Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas!

christmas cookies

I never thought I'd say this, but I am glad to be out of the kitchen for awhile. I counted it all up, and between our holiday party two weekends ago and then hosting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at our house, I've logged quite a few hours in the kitchen. However, seeing as a lot of it involved cooking with family, friends, wine and hot cider, I really can't complain, right?

For anyone who is keeping track, or really wants to know, here is a breakdown of everything I made these past two weeks (who am I kidding, I just wanted to type it out for myself so I can show off how much I actually did...I'm not ashamed to admit that).

The Christmas Party Menu
Pate de Campagne, served with pickles, dijon, and a baguette
Pork tenderloin with rosemary and garlic
Assorted cheese, sausage, and crackers
Hot Buttered Cider (from this article, but the recipe is not available online...if you want it, let me know...I patted myself on the back after deciding to make this, because everyone loved it)

Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
Cranberry, Walnut, and Bleu Cheese Spinach Salad
Baguette

Christmas Dinner Menu
Rib Roast
Sauteed Asparagus
Mushrooms in Butter and Garlic
Carmelized Onions
Mark Bittman's Apple Raisin Bread Pudding

The monumental list of cookies that I decided to make for the holiday events
Candy Cane Cookies (second recipe down)

Homemade Gifts

We also served homemade breakfasts on both days, consisting of buttermilk waffles, bacon, and a sweet roll pastry that my husband's family calls "stollen". This recipe confused me (while making the pastry, and also while eating it Christmas morning), because I knew it wasn't stollen...so after some internet sleuthing, I've figured that it's actually a recipe for Beigli. This is the closest recipe I could find online; it says it's a Polish recipe, but other sites I found say it's Hungarian (which my husband's family is, so that makes sense). Here are some other similar recipes that I found (a few of these use sour cream in the dough, so I'm interested in maybe trying those next year, as this year's roll turned out a bit dry...)

So.... whew! That's how our holidays went down. We were tired and exhausted after all of it, but loved every minute. Hope yours was just as wonderful and that you got everything that you wished for.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkeys...

turkeys!

All in all, a pretty great way to spend Thanksgiving afternoon.*

Yes, those are almonds for the tails. And yes, we made that many. They make a pretty cute army, no?

These were inspired by Bakerella and her new book (of which my sister had a copy - of course). This design is very loosely based on her chick (for Easter), with a few tweaks here and there to make it into a turkey.

*And while I was sort of grossed out by these in the beginning (hello, do you know what the inside is? You bake a whole cake, and then you crumble it up and mix it with icing. So it sort of looks like already-chewed-up cake. Gag) I was surprised to find out that they are really good...remarkably good. Like....grab two, three more good. Imagine the inside of a truffle - sort of creamy, but not as gooey.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Belly Smackin' Good

il_fullxfull.191029258
I must have this print for my kitchen.

P.S. How's your fall so far? Another food post coming soon!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mojito Semifreddo

mojito semifreddo

I am going through a huge purging and organizing spree. I think I'm finally getting tired of the disconnect between our house and our storage methods. Yes, let me explain. Our house is generally pretty clean to the casual observer. We keep clutter to a bare minimum, our bed is always made, the sink is usually free of dirty dishes, and the heavy vacuuming that we have to do weekly has more to do with our dogs shedding than anything else. So in general, we're living in a decently clean house.

And you'll believe all of that, I'm sure, until you open up one of our closets. And then you'll see where we hide all of our - literally - dirty secrets. Ugh. Things stacked up haphazardly, coats stuffed up on shelves, random shoes tucked into nooks, stacks of books and CD's with no rhyme or reason - it's disorganization with a capital D.

I started getting really frustrated with our inefficient ways, and about a month ago decided to do something about it. So in addition to cleaning out closets, buying baskets, bins, and buckets so that everything has a place, I decided to tackle my frighteningly increasing amount of cookbooks and loose random recipes. As is the case with our closets and storage areas, I want the kitchen to more polished and put together. Like anything at this site.

So this meant I had to do some serious purging of the recipe mountain. Which is how I found today's recipe (wow, what a terribly long lead-in, huh?). I am only a little bit ashamed to admit that it's a Rachel Ray recipe, but even more ashamed to admit that I had not one, not two, but three of her magazines that I decided to pitch. The horrors!

But what's even more horrendous is the name of this recipe. "Frozen Mojito Cake-Tails." Get it? Yeah, I had to think awhile about that one. Sometimes, her cuteness really undermines her recipes. Usually she has some pretty nice flavor combinations, but most people can't get past her annoying, gimmecky shortcuts and naming conventions that she insists on using (EVOO, anyone?).

The original recipe called for pretzels cooked in butter as the crust (what. why?), another 2 sticks of butter, 2 packages of cream cheese, almost a cup and a half of sugar, and 2 cups of heavy cream. Whoa, nelly! She says it should serve 12, I say more like 48. Details, schmetails, right? I reduced all of the fats by half, I cut the sugar to just over 1/2 a cup, subbed in a graham cracker crust, and even with all of that reducing, it still made over 12 individual servings, plus some extra that I froze in a ramekin for midnight raids. The end result is a wonderfully light, creamy, and airy treat, with a fantastic minty-lime finish.

As you can see, I tweaked and changed this recipe a lot. Enough, in fact, that I feel justified in changing the name. Let's call these Mojito Semifreddo's, because, let's face it, we're grownups, not 14 year olds. My tweaked recipe is below. If you feel emboldened, super skinny, or just feel like quickly putting on a few extra pounds, then by all means go check out the original recipe here.

