Grandma's Recipes #1 - Banana Cookies

Saturday, December 29, 2007

So this was the first recipe in out of grandma's recipe boxes. I had some bananas about to go funky, so I figured they would be perfect all mashed up into a cookie. The recipes seemed simple enough and I figured that with the spices and maybe some pecans or chocolate it would be a perfectly delectable cookies.

I did however discover something that would hinder me. Grandma's knowledge of the recipe. The card had no indication of the heat or time for baking. "Well... fuck." That being the first thought to enter my head, I figured to just wing it, as what other choice did I have? I decided on 350F (everything bakes at that temp. it seems) and would watch them like a hawk for the baking time.

I also split the batch into three mixtures - plain, with pecans, with chocolate. All three were fantastic, though I think I prefer them with the pecans for no other reason then I like the crunch they give. The cookies themselves were nice, soft, and a bit cakey. I expected them to taste like banana bread or muffins, but to my surprise they tasted nothing like them; just a delicious spiced cookie flavored with fresh banana.

All and all, delicious and a cookie recipe that's sure to be a steadfast favorite in this house.Grandma Capune's Banana Cookies
Makes about 30 cookies / 350F

What You'll Need...
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup of sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 cup of mashed bananas
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 cups of flour
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground mace or nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
(optional) 1 cup of pecans or walnuts or chocolate chips (or mix and match)

What You'll Do...
1) Preheat the oven to 350F. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and continue to beat until well mixed.

2) Mix the mashed bananas and baking soda in a bowl and let sit for 2 minutes to froth a bit, this will give the cookies their rise.

3) Mix the banana mixture into the butter mixture. Combine the flour, salt, and spices and mix into the butter and banana mixture until just combined.

4) Fold in the pecans. Drop into dollops onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 11-13 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Let cool on wire racks.

Olive Picking - An Excuse to Climb Trees Again

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thank God, right before they all went funky and shriveled from the cold, Elise and I were able to grab the last of the olives. Apparently the bulk of the olives had been plucked by smarter more experienced olive pickers.

I love olives, adore them in fact. Their salty briney meat is just so delicious, so it makes sense that I've been wanting to attempt to cure them.

However, I didn't anticipate that picking them would be so much fun. All bundled up, fighting the freezing wind, we all started to climb trees in ways we hadn't since we were children. Scrambling up the trees, trying to balance ourselves, and reaching in every way and position to grab those olives that any yoga teacher would be proud. We did have to snap a branch or two off, but we saw it as a well needed pruning rather than destruction of public property and a local park.

Now they'll be covered with heavy layers of rock salt in an old pillow case so they can brine and cure. In a few weeks we'll have olives ready for the eating. Maybe I'll marinate some with some lemon peel and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Have any of you had any experience curing olives or marinating them or whatnot?

Port Royals (Chocolate Cupcakes with Cocoa Star Anise Ganache and Candied Grapefruit Zest)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

From the Cupcake Archives

I named this a Port Royal because 1) it sounded like a refined name for a very fashionable, delicate, and august cupcake; and 2) I have been watching Pirates of the Caribbean like I'll win a prize.

Honestly, this flavor combo was a total crapshoot. I had seen the combo before but never tried it, but was always fascinated by it. Chocolate, star anise, and grapefruit. Who knew? Seriously, who on earth thought of pairing this one together, cause I never would have. The flavors really do compliment each other, yet each one stands out as an individual. Unless you like star anise, you will not like this cupcake. If you appreciate it's slightly licorice flavor, and the tang of grapefruit then this is the cupcake for you. It was very popular with everyone who tried it, and would say that it's a real crowd pleaser due to its uniqueness. Really though, the flavors are very delicate, and I would almost call this cupcake elitist in its taste.

It does take a while to make it, mainly cause some of the prep work means requires you to start the night before, but ah well. I made these to thank a group of good people for meeting me at the Sacramento Food Bank to do some volunteer work (will post on that later), and had a few other people try them. They seem to be pretty successful, and Rob classified them as one of the best cupcakes yet.

This will be the last chocolate cupcake for a while. In Northern California, Winter has pretty much passed and Spring is making it's quick appearance before Summer comes in beating my door down. I yearn to work with lighter, brighter ingredients; rhubarb, limes, teas, and stone fruit call out to me. Also, chocolate can get pricey, so blah.

Chocolate Cupcakes
24 regular cupcakes / 350 degree oven

What You'll Need...
200 gram bar of Valrhona 61% cacao
3 sticks butter
2-1/4 cups sugar
8 eggs
1-1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

What You'll Do...
1) Chop chocolate and transfer into the bowl of a standing mixer, add the butter to the chocolate and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (a double boiler works great too). Stir until chocolate melts and combined with the butter.

2) Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes to thicken.

3) Place the bowl back into the mixer and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.

4) Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds before adding the next.

5) Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into the mixture and mix until just blended.

6) Scoop into cupcake papers and bake at 350F for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Be sure to rotate the pan after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking.

Candied Grapefruit Peel
Prep the night before.

What You'll Need...
2 Ruby Red grapefruits
1 tablespoon of salt
2 cups of sugar

What You'll Do...
1) Zest the peel into long strips with a citrus zester. (You can cut off the zest as well, then cut into strips, just be sure to scrape off all of the white pith as it's nasty bitter.) Add salt and peel to 4 cups of water and let stand overnight.

2) Drain and rinse. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat to boiling and then drain. Repeat 3 times. This is to remove any bitterness from the peel.

3) In the sauce pan, combine the peel, sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Continue to cook until peel is translucent, about 4-7 minutes. Drain any liquid and roll the peel in granulated sugar. Set on a plate without overlapping to prevent clumping, and allow to dry. Arrange on cupcakes.

Star Anise Chocolate Ganache
Prep the night before.

What You'll Need...
8 ounces chocolate (the higher the cacao percentage, the better)
1 cup heavy cream
5 star anise, broken up

What You'll Do...
1) Place the cream and anise in a bowl, and let sit overnight.

2) Break up the chocolate and place in a heat proof bowl.

3) Heat the cream and anise in a saucepan and heat at medium high until small bubble form on the rim. Pour through a mesh sieve to catch the anise as it pours over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute.

4) Mix together till smooth, uniform, and silky. Let cool a bit. Dip and swirl the cupcake domes into the ganache. Shake off the excess. Decorate with the grapefruit zest and let stand to dry.

Blondies (and also...)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blondies are a simple fare, and for some reason usually called brownies without chocolate. But then that sort of eliminates the idea of it being a brownie, or any sort of connection at all. Blondies are an entity of their own. They have the texture of a brownie, but rely on dark brown sugar for their rich and heavy flavor. Often studded with butterscotch chips, walnuts, or chocolate chips they're a decadent treat thats easy to prepare with very minimal ingredients. I personally love them served with vanilla ice cream and a bit of maple syrup and a small glass of rum.

