December 29, 2009

First Slice Phobia

First Slice Phobia: the fear of being the first to cut into a dessert. Most often exhibited at social gatherings as referenced in the following case study...

A holiday pot-luck party provided the perfect opportunity to make the full recipe of Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake, complete with fancy piped whipped cream, but when it came time for dessert the guests were eating everything but! Why wasn't anyone trying my tempting and (if I do say so myself) gorgeous dessert? Personally I couldn't wait to try it so I did. And then the hoarde descended.

What is it in human nature that makes people so reluctant to take the first slice? If we didn't want you to eat it, it would have been just as easy to ditch the tights and high heeled boots to stay at home in my jammies, the television with a fork! Not that there's anything wrong with that.

December 20, 2009

Improving With Age

Today is my 36th birthday but my blog is getting the presents- a Lowel Ego light kit. It comes with 2 Ego lights, a sweep with colored backdrops, and the promise of increased content right here on this blog.
No more will I toil away on a beautiful culinary masterpiece (ok maybe that's a stretch but one needs a goal) only to have it go undocumented due to lack of available light in my tiny house. Day or night, rain or shine, success or failure, you will read about it here.

But not right now because it's time for cake.

December 1, 2009

Can I Get A Woop Woop

After the whirwind of baking, eating, and more baking that went down last week, I wasn't so sure I could bring myself to dive into to some fancy smancy dessert but something about this Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart kept calling my name. Mainly it was the rosy part, as in red wine. I can never resist and opportunity to bake with booze plus, I already had a bottle of Woop Woop Shiraz open- fun to say and fun to drink. I did only go for a third of the recipe, yielding this one lonely yet lovely 4 inch tart.

While I was at it I attempted to bake ahead and make the Cafe Exploding Sticky Disaster, I mean Volcano cookies, but that is a story for another Tuesday.

To see more tarts in action, check out the TWD blogroll.

November 27, 2009

Even Wikipedia Doesn't Know

I love it when my Mom visits. We cook, we shop, we have serious heart to heart talks where we try to solve all the existential crisis of our lives like, "what does savory mean?" Really, define savory, without using the phrase "not sweet" or "umami." Even wikipedia is iffy on the subject.
Well next time someone asks me what savory is I'll say, Rosemary Lemon Shortbread.
Sweet but not too sweet, but herb-y too, these cookies will leave you scratching your head while reaching for another. You know, for research.
For the recipe go here, or out this month's issue of Sunset.

November 25, 2009

Precious Cargo

You wouldn't know it from the food blogs but we are in the throes of a pumpkin shortage.
Recent heavy rains in the Midwest are putting pumpkin pie in short supply this holiday season.

On Tuesday, food giant Nestle, which controls about 85% of the pumpkin crop for canning, issued a rare apology and said that rain appeared to have destroyed what remained of a small harvest this year and that it expected to stop shipping the holiday staple by Thanksgiving.

- Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2009

When I got my hands on 2 large cans of Libby's I planned to stash it in the back of my pantry to save for rainy day but it's just not Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. I used one whole can to yield 2 pies, one for some cousins taking a trip up north, and one for us- because tomorrow is as much about being thankful as it is about giving.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

November 17, 2009

Preferential Treatment

Freelancing on tv shows has it's pluses and minuses. Higher day rate, plus. Never knowing when you are going to work again (or get paid again), minus. Avoiding the drama that comes from knowing everything about everyone- huge plus. People not knowing you well enough to trust your judgement, minus. Having the time to bake and then bring cookies to work, thereby generating happiness goodwill in current/prospective co-workers and employers while allwoing me to pawn off baked goods on others so I don't have to eat them...ginormous plus!
Immediately after getting booked for a recent two day job, I received the following text:
What's for dessert?

Needless to say my first thought was, what is coming up for Tuesdays With Dorie? Sugar Topped Molasses Spiced Cookies fit the bill perfectly. Easy to make (can't stay up late baking when you have to get up at 6am and work for the next 15 hours) seasonal, and totally transportable, they were a big hit.

On my next day off I used the remaining dough and some leftover pumpkin buttercream to make Molasses Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.

Oh yes I did.

