Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Review

Ok, I really want to have a countdown of ten recipes, but I only started this blog in August. Sooo....

Here are the links to my 5 favorite online recipes of 2008

5. Baked Beans
4. Meat Loaf
3. Caramel
2. Pumpkin Cookies
1. Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy New Year, everyone. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Now This is Christmas

I hope all of you, just like me, had a wonderful Christmas time. Perhaps it was because I left a city run amok with snow for vacation in sun and 60 degree weather, but week was simply peaceful and perfect. I let go of my obligations (thus explaining my lack of bloggery), and truly enjoyed every moment. I didn't forget about you completely, though.

I am very glad this year that I have this blog. Because I knew I was going to need something to write about, I kept mental notes of all I ate, and took special notice of the gift of food while spending time with loved ones. As a result, I have many more moments captured in my memory that I have in Christmases past. When I think about what I ate I remember having Hungarian bean soup with spaetzle dumplings with my grandparents. I remember eating homemade Indian food with my in-laws and nieces and nephews. I remember sharing an amazing sandwich with my mom after getting our hair done together, cheese and wine on Christmas eve, and drinking tea while playing games with everyone I love.

I truly hope that you all keep these kinds of memories through the holidays and into your new year.

Now this is Christmas:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's the Thought that Counts...Right??

So here is the letter I just sent out to my friends and neighbors this year for Christmas:

Hello to everyone!

I am writing to let you know that I had beautiful visions of making wonderful Christmas treats for you all. My plan was to bake knock-your-socks-off gingerbread and decorate them so beautifully that you wanted to cry and simply couldn't bring yourself to eat them, except for the fact that they smelled so good that you couldn't contain yourself. It was going to be great.

Since I am super busy at work this week, I had one afternoon to do this. One shot. No problem, right? WRONG! I am so embarrassed to say that I picked THE most disgusting gingerbread recipe. The cookies were awful, and I couldn't possibly give them out. It seems in all my baking talents I have a curse when it comes to making Christmas treats (if you remember the "marmalade" incident of last year). So after this I ran out of time, ran out of ingredients, ran out of patience, and ran out the door to work.

Rather than go through the entire process again, I went philanthropic. Instead of goodies, I picked out and angel tree card at the University Village, and on behalf of you all I bought a pair of pants, a top, and a magnetic toy thing set for Ernesto the 8 year old boy.

So Merry Christmas to you all from Raj and I. I'm sure Ernesto will be grateful.



By the way, just so you never EVER use this recipe, here it is. It was a horrid texture, and literally tasted like eating cardboard.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Busy, Busy Baker

The Holiday season is the busiest time of the year for the baker. Honestly, this is part of the reason I do not work in a commercial bakery anymore. I like to have time off around Christmas to fly back to warm and sunny California and spend time with my family. With that said, while I am working I like to keep busy!

Last night I catered the desserts for a Christmas party, and in the process found my new favorite Christmas dessert. When I do parties, I almost always to petits fours. People just love tiny desserts, and it really makes a dessert spread look special. Not to mention the big eating trend right now- in sweet and savory- is little bites of everything.

The little guys I made last night are the most perfect for a Christmas party! Light buttons of meringue are layered with pillows of spiced whipped cream and topped with jewels of pomegranate. I can't even begin to tell you how beautiful these are. They look like little snowmen with holly berries for decorations or rubies on display.

And they are tasty, too! Between the crunch of the meringue, the softness of the cream, and the burst of juice, the mouth really has a lot of sensations to take in. They were a hit among kids and adults alike. I encourage you to try it!

Note: I used cinnamon instead of anise to give it more of a traditional Christmas flavor. You can use whatever you want to.

Merigue Petits Fours with Anise Cream and Pomegranate (on the right in the picture)

For meringues
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar

For cream and topping
  • 2 teaspoons regular granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

  • Special equipment: a pastry bag fitted with 1/3-inch plain tip; parchment paper; an electric coffee/spice grinder


Make meringues:
Preheat oven to 175°F.

Beat egg whites with salt using an electric mixer at high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add superfine sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed, and continue to beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks.

Spoon meringue into pastry bag and pipe 1 1/4-inch-wide disks (about 1/3 inch high) about 1/2 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake meringues in middle of oven until dry but still white, about 1 1/2 hours, then cool in turned-off oven (with door closed) 1 hour. Transfer meringues on baking sheet to a rack to cool completely.

Whip cream and assemble petits fours:
Finely grind regular sugar with anise in coffee/spice grinder. Beat cream in a bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks, then add anise sugar, beating until it just holds stiff peaks.

