Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!



Due to a few last minute things that have come up at work, I have to take an unplanned hiatus from baking and the blog for the next few weeks, making for an unfortunately abrupt holiday post just so the festive season doesn't go by without me wishing y'all a wonderful Christmas. Perhaps this is all for the better anyways-- I spent the last week or so with several food-ography and baking projects, and my studio and kitchen haven't yet completely recovered from the insanity! So while I hate taking time off from the blog, I hope you'll all excuse me for dropping in to quickly wish everyone "Happy Holidays!" before this blog goes on a little sabbatical for the remainder of 2011.

I hope everyone has wonderful holiday celebrations and gets to share this lovely season with the dear people in your lives. Thank you all so, so much for being an incredible community and letting me carry on and share my food and photography and life with you every week here on this little web platform of mine. I am very much looking forward to being back and hearing from everyone in 2012!

Happy Holidays!

❤,
Stephanie

Friday, December 16, 2011

TGIF


photo made and processed with the iPhone

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the new location of the ever wonderful Dandelion Chocolate chocolatiers with Anita Chu of Dessert First for a special project we're working on together. Their cavernous new space is a former photographer's studio, and I am so envious of their light.

More to come on our new project soon, I promise! It's been many, many months in the making, but hopefully I'll be able to let y'all in on the secret in short time. Meanwhile, I wish everyone a great weekend. Mine is packed with lots and lots of photography project-age, so I know it'll be good. :) Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Persimmon Spice Tea Cake



I've been a wee-bit obsessed with bundts lately. (okay, okay, let's get your snickers and 'I like big bundt' jokes out of the way right now, please.) Bundts and quick tea cakes, to be exact. It's because they're so fast and easy and delicious, as simple as mixing the dry ingredients into the wet ones and throwing it all into the oven. And yet, there's something special and "ooooo"-inspiring about a bundt cake. It's as if baking the batter in a bundt pan magically transforms an ordinary cake into an extraordinary! cake.

For this reason, bundt (and loaf) cakes have become some of my favorite things to make during this time of year, when there is so much baking to be done for special celebrations amidst all of the scramble for end-of-the-year deadlines. Like this week. There are waaaaay too many deadlines and things to do--my "to do" list isn't really as much a list as it is a tome.


And so, enter the bundt cake to save my butt (excuse me, I couldn't resist :-P) when it came to baking for the holiday parties of the past few days. I've had these persimmons sitting on my counter, which were ripening themselves into a pulp for a while now, and I thought that a persimmon spice cake, versus the more typical pumpkin spice cake fare, would be a good excuse to use them up. So into the food processor they went, then a quick stir into a cake batter, and a little while later, out of the oven emerged this wonderfully spicy and super, super moist tea cake. I think because the persimmons are a bit more juicy than pumpkin usually is, these cakes came out even more luscious than normal.

[click on photo for a larger image]

For the second holiday party, I made an almond, meyer lemon, and poppyseed bundt, but I'll save that recipe for some other time. :) Now, if you excuse me--I hope you don't mind this ultra-short post, but my to-do list beckons! Til soon!



Read on for recipe....

Thursday, December 8, 2011

TGIF: on chips and language



It's not often that the three distinct worlds I seem to straddle--food, photography, and linguistics--happen to collide. But, it's happened! Dan Jurafsky, professor of linguistics at Stanford University, has just published a fascinating article with another researcher, Josh Freedman, in the latest issue of food journal-magazine Gastronomica on the use of language for marking social identity in the advertising of potato chips. And I have a little photography byline in the article. :) (Above is a photo I made for Dan's blog illustrating some of the basic concepts in the article. )

Read a summary of the article on Dan's blog Language of Food here, and then go check out the full-length article, with pictures by yours truly, in Gastronomica itself. (Those with academic access via a library subscription can access the article electronically via JSTOR here.) It'll make for some wonderful weekend morning reading!

On that note, happy weekend, all! I've got three holiday parties over the next four days. I don't know if I'll survive it all--someone might have to fish me out from beneath the inevitable mountains of powdered sugar and cookies come Monday.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Berry, Apple, and Rosemary Shortbread Bars



M'dears, cookie season is officially upon us! My fridge is stocked with butter, Costco has rolled out the huge packs of parchment paper that they only carry during this time of year, and I've already had to refill my sugar and flour jars twice. Ah, the holidays!

