Thursday, November 27, 2008

Goed eten, goed drinken, goede vrienden. And of course Happy Thanksgiving!

Goed eten, goed drinken, goede vrienden! Or in English - good eating, good drinking, and good company- in Amsterdam of course. And Happy Thanksgiving as well. Last Thanksgiving Sam and I took a train from Paris to Amsterdam and wander out of the train station and into an amazing Indonesian restaurant. We consumed the feast of many courses that you see here, and while it was not a traditional Thanksgiving, the colorful variety of dishes and exotic flavors somehow felt just right. There were hard boiled eggs in curry sauce, marinated kabops, saffron rice, veritable slaw, all types of meat and spices, and of course beer and the excellent company of my new husband. It was the feast of Thanksgiving, international style, and I had so much to be thankful for!

I remember our first day in Amsterdam because I felt completely at ease as soon as I stepped off the train at Centraal Station. First, we ate a snack out of the automat, how cool!?!? The automat includes rows and rows of doors, each with a warm and tasty food treat behind the window. You pop in your money, like a vending machine, the door opens, you grab your sandwich and enjoy. We did not understand the language, so we choose a Kipburger at random. We ended up with a chicken sandwich, although for all we knew it could have been a pickled herring sandwich. There was no telling until we bit in. I don't know if it was the novelty of the automat, our hunger, or just a good fast food sandwich, but the FEBO kipburger was a perfect introduction to Amsterdam.

Second, I immediately felt at ease because people everywhere were talking, loudly. We had just taken the train in from Paris, and the truth is that people do not talk loudly in Paris. Rather, they talk very, very quietly. And as a noisy American, quite talking is very intimidating. Don't get me wrong, I love, and I mean LOVE, Paris. It is beautiful, cultured, beautiful, diverse, beautiful, hospitable, beautiful, historic, and oh, did I mention beautiful? But Paris is refined, which means I was always on my best behavior. And it can take a lot out of a girl to always keep her voice low and her posture straight. Yet the moment I stepped into Amsterdam I knew it was time to relax, which made our Indonesian dinner all the more delicious. Who cared if I ate a curried egg with the rice in one large bite, or laughed out loud, or needed help pronouncing the dessert item I wanted off the menu? Nobody cared. It was Amsterdam, and I was thankful to be at ease in a friedly ethnic restaurant with the one I love.

Happy Thanksgiving to you today. I hope your day is filled with love, laughter, good food, and best of all lasting memories.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My honey's favorite mug.

You know those little things in life that just make you happy? They are the little tiny items in your life that might go unnoticed by anybody else, but they mean so much to you. They are the items that, if a stranger walked into your abode and was asked to identify your ten favorite possessions, they would pass these up in a heartbeat. Yet they are important. They are the possessions that make you smile. That make you feel like you are behaving the way your personality is meant behave. The items that make you feel like YOU!

Well, this monster mug is one of them in our house. It belongs to my honey Sam, and I have a matching mug in orange with a two-eyed monster that I sip out of too. Now that the weather is getting chilly and we are sipping chai tea in the morning to wake up and mint tea in the evening to fall asleep, this little guy is a big part of our lives. He makes me smile, and he goes just as well with a piece of cake and dessert coffee as he does with eggs, bacon, and toast. Just don't try to sneak a piece of his bacon or a bite of his cake, or the mug might attack!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My grocery store...has changed!

I have been known to wander around the grocery store with a look of perplexity and confusion, but these times are usually limited to moments when a recipe calls for an odd and obscure ingredient (...What is adobo sauce anyway?). Unfortunately, as of late, every trip to the grocery store has been thwarted with confusion and utter perplexity. I wish I could say that this state is brought on by a fervor of cooking new and complex recipes, but really it is only because my grocery store recently remodeled and rearranged. Now, even a trip to pick up milk, eggs, and cereal feels like runny through a labyrinth of canned and dry goods. I have even begun to wonder if these grocery trips are slowly contributing to premature wrinkles between my eyes from furrowing my brow at at my shopping list as I aimlessly wonder each and every new aisle.

The things is, I love grocery shopping. Seriously, I even do it for fun. When most people would put "grocery shopping" on their list of weekend chores, I put it at the tip top of my list of weekend social activities. I am a very lucky girl, because I live mere moment away from a haven of grocery delight called Central Market. Central Market is a meca for the aspiring foodie. I just love everything about the store, from the handwritten signs in the produce department, to the especially the friendly employees in green striped aprons wandering the aisles to answer any and every question you might have as you shop. Their sole purpose is to help shoppers get what they need. If you need to know the best red wine vinegar for the price, they know! Ask them which bread is ideal for tomorrow nights pineapple bread pudding, they know! And you can even ask them what adobo sauce actually is, and if they do not know they will pull out giant text book and look it up for you! They are amazing.