Peel meringues from parchment, then dollop 1 teaspoon cream onto each meringue and top with 3 pomegranate seeds.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Recessionista on Food

I LOVE this word, recessionista.  I bet by next year this term will be in the dictionary- especially if the economy doesn't improve.  I have mostly heard is referred to ladies who are able to keep up with fashion during this time of financial woes. I think it represents more.  The word says that you can still be fabulous (that's another one of my favorite words) even if no one really has any money to spend.  In the case of this blog, you can still eat fabulous.

Eating fabulous means that although you don't have much money to spend on food, you do not have to eat off dollar menus, or buy only the preservative filled crap that comes in the Sunday newspaper coupon section.

So, as defined by internet sources, a recessionista is defined by four things: being 
Crafty, Careful, Charismatic, and Cash Conscious

Crafty: So, the biggest and most bestest way of saving money is to stop eating out so much, and stop buying pre-made food.  This means that you must know how to cook! And really, all cooking is is following directions.  If this is as far as you can get, then so be it, but let me push you even farther....  Think of food items that are healthy and don't cost so much- my two favorites are lentils and rolled oats since they can also multitask.  The next step is to think of things that pack a lot of flavor, but you don't need to use to much of- such as bacon (like in this previous blog), maple syrup, or spices.  Use these as the inspiration for your meals.

Careful: In clothes shopping, this refers to two things. 1. No impulse buying! This is almost easier to apply with groceries, because you can just make a list of what you need and stick to it.  Don't throw things into your cart just because they look like fun.  Don't buy something that you don't eat just because it's on sale.  2. Don't buy something that's poor quality and will damage your health just because it's cheaper! Lastly, I think another part of this is to be careful not to waste your food.  If veggies are getting a little soft, make soup!  If bread is getting stale make French toast!

Charismatic: If all you have to eat for dinner is bean soup...again....then make the most of it by serving it up on the prettiest dishes you own.  Set your table, put on music, and light a candle, even if you're eating alone!  Go out and buy the best baguette that money can buy- because you know it's never going to be more than $4- to "kick it up a notch."  (I hope I don't get sued for copyrights for that one.

Cash Conscious: This means...

finding the best quality product for the best price

Need I emphasize that more?  Buying the cheapest possible item out there is not always the best thing!  Now is the time to research.  You may spend $2 more a pound on salmon at one store, but will that salmon last 5 days rather than 2? Some ice cream brands may be more expensive, but is that because they lack fillers (such as sawdust) that other brands put in to make you THINK you're getting more?  A cereal may be on sale, but is that because you are sending your kids off to school full of processed corn and sugar?

One last thing from me: You need to reward yourself.  Go out to your favorite restaurant- just do it once a month.  Buy your favorite brand of coffee or real vanilla extract, even if it's more expensive!  A true RECESSIONISTA knows that a total cutoff of niceties leads to binging, and that is the worst thing you can do for your budget!  Just make sure whatever it is you indulge in is so totally worth it that your heart palpitates and you must close your eyes to enjoy it!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

If I Were Single...

I have said this before....

If I were single I would eat nothing but fruits, cheeses, and baguettes for dinner every night. Well, since Raj has been in class for business school half of the week, I have had a lot of single nights. Most often I'm missing the time I would have been sitting next to him on the couch after work, but since I know he's working hard for our future I make the most out my situations.

Anyway, that's what I did tonight. In the form of a caprese salad. Sometimes I forget how easy this salad is to make. Especially when you buy those little mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes. Put it together with some basil, good olive oil, salt and pepper, and you have one girly dinner! One other thing: I was surprised to find that many caprese recipes did not use balsamic vinegar. I personally think it makes the salad. But you don't have to eat mine. Go make your own.

Oh! And let me also remind you Christmas party throwers of the beautiful colors of this salad.

Just a reminder.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Back to Pie

I don't care what anyone says. You could go to pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and work as a pastry chef for years at the finest restaurants in the world. But no one, and I mean no one, can make pie like grandma can! When I say grandma, I don't necessarily mean mine or yours. It is more of just a generic title that I give to all grandmas. I wonder, what age is it when one suddenly gets bestowed upon them the magical gift of making amazing pies? It makes me look forward to aging. Maybe one night after my children have all been married off and I have just celebrated retirement, the magic pie fairy will come into my window and slip a secret recipe card under my pillow, along with some "amazing pie" dust.

Until then I will have to keep trucking on and learning from the greats as much as I can. I remember most vividly the pumpkin pies from my grandma, but this Thanksgiving I got a lesson from my grandmother-in-law. Do you remember this picture?

