July 30, 2007

Magic Mirror on the...Cake?!?

Heigh Ho! Heigh Ho! It's off to work I go...
In an attempt to get people out of their cubicles and interacting outside of meetings, email and instant messages, my company sponsors monthly social events. In the spirit of teamwork, they're hosted by a single work group that chooses a theme and plans the parties. This month's theme: the County Fair, courtesy of the Marketing Department. Complete with an executive dunk tank, an artwork contest, snow cones, cotton candy, and a pie eating contest.

What's this doing on my food blog?

The last event listed on the promotional flier was a bake-off.

From the moment the event was announced, eager colleagues encouraged me to participate. Having tasted several of her culinary concoctions (as duplicated in my kitchen), they wanted to know if I was "making a Peabody."

Hmm... Peabody's hosting this month's Daring Baker Challenge... The Strawberry Mirror Cake... And I've got a week to prepare...

T-minus-four- Buried in strawberries...
I decided to tackle the berry components first. Hulled and quartered 2 pounds of strawberries. Said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that I have a manicure appointment on Thursday. Not sure how my manicurist will feel about using my thumbnails as strawberry hullers, but hey! it works!

Once they were hulled, cleaned and chopped, the process went quickly. Half in the blender to create strawberry puree. Half in a saucepan with sugar and water to become strawberry juice. A-MAY-zingly fragrant strawberry juice. So far, so good...

T-minus-three - If it's Tuesday, it must be genoise...
Here's where the challenge started for me -- with the genoise.

Peabody was clear in her instructions: the cake components are supposed to be white. I knew as I poured the batter into the sheet pan that mine was not going to comply. I blame the organic egg yolk and beg her indulgence.

Things got even more interesting when I turned the cake out of the pan as instructed. If I try this again (and so far its a possible repeater) I'm going to skip that step and do my cutting in the pan on the parchment. Because even employing my paper-thin bench scraper, I lost bits of cake from the bottom and my layers are a half layer shorter than they were on the counter. I think this is actually going to work to my advantage -- I had some concern the layers would be too thick to work in my miniature springforms.

T-minus-two - A Bavarian Creme Dream...

I owe my success with the Bavarian Creme portion of this assignment to the amazingly talented Shuna of Eggbeater. Her earnest explanation of all things Anglaise in her most recent ice cream class gave me just the confidence I needed to combine scalding milk, beaten eggs and sugar into strawberry-creamy goodness. The recipe suggested adding food color at this juncture, but I skipped that step as my strawberry mixture was a pleasant pink without enhancement. After I shuttled the assembled cakelettes to the refrigerator to set I sampled a bit of the leftover cream from the side of the bowl. I've decided that Bavarian & Diplomat Creme are the crack cocaine of the baking world (and I can't *wait* to see what kind of searches this post yields). I don't need that kind of temptation in my refrigerator (nor any additional "insulation" on my hips) so I'm glad these are going to work with me on Friday...

T-minus-one - Images viewed in this mirror do not reflect reality...
My Bavarian creme was a success; my mirror, not so much so. Shuna? Are you listening? I need a class in working with gelatin...

The mirror experience actually started out quite smoothly after a late night trip to the grocery store for kirsch... but the end result was anything *but* smooth. I think my mistake was in my interpretation of syrupy. Perhaps stirring with a spoon rather than a whisk might have helped. Because what was 'syrupy' in the bowl was congealed and clumpy by the time it hit the third of my six cakes. I could spread it across the cake with the back of a spoon, but the resulting mirror was way beyond warped.

I also left the food coloring out of my mirror -- it was an intense red without it.

Let the games begin...
My colleagues take their baking seriously, and the competition was stiff. Luscious Lemon Squares. A promising Croissant Pudding with Brandy Sauce. Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars. And our corporate logo turned Carrot Cake.

Our CIO went through the California Culinary Academy's pastry program, and his creamy summer cheesecake took the top prize.

The Director of Human Resources grew up assisting in grandma's bakery, and her very berry pavlova came in second.

Me and my "Peabody"... we came in third. And we're quite proud of our white ribbon!

To see how my brothers and sisters in pastry fared with their mirrors, check out the Daring Baker Blogroll.

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July 18, 2007

Mint and Mustard, sittin' in a tree... K-I-S-S...