November 10, 2009

Fall Back Position

Daylight Savings time is wreaking havoc around here. While I get decent light in my house, there are only a few areas that work for food photography. I spent most of last winter repeating "I need a light box" over and over but of course then we sprung forward and I forgot all about it. Now that we've fallen back again, and I'm working 2 jobs, daytime photo ops have grown scarce Luckily this weekend I had a free afternoon to sneak in a November TWD, Cran-Apple Crisp.
I've never met a fruit crisp or crumble I didn't like and this one was no exception. This recipe is short on work (and dirty dishes), big on deliciousness and halved perfectly to yield 4 small servings in my ramekins. I omitted the dried fruit, reduced the sugar and substituted whole wheat flour for AP because I would be topping them with a scoop of David Lebovitz's outrageously good Cinnamon Ice Cream.

Cran-Apple Crisp is so good it's a serious contender for Thanksgiving. Or Veteran's Day, Sunday night dessert, perhaps tomorrow's breakfast...don't judge.

Cinnamon Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop
1 cup 2% or low fat milk
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks

Warm milk, sugar, cinnamon sticks and salt in a medium saucepan then remove from heat, cover and steep one hour.
Pour cream into a large bowl and set aside. Warm up milk again then strain out cinnamon sticks. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs together and slowly pour warm milk into eggs whisking constantly, then pour the warmed yolks back into the saucepan. Stir constantly with a spatula over medium heat until it is thickened and coats the back of the spatula. Strain the custard into the bowl of cream and stir until cool over an ice bath. Refrigerate.
When custard is thoroughly chilled, freeze it in your ice cream maker.

October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat

Run out of candy? How about chocolate cupcakes with pumpkin buttercream?
Happy Halloween!
Recipe found here and here.

October 27, 2009

Duncan Who?

Having recently realized the relative ease and super awesomeness of homemade brownies over boxed, I figured I had fancy brownies down pat. Then this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte, tapped me on the shoulder. Hello, what's this? Dense dark chocolate brownie, with chunks of chocolate, and tart dried cherries flambe-ed in booze, topped off with a silky mascarpone mousse...yeah I'd be lying if I said that little red box wasn't looking pretty good right about then. But hey, I've come too far to be afeared of a little hoity toity brownie recipe.
Admittedly, I did not flambe- don't think I'm ready for open flame just yet. I did cook down some tart cherries with Kirsch and cherry preserves, briskly yet gently fold dry ingredients into wet, and mixed up a darn smooth mousse. I even tried my hand at some chevrons.

My verdict on the Cherry Fudge Brownie Torte? Nailed it!
Sorry Mr. Hines, your services are no longer required.
Thanks April for this week's great pick. For more on this and other TWD fun, check out the blogroll.

October 13, 2009

Cup Size Matters

No, not that kind of cups, I'm talking muffin cups. Geez, get your minds out of the gutter. Gawd.
Anyway, there was a lot of talk on the P & Q this week about Allspice Crumb Muffins, specifically about streusel topping spillage. My solution: extra large muffin liners. I won't even go near a crumb topped recipe without them. I mean what's that point of all that buttery, sugary goodness sliding off your muffin onto the tin and surrounding oven surface? Or only filling the batter halfway and stunting what should be a beautiful muffin top?

Got spillage? Get bigger cups.

For more muffin information (and less innuendo), check out the Tuesdays With Dorie blogroll.

October 11, 2009


Halloween, it's not just for kids...or humans.

Photos and art direction by Ricki & Michael Finnan

October 9, 2009

Chip Which?

I never met a chocolate chip cookie I didn't like. No matter how many different cakes, pies and ice creams come out of my kitchen, nothing truly satisfies my sweet tooth like warm cookies and a glass of milk . Traditional, Oatmeal Milk Chocolate, or World Peace Cookies...which chip would you choose?

Seriously help me out here people, I'm stumped.

October 7, 2009

To Bisque Or Not To Bisque

It is finally starting to feel like fall around here, a season which brings out my inner soupaholic. Yeah that's right, I'm going to come right out and admit I'm addicted to soups, making it and eating it, and I have no intention of stopping. Of course my food magazine obsession is certainly an enabler here- last week it was Two Bean Soup With Kale from Cooking Light and this week, Fennel Apple Bisque.
Sunset had a huge section of irresistible looking soups but the bisque was at the top of the list. A few minor alterations to the original recipe resulted in a smooth, mildly sweet soup. I'm hooked.

