April 29, 2007

A failure in my first semester

I entered the month of April with the best of intentions. My number 2 pencils sharpened, my college ruled paper in pristine condition, I was a proud freshman "Daring Baker," eager to join 13 other ladies in the Epsilon Class and forge ahead with our very first challenge.

Founded by Lisa and Ivonne last fall, the Daring Bakers group has grown to 29 members over the last several months, tackling such culinary challenges as biscotti, croissants, and that southern favorite: red velvet cake. In April they invited me to join the best fed sorority on the Internets.

As the group has grown past the point where it's easy to come to consensus on which recipe to use in a given month, we have adopted a hosting system. Each month a hostess chooses a challenge recipe, and each of us spend the month attacking cussing at perfecting it. We've committed to using the same recipe because part of the fun to see how the different interpretations turn out -- even when the recipe itself is not a success.

Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas was our hostess/class leader for April, and she chose Martha Stewart eye-candy in the form of this sensational-looking Chocolate Crepe Cake. Chocolate crepes. A meringue-like hazelnut cream filling. Chocolate glaze. And caramel-candied hazelnuts. This group doesn't call themselves Daring Bakers for nothing...

I procured the hardware, a cast-iron crepe pan. I studied the recipe. I spent an hour on You Tube watching videos of people making crepes with the ease with which the average American adult ties his shoes. I studied the recipe some more. I sourced the ingredients with the exception of the elusive hazelnut cream (while Martha promises I can find this at Whole Foods, it's not on the shelves of any of the 7 stores within a twenty mile radius of my home).

But in the end April proved to be a very busy month, and I failed to carve the three-to-five hours necessary to actually make the components and assemble the cake. So you'll have to check out other Daring Baker blogs (links below) to see how the cake turned out...

And stay tuned to see how I fare with May's challenge

Crepe Cakes - The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful -- both the Martha-philes and -phobes among us struggled with this one:
Quellia of All Things Edible recommends a strong dose of patience to get you started.
She stood up for Martha during the tough times, but Mary of Alpineberry was ready to shred this recipe.
Becke of Columbus Foodie claims no such allegiance to the Martha and admits the recipe kicked (_]_), and not in a good way.
Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice skipped the fussy pastry cream for a hazelnut staple of sorts: Nutella.
Peabody had... all *sorts* of colorful things to say about this recipe.
An A-student after my own heart, Mercedes of Dessert Candy creates a confection worthy of the magazine cover.
Laura of Eat! Drink! Live! presents another glorious piece of Martha-inspired food-porn.
Elle of Feeding my Enthusiasms breaks the momentus task into achievable tasks -- and creates some scrumptious looking photographs of her results.

Stay tuned for more crepe cake goodness coming soon!

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April 20, 2007

April Showers...

A brief break from things culinary to share an image that recently caught my attention -- screaming "Spring!" and reminding me that every day brings something beautiful...

April 14, 2007

Muffin therapy...

You know it's time for a break when you start speaking in problem statements, looking at your world as a series of visio diagrams and harvey balls.

The problem:

  1. A general frustration with office politics, stalled projects, and mundane tasks, and a desire to escape to a desert island.
  2. A bunch of bananas browning on the counter top.
  3. A propensity to choose highly processed, nutritionally deficient meals-at-my-desk during the busiest days of the quarter at work.
The solution: 15 minutes with Google and and evening at the *kitchen* island, making these sensational Banana Crumb Muffins.

Like several of the bakers that took the time to leave a review of the recipe, I chose to give the muffins a nutritional boost by replacing 1/2 cup of the white flour with whole wheat and using canola oil instead of butter. I toasted a quarter cup of hazelnuts, pulsed them in the food processor to beget a "finely chopped" product, and added them to the crumb topping for a bit of additional texture.

They turned out perfectly -- moist and full of banana flavor without being overly sweet. A single muffin paired with a cup of goat milk yogurt made a satisfying breakfast. And they proved more popular than the bakery bagels and the Krispy Kreme donuts on the breakfast buffet at work.