Mojito Semifreddo's

Crust:
1 stick butter, cut into 1" cubes
1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar

Filling:
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup granulated sugar, depending on your desired sweetness level (I used 1/2 cup)
1 8-oz package cream cheese, at room temperature
Grated peel of 2 limes, plus the juice of those 2 limes (a little over 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon white rum
2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with 12 silicone muffin cups. In a small saucepan over medium heat, slowly melt butter. Whisk the sugar and the graham cracker crumbs together, then add to the melted butter. Cook for about 2 minutes, letting the mixture heat through and get a nice nutty fragrance. Remove from heat.
2. Carefully pack about 1 tablespoon of the graham cracker mixture into each cup (I probably used 2 tablespoons for each one since I like a lot of crust). Place tin in oven, and bake for 8-12 minutes, or golden around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
3. Beat the cream cheese on medium speed for about 1 minute. Slowly beat in the sugar, and beat for another 2 minutes. Gradually mix in the lime peel, juice, rum, and mint.
4. In a separate bowl, beat the cream until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cream into the cream cheese mixture.
5. Divide the mixture evenly among the cupcake molds and smooth the tops. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 8 hours, or overnight.
6. If you used silicone, good for you: just peel the silicone cup off of each one, then invert onto a plate, then flip it crust-side down. If you didn't use silicone, you may have a harder time removing them. I'd try her suggestion of using a wet knife and running it around the edges, then inverting onto a plate.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cherry Brown Butter Bars

cherry brown butter bars

I made these weeks ago, when I was still in the middle of my crazy cherry-buying mode. I'd see cherries in the grocery store and I would snatch them up frantically, like it was the last bag on earth, while everyone around me stared at me and wondered what's wrong with that girl? My mind would be racing with ideas of what to do with them - cherry pie? cobbler? something savory to pair with pork? - and then once I got home, I'd be so paralyzed with indecision, that I'd just let them sit for a day until I could make up my stubborn mind.

This recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen. I'd had it printed and bookmarked for an entire year, and I found it as I was flipping through all of my recipes, looking for ideas (which, at that point, I was really wishing for an electronic way to store my thousands of recipes...how easy it would have been to just do a digital search for "cherry"...yes, I need an iphone. Or a Kindle. Or something that will do that for me...any suggestions?).

Go ahead, make these. Your husband will think you're a goddess. Trust me. I think at one point, with his mouth full of a bite, he proclaimed that these were the best thing that I had ever made. Now that's saying something.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Seasonal Produce Calendar Search

Calendar_A1

Help me out here, folks. In our household's quest to eat seasonably, I am on a mission to find a graphically awesome and helpful calendar, or poster, or letterpress something that I can hang in our kitchen. I want it to be a guide as to what's fresh when, but I also want it to look great, like the UK example above.

Anyone know where I can find something like that, that applies to the Southern part of the country? I've searched Etsy and found these calendars, but she doesn't have anything for my region (yet). I also want something more colorful, maybe slightly vintage-kitsch-country? I'm tempted to ask this Etsy graphic designer to commission one for me because I absolutely adore her style, but before I do that, I feel like there's got to be something out there that already exists...any ideas?

A Very Random P.S: When I typed the title of this post I was suddenly transported back to my 5th grade spelling bee, where I horrifically spelled the word "calendar" incorrectly, only to lose the competition and come in second place. So traumatizing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This is not a food post

Ruby

This is a post asking for your help. See that little link in the upper left-hand column of my blog? The one that says "Vote for Tunica Humane Society"? Please click on that link and vote for that organization. You can vote once a day. They are in the running for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi. They deserve it so much.

And here's why. My husband and I learned of this organization through a friend, and learned of their need for foster homes. They had one puppy in particular - a German Shepherd puppy - that we agreed to foster. On Saturday, while my husband finished up some jobs around the house, a friend and I drove down to Tunica to pick up little Ruby.

And you guys, the shelter doesn't even have a building. They don't even have an address. It is run by two of the sweetest ladies, who are working with nothing but their own money and volunteer time to keep this shelter running. They have upwards of 50 dogs, all in outdoor kennels. But I was immediately impressed by the cleanliness - these ladies and their volunteers are doing an amazing job with what they have, but they need a building. Sandy, the director, told us that during the winter, they had to tarp all of the kennels and they had to constantly keep switching out water bowls, as the water would freeze almost as soon as they put it out. And now, the dogs are having to sit out in this unbearable heat. The kennels all have roofs, so at least they are in the shade...but still.

The organization already has a building that they know they could buy and turn into a wonderful shelter, if only they could win this content. So please, vote! To convince you to vote, I've included a picture of our foster puppy, Ruby, getting a much-wanted belly rub from my husband. So please, vote!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Being Food Smart

kingsolver

Each passing year, I find myself more and more inspired to eat locally, cook simply, and to be smart about our food and our meals. This change in me really started once I met my husband, and it really went into overdrive once we got married. All of a sudden, we were a family! A family that we have to keep healthy and happy! I wasn't my single self anymore, when a handful of cooked edamame and a grilled cheese sandwich was enough (although, to be honest, that's still one of my favorite snacks). I found myself beginning to cook and bake more, and before I knew it, I'd become a cooking crusader.

So, my to-do list this summer involved reading more about this subject. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was at the top of my list, and a few weeks ago I drove to our local library to pick it up.

Not quite a documentary, not quite a recipe book, her story tells of how their family moved to a farm and pledged to eat only local foods; either what they produced from their own hard work, or food that was produced by neighboring farmers. At times the book gets somewhat political, criticizing meat-processing methods and huge mega-corporations. She touches on Monsanto's frightening seed monopoly and how they are crippling the local farmers across the country with their lawsuits. Very similar to the documentary Food, Inc., she covers a wide range of food-related topics.

I find myself so incredibly passionate about this, but at the same time somewhat helpless. I would love to say that we're going to pack up our home tomorrow and move to a farm to live a sustainable life style, but I can't. So I try to do what is right for my family, and what I believe is right for our world. Eat local when possible, cook at home, don't waste, and support all of the wonderful farmers and growers in Memphis.

