Happy New Year!

January 3, 2010 at 7:14 pm (cooking, dessert, food)

Hopefully everyone is inside and out of the cold and wind.  Or even better, hopefully you’re in California.

As promised, here are the results of our gingerbread house party!  We had quite a lovely gingerbread village.

The model home

Construction of prefab parts

You'll have to imagine the inside with couches and a big TV

Elephant-themed house

Santa and his reinpenguins are landing on this house

Gingerbread Stadium

The penguin is still working on the decorations on this house

Holidays at the South Pole

The whole neighborhood

Hopefully, we’ll do this again next year!


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It’s Gingertime!

December 11, 2009 at 1:08 pm (cooking, dessert)

Not an eco-gingerbread house.  That’s already been done.  And it’s not a gingerbread partridge in a gingerbread gingerpear tree.  I wish I could say I did that.  Not Martha did it.  It’s gorgeous!  The tree is two pieces, the partridge is another piece, and all the pears are little cookies.

This year we’re expanding the scale – it’s going to be a gingerbread house party!  The massive amounts of dough are ready to be rolled out.  And soon they will be made into lovely decorated houses.  And whatever else people are inspired to do.  I hope it goes well… there’s the potential for gingerdisaster.  Will post photos of the results!

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Too many cakes

November 30, 2009 at 4:22 pm (chocolate, cooking, dessert, food, friends, international, wedding)

How did our weekend of cake tasting go?  It was fun, and mostly quite tasty.  That was all expected.  But I didn’t expect to be so confused.

Here are the results.  If you want the names of any of the bakeries, let me know and I can tell you.

You can use it to mark time

One egg cake

One egg cake from Mark’s father – He makes this every year for Mark’s birthday.  It’s quite sweet.  Both Mark’s father and the cake, especially the frosting.  But that’s not for the wedding.  That was just bonus cake.


Wedding cake baker #1


Wedding cake baker #1 – We liked the design options and we like the cost.  The design consultant was really nice and we talked about a custom-ish design that combined various designs that they already do.  And since we sort of designed it ourselves, we’re a bit attached to it.  But the cakes were either too moist (chocolate) or too dry (swirl or white).  The fillings were good, but not great.  So this would be a good option, but not perfect.

Wedding cake baker #2

Wedding cake baker #2 – These cakes were considerably tastier.  The flavors are also more interesting and the slices look much prettier (if you ignore the saran wrap – we picked up the slices from the baker and ate them at my sis’s apartment).  This baker would be more expensive, and we’d have to use one of the basic designs unless we want to pay even more money for a custom design.

dry, not good flavor, frosting no good

Cupcake place #1

Cupcake place #1 – Not very good.  Not worth talking about

more like muffins with frosting

Cupcake place #2

Cupcake place #2 – Better.  But not what we’re looking for.  All the cupcake places would be cheaper, but probably more effort for us.

It would have been nice to try other non-wedding cake cake places, but there’s only so much cake you can eat in one weekend.

We’re probably leaning toward tastier but more expensive.  I hope that I don’t see any leftover cake next July!

Speaking of leftovers, Thanksgiving leftovers have been turned into a curry turkey pot pie.  It’s baking in the oven right now.  I used turkey, gravy, and leftover cranberries from a pear-cranberry-almond tart.  And I also used some of the extra onion soup.  The curry part is inspired by our visit to a cooking class that my sister teaches.  It’s a class for HS students at a charter school.  We stopped by and enjoyed some curry chicken and roti and some creamy pasta.  It’s a neat idea for a class.  Each student has to do a little research on a country.  Then they bring in a recipe from that country, often where their families are from, and they cook it together in class.

The curry chicken is stuffed inside the roti before it's all pan fried in butter!

It was all really tasty!

Before all our leftovers turned into a curry turkey pot pie, this is what it looked like:

flavored w/ rosemary, thyme, sage, apple cider


Dinner is served

Designing the pear tart

Look at how the pears are kinda rosy.  It's so pretty.  It's from soaking dried cranberries with the poached pears

The result of their hard work

The curry turkey pot pie is done!  Good timing!

Smells and tastes as good as it looks


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Harvest Time!

October 5, 2009 at 3:25 pm (cooking, food, new york city, plants)

We’ve been enjoying the fall in NYC again!  Crisp cool air, blue skies, flaming trees!  It’s the best time to be here, in my opinion.  Certain people, like Mark, may try to convince you that it’s best in the summer.  But hot in NYC means hot and sticky and muggy and stuffy and stinky.  Don’t be fooled.

Why is fall considered the time for harvesting?  It seems like at least as much stuff is harvested in spring and summer.  Maybe it’s because stuff you gather in the fall is stored to help you get through the winter.  But then they should call it storing time, not harvesting time.