Fennel Apple Bisque
adapted from Sunset, October '09
1 fennel bulb, chopped, fronds saved for garnish
1 large fuji apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp butter
freshly grated nutmeg, salt & pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan and saute onions until tender. Add vegetable stock, apples and fennel and bring to a boil. Simmer until fennel is soft, about 15 minutes. Puree soup in a blender, thinning with more stock is necessary. Reheat soup in the pan and season to taste.

October 6, 2009

Picking Up The Slack

Last post September 15. Serious blog neglect? Guilty as charged.
It's not that I haven't been baking, it's that with 2 part time jobs I either haven't been baking at home or I haven't had the time to photograph it before it was consumed. Last week, I actually had a small sliver of time to make the Chocolate Crunched Caramel Tart for a friend's potluck. It came out great and went over like gangbusters but it's fabulousness went undocumented here. After reading about everyone's experiences at Blogher Food (sign me up for '10) , it's time for me to redirect my energies in the direction of this site which means less talk, more pudding. Specifically this week's TWD, Split Level Pudding.

With no actually baking involved, I felt I should at least try something new and made Milk Chocolate Caramel Pudding. Back in the days before I realized how easy and utterly awesome homemade pudding is, I used to buy those Jello pudding cups all the time. Never again.
To make the ganache I substituted good quality milk chocolate chips for the bittersweet chocolate and let it set up at room temperature. The caramel pudding is adapted from a recipe pulled from Food & Wine. My recipe binder is currently overflowing with a glut of torn magazine pages, some of them so old the ingredients are out of season!
Milk Chocolate Caramel Pudding was a great place to start.

Caramel Pudding
adapted from F&W, March '09
1 quart whole milk
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp corn starch
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch fleur de sel
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water
1 tbsp butter, at room temperature

Whisk together 1/2 cup milk, corn starch, vanilla and salt and set aside. In a large saucepan combine sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Do not stir. Allow sugar to cook until it turns a deep amber color. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the remaining milk. Be careful as it may sputter and foam up quite a bit. Put back on the heat and whisk until the caramel dissolves into the milk. Reduce to a simmer until slightly thickened and darker in color. Remove from the heat to whisk in the cornstarch mixture then cook over medium heat until pudding is very thick- this takes about a minute. Strain pudding into a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the butter and pulse again until smooth. Pour into ramekins, cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

September 15, 2009

A Pie In The Hand Is Better Than A Pie In The Face

Work has really been picking up for me lately and I've been spending a lot more time on set these days. Even though there is always food around, in my position it's usually impossible to sit down for a meal so eating must be done while on the move if it's going to happen at all. That is why this week's TWD, Flaky Apple Turnovers, could be my new best friend. All the comfort and joy of your favorite apple pie in a handy dandy portable pocket- what could be better? I wonder if I could fit a turkey sandwich in there...

For more pocket pie fun, check out the blogroll.

September 6, 2009

Cookies From The Triangle House

I've got a little confession to make. Despite the outgoing and friendly impression I hope this blog gives off, I am truly awful at parties. I can speak to large groups of extras, effortlessly move from set to set meeting whole new crews of people each time, and have no trouble talking to customers at the bakery, but something about a party brings out my inner wallflower. Recently I've decided this is something I need to work on and have been purposely putting myself and my husband in social gathering situations where we don't know anyone. Case in point was the Joy The Baker Picnic where I decided we could not leave until I had approached and spoken to five strangers. Check out Joy's post for that event. See that couple on the bottom left walking alone towards the middle of the crowd? Yep that's us. Ultimately I did succeed, and exceed, that five people standard and had a lovely time doing so.
Today was our neighborhood's annual Labor Day Weekend Block Party. I am proud to live in a community that reveres bounce houses, water balloon fights, and neighbors hanging out in the street drinking beer and listening to a local band of fortysomethings live out their rock and roll fantasies. We go every year, and by go I mean slam a drink beforehand (for courage) and walk up and down the street twice before scurrying back to our little triangular shaped house on the corner. This year I vowed it would be different. This year I brought cookies.

And not just any cookies, David Lebovitz's chocolate chip cookies which are my new absolute favorite. Have you tried these yet? They are perfection I promise you.
Yeah so I made a big batch of these cookies and we marched our way down the street, cookies and beer in hand. By the time we reached the bounce house they were half gone and the rest didn't last five minutes on the dessert table. Of course once the cookies ran out so did my courage and I felt pretty dorky carrying around an empty plate. We walked back to house, ostensibly to drop off said plate and get another beer...and we never left. Oh, well there's always next year. Baby steps.

