Saturday, September 29, 2007
Well, I have the next best thing!! An adorable Rabbit T!!!
In this apartment, there isn't space for a china cabinet in the kitchen, but I finally managed to buy a wooden spice rack (again, on Ebay). The only problem was, there wasn't any hardware to mount it onto the wall. Well, I went browsing in Home Depot, convinced I would find something suitable, and I did.
Using the power drill set that Moocow is having me hold onto for her, and a screw driver, I attached some ring hangers to the back of the spice rack. Then, I hammered some heavy-duty picture hooks (a kid-safe, slip-free kind, so the rings on the ring hanger aren't going to slip or get knocked out) into the wall, with some help from a spirit level (I learned about these from CDT classes, a.k.a. workshop, in secondary school) and my roommate, so that it hangs perfectly straight.
It's great, being able to see my spices, and access them quickly. The scary thing is, I still have some spices and other seasonings in the cupboard! At some point, I may need a second spice rack!
Our entremet, pictured below, is the ice cream version of legendary pastry chef Ferdinand Point's Marjolaine, which is considered by some to be the most perfect dessert ever created. Four layers of crunchy nut meringue alternate with chocolate, vanilla, and hazelnut buttercream. The sides are finished with chocolate ganache and sliced toasted almonds, and a perfect snowfield of confectioner's sugar is dusted on top. Our version, of course, was filled with chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut ice cream.
Red wine and chocolate always go well together, so for our plated dessert we made a Chocolate Merlot Bombe. A core of merlot sorbet is ensconced in a sprinkling of chopped nougatine (hard caramel and almond candy) and chocolate ice cream. A ganache glaze was poured on, and a crunchy butterfly cookie glued on top with some stiff ganache. The dessert was finished with wine-poached pears on the side and two sauces feathered together: creme Anglaise and a merlot reduction.
The signature Sundae was a play on champagne and strawberries. From the bottom up: a dollop of strawberry reduction, clear champagne sorbet/gelee, a layer of champagne-soaked savarin (a type of cake), strawberry sorbet, strawberry compote, champagne sorbet, and a deguised strawberry (fresh strawberry dipped in clear caramel. The caramel forms a hard crust, but water from the strawberry turns the inside of the caramel into a fruity syrup that bursts when you bite into it). This glorious concoction is topped off with a tulipe cookie "straw," made from the same cookie batter that was used to make the butterflies.
The rest of the cookie batter was used to make "ice cream cones" and cups in the shape of flowers, which can be seen in the foreground of the first photo. The grey bowl of stuff in this picture may not look appealing, but it was one of the best-tasting things on the table, and a much-needed palate cleanser after all our other decadent offerings. It was a granita made from combination of jasmine green tea and pineapple white tea. The yellow rose stuck into the bowl is made from lemon peel.
Each of the four ice creams and sorbets were scooped and presented in little vacherins, or piped meringue containers. They looked neat and clean, and held the melting treats in check during service. The rest of the meringe went to making white meringue cookies, which, when dipped in tempered chocolate, echoed the black and white color theme and made a striking visual statement. We made chocolate, vanilla, pistachio and hazelnut ice creams and our sorbets were apricot, lime, champagne, and merlot. The merlot sorbet tasted like Christmas, having been cooked with cinnamon, cloves and star anise.
For added crunch and a little glitter, we also made little diamant cookies, which are tender shortbread cookies that contain almost no flour, just confectioner's sugar, butter, and a whole vanilla bean. Simple but decadent.
This molded chocolate Eiffel Tower left our guests in no doubt about our theme, and it also added height and visual appeal to our buffet.
We ran into lots of problems with the champagne sorbet, which refused to solidify. The champagne probably didn't have enough sugar in it, and we didn't compensate for it with adding more to the recipe. In any case, seeing as we had to find a way to serve our fourth sorbet, we hollowed out some oranges and set them in a bowl of ice, making a pretty, primary-colored display.
