December 31, 2010

The Year That Was - 2010

For New Year's, we'll be eating black-eyed peas and cabbage, playing our shell game where you draw your fortune for the year, and making wishes on the flying wish paper. I'm on an unbelievable hot streak of getting what I wish for.

This year was wonderful, and I feel very blessed.

Here's my year in cities again. Looking at 2007, 2008, and 2009, I think this list may be my best yet. I traveled through 16 states and visited these cities in 2010:

Salt Lake City, UT
Provo, UT
San Antonio, TX
Windsor, CO
Estes Park, CO
Washington, DC
Canon City, CO
Loveland, CO
Denver, CO
Seattle, WA
(okay, these next 7 were on a cruise ship)
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Ketchikan, AK
Juneau, AK
Skagway, AK
Glacier Bay, AK
College Fjord, AK
Seward, AK
Anchorage, AK
Austin, TX
Portland, ME
Dover, NH
Sharon, VT
Wilmington, VT
Hartford, CT
New Haven, CT
Newport, RI
Cambridge, MA
Boston, MA

Honorable mention to Memphis, Tennessee, whose airport I flew through 6 times. It's unbelievably lame that I haven't blogged about my Alaskan cruise, especially considering that it was the best vacation ever. I need to get on that.

Please leave a comment with your year in cities (Even if you already did it on Facebook, you have to do it again.).

December 23, 2010

The First Fifth Annual Festivus

The annual holiday party at my house is a Festivus party. Some years I even throw a couple of Festivus parties. I held my first ever Festivus party the year I moved into my house. I don't remember now what prompted me to organize that first party, but I really started something - something that gets weirder every year.

The first 5th annual Festivus started with the weird invite
Festivus 2010
for which I drew my inspiration from a truly ugly website, that of Lubbock Power & Light.

On the menu:

Festivus Food
  • Spicy Chicken Sandwiches. Reference to The Jimmy where George starts speaking in third person.
  • Atomic Subs. Sub sandwich with Black Forest Ham and Turkey, Gruyère Cheese, and mustard/raspberry jam spread, toasted. Reference to The Strike where Elaine gives her Atomic Sub punch card to Denim Vest.
Festivus Food
Festivus Food
  • Éclairs. Reference to The Gymnast where George crosses the line between man and bum and eats an éclair out of the trash.
Festivus Food
  • Snickers. Reference to The Pledge Drive where Mr. Pitt starts a trend by eating his Snickers bar with a knife and fork.
Festivus Food
  • Pretzels. Reference to The Alternate Side where Kramer has a line in a Woody Allen film, "These pretzels are making me thirsty!"
  • Eggnog and other snacks.

After the foodage, we got the Festivus Pole out of the crawlspace and had airing of grievances and feats of strength. I tried long and hard to think of the most harmless, ridiculous grievance I could air, so I told Ian that I didn't like how he makes fun of the way I cut cakes (which is totally Wilton approved, by the way!), but it was still awkward. Feats of strength are usually board games, and we played Telestrations, which was very fun!

Re: the food, this was my first attempt at éclairs. I used this recipe for the pâte à choux (my pastry cream and chocolate glaze recipes were pretty similar to the ones on that page, too). The first step in making the pastry is to bring the water, butter, and sugar to a rolling boil on the stove. Of course, I was trying to do too many things at once, and I accidentally bumped the pan of water, butter, and sugar, and spilled it all over the floor. That made quite an oil slick on my floor before the party. Nice! Improving my piping method would prettify my éclairs, but I was pleased with how they turned out.


The second 5th annual Festivus party was a fondue party. Since I can think of no fondue-related Seinfeld jokes besides the double dip, I'll leave it at that and sign out with a Festivus greeting from Jerry Stiller:

December 10, 2010


This has been quite a year of traveling for me, visiting a few cities in Texas, Utah, Colorado, Washington, DC, Seattle, Canada, Alaska, and around Boston and New England. And while I've never been to Memphis, I've flown through the Memphis airport six times this year, courtesy of Delta Airlines.