For more great links, check out Animal Vegetable Miracle's website.

And if you're interested in keeping a green and efficient kitchen, here is another great post by Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini.

Update: I've finished the book. And, honestly, the more I got into it, the more I became perturbed at her underlying tone of righteousness, especially towards the end. Countless times, I found myself scoffing; Kingsolver tends to lump all of America into one giant heap of unknowing and unthinking beings who will eat anything prepackaged and fast. She also flirts with hypocrisy, patting herself on the back for having an entire Thanksgiving meal comprised of things from their farm, only to indulge by buying a bag of cranberries from the store to "keep with holiday tradition." Give me a break.

I was also fairly annoyed with her obvious use of a thesaurus. At one point, she uses the word "comestible". Seriously? For those of you who aren't sure of what that means (because I didn't, although I could figure it out from the context), it means "articles of food; edibles". So...food.

So, I give this book 3 stars, for any one who cares. I at least enjoyed her facts that she had gathered about food production in the United States, and the short blurbs by her husband about various farming issues.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Truffles

chocolate mint chocolate truffles

Our decision to join a CSA for the summer was the best one we've ever made (aside from marrying each other, of course...haha...but no really, the CSA is a close second). Starting in May, we've been getting a bundle of goodies each Saturday from the local farmer's market. It's ranged from lettuces, chicory, braising greens, tomatoes...and now that summer is in full swing we've been getting more squash, wax beans, french beans, etc. Of course, we've also been given beets and radishes. Which we tried. And didn't like. But there you go, that's what a CSA is for...supporting local farmers, plus really figuring out what you do and don't like!

In addition, they usually they throw in a few sprigs of fresh herbs, including dill, parsley, oregano...and this week, they gave us chocolate mint. The guy filling up my bag at the farmer's market said rather casually, "Oh, and this is chocolate mint, and this is oregano..." but all I heard was the chocolate mint.

What is chocolate mint, you ask? Here is a great link. It smells like chocolate, and yes, mint. I'd say that it is similar to an Ande's mint - a very smooth, yet complex combination.

As soon as I got home, I knew what I was going to do with it. Yes, truffles. I could think of no better way to use this amazing herb than to steep it in heavy cream, then combine it with the richest chocolate I could find.

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Truffles
adapted from Joy of Cooking

12 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1-1/4 cup heavy cream
8-10 good sized chocolate mint leaves, torn (regular mint would work here too - but reduce the amount; it's a bit stronger than the chocolate mint)

Coatings
sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
sifted confectioner's sugar

1. Set your chopped chocolate in a medium-sized glass mixing bowl.
2. Combine mint and cream in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring almost to a simmer, stirring constantly. Using a fine-meshed strainer set over a large bowl, strain the cream-mint mixture. Discard the mint.
3. Immediately pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute, then stir slowly, thoroughly combining the chocolate and cream.
4. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Transfer to refrigerator and chill for 3-4 hours (or overnight, which is what I did).
5. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Scoop out 3/4" diameter balls from your ganache mixture, rolling quickly between your hands. Warning: this will be messy. You will feel like your truffles will never be right and that they are melting all over the place, but don't worry what they look like just yet. Place your lumpy forms on the baking sheet, then chill for another 2 hours.
6. Set out your coating choices (I used both) in low shallow bowls, and line another baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the truffles from the fridge, and one by one, quickly roll them between your hands to improve their shape (there! now they look round! see, I told you not to worry). Gently drop them in the coating, then roll it around by tipping the bowl every which way until it's sufficiently covered. Carefully remove, and place on the clean baking sheet.
7. At this point, you can either refrigerate for a few weeks, or freeze them for up to 3 months. Or, put them in cute candy cups and serve! These make wonderful gifts.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cherry Pandowdy

pandowdy

Ordinarily, I love going to the grocery store. Is that weird? There is something about perusing the aisles, selecting our food for the week, putting it in the cart, and being able to bring it all home and put it away...there is something ridiculously satisfying there.

However, if I'm tired, and - even worse - hungry, then oh no. Watch out. This was the case yesterday. I went in to the office for a few hours on Sunday, and for some dumb reason I neglected to eat anything all day. I then went to the grocery store, and I didn't realize how tired and hungry I was until I found myself in the baking aisle, tiredly trying to decide if I really needed one of those dish sponges with the handle on it. And this was already after I'd thrown a melon baller and an onion-saver container in my cart. I then moseyed over to the shampoo aisle, where I think I spent a good 20 minutes testing out different scents until I found one that I liked. Just call me pokey! I finally woke up when I turned around and was startled to find an older gentleman right behind me. "Oh, don't worry, I'm not stalking you," he told me reassuringly. "I'm just trying to admire your beauty." Um, creepy old man, that's pretty much the same thing.

After that wake-up call, I made a bee-line for the check-out lane. But suddenly, I spotted cherries over in the produce department. Cherries. Yessssss. I excitedly grabbed a bag and threw it in my cart, looking over my shoulder the entire time for Mr. Stalker.

So I spent my late afternoon pitting cherries. Which is always better than being at work. Here's a trick to pitting cherries: use the blunt end of a bamboo skewer (or chopstick) to push the pit out. Easy!

And have you ever made a Pandowdy? I hadn't, either. I chose this recipe because I already had a pie crust in the freezer that I'd made a few months ago and was wanting to use it up. A pandowdy is basically an easier version of pie. As you can from my pictures, my pie crust ended up being torn into pieces and laid on top, because someone was tired and couldn't roll out her crust very well.

