January 1, 2014

The Year That Was - 2013

Even though the blog is mostly forgotten and abandoned, the least I can do is my annual recap and "Year in Cities" post.

Let's see. When last we talked, I mentioned that I was making wedding cake(s). So that happened.

Photo by Marcie Meredith

I also made a birthday cake for a handsome one-year-old nephew.


I went honeymooning in the Canadian Rockies. Simply amazing. Here are 2 of my favorite photos of Moraine Lake.






I spent the last months of the year after the wedding carbo-loading on homemade bread and German food (so many potatoes!). We almost perfected our rye bread recipe. And I say we did perfect our sauerbraten and beef rouladen recipes.

Once again, Mr. R and I spent our New Year's Eve at Sitka & Spruce. This year they served a special New Year's Eve dinner. My tolerance level for eccentric tasting menus must be decreasing. I think someone just made up words on the menu--geoduck, smelt, acorn cookies, sea beans, spruce salt, fried birch leaves. That's not real! 


We planned to watch the Space Needle fireworks show, but an unfortunate fog rolled in at 11:30 and it wouldn't budge. From Capitol Hill, we could see distant flares that may or may not have been fireworks.

In travel, I visited 3 new states - Oregon, Indiana, and Alberta, CA - and flew to Seattle 8 times, making it easy to rack up the frequent flyer miles. Here's my year in cities:

New Orleans, Louisiana
Seattle, Washington (Twice in March, June, July, September, October, December)
Portland, Oregon
Oops! update: Austin, Texas 
Indianapolis, Indiana
Chicago, Illinois
Whidbey Island and Deception Pass, Washington
Honeymoon in Alberta, Canada--Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise

Previous years: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

What's on your 2013 list?

August 7, 2013

Voted 'Most Likely to Make Her Own Wedding Cake'

Mr. Right is getting married, and I'm making the cake(s). For the chocolate lovers, I'll make my signature wedding cake, the Chocolate Blackout Wedding Cake with Coconut Buttercream, pictured at the last wedding I made it for --

Chocolate Blackout Wedding Cake with Hydrangeas, by kimberlykv

And for chocolate abstainers, there will be a Lemon Ricotta Cake filled with berries and lemon whipped cream.

Some of the quantities on the shopping list that caused my eyebrows to go up:
12 cups sugar
10 large lemons
2 lbs. chocolate
22 large eggs
20 egg yolks
2 egg whites
3 quarts heavy cream
7 pounds butter

Mr. Right might have preferred someone else make his wedding cake, but I felt it would be a personal contribution I could make to the dinner. And besides, have you priced wedding cakes lately?

February 21, 2013

Lemon Love

I believe I found something that Mr. R and I can disagree about: I use ketchup in my Chicken Marsala. Horror of horrors! To my credit, it's not Heinz ketchup I use, and I still think a couple of teaspoons' worth of ketchup is better than opening a can of tomato paste, but nevertheless... I also wanted to buy pre-sliced white button mushrooms and he wanted bulk portabellas that he would slice himself. I've been outgunned. The man also makes a mean Caprese Salad, hunting for heirloom tomatoes and the good balsamic. I think I'm in love.



One thing we can agree on is our fondness for lemon desserts. Of late we've made two recipes with Meyer lemons, mousse and sherbet. The sherbet was just right, with just enough sourness to wake you up and a perfect creamy soft texture.

Meyer Lemon Sherbet
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Ingredients

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest from 1 to 2 lemons
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Meyer lemon juice, plus 1 cup water
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier, optional
2/3 cup heavy cream, chilled

Instructions
  1. Process zest, sugar, and salt in food processor until damp, 10 to 15 short pulses.
  2. With machine running, add lemon juice/water mixture in slow, steady stream. Process until sugar is fully dissolved, about 1 minute.
  3. Strain mixture into medium bowl (I skipped this step because I don't mind the zest) and stir in Grand Marnier, if using. Chill until very cold but not frozen.
  4. When mixture is cold, whip cream in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Whisking constantly, add juice mixture in steady stream, pouring against edge of bowl.
  5. Immediately start ice cream machine and add juice/cream mixture to canister; churn until sherbet has texture of soft-serve ice cream, 15 to 25 minutes.
  6. Transfer sherbet to storage container; press plastic wrap directly against surface of sherbet and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours.

Lemon Layer Cake

January 1, 2013

The Year That Was - 2012

It was a very good year. Tangerine Tango was the color of 2012, and orange being one of my favorite colors, I took it as a sign that this would be my year. (FYI, the color for 2013 is emerald.)