Central Market was also offering "weigh and tag your own produce" long before other grocery stores caught on to the concept. I love being able to squeeze, prod and poke each and every tomato before I bag it up and take it home. And it also means that when a recipe calls for 13.5 oz. of rhubarb, well, I can weigh out exactly 12 oz. all by myself. There is such a sense of independence and a connection with my food. And Central Market even has their own store brand, Central Market Organics, that makes the whole upscale grocery shopping about as cost effective as gets, and its ORGANIC to boot. That's a pretty sweet deal.

I am so in love with the grocery store that even in this time of perplexity and confusion, when rearranged aisles and relocated product foil my attempts a "quick trip to the store," I still cannot entertain shopping anywhere else. The remodels leaves me confused, it makes grocery shopping take at least twice as long, and it may be contributing to premature wrinkles, but hey, if I look on the bright side, this means I get to be in one of my favorite places for twice as long as usual!

p.s. Just to prove how great the store is, I snapped a few low quality camera phone images of some of the AMAZING Central Market produce. Look at these veggies! The crazy green one is Romanesco, also known as Italian broccoli. I have no idea what it tastes like, but it is beautiful and looks like it belongs in the floral department rather than an aisle where people buy tomatoes and apples and bright orange cauliflower.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cupcakes for Claire - a chocolate welcome.

I can't help but feel that it is so vastly unjust that those of us that love chocolate cupcakes the most are saddle with a metabolism that prefers spinach salad.

Don't these cupcakes look delicious? They were. I baked them earlier this year when my sister Claire visited, and we commenced eating our way through spring break. I realize with some amusement and a tinge of regret, that this trip is probably part of the reason I am now strictly following a new "healthy lifestyle change" (aka diet) that unfortunately excludes cupcakes. Well, technically the thin and fit nutritionists of the world would have me believe that I can indulge in a chocolate cupcake sometimes, but only if I only indulge once a month, and only if my indulgence consists of only a few bites, preferably with the frosting scraped off. To that I reply, bah humbug. I would rather not have any cupcake than settle for a titillating crumb of a cupcake. It would be a crime to let one of these beauties go partially uneaten in the name of good health and skinny jeans.

So, today, while I nibble on carrot sticks and plan a dinner of black bean soup, I make a plea to those of you that are NOT on a diet, please bake these cupcakes. And if you do, please eat one for me (the WHOLE thing).

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cupcakes - from Cupcake Bakeshop
14 regular cupcakes / 375 degree oven

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temp
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temp
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoons vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined.
4. Measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into a small sized bowl and whisk to combine.
5. Measure out the milk and vanilla and stir to combine
6. Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar and beat to combine. Add about a half of the milk/vanilla and beat to combine. Continue adding, alternating between dry and wet and finishing with the dry.
7. Scoop batter into cupcake cups about 2/3’s full. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake cupcakes for about 22-25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Note: I try to use the best quality cocoa I can find. It makes a huge difference. Also, this cupcake recipe is the kind that will result in a flat cupcake (not domed). One thing you must be careful of is over-filling the cupcake paper. If the cake continues to rise and has no where to go and will one over flow and two start to sink back on itself as it doesn’t have the structure to hold the excess batter up. So, stick to 2/3’s full and don’t be tempted (as I was) to squeeze that last bit of batter into one of the papers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brown butter... worth the calories.

The new season of Bravo's Top Chef started last night, but I am still thinking about seasons from days of yore. Actually, I am thinking about one particular season, with one particular chef, who makes one particular dish that has been on my mind for days. This is because last week I attended a cooking class with a 2007 Top Chef contestant Tre Wilcox. I can now vouch from experience, and not just reality TV hype, that Tre is a good cook. And while he didn't even come close to winning, I wonder if maybe he would have if he had served the judges what we ate, which is brown butter with pomegranates!

I am brand new to the world of brown butter, but after once taste I am willing to shout from the rooftops that brown butter is a beautiful food. The words alone sound beautiful when you say it out loud, with the b noise rolling off the tongue softly and gently. The butter itself sound beautiful during preparation as it cracks and pops in the pan on its way to golden brown. And it smells absolutely intoxicating as it cooks, sort of earthy and toasted, with slight caramel tease of a scent wafting into the nostrils. And brown butter, oh brown butter, the way it tastes is utterly divine. It coats the palette with the rich flavor that butter provides, but the browning gives it a depth, a complexity, and that little something else flavor that you can never pinpoint, but that makes every bite a dream.

