Sunday, December 12, 2010

Food Memories

Christmas cookies from a couple years ago
I've been so focused on this semester that I haven't posted since before school started.  But the semester is coming to a close, so it's the perfect time to get my blog moving again!  Hopefully since I won't have a class blog to keep up with next semester, I'll be able to keep up with this one again.  Because I've really missed writing it. And in a lot of ways, starting this blog back up at this time of the year is kinda perfect.  There are so many culinary traditions that play into the holidays, no matter what we believe, so it's a pretty damn good time to highlight culinary traditions.  

Coffee from Intelligentsia. Because coffee is food too!
I don't necessarily believe in Christmas or adhere to any particular religion, but I really do love a lot of the traditions at this time of the year, both culinary and otherwise.  It's a time of the year (the only time of the year, in fact) where I get to see almost all of my family members, both near and far, and there's something beautiful about that, especially in seeing people I only get to see or talk to once or twice a year.  I also love a lot of the music.  As a kid, I sang with the Chicago Children's Choir, so I know pretty much EVERY Christmas carol known to man, from those I actually think are pretty to those that get stuck in my head for days, and not in a good way (Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas carol, for example).

Glace from Berthillion, Paris.

Now I know you're sitting there going "really, Kate, what does this have to do with food? This is a food blog!"  and it is, so here we go.  To me, a lot of the best foods are foods that are pretty deeply set into my memory.   And this doesn't just apply to Chirstmas or Thanksgiving, but they're good places to start, Especially given my love for pie. And cookies. And sugary cereal. and. . .and. . . and. . . You get the point.  I'm going to get into special posts on Cookies and pies, I hope, but for now, I'm just giving a list of foods that are special to me, foods that (in the spirit of Thanksgiving) I'm thankful for.   All of these are not only delicious, but have extra special memories associated with them.  So here's a quickie--My memories in food.

  • Gingerbread men--I'm picky about gingerbread cookies, but one of my best memories is decorating gingerbread men with my family.  There would be frosting everywhere, candies and sprinkles all over the place, and Kieran and I completely sugar high, stained with colored sugar, and laughing our asses off.  
  • Mom's Christmas stollen. Most families I know who celebrate Christmas have special dinner traditions.  Ours vary. We've had turkey, fish, duck, goose, ham, and roast beef (my personal favorite).  Our tradition comes in at breakfast, when mom makes stollen every year. It is delicious, a rich bread filled with candied fruit peels, covered in a fantastic lemon glaze. It's absolutely impossible to eat jsut one slice.   Perhaps this year I'll watch her make it and do a post of it. . . If that's ok, of course.
  • Dad's salmon noodles.  This is not holiday related. This is not even special occasion related, necessarily. My dad makes a dish that's got spinach noodles in a salmon and cream sauce and it's just magic. And great for breakfast the next morning too!  This may be my ultimate comfort food (which, of course, I don't have the recipe for, so I need to wait till we're in the same town to eat and be comforted)
  • Super rare roast beef on an onion roll from Manny's Deli in Chicago.  We used to go here sometimes on Saturdays, after my choir rehearsals and before my sister's orchestra rehearsals.  It was the perfect way to wind down after rough days, and seems to be where we've had a lot of our more serious talks.  Of course even when Kieran and I split sandwiches, we each had our own potato pancake.  Manny's has good potato pancakes. And good pecan pie.  Which brings me to the next one!
  • Pie.   It doesn't matter what kind of pie (except for banana cream or coconut cream, which are weird), pie always makes me happy.  We have different pies at different holidays in our family, and they always change.  This year at Thanksgiving, there was pecan pie and a pear tart.  We always end up doing a mincemeat pie on one of the holidays (it's mom's favorite)  and there's generally an apple pie somewhere in there.   Strangely enough, pumpkin pie, perhaps the most traditional for a lot of people, isn't a mainstay at our holiday dinners.  I'm good with that.  I also do cherry pie and peach pie when I have 4th of July bbq's.  I guess I'm making my own tradition there. . . Traditionally for my family, it was strawberry rhubarb.  Once, at the 4th of July picnic (held on the 3rd in Chicago), while waiting for the fireworks to start, I stepped in the pie.  My family just LOVES to tell that story. 
  • Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice-  Ok, a later memory for sure, but a good one.  The Spicy Tuna on crispy rice at Katsu-ya was my fist taste of LA sushi (which is totally different than Chicago sushi) and I was hooked!  Of course, there are a bazillion things there, and at other LA places that I have grown to love, but that single bite is my first LA sushi, and perhaps the most memorable. 
  • Hot bread while walking down the street with Dad and Kieran in Paris.  That first baguette we had, still warm from the oven, probably lasted all of 30 seconds.  It was the first of about 20 baguettes we ate in 2 weeks, and it was magical. 
The aforementioned baguette
That's my list for starters. . . Of course there are about a million other little food memories I have, but those are big ones that kinda sneak back up on me in the forms of cravings.  I'm sitting here craving that salmon pasta right now.  Dad, Can I get that recipe?

