What's Wrong With This Cookbook?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Points to the first person to point out why this is only $2.99 at Borders.

Save the Corti Bros.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Now, here's the thing, I'm not a social protestor. I'm not the type to walk the picket line with a sign. I'm not into those kitchy little chants or rhymes or songs that get shouted out with a blowhorn for hours on end. The one time I did do a protest walk in college about halfway through I decided it was lame and went to Baskin Robbins. I had mint chip. It was delicious.

I'm more of a write your congressman type of guy, or the person in the background doing the planning and organizing, or at the very least a quartermaster of the lowest standards. It's just how I roll with political activity and fighting social injustice and all the jazz. I guess in some respects that makes me a bad rebel, or maybe just a lazy one or one that doesn't like to be seen. And while I may appear not to care, I actually do and have a good sense of what screwy s*** is going down in the world. (Otherwise having that other degree in Social Ethnic Relations is just a total waste.)

Still, I hold a few things close. I won't go into them, because 1) my own politics don't need to be aired here, though 10-1 you can prolly guess where I stand on most things, and 2) this is a food blog, so if we do talk politics, it will be food politics.

And that, my readers, will lead us to my emerging point.

Many of you ardent food freaks out there know the name Darrell Corti. The man pioneered much of the modern wine and food industry here in the U.S., and is a leading expert in Italian wines and balsamic vinegars (the real stuff, not Safeway crap like I buy). Ruth Reichl mentioned him in her books, and he's been a part of almost every major food event in America. He's basically one of the top authorities on food in the country, though you may not know it as he doesn't have a show on Food Network, but trust me the man knows way more about everything than every single toothsome host and hostess on TV combined.

Anywhose, Darrell owns a place called Corti Bros. a great grocery store that's been in place here in Sacramento for over 60 years. It's a cornerstone of Sacramento, California, and of America's culinary heritage. However, their lease has recently been swiped out from under them to make room for Michael Teel, grandson of Tom Raley, so he can get a shot of going back into the market business and with a store called Good Eats. The landlord has given Corti 60 days to get out.

So not cool. In fact I would call that downright sketchy.

So back to my point. I encourage you to please take a quick second and sign this petition to protest how much this seriously sucks balls. Even if you don't know Corti, or have never shopped there, this is also a fight for the Mom & Pop store, a fight against giant business putting local small businesses out. It will only take a moment of your time, and it would be very much appreciated.

If you live in Sac, there is a protest going on Sept. 3rd. All major chefs, local food people, ardent cooks, and just people who like good food in the Sacramento area will be there. Hope you will be too. For more information please go to the Save the Corti Bros. website.


Wattleseed Cupcakes

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I think I first became curious about wattleseed because of the name. Wattleseed. It doesn't even sound like an ingredient I should take seriously, but more like a Lewis Carrol character ditched Alice and wandered off the pages and into a spice rack.

Some research was needed and wikipedia seemed to have a nice cohesive little entry:

Wattleseed is a term used to described the edible seeds from around 120 species of Australian Acacia that were traditionally used as food by Australian Aborigines and they were eaten either green (and cooked) or dried (and milled to a flour) to make a type of bush bread.

Acacia seed flour has recently gained popularity in Australia due to its high nutritional content, hardiness, availability, and low toxicity. Due to its low glycemic index it is also often incorporated into diabetic foods.
Vic Cherikoff (a significant pioneer in the Australian native food industry) developed Wattleseed as a flavoring in 1984 from selected species and this is now the major commercial product used because of its chocolate, coffee, hazelnut flavor profile. It is often added to ice cream, granola, chocolates and bread and widely used by chefs to enhance sauces, caramel, whipped cream and other dairy desserts.

The description of the flavor is accurate; chocolate, hazelnut, and coffee flavors. Nutella-esque but more subtle than that. As such I decided to put it to work in a cupcake.

