December 31, 2011

The Year That Was - 2011

I ended the year with a hangover-free club soda taste test. I've gotta give up this party-girl lifestyle. Next year.

The contenders were Canada Dry, Seagram's, Schweppes, White Rock, and Food Club (store brand). My favorite was Seagram's.

Here's my year in cities. Not too extensive on domestic travel, but the Paris+Belgium trip was unforgettable.

San Diego, California
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Mountain Pine, Arkansas
Austin, Texas (in April and November)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Houston, Texas
Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Paris, France
Brussels, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium
Damme, Belgium
Antwerp, Belgium
Amarillo, Texas

This year stacks up pretty well compared to previous years: 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. Wish list for 2012: Australia, Chicago, Hawaii.

What's on your 2011 list?

This was a fat and happy year for me. Life just keeps getting better. Cheers to a fantastic 2012!

December 12, 2011

Fish Sauce

Yesterday, I ate Brussels sprouts for lunch. Brussels sprouts with fish sauce on them. That was an interesting way of combining two reviled foods into one dish.

Have you ever tasted fish sauce by itself? The Red Boat Fish Sauce I had was bright red and beautiful. I couldn't resist tasting a swig, because when you looked at it, you thought, now that's going to taste really great!
Here's the thing, you're not supposed to eat fish sauce by itself. The appearance makes you want to pour yourself a glass, but that would be like drinking Worcestershire or soy sauce. Fish sauce is made from fermented anchovies. The Vietnamese name for fish sauce translates to salted fish water. Upon tasting it, you'll recognize the flavor from sauces and curries.

I adapted this David Chang (of Momofuku) recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts. I tossed the sprouts with some olive oil and roasted them at 425º for about 25 minutes. I mixed fish sauce, water, sugar, garlic, cayenne, and Chinese Five-Spice powder and tossed the sprouts in that. I added a little bacon, just because.

The dish was good and just screamed Thai/Southeast Asian. After using that fish sauce, my house smells like Thai Pepper, which was unusual since I don't cook many ethnic foods at home.

Final verdict: If you have picky eaters who say they don't like Brussels sprouts, this is probably not the recipe that will convert them. I think I'll save the fish sauce for a curry, and I'll stick to a more traditional roasted Brussels sprouts recipe like the Barefoot Contessa's, which I could eat twice a week. Fish sauce is good for cooking, not for drinking.

November 23, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving approaching, many of us contemplate the myriad blessings in our lives, but my mind turns to the most important part of Thanksgiving, the food. This year I'm bringing Roasted Turkey and Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, and Pumpkin Cheesecake to the table.

So far, I've cleaned my kitchen, thawed a turkey, and prepared the mirepoix for the turkey roasting pan.

When I wake up, I'll rub the bird down with melted butter, salt, pepper, cumin, ginger, and perhaps some other herbs and spices before it goes in the oven. I like to wing it. Get it? Then I'll get the gravy going.

I'm excited about this pumpkin cheesecake. It's cooling down now.

If there's any baking that makes me quake in my boots, it's baking cheesecakes in a water bath. Water always manages to seep into my springform pans, no matter what precautions I take. Double wrapping the pan with heavy duty foil doesn't seem to prevent leaks. We'll see if I fared better this time.

Also on this Thanksgiving Eve, Mom suggested that we start a tradition of watching On Moonlight Bay (starring Doris Day and Gordon McRae) the night before Thanksgiving because of the funny turkey scene. But the scene is actually in the movie's sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, which we didn't have. We watched On Moonlight Bay anyway, and still enjoyed it. Here's the Thanksgiving scene from By the Light of the Silvery Moon:

We all have to go sometime.

November 14, 2011

Salmon Rillettes

It seems like these days you can't turn around without finding me talking about another Dorie Greenspan recipe. And this post is no different. I can't help it. Truly. The more Dorie recipes I make, and the more Dorie cookbooks and writing I read, and the more I think about how wonderfully friendly she was when I met her, the more I like her. I have quite a growing collection of her cookbooks -
Here's a lovely recipe from Around My French Table for Salmon Rillettes.

Salmon Rillettes

The recipe combines fresh and smoked salmon with a little bit of spice and a good bit of butter to form a spread that is fantastic on crackers or baguette slices. Here's a video of Dorie demonstrating how to make it:

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It's very nice at dinner alongside a salad...

Salmon Rillettes

...and fits just as well at a party buffet. Nice that you can make it ahead, too!

