (fingers crossed) and this walk just solidified my desire to live in this beautiful town.

Week 7

Salkantay Training Week7

Week 8 

Salkantay Trek Training Week8

Monday Meal Planning – Week of 5/4/15

Meal Planning

Rather than plan meals for each day, Daniel and I are trying to use a batch approach.  We make a couple meats, a couple veggies, and then think of some snack options.  Here is what this week looks like:

Protein:

Orange & Soy Grilled Chicken

Pork Sausages

Chicken pesto with yellow summer squash noodles

Beef and Butternut Squash Stew (Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe)

Baked Salmon

Pork Bolognese

Vegetables: Some of our protein options contain vegetables as well…that’s why our veggie count looks low.  We also try to get some of our veggie servings in soup.

Spaghetti squash

Broccoli salad (from Primal Cravings)

Roasted sweet potato

Bowls of Love

Soups: Both soups are from Bowls of Love by Ali Rakowski (I am so excited to try her recipes!)

Truffled Asparagus

North Star Mushroom puree

Snacks:

Carrots

Cucumbers

Larabars (Cashew Cookie)

Plantain chips (We love the ones from Trader Joe’s)

Avocado

Bananas

Shopping List: (We already made some of the items last week, so this list does not include everything above)

Olive oil (both EVOO and non-EVOO – so hard to find!)

2 onions

2 garlic cloves

Fresh rosemary

Fresh thyme

Marsala wine

1 lb butternut squash

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes

3 to 4 cups beef broth

2 heads of garlic

4 cups vegetable stock

Sweet potatoes (4 large)

Broccoli (1 head)

Bacon (2 or 3 packages)

Red wine vinegar

2lb asparagus

2 shallots

2 leeks

5 lbs of white button mushrooms

 

 

 

Salkantay Trek: Training Week 4

Salkantay Trek Training Week4

Wow!  It is hard to believe this is our 4th week of walk training.  It does not seem possible that we’ve been doing walks on Sunday for a month.  This afternoon’s walk was gorgeous!  Not only was the weather beautiful, but we decided to flank the beginning and end of the walk with visits with my godson and his parents.  The visits were so much fun.  Our friends live close to Rowayton, so we parked at their house and walked from there.  It was a perfect day for walking.  Here is our route and some pictures from the road.

Salkantay Trek Training Week4This week’s walk wasn’t as long as last week.  Somehow my legs feel more sore from this walk than the others.

Salkantay Magnolia1 Salkantay Magnolia2The magnolia trees were amazing!  Everything was in full bloom.  It seemed that every other house we walked by was for sale and holding an open house.

Salkantay DanielDaniel tried out our walking stick.  He thought we might want to get another one to balance things out while walking.  Using just the one stick seemed to slow his pace a little.

Salkantay Trek BayIt was a seriously gorgeous day!

Salkantay 101 3/4 of the way into our walk, we stopped at Brendan’s 101.  We both had tasty sandwiches and I got an ice cream cone for dessert.  Nothing like ice cream on a warm day.  It hit the spot!  Not sure where we will walk next week.  Perhaps we can incorporate some more hills and maybe some elevation?  Stay tuned!

Blue Apron Meals – Our First Delivery

BlueApronFinal

So I know I’m a bit late in hopping on this bandwagon.  We finally tried Blue Apron.  As I was nearing the end of the hour and 10 minute meal prep for Wednesday night’s meal, my excitement was waning.  Once I had a bite of the meal though, excitement was renewed.  Our first Blue Apron meal was really good.

BlueApronRainyDay

Wednesday afternoon was rainy and it was a super busy day at school, so I was looking forward to a hot meal that I didn’t have to think about.  Our delivery arrived at 6PM.  I got all the ingredients in the refrigerator (as instructed), took a quick detour to Old Navy, and then started the meal prep at 7:50PM.

BlueApronBox

Our food came in this box and weighed about 15lbs.  Most of the weight of the box comes from the ice packs inside.

BlueApronPackaging2 BlueApronPackaging1

Their packaging has information all over the box.  Although they’ve made an effort to show that they are conscious of their packaging (see “Eco-Friendly Packaging” label in the picture on the right), there is still a lot of plastic used in these boxes.  I understand that the plastic packaging is used out of necessity, but I wish there were something else they could use.  On Earth Day (Wednesday), I felt a little guilty unpacking my dinner from 9 plastic bags/containers.  And this was only one dinner!

BlueApronIngredients

The recipes for all three meals were very easy to follow, but took much longer than quoted on the recipe cards.  I know that I am a slow and meticulous cook, but I think they could put a little more cushion on their estimated times for the start to finish of each recipe.  We had the following tasty meals in our box for this delivery:

Almond Crusted Cod

Triple Pork Mazeman

Piri-Piri Chicken

Overall, I give Blue Apron a thumbs up.  The meals were delicious and the recipes were easy to follow.  If Blue Apron were to change anything, I might add a little more time for the estimated meal preparation times and if there is any way that they could materials other than plastic for packaging all the pieces of the meal, I would like them even more.  We have already placed an order for the week after Memorial Day when I know I won’t have time to do any meal-planning and shopping.

Blue Apron Chicken

Salkantay Trek: Training Week 3

Salkantay Trek Training Week3

Daniel and I hit the pavement once again for a little over 7 miles this evening.  Our trip to NYC tempted us to stay and complete our walk while there, but food prep for the week and laundry were looming.  We left the house at 4PM and returned at 6:10PM.  I was pretty pleased with how much we covered in a little over two hours.

TrainingWeek3Our walk took us into New Canaan, through Norwalk, back to New Canaan and then to Darien.  The temperatures stayed in the 50’s, so I opted for cropped yoga pants, and a long sleeve tech tee.  I also wore my buff headband and hiking boots.

Waveny1 Waveny2Even though it was kind of a gray day, Waveny Park was still pretty.  Contrary to these pictures, there were a fair amount of runners and dogs with their humans.

TrainingTrees1

Many of the trees are in full bloom and it makes these walks so enjoyable.  This walk had more hills than the other two walks we’ve done.  As far as I’m concerned, the more hills the better.  We’ve got to get our legs ready for some major ones!

TrainingTrees2

More beautiful trees

More beautiful trees

 This week was a good workout week.  Both Daniel and I made it to Crossfit for three workouts and both of us were sore/ a little tight from the workouts of the week.  Overall, the walks are feeling good.  Here’s to another week of training done!