The cupcake is adapted from the basic vanilla recipe over at Joy of Baking, but I took out most of the vanilla so I could let the wattleseed shine without competition from jealous undertastes. I just wasn't up for trial and error recipes, and I only have so much of the stuff, so her dependable (although a bit too bread-like in crumb consistency) recipe was just what I needed.

This cupcake was VERY well received at work. Honestly, I give it a few more years and wattleseed muffins will be in every frickin' coffee house. Hmm... maybe it's the next rockstar ingredient?

A special thanks to Judy as well for sending the delectible spice!

Wattleseed Cupcakes
Makes 12 / 350 F oven

What You'll Need...
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup of sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups of AP flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of ground wattleseed
1/4 cup of milk

What You'll Do...
1) Preheat the oven to 350. Place butter and sugar in a bowl and cream on high speed until light and fluffy.

2) Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each for 30 seconds. Add the vanilla and beat for 30 more seconds. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom.

3) Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and wattleseed together in a bowl. Measure out the milk. On a low mixing speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Be sure to scrape down the sides at least once.

4) Fill into cupcake papers and bake for 18-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Wattleseed Frosting
2 cups of powdered sugar
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of ground wattleseed
2 tablespoons of milk

Put together in a mixer and beat to all hell, about 4 minutes on high. Spread onto cooled cupcakes.

Note on Purchasing Wattleseed: Wattlseed is still difficult to find in the U.S., still you can purchase it online. Keep in mind though that Wattleseed is like Saffron or Vanilla, an expensive spice since it has to be hand picked. Still if you can get your hands on some it's worth it.

A Gift From Terra Spice

Monday, August 25, 2008

When I was at Taste3, I had the pleasure of getting to know Judy Shertzer, a woman with a knowledge of nutmeg, an affinity for anise, a taste for turmeric, a cunning for cumin.

I could keep going, but I'll save you and get to it.

Judy is one of the awesome people of Terra Spice; a company that sells wholesale (only wholesale, sorry readers) any number of spices, rare salts, peppers, extracts, mushrooms and other culinary treasures that most would consider lucky to possess to a number of restaurants, caterers, hotels and etc.

Her spices are quality and flavored many of the meals that we had during the conference, such as the end dinner at Mondavi winery which had a delightfully kicky Cuban theme. As we chatted on one of the group buses, she spun stories of exotic spices I had never heard of such as fermented black garlic and fennel pollen. I was enamored by her encyclopedic grasp of the subject of herbs and spices and by her ebullience for the subject which seemed to pepper those on the bus with equal intrigue.

After the conference she e-mailed me and asked if I would like to try any spices in particular. I humbly inquired about the fermented garlic (duh) and some wattleseed which I had been dying to try. She smiled over e-mail and acquiesced to my meager request (well wattleseed, by price, is not meager) and promised to send a sample.

-Two Weeks Later!-

Reception rung me up at work and alerted me that a package had arrived. I dashed around the corner, possibly taking out a few children or something clunky in the way and arrived at the front desk. I grabbed the package and tore at it like a starving supermodel with a sammich after Fashion Week.

Inside was more than I expected:

-Two heads of fermented black garlic
-Toasted and ground wattle seed
-Muscovado sugar
-Tahitian vanilla extract
-Thai long peppercorns
-Lucknow Fennel Seeds

I. was. dumbstruck.This was a veritable cornucopia of rare spices. Spices that are crazy difficult to get a hold of; especially the fennel, wattle seed, and black garlic! Way back when you could have a man killed for a handful of peppercorns, with consideration for today's market for black garlic you could easily have an annoying neighbor pistol whipped or something. Not easy to come by is black garlic. I was beside myself with pleasure. My boss, a scratch cook of great measure himself, poured over the box of fragrant goods which was quickly enveloping the office with scents of an Indian bazaar.

He and I bit into the tips of the peppercorns, not aware of it's incendiary properties. We both dashed to the nearest water cooler moments later, and moments after that dared others in the office to try a nip. My own burning pain = not fun. Burning others = Awesome.

