Monday, 25 June 2012

How to properly "prep" your baking pans!

Picking the right pan size and "prepping" it for baking is a lesson all its own. Get the correct pan size and your delicious baked goods will come out even and uniform in size. If you do not have the right baking pan size, or you did not prepare it correctly, your baked good will come out mishaped.

Look the photo above. Two banana bread loaves baked in the exact same size loaf pan. The difference? I "prepped" each pan differently.

In the top pan: I lightly greased the inside with soft butter, cut parchment paper in long strips, and layed the paper over the buttered surface.
Notice: full, uniform, and perfect loaf size.

In the bottom pan: I only buttered the inside of the pan. I did not use parchment paper.
Notice: a slighty edge on the sides. 

Results? The top loaf is, overall, more uniform in size, thanks to the butter and parchment paper. The bottom loaf still has a loaf-like shape, but since there was no parchment paper to "help" the loaf grow while baking, the sides slid down causing its mishape. THIS is why I like to prep my pans with butter and parchment paper. (Please forgo aersol, non-stick sprays! My avid readers know how much I dislike them!)

Prepping your baking pans is simple and easy! I love baking with a thick-gauge, non-stick bakeware because it is super easy to clean, bakes evenly, and afforable.
Step One: Using about 1/8 teaspoon of soften, unsalted butter, I rubbed it inside my pan with my hand. Make sure you get the edges and sides!

Step Two: Cut parchment paper to the pan's size. In a standard loaf pan, I first cut a long rectangle-shape and place it down the middle.
Step Three: I cut two more large pieces of parchment paper and lay it over the long sides. Ta-da! You are finished with your pans. Be sure to have all of your pans ready-to-go before you start baking. Thus, once you are done making your batter or dough, all you have to do is pour it in your pan and bake!

Happy Baking!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

MORE SWEET SUCCESS: University of Montana Cupcakes!

Sharon wanted to do something extra special for her daughter. She was about to graduate from high school and attend the University of Montana in the fall. Sticking with basic chocolate and vanilla cake and buttercream flavors, I created "extra special" decor for the cupcakes. Using red, black, and white fondant, I made the "UM" logo, paw print, and graduation cap. The result? One-of-a-kind cupcakes for a special graduation party. Sharon and her family loved them!

I loved working with Sharon, she made her decision about cupcakes simple and quick: U of M cupcakes using the colors and logo. Perfect, a baker's dream!

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

When you are buying cookware: My TOP 5 questions you must ask!

Buying new cookware or bakeware is tricky...currently, there are many options for you to pick. There is the pricey, moderate, and well, cheap-o-stuff. One of my co-workers asked me for advice: She wanted a couple new pans but did not know where to start. I am please that she asked me and I am always happy to help and answer any questions!

First off know:
1) What type you want: either non-stick, stainless steel, or cast iron cookware.
2) Your budget. Cookware can get expensive. Set a limit!
3) Read consumer reports and customer reviews. Know the "big players" in the game.

Here are my top 5 questions to ask when you are going to purchase your cookware:

1) Does this cookware line get returned for poor quality?
Why: People will return cookware for poor quality. It might chip, flake, or warp. I have seen pans get returned after 6 months of use!

2) What cookware line never gets returned for excellent quality?
Why: Ask this to an experienced salesperson. They will see what gets returned and what never gets returned.

3) Is it OK to return cookware, even after 5, 10, 15 years of use?
Why: Good retail stores will let you bring back cookware, no matter how long you had it. They still want you as their customer! And since cookware is always changing and improving, your old line could of easily be discounted and a new and improved line took its place.

4) If it is a pricey cookware line, ask "Why is this so expensive?"
Why: Manufacturing in the USA and over-seas (mainly in Europe) will "up" the price. Is this a negative quality? No, I am all for jobs in America and over-seas, but they tend make cookware pricey and unaffordable for my lifestyle. Ask yourself, if it is worth it.

5) What would YOU (to the salesperson) buy?
This is very important. Why? A retail store can have MANY, and MANY, options for cookware. But a personal opinion goes ALONG when selling, trust me I know! Also, ask them if they would spend "x-amount of dollars" on this cookware.

