Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One Word Wednesday...Pantry

This is a photo of our pantry. You can see that it is jam packed with food and food-related appliances. It's also a walk-in pantry which is debatably the best feature of our house.

So...what's in your pantry? Is it a cupboard? A shelf? How do you store your food and your appliances?

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Love Letter to My Favorite Cheese: Fromage D'Affinois

Dear Fromage D'Affinois,

You are my favorite cheese of all cheeses. When we first met at the Nugget Market in Davis, California, I confess that I was seduced by your buttery deliciousness, your double cream texture, and wonderful flavor. Other cheeses pale in comparison to your white mold-ripened surface and creamy center. To call you "brie" is like calling a diamond a rock. In fact you aren't a brie because of your novel ultrafiltration process. You are smoother, and so easy to spread on a cracker or slice of baguette.

When I moved away to Minnesota, there you were, in the fancy cheese case at Byerly's supermarket. Oh what a delight to see such a long lost friend! You joined me for Oscar parties, cocktail hours, girls' nights, and holiday dinners.

And when I moved back to California, I found you at the most unlikely place-our new "lifestyle" Safeway (and at Whole Foods and Lunardi's too). And thanks to a fellow admirer, you have now have a soulmate: Dalmation Fig Spread- which suits you so well. The sweetness of the spread made from handpicked figs brings our your flavor. I can hardly believe the scrumptiousness.

So, thank you, dear Fromage D'Affinois for being so tasty.

Lauren and Foodies everywhere

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday Night Pizza and Sunday Morning Sticky Buns from One Dough Recipe

When I was about fifteen years old, my grandmother stayed with us for a week while my mom was away. It was during that week that I was exposed to the power of freshly made bread. The aroma wafted through the air and tapped me on the shoulder and just like the cartoons, I floated through the air to the kitchen to find out what was baking in the oven. The following day at lunch I would remove dense slices of homemade bread and sticky cinnamon rolls from my brown paper bag and all around me typical teen favorites--bagged chips and chocolaty candy bars--were cast aside as everyone clamored for a bite of this rare food. I fell in love with homemade bread.

Now with both Justin and myself in our thirties, with corporate jobs, commutes, and a mortgage, we’re not baking bread every night. Sometimes on these hectic weeknights, we are struggling to get dinner on the table! So when I found this clever recipe that allows us to easily make both pizza dough and sticky buns from one batch of dough, I couldn’t wait to try it. Perfect for the weekend, we started on a Saturday night and made two pounds of dough.

Using only flour, water, salt and yeast and minimal kneading, this dough was pretty darn easy.

Basic Dough Recipe

(adapted from Everyday Food March 2010)

1. Measure 1 and 1/2 cups of warm water (not hot) into a bowl and add 2 packets of dry yeast (1/4 oz each). Let sit for 5 minutes until foamy.

2. Whisk 2 Tbsp sugar, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 2 tsp coarse salt into yeast mixture. Be sure to use coarse salt or a little less fine salt as the larger crystals will affect the measurement and resulting saltiness. Add 4 cups of flour and stir into a sticky dough.

3. Place in an oiled bowl and loosely cover. Let rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled.

4. Using a floured cutting board, turn out dough and lightly knead. Add extra flour as needed to decrease stickiness. Makes about 2 lbs.

It had one basic rise which made it even quicker. After the rise, we split it into two batches- on that went into the fridge for sticky buns the following day and one that would transform into pizza for dinner tonight.

Saturday Night Pizza

We’ve developed our own philosophy for making homemade pizza. The philosophy is this: use only ingredients that taste marvelous individually and eliminate the sauce. We’ve found that pizza sauce often make the pizza runny and soggy and overwhelms the other flavors in homemade pizza. So to make our pizza, here are the steps:

1. Roll the dough and form the crust, using polenta or cornmeal on the cookie sheet or peel to keep the dough from sticking. We usually make multiple smaller pizzas that can be shared. This way, we can experiment with the ingredients. We made 2 medium pizzas that were more than enough from this 1/2 batch which was about 1lb of dough. Remember we saved the other half or 1 lb for the sticky buns.

