Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cheese and Wine Pairing? Wine Not?!

I will not apologize for the pun. It is hilarious, darn it!

In keeping with my last post's theme, I thought I'd share an interesting website I stumbled upon via Pinterest. If you click on the picture, it'll take you to a website with advice for pairing wine not only with cheese, but with meats, chocolates, and even entire meals!


Side note... What is up with that black cheese? I'm assuming it's a rind?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Wine, Olives, Vinegar, Love

Lavender, cypress, and grapes
This past weekend, I went to Paso Robles for a wedding. The wedding was beautiful; the ceremony was in a wine cellar, which, besides being beautiful and cool in the 104° weather, had the bonus of no cell phone reception, and therefore no interruption.

But weddings only take a few hours! So what did we (Boyf's family + friend family + me) do with the rest of our weekend?

Why, we went wine, olive oil, and vinegar tasting, of course!


In the past year or two, I must admit I've become a bit of a wino. Just a bit! Now, I'm not picky and I'm not snobby, but I know when to appreciate a good glass, and I try to pair chicken and fish with whites and beef and chocolate with reds. I try to keep track of the wines I do and don't love (I use this app when I remember), and I am the proud owner of a really cool wine bottle opener that my dad bought for me.

We actually stayed in a house attached to the Stanger Vineyards Tasting Room.
Wine tasting was very convenient.
But olive oil and vinegar? That love goes back much, much further. It is deeper, more true. I will always love wine, but I always have loved oil and vinegar.

Baby olives!
The first oil/vinegar tasting we did was at Olivas de Oro, which not only lets you try oils and vinegars, but also has an array of tasty flavored salts (that I vaguely regret not purchasing), goat cheese, lamb (we got to meet the sheepies that would eventually end up in their freezer. The babies were new and cute.), and the juiciest olives I've ever eaten.


The very best part, however, was the Pacific Spice Vinegar. "Our Pacific Spice Vinegar starts with fresh kiwis, ginger, citrus, peppers, and herbs locally grown on neighboring farms." Does that sound amazing? Because let me tell you, it is. I tried each oil and vinegar once or twice, with the exception of this one. This one, I tried about 16 times. I tried it in combination with some of the oils. I tried it with bread. I tried it on a spoon. I made everyone try it more, because it is fresh and it's got a kick and it's quite possibly the most delicious thing I have ever consumed. And because I am on a stupid budget, I did not buy it.

Fast forward to a few days later, when Boyf and I were celebrating our anniversary. I gave him the copy of Foundation that he's been talking about for weeks, and he reached into his bag and pulled this out:

Please excuse the insta-filters;
I am too excited about this to  properly stage a picture.
Cue lights shining down from the heaven. Cue angelic harmonies filling the air. Cue my excitement! And then my confusion.

"How did you buy it? We were there together!"

He shrugged. A light bulb appeared above my head.

"Oh! You got someone else to buy it for you, didn't you?" I asked, thinking I was so sneaky and clever.

He laughed. "Nope!" The light bulb turned off.

...Apparently, I was so busy playing with my camera that when he said, "I'll be right back, I have to go to the bathroom," and came back with a bag, I failed to notice. Surprise!

Other highlights from Paso Robles included trying a red wine from 2002 (incredible), talking to an old couple from Florida who now run their own olive orchard and oil business (very interesting), and eating brie on toast instead of a proper lunch (sounds fancier than it felt; I ate it standing at the kitchen counter).

What a beautiful place. Wine, oil, and vinegar tasting is best paired with love. Love that Boyf & I celebrated with gifts of books and food. Love of friends to spend time with. Love of family and feeling accepted within one. And love of a newly married couple, off to create their own stories. Hopefully those stories include lots of delicious food.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Macaron Atlas


I’ve got a new job… a new place to live… a new commute (I get to ride the train every single day!)… and some new kitchen skills and tools!

Now, I know I’ve been neglecting you. I will not make excuses. I will not make promises. I shall merely acknowledge my absence and move on. I hope you’ll do the same, because today I want to share with you that I have conquered a shadowy beast.

