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Updated: 2018-03-05T16:02:26.199-08:00


Gourmet's Lasagna Bolognese


This month's issue of Gourmet will be its last, and I felt obliged to commemorate its productive and wondrous life somehow. With the cold weather making its way to California (cold being the low 60's of course), I was inclined to make something comforting to the soul, warm to the belly and unforgettably delicious.Lasagna seemed to fit the bill. Lasagna Bolognese, to be exact.The beauty of this recipe is that the ingredients are simple and few, so that aside from the pasta, cheese, a few vegetables and ground beef, you may likely have most of the items at home. I went to Whole Food's to pick up these items, and I ran into a problem I didn't expect--the market didn't carry fresh pasta sheets.I could hear my culinary instructor smiling and asking, "You know how to make pasta don't you?" Well yes, but the idea of hauling out my pasta machine from its dusty stupor and making a bigger mess than I desired didn't appeal to my lazy self at the moment.Off I went to the dried pasta aisle, and there I stood for about 15 minutes. No-boil lasagna sheets or original lasagna sheets? Whole Foods brand or Barilla? I hated myself for the indecisiveness but eventually I made a decision (mostly based on price)--Whole Foods branded no-boil lasagna sheets. I prayed it would work, since my last attempt with lasagna (three years ago) ended in a raw and inedible failure.What I have come to love about Gourmet over many other food magazines is that their recipes always worked.Until now.It was strange--I followed the recipe but the half cup of white wine never quite cooked away, even after 45 minutes. I turned up the heat towards the end but was afraid to overcook the meat so I ended up just draining away the excess. As for the second step, I only added in half the amount of liquid and was glad I did--after four hours there was still a bit of liquid left.Their bechamel sauce didn't succeed either so I ended up adapting it with the techinque I learned in school. When all was said and done, the lasagna baked beautifully and was delicious. But as I sipped my wine, I realized I was no longer as devastated over Gourmet Magazine's decease--needless to say, it seemed as though its recipe testers didn't always do a thorough job.Below is a recipe for success, I promise!Classic Lasagna Bolognese-adapted from Gourmet Magazine (with my edits)Ingredients1/2 pound no-boil dried pasta1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese2 T olive oil2 T butter1 small onion, chopped1/2 c chopped celery1/2 c finely chopped carrot1 lb ground beefsalt/pepper1/4 c dry white wine2 c canned plum tomatoes, seeds removed and roughly chopped1/2 c tomato juice (reserved from the canned tomatoes)1) Heat the oil and butter together over low heat in a pot until the butter is melted.2) Add the onion, celery, carrot and cook until wilted.3) Add the meat, breaking up the meat with a fork or spoon. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently. Season the meat with salt/pepper, add the wine and allow the wine to cook down until it is almost dry. If it cooks down too quickly, you can add a little more. Cook the meat until it is just barely pink.4) Add the tomatoes and 1/2 c tomato juice. Simmer over low heat for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally. If the tomato juice cooks off you can add a little bit of water. If you still have juice remaining at the end of 4 hours, drain off the excess.Bechamel Sauce:3 cups milk6 T butter6 T flour1/2 t salt1/2 t finely ground pepper1) Heat the milk over low heat but do not boil (it should be hot enough so that your finger can only stand the heat for 2 seconds).2) In a sauce pot, melt the butter over low heat. When it is completely melted, quickly take the pot off the heat and whisk in the flour slowly to avoid lumps. Bring the pot back to the heat, and cook for about 1-2 minutes over medium-low heat. The flour should have a slight toasty smell.3) Gradually pour in the milk, and whisk over medium heat until slightly thickened (it should completely coat a spoon). Take it off the heat. The whole process should take no longer than 5-10 minutes. Should your sauce become too [...]

Quick and Easy Mango Sticky Rice


If there's one thing my husband and I order at every Thai restaurant we dine at, it's the mango sticky rice. I could be too full for dessert, and we will still order the mango sticky rice. I could not have an appetite for dinner, and we will still order the mango sticky rice.

It eventually dawned on me that the ingredients for mango sticky rice were so cheap it made economical sense to make this dessert at home. A plate of fruit brunois and rice with coconut milk is $1-$2 per plate and here we were, paying $6 a plate (and happily doing so, I might add). I knew how to make rice and dice mango--how hard could it be to put the two together?

When a guest chef came to my culinary school to demonstrate Thai cooking and mango sticky rice was on the menu, I was elated. Finally, I would learn how to make this dessert, and never again would we have to overpay for this dish. I mentally calculated how the four buckaroos would add up to our rainy day savings.

Oh, but life is seldom so easy. Apparently the proper way to make mango sticky rice takes two days. Two days! I was not going to waste two days to make a dessert. I'll pay six dollars any day to save two days of my life.

Or maybe, it could be easy. I reread the recipe when I got home, and decided to take some shortcuts. I'm normally not a fan of cheater avenues as often times it doesn't feel genuine, but in this case I wondered if I could save a lot of time without sacrificing a lot of the taste.

Eventually, this recipe came to being. I served it to a friend of mine recently, and after she heard my story I joked I could be the new Rachel Ray.

"But gourmet," she said, as she polished off the last grain of rice.

Quick and Easy Mango Sticky Rice
Serves 4

2 c sweet rice

Rice Seasoning
2/3 c unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 c granulated sugar
generous pinch of salt

Coconut Sauce
1/2 c coconut cream (scraped from the can of the coconut milk; if you don't have enough substitute with more coconut milk)
1/4 c brown sugar

1 ripe mango, peeled and small diced
4 T coconut, toasted

1) Follow the instructions on the rice bag and cook the rice appropriately. A rice cooker is best but a small pot will do.
2) Toast the coconut at 300 degrees for 3 minutes or until it is a light golden brown.
3) When the rice is nearly done, combine the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.
4) Combine the coconut cream and brown sugar in a seperate sauce pan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then set aside.
5) When the rice is done, let it rest for about ten minutes. Then pour the rice seasoning over the rice, and gently combine with a rice paddle or a rubber spatula.

To serve:
Fill a small ramekin with the rice and gently push it down with a rice paddle (or spatula). Invert it onto a plate, spoon some of the coconut sauce over the rice and then sprinkle 1 T of the toasted coconut on top. Spoon some of the diced mango around the plate. Repeat with the remaining three plates.

For optimal flavor and texture, serve immediately or within an hour. After an hour the rice starts to become a little gummy.

Sour Cream Cheesecake


Back when I used to be athletic (ha), I had a tennis coach who insisted that his mother made the best cheesecake in the world. At the time, my high school taste buds thought the Cheesecake Factory had the best cheesecake I ever tasted, and I was dubious that anyone's homemade version could top that.

And then one day, he gave me an entire 12" cheesecake for me and my family to share.

Laden with berries, the cheesecake he gave us had a sophisticated tinge of...something. I didn't know what it was at the time, but it really was the best cheesecake I ever had.

I suppose I grew up a little that day. I finally understood what "complex flavors" meant--when sweetness is combined with another flavor dimension, it can make something as simple as a cheesecake into a mind-blowing memory.

It's been years since I've talked to my coach, and I recently had a hankering for that cheesecake. The only clue I remembered was that his mother used to work at Draeger's supermarket in Los Altos, so off I went, driving 25 minutes for a figment of my imagination.

When I arrived, I realized how ridiculous it all was. I didn't even know his mother's name. As I gazed at the pastry display case in my stupor, I read the ingredient list for Draeger's cheesecake.
Sour cream.

