When the holidays roll around, I totally get sugar overloaded. Between the cookie swaps and the baked goods-laden office holiday parties and the highly addictive ginger fudge that dear friends bring for you from Scotland--all of which are delicious, mind you--, it gets to be just too much sweet, even for a sugar-addict like me. So here's my solution: disguise the cheese course as something between dessert and dinner: a gorgonzola, pear, and balsamic-honey galette with toasted walnuts and a thyme-flecked crust. = layers of juicy sliced pears accented by crunchy and nutty toasted walnuts sitting on a bed of pungent melted gorgonzola cheese, all wrapped up in a flaky crust with sweet balsamic honey glaze. It's sweet and savory rolled into one and made extra perfect by a glass of red wine and just maybe a fireplace, if you have one (here's a virtual one, if you don't).
Now to finally return to part two of answering your questions before we all get far too wrapped up in the holidays and completely forget about it! (Looking for part one?) Okay, ready? here goes...
Q: If you could only have one spice in your kitchen cabinet, what would it be?
Oh, this is a super tough one. My first instinct would be nutmeg.
Q: You have tons of great recipes (thanks!), but do you have fails, too? How much experimenting do you have to do before the recipe comes out right?
Oh yes, I have plenty of baking and cooking fails, plenty of stuff that goes straight from oven to the trash. When I was learning to make macarons, for example, my roommate would gawk at how many trays of perfectly edible but chewycrackedsunkenfootless macarons were tossed. (Turns out, part of those macaron failures were caused by the fact that I had just memorized the recipe wrong, but still. ><) How much experimenting I have to do really depends on how much I'm fiddling with an existing recipe or whether I'm developing a new recipe from scratch. One valuable lesson I've learned though is that following my instincts usually saves me from recipe failure--it's really the times when I deviate from what my inner voice is telling me that things start to go seriously wrong.
Q: What is your favorite dessert to make?
I can't decide! Really! Can I cheat and say that my favorite dessert to make is the one I'm making at that point in time?
Q: Do you have any embarrassing baking stories to share?
I do! So many! Perhaps the most infamous of my embarrassing baking stories happened the night before my senior English thesis was due in my college years. My professor had invited all of us in the seminar to her house for dinner the night the thesis was due so that we could turn in our work and then enjoy a good meal together. For some reason or other, I was elected to bring the dessert, for which I planned to make a chocolate Viennese layer cake.
But, I am and have always been a huge procrastinator. (And perhaps I was worse as an undergrad, though that's seriously debatable.) And so there I was, the night before my thesis was due with a thesis to write and a cake to bake--oh, and I didn't start until well past 10pm because I'd also had rehearsal, et cetera, earlier that evening. At the same time, I wanted to make some lemon lavender pound cakes as thank yous to my professor and some other people in the class who'd helped me out on a different project. So long story short, I'm there, baking and writing my thesis simultaneously. I finish the lemon lavender pound cakes without a hitch, but by this time, it's about midnight already. I then get started on the chocolate layer cake. The first problem: I'd left one of my cake tins at my parents' house so I could only bake one layer at a time. The first layer goes in and comes out perfectly. The second layer goes in, and while it's baking, I get back to work on writing my thesis. Until...
Oh crap! I didn't set the timer on the oven! !#$)*&! I was a far less experienced baker back in those days, and our apartment oven didn't have a window, so I (stupidly) kept opening the oven door to check on the cake--which of course caused the cake to fall. *That* went directly into the trash. By this time, it's about 2am and I still have half of my thesis to write and no dessert to bring. And I decide to start over, but with cupcakes instead of a layer cake.
Now comes the second problem: my cupcake tins at the time were hand-me-downs from, like, the 80s from my mom, so they were pretty horrific looking, with random black stuff caked all over them. Not all of the cupcake molds were filled by the recipe I had so after a few minutes in the oven, the oven started smoking fantastically... which of course set off the fire alarms! ... which of course woke up my extremely angry roommates ... and of course it's well past 3am at this point ... and of course I still have a thesis to write.
Yeeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhh. In the end, the cupcakes were finished as was my thesis. The dinner party at my professor's was lovely, and I returned home to an exploding and disastrous mess in the kitchen to clean up. Moral of this story, kids? Don't try to write your thesis and bake 2 cakes in the same night.
Q: Do you listen to music when you cook? What is your musical playlist for when you bake?
Do I listen to music! Perhaps this is best illustrated by a crappy cellphone photo my friend took of me one day while I was baking...
Yes, that's me, and yes, I dance and sing ridiculously when I cook! The musical accompaniment to the photo above was this song, but really, I listen to anything and everything when I'm in the kitchen. My playlist lately has been Christmas music (of course), Girltalk's All Day mix, random pop songs, and a recording of California All-State Wind Band 2003 (it was a particularly good year). My roommate and I also went through a time period when we memorized the entire Avenue Q soundtrack in the kitchen.
Q: Which one of your PotW is your favorite?
Ooooo, hmm.... I'd have to say these meyer lemon ricotta pancakes with lemon curd and warmed blueberries. Mainly because I'm addicted to meyer lemon curd.
Q: Which do you think is best: rice, pasta, bread, potatoes?
Rice. When I was young, they called me "rice tub." No joke.
Q: If I gave you $10,000 to go on a holiday (and you could only spend it on a holiday), where would you go?
At this point, I'd say anywhere but here! I'll take anywhere nature-y and away from too much civilization where I could walk around with my camera all day and try to capture the beauty of the world on
Q: I know on your 'about page' you said you don't know what you want to be in the future, but have you gotten any closer to the answer? What do you want to be when you grow up?
If there's any lesson that I've really taken to heart and had to learn in 2010, it's that the best laid plans of mice and men always go awry. I've always been a planner, and when things finally blew up in my face this year, I'm trying out a new philosophy: do now, plan later. So now, I'm working on being the best damned linguist-cum-food-photographer-on-the-side I can be, and we'll see how that works out. And, as a mid-life crisis, you know, maybe I'll open my own dessert studio.
Q: "Want to know what 'random forests' really are?" <- Yes! I want to know!
Okay, for you crazies out there, see this quick start guide to random forests here. In short: it's a statistical method.
Q: Can you give more info on the Bay Area Food Bloggers get-together?
If you're in the Bay Area, make sure you're part of the Bay Area Food Bloggers Google group! We always have get-togethers in the works.
Thank you all for your wonderful questions! I hope you have as much fun reading the answers as I had answering them. :-) I know I haven't answered your food photography-related questions, but I'm working on that as a special pet project over Christmas break, I promise....
Now, onto cheese and pear and flaky nom-niness!
Read on for recipe...
Gorgonzola, Pear, and Balsamic Honey Galette
makes one ~9-inch galette
2 cups AP flour
1/2 tspn salt
1 heaping Tbspn fresh thyme leaves
12 Tbspn butter (1 1/2 sticks), cold
4 Tbspn water, cold
1 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
5-6 pears, sliced in ~1/8" thick slices
~1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 Tbspn honey
1/2 Tbspn balsamic vinegar
1. In a food processor or using a pastry cutter, mix the flour, salt, and thyme leaves to combine.
2. Cut in the butter to the flour mixture until it is the size of small peas. Gradually add the cold water and pulse just until a dough begins to form.
3. Remove the dough from the food processor and form into a ball. Wrap with plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill for at least 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, place a baking stone in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
5. Roll out the pastry to about ~1/8-1/4" thickness.
6. Pat down the gorgonzola cheese in the center of the pastry, leaving about 2 1/2" of border.
7. Briefly toss the pears in flour to lightly coat. Layer and arrange the sliced pears on top of the cheese.
8. Tuck the walnuts into the pears.
9. Fold the sides of the galette over the pear by rotating and pinching the dough.
10. Brushed the exposed dough on top with heavy cream.
11. Bake the galette on the baking stone for 45-55 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Remove from the baking stone and the oven and place the galette on a wire cooling rack.
12. In a small saucepan or in the microwave, warm the honey briefly. Stir in the balsamic vinegar.
13. Brush the balsamic-honey glaze on the exposed fruit of the galette. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves. Serve warm.