Saturday, December 5, 2009

This Year's Gingerbread House

I love food art. For that reason I have always wanted to build a gingerbread house. So this year we tried our hand at it for the first time.

Using the King Arthur instructions (available of the internet) as a guide, we built quite a successful first attempt. The stained glass windows are melted candies, the snow coconut, the roof tiles frosted mini wheats. The entire structure is edible, from the homemade gingerbread foundation to the cotton candy smoke from the chimney and the fruit roll up shudders.

Next year I hope to try for something a little more grandiose and artistic.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Crispy Rice, Egg, and some Vegetables, what could be better?

I love Korean food. Especially bibimbop. The crispy rice and rich egg yolk are so delightful and comforting, it's like macaroni and cheese but with more flavor.

So I've had a bibimbop recipe from The New York Times hanging on my refrigerator for about six months, just waiting for travel that would allow me to buy the right ingredients. On a recent trip to Atlanta I was able to find the daikon radish, shiitake mushrooms, and a couple other choice ingredients.

Upon returning home I anxiously began cooking. And let me say, though bibimbop seems like a pretty simple collection of rice and vegetables, its preparation (at least this recipe) was more time-consuming than you may realize. Many of the vegetables were julienned. That is a cut with which I am inexperienced, and therefore takes me more time than others. Then each vegetable is cooked separately before being combined.

The Times recipe did not have an egg atop it, but I have always seen it that way, and feel it is requisite to the dish's yumminess, so I added the egg. And the answer to the title question: nothing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maple Poached Pears

I love pears. There's something so elegant in their simple shape, beautiful color, and subtly grainy texture. No preparation showcases these characteristics better than poaching.

In the perfect celebration of autumn, my boo poached these pears in maple syrup with vanilla, cinnamon stick, and ginger. Sprinkled with some roasted pecans, the result was delicious. It is a stunner of a dessert, with minimal time and effort. Definitely worth adding to the repertoire.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Soupe a L'oignon

It was date night, and his turn to entertain. I requested a candlelit dinner in formal attire. I love getting dressed up, and in rural North Carolina the occasion is few and far between.

So we dressed up and ate. First was salad with a raisin vinaigrette. This is one of our favorite ways of making dressing, and it is always delicious. It involves soaking dried fruit in vinegar, chopping it, and then blending the infused oil with some oil. It is more delicious than anything you'd buy in a bottle, and cheaper too.

The star of the show was the french onion soup. He used a blend of his mom's recipe from How to Entertain and Julia Child's soupe a l'oignon. The finished product was just like the french onion soup I had at a fancy french restaurant as a child.

The picture of my bowl speaks louder than anything I can say.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Autumnal Pizza

There's this walnut pesto recipe that I picked up somewhere along the way. It is toasted walnuts, ground with honey, thyme, olive oil, and some salt. It is earthy, sweet, and savory all at the same time, and just overall delicious. Every fall I get the urge to make it.

So this fall I decided we should try it on a pizza with sweet potatoes (we have a ton left from our CSA), pears, and a little parmigiano reggiano. In theory it was a great combination, but there just wasn't enough contrast. The walnut pesto kind of baked into the crust so it almost seemed like there was no sauce, which made it slightly dry. Texturally everything was too soft and mushy, it needed a little crunch. And the taste profile was just too sweet, it needed a little acid to cut through the sweetness.

One idea I had that I think would greatly improve it, is to cook the pears gently in white wine before putting them on the pizza. And to drizzle some of the reduced wine over the pizza. I'm not sure about the texture...I'm thinking a thinner, less bready crust could take care of that. Any ideas?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Pride and Joy

This cake is my pride and joy. Possibly the most beautiful cake I have ever made. I have always loved cakes, particularly the artistry, and have recently decided to train myself in cake decorating. This particular cake I made for a baby shower for some environmentalists at work. I wanted the cake to be seasonal as well as a natural kind of aesthetic.

The cake is pumpkin, adapted from a recipe in The Sustainable Kitchen. I removed the nuts and currants so as not to detract or interrupt the layers and icing I decided to add. Instead of using vegetable oil we used melted browned butter, and we also added a little brandy.

For icing I tried my hand at marzipan from scratch. I wanted the smooth surface created by fondant, but with flavor. I felt marzipan would be the perfect autumnal accompaniment to the cake, plus the baby's mother is German, so it was perfect. The marzipan turned out a little more grainy that what you buy at the store, though that seemed to improve as it sat in the refrigerator. I let it sit for about 24 hours. If I did it again, I'd try to give it three days to moisten the granules. The taste of the homemade marzipan was definitely superior to that of the store-bought, and it kept the cake inside extremely moist.