A couple of years ago for the holidays, one of my oldest friends, Priscilla, gifted me with a box of assorted homemade cookies. In them were these amazing, amazing raspberry jam shortbread bars--so good that ever since then, I've been begging Priscilla to make the bars for me again every Christmas. For some reason, however, my begging skills are apparently not up to snuff (NTS: practice Puss'n'Boots face) because I have yet to convince Priscilla to make them for me again! Alas, great sadness. :(


But then, in the midst of a desperate craving for jam shortbread bars, it suddenly dawned on me that, as a baker, I am perfectly capable of taking matters into my own oven-mitted hands. So, enter my spin on this bar-cookie: berry, apple, and rosemary shortbread bars. Before you go and accuse me of once again going off the deep end with potentially insane flavor combinations, allow me to explain where the inspiration for this one comes from. A couple of days ago, a few local San Francisco Bay Area food bloggers and I were brainstorming flavors of blackberry jam that Sean should make (backstory: we were at an event promoting blackberries). Of course, brainstorming flavors is one of my favorite pastimes--I swear a psychologist would have a field day doing food-related free word association analysis on me. Anyways, we all threw out a bunch of suggestions: blackberry-rose! blackberry-ginger! blackberry-vanilla! And somehow, admist all of this, Irvin and I both arrived at a consensus on blackberry-apple-rosemary jam.


Over the next few days, the idea of dark berries paired with apples and rosemary stuck with me. Tart chunks of green apples seemed to be a fitting companion to supple and ultra-sweet berries, and rosemary lends the combination a more sophisticated, rustic air. Together, this trio formed the perfect storm for my long-desired shortbread bars, with homemade blackberry and wild blueberry jam and large pieces of baked apples sandwiched between crumbly layers of almost-savory rosemary shortbread. It's like having jam and apple pie all at once! :)  (For a more standard variation, the rosemary can easily be left out of the shortbread, which is flavored with lemon zest as well, so it will still taste plenty yummy.)


As if these bars weren't awesome enough, I realized, after pulling them out of the oven, a fact that makes them even awesome-er. You see, these little squares of delicious are called "Berry, Apple, and Rosemary Shortbread" bars. Now, if you acronym-tize that, you get.... BARS bars. Oh yes, dear friends. Pun-age! (Okay, cue collective groan and facepalm from most of you out there and a mild applause from English major dorks like me who appreciate a good pun when they hear one!)

[click on photo for a larger image]

Anyways, Priscilla--if you're reading this-- I'm still waiting for you to make your awesome raspberry jam version of these bar-cookies again! *hint hint* And for the rest of you: what cookies are you planning to make this season? Share below!


[full disclosure: thank you to Driscoll's for the blackberries used in this recipe, and thank you to my mom for the apples used herein. As always, I wouldn't be telling you about any products that I don't myself use and love.]


Read on for recipe....

Friday, December 2, 2011

TGIF



Yes, it's been a little crazy and hectic here in Real Life land, between Thanksgiving travels and work deadlines and new projects piling up--I'm sure you all know the feeling! But, have no fear, the recently neglected blog should be back up and running soon. Until then, I wish you all a very happy and warm first weekend of December!

Weekend plans for the holiday month? Share below! I, for one, am headed to a cookie swap. Yay, butter and sugar!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sea Salt and Thyme Chocolate Chunk Cookies



Everyone is gearing up for epic Thanksgiving cookery right now, which marks the beginning of the upcoming holiday season marathon of roasted turkeys, mashed potatoes, and gluttony galore. In case you're looking for last minute Thanksgiving desserts: might I recommend a drunken pear frangipane tart? or pumpkin pie with caramel brandy hard sauce? (Wait, why did those first two suggestions both involve liquor???) Or, for a twist on a traditional favorite, cheddar apple hand pies?


Sometimes during the holiday season, though, I get tired of all the insane hubbub of endless buffets and fancy eating and zipping from place to place. Sometimes, I just want to slow down, take some time, stare out the window at the crisp winter days, wrap my hands around a mug of tea or hot chocolate or warm apple cider or milk while sitting by a cozy, crackling fire, listen to my favorite Christmas music, and just enjoy the holiday season and the twinkle of the Christmas lights reflecting off of the walls. For those days, this is the cookie you'll want to nosh on: seasalt and thyme chocolate chunk cookies.


This cookie is your wonderfully nostalgic, just-perfectly-chewy chocolate chip cookie (with a bit of delicate crumb still) remixed into something sophisticated and ever so "adult"--or worthy of the adult table!--, with a sprinkling of sea salt and a touch of fresh, earthy thyme. When paired with the mix of dark and semisweet large chocolate chunks, the sea salt and thyme make this cookie surprisingly novel yet familiar. I got a lot of "ooooo! What is that secret ingredient that you put in here?" moments from people who tried these cookies. And then you can just smugly and silently smile in reply. Because every holiday moment should have its share of magic and mystery. ;-)


Have a very happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Read on for recipe....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

TGIF



I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving! Does anyone else around here get the feeling that time's moving faster and faster by the day?! Slow down and wait for me, please! is how I'm constantly feeling--you know, like in the movies, running desperately after a train that's speeding out of the station without you. *sigh*

Anyways, enough about how too busy I am, and more about food! and photography! Gabriela over at What Liberty Ate has put together an absolutely beautiful and lush magazine spin-off of her blog. There are several wonderful interviews with bloggers around the world in it--including me! :) It was very flattering to be included with such great company, so please go check it out!