Cherry Pandowdy
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

6 cups washed and pitted cherries (about 2 lbs cherries with pits)
sugar to taste, plus 2 tbsp
the juice of 1 lemon
butter for greasing the pan
1 recipe pie crust (Bittman recommends using his Sweetened Enriched pie crust, which uses 2 yolks and more sugar...I plan on doing that next time)
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the fruit with the sugar and lemon juice, and let sit for 5 minutes. Spread the fruit in the bottom of a greased 8" square or 9" round baking pan.
2. Roll out your pie crust, and carefully lay it over the fruit. Tuck in the corners and edges under the fruit. Brush the top of the crust with milk. Mix the remaining sugar with the cinnamon, and sprinkle on top.
3. Bake for about 30 minutes. At this point you can score the top in a "x" pattern, or push some of the crust down into the hot, bubbly fruit. Bake for an additional 15 minutes or so, until the crust is nice and browned.
4. Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired. And why wouldn't you want to do that?

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Flavor Bible

theflavorbible

I've always been intrigued by new and exciting ingredients in baking, but now I'm to the point that I like to invent my own recipes, or take a recipe and doctor it to my liking. Are you there too? Do you read recipes and think, um, this would be so much better if I added x, y, and then topped it with z?If you are, then please buy this book.

It's not a cookbook. Rather, think of it like a giant thesaurus or reference guide, but for food. Basically, it tells you what goes with what. That's probably a terrible description, so here's an example. Tonight my husband and I are going to a (free!) and outdoor concert, so we've planned to take a picnic of wine, cheese, olives, and bread. The perfect dinner, huh? I think I could live on appetizers. You? So my husband came home with some Mahon cheese (boy I do love him). I looked up "Cheese, Mahon" in the Flavor Bible, and guess what goes with Mahon Cheese? Quince paste. Yeah, I had no idea either. But we'll go get some quince paste to try with the cheese, because this book has been compiled by countless chefs across the country weighing in on what, ideally, goes with what in the culinary world. We're not going to doubt their suggestions. So quince paste it is!

Pretty neat, huh? Have a great weekend! And if you're at the Levitt Shell tonight, we'll be there too...we'll be the couple in the blue folding chairs eating our weight in cheese and olives. Good times!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lemon Basil Shortbread

lemon basil shortbread

Well, it's definitely summer here in Memphis. Despite the above-100 degree heat index, the horrible humidity, and the constant level of sweat, I absolutely love it. I am even loving the mosquito bites all over my legs, because you know what? It means that it's not winter. If I start complaining about the heat in August, just remind me of this, ok?

You know what else is just fantastic about the summertime? When friends who own a lakehouse in Mississippi call us and invite us down for a weekend. Yes, please. Cruising around on a pontoon boat and lazily floating in the lake all day, then coming back, cleaning up, and making dinner together makes for very happy people.

I wanted to thank our hosts for their hospitality (and of course sweeten the deal so that they invite us in the future!), so I baked up these cookies. Our basil plant is not looking to good (do bugs like basil? They sure seem to like ours), so I thought I should put it to good use.

You can press the dough into a pan and score it into squares right after baking, or you can be like me and decide to cut them out with a biscuit cutter. Which, I will warn you, makes for a tad bit oversized cookies. No matter, though...they are pretty darn tasty, no matter what the size. These crumbly cookies are wonderful in the warm afternoon sun on the lake, or as we discovered, with your morning coffee, sitting on the deck of a cabin in the middle of the woods, overlooking the lake. Can we go back yet?

Lemon Basil Shortbread

2 cups butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4-5 leaves fresh basil, chiffonaded (you could definitely increase this if you want it to be more basil-y)
zest from one large lemon (again, you could increase this if you love lemon)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
4 cups flour

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream the butter until smooth and creamy.
3. In a food processor, combine the granulated sugar, basil, lemon zest, and confectioner's sugar, using short pulses until everything is finely mixed.
4. Add the basil sugar mixture to the butter, and beat for another minute.
5. Gradually add one cup of flour at a time, mixing until just incorporated.
6. Press the dough into an ungreased cookies sheet. You can either a) use a cookie cutter or biscuit cutter to cut out the cookies and place the cookies on a clean, ungreased cookie sheet - and in this case you'll have to manipulate your scraps to get every last bit, or b) leave the dough uncut, and bake. This way, you can score the dough and cut them into squares right from the oven.
7. Bake for 15 minutes or until they are a nice light golden color. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Icing (and sprinkles, of course)

up close

finished

A friend and former coworker had her baby shower this weekend, and she asked if I'd make her cupcakes. Of course! I said. Her only request (she said it was really the baby requesting it, so cute) was some sort of vanilla frosting. The rest she left up to me.

So, chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting it was. But what I really wanted to share with you was the decorations. This is something I struggle with, now that I'm taking baking more seriously and am starting to do it on a commission-type basis. Making a great tasting cupcake and frosting is easy. Making a great tasting and attractive (read: professional-looking) cupcake is a bit more difficult.

Think about it. The last time you had homemade cupcakes - what did they look like? I'll be honest, and say that most of my desserts aren't picture-worthy. It's just that my audience (read: my husband, or loyal friends) doesn't really care what they look like, and it's the taste that matters, right?

So, all of this to say that I needed a way to make these cupcakes look good. Icing was an obvious option, but what else?

close up of non-periels

Enter chocolate and non-periels. I had an idea to do a big initial (A for the baby's last name), so I did my research and decided to use chocolate melting chips to draw out a scripted "A". You can usually find these at any craft of candy-making supply store (I found mine at Michael's).

So how did I do it? I found an A that I liked (font: Amazing Ruler), then printed out several versions of it until I had the correct size. I wanted to A to hang off the cupcake a tiny bit, but not look grossly out of proportion.