Have you flown Delta Airlines and tried those Biscoff Cookies they serve as an in-flight snack? They're crispy ginger cookies and they're delicious. I just learned that you can purchase a Biscoff spread, "Europe's alternative to peanut butter," which is made using crushed Biscoff cookies. I read that the spread was good here and here, and of course you can't buy it in Lubbock, so I ordered four jars to start with, intending to give some away at Christmas. I shared some with the family last time they came over for dinner. They liked it so much, that this week I ordered four more jars because I needed more stocking stuffers. I'm hooked on it, too.

Biscoff cookies are from Belgium, where they're known as Speculaas, and they are typically imprinted with a design, as shown here by Martha Stewart. In France, they're called Speculoos, and I tried Dorie's Around My French Table Speculoos recipe tonight. After binging on Biscoff spread for a few days, I was looking forward to tasting Dorie's version of the cookie.

Making the dough was easy. I followed the recipe closely except for using a little more ginger than called for. The dough was rather hard to work with after I rolled it out. I tried different rolling it out to different thicknesses but found I liked the very thin cookies best. Of course, the thin dough was the hardest to cut and transfer to a baking sheet without cracks or prints finding their way into the dough. I tried to get extra fancy and use a speculaas mold rolling pin to imprint shapes on some of the dough, which didn't work so well.


The designs were barely visible after the cookies baked, but they were still pretty good-looking. I guess my rolling pin technique needs some work. As far as taste, I expected them to have a stronger ginger flavor. Next time I will double the ginger, and maybe add some pepper or cayenne, to go for a spicier rather than sweeter cookie.


And speaking of sweets, these cookies are delicious when sandwiched around a layer of another European spread, Nutella.

December 3, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

As much as I consider myself a cake baker and dessert maker, you know what one of my most requested recipes is? Spiced nuts. Seriously, right?!?

I've copied or emailed my recipe to my mom a few times. My sister called and asked for it just before Thanksgiving. The nuts disappear quickly at parties and are always welcome as a hostess gift. And get this, my teenage brother asked for spiced pecans for his Christmas present from me... more than once even! Now that's saying something!

For my recipe, I always use pecans, our family's favorite nut, tossed in egg whites and then a combination of salt, sugar, cumin, cayenne, and paprika. Heavy on the cayenne because we're good Texans.

I don't feel boastful if I say that I've become somewhat expert in the field. I've learned that you should roast the nuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Waxed paper will be a total disaster, and even a Silpat doesn't seem to work as well. Watch the timer and the baking process carefully. The nuts can go from underdone to perfect to burned in a matter of a minute. Let the pecans cool thoroughly before you touch or eat them. The spice coating needs a few moments out of the oven to get nice and set.

I tried a new recipe today from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table for Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts (p. 18). Her base recipe calls for your favorite nut - almonds, cashews, pistachios, or pecans (the latter being the least French of the lot) - or a mix of several. They're spiced with sugar, chili powder, cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne. The spices are interchangeable, too, and she suggests getting creative by using Chinese five-spice powder, curry, cardamom, or herbs.

I thought Dorie's recipe looked very similar to my tried and true one, so I opted to spice it up (har har) by using almonds instead of pecans and some of her alternative spice suggestions. Since I had some Chinese five-spice powder in my cupboard just aching to be used, I pulled it out for this recipe. It took only a few minutes to mix the nuts with the spices and get them in the oven.

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

They came out beautifully. I could certainly taste the anise and fennel from the five-spice powder, which tasted like a mild black licorice and reminded me of the little after-dinner Mukhwas you see at Indian restaurants. The almonds weren't too sweet or salty. I think the only change I'd make for next time is to use a full teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead of only a heavy pinch. I'm a good Texan, after all.

Be prepared to make multiple batches. You'll want to snack on some and have enough left over to share them with friends, and they're highly addictive.

