You Can't Sissy Scones: Chocolate-Coconut Scones + Fearless Chocolate Review & Giveaway

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

-Scones that use a delightful brand of chocolate.-

I admit that sometimes I'm a baking wuss.

Seriously, I can be such a damn sissy about things that it gets to the point where even I roll my eyes back at myself. When it comes to fluting a pie shell or piping icing I can be a total buttercream drama queen.

Now it's not that I don't mind getting my hands dirty. I garden something fierce these days and I've earned the grit under my nails. I've worked with chocolate and beets until the skin on my hands is stained shades of scarlet and henna so dark you would think I spent my time elbow deep in vats dying textiles under the summer sun.

Still, we all have our particulars. I for one hate making scones.

Personal Religion - Part 2: Blueberry-Apricot Jam

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

-Because some things are easier to sort out than others.-

Hovering over the jamming pot is the place I do my deepest thinking. I make jam the labor intensive, slow way. I cook it on medium heat and stir, stir, stir until my hand begins to shake and, even then, I continue to stir, stir, stir. It ensures that the fruit doesn’t sit and scorch and that it all cooks up perfectly - evenly - every time. All this stir, stir, stirring grants me the time to mull over my thoughts, turning them over like shiny baubles lost long ago in the attic and found once again, and ponder their meaning.

The last time I made jam I discussed my history with religion. It’s rare that I ever give a topic more than a single post - my attention span won’t ever really allow it – but my most recent batch of jam left me to thresh out exactly what my beliefs are. Sure, I was raised to be a good, if not relaxed, Lutheran whose practice has waned like a the shrinking taper of a dinner candle these past many years.

So what is God to me now? I wonder...

Mistaken Identity: Blackberry-Rosewater Sorbet

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

-Make no mistake about the delightfulness of this spring sorbet.-

-Mission Viejo High School, 1999-

I was exhausted. Somehow I had scrounged enough cohesive thought on my most recent Algebra 2 exam and pulled off a B. The class was the bane of my academic life, an inescapable ding against my otherwise 4.0 GPA. I was getting tutored, studying like a maniac, and otherwise trying my best to scrape together good grades. A B was essentially the best I could do and probably used up the rest of my luck for the next few weeks. I was convinced that the class was completely useless in the long run anyways and couldn't understand the purpose of being beaten over the head with the derivative of a cosecant.

(By the way, to any readers out there who are in high school: Unless you plan to go to college for mathematics or engineering, you will never use Algebra 2, Calculus, or Trigonometry. Ever. At most, you will end up using the basics of Geometry and Algebra 1. Just thought I would confirm this ever-present high school complaint for you.)

As I made my way to the quad I spotted my friend, Tiffany. Her back was towards me but I could make out her tan skin, her short but bouncy curls like thick, winding ribbons, and her varsity jacket.

Tiffany and I were friends who had met in marching band. I was the only male flute player in the woodwind section and she one of the color guard girls. We were good friends who spent a lot of time together; she would teach me to spin her color guard flag, sending it soaring high into the air at dizzying speeds. I loved the kaleidoscopic spin of the colors and the pata-pata-pata-pap of the fabric as it fought against the whipping air. I taught her the basics of the flute and helped her with her English homework, and how to best memorize passages from her literature assignments.

Like any friends we also had out own secret set of inside jokes and private rituals. This included phonetically writing out any Japanese word in English, referring to ourselves "Bot Hitches", and me smacking her ass till it felt like a pincushion for her.

The Tiny Gourmand: Apricot-Frangipane Tart

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

-A classic recipe and a new kitten make for an excellent weekend.-

After she bit my finger we realized she had taken on a proper affinity for the name we had given her, our little Zola. Short, of course, for Gorgonzola. We named her because calling her The Kitten for the past week left a bland aftertaste of indifference in our mouths that none of us cared for. The name Zola had given her a sense of character and bequeathed her a piquant chutzpah and certain regality reminiscent of her namesake.