I planned to make some for a party I hosted this weekend, but I ran out of time and put this on my table instead!

Equally festive, right?

November 8, 2011

Chocolate Rules

I'm all about the recipe contests now. Not that I've entered any since the Callebaut chocolate recipe contest, but now I believe half the battle is just showing up.

Here's a contest that I think we should all enter: Elevate a classic dessert with Scharffen Berger Chocolate. Take a familiar recipe and give it a new spin by adding Scharffen Berger chocolate. The grand prize is $10,000.

I started crafting a list of rules for what makes a good recipe. This is for myself when I'm searching for recipes or, I suppose, for when I'm creating one. You can often tell by simply reading the list of a recipe's ingredients whether you should even bother with it. Here are a few of my rules for dessert recipes:
  • No Cool Whip or "frozen whipped topping." Just no.
  • Also no instant pudding mix.
  • Ingredients should be listed in the order in which they'll be used.
  • Should include a good photo (that doesn't use flash).
  • I'm turned off anytime a recipe calls for melting chocolate chips. Chocolate chips have additives to help them retain their shape. Buy chocolate and chop it.
  • Related: Chocolate should be listed by weight, not volume. "1/2 cup" of chocolate doesn't tell me anything, but "4 ounces" of chocolate, I can work with.
  • You get much more chocolate flavor if you use melted chocolate and not cocoa powder alone.
  • Be suspicious of margarine and shortening.
  • Reading reviewer comments is very helpful, but take reviews with a grain of salt. Look for clues to indicate whether the person has skills or not. Reviewers may rate a recipe very low but give themselves away by saying they prefer frosting out of can. Ought oh! We know you can't cook and we're questioning your taste.
Sure, you can ignore those rules, but chances are that the recipe will be closer to good than to amazing, and if you're going to the trouble of making a homemade dessert, why not aim for excellence? Or pick up something good at the supermarket instead?

Individual Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Sauce

Any inspiration or ideas for the chocolate contest? Any recipe rules you stick to?

November 7, 2011

Can a PB&J sandwich be snobby?

(I don't want to abandon this blog, so I'm going to try writing shorter, more frequent posts. We'll see how that goes.)

Today for lunch I am eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That might not sound appealing but I judged it to be one of the better sack lunches I've eaten. Here's why:

The peanut butter I used was Cream Nut Natural Peanut Butter from Koeze. Koeze makes old-fashioned peanut butter (just Virginia peanuts and salt) and has been since 1925.

The "jelly" is Wild Blackberry & Elderflower Conserve from American Spoon. They describe their preserves as "Spoon Preserves" because they're more suited to spooning than spreading with a knife. Their preserves certainly have more pieces of whole fruit than any other I've tried. It makes me think that their farmers are skipping up and down beside wild blackberry patches, plucking berries off the bushes to fill their handbaskets, while singing in four-part harmony. In the kitchen, they "prepare fruits by hand and cook them in small copper kettle batches." The fruit doesn't seem mashed or over-sweetened in the slightest.

The bread is a multigrain loaf from a local CSA, charitably donated to me. Thanks, Mom! And my beverage of choice is 33 cl of Perrier. I developed a little addiction to the eaux minérales gazeuses in Europe last month.

And yes, I use the same knife for the peanut butter as I do for the jelly. Do you?

July 30, 2011

New Orleans: My First Meal and What Was Almost My Last Meal

I landed in New Orleans at just about supper time on a Friday evening. I rode a shuttle bus full of librarians from Kenner to downtown New Orleans. The ride was pretty interesting, since the driver kept pointing out sites we were passing, like levees, above-ground cemeteries, the Superdome, and "neutral ground." In New Orleans, they don't call the medians in the center of the street medians, they're neutral ground because in early New Orleans the French and Spanish could do business by meeting in the "neutral ground" between each group's side of the street. We passed Magazine Street where the Mardi Gras parades pass. We arrived at the New Orleans Convention Center, which is a mile long! And before Katrina, there were plans to expand it to a two-mile long building!

I met up with my friends and we freshened up at our hotel, the Iberville Suites, then walked a very short distance to the Acme Oyster House, on Iberville and Bourbon. There was already a line out the door, but it moved quickly. It's difficult to describe the smell outside, which wasn't pleasant in the least, certainly not what you want to smell before dinner. The smell wasn't from the restaurant; I attribute it to the drunks staggering around Bourbon.