Also, finals are done, and all I can do now is wait and see. However, I have to confess something, there has been a bit of personal issue that has arisen in my life. It's a very difficult change I have to deal with which may affect my posting schedule. I won't drop off the face of the earth, but I will only be posting around twice a week now if I can. It's not permanent, I promise. Just have to take care of some things. =)

Serves 9 / 350 F oven

What You'll Need...
1/2 cup of butter, melted
1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 of baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup of all-purpose
1/3 cup of chocolate chips (or walnuts or whathaveyou)

What You'll Do...
1) Preheat the oven to 350F. Prep an 8X8 pan with some butter and flour. Whisk together the melted butter and sugar in a bowl.

2) Add the egg and vanilla extract and whisk.

3) Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, mix it all together. Add the chocolate chips or other mix-ins.

4) Pour into the pan and spread evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool. Cut into squares and serve.

Naughty Mushrooms

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I'm not sure, but I think this mushroom is either being sexually explicit, naughty, or just trying to insult me. Maybe it was getting fresh with me. (Get it?! Fresh?!)

That or stress is finally causing my brain to tweak out. Regardless, it was stir-fried and delicious.

Pear & Cranberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Ganache

Saturday, December 15, 2007

From the cupcake archives, Happy Holidays!
I swear to God, I'm becoming gayer with each cupcake I make. I am becoming a baking queen. A non-stop flour force, armed with butter and a cup o' sugar. And. It. Feels. So. Good.

After the last cupcake, the desire to continue with utilizing seasonal ingredients for something really flavorful acted as the impetus for this next cupcake. One of the big plusses of this recipe is that there is no butter in the actual cupcake which is great for my slowly growing second chin. This cupcake is high on the sugar though, but it's a cupcake so you should expect that.

The ganache had a hiccup in that the Eat Beast got outside, and after chasing him down for about 10 minutes - a black cat in an area with little lighting at night being an arduous task - the ganache separated and curdled. Lacking the supplies to make another batch, I whipped up a buttercream frosting instead and chopped up some white chocolate on it. Part of cooking is improvisation, right? Regardless, the buttercream was awesome. The white chocolate really brings this to another level, so whether you utilize it as ganache, chocolate shavings, or mix it into the cupcake, make sure it's in there.These came out tasting amazing. They border slightly between cupcake and muffin due to the density of the cake, but I say cupcake. The sweet and tart of the fruit, the creamy svelt of the chocolate, and hint of spice opens a deluge of fall imagery to mind. Assuming if I can get home for Thanksgiving, I plan to bring these to the table. If not, I suppose Rob and I can finish them off ourselves.

Special thanks to Glenna of Knitting to Stay Sane for the great pics and feedback!

Pear & Cranberry Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes

What You'll Need...
4 cups peeled, cored, chopped pears (about 8 pears)
2 cups sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 ground cloves
1/4 ground ginger
4 egg whites
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped dried cranberries

What You'll Do...
1) Chop the pears and combine them with the sugar and let them macerate for one hour.

2) Pheheat over to 350 degrees F (165 C).

3) Slightly beat egg whites just until a light foam appears. Comine them with the oil, pear mixture, and cranberries.

4) Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices together. Stir into the pear mixture, and then place into cupcake papers about 3/4ths full.

5) Bake for 15 minutes undisturbed, then rotate the pan and cook for another 3-7 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness. Careful, as if the toothpick goes into a pear it will not come out clean, but cupcake may be done.

Buttercream Frosting
What You'll Need...
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter (soft, at room temp.)
3 cups of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 tablespoon of cream

What You'll Do...
1) Beat the sugar and butter together on low with an electric mixer until well combined. Then beat on medium for 3 minutes.

2) Add the vanilla and cream, and eat for another minute on medium.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
Adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop

What You'll Need...
12 ounces of white chocolate (good quality!)
3/4 cup of whipping cream
1/4 cup of butter, room temp.
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

What You'll Do...
1) Chop chocolates and transfer into a heat proof bowl.

2) Heat cream until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, pour cream over the chocolate.

3) Let sit for 1 minute then stir until combined.

4) Add butter to the chocolate (make sure its soft and at room temp) and stir until combined.

5) Whisk together sugar, salt, and vanilla in another bowl until combined.

6) Pour the sugar mixture onto the chocolate mixture, then stir until combined and smooth.

7)Let sit at room temperature until thickened, about 2 hours.

8) Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy.

Note: Keep close watch as this can suddenly separate.

Carrot Berries

Friday, December 14, 2007

From the Archives, a favorite post of mine.
An actual conversation today at work with some guy who interjected himself into a conversation I was having on the phone...

Me: So I was so lucky my friend gave us some fresh produce this weekend!

Other Person: I love fresh produce! I picked some carrots from my carrot bush the other day.

Me: ...Carrots grow underground.

Other Person: Uh, no. Have you ever grown carrots before? *insert person looking at me like I'm an idiot*

Me: No.

Other Person: Well I have; they grow on a bush.

Me: No. They don't.

Other Person: *soaking with sarcasm* Then obviously my mom's carrots I got weren't carrots, I guess! They were just carrots that just grew on a bush like a berry somehow!

At this point I ended the conversation. There were just too many things to say. God damn it, my 7 year old nephew knows how a carrot grows.

I hate humanity sometimes.

Brownies - The Best Kind of Study Break

Monday, December 10, 2007

So after tooling around with a paper, I decided to make some brownies for the hell of it. I didn't really feel like melting chocolate so I searched for a recipe and decided to use Alton Brown's for no specific reason except it was the first I found in a Google search that used cocoa powder. I added some ultra tasty chandler walnuts - a walnut that has zero bitterness and is much sweeter than regular walnuts - for some crunch. A perfect way to beat the books, at least for a moment.

Cocoa Brownies (With Walnuts!)
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown

Soft butter, for greasing the pan
Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar, sifted
1 cup brown sugar, sifted
8 ounces melted butter
11/4 cups cocoa, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon kosher saltPreheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
1 cup of crushed walnuts

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch square pan and bake for 45 minutes. Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it's done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool.

I Have to be Judged, Hence a Pause

Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's finals time for grad students at CSUS which means lots of papers. For me, I'll be writing one discussing a lesson plan I developed for high-intermediate ESL writing students, and another discussing colonialist theory in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, and Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

On this note, there may be a slow down in posts this next week or so. I highly encourage you to check out the archives or look at some of the other Sac local bloggers or cupcake blogs listed in the side bar. I also will have a few recipes I developed up on Simply Recipes, so keep an eye out and check out their cookie archives as well.

Wish me luck! =)



Thursday, December 6, 2007

So I used to speak American Sign Language pretty damn well. Not fluently, but I could hold my own in a conversation. Sadly though, with no one to talk to, I find myself forgetting a lot of what I used to know, and when I find a chance to use it I have to stumble along and recall the signs.

Today was one of those cases. A deaf client, a child of about 10 or 11, came in with his translator and told me that he was hungry and wanted to get some food as he wasn't going to get home for dinner for quite some time. I told him we had some popcorn in the back and asked if that would be good. He agreed and I retrieved the popcorn. We chatted a bit more, he tolerating my broken signs and the translator giving me a helping hand (pun not intended) when I stuttered.

After I handed the popcorn to him, I told him "You can go to the back, and use the kitchen."

Or so I thought.

What I apparently said was, "Go to the back, and I'll kill you."

Yeah... kitchen and kill. Doubt I'll be forgetting those anytime soon.