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

November 26, 2010

Come, Ye Thankful People

I am giddy about Thanksgiving. As Ina Garten said, "Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. All I have to do is cook." However, as previously mentioned, I am dictatorial when it comes to planning the menu and assigning entrée responsibilities. I am a little bit like this letter writer... Or maybe a lot like that writer. I'm writing this post for myself and posterity. I always like to look back at pictures and menus from previous holidays and see what we did, what worked, what flopped, etc. I think this year's meal could go down as one of the best.
Roasted Turkey and Gravy
Cornbread Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good
Green Beans
Cranberry Salad
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie

This year I didn't try to get fancy with the turkey. I can't believe that a couple of years ago, I served my turkey with chimichurri instead of gravy. That's sacrilege! I usually rub some butter and spices under the skin. This year was no different, but I used cumin, smoked paprika, and ginger this go-around.

Roasted Turkey

I watched this video a few times to refresh my memory on how to carve a turkey and also because I like New York accents.

Thanksgiving 2010

I would drink that gravy on its own.

Pumpkin Pie

I don't think I've made a pumpkin pie before this one. I like pumpkin, but I usually put it in a cheesecake for Thanksgiving. I haven't had many good pumpkin pies, but this one was a worthy competitor.

Thanksgiving 2010

Nancy got to lick the beaters from the whipped cream. And eat a drumstick the next day.

Nancy Kay Thanksgiving

November 9, 2010

Clean out Your Refrigerator Crème Brûlée

It's only Tuesday, and I've already had a heckuva week, my stress culminating with my freezer/refrigerator dying. I have a bad habit of skipping breakfast and lunch and overeating when I get home. In a desperate attempt to clean out my fridge and freezer, today I had eaten two or three yogurts and a frozen dinner by lunch time. I should invite everyone over for a clean out the fridge feast. Although I'm not sure we want to eat whatever's in the back of my fridge.

Need a way to use your cream and eggs before they go bad?

Crème Brûlée

When life hands you lemons, make Crème Brûlée. Recipe

Update: November 15 is Clean out Your Refrigerator Day. I was ahead of the curve.

November 7, 2010

Boston in the Fall

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."
~ George Eliot
I read that quote on one of my favorite blogs and loved the sentiment so much that I decided to post it here as well. Autumn is all well and good in Lubbock, but I learned firsthand that the season is completely magical in New England.

Leaves' colors changing on the trees - apparently that's a real thing in some parts of the country.

Fall Foliage

Fall Foliage

Fall Foliage

Leaves there fell gently and slowly to the ground one by one, drifting downwards as if they're in control, rather than becoming brown, lifeless projectiles hurled around in a West Texas windstorm.

I never before understood the literary romanticism of cemeteries, but after seeing dozens of overfull burying grounds with headstones from the 1600s embellished with skulls and winged creatures, where witches were once put on trial, where the sun sets early and brightly colored leaves dance in the chilly breezes, I can see how the setting is perfect for a haunting.

Granary Burying Ground

Whilst in Boston, I ate at Ariana, an Afghani restaurant in Allston-Brighton. I tried their Kaddo Bourani appetizer, and it was one of my favorite things I ate during my trip. They took a pumpkin, baked it in sugar, then covered it with yogurt and meat sauce. Since tasting it, I've wanted to find savory pumpkin dishes to make for myself.

Katie tipped me off to a wonderful recipe with which to celebrate fall's bounty and make use of all those pumpkins you purchased to decorate the house for Halloween: Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good. And it's another Dorie Greenspan recipe, this one from Around My French Table.

I was actually able to make the recipe with ingredients I had on hand. Even better. Start with a small pumpkin (around three pounds; don't use the big jack-o-lantern pumpkins), cut the pumpkin top off, and scrape out the seeds and stringy bits. Salt and pepper the inside. Toss bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, chives, and thyme together and fill the pumpkin with the mixture. Pour a mixture of heavy cream and a pinch of nutmeg over the filling.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Top the pumpkin with the cap, and bake at 350° for about two hours. Remove the cap for the last 20 or so minutes. The filling will be lightly browned and the pumpkin skin will be dark and can be easily pierced with a knife.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

The dish can be impressively cut and served at the table. Plate the pumpkin and cut it into wedges, ensuring that each has a good amount of the filling.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

As Dorie said, "Who wouldn't love this?" I'm planning to use this as a Thanksgiving side. Why should the only pumpkin on the Thanksgiving table be in a pie?

