Earl Grey & Murcott Cupcakes

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I am swamped with schoolwork, so yes, another cupcake archive post. Sorries, I promise a real post will go up soon when I have time to sit down and really write something.

I love this cupcake; its very essence is strange and exotic, yet highly refined. It really does give a taste that can only be described through images of a British colony in India. I totally heart them, and would definitely make them again. However, these are cupcakes that will really shine based on what they are paired with. With tea, coffee, or after a light brunch these will dazzle the senses. After a heavy meal? I don't know. Maybe. It's quiddities might be overcome by stronger flavors. They also go great (I kid you not) with a Fetzer '05 Riesling. That's right, I'm pairing wine with cupcakes now.

Would I bring these to a potluck again? No. Would I bring them to a fine brunch or a fete? Yes. The rogue play of muted citrus and the bold mannerisms of the black tea create a truly sophisticated dessert.

Overall, these were very well recepted by everyone at the potluck (of which the next post will address) and many were even taken home for seconds or for loved ones who couldn't come. Yayness indeed.

Eary Grey & Murcott Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes

What You'll Need...
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 bags double bergamot early grey tea
1 teaspoon Murcott Orange zest (not navel or juice orange zest!)

What You'll Do...
1) Beat butter on high until soft for 30 seconds.

2) Add sugar. Beat on medium-high until light and fluffy.

3) Add eggs one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.

4) Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and tea (bags ripped open and emptied) in a bowl.

5) Measure out milk and zest in another glass.

6) Mix in the flour mixture then the milk mixture, alternating between the two and ending with the flour.

7) Scoop into cupcake papers about 3/4 full.

8) Bake for 22-25 minutes at 350F or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Earl Grey Buttercream
What You'll Need...
1 cup butter, room temperature
4 cups of powdered sugar
1/4 cup of milk
1 bag of earl grey tea (contents emptied)

What You'll Do...
1) Cream the butter until soft.

2) Add the sugar and then the milk and tea. Cream till soft. Spread on cool cupcakes.

Breadmaking Study Break

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Breadmaking, it seems, has become a lost art. I don't mean banana bread or pumpkin bread or the kind you just blend together and pour into a bowl. I mean real rising, yeasty, sweet smelling bread. The kind that has they crunchy, crackley outside, and the sweet gluten laden inside. Toasted with a pat of melted butter. My god, it's a perfect breakfast or snack!

Nowadays I just don't have the time to sit and make bread. It's time consuming, laborious, and often somewhat messy. It's an affair that I long to keep but have to stay away from, as cheating myself out of time for the necessities of life never brings anything but lamentable consequences. Still, yes, there are bread machines, but those take the fun out of it. They have their uses I admit - I enjoy coming down in the morning to freshly baked bread, but I miss the hands on experience.

Still, yesterday I found a moment, I was stuck inside all day doing homework, reading Lord Jim (Conrad has redeemed himself with this one, as I was about ready to kick over his gravestone for Heart of Darkness, still it's a long and tedious read when doing it on a schedule). I figured that as a simple study break I would take the time to make some fresh bread.

I had some leftover molasses and some raisins that needed to be used and a scant amount of whole wheat pastry flour. I laid everything out and began to make some cinnamon raisin bread. Healthy from the whole wheat, sweetened and smoothed by the molasses, it's a simple and easy to prepare bread.

It is a bit frustrating to work with as the initial dough for kneading has a tendency to get everywhere and stick to everything. Still, there is something therapeutic about squeezing, and fluffing, and pounding a defenseless ball of dough.

After kneading, I let it rise for an hour or so, wherein my entire apartment began to fill with the sweet, spicy, and yeasty aromas. These near tangible perfumes only increased in their potency once the baking began.

The best part is during a homework day in fall or winter, this is a simple way for me to prepare food and enjoy a study break. Slow food such as chili, bread, stocks, or slow braising are perfect homework food (or clean the house food or whatever will be keeping you indoors all day). By the time you finish your tasks, a homemade delight is awaiting your consumption.

