Monday, May 31, 2010

Making Ladyfingers or Savoiardi

So I have not posted anything in the last week or so, and I am feeling really antsy.  My lack of posting hasn't been due to low level of inspiration or time in the kitchen, but rather because I have practically been living in the kitchen in the last few days or traveling.  I am building up a backlog of photos and recipes because have just not had a spare minute to post anything!  

This weekend, I flew from San Diego back to my hometown, good old Cleveland, Ohio.  I don't know about the rest of you, but it always seems that before a trip I get extra busy trying to organize everything, finish up last minute to-do items, and preparing for travel.  This trip was much of the same, with the added work to plan for both a bridal shower and a bachelorette party; one of my dearest friends from college and my sorority big sister is getting married this summer.  Soooo exciting!  I absolutely cannot wait for the wedding, and after seeing her in her for her dress fitting this past Friday, I know she will be stunning and the wedding will be fantastic.  I also adore our bridesmaid dresses (if you are feeling girly you can check them out here-no sash, sky blue color), and all the other lovely ladies in the wedding party are so much fun and sweet-as-pie.        

We had a gorgeous, sunny Saturday afternoon bridal shower, and the mother of one of the other bridesmaids was generous enough to host it at her beautiful home in Shaker Heights.  The whole thing was just amazing; everything went along without a hitch, all 20+ attendees had a great time, and (most importantly) our beautiful bride enjoyed it the most.  I think it really could not have been more perfect, and I promise, I will post some photos soon! 

When we were organizing everything for the bridal shower and bachelorette party, each of us bridesmaids pitched in something to help.  Is it any surprise that I ended up making a lot of food? :)  When I post about the whole bridal extravaganza later this week, I will divulge the entire delicious menu (just be patient, it is well worth the wait).  For now, I want to quickly share a component of one of the dessert dishes that I made: Ladyfingers! 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fresh Berries with Limoncello and Lemon-Honey Yogurt

So, do you remember how I said there were two desserts with berries that I really wanted to share with you?  Well, you can see the first one in my most recent post, and this is the second one.  And trust me, just because I am posting it second, doesn't mean it is not first-rate in taste.  This was soooo good.  As in, I easily ate three portions of it without even noticing it, good.  After trying this just once, I plan to put it on my regular rotation for dinner parties or evenings with friends, and I have a sneaking feeling you might do the same after trying it yourself. 

I thought I should share this with you on this lovely Sunday morning, since it was  a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday that I made it.  To be precise, it was exactly two weeks ago, on Sunday, May 9th... Mother's Day.  Now, I wish I could say that I made this for my lovely, wonderful mother on that particular Sunday; but alas, I am more than 2,000 miles away from any immediate family.  So on Mother's Day, I woke up to a slightly gray, cloudy morning feeling lonely and missing my mom and family.  I lay there feeling sorry for myself for a little while (cue the world's tiniest violin playing the world's saddest song), and then I got up and went into the kitchen.  I made myself a cup of tea and surveyed the options for breakfast.  That left me uninspired and still feeling blue.  So naturally, I grabbed a stack of cookbooks and crawled back into bed. 

I don't really know what it was about paging through the recipes, but I immediately started feeling less lonely.  Maybe because cooking and eating is generally a communal experience?  Probably more likely because my main associations of food and cooking, and my most fond memories of eating, are with family and loved ones.

In any case, I was paging through one of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks (don't we all love them?), and then I saw it: this beautiful dish with berries was calling out to me like a siren.  The fog of my self-pity lifted (thank goodness), and I recalled that I had just bought some amazing organic strawberries and mulberries from the farmer's market the day before.  The mulberries were an especially awesome find, since I rarely see them at the market, and these ones were ripe, with a deeply mellow, sweet taste.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

California Cutie Pie

I really just could not wait to share this recipe with you. Can you blame me? Even right now as I am writing this, my heart is pitter-pattering just thinking about this lovely, juicy, sunny strawberry pie.

So, its really no secret that I have been obsessed with fresh, in-season berries. I just can't get enough of them; when I see them at the farmer's market, their beautiful, bright faces just seem to whisper, "Take me home with you..." And of course I am a more than happy to oblige them. If if wasn't for the fact that berries are packed with antioxidants, this might be an unhealthy obsession. Lucky for me, I can even bake strawberries into a pie and call it healthy. 
I decided to make this pie as a submission for a contest put on by Ms. Humble from Not So Humble Pie. I LOVE her blog, and it is definitely close to the top of my list of favorites. She has a wonderful voice when she speaks about her baked goods, and every single one of her dessert creations seems like the food equivalent of a runway model with a mellow soul: gorgeous enough to be straight off the page of a magazine, but not so pretentious that it is unapproachable. Everything Ms. Humble shares always makes my mouth water, my tummy rumble, and all those sweet tastebuds on my tongue scream for attention. And it certainly doesn't hurt that she was a scientist in a former life.