But of course. Why didn't I figure it out earlier? Whipping out my trusty Blackberry, I searched for a sour cream cheesecake recipe. And right on top was one by Alton Brown that had 5 out of 5 stars by 141 people. Good enough for me. I was going to try this recipe at home.

Sour Cream Cheesecake
recipe adapted from Alton Brown

Oreo crust (you can buy it premade or make your own)

20 oz cream cheese
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 cup sugar
1 T vanilla
2 eggs
3 yolks
1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat sour cream for 10 seconds. Add the cream cheese and sugar and mix on low for 30 seconds and then turn up to medium. Scrape the bowl.

In a separate container, combine vanilla, eggs, yolks and heavy cream. With the mixer on medium, slowly pour the mixture in. When half of it is incorporated, stop and scrape. Continue adding the mixture until the rest of the ingredients are incorporated. Once combined, pour into the crust.

Place cheesecake into a preheated water bath, in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Turn the oven off and open the door for one minute. Close the door for one more hour. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and place in the refrigerator for 6 hours to completely cool before serving.

Eric's Birthday Cake


My friend's birthday was this past week, and I was at a loss for what to give as a present. He's an avid gamer, but like most gamers, he already owned all the games he wanted to play.

"Why don't you make him a game cake?" my brilliant husband asked.

Countless Mario cakes have already been made, and I wanted mine to be different. So I searched the web for a screenshot of the classic game, and came up with this:


Can you guess my friend's name, his birthday, and how old he is now? :)

My Father-in-Law's Meatloaf


I never had meatloaf as a kid. My mom rarely made "American" food, so my family never saw it on the dinner table. It wasn't until college I finally had my first bite of meatloaf in the dorms and understood why it was so unappealing to the masses--shoveling through a dense, compressed brick of dry meat with a fork just seemed like a chore. I could diet on meatloaf because I never wanted to eat any. Plus there were all these weird colored specks packed in. It was as if the person who made the dish didn't have more than a celery rib to spare.In fact, the first meatloaf I finally ever liked wasn't even made out of meat. If you haven't tried the "neatloaf" at Ananda Fuara in San Francisco, I suggest you give it a try. Don't let the fact the restaurant is in the Tenderloin scare you. Brave that urine smell and try something new.When my husband and I first started dating, he kept asking if he could make his dad's meatloaf recipe for me. I kept making excuses. Most girls would go ga-ga over a guy who pleads to cook, but honestly? Meatloaf does not turn me on.Eventually the day came. He made the meatloaf; I pored over a fashion magazine. Three mags later, my stomach growled. Are you done yet, I half-whined (it came from my stomach, I swear). The kitchen was a disaster, but my dear was in the midst of pulling the meatloaf out of the oven. Ten minutes later, dinner was ready.I remember that first bite. It was good. I loved it so much I begged him for his dad's (now father-in-law) recipe. Four weeks later, he finally forwarded it to me:Son,This is from my memory since I am away from home. The quantity of seasoningcan be adjustable depending on what you feel like. You can also add otherherbs or stuff that you like to the meatloaf .2 pounds ground beef (regular, not too lean) or half and half withground pork 1 egg1 diced onion1 shredded carrot1 diced apple1 cup 3-minute Quaker's oat meal (I always use), or bread crumbs1 stalk diced celery1/4 t ground pepper1 t salt1 T soy sauce/Worcester sauceMix all ingredients. If you don't like to clean the baking pan, you can line with aluminum foil before filling it up with the mixed ingredients. Bake at 350F for about 1 1/2 hours. When the top browns, the meatloaf should be done. Let it cool about 5-10 minutes before taking it out. Otherwise it might fall apart. Enjoy with ketchup and Worcester sauce.Bon Appetit!Dad*Hint* For a nice meatloaf crust, securely pack the meat into the loaf pan and release the meat by flipping over the pan onto a foil-lined sheet before sticking it into the oven (see top photo).[...]

Those Cute Little Feet (or French Macaroons)


A month ago, one of my good friends asked if I, his friend-who-just-graduated-from-culinary-school, could help him with something.I was more than happy to oblige, but when I found out what it was for, I tried my best not to fall into a pile of girly mushiness.Apparently he had befriended a cute girl at a recent group dinner, and for dessert noticed she was "gobbling up" a plate of French macaroons. So my friend decided that in order to show his affection, he would learn how to make macaroons and present them to her.I know, "awwwww" right?"No problem!" I told my friend after I heard the story.Except that there WAS a problem. I never learned how to make macaroons in school. I mean, I learned how to make the coconut kind, but not the French kind. So after extensive reading, here is what I learned about making French macaroons:-A proper macaroon is smooth with no cracks-A proper macaroon has "feet"--a crackly, puffed second layer that measures about 1/16-inch high. If your macaroon has no feet, you either overmixed it or underbaked.-You have to be in a good mood for them to turn out right.Ok, sounded simple enough. And the recipe I was using sounded simple too. My pastry teacher even let me make a batch at school during one of the nights I was assisting her.An hour later, the pastry teacher came round and asked me how the macaroons were coming along. "Great!" I replied, and showed her my tray of piped macaroons. She shook her head in disapproval."You underbeat the egg whites," she said. "See how they are spreading out as they are drying?"I decided I would make round two at home.This time, my friend was around to help me. I made sure the egg whites were at a definite stiff peak this time, but unfortunately my friend was still sifting the almond meal by the time the whites were done and waiting. So I kept whisking, and I should have listened to my gut to NOT add the expensive almond meal in, to just start over, but I didn't. By the time my friend added in the sifted almond meal, I knew it was a lost cause. The whites were dry and crumbly. We baked them anyway. They turned out like little turds: Lovely, purply turds. But turds. With no feet.Time for round three. This time I whipped the whites until they were *almost* to a stiff peak but not quite. I also decided not to dye them with any color. I didn't need any more factors that might ruin this batch.Better, but they still spread out a little more than they should have. Meaning, I just barely underbeat the egg whites again. Also I should have achieved more feet--so I might have underbaked them just a bit.So three trials later, this is what I learned:-Do not underbeat the egg whites, or they will spread and become flat.-Do not overbeat the egg whites, or you will end up with snail-like turds.-For perfection, keep trying. One day, you might get there.French Macaroons200g confectioner's sugar (aka powdered sugar)110g blanched almond meal (available at most grocery stores)100g egg whites, room temp, preferably aged overnightCream of tartar30g granulated sugarFood coloring (optional)1) Sift together confectioner's sugar and almond meal and set aside.2) In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites and a pinch of cream of tartar to a foam. Gradually add sugar and whip to a stiff peak. Whites should be firm and shiny. If desired, add food coloring.3) Add sugar-almond mixture to whites and fold until completely incorporated. The mixture should be smooth, shiny and able to flow off a spoon.4) Pipe small rounds (about 1 1/2") with a piping bag onto parchment covered sheet trays. Let macaroons dry at room temp for an hour.5) Bake at 300 for about 16 minutes.Cool completely, then fill with buttercream, jelly or ganache.[...]

