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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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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Finally, a tasting event that didn’t leave me disappointed!

September 13, 2008 at 10:48 pm (dessert, food, recipes, restaurants, san francisco)

I often get lured into going to these tasting events.  Like Ghirardelli Square’s annual festival.  Or the chocolate festival.  There have been others.  I wind up thinking that I paid too much to enter and the things that I tasted weren’t worth the money.  I finally went to one that turned out to be as great as the tasting events of my imagination.

Last night, I went to an event by La Cocina, a SF organization to help low-income women start up food-related businesses.  Great goal – supporting people AND yumminess.  And they have a really cute logo – it’s a bird with a whisk in its beak.  It was a $5 donation to enter.  And we got to taste lots of yummy food.  The highlights included:

  • a really tasty tamal from El Buen Comer – the mole was really flavorful and chocolatey.  You can find them at the Noe Valley farmers market.
  • Embrace Sweets had nearly perfect brownies.  It was perfectly cakey and fudgey.  Chocolate flavor was pretty good.  Sweetness was slightly too sweet for me, but it was close.  Viva La Brownie!

  • Sabores del Sur!  They are the ones that make the delicious alfajores and they are the ones that gave me a cookie for free last week!  And they make delicious empanadas.  I had a veggie one.  The crust by itself is really flavorful – unusually so.  And the filling was pure yumminess.  They can be found at the Alemany farmers market.
  • Claire’s Squares – these are bars with a crust, caramel, and chocolate.  Quite yummy.  But they didn’t seem to want to sell any.  Christina waited for several minutes, money in hand, to buy stuff, but the woman at that table didn’t want to take her attention away from the really chatty man talking to her.  But they are still really delicious treats.

  • CMB Sweets has really yummy jams and preserves with really interesting flavors.  I got one small jar of kiwi-lime-ginger, and one small jar of pomegranate.  I love the small jars of jam… they are perfect for me!
  • They had wine and a couple of different punches.  The wine that I tried was a Malbec, which was the first one of this variety that I’ve tasted.  It went really well with the spicy foods.  One of the punches was spectacular and ingenious.  It was chai (specifically, Morning Glory Chai), vodka, simple syrup, and peppercorns.  Maybe there were other ingredients.  It was yummy.

Another thing that made this event so great was that everyone was friendly.  We were packed like sardines.  Or like the filling of an empanada or a tamal.  But everyone was smiling, joking with each other, and talking to each other to coordinate their movement.  There was one group of people who wanted to take a picture of themselves and stuck their arm out with camera in hand.  Some other person was looking at their camera LCD screen to help them to all fit in the screen.  They eventually realized that it was just easier to for the other guy to take the picture, but I like the sentiment.  All the people at the various tables were also really friendly and generous and helpful.  I don’t feel like we got scammed like with other events, so it makes me want to buy more stuff from these businesses.  And it definitely makes me want to spread the info about how delicious their stuff was.  The stuff was delicious.

On an unrelated note, I think that the thing I will miss most about San Francisco is how the city collects compost.  What will I do with all my food scraps and other compostable items?  It will kill me to have to toss them into the trash.  It already kills me when I have to do that at my parents’ house.  Maybe I can find a convenient place for me to drop compostable items off in New York City?

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One more ice cream flavor to try

August 25, 2008 at 12:44 pm (dessert, ice cream, recipes)

Pink Lemonade Ice Cream!  Given the low fat-to-other-ingredient ratio in this recipe, it looks like it’s not going to be the smoothest, creamiest ice cream.  And in the photo, the texture does look a little icy.  But it still looks like a ton of fun!  Maybe the fat can be tweaked by using more cream and less milk.  Or making it a custard.

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Ice cream flavors to try

August 9, 2008 at 9:10 am (bread, chocolate, dessert, food, ice cream, recipes)

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream! It has cinnamon toast bread crumbs in it.  And apparently, the crumbs stay crunchy for a while.  But it sounds like this ice cream would get eaten up so quickly, that the crumbs don’t have to stay crunchy for that long.