As soon as I got home I bottled and jarred and sealed everything in order to keep everything fresh. I plan to go through each of these spices in future posts and provide some recipes should you be able to obtain any of them, which I encourage you do. So keep an eye out, the first recipe is coming soon and it's spelled c-u-p-c-a-k-e.

By the by, if you want to get in touch with Judy she encourages you to e-mail her at: judy[at]terraspice[dot]com

Racking My Brain About Wine Tasting

Friday, August 22, 2008

"It has a nose of dark chocolate and coffee. Very heavy body too."

I could tell that my answer of, "Strawberries, I think," was a little off the mark.

I've never really been good at wine tasting. I know what I like and don't like, and for someone who works and writes about food, I always hate tasting wine for fear of sounding like an idiot. My wine speak is probably much similar to any adult talking on a Peanuts cartoon, incomprehensible noise.

Thing is, I don't think I have the tongue for it. My tongue is good at many things; for example tasting food, performing Gene Simmons impersonations, making a U-shape, giving the raspberry to bad drivers, and [not blog appropriate]. However, it is not good at tasting wines.

I do have the drinking them part down pat. For tasting though, I must admit, the concept of the spit bucket initially threw me. The first time someone presented it at a wine tasting my reaction was understandable and quite reasonable, "You want me to do what?! Are you batshit looney? It's unseemly! Why on God's good green earth would I spit out wine?!" So yes, the drinking I'm pro at. Still, the tasting seems to thwart my cognitive abilities.

The whole process of deconstructing the flavor profiles of wine is too obtuse for me. Given, I may just not have the education; I only know a dill-like flavor means it was aged in oak barrels and the richer flavors of Riesling can be caused by noble rot, so I know some of this can be learned. However, I'm not sure what I'm exactly tasting with each and every sip.

With food, this obscurity is not present. Shrimp tastes like shrimp. Tarragon tastes like tarragon. If I sense a hint of plums, it's probably because I put some freaking plums in the dish. Wham-bam-thank-you-Sam and the tasting is done. Body? Texture? A simple task to do with food. But wine? Where patience and sobriety (ironic, no?) are required in order to detect subtlety? A different game entirely.

Once in a while I can say cherry or chocolate and feel confident in my one-word dissertation. Other times I feel like anything I say will be WRONG and everyone will know, and the best I can say is "Yum! Has a strong taste of grapes," or "Crappy, but free!" assuming I'm wine tasting for these last examples.

Some people, like my friends Ashley, Liz and Kaiti can really analyze the flavors and understand their influences from weather, year, terroir, aging and berry. I understand that each of these factors ties a thread of subtle nose and taste to each wine which coils and flows over time developing into broader distinctions. Where as I seem to become tangled and tongue tied both in words and in sips, my friends are able to eloquently describe it with such profound assurance, the wine seems to possess them and boast of its body through theirs.

Still, I have found and been informed that the best way to learn about wine is through one singular act. Drinking.

Begrudgingly, I set about my task. Picking up a few wines here or there, having them with dinner or with friends, taking mental notes and learning a few things. I have found a few brands I like, and a few varietals I do not care for (Pinot Blanc I have yet to enjoy, like funky grape juice kept under the radiator).

The whole wine collecting thing seems so unique to me, it's not a static collection. You collect, trade, drink, restock, and so on. Rarely do people seem to buy and then just hold on to forever and ever like one would with baseball cards or Monopoly pieces, and yes I collect Monopoly pieces. Rather it's a hobby that breathes, one that intakes and exhales, revivifying every so often with a new Chardonnay or by finally drinking that one Petit Verdot.

I suppose that's what makes it so intriguing. It's always changing.

I recently found a cheap wine rack for sale. Very much in love. Classic, simple, clean lines, dark wood, and 40% off. Match made in heaven. Plus it helps pull the room together, makes me feel more adult, and gives me a semi-practical reason to buy more wine: so that the other bottles in the rack aren't lonely. Plus, it allows me a few options for what to drink and makes the tasting and learning process a bit more fun. I do so heart World Market.

