Cooking Under Pressure – Honey Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

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Thanks to my readers for welcoming me back!  I’m glad you’re interested in hearing my tales of surviving Culinary School!

One of my friends/readers asked whether I thought my -er, ahem- apparent age was what caused my instructors to be initially somewhat dismissive.

Good question! While I’m sure my age had something to do with it, it was probably more the fact that I flounced in, bejeweled, carrying a giant Louis Vuitton bag, having virtually no idea what Culinary School actually entailed. I vaguely knew that cooking was somehow involved…

I think I was temporarily deranged by grief.  I’m glad I was even admitted. However, I do believe I wasn’t expected to last more than a few weeks.

Again, this wasn’t primarily because of my age. The dropout rate for Culinary School is astonishingly high. Our summer class of close to forty, which was already small because we were summer starters, was down to twelve by the semester’s end.

This wasn’t college like I remembered it.  The attendance requirements were non-negotiable.  You showed up for every class session on time, prepared, dressed in a clean uniform, and ready to work. If you didn’t satisfactorily complete online homework assignments beforehand, you weren’t permitted to attend class.  Two absences and you were out.  People dropped like flies.

My age and job experience ended up helping me. I’m used to showing up on time and working insane hours under less than favorable conditions. I must confess that I actually like it.

But let’s go back to the uniform for a minute.  Chef’s whites – the only garment less flattering than a bee suit!

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I may look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy most of the time, but the uniform is comfortable and functional.  The deep pockets of my Chef’s pants have even replaced my big Louis purse!

Well, I’ve gone on and on, and could go one even longer, but I’ll save some for later.  Instead, I’ll share one of the first recipes we prepared in class:  Honey Poppy Seed Vinaigrette.  It’s fantastic on both fruit and greens, and it’s made with honey!

Honey Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

  • 1/2    cup canola oil
  • 1/2    cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3    cup honey
  • 1    teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2    tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1    teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1    pinch salt, to taste

PREPARATION

Briskly whisk all ingredients or shake in a small jar with a tightly fitting lid.

 

 

 

My Brilliant Culinary Career

I’ve been AWOL for five months now.  My sincerest apologies to all who have tried to reach me without success.  The reason is singular – my complete immersion in Culinary School.

The good news:  my bees are flourishing!!  They’ve never been healthier!!  I’m not sure whether it’s because of the idyllic summer we’ve had in Ohio or the fact that I’ve left them alone to do their own bee thing.  Maybe it’s a combination of both. In any event, they’re in the best possible shape to enter the winter season.

The bad news:  my garden is a mess!  It’s amazing how quickly things will descend into rack and ruin if neglected for even a short period of time.  My neighbors have been incredibly tolerant and understanding.  Perhaps they understand that it’s more painful for me than it is for them!

I’ll give you a flavor of what the past months have been like for me. Then I’ll go back to posting about beekeeping, gardening and cooking with honey.  With some culinary anecdotes of course!

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As some of you may know, I’ve been a corporate lawyer for many years.  About five years ago, I added “writer” and “consultant” to my list of job titles.

In 2012 I added “blogger” to my list.  So how did I end up as “Culinary Student”?

Probably because the best way to motivate me is to tell me I can’t do something.  I’ve always been that way.  It’s the reason I became a lawyer.

There were other factors too. I’ve always loved to cook.  I come from a family of great cooks, both self-taught and professionally trained.  I’m one of those people who owns hundreds of cookbooks and reads them for fun.

And then my best friend died unexpectedly in April.  I was devastated. I was desperate to find something to get myself out of my head and distract me from my grief.

In any event, shortly before the summer semester started in May, I found myself enrolling in Culinary School.

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In truth, I didn’t know whether I just wanted to take a few classes or do something more.  I figured taking cooking classes would be fun, keep me busy, and would help me with my writing.  Beyond that, I was clueless.

It was apparent to my instructors that I hadn’t thought the whole Culinary School thing through. I had no idea what school was like. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my training.

The Administration tactfully suggested that I might not be willing or able to handle the six hour cooking labs and other requirements of the program.  That’s when my motivation kicked in.  I immediately became sure I wanted to pursue a Culinary Arts Degree.  Hey, I might even get a Pastry Arts Degree while I was at it!

The first three weeks of school took their physical toll on me, big time.  I was in good shape when I started, but I wasn’t used to being on my feet cooking for five or six hours at a pop.  I hurt all over.  I started carrying a plastic baggie full of Advil around in the pocket of my chefs’ pants.