2. Brush with olive oil- especially the crust

3. Layer your ingredients: we often grate some mozzarella, and layer roasted red peppers, goat cheese, black olives, prosciutto, and fresh basil. Sometimes we saute spinach and onions and add those as well. If we want a touch of tomato that often comes from sauce, we use canned tomatoes that mimic that cooked tomato flavor. If fresh tomatoes are in season, we’ll use those too. This week we didn’t use any tomato.

4. Slide the pizza into your oven or on your preheated pizza stone.We baked ours at 450 degrees F and started checking at about 9 minutes, adding additional time if the dough wasn't browned.

And the result was delicious--a delightfully complex yet discreet layering of flavors that you can taste. From the fresh flavor, clean flavor of the crust to the spicy herbal basil notes to the crispy savory prosciutto. Every note was lovely and harmonious.

Sunday Sticky Buns

But don’t forget this is the dough that keeps on giving. The following Sunday morning with a generous amount of butter, brown sugar and pecans, this dough reinvented itself into sticky buns.

“Be not afraid of butter” is the mantra for this second round of homebaked goodness. The dough was rolled out into a sheet, dotted with a 1/2 cup of butter and folded into thirds on itself. Fold the top third down and the bottom third up like a letter. After chilling in the fridge for an hour, it was again slathering with more butter and sprinkled with about 1/2 cup of brown sugar and about 3/4 cup of chopped pecans.

Rolled into a jelly roll and sliced, the 12-13 rolls went into a greased pan and baked at 350 degrees F for about 30-40 minutes.

Once turned out, the caramelized sugars on the now top of the buns, glistened and beckoned, “Eat me.” A word of advice, restraint is key was the molten butter and sugar will surely burn your mouth and taste much better when it isn’t piping hot! But don’t wait too long--these rolls have a short plate life and should be eaten warm.

And that was our decadent but rather easy weekend of baked bread. We highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One Word Wednesday: London

A few years ago I visited London and went on a whirlwind tour of UK supermarkets including Waitrose, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer. These supermarkets are AMAZING as they have a wide assortment of high quality, fresh prepared foods in the refrigerated section of the store. It was incredible to see these clever and very fresh products in beautifully designed packaging that stood out on the shelves.

If you have ever tried to take photos in a supermarket, it is generally discouraged resulting in a spy-like experience of covertly taking bad photos in hopes of capturing the product essence. I purchased bags and bags of products as well, but I couldn't buy the whole store! So apologies for the bad photo quality...but that said, I had so many favorite unique things that I have to do an in-depth post. Coming very soon but here's a teaser:

An example of the stunning premium packaging for this ready-to-cook and serve salmon wellington.

I'm still wishing for this "breakie to go" aka breakfast smoothie with fruit, granola and probiotic yogurt.

Our questions for today:

Have you seen any interesting international products that you wish were available here? What are they?

Have you visited any unusual or interesting grocery store in other countries? What did you buy?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Casey's No-Fail Carbonara

This post is both a bit of a hang-over and the hang-over cure. I'm experiencing the headache of coming back to reality after spending a dreamy week at Food Blogger Camp. One of the cures has been cooking up some comfort food described by one of our fellow food bloggers: Casey's No-Fail Carbonara on her blog Good. Food. Stories. Please check out the full recipe on her site.

Start by frying the pancetta . . . as you can see I mistakenly used the non-stick pan and missed out on maximizing brown bits. Add a healthy bit of garlic, cook some more and then deglaze with whatever you're drinking . . . white, red, or vermouth. Set aside while you're boiling the spaghetti.

Add the pancetta and garlic to an egg and Parmesan cheese mixture you've already created in the serving bowl. When the pasta has been cooked and drained combine with with the pancetta/egg/cheese mixture. The heat of the pasta will simultaneously cook the egg and melt the cheese bringing it all together in one delicious and simple plate . . .