Classic apple pie
If you have a favorite, most special food memory, please leave it in the comments section below (or in my e-mail if that's more comfortable for you).  I'd love to try and make/try/go out and experience some memories that aren't my own.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Peachy Keen

So it's really summer now, and not just in LA. As temperatures rise all across the country, really good fruit starts to show up in the farmers markets and grocery stores around the country. I mean seriously, the blueberries, cherries, plums, apricots, and ohh my god the peaches, are all insane. With all that good fruit it's hard not to eat fruit constantly, and next to impossible not to bake good fruity things.

On a side note, the other day my dad used "OMG" in an e-mail to me. I get that it's a time saver and all but there's something weird about my father typing in text speak. He is neither 16 nor female. Just letting you know, dad

So the other day a friend of mine called. He had some good lookin' peaches, and really needed something to bring to a party. I told him to bring over some peaches and buttermilk and we'd make a killer peach cobbler. Now cobbler means different things to different people, from an almost crumble like crisp, to a more cakelike dough with fruit baked in and everything in between. My variation of cobbler is good, juicy, flavorful fruit under moist biscuit dough. Why biscuit dough? Because I love biscuits . . . they're good any time of day, with anything.

First, I made the peach filling. You can do this with pretty much any fruit or combination of fruits, but peaches are classic for a really good reason. To make this one I used the 5 peaches my friend brought me, plus a 12 oz bag of frozen sliced peaches, since the 5 just wasn't going to be enough. You can do all fresh, especially this time of the year, when fresh peaches are good and plentiful, or all frozen in the dead of the winter. It all works.

To make the filling I peeled my peaches, removed the pits, sliced them into uniform peaches, added the bag of frozen peaches I have (just to round things out, plus frozen peaches have really good texture when baked).

Next, it was time to season the peaches. I used a handful of good cinnamon, A generous splash of almond extract (seen here measured out in a standard shot glass) and about a quarter teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg. Seriously, don't use the pre-ground stuff. It has more in common with woodchips than spices.

Along with the seasonings, I added sugar (½ cup white sugar (or vanilla sugar in my case) and ½ cup light brown sugar) and ½ cup of cornstarch.

Everything went into a big bowl with the peaches, and I used my hands to toss everything evenly. You can use a spoon or whatever but I like to use my hands and really get in there. I'm a hands-on baker to say the very least. Once everything is coated it'll be a little milky looking from the cornstarch. That's fine. Mix the stuff and set it aside. 

Ok, y'all! Its biscuit time (sorry, my infinitely horrible Paula Deen impression doesn't translate to print). This biscuit recipe makes a really good free form biscuit (too moist to be rolled out). If using it for savory applications, leave out the sugar, spoon it onto a greased cookie sheet, and bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes. Now on to the recipe

Dry Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teasponn baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

Wet Ingredients

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or half butter half lard if you're feeling good and pork-y)

1 ½ cups buttermilk


Ok, first, whisk together all the dry ingredients so they're evenly combined. 

Cut the butter into small pieces and rub it into the flour until it's evenly combined. Alternately, freeze it solid, grate it, and toss the butter flakes into the dry ingredients. 

Then, add the buttermilk, stirring gently to combine.

You want the mixture to look kinda chunky or uneven, but be moist. Once its combined, that's all folks! Time to assemble the cobbler

Grease up a baking dish. I used this cute ceramic baking dish, but you can use pyrex, foil, or even a cast iron skillet. Actually, the cast iron skillet is pretty sexy and rustic in presentation. But I digress. Butter up your dish, then fill it with your peachy mixture. 