Finally, because we found ourselves standing around with nothing to do at the end of Thurday, we decided to make a second entremet. For those of you who've never seen before, the mountain pictured below is a croquembouche. It's the most popular wedding cake in France and is made of a mountain of choux buns glued together with caramel. They're usually hollow on the inside but ours hides a solid cone of caramel bavarian, and is about two feet tall. It sits on a molded nougatine base that was rolled out flat, cut, then shaped on a cake pan while still warm and pliable. Just one side of the choux buns were dipped in a dark, contrasting caramel, and glued on with whipped cream. I think it looked better than it tasted, but it was fun to make it. Dipping those little buns was also an unexpected opportunity for me to learn about sugar burns when drop fell on my thumb. At first I ignored it because it only felt warm, but very quickly it got hotter and hotter and hotter until I could feel it all the way to the bone. By the time I had wiped it off hastily with a paper towel, a blister had begun to form. Nasty stuff.
All in all, I thought we put on a pretty impressive buffet for a first attempt, although with hgindsthere are definitely things that we could improve upon. We'll find out on Wednesday which team won.
I've heard and read all sorts of good things about Nigella Lawson, although I have never watched her show. Her book, How to be a Domestic Goddess, is turning into something of a classic. I liked her writing style, many of her recipes looked very interesting (although, where can one get quinces or white currants in the U.S.?!) and, of course, there is a little bit of a domestic goddess wanna-be in me.
I decided to try her mini-cheesecake recipe and whip up a batch for A's birthday. The ingredients are very simple, and it seems like there's surprisingly little sugar in it, although it's been years since I've made a cheesecake.
The recipe instructs you to press the graham cracker crust into the bottom and up the sides of each cup in the muffin tin. One heaping teaspoonful in each cup, for a total of 24 mini-cheesecakes. For the life of me, I couldn't stretch that heaping teaspoonful to cover the bottom and the sides. I assumed there were mistakes in the recipe, as I had read several reviews saying that, in the U.S. version of her book, a lot of the quantities were incorrect.
So I put a lot more than 1 teaspoon of crumbs into each cup, and ended up with 12 mini-graham cracker crusts instead of 24. "Wow," I thought, "she has the quantities completely off!" Well, I should have paid more attention to the recipe. I mean, sure, regular-sized muffin cups are "mini" compared to your average 9-inch cheesecake. So, when I saw read that 2 12-cup muffin pans were required, I assumed that meant 2 regular-sized muffin pans, since there are normally 12 muffin cups to a pan.
Well, they were supposed to be MINI-muffin pans. I'm sure a heaping teaspoonful of crust crumbs would line the bottom of one of those very well. And yes, I would have ended up with 24 mini-cheesecakes, instead of my 12 not-so-mini ones. In my own defense, most mini-muffin pans I see around have 24 cups, all in one pan.
So, now I have to figure out how to mail these rather fragile-looking cheesecakes to the birthday boy. It will have to go via priority or overnight mail, I think. Any suggestions for packaging?
Friday, September 28, 2007
My little, tiny portion was too small for my big, new saute pan, though. The small quantity of cider vinegar and honey sauce I mixed up disappeared from the hot pan in a flash, and I ended up blackening both the fillet and the pan more than I wanted to. In terms of taste, it wasn't bad (and the salmon was still succulent), but next time I may marinate it in the cider vinegar, honey and dill for a while so it picks up more flavour. Or, perhaps, I should use a smaller pan and/or more sauce.
I don't think I've given up on this idea quite yet. I definitely think this is something I can work with. And, of course, farm fresh, organic mesclun and tomatoes will improve any simple meal.
That isn't all the cooking I did tonight, though. Not by any means. I made a creamy beet and dill soup (yes, I had tonnes of dill and beets from the CSA), which I finished after dinner. Being full, it didn't make much sense to plate up the soup just so I could take a picture of it. I'll post that when I do eat it.
I also did some baking for A's birthday. My gargantuan little brother is turning 18!! He really loves cheesecake (and, can I blame him?), so I made him some mini cheesecakes. That turned into a bit of an adventure, though. Stay tuned for confessions, notes and pictures!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Instead, I bought some of this sweet apple chicken sausage and sauteed it with onions and the cider vinegar and honey to bring out the apple flavour.
I used the dill to make a creamy dill cucumber salad. I was supposed to press the cucumbers under a weight for a couple of hours, to get some of the liquid out, but I couldn't wait. It still tasted fine. There's nothing quite like fresh dill!