Jasmine Infused Rice Pudding (or Forgive me, Please)


When it rains, it pours.My husband and I fought not once, not twice, but five times last week. Each fight was louder than the last, and became about dumber things as the days dragged by. For those of you who have a spouse, you know what I mean--most of us in our single lives would never imagine fighting about a laundry machine dial. But you do. And somehow, life goes on.Some say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and my husband is no exception. Give him something fried or laced with bacon, and he will swoon. Knowing this, whenever we have a fight I usually cook those very things to seek forgiveness. But this time I wanted to do something that showed a little more love and sacrifice.As I flipped through my trusty Martha Stewart cookbook (yes, yes...I graduated from culinary school but I still adore her recipes), I saw a recipe that made me wince:Jasmine Rice Pudding.Don't get me wrong, it has nothing to do with Martha Stewart or the beautiful flavor of jasmine. I winced because I HATE rice pudding. Absolutely hate it. I never understood why anyone would take perfectly good rice and spoil it into a disgusting dessert. But my husband loves it. I knew if I made rice pudding, he would know I did it only for him.I gave the ingredients list a quick look and as I suspected, I had everything at home. Perfect. I had an hour to whip it up before I had to pick my husband up from the train station.Jasmine Rice Pudding (adapted from Martha Stewart)(serves 6 to 8)1 quart whole milk1/4 cup jasmine tea leaves (use the real thing, not bagged tea)3 cups water1 1/3 cups jasmine rice1 t kosher salt1 T unsalted butter1 1/2 c sugar1) Heat milk in medium saucepan until hot but not boiling (I turned the heat off when it was almost too hot to the touch). Add the tea leaves. Remove from heat. Cover the saucepan, and steep for 20 minutes; strain milk and set aside.2) Rice cooker method: Make rice as you normally would with the called for amount of jasmine rice/water/salt above.Non-rice cooker method: In a medium pot, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the rice and salt. Reduce heat to low; cover, and cook until rice is tender and liquid has disappeared (about 15-20 min).3) When the rice is ready, stir in the flavored milk, butter and one-half cup of the sugar (I emphasize this because you don't want to throw it all in right now) into rice. Cover, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved and pudding is thick, about 30 min.4) Spoon the rice pudding into dessert dishes (I used ramekins). Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of each pudding to prevent a skin from forming, then transfer dishes into the fridge.5) Place the remaining cup of sugar in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Cook without stirring until amber in color, about 10-15 minutes. Pour caramel over top of each pudding, and serve immediately.Verdict? Let's just say I took a tentative bite before serving it to my husband and my eyes widened in surprise. I actually really liked it! I've had rice pudding in fine dining restaurants before (when my husband ordered it of course) and didn't even like it then. This Martha Stewart recipe helped me appreciate the dessert in a new light.One difference for this, I believe, is that the rice for this recipe was cooked perfectly al dente. Most rice puddings I've tried in the past were either mushy or hard, whether it was Rice to Riches in NYC or a triple-digit restaurant. I also thought the amount of sweetness was perfect--it wasn't overwhelming and balanced well with the subtle jasmine. But the aroma of infused jasmine tea leaves was the amazing part--I didn't think such a delicate flavor would work for a hearty dessert, but it did, and beautifully at that.So what did the husband think? He liked it of course ("SO GOOD," he said), though he thinks the rice pudding he makes is up to par. Potentially another fight in the making? Maybe. But[...]

Test Driving NYT's Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe


Have you ever read the "Estimated Time" part of a recipe and laughed? The only reason Rachel Ray can bust out a dinner for four in 30 minutes while smiling is because she has a team of sous chefs to help her measure, cut, dice, mince and buy her Starbuck's coffee so she doesn't look frazzled on national television. Or you can listen to her advice and buy pre-diced celery that is drying out on the edges. Mmm, tasty.But I will be different. I will tell it how it is. This delectable chocolate chip cookie recipe took me only 4 weeks, two days and 40 minutes to make.Yeah, FOUR weeks AND two days AND forty minutes. But I'll save you some of the time by explaining why it took me that long.You see, it took me about four weeks to find the proper chocolate chips. These aren't toll house cookies--the "chips" had to be 70% Cacao Valrhona discs, or the ones from Jacques Torres chocolate shop in New York City. I repeatedly read that using any other would not do the recipe justice.However, since I don't live anywhere near NYC, it meant Jacques Torres was only available to me via online and overnight shipping (any longer, and the chocolate will melt in the summer heat).I refused to pay upwards of $40 for a pound of chocolate, and so for the last month I scoured all the gourmet grocery stores (Whole Food's, Draeger's, Andronico's) within a 21 mile radius from my home looking for the darn chips . From Los Altos to San Francisco, I drove and went, frustrated with every visit. I scanned the candy aisle, the cheese aisle, the baking aisle--nothing. My husband eventually pointed out the obvious--at this rate, I had probably wasted so much gas that it would have been prudent to order the darn things online in the first place.Thanks honey, I feel better now. But hey, at least we have a Prius.I finally settled on alternatives--72% Cacao Guittard discs (available at Draeger's and a very reputable brand in my opinion) and a Whole Food's organic brand. I planned on taste testing both to see which I liked better (Guittard won by a landslide, in my opinion). For now, I figured this plan would do.Finally, I was ready to make the batter. I was confident it would take me twenty minutes tops, but I ended up fighting, wrestling, and pounding the crap out of my brown sugar that had recently hardened into a cemented block. Indeed, my arms are now more defined from that episode. Hahaha.Forty minutes later, the batter was ready to go. The recipe called for it to sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours (up to 72 hours) but I was impatient to be compensated for all my hard work. So I baked off six. The recipe says to scoop 3 1/2 ounce "large golf balls" of batter but as my avid golfer husband pointed out, golf balls are nowhere near that size. I stuck to the weight measurement and not the descriptive nonsense. Exactly six fit on a half sheet pan if you don't want it to meld together. Twenty minutes later, they were done. The center was still soft when I took them out, but the edges were definitely a beautiful golden. I allowed them to cool as I left to run some errands. When I came home twenty minutes later, AN ENTIRE COOKIE WAS GONE.I death-stared at my husband, who gave me a guilty cookie-monster smile. "You ate an ENTIRE COOKIE by yourself?!" I cried incredulously.Another cookie-monster smile.You must understand. I wasn't freaking out because a little cookie was gone. These cookies were HUGE. And my husband does not like sweets. When he does eat them, he takes a bite and declares completion. So the fact he ate a cookie that was over four inches in diameter in less than ten minutes was quite a milestone achievement for me."I like the sea salt," he offered helpfully.Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted by Jacques Torres, New York Times)Ingredients8 1/2 oz cake flour8 1/2 oz bread flour1 1/4 t baking soda1 1/2 t baking powder1 1/2 t coarse salt2 1/2 stick unsalted butter, room [...]

Leftover Cherry Sauce


Before I left for Boston, I jokingly warned my husband to keep the kitchen clean while I was away "or else." There are some things that peeve me, and coming home to a kitchen littered with day old knives, sticky pots and bowls stuck with hardened rice grains is one of them.

To my happy surprise, the kitchen really was clean when I came back. "You're wonderful!" I exclaimed, as my husband smiled proudly.

The next day I opened the refrigerator to help myself to some breakfast, and my heart sank.

My normally neat and arranged fridge had been transformed to complete chaos. Containers and jars were in complete disarray, a bowl with half-eaten strawberries (strawberries with a bite out of them, eek!) was awkwardly askew atop a carton of eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables that I had purchased for him before I left had remained untouched. Most disappointing was the bag of cherries about to spoil. Cherries still cost a good amount even when they're in season, and I hated for it to go to waste.

What to do?