The most exciting, and experimental, part of the cake were the chocolate leaves you see in the middle. And yes, they are edible. And also extremely easy to make. I cleaned some holly leaves from the backyard, brushed them with melted chocolate and let them harden. The leaves peeled right off leaving chocolate with all the beautiful leaf-details. And they made the cake. (At least in terms of aesthetics.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Bombe

My future mother-in-law loves chocolate. Not chocolate with lots of other flavors. She loves just the pure, unabashed, real thing. And so we decided to make her the dessert with which I won the heart of my fiance. The dish my mother always made for true chocolate lovers. Julia Child's stunning Bombe aux Trois Chocolat.

It is a molded dessert, and contains chocolate three ways. First is what Julia calls a cake, I think it's more like a fudgy brownie. The layer creates the shape and structure of the dish, encasing a chocolate mousse. The whole thing is refrigerated and then un-molded and drizzled with a combination of bitter and semi-sweet chocolate. The result is just fantastic.

The perfect bite includes bits of all three layers: the hardness of the pure melted chocolate, the fudginess of the cake, and the smoothness of mousse. Just the difference in textures tantalize the palate, not to mention the contrast between the density of the cake and airiness of the mousse. For chocolate lovers, this really is the ultimate in the chocolate experiences.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Birthday Breakfast

It was a special birthday in our house (my fiance's) and so we did many special things together to celebrate. Including his favorite breakfast, which I made for him: blueberry pancakes.

We always use my dad's pancake recipe at home. The recipe uses whole wheat flour and buttermilk, and I've never had a better pancake. I put a little twist by adding locally, stone-ground cornmeal. The buttermilk came from the creamery at the bottom of our mountain, the eggs were local too, and the blueberries were picked by us and frozen for a later use. The resulting golden pancakes perfectly crisp with a warm soft interior were the perfect balance of savory and sweet. And a delicious beginning to a special day.

P.S. It was a delicious food day in general. I also made him Pichet Ong's Chocolate Oatmeal Cupcakes with Maple Bacon Frosting. And we're both speechless. Try them, the recipe is from the New York Times.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Re-Defining Popcorn and a Movie

Lately I've taken to popcorn. At first the movie King Corn and Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma kept me from corn consumption. But corn kernels are different from corn syrup and corn feed for livestock, or at least that's how I justified the indulgence.

But now we eat it multiple times a week. Each time we play with it. The thing about popped corn kernels is that they don't have a strong flavor and so you can put almost anything on it and it tastes delicious. We've tried so many combinations, and they've all been good.

When we're tired and cranky, and want something sweet, we go back to the classics. Peanut Butter and Jelly. We used raspberry jelly which provides the perfect tartness in contrast with the creaminess of the peanut butter. Sprinkled with a little bit of salt it is the perfect mix of sweet and salty, and even better with a good movie.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Search for a Good Bagel

Down here in the mountainous south there don't seem to be any bagel shops. And frankly Thomas may know how to make english muffins, but he sure doesn't know how to make a good bagel. So, we took matters into our own hands, and made them.

There was my stint in Costa Rica when I was making bagels every week, but sadly that was years ago now. But I pulled out the old recipe (which had no instructions just ratios, since I used to have it memorized) dusted out the cob webs, and I think these might be the best bagels yet. We made cinnamon raisin, and substituted maple syrup and barrel molasses for the honey in the recipe. The bagels had just the right amount of sweetness, and an added depth of flavor that complemented the raisins and cinnamon well.

Toasted, with some marscapone cheese, they were the perfect start to a fall morning.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


There is a wonderful creamery not far from us in Otto, North Carolina,
called Spring Ridge Creamery. It is the best milk I have ever had. Probably because the cows are pastured directly behind. So we always buy our milk there. And I always make yogurt from it. This past week for some reason my yogurt just didn't thicken.

So we decided to try making it a second time, starting the entire process over. We put the "yogurt" back in a saucepan to heat it. When heated the whey separated out, and there was soft cheese. Now I'm no cheese maker, but I've seen a lot of cheese being made, and I can only assume that there must've been enough acid from the yogurt to cause such a separation. That's just a guess, does anyone have an answer?

So I strained our cheese through cheese cloth, salted it, and put it in the refrigerator. The next day we added it to our pasta with basil from our CSA, garlic, and olive oil. It was wonderful, with a flavor similar to ricotta salata--delicate, fresh, slightly floral, and (of course) salty. I think I may need to start trying to make cheese.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Come to Dinner

We had dinner guests--such a rare occasion and such a joy! (hint hint: to those of you wanting a mountain vacation, come visit us, we'll feed you well!)