Vosges Sampler IV - Couture Hot Chocolate

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Final Installment of the Vosges Sampler posts, this one being the hot chocolates. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have, though I doubt that's quite possible.

Bianca Couture (Australian lemon myrtle + lavender flowers + vanilla + white chocolate) - Sweet. Very sweet. And reminiscent of the milk at the bottom of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles cereal, that's not a bad thing, but I must admit it's very different from what I expected it to taste like. It's not just me either, I checked with a few others and they all thought the exact same thing. Lemon myrtle has that kind of sweet citrus taste (like lemongrass and kaffir lime) so I should have expected it. It's very flavorful, and not so much herbal but rather candy-like. I could only drink a half cup before I had my fill. Not something you can drink every night, but I bet would be tasty and light appertif of sorts after a heavy meal. I must admit though, I can see quite a few people not liking it.

Aztec Elixir Couture (Ancho & chipotle chillies + Ceylon cinnamon + Madagascar vanilla bean + cornmeal + dark chocolate) - The original hot cocoa. Spicy. Sweet. Dark. Bitter. You can taste why the Aztec Emperor would drink two cups of it before making love to his women. It leaves a pleasant heat behind, that doesn't overpower you but rather warms you up. A cup of this was perfect after a long day at work and class to help me wake up a bit.

La Parisienne Couture (Madagascar vanilla bean pieces + dark chocolate) - Simple and classic. Certainly better than powdered hot chocolate, but using whole bits of chocolate and real vanilla are key to any sweet dessert success involving chocolate. The taste of vanilla is slight and teases you, it appears just as you sip it and then as you tey to pin it down it vanishes. As such I took sip after sip for that delightful vanilla peek-a-boo. After the vanilla whisks away, a firm slightly bittersweet cocoa taste takes it's place. Not as bitter as the Aztec, but has a cloying sweetness to it. If you are a fan of sugary cocoa you might not enjoy this, but if you enjoy a dark and rich type of sweet chocolate, this is your kind of hot cocoa.

Overall, none of these are your average hot cocoa. You'll either like them or not care for them.

Cookie Swap!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sometimes it's nice to gather up all of your foodie friends for a simple little event, and so I called together a bunch of the local food bloggers/writers for a simple little cookie swap as a way to ring in the holidays.

The idea is simple, everyone brings a batch of homemade cookies, about 2 dozen or so, and then after a nice exchange you fill up a container with a bit of each and go home with a huge variety! Gingerbread sammiches, macaroons, pepper crisps, and of course lots of chocolate was present.

We all took the time to swap stories, restaurant reviews, and recipes (and whores too, still not sure how we got to that topic). All the while we sipped down a few bottles of port and wine, large glasses of milk, and piping hot tea and coffee Babies were held and coddled, stories were told, and Eat Beast loved the attention he was getting.

Here's a nice little run down of the who's who and the who brought what:
Mike & Martha - Chocolate Cookies
Kate - Gingerbread Stars with Buttercream
Kim Bedwell - Chocolate Dipped Macaroons
Kim Rutledge & Anita - Chocolate Tipped Soft Tulles
Fethiye - Turkish Date Filled Cookies
Greg & Becky - Ginger Crisps
Ann - Chocolate Pepper Crisps
Andrea - Persimmon Cookies
Myself - Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies
Kristy - she brought her own sweet self, she's a human cookie worth a nibble

All and all, a fantastic time had by all. A chance to escape our busy schedules and just relax. The only downside was a few people couldn't make it, but sent their love none the less. Plus, I couldn't invite ALL of the Sac Food Bloggers because my tiny little apartment could barely hold those who were there. I highly encourage you to check out the Sacramento Food Bloggers list in the sidebar and check them out, you'll see some familiar faces and some brand new ones, all worth checking out!

I look forward to doing it next year, and hopefully at a much larger location. ;)

I hope your holidays are off to as jolly a start as ours are here in Sacramento!

Santa Dad Will Have His Cookies

Friday, November 30, 2007

While at Safeway, I saw this transpire...

Child: "Mom! Dad! We need to make sure we leave out cookies for Santa this year!"

Mom: "Oh, I don't think so. Santa eats so many cookies, maybe we should leave out a carrot stick and some soy milk instead." *looks at her husband and smacks him on his slightly bigger than average belly*

Dad: "Son, do you think we should give Santa cookies or carrots?"


Dad: "Okay then."

The best part is he then just walked around her and grabbed the fudge covered mint oreos.

Sunday in Napa - Chapter 3: Deep in the Cellar

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Read Chapter 2: Braised and Roasted
Our party was already running an hour behind schedule, so we made our goodbyes and sorrowfully left behind Pam, Carl, and Quixote winery. Soon, our cars winding down the infinite rows of picked vines, we arrived at the Quintessa Winery.

The winery blended well into the hillsides, as is the intent to make as little architectural impact on the land as possible when it was founded by the proprietors Agustin & Valeria Huneeus. We were met by Gwen, our guide at Quintessa, and as we all gathered, I took a moment to rest a spell in a crown style chair by a roaring fire place. About to fall into a catnap fueled by good food and wine, it was the definition of Napa. However my nap was joyfully put aside as Gwen began our tour.

We began with a nice little nature hike up the hill, the smell of smoke and dead leaves around us, and we came upon a wonderful vista as Gwen told us the history of the winery. Organic and very earth friendly principles are used in growing the grapes and in their care. For example they allow gravity based methods to move the grapes to avoid the bruising, and thus increased tannin content in the wine. They also only harvest at night to avoid the sun drying or burning the grapes.

We were led into a dark cellar and as we walked down the stone hallways lined with oak barrels, we were in awe at the volume of the wine that stood at attention before us. It culminated in a small center, which seemed almost holy. A well lit fountain in the center of the barrel lined halls stood and just let you take in the deeply romantic surroundings.Our group soon came to the end of our tour, which culminated in a wine and cheese tasting (our second that day). We tasted the 1996 Quintessa which was a bit tannic, and slightly oxidized, but still had a nice taste to it. The 2007 - I think that was the year, I'm sure someone will correct me int he comments if otherwise - was fantastic. It's been two weeks now, but I still remember it having a nice bold flavor, and slight spice.

It was served with some delicious Humboldt Fog cheese, a nice goat cheese made in California by Cypress Grove Chevre. It's nice soft rind, and declaratory line of ash in the center announced it's strong lemony and goaty flavors (you must try it to understand "goaty") perfectly balanced by the light gouda that sat beside it. Served with a small amount of quince paste, it was a perfect tray to accompany the bright wines.

After toasting Ashley, Elise, and Gwen for setting it all up we said our fond (and slightly tipsy in my case) goodbyes. Normally, I would end with some waxing poetics, but at this point there's nothing more to say. It was just too perfect of a day.

Inheriting My Family's Culinary History

Monday, November 26, 2007

So after reading this last post, mom decided that if she was going to come up and visit for Thanksgiving, that she was going to bequeath to me a little bit of culinary history. She went into the attic and after much treasure hunting recovered the object she wished to find.