Acme Oyster House

Before we were even seated and had menus, I knew what I wanted - oysters, of course! I got half a dozen oysters on the half shell and half a dozen chargrilled oysters.

Acme Oyster House

The chargrilled oysters came off the grill topped with butter and cheese. Honestly, I preferred the raw variety.

Acme Oyster House

I also got a bowl of red beans and rice for good measure. I can eat a dozen oysters as an appetizer, so I needed something else. Red beans and rice is one of my favorite Creole dishes.

Acme Oyster House

My first meal in New Orleans was very good, but not quite a home run. For breakfast on Sunday morning, I walked from my hotel around the French Quarter and ended up at Croissant d'Or. Getting in was the hardest part. The building looked to have two entrances, but the first door I tried was locked; only the "ladies' entrance" was open. I don't know why or when the separate entrances originated. I wolfed down an almond croissant before taking any photos. There were very pretty stained glass windows along the wall I sat next to. Eating right beside a foot didn't diminish my appetite in the least.

Croissant d'Or Patisserie Croissant d'Or Patisserie Croissant d'Or Croissant d'Or Patisserie

That night, my friends and I decided to try to get into Green Goddess for dinner. I don't remember when the torrential downpour started, but since it seemed to rain around 8 pm every night in New Orleans, I'm guessing it was around that time. We were almost soaked by the time we reached Green Goddess, and though they didn't take reservations (a rarity in New Orleans where the best restaurants practically require them), there was a long wait and no room in the tiny restaurant for three dripping wet travelers. The hostess suggested we try across the street at the Pelican Club.

We entered the Pelican Club, which looked rather snooty, and that made me feel awkward about the puddles forming around me as I stood inside the doorway. Shoes squeaking, we walked to our table. I opted for escargot as an appetizer.

Pelican Club

The snails came baked with a mushroom duxelle and puff pastry. I foolishly popped a boiling hot bite in my mouth. It was one of those situations where as soon as the food is in your mouth, you know it's much too hot to chew, but then you're in a social situation that prevents you from aborting the operation to spit it out. So I severely burned every taste bud on my tongue. My situation did not improve throughout the meal. My next course was the trio of duckling: leg confit, pan-seared breast, and Asian BBQ duck with Louisiana citrus and cranberry sauce (which inexplicably came with blueberries), with green beans and corn on the side.

Pelican Club

Despite a track record of eating successfully for many years, I had another dining mishap with the duck. I took a bite of the medium rare duck breast and chewed and chewed, but the meat seemed to be so soft and cooked so rare that I made no headway chewing it into smaller pieces. After making what I thought was a sufficient attempt, I swallowed the bite of duck, but it felt like a ball of fat in my throat where it lodged. I started coughing and choking loudly. Not my brightest moment. I held my linen napkin to my mouth and pondered my options while continuing to cough. Could I run to the bathroom before passing out? I imagined myself being sent home to my parents in a pine box after choking on undercooked duck. How embarrassing.

Somehow the bite of duck came unstuck and continued on its way, and I was able to finish the meal without further incident. Needless to say, the Pelican Club was not a positive dining experience.

Nobody wants to hear about mediocre food, but the tales are about to get much better. I promise.

July 21, 2011

Why New Orleans Matters

On the plane to New Orleans last month, my in-flight reading was Why New Orleans Matters, by Tom Piazza. The author writes about how he visited New Orleans, fell in love with the city, and decided to make it his home, going into great detail about what makes New Orleans a special place, very different from anywhere else in the U.S.

I felt the same way about New Orleans. Besides The Crescent City and The Big Easy, New Orleans is also known as The City that Care Forgot because its residents are so easy-going and carefree. Everyone I met and talked to was incredibly nice and welcoming and people smiled and talked to you on the street. There's a laissez-faire attitude about everything. I decided to adopt their ways and I found myself saying hello to everyone and talking to anyone I stood next to for more than a moment. Typically I would have been irritated by the hot, hot, sticky weather and the constant stream of sweat running down my face, but I decided to go with it. So what if my bangs were stuck to my forehead and my face was beaded with sweat? Everyone else was suffering the same effects.

I walked on Canal Street every day to get to my hotel. It didn't look too different from other big city's main streets, except for the Canal Streetcar running through the center and the Voodoo Marts at periodic intervals. The statue of the A Confederacy of Dunces character Ignatius J Reilly was in front of my hotel -

Ignatius J Reilly statue

- where there used to be a DH Holmes department store.