So I plan to continue to learn about wine, but I plan to learn about sake too. I have the sake serving set, so really it would be a crime not to use it. Yet another task I'll nobley take on for the sake of my culinary education, or would this by enological? Or viticulturally? Or sake bombing-ology?

Same thing.

*P.S. I swear I'm not an alcoholic.

Spanish Garrotxa

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Spanish cheese made in Catalonia, Spain. Semi-firm with a nice hard rind, it's a popular and affordable cheese that isn't used so much for cooking as it is for snacking. Given it's popular in salads or mid-day Spanish tortillas, but it hasn't found a large adoring audience in the States.

Type of Cheese: Goat, Spanish

Taste: Buttery and vegetal it's a type of cheese that will please every palate, regardless of your cheesemongering experience. It was a nice salt content which is perfectly balanced, and as such after each bite you find yourself wanting the next one. Semi-smooth and a little flakey. Surprisingly mild and tame for a goat's milk cheese, and as such would be a wonderful introductory cheese for anyone wary of the type. It's the white linen of Spanish cheeses, classic without much flare, but comforting and reliable in all situations.

Overall, a fine Spanish cheese, but I find there are better options out there if you want to explore the country's finer dairy selections.

Serve With: Perfect for crackers or just plain snacking on in my opinion. This cheese would go well with a mild dry red wine, or an equally buttery and vegetal white. I also shaved some over some pan seared zuchinni and over some scrambled eggs, both equally yummy.


Be sure to pick up a copy of September's Sacramento Magazine, where Vanilla Garlic is featured as one of the Sac region blogs you have to be reading! Thanks to Gabe Teague for the great picture and David Watts Barton for writing such a shibby article!

Thoughts on Cooking for One - A Stream of Consciousness Bit of Writing

Monday, August 18, 2008

The way some people appear to cook by the way their food blogs read amazes me sometimes. Maybe amaze isn't the right word? Befuddle might be better. Or even bemuse or astound.

Who are these people with these infinite budgets, superior cameras, and affluent amounts of time on their hands? Reading something like, "Oh, I found a lovely bit of rhubarb today, so I whipped up this tagine of wild duck with rhubarb compote. So simple!" which is then followed by a recipe that is double the length of the actual introduction.

It is, as they say, to laugh. Really? You actually had the time to throw that together in the middle of the day for that perfect outside lighting? Ass. But that's jealousy talking.

My cooking is for the most part dictated by how tired (or lazy) I am and if impending deadlines are threatening my pay check or grades. How do these people do it? If it's your job, I understand, but between the full time job, grad school and three part time jobs I pull, fancy-shmancy food has as little chance of happening as aurora borealis spontaneously lighting up my living room.

Given, I'll treat myself once in a while. I'll make a coq au vin or braise some lamb shanks and serve them with a fresh salad. For company, I'll make a delicious curried soup with manchego palmiers served with a tame Shiraz. My desserts are usually never anything to scoff about. Most of this you readers never see though because, damn it, my camera sucks and can't do pictures inside with bad yellow light when it's dark outside. Plus, this isn't a recipe food blog. Resulting pictures I do attempt to take are more I vomit than eye candy, and regardless how well I praise the recipe people won't try it unless a purty picture is there to seduce you. So as such, most recipes rarely make it here.

But photography is a bit off topic right now.

For the most part, I cook alone. For one. Well, actually, I cook for three. It's just me at different times. Dinner tonight, lunch tomorrow, and then dinner tomorrow night because I'll probably be too tired to cook after classes or the gym. As such it's simple food that I doubt would intrigue most of you. Partially because much of it is adapted to my own quirky tastes.

I do not have the time for complicated meals using hoity-toity ingredients like fresh parsley (yeah, I know what you're thinking, shut it, the dried-n-shredded stuff is fine). My meals must meet certain criteria in my kitchen: It must be fast. It must be tasty. It must be nutritious. It must be cheap.