I then slipped my "A" template under a sheet of wax paper. To soften the chocolate, I put the chips in a ziploc bag, then microwaved it in 10 second intervals, massaging the bag after each one until the chips were completely melted. Then snip off a corner of the bag (a tiny corner, don't be like me and snip off too much - this equals lots of mess), and then trace over your initial onto the wax paper. Immediately sprinkle with non-periels, then transfer to the fridge for 5 minutes to allow to cool.

And now let's look at some of my rejects. While I knew all along that I wanted to use the small non-periels, I had some other types of sprinkles lying around, and wanted to try them out as well. First up, blue sanding sugar...

blue sprinkles
Eh, this was ok. Had I used white chocolate, I think the sugar would have popped more beautifully. The dark chocolate just hid the sprinkles too much.

Next up, silver sugar...

silver sprinkles
Again, not bad.

Here is a plain A with no decoration...

IMG_3696 copy
Boooooring.

How about large sprinkles?

large sprinkles
Ha ha. No.

The winner?

non-periels
Note to self: next time take a picture without the plate behind it. You can barely see it. Don't look too hard, it will make you dizzy!

The finished product...

the tower

close up

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Crispy French Toast at Silk Road, Vdara Hotel in Vegas

First of all, let me say how lucky I feel that I get to travel to Vegas for work (for free!). Not only did I get to see a ton of new and awesome design products at the trade show, but I was put up at the newest hotel and casino property on the strip. For those of you not familiar with it, City Center opened in December 2009, and is comprised of two hotels, a large spa, five or something restaurants, and a pretty neat casino.

But let's talk about my room. Or rather, let's just look at it.

IMG_3609
{the dining area at the entry}

IMG_3610
{living room...to the right, out the window, was the Bellagio...I could see the water show from my room}

IMG_3626
{the bedroom...oh yes. pretty amazing.}

IMG_3617
{the bathroom}

IMG_3616
{my favorite part of the whole room...a tub that someone else had to clean}

Now let's talk about what I ate for breakfast my last day there. On our many trips in and out of the hotel during our stay, we kept passing by this venue called
Silk Road that looked like a nightclub. Metallic wallcovering, bright pinks and purples in the furniture, funky carpet...completely trendy. So it came as a shock that this place was not a nightclub or bar, but a breakfast and lunch venue. What? Look at the picture below...can't you just hear the music blaring?

silk_road_restaurant
{silk road, a breakfast and lunch destination, masquerading as a bar}

So, aside from the misleading nightclubbish vibe, this place has some pretty good (and, well...sort of expensive) food. I sat down for breakfast (all by myself - don't you just cherish those moments? I do), and was asked if I wanted coffee. Of course, I said. The coffee turned out to be an entire french press of Illy (the best coffee on the planet, hands down), which cost me $12. Yeah, they don't tell you that before you order.

On to the food. I felt like something sweet, so I went for the Crispy French Toast, with carmelized apples, cinnamon custard, and cider reduction. Guys. This was so good. Go
here and scroll down if you want to see a fuzzy picture (I was too hungry to snap one myself). The outside of the french toast was exactly what they said - crispy. And the inside? Warm and gooey and all yum. I guessed that the bread must have been coated in egg, then dipped in either sweet bread crumbs, or cornflakes, or something...I thought to myself, I must try to recreate this when I get home. Hmmmpf. Apparently this is not a new thing, judging from the results I got when I searched for something similar. There are no new ideas in this world, I tell you.

Nevertheless, I intend to make crispy french toast as soon as my schedule allows, perhaps tweak some recipes until I get a perfect result, and then I will post back here with my findings.

Up next...cupcakes for a baby shower! (Yay for
baby A!)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vegas, baby!

vegas!

I've had barely any time to bake lately. I hate that. I did, however, manage to fit in a very lovely banana bundt cake (recipe here) on Sunday, which my husband and I have been happily munching on all week.

But guess what? I'm leaving again. This time...to Vegas! However, this trip will be for work (boo).

I intend on fitting in as many culinary adventures as I can. Wednesday night we're dining at the
S&W Steakhouse in the Wynn, and Thursday night we have reservations at Botero at Encore. Honestly, I'm not too thrilled about eating at two steakhouses in a row (I think I could easily be vegeterian if I had to), but hey, when you're dining on someone else's tab, you don't have much say (or room to complain), do you?

Last year (on my own dime!) I made it a point to check out the much-hyped
Lotus of Siam, which was, by far, some of the best Thai food I've ever eaten. It's the type of place you wouldn't even dare to check out unless someone recommended it to you. It's located in this abandoned-looking strip mall, next to a worn-out-looking laundromat. It was fantastic.

Aside from the fancy casino eateries, any other hidden gems I should check out while I'm there?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Frontera Grill in Chicago

frontera grill

Oh, Chicago. To say that I needed this vacation is an understatement. The main goal of this trip was to attend a friend's wedding on Saturday, but, seeing as I took a girlfriend with me, and we had no other plans other than going to the nuptials (my first Jewish wedding - it was amazing!), you can bet that we spent a good deal of our time shopping. And walking. And more shopping. Let's see, Filene's Basement (#1 AND #2...did you know there were two?)...check. Zara, H&M...check. All of Michigan Ave...check. You can see the trend, no?

And of course, we ate. Before we left, I made up a map of all the places I wanted to check out, and
Frontera Grill was one of them. Do you watch Rick Bayless on PBS? You know the one, the chef who specializes in Mexican fare, the one who pronounces everything Spanish just right? Well, this is one of his four restaurants in town, and, having seen his shows and seen what he prepares, I was all about trying to get us a table there for Saturday morning brunch. I called on Wednesday to make a reservation, only to be informed that they were already booked up. Disappointed - but obviously not discouraged - we decided to walk by the restaurant on Saturday to see if there was any way we could get a table. And aha! They take walk-ins. So, here's my tip: show up around 10:25 am (they open at 10:30), and you should get a table, no problem.