Okay, maybe that's going a bit overboard.

But they *do* go really well together... making an interesting combination in a marinade that's been our go-to solution to flavorful grilled tri-tip for several summers now.

Stay tuned for further details on my contribution to this month's They Go Really Well Together, hosted by Dennis at Kook Jegek.

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July 07, 2007

Dining Around Salt Lake City

Between stints at the Family History Library, where we spent large chunks of our holiday week surrounded by films and fiche of 19th century New England and 18th century Italy, we had some interesting dining experiences during our stay in Salt Lake City.

John had enjoyed Happy Sumo Sushi in the Gateway Shopping Center during a previous visit, so we made sure to add it to our lineup. The short story: I thought it was a bit over-trendy, but quite tasty. The fish was uber-fresh, the rolls were creative and well-executed, and the Dragon Scales - spicy tuna tucked between two shiso leaves and lightly tempura battered and fried - was the runaway hit of the meal for me.

When we're out of town, we like to try new restaurants, steering clear of the chains we see at home. Lunch at Z'Tejas was the closest we came to the chain restaurant experience; they have nine other locations around the western United States. The menu showed potential. Unfortunately, it failed to deliver. I'm allergic to many legumes, most acutely black beans. Which appeared anonymously in both of the lunch entrees I ordered.

Looking for picnic fare for the fourth, we stopped by Caputo's Market & Deli... and walked out forty minutes later with an eclectic collection of salumi and cheese. Prosciutto. Mortadella. A yummy aged goat. A creamy herb-crusted blue cheese with hints of nutmeg and clove. And in deference to my immigrant grandfather, the imported chocolate hazelnut biscotti he doled out as treats in my childhood. Who knew I'd find a sense memory in Salt Lake City?

The in-room restaurant guide suggested that we'd find "traditional, authentic sushi" in a "fun and funky atmosphere" at Ginza Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar. Well they were partially right. The atmosphere *was* fun and funky, our sushi chef Brendan was friendly and attentive, and the dishes he put before us were creative and tasty, but the 'Jezebel' (tuna, cilantro, tempura-fried jalepeno, avocado, lime and cream cheese) doesn't strike a 'traditional authentic' tone. If you can accept a bit of creative license in your sushi experience, Ginza's worth a stop though.

Our favorite appetizer at The Garden at Temple Square was the chef's special Fried Dill Pickles -- carefully coated in a delightful dill-seasoned batter, deep fried and served ala pommes frites with a trio of dipping sauces. Dill on dill. But it worked. What I loved about The Garden was the simplicity; from the friendly, unpretentious service to the simply seasoned but soul-satisfying entrees, the Mormon community has hospitality figured out.

Happy Sumo Sushi | 153 South Rio Grande (at the Gateway), Salt Lake City, UT | 801.456.7866
Z'Tejas | 191 S. Rio Grande (at the Gateway), Salt Lake City, UT | 801.456.0450
Caputo's Market & Deli | 314 West 300 South, Salt Lake City, UT | 801.531.TONY
Ginza Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar | 209 West 200 South, Salt Lake City, UT | 801.322.2224
The Garden at Temple Square | 10th Floor Joseph Smith Memorial Building, 15 East South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT | 801.539.3170

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July 03, 2007


We're on vacation in Salt Lake City and looking for dinner options outside of the standard hotel fare.

I've had a jones for Pastitsio since Becke tempted me with her solution to "Presto Pasta."

The in-room "discover Salt Lake City" magazines indicate that Greek food's a popular local commodity.

We turn to our favorite Web 2.0 solution to the munchies: Open Table.

Open Table introduces us to Aristo.

Before we even got to the menu, we knew we had a hit.

The website greets you:

Ok. Here is the story, it’s pretty simple.

>> Browse our full selection of menus.
>> Make your Reservation online with our new Reservations System.
>> Get driving directions from our Contact Us page.
>> Show up the date of your reservation with an empty stomach.
>> We’ll take care of the rest.

Following instructions, we pull up the menu.

Calamari, check.
Pastitsio, check.
And a selection of gyros.


Table for two, 9:00 PM.

And that's what we ordered.

We started with the calamari, which was amazing in its simplicity: tossed in lightly salted flour and flash fried, with a ramekin of marinara for dipping. That's it. Because when you start with the highest quality ingredients and treat them with respect, that's all you need.