The entire menu was delicious, but the pomegranate brown butter remains my favorite. Look at everything we ate:

Seared Sea Scallops and Bacon-Scallion Risotto with Pomegranate Brown Butter
served with Nottingham 2006 Pinot Noir, Central Coast

Grilled Swordfish with Celery 3 Ways and Bernaise Sauce
served with Quarry Road 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand

Lobster BLT with Fresh Avocado
served with Gordo 2007 Monastrell, Spain

Strawberry-Rhubarb Soup with Vanilla Foam and Sweet Basil

Tre spend quite a bit of time talking about his philosophy of food, and the importance of balancing flavor, texture, and the five tastes in cooking. He explained the the addition of both pomegranate juice and lemon juice in the brown butter is vital to keeping the flavor of the dish fresh. When the palate consumes a very rich food, like a butter sauce, fat molecules coat the tongue and can block the full flavor of later bites. By including an acid in the sauce, even in a very small quantity like a teaspoon of lemon, the recipe retains a palate cleansing quality. The small amount of acid will activate the saliva glands in your mouth with each bite, essentially "rinsing" your mouth of the lingering fat molecules as you swallow. When this happens, it primes your tongue to retaste the next bite with maximum taste bud exposure, allowing the flavors to taste as bold, delicious, and memorable as the first bite. This was the kind of insight into cooking that I crave, and eating his dish as he spoke, I was able to recognize the palate cleansing effect in the sauce with eat bite. I guarentee you, this dish NEVER diminished in flavor, and it remains a very memorable meal.

Seared Sea Scallops and Bacon-Scallion Risotto with Pomegranate Brown Butter
by Chef Tre Wilcox

4 oz. unsalted butter
1/4 cup yellow onion diced small
3/4 cup carnanoli rice
5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp apple smoked bacon - small diced and cooked to a crisp
1/4 cup finely chopped scallion
salt and pepper to taste

Pomegranate Brown Butter:
4 oz. unsalted butter
3 tbsp pomegranate juice
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
salt to taste

Sea Scallops:
6 each U-10 Diver Sea Scallops - muscles removed
Grapeseed oil
salt to taste

For the risotto: Melt butter slowly in heavy bottom stockpot, saute onions over medium high heat for three minutes. Add rice and toast for three to four minutes. Begin adding chicken stock a cup at a time, stirring constantly. After last cup of stock has cooked away, finish risotto with cream, cheese, butter, bacon, and scallion. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
* Note: Tre gave us the hint that it is ok to prep risotto ahead of time by cooking the rice to about 80% doneness, or 4 out of 5 cups stock, then pull and cool on a sheet pan. Right before serving finish with HOT stock, cream, butter, etc. and serve immediately. This way if you are serving for a dinner party (or if you work in a restaurant) you will be able to prep the hard part, and finish fresh for dinner in a few minutes while you sear scallops.

For the Pomegranate Brown Butter: Brown butter over medium high heat. When butter is browned strain through fine mesh strainer to remove milk solids. Cool slightly, then mix with remaining ingredients and season with salt. Keep warm until serving.

For the Scallops: Using hot pan, sear scallops in grape seed oil until cooked to desired temperature. Serve immediately.
* Note: Tre went into detail about his searing technique. He heats the pan and oil until very hot, then places the scallop into the pan to cook for about 1 minute, or until golden and crisp. This becomes his presentation side. He then removes the pan from heat, flips the scallop and lets it rest in the pan until it has reached a warm all the way through. By removing it from direct heat midway through the cooking, you will not overcook the scallop.

Plating: In the bottom of a small bowl, place a spoonful of the risotto. Spoon pomegranate brown butter around the risotto. Top with one seared sea scallop and garnish with a chervil sprig. Serve.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Butterick 9765: The progression of fit II

I can't resist, I had to give you all a sneak peak of the Butterick 9765 in muslin form, because I am really excited about the progress of my adjustments. As you may have read, I completed my first full bust adjustment on this dress bodice, and it worked! Additionally, I have been working with my skilled sewing instructor Lovita to rearrange the darting for maximum flattery. You can see all the details in the photos. These are not the best photos, but they do give you a good idea of the shape and style of the dress.

First and perhaps most excitingly, we modified the pleating at the shoulders, and instead of the box pleat called for in the original pattern, we shifted the pleating into two inside-sweeping pleats that drape the fabric toward my center. I think the results are immensely flattering. The box pleat pulled the fabric into a poof in my armpit, but the new pleats create soft folds of fabric toward my center. Don't you think I look thinner already? We mimicked the shoulder pleating on the skirt as well to pull the pleats toward the center. This way I maintain the skirt fullness without the poofing bulk of a box pleat.

There are still several areas to fix. I am going to shorten the bodice by an inch or so to bring it up to my faux natural waist (as you can see I don't actually have a waist in the tradition sense of a narrow point on my trunk, but I do my best to mimic having one!). The skirt will also be shortened, a lot! And of course, I need sleeves. The pattern calls for boring sleeves, but I want to reinvent into a youthful cap sleeve of some kind. And of course the dress will needed shortened by many inches. I think I will keep it just below the knees for comfort and vintage flair.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My first Full Bust Adjustment.