Enjoy the recipe. Now I must go back to homework, as writing this post was my study break. =PCinnamon Raisin Bread
Recipe adapted from Gourmet.com
Makes 2 loaves
  • Active time:30 min
  • Start to finish:3 hrs (includes cooling)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 (1/4-oz) package fast-acting yeast such as Fleischmann's Rapid Rise yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1/4 cup molasses (not robust or blackstrap)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups of raisins
  • Whisk together flours, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and yeast in a bowl. Whisk together water, milk, molasses, and butter in another bowl until combined well, then stir into flour mixture until a wet dough forms. Stir in raisins. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead, working in just enough additional flour to prevent dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, 7 to 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and put in an oiled bowl, turning to coat, then let rest in bowl, uncovered, in a draft-free place at warm room temperature 10 minutes.
  • Divide dough in half and form into 2 balls. Arrange about 4 inches apart on a large baking sheet. Loosely cover with oiled plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in lowest position.
  • Lightly sprinkle dough with some flour and bake until golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Cooks’ note: Bread keeps, wrapped well, at room temperature 2 days or frozen 1 month.

Original Recipe by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez

Christmas Cookies in September

Thursday, September 25, 2008

So over at Simply Recipes, we're already starting to gear up for the big food months of November and December. My kitchen has become a veritable Santa's workshop for assorted Christmas cookies, cakes, and so on. I have resorted to butter in bulk. I have been going to the gym as much as possible to discourage pastry fat from being absorbed into my body, through my skin, through sheer osmosis.

The reason I'm doing all this now is because by the time December rolls around, I have to start working on my final papers for class. These 20 page theoretical colossusses lumber into my life with foreboding dominion, jarring into dark, forlorn shadow any possibility of outside activities. Indeed they are, in and of particular effect, a hovering death to extracurricular baking.

Due to this apparent and dreaded lacuna in my future scheduling, I start baking for the holidays now. In September.

The looks I get from people when I inform them I have been baking Christmas cookies is akin to if I told them I caught their beloved pet listening to Bob Dylan and snorting coke in an alley - utter perplexion. I'm the culinary version of Wal-Mart, Christmas already in full swing, 4 months early.

The first of such recipes is already up, early I might add due to it's total shibby yumtasticness. I highly encourage you to try them out. I have now dozens (I think 30+) recipes there now that I always welcome feedback about.

Still, with the holidays barreling towards us, as it always is for once you look away then BAM you're up to your ass in gift wrap and candy canes and dreidels, I come to you all with a question and request. Are there any holiday cookies or treats you look forward to each year? Peppermint cake, macarons, rum balls? Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, Ramadan, Solstice, or what have you. I'm curious and eager to hear!

Habanero Night -or- Why My Roommate Now Wears Glasses

Monday, September 22, 2008

"That'll be 45 cents."

"Here ya' go!" handing the change to the lady behind the table. The huge box of bright orange crumples, which blocked most of her small, mountain-hermit frame, reflected the light in my eyes. I squinted in order to see and reached over for the double bagged package of scotch bonnet peppers, otherwise known as habaneros.

Over the last few weeks I had been experimenting with various chilies; pickling jalapenos, making chili oil for stir frys, chopping up birds eye chilies for curries. Each chili I tried was a new experience, it was interesting noting some of the flavors behind the heat. The vegetal, slight apple-like flavors of the poblanos and the heady scent of the rocotillo all intrigued the senses and scalded my mouth with fiery punishment.

My roommate, Danielle, is far more adept at chili eating than me. While many times I have to race for milk and bread, she simply chomps away and gives me a queer look and responds, "It's not that hot."

So, I decided to pick her up some habaneros to see if she could handle them and to see if I could as well.

As I walked in from the market I called her out, "Bitch! I got you some hot peppers for tonight! Let's see if you can handle these!"

"Oooo! Fun! Can't wait! I'll use them in a spicy turkey ragu!" she beamed. She has a mean healthy streak that inspires odd, but surprisingly tasty dishes. A noble culinary endeavor that keeps me from resorting to fast food some nights (I work full time and go to school full time, get off my case!).

Fast forward to the taste test.,,

"I made sure to choped them up real fine so it should be pretty spicy."