Those white and brown flecks on top are powdered sugar and cocoa powder and entirely intentional.
This was probably my biggest kitchen challenge to date. I always read about how difficult it is to make these perfect little cookies, and they’re always just a bit on the expensive side. Add that to the fact that they are somewhat magical to me (I fell in love with them while in France and bought them multiple times a day), and you shouldn’t be surprised that I was scared to take these on.

Macarons.

This lone vanilla/chocolate macaron may think he's special... but he's just the first to be eaten.
The beautiful, delicate, multi-colored treats that look like they’re from a fairy tale, made of colors and clouds. They melt in your mouth. They are sandwiches of frosting. And yet, beneath that light, fluffy exterior, is a past full of complications and so many failures.

Something else I was intimidated by lately was picked up a book I received this past Christmas: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. I don’t know if you saw the previews for the 2012 movie (or if you saw it, as I have not), but it all looked terribly confusing and interestingly star-studded. All I’d heard about the book was that it is confusing, a bit slow, and very strange.

Finally, I picked it up… and got lost in a sea that tossed with real-feeling characters and reincarnation and time and society and forgiveness… and it was incredible and it was infuriating and I am so, so glad I sailed my ship through those unclear waters. I can’t even tell you what it all really means, but if you want to think and pay attention, and if you are patient and hopeful, and if you are open-minded about that oh-so-limiting concept of “genre”, then pick it up. Take a journey. Take notes (seriously).

These orange/vanilla macarons were made on a very humid day... hence the cracking and hollow interiors.
And snack on some of these beautiful cloud cookies while you’re at it!
Seriously. Can you even resist them?

No?

Didn’t think so. (Okay, fine. To be fair, to some people, these are not as irresistible as I claim. Some people (coughBOYFcough) don’t like the texture of them. To those some people I say BAH!)

This photo was taken in 2010 by the beautiful and talented Deborah Stevenson when we were in Paris together.
If you click on her name, you'll get to see one of her photography albums.
Her point of view is quiet, beautiful, touching, inspiring.
I’ve made lavender, vanilla, chocolate, almond, and orange cookies. I want to try making salted caramel, blood orange, raspberry… the list could go on. Wouldn’t it be fun to make peanut-flavored ones and fill them with grape or strawberry jelly? And I have plans this week to make mojito-flavored ones and dye them a bright Shamrock green.

And if you have a minute, go vote in my Facebook poll! I'm going to be entering the blog in a contest, and am curious what you think is my best post so far. Then if you haven't already, like my page on Facebook! Or follow me on Twitter! Yes I know there are fancy links up at the top right, but I'm making it easy on you. Now go forth and eat cookies!

Macarons


1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup superfine (baker’s) sugar 
¾ cup almond flour (I made my own by processing almond slivers; it’s more work but way more cost-effective)
2 large egg whites, room temperature (older is better than fresh, surprisingly)
Pinch of cream of tartar
See Notes for adding flavors

1. Pulse 1 cup of sugar and almond flour in a food processor or small blender until combined. Sift mixture with a colander.

2. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add the rest of the superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form (take care not to over-whip). If you’re going to add color, add it towards the end of whipping the whites. Water-based (regular) food coloring and paste both work here.

3. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is mixed well and a bit shiny, almost taffy-like. Fold too little, and the shape of the cookies will be too stiff and pointy. Fold too much, and your meringue will drip into a mess of wafer-thin blobs. I usually do 40-60 folds. You can test a daub on a plate, and if a small beak remains, turn the batter a couple times more. If the batter forms a round cap but doesn’t run, it is just right. The perfect batter will barely start to escape the pastry bag without leaking out or staying stiff.

4. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip OR a giant Ziploc baggie with a corner cut off.

5. Pipe ¾-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. They should look a little duller, like the outside has started to dry into a sort of skin. While they’re resting, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

The peaks on these lavender macarons lasted longer than they should have-- that's a hint to fold more next time!
6. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, then put the cookies in. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until they’re are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees before inserting the next batch. The tops of the cookies should not brown.

7. Let them cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack, or just pull the parchment paper off the baking sheet onto a counter.

8. Once they’ve cooled, you should definitely fill them with something. Jelly, peanut butter, cookie butter, whipped cream, basic frosting (butter + powdered sugar + flavoring)… The possibilities are endless! Be careful, though. The cookies are fragile.

