Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another Post about Toast: Sprinkles from the Netherlands

A good friend from the Netherlands gave me these lovely sprinkles for toast. That's right, toast! What a wonderfully delicious way to start off the morning.

Three different kinds of sprinkles came in this lovely box: chocolate sprinkles, fruity sprinkles, and chocolate curls. And I admit that I can't pronounce or spell the name for them. However, I immediately ate the chocolate curls- oops.

To prepare these sprinkles, simply toast and butter your bread. The butter acts like the glue for the sprinkles but adds a lovely salty, smooth taste to the sweet sprinkles.

The fruit sprinkles are lovely to look at but not quite as tasty as the chocolate.

The chocolate sprinkles are by far my favorite. The salty butter and chocolate sprinkles complement each other. The curls are the best because they melt a bit in your melt...hence why I ate them all first!

Happy toasting!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Spy a Pie...or is it a Cupcake: Lattice Pie Cupcakes

It's kind of both- a cupcake that looks like a pie! My good friend C came over for a girls' night of foodspiration! We decided to bake two kinds of cupcakes from the cookbook "What's New, Cupcake?"- a gift from another friend who hoped I'd sneak in some baking before the baby comes.

So we chose these easy and adorable pies! The first step was to make the cupcakes (you know my favorite, easy recipe: Billy's Vanilla Vanilla cupcakes and frosting). Note, this recipe makes about 30 cupcakes- we made 24 and they were a bit too big and hard to get out so make about 30 with this batter. While the cupcakes are cooling, you can sort your M&Ms. We had two big bags and this is how many blues we ended up with...quite a bit more than the reds.

Here were the reds- in total between both colors, we had enough to make 11 cupcakes. So you will need more than two large bags if you want to do only red and blue pies. We actually used the other 12 cupcakes for a different cupcake decoration coming in the next post.

After applying a layer of frosting, the stacking of the M&Ms is key. C was better at the stacking- minimizing the gaps and sometime putting one or two right on top. The tricky tradeoff is that it is not as easy to pipe the lattice when too bumpy. Also, leave space to pipe the beading, so don't put the M&Ms to the edge.

We used a number 4 wilton tip for the lattice and did a diagonal piping instead of a straight. After the lattice, I used a plastic bag and just cut off the tip and did a swirl crust along the edge. It covers a lot mistakes. It's easier to pipe when this is on a pedestal.

And so there you have it, pies! i wonder what these might be like with real fruit on top instead of M& time!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Post about Toast: Vanilla Cinnamon Toast

When was the last time you had cinnamon toast? Well a classic loaf of bread from the Acme Bread Co and some special cinnamon and vanilla sugar from Penzey's spices inspired me to recreate this childhood classic.

I recently bought this vanilla sugar made with both Mexican and Madascar Vanilla beans from Penzey's to use for baking. I have a lovely assortment of flavored sugars and this added to the collection. But I was seduced at the register by a small jar of cinnamon- a blend of four different cinnamons: Chinese, Vietnamese, Korintje and Ceylon. Who could resist?

And so, a slice of toast, some butter and a sprinkling of a mixture of the vanilla sugar and cinnamon ( I premixed it in a small bowl first), and I had a lovely and lightly sophisticated piece of childhood for breakfast.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Art of Coffee (and hot chocolate): Four Barrel Coffee

I recently went to Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco, a fine coffeehouse that roasts their own beans and truly honors coffee with several preparations: a single cup-at-time drip or espresso with a wide selection of beans including single origin. Their blog is quite informative on the process including the single drip equipment and specific grinders.

Now, I, unlike Justin, don't drink coffee. It's too bitter for me. Why should someone who doesn't drink coffee go to Four Barrel?

For the beautiful hot chocolate ( shown above) that I had instead. I loved this hot chocolate because it was:

1. not overly sweet
2. beautifully made- apparently the barista has won awards for his coffee art
3. didn't have a pile of whipped cream on it that would have shamed me as a non-coffee drinker at this fine establishment. Instead it looked like I was having an artful cappuccino.

Note, other delicious things Four Barrel serves:

1. Dynamo donuts- we had chocolate rosemary almond and orange ginger
2. An affogato made with beer ice cream from Humphry Slocombe

Four Barrel coffee does not serve tea- at all. And I say good for them!

We actually went to Dynamo and Humphry Slocombe about 20 minutes before and Dynamo was out of donuts and H-S didn't have the beer ice cream. Apparently Four Barrel is the intersection of this wonderful foodie trio of purveyors. It's definitely worth a trip into SF.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lunchtime Splurge: Brie, Spinach and Fig Panini

You might think you are in a quaint bistro or cafĂ© when you make this easy panini that’s full of sweet and savory flavors. We’re not sure what exactly inspired this, but the Dalmatia fig spread certainly played a role. This pricey spread is absolutely marvelous on my favorite cheese, Fromage D’Affinois. (See my love letter to this cheese.) And I imagined toasted bread with decadent melted brie accompanied by the sweet fig and spinach (which made it seem less over the top). And the results were spectacular and quite indulgent.

Here's how we made it...

1. Apply the fig spread to one side of the bread and top with thin slices of brie cheese in one layer.

2. On the other piece, layer fresh spinach leaves. No need to wilt them in advance.

3. Place the two halves together and press in panini maker. Our panini maker is non-stick. We initially brushed the outside of the bread with olive oil but it was too greasy and rich with the melted brie. The second time, we left the bread plain and it was perfect.