John had the gyros with the most amazing "oven roasted potatoes" I've ever encountered. Crispy on the outside. Buttery soft on the inside. And seasoned with a complex blend of herbs and spices that scream GREEK!

I had a Greek salad -- a delightful blend of farm fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives and tangy feta cheese -- followed by the much-anticipated Pastitsio. Oh. My. Gawd. This Greek chef's answer to lasagna combines perfectly seasoned ground beef with tender pasta, smothered lovingly in a creamy cheesy bechamel sauce. It took every ounce of self-restraint I could muster not to lick the plate.

Desserts, we learned, were prepared by the owner's mother from recipes passed down through the generations. Okay, count us in. John chose rice pudding which I can typically take or leave. Unfortunately for him he coerced me into trying it, and I became an instant convert.

We'd been so focused on the food, I'd neglected my camera for almost the entire meal. As I reached for it to photograph the empty plate that carried my baklava, Aristo himself stopped by to introduce himself, clearly pleased that we were delighted with our meal.

Originally from the east coast, Aristo opened his tribute to "the old country" near the University of Utah in 2003 -- and turned it into Salt Lake City Weekly's best Greek Restaurant in a reader poll less than two years later. Why Salt Lake? His family's here. And as his menu illustrates, his heritage and his family's traditions are what matters most.

I think we've found our favorite restaurant in Salt Lake!

Aristo's Greek Restaurant & Cafe
244 South 1300 East, Salt Lake City UT | 801.581.0888

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July 01, 2007

Resourcefully Re-deploying Resources...

First, I want to thank David for offering me the privilege of hosting episode 6 of Leftover Tuesdays, his event celebrating the underdog in all of our kitchens. I also want to apologize to the participants for the delay in getting the round up out -- it's been a hectic summer around here. And now, without further ado, I bring you this month's collection of leftover masterpieces:

1. Dayna from Vegan Visitor starts us out. Have you got veggies languishing in the back of your crisper? Too hot to cook? Who needs a burger? Head on out to the grill and try her Grilled Veggie Panini.

2. Next up, Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe in Melbourne Australia provides another inventive solution for leftover veggies: turning leftover dumpling stuffing and a carrot bean dip from previous projects into some eye-catching Beetroot Koftas in Carrot Sauce. She goes on to whip up a couple of sides from yet more stockpiled leftovers, and emerges with a "delicious pot luck supper."

3. Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen in London, Ontario Canada offers us a third summer-light vegetarian venue for leftover refried beans with her Egg & Cornmeal Pudding with Refried Beans. No refried beans in the 'fridge? Toss in some mushrooms, grilled corn, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini -- whatever's available in your kitchen or abundant in your garden.

4. Indulging our sweet tooth, Sarina of TriniGourmet in Trinidad delivers these tempting Ginger Trigs -- taking a disappointing recipe for Ginger Squares and adding a bit of her own spicy Carribean flair.

5. Last month's LOT hostess Pam of Project Foodie in Silicon Valley, California checks in, completely revamping leftover grilled chicken into some mouth-watering Chicken and Black Bean Burritos. Pam's goal: a one dish meal that transforms the chicken beyond leftovers. Mission Accomplished.

6. Another bay area neighbor, Tigerfish of Teczcape shares her passion for soba noodles with this alliterative Korean Spicy Seafood Soba. Twenty minutes, fridge to table, using a handful of leftovers and pantry staples. My kind of meal!

7. From Ontario Canada, Megan of What's Cooking brings us breakfast redux, in the form of her scrumptious-looking Belgian Waffle Bread Pudding. This one's worth busting out the waffle maker...

8. Rounding out this month's photographic collection is our fearless founder David of Cooking Chat in Massachusetts, offering an ode to summer's favorite outdoor appliance: the barbeque grill. His recipe: Beef and Bean Burritos assembled from leftover grilled burgers.

9. Pictured in the post below, I took a handful of leftover veggies and cheese and stuffed a baked potato for my contribution.

Those are our entries... now it's your turn. Check out the recipes. Try them out. Let me know what you think. Pick your favorite creative re-application of the lowly leftover and let me know about it. Send me an email to dolores dot ferrero at gmail dot com by Sunday July 15, and I'll post the winner shortly thereafter.

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