So what did we eat? To start, and to celebrate our awesome vacation weekend, we ordered mimosas. Mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice and hibiscus-flavored water, to be exact. Mimosas with a $14 price tag (!). But so worth it.

And for my meal? I ordered the Sapitos, a "trio of Xalapa-style gorditas (corn masa cakes) in chipotle-black bean sauce, each with its own topping: scrambled eggs, grilled chicken, chorizo and plantains, with homemade crema and queso fresco." My darling friend Christy ordered the same thing, but Erin went crazy and ordered the Hot Cakes Indgenas, which were Iroquois white corn pancakes with whipped goat cheese and piloncillo-agave syrup. Yes, I asked her if I could have a bite, and yes...I sort of finished them off when she said she couldn't eat any more.

Well-priced (except for those mimosas!) and well worth it. Check it out if you're in Chicago!

Frontera Grill
445 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60610

Monday, May 10, 2010

Flower Baking Cups

flower baking cups
Aren't these adorable? I snagged some at Crate and Barrel during my trip to Chicago this past weekend.

A more substantial (and Chicago-related) post to come next!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blackberry Key Lime Scones

key lime blackberry scones

The grocery store closest to my house (a whole three minutes away, thank goodness) is not exactly known for being the nicest place to shop. So much so, that some Memphians like to call it "ghetto". Which, honestly, I have to laugh at. The place is just fine. I've shopped at much sketchier grocery stores (ok, Kroger's) in my hometown of Cincinnati (Over the Rhine, anyone?). So, rather than look at it like that, I tend to see my grocery store for what it truly is: a goldmine.

Let's start with the basics. It's never uncomfortably crowded. The produce is always in stock, and never out of, say, arugula. They've got the sweetest lady working at the floral department, who is so nice and went out of her way to special-order some rananculus for me. I mean, who does that?

But the deal was sealed when I found key lime juice in the product section. I wasn't expecting to find it here, as the store typically doesn't carry your more hard-to-find ingredients. But there it was, hanging out with the lemon juice. I was elated. I'm very easy to please, as you may imagine.

I was also thrilled when these scones turned out. I couldn't turn down the blackberries at the store, either, so the only logical solution was to make key lime blackberry scones, right? A little about these: my first attempt at incorporating the key lime juice was to combine it with the sugar before blending it in. As this didn't result in a strong key lime flavor (barely any at all), I decided to top them with a key lime sugar glaze. That did the trick.

Blackberry Key Lime Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar
1tbsp key lime juice (you may want to add more, see my note above)
1/2 tsp salt (I used 3/4 tsp)
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" cubes and chilled
1/2 to 3/4 cup blackberries (I had to cut some of mine in half they were so big, hence the purple stains!)
1 cup heavy cream

1/4 to 1/3 cup key lime juice
3-4 tbsp powdered sugar

1. Position your rack in the middle of the oven and set to 425 degrees.
2. Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. With a fork, mash together 1 tbsp key lime juice and sugar until well incorporated. Whisk the lime juice/sugar mixture into the flour mixture. Make sure that you really mix this in, as it's a bit clumpy and won't blend in as easily as dry sugar.
3. With a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gently stir in your blackberries. Transfer to large bowl, and mix in the heavy cream with a spatula. Mix until it just comes together (now the dough will be very tacky/sticky).
4. Transfer dough to a dry surface and knead for 5-10 seconds. Press the dough into an 8 or 9" round pie plate, then cut the dough into 8-equally sized wedges. Use a sharp angular spatula to transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet.
5. Bake until scone tops are light brown, about 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10-15 minutes.
6. While the scones are baking, whisk together 1/4 to 1/3 cup key lime juice and the confectioner's sugar until it reaches a thin icing consistency (you may have to add more of either one or the other to get just the right texture and taste). Drizzle onto the slightly-cooled but still warm scones (to simplify your cleanup, just set the wire racks on a large dinner plate to catch all of the icing run off).

Enjoy!


OH! I forgot to mention that I'll be going to Chicago this weekend for a wedding/girl's vacation! I. Can't. Wait. With work and work and more work lately, this is a much-deserved break. All that to say - fellow foodies, what restaurants should we check out? How about any neat fabric/craft shops? Vintage stores? I think our goal for the entire weekend is to eat, relax, shop, and eat some more. Any suggestions, just leave it in the comments!

Monday, April 26, 2010

White Wedding Cake with Strawberry Cream Filling and Swiss Buttercream Icing

THE wedding cake...done!

So here it is...the project that I thought would be the end of me. (Side note: this post makes me regret not taking more photos while I was making and assembling this wedding cake, but you're lucky that I took this many).

You guys, I've never been more nervous. Well, maybe I was in school - it made me think of those late-night studio sessions, you know the ones where you stay up all night working on a project and then by the time you present it, you're so tired and exhausted and consumed and whatever that you think you've lost your mind.

This is how I felt. Did I eat that day? Nope. Did I talk to my husband at all? Nope - when he came into the kitchen to chat I had to brush him off, shoo him away with floured hands, I'm busy here. Did I stop at all, to enjoy the sunny day or to feed my animals? No, no, and no (don't worry, my lovely husband took care of them). All I could think about was cake. Getting this cake right and not messing it up.

I got up early that morning to start on my to-do list, which went something like this: make frosting, make strawberry filling, fill all three layers, ice all three layers, chill, re-ice all three layers with final coat, decorate, box up, drive to wedding site, deliver cake, make a big drink to celebrate. And this is exactly what happened - no real hitches or problems at all. Either I'm incredibly lucky, or my crazy planning actually paid off.

