November 30, 2010 § 3 Comments
I recently read this article on grandmothers and knitting and immediately emailed it to my own grandmother, who knows much more about knitting than I do. In fact, I think almost every woman in my family is skilled at crocheting dish clothes and knitting baby sweaters. In our attic is a collection of baby sweaters in various whites and blues (depending on whether or not the family was informed in advance of the baby’s gender), a tradition which unfortunately will probably end quite soon as I am totally incompetent at knitting. Every so often, when I go up north to visit my grandparents, I get it into my head that I will learn to excel at knitting — I go with Granny to pick out yarn and spend a day or two on the couch knitting a couple inches, calling out for help every ten minutes when I drop a stitch and don’t know how to fix it. After about two inches, I give up until my next visit. So I’m afraid there won’t be any new pink sweaters for my grandchildren, they’ll have to make do with the ones in the attic. Sorry.
But Granny’s baking was something I picked up with ease. She cans cherries and peaches in the summer, makes blueberry pies and crisps and always has oatmeal cookies waiting when I come visit. No raisins, no nuts, no chocolate. Just oatmeal and cinnamon. But one of my very first memories of baking with her is making angel food cakes with lemon pudding filling and whipped cream for Grandpa’s birthdays. I loved hanging the angel food cakes upside down and whipping the cream with an electric mixer (which we didn’t — and still don’t — have at home) and I loved the idea of lemon pudding. There were few things not made from scratch in her household — minus the chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies to which Grandpa holds fast and loyal — and the lemon pudding was one of them; it emerged off the stovetop a pale yellow custard made from yellow powder. I think that was my least favorite part of baking — the disappointment of that first bite of yellow lemon pudding.
But I’ve held fast and loyal to the idea of lemon pudding and when all else seems to go wrong, I turn to lemons to come through for me. So when I trekked across Paris today to the Galleries Lafayette in search of blackstrap molasses and corn syrup in order to make my family’s traditional Thanksgiving pecan squares, and came up empty handed after hours of scouring shelves of sea salts, gourmet pates à tartiner, macarons, imported goods from all over the world, colored sugars shaped in hearts and flowers and everything else you could imagine in gourmet food heaven, I inevitably turned to the lemons sitting on my counter to save the day.
As a food blogger, I have a tendency to not want to make anything twice. I mean, why would I post on the same thing more than once? But then how can I sit here and tell you that this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten when I have no intention of ever eating it again? I am justifying this with, I finally made a tart crust that actually has a recipe and it was fabulous. So make this tart crust…and well you don’t really need to be told again what I think you should fill it with, do you?
I judge every Parisian patisserie by its lemon tart and well, let’s just say the reason I can’t rave about Pierre Hermé macarons like every other person in the world is because I tasted his lemon tart first — and I prefer the ones that come out of my own kitchen. Take that Paris.
The crust for this “crustata” is called pasta frolla, which was the November Daring Bakers’ challenge. The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.
1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon (you could also use vanilla sugar as an option, see Note 2)
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl
Making pasta frolla by hand:
Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.
Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).
Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.
Directions to assemble and bake a crostata di frutta fresca:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF [180ºC/gas mark 4].
Roll out a batch of the pasta frolla and cover the base of the tart pan.
Cut a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil large enough to cover the bottom of the crust and extend out a bit over the edges of the pan.
You can use pie weights or dry beans to blind bake. Place whatever weight you’re using directly on the parchment paper or aluminum foil in an even layer.
Place the crostata shell in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the weights and parchment paper and continue baking the crostata shell until the border is light golden, about 5 minutes (watch carefully to avoid over-baking, which results in a hard shell). In the absence of weight, the crust may rise in the middle: if that occurs, gently push it back down with the back of a spoon.
Remove from the oven and let the crostata shell cool completely before proceeding.
If you use a tart pan with removable bottom, release the base from the fluted tart ring, then slide the cooled crostata shell on a serving plate for filling. (Note: If you’ve used a cake pan or pie plate, use a bit of care in taking the shell out of the baking vessel.)
Spread the prepared filling over the cooled shell.
November 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
Early Saturday afternoon found me scurrying across to the 16eme arrondissement to the Grand Palais to see the special Monet exhibition. I was meeting a couple of friends from class and as Monet is one of the few painters whose work I enjoy looking at in large quantities, I was quite excited. It was a brisk but sunny morning and the Christmas market stands were already set up along the Champs d’Elysées as I joined my friends in line outside the Palais.