September 1, 2009

My Life and Brownies- A Parable

It's little over a year into this blog and I'm starting to examine the journey I'm on, this evolution from film crew member to baker and back again.

I'm about to wax poetic here for a few minutes so in case I forget to mention it, this week's TWD was all about Espresso Cheesecake Brownies. Feel free to bail out on this diatribe at any time and check out the blogroll for more baking and less yapping.

What started out as hobby/fantasy is actually turning into something really real you know? The end of a great show followed months of unemployment, freeing me up for baking classes, leading to an observation day with a local bakery, and then a real live, although part time and extremely casual, baking gig. And just when I thought I was out of the loop, my phone starts ringing with freelance tv jobs. After weeks of fantasizing about a scenario just like this one it is actually happening and even typing this makes me worry I may jinx myself.

Can my two lives really be exist simultaneously? Financial and health insurance obligations being met while still having time for culinary pursuits? Two halves of one life meeting in the middle and swirling around each other like... (wait for it) Espresso Cheesecake and Brownie?

Hey, you knew it was coming and I gave you an out.

I don't know how long this harmony will last but I'm eating it up enjoying every last bite.

August 18, 2009

It may still be summer for most of us but in the world of retail fall has arrived. I saw my first pumpkin decorations today and I'm sure the ghosts and goblins of Halloween aren't far behind. The scents coming from my kitchen today were also unmistakably autumnal as this week's TWD, Applesauce Spice Bars, baked away in my oven. My version consisted of diced Braeburn Apple, chopped walnuts and a bit of brandy and the glaze on top reminded me of caramel apples.

You know, rushing the season isn't such a bad thing when apple and caramel are involved but please, no snowmen yet, ok?

August 15, 2009

Kitchen Cousins

Meet Kaitlin. Budding chef, gymnast, all around great girl, and my cousin. At thirteen she has already mastered chocolate souffle- I don't think I even knew what a souffle was at her age. An avid food blog reader and food network watcher, Kaitlin is getting a great head start on knowing her way around the kitchen.

Today the student became the teacher when I packed up all my kitchen gadgets and headed over to her grandma's house for a day of baking. On the menu:
Red Velvet Mini Layer Cake and Cupcakes Lemon Tart Rugelach Croissant

Quite a line-up but after 16 weeks of baking class, infinitely doable. I got a head start on the croissant dough and did all four turns of the dough the day before. We made plain and chocolate and came out beautifully.

Kaitlin had checked out my blog and made special requests for the Red Velvet and Rugelach recipes.

I also wanted to teach her a great sweet tart dough and with fresh meyer lemons from the backyard, we tried our hand at Dorie's Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart. Here Kaitlin exhibits her natural knack for presentation.

After a full day of baking we took advantage of the beautiful afternoon light taking photos for Kaitlin's new blog, Starting From Scratch.

I 'm so proud of my cousin and can't wait to see what she does next. I'm pretty sure she'll be teaching me a thing our two real soon.

August 11, 2009

TWD- Cute as a Peanut Butter Brownie Button

At 5'4, of course subscribe the the adage that good things come in small packages. My perfectly petite mother always has a bag of Hersheys kisses in her fridge is it utterly content having one or two at night for dessert. However, despite my diminutive stature, when it comes to desserts it's gonna take more than a bite to make me happy. Take for instance this week's TWD, Brownie Buttons- bite sized morsels of brownie perfect for when you want a little bit of chocolate.
Are these baby brownies tasty? Sure. Was I satisfied with just one? Heck no! Even with the increased richness of a peanut butter glaze I could still pop three of these in my mouth without batting an eye and would then come back for more.

These Buttons would be great for cocktail parties, office kitchens, and the kid's lunch box but if I'm really in the mood for a brownie (and I usually am) only a generous square will do.

Need a little more brownie yourself? Checkout the blogroll.