Happy Friday-before-black-Friday, everyone!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Apple Cider Donuts



Sometimes I feel as if my East Coast friends delight in going out of their way to point out all of the awesome and cool things we're missing here in California, as if to make up for the fact that we do have (relatively) mild weather and access to an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables all year round. "The blueberries are better!" I'll hear, or "The corn is far superior." Or "You don't have seasons here." (Actually, we do. Just subtle ones, and you have to have lived here for a long time to perceive them, but that's part of the charm.) And sure, every place has what it's good at, what makes it special, and that's what's neat about it--that's why I love traveling, so there's no need to go about rubbing it all in anyone else's faces, people! Harumph.


Rant aside, enter apple cider donuts.  I first heard of these beauts last year, during one of my friend's "California doesn't have x" conversations. Then, this year, another friend based in NYC instagrammed a photo of apple cider donuts about to be devoured (Ah! You foodies on Instagram and Twitter torture me so!) and Jackie, a fellow tortured foodie/photographer, and I decided that something must be done about this situation. So we set out on our own apple cider donut -making adventure! (If this were a movie, cue the montage of hilariously random escapades on the Quest for the Cider Donut.)


These donuts! were yummy--crispy fried outsides, with cinnamon sugar crunch, and fluffy, cake insides. mmmmmm. They don't really taste much like apple, to my surprise--though I'm told they aren't actually supposed to--but they are nice and cinnamon-y and spicy. Jackie and I took to dipping ours in our mugs of hot apple cider (something my grandpa taught me to do with Chinese donuts and sweet soy milk), which made these donuts even more delicious. ...or coffee! they are good with a hot cup of dark roast, too.


Then we took to photographing our creations! It is so much fun to watch another photographer in action, and it's amazing to see how different people perceive the exact same subject in such drastically different ways: it's a wonderful reminder of how diversity makes this world a much more interesting and exciting place. Sure, you could attribute the differences in our images to cameras or lenses, but when it comes down to it, I'd like to think that a lot of it is about the photographer, our individual experiences, how we see and interpret the world. Such fun to remember that not everyone has the same set of eyes, or heads and hearts behind them!


Jackie also managed to capture some rare photos of my kitchen in action, so if you've ever wondered what behind-the-scenes desserts for breakfast headquarters looks like, please go check out her post about our donut adventure! Somehow, she's managed to magically make my perpetually messy kitchen look dreamy. :-D

P.S. If you remember, Jackie and I went traipsing around Hakone Gardens together in the summer. Check out our posts from that afternoon here and here!

Read on for recipes....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

TGIF: Scenes from Frog's Leap



As previously promised, here are more scenes from my recent visit to Frog's Leap. It has been a few years since I'd been to the winery last, and in that time, they've definitely grown leaps and bounds. Last time I visited, it was a quiet and sleepy little winery, just starting to make it big, and this time around, it's clear that the secret of this wonderful place has gotten out, because it was packed with tasters and visitors. Yet, somehow, this place still manages to keep its little small-winery charm, especially nestled between the huge Napa Valley behemoth wineries that taste so corporate. Plus, they're still one of the only ones doing dry-farmed, sustainable, and organic wine-making--a huge bonus in my book.


This kitty! was there the last time I visited, perched on the same couch in the same position. She's an old cat now, but she still manages to be the sweetest thing ever.


A winery employee teaching us about different types of grapes and how they have to take care of them.


I love the smell of barrel rooms, with the earthiness of the woods, and the vague dampness from the cool and the wine. It's amazing to see how many barrels are stacked here (and in the basement level below), and how the wine stains the wood a bright maroon red.


For more Frog's Leap scenes and grape-inspired deliciousness --> this previous post.

--

This week has sort of flown by faster than ever! But that's what happens when you're having fun and getting swamped at work all at the same time. In any case, I hope everyone has a beautiful November weekend!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Concord Grape Sorbet



Concord grapes! These things are a-mazing. Until a year ago, I had no idea what concord grapes were. And yet, all over the internets and all through the markets, I heard people buzzing about these grapes, how wonderful they are, how awesomely grape-y they are. "What in the world?!--People are insane," I thought smugly. ... until finally one day last fall, someone at the farmers' market offered me a sample concord grape.