"Um... okay. Well, bottoms up," I said with trepedation, my brain already reconsidering just how smart an idea this was. You could smell the heat, the dish radiated a musky spice whose scent itself caused me to begin to sweat and my nose to run.

We took a bite.

It. Was. Incindiary.

We both chugged out milk down and raced for bread. Our cheeks puffed with dairy soaked bits of corn muffins as we prayed for it to soak up the capsaicin laden oil searing every nook and cranny of our moths and throats.

I choked down the bread and milk, "Didn't you seed and devein it!?"

"No, I just chopped it all up and added it!" Danielle sluged down another gulp of milk. She put it down and began to wipe the sweat from her eyes. I used the back of my sleeve. We were both perspiring as if we had run a marathon.



"OW! Oh, it's in my eye! It's behind my contact lens!!! OH GOD! OH DEAR GOD!!!" and she screamed up the stairs like greased lighting and threw her face into the sink and turned it on full blast. The humorous part was she didn't wash her hands before trying to get the contacts out, making a bad problem only far, far worse.

The lessons here are twofold: 1) use gloves for chili pepers, 2) seed and devein your chilies, and 3) if you get habanero oil on your contact lenses you won't get it off and you will be ordering a new pair.

Hawks Fundraiser & Anniversary

Saturday, September 20, 2008

As part of the Hawks' One Year Anniversary, they held a little soiree that doubled as a fundraiser. As Mike and Molly Hawks are ardent supporters of local growers, the party was hosted in conjunction with the nonprofit Foothill Farmers Market Association. This was reflected in the evening’s guest list, which represented twelve regional farms, listed below. With attendance peaking around 200 guests, Hawks was able to raise $4000 in donations, all of which went to benefit the Placer Ag Future Project Scholarship fund for Beginning Farmers.

Personally, I find it just awesome that they took the time to really give back to the community in a way that would allow everyone to participate. See, unlike a Slow Food event, the tickets cost only (if I recall) $10 to come and socialize and eat at one of the top restaurants in the area. That, my friends, is shibby and 10 kinds of awesome in my book. It meant that anyone and everyone could join the fun and help out. So special props go out to the people who all set this up, the cooks, the publicists, and the farmers.

Participating Farms:

Blossom Hill farm, Auburn

Brennar Ranch, Newcastle

Coffee Pot Ranch, Sheridan

Four c-sons, Auburn

Hillcrest Farms, Newcastle

Otow Orchards, Granite Bay

Pierce Family Farms, Loomis

Pine Hill Orchards, Loomis

Rodriguez Ranch, Watsonville

Saeng’s strawberries, Granite Bay

Tong Moua Farm,Sacramento

Ueki Gardens, Auburn

I also want to thank Taylor and Keelin for inviting me to the event. It was great fun to mingle and meet so many local farmers and producers, hang out with other local bloggers, and meet Mike and Molly Hawks who are two of the kindest and talented chefs I have ever gotten to meet.

It's 3 am... Are you making bacon?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's 3 in the morning. I couldn't sleep, so what did I do? I made bacon. Enough for like, three people. I ate most of it. Would have eaten the rest by I started to nod off in the middle of chewing. Will finish in morning.

Totally worth the extra 20 minutes running at maximum resistance and incline on the standing pedal machine thing at the gym. Go me!

Rather say, "Bag of nuts."

Friday, September 12, 2008

While at Whole Foods I was filling up on rice at the bulk aisle, while a woman next to me was doing the same. A few bins down a five year old boy was looking over bags of almonds and pistachios. He's five, sandy brown hair, innocent little look - very stereotypical "little boy".

I go back to my selecting a wild rice, a task that takes me usually about 5 minutes. Seriously, I hate having choices sometimes.

"Hey Mom! Look!"

While I'm not Mom, as if in a study in human habit, I turn and look anyways. The child has a large bag of almonds and he holds it low between his legs as if it weighed as much as he did.

"I have a HUGE nutsack!" He laughs histerically like he just invented the worlds funniest new joke.

And damn it, so do I. Others laugh as well.