There were streets with names like Tchoupitoulas and Carondelet. (Bourbon Street, too, but it's dumb.) Lubbock has a lot of things going for it, but one thing it doesn't have is beautiful architecture and it's not walkable in the least. In the French Quarter, I must have walked up and down Royal Street a dozen times. On Royal there were dozens of lovely old French-style homes that are now storefronts or are still old homes. They were painted in bright colors and adorned with hanging flower pots.

French Quarter

The Quarter is centered around Jackson Square, named after Andrew Jackson way back in 1814. The Pontalba Apartments bordering the square are oldest continuously rented apartments in the States. The Louisiana State Museum/Cabildo by the square was where the Louisiana Purchase documents were signed in 1803. The St Louis Cathedral in the square was built in the 1700s.

St Louis Cathedral

Something about this last photo captures the magic of the Quarter for me. The charming building's yellow walls, blue shutters, and red railings. The gas lamp. The address! 1114 1/2! The young lady walking and carrying her art to sell on the street.

French Quarter

And the food, oh my, the food! I definitely ate some of the best food of my life there. Twenty-four hours of dining I'll probably never top was a lunch at August, my dinner at Cochon, and breakfast the next day at Brennan's. I almost ate my last meal at The Pelican Club. More to come on all of that.

The last day I was in New Orleans, I had an airport shuttle to catch, but I missed it because I took too long of a ride through the Garden District on the St Charles Streetcar. I had such a fantastic time, I was reluctant to leave. If you haven't visited before, New Orleans is a must see. And now, on to the foodie stories!

July 19, 2011

Double Chocolate Raspberry Tart

A million thanks to my favorite chocolate brand, Callebaut Chocolate, for the amazing prize and for all of their generosity! I can't wait to visit the factory in Belgium. Below are sections of the press release and the recipe.

This delectable tart, created by Kimberly Vardeman of Lubbock, Texas, won the grand prize in the Callebaut Chocolate Recipe Contest. As the grand-prize winner, Kimberly will receive a trip for 2 to Brussels where she will be treated to a tour of the Callebaut Chocolate Factory and a pastry class at the their Chocolate Academy.

The Callebaut contest is designed to give amateur chefs from across the country a chance to put their culinary skills to the test by submitting their favorite recipe that involves the use of Callebaut Belgian Chocolate.

Callebaut chocolate is the world's leading manufacturer of high quality cocoa and chocolate products. Callebaut chocolate was once only available to professional chefs but it is now available to non-professionals food enthusiasts through specialty food markets and fine grocers throughout the United States.

The winning Double Chocolate Raspberry Tart features a homemade chocolate crust filled with a rich combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet Callebaut chocolate. The dessert is then finished with fresh raspberries and whipped cream. All of the entries were judged on sensory appeal, creativity, presentation, and clarity of recipe. Here's the winning recipe:

Chocolate Raspberry Tart

Double Chocolate Raspberry Tart
Grand Prize Winner of Callebaut Chocolate Recipe Contest
by Kimberly Vardeman

Servings: 12
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
1 extra-large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Callebaut cocoa powder
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, diced
6 oz. semisweet Callebaut chocolate
6 oz. bittersweet Callebaut chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur
Crust: Combine egg yolk and cream in a small bowl. Place flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt in bowl of food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Scatter pieces of butter over flour mixture. Process in one-second pulses until butter is incorporated. While processor is running, pour egg mixture through feed tube. Process until moistened, about 30 seconds. Turn the dough into a 9 1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Gently press dough into an even layer against the bottom and sides of pan. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spray and set inside pan, against the crust. Freeze for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 375° F. Place tart pan on baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and bake for 5-8 minutes or until crust is set. Allow to cool.

Filling: Chop the chocolate. Place chocolate, butter, and salt in a large, heatproof mixing bowl. Bring heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour heavy cream over chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes to melt chocolate. Add raspberry liqueur. Gently stir until combined. Pour mixture into cooled tart crust and smooth top with an offset spatula. Chill tart in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Before serving, allow tart to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Serve with whipped cream and fresh raspberries.

More information about Callebaut chocolate and mouth-watering recipes can be found at

July 15, 2011

Callebaut Chocolate Recipe Contest

Back in November, Auntie sent me a tip about the Callebaut Chocolate Recipe Contest, a contest "designed to give amateur chefs from across the country a chance to put their chocolate skills to the test for the chance to win a trip for 2 to the Callebaut Chocolate Factory in Belgium!" A trip for 2 to Belgium?!? There were also multiple runner-up prizes of $500 or $250, plus a year's supply of chocolate. I hadn't entered a recipe contest before, but since Callebaut is my favorite chocolate, and chocolate is my favorite ingredient, and traveling is my favorite pastime, this sounded like a contest I could get excited about!