Some things I learned along the way include:
a) Strawberry freezer jam makes an excellent cake filling when blended with swiss buttercream.
b) Wax paper under the cake when you start icing the layers is essential. Once you have the wax paper in place, don't be shy with the icing.
c) Refrigerating the layers between icings will allow the buttercream to set up very nicely.
d) You will mess up. You will have places of icing that aren't smoothed to perfection. It's ok, they will probably cover it up with flowers anyway (they did)
e) You can make up the cake decorating pattern as you go. This is what I did (terrible, I know!). I played with different ridges in the icing until I liked what I saw. You can re-smooth icing quite a few times until you get it just right.
f) The scalloped shells at the base of the cake are really not my style, but they helped incredibly when it came time to hide the cardboard base at the bottom of each cake.
g) When actually delivering the wedding cake that you just spent the majority of the past two months thinking about, practicing on, and obsessing over, you will drive 20 miles per hour, highway or not. And you will sweat.
h) Don't ever be above purchasing pre-made fondant decorative flowers in case you need to hide a goof. I was so thankful that I did.
i) Don't really sweat the small stuff - most definitely, people will love what you did, and the bride won't even notice (or, in my case, show up a teeny bit inebriated). Yes, she did.

Some other details, in case you were wondering:
- Cake: White Cake, from Joy of Cooking
- Icing: Swiss Buttercream Icing, from Smitten Kitchen
- Filling: Strawberry freezer jam + icing + lots of red food coloring (if you don't do this, your filling will be a fleshy pale pink color. Not appetizing.)

Any other questions? Just ask!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Food, Inc.

food-inc

Awhile back, I spotted this post on Black Eiffel titled "Food Conscience". I read through it, and even commented on the post, saying how much I love when people bring these issues to light about our food and where it comes from. She highlighted several other movies about the issue, and also discussed some books that focus on natural and organic food, so I made sure to add them to my Amazon wish list, and then went about my day.

And that was it. Yes, I always cook from scratch and try to completely avoid anything that's pre-packaged or loaded with preservatives, but I never thought much more about it, until last night. Food, Inc was airing on PBS, and I sat, transfixed, for the whole thing. Have you seen it yet? I cried. A lot. It showed me what I was afraid to see, but deep down knew all along - that the path that our food takes to get to us is one big, convuluted trip, full of nightmarish scenes. Animals, human workers, and the environment are all being mistreated, abused, and disrespected, all in the name of fast, cheap, and quick eats. The statistics that the movie highlights are staggering.


It made me thankful that I can afford to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and organic foods, which, as one researcher mentions, is the whole problem with the system. Rates of obesity are directly linked to income level. This makes perfect sense - we've created a world where a hamburger from McDonald's costs less than a head of broccoli.

I could go on and on, but I'll just stop here and tell you that if you're at all interested in making a difference, or at the very least eating better, go rent this movie. You will learn a lot, it will make you sad (and may make you cry, like it did to me), but it will make you aware of what's going on with your food. It may even convince you to start eating locally, or at least only buy organic. And that's a great start.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mini Cadbury Egg Cookies

cadbury egg cookies

Wow, a little late with this post, eh? Easter candy? It's almost May, for crying out loud.

Well, that's what baking a wedding cake will do you to. It puts you a bit behind schedule. More on that in the next post.

I finished up that wedding cake on Saturday, and you'd think that I would be sick of baking. People, I went through almost 20 sticks of butter, almost as many eggs, and more sugar and flour than I care to think about. And yet, once all of the pressure was off, and my job was done, I thought, now I can bake for fun! Yes, I am weird.


A little bit about these Cadbury eggs - you know the kind, the ones that come in the purple bag. My sweet mother sent me two large bags of these right before Easter. I had called her a few days earlier, lamenting the fact that I couldn't seem to find them in Memphis (of course, I only checked at two Walgreen's, so my search was far from exhaustive). Thinking that I'd be without my favorite candy on Easter, she sent me some.

And some, well, is just too much. I reluctantly opened one bag, and I've almost eaten the whole thing. It's awful. The floodgates opened, and it was like all of a sudden that purple bag became a very strong magnet. I. Couldn't. Stop.

So I thought, why not put them in cookies? Brilliant! Don't, however, make my mistake of thinking that you can chop these buggers up in your food processor. Maybe it's possible, but when I turned mine on, it sounded like the blade was coming to bits and that it would explode at any moment. Really, it was horrific. Of course, my food processor is from the 1970's, so perhaps the newer models have stronger blades and motors. So I chopped them. By hand. Yes, I am weird.

Mini Cadbury Egg Cookies
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (either dark or light is fine)
6 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup + 1 tbsp flour, loosely scooped
1-1/2 cups chopped mini cadbury eggs

1 - Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Have ready an ungreased cookie sheet.
2 - Beat the butter, sugars, and vanilla until creamy. Add in egg. Once egg is well blended, add salt and baking soda, beating well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated. Add the flour and stir (do not beat) until it is almost incorporated. Add the cadbury eggs, and still until the flour has all but disappeared.
3. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets, about one inch apart. Bake one sheet at a time on center rack for 8-10 minutes until edges are golden. The cookies should get pretty brown around the edges. Be careful not to let the bottoms get burned - keep an eye on them!
4. Remove from oven, and set the cookie sheet on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Remove from sheet, place on cooling rack, and allow to cool to room temperature.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Almond Buttermilk Cake with Strawberry Coulis

almond buttermilk cake with strawberry swirl

Like I said before, sometimes my priorities change. Those cinnamon rolls? Their 2 hour required rising time just didn't fit in with my schedule. Hmmpf.