Next, top it with the biscuit mixture. Just spread the stuff over the top evenly, trying to get all the way to the edges. Having some little holes in the covering is fine, but try to get the dough around the edges so the filling doesn't bubble over and burn on the oven floor. That stuff smells. 

Sprinkle the top with sanding sugar, raw sugar, or white sugar, and bake the cobbler at 375 for 30-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and delicious and the filling as thickened from the cornstarch!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Writing about food.

I Wrote this over on my other blog, which I'm not keeping up with, so I decided to re post this over here. This was a mother's day post, but it's totally food related

Q : What is one thing that you think your mother did exceptionally well as a parent?


My relationship with my mom has not been without stress, strain, and turmoil. I think, to some extent, that is how mother/daughter relationships all over the world are destined to go. From what I know about other people (only what they tell me) my relationship with my mom may have been a bit more rocky than most. But there are a large number of things that my mom did very well. And she deserves all the credit in the world for those. Here is just one of them.

My mom made sure that I am not a picky eater. Even as a kid, I wasn't exactly afforded the opportunity to be picky. While most kids my age were chowing down on chicken fingers, mac and cheese, and pizza, I was eating (and learning to cook) fun things like lentil soup, trout almandine, and ratatouille. Even the basics like school lunches weren't basic in our house. Most of the time, I walked the 2 blocks home from William H. Ray Elementary School and ate a hot meal with my mom and sister, since the lunches served in the Chicago Public School System. The food was pretty good. Heavy on ramen with scrambled eggs (which I still won't eat), and reheated leftovers. But when my mom wasn't going to be home to cook, or when I wanted to sit in the smelly, overcrowded lunchroom with hundreds of other kids, my mom packed my Gumby (don't mock, people.) lunchbox full of either super healthy sandwiches or thermoses full of the ubiquitous egg-y ramen soup.

And ok, now you're thinking "well that sounds totally normal. Soup and sandwiches are pretty par for the course." I hear you. And when it was ramen soup, it felt pretty normal. I didn't get made fun of. But there were a lot of tuna sandwiches packed into that lunch box, and man, did they stink by lunch time. I remember getting made fun of a lot for my stinky tuna sandwich lunches, with no extra treats packed in. Other kids ate cookies. I ate fruit. I also got made fun of a ton when my thermos (which permanently smelled of ramen) was filled with "weird" things like ratatouille or lentil soup. I remember the "eeeew, what is that?!?" coming out of classmate's mouths, and I remember being envious of the other kid's wonderbread sandwiches, oreo cookies, and apples, perfectly peeled and cut into wedges. At this point, as a (slightly more) mature adult, I really appreciate all that. All the "eeews" and the "how can you eat that?" helped make me the ballsy eater, and ballsy cook I am today. Thanks mom!

So yeah, my mom's health-nut sensibilities got me made fun of. But in the long run, they helped me develop my passion for cooking and for eating. I learned to cook so I could make myself lunches that I would like, and make dinners that the whole family would like, ensuring me leftovers that I actually wanted to eat for lunch and wasn't afraid to eat in front of my classmates. But my mom's giving me really healthy foundations to build on made it so that even now, I eat "stranger" than a lot of people my age, and probably better than a lot of my former classmates do. In that way, my mom inspired me.

Where mom made a ton of soups and stews, I make a ton of roasted lean meats and light pasta dishes. I don't necessarily use my mom's savory food recipes, though I guess I can say I've drawn inspiration from some of them. She made ratatouille-ish lentil stew, thick with eggplant. I make ratatouille the traditional French way, and make my lentil soup as a Thai style red curry, which, now that I think about it, mom would totally love. I'll have to make it for her.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Yes, friends, I know. . . I've been posting all this relatively healthy food and talking about weight loss and eating vegetables when really you all want to read about the good naughty food.  That's why the cherry pie post was so popular.  So not too long ago, someone ordered a few dozen mini cupcakes from me.  I was told that I could pick the flavors, so I made my life easy and did chocolate with 2 different kinds of frostings. Then there was a little variety, but it wasn't a pain in my ass.   Plus, I make a kick-ass chocolate cake. 

Now this chocolate cake recipe is big for a batch of cupcakes.  It is big enough to make a 10 inch layer cake for a birthday, or an epic sheet cake, or a few dozen regular sized cupcakes.  I cut it in half to do mini cupcakes, but the recipe below is the big one.  Why? So you can make birthday cake without doing math.  Now go preheat your oven to 300 (yes, we bake this recipe low and slow to keep things nice and gooey) and we'll talk cake.