I had planned on making pancakes that morning, so as I whipped up a batch I realized I could make cherry sauce. Perfect. Any time you have fresh fruits and vegetables about to go bad, cook it. This will extend its life by a few more days.

Cherry Sauce

1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt

1/2 cup orange juice
2 cups sweet cherries, without the stem

1) Pit and halve the cherries.
2) Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt. Do not be zealous with the cinnamon. A tiny pinch is all you need.
3) Add the orange juice and cherries. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a medium-low.
4) Simmer until thickened.

Serve with whipped cream on top of pancakes or waffles. The sauce tastes even better the next day. Needless to say, my husband ate it all up.


Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Vinaigrette and Prosciutto


Do you like asparagus?Ask your friends this question, and half the time you'll receive a wrinkled nose as an answer. Asparagus is notorious for its aftermath aroma when one heads to the toilet after dinner; if you haven't noticed it, consider yourself lucky.Which is too bad, because it's not only low in calories, fat and cholesterol, but a good source of folic acid, potassium and dietary fiber. And it's in season right now, which means it's deliciously juicy and sweet. Oh, and cheap.It takes some people a great recipe in order for them to eat asparagus, and this one is a sure winner. Here I adapted a recipe from America's Test Kitchen and made it my own.Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Vinaigretteadapted from America's Test Kitchen1 1/2 lb asparagus4 T olive oilSaltGround black pepperVinaigrette:1 lemon, cut in half6 T extra-virgin olive oil1 medium shallot, minced1 t fresh thyme leavesSaltGround black pepper1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.2) To prep asparagus: Often you will see recipes that say, "Snap off ends of asparagus." If you try this, not only will you snap away nearly half the asparagus, but half the money you spent on buying it (and please don't try snapping away AT the grocery store, you may never be allowed to return again). In addition, it's time consuming.I like to take five or six stems at a time, line them up at the tips, and cut away approximately 1 1/2" or more from the stem. It's fast, efficient, and all the asparagus will now be the same length.The trick to making them less fibrous and laborious to chew is to gently peel away the top layer of the stem. Just hold the tip of the asparagus with one hand, the vegetable peeler in the other, and start peeling about two inches from the tip, turning the asparagus as you peel. It will end up looking something like this:Bonus: They look gorgeous!3) When finished, place the asparagus in a baking dish or sheet pan, and toss gently with the olive oil and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. The asparagus should be lightly but completely coated in olive oil; add more if not.4) Place the asparagus in the oven, and roast for 5-7 minutes. You don't want to overcook them, so start checking after 5 minutes! They should be tender but still have a bite. When ready, let cool.5) Meanwhile, drizzle 1 T of olive oil onto a cast-iron skillet and heat over medium-high heat. When hot, place the lemon halves cut-side down and grill until tender and slightly blackened, about 3 minutes. Let the lemon halves cool.6) Squeeze the lemons (you should have about 2 T of juice) and combine with the extra-virgin olive oil, minced shallots and thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste.7) Strain the vinaigrette into a measuring cup, then drizzle over the asparagus.At this point, you can serve them as is! It's a great side dish for dinner. For an elegant appetizer or a potluck dish, read on:1 1/2 lb asparagus, dressed with lemon vinaigrette (recipe above)12-14 slices prosciutto, halved (the short way, not the long way)1) Allow the asparagus to marinate in the lemon vinaigrette for 15-30 minutes.2) Drain the asparagus on a plate covered with a paper towel.3) Carefully lay a slice of halved prosciutto on the cutting board, and place the asparagus on one end. Gently roll upwards.4) Repeat with the rest of the asapargus/prosciutto. [...]

A Spiced Carrot Soup...Six Months Later


I know, it's been awhile.Six months since I last wrote anything, really. Unless you count e-mails. As an English major in college, I'm quite ashamed.I don't have a good excuse. Sure, I was in cooking school the last six months. Sure, I spent my nights cooking too. I guess with all that cooking, the last thing I wanted to talk about was...well, cooking.But sometimes an unexpected event changes all that.The event? A bowl of carrot soup.Okay, maybe four bowls of what was carrot soup. All gone. Not a speck of orange left.To give you some context, about once a month I cook for friends. The deal is I provide each of them a three course meal, and in return they cover the cost of ingredients. It allows me to experiment with recipes I may not be able to afford otherwise. Plus the satisfied faces afterward makes it all worth it.So this past weekend, the featured meal was as follows:Spiced Carrot Soup with ShrimpPork Tenderloin with Rhubarb SauceHoney-Glazed Banana Fritters with Peanut Ice CreamThe resounding favorite was the soup. I was surprised. The soup was so easy to make that I wondered if I had screwed up the pork and bananas badly somehow. Something so easy should never win.But then I remember Spike and Andrew won a Top Chef episode with their squash soup.And it all makes sense.When you take something simple and can manage to make it memorable, then the recipe is a keeper. This particular carrot soup came from that of Cafe Boulud in New York. It combines the earthiness of carrots with the exoticism of coconut milk and the spiciness of curry and ginger. The poached shrimp adds an extra dimension to the color and flavor. Since shrimp is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine, and the recipe was already using coconut, curry and ginger, it made since to include shrimp as well (plus it gives the soup some protein).Spiced Carrot Soup with Shrimp2 T olive oil1 small onion, sliced1 pound carrots, trimmed and peeled, sliced thin1/2 inch ginger, peeled and sliced thin1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced thin1 t curry powder2 1/2 c chicken stock3/4 c canned unsweetened coconut milk2 T lemon juice16 XL shrimp, peeled and deveined1/2 c carrot juiceSoup:1) Heat olive oil and cook onions until tender, 6 min.2) Add carrots, ginger, garlic, curry, and 1/2 t salt, 1/4 t white pepper.3) Cook a couple of minutes until the curry is fragrant.4) Add stock, coconut milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to med-low, cover, and simmer until carrots are very tender (20 min).5) Puree carrot mixture in a blender until smooth.6) Transfer soup to a clean saucepan (I poured the soup over a sieve to make the texture really fine).Shrimp:1) Bring 2 c water, the lemon juice, and 1 t salt to a boil over med-high heat.2) Add shrimp, cover, and remove the pan from the heat. Let stand for 6 min.3) Remove shrimp, halve lengthwise if desired and set aside.Before serving:1) Add the carrot juice to the soup, mix to combine. Heat through and adjust flavor with more salt/pepper.2) Arrange the shrimp in the center of four soup bowls. Pour the soup around the shrimp (I did this by ladling the soup into a measuring cup with a spout, which made it easier to pour).Serve immediately, and watch your guests rave.[...]

