Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cooking Class

Jordan shows us how to plate our crudo
It may not have escaped your attention that I love to bake. Cooking, however, I leave to my husband most of the time, as he's developed a passion for it over the past few years. So as his birthday loomed closer and closer and I had no idea what present to give him, I finally came up with the idea of going to a cooking class.

As usual, I turned to the wisdom of the Internet and found a few local chefs that had one-time classes within our budget. And after weighing a plethora of reviews, menu choices, and schedule, I decided on Jordan Schachter's class through Jordan's Kitchen. Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen someone with so many 5-star ratings on Yelp. Plus, his 4-course menus looked amazing, like something we'd be fairly likely to cook again, and the reviews talked about how down-to-earth and practical his teaching methods were. Sounded perfect.

The hubby was thrilled when I told him about his present, and even though I felt a little like I was gifting myself at the same time, I had decided to go along. This way we could enjoy an evening together, as well as being able to both learn from the class and cull our experiences when back in our own kitchen. See, I may not cook very often, but it doesn't mean I can't. My more common role these days is chief taster and feedback-giver for the hubby's creations. But I'm also good for helping him pair flavors, seasonings, and leading him away from less edible experiments.

We (impatiently) waited the few weeks until the class, re-reading the menu and trying not to drool in anticipation. We would be making four courses over four hours:
- King Salmon crudo, quick pickled cucumbers, radishes and black sesame
- Sweet chilled corn soup with wild shrimp and chive flowers
- Chicken thighs with housemade BBQ sauce, summer squash and goat cheese gratin
- Baked peaches in Riesling with mint, blueberries and whipped crème fraiche

Friday, May 27, 2011

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)

When I first heard the acronym CSA, I thought someone was talking about accounting. But it's actually something much more interesting - Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, it's a group that works with local farms to offer you fresh produce, and sometimes meat and dairy items as well.

CSAs are something a friend of mine in Seattle introduced me to, and then I really got interested in when my sisters started an email conversation about them in the Bay Area. I'd heard a lot of great things about the freshness of the produce, but what they didn't like was not knowing what they were getting every time, and consistently getting uncommon produce that they didn't know how to cook, or didn't necessarily like.

So when I looked around at options that served our little beach town, I was very excited to find a company that offered you the ability to choose what you wanted every week by filling out the order form online. Perfect. I get to change my mind every week, and I get to do it online. It didn't take much to convince my cooking hobbyist husband that we wanted fresh produce every week, so we signed up for the trial of 4 weeks. That was 4 months ago.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Challah Bread

Urged by the frequent audible daydreams by the hubby about making challah bread french toast, I decided to look some recipes up online. I haven't made bread since I was a kid, but I hoped that some of those recessed memories would come back and aid me in my baking exploit. I've talked before about how my mom went through quite a bread-making phase, which lasted a wonderful few years. There's just nothing like walking into a house filled with the aroma of fresh-baked bread.

I remember helping her a few times with the loaves of white, egg, and wheat bread. And one Christmas we went crazy, making loaves of egg bread shaped like round teddy bears for all my teachers. We paired that with our homemade strawberry jam from our summer adventure of picking our own strawberries at a farm in Watsonville. Let me tell you, with a family of 6, we came home with quite the haul - 52 pounds of strawberries! And that doesn't include the raspberries and olallieberries we picked that same day. Good thing we had an extra deep freeze to hold it all.

I decided that the teddy bear loaves were probably pretty similar to challah (also seen as hallah), so if I could do it as a kid, I should be able to do it now by myself. So I found a recipe that looked good, stocked the pantry cabinets (oh, to have a real pantry!), and hoped some baking muscle memory would emerge as I went through the recipe. After a second trip to the grocery store to purchase the yeast I had forgotten the first time, I was ready to go.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lemon Bars

My older sister's favorite dessert growing up was lemon bars. Personally I thought they were tasty, but could take them or leave them. That is, until a few years ago, when the hubby brought home some lemon bars from a co-worker, calling them the best he'd ever tasted, and how lucky I was that they made it home for me to try (before eating them all himself).

And he was right. They were the best lemon bars I'd ever tasted. And of course, I then demanded politely requested that he get the recipe so I could try making them myself.