The moment that I popped the grape into my mouth, I was stunned. From out of the thick skin burst a huge punch of GRAPE! juice. Like, there was no actual grape flesh--just 100% juice. And I was startled to actually recognize the flavor: this--concord grapes, apparently--was what every kid could identify blindfolded as quintessential lunchbox grape juice, or the ultra-sweet and ultra-purple grape-flavored popsicles.  This was Grape, the very definition.

[click photo for larger image]

Unfortunately by the time I had discovered the wonderfulness of concord grapes last fall, their season had come to a close. So I waited (very impatiently, bugging the farmers at the market every week) for the reappearance of concords, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them when they did show up: concord grape sorbet.

The wait was well worth it! because this concord grape sorbet is every bit of juicy, sweet, grape-packed nostalgia that you remember from childhood, in a super-smooth sorbet form. It's so refreshing and perfect for the end of a heavy, starch-filled autumn meal, and the color! is absolutely gorgeous as well.


I loved this sorbet so much that I came *this close* to not posting it--I wanted to keep it my little IRL secret!  :)   But then, when a fellow blogger came to town and I took her and another good blogger friend to tour one of my favorite wineries in Napa/Rutherford, I just couldn't resist a grape-inspired post. Plus, some secrets are just too good not to share!



Many more photos from Napa forthcoming! It's just too gorgeous up there to fit it all in one post!


Read on for recipe....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

TGIF


[click on photo to view it large!]

Everyone who had a hard, tough week: raise your hands!

Okay, for those of us with two hands raised way up (and even for those of you with one hand raised or who are too exhausted and drained to raise any hands), I hope for all hopes and for the sake of sanity that next week will be better.

Until then, here's a ray of sunshine for us all.  Happy weekend!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cheddar Apple Hand Pies



I have a snacking problem.  Mainly, I find it really hard to snack in moderation.  I've given this problem a lot of deep thought, and I've finally figured out why: it's because I have to have a balance of sweet and savory.  If I snack on something sweet, I end up craving something salty, and then something sweet again, and then something salty, and then... well, you get the picture.  It's *not* a pretty sight.

Having identified the problem (yay, me!), I set about to try to solve it.  Was there a way to get both sweet and savory in one bite in wonderful snack form?  This is what I came up with: white cheddar and cinnamon apple hand pies.


The solution seemed so simple, really--actually, staring me in the face at the market, which is currently brimming with crisp apples galore!, with every variety you've heard of and some hierloom varieties you've never heard of (and some varieties even the farmers themselves have never heard of--no joke, they sell these as "unknown" varieties).  "Apples," I thought to myself (a lot of thinking to myself is involved in my life--it may or may not be a good thing), "apples make a healthy snack."  And so it was, me carrying bagfuls of apples home, only to be combined with butter and sugar in pie form.  ("healthy" is a relative term....)

Of course, the salty ingredient to go with tart, juicy, cinnamon-y apples would have to be cheddar.  Preferably the sharpest white cheddar you can find in the store, so that the flavor pops out in the pie crust.  (Also, I used white cheddar for you East Coast folks who are always complaining that our West Coast yellow cheddar just doesn't cut it--happy now?)  And, of course the form factor had to be something that could fit conveniently in one hand and be eaten on the go: it's supposed to be snack food after all!

[click on photo for larger image]

The result was a hand pie that is the perfect marriage of sweet and savory, tart and spiced and salty and sharp.  The dough flakes off like soft, lightly crisped shards of cheesy butter straight into your mouth, revealing an inside of warm, sweet, fruity apple pie filling, all topped off with a tiny bit of coarse sugar crunch sprinkled on the outside.  When baking, these pies fill the house with a wonderfully complex aroma--baking cheese wafting through the rooms to give way to the amazing smell of bubbling apples.  Even though I usually open all of the windows when I bake, this time I closed all of the windows and doors of the house to keep the autumnal scents in just a little bit longer.  Also, these hand pies are great snack foods because you can prep a bunch ahead of time and stick un-baked ones in the freezer in a zip-top bag, popping one or two in the oven as needed whenever you want.


I have to say that hands down, these cheddar apple hand pies are some of my favorite baked goods that I've made, like, ever--I kid you not.  You *must* try these.  They were definitely the sweet-and-savory, one-bite-has-it-all snacks I was looking for to fix my snacking problem....  but.... there's only one issue....

It appears that I made them too delicious to just eat one (or two or three) of.  Oops.


Welcome to November, everyone!


Read on for recipe....

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