Comment

Cookie Baking 101 – Tools of the Trade

In my last post, I covered what to look for when stocking up your pantry for Christmas baking. Today, it’s time to have a look at the tools you’ll need to have on hand to make batch after batch of beautiful, delicious holiday cookies. 

baking equipment

Baking sheets

When selecting baking sheets for your cookies, look for the type that has a low lip – these will ensure that you have perfectly browned cookies every time.

Parchment paper

If you've never used parchment, you’ll be hooked once you do!  Use it to line your baking sheets and you won’t have to go through the trouble of buttering your trays and scrubbing them clean afterwards. Not only is parchment paper convenient, it’s also reusable so a little goes a long way. And don’t be deceived by the word “paper”; parchment paper is meant for the oven and won’t burn unless it reaches temperatures above 400 degrees Fahrenheit making it ideal for cookie baking.  Do not use wax paper which will burn.   

Parchment paper

Pastry brush

If you’re looking to get a beautiful color and finish on your baked goods, you’ll want to have a pastry brush on hand.  Use it to apply egg wash and glazes to add that final dazzling touch.

Pastry cutter

When preparing cookie dough, a pastry cutter is a must have to help you properly cut your butter into your dry ingredients quickly before it begins to warm up. 

Sifter

This tool will help you sift and aerate your dry ingredients which will prevent dry clumps in your dough and help achieve the perfect texture.

Zester or micro plane

These make easy work of grating ginger and zesting citrus fruit skins into a very fine texture.

Star cookies baking tools

Now that we've had a chance to stock up on the best ingredients and equip our kitchen with the right tools for the task at hand, we’re just about ready to start baking!  Keep an eye out for my next post where I’ll be sharing some of my all-time favorite holiday cookie recipes as well as tips you can use to give them a professional touch.

Comment

Comment

Cookie Baking 101 – Basic Ingredients

Baking Christmas cookies is one of my absolute favorite things about this season and it has been a ritual of mine since I was a teenager.  Way back then, I seemed to have all the time in the world but now with it being so busy, I like to make sure that I get a few things in order before I get started to make sure that my baking escapades go off without a hitch.  As with anything I prepare in the kitchen, the most important element is the ingredients, and holiday cookies are no exception. Today, I’ll share with you what to look for when stocking up on pantry staples for your holiday baking – having the right ingredients on hand really does make all the difference!

Start Cookies Baking 101

Butter

I always use unsalted butter for everything but when it comes to baking cookies it’s a must. By doing so, you get to control the amount of salt that goes into a recipe.  Otherwise, you never know just how much of a salty taste the butter might impart and if and how much you should adjust the salt that the recipe calls for.  Another interesting fact about salted butter: it’s usually older than its unsalted counterpart since the salt preserves the butter.

Butter Cookie Baking 101

Flour

When any of my recipes call for flour, I use unbleached flour.  I find that it has the best texture and a naturally delicate creamy colour that makes for beautiful cookies.  Really, it’s just perfect as it is, there’s really no need to bleach it white.  

Sugar

With winter being such a dry season, brown sugar just doesn't stay as moist as it does in warmer weather. To help avoid those big clumps and make sure your brown sugar is always easy to work with, store your sugar in a plastic container with a stale piece of bread and seal it tightly.  

Measuring Tip

Did you know that there are two different types of measuring cups – one for liquid ingredients and the other for dry?  Not only is it more convenient to use the right type of measuring cup for the right ingredient, it will also ensure that everything is measured properly.  When measuring dry ingredients, do not compact the flour. Instead, use a separate scoop to gently sprinkle it into the measuring cup and then use a spatula to level it off to get the precise amount called for in the recipe. 

Flour Baking 101

Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll go over the tools and equipment you should have on hand to make your cookie baking a breeze.  Once we cover all of those basics, we’ll be all set to start baking a few of my favorite cookie recipes that I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

Comment

Flavours of the eastern Mediterranean

Comment

Flavours of the eastern Mediterranean

The first time I remember my father reminiscing about his Egyptian upbringing was when I saw him preparing and eating a classic Egyptian breakfast dish, ful medames.   I must have been about 13 and I distinctly remember how nasty I thought the whole idea was.  While my brother and I were slamming frozen waffles (and on weekends I would bolt downstairs to perfect my French toast making skills), my father was completely consumed by his plate of brown Egyptian beans. Did I mention this was breakfast? 