I am not really sure how popular Strawberry Pie is out on the west coast, but growing up in the Midwest we had strawberry pie all the time.  It is really popular in a lot of homestyle diners, and is always heaping with strawberries and served with a big dollop of whipped cream.  I wanted to replicate that here, but with more of a California feel to it. 

So to make this a California strawberry pie, I used local strawberries and I also included some mandarin segments in the filling.  As I mentioned, strawberries are in season here, and I always get mine from the local farmers market.  The strawberries they sell are outstanding, and they are picked in Carlsbad, which is just about 15 minutes north of where I live.  Also around this time of year, you can also buy bags of these adorable little California mandarins.  They are so tiny, that they would just fit in the center of your cupped hand (maybe a little bigger than a golf ball).  On the bag they always call them "California Cuties," and it seems appropriate; everything is cuter in mini-size.  Like the strawberries, these mandarins are sooo sweet and juicy, so it is a perfect pairing for this pie.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gratin Dauphinois

So today I had planned to share a recipe with you that features my favorite ingredient of the moment: yep, you guessed it, Berries.  Ripe, fresh, jewel-toned, bursting with flavor berries.  I have two things that I am just dying to share with you... But I'm not really feeling it today.  You know how that goes?  (Just be patient, give me few more days; the sun will come out and we can all be in berry heaven.  I promise.)  Today, I am taking issue with this crappy weather we have been having.   

(Disclaimer: if you are from the Northwest, Midwest, or East Coast, and will be offended by a So Cal girl's petty complaints skip to the end and just make the gratin.)

All day today, all day Saturday, and all Sunday, the sun did not come out.  A dreary cover of clouds blocked any beautiful rays of sun from peeking through the haze.  I know, I know... this might be a description of daily life in other cities, but it is a rare occurrence here in sunny San Diego.  Sure, those of us from Southern California know that "June gloom" is right around the corner, but do the gray skies we experience while the rest of the country heads into summer have to come so soon?  I mean really Mother Nature, get your act together, it is only May!  I know you are probably shaking your head right now, or rolling your eyes (or likely doing both).  Trust me, I am well aware that I am utterly and completely spoiled by the climate here.  I grew up in Northern Ohio, so I am no stranger to bad weather, but that is why I moved to San Diego.  Having lived here for almost five years now, my blood has thinned, and I have apparently become a pansy when it comes to tolerating cold temperatures.  It happens.  So can I order up a little sun here?

So back to the food issue, this gloomy day put me in no mood for sharing bright, summery berries as I had planned.  Rather, I am craving something warm, creamy, and comforting.  I want a dish that will make me feel like it is wrapping a warm blanket around me when I eat it.  And this gratin is it.  This recipe for Gratin Dauphinois is from My French Kitchen, by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde, and it is packed with cream and butter and loads of cheese.  I also added some minced thyme and garlic for a little flavor undertone.  Mmmm... all these things make food taste wonderful.  When you pull this out of the oven, the golden gruyere crust and the bubbling filling underneath is so satisfying.  A bite of this is rich and filling, and just the cure for gray skies and cool days.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Artichokes with Lemon-Garlic Aioli in Lemon Cups

God I love artichokes... Steamed, boiled, marinated.  Artichoke hearts, spinach artichoke dip, I love them all.  I don't think I have ever met an artichoke I didn't like, although I do have a bone to pick with a particular artichoke from Costco that cut me with its spiked leaf.  (That's right, you know who you are.  Watch out, I am coming to get you.)

Why was I buying artichokes in Costco?  Well, for starters, they are in season now so they have spectacular flavor.  More to the point, I had decided to serve artichokes as a first course for a dinner party I was hosting, and so I needed Costco-type portions.  I was really excited about everything for the party.  I think there is nothing better than getting around a table with people you love, eating amazing food, and laughing yourself silly.  And maybe drinking.  A little.  I am an especially happy lady when I get to be the chef extraordinare/hostess for the evening, because it gives me an excuse (as if I need one) to create loads of goodies in the kitchen to serve my hungry, obliging friends.  Clearly a win-win situation. 

I can't really articulate why I like artichokes so much.  The tiny morsel of meaty flesh at the bottom of each leaf is hardly the basis for a meal, but the gold mine of fruit that lies at the heart is well worth the effort of getting to it.  In fact, I would fight you for it.  Maybe it is the fun of scraping each leaf with my teeth?  On a deeper level, I think the biologist in me also likes the fact that an artichoke is a sort of flower marauding as a vegetable.  Tricky, tricky. 