Dining Out Montreal: Restaurant Europea


There are two things I used to always love about Montreal in Quebec, Canada: the exchange rate with US dollars and the abundant offerings of French food, from bistro fare to fine dining.Now that the US economy is going down the gutter, the exchange rate is no longer much of an advantage. But fine dining is still available at much better prices than what I am used to seeing in San Francisco or New York City.On a recent trip to Montreal, my husband and I dined at Restaurant Europea. The menu offered a la carte selections, along with a table d'hote ("host's table") five-course menu and a nine-course tasting menu. We decided on the table d'hote ($53.50 Canadian), as we figured that our tactic of each ordering a different selection for each course would allow us to partake in an ample variety.Before we could place our orders, however, our waitress offered us a complimentary sampling of three morsels, which were quite good as a whole. Husband and I both agreed the middle selection was the most delectable--a cured piece of meat wrapped around a dried piece of fruit. Not uncommon, but definitely palate pleasing.When our waitress came around again, we placed our orders. A few minutes later, our "La mise en bouche" arrived, a teaser of lobster cream "cappuccino" with truffle oil and a small shaving of truffle.Le Cappuccino de crème de homard, à l’huile de truffe(no coffee involved, but the foamy texture was reminiscent of a cappuccino) After that, the courses came in a fluid, continuous motion. They included:Appetizer of pan-fried foie gras over a truffled celeriac puree, foie gras "au torchon" with pineapple chutney. Appetizer of "minute made" bison tartar, watercress mesclun, carpaccio of smoked Boileau venaison, baby vegetables.A complimentary tasting (I forgot what this was, but I believe it was a polenta of sort)A complimentary tasting of "Light CO2 foam prepared with Caesar Salad."Entree of slowly braised veal cheeks, fondant potatoes and parsnip puree.Entree of roasted U10 scallop with prosciutto, Lac Brome confit duck raviole, shitake mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke, coconut emulsion. Rum cake dessert.A tray of bite-sized desserts, with tuxedo strawberries!A complimentary basket full of delicious, tiny madeleines.Chocolate macaroon presented on a crispy feuillantine, with chocolate ganache.My after-dinner coffee, in the fanciest setup I've ever seen. It came with four different types of sugars and a bar of chocolate!For slightly less than US $50 a person (if you don't include the coffee I ordered), the lavish meal was quite the bargain. We had numerous complimentary tastings, and by the end of the night I could barely take a bite of my dessert. We ended up bringing most of the madeleines home, which provided a memorable snack the next day.Except for the Caesar Salad foam, which I thought was innovative but strange, all of the dishes were executed well. I expected something to be amiss, but the quality of the food was high and the service was good (though a tad bit slow towards the end). I'm not sure if Canadian food costs are lower, or maybe they just don't care about making money, but it's a gastronomic bargain I'll gladly come back to the next time I'm in Montreal.*-*-*-*-*-*-*-* Restaurant EuropeaMontreal, QC CanadaRating: 4.5 smacking plums (highest is 5)[...]

Dining Out SF: Brunch at Bar Tartine


Sometimes it takes a really inspiring meal to begin food blogging (and eating) again. Not that I’ve stopped eating altogether of course, but sometimes you hit a slump in life where nothing tastes good, not even your favorite go-to comfort food (eggs, pasta, dark chocolate). So it’s been a lot of bland rice and veggie meals for me, which only my ex-roommate’s anorexic cat would ever consider eating (poor thing). You, my readers, have palates too good for that. Leave it to Tartine (my favorite bakery in San Francisco and possibly America) to bring me back to gastronomic life. When my husband proposed that we check out brunch at Bar Tartine in San Francisco’s Mission district, I was surprised and excited. Surprised because my husband has been in his frugal phase lately (which means $3 meals every day and rarely eating out) and excited because I was ready to be inspired by food again. Bar Tartine is open for brunch on weekends from 11am-2:30pm. We were warned to arrive by 11am if we didn’t want to wait in line, so we nabbed a nearby parking spot at 10:45am and waited in the car. Sure enough, a small line started to form around 10:55am. We were seated by a lovely hostess, and after perusing the intriguing selections (duck confit scramble anyone?), my husband opted for the open face pork belly sandwich with shoestring fries and I selected the poached egg over fresh tuna and greens (highly recommended by our waitress). After ordering, our waitress placed down a plate of Tartine’s famous country bread. Complimentary bread for brunch is definitely uncommon, and I wasn’t about to pass up Tartine’s country bread. In fact, if I hadn’t eaten it all I probably would have stuffed the leftovers into my purse when no one (including my husband) was looking. The entrées came soon enough, and I was wowed by the fresh flavors of my dish. It felt like Spring was in my mouth, rejuvenating my spirit which had been as gray as San Francisco’s lousy summer. I had been a little fearful that my tuna would be dry (or worse, canned) but it was flaky and tender, and worked well with the lemon oil drizzled on top. I ate my dish a little too quickly, and soon enough it was gone. My husband raved over his dish, which suited his taste buds very well. Fatty pork belly lay atop a thick heirloom tomato slice and crunchy toast. I laughed as he made smacking sounds at every other bite. The only complaint we could think of was that the fries weren't quite shoestring...they tasted more like skinny potato chips (and were inconvenient to eat, since you couldn't use a fork and picking them up one by one was tedious).We had made plans for dessert (yes, they serve dessert for brunch!), but unfortunately were too belly-aching full for the indulgence. Someday though, I’ll be trying the meyer lemon trifle with caramel, almond cake and meyer lemon granita. *-*-*-*-*-*-*-* Bar Tartine Brunch hours: Sat/Sun 11am-2:30pm Rating: 4.5 smacking plums (highest is 5)[...]

Sunday Dinner and Creme Brulee at the Bradys'


Growing up, I somewhat resented family dinners. While I appreciated the fact my parents were trying to have us bond with one another, the truth was we usually sat in conversation about the weather over greasy Chinese. How I longed to be hanging out with friends instead, burrowing my head in a book, or even doing my homework.As I grew older and slowly shed my selfish desires, what we had of these dinners became fewer in between. Though I tried harder to make conversation, I realized there was little to be said between us, no matter how hard I tried. Perhaps the awkward silences were a cultural thing; I'm not sure.When a foodie friend of mine (and former coworker) first invited my husband and I over for dinner a year ago, I was excited. Not only was her mom a food editor (dream job!) but my friend had always described these amazing-sounding meals that I was jealous to experience. What I didn't expect though, was the warmth that encircled my husband and me when we walked through the front door. Over roast lamb, we were included in the stories about cousins, cats and other drama that made me feel more at home than I ever did in the family dinners of my childhood.During the most recent Sunday dinner, Mrs. B made a delicious homemade tagliatelle (from the Italian tagliare, meaning "to cut") with a meat ragu sauce. The pasta was made from scratch by hand, which results in a chewy doughiness I love and is impossible to recreate with dried pasta. As usual, I probably ate more than my fair share, but it's hard to pass up something as satisfying as homemade pasta.The highlight of the night though, was my friend's creme brulee. There is a restaurant in nearby San Carlos that offers a unique creme brulee offering of orange and lavender flavor, so that was the inspiration for our dessert that evening. As most people know though, the challenging (and fun) part of making a creme brulee is torching it in the end:The creme brulee waiting to be adorned with sugar.A thin, even layer of sugar is the way to go for a delicate burnt sugar crust.Holding the torch at an angle, have the flame slowly circle aroundthe creme brulee so that small, brown bubbles form evenly throughout.Viola! There have been a number of Sunday dinners since that first Sunday dinner, but my husband and I continually feel excited whenever we are invited over for another one. Delicious food aside, the only thing better than a memorable meal is the company you have the privilege to enjoy it with.[...]