Saturday, September 22, 2007
It isn't really a tea, since it isn't made from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Instead, it is made from the South African red bush plant, and is naturally high in antioxidants, low in tannins, and caffeine free.
This blend, according to Upton Tea's description, contains "hibiscus, rose petals, blue mallow blossoms and sunflower petals." You can see some of the flower petals in the picture above. Isn't it pretty?
Rooibos isn't known as red bush tea for nothing. It tends to produce a warm, red liquor, and this one was a bright, golden mahogany. The dry tea smelt citrusy and peppery, but the tea itself had scents of vanilla (rooibos always seems to taste slightly sweet and vanilla-like) and the barest hint of rose. It was also warm, smooth and round, and incredibly comforting. I think this is a perfect herbal tisane for fall and winter enjoyment.
I was browsing new patterns that had been added to Ravelry's extensive database when I came across a whole tonne of Drops knitting patterns, all of which appeared to be available for free. Of course, I went to the Drops website to check this out, and it turns out that their patterns are being translated into English and being made available on this site. Thousands of patterns!
Some of the designs are truly beautiful. There's something for everyone: women, men, children, traditional-styled, classic or trendy, it's all there!
One caveat: most of the patterns have been translated into British English. There are some differences in knitting terminology - and, of course, in measuring units! - between American and British English, so be aware!
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The wonderful thing about food is, even though I just had carbohydrates and protein (and fibre, thank you) for dinner tonight, it was far from bland. I made scalloped potatoes with mushrooms, and green beans with shallots.
I used a quick recipe from Cook's Illustrated for the scalloped potatoes. This is made with the slightly non-traditional method of half-cooking the thinly sliced potatoes in the cream and broth mixture on the stove (I used my dutch oven), first. Then, it gets finished in the oven. Again, the recipe suggests slicing the potatoes with a food processor, because it's faster. As if I didn't know!
The recipe calls for fresh cremini and shiitake mushrooms, bay leaves and thyme (from my garden). The potatoes and onion came from the CSA, and the baking dish is a Chantal that I just bought today. I wanted one in a bright, apple green, but they didn't have any more at the discount store I went to. It's a good thing that I bought this dish, though! The recipe says to bake the potatoes in an 8 x 8-inch dish, or a 1.5 quart au gratin dish, but I don't think they could have possibly fit into something that size. I know I used the correct amount of potatoes, since I weighed them with my digital kitchen scale.
It turned out perfectly! The potatoes were exactly what I was craving tonight.I also used up the big bag of green beans from the CSA, adding fresh garlic and shallots.
And here's one with no cooking involved: the salad I had for lunch today. Red and green (they're called Green Zebras, and I love them!) tomatoes, fresh corn cut from the cob, and heirloom beets. There aren't that many weeks of the CSA left, so I am really enjoying the colourful and flavourful fall harvest. I wonder if I'll still be having as much fun cooking once winter comes around?
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Anyways, while squash is another of his disliked vegetables, I decided I couldn't resist anymore. I've been subsisting on a diet of greens salads with my SO, but with summer over and temperatures starting to drop, I just HAD to have ratatouille before it was too late. So I bought the smallest eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash I could find, threw in a plum tomato, and voila, my beautiful rainbow-colored, late-summer lunch. Ahhh....
Monday, September 17, 2007
These teas are tied into a bunch - and sometimes subsequently rolled/folded into a ball - by hand. They are normally good for multiple infusions (a good tea for an all-nighter, perhaps?). Prior to brewing, the leaves had a deep, almost grape-like fragrance.
The rosette takes a little while to bloom. Upton Teas recommends steeping for 3 - 7 minutes. I may have over-steeped just a bit, because the tea developed a little bit of bitterness, but there wasn't any unpleasant aftertaste. The liquor had a deep, muted vegetal taste that reminded me of fall. It was also surprisingly smoky, which wasn't what I was expecting, but then I looked back at the catalogue description: "...Sweet aroma, with a delicate, smoky nuance." It was a fun experience, and I think I'll give other display teas a try, but I don't think this particular one is to my taste.
I borrowed this book, The Essential Baker, from the library after browsing through it at the bookstore. I liked the variety of recipes included but, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. These days, I try to test out a cookbook before deciding whether or not to purchase it.
