October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
Outside my window at the office is a row of orange-hued trees separating the parking lot from the train tracks. On the other side of the tracks is a smaller, vibrant red tree. If you just prevent yourself from looking below, you can almost cut out any signs of civilization from your line of vision, and before you stretches a field of color. I often get to the office before anyone else has arrived and have a few moments to myself, a way of steadying myself for the day ahead, in the silent, dark office, before anyone turns on the lights, the room lit only by the morning light outside the windows. By 4 p.m. my head is pounding from staring at my computer screen for hours, and on my way home, my thoughts are preoccupied in the internal debate “run or nap.” Today, we’re finally starting to feel the real depth of fall, not the light, crispness of early fall, but that time when the leaves crunch underfoot instead of lighting up the horizon, and you can feel—just short of seeing—your breath in the air. Winter is coming.
I’m on my third pan of apple crisp this season. I picked up the last week of our CSA this week, loaded down with butternut squash, stalks of brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes—there was even a bit of popcorn thrown in. I’m finding it hard to resist the urge to go into hibernation mode, and it’s not even the end of October. It’s getting harder and harder to get out of the house for a run, though I did have a great 9-miler last weekend with the club team that seemed to fly by because I was out, not only meeting new people, but actually feeling like I was connecting with people.
With hibernation comes wintery flavors, sweeter, heavier, flavors that allow me to burrow down in comfort. My mind is coming back to a recipe I tried from Bon Appétit. Bourbon. Butterscotch. Cream. What couldn’t there be to love in that? In the end I had mixed feelings about the recipe. The quick turn in the blender, which was supposed to give the pudding its smooth texture, resulted in a bubbly top. I found myself wanting a lighter texture, which I associate, for reasons that may not be based in fact, with custards over puddings. So I burned a brulée on top and that made everything slightly better. Still, I expect I’ll come back to these flavors soon…perhaps in the form of a cake? Perhaps as a tart filling? That seems to recall Momofuko’s crack pie, and an article I read awhile ago, “No, Your Favorite Food is Not Like Crack,” which rang much truer with me than I initially thought it would.
October 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’d say from the crunch of leaves underfoot, softened by the cold wetness of the air, that summer has officially come and gone. And with summer, a lot of the illusions I had about people, the next year or so, and the ones who would be in it. But there’s a bright side of every change and today, it’s becoming more and more clear.
Snuggled into wool winter socks, fleece blankets and chunky sweaters, all I’ve wanted to do for the past week has been to curl up in bed and watch TV, waiting for the world to pass by. Which for me, isn’t an ordinary desire as watching TV is usually towards the very bottom on my list of activities. Instead, every night ends with a struggle to finish the readings for tomorrow, an impromptu trip to the gym, where I do my 20-minute weight circuit surrounded by an eclectic group of boys — the body builders, the slightly-pudgy, the geeky ones you never thought you’d see doing bicep curls —, and then a stop at the campus late-night cooking-baking hut. A freezing day finished with a caramely chocolate chip cookie. There are worse things in the world.
I had my first pumpkin scone of the season the other day. Sugar-crusted, fluffy, accompanied by my everyday morning latte. I was sitting in a corner of the café, (discreetly) watching some poor boy struggle over a very thick looking textbook, when he got up, looked me directly in the eye, and hesitantly walked over to my table. To my disappointment, the idle chitchat turned into a simple request to watch his stuff while he went to the restroom, but hey….you never know what a smile and a pumpkin scone can do to turn a downcast day around.
When I was paging through what to post today, I got stuck on these blackberry scones I made at the very end of August, when blackberries were unbelievably sweet and fit to burst (and stain everything) with juices. Though they were light, buttery and gushing with fruit, and proof that I have finally overcome my tendency to overwork scone dough — a reflection I think, of my disposition to over think and overwork most parts of my life —, the moment to talk about them seems to have gone and passed me by. Instead I was drawn to the brightness and simplicity of these white chocolate mint pot de crèmes. They can be made anytime you get your hands on fresh mint, and are just as perfect as a winter dessert, accompanied by the recipe’s candy cane brittle, as they are photographed here in my backyard, in the early summer. The brulée on top was a bit gilding the lily, but I never can resist a chance to use my blowtorch.