Chocolate cake batter (Adapted from Gourmet)

  • 4 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate. either chopped fine or use chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour NOT CAKE FLOUR
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup full fat sour cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

 With all the ingredients measured out (remember, what you see above is a half recipe) it is time to get moving.  Measuring ahead of time may seem like a pain, a waste of time, or a waste of clean dishes, but having stuff all set early makes it really easy to bake without feeling frantic or overwhelmed.  Everything just comes together more easily this way.

First, we take the hot coffee (yes, it needs to be hot. I use espresso shots because I like strong coffee flavor, but you can do anything from your leftover Starbucks to instant, as long as it is hot) and pour it over the chocolate chips.  We're melting chocolate here, friends. That's why the hot is important. So pour the hot coffee over the chips, and just leave it alone.

 Next, sift the dry ingredients into a LARGE bowl. This is especially important to do with the cocoa powder, which tends to seriously clump.  I use a wire mesh strainer instead of a sifting device. It goes quicker this way, and then you don't need to buy a special thing just for sifting.  I put everything from flour to baking powder in the sifter to work out clumps but not salt. If you use fine grain table salt or sea salt, it works, but kosher salt just doesn't fit through the holes.

Once all the dry ingredients are sifted, whisk them together thoroughly.  Not only does this serve to aerate the dry ingredients, but it means you're not going to have clumps of baking soda or flour sneaking up at you in an otherwise awesome chocolatey cake.  

Next, add the eggs.  Break up the yolks right away. Then add the oil, buttermilk, sour cream, and vanilla, and whisk everything throughly to combine.  The mixture will be thick and fudgey.


Once all of those ingredients are combined, it is time to add the coffee and chocolate mixture. It should still be warm, but not scalding hot (or it'll start to cook the eggs).  If it got cool, warm it up in the microwave a little. No big deal.   The coffee and chocolate mixture will make the batter a lot thinner and silky smooth.  Let the batter sit for half an hour. I can't explain why I do this, but it improves the texture.  After the batter rests, It is time to dig out some papers, line your pan, and make some cupcakes!

You can definitely use plain cupcake papers.  The cake will still taste awesome.  But I have a nice selection of fun cupcake papers that I like to use. With the big cupcake craze right now, it is pretty easy to find weird or different pan liners just to make things more interesting.   This time I chose to go with the leopard print ones. I got them relatively cheaply at a local cooking supply store, and they're awesome! So I lined the pan, then sprayed it down with baking spray so the tops of the cupcakes didnt stick to the pan if they spilled over. it just makes things neater.  Once all was prepared, I filled the lines between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way full.

The mini cupcakes bake pretty quickly at 300 degrees, somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes depending on oven.  When done, they still look slightly underbaked but a toothpick or knife inserted into a cake comes out clean and the cake springs back when poked (do this gently.  hot batter burns).  Bake them too long or too hot and they get dry and moist cupcakes are awesome.  While the cupcakes are baking you have a perfect chance to start making frostings!

While I didn't take pictures of the frosting making process, I know the recipes I used.  I made a pretty basic chocolate ganache and a vanilla bean cream cheese frosting.

For the ganache, I used a pound of good chocolate and a cup of heavy cream I used bittersweet chocolate since I like the taste but you can use milk or even white chocolate depending on what you're going for.  I set the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, and put it aside.  I then brought the cup of milk up to a simmer on the stove, pulled it off the heat, and poured it over the chocolate chips.  Let it sit for 4 or 5 minutes, then whisk whisk whisk and you have a beautiful ganache.  If you let it cool to room temperature it'll be spreadable like frosting, if you let it cool then throw it in the mixer it'll whip up even lighter and fluffier.  Of course I did neither of these. I left mine liquidy and just dipped the cupcakes head first into the frosting as kind of a glaze.

I decorated the top with these delicious chocolate crunch pearls, but you don't need to.  use sprinkles or candies or sugar, or even leave them plain.  I just like the texture the crunchy pearls provide. Yum!