Lavender glaze with milk and sugar, to dip the lavender cookies in
9. Now you can eat them or store them. They’ll keep in an airtight container for a few days, or can be frozen for up to 3 months. To thaw, just pull them out of the freezer for half an hour or so.

Pastry bags are not very pretty but I LOVE THEM SO I DON'T CARE.
Notes

- If you’re adding liquid flavor (i.e. vanilla extract, lemon juice, honey), add ¼ teaspoon at the same time you would add food coloring.
- If you’re adding dry flavor (i.e. crushed lavender, orange zest, ground nuts), process/blend it with the almond flour combination. Depending on the strength of flavor desired, use anywhere from ½ teaspoon to 1 heaping tablespoon.

These light cookies are best enjoyed with a starbuck and a good book.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Words Words Words

There are two reasons I haven't blogged for you lately.

One is due to a lack of ingredients. Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of photographed recipes available to share with you! They're just food, however, and I promised you beverages in December to warm your bodies and souls. My favorite of these all involves an ingredient that I am experiencing trouble finding: red hots. This candy is more elusive than you know.

The second is because the writing times I'd normally devote to writing for you, I've been using to edit, rewrite, and otherwise beautify a few stories I've written, so that I may enter them into a writing contest. I'm nervous, because I've never done this before, but I'm excited, because I'm so proud of these stories.

But I apologize. Though I am not Hamlet! I have not forgotten myself.


"I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there"
Hamlet, Act 1, Sc. 5

Seriously, though. Read Hamlet.

Read Hamlet by the fire's light, and turn it into a ghost story, a murder mystery, a slow descent into madness and chaos. Or read it on the beach, watching the wistful folly of a young man torn by two desires go horribly wrong. Or read it on a stage, finding reason and excuse for every action of every character, every word uttered or shouted. And read it while drinking a warm cup of something delicious.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Time and Again You Need to Drink Magical Healing Tea


"Was it you I was talking to about sci-fi time travel books the other day?" a customer asked me. She was a kind-looking grandmotherly woman.

"No but that definitely sounds like me!" I told her, and she launched straight into a description of a book.

"I finally remembered the title of a book I was trying to remember! It is the best book I've ever read about time travel, written by Jack Finney. It's called Time and Again. I don't want to tell you too much about the book, but it takes place around a certain building that is still standing across from Central Park!"

Color me intrigued.


Now, I am the first to call myself a sci-fi fan. I couldn't be a Doctor Who fan without an appreciation for time travel. And books? You all know I love books. Without further ado, I added "go to the library" to my to-do list.

A few library-less days went by and I found myself in Boyf's house, casually looking at a bookshelf while Boyf fixed his mom's computer. My eye caught on a plain-looking, black and white cover with a $1.00 price sticker on it. Time and Again.

"WHAT!?!?!" I yanked it off the shelf and told my whole story. Boyf's mom told me she'd bought it on a whim at a used bookstore and yes, I could borrow it and let her know how it was. I was in a state of shock. I had never heard of this book before and somehow, here it is, literally right in front of my eyes.


My conclusion? The old lady is my future self, setting me on a path to read the book that will change my life. I'll read it and get back to you. I was too excited to wait until I was finished.

And another thing I'm excited about is sharing with you this magical elixir of health. With cold/flu season beginning, I believe I'm just in time to provide you with a beverage that will make you feel better and happy at the same time… unlike that gross cough syrup. Ew.

Also, a note. I'm calling this concoction a "tea", despite its complete lack of tea leaves. It is more a tisane, a bunch of non-caffeinated things steeped in hot water.

The doll is not magical. She is Russian, though.
Magical Healing Herbal Tea

Water
Lemons
Honey
Cinnamon
Maybe some ginger

I usually make more than one serving of this and I never, ever measure it. However, I think I can safely tell you it's about one lemon per cup of water, and add honey and cinnamon to taste. If you haven't already, look up the health benefits of these ingredients! My favorite is honey. It is absolutely amazing, and I have free access to oodles of it-- my fabulous grandpa is a beekeeper. :)

1. Put water in a saucepan or pot on medium-high heat.

2. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze them into the water, then drop the whole thing in there.