Vik's Chaat Corner


Michael Bauer just released his Top 100 Bay Area restaurants this past weekend, and lo and behold, I ate at 41 of these restaurants already! What I love about this list though, is that it encompasses not only Michelin star restaurants, but places where you can get a good meal for $5 too.On a recent trip to visit my friends Steph and Kenneth, Steph suggested that we check out Vik's Chaat Corner in Berkeley. When I mentioned this in passing to my foodie coworker, she got really excited. "VIIIIKKKK'S!!!!" she nearly screamed, and started naming off the menu items to me.I had no idea what to expect. Sure I like Indian food, but I like my naan 'n curry, and Vik's menu only had chaat (Indian snacks) which I wasn't so sure I'd like.Going to Vik's is an experience. The "restaurant" is really a large warehouse, with a counter where you order food and some picnic-like tables to eat at. My friends and I ordered a variety of food--I had a Lamb Baida Roti and my husband (who insisted on being "Vijay" for the meal) ordered a Masala Dosa and Pani Puri.My husband (who is Chinese, but might as well be Indian due to the heavy influence of his coworkers) taught me how to eat the puri. Apparently, there is a procedure to it. First, you take a "puff" and tap a little hole into it. Next, you put in some garbanzo beans and potatoes, then some tamarind sauce, and finally finish it with some spicy mint water. Then you just pop the whole thing into your mouth! If I didn't know any better, I'd have eaten everything separately.It was absolutely delicious, and fun to eat. I much preferred it to my lamb roti, which was good but a bit on the oily side and my stomach wasn't feeling so keen on that day. The masala dosa was good as well, and I would highly recommend it.I'll definitely be back. Who said good eats and cheap eats can't go together?[...]

Applesauce Cupcakes...or Muffins?


I could never figure out the difference between cupcakes and muffins. Is it just the frosting that distinguishes one from the other? The time of day the sweet cake is consumed? The amount of sugar called for in the recipe? Or maybe the funny muffin top cap? Let's consult Merriam-Webster, shall we...muf·fina quick bread made of batter containing egg and baked in a pan having cuplike moldscup·cakea small cake baked in a cuplike moldWell, that didn't really help (it reminds me of high school math, where I learned squares are rectangles but rectangles are not squares) since most cupcakes contain eggs.Even if the dictionary definitions look quite similar, I think the cupcake recipe books that claim they have "over x amount of cupcake recipes" are a little bogus. Their use of muffin recipes to reach their number just doesn't seem quite right.But I digress.My sister had purchased The Artful Cupcake book for me as part of my Christmas present last year, and I was excited to try some of the recipes. So for a colleague's birthday, I made "Applesauce Cupcakes" (or Applesauce Muffins, you decide).As you read in my previous post, I have had slim luck with most cupcake recipes I have tried. But these cupcakes turned out fairly moist (probably due to the applesauce) and not too sweet, which I liked.The apple crisps were more of a challenge, beginning with the process of slicing. Some apple slices came out too thick. Some were so thin it broke at the touch. Still others did not have the pretty star shape in the middle that I was going for. Good thing I bought twice as many needed apples!When they were finally all sliced, my husband soaked the slices in sugar water, spread them on a silicone mat (silpat)-lined baking sheet and stuck them in the oven. The problem was, they didn't crisp up nor turn golden brown by the time they were to be taken out. As usual of my nature, I was on the brink of freaking out but my husband calmly stuck them back in the oven and let them bake until they had a light golden hue. Even then they still weren't crispy, but after letting it cool they eventually achieved the desired crisp texture.The next question was: How should we store them? My husband insisted on packing them away in an airtight container but I was dubious. Still, since he is more scientifically-inclined than I am, I decided to trust him. As an experiment we left an apple crisp out to see what would happen to it.The next morning the lovely apple slices in the container had indeed stayed crispy (and the single apple crisp became a limp sugary slice).I then cut a slit into each of the cupcakes (about a half inch deep) and very gently inserted an apple crisp into each slit. The result was both unique and impressive (delicious, too).Applesauce Cupcakes (from The Artful Cupcake by Marcianne Miller) 1 ¾ C cake flour 1 t baking soda 1 t cinnamon ½ t ground cloves ½ t salt 1 C brown sugar 4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature 1 egg 1 C apple sauce 1 C cherries, diced small (I left these out) 1 C raisins (I left these out) 1) 1) Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare a muffin pan with nonstick spray. (I did not use paper cups since I felt that would ruin the look) 2) 2) Sift together 1 ½ cups of the flour and the baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. 3) 3) In a large bowl, cream the sugar with the butter until light. 4) 4) Add the egg to the butter mixture and mix until blended. 5) 5) Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix until blended. 6) 6) Add the applesauce and mix until blended. 7) 7) Sprinkle the remaining flour over the cherries and raisins to coat, then add to the batter. 8) 8) Po[...]

Cupcake Triumph (Oh so light lemon cupcakes!)


On my first day of cake-decorating class, I remember one of the things my instructor said to me:"Never EVER use cake-box mix. And if you do, don't tell me."I gulped, as if I had been caught red-handed. Is it really so terrible? Sometimes I just don't have the time to sift flour. And most of the time, cake-box mix has a better texture than what I can make from scratch. I like fluffy, light cupcakes and the ones I make from scratch often end up as doughy heavyweights. I will admit though, that cupcakes from the box usually lack a bit of flavor.Looking to use the last of my Meyer lemons, and inspired by the lemon cupcakes on Cupcake Bakeshop I decided once again to make my own. I pretty much used Chockylit's recipe with a few modifications:Lemon Cupcakes~20 cupcakes / 350 degree oven 1-1/2 cups cake flour (yes, there IS a difference from all-purpose flour!)3/4 cups sugar1/4 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon baking powder1/4 cup grape seed oil or vegetable oil4 egg yolks (approximately 3 ounces) (I recommend weighing it out if you can)1/4 cup lemon juice (I prefer meyer so it's less tart)1 teaspoon lemon extract, all natural (I left this out since I didn't have any)grated rind from 1 lemon1 teaspoon bitters (I left this out since I didn't have any)5 egg whites (approximately 5 ounces) (again, weigh whenever you can!)1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter1/4 cup sugar1. Sift flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder into the bowl of a standing mixer.2. In a medium bowl, combine oil, egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon extract, lemon rind, and bitters. Stir to combine.3. On a low setting, start to beat the dry mixture and slowly add the wet. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until incorporated.4. Transfer mixture to another bowl. Wash and dry mixer bowl.5. Whip egg whites with whip attachment on medium-high speed until foamy. With the mixer on medium speed, add cream of tarter and slowly add sugar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.6. Scoop a cupful of the stiff egg whites into the batter and stir to combine. This should lighten up the batter.7. Transfer the batter to the egg whites and gently fold until there are no more streaks of egg white.8. Scoop into cupcake cups about 2/3s full and bake at 350 F for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.Oh, how cozy the cupcakes look in their little snug tins! I have absolutely no desire to have kids (yet) but watching these little cupcakes bake kicks in the maternal instinct in me.Meringue Frosting 1/2 cup sugar3 egg whitesSorrel simple syrupSplash of Bitters (instead of simple syrup or bitters, I used a substitute liqueur...Grand Marnier works well)Creme Brulee torch 1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar over a water bath in the standing mixer bowl until it reaches a temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This only takes only a few of minutes.2. Transfer to standing mixer and whisk using whisk attachment at high speed until soft peaks form.3. With the mixer on medium speed, drizzle sorrel syrup into the mixer. Splash in a bit of bitters. Beat on high until stiff peaks form.I used a pastry bag to swirl the meringue onto the cupcakes. If you don't have a pastry bag, you can also take a plastic sandwich bag, cut off one of the corners, and squeeze the meringue through the hole that way (if you haven't used this method before, I would recommend practicing on a baking sheet first).If you have a creme brulee torch, slowly torch the cupcakes in a circular motion. It might take a couple of cupcakes to get it right, but whoever complained about eating delicious mistakes?Verdict:I was happy. I mean, really happy! The cake part was light and airy (similar to a[...]

