Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saturday Scribblings: Eating Out & Baking In

So I've decided when we eat out or try a new business, I'm going to write up a review on Yelp.  Here's the one I wrote up yesterday-

After first Friday at Greenbaum's Quilted Forest, my Mom offered me a choice of Great Harvest or a new place she had read about in the local paper. I'm always happy to be the guinea pig for food adventures, so I naturally chose the new place. Thankfully, she knew where it was located since the signage left a bit to be desired.  With this being the case, I was a bit leery about this new place. However, from the moment we walked into Tres M Bistro, I was pleasantly surprised. 
The first thing I noticed, being a big fan of The Great British Bake Off, was the display case of delicious looking pastries. The place was spotless and decorated simply but with just enough to give it ambiance.
We were greeted by a very nice young man who handed us menus and informed us we would order at the counter then sit where we'd like. The choices were numerous and all looked tasty. Mom decided on the crème brûlée waffle while I chose the banana, Nutella and cream crêpe. We both ordered coffee which came in large mugs. The young man even helped my mom carry her coffee to the table. 
It seemed like we had just started talking and enjoying the good coffee when our order came. 

The crêpe was as good as any I had while in Paris, and mom said the waffle was the best in Salem.
The only bad part was we were too full to even think of taking any pastries home with us- totally our faults as we ate every bite! I can't say how much I was happy to have chosen Tres M Bistro.  I'm looking forward to going back next week with my husband to get to try a pastry or two!! (I ended up receiving a very kind response from the owner which makes me want to go back soon!)

Today started with praying the liturgy of the hours, like I try to do everyday. After that I moved right into The Great Keatley Baking Challenge (TGKBC) for cookie day.  David had asked me for a variety of cookies for his birthday which is coming up in a couple of weeks plus this Tuesday is "Serra Sweets" at Mt. Angel Seminary. It's the day before Ash Wednesday which is known as Fat Tuesday. The Salem Serra Club helps to promote this by taking a bunch of goodies to the seminarians. Since it's something I can do plus I know how much fun it is to hang out with the members of the Serra Club and th seminarians! By making cookies today, I was able to "kill 3 birds with one stone" by making enough cookies for all three things- David's birthday, Fat Tuesday & TGKBC! I made three different cookies- chocolate biscotti with a poured fondant drizzle, candied ginger & chocolate chip as well as gluten free peanut butter. They were all fairly easy and were fun to make. Somehow baking all day, even when it can be tiring, can be relaxing when it's for special people. Here's what I made:


Looking forward to a day off from baking tomorrow. I'm excited that we get to spend the day with our seminarian, Joshua, as we attend Mass at St. Joseph's followed by the Knights of Columbus Seminarian Breakfast. We'll come home to be able to skype with th other kids which will be icing on the cake, if I don't mind saying myself!


Thursday, February 4, 2016

TGKBC Day 1 & 2- Bread & Choux

Yesterday I spent a good time in the afternoon baking bread for the first day of my self-imposed "Great Keatley Baking Challenge". Since the loaves weren't ready until dinner time, I decided to post about it today. I made what is called "lean bread dough". This means it has no fat in it.  I wasn't thrilled with the dough itself, but the bread didn't turn out too bad. The biggest issue was trying to figure out just at what temperature to bake it. I went with what the book says, but I sort of wish I would've gone with my instincts/past experience and baked it a little lower. It came out chewy with a good crumb, but I still think the crust is too dark. It did slice well and was tasty with a dab of butter on it, so I guess that's what counts!
Just starting to mix the ingredients.
Finished dough during its' first rise.
Bench rest before final shaping and proving.
Voila! My first challenge completed!

Today's challenge was pate a choux filled with orange pastry cream and drizzled with orange icing. It was amazing how easy the choux was to make and work with as it is very forgiving. I wasn't thrilled with the way all of the buns were piped, but when baked, they looked fine. I found them less stressful than the pastry cream. After the first batch failed, I made another which turned out okay. Definitely something for me to keep working on! My friend, Annette, came over today, so it was fun to serve a few of the choux pastries with our coffee. I highly recommend choux pastry if you're looking for something elegant but super simple to bake!
All it takes are flour, eggs, milk, butter & a pinch of salt!
Easy to do with the help of my Kitchenaid mixer. This is the finished dough after adding the eggs.
All piped and ready to go in the oven.
Once they are out of the oven, you poke the bottoms with a skewer to let the steam escape. That's how they dry out for a non-mushy pastry!
Finished Choux Buns filled with orange pastry cream and drizzled with orange icing. Delicious!

I'll be baking cookies and other goodies for the seminarians up at Mt. Angel for Fat Tuesday over the weekend. Looking forward to the challenge of more new recipes to try!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Great Keatley Baking Challenge Begins