October 10, 2010

Baking Extravaganza

The last few weeks were indeed occupied by much baking in Kimberly's kitchen. In a single night the proceeds were tiny blueberry pies, Thick and Chewy Triple-Chocolate Cookies, and Caramel Apple Cheesecake bars. There was also the lemon tart. Another night I made two Pineapple Upside Down Cakes which served as the groom's cake at a wedding.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

On Wednesday night I baked a cake for my annual South Plains Fair entry. This year, I chose to bake a chocolate cake (using the Cook's Illustrated German Chocolate cake recipe) and my favorite chocolate frosting (Ina Garten's recipe).

Chocolate Cake for South Plains Fair

Chocolate Cake for South Plains Fair

I delivered the cake on Thursday morning. Katie went to the fair on Friday and sent me a picture of my chocolate cake in the Best of Show display case. Good news!

South Plains Fair 2010 Culinary Competition

I visited the fair the following Monday to confirm that the win was legitimate and that the photo hadn't been Photoshopped. In what I thought would be a Scandal of Great Proportions, I noticed while scoping out the other entries that the first prized Red Velvet Cake looked very familiar. It looked a little too squat, a little too greasy... yep, it was made by last year's winner.

South Plains Fair 2010 Culinary Competition South Plains Fair 2009

Isn't there a rule about not entering the same type of cake consecutively after winning 1st place? I could have sworn there was, but I couldn't find such a rule in the premium book, so I won't tattle on my competition.

Oh, and after the fair ended, Mom picked up my chocolate cake and fed it to her goats. I must say if I were going to eat a cake that had sat uncovered and unrefrigerated in a un-air conditioned building for 9 days, it would probably be this one.

October 7, 2010

A Pretty Little Tart with a Dirty Little Secret

Since I met Dorie Greenspan this summer, I've made a few of her recipes, and there hasn't been a loser in the bunch. The latest trial was a recipe from her cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours for a lovely lemon tart. (The recipe can be found online in several spots, including here.)

If I'm going to make a dessert without chocolate or peanut butter, I think lemon is my next favorite flavor. I love lemon curds, cakes, glazes, pies, you name it. Flipping through Baking, the recipe titled "The Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart" caught my eye. Dorie wrote that she learned to make this cream from Pierre Hermé, and "it is the ne plus ultra of the lemon world."

The filling starts out like a lemon curd recipe, but the twist is that you pour the curd into a blender and blend in a fair amount of butter, creating a light and creamy texture quite different from your typical curd.

The dirty little secret is just how much butter you add to that curd: 2 full sticks plus 5 tablespoons! It makes the filling akin to a Hollandaise sauce but with sugar. When you consider that the tart crust contains more than a stick of butter already, bringing the total amount of butter in the 9" tart to about a pound, it makes you realize just how special this dessert is.

Lemon Cream Tart

And it is very special. Simple. Delicious. Irresistible. Extraordinary.

July 19, 2010

If This Pan's a Rockin' Don't Come a Knockin'

While visiting Washington, DC, I took the rare opportunity of being near a body of water to eat as much seafood as possible: crab cakes, lobster, and Blue Point Oysters.

Hank's Oyster Bar

I enjoyed it so much that upon my return to landlocked Lubbock, I tried to recreate the lobster roll experience. Step 1: Procure a lobster.

The only way to go is buying a live lobster and boiling it yourself. Apparently the super cheap lobster I'd read about in the northeast ($5/lb lobster) had not made it's way to Lubbock ($17/lb). I wanted to feed lobster rolls to the whole family, so the price made me gulp. I decided to buy one live lobster and a couple of cheaper tails.

So I finished my shopping and drove home with a live, iced-down, lobster in tow. It was a little unnerving. He didn't say much, but I think his styrofoam ride rocked to and fro a couple of times. There was the requisite play time before dinner.

Man vs. Lobster


I put Lobby into the freezer to numb him before cooking. I was glad my brothers-in-law were there, because when the moment of truth came, I was squeamish about dropping a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. The deed was done. Lobby boiled for a few minutes until he turned bright red and started to float.