The recipes are grouped, not according to type (e.g. cookies, cakes, pies), but according to key ingredients, such as chocolate, fruit or nuts. The recipes themselves are laid out in a slightly unusual format; instead of listing all the ingredients at the beginning of the recipe, each recipe is divided into steps, and the ingredients used/added at each step are listed to the side of that step. Also listed, to another side, are essential equipment you will need, instructions for keeping the baked goods, ways you can streamline the process or do things ahead of time, and suggestions for changing the recipe and adding decoration.
As with too many cookbooks these days, the author assumes you have a food processor. I don't. Since I couldn't throw my carrots into a processor, grating the carrots is what took the longest time. I knew there was a reason I hadn't made carrot cake before! And, even though I know using a food processor is a very good way to cut butter into flour to make pastry...well, darn it, doesn't anyone do things the old-fashioned way anymore? Also, if you did want to make the pie crust in a food processor, could you get away with using a 7-cup processor, or do you need an 11-cup - or even a 14-cup - machine? These were my only problems with the cookbook.
The carrot cake turned out really well. It wasn't super-dense and loaded down with oil as some carrot cakes are, and it tasted great. It did make quite a lot of cake, though!
There are a couple more recipes I want to try: key lime pie, chocolate cake, lemon meringue pie. Overall, I give this book a thumbs-up.
The soup was surprisingly simple. Yes, you have to stick around to stir the onions so that they caramelise without burning too much, and the caramelisation takes a while. That, and cleaning the pot afterwards (well, I left for a couple minutes at a time to do other things) were the most time-consuming processes. And, even though I forgot to add the splash of balsamic vinegar at the end, and I didn't have red wine, the soup turned out so much better than what you get in most restaurants these days. I like French onion soup, but I'd stopped ordering it when dining out because it's invariably too salty.
This soup, with the crusty, toasted bread plonked on top and cheese melted over, made a perfect meal along with a light salad. Now, Whitney and I are thinking of other things we can use these soup crocks for. Chicken pot pie, anyone? Or how about a cobbler?
I have Darjeelings, Assams and Ceylons from India (I do love Indian teas!); Pu-er, lotus and peony teas from China; and rooibos and honeybush from Africa. I have two kinds of Earl Grey, one whose bergamot scent is supposed to be less overpowering, and one with blue flowers mixed in. I have tea flowers from Camelia sinensis, the tea plant. Each sample pack is labelled with the packing date, the type of tea, ideal brewing temperatures and times, and my name, and will make around 6 cups of tea. That's over 120 cups of tea, which I will surely enjoy all the more since it has started becoming rather chilly here!
I even indulged (all right, indulged myself even more) by buying this clever tea thermometer, which is colour-coded so one can easily tell when the water is at the appropriate temperature for green, oolong or black tea. Won't you come an join me for a tea party?
But, most happily, I now have a Sock Saviour! Someone who has taken pity on me, in my sockless plight, and has jumped in to be my new sock pal! Auntie MiMi (as she is calling herself; her real identity will remain secret until I receive my socks) has written to me to let me know that she has purchased yarn for my socks, and is now searching for a pattern. She has also given me some clues as to who she might be. Of course, she is a fellow Sockapaloozer, and has already knit socks for someone else, but since there were over a thousand of us, that doesn't narrow the field down much!
I'm happy to ponder it gently, and wait for all the be revealed at a later date. Now that the weather is turning colder here, though, I really need to finish that second sock from the second pair I was making for my sock pal. I gave her an IOU. Hang in there, Dawn!
Sunday, September 16, 2007
I finally asked the guys at Fa Hui what I was doing wrong, and they said that mint requires very, very little water and can't be placed in direct sunlight. Don't even bother to water it, said one guy, just mist the soil a little every day. This seems contrary to everything I read on the internet, but I shall try it, should any of my cuttings survive.
My basil isn't doing much better. It did great for the first few weeks I had it, but now it's simultaneously going yellow on the bottom and brown and crispy-edged on the top. What gives? A basil cutting I rooted in water rolled over and died once I planted it in potting soil, and repeated attempts at starting seeds have failed miserably. Before they put out their second set of leaves, they just wither and fall over.