The fourth part of my Mantra for Mastication is particularly important to me. My budget every week for food is about $25 (it could be more but I'm saving), which at the Farmer's Market can easily get you enough produce, rice, and fresh eggs to last you a week or more for one person. Meat is a luxury so tofu makes many appearances in my food and I keep a bag of frozen chicken tenders around because they're easy to portion. Thus my diet is mostly vegetarian, not out of compassion for any of God's tasty creatures but out of my near-hermit like frugality. I do keep a ready supply of bacon because sometimes the air around the stove just seems to plead to be aroused with it's delicious, salty smell.

I find that Asian food is by and far the quickest and easiest of cuisines dictated by economic hardship. Jennifer 8. Lee noted in her book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles that traditional Chinese food is a fairly simple vegetarian fare. A lot of stir-fry and a lot of soups, all for the most part consisting of a few vegetables and one or two spices to flavor the oil or broth. This practical style of cooking has made me a near expert at Asian cooking techniques, or so I boast.

The wok is by far the best kitchen investment I ever made. It's used at least twice a week which equals four dinners and two lunches for me. It's perfect for boiling, stewing, soups, braising, deep frying, and steaming. Let's see George Foreman beat that.

It is my opinion that any intelligent boy on a budget (or girl, if you are so inclined) should immediately invest in taking time to explore the wok. However, some days even I dread the chopping, cleaning, heat, and so on that preparing food seems to employ.

One of my favorite things to make is what I call my cracker stacks. I open a can of tuna and squeeze in a bit of mayo and mix, chop a few slices off a block of orange cheddar, and break out the saltines. I then place a piece of cheese on the saltine and top it with a dollop of the tuna. If I feel crazy, I add a bit of curry powder to the tuna. Freaking delicious. I have many happy memories of locking myself into my closet sized dorm room with my homework and munching these with a tall glass of milk. It's something I still make today.

Still, I think I eat very well. My leftovers are nothing to scoff at. My last sammich consisted of last night's antelope, heirloom tomato, homemade mayo, and crisp arugula from a friend's garden on slices of stale sourdough that I toasted. No complaints here. My leftovers are 'effing bistro, yo.

I've learned that one can be a foodie and eat well on a budget, it just takes time to find your step. Like walking, you have to learn to take a step before you can walk. Soon enough you're running to the stall that has the fresh Chinese long beans for a dollar, then zoom! off to the grocer with the cheap chicken feet to make stock with, then ping! a short drive to your friend's place who has the fruit trees producing way too much for them to eat alone.

After this its a sort of fun bit of amusement to see what sorts of alchemy I can whip up over the wok. Plums with the last star anise and a splash of the red wine a friend brought over that we didn't finish last night? Stir fry that up into a tasty dessert, my friend.

Eating alone has become more of a journey of self-discovery, I find it as time to reflect on my day, my (blossoming?) career(s), what I've learned, the people I've talked too, and what I want from life.

Any other simple meals you make alone in the kitchen for one or thoughts on cooking for one or dining alone? Leave them in the comments as I would love to hear them!

This little incohesive rant was inspired by the essay collection,
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. Fabulous read and, like, $6 used on Amazon.

Wifebeater Party!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hank and Holly recently hosted their annual Wifebeater Party. It's a pretty straightforward gig. Good wild game BBQ such as antelope heart with cracked pepper and lemon and grilled wild duck, lots of beer and wine and vodka and champagne and cocktails, and everyone in a wifebeater for a deliciously redneck sort of theme. Really, hunters who can cook throw some of the best parties.Even more awesome and funny? I found out later I was drinking with a professor from my department in grad school. All decked out in a trailer trash ensemble. Hi-LARIOUS. (No pictures or names for ya'll, sorry.)Good times with good people.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I'm in line at the nearby Chick-Fil-A because my lunch, a delicious North Indian curry I made the night before, was accidentally thrown out in the garbage at work. We all take turns cleaning the fridge out on Fridays, but apparently one of my co-workers forgot and in a quick panic did it on Monday morning without pause to think that brand new Monday lunches may be in there. As such, a few of us are eating out today.