The mother turns to me, smiles, rolls her eyes and says, "His older brother is so dead when we get home for teaching him this." We both laugh. She sighs, tells him to put the bag back and to, "Just... just for the love of God, you are not allowed to say nutsack."

Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Sage Frosting and Allspice

Thursday, September 11, 2008

(The very first cupcake on this site, from the cupcake archives.)

I've been feeling relatively convivial about my cooking the past few days, and decided to take a very laissez faire approach and let whatever was in my kitchen inspire me. I had been playing with the idea of creating my own cupcake after trying a few of Cheryl's. What jumped out was a classic yet contemporary combo of flavors. While you might think butternut squash would taste odd as a cake, pumpkin as a flavor has been becoming increasingly popular in baked goods. This was a slight deviation from that popularity and was very tasty one at that. A perfect autumn treat, one that was actually inspired a soup I had a week ago!

I do wish that the sage flavor had come out a bit more pronounced, but it seems the subtlety was just right according to everyone else. The slight sprinkling of allspice gives it that extra little layer of flavor.

In the future I might use a buttercream frosting as opposed to a cream cheese frosting to cut out some of the tangy flavor, and sprinkle on some rubbed sage for visual appeal and reinforce the sage flavor.

Overall, I was very happy and proud of my first, original cupcake creation. These are dedicated to Rob for his never ending patience with me, and Cheryl for her shibbiness and cupcake inspirations. If any of you out there try it, please send me feedback and let me know how it goes!

Butternut Squash Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes
(Adapted from MarthaStewart.com)

What You'll Need...
1 large butternut squash (for 2 cups of puree)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups of flour

What You'll Do...
1) Quarter and seed the squash. Place in a dish with 1/4 cup of water and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool, scoop out (no skins!) then puree in a food processor or blender.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. Set aside.

3) In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, eggs, and butter. Add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in butternut puree.

4) Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake at 350 until tops spring back when touched, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-22 minutes. Rotate pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack to let cool.

Sage Cream Cheese Frosting
(This makes a lot; freeze the rest and use it for bagels or fruit. Throw in the fridge to thaw when ready for use.)

What You'll Need...
1 bunch of sage
3 tablespoons of water
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
12 ounces of cream cheese
1/2 cup of butter
3 cups powdered sugar

What You'll Do...
1. Bring cheese and butter to room temperature.

2. Heat sugar and water in a small pan under medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

3. Chop up the sage and add to the sugar and let boil over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is syrupy. Set aside to cool.

4. Sift powdered sugar into a bowl or onto parchment.

5. Beat butter and cheese at medium speed until creamy.

6. Add half of the sugar and the sage syrup. Beat until combined.

7. Gradually add remaining sugar. Spread onto cupcakes and sprinkle on allspice if desired.

Lucknow Fennel

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

So what is Lucknow Fennel?

Lucknow fennel is a special type of fennel seed. Small, crunchier, stronger and much sweeter with a very grassy taste. You may have had it with it was covered in a bright candy coating and offered in a small bowl at Indian restaurants.

The fennel is primarily grown in Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India. Often they are eaten plain as a breath freshener or a digestive, but can be used in lighter foods where it's distinctive qualities won't be lost.

Flavoring simple pastries, yogurts, pavlovas, young cheeses, or salads is a common practice when using Lucknow fennel, where as spicy or aromatic dishes often use regular fennel seed. Personally, I want to grind it with some sugar and make some sugar cookies with them.

Lucknow can be ordered online or found in specialty spice shops.

Scratch That

Monday, September 8, 2008

The best sort of success in cooking is one where you feel like a God of the Kitchen.

When you're able to just throw something together, completely off the cuff, and come out with something that deserves a tribute in fireworks. A dish that just screams, "HELL YEAH! I AM THE BEST!" A meal that the people you feed it to become so jubilantly enamored with that they become torn between the decision to wolf it down due to extreme tastiness or to savor and relish each sensual, seemingly concupiscent bite.

It is these moments that make cooking such an tactile, soul imbibing practice. These little victories, these seemingly First Day equivalent creations that nourish the body and calm the mind with ecstatic joy.