Well, that pie was a collaborative effort. You see Eleanor (my grandmother-in-law) has an ever so famous apple pie that she has made for holidays for years and years. But for her, just like for many, when the pie fairy left her gifts, she took with her the vigor of youth. Eleanor does not have the energy to move about the kitchen, chopping apples to 1/8 of an inch, and mixing butter and flour into pea sized bits with her fingers, so I have had the honour of the torch being passed to me.

So, on Thanksgiving Eleanor sat right next to me, and instructed to me step-by-step everything I did. In fact, it was kinda like the movie "Ratatouille," where the rat pulls on the hair of the chef like a puppet. Except she did not sit on my shoulders. I concentrated very hard, trying to remember every little nuance and method. She withheld the magic "amazing pie" dust, but I imagine she's not allowed to reveal that.

In the end, I did not know how my pie compared, because I had not had years of holidays in that family to know what they were expecting. The consesus from everyone else was "not exactly like grandma's, but still just as good!" I could definitely take that! I really had great fun learning. Sometimes you can learn more from the people around you than you could from Julia Child. Now, for the kids who had Julia Child for a kinda pies did that combination create?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Someone You Need to Know About

Edna Lewis is has been called Julia Child's answer to the south. Unlike Julia, however, Mrs. Lewis is not really a household name; most non-cooks will never hear her name. Once a person starts to get in the world of food, though- to really start cooking good food, her name begins to pop up everywhere.

Edna was the granddaughter of freed slaves. She grew up learning how to cook in the most beautiful, old fashioned ways- using a wood burning stove, measuring ingredients by piling them on coins, and just knowing by instinct when things were done.

In 1948, when female chefs were few and black female chefs were even fewer, Edna opened a restaurant with John Nicholson, an antiques dealer. Café Nicholson on East 57th Street in Manhattan was a huge success.

Edna did all the cooking. Her dishes were simple, delicious Southern food but the café attracted bohemians and hip famous people like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Gloria Vanderbilt, Marlene Dietrich, and Diana Vreeland.

Unluckily for her, but luckily for the rest of the world, in the 60's she broke her leg and was forced to stop cooking in restaurants for a long period. During this time, she wrote The Edna Lewis Cookbook and The Taste of Country Cooking. The latter "was one of the first cookbooks by an African-American woman to reach a nationwide audience and is credited for starting the interest in genuine Southern cooking."

What is most special about her books, besides the wonderful recipes, are the stories about growing up in the south. It's like the Little House on the Prairie of southern food. Even if you are not one who likes to cook, you could almost just read her books like regular novels. If you are a cook, her books inspire like none other. I encourage you to check them out!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

C is for Cookie

Being a baker, and a graduate of pastry school people often ask me what my favorite dessert is. For a long time I didn't really have an answer, and I wondered if I was a pastry fraud. I thought, and I thought, wanting to say something sophisticated like creme brulee, souffle, mousse, something like that. The truth is, although those are always delicious they are not my favorite. The more I think about it the more I know my favorite dessert is the cookie.

This is why I would like to direct you here. Gourmet Magazine has an adorable little feature right now of their favorite cookies of the seven decades that they have been in print. It's kind of a "best of" layout from the 1940's through the 2000's. Not only do some of the recipes look delicious (like the cheese crescents pictured below), but all the pictures are beautiful and the layout is very fun to explore.

Maybe it will help inspire what to make for your family or give to your friends and neighbors for gifts. I am very excited to try these bizcochitos from the 1970's (also pictured below).

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Now that we've all digested, I can go back to a couple of days ago. And what a day it was! With three chefs in the kitchen with lofty ambitions, one can expect a Thanksgiving menu to be over the top- and it was! Quite literally, actually....we made the entire menu from the Gourmet magazine's "over the top" Thanksgiving, with a few traditional family recipes added

Thanks to Raj (and a little to Gourmet magazine) for all these beautiful photos.

So, we had....

Goat cheese marbles rolled in pecans

Foie gras toasts with Sauternes Gelee'

Smokes sable tartar with marinated beets and watercress

Grandma's rolls

Cranberry apple relish

Wild mushroom bundles with collard greens

Roasted sweet potatoes with fried sage

Brown family stuffing

Pureed parsnips with brussels sprouts leaves

One fantastic turkey

Celery apple granita

Grandma's apple pie

Pumpkin Souffle'

We cooked for three days, and the payoff was worth it

Especially when shared with family

Friday, November 28, 2008

Here to Help YOU!

