Young cook has fun, gets creative and learns to improvise

Julie Perotti

Today's featured home cook is young and explorative in the kitchen, and not having every tool at her disposal does not deter her at all, it just makes her more gutsy.

Name: Julie Perotti

Age: 25

Occupation: Law student

Residence: Ladson

Family: Husband, Laurent; two boys, Dylan and Atticus; and our dog-daughter, Scout

Q. We understand that you have a broad interest in cooking but that baking is your first love. What do you like about baking and pastry that's especially fulfilling to you?

A. I feel like baking allows me to be more creative in the kitchen. My kitchen is woefully understocked in the tool/gadget department, so I usually have to find a way around certain steps (like not having a stand mixer to knead dough for me). I've had to learn to read recipes as “use a _____ to ____ to make your life easier, otherwise, improvise.” Baking also helped me to explore the make-ahead arena of cooking since so many baked goods freeze and reheat very well. I've been able to expand that to other areas in the kitchen and it has made my life so much easier on weeknights!

Q. This summer you have been experimenting with canning and preserving. What have you been doing and what is something that you've learned?

A. I have been experimenting with jam and preserves lately, especially strawberries from Boone Hall. I have learned quite a bit about how to thicken jams without using added pectin, not that I have anything against pectin, I just rarely have any in my pantry. I have had a lot of success using Chia seeds as a thickening agent.

Q. Who or what in your past sparked your interest in food and cooking?

A. My mom was always a very experimental cook when I was growing up, and I think that is one of the main reasons I became interested in food and cooking. She showed me that cooking is fun and that being creative in the kitchen is a good thing.

When I had a baby of my own, I realized that jarred baby foods have seriously limited options and I wanted him to try as many different fruits and vegetables as possible so I began making his food at home. My interests kind of expanded from there.

Q. The most challenging dish or dessert that you've ever attempted? How did it turn out?

A. As I said before, my kitchen tool supply is very limited. I decided I really wanted to try making caramel, which normally isn't too difficult, but I didn't have a candy thermometer. I'll just say that I am now an expert at cleaning burnt sugar from pots and that buying a candy thermometer was probably the best $5 I've spent!

Q. What are your favorite cooking channels or apps and why?

A. I don't watch much TV, mostly because I don't have a whole lot of free time, but I do love the show “Chopped” on Food Network. I really love the Perfect Produce app. Sometimes I am exhausted and at the grocery store and I forget how to figure out if a certain fruit or vegetable is ideal — do I poke it, smell it, toss it in the air, spin in a circle? The app tells you exactly how to pick the best produce and gives you recipe ideas!

Q. If you had a dream job in food, what would it be?

A. I don't think I would be cut out for any kind of mass production of food; I'm way too slow for that! I would love to write a cookbook someday, though!

A favorite recipe to share:

Ingredients

2 cups water

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

8 to 10 eggs

Filling of choice

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the first four ingredients to a rolling boil.

Immediately take the pan off of the heat and add all of the flour at once. Stir it quickly with a wooden spoon for 30-60 seconds, until all of the flour is incorporated.

Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds to allow some of the moisture to evaporate.

Use a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or brute strength to beat the mixture while adding the eggs, one at a time. The mixture should be thick, but still somewhat fluid. It should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters/spoon when lifted.

Use a pastry bag fitted with a large, round tip (or a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off) to pipe large kisses onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Round off the tops of the puffs using a pastry brush (or your fingers) and egg wash (one egg beaten with 2 teaspoons of water). You just want to make sure the points of the kisses are pressed down.

Bake 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes more, or until they are golden brown and puffed up.

Try not to open the oven door too often during baking.

Allow the puffs to cool. They can be frozen in plastic baggies at this point.

Use a pastry bag fitted with a medium-sized round tip to pipe filling into the puffs (a Ziploc bag is not ideal here, but it is possible to use one if you don't have a pastry bag).

My favorite is lightly sweetened, homemade whipped cream (1 pint heavy whipping cream with 1 to 2 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar, whisked until soft peaks form), but you could really put anything you like in them.

Using something that has a creamy texture usually yields the best results, though. Custard, lemon curd, chocolate mousse, pumpkin mousse, fruit jams (these work best when combined with whipped cream), are all great fillings.