Vino 101: The Essence of Wine


(image) I always have the best of intentions. Really, I do. So when it comes to wine, every fiber of my being really wants to believe that the particular Cabernet Sauvignon I'm tasting has essences of oak, plum, black currant and green bell pepper.

But the only essence I smell is my nail polish remover.

I use my poor nose as an excuse. I can't smell, I protest. After all, it is often my husband who comes rushing in the midst of my cooking, "I smell something burning!" and I have no idea what he's talking about (usually it's some piece of food stuck in the stove burner).

So alas, when I found out my coworker's dad was not only the wine professor at the CCA for two decades, but one of the two wine reviewers for the much respected Connoisseurs' Guide, I knew that if one person could show me the light, it would be him.

The first lesson was on whites. A line of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay stood before me, and I sniffed the first one (short sniffs, I learned, were more beneficial to the olfactory sensory neurons than a long inhale).

Lime, Steve (as he prefers to be called) said, do you smell it?

I sniffed some more. I sniffed with my eyes closed. I sniffed like a dog. And still I could not for the life of me smell lime. I pictured a piece of lime in my mind, hoping that would help. But alas, I shook my head.

I was a failure, and we had barely started.

Tell me what you smell in the next one, said Steve.

I sniffed. PEACH! my mind screamed. A juicy peach in its peak during summer. Yes, that was it. Perhaps I could smell after all.

Of course, I was back to smelling nail polish remover with the Chardonnay. I guess I can't win in everything.

The lesson progressed, smelling/tasting first a group of reds (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) and then a group of Zinfandel. Not that anyone is being competitive here, but it's frustrating when your husband "gets it" faster than you can on a consistent basis. He smelled skunk in one of the glasses, and Steve beamed. I, on the other hand, continued to smell nail polish remover. No, I do not cook my food in acetone, I swear.

I did have one more breakthrough though, when I tasted plum skin in the Pinot Noir. Still, I am convinced I need to smell more. So this weekend as Jason replanted one of our house plants, I proclaimed we needed to smell the dirt (we did). And at the grocery store the next day, we stuck our nose in blackberry and raspberry cartons.

Hey, I need to build my olfactory library somehow...

Celebratory Wedding Cake (aka "My first fondant cake without class instruction")


On Friday, I found out one of my coworkers didn't show up to work because he was getting hitched at City Hall. What's with all the couples getting married on Leap Day? The joke is that he only wants to celebrate his anniversary once every four years...Anyway, I figured I'd make him a cake. It would be my first fondant cake without any class instruction and I was a little nervous, but hey, I needed to start somewhere.I also used this as an excuse to finally try a recipe from The Cake Bible, given to me by a friend on my birthday. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to think when I first flipped through the inside. I'm a very visual person, so I normally get cookbooks with beautiful pictures (and a 4+ star rating from Amazon of course). But this particular friend of mine (the gifter) makes beautiful (and delicious) cakes, and if she swears by this book then who was I to judge a book by its lackluster print?After reading a few, I selected the Golden Genoise cake with Berry-Grand Marnier mousseline buttercream.Challenge #1: I had no idea what genoise cake was really supposed to look or taste like. It's like asking a sculptor to make a statue of your mother with no picture.Challenge #2: Buttercream. The last time I made it, I failed miserably. And that was with an easier recipe from Martha Stewart. Would this prove to be a big flop as well?This time, I was determined to give myself plenty of time to bake. I would bake the cakes on Saturday, make the buttercream on Sunday and put it all together Sunday night. Except things never turn out the way it's planned and I was occupied with random errands and events on Saturday.Then I told myself I would bake the cakes Sunday morning before church. Yeah, right. All I really got done was measuring the ingredients, laying out all the kitchen tools, and clarifying the butter. By the time church was over, I was already stressing that this grand idea would never come together. Plus I realized I forgot to buy some essentials like a cake box and pearl dust!Not good.Thankfully, my husband offered to help and while I rushed off to Michael's, he helped me make the beautifully golden cake layer (thanks, honey). The smell hit me when I came home and opened the door. It smelled like madeleines, and I am already plotting on using this recipe to make a dozen of the seashell treasures next time.As I prepped the ingredients for the buttercream and read through the recipe one last time, I read with a sinking feeling the footnote warning: "Make sure the softened butter for the buttercream is not too warm or it will curdle. It should still be cool to the touch, about 65 degrees" Oh, crap. I had left the butter out too long (about four hours) and it was definitely in its 70's and very warm at that point. So I had to take out fresh sticks of butter and wait for it to soften a bit.Once I started working through the buttercream recipe though, I felt confident. The egg whites were peaking, the butter was creamy, and the sugar syrup was at its precise temperature. No problem. Then I got to putting in the last part of butter and it started curdling.Oh, crap again. I was about to admit defeat when my husband the hero comes in, takes a look, whips up the cream at a higher speed and miraculously saves it (maybe it wasn't so miraculous, but it seemed like it). The buttercream was severely alcoholic with 1/3 cup of Grand Marnier, but hey, a lot of a good thing can be a good thing.When the two layers of cake were cool, I stacked them with buttercream in between and then stuck it in the fridge for a few minutes while I prepped the fondant.[...]

Topsy Turvy Fondant Cake


I should officially be called "She-Who-Always-Finishes-Last." You know that student who is consistently a step behind everyone else? Yeah. That's me. Blame it on the perfectionist gene.

This time I vowed I would not be so slow. In fact, during this particular class my teacher cracked a joke on how irritated he gets with students who stay late after class. Yikes. I was sure he didn't remember me, though (at least he had forgotten my name).

So against my nature, I rushed through my cake. Yet I still managed to be the one who was still struggling with her last piece of fondant while everyone else sat around eating cookies, waiting for me. You know they don't really mean, "Take your time" when they're looking at their watch simultaneously mouthing the words. Bah.

It was fun learning how to create a "Topsy Turvy" cake and how you attach it together. The hardest thing for me is rolling the teeny pieces of fondant. No matter how much powdered sugar I sprinkle on the surface (which is supposed to be as little as possible), my fondant manages to stick to the table while everyone else's peel off gracefully. Go figure.

At least my cake turned out half decently, though it was far from being flawless. Note to self: Thou shall cut nails before working with fondant so the fondant doesn't get nail marks as you're putting the cake into the box.