Romantic as I try to make it the name was originally picked out because she smelled outrageously funky when we plucked her stray little self out of the garden like a fuzzy little turnip where she had been hiding under the thick tomatillo canopy. We heard her mewling and lost, separated from her mother and siblings. We quickly went out and carefully - delicately -chased, cornered, and captured her. It was a difficult task considering how tiny and fast she is. She hissed and cried when I picked her up in my Ove-Glove guarded hands. She was scared and terrified of the giants that her missing mother had trained her to fear.

She spent the night wrapped in a warm blanket with a bowl filled to the brim with food and a saucer of water. She seemed to take her sudden imprisonment with quiet fortitude and guarded distrust.

Yet, in less than a day, she softened to us. The next morning I quietly crept into her room. As I cooed to her like a new mother she nervously crawled out from her sheets. She cowered when I reached for her but made no sudden dash. Her hackles were just barely bristled from tension, but she allowed me to pet her. As I stroked her neck and cheek she erupted with purring. It was a soft sound that bellowed from her tiny frame and filled the room. She cradled herself against my chest, looked at me and went to sleep.

-She also enjoys sleeping with Cid.-

The next morning she was dumped into the sink and given her first bath. Scrubbed and soaked she dealt with it with a begrudging quiet like a student being lectured by a teacher he doesn't particularly care for. Though, given her size, it wasn't as if she could escape my hands, which were able to keep her securely in the water. A few minutes later, fluffed dry and fed, she ran into the other room to continue her very full kitten schedule of napping, snuggling, playing, and pooping.

I was smitten with the kitten. Soon, she as well with me. More so with Roommate whom she snuggled mercilessly and whom she cried for whenever he wasn't around.

Her wiles have worked their magic as he has decided to adopt her.

Christ. It's now four cats to three gay men in this apartment. How stereotypical sitcom is that? Punch my pink card because I'm done.

As I type this Zola is attempting to chew my fingers, which is making blogging rather difficult. It makes me miss those first few days of her tepid uncertainty back before she was ricocheting around the apartment with all the vim and vinegar of youth and attempting to devour my hands for another morsel of cheese.

-A perfect sun for a cloudy day.-

Allow me to explain the cheese and finger nipping.

You see, a few hours ago I was nibbling a piece of Parmesan when a small crumb fell to the floor. She instantly pounced on and devoured it out of kittenhood curiosity. (She is, after all, at that stage where kids put everything they find into their mouths.) A swallow and some smacking of the lips and she had had her first accidental taste of human food. Immediately, Zola began frantically scouring the floor for more, hunting furtively like a meth addict searching for a good shard of glass.

I picked her up to comfort and tease her a bit. That was my mistake. My fingers still smelled of cheese. She sniffed them and without any thought chomped down on my fingers with her needlepoint teeth as deep as they would go. She didn’t break skin, but, holy hell, enthusiastic kitten bites hurt. When I yelped she wasn’t even fazed. She smelled the cheese on my breath and lunged for my face licking my lips and greedily sucking up my curdy breath in a purr-heavy frenzy.

You could see it in her eyes, "MORE!" they screamed. "MORE WHATEVER THAT WAS!"

Through the fate of a name and allowing the feline employment of the Five Second Rule I had created a monster. A fuzzy, adorable one that sleeps under your chin and enjoys wrestling an old shoe lace, but a monster nonetheless. A monster with a taste for cheese.

Roommate is understandably concerned.

Zola now seems to be an Eat Beast in training. She follows him around in epic, playful battle. He’s her mountain to climb and his erratic tail her dragon to be vanquished. Eat Beast takes it in stride simply sitting there and only showing protest when she bites his tail a wee bit too hard. He cleans her, takes her to the water dish, and generally looks after her. Still, we’ve made a clear cut policy in this home that she will not be allowed people food ever again.

-How much luck do you really think we're having with that policy?-

Which, you know, is going to be a difficult rule to enforce. She trails after Eat Beast and is taking his unintentional tutoring to heart. When he starts sniffing around a plate of cookies and snatches one away she follows along, takes a bite of his loot, and then decides to go back for a cookie of her own. When he sneaks into the fridge she does the same. She, too, has an unhealthy curiosity for what's under the lid of the butter dish. God help us all.

So, with that, the structured life of our apartment - that of myself, BF, Roommate, and the three cats - was suddenly turned upside down with a rambunctious ten week-old kitten. We couldn’t be happier for it, if not also slightly freaked out since kittens are essentially perpetual motion machines that constantly eat and poop. This one with a particular inclination towards the former.