My grandmother's recipe files. Yellowed with age, stained, marked and retooled with a pen after use, a bountiful plethora of homey, American recipes from the California Central Valley and the little hidden nest of Ojai. Each little note card contains one recipe, hand written or type via an old Remington Rand, or displays some various magazine or newspaper clipping perfectly adhered to the card.

And not just a few recipes... cookies, veal, crab meat, salads, cakes, BBQ, and every other little sub-category that any grandmother had in her veritable secret stockhouse of recipes was here.

Ojai Grandma was a very worldly person, as I've told you before. However, I never really experienced the full gambit of her cooking. I remember a vague chicken dish covered in cream of mushroom sauce which I don't doubt came from a can. I recall that every morning she served us a bowl of Lucky Charms and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. She would warn us in her scratchy smoker's voice to "Drink your o.j. first before the marshmallow cereal or your o.j. will taste bitter and sour." My brother and I wouldn't listen and we would of course be choking down the now bitter juice. She enjoyed her toast burnt black. She had a huge pomegranate tree which never was used. She cooked an awesome dish of hand shredded green beans with almonds and a bit of soy sauce. But never had I been served 95% of the dishes in this box, but my mom recalls them all. So now I have to discover them myself, and it'll only be some distorted mirror image of them, like the squatty self you see in a carnival house of mirrors, real, but not authentic. They'll never be as grandma made them, but they'll be as close as I can get. Still, cooking and recipes evolve and pay homage to our history. (Who sees a sociology paper topic here?).

In these long, steel boxes were my family's history and kitchen lore now passed down to me. I'll definitely try to go through a few of these, and post the results and recipes here because history doesn't mean anything if nobody knows about it.

Chocolate Peppermint Drop-Cookies

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chocolate and peppermint are a classic combination, especially in cookie form as any Girl Scout or Keebler elf will let you know. Cool and refreshing, yet perfectly satisfying the coco-craving. This recipe is adapted from Jill Van Cleave’s book Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies, a classic bestseller that’s made for the cookie fanatic with zero extra time. The recipe is easy to throw together and requires little work for a nice amount of payoff. A simple chocolate drop cookie with a bit of peppermint extract is the perfect thing to nibble on while you put up the holiday decorations.

Chocolate Peppermint Drop-Cookies
Makes 18 cookies / 350 F

What You'll Need...

4 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

1/2 cup of butter (one stick)

1 cup of lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature

1/4 cup of whipping cream
1 teaspoon of mint extract

1 3/4 cup of flour

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, plus an extra pinch
pinch of salt

What You'll Do...
1) Chop up the butter into small pieces. Melt the butter and the chocolate together in a bowl over simmering water.

2) Beat together the sugar and eggs until well combined. Add the cream and the mint extract and mix together well. Add the cooled chocolate/butter mixture.

3) Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the wet ingredient mixture. Mix until just combined.

4) Take a generous spoonful of the dough and plop it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about 9 per baking sheet (they get big). Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for 12 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the sheet then transfer to a wire rack.

Here are some other great cookies to try out for the coming holidays!

Pumpkin Biscotti
Brandied Cranberry, White Chocolate Cookies
Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (Gluten Free)
Viennese Chocolate Sables
Espresso Cookies

Sunday in Napa - Chapter 2: Braised and Roasted

Thursday, November 22, 2007

For Chapter 1, click here. Special thanks to Fernanda for the pictures.
After the tasting we all meandered back to Quixote winery, albeit a momentary pause or two to admire and photograph the landscape. The fog had lifted and the winery in it's golden, verdant, and fiery hues demonstrated itself before us.

Still, soon the smell of wine and braising wafted past us, differentiating itself from the smell of ripe persimmons and dying leaves. Raul, a personal chef and his sous chef/day's organizer/buddy of mine Ashley were prepping a wonderful Napa style menu.Pam led us into a gorgeous dining room where we all sat down and ooh'd and ahh'd at our surroundings. We all began to converse about the Legend of Darrell Corti and locally grown eggs, while we sipped wine from blown wine glasses as big as your head.

We were first presented with some delicious eggs that had been grown locally down the street. Their yolks were bright sunset orange, a sign of real organic eggs at peak freshness.
Raul and Ashely presented us with a colorful & seasonal salad of mixed greens, gems of pomegranate, bright persimmons, and darkly hued sweet beets. It was so gorgeous you just wanted to admire it, not eat it. But since we took photos, we were able to look at our salad and eat it too with little worry.

The main course was even more amazing. Short Ribs braised for six hours in the Quixote Petit Syrah. The meat just fell apart and melted in your mouth with the most savory flavors. It was served alongside some pan roasted, slightly caramelized brussel sprouts. A side dish of barley salad, freshly roasted pumpkin, and morels exalted the bounty of Autumn. I may wax poetry about the meal, but it's only because I can't covey the true yumtasticness of the meal any other way.The apple crisp that followed was equally awe inspiring. The apples had come from Elise's garden, and the freshly whipped cream had been infused with some of the Madagascar vanilla I had brought for Raul, but it's was Raul's own culinary expertise that made it sing. Soft, crispy, busting with warm apples... *le sigh*
As we all reminisced over the meal, only to find out we were an hour late for our appointment at Quintessa Winery. We lugubriously gathered our very full selves, and gave profuse thanks to Pam for having us in her wonderful home and winery, and Raul for the amazing meal. We then piled into the cars and made our way out.

Read Sunday in Napa - Chapter 3: Deep in the Cellar.

She Who Eats Fire (a.k.a. Mom)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I enjoy a nice plate of spicy food that's got some kick to it. And I'm not just talkings spicy as in spicy hot being flavorful, I mean spicy hot being pure Scoville heat. Rob, not so much. Really, when it comes to spicy food, he's a bit of well... he's a spice pussy. When it comes to heat, be it a sweltering summer day, a mildly hot pan, or chile sauce, he's just a downright wuss.

I can't say I don't relate. I had to learn and build my heat tolerance and I like to think it's pretty damn formidable now. I can put away harissa or salsa you've got pretty well. Still though, I have my limits. There is a certain ethiopian dish, doro wot, that just burns me so bad I simply cannot eat it. I try, God knows, I try. Yet every time it just burns me so bad I just have to start swallowing bread to try to make the tongue-scorching go away.

My mom however, 'Ol Iron Belly, the Eater of Fire, can just put away the spice and make any heat submit. It's spooky and unnatural. I have seen this woman punish a bottle of tobasco sauce. Seriously, she should be dead, her stomach twisted into a Gordian knot and her little heart exploded. I dunno if it's genetic adaptation, acquired tolerance, or witchcraft but somehow she just can.

Take last night for example. She's visiting for Turkey Day so on her first day in we had a delicious little dish with andouille sausage as a main component. This was however, no ordinary sausage. It was made by de' devil. El Diablo Andouille! This thing could burn down Chicago. Rob only did a piece or two after which he threw in the towel. After which I mocked him as I happily shoveled the sausage into my mouth (take a moment and make your jokes). A moment or two later, I was out of the running as well. You know the feeling, the one where you feel the heat and spice swell your belly, and all further ideas of food are wholly unappealing.

Mom just smiled and happily ate like nothing ever happened.

