Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Goodbye Old Friend

Tonight, I have the sad privilege of saying goodbye to my dear and faithful friend of three and a half years, my oven. She passed away late last night halfway through a batch of what would have been wonderful chocolate toffee breads, but what instead ended up in sad pans of half baked goo. It is tragic that after so many years of faithful service she could not complete this one last task. After a frantic attempt to revive her has failed, I promptly called in the troops (my dad), headed to ABT, and after a thorough round of interviews and a small amount of detailed paperwork my shiny newly adopted baby oven will arrive at my doorstep sometime this Friday. I know the old girl would want me to move on. I know that I can't give her the proper farewell she deserves, but seeing as how I can't live without her I had to find a replacement immediately. Though, the memory of the many late nights we spent together will stay in my heart (and the arteries of my friends) forever.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Inter-office Cake War

This may not look like the best thing I've ever done, but it will taste amazing and totally serve it's purpose. A few days ago our office in Chicago got an email from our company's office in Vegas with a picture of a store bought (Dairy Queen) ice cream cake vaguely resembling our company logo with a subtitle of "Aren't you jealous Chicago?" Now this was entirely unnecessary. I bring baked goods to work all the time, as do a few of my other co-workers, and never have any of us tried to rub their noses in it, or at the very least not with something so...what's a nice word for ugly? I'm not being mean, I'm just quoting a coworker that after looking at the picture of their sad cake said "That's the ugliest heart I've ever seen". Our logo is a skewed target. I felt it was absolutely necessary to retaliate so I sent a reply email declaring war. Me against them and Dairy Queen. Hence this comely little cake. She's got three moist chocolate cake layers swirled with cheesecake, filled with a luscious toffee buttercream, and lovingly wrapped in decadent chocolate cheesecake frosting. And that's where my luck ran out. Summer has finally reached Chicago, and as the warmth permeated my small condo all my icing attempts absolutely refused to set. I finally gave up and did the best I could, hence the runny appearance of the writing. A few more days like this and I'll be forced to turn the air conditioning on. The look and feel of my cakes depend on it. For now I'll leave you with these words: "Victory shall STILL be mine!"

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Today I did something a bit different. Inspired by my own laziness when it comes to studying photography from a book or cooking lunch on the weekends, I signed up for an Eat-N-Shoot class through a Photography Meetup group that I have recently joined. It was hosted by Chef Naveen of Rasoi. He invites small groups of people into his home and throws a party where you can take pictures, help him cook and meet new people interested in the same stuff as you. It was a blast. Its funny how technique and creativity will develop almost on it's own when you're forced to take a bazillion pictures every minute of everything that goes on around you. Or when you're NOT forced to do the dishes :)

I will share one of the recipes at the end of this post because it was the perfect thing to make for a crowd. The Lemongrass Shrimp was absolutely delicious, easy and very flexible and doesn't it look pretty?

We also made the super easy Spring rolls. Pretty much it's just julienned carrots and cucumbers, bean sprouts, cilantro, minced ginger marinaded in some sesame oil and chili sauce mixed with some blanched asparagus and wrapped in a spring roll wrapper. So easy, so fast, so healthy but still absolutely delicious.

There was also some tandoori style chicken, chicken kebabs, and yummy yellow rice, but by that time I was really getting into the picture taking craze and I didn't pay as much attention to the recipes, which was fine since he gave us handouts to take home, so I'll be making these again for the next dinner party I throw...when I am not insanely busy that is.

Did I mention how wonderful it was not to worry about doing the dishes?

Lemongrass Shrimp recipe, by Naveen Sachar of Rasoi

1lb raw shrimp, tail on, peeled and deveined
1 medium onion, sliced
2-3 tbs fresh cilantro, chopped
1-1.5 cups chicken broth
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
4 inch piece of cleaned lemongrass stalk, sliced
1 fresh lime cut into wedges
Thai Chili sauce, to taste
Fish sauce, a few tsps
Freshly ground pepper

You will need to cook everything in batches to make sure that the shrimp cook properly.
Bring 1/3 cup of stock to a rapid boil in a hot wok. Add 1 tbsp of the lemongrass, some of the chopped onion and some of the ginger and bring to a boil again.
Add about 10 shrimp, chili sauce, fish sauce and pepper. Cook for 2-3 min until the shrimp is cooked through and remove onto serving platter. Repeat till all the ingredients are gone.
Squeeze lime juice, garnish with cilantro and serve with sliced bread for soaking up all the wonderful juices.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter!

There are a lot of great things I've learned from my parents. They sometimes say that I study them and their behavior too much, but it seems that I truly embrace and excel at their mind-boggling, oddball traits and habits that I'm sure sometimes they wish we wouldn't take too much notice of, let alone take them on as our own. Growing up Jewish in my family meant that around Easter when everyone was coloring eggs, making bread with whole eggs baked right in, and having egg fights we simply were not allowed to participate. My father always insisted on that. My mother on the other hand was an only child and when she was growing up and the same restrictions presented themselves to her by her parents, she negotiated, refusing to be left out of the fut. So eating the eggs became not just allowed, but necessary. I'm not exactly sure how she got by when she was younger, but every year for as far back as I can recall, right around this time, she'd send my dad on a quest. Despite all his arguments, she was adamant that he had a job to do: find her colored hard boiled eggs. Usually it's not hard as you can be pretty much sure that a multi-colored dozen of them will be waiting at your local Jewel, but there has been a year or two when we had to go without and such an event meant some lighthearted, but distinctly disappointed pouting. I don't think it was because she had a taste for hard boiled eggs or anything, but she simply refused to be excluded from the fun and unfortunately(?) I have inherited a healthy dose of that spirit, with a slight modification. Seeing as how this is considered the age of information overload and the internet, I now have complete access to all holidays and traditions, along with a mind-boggling list of amazing recipes that come with each. My birthday, for example, is the official "Sneak a zucchini onto your neighbor's porch day". Seriously. If you don't believe me, just Google it. My sisters do it all the time, but then I don't remember the last time I could present a "fact" to them without it being questioned and Googled. I think I need to jump on the bandwagon and get some Google stock.