2. Add honey and cinnamon (and maybe ginger), and turn down the heat a bit.

3. Simmer and stir until the honey is melted.

4. Drink up and get well soon! Your future self will thank you for this healing potion, and your present self will love the taste.

This beverage is best served with a box of soft tissues and a good book.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Extravaganza is Not a Book



Is Thanksgiving the Christmas of food blogging? I don't know for sure (I need to do some more research!) but I think that for you, it should be.

And with your delicious presents (it shouldn't come as a surprise that they're recipes…), comes one (two) thing(s) more: some announcements.


I've decided that it'll be easier to provide you all (I say like I have oodles of readers) with delicious food and some book chatter if I sometimes separate the two. Sometimes, I'll post food. Other times, I'll talk about my favorite books (or my least favorite books or books that I haven't developed a clear opinion of). And then there will still be the times when I combine the two. After all, how will I resist coming up with my own butterbeer recipe to combat the dozens of others there are online?!


And that brings me to announcement number two. For the month of December, I will be focusing on making delicious beverages for you all. Most (maybe all) of them will be warm, ready for sipping inside while the temperature outside drops. And let me tell you, I'm really quite excited. Even before I could cook, I was making a couple of these every year. I can't wait to share them with you!

But now, it is time for food. Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Have you done your shopping? Claimed your contribution to this year's menu? Put away your belts and your skinny jeans until next week? Found your buckles and bonnets and maize?

Four pilgrims and a Viking. He got lost.
Just me, then?

Oh well. No matter.

Turkey pot pie muffins? Sugared cranberries? Pumpkin muffins with cream cheese topping? Am I spoiling you or just preparing your stomachs for Thursday? These were all delicious. I cannot stop eating those cranberries.


Turkey Pot Pie Muffins
(Adapted from Betty Crocker)

1 T oil (vegetable, canola, olive, etc)
1 lb boneless skinless turkey breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
½ c chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
½ c chicken broth
1c frozen vegetables (I used peas, carrots, and corn)
½ t salt
¼ t black pepper
¼ t ground mustard
¼ t celery seed
¼ t garlic powder
¼ t basil leaves
1 c shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz)
¾ c Original Bisquick® mix
¾ c milk
3 eggs

I don't think I need to tell you that these are delicious topped
with cranberry sauce... or the sugared cranberries!
1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190.6 C) and prep a muffin tin by spraying it with nonstick spray or using muffin liners.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the turkey for 5-10 minutes until it's cooked through.

3. Add the onions and chicken broth and heat until it's simmering.

4. Add the frozen vegetables and seasonings. Feel free to add whatever you think will taste best!

5. Heat while stirring until almost all liquid is absorbed, then turn off the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

6. Stir in the cheese, then make sure to test it because it's delicious.

7. In a medium bowl, stir Bisquick®, milk, and eggs until well-mixed.

8. Scoop about a tablespoon into the bottom of each muffin cup, then top with about a ¼ cup of the turkey mixture. Finish it off with another tablespoon of the Bisquick® mixture.

9. Bake 25-30 minutes, and use the toothpick test to make sure it's done. Cool for five minutes and then chow down!


Pumpkin Muffins with Cream Cheese Topping

1 c all-purpose flour
½ c wheat flour
1 c canned pumpkin
c vegetable oil
2 eggs
¼ t pumpkin pie spice
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t cloves
¼ t cinnamon
1 c sugar
¼ c brown sugar
½ t salt

These muffins joined me for a nerdy/awesome weekly ritual.
Sadly, that was not a natural 20. I put it there.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190.6 C). Prepare that muffin tin again!

2. Mix the pumpkin, oil, eggs, spices, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Sift together flour and baking powder.

4. Add flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture a little bit at a time, mixing until just combined.

5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, once again employing the toothpick test.

6. Let cool, then frost with this frosting.


Cream Cheese Topping 
(Really it's frosting, but muffins + frosting = un-sweet cupcakes)

1 pkg cream cheese
Powdered sugar (3-5 cups, depending on various factors)
2 T melted butter
Milk

1. Preferably using an electric mixer, mix the first three ingredients until they achieve the proper texture. Start with 3 cups of powdered sugar.