My thyme, the poor straggly schizophrenic thing, is the one thing that's stayed alive since May. It was a gift from Cedric and Charlotte but was half dead when they brought it to me (having mysteriously perished overnight in their apartment). It sprung back, almost died during the heat wave, sprung back again during the rainy spell, and is now wilting again.
My absolute incompetence at keeping plants alive has driven me to troll the internet in search of a moron-proof plant watering method. Hydroculture clay pellets, converted coke bottle sub-irrigation planters, wicks made of old t-shirt... I now have an array of these experiments on my window sill. As back-up, I also acquired one plant I can not possibly drown - some kind of water weed that can be grown in a jar. Short of plastic fake plants, it's my best hope.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
I took the pictures without my memory card in the camera, however. (My camera has a couple of megs of memory built into it.) When I got back from my trip to the city, with my memory card in the camera, I didn't know where those pictures had gone, because I couldn't find them on the card.
Well, today I was taking pictures without the card again and, lo and behold, there they were. So here, very belatedly, I give thanks for the wonderful presents I received this year. Greenwithenv sent me an absolutely beautiful card (as she always does) and a very thoughtful journal that is sooooo pretty!
And Moocow, well, you can probably tell which birthday card she sent me. The cow itself is the bearer of the card; the little, tiny folded square in its mouth. Isn't that adorable? And, GASP! A giftcard from JoAnn's!! Fuel for my addictions, and many happy hours ahead.
My friend Neetu, knowing my interest in linguistics, gifted me with this handsomely bound volume...
...and this very pretty glass candle lamp.
And my father, ever practical, sent me a nice camera case for my SLR-like digital camera. A camera like this obviously should be kept in a case. I'd been carrying it around in a cloth pouch for over a year now, but somehow had never gotten around to buying a case. Mercifully, it hasn't sustained any damage, but I do think I was tempting fate. Thanks, dad!
These, added to all the birthday wishes from elementary and secondary school friends I'd been out of touch with for years (and have recently gotten back in touch with, thanks to Facebook) and the happy fondue party, made for a wonderful birthday. (Even though the one person I did spend my birthday with this year - my little brother - forgot that it was my big day!)
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
With all the appropriate fixings, of course. Ahhhh, it was a lovely, lovely way to spend the evening. The fondue set was very nice indeed. There's a porcelain insert that sits in the metal fondue pot, which you can fill with water to gently heat chocolate and cheese fondues, much like in a double boiler. The metal pot itself can be used for meat/oil fondues, which I've never tried before, but which I think I will probably get to try some time in the near future. Whitney, and All Clad, are the best!
Well, the beans I got from the CSA were in broader pods. I couldn't quite see it in soup or stir fry, so I decided to take care of them along with my craving for some Indian food. Both the recipes I used tonight are from Madhur Jaffrey. The bean recipe comes from An Invitation to Indian Cooking, a classic, which I bought a couple of years ago at a used bookstore. It was the basis for my first attempts at Indian cuisine. I'm not terribly fond of ginger, but it's flavour was mellowed out by the addition of the other spices and the long cooking time.
The spicy potato recipe, which came from Jaffrey's A Taste of India (Moocow bought this for me at The Strand bookstore in NYC), is one that I've been wanting to try for a while. During graduation week my senior year at Cornell a bunch of my friends and I went up to Niagara Falls. We stayed in Buffalo with one of my friend's parents, and her mother was a superb cook. She made these wonderful spicy potatoes speckled with black mustard seeds, but she wouldn't share the recipe.
It's been a number of years since I had those potatoes, and my memory of their taste is a little fuzzy, but I don't think this recipe - tasty though it was - is quite it. But, now that I bought a bag of black mustard seeds at a local Indian grocery, I'm sure I'll be experimenting with different potato recipes.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Well, it didn't happen. Instead, my parents called me that evening to tell me that they had decided that the Ant shouldn't have a new car, and they didn't want him dealing with an unknown used one. Their solution was to have me give him my car, and I would buy a new one. Great. I'd had no intention of buying a new car, I had no means of making payments on a new car, and I didn't have time to go looking at cars.