Sunday in Napa - Chapter 1: The Colors and Shapes of Tiles and Cheese

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This is going to be a three part story (seems to be happening a lot on this blog recently). It revolves around good friends, good wine, and good food. Hope you enjoy!Driving into Napa, my party and I marveled at Northern California Fall in it's full bloom. We were in awe at the undulating hills covered in infinite paralleled rows of grape vines harvested weeks before, now showing off their autumnal vestments. Geese flew overhead and hundreds of hidden birds held who knows how many conversations about whatever birds converse about (acorns and nests, perhaps?).

Elise had organized for some of the local food bloggers to go on a tour of wineries in Napa, so we all carpooled together and gathered for what would be an educational and entertaining day. For me this was going to be small vacation in a way. A chance to escape work and class and the grind. A chance to enjoy a crisp fall day outside, food and blog conversation with friends who actually had interest in the subjects. A chance to enjoy some truly good food and some well aged wine.Our first stop was the geometric, olive tree laden, and colorful Quixote winery. We were met by Carl Doumani and Pam Hunter, the proprietors of the Seussian grape press we were all beguiled by. They founded the winery in Stags' Leap back in 1996 and have since produced fantastic cabernets and petit syrahs, which I will describe in my most limited wine-speak later.
(Architecture Photograph by Fernanda)
Carl began out tour with a description of the architecture and short history. The design of the winery, and consequently Quixote label, was done in part by famous Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Known for his keen attention to local tiles, movement, color, and geometry (encouraging a lack of straight lines) the building is interactive and participatory member of the Quixote family in a way. It really wouldn't be the same without it. And plus, what winery is complete without a giant gold turret in order to encourage success in even the most karmic sense?

Carl then took us down to the vineyard and lessoned us on the worm horn used to help give the land nutrients and the use of various organic methods used to grow the berries such as powdered dead moths sprayed over the plants as a deterrent to other moths. Think of it as eco-friendly heads on a pike. Tea, worm compost, and a bit of video surveillance to keep an eye on the grape gobbling turkeys are all important to production.Carl then retired for the rest of the day, and left our party in the intelligent and friendly hands of Pam as she led us to her home for a wine tasting and cheese pairing. Their home is, for the lack of a better word, jaw dropping. Well designed, warm earthy tones, and a subtle Asian influence.

We gathered around the table where a trio of tasty cheeses awaited us for a wine pairing using the Quixote wines. We were then met by Janet Fletcher, the two time James Beard Award winning cookbook author and food columnist for the S.F. Chronicle (and whose job I covet). She guided us through samples of Pecorino di Grotta, erhaki, and zamorano cheeses. All of the paired well with the Petit Syrah and Cab, my fave was the erhaki with it's slight nuttiness, and slightly creamy texture. The petit syrah was delightfully fruity, with very low tannins. A nice relaxing, drinkable wine. Janet also kindly provided all of us with copies of her book Cheese & Wine, a delightful guide I had actually on my wishlist.It was a thoroughly relaxing event, we all chatted about food media, and sipped wine. Deliciously decadent and perfectly relaxing, something we all needed as a respite away from life. Good wine, good cheese, good conversation. How could it get any better?

Chapter 2 of the Sunday in Napa posts; Braised & Roasted.

Favorite Christmas Cookies?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Just taking a small poll here (READ: cop-out post). As you may or may not know, I've been doing some of the baking over at Simply Recipes, the latest being my family recipe for Brandied Cranberry, White Chocolate Chip Cookies. That's right, I can do more than cupcakes.

Come the Christmas season, we made lots of chocolate chip cookies. And on Christmas Eve, after ignoring the Church sermon and listening for Santa's sleigh flying outside over choir music (yep, as a child I knew where my priorities were) we would leave out a plate of them for him, with some carrots for the reindeer too.

So out of curiosity, what are the traditional cookies (Christmas or otherwise) your family makes? For me it's always these and the traditional chocolate chip cookie. I'm always wondering what other people make for their cookies, and always eager to try new recipes. Feel more than free to write links to the recipes, assuming you have them online, in the comments or just write the recipe in your comment if you so wish.

Cupcakes will be resuming sooner or later, promise!

A Night at Paul's - Part II (Paul Martin's American Bistro)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Read Part I of the review.

We had a lot of indecision about what to order, as everything seemed so tempting. The menu consisted of traditional American bistro food, but what set it apart from everyday was the care in preparation and the selection and careful use of local, seasonal ingredients.

As we slowly muddled over the our options I tried to covertly guide the table to selecting the manila clams, because damn it, I dig clams (get it? dig clams?). Anyways, we selected them and a plate of grilled castroville artichoke.

The manila clams were amazing. I mean, they were absolutely fantastic. They were served in a suace of garlic, white wine, chili flakes and herbs and as we ate the clams we sopped up every delicious, ambrosial drop with the bread. Personally, I never use herbs and usually flavor my clams by throwing in some chopped chorizo in with the wine and garlic, but now I want to try re-creating this at home.

The artichokes were delicious as well. They were lightly boiled (or was it marinated... the waiters and us had a good 10 minute discussion on artichoke preparation, which ended with us asking the chef for the recipe, but sadly we were denied our request; regardless...) with lemon and herbs then grilled over a mesquite charcoal grill, imbuing them with that tangy rustic smoke flavor. Served with some pesto and tarragon aiolis, why we were in heaven. I grew up with artichoke always being served with tarragon butter by my mom, so this was a twist on a childhood classic for me and made me so happy.

These were the small dishes, which were still quite descent; good portions, well prepared, very tasty. Not sure one of these could be a whole meal, but if you plan to eat lite then perfect. The larger plates are a bit more hearty.

As we waited for the larger dishes to arrive, we all sipped down a smoky and full Kelly Flemming Cab Sauv. There was another wine, but whatever it was it's gone from my head. I do suggest you try the cocktails. The vodkas are cured in house and are mixed very well. Like candy. We had a delicious pear based cocktail. They did have one called The Hemmingway which I refused to drink as I hate his writing *insert all the other English Grad students collective gasp* but again this is a personal thing.

I ordered the skirt steak with roasted maple-bourbon sweet potatoes and arugula. Deliciously and well prepared steaky-bits, perfectly medium-rare. The potatoes were delicious and sweet. The arugula... not peppery enough but then again if it were too peppery, it might have taken from the steak.

The mushroom burger Elise had was tasty. Three kinds of mushrooms pressed delicately into a patty and served on a tasty burger with pesto mayo. Very earthy and had a nice taste of mushrooms with their musky odor. The fries were string cut and salted. You've had them before, but still yummy.

Ashley had the salmon with some caramelized onions. The salmon had been cooked on a cedar plant and had taken on a nice subtle, woody taste. Nothing I would order, but I prefer a stronger flavoring to my fish if I'm going to flavor it at all.The desserts were fantastic as well. The sorbet and ice cream are made in house. I had a delicious pear sorbet served with some homemade shortbread cookies. The sorbet was sweet and resounded of pear. The banana cream pie was a delicious with layers of bananas and vanilla bean pastry cream though had a very hard crust, lined with chocolate, which proved difficult to cut through with a fork sending a piece flying off the table. Still, it was like a party in your mouth and everyone's invited. =)

Overall, a delicious and fantastic experience. I look forward to going back again and again and again. Be sure to check out Paul Martin's, it's just too damn fabulous not too.

