May 21, 2008

Tart it up

People will make the most bizarre and awful comments sometimes. I know I try my best.

The latest ones I've heard directed at me are something like: "When are you getting married?" "How do you feel about your younger sister getting married before you?" Blah blah... I smile wanly.

There was one Sunday night from an older gentleman: "I hear news about you," he said to me with a coy smile. I know this means he wants the dish on my love life.

I returned the coy smile and said, "Yes, I'm still around."

"I hear there's a social life." I expect this means that, thank goodness, I'm not sitting at home on the weekends crying into my ice cream any longer because I caught a man. But I'll take it as a "Congratulations, I'm so happy for you." Not that being in a relationship makes your social life more interesting. Isn't that the point of being in a relationship? You see the same person every time you go out. Not my definition of a swinging social life.

Then more of the "race your sister to the altar" talk came up. I'm going to start replying to that with "I'm waiting for the perfect man." Not that I'd be his type.

The lovely comment I got today concerned what a ridiculous idea it is for me to make Katie and Porter's wedding cake.

So tonight, I'm building fruit tarts with a vengeance.

Fruit Tartlet

Fruit TartletKatie and Porter know that I will put all my effort into making a gorgeous and tasty cake. My plan is to bait guests at the reception by standing near the cake and accosting them with, "Oh man, do you see how that cake is leaning?" "Whoa, that cake is so dry!" and "That cake looks homemade."

Good times.

Singled Out

Some people are making a big deal out of the fact that we have a woman and a black man running for president as if they're of substandard stock and had to overcome a disability. Fortunately, there are not many social groups remaining that are implicitly or explicitly ostracized. Some of the groups that I can think of are rednecks, poor people, religious wackos, and single (unmarried) people, because you could make the argument that I qualify for inclusion in all those groups. Of those groups, I'd say the least likely to produce a US president from its membership is the unmarried crowd.

MSN Encarta says that James Buchanan, the 15th U.S. president, is the only unmarried man ever to be elected president. Buchanan was engaged to be married once; however, his fiancée died suddenly after breaking off the engagement, and he remained a bachelor all his life.

Imagine the media circus that would surround a single president today:
    "Up next on Entertainment Tonight, is the president making eyes at the ambassador from Cordova?"

    The chicks on The View carping, "Is the president wearing that off-the-shoulder number because she's meeting with the Elbonian leader today?"

    Ann Curry reading the news that the president kissed the trade secretary hello.

    National Enquirer headlines: "Which secret service agent gave the president the code name 'Hot Lips'?" alongside "Boy trapped in refrigerator eats own foot!"
As it is, this is my stance this year, hopefully minus the bad grammar:

May 17, 2008

Fusion Cuisine

Yesterday at the grocery store, I ran into one of my favorite couples, John and Sarah, who introduced me to Chet. I was shopping for last night's dinner ingredients, so we started talking about what we were each making for dinner. They asked me what I was making, and I hesitated a bit. As usual, I had cooked up a harebrained scheme, and I was a little embarrassed to reply with everything I had planned. Probably what is more embarrassing than reciting an overambitious menu is handing over a typed, printed menu and shopping list. They said, "What's the occasion?" I should have said that we eat weird stuff like this all the time.
Roasted Red Pepper Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Basil Pesto

Grilled Beef Filet
Seared Scallops with Pancetta over Avocado and Wasabi
Roasted Corn Salsa

Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream
Chipotle Chocolate Sauce
Spicy Peanut Brittle

Fusion Cuisine

Dinner and a movie suggestion: El Laberinto del Fauno / Pan's Labyrinth.

May 12, 2008

Opinion Piece

Details on the Jenna Bush Hager wedding that took place this weekend are limited. I just want to know the specs on the wedding cake. Looks like tall cake layers with white buttercream frosting spread in broad vertical strokes, atop a floral base, decorated with a few flowers on each tier. I wonder what flavor the cake and filling were. What think ye? I think the cake has a beautiful simplicity.

(Does anyone else think Henry looks a little like a young George Bush in this photo?)

May 11, 2008

Mudder's Day

In my opinion, Mother's Day is a great foodie holiday. It's a great chance to spoil your mother with a homemade meal or take her out for a nice brunch or buy (or make) chocolates for her. Dads are fine with a slab of meat thrown on the grill - how barbaric! - but moms need something more refined, with subtle flavor notes echoing through various courses. It may be the day for something dainty, like a quiche, which Dad claims is women food, or chocolate-dipped fruit, or Eggs Benedict, which has been one of our regular Mother's Day entrées. Since Eggs Benedict moved to a Christmas tradition, I got to be more creative with the menu:
Mother's Day Menu:
Romaine Salad with Vinaigrette
Rosemary Focaccia
Roast Turkey Breast with Orange and Rosemary
Orange Glazed Carrots
Roasted Red Potatoes
Spring Flower Cake

Roast Turkey Breast with Orange and Rosemary

Roast Turkey Breast with Orange and Rosemary
recipe from Cook's Illustrated
Serves 8 to 10

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 whole turkey breast (6 to 7 pounds), bone-in and skin-on
1 cup water, plus more if needed

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Trim turkey of excess fat and pat dry with paper towels. Mix butter, garlic, rosemary, orange zest, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper in medium bowl with rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. Carefully separate turkey skin from meat over breast; avoid breaking skin.

2. Work butter mixture under skin on both sides of breast and rub skin of turkey to evenly distribute butter over breast. Spray V-rack with nonstick cooking spray and set inside large roasting pan. Place turkey in rack with skin side facing up; pour water into roasting pan.