But I made arrangements for Ant to come up the next morning and, in between my summer internship, working at the restaurant, and trying to get ready for the SC trip, I tried out Hondas (the Fit and Civic), Toyotas (Yaris and Corolla), Nissans (Versa and Sentra) and Volkswagen's (Rabbit and Jetta). I spent hours waiting in dealerships and haggling (or trying to, at least) with salespeople. Some dealerships obviously took one look at the two of us, neither looking any more than 18, and decided we'd be easy pickings. I managed to get a good offer on a 2008 Versa, and I quite liked the car, too. But it hasn't been out very long, and I had no idea if it would be dependable in the long run.
The Rabbit was rather low on my list; although I liked it in the test drive, I thought it quite out of my price range. But, after calling between two different dealers, they started lowering their prices. In the end, I decided that, if I were to get a small car (and I really don't need a large one), I would get one that is known to be sturdy and dependable. It might be pricier than the Versa, and not as fuel efficient as the Civic, but I feel like a got a good deal on it.
So, this is Peter. I like that my car has a first name and a last name. Yeah, he still smells like a new car, and it makes me feel ever so slightly carsick, and I kind of wished for a silvery car instead of grey, but nobody is perfect. Peter and I are still getting to know each other. He's ever so earnest, but also a bit mischievous, too. He has a bigger appetite than my old Civic, and tends to gobble up his food more quickly, too. But he's quieter and steadier as well. Hopefully, Peter and I will be together for a good, long time.
Tonight I finally had some time to go to the supermarket and do all the chopping needed to make the gazpacho. Of course, it rained yesterday and the temperatures plummeted. In fact, I had my first hot cocoa of the season last night. But fresh tomatoes will not wait, and I wanted to try the Spicy Gazpacho with Chipotle Chiles and Lime recipe.
I chopped away at tomatoes, red bell peppers, onions, cucumbers, garlic, chipotles in adobo sauce and cilantro. I added lime juice, tomato juice, sherry vinegar (that took some finding, let me tell you!) and seasonings. And, even though I thought I'd be too cold to enjoy it, the chipotles added the necessary heat to a fresh and invigouratingly cold soup. A little bit of Italian bread, a little bit of cheese, and dinner was served.
Gazpacho is normally served with chopped toppings (more tomato, onion, bell pepper or avocado) or croutons, but I decided to keep things simple tonight and just added a dash of extra virgin olive oil, as suggested. It's a good thing I liked it; I have a huge pot of it left over.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
I also acquired a magnificent bruise yesterday. I was teaching introductory biology lab, and the students were doing experiments where they had to count the heart rate of Daphnia (commonly known as water fleas) in response to alcohol and caffeine. One pair of students had couldn't find the heart because their Daphnia was swimming around too much. I used a tissue to blot up a little of the water on the slide, and accidentally (it's difficult to control!) soaked up all the water. The poor Daphnia was stuck on the tissue! I ran across the lab room to where the water tank was stationed and took a flying leap to try and return the Daphnia to the water before it died. Well, I wasn't successful. It must have been the bad karma from having killed such a small, helpless creature; I have a terrible lump and bruise on my elbow where I slammed into a lab bench. Not one of my better moments. Every time my elbow pressed into the mattress, I would wake up from the pain.
On a pain-free note, there was some lovely cauliflower in this week's CSA share. I've never had such fresh cauliflower before, so I wanted to prepare it simply in order to fully appreciate its flavour. I chose to cook it with a little bit of butter, garlic, salt, pepper and fresh parsley, also from the CSA. It was delicious!
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Each student had to construct a triangular box and fill it with nine truffles - 3 each of plain, cocoa dusted and confectioner's sugar dusted. The box had to be glued up well, with straight sides, attractive seams, and a minimum of fingerprints. There was to be decor on the lid - I made the rosebuds and petal here with decor chocolate.
I was quite happy with my box, and as a surprise bonus, Chef told us to wrap up our boxes, truffles and all, and take them home. This is the first thing we've been allowed to take home since we started the program at the beginning of July. Unfortunately, the car was so hot that the base and top melted into a puddle before I even got onto the highway. It was a miracle that the sides of the box survived, but they're not of much use to me now. Anyways, my camera ran out of batteries right after I took this picture, so this is my one and only shot of the box that once was.
But I'm not in a terribly celebratory mood, anyway. I'm afraid something might have happened that will forever alter things between a very good friend of mine and me. It saddens me more than I can say.