A Night at Paul's - Part I (Paul Martin's American Bistro)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

(One note about this review – this was a fully comped meal. It was in part since I missed the first mock service a few weeks ago. It was a fabulous experience, and from what I saw the service and food was consistent at all other tables. Of course this is all from my own personal experience and taste, I always encourage you as a restaurant patron to seek other opinions.)

Waiting outside Paul Martin’s for the rest of my party, I plopped myself on the lounge chair and watched the waiters pull one last drag from their cigarettes as waiters are wont to do before the Friday night rush arrived. Ashley had finally pulled Elise and me together for a meal over at the new Roseville restaurant that had been receiving so many online accolades.

I met up with the two lovely ladies and after an exchange of kisses, hugs, and pleasantries we meandered inside. The d├ęcor is, in HGTV speak, very prohibition-era steakhouse via Chicago/SF with a contemporary twist. The dim light inside prevented me from taking my own pictures (all food pics here come from Ashley), but it’s all very warm, softly lit, and very romantic. A lot of soft woods, pinpoint colorful lighting along with large jaunty drum chandeliers, and a long bar paralleled by dimensional mirrors and an astounding wine display welcome you in.

The seating is wide and open, designed to allow people to hang out and relax. Brian Bennett, one of the managers, pointed out to us a deliberate absence of two-top tables so that people would feel free to just throw their stuff down on the table and enjoy themselves. The seating is laid back, wide, and comfortable. Like napping comfortable.

One negative, and this a complete personal note, is it reminded me of the Laguna Beach area of Orange County, CA where I grew up. Very posh, very Here and Now, designed to be the new cool place where all the people who sat at the cool table in high school and the socialites come to be seen. It's a personal irk when I see this much name brand clothing and botox, but the food rocks my socks and the design really is quite shibby so just learn to ignore it.

As we walked to our seating we were intercepted by Mr. Paul Martin Fleming, the man who put the P.F. in the P.F. Chang’s, and owner of Paul Martin’s. He was snacking on a charcruterie board with his dining companions. Paul filled us in on some of the workings of the restaurant and his philosophy and practice of using local products (which in turn led to a vibrant discussion of nearby wineries and local persimmon farms). We then turned to the widespread utilization of blogs as an ever growing source of information, which of course I was vocally agreeing with thankyouverymuch.

Personally I found the fact that the staff and given three full meals astounded me. Since prep work begins in the early morning and produce and bread are coming in fresh daily (the bread that day came just as the first lunch guests sat down, the bread having only been baked a few hours earlier) the staff need to be fed. The staff eat the same things served to the guests and thus have first hand knowledge of all of the products and their sources and can accurately describe and recommend the various dishes. It also ensures that not a single piece of food goes to waste, so props.

As a former coffee house slave I'm very happy to see a manager who so firmly believes in the economic algebraic equation of Happy Workers = Good/Productive/Eager to Learn Workers. Snaps to the management. I have had more than enough bad waiters ruins my nights before, and any time a waiter/waitress is efficient and intelligent it just makes the whole dining out experience so much more pleasurable.
Back to the meal, once we were seated we ordered the butcher's board to begin, a fine tray of local artisan salume and cheeses with some coarse grain mustard, olives brined and cured by the restaurant, and caper berries. The caper berries were delicious salty and well brined. The olives were flavored with parsley, lemon, and rosemary and we all were snatching them up as fast as possible.

The Point Reyes bleu cheese was tepid and perfect, without too much bite so that you could enjoy it and the other cheeses afterwards and not only taste BLEU. The Laurel Chanel goat cheese shmeared perfectly over the bread, then the creamy Winchester Farms gouda followed up well, though I prefer gouda to be smoked and have a creamier taste.

The salume were just... my god... amazing. The boccalone salame had delicious fatty bits, with fennel and orange zest, which was delicious when paired with a smokey Sangiovese. We all had our favorite and they were devoured with the utmost refined carnage you might have ever witnessed at a dining table. Duels were fought over the remaining translucent slivers of meat. My personal fave was a delicious Lonzo boccalone that was mild and salty, with a bit of smoke.

Then the small dishes came and the eating really began...

Read part II.

Spiced Cranberry Applesauce

I'm starting to figure out what I want to do for my 3-Top Thanksgiving (my mom, Rob, and me). One of the things I decided to do was completely out of the blue; having just acquired some home grown apples from a friend and with a big bag of cranberries awaiting inspiration in the fridge I decided to throw together an applesauce. I had never made the stuff before but figured it couldn't be that hard, and in truth it was a snap. This recipe is a rough translation of what I did, but it's applesauce (i.e. boiled, mashed apples with water and sugar) so you can easily adjust it to your own liking.

It's sweet and deliciously tart. The cinnamon and ginger add a nice bit of spice in the background. I originally ate it warm, but it was a perfect little dish for a snack the next day out of the fridge. Plus the striking color just incites drama in the dish.

It's a perfect fall recipe, and I think would be great if you are planning to step outside the Thanksgiving staples and do a few different seasonal dishes.

Cranberry Applesauce
What You'll Need...
6 large apples (I used some monster sized Granny Smith)
1 12 oz bag of cranberries
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/2 cup of sugar

What You'll Do...
1) Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add the cranberries and let them cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring once or twice. I always giggle when the cranberries start to pop for some reason. I just always find it humorous and amusing as food often can be.

2) While they boil, peel and shop the apples into bite sized pieces. Add them to the boiling water and let cook for about 10 minutes until a fork can easily pierce them.

3) Add the sugar. Add the cinnamon and ginger. Stir together.

4) Puree with a stick blender, or process in batches in a standing blender. Let cool a bit and serve. Feel free to pop it in the fridge as it's great cold too.

"I don't work here."

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Excuse me, can you help me?" A tiny lady in a hot pink sweat suit and sunglasses bigger than a head is facing my friend while I peruse the Asian goods aisle for soba noodles.

"Um, I don't work here," my friend turns around and looks at the lady. Why she asked us I don't know. We're both looking a little unkempt right now; unshaven, wearing tattered clothes, looking like we just came off the bad end of a hard night of drinking (I really just don't bother with making myself pretty on the weekends). Oh, and the lack of the slacks, white shirts, name tags and aprons weren't a giveaway either.

"Well can you help me anyways?"

"Uh, can I ask with what?" my friend replied. We figure, what the hell, maybe it's something simple? I doubt it but at least it's the universe asking him for the small favor which will most likely result in a kick to his karmic groin. I attract The Stupids way too easily, apparently being around me is contagious and attracts them to any carriers I happen to infect. Tough luck for any of you out there who know me on a personal level.

"Can you help me take my groceries to my car?" she queried.

We were puzzled; not from the request but from the fact that she only has a carton of orange juice in her hand. It didn't seem like she was having a problem. "Are your groceries out front?"

"Well I just started shopping, can you just stand by the front and wait for me to finish and then help me to my car?"

"Just wait for you at the front for you to finish?"


I decide to step aside and out of this one, for once it's not me suffering at the hands of The Stupids. I smile and enjoy every minute of it.