In new foods this year, I discovered and developed many ice cream recipes. Among the most interesting: Bangkok Thai Peanut, Chocolate Cayenne, and Olive Oil. I attended a 3-day chocolate candy making class in Chicago at the Callebaut Academy. While in Chicago, I ate at Alinea, rated by some sources as the best restaurant in North America.



I spent New Year's Eve at Sitka & Spruce with my gentleman friend. Once again, we walked off in the wrong direction and couldn't locate the restaurant immediately. Seated at our table, the view was now blocked by an unfinished multistory building that had been constructed in the last 5 months. How things have changed! But we had a lovely and romantic dinner. Afterward, we watched the Space Needle fireworks show from Capitol Hill with drunk hipsters.

New Years 2013: Space Needle Fireworks in Seattle 
Image by Michael Holden

In travel, I hit the three places on my 2012 wish list - Australia, Chicago, Hawaii - plus visited Seattle 4 times during the second half of the year. I took at least one trip with my favorite people in the world. I visited 5 U.S. states and 2 Australian states. I flew 42 flights and hit gold status on American Airlines. Here's my year in cities:

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Richmond, New South Wales, Australia
Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia
Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia
Austin, Texas (March and April)
Houston, Texas
Columbus, Ohio
Dallas, Texas
Chicago, Illinois
Carlsbad, New Mexico
Seattle, Washington (July, October, twice in December)
San Juan Islands, Washington
Hawaii (Honolulu, Waikiki, Hilo, Kona, Laie, Kanehoe, Naalehu, Punalu'u)
Albuquerque, New Mexico (August and November)

Previous years: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

What's on your 2012 list?

September 29, 2012

Sitka & Spruce

I went to Seattle at the end of July. There were plenty of places to eat on my wish list of to-do's as Seattle has quite the food scene. Lately, I've decided a good way to choose restaurants is by looking at the list of James Beard Award winners. Local Seattle chef Matt Dillon was a 2012 winner, so his restaurant, Sitka & Spruce, moved to the top of my list.

I had Friday night dinner reservations with a hot date - we'll call him Mr. Right until I can think of a better pseudonym. Sitka & Spruce is located in Melrose Market, and in classic Kimberly form (brain-dead), I couldn't tell exactly where to enter, so I walked around the perimeter of the whole building trying to figure it out.

Eventually we made it in. The restaurant was fairly small, with only a few tables, and an open kitchen. The décor was very Northwest, unfinished wood, brick, exposed ceiling beams, etc. The big windows provided a nice view of the bright evening.

Everything was plated beautifully. See gratuitous food photos below.

Sitka & Spruce

We began with slices of sourdough bread baked at The Corson Building in Georgetown, accompanied by lovage butter with sea salt and salmon mousse. The mousse was quite good, but the butter was better.

Next we had Saucisson D’Alsace Salami from Olympic Provisions. I think this was Mr. R's favorite course. Not sure why I don't have a picture of it.

Sitka and Spruce

The next course was my favorite. It was some sort of amazing delicious roasted fava beans topped with an egg, salt, and edible flower petals. Underneath was a piece of toasted sourdough, and the sauce had a distinct Thai flavor, perhaps some sort of coconut milk curry.

Sitka and Spruce

The next course of Neah Bay king salmon, shelling peas, and summer chanterelles was adequate, though a slight let down after the incredible fava beans.

Sitka and Spruce

The last course was on two plates, the first, a Barley salad with heirloom tomatoes, some sort of creamy, tangy dressing on the side, and flatbread.

Sitka and Spruce

The other plate, roasted pork, dandelion greens, and peaches. The dandelion greens were beautiful, though bitter, but the pork and peaches were perfect.

Mr. Right was quite charming. Holding his hand across the table and discussing the food made for a perfect evening.   

Update: The Amateur Gourmet listed Sitka & Spruce on his list of romantic restaurants: http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2012/10/where-do-you-escape-for-a-romantic-dinner.html. This just happened.

August 8, 2012

In Defense of French Pastry

Yesterday, as I was driving home from work I heard a story on NPR about French bakeries using frozen croissant dough instead of making croissants from scratch onsite. Croissants are like the Tolstoy novel of recipes, long and laborious, with many tedious steps, ingredients that must be at the perfect temperature, waiting time for chilling and proofing and baking, etc. No wonder bakeries want to outsource the labor by purchasing and selling “industrial croissants.” I find it impossible to believe that anyone who’s tasted French pastries made from scratch by artisans could be fooled by these imposters.
NPR: Outsourced croissants outrage traditional French bakers
This story made me think back to my visit to Paris last October. Pastries in Paris pâtisseries were displayed in the storefronts like beautiful jewels. We left our hotel in the morning and strolled up the neighboring block to Au Levain des Martyrs for a petit-déjeuner.