I didn't even end up buying anything on my trip to Costco, because I was so put off by that renegade artichoke that so brazenly attacked me.  This was actually a blessing in disguise, since I found these beautiful, huge, ripe artichokes at my local grocery store.  Score!  Other artichoke-hounds out there know as well as I do that a good artichoke is often hard to come by.  I excitedly took my loot home and prepped them for cooking.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Crepes with Fresh Strawberry Jam

The first time my boyfriend told me he was going to make me pancakes, I expected a tall stack topped with Aunt Jemima; these are what he made me.  I was both surprised and excited, because I know this dish as a "crepe", and I love them!  It turns out that Norwegians (including my boyfriend) call this a pancake, and call our buttermilk goodies "American Pancakes." 

I can almost guarantee that all the things you need to make these crepes are in your fridge or pantry right now.  You only need three ingredients to make the crepes themselves, and your local farmers market is the perfect place to pick up some ripe strawberries for the jam.   

We LOVE to eat these crepes, most often for breakfast, but almost as often for lunch or dinner as well.  Although I suppose it is technically like "breakfast for dinner," I have never really thought of it that way.  For me, crepes are a special treat, and I usually end up eating them until I feel like my stomach will burst.  And then I still want more.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Molten Chocolate Lava Cake

So I would bet that everyone reading this post has eaten a molten chocolate lava cake at one point or another.  Or at least, I certainly hope you have.  If you have never had one of these luscious, decadent, oh-so-sexy desserts you are missing out.  Really.  If you are one of those deprived people, go ahead and tell someone else you have not eaten one.  I can guarantee you they will be incredulous and respond with, "Whaaaat??!  You have never eaten a lava cake?  OMG.  They are soooooo good, you are crazy.  You need to eat one right now."  

Whether you are a lava cake newbie, or a certified chocolate connoisseur, you do need to eat this cake right now.  Because while it is likely to be featured on the dessert menu at your favorite fancy restaurant or the local Italian joint, this cake can just as easily be whipped up in your own kitchen.  In fact, I would argue that your kitchen is a better place to eat this dessert; only in the comfort of your own home can you fully appreciate its warm, intimate center that flows like molten gold.  At home, you can eat with abandon and lick your lips after each satisfying bite.  If you are doing it right, eating this kind of cake might even make you a little hot and bothered...  So grab your loved one and go into your kitchen and start making it.  Or be really naughty and make one just for yourself.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookies

Although I made these a few weeks ago now, I decided to post this today because I think it is the type of day where a good chocolate chip cookie is in order.  Today I feel sad, lonely, and tired.  Today is the kind of day where I just want to curl up with a blanket on a comfy couch, and not really talk about much.  Today I took my boyfriend to the airport to fly back to Norway.  Now lets be real here, I want you to eat this cookie, and love this cookie (because I did), so do not fear: I will not bemoan you with my feelings of depression or the fleeting, strange sensation that I get when I remember he isn't in the apartment anymore... No, no.  But suffice it to say, that today is definitely a chocolate-cookie-kind-of-day.   

Because a good chocolate cookie is warm and comforting; really, it is like the food incarnation of a big tight hug, where you never want to let go.  

I know you are waiting for me to say that this is my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and that I have been making it since childhood.  Because everyone has a go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, right?  Well, I certainly remember making loads of cookies, and I think we used the Toll House Recipe.  To be honest though, I have my fondest memories of heading down to the freezer in our basement, and sneaking prepared cookie-dough that we had gotten from the store.  There was a big tub of it in the freezer, which was perfect for sly snacking.  

(If you ask my mom, she will tell you a story about when I came up from the basement one morning - yes I was eating cookie dough in the morning - and she accused me of having my hand in the cookie "jar."  Of course, I denied it up and down like a good little girl.  I thought I had gotten away with the crime until she pointed out a piece of dough that had gone awry and affixed itself to the front of my shirt.  Ah, caught red-handed, moms notice everything!)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Double Chocolate Cupcakes

Did I mention that my boyfriend loves sweets?  Oh, I said that already?  Wait, now I remember: I think my exact words were, "He has an insatiable sweet tooth and I can't say I have the inclination or the will power to refuse him."  Hmm, lets check again... Yep, that's is still true.  So you will have to forgive me, but despite the fact that he is leaving in three days (soooooo sad), I now have a backlog of sugary and chocolately recipes that I will be posting.  These recipes will not be kind to your waistline and will most certainly violate any possible diet you might be on, but they absolutely will make you smile with glee.  So to kick off this sugar-spree, I present rich, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth Double Chocolate Cupcakes.  

So my boyfriend obviously really enjoys his sweets, which means he loves his cupcakes.  But they can't be just any cupcakes.  Oh no.  They need to have chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.  No peanut butter, or mint, and certainly no berries.  In his opinion, chocolate should be chocolate.  (He is crazy.  Give me chocolate and strawberries any day, and I am happy woman.)  So, to appease the love-of-my-life a.k.a. chocolate-worshipper, I went on a quest to find the perfect chocolate cupcake.