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April 12, 2007

And now, for something completely different...

We bring out the WABAK machine Kitchen Aid and whip up some Moose! mousse. Chocolate mousse. With a twist. And an apology to my friend Peabody -- although I hope she's not the only one to get the reference!

Earlier this month Helene of Tartlette announced that the theme of this month's installment of Hay Hay it's Donna Day would be mousse -- and your heroine started some intensive internet research -- into obscure chocolate mousse recipes, and Rocky & Bullwinkle references...

I'll spare you all any more moose quotes (for now) and get straight to the recipe.

I knew I wanted chocolate. And that I wanted to play with spice. But a Google search for 'chocolate + chipotle' didn't provide inspiration. So I turned to a gem I recently uncovered at the local library: Robert Wolke's "What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained". A retired chemistry professor and syndicated columnist, Wolke provides the science behind the art of cooking in layman's terms -- and a fair amount of entertainment sprinkled in his education.

Hey Rocky... watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat...

And there it was, on page 30 -- the mousse recipe I wanted to try. Rich, intense chocolate flavor. With not an ounce of butterfat. No... Basque Chef Teresa Barrenechea of Manhattan's Marichu -- who Wolke credits as the brain behind the recipe -- uses olive oil to provide a subtle smoothness.

Hmmm... top quality chocolate, top quality olive oil, with a hint of chipotle to make it my own... Yes dear reader, I've found my contribution to HHDD 11.

Chipotle-Chocolate Velvet Mousse (adapted from What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained)

6 ounces high-quality semisweet dark chocolate, chopped. I used Guitard Callebaut.
3 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup powdered/confectioner's sugar, sifted after measuring
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (or 1/4 cup double-strength coffee at room temperature)
2 tablespoons creme de cacao
1 generous teaspoon chipotle powder
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in a microwave oven. Be careful what kind of bowl you use. My bowl -said- it was microwave-safe, but apparently the molten chocolate provided a bit too much thermal shock. Fortunately, chocolate is a staple in my kitchen... Short on disposable bowls? You can also use a double boiler to melt chocolate. Allow chocolate to cool.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and confectioner's sugar with and electric mixer at medium speed. Add coffee, chipotle powder and creme de cacao; beat to combine. Reduce speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. Add the olive oil and mix well to ensure it is thoroughly incorporated.

3. Here the instructions suggest washing and drying the beaters thoroughly, ensuring they are completely free of oil before beating the egg whites. I tossed the stand mixer beater in a sink full of soapy water and pulled out the hand mixer. In another medium bowl, beat egg whites until nearly stiff. Using a whisk, fold the egg whites into the chocolate, 1/3 at a time, until all patches of white disappear. Do not over-mix.

4. Transfer mousse to a pretty bowl or individual dessert dishes. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

As I'm performing step 4 and eyeballing a sink full of dishes, I think perhaps this recipe's a lot of work for 6 somewhat small servings.

A couple of hours later -- after the dishes are done and Leeza Gibbons has made her graceful exit from the dance floor, I'm ready to grab a spoon and dig in. And I instantly reevaluate my assessment of the serving size. It's not heavy, but this is a very rich mouse. A cross between mousse and ganache. The chocolate hits you first. Followed by the chipotle warmth. It's sweet, with a savory tease that keeps it interesting. I decide immediately I'm going to make this again -- next time replacing the chipotle with a wasabi-ginger blend that's been languishing in my spice drawer waiting for the appropriate application.

Boris: How many u’s are in Moose?
Natasha: Let’s see M-U-S-E, two.

Update 24 April 2007 - check out 53 more creative applications of the mousse concept at Helene's Round Up of Hay Hay Donna Day 11 Entries. There's some fantastic stuff here!

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April 10, 2007

Odd Easter Holiday Scenes...

The holiday buffet's changed a bit since Gianni arrived on the scene last fall...

Gourmet goodies still abound, but baby formula joined beer, wine, and a bevvy of non-alcoholic options at Nicole & Kerry's this Easter.