I mulled on possible recipes for awhile. Mostly I thought about entering a truffle recipe, such as my recipe for chocolate goat cheese truffles. I made another batch of the goat cheese truffles and decided that they weren't as good as I remembered. Perhaps I could create a blue cheese chocolate truffle? I knew my go-to standard truffle recipe (not created by me) would be hard to adapt and make my own since good truffles don't have too many ingredients, and I couldn't improve upon perfection.

I pondered doing a chocolate tart, after making some delicious Dorie Greenspan tarts of late. By then it was March and the contest deadline was April 30, and I settled on entering a chocolate tart recipe.

Surely I'm not the only baker who prepares to enter a recipe contest by creating an Excel spreadsheet to compare results. My first tart trial went okay. The filling was pretty good but the crust was way off - turned out hard instead of crumbly like shortbread pastry should be. I tried again with a new crust and got really good results, but the filling wasn't perfected yet according to my trusty co-worker taste-testers. For the third trial, I added a little salt and some raspberry liqueur to the tart filling, and I thought we had a winner.

The day of the contest deadline (I know! Last minute!) I made the final tart, so I could take some pictures to enter with the recipe. I asked my friends to vote on a recipe title and the best photograph. Then I submitted the recipe via the online form. And then...nothing except waiting. The contest rules gave a date when the winner would be announced. That day came and went, and I decided I hadn't won anything, but I checked the contest website occasionally, waiting for an announcement of the winning recipe.

Then one Friday afternoon while I was in my office, my cell phone rang and the number calling was one I didn't recognize. I went ahead and answered, then I got a long spiel of an introduction from someone whom I still didn't recognize. I was probably curt with my responses. At the point when I thought it must be a sales call and began to lose patience, I heard something about "Callebaut chocolate recipe contest..." at which point my ears perked up and I instantly became more courteous.

The lady on the phone said, "I need to confirm that you're Kimberly, and that your recipe is the Double Chocolate Recipe Tart."

"Yes, that's right," I answered sweetly.

"I have some good news."

My heart started beating faster. At least I won something! "Alright..."

"Are you sitting down?"

Ooh, I won something good! I responded with a nervous chuckle and "I am."

She continued, "You've been selected as the grand prize winner of the contest. They were very happy with your recipe..." I listened in shock as she detailed the prize - a trip for 2 to Belgium, a tour of the Callebaut Chocolate Factory, a Callebaut Chocolate Academy pastry class, spending money, plus a year’s supply of chocolate!

We talked for a few more moments about sundries, could they use my name in a press release?, paperwork to sign and return, etc. After that call ended, I don't know how anyone could be expected to focus on work. The feeling of butterflies in my stomach lasted for days. I felt like I had won a sweepstakes on the Price Is Right.

I called to tell my family first. Katie asked if that was better than winning Best of Show for my cake at the South Plains Fair. Just a little bit, of course. Just the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me.

Chocolate Raspberry Tart

July 7, 2011

The Summer of Kimberly

I was riding on a wave of general "happy" after a great but busy April. Then May came along and then school was out, so that changed my work life quite a bit. With the kids students being gone, I hoped I might be able to breathe a little easier and work fewer hours. I wanted to use my leisure time wisely, and I didn't want to stop riding the happy wave.

I decided to make this the Summer of Kimberly, inspired by (what else?) a Seinfeld episode, The Summer of George. George gets a 3-month severance package from the Yankees and decides to do something with his summer, like actually read a book. "Time to taste the fruits and let the juices drip down my chin. I proclaim this The Summer of George!" It's better if you just watch the clip.

Sure, it sounds self-absorbed, but hopefully I'd be inspired to do worthwhile things for a change. I decided I, too, might actually read a book... or more than one. I wanted to volunteer more. I wanted to entertain more. I wanted to plant flowers. I wanted to visit people I haven't seen in awhile. I wanted to make a difference to someone.