2. Frosting too runny? Add more powdered sugar. Too thick? Add a splash of milk.

3. Frost them like this.


Sugared Cranberries

2 c cranberries
2 c water
1 ½ c white sugar plus extra for coating
½ c brown sugar


1. Rinse the cranberries and set them aside.

2. Make simple syrup! Put water and 2 cups of sugar into a saucepan and heat until it's simmering (not boiling!) and the sugar has all dissolved. 

3. Take the pan off the heat and let it cool for a while.

4. Pour the syrup over the cranberries.

5. Cover it up and refrigerate it! I did it over night, but you'd probably be good after 5 or 6 hours.

6. Drain the cranberries and toss them in some sugar. Let them dry on a baking sheet for a few hours.

7. Toss the cranberries in sugar again and let them dry for one more hour. It'll be worth it.

8. Pop these into your mouth. Or on top of one of those turkey muffins. Or on some ice cream. Or anywhere that they will eventually end up in your mouth. And aren't they so pretty?


Monday, November 5, 2012

Immortal Lemon Cookies



Imagine you were given a longer time on this earth than others. You age more slowly, and you are able to spend years perfecting skills, learning languages, making millions, watching your world change around you… (Maybe even learning how to cook like a professional!)

But then you're given a choice. You could choose life, and live on for centuries, seeing things you never even dreamed were possible and play your role longer than everyone else.

Or, you could choose love. You could choose the greatest love, worthy of poetry and song, a love unlike anything you've experienced before. But this love will be your downfall. It will end and it will tear you open and it will (quite literally) be the death of you.


Luca Bastardo, the protagonist of Immortal, faces this choice. Without a second thought, without a moment's hesitation, he chooses love. He chooses suffering and death and loss over longevity. He knows nothing of his true love's identity, looks, home, or even when she might appear in his still-longer-than-ordinary lifespan… except for one thing. In a moment like a dream, he gets a whiff of a lemon-lilac scent, a perfume that carries him through decades of becoming a better person and surrounds her once they finally meet.

Meet my lemon zester
You may feel like I've told you a lot about this beautiful book, but I've barely scratched the surface of a long and full tale that I truly hope you choose to pick up and read. It isn't a popular book, and it isn't a perfect book. It is flawed, but that is beautiful.


These cookies (don't they look good?) are another recipe I can credit to my lovely mom… I mean, of course, that she found a recipe and handed it over, letting me do to it what I wished. The result was this. 

These cookies are tart and sweet, like love lost and gained. They are lemony, like the scent that haunts Luca most of his life (and I bet they'd taste great with lilacs as well, which are in fact edible). And they are delicate, melting in your mouth like another fleeting moment passing by. In plant symbology, lilacs represent innocence, and lemons, immortality. Can innocence last that long?


Immortal Lemon Cookies & Frosting

Lemon Cookies

1 c unsalted butter (room temperature)
¼  t salt
½ c powdered sugar

1 t vanilla (I still always like to use the paste rather than the extract)
Zest of 1-2 lemons (the recipe I based this on says one lemon, but I would definitely use more if I had it)
1 ½ c flour
½ c cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 300°F (150 C) and prepare your baking sheet.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, salt, and sugar until it's light and fluffy, for about 3 minutes (if using a mixer) or 8 (if by hand). 

3. If you're using a mixer, reduce the speed to low. If you're using your arm, slow down. Mix in the vanilla and lemon zest.

4. Sift the flour and cornstarch in and mix until just combined.

5. Roll the dough into evenly sized balls (mine were about the size of a paddleball) and squish them onto the baking sheet.

6. Bake for 20 minutes.

Lemon Frosting

½-1 c powdered sugar
¼ c unsalted butter (room temperature)
Juice of one lemon (one very big lemon, or two smaller ones- just use whatever you used as zest in the cookies)

Beat or whisk or mix all ingredients until it's fluffy! If you don't have a mixer, beat the butter separately first, then add the sugar and lemon juice. Add more powdered sugar if you want it thicker, and less if you prefer my drippy version.

These cookies are best enjoyed with a good Italian wine and a good book.

Picture courtesy of www.wordcandy.net