I also wasn't quite as slow this time. Instead of staying 1.5 hours after class (personal record) I only stayed an extra half hour after everybody else. Still won the trophy for "last student" though. *sigh*

The Affair with Meyer Lemons


My favorite "fruit" may just as well be the Meyer Lemon. It's certainly not a fruit you can eat straight out of the rind, but I love its versatility. I have the fortune of knowing two people with Meyer Lemon trees, and so every time I ask nicely (with a "Pretty please?") I get a good bag full of these sunny beauties.The first thing I did with these lemons was not to make something out of them, but to photograph them. So here is the brief photo shoot:Then I decided I was going to try making Alice Waters Meyer Lemon Cake--again. I first tried this recipe last year and it turned out so-so (well, badly in my book but "yummy" in my friends' book so you decide who you want to believe). The flavor was perfect, but the consistency wasn't right; there were lots of lumps and a cake should be lump-free.Here's the recipe I used:Meyer Lemon Cake (makes one 9-inch cake) 8 tbsp. unsalted butter4 large eggs, separated1¼ cups sugar2/3 cup buttermilk1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice1 tbsp. Meyer lemon zest2 cups cake flour1¼ tsp. baking powder1/4 tsp. salt For the glaze:1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice1 2/3; cups confectioners' sugar For the candied Meyer lemon slices:2 Meyer lemons2 cups sugar Preheat the oven to 325° F. Melt butter in saucepan. Cool and set aside. In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks with 1 cup of the sugar until thick and light in color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in buttermilk, Meyer lemon juice and zest. Sift together cake flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Then add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold half the flour mixture into egg-yolk mixture, followed by half the egg white mixture—so you don't deflate the batter. Repeat with remaining flour and egg white mixtures. Take about 1 cup of the batter and stir it into melted butter. Gently fold butter mixture into the rest of the cake batter. Pour into a buttered and floured 9-inch cake pan or Bundt pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes until cake is lightly brown and pulling slightly away from the edge of the pan. While cake is baking, make glaze and candied Meyer lemon slices. For glaze, combine Meyer lemon juice and the confectioners' sugar in a saucepan. Heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Set aside. For the candied slices, cut Meyer lemons widthwise, in ¼ inch slices, and discard end pieces. Remove seeds. In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer five minutes. Add lemon slices and simmer about five more minutes, until fruit is soft but not falling apart. With a slotted spoon, remove slices and place on waxed or parchment paper. When the cake is baked, cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then invert onto a cooling rack. With a long toothpick, poke the top of the cake to make about two dozen small deep holes. Slowly spoon the warm glaze over the cake, allowing to sink in before adding more. Poke extra holes if needed, eventually using all the glaze. Arrange the candied lemon slices in a random pattern on top. Cool the cake completely and serve.Verdict:It was certainly better this time around! I decided to sift the flour and that made a big difference. The cake still had a few lumps here and there, so I'm guessing I need to work on the folding part of the process. I thought I was being really careful, but maybe not careful enough...if any one has some tips, let me know!All in all, I was rather pleased, and the [...]

Cute Love (Tagliatelle with baby zucchini, lemon and basil)


I have a penchant for cute things. In fact, a high school teacher of mine once signed my yearbook with: "I will always remember you as the girl with the cute pencils, cute pencil cases, and cute boys." (I apologize if you just gagged)You'd think I'd have outgrown all the "cuteness" by now, but during a recent visit to Trader Joe's, I discovered the latest cute thing...Baby zucchini! Yes, that's right. They are even smaller than my hand. I was drooling over how cute they were (with Husband rolling his eyes) so I bought them without knowing how I was going to cook with them. Honestly, I don't even know what they are really called...Baby zucchini? Miniature zucchini? Dwarf zucchini? Smurf food? If you know, please enlighten me.The zucchinis sort of just sat in the fridge for awhile. They brought a smile to my face whenever I opened the vegetable drawer, but I just didn't know when or how to use them. Similar to buying a sexy new dress that sort of just sits in the closet (I'm primarily addressing the female audience with this example)--especially if you're actually a jean and sweats person, like me.After nearly a week, I decided enough was enough and I would cook them or else waste the $3.99 it cost me to buy the pack of zucchinis. So I searched the net and found this Jamie Oliver recipe:Tagliatelle with baby zucchini, lemon and basil4 tablespoons olive oil2 cloves garlic, finely chopped8-10 very small, very firm zucchini, sliced on the diagonalJuice of 1 lemonA good handful of fresh basil, picked450 g fresh tagliatellesalt and freshly ground black pepper100 g parmesan, gratedPut the olive oil and the garlic into a semi-hot, thick bottomed pan and fry for about 30 seconds without colouring, then add the zucchinis and toss gently. After about 2 minutes, add the lemon juice and the basil and cook a little longer.Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in salted boiling water, then drain. Toss it with the zucchini to mix the flavours, season to taste, and add the parmesan. Serve with some torn basil and a sprinkling of extra parmesan.Serves 4.The result? Not bad. I don't think there was enough zucchini for the amount of pasta though, perhaps the zucchinis I purchased were even smaller than "baby" size? Who knows. I would actually have doubled the amount of baby zucchinis (I used 10) but then again, I'm a veggie lover and would have appreciated at least a slice of zucchini in each bite (with this recipe, I had maybe a teeny piece of zucchini for every two bites).I definitely cooked the zucchini too long, or should have used a lower heat (I used medium-low). Not all recipes are meant to be followed exactly! I would also have used a little more lemon juice (I couldn't really taste it). Also, don't let the amount of basil scare you--it shrinks quickly!-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------BTW, here's a cool recipe contest to enter! For a chance to win a $35 gift card to Crate and Barrel (!!!), all you have to do is post about this contest:Jenni's Kitchen Recipe Contest GiveawayAnd to double your chance of winning, all you have to do is pick a recipe, make it and blog about it. How easy is that?! (I mean c'mon, we do that anyway). I can't believe only like four people have entered. What are you waiting for?![...]

Face to Face With the Ugly (aka Celery Root)


Who knew the celery was related to this horrendous-looking thing...

(image) When Husband made an oxtail dish last week, the recipe called for "celeriac" aka celery root (what's that?!). When he came home with a bag of groceries, this alien vegetable nearly freaked me out. Who the heck thought this was okay to eat?!

It actually tasted fine though--celery nuances in a translucent form. A food's tastiness is definitely not based on looks.

What is the ugliest thing you have ever cooked with?

Caramelized-Apple Spice Cake with Brown-Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream


Oh, when will I ever learn that trying to bake something new right before company comes over is rarely a good idea?

I wanted to make this Martha Stewart cake for a Saturday holiday party, so I started making it Friday night. The cakes baked beautifully, and on Saturday morning I started on the buttercream. I never made buttercream before, but I figured it'd be easy (how different can it be from frosting or whipped cream?) I figured it'd take me, oh, half an hour.

Why didn't anyone ever tell me that making buttercream is not a job for a novice? The first batch I made resulted in a lumpy, chunky mess, not the smooth velvetiness it was supposed to be. Husband suggested fishing out the tiny pellets of butter, but after seeing just how many there were, he changed his mind.

"You're not going to cry again, are you?" he asked. I shook my head no and turned away (because I was).

I was now running half an hour behind my cooking schedule. I rushed to the nearest supermarket, bought more butter, and rushed back home. The second batch turned out wonderfully. After I spread it around my cake, I added gingersnap leaves as a finishing touch.

The lesson I learned? As you're adding butter to the warm meringue mixture (step 2 below), you want to work quickly. Once the meringue cools, STOP or you will end up with pellets like I did in my first batch. It doesn't matter if you don't get a chance to use all four sticks of butter (might be a good thing anyway). I only ended up using three and it turned out great. The best part? The guests raved.

Brown-Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream (Martha Stewart)

Makes about 5 cups

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. Put egg whites, sugar, and salt into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until mixture registers 160 degrees, about 4 minutes.
  2. Beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Beat until frosting is smooth and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes. Buttercream can be refrigerated airtight for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature, and beat before using.

My First Fondant Cake


I took a cake-making class last week and it was tons of fun! I think I annoyed the teacher because I was so slow that I ended up taking an extra hour after class was over (plus I was his only student that day). Hey, you can't rush a perfectionist. (image)

One thing I learned is that you have to work quickly or else the fondant will start cracking. It's also an advantage to have naturally warm hands, as mine were so cold that I couldn't get the fondant to soften no matter how hard I rolled and rubbed!