Two hours later we were still standing there and contemplated for the first time, giving up and heading to a more accessible museum. And then the line moved a couple feet and we decided to stay. I had my hands wrapped up in my scarf and my feet seemed frozen at the soles but still, we stayed. Another hour later and we were finally in the final quarter of the line; I now had my scarf wrapped around my head, covering my ears and mouth. The old French ladies behind us had started sharing hard candies with those around them, the French couple in front of us had long abandoned the line and everyone was trying to make conversation in an attempt to distract themselves from the fact that they could no longer feel their toes. For my part, my teeth had started chattering and when we eventually made it to the very front of the line, I was huddled up in a ball on the bottom stairs of the Palais. It was only then that the stern French guard took pity on me and beckoned us inside.
The exhibit has had a grand amount of success, with tickets selling out in the middle of the week through the weekend; even those with pre-purchased tickets must wait in a significant line before being allowed entrance. Once inside, the first few rooms are packed with people, but the crowds slowly thin out as the exhibit progresses. It is surprising walking through the rooms, how many of his oeuvres have made it out of France to the United States, though somewhat understandable given the cold reception Monet’s style of painting originally received in France. I especially enjoyed the fact that we were able to view his works on lightplay — paintings of the exact same spot painted at different times of the day, under different lighting such as the two Le Pont du Chemin de Fer at Argenteuil, one of which is at the Musée d’Orsay and the other of which is in Philadelphia— side by side, as they might have been intended, and not separated by oceans of water between two museums.
As we pushed ourselves back into the cold, into the midst of the Marché de Noel along the Champs d’Elysées, we said it was a visit well-spent. Though perhaps it could have been a bit better organized, so as to avoid such long lines, as I have never before seen a French person abandon a line before getting what he wants. And perhaps we should have been better prepared to wait as well — I should have brought these little cakes, which are here by popular demand by several women in my class. Only in France would banana bread be a new, novel idea!
Adapted from Joy of Baking
1 cup (115 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, browned and cooled
2 ripe large bananas, mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the butter, bananas, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Gentry fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, making sure not to overmix. Bake at 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C in a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan for about 55 minutes or until the top is golden brown and knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
November 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I didn’t realize how much I had settled into a routine in this strange foreign country until I left it for an even stranger foreign country and returned, very early one Sunday morning to a light rain, misty skies and wet streets. Quite soon after I returned, I was forced to bundle myself up and run a couple blocks to the closest convenience store because my shelves were empty and it being Sunday, every grocery store in the area was closed. As I walked out of the door, in a sleep-deprived educed haze, I stumbled into stands and stands of furniture vendors, French women selling vintage hats and men trying on classic suit jackets in the middle of the street. I thought for a moment I had turned down the wrong street, and wondered if I had forgotten my neighborhood that easily, until I spotted the couples dancing at the fountain at the base of rue Mouffetard, clustered together tighter than normal under a white awning, and I knew I was home.
Since my return, I have been trying to force myself outdoors but find it increasingly harder to leave the warmth of my bed and my apartment’s heater, which may or may not work consistently. Walks home from work are enjoyed only with the first gingerbread cookies of the season, but even then with the longing for the gingerbread men I used to make in my kitchen in San Francisco — the French boulangeries it seems, are not champions of the baked goods not requiring pounds of quality butter. But the spice, even if the cookie is a bit too hard, is much appreciated, as is the simple sugar glaze that never ceases to make me quite content.
And then I’ve been baking some things as necessity arises. For instance, I made my mother’s famous chocolate torte for a class party, which resulted from no one knowing what they were supposed to bring to accompany wine tasting and thus bringing whatever they could think of. My mother makes this quite a few times a year, for family birthdays, for dinner parties with close friends. This is the cake I would invariably wake up to sitting on the kitchen counter a couple times every year whenever the family had somewhere important to be or someone important to celebrate. It has never been perfectly smooth on top (and I confess my ganache-making that morning left much to be desired), but it never ceases to impress. As a child, I found it much too strong and chased it properly with an exorbitant amount of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. But now I can enjoy it as is, with its simple chocolate ganache on top. I am convinced that French alcohol is much stronger than its American counterparts as this cake tasted decidedly of rum this time I made it. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as my (French) professor declared it the best chocolate dessert she had ever tasted.
6 tablespoons or 75 grams butter
6 oz. or 150 grams semi-sweet or dark chocolate
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup or 120 ml sugar
1/4 cup or 60 ml flour
6 T or 90 ml ground almonds
1/4 cup or 60 ml rum
Preheat the oven to 190/375 degrees (C/F). Butter and flour (I use cocoa powder for the “flouring”) a 8-inch pan. Melt the chocolate over the stovetop. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the melted chocolate and run. Beat in egg yolks. Fold in flour.
Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Fold the egg whites into the batter, minimizing stirring. Some egg whites can remain unmixed.
Bake for 30 minutes.