It’s also not just cheese she seems to crave. She has a taste for apricots, both raw and cooked. Zola is a gourmand in training with a bit more of a discerning palate than Eat Beast. While Eat Beast goes for anything and everything; Zola is a picky, little snob. I can whip out some dime store lunch meat and she won't bat an eye. I roast a duck and sauce it with cherry-balsamic and she's all over me like a hooker on a hundred dollar bill.

-"Soon, little apricots, soon you will be mine."-

So, as we do with Eat Beast, I now put her in the other room when I bake just to keep her out of the way. If I don't she circles the kitchen and has a tendency to get in the way. And, while she still can't jump on the counter, we're trying to instill a sense that even thinking about jumping on on it is a quick way to get hosed down with the spray bottle.

We're also trying to teach her not to try and scale us like a mountain when we eat. I swear, every time I take a meal it's like a race between her and me to see just who is going to eat what's at the business end of my fork. Lucky for me, she's tiny and I'm faster. The bad news is that during our races she has no qualms using her tiny claws to scale up my pant leg and the leg within it.

It's going to take some time to train her. (Dear God, I hope we can train her.)

-Cute and mischievous: A rather evil combination when it comes to kittens, cute people you meet at the bar, and children.-

I do have some hope. She did stay clear for the most part while I crafted together this tart. A simple shortbread crust, frangipane, the first sunny apricots of the season. The fruit was surprisingly ripe in spite of this ridiculously bipolar weather this Spring. Biting into one the juice burst out and ran down my arm onto the floor where Eat Beast and Zola gleefully lapped it up. I lightly lacquered the apricots with a brushing of honey mixed with a bit of rose water before dusting it all with a bit of pistachio to liven up an otherwise homespun treat.

I guess this tart - at least, for me - is a way to celebrate change in life by bringing in something old and familiar. A new kitten, child, job, home... it can all be stressful. These things throw your life into a bit of chaos. Chaos that you revel in, but chaos nonetheless. It's freaky and exciting, and it will make you exhausted. A plain 'ol tart, your favorite cake, or whatever comfort foods you enjoy are ways to mellow things out.

Celebrate the new by ringing it in with the old.

Just be sure that you keep an eye on the new because the second you turn your head it might get sneaky and eat the old.

Apricot-Frangipane Tart
Frangipane recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's, Room for Dessert

For Shortbread Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
2 egg yolks
3 teaspoons ice-cold vanilla extract
1-3 teaspoons ice-cold water

1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. In a bowl whisk together the egg yolks and vanilla extract. Pour into the flour mixture and process for about 5-10 seconds until clumps form. Do not let it form into a ball. You should be able to squeeze the crumbs together rather easily. If they fall apart add a teaspoon of water ad pulse several times. Test again and repeat if necessary.

2. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough 2-3 times to bring it all together. Pat it into the shape of a disc. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for about 20 minutes. Roll the dough out between two pieces of wax paper. (If it cracks, let the dough sit for a few minutes until it softens. Roll the dough into an 11-inch tart plate and press into place.

3. Preheat oven to 375F. Line the unbaked tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dry beans to prevent the crust from bubbling during the prebake. Bake for 20 minutes. The foil should come away easily and not tear the dough (if not, bake for a few more minutes). Bake for 10 more minutes. Allow to cool completely.

For Frangipane
4 ounces almond paste, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature

While the tart shell bakes place almond paste, sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor and process until crumbly and almost sandy. Add the butter and process until smooth. Add the egg and extracts and process until smooth.

For Finishing the Tart
4-6 ripe apricots, cut into quarters lengthwise
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon rose water
pistachios for garnish (optional)

1. Spread the frangipane onto the prebaked tart shell. Arrange the apricots into a circle. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the frangipane is slightly golden and firm. Cool on a wire rack.

2. While it cools heat the honey and rose water in cup in the mixrowave or in a saucepan. Brush onto the apricots, being careful to avoid the crust. Garnish with finely chopped pistachios for garnish is desired.

-Success! Om nom nom!-

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