Like so many others, my husband and I have succumbed to the irresistible siren's call that is otherwise known as The Great British Bake Off (TGBBO)
It all started innocently enough. The kids were all home for their  Christmas break when the eldest asked if I had seen any of "the show". Upon hearing my reply that I hadn even heard of it, she took it in her hands to be sure it was remedied quickly.  I don't know if she realized what she was unleashing. By the time the bakers were working on their first technical challenge, I was hooked. 
What is it that makes TGBBO so appealing? After all, I have been watching American produced cooking contest shows for years. I've always enjoyed watching the process with which a cook or baker goes through in order to present a finished product. Most American shows have talented contestants, educated judges and likeable hosts, so what's the difference? Actually, I think there are a few reasons that make the difference. 1) In TGBBO the winner receives a trophy and flowers, along with the title of Britain's Top Amateur Baker for the year they win. That's it. NO MONEY. You won't see that in any cooking/baking contest in America that I know if except maybe a county or state fair. 2) The bakers are nice to each other. I mean REALLY nice in the truest sense of the word. They even help the other bakers when their product is finished. No sarcasm, no criticism, no sabotage. Just good baking and good sportsmanship. 3) The hosts are also nice, and they're funny without being obnoxious. Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are award winning writers and comediennes who are able to make the viewers want to know what's going to happen next while keeping the bakers calm and the judges on their toes. 4) Paul Hollywood (yes, that's his real name) and Mary Berry are the judges. They have many years of experience, and yes, they are super nice.  Even when they are giving their critiques, they never purposely make the bakers feel poorly about a bad bake. Their knowledge and expertise of baking is amazing, and yet, as Mary has said, she often learns things from the bakers.
5) Last but not least, there is NO DRAMA compared to the American shows that I've viewed. Of course, there is a bit of tension as the bakers are finishing up each of the challenges. It can be quite riveting to see them struggle to complete something, but there isn't any added nonsense. It's so refreshing to watch a baking contest where the entrants are just there to bake.
That all being said, if you haven't watched an episode of The Great British Baking Show, there are episodes on Netflix as well as YouTube. There have been spin-offs, and I've watched most of them. None of them have the quality of baking TGBBO has, but I can recommend the following: The Great Irish Bake Off and The Great South Bake Off. There is The Great American Bake Off, but I would skip it. We sat through it just to feed my addiction, but it wasn't worth it. Why? Everything right about TGBBO was wrong with the American version. The only good part of it was that Paul Hollywood was one of the judges. I'd rather watch a repeat of TGBBO (or have a root canal) than watch anymore of the American bake off.  
Now that we've watched almost every episode and version, I've decided to give myself a baking challenge. I'm calling it The Great Keatley Baking Challenge (TGKBC).  Brian has a plethora of cookbooks (oh the interesting life being married to someone with OCD). The good part is most of them are really nice cookbooks. The one that caught my eye during the watching frenzy is Mastering the Art and Craft of Baking and Pastry by the Culinary Institute of America.
Now, this is more of a textbook and cookbook combined, but I figured I might be able to use it for my challenge. After skimming through it, I knew it was what I was looking for. Of course, most of the recipes make way more than I would ever be able to make, but that's where Brian comes in. He's going to help me do the math, so I can make smaller batches of all he recipes. We've decided to switch up the recipes each time- sometimes bread, sometimes cake, sometimes other recipes I can't pronounce yet- with the idea and hope to get through the whole book in a couple of years.
I'm starting today with a simple bread dough. It's similar to what I've made before, but I am still going to give it a go.  I'm looking forward to this challenge.  As they say on TGBBO, I'm going to "get ready, get set, bake"!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Seedbeds of Charity

From Pope Francis:
“the family is the answer to the great challenge of our world, which is a dual challenge: fragmentation and solidification, two extremes which co-exist, support each other and together support the consumerist economic model. The family is the answer as it is the cell of a society that balances the personal and community dimensions, and at the same time the model for a sustainable management of the goods and resources of creation. The family is the protagonist of an integral ecology, as it is the primary social subject which contains within itself the two basic principals of human civilisation on earth: the principles of communion and fruitfulness. Biblical humanism presents us with this icon: the human couple, united and fruitful, placed by God in the garden of the world to cultivate it and protect it”.
My son, Joshua, who is in his second year of seminary shared this in an email along with something Dr Topping, one of his Thomas More College professors, told them. "One time John Paul II said that the family today is like the Benedictine monasteries of the Dark Ages. Both are centers of moral order, seedbeds for charity."
With the blessing of having Pope Francis visit the U.S. a few months ago, this is something for us to ponder. As parents, we must lead our families along the way towards holiness. Whether our children are young or have reached adulthood, we have the opportunity to help them figure out life as a follower of Christ. 
One thing we have to realize is that we cannot do this by ourselves. That is why it's so important to be in community. I must admit with the way life has been for me lately, I have fallen away from that more than I would have liked to do. With our kids all off to school, I find myself insulating a bit more than is good for me. I don't think this is being a good example to others- from my own young adult children to extended family to friends- and I've been trying to figure out how to remedy this. 
One way I was able to start was when we finally decided to take the leap and invite a fantastic young family from our parish to come to our house for an Advent "crafternoon".

                                  
I came up with a couple of easy crafts- snowflakes cut from coffee filters and gingerbread houses from graham crackers and candies. The family which has 7 adorable children came for a few hours, and we all had a wonderful time. My heart was filled with joy as the mom came in and after greetings, went right over to our little oratory, knelt down on the prie-dieu Josh had made for me a couple years ago, and prayed for a moment. It was the first time anyone other than our family members had done that. Laughter filled the house along with lots of smiles as each of the kids made their creations.  
                                                                                                         

Joshua and the girls got into the action, helping with the crafts and they all did a great job of keeping the littlest visitor entertained. Simple snacks of cookies and hot cocoa & cider topped off the "crafternoon". 
After that small step, I am longing to do more. We have so many families with young children in our parish, and it's up to us older moms (for I am realizing I have reached that spot on the spectrum of life) to make sure they are being nourished and cultivated. It's not that hard. It just takes a willingness to give a bit of time.
So many young mothers and fathers do not have the time, extra money or energy to do the little extra things those of us on the other side of raising our families are able to do. As the new year approaches, I pray you consider how you can help to plant seedbeds of charity. I know I am looking forward to trying it soon!