Captured this image so we can torture him with it when he's in his twenties... thought you all might enjoy it.

Me? I skipped the formula, opted instead for a nice chianti, and loaded up on devilled eggs, pasta with pesto, roast beef and my secret Easter guilty pleasure -- pistachio fluff!

By the end of the afternoon, Gianni had competition for a nap in the baby swing...

April 09, 2007


...to John and me...

(this is what happens when someone *else* is in charge of the cake..)

April 08, 2007


Happy Easter, Passover, Spring... whatever you celebrate!

April 07, 2007

Quinoa - Comfort Food Combats Cancer

For the first 30 years of my life, I was a member of an ever-decreasing and very fortunate minority. I lost my treasured minority status abruptly one chilly Wednesday afternoon in November 1999, when we learned that my father had lung cancer. Like other families facing a cancer diagnosis, our lives changed instantly.

Oncologists, neighbors, cancer support groups, nutritionists, friends, nurses, fellow cancer patients -- everybody stepped forward offering advice. And in a world where you're grasping for hope, for something over which you have control, the nutritionist offered our family a rope to hang on to.

The road ahead would be a rough one, she advised us. Radiation and chemotherapy were brutal on the body, and my father's cancer was advanced. Our goals were to keep him as comfortable as possible; his to fight the disease with everything he had, and to live -- truly live -- whatever time he had left. But there were rays of hope. There were things we could do to help him through this. Tangible things.

We walked out of her office that day with a list of what she called superfoods. Blueberries. Quinoa. Leafy greens. Edamame. Nuts and legumes. Yogurt. We learned that building a diet around these simple ingredients would help Dad develop the strength he'd need in his fight.

Anyone who's cared for a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy knows that havoc it wreaks on the digestive system. It changes the way things taste, destroys the appetite, and induces nausea. It creates some strange cravings. I remember heading out in search of takeout chile rellenos because that's what Dad wanted. And my grandmother's recipe for rice pudding -- with quinoa substituting for the rice -- became his favorite bedtime snack.

At 72, Dad discovered he loved this sacred Incan grain and superfood extraordinaire. A little research reveals that quinoa provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals essential to good health. It's higher in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc, and lower in sodium than its grain sisters wheat, barley and corn. Since it's gluten-free, it's gentler on a chemo-induced finicky stomach. And because it contains all eight of the essential amino acids we needs for tissue development, it's considered a complete protein.

So when Chris of Mele Cotte announced a Cooking to Combat Cancer event in honor of Cancer Control Month, there was no question I would participate. That the recipe I chose would feature quinoa, my father's favorite cancer comfort food.

After a bit of research, I settled on a fruit-based quinoa salad, a fairly simple preparation that I could easily tote to work for a light yet satisfying lunch.

Quinoa Fruit Salad (adapted from this recipe)

1 cup water
1 cup pear juice (natural, no additional sweeteners)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained
2 large red apples, diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup vanilla yogurt

Put the water, pear juice, cinnamon and rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Allow quinoa to cool, then transfer to a large mixing bowl and refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour.

Stir fruit and walnuts into the chilled quinoa, ensuring that the add-ins are well distributed. Fold in yogurt immediately before serving.

I used goat milk yogurt, which provided a nice tang that played well with the tart-sweet cranberries.

Tasty, simple, and healthy. This one's for you, Mo...

Looking for more cancer-fighting recipes and the heartwarming, inspirational stories behind them? Check out Chris' round-up: 25 starters, salads, sides, main dishes and desserts...

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April 04, 2007


For those of you who missed the first installment extolling the category winners for March's Does My Blog Look Good in This contest, go ahead, scroll down, check them out, we'll wait...

There, now that we've celebrated the best of breed and the first in group, it's time to move on to the best in show competition.

In Third Place...

A DMBLGiT fan favorite: Mae of Rice and Noodles and her Pistachio Panna Cotta with Fresh Raspberries, shot with a Cannon EOS 350D.

Judges loved the 'clean, crisp presentation' with 'just a spot of color.'