Of course, there is the opposite of this. I can recall one Mediterranean style dish I tried to recreate from memory. A special dish with aromatic rice studded with pine nuts and raisins, and fresh fish just perfectly cooked with a bit of lemon and coriander.

I wasn't sure what sort of vengeful Nightmare God I apparently pissed off, but the resulting dish tasted like spite made into food. Literally, upon tasting it my mouth just opened and let the food fall back onto the plate. Very sexy. Dear Lord, that dish haunts me. The whole disaster was fed to the garbage disposal and Pizza Hut was promptly called up. It's a time like that when I understand the reasoning behind the mantra so many hold of, "Why cook when there's a phone or a restaurant nearby?"

Plus, I do like my thin crust olive n' sausage pizza. Yum!

Still, tonight the stars were aligned, my fortune cookies read positively, and I locked the damn cat in my room so he wouldn't eat my prep. (He had done so earlier this week, dissecting tomatoes and a jalapeno on the carpet.)

Everything was going perfectly.

And you could tell. The smell that floated about effortlessly enchanting those sitting about the room, becoming devoted acolytes to the sweet and savory, slightly reminiscent aromas.

Pumpkin curry with fresh leeks and onion. Delicious.

It isn't enough that I have to lightly sautee' onions and leeks with butter and olive oil, a cattle call if I ever smelled one, but I then have to go and add pumpkin, veggie stock, curry n' cayenne, and coconut milk. The end result it simply marvelous. A harmonious dichotomy of the familiar and the exotic (though I think we can now say coconut milk and curry are somewhat mainstream for many home cooks, and thus no longer exotic?). Garnish with a bit of cilantro and you are so in business.

The delight in being a scratch cook at home is the possibility. THE POTENTIAL. I think one of the most intriguing works of human creativity is the looming fear of the empty pantry and, subsequently, the empty stomach. Hunger is said to be the best spice, but it can also be the mother of creation.

Taking what few bits and pieces, what leftovers, straggling veggies, rinds of cheese, frozen chunk of meat and endless cans of neither here nor' there ingredients, and an endless spice rack and putting some kitchen equivalent to street magic in and Poof! A new dish! Ka-Zam! The best new thing out of the oven since that kiesh with all the leftover gouda, straw mushrooms, and basil from throughout the week!

The possibilities are endless if you take the moment to just sit and think it out, 10-1 there are dozens of possible meals in your pantry. You just have to sit and puzzle them together like a gustatory jigsaw.

...Unless it really has been ages since you went to the market, in that case get off the computer and go you lazy punk.

I promise to post the recipe at some point here or at Simply Recipes, at the moment I want to tinker with it just a bit more. For the most part though, you can figure it all out here from the post. It really is that easy.

On Comments

Sunday, September 7, 2008

(Because the camera is giving me all kinds of crap, thus hindering posts I wrote out which fully depend on the photos being there, here is something from the archives. Blah! Goddamnit.)

I think I actually freaked out when I saw my first comment. The fact that someone had read my awkward first steps of bumbled writing thrilled me to no end. Society, or at least one representative of it, had smiled upon me.

Then I began to moderate comments and include verification codes. Somehow, for some reason, random spiteful comments or ads that seemed to come from whatever unexplored dark maw of the internet began to crawl in. With some action those comments stopped, and it was also good.

Slowly real comments trickled in, and I was happy. Certain posts were racking up as many as 40+ comments. People were reading my posts and so the writing gained a slow momentum and a style unique unto itself. I was able to define myself out in the open through my writing and explore my own culinary creativity. The comments were supportive, thought provoking, witty, and humorous. And it was very good.

Some comments however weren't, and it was not good. Some comments seemed to be more of a personal advertisement in appearance rather than constructive feedback, as the comment might read "Great Post! I really liked the way you (insert post topic). Visit my website at...". A slippery clutch at a rain-slicked precipice to be sure, but if the comment seemed significant and it demonstrated that they actually read it, I allowed it albeit with with some reservations.

As an avid proponent of the Socratic method even the comments that disagreed with me were more than encouraged, as open discussion is a fantastic way to enlighten oneself. Detractors welcome, one and all! Assuming you do it with some class and style, and not a "Yer stoopid and so is ur opinion," or something equally clever.