“Bonjour!” Then I did my best to order a pain au chocolat and an almond croissant. Even basic words like those still required some pointing and apologies. I handed over a couple of Euro coins as payment, smiled, “Merci.” Then we walked to the metro stop at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette to catch a train to the museums.

In the evening, we stopped at Stohrer at 51 Rue Montorgueil.

Stohrer Paris

Stohrer was open in 1725 when Marie Leczynska, queen and wife of Louis XV, wanted babas and puits d'amour (wells of love: canelle shell filled with vanilla pastry cream). It's one of those places that has probably been using the same sourdough starter since Napoleon was in power.

Pâtisserie Stohrer Histoire de Paris

Their display cases of pastry were filled with beautiful selections. They also had baskets of croissants and canelés, and jars of jellies.

Stohrer Paris Canelés Croissants

In the end, our two selections were the Tarte aux Framboises (fond de pâte sablée, crème mousseline vanillée et framboises fraîches)

Raspberry Tartelette

and Le Mille feuilles caramel (une délicate pâte feuilletée, une crème légère pâtissière, le dessus caramélisé ou bien au sucre glace, selon votre goût).

Millefeuille au caramel

And good luck trying to say mille feuilles well enough that a French pâtissier can understand you. Despite practicing, I still drew a confused look from the lady waiting on me.

With pastries in hand, you may want to seek out a park bench on which to sit and enjoy the delicious treats, or you might want to eat while walking around the corner to G. Detou. As David Lebovitz said, it is truly pastry paradise. I'm still kicking myself for not buying more French chocolate and Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. I've never seen any vanilla beans as long, moist, and plump, but still reasonably priced.

Or there are always the iconic Paris sites, that you may have thought were cliché, but in fact deserve all their adoration. I recommend you and your pastry visit the Eiffel Tower at dusk. It will be beautiful as the sun's setting, and after nightfall, the tower sparkles on the hour, which is completely magical.

May 20, 2012

Cook the Book: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

My secret, or perhaps not so secret, favorite dessert is ice cream. People that find out I like to make desserts always ask what my favorite is. I usually say cakes, because few people make good layer cakes from scratch these days and when made correctly, they're a showstopper. But my favorite dessert may just be ice cream...even more so as summer begins, the weather heats up, and a cold dessert sounds heavenly. I was in Columbus, Ohio at the beginning of the month, and the eatery I most wanted to visit was Jeni's for ice cream.

Some of the more intriguing flavors were The Milkiest Chocolate in the World, Salty Caramel, and Goat Cheese with Red Cherries. The first time we went (I had to go more than once!) I got a scoop of Salty Caramel and one of Dark Chocolate. On the second visit, I tried The Buckeye State (peanut butter with dark chocolate bits) and Queen City Cayenne (spicy milk chocolate).

I decided to order Jeni's award-winning book, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and cook through the book this summer. In truth, it will probably become a year-long endeavor, which is good because she organizes the recipes into Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter flavors. The first thing I noticed about her recipes is that she doesn't use a custard base, instead she uses tapioca starch and cream cheese to create a thick and creamy texture - mind blown!

For my first magic trick, I made Bangkok Peanut ice cream, a spicy peanut ice cream with peanut butter, both coconut milk and toasted coconut, honey, and cayenne. Jeni compares its flavors to those of Pad Thai. I made mine with jalapeño peanut butter and Alaska fireweed honey. This flavor had a simultaneous spicy and cooling sensation - mind blown! again - that caused my guests to ask for a drink of water. To me, it was perfect. I ate a scoop. Then another. Then when the ice cream was gone, I poured milk into the container to wash out every last drop for myself.

I went a little further and made the "One Night in Bangkok Sundae," with scoops of Bangkok Peanut, sliced bananas, praline sauce (cream and dark brown muscovado sugar), peanuts, whipped cream, and cilantro.

One Night in Bangkok Sundae

Maybe your mind was just blown by the concept of cilantro in the ice cream sundae, but for me this was not without precedent. At a street market in Taiwan, they sold ice cream, not in a cone, but wrapped in a thin, tortilla- or crepe-like pancake, that was also filled with peanut brittle shavings and cilantro.

IMG_2944

IMG_2947

Those Asians sure do know their ice cream. Wait!