We decided to make tiramisu for our guests. I've been wanting to make it for awhile, using some Kahlua we have sitting around. We made our own lady fingers. Our method of spooning the batter in lines was far less effective, than using a mold. I would highly recommend a mold. We then soaked the fingers in Kahlua and coffee.

Meanwhile we searched for a recipe. Many recipes we found added whipped cream to the classic mixture of egg yolk and marscapone folded into beaten whites. We wanted to avoid this heavier version and stuck with the classic of yolk, marscapone, and beaten whites.

We then layered the custard mix with our lady fingers, sprinkled with cocoa and garnished with lady finger sticks. Simple and absolutely delicious, much thank to the local, pastured eggs which produced a rich and flavorful custard.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Will you...?

My non-working life is now consumed with the fluff and puff of bridal magazines. (This is, of course, a self-indulgent choice I have made.) One bridal magazine referenced a web site where you can buy a cookie to ask your flower girl. I loved the idea, and decided to expand it to bridesmaids too. And to do it all myself.

For the bridesmaids I decided on lemon sablés. They are one of my favorite cookies right now, and they're perfect for decorating. So I made each cookie one word in the phrase "Will you be my bridesmaid?" Seems that it's worked too, I'm two-for-two.

Remembering my childhood fascination with the beautiful colors and daintiness of petit fours, I decided to make them for the flower girl. A new cake decorating book I'm working my way through has the recipe, so this was the perfect excuse. They turned out wonderfully. Little squares of feminine perfection just as I remembered.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Campfire Food: Revisited

My new favorite cookbook is Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. For anyone who enjoys making things from scratch, this is for you. Plus it is playful--with homemade recipes for oreos (called chocolate sandwich cookies) and pop tarts (called toaster pastries)--a way for adults to relive their childhood in a higher quality and slightly more sophisticated version. What could be better?

I chose s'mores: with homemade graham crackers and marshmallows. The graham crackers we made with graham flour, which is regular wheat flour just ground differently: the endosperm is finely ground while the bran and germ are coarsely ground, then all are mixed back together. The crackers were fairly easy to make, no complicated techniques necessary. It's just a basic one-bowl mixture. The most challenging part, of course, is rolling them out evenly and thinly.

Though these graham crackers were not as thin as Nabisco's I think I prefer my thicker, more flavorful version. And these crackers, combined with our homemade marshmallow (cut in rectangles perfectly sized to the cracker) were heavenly. The marshmallow had wonderful texture smoother and less Styrofoam-like than the jet-puffed version. They also didn't burn in the flame, instead the browned and caramelized enough to actually melt the extra dark Hershey's chocolate. Yum. Who says s'mores are just for kids?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pudding vs Custard, which one is it?

The search for the perfect pudding recipe began with some eggs. Our neighbor gave us eggs from her friend's chickens...these are chickens that scramble around her backyard and eat kitchen scraps. So these are good eggs, and I wanted to do them justice. Pudding was the perfect answer.

Pudding recipes are hard to find. I checked all the regular sources, Alice Waters' Simple Food, Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery. None of the recipes were what I was looking, a very simple pudding of milk, eggs, and sugar. And so many were called custards.

Unclear as to what exactly the difference is between a pudding and a custard, I decided a custard was definitely not what I wanted. A custard is served in dainty little cups and pudding is served in bowls. Really, I think there isn't much difference.

The recipe I ended up with was from Fannie Farmer and was was just what I was looking for...eggs, milk, and sugar cooked on the stove with vanilla added at the end. (By the way it was called a custard.) In any case, pudding or not, the result was absolutely heavenly. Creamy and rich, and totally unlike any box pudding anyone has ever had.

Sublime. It doesn't even matter what it's called.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I love kimchi. A good friend from school is Korean and she often cooked delicious Korean food. The combinations were foreign and exciting always with complex flavors that filled the mouth and delighted the taste buds--a perfect blend of salty, sweet, and umami. And kimchi, of course is the ultimate in Korean foods. So I tried my hand at it. A few adjustments needed to be made based on ingredients available. Daikon radish for instance had to be replaced with regular red radishes. The adjustments decidedly did not work, the result looked like kimchi but tasted so potently like raw garlic that it was totally inedible--such a disappointment. I hope to try it again with the true ingredients and a better result.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Coco for Coconut Cake

One of the best parts of my job is that I can bake all these cakes I've been wanting to make. Most recently was the Ono Coconut Cake from

It is spectacular to look at, the icing shiny and fluffy like marshmallow cream. In fact it basically it is marshmallow. I substituted honey for corn syrup, mostly because we didn't have corn syrup, but also because I'm not such a fan. While visually the icing was equally appealing, its honey flavor over-powered the coconut. The cake was delicious with a perfect balance between dense and light. Interestingly, its only far source was one can of coconut milk. Taking that into account I thought it could've had more coconut flavor.