Some commentors however were (and are) far more parasitic in their comments, refusing to actually write anything they simply write a "nice job" and plug themselves, their life story, and pet's middle name all with a URL included. To this the comment is simply swatted down. Vanquished in a way that most people would a mosquito; annoying and insignificant.

Not to say I'm not guilty of the crime in question. I remember my early days of commenting like a mad-man. Leaving my ideas, thoughts, and opinions (genuine and otherwise) in every digital locale I could find. Tagging here and there using the internet as my own freeway wall to graffiti with my own personal publicity. It was like running a second blog.

But eventually I stopped, it became too tiresome and I was weary of writing disenchanted, fragmented sentences. I now read my favorite blogs once a week (some still everyday) and leave comments when I am particularly smitten with a certain post or find myself awed by their innovation, creativity, and passion.

Given, I don't mind advertising if done in the right way. If I post about a recipe using pears, and someone leaves a thoughtful comment about pears and that they, in fact, also just wrote a perfect little pear post then by all means please leave a link. If you have a similar story, please write it down! I encourage it! It's a way for me to learn. Plus, my recipe might not be exactly what the reader is looking for and if they find yours is just right, then excellent. I want each reader to leave the blog feeling happy they took a moment from their day to read it. You get a new reader and I am still remembered as a wellspring of helpful links and information. Win-Win.

Ah, and lets not forget the comments left by my proliferate friend Anonymous. Anonymous is a fickle fellow, but usually accountable and friendly. In fact I greatly enjoy his assumed unbiased input. Anonymous may even sign their real name (thus rendering Anonymous' anonymity moot) and allow me to thank them for their feedback. However, he may sometimes trip up and decide to leave scathing or otherwise pointless wastes of the English language. Or in some cases, unnecessarily correct me on my diction and grammar (a massive pet peeve).

He will write "Shibby is not a word," or "It's 'anyway,' not 'anyways.'" Yes. I know. I wrote it that way on purpose. Or in some cases it's a blog, and I just didn't feel like proofing my grammar at 2 AM. I write for a living (hell, I teach it) and I know my dangling participles like the back of my hand, and am very diligent about making my prodigal semicolons sexy; therefore, all the more titillating when read. If I forgot to mention something in a recipe, or I misuse a word, I flub my grammar, or a link isn't working then by all means please let me know. However, please inform me of these things by e-mail. Not a comment.

Yes, Anonymous, sometimes I love you but sometimes you are the prime example of the Greater Internet Dickwad Theory:
Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Dickwad
This will only render you a candidate for a program I wish to create which revokes certain individuals access to humanity at large. Or at the very least internet chat rooms and forums.

All and all, comments are the lifeblood to the blog world and at times the link to the Outside as scary as it may be. They motivate us, network us, give us the raw sociological connection to the world we sometimes so crave from behind our computer personas. Ideas, inspiration, and comfort come from those we have never met, yet cheer us on regardless! In times of sadness, while we cannot feel their hugs and sympathy, their concern and joy travels in pixels and signals through miles of fiber optics and can actually provide a tangible warmth.

They can at times make you feel alive.

And for that, I and every blogger, to every single reader and commenter we say thank you.

Fermented Black Garlic

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Wait... what?"

"Fermented black Garlic," replied Judy.

"Oh, I have to try that! It wouldn't be Vanilla Garlic if I didn't!" I sounded back in a coquettish tone.

One of the oddest things that Terra Spice sent to me was this. Fermented garlic is a garlic originally produced in earthen ware pots, but now mass produced in machines specifically designed for producing it.As you can see the cloves have a dark obsidian sheen that persists through its entirety. Each clove delicately wrapped in it's sandalwood colored paper which is crazy difficult to get off as any usual meathods of getting the paper off will smush the soft garlic in this case. The smell is aromatic, musky, and has a definite garlic quality.

As my roommate and I bit in, we expected a harsh garlic taste and perhaps something sort of soy suace-ish as suggested by the color. However we were taken aback by what taste we encountered.