We’re going apple picking this weekend to do some harvesting of our own.  In the meantime, I’ve been gathering lots of goodies from the farmers’ markets.  Summer may have the tastiest produce, but fall has lots of stuff that is fun to cook with.  I made a pumpkin-pear cider-apple cake.  And delicata squash with swiss chard and cipollini onions (spiced up with coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon).  Yum!  And some “Lakers soup” – butternut squash-corn-leek soup with purple cabbage.  And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet!

a.k.a. LSU Soup or Shaq Soup

And since we’re on the topic of harvests, my pepper plant is growing fruit!  I think there are 3 baby peppers growing!  It’s a little late, but it’s probably just confused because it’s in a yogurt container inside an apartment.

Maybe I should start a pool for their height and weight and birth date

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What I threw together for dessert

August 11, 2009 at 2:22 pm (cooking, dessert, food, fruit, recipes)

I threw these tarts together from bits and pieces that I had lying around.  It came together so well, probably much better than if I had planned it out.  These are goat cheese cake tartlets topped with slices of white peaches.


Since I was using bits and pieces, I only made three tartlets.  Seems like three wouldn’t be worth the effort, but they were so delicious.  And they weren’t much trouble to make.  The crust was super easy – I used a French tart dough that I found through David Lebovitz.  Easiest crust AND most delicious crust ever.  I’ll be using it again.  And the goat cheesecake part is modified from another recipe online.  After the crust and filling were baked, I topped it with some thin slices of white peach, sprinkled some sugar on top, and threw it under the broiler.  I was trying to get a little bit of a creme brulee-like crust.  That didn’t work out.  Maybe I’ll try it again with a blowtorch, once I find myself a blowtorch.


Even without a blowtorch, it was still delicious!

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Work is ramping up

June 25, 2009 at 2:05 pm (cooking, dessert)

You may have guessed from the paucity of posts.  And when I do post, I might sound different.  I’m learning to think and talk in the language of education research.

And my camera appears to be broken.  Every single photo comes out as a nice dark rectangle.  So there won’t be too many photos until I either get the camera fixed or I finally jump in and buy a digital SLR.  The digital SLR that I’ve been talking about getting for years now.

I was just in California and I got caught up on strawberries and peaches and cherries.  Now I just have to wait for them to get going in NY.

While we’re talking about cherries, they don’t usually last very long when I get my hands on them.  But maybe I’ll make a cherry clafoutis one of these days.  It’s one of my favorite desserts.  For those of you who know what nien gao is, it’s like that, but less sticky and chewy.  And I found this neat trick to pit the cherries – http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/no-cherry-pitter-use-a-pastry-tip-088418 – with a pastry tip!

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Brooklyn’s Test Kitchen

April 8, 2009 at 6:00 am (cooking, dessert, food, recipes, science)

Here’s some of what I’ve been up to.  I baked up some cupcakes for the class I’m teaching.  The idea was to explore acids and bases in baking, and baking soda and baking powder as well.

The textbook explanations:  Baking soda is basic and requires an acid somewhere else in the recipe to create the reaction that generates CO2.  Baking powder has both the acid and base together.

There were 4 different recipes for the cupcakes, all modified from the All Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake from the Cake Bible (R.L. Beranbaum).  All four versions of the cupcakes had these ingredients:

  • unsalted butter
  • sugar
  • egg yolks
  • vanilla
  • cake flour
  • salt

And then I varied whether I used baking soda or baking powder and whether I used buttermilk (acidic) or milk (less acidic).  And then I baked up 12 cupcakes for each combination.

Cupcake A – milk, baking powder
These smelled like vanilla and butter.  The bottom is considerably darker than sides.  The crumb was fluffy, but a little dry.  The top is pretty wide and flat.  Flavor is sweet.  Top was crispy.  A few students liked this one the best.
Cupcake B – milk, baking soda
These smelled like vanilla, but not very buttery.  The color is a darker yellow towards the bottom.  The crumb is tight and non-uniform (worm holes).  The top is has a hump and the top’s texture is not as crispy as A.  The flavor was not as sweet as A, and there was a bitter aftertaste.  This was more moist than A and C, but not as moist as D.  One student said that this was her favorite.
Cupcake  C – buttermilk, baking powder
These smelled like villa and butter.  The bottom is a little darker than the sides.  The crumb is fluffy and uniform, and maybe slightly more tender than A.  Top is flat.  Slightly citrusy aftertaste.  The texture is a little dry.  The top crust is crispy.  Most students found this to be their favorite.
Cupcake D – buttermilk, baking soda
The smell had vanilla and butter.  The color is a darker yellow than A or C, with the bottom slightly darker than the sides.  The texture is tender and moist.  Top is high and rounded.  There was a slight tingly feeling that was left on my tongue.  The crust was not as crispy as A or C.
Cupcake A Cupcake B Cupcake C Cupcake D
Diameter, bottom of cupcake (cm) 5.1 4.9 5.0 5.3
Diameter, top of paper (cm) 6.8 6.6 6.9 6.6


I’ll make it short so that the post doesn’t get too long.  And it’s not peer reviewed either.