I'm not sure I would make it again, even with a few minor changes and some corn syrup. Perhaps that's just because I hate the thought of using corn syrup.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oatmeal as a Capitalist Statement

I love oatmeal. I eat it every morning with various toppings. My new favorite is raisins, pecans, sea salt and plain yogurt. (I am not making yogurt from a dairy down the road from us. The cows are pastured right behind it!)

Anyway, back to the oatmeal, the combination of toppings makes it creamy, rich, savory, and slightly sweet. A perfect way to welcome the day. Today over my oatmeal, I began a tirade on oatmeal as a protest against agribusiness. How cereals are processed with all kinds of things: hydrogenated oils and sugars that we don't need. Then the price is hiked up exorbitantly. Oatmeal, on the other hand is cheap, with no additives thus being more healthy.

I'm not sure that one bowl of oatmeal a day does much to combat our processed food system, but it sure is nice to dream...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The All-American Sandwich

I realized recently that since being permanently back in the States I have not had a proper sandwich. Instead of going out and getting one (which would ensure its properness), I instead decided to make it all from scratch. And this was my first mistake. Because as much as I try to cook conventionally, I always end up deviating from the recipe, trying to make it healthier and more unusual; the result is usually good, but never iconic.

And so happened with my All-American sandwich. And where did it fail? On all accounts. First was the fillers. No I didn't chose cheese, or meat, or lettuce, or tomato. The plan was this: white bean puree with roasted red peppers and spinach. Oh and homemade rolls. This was mistake number two.

For some reason I cannot make breads with white flour in them. Not even partly white flour. Despite all my knowledge on the textural and organoleptic impact of whole grain flours I cannot separate myself. And so I set out to make the all-American sandwich roll, with one hand tied behind my back: no white flour.

It was a cool spring day, perfect for opening the windows and letting the fresh air in. Instead I cranked up the kitchen heat to facilitate rising. And rise my rolls did, they turned out beautifully with all the chewiness and depth of flavor of whole wheat, decidedly un-American.

The sandwiches were lovely. Great combination of flavors, healthy, nutritious. Yet my craving left unsatiated... I might have to rely on a professional.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fabulous Fennel

Having worked on Easter, our celebration came later. It was a delectable meal including smoked mountain trout from just down the road, roasted pearl red onions with grapes (a Gourmet recipe I highly recommend), sauteed asparagus, roasted new potatoes, and homemade rolls.

The best part of the meal, though, was the dessert. And I know I usually say that, but this time it is really true. For dessert we used another recipe from Gourmet: a Candied Fennel and Lemon Cake. Recently I have become fascinated with fennel; it's sugary-anise flavor is complex and utterly intriguing. Given my predilection toward fennel Gourmet's cake was a must-try. Despite many skeptics it was delicious. The cake had a slight cornmeal texture with body and bite, the lemon perfectly complimenting the candied fennel. This is a great cake.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Taste of the Beginning

The night before my first day of work (my first day of work at my first salaried job!) to celebrate and relax we turned to one of the ultimate comfort foods: pizza. We spiffed it up with our own homemade crust. The crust is the "Expert Pizza Dough" recipe from Saveur. Having tried the recipe several times, I can say that it work wonderfully, minus the cake flour. Each time I've tried it with cake flour it hasn't risen properly. As was the case for this crust.

The toppings more than compensated for the crust. A couple hours beforehand I chopped onion and added it to ricotta cheese with some grated lemon zest, and let the mixture mellow. When it came time to make the pizza we added the normal sauce with spotted with spoonfuls of ricotta, then artichokes, a layer of spinach, and then mozzarella cheese. The resulting pizza had a perfect combination of sour and salt, all tempered by the cheeses. A delicious way to start anew.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nuts for Grape Nuts

Now that things have settled, and I have found a job, my attention is focused on spending as much time as possible with friends, family, and food before we leave for North Carolina.

First on my list of things to make was Grape Nuts Pudding. I have admired the recipe for months on because both my dad and boyfriend are nuts for Grape Nuts. (I know that's a cheap shot, but I couldn't resist). So we went over to my dad's for his famous Asian stir fry, and I brought the pudding.

It exceeded expectation. It is light and subtle in flavor. The word delicate also comes to mind. That said its velvety texture is impressive considering the ease of preparation. The grape nut form a bottom layer that provide contrast in flavor and aesthetic, and surprisingly little in terms of texture. For me this was slightly diapointing because I love the crunch of Grape Nuts. I still love the recipe, and it is now part of a repetoire of easy faultless desserts.