My friend however is starting to get annoyed, "Well, I don't work here. They can have a bag boy help you with that."

"But I asked you."

"But I don't work here."

"I don't see what that has to do with it. You said you would help."

This all ended with the lady saying something about today's youth not respecting their elders, or walking to school barefoot up the razor blade streets uphill both ways in the snow. Or something. I dunno. We rolled our eyes and grabbed what we came for. I'm happy that I dodged the bullet for once.

Then I dropped a can of cannellini beans on my sandaled food. Natch.

Vosges Sampler III - Exotic Candy Bar Tasting

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lastly we have the candy bars. A mini box set that allows you to taste a few different flavors. The best thing is that you get to try a wide variety. The bad thing is you can't try them all, so now I plan to go out and taste the other flavors.

Naga (Milk Chocolate + Sweet Curry + Coconut Flakes)
- "No words... They should have sent... a poet." -Contact
Warm. Sweet. Exotic. Best piece of chocolate I have ever had. Ever. EVER.
Try it and you can see why I made my own cupcake interpretation a year or so ago.

Woolloomooloo (Roasted and Salted Macadamia + Indonesian Coconut + Hemp Seed + Milk Chocolate) - Light and airy. The hemp seed leaves a (pardon the pun) herbiness lingering in the back of your mouth that quite enjoyable, in a right way. Salted macadamia nuts are slight, but not inconsequential. They have that slight butter flavor the macadamias are wont to have and lend a nice crunch to the candy bar. Sadly, I couldn't taste the coconut, no matter how hard I tried.

Gianduja (Almonds + Hazelnuts + Milk Chocolate) - Gianduja is a chocolate candy filled with a sweet almond and hazelnut paste. A popular confection in Italy. This candy bar twist tasted like a very silky Nutella, but with a hint of almond. Loved it. I wonder if I can translate this into a biscotti...

Matcha (Matcha + Milk Chocolate) - The matcha was nicely bitter and sweet, and matched well with the chocolate. I love the combination of chocolate and green tea matcha, so I came into the candy bar having a clear idea of what to expect and I do so love it when my expectations are so clearly met.

Barcelona (Hickory Smoked Almonds + Grey Sea Salt + Milk Chocolate) - The salt was nicely subtle and the smoked almonds have gave nutty hints and smoky whisps of flavor. A very common combination given a bit of airy elegance.

Black Pearl (Ginger + Wasabi + Black Sesame Seeds + Dark Chocolate) - Very gingery to begin with, then the black sesame slowly reveals it's flavor all around your mouth and the warming wasabi just floats in at the end and then just as you grasp it, it vanishes. Fantastic. Really, a bar I could eat every day.

Oaxaca (Gjuaillo and Pasilla Chillies + Tanzanian Bittersweet Chocolate) - Dark chocolate that seems sweet and bitter and regular. Then a minute or two later a warm and intense spice just hits you in the back of your mouth. Very fun to eat.

Red Fire (Mexican Ancho and Chipotle Peppers + Ceylon Cinnamon + Dark Chocolate) - A candy bar version of the now famous Mexican hot chocolate. Historical, the flavors are steeped in tradition and in turn are very flavorful, they're reason for permanence speaking for themselves. If you want a tasty cupcake version try this cupcake!

I plan to check out a few of their other candy bar flavors in the future. The Calindia, Goji (of which Cheryl made a cupcake version), and d'Oliva especially piquing my interest as well as the bacon bar. Cause we know I love bacon, especially in a cupcake!

For other opinions and reviews, I highly suggest checking out Chocolate Obsession. This link is to a word search using the key term "Vosges" so you'll pull up reviews of other goodies I never tried and reviews of ones I did. The person behind it is very thorough and clear in their analysis.

Vosges Sampler II - Chocolate Truffles

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Simple truffles. Smooth and creamy dark chocolate ganache. Paper thin dark chocolate shell. Cocoa powder. Three forms of chocolate in one delicious little bite. Rob makes truffles this way too, and they're pretty on par with his (Rob will add Chinese 5 spice or mint sometimes, yums!). This however was a dedication to tasting pure chocolate on a variety of levels. Resonant and clear.
Tasty Links!
Matcha Chocolate Truffles
White Chocolate Truffles
Dark Chocolate Truffle Cupcakes

The above are some delicious links, but feel free to post your own truffle recipes in the comments.

Chocolatey Surprise from Vosges - Exotic Caramel Tasting

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

This is going to be the first in a set of posts that will incite the jealousy of all the other food bloggers out there. Now it's no big shock to most of the readers of this blog that I'm an avid fan of the Vosges chocolate company and have developed a few cupcakes based on their very haut couture chocolate.

The last cupcake apparently caught the eye of the good people at Vosges and to help give me some future inspiration they sent a nice little sampler package of their truffles, candy bars, and caramels. Rob and I were to say the least dancing naked on the table super awesome fun time happy. A large thanks goes out to Paige over at Vosges.

Being able to try all of these tasty treats was a real, well, treat. Personally, I always felt such trouble when I tried to pick just one of the bars. I even did one or two Google searches for candy bar reviews when I made an order on-line a year ago to try and figure out which one I wanted. So as Rob and I painstakingly sample and taste each one, we'll try to give you a nice rundown of their flavors in the next few posts.

This one is on the Vosges Exotic Caramels.

Mexican Guajillo Chilies, Licorice Root, Dark Chocolate, Organic Pumpkin Seed - Not too dark, not too sweet. It's delicious. The licorice root, like many of the flavors, is subtle but present though you may have to try to block outside noise so you can focus on it for the full effect. The chili kicks in pleasantly at the back with a bit of mild heat that stays with you for quite some time. It licks and caresses you; it's warming and I must admit, acts as a bit of an aphrodisiac (no exaggeration). As I type this I'm literally and actually feeling quite frisky right now after eating it.

*off screen pause to pounce on Rob*Canadian Maple Sugar, Maple Syrup, Walnuts, Dark Chocolate - I loved this one. Surely one of my faves (nothing beat the frisky caramel). It was familiar and what I expected it to be, but better. Very wintery. Very homey. Very relaxing with grandma over freshly made breakfast caramel. The walnuts and maple syrup were both defined and well balanced.

Pink Peppercorn, Rose Water, Dark Chocolate, Red Rose Petal - Pros: Very distinct pink peppercorn taste making the caramel peppery and fruity. Cons: Much as we tried, could not taste the rose water, and the red rose petal was more for show than anything.

Brazil Nuts, South American Cocoa Nibs, Dark Chocolate - Nice. I like brazil nuts. Very nutty. Nothing to out of the ordinary in my opinion.

Campari, Blood Orange, Dark Chocolate, Hibiscus Powder - "Pretty!" Yes, my first reaction. I like sparkle. I also like the dark flavors in this one. Slightly citric, slightly tart, very fun. Perfect to match with cocktails. The hibiscus powder is deliciously sour. Totally yummy.

Argentine Dulce de Leche, Costa Rican Cashews, Milk Chocolate - Milk and sweet. Caramel had a slight and pleasantly burnt taste. Very cashew-y.

Aboriginal Anise Myrtle, Dark Chocolate - Very subtle anise flavor. Undercurrents the chocolate well, but you forget you're eating a caramel, which isn't bad, but not sure if that's good either. Regardless, I enjoyed it very much.