My brother and I, being the know-it-alls that we were, could not imagine eating something so smelly and not particularly appetizing.  What was he thinking?  From my perspective this was a sticky, stinky mess of dark brown beans onto which he pile finely chopped hard-boiled egg, some fresh parsley and then he would scoop it all up with a pita.   

He would make his favourite, foulia – the Greek word for them- many times after that and  I realize now that for him that was comfort food. And with so many years of cooking under my belt now I understand that we all need an introduction to those flavours from far off lands before we start using them in our culinary repertoire.  

Here are a few bold flavours of the eastern Mediterranean- not specifically Egypt- that I ‘m using in my kitchen these days that I thought you’d like a little introduction to, if you have not yet been introduced.

Aleppo pepper

A variety of chili pepper named after the town of Aleppo in Syria. I love the medium heat but distinct tangy finish on this ground chili. I use it on roasted veggies, fish and even salads.

Bergamot orange flower water

This is the highly floral essence of a bitter orange used extensively in Persian cuisine, among others.  I love it in custardy desserts or sauces but I suggest exercising a cautious hand as it’s quite intense.     

Sumac

Sumac is the berry of a Mediterranean tree that is sundried and then ground.  There are many varieties of the sumac tree and some are poisonous so it’s important to only purchase ground sumac from specialty stores.  What I’m saying is avoid going on any explorations out in the wild and trying to identify the edible one.  I love it’s tangy but very almost delicate quality.   Many cultures use it as a souring agent, in rice or to marinate meats.  I love it with tomotoes, fresh yogourt or in dips.  I often sprinkle it on roasted fish .      

Dates

  Whenever my father met one of my brother’s friends for the first time he would offer them a date and say” Ever had a fresh date? “ That line never gets old for me.  He loved dates and was literally raised on them.  If you’ve never bought a date from a specialty / ethnic store where they go through them by the kilo , then you’ve never had a so called fresh date.  There are so many varieties and I love using them in cakes, muffins, cookies, stuffing  and even salads.  

Za’Atar

This spice mixture is a big part of the cuisine of many different regions across the Mediterranean and each seems to have its’ own formula. Everyone seems to agree on a bit of sesame and a touch of salt as part of the blend. The confusion sometimes arises because the principal herb used to make the spice blend, is also called Za’Atar. In some regions it features wild thyme or wild oregano or hyssop. It’s most often used on flat bread that has been brushed with olive oil and gently toasted. The intense earthy flavour is great with potatoes and also grilled chicken.

Mahlepi

Also known by its’ Arabic name Mahlab ,as I sit here and type this I am finishing the last bite of my Greek Easter bread that has perfumed the whole room with the unique fragrance of mahlepi – the Greek name. This is one of most unique spices I’ve ever used yet I can’t imagine making my Easter bread without it. The blond kernels come from a wild black cherry tree whose flavor is difficult to describe except that it tastes sweet, almond-like and floral. The words just don’t do it justice. I love it in cookies, bread and cakes. I have not used it in savoury dishes. Perhaps I should try.

Comment

Comment

Anatomy of the Grocery Store

Let’s face it, the grocery store is designed by experts to take us up and down the aisles so that our cart is chock full of products that we didn’t even know we wanted, before we got there.  Throw in a few kids tugging at your legs, a hungry belly and shopping can be an ordeal. 

With all my culinary adventures over the years,  I have spent countless hours grocery shopping  how much I shop is really a bit of a family joke), so I have  come up with some helpful guidelines to make shopping quicker and focused on the four food groups our bodies need to keep us healthy.   

 Always have a grocery list, it helps you stay on track and not over shop.

 Spend most of your time in the outside aisles of the grocery store where most of the fresh items like dairy, vegetables and fruit and meats are found. When you go into the aisles refer to your list for specific ingredients like whole grains, canned fish and beans, peas and lentils.

 Don’t go up and down each aisle looking for what you may want because you are more likely to purchase foods that you don’t need.  Remember to use your grocery list.

  My number one rule of thumb is avoid shopping when you are hungry because that will definitely lead to purchasing things you didn’t need in excess amounts and also increase your shopping bill.

For more tips about healthy eating, click here:  :  http://bit.ly/1qzZqWU

 

 

Comment