Danshui

Something else we saw in Taiwan. Mind blown again. (I promise to never ever use that phrase again in my blog.) Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream recipe online here.

March 21, 2012

Australia Is Awesome

Tonight I went to the grocery store and bought scallops, barramundi, mango, and papaya. Can you tell I miss Australia?

Some of the foodie highlights we found Down Under were meat pies, kebabs, TimTams, tropical fruits, pavlovas, lamingtons, mud crabs, octopus, and kangaroo.



Nancy heartily approved of the meat pies.

Meat Pies Approved by Nancy

Oh, and there was brekkie at Bourke Street Bakery.



Macadamia & Honey Sticky Bun, Pain au Chocolat, Rhubarb & Pear Danish, and a Chocolate Tartlet. Don't judge me. That was shared amongst 7 people.

Tonight I tried scallops with a Thai sauce following this recipe.



For the sauce, I used a macadamia nut oil from where else but Queensland?



By the way, that video is a little over the top, but they don't exaggerate too much.

February 27, 2012

Chocolate-Covered Valentine's

I didn't write about my Valentine's Day festivities yet. After the pantry purge of 2012, I had a lot of old chocolate to throw out. Lots of Hershey's Kisses that were pushed to the far reaches of the cupboard and some Baker's chocolate that also ended up in the dark corners - neither fit to eat nor bake with.

That stuff could go straight to the dumpster. Or it could go to the dumpster covering whatever else was headed for the dumpster.

If you didn't follow that, you wouldn't be alone.

After a lot of "Why would you waste chocolate like that?" questions, a few people came over for a night of chocolate covered anything! They brought random non-edibles for us to cover in chocolate. My old T-ball trophies were going to look so much cooler in chocolate.

Some of the items we dipped were necklaces, light bulbs, CDs, and Texas-shaped stuff. My personal favorites were the copy of Twilight and a hubcap.





And here's something that always makes me laugh. Pretty much what I'm looking for in a valentine:

February 20, 2012

Brennan's

I'd heard about Brennan's since I was young. My dad took a family trip to New Orleans when he was young. More than once he talked about that trip and quoted their cabby, who when asked where to eat in New Orleans, said, "You don't eat in New Orleans. You put your feet under the table and dine!" Dad often told me how wonderful Brennan's was. For him, Brennan's set the standard for Hollandaise sauce that mine would be judged by.

Brennan's is in an old French Quarter mansion on Rue Royale, my favorite street to stroll in the Quarter.

Brennan's

The decor and place settings were as fancy as at August. Definitely a champagne breakfast sort of place. My waiter was O'Keefe. I knew what I wanted to order before I even arrived at the restaurant.

Brennan's French Bread

First, I had the New Orleans Turtle Soup. It was dark and thick and rich, and then O'Keefe poured a good shot of sherry on top of it, and it looked even better.

Brennan's Turtle Soup

Next I had the Eggs Hussarde. The menu described it thus: (A Brennan's Original) One of the dishes that put "Breakfast at Brennan's" on the map. Poached eggs atop Holland rusks, Canadian bacon, and Marchand de Vin sauce. Topped with Hollandaise sauce.

Brennan's Eggs Hussarde

Not one, but two French sauces! I try to be ambitious in the kitchen, but even though the recipe for Eggs Hussarde is on Brennan's website, I doubt I'll ever attempt it. It would take me all morning to make and still wouldn't be half as good as what they served me.

I finished up with the most fun course, Bananas Foster for dessert. This is the place they invented Bananas Foster! If you don't know about it, watch this clip from the Food Network:



O'Keefe brought the pan with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and sliced bananas over to the table to show me. Then he stepped over to the cart and put the pan over a flame to melt the sugar and bananas. He added the banana liqueur and quietly said he'd tell me when it was time to get the camera ready for the flambé. He poured the rum in and tilted the pan to catch the flame.

Brennan's Bananas Foster Brennan's Bananas Foster Flambé Brennan's Bananas Foster Flambé Brennan's Bananas Foster Flambé

The flame went higher than his head. After the mixture cooked a moment and the flame died away, he poured the pan's contents over vanilla ice cream. The hot caramel melted the ice cream a bit, and the texture of the ice cream, soft bananas, and syrupy sugar was divine.

Brennan's Bananas Foster

I don't know if it was the sentimentality of the connection to my dad at Brennan's or because it was my last meal in New Orleans, but the food at Brennan's was my favorite. I didn't eat again until the next day. This was a breakfast of champions indeed.