It was a simple mistake, it happens. I didn't label my tupperware, that's my fault, but my roommate and I share it so it doesn't make sense for us too. Anyways, what's done is done, so now I'm in line to get a chicken salad sammich on whole wheat. I have to admit, for fast food, the place is surprisingly healthy.

I look over to the line next to me and am immediately caught off guard by the sour smell of the guy beside me. His hair is matted and greasy, his face has a slick sheen that reflects the fluorescent light overhead. I can tell his clothes haven't been changed in a few days. Judging by his rheumy, bloodshot eyes and the blistered cracked lips I would surmise that he's just woken up from a hard drug run.

I've had my drug using days myself. Nothing too crazy or extreme, but getting sick with an awful hangover and the depression that ensued from me burning through any reserve of dopamine my brain had for the next few days was enough to make me quit quickly. The same experience most kids in college have. I remember the story my dad told me of trying Mellow Yellow back in the seventies and telling me it just tasted bad and left your breath rancid for days.

Still, aside from the bodily pains foreign chemicals can deliver and physical addiction that some drugs exact on you, the emotional subservience to them is far worse. There is nothing as great as the false but irrefutable personal belief you have of being the sexiest and most immortal, invincible creature in the world. It's intoxicating. It's a feeling not equaled in many instances of sobriety. No matter how great your job, love life, schooling, family or anything else is in life your brain always niggles at the back of your brain some inadequacy there is. Some hurdle left to jump. Some inauspicious crack to smooth over in order to achieve that always out of reach goal we call a complete life.

But on strange substances? You don't think that. Those little annoyances go away for just a moment and you really are The Ultimate. It's no wonder people become addicted. The supersonic rush you feel is intense and breathtaking. Enough to make you ignore and put up with all the epic amounts of crap you deal with afterwards. The physical breakdown. The eventual loss of friends, family, money, time and employment. The gamble you play every time you light up, or stick, or drink, or pop for the few moments of near-Norn like clarity in your own foggy mind. I have seen plenty of people go through it, even one die by it.

I've seen a lot of this due to my work in social work, and sadly it's not exactly uncommon in the gay community to see it happen either. I see this kind of thing far too often sadly; in people as young as 15 even.

This guy in the line next to me is no exception. He's hungry. Tough thing too. He probably can't taste shit. A side effect from drugs is the lack of taste. Things taste like cardboard and chewing a burger is like gnawing down a sweat sock filled with sawdust.

It's a main reason a few people I know have actually quit. When something as primal and decadent and enjoyable and sustaining as food is turned into a chore, you know it's bad. Something that becomes unpleasant and gag-inducing, well, it's a salivary slap in the face that some part of your life is very 'effed up.

Suddenly the guy next to me nose begins to bleed. I guess a deviated septum.

"Hey guy," I tap his shoulder, "you're nose is running pretty bad." What started as a trickle is now a high powered faucet of bright red streaming down his face and on to his shirt.

"Oh..." a pause and he turns and in a swarthy manner turns to get some napkins nearby. He grabs a handful of them and covers his nose. He tilts his head forward and pinches hard below the bridge; at least he knows how to take care of the problem. Must not be the first time. Guessing by the gush, it's definitely a deviated septum brought on by snorting coke or tina.

There is no way he'll be able to taste a damn thing today. That's the other thing, his body is demanding food, but it's going to be a real labor trying to choke down those tasteless wads of fuel he needs. A pepsi (not diet) would do him well too, he desperately needs the calories. Calories and sleep.

I order my food and get back on my way to work. It's a shame, that guy. Hope that he can get his shit together sometime. Maybe those bland fries will hit home for him, but I doubt it. It only took a few tries of drugs and some trying-to-choke-it-down meals for me to quit. This guy is a chronic user, so it'll take more than a few bits of fried potato to do it more likely than not. I bite into my sammich and pull into the parking space and go back to my day.

The chicken salad sammich isn't amazing, but tastes pretty darned good.