And then there was my age. I was older than everyone, including my instructors.  My fellow students avoided me, and I was frequently mistaken for a faculty member.

I hated it.

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Then, around week four, something happened.  I got used to being on my feet for so long. I realized I was really good at professional level cooking.  I stopped caring what people thought of me.  I looked forward to my classes.  I began to think the whole Culinary School thing might work out for me after all!

One thing I never doubted was what type of food I wanted to cook.  I wanted to prepare glorious, adventurous food made from fresh local and seasonal ingredients.  That meant working at an independently owned, fine dining restaurant.

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In Cincinnati, there are many exciting new fine dining restaurants in the Over the Rhine area downtown.  In June, I was lucky to find an apprentice position in one of them.  Thus began my true journey…

That’s enough for tonight, I think.  I hope I’ve left you anxious to hear more!!

I’ve missed you all, and hope you’ve missed me a little too.

More tomorrow….

Deb

 

The Five Plants Bees Love Best

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Deborah DeLong:

This is a very popular post and many of you have requested seeds this year. I’ve restocked and will be happy to fill any and all orders!!

Originally posted on Romancing the Bee:

Okay, I’ve accepted that all of you aren’t going to become beekeepers, despite my best efforts to persuade you to don a beesuit and pick up a smoker and a hive tool.

Some of you are allergic.  Some of you just can’t understand how I can enjoy playing with critters that sometimes sting me. Beekeeping isn’t  for everyone, and that’s okay.

So is there anything you can do to help save the bees? Absolutely!

As most of you know, bees collect nectar and pollen from plants for food. They make honey from the nectar. Pollen is their sole protein source (honey bees are vegetarians) and they use it to make food for their young.

Some plants have more nectar and pollen than others. According to  Dr. Vetaley Stashenko, an apiculturist, naturopath and apitherapist, the five top plants to support the honeybees with nectar and pollen throughout the season are Borage…

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Tips For Creating A Bee-Friendly Garden

Alys Fowler

Alys Fowler

 

Top tips for creating a bee-friendly garden this spring by TV presenter Alys Fowler

Gardening writer and TV presenter Alys Fowler is offering British gardeners top tips to help our bees, as part of Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause campaign to save vital bees that pollinate our food and make our countryside, parks and gardens thrive.

Gardeners are also being asked to help urge the Government to strengthen its plans to protect Briatain’s bee populations.

More than 20 UK bee species are already extinct and a quarter of those remaining are at risk – due mainly to their food and nesting sites disappearing, with 97% of wildflower meadows gone in the last 60 years.

Alys Fowler said:

Gardens are becoming one of the most important refuges for Britain’s wild and honey bees, providing chemical-free food, clean water and a place to nest.

The Government must strengthen its plan to protect bees and other pollinators – but gardeners have a key role to play too.

Taking steps to make your garden bee-friendly brings in other beneficial insects and wildlife too, helping your garden to find its natural balance. When the balance is right, there is no such thing as a pest problem, meaning less work for you.

In return, bees will pollinate your fruits and vegetables, giving you more strawberries, apples and tomatoes to enjoy.

Alys’ top tips for a bee-friendly garden

  • Planting nectar and pollen rich flowers will help you and the pollinators.  Crimson clover (trifolium incarnatum) will please the bees and increase soil fertility through its nitrogen fixing roots.
  • Lacy phacelia (phacelia tanacetifolia) is a green manure that if left to flower will bring hordes of bees. Once it has finished flowering, but before it goes to seed, you can dig it in to improve the fertility of your soil.
  • Allow edible plants like coriander and rocket to flower, these are attractive to bees and once pollinated you can collect seed to sow for next year.
  • Soft fruit is wonderful for bees and delicious to eat too. Take your pick from blackberries, currants and gooseberries to wineberries, blueberries and raspberries – there’s something for every garden.
  • Provide a clean source of drinking water for bees. All that’s needed is a shallow bowl with a few pebbles in the middle, so the bees can rest and sip water.
  • Wild bees need nesting sites, somewhere dry and warm. Make a ‘bee hotel’ by bundling together some old stems of stuff like Jerusalem artichokes or bamboo canes south west facing out of prevailing winds.

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director, Andy Atkins said:

Green-fingered gardeners are usually green-minded too, so we hope they’ll help safeguard crucial pollinators by making their gardens bee-friendly

Avoid peat and pesticides

Friends of the Earth is also urging gardeners to avoid pesticides and peat. There are many excellent peat-free alternatives to avoid the destruction of peat bogs, which are important wildlife sites that absorb carbon pollution and reduce flood risk.