Yeah, yeah we could talk about Thanksgiving and all the amazingness of the things I stuffed myself with yesterday from mashed parsnips to pumpkin souffle', but really, aren't we all a little full?

So now you are thinking about Christmas gifts, no? Well, I've already shared my wish lists with you, so I've decided to help you with your shopping for others. Maybe there is someone you know who isn't a professional pastry chef or culinary student, but simply into baking. This list is made of my baking essentials that anyone who likes to bake needs in his or her kitchen. Of course things like cookie sheets, cake pans, and measuring cups go without saying, so I'm only going to list things you may not have thought of and things that I use often.

Mini Muffin Pans $17.00. You can make a lot more than mini muffins in these pans (think mini cheesecakes and tarts), and trust me, nothing gets oohs and ahs like tiny foods.

Stainless Offset Spatula $32.oo. I don't think I paid nearly that much for mine, but this one has a lot of good reviews. Anyway, if you can't stomach that price I'm sure a cheaper one would do the job just fine as well.

Paper Loaf Pans 50 cents each. It is pretty even without wrapping it. Also, you can bring a little something to a Christmas party and not worry about having to get your pan back.

Muffin Scoop $19.00. You can buy scoops of all sizes, and they are all very useful. I find the muffin scoop size to be most convenient because it is also the size of an ice cream scoop, and can make those giant cookies that you see in bakeries.

Electronic Scale $39.00. I am constantly using mine, and for more than baking. This is really just a must have for every household. You can use it for weighing mail, and pets, too!

How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson $14.00. My mom bought this for me about six or seven Christmases ago. It is the book that first got me into baking. Most of the recipes are very simple.

Cake Stand $29.95 Every baker needs her (or his) cake stand to display her (or his) creations. There are so many pretty ones out there. Crate and Barrel often has very cute ones like this.

Round Biscuit Cutters $25 for a set. Tres useful for much more than cutting biscuits. Especially for someone who likes making and decorating sugar cookies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's Time!

There are two kinds of people in the world:  1) Those who hear a drink is made from heavy cream, raw eggs, sugar, and spices and want to puke and 2) Those who hear a drink is made from heavy cream, raw eggs, sugar, and spices and can't wait for every December to drink it! I've observed the latter usually love Christmas Musicals as well. I bet you can guess which one I am...

Even the most avid eggnog lover knows that it can become too much extremely fast, so it took me nearly 3 years to try enough eggnogs to have a confident favorite.  I'm going to save you that trouble, and tell you the best 'nogs money can buy!

I need to say first that I had my opinions, but I also looked up a couple of articles online to see what other people had thought. To my surprise, the reviews I read were very similar to mine.

Here are the ones I've tried in order from worst to best:

5. The Singularly Hideous: Silk Soy "Nog" $2.99 a quart.  Ok, really, if you're someone who doesn't eat animal products why in the world would you even have a hankering for eggnog? I suppose that question is irrelevant, because this stuff tastes nothing like it.

4. The Terribly Disappointing: Strauss Family Creamery. $5.25 a quart.  The facts that this egg nog came in an old-timey glass bottle, is from a family business, is raw eggnog, and is pretty darn expensive made me so want this to be delicious.  The honest truth is that it's not plain awful, it's just plain.

3. The "what the heck?": Horizon Organic $3.69 a quart.  I thought this was waaaay too sweet, and coming from a baker, that's really sweet. I was not surprised to find other articles that agreed.  One called it "throat-scorching."

2. The Most Reliable: Alta Dena. Can't remember how much. Luckily, one of the best ones is the cheapest and readily available at most grocery stores.

1. The Favorite: Organic Valley $3.69 a quart.  Ok, the reason I checked other eggnog taste tests is because I was wondering if the organic name was swaying my opinion.  But I now see that I am right.  This is agreed to be the best eggnog you can buy at a store.  They sell it at Whole Foods.

Two other things about eggnog I learned while reading other articles:
- Store bought eggnogs do not mix well with alchohol...
-But they taste great as a replacement for cream in your coffee or tea!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bacon- My New Favorite Health Food!

You may be thinking that I've found some fascinating research about how bacon has some newly discovered antioxidant, super vitamin, or electrolyte. The truth is that bacon is the same old bacon it has always been, pig fat and all.  But don't be disappointed! 

You see, I've always shyed away from bacon, just assuming that it was a bad, unhealthy, fattening piece of food that I did not need in my diet.  After all, one tiny strip is packed with fat.  And then I thought to myself, " tiny strip is packed with fat?"  And you don't need to go to culinary school to know what comes along with fat: flavor. So if a=b and b=c, then one tiny strip is packed with flavor!  