Hawaiian Red Sea Salt, Milk Chocolate, Li Hing Powder - Red sea salt makes this caramel pop, and when backed up by the li hing (a product of dried plums that has a powerful salty/sweet/sour flavor) creates a very flavorful effect that makes your mouth water. Would love to work with li hing powder myself soon.

Tupelo Honey, Milk Chocolate, Bee Pollen - Meh. I am not the biggest honey fan in the world, and it competes too much with the caramel in my opinion. Rob loved it. The bee pollen, while pretty and offering a slight soft-resistant textural counterpoint, offers no flavor (though I don't know if it really was supposed too).

In Conclusion: All of these caramels do a fantastic job at balance. Nothing really overpowers other flavors. Some are a bit more subtle than others (some lost all together) but as a whole, I can't really fault any of these. At no point do the caramel or chocolate really ever step off stage, each flavor profile is there only to enhance them. The supporting cast make the stars of the show truly shine. All and all, they're superb and still live up to all my expectations.

Also, damn, that chili one goes to your head. Seriously.

Jade. Salt. Pepper. Flavoring food and a reminder of Ojai Grandma.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

My grandmother on my mother's side was quite the world traveler, it wasn't uncommon to be getting postcards from Thailand, Germany, or the Arctic from her. Her home was a literal museum of maps carved from ivory, abalone jewelry, paintings from the Middle East, and books from antique book shops from who knows what corner of Europe.

She was one of the first American's let into China in order to explore it after it had securely cut out Americans for nearly 60 years. She was able to see a country that had not prepared itself for the tourist droves that grow larger with every passing year.

There she found a small jade bowl. A trinket that sat on a display shelf for years. Eventually it passed down to me where I kept it on a display shelf for years myself in my bedroom where no one ever really saw it.

Finally though, I've given it use and a place where it can display itself. I keep it in the kitchen.
It contains a good amount of kosher salt mixed with ground Tasmanian pepper and pink pepper. The earthy, pungent flavor of the Tasmanian pepper, and the subtle fruitiness of the pink pepper give a nice balance of flavor. So any dish that needs just a quick pinch of salt and pepper, I just pop the lid off the jar and grab what I need, without fussing into the cabinets.

Beautiful, practical, and a wonderful and constant reminder of my Ojai Grandma - A woman who explored the world, made me fresh orange juice and Lucky Charms in the morning, and was a beautiful, stubborn, loving person who loved her toast burnt to a crisp.

Floral Prints, Frat Boys, and Gum

Saturday, November 3, 2007

From the archives...

I wanted to share with you an incident that happened a few days ago...

A young guy, probably about 20 with a frat boy "I'm the king of my universe" look and air about him, was in front of me and opened the door to the restaurant. He then spit his gum out onto the walk to his side. Now this was also directly in the path of a small group of little old lunching ladies who were just leaving, and would now have to maneuver and step over the offending gum wad. I was disgusted by this, but said nothing to the frat boy, deciding to conjure up an image of punching him in the back of the head instead. I was about to warn the ladies when something curious, no... enthralling, happened.

The first little old lady, a timid woman I would surmise was in her 80's and dressed in a simple floral print and cardigan turned to the frat boy and said in a kindly voice, "Excuse me young man, you dropped your gum."

The frat boy stopped and looked at her. Now I only caught her gaze from the side, but you could see that while her face had a soft smile, her eyes said, "You pick up that gum. Now." I can only imagine what the full brunt of that gaze was like for the frat boy. I would assume it was akin to being struck in the chest with a sledgehammer.

"Oh... uh, sorry," he mumbled and bent down to retrieve the wad of gum in front of his floral print and cardigan conqueror. He wanted to tell her no, the annoyance and befuddlement was in his eyes, but what was he going to do? Tell a little old woman to shut up in front of a crowd of people and the restaurant staff for telling him to pick up the gum he had so disgustingly spit out? I think not.

"And with a stomp of her foot, she had vanquished them." The line from Faulkner's A Rose for Emily popped into my head and I smiled. Everyone, except the frat boy, smiled at his defeat. A victory for good manners and respect.

We need more little floral print ladies like this.

Tuesday Eating Calendar

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tuesdays are my suck days. The days I leave at 7 a.m. and get home at 10 p.m. It's a supersonic spiral into gustatory hell basically. Monday nights I get home around 10 pm as well so I can't prepare something the night before for lunch or dinner. It's a day where I just scrounge up whatever food I can possibly find and it's not exactly a balanced diet.

The following is a typical Tuesday:

6:30 am - Bowl of cereal. Maybe. Did I sleep in? What day is this? Goddamn it Rob, if you don't shut up and close the blinds I swear to holy hell I will make sure the sun don't shine anywhere for you ever again.

7:30 am - Apologize to Rob for threatening his life again.

7:45 am - Walk into work and make tea. Healthy wake up food for Garrett. Can now be social and talk to people, and am no longer at risk of going totally bat shit and verbally eviscerating the first person I see.

9:00 am - Desk candy. This candy jar on my Lead's desk is always tempting everyone. It's full. It's delicious. It's got to go.

10:00 am - Get Cheeze-its from the snack machine. Cheesy crackers are my crack, I heart their salty deliciousness. They love me and I need them.

10: 03 am -Warned co-worker that if she sneaks another one of my Cheez-its that I'll stab her in the freaking hand.

10:05 am - Stabbed co-worker in the hand.

12:30 pm - Someone placed bagels and cream cheese in the break room again. I race everyone else there after we learn of these tasty treats and throw myself upon the greasy cheese bagel, and drown it in whipped cream cheese. To balance out a healthy meal, I pour a glass of orange juice to go with it. Go me!

1:00 pm - Two hard boiled eggs with some salt. I did have time to prepare something last night and I'm glad I did. I choose to view it as diet conscious rather than sparse.

3:00 pm - Like Kate Moss, I need to eat a freaking sammich. I find a Soup-at-Hand thing from Campbell's. It tastes horrid. Not from age, but from just nastiness. I throw it away.

4:00 pm - Desk candy one more time. Curse you Satan and your tasty tootsie roll temptations!

5:00 pm - Sit with friends before class. I mooch a small bit of pizza and a slice of cucumber from a salad. Follow up with a short cat nap in a Quiet Room with bean bags. Dunno who thought to put those bean bags and Quiet Rooms there, but give the man a fucking medal.

10:30 pm - Get home. Stress has built again to epic proportions. Thinking of cleaning the dishes in the sink but collapse on couch instead to watch bad reality television. America's Most Smartest Model is on. Yayness, I can look at pretty people wearing few bits of clothes and being totally stupid and validate my own intelligence after listening to classmates who are probably way smarter than me. Rob makes me some fries and a black cherry smoothie. All is good with the world.

11:00 pm - Get into bed. I remember there's a potluck tomorrow at work. Will pick up some bread or something somewhere. People expect cupcakes from me, but too bad. Who wants to bet that there'll be a healthy selection of weight conscious choices designed to fight fat and salt and boost energy? Yeah, don't think so. Bring on the KFC and brownies. I'll make sure to jog home.

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