Into an ice bath, and then Mom and I (mostly Mom) started cracking shells to extract lobster meat. I avoided helping with that arduous task by making homemade mayonnaise, following an Alton Brown recipe.

Alton Brown Mayonnaise Alton Brown Mayonnaise Alton Brown Mayonnaise Lobster Roll

Once the lobster meat was extracted and chopped, it was a cinch to mix it with the homemade mayonnaise and some diced celery. We toasted hot dog buns in butter, filled them with lobster, and plated the lobster rolls alongside a green salad.

Lobster Roll

If not for the high price per pound and time-consuming process of extracting the meat from the lobster, this would be a meal I'd eat regularly! And I guess there's that whole ick factor of boiling a living creature... If that deters you, you might want to try Vegan Lobster (trust me, you want to follow that link).

Watch the video "How To Make Your Own Lobster Roll."

July 18, 2010

The Lova My Life

Scott still enjoys living in the land down under. He tells some great stories in his weekly emails home, but I particularly look forward to hearing what food he's tried during the week. Details are somewhat sketchy, but here are a few things he's talked about:
  • Poly [Polynesian/Islander] food has almost no flavor and it's super starchy. Most islander food is really bland and doesn't have too much flavor, and pepper is not something that you'd find on an islander table haha.

  • We made Tongan chop suey Saturday night which was really good. I'll have to make that and orti (or-tie) when I get home. Lu is my second favorite food after chop suey. Lu is corned beef and coconut milk cooked together in a taro leaf wrapping. We have been eating a lot of pumpkin. I like it. It's got about the same texture as a sweet potato.

  • Beef is always cooked to well done. It instantly sucks all the moisture out of your mouth when you eat it.

  • They have two kinds of cheese here: tasty and light... neither are tasty at all.
Scott also wrote me about a fabulous Pavlova, a traditional Australian dessert (unless you ask a New Zealander, in which case, New Zealand invented them). I remember the first description I read of pavlova said tasting pavlova was like going to the moon with the most beautiful person on Earth, while listening to your favorite band play live as little puppies lick your toes. And still this pavlova didn't fall short of expectations.

Mixed Berry Pavlova

A pavlova is made with egg whites and sugar, baked at a low temperature until the outside is hard and set, while the inside stays gooey like a toasted marshmallow. The taste is over the top sweet! I served mine with whipped cream, berries, and raspberry sauce.

Mixed Berry Pavlova

Recipe from Ina Garten.

Mixed Berry Pavlova

July 1, 2010

The Time I Met Dorie Greenspan

I was in Washington, DC at the end of June for the American Library Association annual conference. It's funny how you can spot a librarian in a crowd. There were definitely some interesting fashion choices on parade. My fashion tastes are always impeccable, of course. My cardigan always matches my sneakers and grocery tote bag.

The ALA conference is huge. This year's attendance was over 26,000. There were some relatively famous names there: Toni Morrison spoke at one of the general sessions, and Marlo Thomas, Amy Sedaris, Natalie Merchant, and Fergie (as in the Duchess of York), not even counting library stars like Nancy Pearl, were also there.

There was a "What's Cooking @ ALA?" demo in the exhibits area. Dorie Greenspan was one of the presenters. I've been a fan of Dorie's for a few years. I was on a big NPR kick (okay, still ongoing), and I heard her relate baking tips and recipes on Kitchen Window and All Things Considered. I started following baking blogs and found an entire blogger group dedicated to Dorie recipes, Tuesdays with Dorie, wherein dozens of bakers make the weekly Dorie recipe and blog about it.

At ALA, I attended Dorie's demo with my friend Shelley. Dorie showed the small audience how to make salmon rillettes, a recipe from her new cookbook, Around My French Table. I'll post her recipe here as soon as I find the little recipe card she handed out. If memory serves, her recipe was very similar to this one by David Lebovitz: Salmon Spread Recipe: Salmon Rillettes. I tried a sample and it was quite tasty. Very buttery!