Turns out that the recipe is a classic Betty Crocker, and apparently has gotten mixed results from others trying it. That only made me more determined that I would conquer this recipe and claim it for my own! Considering I had never actually made lemon bars (that was always my sister's job), I convinced myself not to be intimidated and to rely on my innate baking skills to pull through.

And now a few years and many experimental batches later, I share my findings with you. Because I've seen enough bad-cooks TV shows to know that not everyone knows how to get perfect results from a slightly nebulous recipe (that probably seemed very straightforward in the time of home-ec classes and daily home cooking). First let's start with the recipe.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Meringue Mushrooms

My three sisters and I are all creative, which makes it fun to see what we all come up with - especially around the holidays.

My oldest sister has 3 kids, and apparently last week was bake-sale week. So she needed some good ideas.


In browsing some of the cookbooks handed down from our mom, she found a recipe for meringue mushrooms and knew she had to try them. I think the results are pretty darn adorable. Didn't she do a great job? They're about 2-3 inches tall each.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Origami Bunny Favor Boxes

The instant I saw these posted at How About Orange, I knew I had to make some. Easter isn't the biggest holiday for me, but I do love me some bunnies and chicks. Combine that with origami and little candy holders, and I'm sold. I had to make two big ones and two little ones, and I'm prepared to make a bunch as candy holders for Easter at my sister's house. You know, if she pulls my arm and demands it. Bunny army, here I come!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee, Revisited

I posted this on my Cuppa Fog Blog last year, but with this gorgeous weather we've been having the past few days in the Bay Area, I feel the need to revisit it.

Iced coffee can be hit or miss. I'm very particular about my coffee, as many of you know. So coming across this recipe for cold-brewed iced coffee was exciting for me. Any time I brewed it hot and then tried to chill it, it came out tasting bitter and, well, just gross. This technique allows all the lovely flavor of the beans to stay in the coffee, so you don't have that problem. Plus, brewing it as a concentrate means that you can add as much water or milk as you want, or use it for other tasty frozen treats, like popsicles or granita. And it stays good for up to 2 weeks in the fridge (not that mine lasts that long).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Banana Bread

A friend of ours was moving this week, and I wanted to bake something that said "Happy New Home" for when I stopped by to visit. I had already shared the bacon chocolate chip cookies and truffles with her, so I needed something else. Immediately I thought of my mom's banana bread.

There's nothing like baking on a cold, stormy day. And banana bread is especially great because it's so crazy quick to throw together, gets rid of some over-ripe bananas along the way (usually some I've thrown in the fridge or freezer that look nasty and brown, but are perfect for this recipe), and it makes the whole house smell amazing.

Batter ready to go into the oven!
That's actually the exact association I have with this banana bread - throwing the door open after school on a cold, rainy day, and having the warmth of the house and the aroma of banana bread envelope me immediately. You better believe those raincoats and galoshes were thrown off into a heap in the corner in a hurry! That's happiness - biting into a warm, moist, buttery, thick slice of banana bread. And let me just say this now - banana bread is not meant to be sliced thin. You need a good, thick piece to sink your teeth into. And definitely err on the side of under-baking instead of over-baking, because no one wants dried-out, crumbly banana bread - unless you've never had anything different, in which case, make this recipe and then see if you're not a convert.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bacon Chocolate Musings and Feedback

After having lived with the bacon chocolate treats for a week, let me just give a little feedback on them. First off, they both turned out quite tasty, but extremely rich. And as much as I love bacon, I think I probably would not make either the cookies or the truffles with the bacon in them very often. The hubby agreed with this. It's just almost too rich to enjoy (I said almost!). That said, I would certainly consider using the bacon fat without the added bacon pieces. It added a depth of flavor to both the cookie and the truffle, that you just don't get with butter. Let me clarify a little on that, too. I used half butter and half bacon fat on the cookies, and I would keep that ratio or even a smidge more butter than bacon fat if you don't want a little bacon flavor in the cookies.

All the truffle versions had the bacon bits in them, and the ganache was made with the bacon bits cooked in the heavy whipping cream (cooked in the same pan the bacon was cooked in, in fact). That mixture on its own, by the way, was ridiculously rich and amazing. I could have that over pasta and die (of a heart attack, most likely) a happy woman. I would happily do the bacon fat in the ganache again, and I spoke last time of how much I loved the added depth of the bacon fat in the melted dipping chocolate. But the bacon bits I would probably leave out unless I really wanted that bacon flavor again.