"This one SCREAMS 'pick up that spoon... eat me!' "...

"One of my favourites..."

"I'll take two...

In Second Place...

Not for the faint of heart this warm chocolate decadence in liquid form brought to us by Dora of Lila Fuge, the image snapped with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20.

"Simple, yet stunning..."

"Who needs words? I -know- this tastes great!"

and in First Place...

Mary of Alpineberry captures our hearts and our appetites with her whimsical Chocolate Brownie Hearts, shot with a Canon Powershot A95.

"Mmmmm... chocolate..."

"Edible? check. Aesthetic? check. Original? check. Winner? check. check. check."

"This... it goes to 11..."

So there you have them -- the best-dressed blogs of March 2007. Congratulations and thank you to each and every one of you who participated -- and a special thanks to my fearless judging panel. It's been an honor and a privilege to host this ode to food porn. I've gotten to know new blogs, made new friends in the folks that write them, and learned a ton about what turns a good photograph into something spectacular.

Stay tuned for the April edition, hosted by Lara of Cook and Eat...

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April 02, 2007

The envelopes, please...

Here it is, the moment you have all been waiting for... the unveiling of March's best dressed blogs.

This was one tough competition -- just ask Sean & DPaul, Jeff, Bron or Ivonne! Seventy some of you answered my call and offered some of the most compelling, mouth-watering, creative images of food found on the internet. Without further ado, here they are -- the winners of the latest edition of Does My Blog Look Good in This?!?

First, the category winners:

The honorable mentions in the Edible category:

The luscious Lavender Lemon Pound Cake presented by "Piggy" of Piggy's Cooking Journal. "Loved the lavender heart," said one judge.

Food Blogga Susan's rich and creamy Butternut Squash Risotto. "I'd spend a week on the treadmill for a bite of that carb-loaded goodness."

...and the taste bud-tingling Ginger-Chile Shrimp concocted by Meena at Hooked on Heat. "Yes. Just... Y. E. S."

And the blue ribbon in the edible category goes to this succulent Shirazi Salad offered by Maia of Maia Papaya. We loved the crisp clean color contrasts. Key to this photograph's success is its simplicity...

"It doesn't NEED a quart of chocolate ganache to jazz it up."

Judges also commented that a salad "surrounded by sweets" with a "drool factor, 10" was "a visual and edible delight"

Maia took this photograph with a Nikon D70.

Moving on to the Aesthetic category the honorable runners up include:

Andrew of Spittoon Extra and his Apple Pie with Clotted Cream. "The motion of the cream dripping -sells- this photograph."

The Salmon and Caviar Timbale created by Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once. "Stunning colour contrasts."

...and the simple Lenten Shrove Buns offered by Denin of Cloudberry Quark. "Love the lighting and the sugar sprinkles..." "This picture invites the viewer to step out of the snow and sit a while by the fire.."

And at the top of the aesthetic category: Bea of La Tartine Gourmande and her Madeleines and Tea.

Our judges found this "great picture" a "unique study" in the effects of "motion, color and lighting" on a photograph.

While it "doesn't make me drool" it "grabs my attention and refuses to let go," proving "food porn comes in more than one form."

Bea snapped this photograph with her Canon 30D.

In the Originality category, honorable mention awards include

The Italian Artichokes offered by Nicole of For the Love of Food provide an "intriguing contrast between the natural and the artificial..."

J from Have Fork, will Travel provides a different kind of contrast with Chop Chop. "Color, texture, lights and shadows -- this one has it all."

...and JenJen of Milk & Cookies presents another favorite in her Coffee and Marsala Souffle. Our favorite Creampuff sums it up nicely... "Loved this one!"

The top award in the originality category goes to Danielle of Habeus Brulee and her image of Sweet and Sour Lotus Root.

"This one is quite unique..."

"Fascinating use of color and texture..."

Danielle used her Canon 30D, with a 100mm f2.8 macro lens to capture this compelling image.

Congratulations to our category winners!

Stay tuned... the overall winners will be posted momentarily!

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