But, back to Easter. A friend of the family called me several weeks ago and asked if I'd be available to make cupcakes for an Easter party she'll be going to. I may have hesitated for...okay, I didn't hesitate. I mean, who says no to cupcakes? And I've never made anything for Easter before and I do live under my very own roof now, so I said yes. Now, while making the cupcakes themselves is a piece of cake (that was on purpose) the decorations would need to be appropriately themed, and that would take a bit of research, so to the internet I went....and there I found way too many options/recipes/designs/etc. Considering that I'd be making them during the week due to a birthday party I had the night before I had to drop the cupcakes off, I decided to go with a slightly simpler design approach, hence the cupcakes you see in the picture above. But in my search I also stumbled on this gorgeous post over at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy, which is one of the many baking sites I *ahem* stalk, and I just had to try this myself. Doing so would break two rules I remember from childhood: it would involve both Painting at least one egg and it would involve baking a special pastry where that egg is prominently featured. I am, however, counting on my mother theorizing that as long as the painting/baking/assembly is not done in her house or in my father's presence, this yummy bread is just yummy bread and it will be welcomed into the house with open arms, despite the bright blue egg in the middle. Who knows, he might even get out of having to find her some last minute painted eggs.

In the mean time, this bread, which was so simple and yet so amazingly good, will probably mean that the thousands of "crazy" people around the world that insist that making your own bread is both cheaper and better than anything you can ever get from the store now have a new convert. Me.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What do you do on a gloomy Sunday?

This morning I woke up at a fairly reasonable time for a Sunday, got dressed and ready to run errands, took two steps out of my back door and went right back in. A few minutes later I was in my robe with a bowl of cereal and the remote. When it's as gloomy as it was today, I really don't want to leave the house, but I'm absolutely incapable of spending more than an hour on the couch. I get restless. So I looked around and decided that it will be a day for odd chores. I installed the two pull out drawers I bought for my pantry and reorganized everything, I sorted through my stack of magazines and threw out the ones that were already "juiced" of all the recipes/articles that interested me and I finally cleaned everything that has been piling on my dining room table for weeks. Lunch: poached salmon with whole wheat mac n'cheese on the side. Hey, don't judge me, it's what was lying around and it's pretty healthy, right? I spent the rest of the day puttering around. Picking up this, sorting that, throwing extras out and cleaning/unpacking the various things I have lying around in bags waiting patiently for me to get to them. It was only 7pm when I realized that I'm tired of cleaning and I need to make a little mess to balance things out, so I pulled out the recipe I've been meaning to make for a while now: Froot Loop cupcakes:

I first saw the recipe for these on Flickr and the picture led me to The Crepes of Wrath blog, which in turn led me to Gastronomy for the original recipe (really just a half sized version of the one on the first blog). I didn't have any oranges, but I did have about 3 dozen lemons so they're lemon flavored cupcakes, and since they looked a bit on the plain side I added "milk" in the form of a simple glaze, so the cupcakes now look like overfilled cereal bowls.

As for why I have 3 dozen lemons, they were pushed at me by my parents. My father was sent on a routine run to the grocery store and he saw several packages of pretty lemons on the clearance rack. So while they were not on his list, since to him lemons equal lemon cake, he bought all of them. When I came by to visit my parents my dad jumped up and said "I have lemons for you!" and with a sly look on his face followed that up with "You know....for the cake?". To which my mother chimed in from the kitchen, "All I want is a jar of Lemon Curd, please. A big one." So while I have a ton of lemons, it seems that they're all spoken for. Though that will be a task for a different day.

My next thought was that I never did go grocery shopping, which was on the agenda when I stepped out of the house this morning, so I began scouring the cupboards for ideas. I'm trying to keep to a budget and one of the main expenses that were cut was the daily lunch outings, but everything in the fridge looked boring. I went online and found an email from King Arthur Flour, a wonderful source for baking tools, recipes and inspiration. They were advertising their cooking classes, which are unfortunately several states away from me, but they also featured one of the recipes that they were going to teach: Sesame Semolina Lunettas and they looked fairly easy. I happened to have had a bag of semolina on hand, so I decided to bake two loaves. One to make sandwiches for work and the other to bring to my parent's house along with the slew of lemon products they ordered. A few hours later, my house smelled amazing and while I didn't shape the bread into the Lunetta shapes, the loaves I ended up with looked and tasted great. I'm definitely going to be baking more bread in the future. It makes lunch a lot more exciting and it makes the whole house smell amazing!

Just look at that crumb! I've never really been able to make bread, so I'm very happy with how this came out. The recipe is definitely a keeper.

In the evening my little sister, who drove back to school a few hours away, after visiting this afternoon, IM'd me to ask about the snow. It snowed? I spent such a nice day inside that I didn't even notice!