Overall when selling cookware, I like people who do personal research before buying. I highly recommend doing this for yourself. Have any questions? Details? Comparison questions?
Ask: Put "Cookware help" in the subject line, please.

Happy Baking!

Monday, 4 June 2012

ALL ABOUT FOOD SAFETY: My top 5 rules for safe food!

A HUGE part in cooking and baking as a profession, is the safety of the food. The public relies on professionals to properly handle, cook, and prepare food in a SAFE matter. FACT: Most restaurants and other food business will fail their health inspection. Why? Some "food rules" are very strict, causing a decline in the "delicious-ness" of the food and work enviroment.

I think of cooking and food rules similar to driving and driver's ed class in high school. Most Americans drive and we took a test to get our licence. Now, after the class and test we:  drive fast, others slow, and some people drive while texting, talking on the phone, and eating. Most of us break driving laws on a daily basis. As long, as we "avoid" the big driving mistakes, we are OK...right?! (Depends on your point of view.)
This "theory" can be applied to food: There are a TON of food laws, which vary state-to-state, country-to-country, and your personal sanitation standards.

Read my top 5 "personal food" rules you can apply to your daily cooking and baking life:

1) If food is meant to be hot, KEEP IT HOT.
How do we define "hot?" By law, hot is 141 degrees F or higher.  How can we keep food hot? In a professional kitchen, we have equipment that keep food hot for long periods of time.
In a domestic setting, your baking/cooking pans will keep your food hot. Thus, if you are serving anything that is meant to be hot (think: rice, proteins, veggies, poatoes, etc), it needs to STAY at 141 degrees F or higher.
In reality: Your hot food will drop below 141 degrees F. That is OK, most of us have consumed "some what" warm food. Your corrective action is to re-warm the food (put it back in the oven or re-cook it on the stove top). That also brings us to rule #2....

2) Toss out food if it has been sitting at room temp for over 4 hours.
Bacteria likes to grow between 41-141 degrees F (AKA: danger zone). Thus, if your potato salad is sitting outside, it is probably at 100 degrees F....a nice breeding ground for bacteria and making you feel no-so-great. My rule? If I have ANY type of food, with the exception of dairy-free baked goods, I toss it out after 4 hours. This "rule" mainly applies to buffets, dinner parties, and BBQs.
In reality: According to "food law," food can be in the "danger zone" a total of 4 hrs, accumulative. So, if your potato salad was only left outside for 1 hour, if you re-chilled it (to below 41 degrees F), you still can eat it and have 3 more "danger zone" hours on it.  Overall, if I have food that has been outside all day in the warm sun, I would rather toss it than consume it.

3) If food is meant to be cold, KEEP IT COLD.
Just like hot food, we define cold as 40 degrees F or below. How do we keep out? In professional kitchens, we have equipment that keeps our food COLD. In a domestic setting, you have your fridge and homemade ice-baths to keep your food nice and cold.
In reality: I find it "annoying" to ice-bath everything that I make that is meant to be cold. Most of "us" (professionals) go back to Rule can be in the danger zone for 4 hours, accumulative. Thus, we can set out a tray of crudite, salads, fruit trays, and dressings without an ice-bath. You will see this a lot in buffets and BBQs.

4) Keep your eye out for PHF.
What is PHF: Potentailly Hazardous Foods. What makes a food, PHF? Any food that can bread bacteria, causing people to become ill, and requires time temperature control, like I mention in the previous 3 rules.

Here is the big list of PHF from the FDA:

Meat (beef, pork, lamb)

Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)
Shellfish and crustaceans
Eggs (except those treated to eliminate Salmonella)
Milk and dairy products
Heat-treated plant food (cooked rice, beans, or vegetables)
Baked potatoes
Certain synthetic ingredients
Cut Tomatoes (when pH is 4.6 or above)
Cut Leafy Greens
Raw sprouts
Tofu and soy-protein foods
Untreated garlic and oil mixtures
Cut melons, including watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.