It was sweet. Candy sweet. Muted and calmed garlic tastes, with undertones of malt and molasses, followed by a sort of bitter, hoppy flavor. Honestly, this would accompany a nice dark beer pretty well. After swallowing, a mellow flavor of garlic resided. Still, the rich flavors only permitted us to eat one. Any more and we would be overwhelmed by the cloves' intensity.

How would you cook with it? I have no idea. Honestly, I think it's best as a little treat to serve between meals or on the side to a spicy dish the way a pickle accompanies a sandwich.

Meal for One

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

So on the subject of eating alone again. It's an interesting topic I'm exploring. It doesn't necessarily happen all the time. I eat together with my roommate a lot, a post I plan to get to one of these days (fabulous setup, having a roommate who loves to cook as well).

The main reason is, after five years, I'm single again, have been for a month or two now. It's... an adjustment. A lot going on. There is a bit of fighting and trying to be friends and be amicable with each other. It was for the best for me.

And with such separation comes change in all forms. Change in your morning routine. Change of living situation. Change of pace. Change of clothes. Change of attitude. But one change I wasn't ready for was the changes in the kitchen. Things shifted, my meals are different, my approach is renewed, patterns have become unhinged. I find myself making meals I used to eat back in college. Reliable meals that were simple and made for solace.

In the longest time I found myself eating raisin bread and jam every day again. I love it. So why did I stop eating it? What about being coupled made me abandon some of my old eating habits that I found so much pleasure in? Top Ramen has returned again, and as before with the flavor packet throw away. Use chicken stock, throw in some chopped mushrooms and green onions, then slowly pour in bits of a whisked egg for a faux egg drop soup. Simple and easy. Of course, I now intermix it with soba and udon dishes, all of which are delicious.

I also find myself cooking a lot more. Partly as distraction, partly as therapy, partly as a sort of mode for quiet contemplation. There have been moments of break down while making a pot of pea soup, a tear or two falling obsequiously into the dish giving it a bit of salt and sad soul. Other days I'll be happily popping mounds of cookie dough in the oven, enjoying the copious amounts of ME-time with a good book or catching up on a TV show I've been dying to see. And of course the day of me making ice cream and getting so frustrated for no apparent reason I just threw a spoon across the kitchen while screaming every obscenity known to man and some that weren't that would make most people go spontaneously deaf, and hoping my roommate and cats would be aware how I was in acidic emotional bitch mode.

I'm finding comfort not in food (Captain Crunch does do that for me, though) but in the process. The method and steps of one teaspoon of salt boil for 30 minutes preheat oven at 350 finely chop the onion marinate the chicken stirfry on high heat churn the sorbet open a can of tuna gives a sort of rhythmic serenity.

Tonight was a special night though. Not sure how. It just was. I was back after a raucous and irresponsible weekend with friends in San Francisco and had the place to my lonesome. I was just sort of in a quiet space. No TV. No book. No one around. Nothing.

So I went and cooked. I cooked a meal for one. I used what little I had in the kitchen and threw together pure awesome. Elise had just given me some fresh produce from her garden so I went into the kitchen and put together a simple and low maintenance meal that still seemed to be healthy, colorful, and full of the happy effervescence, that heady drug of joy I sort of lacked at the moment. Then I plated it, set out the good napkin, a placemat, got myself a nice beer with a bit of lime. All for no reason but I wanted to have a special meal for Just Me.

And it was a good meal. Damn good. And I was pleased with myself. I was happy.

I know that in the end, everything works out. And, if you're lucky and a bit creative, there's a good meal along the way.

Damn Good Meal for One
3 chicken breast tenders, or, 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
dried oregano
1 lb. of tomatillos
2 serrano chiles, stemmed
1/4 cup of white onion, chopped
dried cilantro
1/4 cup of wild rice
cherry tomatoes

1) Heat the oven to 350F. Place the chicken onto a pan lined with foil and season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Bake for 30 minutes or until juices run clear.

2) Place rice with 1/2 cup of water and a small bit of olive oil or butter. Bring to a boil, then simmer at low heat, covered, for 40 minutes.