This is a wonderfully indulgent sandwich- I could only eat one half! Enjoy!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mini- Pavlova with Fresh Berries

One of my very favorite desserts came from a friend from New Zealand that I met in graduate school: the pavlova. Pavlova is a wonderful sweetened and baked meringue made mostly with whipped egg whites and sugar and a little bit of vanilla, vinegar, and cornstarch. It's named after Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova. It’s usually topped with whipped cream and fresh fruits. This lovely crunchy yet delicate dessert looks stunning but doesn’t really cut cleanly. I thought a miniature version might be easier to eat.

Following this recipe, I separated the egg whites from the yolks and whipped them into glossy, stiff peaks with the salt and sugar. Folding in the cornstarch, vanilla and vinegar, I made 24 mounds of glorious meringue- with flattened tops- and slowly baked them first at 325 for an hour and 15 minutes (they were browned but still moist inside) and then in an extinguished oven for another hour or so until they were crispy on the outside and chewy-dry inside. The beauty of the mini-pavlova is that I could check one to see if it was done without ruining all of them.

Finally, when dry enough, I topped them with fresh whipped cream and berries. The flattened ones had a better surface to do this. I originally used a whipper that I filled with cream but I didn’t get the gas: liquid right. It collapsed.

The pavlova looked much better with dollops of whipped cream from the mixer than with ridges. Mint would also be a lovely accent to these as well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July- Dessert Roundup

Well here are three signs of a good BBQ:

1. not too many leftovers
2. Justin's asleep in the hammock at the end of the night
3. we took terrible photos of really tasty food because we were just enjoying it and not trying to make the perfect blog post

So, in the spirit of sharing what we had, here was the menu:

• beautiful cheeses from our neighbor, Dezmo, including Taleggio, St. Agur Blue, Teleme, and Mimolette
• deviled eggs from A and C
• fresh veggies and dip from Gail
• cucumber and sweet vidalia onion salad- made by me from Martha
• potato salad from Gail
• stuffed burgers with cheddar cheese, bacon and carmelized onions in the center of the burger
• corn on the cob from the farmer's market
• watermelon
• and some strawberry lemon coolers that I made

and for dessert:
• olallieberry pie from V and K- they picked the olallieberries!

• this gorgeous flag cake from Toni

• and mini-pavlovas from me. I was so worried about making the meringue properly that I somehow messed up the whipped cream! I used my own canister and I'm not sure if it because I had the wrong proportion of gas to cream or because I used whipping cream instead of heavy whipping cream but it just didn't look great and didn't hold up! Tasted really good though. I have three left to try to top a bit more artfully. Will do and post in detail once I work it all out!

Finally, we are up to our ears in strawberries...any suggestions? We're making a strawberry-rhubarb pie tomorrow but have more left....

Farmer's Market Fresh in San Ramon

I can't believe it's taken us this long to get to this year's Farmer's Market. It's within a mile of our house and we love to go and pick out our fresh fruits and vegetables as well as support local artisan food.

What did we buy on this trip?

• A dozen eggs from a family owned farm
• strawberries
• corn from Brentwood that were picked in the morning and kept on ice- can't wait to eat this!
• zucchini
• green beans
• apricots and plums

and... of course, a small bag of kettle corn. Yum!

I want to make something good with the strawberries...another post to come!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

From Farm to Fork Part 2: Ranch and Garden Tour

Have you ever been to a farm or ranch? How about owning one while working a full time professional job? That's what our friends, Marie and Shane are doing out in Northern California. Marie and Shane recently had us over for an amazing four course pork dinner made from Mangalitsa pigs that they raise and butcher themselves on their 40 acres!

We aren't sure what's more incredible: the fact that they have full time professional jobs (science and marketing) or that they have pretty much taught themselves how to do all of this. They've built the shelters, feeding equipment and pens themselves and taken classes on how to humanely and appropriate butcher a pig- not to mention all of the food preparation they've learned. Check out our previous post where you can see what they are doing with food and beer (yes, they brew their own!). In addition to raising the pigs, they are growing a tremendous garden of fruits, berries, vegetables and even grapes! It's astounding.

The pigs they are raising are called Mangalitsa and you'll notice right away that they have curly hair! These pigs are prized for their quality meat and they take quite a while to mature. You'll find the pork at high end restaurants like Chez Panisse and One Market. Marie and Shane are the only raisers of these pigs in Northern California and while they can butcher for themselves to eat, they sell the pigs to these restaurants to butcher as they wish. Those pigs are slaughtered an approved USDA facility.

On their ranch, they've pastured the pigs and given them shelter as well as plenty of mud to wallow. They have spritzers to cool the pigs and create an even bigger mud wallow in the summer.

You'll notice right away that the pigs really root up the land creating lumpy earth in place of green pastures.

They almost blend right in!

The pigs are separated by age groups so the adults don't pick on the little guys. Currently they have three different age groups.

Of course, the piglets start out as cute little guys without all of the curly hair but they grow pretty quickly.

This brave one came up to say hello but most of the piglets were pretty shy. The older pigs weren't shy at all and liked to be scratched.

This little one took in some sunshine.

So how did we feel seeing these pigs and their lives and then having dinner that was created from them? I felt grateful for the privilege and glad that these animals were treated with respect and dignity. Seeing their pasture with the open space, sunshine, and mud- they seemed content and relaxed. And knowing our friends, we were assured that they were honoring these animals throughout their lives and afterwards, as they looking to use all parts of the animal in cooking and eating. We couldn't help but be impressed yet also realize how disconnected most of us are as a society from our own food. We've been invited to the next time that Marie and Shane slaughter and butcher a pig and I'd like to go. It sounds like a tremendous amount of work, possibly intimidating but also a very real and honest experience of what it means to eat meat.

Have you been to a farm or ranch? Have you ever slaughtered and butchered an animal?

How connected do you feel to your food?