The other frosting I made may have been a little more complicated, but not much.  I threw 2 parts room temperature cream cheese and 1 part soften but not melted butter into a mixer and whisked it till light and fluffy.  Then I scraped a vanilla bean and added that to the mix.  When the vanilla bean was well incorporated, I added sifted powdered sugar.  I didn't measure the powdered sugar (bad blogger, I know) but I pretty much add it to taste, and I like a tangy frosting so I didn't add that much. When the frosting was whipped and sweetened to the texture and flavor I like, I scooped it into a piping bag and piped pretty swirls of frosting onto the cakes.

All the cupcakes were frosted and I figured I was done. But then I realized I wanted to add something a little more decorative to the cupcakes since they were a special order for someone I liked and all.  So I added some pretty gold chocolate candies I got in Paris (like the best m&m's in the world) to the top, and viola! even prettier cupcakes!.  

Coming up, some healthier stuff. And some naughty baking stuff as well!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


So the other day, I decided that it was fajita time.  Why? They're heavy on the veggies and low on the cost.  Skirt steak is cheap, veggies are relatively cheap so it works. I also keep it healthy while avoiding the cheese, sour cream, and guacamole (yes, yes, I'm a heathen) and using just a little bit of rice instead of a big ass flour tortilla.  So yeah. the point of this rambling is that I made fajitas, and they were gooooood.

To start with I made a marinade, one that I borrowed from Alton Brown and twisted around to suit my needs.  I made the marinade in the morning before one of my classes and left the meat in the refrigerator till it was time to cook dinner. . . So anyway, marinade time. As Alton Brown (my husband in a next life) suggests, I did the marinade in a blender all quick and easy style. 

So yeah, as you can see, the marinade is pretty basic.  Take everything and throw it in a blender, zip it, pour it into a ziploc bag, squeeze all the air out, and let the meat chill until you're ready to cook, somewhere between an hour and a day. It doesn't matter really.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
big dash of Worcestershire sauce
4 scallions, washed and cut in half
1/4 red onion
2 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup lime or lemon juice (I mix both)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons dark-brown sugar or Mexican brown sugar

The meat in the marinade isn't the prettiest, but fuck, it tastes good, and really, that's whats important.   When I got home from class, I threw some rice in the rice cooker--I love rice under my fajitas, and prepped up some veggies.

For veggies, I used some stuff I had in the refrigerator--peppers and onions, as is traditional, and mushrooms, since I like them and they're so good with beef.  I used quite a few veggies and not as much meat as you see at a Mexican joint to keep things healthy, and I cooked a ton. Why? reheated fajitas are good for lunch and dinners, cold fajita fixings over salad are really good.  So I cut a ton of veggies into nice little pieces (strips for the peppers and onions as is traditional, and slices for the mushrooms. just cuz.Oh, I also pulled the meat out of the refrigerator at that point and let it come back to room temperature before cooking.

Traditionally, fajita meat is grilled, but I chose to stay inside and use a cast iron skillet. I added just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and let it come up till it was screaming hot, the oil was kinda shimmering on the bottom, but not quite letting the oil smoke. Because that makes things taste funky.

Once the pan was searingly hot I pulled the meat out of the marinade, dried it a little, and threw it in the pan to let it sear. You want the pan super hot to get a good sear on the meat.  Once both sides are seared, take the meat out and set it aside. You're gonna cook all the veggies right in that good meaty marinade-y pan so they pick up all kinds of nice flavors.  I did the veggies half at a time.  By not crowding the pan, all the veggies get a nice brown on them without really steaming too much.  First, I threw the onions in the pan, let them cook till soft, then added the mushrooms, let them brown a little, then added the peppers. they cook the quickest.

Once the veggies were cooked, I sliced the skirt steak, which had been resting all quietly on my butcher block, and added it back into the pan. Why? the meat was totally rare  inside. Now I love my good rare meat, but skirt steak does better a little more cooked.  I kept it pretty much medium rare though.   Also cooking them again put a lot more of a crusty edge on the meat, and I love the crunchy bits.

And with that, my fajitas were done. These are pretty good on a tortilla with sour cream and guacamole, but I like them over rice, so I did that. and they were gooooood.

These were the best post-finals comfort meal I had last week, in the midst of finals hell. But yeah, they're pretty good the rest of the time too. I just happened to make them during finals time and they rocked me a little then.

ok, quickie fajita post done. . . coming up this week we've got mini posts on chicken salad and fruit salad and some baking goodness. yummm.