I launched my endeavor by volunteering at the Texas Tech Museum at a six-hour workshop for kids on digital photography. (By the way, the Museum hosts great free programs for kids and adults: That weekend I read A Confederacy of Dunces and loved it. The main character Ignatius J. Reilly's sloth and sloppiness was hilarious in the story, but it made me reexamine my life and house, and a little reorganization definitely fit into my summer plans. The book was set in New Orleans, and reading about life in the Crescent City also prompted me to schedule a trip to New Orleans at the end of June.

The Rapture on May 21 didn't interfere with The Summer of Kimberly! Time marched on, and I did plant some flowers. I did meet up with people I hadn't seen in awhile. I hosted a brunch at my house. We had scrambled eggs and ham in puff pastry and honey panna cotta. Some of the coolest women I know came over. I threw a Summer of Kimberly party because one Seinfeld-themed party per year just wasn't enough. We had Baked Alaska for dessert and so I got to pull out the torch to brown the meringue.

I found some dang good ice cream: Ben & Jerry’s Clusterfluff. It's like a fluffernutter plus caramel in ice cream form. I may or may not have eaten this stuff for dinner a couple of times this summer. I know, I know, perhaps the Summer of Kimberly should involve a little less gluttony. Maybe next summer.

Ben & Jerry's Clusterfluff
Photo by the Impulsive Buy

And the most exciting news of the summer is so exciting that it merits a separate post... Until then, life is good. Really good.

July 4, 2011

Red, White, and Blue Pavlova

Patriotic Pavlova

Patriotic Pavlova

1 cup egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
2 cups heavy cream
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved
1 pint blueberries

Preheat the oven to 175°F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a half sheet pan. Use a 9x13 inch baking pan as a guide to trace a rectangle on the paper. Don't even think about trying to free hand this one.

Mix the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer on high speed for 1 minute. With the mixer still running, slowly add 2 cups of sugar. Then add cornstarch, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and continue beating until smooth and glossy, a few minutes more.

Pile the meringue on the parchment paper inside the rectangle and smooth it to an even height. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, prop the oven door open, and let the pavlova cool in the oven for one hour. The meringue will crack and there's nothing you can do about it.

When pavlova is cool, whip the cream, 2 tablespoons sugar, and vanilla to soft peaks. Spread the top of the pavlova with whipped cream. Arrange the blueberries and strawberries patriotically. Don an American flag pin for the occasion. Give the pavlova a light dusting of powdered sugar. Serve immediately in large scoops.

June 19, 2011

Father's Day, Animal Style

A couple of weeks ago, my fantastic friends Ian and Shelley had me over to their house to make In-N-Out Double-Double, Animal-Style Burgers. The double-double has two patties and two slices of cheese, and animal style means that instead of an onion slice, you get a schmear of chopped onions caramelized to jelly texture, pickles, and the beef patties are topped with mustard before they're fried.

Even though In-N-Out finally came to Texas, I hadn't had an In-N-Out burger since 2007 in Las Vegas, and I hadn't eaten a California In-N-Out burger since the early 1990s. Wow, I'm getting old! But we followed a very scientific approach to recreate the burgers, spending hours caramelizing the onions, making a homemade sauce, weighing the beef and forming the patties, and so forth. I'm not sure if it was because I know how much love went into those burgers or because I had gotten hungry waiting to taste the final product, but those hamburgers were fantastic! No way can the In-N-Out burger be better than this homemade one.

Later that evening and the next couple of days, I still couldn't get the burger out of my mind. So I decided we needed to make them at my house for Father's Day.

I got up early Sunday morning and chopped onions, four big ones to be exact. I think I'm building up my resistance to onions. It used to be when I chopped onions that I cried like I'd just broken up with my first boyfriend. Now I cry like the old spinster I am, two tears and "I'll find another guy, er, onion." The chopped onions need to cook for a couple of hours to get the nice caramelization that you want. I should have started with a smaller dice and cooked the onions a little more slowly. They cooked down to a fraction of their original size as they should, but the texture was not quite right. Later that morning, I was standing by Katie and she said, "You smell like onions." Oops. Didn't have a chance to wash the onion scent out of my hair before church.

Father's Day Hamburgers Father's Day Hamburgers
Father's Day Hamburgers Father's Day Hamburgers

Next I made the special burger sauce with mayonnaise, ketchup, sweet relish, vinegar, and sugar. I formed the patties in the afternoon not long before we were going to eat. As for the beef, this part is important, you must use very fatty chuck steak. The guide we followed suggested the equivalent of 60/40 lean to fat. I asked them to grind it for me at United. Another important part of the process is to use a good old cast iron pan to grill on. At Ian and Shelley's and on Father's Day, we used a well-seasoned 10" Wagner Ware skillet that worked beautifully. I can't remember exactly how I inherited that piece, but thank you, thank you to my benefactor.