But I still needed something to take up to my in-laws' house over the weekend. Thus, this cake was born. Somehow, all of the stars aligned, and I had everything that I needed to make this cake, plus the additions and changes that I wanted to make to the original recipe. The basic recipe comes from Clotilde Dusoulier's cookbook, Chocolate & Zucchini. I've made this cake probably a dozen times, and each time I mix it up do something different. It really is a fool-proof basic recipe (no creaming the butter! no dirtying your mixer bowl!), and you can dress it up however you see it. For my in-laws, I decided that almonds and strawberries would be the perfect combination.

Did you know that a cup of buttermilk is a perfectly suitable substitute for a cup of yogurt? Well, now you do. Feel free to use either one in this recipe. I've posted the recipe below, with my changes in italics. Enjoy!

Yogurt (or Buttermilk) Cake
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (I used 1 cup buttermilk, well shaken)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract (or almond extract)
1 tbsp light or amber rum
1-2/3 cup all purpose flour ((I used 2/3 cup almond flour, and 1 cup all purpose flour)
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Good pinch of fine sea salt (I used scant 1/4 tsp regular salt)
Strawberry Coulis (recipe below)

1 - Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of a 10-inch springform pan (or cake pan). Line the bottom with parchment paper if the pan is not springform.
2 - Whisk together the yogurt (or buttermilk) and the sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, oil, and rum, and whisk thoroughly.
3 - In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Pour the flour mixture into the yogurt/buttermilk mixture, and whisk until just combined.
4 - Pour batter into the prepared cake pan (I poured half of the batter into the pan, drizzled the strawberry coulis on top, and then poured the remaining batter into the pan - this will result in a marbled effect when it bakes up), and bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. Unclasp the sides of the springform pan (if using). If not, flip the cake onto a plate and flip it back onto the rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
5 - Optional step: I dusted my cake with confectioner's sugar, and topped it with slivered, toasted almonds.

Strawberry Coulis
1 cup strawberries, washed and hulled
2 tbsp confectioner's sugar (or to taste - I had to add about 3 tbsp)

Place strawberries and sugar in food processor and process until smooth.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Things on my list...

rolls
{source}

First of all, what a wonderful weekend. I made that jam I was waxing poetic about last Friday. And boy oh boy, I don't know what it is, but seeing all of those filled jars lined up on my counter makes me so happy. It must be some sort of nurturing/mothering thing deep down inside me, but I love knowing that we have fresh homemade jam at our complete and utter disposal, just waiting in the freezer to be devoured. I failed, however, to start on the next wedding cake round. I was distracted by the warm weather, and the friends that came over on Friday, the gin that we drank...the enchiladas that we ate...

Oh, things on my list. Right. Here, in no particular order, are the things that I would rather be making, than sitting in my office cube right now.

- These homemade cinnamon rolls. We are visiting my in-laws this weekend, and I plan to surprise them by making these on Saturday morning, and I can't wait. They won't know what hit them.

- This waffle-falafel. What? This makes me almost as happy as that jam. We eat falafel and hummus probably once a month or so from this place, and it's so so good that I've never considered making my own. Now I'm tempted...

So...what is on your list of things to make? It's ok if your list changes hourly. Mine does.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Double duty strawberry jam

YES
{source}

I never thought I'd be interested in jam and canning and whatnot, but somewhere along the way I became an adult, and relish the thought of preserving all of the good summer produce into something that I can enjoy year round. And when I say summer produce, I really just mean strawberries. I don't know if it's because I used to pick strawberries with my grandmother every summer and have very fond memories of that, but strawberries are my true (fruit) love. And right now they are in season. Go to the store and buy some now. Seriously. I stood in our kitchen last night, eating strawberry after strawberry, and didn't even notice that I had polished off the whole package. Eh, there are worse things to be gorging yourself on, right?

So my weekend plans involve, you guessed it, strawberries. Strawberry jam on Saturday, then a test run for that wedding cake commission on Sunday, using the strawberry jam mixed with a little buttercream as the filling. I. Can't. Wait.

Oh, and since I already pledged that this is a food blog ONLY, I'll only post a link to these adorable baby shoes that I also plan to make this weekend. A dear couple that we know just successfully adopted a baby boy, and I cannot think of a better reason to make these shoes. Loafers! Who knew.

What are your weekend plans?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adorable wedding favors...

great wedding favor idea

Here. For my next wedding baking commission, I will definitely suggest these to the bride-to-be. I'm dying to make them, but my current bride-to-be already has her wedding favors. Anyone want me to make these for their wedding day? Please?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Milestones...

one year anniversary!

Today marks our one-year wedding anniversary. I cannot believe it. We celebrated this weekend and it was absolutely lovely. Late night romantic dinner on Saturday, brunch and jazz on Sunday...it was perfect. Turns out, I love being married.

Another milestone (for me) is that this marks my 201st post on my blog! (I somehow missed the big 200)...so what does that mean? That finally, after 200+ posts, I think I've finally discovered my true self, and that is as a baker. I tried for a long time to make this a design blog, a wedding blog (which it was, and served its purpose well), and a crafting blog (which it may still be that from time to time). I am finally ok with it not being all of those things, and instead to focus on my true passion - baking and cooking.

For the first time over the weekend, I completed my first bakery order. It was for a bridal shower, and I showed up with 3+ dozen mini cupcakes - half of them were chocolate cupcakes with two kinds of ganache (whipped AND poured) and topped with strawberries, and the other half were simple white cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting.

The night before, I really thought I was going to rip my hair out and/or go crazy, as the ganache wasn't doing what I wanted AND I had to make a mad dash to the grocery store for sugar (um, that was a first - I NEVER run out of sugar). But you know what? When I finally delivered them, set them up on my three-tiered cake stand, and stepped back, I was so incredibly proud of myself. I had managed to create something that not only tasted wonderful, but looked beautiful.

So here's to beautiful, beautiful milestones. And knowing exactly what you want to do in life. I'm still figuring it all out, but I feel like I'm one step closer.