September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
The first time I put chili powder in a baked good, the face my little brother made told it all. Not like that in itself is all that unusual; generally, anything that isn’t vanilla, lemon or cinnamon flavored meets with that reaction from him. It can make baking at home rather boring, with a couple of people on diets and the only person who eats unashamedly being such a picky eater. But anyway, they were chili chocolate chip cookies — the slice and bake kind — and they were a bit of a let down. Too much cinnamon, not spicy enough, and a little hard, in the stale kind of way. Not a disaster, in fact my mom ate them straight from the freezer for about a month afterwards, but not capable of convincing the brother to give new flavors another chance. Thankfully, I had a chance to try again with a new dessert, and best of all, a new audience, which was a bit more receptive to adventurous sweets.
We occasionally throw dinner parties, and, when not in the middle of summer, they don’t always involve the picnic table, the backyard and barbequed fish — though this being California, they still, quite often, do anyway. For this one for instance, I made a trio of desserts: goat cheese custards with red wine reduction, tiny, spicy ginger drop cookies, and these little pots of Mexican chocolate custard. The grainy texture of Mexican chocolate and the heat that arrives after the initial smooth sweetness come through in the finished custard, giving the dessert more of a bite than your standard pot de crème.
It was one of those dinners — as it had to be with three desserts — that seemed to last forever in good company and I sent our guests home with huge bags of ginger drops at the end of the night. A couple of weeks later I got a package in the mail, with a book about the independence struggle in Algeria which we had discussed at dinner. I like surprises. And I love getting mail. Maybe that explains why I had ten billion pen pals as a young girl. And why my dorm room is decorated with postcards.
Adapted from The Perfect Pantry
I submitted this post to the Sugar High Friday dessert blogging event, which bakes under a different theme every month. September’s theme was “Sweet Heat” and you can find the roundup of desserts here at the end of the month.
2 cups whipping cream, chilled
6 oz. Mexican chocolate (2 disks minus one small wedge), finely chopped
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a saucepan over low heat, heat the whipping cream to the simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Then whisk in the chocolate and milk mixture. Pour the finished mixture through a strainer into a large clean bowl.
Place 6-8 small ramekins in a deep baking dish, such as a brownie pan. Distribute the mixture evenly among the ramekins. Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, and bake for 25 minutes or until the custard is just set around the edges.
Remove the pan from oven and remove the custards from the water. Let them cool and then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
September 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
Le pain perdu. I love that name. The lost bread. What a wonderful way of thinking about those last slices of bread, or the end chunks, that sit on the kitchen counter for days on end until someone finally decides to chuck them in the trash. I’ve been eating a lot of bread these days; it is one thing you can always find in France. I eat it mostly alongside salads of arugula, tomatoes and chèvre for dinner and then smeared liberally with Nutella at all times of the day. Long white bagettes with their crunchy exterior, light, eggy yellow circles of brioche bread, perfect for pulling apart piece by piece, and hearty loaves of country pain aux noix from the Saturday marché. Eventually this afternoon, I decided I ought to stop my Nutella consumption and put the remainder of my pain aux noix to a better use. Not the Nutella is not a perfectly acceptable use for any kind of bread. All the time. In fact, it is much better than simply acceptable.
But seeing as I was finally sitting in my apartment and I had finally run out of things to write about, I figured I might as well try out this new toaster oven, which many of you know is now my sole means of baking anything. I have spent the weekend walking around the city without a map and sitting in parks and cafes writing in my travel journal and then blogging about my adventures. I have been seeing a lot of food, though I can’t say I have achieved much variety in my eating habits, which have been hampered by my Nutella obsession (see above). Since I have been out of the kitchen quite a bit and hitting the streets, a lot of my writing and pictures reflect that and can be found over at my new blog Un Je Ne Sais Quoi.
But back to the toaster oven. I bought the cutest little loaf pans the other day and I thought a little bread pudding was the perfect occasion for using them. Kind of like finding and reshaping the bread that has been lost. I consulted a couple recipes for bread pudding, including this one by Deb at Smitten Kitchen for raisin-studded apple bread pudding and one in a new cookbook I bought in Paris, Petites Cocottes. But in the end, I decided to just go with whatever felt right. The result was little loafs of pain perdu, soaked liberally in custard, studded with apples and topped with a little — you guessed it! — Nutella. I guess new habits die hard. I ate one for dinner, with a little coffee spoon, alongside a cup of black current tea.