I Heart Teaching

Monday, August 11, 2008

It's been a while since I was in a classroom teaching. When was the last time?

I think it had to be about three years ago. I was in front of a brand new giant cubicle-like classroom, one of those types with the squishy ready-for-new-push pin walls and the micro-central air which is always set to slightly below "Arctic Death". It was the new building at the Davis High School and I was trying to relay to a bunch of high school juniors why they should care about the green light at the end of The Great Gatsby.

For the most part it was a failure, not my teaching per se' but trying to make them care because high school juniors just want to go hang out or play ping-pong or do whatever underage young people do now.* I learned I wanted to teach college classes in my future. At least the students there are paying to be there and care to one effect or another. Not to dog high school students, it's just after dealing with parents and the fact that 50% of a class of juniors don't give a shit, I just wanted to teach older students. Plus, I want to talk on equal level with students and I hate curbing my swearing.

But this class was different. Teaching a cooking class kicks major fucking ass. (I said "F" on the blog, which means something here.)

I had roped Shankari and Ann together during the spring in an attempt to put on a cooking class together. I was intrigued and wanted to learn how to instruct a cooking class and wanted some guidance from them as they had experience. After a bit of advanced calculus, astrophysics, divining the stars, and synching our watches we were able to figure out a time to meet and discuss.

We then cobbled together a perfect little class: Cool Desserts for Hot Summer Nights. A simple hour and a half cooking class that would teach participants six basic desserts and their accompanying techniques which could be used for everyday balmy weather dessert cooking.

I made my poached pear sorbet with its subtle spice and spun silk mouthfeel, and followed it with a very popular espresso granita topped with some freshly whipped cream, which is a textural equivalent to any great oil painting with each and every intricate and monumental brush stroke.

Shankari made some intensely flavorful Indian fruit salad laced with rose water and cardamom, and topped with some toasted coconut and pistachios - a healthy dessert with a sanguine disposition to be sure. Her second dish was a glass of almond milk, barely sweetened and lightly fragranced with more cardamom giving the milk a brusque fullness that coated the senses.

Ann's Kir Royello, a jell-o take on the popular champagne drink, was creative and bubbly full of fresh berries and effervescent perk-u-up. Her summer panzanella salad with a brown sugar and butter reduction scented with bay, and fresh berries and mint was just... fresh. Fresh beyond words. It was this Parisian little dish that, when paired with yogurt, you just want to picnic up to a sunny hill and languish in the laziness of the day as it's fresh flavors can only remind you of sweet smelling summer winds in grassy knolls.

Honestly, we did well together. Our personalities and experiences complimented each other well, and where one of us might have dropped off, the other would pick up, and we all had good advice to give to the class.

It was more than just a learning experience for the students, it was a learning experience for me. I learned I was more than just effective at teaching grammar and literature, but darn it I think I make a good cooking teacher too!

As such, Lynn, the awesome headmaster over at Whole Foods, and I are looking at putting together a children's cupcake class this winter. It should be a lot of fun, so keep your eyes peeled!

*Not to say I didn't love my students. Many of them rocked my socks and I still talk to some of them. Just for the most part I decided I wanted to teach college because all the students in the class want to be there for one purpose or another and will actually pay attention I think.

Nocino Bitters

Thursday, August 7, 2008

So the nocino is done. Sort of. It came out a bit bitter. It might have been too little sugar, too much clove, or the cheap vodka but it didn't have that luxurious taste that Elise's nocino had. Hers was drinkable. Mine, not so much.

However it does possess good flavor. When you first taste it you're engulfed in sweet aromas, nutty scents, and enveloping tastes that just wrap around you, sending your mind into a dessert laden haze. Then it disappears, not even vaporous clouds remain. Then suddenly the bitter taste of the alcohol sucker punches you in the tongue, leaving it's bitter coils wrapped tightly for about two seconds, then it too vanishes.

