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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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

Turkey!

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

Post-makeover

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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.

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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.

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Even without a blowtorch, it was still delicious!

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Delicious form and function…

July 29, 2009 at 1:41 pm (ceramics, food, random)

… a.k.a. structure and function, for those of you who are in the protein biology, computational biology world.

Check out this pho bowl.  It’s so smart and beautiful and efficient and functional!

I’m not doing ceramics these days, but seeing this makes me want to do it again.  Even though I don’t have the skills or patience to throw something like this.

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All the good stuff is coming!

May 28, 2009 at 3:44 pm (dessert, food, new york city)

Cupcake truck! It debuts on June 3!  I don’t actually like cupcakes all that much.  I like making them.  And I like the idea of them.  And I love the idea that there’s a cupcake truck!

The Union Square Greenmarket is finally showing some spring goodies!  Winter is over!  And the first (albeit expensive) strawberries are showing up!  I know you guys out in California will mock me for rejoicing over leeks and peashoots, which you have had for months now!  But you have to imagine half a year of just onions and apples!

And Mark’s coming home from Paris soon!  Just in time for summery BLTs and tomato-bread salads!

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More Parisian Yummies

April 28, 2009 at 8:47 am (dessert, food, moroccan, restaurants, review)

The best meal that we had in Paris was at Chez Omar, I think it’s in the 3rd Arrondissement.  I’m still not sure if you’re supposed to pronounce the ‘z’ in “Chez” cause “Omar” starts with a vowel.  Pronouncing French confuses me.  I’ve had very good tutors and I’m okay with the rules and the exceptions to the rules.  But I get frustrated when I learn that there are actually exceptions to the exceptions to the rules.  Back to Chez Omar – Moroccan.  We had an amazing chicken bastilla.  Any version of this dish (chicken, spices, flaky pastry, cinnamon and sugar) is always yummy, but the spices in this one were especially deep and rich and the pastry was especially light and crispy and fried.  I’m sorry that the photo is fuzzy.  I’m not apologizing to you, the person reading this, I’m apologizing to the delicious bastilla that doesn’t deserve to be photographed so terribly.

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We also ordered an entree that came with couscous, a vegetable stew, and roasted chicken.  Then you can mix and match on your plate.  Simple, but very well done.

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Back to the macarons, we got more macarons from Laduree to confirm that I like Laduree’s better.  But actually think I have to get some more from Pierre Herme as well.

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So the reason why the Laduree vs. Pierre Herme debate is still unsettled for me is that part way through the comparison, I realized that I prefer macarons with creamy fillings over macarons with fruity fillings.  If I were just comparing the fillings by themselves, I would prefer fruity, but the fruity ones seem to make the cookie part too moist and soggy.  I actually got all fruity macarons from Pierre Herme, but I got a mix of fruity and creamy from Laduree, so everything is all mixed up.  Maybe I can do a better, more controlled comparison next time I’m in Paris – that depends on the scheduling of Mark’s current project.  We’ll see!  I hope he can come back to NYC soon, but I also hope that he stays in Paris!

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Parisian Carb Count…

April 17, 2009 at 2:03 am (bread, dessert, food, international, travel)

… so far

Baguettes: 2

Croissants: 3

Pain au chocolat: 2

Macarons: 7

Assorted other pastries: too many to count

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This baguette is from Boulangerie Julien.  It’s the pain de tradition.  So amazing!  The crust is perfectly crispy and the inside is flavorful and chewy.  The worse “crispy” and “chewy” don’t really capture how amazing the textures are.  When you break into it, it sounds and feels like heaven.  And that’s even before you bite into it.

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More on the macarons later. I’m off to take advantage of the beautiful spring day and explore and eat more.

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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

Discussion

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.

References

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

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It’s April, time to go to Paris

April 4, 2009 at 12:17 pm (dessert, food, international, marriage, travel, wedding)

Mark’s on a project based in Paris now and I get to go visit him!  I leave next week.  Maybe I’ll have some stories about April in Paris soon!

Here’s a little preview.  They’re some treats that Mark brought back a few weeks ago:

Macarons from Laduree in Paris

Macarons from Laduree in Paris

Iowa, check!  47 more states!  We’ve already picked a wedding venue, in Massachusetts, but it’s nice to know that now there are 3 states where everyone can get married!

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