Saturday, March 27, 2010

Daring Bakers/Orange Tian

I often find myself frustrated when new Daring Baker's challenges are posted, because so often I find the recipes do not appeal to me. Almost every single time, I have been proven wrong. This month I was proven wrong yet again. For a dessert that sounded too much like orange creamsicle pudding, this tian far exceeded my expectations. That being said, the orange whipped cream combination is not totally my thing, but I liked it much more than I thought I would. So when I remake this (yes, I will be remaking it), I will probably try a berry version; this citrus version was good, but a berry version sounds great.
The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

For those of you who don't know what a tian is (I didn't), its essentially an upside-down cake with a pate sablee base smeared with marmalade, then topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream, with circles of fruit segments on the top.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties*

*you may notice that the title today is just the name of the cookie, they warrant no further explanation. Read on...

Every week I face a challenge, the same challenge: to bake or not to bake? And I mean that in reference only to cakes, cookies, pies and the like. Now I love sweets, a lot, but I really and truly try not to eat them a lot. I have learned that the best way not to eat too many sweets is not to have them around and for most people that's pretty manageable. Instead I went ahead, started this little old blog and gave myself a reason to break that rule.
Yesterday, after turning in an econ paper and a frightful wrestle with my windswept umbrella (I lost), I knew it was time to bake. To make things a little more fun, I set some ground rules: I had to have the ingredients in my house, the recipe had to be simple, and it had to be delicious. I managed to follow all the rules, except for my cardinal rule of 'everything in moderation.' But, hey, I have no regrets. When the cast of characters includes nutty brown butter and brown sugar, regrets are impossible. And I don't want to show off or anything, but my way-too-old brown sugar clumped together in parts essentially leaving me with brown butter brown sugar chip cookies. Yeah, I know, right?
If you haven't run off to make these yet, let me tempt you more. I'll bet you already have all the ingredients you need sitting in your pantry, dying to be transformed into a brown butter brown sugar shorty.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Boy Food/Meatball Subs

I haven't figured out why the notion of a girl's night usually conjures up images of cute little PJs, homemade facials and pillow fights. Sorry for the bad news, but reality is far from that; most 'girls nights' I have are neither called that nor do they involve any of this allegedly girly behavior. Take the other night for example, a few of my friends and I got together to eat meatball subs, watch The Hurt Locker, burp and act totally ungirly. In my experience this is much more honest picture of reality; girl's nights are an opportunity to relax and be yourself and most importantly, a chance to enjoy somewhat sloppy, messy food without caring about the sauce on your chin or the crumbs on your lap.

In this vein, I can confirm that homemade meatball subs are the ideal messy food to indulge in with girlfriends and in our case the casual, homey food was the perfect complement to an intense and suspenseful movie. The idea for meatball subs actually came to me when I was in a Subway with two friends the other day; one of them told me that she had always wanted to try a meatball sub. I begged her to let me make them rather than letting her get one at Subway or any other commercial enterprise. I knew that my own version would be far superior in flavor and quality and I couldn't bear to let my friend scar her taste buds with a commercial version of this classic Italo-American dish.

I don't know about my friends, but these subs far exceeded my expectations and I think that a huge part of that is because I did not skimp on a single component. Hoagie rolls were turned into garlic bread before being smothered with huge meatballs and a rich butter and onion spiked tomato sauce.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Easy Bread/English Muffins

Between my fear of baking with yeast, my finicky oven and my overall belief that homemade bread is never as good as something fresh from a boulangerie, I almost never make my own bread. That being said, after the challah, the pretzels, and now these english muffins, my fear of yeast is essentially overcome and I am looking forward to the day that I have an oven powerful enough (and kind enough) to form a crusty brown loaf from a ball of perfectly risen dough. In the meantime I am finding loopholes, ways to get over my fear of yeast without worrying about the repercussions of a weak oven.

Enter the english muffin. About five years ago when I saw Alton Brown making english muffins on Good Eats, I knew I would have to make them one day. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I finally gave his recipe a go; it was an utter disaster. I almost blamed myself and gave up, but the truth is I just didn't like the recipe. There was just way to much yeast giving these an overly sour, raw flavor and a gooey, under risen texture. Instead of giving up, I forged on and did some more research and noticed that most recipes used at least two times as much flour for the same amount of yeast! It really wasn't my fault, the proportions were off as I had thought and I comforted myself by realizing that maybe I do know a thing or two about bread making.

The second round yielded ideal results, I used half the amount of yeast, replaced half the flour with whole wheat flour and wound up with beautiful, toasty, fork-splittable disks that are as good for absorbing melting butter as they are for making a sandwich.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Trends/Pickled Carrots and Cauliflower

I almost gave up on writing this post about five minutes after starting because the words just didn't seem to be flowing. So instead of forging on as I usually do, I just closed the tab letting my browser erase any semblance of a thought I had assembled. Some days, giving up just seems a hell of a lot easier. Just as I closed the tab though, this popped up on my newsfeed, reminding me that more people should know about at-home pickling (even if it's only to but the author of the article at Slate just a little bit more).

By making this, I am by no means claiming to be trendy or an urban hipster. I did, however, come across this recipe for pickled carrots and thought that it would be nice to make use of the mason jar I've had lying around. This served more as a cute outfit for my carrots though, since I didn't need to sterilize the jar or go through the whole canning and sealing process. In the spirit of pickling, I also pickled some leftover cauliflower I had in the fridge. I figured there was no reason not to go all out and try out different variations. The truth is I love having crunchy, fresh and healthy snacks to munch on when I get home after school and these seemed like the perfect addition to my fridge.

These pickles are super crunchy with just the right balance of sugar, salt and vinegar. The original recipe called for dill seeds, but my supermarket didn't have them so I just used a pickling spice mix. Although I have no basis for comparison I am really glad I made them this way because I found that the spices added a really dynamic and expected blend of flavors.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Soul Food/Chickpea Parsnip Soup

As a budding food photographer with little knowledge of photography in general, I always find myself wondering how and why certain pictures come out better than others. I usually gauge this based on which pictures are accepted or rejected by Tastespotting and Foodgawker, those two food photography blogs that take the notion of food porn to a new level. Seriously, I have gotten multiple friends addicted to these sites and they love/hate me for it. So as I was questioning my photography the other day I turned to my best friend who, lucky for me, is also a photographer. Wifey, as I fondly refer to her, takes some of the most beautiful pictures I have seen and I am convinced that this is because of her beautiful soul. To see what I am talking about, go to This week when I asked her why soup always looks so beautiful in pictures her very simple and honest response was that soup just is beautiful, because it's comforting and it heals your soul.
Soul is a funny word, it get's thrown around all the time yet so few of us actually understand what it means. Soul food, soul music, soul mate; something about all of these makes them sound like the epitome of their kind. I confess, I too throw around the word soul a lot and although I may not fully understand its meaning or significance I know that it is something that I want to believe in. I want to believe that everything is made up of more than it's physicality, because to believe this is to have hope. Actually I think it shows faith, we may not always know what it is in someone or in music or in food that makes it better or healing, but that power is undeniably there. To accept this without fully knowing what it is renders the notion of soul both more foreign and more exciting to me.
Well I assure you, although I can't specifically identify it, this soup has soul. The color isn't striking and the ingredients aren't necessarily special, but as a whole it truly is beautiful.