Take action

Gardeners are also being urged to sign a petition calling for the Government’s plan to reverse bee decline – the draft National Pollinator Strategy – to be considerably strengthened to tackle all the threats bees face, especially from intensive farming and pesticides: www.foe.co.uk/beespetition.

Gosh Darn You, Martha Stewart!

I fell in LOVE with the cover of Martha’s Easter Issue. I was positively obsessed!!

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I mean, what’s not to love, right??

So, with my characteristic over-enthusiasm, I decided to recreate Her basket for my daughter’s in-law’s Easter Table. That won’t be too hard, I told myself.

Around two hundred dollars’ worth of Martha Products later, I have a reasonable facsimile of Her Easter basket, if I do say so myself. Minus the adorable lop-eared bunny, of course!

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Martha may not have a warm and fuzzy personality, but She’s still one of my Pantheon of Women Goddesses. Hey, Athena wasn’t Miss Congeniality either! And who else could have had a bunch of federal prison inmates crafting?? To gild the lily, She’s an avid beekeeper too!!

She’s the tops in my book.

Have a wonderful Easter, Martha.  I was just kidding You in the title of my post.  :)

 

Honey Lamb Cake!

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I’ve spent the last 48 hours baking, frosting and decorating three Lamb Cakes for Easter.

Okay, I took a two hour break to hear Carla Hall, my personal favorite Top Chef and co-host of The Chew, speak at our local bookstore, Joseph Beth. I even got to meet her and give her a big hug! She was awesome!

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But that’s another story… Back to the Lamb Cakes

I first encountered Easter Lamb cakes when I moved from Louisville to Cincinnati back in the 70’s.  Cincinnati has a large Eastern European population, mostly German. Lamb cakes are wildly popular in the Old Country at Easter Tide, and German immigrants brought them here in the mid 19th century.

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Lamb cakes were traditionally made in heavy cast iron molds manufactured by the Griswold Manufacturing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania. They aren’t manufactured any more, but you can find them on EBay, usually at exorbitant prices.  I was lucky and got mine for cheap. It was worth the hunt!

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Traditionally Easter Lamb cakes were made with honey and ground hazelnuts. Sadly, nowadays hazelnuts are usually omitted and cane sugar is used instead of honey. My recipe leaves out the nuts, but you can always include some almond flour.

I originally planned to only make one cake, but this recipe makes two large and one small cakes. It was fortuitous though because both of my neighbors wanted one!

By the way, I’m starting Culinary School in two weeks.  Wish me luck!!

Cake Ingredients

3  cups sifted cake flour, plus more for mold

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for mold (I used Crisco to grease the pan)

1 1/4 cups sugar

2/3 cup honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

6 large egg whites, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions

Place rack in center of oven, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a pastry brush, coat both sides of the mold with butter or Crisco, making sure to cover all areas.

Dust mold with flour, tap out excess, and freeze until ready to use.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda,and salt. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed; drizzle in honey. Beat on high until very pale and fluffy. Add vanilla.

Add flour mixture, alternating with milk, beginning and ending with flour. Transfer batter to a large bowl. Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the egg white mixture into cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites.

Pour batter into the “face” side of the mold.  Place  toothpicks or bamboo skewers in the batter to provide support for the head, ears and neck.  Place the other side of the mold on top.  Place on a baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes and turn the mold over.  Bake for another 20 minutes. Transfer mold to a wire rack.  After 15 minutes remove the top side of the mold.  After another 15 minutes or so, carefully remove the cake from the other side of the mold. Let cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day).

Honey Buttercream Frosting

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup honey plus 2 TBSP
4-5 cups powdered sugar
milk as  needed for thinning out frosting

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the honey for 2 minutes.  Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar .
Start on low speed on the mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes.
Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency.
Use milk to thin out frosting to reach desired consistency.

Tips for Success

1. Grease your lamb pan.  Then grease it some more.

2. Flouring your pan is MUST!

3. Fill your lamb on the “face” side of the mold.

4. Add structural support (e.g. toothpicks and/or bamboo skewers) to your lamb cake before it is baked.

5. Tie your lamb cake mold shut with baker’s twine.

6. Bake cake for the maximum amount of time called for in the recipe.

7. Cool cake properly before removing from mold.

8. Loosen edges on the face side completely before trying to de-pan your lamb.

9. Let your lamb cool completely before trying to frost it.

10. Give your lamb a good base (frosting on plate) to sit on.

Happy Easter To All!!