3. Roast turkey for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Continue to roast turkey until thickest part of breast registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 1 hour longer. Transfer turkey to carving board and let rest for 20 minutes. Carve and serve.

Spring Flower CakeI'll have to keep that recipe around for Thanksgiving. Everyone also liked the Rosemary Focaccia, even though the recipe cheats and calls for refrigerated pizza dough. I secretly hate it when people compliment my cooking when I use shortcuts, because it makes me wonder why I usually spend my time mincing, chopping, and otherwise making meals from scratch. The Spring Flower Cake is from the Martha Stewart Living March 2008 issue. It is a vanilla-flavored bundt cake, which is glazed with an orange syrup. It's served with a honey mousse and crystallized edible flowers.

I know you think your mom is the best, but I say my mom is the best, and I'm never wrong.

Mother's Day

May 10, 2008

Chèvre Chocolate Truffles

Goat Cheese Chocolate Truffles

Goat Cheese Chocolate Truffles

Gourmet | October 1993

Makes about 25 truffles.
6 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) fresh goat cheese
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted, for coating the truffles
In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the chocolate, stirring until it is smooth, remove the bowl from the pan, and let the chocolate cool slightly. In a bowl whisk together the goat cheese, the confectioners' sugar, the vanilla, and the lemon extract until the mixture is light and fluffy, whisk in the chocolate until the mixture is combined well, and chill the mixture, covered, for 1 hour, or until it is firm. Form heaping teaspoons of the mixture into balls and roll the balls in the cocoa powder. Chill the truffles on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper for 30 minutes, or until they are firm. The truffles keep in an airtight container, chilled, for 3 days.

I used Callebaut 60% bittersweet chocolate and a small round of plain Haute Goat Creamery cheese. It's easier to (carefully) melt the chocolate in the microwave, heating and stirring it at 30-second intervals. I left out the lemon extract. For dusting the truffles, I used Dutch-process cocoa instead of unsweetened, and I added some cinnamon and chipotle powder to the cocoa. On a second batch I tried adding Kahlua before shaping and those truffles were delicious. It was also easier to incorporate the cheese and chocolate with a spatula instead of a whisk, since the mixture tends to get stuck in the whisk loops. There are dozens of ways to customize this recipe to your liking. Suggestions: use a flavored cheese, like fig, orange, or jalapeño, instead of plain. Change the ratio of cheese to chocolate and/or adjust powdered sugar to taste. Experiment with liqueurs, e.g., add Kahlua and roll the truffles in espresso powder; add Frangelico and roll them in toasted hazelnuts; add Kirsch and chopped dried cherries; add coconut extract or coconut rum and roll them in coconut.

May 5, 2008


It's been a long weekend for me, punctuated by my piano students' recital and another term paper to write with the consequent soul-sucking boredom and isolation. Unfortunately, the only cooking I've done in over a week could hardly be called that. I made "Popeye Pancakes" on Thursday morning for breakfast. It's a recipe that I got from my boss, and it's not something I ever ate growing up. The recipe drew the name "Popeye" not because it contains spinach, but because it puffs up in the oven during cooking. Its popular aliases are "Dutch Baby," "German Pancake," and "Hootenanny." It's simple and quick. Although I have made this one from memory a few times, with unintentionally modified quantities and methods, it always turns out pretty well. My recipe seems to be scaled up from the more common skillet-size version.

Popeye Pancakes
Serves 6

1 stick of butter
1 1/3 c. milk
1 1/3 c. flour
8 eggs
pinch salt
powdered sugar
fresh fruit

Preheat oven to 400º. Melt butter in 9x13" pan in preheating oven. Combine milk, flour, and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the melted butter and mix again. Pour the batter into the greased pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Sprinkle pancake generously with powdered sugar and serve with fruit or syrup. It's best served immediately, while still inflated like my ego, before it becomes as dense as my personality.

Search the flickr pages for "dutch baby," and you'll not only find pictures of pancakes, but also actual Dutch babies. This one's even in front of a flock of tulips, which, you know, doesn't perpetuate any cultural stereotypes.

May 3, 2008

That Stinks

We went to the Shilin Night Market in Taipei near our hotel one night. There were all kinds of bizarre foods there and lots of drink stands, too. Everything was fried up, or cooked in a wok or on a griddle. In addition to the Xue Hua Bing, there was jumbo fried chicken which was bigger than your face. I saw a sign advertising frog eggs.

One of the more interesting things that I ate at the night market was chou dofu, or stinky tofu. Not to insult your intelligence, but as the name implies, it stinks. It truly smells like the sewer. It has an immediately recognizable odor that we came upon many times during our visit. It's one of those foods that you simply must try if you visit Taiwan. There are food vendors alongside the city streets hawking it, and you can smell their fry stands half a mile away.

The variety I tried was fried and served with cabbage and a spicy condiment, but there are other cooking and serving methods used as well. I loved it. You ask, "How could something that smells like death taste good?" I guess it's comparable to a stinky cheese. I enjoy eating some rather pungent cheeses, like bleu cheese, for example. While you wouldn't want your house to smell like it, it tastes darn good on a salad or a side of beef. The trick is to get the people around you to eat odorous foods with you, so they can't carp about your bad breath.

Other stuff that stinks: social networking sites and people who talk on their cell phones endlessly in public. "Yeah, the plane just landed. Yeah, now we're at the gate. Uh huh. Yeah, I'm getting my bags. No, we're still just standing in line. Oh, uh, I'm walking now." Get a life. And don't tell me about it.*

*spoken by someone with a blog, it smacks of hypocrisy