Place the patties in the skillet, and then squeeze a teaspoon or two of mustard on top. After you flip them, top patties with a slice of that old favorite, yellow American cheese, which bubbles and melts superbly.

Father's Day Hamburgers

The dads at the table got triple-triple burgers instead of double-double. We had fries and vanilla malts on the side, so this meal was not to be taken lightly!

Father's Day Hamburgers

After dinner, I think everyone except for Nancy and me took a nap. Nancy and I were playing and dancing to music. I said the beef made me strong. I don't know what happened to those others who were beaten by the beef.

Recipe here.

June 11, 2011

Boston Cream Pie, No, Cake!

I bugged Katie to tell me what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday party. She perused one of my cake cookbooks, Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, and chose Boston Cream Pie.

Boston Cream Pie and the famous Parker House rolls were invented at the Parker House Hotel in Boston, which has a plaque by their front door declaring it the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States. I passed it on the street last fall when I visited Boston.

Parker House Hotel

Here's the thing about Boston Cream Pie - it isn't a pie at all. This made for some funny conversations on the phone with Mom when we were talking about party plans.

Mom: So do you want to bring the pie out to my house to serve?
Kimberly: You mean the cake?
Mom: Oh, I thought you were making a pie.
Kimberly: No, I'm making a cake. A Boston Cream Pie.
Mom: So you are making a pie?
Kimberly: No, a cake.

Katie Birthday 2011

This particular version of the Boston Cream Pie had three layers of vanilla chiffon cake with vanilla custard filling, topped by a thick bittersweet chocolate ganache. Chiffon cake is somewhat similar to angel food cake, but it uses oil and egg yolks so it is more moist than angel food.

For dinner, we met at Abuelo's where Nancy hit the salsa pretty hard all night.

Katie Birthday 2011

Then back to my house for birthday cake/pie.

Katie Birthday 2011

The cake was pretty good. I think the chiffon cake recipe needs some tweaks. It was a little too dry. And the best part of a cream pie is the cream, so the custard to cake ratio needs to be increased. The chocolate was a tad too bitter for my taste. I think everyone liked it pretty well. Nancy had no problems diving in.

Katie Birthday 2011

I love living so close to my family. One of my favorite things to do is spend time with Katie and her little family. I couldn't ask for better siblings. I love them so much. As we've all gotten older, I'm most glad that we've become the best of friends. Happy birthday, Katie!

Happy Birthday

May 17, 2011

My New Favorite Restaurant

I wrote about my new favorite dessert, so why not continue the theme of superlatives and talk about my new favorite restaurant?

I went to Austin for a week in April - a week that was full of culinary delights. Perhaps there are bad restaurants in Austin, but I never find them. The highlight of my food explorations was Uchi, which serves "modern Japanese fare" - sushi, if that's not disparaging it. I dined with my favorite foodie friends, and we tried a variety of things on the menu. Each dish was presented exquisitely, and the waitstaff was extremely courteous and helpful in explaining what the dishes were and giving recommendations.

The first plate brought to the table was the Brie Ringo Tempura, fried Brie with apple chutney and crisps.

Uchi Sushi

Right off the bat, I knew we were in for a treat. I am a huge fan of Brie. Frying it as they did gave it a crispy shell, which when bitten into, had a crunch that gave way to liquified Brie. It paired perfectly with the sweet apples. We also tried some Tempura Japanese Pumpkin. It came with a side of broth for dipping and was so fantastic that we ordered a second round.

Next we had the Maguro Sashimi and goat cheese with cracked pepper, fuji apple and pumpkin seed oil.

Uchi Sushi

The chef, Tyson Cole, uses a lot of apples in his dishes. I love apples, so you won't get any complaints from me. As with the Brie, the goat cheese balanced the apples perfectly. I'm no expert on sashimi, but this tuna was fantastic. The pumpkin oil provided a nice undertone to everything.

We tried several sushi rolls. As you guessed, all were sensational. The Mustang roll - fresh water eel, avocado, yellow tail, and golden flying fish roe - was probably my favorite. I always look for eel on sushi menus. Yum! The Hakujin - fresh salmon and grilled asparagus, rolled in warm tempura flakes - was also very good. The Spider - soft­shell crab, flying fish roe, english cucumber and white soybean paper - was my least favorite, because I don't like soft shell crab.