You can devour it as it appears here or add a little more cheese. For me this truly is comfort food because it is simple enough in components and construction that it is now imprinted on my brain and I could replicate this anytime . . . perfect for helping you out of a hangover haze.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Word Wednesday: Compost

I took this mobile photo of the three different trash bins: trash, compost and recycling, in San Francisco along with the sample boards of what “trash” goes where. When we moved back to California, I confess that it took some time for me to learn what things go where.

This week, we found out that we can now put food scraps and other compostables like soiled paper towels in our green bin along with yard clippings. This is huge for us, Bay Area suburbanites, as now the majority of our “trash” can be composted or recycled. In fact, we bought compostable bag liners for our “trash compactor” (came with the house). It has been quite eye-opening to analyze our trash and see what we are throwing away.


Does your garbage service offer composting or do you compost?

How do manage multiple “garbage” cans in your house?

What makes up most of your "trash"?

Monday, February 8, 2010

When Less is More: More Cupcakes

When I was in grade school, each day for lunch I had cupcake envy as my best friend pulled out a mechanically frosted, cream-injected Hostess chocolate cupcake. This similar-but-better signature cupcake at More Cupcakes in Chicago tasted even richer and sweeter than those childhood memories.

Imagine a curated shop where cupcakes are like individual art pieces, on display to show their rich frosting and delicate garnishes. More Cupcakes is exactly that, a simple store where cupcakes are the stars.

Simple glass shelves showcase the unique flavors: from savory cupcakes like parmesan brown butter to cocktail cupcakes like cosmopolitan to sweet classics like red velvet. The extensive seasonal menu features an incredibly long list of flavors with at least 15 of them available on the day we were there. With two sizes, a regular size cupcake and mini-version in sets of three flavors, temptation abounds. We had a large group of tasters and therefore a good excuse to purchase a dozen.

In a modern bakery box, these cupcakes are carefully nestled in cutout cardboard circles with fingerholes so that they can be lovingly placed and removed without mussing their appearance. (Starting left and moving clockwise: coconut, chocolate vanilla cream, blood orange meringue, and oreo cookie.)

Starting top left and moving clockwise: champagne, blue cheese walnut praline and goat cheese basil (sans the pine nut garnish- they weren't finished with this one but we begged a sample).

Starting top left and moving clockwise: pomegranate, valrhona, salted caramel, the More signature cupcake.

My preference was for the signature and sweet cupcakes, particularly the surprise caramel filling of the salted caramel, the lovely citrus burst paired with the fluffy meringue of the blood orange meringue and the nostalgic cream filled More cupcake. While intrigued by the savory cupcakes and the cheese course for dessert that they evoked, the heavy and fatty mouthfeel of the cheese based frosting was too much for my palate.

But even after our over-indulgent tasting of 12 different cupcakes, the lengthly list of unexplored creative flavors still left me wanting to come back for more.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Not Really One Word Wednesday: Airplane

Well, Justin and I have been traveling quite a bit lately- practically every other week this month! This week, I was lucky enough to use an upgrade into first class on United. This was my lunch:

• warm nut mix of almonds, cashews, pecans, and walnuts

• a grilled chicken salad with edamame and yellow and red bell peppers over a bed of romaine lettuce with sesame dressing and a warm whole wheat roll.

• and for dessert, a warm chocolate chip cookie. It was actually all quite good.

I have a chocolate chip cookie theory that if they served the warm cookie and glass of milk to everyone on the plane, not just first class, customer service ratings would greatly improve!

I’ve also been eating the “for purchase” spinach salad with gorgonzola, walnuts and dried cranberries when I sit in economy (which is 95% of the time). It is a much fresher offering over the snack box choices and I have been very pleased with these new options. I find the United fruit, nut and cheese plate to be a pleasing and hearty snack.

So, we'd like to know:

What do you eat on the airplane?

Do you pack your own food?

Do you buy something ahead of time or one the plane?

Any recommendations for food at key airports like SFO, ORD (Chicago), DEN, or others?

I’ll share my answers if you share yours!