November 14, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It’s no secret that I love street food vendors. As someone who subscribed to the San Francisco Crème Brulée Cart’s Twitter feed just to know where the man was on the hour, it is almost impossible to get me to walk past a food vendor on the street without stopping to sample or purchase, just one bite of some strange new food I had never seen before. It is also equally unlikely for me to be seen walking past a bakery window without stopping to peer inside. Vientiane is the perfect spot for this type of exploring. Food vendor carts line many of the streets of this small city, women selling roasted meats, sweet snacks and Lao iced coffees, which is sweetened condensed milk poured over a very strong brew — very close to an espresso packed with sugar. Done right, it’s delicious; done wrong, it’s one cringe-worthy sip after another of liquid sugar, making you wonder whether your teeth might be rotting at that very moment.
Throughout the trip, I basically threw myself into the hands of people who knew better and let them do the majority of the ordering. This makes writing about specific food I ate rather hard because I would often ask what I was eating, to be met with some complicated word in Lao, which I would then have to have repeated about ten times as I scrambled for a notebook. Even for those who did speak Lao, ordering food often consisted of pointing, shaking your head and then pointing again. This process could go on for a variant amount of time before you received something that corresponded — sometimes only approximately — to what you had originally desired.
Some of you may remember my post on a Lao cooking class, which I hosted this summer. I spent the week tracking down my favorites from that as well as trying anything that looked exciting. The convention’s buffet food served as my introduction to food in Laos, which was unfortunate because I soon took to the streets looking for something more authentic. There, we found…
Roasted meat and crackly pork rolls all wrapped in leaves of lettuce with peanut and black bean sauces, ginger and other fresh herbs at an open=front restaurant with a laminated menu and few choices. Fresh spring rolls too!
Moelleux au chocolat with a molten chocolate cake, chocolate pot de crème with a crackly top and small chocolate truffle served with citrus sauce and vanilla ice cream at the restaurant at the Ansara Hotel, which is a small hotel on a quiet alleyway frequented by French visitors. Fittingly, I just had a moment looking at the words “ice cream” spelled “ice crème” trying to put my finger on what was wrong.
I included this picture not because this was particularly good but because it was one of the most interesting things I was served in Vientiane: a lemon tart, which looked quite good from the exterior, revealed a layer of chocolate cake when I took the first bite.
Laab minced chicken with onion, mint and chili and fish sauce at the house of a woman’s friend — dinner guests included the Lao ambassador to the UN. Followed by one of the best desserts I have had in a long time: sweet coconut sticky rice topped with custard, steamed in banana leaf. I should also mention that we had dinner at the Prime Minister’s office, complete with red carpet, white tablecloths, over 1,000 guests and entertainment all night long.
Finally, on my last night here, we found mok pa, white fish steamed in banana leaf (are you sensing a trend here with my favorites?) with lemongrass at Amphone. On the table were also Lao sausage, which unlike most sausages which I find disgusting, consisted of packed ground meat enclosed in a crispy, oily wrapper, which crackled when touched, pîng pa whole fish packed with fresh herbs and grilled, like they do at stands by the riverside, and endless típ khào full of sticky rice.
There were also plenty of pineapple and papaya shakes, rice noodle soup (fõe) served with a strong kick — though I was only ever givens felong spicy (or white person spicy), Vietnamese sandwiches which I have been craving since I was younger and vegetarian and could not eat them, and croissants for breakfast, a staple left over from French colonial rule. On the last morning, I sought out some French comfort at Le Banneton where I had a pain choco-amande and Lao iced coffee. The French ex-pats can be found sitting at the outdoor tables eating their morning tartines and croissants alongside strong cafes.
And all of this washed down with BeerLao, which I believe is actually cheaper than water, which even the locals drink bottled.
November 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Photos by: Bangbay Siboliban
I have never been anywhere like this before. When I look out the window, I see thatched awnings, open-faced stores where people sit outside in half circles, talking to each other late into the night, and vendors selling fresh papaya, meats roasting on open grills. The city is a strange mix of the old and the new. People remark that it has changed so much in the past two years: the smog has rolled in and permeates the streets and cars weave between more traditional methods of transportation, crowding streets that were once almost devoid of cars. But for me it is all new and I soak it in with wide-eyed innocence.
As we step outside into the hot smog, we clamber into a tuk-tuk, a rickety contraption that looks like the back half of a pick-up truck only powered in the front by a motorcycle engine. We ride by the most recent addition to the city, a statue pointing to Thailand along the riverside, which holds hosts to tents and food vendors. For a mere 30 000 kip (the equivalent of about $3) we go the distance to the Don Chan Palace, which was built by the Chinese in 2004, complete with shiny surfaces and gaudy lobby decoration, all quickly deteriorating. The entrance to the hotel is marked by the presence of guards and security machines —much like the entrance of an airport — and we have to walk though a metal detector to gain access to the hotel shops in the lobby selling big, flashy necklaces, almost certainly fake, and shawls of every shade and color.