I did my best to control for everything except for the variables that I was interested in (mixing order and time, baking time, etc), but I only had one oven and one kitchen and a limited amount of time, so I let a few things slide.  I was concerned that the color of the paper cups might affect the outcome, so I used a strategy somewhat inspired by bioinformatics and randomized the color of the cups.  I was also thinking about small molecule docking screens and how you can rank the hits and compare the ranks.  So I was thinking about how you could rank all the cupcakes of the same type and compare cupcakes at the same rank.  I didn’t do that.  And I didn’t do a number of other things that would have made this a better experiment, but would have also driven me insane.

The differences between the cupcakes were way more complex than what I was expecting.  And more complex than what is reported by people talking about food science.  Buttermilk seemed to make things more moist (acid is supposed to prevent gluten development) and baking powder made things more fluffy.  But it’s not this simple.  All of the cupcakes rose – something was acting with the baking soda, even though there wasn’t anything very acidic in the batter.  I probably should have made one without any chemical leavening, but remember my comments about insanity.  The shapes and colors and flavors were quite different and I don’t know how to explain that.  I think that using double acting baking powder complicated things as well.

I’ll leave it up to you guys to do more interpreting and further investigations to resolve the issues that come up with this one.  Let me know how it goes!

I’m not sure I understand cupcakes better, but this was a good lesson about the scientific process for my class, I think.  And cupcakes are always yummy and fun, even if some are yummier than others.


Not for this report, but I thought this was an interesting link about food myths.

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Happy Gingerbread House Season!

December 8, 2008 at 6:35 pm (architecture, cooking, dessert, food, new york city)

Wow, NYC is really into the whole holiday spirit thing.  They mean business here. Huge light displays sucking up electricity everywhere, chopping down big trees.  NYC might be the most Christmas-y place in the world, or at least for the modern consumerism Christmas.  I’m torn about it… stuff makes me grouchy.  And crowds make me grouchier.  By the way, don’t go near Rockefeller Center in December.  If you are going from point A to point B and the shortest path goes through Rockefeller Center, don’t do it.  You’ll run into a bunch of people who don’t move because they don’t have room AND they don’t know where they’re going.  It’s easier if you make a big loop around it.  So that all sounds bad, but a lot of the decorations are quite pretty.  Sparkly lights are appealing.  And at least some places use LED lights.

Sign says "No Standing" but it was so crowded that standing was the only option.

Sign says "No Standing" but it was so crowded that standing was the only option.

My sister and I tried to see the tree on the night of the lighting.  We figured we had nothing better to do so we might as well go.  Spectacular mistake.  They had the sidewalks blocked off and you couldn’t go directly to Rockefeller Plaza.  There was some secret way, but we never figured it out and no one would say.  We just kept running into dead ends.  I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

The one thing that I’m least conflicted about is gingerbread houses!  I haven’t made one this year.  Yet.  But I thought I’d reminisce about the Gingerbread House of Christmas Past.  Made by me and my sister Da.  I’m the baker.  She’s the structural engineer.

Eco-gingerbread house

Eco-gingerbread house

Yes, those are solar panels.  And a living roof… we had this baby before the California Academy of Sciences.  And a gingerbread Prius.

Back of the eco-gingerbread house

Back of the eco-gingerbread house

The full album (includes photos of the planning and construction stages)

If NYC’s Christmas is way more Christmas-y than SF’s Christmas, does that mean I have to make a way more Christmas-y gingerbread house?

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The science of juicing lemons

September 11, 2008 at 7:48 pm (cooking, fruit)

Here’s a video of an experiment about juicing lemons. They juiced a lemon that had been cut crosswise and one that had been cut lengthwise.  The lemon cut lengthwise yielded almost three times as much juice.  I would have liked to see experiment repeated with multiple lemons, different people, different juicing methods, etc. before I’d accept the results as conclusive.  But I’ll probably start cutting my lemons lengthwise to juice them.

But here’s the really interesting question.  At least in my mind.  Why do you get more juice when you cut it lengthwise?  And how would you test whatever hypothesis you come up with?  Maybe McGee has something to say about that, but my copy is all packed up and ready to be loaded into a storage/moving cube tomorrow!

And apparently having the citrus at room temperature is also good.

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