3) Place tomatillos, de-husked in a sauce pot. Add the serranos and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then place heat at low and simmer for 5 minutes. Take the tomatillos and chilies out and place in a blender with 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the onion and puree. Add cilantro and salt to taste.

4) Chop up the tomatoes into halves and drizzle with olive oil.

5) Plate the chicken and pour on tomatillo sauce/salsa. Serve with the wild rice and tomatoes.

In Cottages in Yorkville

Monday, September 1, 2008

By the time we had arrived in Napa we were already weary, the morning sun had burned itself into our eyes. The tea we had so dutifully decided to drink in lieu of coffee no longer seemed like the wise caffeine epigone we hoped it to be. Elise and I were travelling to Napa to our friend Ashely's home.

Ashley, our bubbly P.R. pro hostess and organizer-slash-group leader was busy showing off her CIA skills for a fancy breakfast as we arrived at her charming duplex.

Our party consisted of Liz, a girl whose stunning beauty that would blind men and women alike and whose clever and slightly juvenile wit would then beguile them. I was then greeted with a drink by Patty, an hourglass slender woman whose quick jocosity belied her sagely nature. Finally I was introduced to Powell, a dapper gentleman whose wine professional eye gave him a unique conception of the world and would educate me throughout the weekend on the finer points of wine tasting.

As we sipped our cocktails (with perfectly chiffonaded mint, natch), Ashely threw together a delicious frittata alongside a delicious potato hash dish with tarragon, bacon, and capers that she just happen to throw together on a whim. We then sat down outside for the plan of the day.

We would drive to Yorkville, a 90 minute venture minus traffic, and arrive at the Ravenridge cottage. We would then turn back and go to the Yorkville Highlands event.

Normally I would have been ill what with the car weaving and winding up the curvy mountain road to the cottage. However, the raw fear of falling over the edge to my death in a four-wheeled, steel trap cage kept my mind off of it.

"We'll be fine, stop worrying," assured Ashley.

"I know. No worries." I hurriedly made a cross over my chest. God and I had been a bit out of touch but now seemed better than ever to quickly get reacquainted. Plus, a little divine protection never hurt anyone.

As we finally pulled to the top of the mountain we looked around at the view, as if the entire valley have been unfolded and laid out for us as a natural diorama for our own eyes. I mean, there was even a family of deer grazing just down the hill.As we gathered our things and went into the cabin we were blown away. A perfect little Parisian cottage out of the French countryside had landed like Dorothy's farmhouse to the top of this mountain in California. You could see the thought and detail carefully planned out, from the dried lavender on the wall, to the colors of the walls, to the kindly laid out tea service in the kitchen.

As we laid our things out all sat down outside to a glass of wine that had been set out for us. As we took in the scenery we toasted our glasses together, the sounds of the clinking glass announcing the start to the day's events.

As we pulled into the parking for the event, I tottered out of the car once again nauseous from Elise and Ashley's insistence of driving windy roads at bomber jet speeds to the music of John Mayer. As I submitted myself to a cap and sunscreen (hate the look, hate the feel) we walked up to the front desk and registered, meeting the proprietors of the event, the Meyer family of the Meyer Family Cellars (who make an out of the world Port).

We met with Matt and Bonny Meyer our hosts for the days festivities, we kindly thanked them for their kindness in inviting us to the event. The Yorkville Highlands Festival is held on the last Saturday of August every year, in which the Yorkville Highlands Grapegrowers and Vitiners Association hosts and puts together. Lots of local wineries come out for tastings, a delicious spread with locally grown food is prepared , and games such as barrel rolling and grape stomping invite people to let their hair down and go a bit crazy.We all began to meander, watching a whole boar roast on a spit, tasting a fine variety of wines, and eating some delicious tasty vittles. As we laid back and enjoyed the sun to the sounds of a wine country band, we all let out our collective sighs, releasing with them the tensions that had been dragging us down with our real life responsibilities. But at the moment the real life was gone, a forgotten memory. There was only now.

-Part 2... coming sooner or later. Special thanks to Elise Bauer who took way better pictures than I did.-

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