SO:  PHF List + rule #1, #2 and #3 = What you really need to worry about. (esp. in a professional setting)
It is OK if your food, that is not on the list, stays at room temp over 4 hours, or "is inside" in the danger zone for hours. (Don't worry, my chocolate chip cookies don't last long that 2 hours when I bake 'em!)

5) Cool foods 100% before storing.
This is a biggie: When we store leftovers in containers, the food itself needs to be 40 degrees F or below. Most of us do not. This is easy to do: put your leftovers in a shallow pan (like a brownie pan) for a couple hours before storing it in a container.

-Keep PHF out of the danger zone as much as you can!
-The only "real" way to know the temperature of a food, is to purchase a kitchen thermometer and temp your food! Most of us, even myself, rely on time, touch, and visual appeal of the food to tell us if the food is done cooking. Example: If I am cooking chicken breast at home, and it has been in the oven for over one is probably done. If I am cooking chicken breast in a professional setting, my thermometer will "tell me" once the food is done, even if it has been in the over for over one hour.
-Yes, we will eat food that is not truly "hot or cold." We cannot avoid that.
-Cool foods before storing!
-If you have PHF, that have been sitting out all day, you need to toss 'em for safety sake!

Overall, food and safety laws can get confusing. The best way is to familiar yourself with YOUR state's and county's food laws. See what which laws applies to your cooking and baking and how you can apply them. Am I saying every home cook needs a super pricey thermometer and starting a temp log and journal? Naw. Just be aware of your food and how you are serving it.

Happy Baking!

Friday, 1 June 2012


I love giving hints, tricks, and tips about baking, cooking, and cookware. Most of the time, I need to tell people to STOP doing a bad "habit" in the kitchen. These 5 tips on what NOT to do in the kitchen will help you in the long run...

1) STOP using non-stick sprays on your bakeware/cookware/glassware:
Here is why: Non-stick sprays (anything in an aersol can) contains an ingredient called propellent, which is a nasty chemical that leaves a caramel colored firm on top of your bakeware. That film is very difficult to clean and remove from your pan.
What to do now: Line your bakeware with parchment paper. If needed, wipe a paper towel with soften butter or canola/veggie oil, and "grease" your pans that way instead of using the sprays.

2) STOP using constant high heat on your cookware:
Here is why: Constant high heat kills almost any cookware. Leaving you with warpped, clumsy pans. What is constant high heat? Think 8-10 on " the dial," daily.
What to do now: Preheat your pans correctly, so you won't have to blast your pan on high. Here is the proper steps: Put pan on stove top, turn burner on (probably 5-7 on "the dial), wait 3-5 minutes (this "waiting time" will depend on your cooking range) and start cooking. Want to know if your pan is warm enough? Drop a teaspoon of water in your pan, it should sizzle.

3) STOP using fake fats:
Here is why: They nothing. Real butter, oil, and fat bring flavor to any dish. Plus, your body digests real fat better than fake fat any day.
What to do now: Subsitute your fake fat, for real ones. Toss your "butter-wannabes" and exchange it for real butter.

4) STOP using pure aluminum cookware, bakeware, and tools:
Here is why: Aluminum is a decent heat conductor and very abundant. But, pure aluminum warps very easy, reacts with acidic foods (your lemon curd will turn gray), scratches and strains easily, and is known to be associated with serious diseases. The only way aluminum is safe when cooking or baking, is to buy hard anodizied aluminum with a safe non-stick coating inside and outside the pan. What does pure aluminum look like? It is light gray in color, lightweight, and soft. You could bend it pretty easy!
What to do know: Toss it out. Buy new cookware and tools.

5) STOP worrying if a recipe does not work out correctly:
Here is why: When you are cooking or baking, you might mess up. Actually, YOU WILL MESS UP. I have made many baking and cooking mistakes in my life, that is what I like passing along helpful information to others. With any new skill, practice is needed to become successful.
What to do now: Keep a recipe log, journal, or blog. Write down recipes that you and any modifications that you made during cooking/baking process.

Overall, enjoy your cooking and baking life! It is meant to be enjoyed, just like life.

Happy Baking,