August 4, 2009

Prescription For Happiness- Banana Bundt Cake

I realize Banana Cupcakes won't keep me from feeling moody from time to time, but I can relate to their changeable nature. Part muffin, part cake, their lightness fits in with summer, but their warm heartiness reminds me that fall will be here soon. On days like today when I'm examining all the ups and downs of my life, making these mini versions of this Classic Banana Bundt Cake is a comforting way the spend the afternoon.

Frustrated, anxious, a little on edge? Have a muffin. I challenge anyone to worry and eat one at the same time. Plus, they taste so good the next day you'll look forward to tomorrow morning too.
For other variations on this cake, check out the TWD blogroll.

July 30, 2009

Problem Solving

Do you know what your problem is? You've got eggs whites laying around in your fridge. And you don't know what to do about them. Macaroons? Too labor intensive. Egg white omelette? Boring. Perfect Party Cake? Again? Let me help you. Actually, let me help Dorie help you. After all it was probably Vanilla Ice Cream that got you into this mess in the first place. Cocoa Almond Meringues are the solution.

They are light, chocolaty, easy to make, and most importantly they use 4 egg whites and no yolks. Your welcome.

For the recipe, you can go here but don't forget to go here.

July 28, 2009

Ben & Who?

If there's one thing my current (lack of) work situation has taught me, it is to take pleasure in the simple things in life. Going for a walk in the middle of the day, keeping a garden alive for the first time ever, being home to shop the local farmers markets, actually spending time with friends and family- and then there's the homemade vanilla ice cream. It doesn't take a long time, it's cheaper and more wholesome than store bought (what is tara gum anyway?) and a bowl of the stuff will put a smile on anyone's face.
This weeks' TWD, Vanilla Ice Cream, had my mind reeling with possiblities. Chipwhich? Neopolitan? DQ Blizzard style? Not to mention all the a la mode options. In the end I kept it old school so that I could eat in the simplest, and bestest (yep) way I know how.

Bowl + ice cream + Hershey's syrup + cherry = heaven.

July 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Copycat Cookies

As an avid reader, I am always wary of film adaptations of my favorite books. Here you are with a strong attachment to a story and a vivid picture in your minds eye of what the character look and sound like and then the movie comes out and completely destroys the world you've created. If this has never happened to you consider yourself lucky- oh and avoid Under The Tuscan Sun at all costs. So when I saw that this month's Daring Bakers Challenge I was filled with a familiar mixture of excitement and dread. Would I really be able to create a Mallow and a Milan Cookie to rival those mass market versions of my childhood?
Well, yes and no. Copying my favorite cookies was fun. Figuring out how to get that special hourglass shape, piping dollops of marshmallow fluff and swirling them in chocolate, I tried to channel my inner Keebler Elf.

When the floured dust settled my cookies did look the part but how would they taste? I was disappointed in the Milan Cookies. They were too tuile-like in texture and lacked the buttery dense crumb of the Pepperidge Farm brand but the Mallows rocked my world. The texture and taste of the cookie was spot on and I thought the chocolate coating was perfect.

Interested in a little cookie copycatting of your own? Check out our sponsors:
The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

July 17, 2009

Black and White Is The New Black... And White

In my just over a year of blogging I have noticed a few items that are much debated and often duplicated. Some are fads, like the New York Times chocolate chip cookie experiment- which I have not tried but I suspect will never rival my husband's secret recipe (and by secret I mean he won't even tell me). Then there's the ongoing battle about what makes a real red velvet cake, the "how to get macaroon feet" suggestion box, and the ever popular butter v.s. Crisco pie debate- I'm firmly planted in the butter camp.
And then there's the Black and White Cookie. Not quite cookie, not really cake, with 2 icings meeting harmoniously in the center, this NY deli staple has been on my to do list for quite awhile. Whenever I come across a recipe for it, I make a mental note to come back to that page and after reading through quite a few I narrowed it down to two versions. Due to her hometown advantage, Smitten Kitchen's recipe was the obvious choice, although fellow SoCal-er Joy The Baker's version ran a close second. So in the East v. West Coast Black And White Cookie Challenge, which recipe won out?

Like the cookie itself, I found success when the 2 recipes met in the middle- Deb's cookie base and white icing and Joy's chocolate glaze. Compromise is key.
Want to try them for yourself? Click here and here.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, the impetus for my finally making these cookies was in honor of my tuxedo cats, Chessie & Cleo. Happy 1st Birthday guys!

Ok, the cookies are for me. They much prefer ground chicken.