She told a few stories about cooking and living in France. She said people often ask her if she is a cook or a baker. She explained her answer, "Both," the way I often do. With cooking you can improvise and really experiment, but with baking, you have to be meticulous in measuring and using called-for ingredients. Be precise and don't adjust the recipe until you know it well. Cooking and baking are very different. That's why it's fun to do both and not limit yourself to one or the other. She told a story about how she always keeps a tiny plastic tub of fleur de sal in her purse. She was a joy to watch.

Dorie Greenspan Cooking for a bunch of crazy librarians

After the demo, she took questions from the audience. Someone asked Dorie about her recipe for gougères. Shelley turned to me and asked, "What are gougères?"

I said something like, "They're light and puffy - like cream puffs without the cream and with cheese."

Dorie started giving advice about making the recipe correctly, then she stopped and said, "Oh wait! If you don't know gougères are, they're light and puffy - like cream puffs without the cream and with cheese," or something that was basically word for word what I had just said. Shelley and I looked at each other and laughed, and I patted myself on the back.

After the demo, people formed a line to meet Dorie and get her autograph. As Shelley and I stood in line, I tried to think of a question to ask Dorie, or something I could say or a compliment I could give so that I wouldn't sound like a complete idiot. I actually started to get a little nervous about it.

Shelley was in front of me in the line and got to meet her first. She said, "We live in Lubbock and sometimes it's hard to get out of the ordinary ingredients in local stores. Where do you recommend we order from?" Dang, what a good question!

Dorie suggested that people that live in God-forsaken places buy food from Amazon, Penzey's, and Kalustyan's. At that point I piped up, "I love Kalustyan's! That's the first place I go when I go to New York! I have to buy their peppercorns and cinnamon!"

She said, "Isn't it wonderful? You are a good cook if you go to Kalustyan's."

Dorie told me I was a good cook?!?

We chatted for another moment and then I asked if I could get my picture taken with her.

In the Kitchen with Dorie and Kimberly

Dorie invited me to visit her in Paris. Well, she invited everyone at the demo... I have decided to accept. How glamorous that would be! Cooking with Dorie, who's baked with Julia Child and dozens of other cooking legends... in Paris!

As we left the demo, Shelley spotted a poster advertising a book that was certainly more like my status quo:

This is my life.

June 22, 2010

Best of Both Worlds

I consider myself somewhat of an expert on German Chocolate Cake, which may or may not be the case, but I did have my own throwdown between Bobby Flay's recipe and the Best of Show Cook's Illustrated recipe. If you recall, it was a split decision.

So for Katie's birthday cake, I decided to try combining my favorite parts of each recipe into one hands-down winner.

German Chocolate Cake

I used the Cook's Illustrated recipe for the cake itself, but for the filling, I used Bobby's cajeta filling recipe. That cajeta is so delicious that I like to eat it by itself. I've also served it atop chocolate or vanilla ice cream. When I started making this batch of cajeta, I accidentally let the caramel base get too dark. Knowing it would make the cajeta bitter, I decided to make a fresh batch, but I drizzled designs on wax paper with the burnt caramel to make some decor for the cake plate. Um, ye-ah, that kind of worked, but not really.

I also made Bobby's coconut whipped cream and some ganache. The change I made was serving both on the side. Bobby's recipe instructs you to put ganache and toasted coconut and pecans on top of the cake. The ganache topping drew some complaints last time, so I put all those elements on the side of the cake plate so people could control the chocolate distribution.

German Chocolate Cake

I thought the result was a winner. This was one of the best cakes I've ever eaten.

June 21, 2010

Happy Birthday

Remember when I became an aunt?

Nancy Kay, 6 months

Now that baby is six months old and I can't believe it. Now I completely understand about everyone thinking their baby is the best, because Nancy Kay has all of us wrapped around her little finger. Katie is only just beginning to feed Nancy solid foods, but I secretly started sneaking her tastes of ice cream weeks ago.

Nancy Kay, 6 months

Nancy is already cooking with me. That is, I hold her while I'm flipping pancakes or eggs or chicken or whatever, and she supervises expertly. I'm determined that this kid will grow up with excellent food taste. No children's menus for her, with boring chicken nuggets or pizza. Isn't that what raising kids is all about? Teaching them to be just as wonderful as you are.