And then when I thought about it more, I decided that bacon is probably one of the world's oldest foods, which always adds food credibility to me.

My mind has been running back to all the recipes I've seen that start with a strip of bacon in the pan to add flavor.  Soups, stews, eggs, but my favorites are vegetables.  Which brings me to by new obsession with bacon. You see, I, unfortunately, do not have a good relationship with greens.  Don't get me wrong, I looove me some broccoli, green beans, even brussels sprouts when done correctly, but leafy greens just don't really turn my crank.  I can do raw spinach, but even then it's a relationship of tolerance.  But add some chopped bacon to a pan and then saute some greens in it, and I am elated.  I can eat spinach, kale, chard, dandelion greens (all those super healthy, super bitter foods), and actually enjoy it!  This is what, to me, makes bacon a health food.

Needless to say that now, especially during these cold months, bacon is new a staple in my household.  Oh, lastly, (I know you've heard this a brazillion times from me now) I need to again point out that no food is a healthy food if it is grown without sunlight smashed against other pigs, living in it's own feces, force fed, and injected with growth hormones and antibiotics. Just a friendly reminder. Now, enjoy your new bacon-healthy lifestyle!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Inside the Culinary Field

Restaurants are businesses, did ya know that? They are just like any other business, trying to cut costs and increase income. A big way that they do this is by using the motto "No Waste!" In other words, no scraps go unused. Vegetable peels and animal bones are used to make stock, cake crumbs can be used for decorations, old berries can be pureed, etc....It's actually a very good habit to use in your own household. And if you are good at managing money, a house can be run like a business also- trying to cut costs and increase income.

How many times have you thrown away half a baguette because it was to stale to eat? As I have mentioned before, my first culinary job was for Whole Foods Market. Every morning we received deliveries of fresh bread from bakeries all over the city. Every night, there was inevitably leftover bread that would not be fresh enough to sell the next day. It wasn't bad or moldy or anything, just not top quality.

So, did you know that putting bread back in the oven softens it up and makes it edible again? Even better, you can do what we did at Whole Foods. The day old bread got smothered with garlic butter, wrapped up, and sold as "garlic bread". With the holidays fast approaching you, yes YOU, can do this too! And you don't have to pay $5 a pound for it like you do at Whole Foods.

So I don't know if I'm breaking some law here, but this is the smaller version of the garlic butter we made at Whole Foods:

Mash up 2 sticks of butter at room temp. Using a garlic press, smash 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, depending on the size and your taste, and mix it in with the butter. Mix in about 2 teaspooons of herbs de provence, and salt and pepper to taste. Cut your leftover (or new) loaf of bread in half long ways, and spread the garlic butter generously on cut sides. Bake at 350 on a baking sheet until the butter is melted and the bread is getting toasty and golden.

And there you have it! You are welcome!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eating My Way Through Portland- Part 3

Sadly, Monday came and it was time to go home....:( But not after a few more hours of shopping and eating!!!

Monday morning(ish) we had our first meal at a Kosher restaurant called Kenny and Zukes. I was a little hesitant when I first walked in. It looked kinda greasy, but with all the $12 sandwiches of a downtown restaurant. Being that it was a Jewish place, Raj ordered a Reuben and I ordered a bagel with nova lox (smoked salmon). So it was greasy, but it was the good kind of greasy- if you know what I mean. The kind that makes you say, "Mmmm, good fries," but you don't get oil all over your fingers, napkins, and clothes after. They also served good tea. And to me, when you really think about it, a good sign of how much a restaurant cares is the quality of its tea.

Well, we left pleasantly full, walked and shopped a little more, and then we were ready to hit the road and get back to reality. On the way out we stopped at Vodoo Doughnuts, which everyone who has ever been to or lived in Portland said that we just had to try, to get a snack for the road. It's one of those hole in the walls that's been all over the food network and travel shows and such because they offer gigantic doughnuts, and also regular donuts with crazy toppings like various cereals, oreo crumbs, and bacon. Although it was fun, I'm a doughnut purist, so I just got a maple bar. I have to hand it to them, I could tell they used real maple and their dough was pretty good. Honestly though, it's really hard to impress me after coming from Seattle, home of Top Pot and Mighty-O.

So, that was our trip in a nutshell! Now that I know how near Portland is, I definitely want to go back and explore more. It's definitely worth it, and, oh, I failed to mention that we saved at least $100 or so in not paying sales tax! I'd say overall I had a great birthday. Thanks, Raj!