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream! The photo just looks so delicious.  Maybe even my peanut butter-hating sister would like it.  Yes?

If I find time to try these recipes out, I’ll let you know how they turn out.

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Summer is officially here: Tomato-Bread Salad

July 26, 2008 at 5:48 pm (bread, food, recipes)

I’ve made my first tomato-basil dish of the year.  That means that summer is here and I’m no longer bogged down with thesis seminars and teaching workshops.  And there are also cucumbers to make it extra summery.

I tried out the Tomato-Bread Salad recipe on NYTimes, that’s based on something from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

Here’s the NYTimes photo:

Here’s what mine looks like:

It came out looking pretty similar.  My tomatoes look redder and yummier – maybe that’s a NY vs CA thing.  I did use some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, so that probably helped.  It tastes pretty good, but I can imagine it being better.  Here’s what I’d do differently next time:

  • The bread in the roast chicken and bread salad at Zuni is more crispy and less soggy.  The bread in this recipe, even though it is filled with flavor from the juices, comes out soggy.  I’d rip the bread into big crouton-y pieces, toss it with some olive oil infused with garlic, and then toast it.
  • Instead of slicing the tomatoes, I’d dice them into big pieces, which would enable me to…
  • …toss everything together instead of layering and pressing.  I’d pour the juices over the bread at the last minute so that you get the flavor and not so much sogginess.

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From sea to shining sea

July 23, 2008 at 8:44 am (bread, dessert, education, food, music, recipes, travel)

I’ve been really quiet with the posts lately – it’s been really crazily busy with all these workshops to prepare for and teach.  I just got back from Williams College.  It’s a really beautiful campus, just what you might expect from an old New England college campus.  There are also mountains – the famed mountains of “purple mountain majesties” – surrounding the campus.

And the people are all lovely.  I ate the most delicious and pure fruit pies baked by someone who lives in Vermont.  Great crust.  The filling of the peach pie was perfect.  My guess is she added little or no sugar and just let the peaches be peaches.  There was also a mixed berry pie.  The rumor is that she picked her own berries.  There was an almond flavor in the berry filling that was really nice.  The baker’s name is Kathy or Cathy.  The pie boxes said “Brick Oven Bakery.”  But I was unable to find anything on the web.  You have to be in the know!

And we had an impromptu performance by a wonderful trio – violin/fiddle, keyboard, bass/guitar – Trio Cafe Budapest.  The fiddler was the brother-in-law of one of the workshop attendees and when the originally scheduled outdoor performance was rained out (by a huge, magnificent thunderstorm!), they came to the lounge of our dorm and gave us a private performance.  Very eclectic music – Irish, Turkish, spirituals, waltzes, jazz.  All of the music was full of emotion and spirit.  I was smiling during the whole performance, and at times, I felt the urge to run outside and start dancing in the pouring rain.  No one danced outside, but several people got up to waltz, and at the end, the whole group got up to dance.  It was all awesome!  We shared some of our extra pies with them to thank them.  It’s such a small world in southern Vermont and Northwestern Massachussetts – it turns out that the band members are friends with the baker!  Here’s another neat tidbit.  The keyboard player teaches at Williams and he studies quantum information theory.  Quantum information theory – that just blows my mind.


Perfect and intimate setting for the Trio Cafe Budapest

The workshop attendees were all great.  I learned a ton from them and it was great to start meeting people who are interested in education and teaching in the NY area (that’s where I’ll be heading soon!).  I learned about hunting morels.  And a bunch of other people all got up to do yoga together every morning.  I would have liked to join them, but it was way too early and I was way too jetlagged.  The focus of this workshop was on how to teach bioinformatics and genomics to undergrads.  There’s still a long way to go, but we’re definitely making progress.  Hearing about the modules that were being developed by the other workshop participants made me want to go back to college!