Outside the hotel, Lisa has set up a stationary tuk-tuk covered with the Tapestry of Hope: Weaving Together a Bomb-Free Future. Lisa, who recently moved to Vientiane, wears comfortable sandals with sturdy soles as she walks everywhere and has her hair cut short in a simple, carefree way. She stands in front of the exhibit, which consists of square pieces of postal paper tied together at the four corners with string, illustrated by people living in the Twin Cities and the San Francisco Bay Area among other places our organization, Legacies of War, has held workshops in the United States. Beside the tuk-tuk is a counter set up for Vientiane contributions to the exhibit; passersby can stop and paint or draw their own pieces, which are immediately tied to the existing tapestry. The morning started out slow with a slight hitch when the Lao coffee —essentially espresso sweetened with condensed milk — arrived with a splash, literally. But soon, people started stopping by and one by one, the paint colors were opened and put to use. The Lao Prime Minister arrived then, taking most of us by surprise, and I shook his hand before quite realizing who he was.
As the day moved on, I sampled fried coconut cakes, stuff with corn kernels, and marveled at the wide variety of fruits for sale on the sidewalks as it is fruit season in Laos at the moment. The evening passed at a reception in the Cultural Hall and an exhibit by Lao artists of their representations of the Lao countryside, which is contaminated with active cluster bombs which can be set off at any given moment. An extended nightcap on the top floor of a bar along the riverside, sitting at the open balcony looking out at the lights of Thailand across the water, and then we were back on the streets, wandering in search of my guest house, across the street from the Inpeng Temple.
November 4, 2010 § 2 Comments
Around 7:30, when I’m in class, you can hear out the window the cries of young adults, students, and their voices carrying up and down the streets, shouts of “A la Concorde!” Then the music begins to play, shortly followed by sirens that seem to last much longer than the demonstrations that have since traversed into another quartier. In the morning, you read in the newspapers about la grève, which has transformed into a social movement, particularly in the universities, against Sarkozy’s government, which many criticized for failing to negotiate on the issue of retirement age and now criticize for failing to represent the French people. In the midst of this social movement, life in Paris seems to roll on: transportation seems to be running more or less by routine — with the exception of the next strike day which is set for this Friday — and tourists can be found clustered around Notre Dame and the Tour Eiffel despite the heightened security alerts issued by the U.S. governments and the bomb recently directed at the French president by mail. That does not mean to imply that the bomb threats are in any way connected to the student movement, but you get the general picture of disorder here.
Indeed, when we were in Marseille, after only 5 days of strikes by the garbage collectors, the city was already strewn with bottles, food wrappers, rotting leftovers. Days later, merchants began taking their garbage to the dump themselves because the rank smells deterred customers from entering their shops. It makes you contemplate, noticing the differences between how citizens demonstrate their displeasure in different countries, why the French loudly take to the streets when they are unhappy and why the Americans simply vote Republican.
But my classes seem to exist in the bubble in which most ex-pats sit at the sidelines of the French movements, criticism and general complaints (which my professor likes to say is the national pastime). We sit at the window and hear the shouts but with nothing at stake ourselves, we do little but ask why. Otherwise we continue about our daily lives, which this weekend, included this marvelous Salon du Chocolat at the Porte de Versailles Expositions. We ran around like crazed children sampling chocolate of every kind and form…mousse and truffles and biscuits and pain d’épices and ganache filled macarons and even chocolate fois gras…I could go on and on and on as you can very well see. There were matcha tea croissants and chocolate butter lotions and even a chocolate statue of a small boy peeing liquid chocolate!
November 1, 2010 § 6 Comments
This is my first time ever hosting a baking challenge and I’m so nervous, anxious and excited. This month, I am hosting Sugar High Fridays, which was started in 2004 by Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess.
I’ve gone back and forth on a lot of themes — you know the age-old rounds of thinking and second-guessing — before finally settling on one that I’m pretty confident in. The theme for this month’s Sugar High Fridays will be “Desserts with a Hidden Surprise.” For this event, you can make any dessert provided it includes a center that is different from the exterior; an example of such would be those yummy chocolate cookies with the peanut butter center ☺
Make a dessert and blog about it between today and the 22th of November (the Monday). Send me an email at email@example.com with SHF as the subject.
If you do not have a blog, please send me your post with recipe and picture and I’ll post it in the roundup.
Please be sure to include a link in your post to Jennifer’s SHF page and this announcement. In your email, please include:
The name of your blog:
The name of your recipe and the url of your SHF post
A very brief description of your dessert
A 300px wide picture of your dessert, if possible
Archived posts are welcome, although be sure to re-publish it during November with the required links. Also, please note that you may enter your SHF submission for only one more food blog event.