My first FBA,with a touch of wide waist adjustment thrown in for good measure.

There are many important firsts in a lady's life, her first kiss, her first car, her first job out of college, and of course her first full bust adjustment. Yes folks, I am in fact putting my first successful full bust adjustment - or FBA abbreviated - on the short yet honorable list of important "firsts" in this girl's life.

That is because the FBA is perhaps the most empowering and transformational thing to come along since the advent of oral birth control! I am free now to engage in free love among patterns. I am enlightened to test the waters of fit, find out what I like and don't like, and run wanton and without inhibition with any pattern catalog, knowing that I am safe to pursue any sewing project without major consequence. Oh it feels good to be liberated.

I want each of you to feel liberated too. Now, I am sure I am committing some major copyright crime, but nonetheless, I am posting the bible of fit's FBA instructions so you can see just what to do yourself. The images are from Palmer/Pletsch Fit for Real People book, which is amazing! Please send your own success stories and images my way, I can't wait to see what you modify to fit your shape and style.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Diet = Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Ummm, if you are on a diet, don't even think about eating one of these beautiful French pastries!

It is a cruel and ironic twist when a person who's primary hobby is cooking and eating undertakes the dreaded "D" word... a diet. It's cruel, because a diet robs the food lover of not just vital calories and nutrients, leaving us with a physical hunger, but also robs the food lover of our primary passion, that which gives us emotional sustenance. Dieting, or the unfortunate act of willfully denying ourselves delicious things to eat for the sake of calorie control, robs us of the ability to cook, eat, and feed others with gleeful abandon. Instead, we must count our calories, record what we eat, and forgo goat butter on English muffins in the morning. Drats.

In case you can't tell from my woeful lament, I am on a diet. Only it is not in vogue to call it a diet, so rather I am working toward a lifestyle change. As part of this "lifestyle change" I am doing my best to reconcile the culinary void in my world with a new hobby, exercise. And while I am enjoying vigorous exercise and its healthful benefits, I cannot say it provides the same soulful pleasure as baking chocolate chip cookies with sea salt or visiting the newest restaurant in town for the five-course tasting menu. I will openly admit that I dislike restricted quantities of food (oh the hardship of no cheese or butter or two-percent milk lattes). I will also admit that I do like being healthy (and fitting into Anthropologie clothing), so this is how it must be done.

Yet last weekend I couldn't stay out of the kitchen. The weather was perfect for fall, the leaves were changing, my mood was bright, and the farmer at the farmer's market gave me my very first sugar pumpkin to roast. I had to make pie from scratch. But, how, you might ask, can a girl on a diet justify baking and eating pie? The answer is to forgo the crust. Others might have nixed the sugar, but the truth is that even while trying to cut calories, I refuse to cook with Splenda or other highly processed food substitutes. It goes against my personal standards of wholesome, home cooked, authentic eating. But, I did make a compromise to the best of my ability and last weekend's crustless pumpkin pie was a good step in the right direction.

Try it yourself, it's as good a way as any to enter into your new lifestyle change, and I can now say that canned pumpkin will never hold its own against home roasted again.

Sam's Pumpkin Pie (without crust):
We call this Sam's Pumpkin Pie because he came up with the idea to use sweetened condensed milk rather than evaporated non-fat milk. I think the swap happened one fateful Thanksgiving when all the stores were closed and the pantry only offered milk of the sweetened condensed variety, but we have never gone back to the original recipe since. It's good stuff, and the pie tastes even sweeter when my own sugar pie Sam does the baking!


  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2-3 large eggs (depending on quantity of pumpkin)
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin, or better yet one small sugar pumpkin roasted and pureed
  • 1 can (12-14 fl. oz.) Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Whipped cream (optional, and certainly not if you are on a diet)

MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, cloves and nutmeg in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in sweetened condensed milk.

POUR into four individual ramekin dishes. Place ramekins in 9x13 baking dish filled with an inch of water. Bake in water bath.

BAKE in preheated 425° F oven for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 15 to 25 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack. Serve room temperature or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving (but not if you are on a diet, ah-hem "life-style change"!).

NOTE: I think next time I will omit the 1/4 sugar, as the sweetened condensed milk is very sweet and I think it will carry the sugar torch on its own. I am also going to scour the shelves for NON-fat sweetened condensed milk, because I hear such thing exists. I have never seen it, but I am going to hunt it down and stockpile my pantry. My final word of advice is to go heavy on the spices, a pumpkin pie should almost burn in your mouth with fall seasoning. Its what makes it so good.