So what we have is nocino bitters. Perfect for flavoring a spot of gin or vodka perhaps. The bitterness will for the most part vanish in the drink, but the distinct nocino flavors will lay delicately underneath. It's what I will call a successful failure. A welcome mishap. I was planning on curing some bitters anyways, so now I just took an early step.


Apple Cardamom Cupcakes with Salted Caramel

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

From the Cupcake Archives...

This is a recipe I've long looked forward to doing once apples came into season. Fuji apples, cardamom, and caramel. A fantastic combination that just goes so well together. Plus, the apples the Elise gave me were just begging to be baked into a cupcake.

This was also a lesson for me as my friend Ann, one of the writers for Sacatomato, Edible Sacramento, and author of the cookbook Hands-Off Cooking taught me how to make caramel. The recipe was actually very easy and the use of a candy thermometer wasn't even necessary.

The cupcake is sweet & sticky, with the cardamom giving it just the right amount of spice. The cake itself is certainly toothsome, so the salted caramel really just acts as the perfect accoutrement to balance the whole thing out. We were both literally scraping (in my case using my finger and tongue) to get every little last bit of caramel off the plate. Using really fresh apples is key here, and the recipe is very forgiving, we over baked a few and they still came out fantastic. A perfect harvest treat now that September is here.
Apple Cardamom Cupcakes
Makes 22 cupcakes / 350F oven

What You'll Need...
4 cups chopped apples (varieties that are good for baking - i.e. granny smith, gravenstein, Fuji)
2/3 cups vegetable oil

2 cups of sugar

4 egg whites

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of cardamom

1/2 teaspoon of ginger

What You'll Do...

1) Chop the apples and combine them with the sugar and let them macerate for one hour. Next add the oil and stir.

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

3) Slightly beat egg whites just until a light foam appears. Combine them with the oil and apple mixture.

4) Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices together. Stir into the apple 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 an apple it will not come out clean, but cupcake may be done.

Salted Caramel
What You'll Need...
6 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup of sugar or vanilla sugar
1 cup of heavy cream
1 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt

What You'll Do...
1) Melt the butter in a large, deep heavy-duty saucepan. Stir in the sugar and and stir until golden brown.

2) Take off the heat and pour in half the cream and whisk like a crazy person until the caramel is smooth. Whisk in the rest of the cream and the salt. Strain into a bowl and then spoon over cupcakes. (The caramel will thicken if you let it sit in the fridge, which is also yummy.)

Feel free to switch out the cardamom for cinnamon, or apples for pears. The recipe is flexible and forgiving. Freshly whipped cream is also an ideal pairing.

Similar Cupcakes
Pistachio Cardamom Cupcakes with Vanilla Rice Pudding Filling
Pear Cranberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Ganache

Great Big Vegetable Challenge - The Book!

Friday, August 1, 2008

You all know I love Charlotte, she's a riot and sharp as a knife when it comes to creative ways to get veggie-phobic kiddies to eat their greens.

As you may have read, she has finally gotten through the alphabet of vegetables, and along this amazing journey has ended with a book deal. It's quite a great resource. A lot of the popular recipes from the blog, plus some new ones, all in one delightful and colorful resource. She took the pea-frightened Freddie, and made his a culinary celebrity and spokesperson for all things farmed from the ground!

I, personally, have a bit of a personal pride in this cookbook of hers though. Two recipes are inspired from recipes here. The Petit-Pois Muffins and the Zucchini Muffins. Both started out here as cupcakes, the Sweat Pea Cupcakes and the Zucchini Cupcakes. In my opinion, I think she made them a bit better than I did originally. The Petit-Pois is a lot fluffier and has a fresher personality than my original using butter, creme fraiche, milk and self rising flour.

Honestly, I am honored that she used the two recipes and gave me and Vanilla Garlic some mention in the book. It's crazy to me, my name is in an actual published cookbook. *girlish squeal*

So thank you so much Charlotte and Freddie! I'm getting a second copy for my nephew David, never to young to learn to start cooking and this masterpiece is a great first cookbook for any child!

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