Why don’t airlines and airports convert the arriving flight info screens to be departing flight info screens?  Since they started preventing people from meeting arriving passengers at the gates, why do they need the arriving info screens anymore?  And if there were more departing info screens, the ones that they do have wouldn’t be so crowded!

This recipe for Tomato-Bread Salad looks really amazing!  I’m going to gather ingredients this weekend at the farmers market and put this together.

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Yummiest pasta ever – Penne with cherries and morels

June 25, 2008 at 10:04 pm (food, recipes)

penne with cherries and morels

Not Tuan and An’s cat.  Penne pasta.  The sauce was actually the yummiest part.  Butter, garlic, morels, milk, flour for thickening, cherries, and a little manchego cheese.  We mopped it all up!  I love how the sauce turned purple.  Mmmmm, so delicious.  Morels are magic.

I also wound up making strawberry jam out of those frozen strawberries.  And ate a lot of PBJ sandwiches.  As I’m getting older, it’s good to have opportunities to make you feel young again!

pbj sandwich

I love Mark and Joshua and Katee on SYTYCD.  They make me smile.  And laugh.  And I love their dancing.

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What I ate for dinner last night

June 14, 2008 at 9:55 am (food, question, recipes)

Chinese-style pancakes with squash

squash pancakes

These aren’t like scallion pancakes that require you to make a flour-water dough and then roll the dough out and then roll it up to roll it out again. Lots of rolling. That’s how you get the layers. If I make that sometime, I’ll write a post about it w/ photos.

But we’re not talking about those kinds of pancakes. These are just eggs, flour, water, salt, white pepper. I don’t really measure anything – I just play with the ratios until I get a consistency that I like, that is a little runnier than a typical American pancake batter.  I threw in some grated white zucchini (I first salted it, let it sit, and then squeezed excess water out – it helps me control the moisture in the final batter). You can also use scallions, carrots, and other things that grate easily and that cook pretty fast. Then you just cook them up like American pancakes.

They come out really soft and tender, with crispy edges.

I also made a dipping sauce – soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, sugar.

Our fridge is too cold (maybe that’s related to the ant story). So we had some strawberries that got frozen. Any suggestions for what I can do with them? Jam? Sauce? Something else?

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Happy Birthday Christina!

May 9, 2008 at 8:18 pm (food, ice cream, recipes)

Here’s the recipe for Christina’s birthday ice cream! Oh yeah, she wants me to use nicknames for everyone. I’ll call her Cardamom Koala. Here’s the recipe for Cardamom Koala’s birthday ice cream.

The recipe is kinda based on bits and pieces from recipes in Perfect Scoop with some additional tweaking and guessing. It came out pretty well. My only complaint is that it was a little icy, but that was because of the pear. I definitely wouldn’t cut any of the pear, so maybe in the future, it would be better to add more egg yolks?

pear cardamom ice cream

Pear Cardamom Ice Cream

  • 3 pears, peeled, halved, and cored
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • little squeeze of lemon or lime juice
  • a small handful of cardamom pods, but adjust depending on how strong you want the cardomom flavor
  1. Mix the heavy cream and sugar in a pot. Heat the mixture until it is almost boiling but be careful to not let it boil. Throw in the cardamom pods and let it steep for an hour.
  2. Cover pears with water in a pot and cook until the pears are soft. I test that by sticking a knife in to see that it goes through easily.
  3. Puree the pears in a blender with lemon or lime juice. Pour the puree into the container that will eventually hold the final mixture and chill.
  4. After the cardamom is done steeping in the cream, remove the pods and save them. Reheat the cream and make custard with the heated cream and egg yolks.
  5. After the custard has thickened, pour the custard into the chilled pear puree. Add the reserved pods back in and chill the whole mixture. Don’t forget to take the pods out before you make the ice cream in the machine.

Christina, oops, Cardamom Koala, and I are cardamom buddies… I decided to make ice cream with cardamom for her birthday and because I was watering her plants and getting the mail for her, she independently got me some cardamom infused chocolate.

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