And a general note, I chopped up the bacon before I pan-cooked it, and it was quite difficult to get the pieces small enough. I should have gone back after the cooking and chopped the pieces up finer. I also might try baking the bacon next time, as I should still get plenty of fat, but perhaps a little more even crisp throughout the meaty and fatty areas of the bacon itself.

I am happy to have tried out the bacon and chocolate desserts, but even more I'm happy about what I learned about truffles and cooking with bacon fat. I'm curious to hear what you all think, whether you're creating these yourself, or just imbibing them!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bacon Chocolate Truffles

Trio of Truffles
So I mentioned truffles in my last post. Yes, I was crazy enough to attempt two desserts for Valentine's Day. The truffles didn't quite get finished that night due to needing time to chill, form into balls, and cover. But the cookies went over very well, so all was well.

I had never made truffles before, and as much as they sound fancy and intimidating, I found in my internet research that the recipes looked exceptionally simple. There was even one on the back of the Ghirardelli chocolate bag (we all know much I love those recipes!), and I thought I missing the other half of the recipe, it was so short. So I chose two favorites - a more simple one from Vanilla Garlic, and a more complex one from Two Sisters.

Let me say that all truffles are essentially the same - a heated cream that is then poured over chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips), mixed until smooth and chilled, and magically becomes the tasty treat called ganache. The details are in what gets added to the ganache, and how you finish the rolled balls (sprinkles, dipping, rolling). So it would be very easy to add just a key ingredient into the ganache or choose a variety of toppings to easily get a variety of these guys to match any mood or time of year. The other thing is that you can change the type of chocolate for the ganache, and add variety that way too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

The hubby and I don't like to give in to the commercialism that has become Valentine's Day, so instead we try to show each other love throughout the year. I like to bake a little something for the hubby as well, and he has been known to bring me home flowers on V-Day - but he's also good about surprising me with flowers throughout the year, which I love.

Army of Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies
The past few years I've done chocolate chip pan cookies in a heart-shaped pan I inherited from my mom (we used to use them growing up for Valentine's Day, and I like the tradition). But I wanted something a little different this year, and a friend happened to mention something about adding bacon into chocolate chip cookies. Yes, brilliant, I'll do that!

A brief caveat: if you're not into the whole bacon + chocolate/sweet thing, these are probably not the cookie for you. It's delicious to me, but I understand not everyone's palate appreciates it. (As the hubby puts it, "you got your chocolate in my peanut butter! Well you got your peanut butter on my chocolate!" And if you don't get that reference, you obviously didn't see Reese's commercials in the 80's.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Peppermint Simple Syrup

I got it into my head for Christmas that I wanted to make a peppermint syrup to give as presents to my friends and family. Perhaps it was the lure of the season, or just the desire to use up some of those candy canes I still had around, but I soon found myself searching for cute little glass bottles in which to package the sticky pink prettiness.

OK, I didn't actually buy the bottles until after I'd found some recipes and discovered how quick and easy it was. So, after a little trolling around the web, I culled a few super-simple (pun maybe partly intended!) recipes and got to work.

First off, realize that simple syrup is just sugar water - lots of coffee shops have it with the condiments so that you can sweeten cold drinks without worrying about the sugar not dissolving. But once you've made the simple syrup, you can add whatever flavoring you want. So you can choose whatever flavor matches your mood.


Over the holidays, I got the crafting and baking bug. It's something that I've always been prone to, but this year, - for multiple reasons - it hit me hard.

I decided that I wanted to share ideas and recipes and projects, but I didn't feel that those posts would fit with my other blog, Cuppa Fog. So I've created a new place, where I can post about my dabbles into so-called domestic duties like sewing and cooking.

If you're wondering where the "dubious" part comes in, well, I would never label myself as domestic. I hate cleaning and laundry and dishes and all that stuff. But the fun "domestic" stuff like crafting and baking - well I can get behind that!

So wherever you've joined me from, welcome! And if things here inspire or helps out someone else, then that'll make me happy. At the very least it'll be a place I can stow some recipes and crafting ideas! (And hopefully I can get a better blog design set up soon.)