The Zero Sen - yellow tail with avocado, crispy shal­lots, yuzu kosho, golden roe and cilantro - was my favorite roll after the Mustang.

Uchi Sushi

Avocado works so well in sushi rolls. I wonder if the Japanese have really adopted it or if that's a Southwest/American phenomenon.

Another aspect of Uchi that made our night fantastic was the ambiance of the restaurant. The décor was eye-catching without being distracting. Lots of gorgeous wallpaper and lights, the latter creating bands of light across our faces and making us look like film noir stars.

Uchi Sushi

I read the menu umpteen times, trying to decide between the multitude of choices. They have a daily menu, so I doubt that even the regulars ever make it through all the dishes.

Perhaps you're like me and have incredibly low expectations for desserts at Asian restaurants. Actually, I would definitely say that I have low expectations for desserts at most restaurants period. Most of them are on par with frozen grocery store desserts. The desserts at Uchi are not of that variety. I can assure you that their desserts are as well-executed as the dinner courses.

We tried three desserts: Jizake Crème Caramel with Brown Butter Sorbet & Ginger Consommé, Lemon Gelato with Sicilian Pistachios and White Balsamic, and the Peanut Butter Semi Freddo with Apple-Miso Sorbet & Ringo Crisps.

Uchi Sushi

In a single dish, the peanut butter semi-freddo showcased everything that Uchi does well: beautiful presentation, interesting textures, flavor combinations that test your powers of deduction to ascertain their source... I don't remember the last time I dined and had the same reaction to a dish that I did with the apple-miso sorbet. My first reaction was that I really liked it. Then I kept trying to decide what gave the sorbet the underlying salty and savory flavor. The stuff was addictive. We re-read the menu which reminded us that the sorbet had apples and miso. The miso tickled our Umami sense and effected pleasant surprise. Desserts are so much better when they incorporate other sensations in addition to sweetness.

I was very excited when it was announced a few weeks after we ate at Uchi that Tyson Cole won the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southwest 2011. I suppose you have to be a true food nerd to care about the James Beard awards, since no one seemed to know what they were when I talked about them, but they've been called the Oscars of the food world.

A very well-deserved win for Mr. Cole. I can't wait to visit Uchi again.

See pictures of everything we ate: Uchi Photo Set.

May 10, 2011

My New Favorite Dessert

Pavlovas are my new favorite dessert. They're a cinch to whip up - though they have to bake for awhile. You can top them with whatever fruits you want. They use leftover egg whites. No butter or oil, so they're low fat (not low calorie, but still). Win-win-win.

Pavlova with Fruit

I've found a couple of good recipes. This Gale Gand recipe takes less cooking time. Ina Garten's recipe takes longer in the oven, but the result is a creamier white than Gale's recipe. I decided that my favorite method is to use Ina's recipe, but sub 1 tablespoon of raspberry vinegar for the teaspoon of white wine vinegar called for.

Extraordinary Desserts

The outside of the pavlova develops a crisp shell in the oven, but the inside is gooey and sweet like a toasted marshmallow. When served with a slightly tart fruit like raspberries or kiwis, the combination is just perfect!

Mixed Berry Pavlova

April 6, 2011

No-Bake Cookie Cake

A dear friend and coworker had a birthday this week, and so I wanted to make a birthday dessert for her. I pressed her for details on what her favorite birthday cake was as a child. She told me that her mom always made her no-bake cookies. "She thought she was giving me something halfway nutritious, since they have peanut butter and oatmeal."

I got this wacky idea to make a no-bake cookie cake for her. I admit that I was inspired by a news story I read about Prince William's groom's cake, Prince William chooses wedding cake made of cookies.

I decided to make No Bake Cookie batter and then press it into round cake pans. I selected this Chocolate Peanut-Butter No Bake Cookie recipe and made three batches. I lined 8", 6", and 4" cake pans (one of each size) with parchment paper and sprayed the sides with Pam. I poured/spread the batter into the pans, pressing down on it to fill the whole pan evenly and even out the top. After the layers set, I stacked them and put Reese's cups and birthday candles on top of the layers.

No Bake Cookie Cake

The cake was a hit. Certainly one of the easiest birthday cakes I've ever made. The next day I spotted a recipe for the Royal No-Bake Cake - Chocolate Biscuit Cake. Make one at home to try if you're like me and your invite to the Royal Wedding got lost in the mail.