Tuesday, March 30, 2010

PotW: Chocolate Pancakes with Mango and Chocolate Sauce, or Death in the morning by Chocolate

[last Pancakes of the Week: Apple-Ginger Pancakes with Warmed Blackberries]

This recipe started out about mangoes.  But, like many good things that happen in life, it ended up being all about chocolate.  Sorry, mango.

Allow me to elaborate.  One day, as I was researching spring fruits and vegetables, I was shocked to discover that mangoes are a spring fruit, according to one Bon Appetit page, which I haven't bothered to go back and dig up (so don't take my word for this).  It surprised me, because I'd never thought to associate mangoes with springtime, but it finally did explain to me the mysterious and sudden appearance of massive mango displays at the front of my local Whole Foods.  Anyways, since it's been my goal and challenge to try out as many seasonal flavors in pancake form as possible, mangoes sounded quite promising.  Especially so, because they immediately called out, "Pair me with chocolate pancakes!"  (yes, I'm one of those people who anthropomorphizes a lot.)  Chocolate pancakes!  yes!  I've been putting off chocolate pancakes since the beginning of this crazy pancake project I've been on, but suddenly, mangoes seemed the perfect companion with which to introduce chocolate pancakes.

And then, this is where it stops being about mangoes and starts being all about chocolate.  Here's an illustration.  The photo below to the left is what my original vision had been, when I first hatched this idea: plain and simple chocolate pancakes with slices of mango.

But was that enough for me?  Ah, no.  Let's double the chocolate.  Let's add chocolate syrup.  See picture above and to the right.  Ah, yes.  That's how it should be.  All about the chocolate.

I've been putting off chocolate pancakes for a while now, mainly because they were intimidating.  I didn't want to simply produce pancakes that were chocolate.  If I made chocolate pancakes, I wanted them to be CHOCOLATE pancakes.  Emphasis on the chocolate.  And, with some trial and error, these are most definitely it.  They're chocolate-ly, but not really sweet at all, and they taste like a cross between a dense, thick, and robust chocolate brownie, and a lighter chocolate cake.  The generous amounts of chocolate sauce also make these pancakes.  I don't think I would ever eat chocolate pancakes without chocolate sauce.  The sauce and pancakes were made for each other.

Poor little mangoes.  So side-lined by the chocolate, but I did very much appreciate having the mangoes, because they provided just enough sweetness and fruit to fill out the heavy, ever-so-slight bitterness of the cocoa in the pancakes.  And, they most definitely helped to allay my worries about not eating healthily: see, Mom?, there's a serving of fruit amidst the chocolate!

Unrelatedly and on a more personal note--since, this is, a blog after all, I finally finished this really big paper that I've been working on for my day job.  It's been hanging over my head for quite a while now, but at last, it's done!  The only things I have left to do are to orally defend the paper, and, provided that I pass the oral defense, make revisions and turn it in.  This is especially exciting for me because it's the last major requirement that I have to complete before I finally get to work 100% of the time on my own research for the Dissertation.  After three long years of jumping through hoops, fulfilling requirements, taking classes, writing papers, I am finally going to be able to do what I came to grad school to do!  It's all very awesome.

Ah, and celebrating with chocolate chocolate pancakes--and mango--wasn't too bad of a deal, either.

Here's a question for you all: how do you plan on using mangoes this spring?

Read on for recipe...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blackberry Lemon Meringue Pie and the Amazing California Redwoods

It has taken me seven long hours to write this post about these delicious meyer lemons and fresh blackberries.

Okay, not really. But, it's taken at least a good, long five hours to upload all of the photos for this post, and that in and of itself was a tedious process.  Because, folks, this is where I am:

Okay, well not *technically* in the middle of the forest, but pretty darn close.  For the past few days, I've been visiting one of my favorite places on Earth, the Redwoods, and while the Redwoods themselves are undoubtedly gorgeous, the internet connection is as horrid as 1990's dial-up.  I have so many other pictures that I wanted to post, too, but, unfortunately, my patience could only handle uploading these few, so they'll have to wait for future posts when I return to the Land of Cable Internets.

But, I really shouldn't be complaining too much, because the Redwoods are downright gorgeous.

There are these ridiculously tall trees that make you crane your neck and stare upwards in wonder.  Walking among them, you really remember how small your place is in the world and that there are much, much larger things than us.

The Redwoods are also this incredible place because you can stand and face the Pacific Ocean on the most secluded beaches and then turn around to see hills upon hills of dense forest stretching out in front of you.

Then, on this trip, I discovered Fern Canyon, which I had never been to before:

Fern Canyon is this amazing stretch of canyon where all of the walls are covered in gorgeous ferns.  Apparently, we weren't here at the right time of year, though, to witness the height of Fern Canyon's majesty, but it was quite amazing as it was.  And for someone like me who really likes water, getting to Fern Canyon was super fun as well, since we had to pick our way up the canyon floor through the stream (thank goodness for water-proof hiking shoes!, though this didn't prevent water from flooding in around the ankles when the water got too deep) and climb under, over, and between the fallen wreckage of giant redwood trees.

Visiting the Redwoods again has been one of the best decisions that I've made in a while, and coming back North felt a lot like coming home, since my family used to take road trips to this area almost yearly when I was younger.  I remember always begging my dad to stop at the crooked Mystery House south of Eureka, and we would always make it a point to visit Samoa Cookhouse for a traditional logger's breakfast during our trips.  One of my earliest memories of the Redwoods was pulling over on the side of the road and picking wild blackberries with my grandpa, how prickly the bushes were but how sweet the fruit would be and how deep blue my fingers would be stained afterwards.  Which brings me to the food.

Blackberry lemon meringue pie.  These are by far not your ordinary lemon meringue pie.  First of all, the pastry crust is actually a tart crust rather than a pie crust, and it's infused with freshly grated meyer lemon zest, making the crusts taste like part of the lemon filling itself.  Then, inside, there's a dual combination of lemon curd and blackberry curd--finally, all topped off with a mountain of just-sweet-enough meringue.  I know you're dying for a look inside, right?

Now, if you've never had blackberry curd, you're so missing out.  It's like lemon curd, but almost better!  (I really adore lemon curd, so it's a hard judgement call to make. :-P)  The blackberry curd is sweet and packed full of deep and rich berry flavor, and I personally like to keep the seeds in as well since it mimics the berries in their original form.  Together with the lemon curd, the two curds make a refreshing, tart, yet sweet filling for the pie that *might* have you never looking at a simple lemon meringue pie the same way again.

The only sad part of this whole post is that I couldn't bring some of these blackberry lemon pies with me to the Redwoods and enjoy one all to myself in the middle of the forest... but, next time, right?  ;-)

Happy Spring, everyone!

Read on for the recipe...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Asian Pear Ginger Froyo + Lemon Ginger Macarons, and "on the nickname 'Froyo'"

Sometimes, I wonder what's wrong with me.  (Okay, wait, I wonder that all the time.)  Like the time my mom showed up at my house, bringing with her two beautiful Asian pears for me.  The pears were so big I could hardly hold them both in my hands at once, and they had been part of a special gift box that someone had given her.  But here's where I ask what's wrong with myself, because the first thing I thought when I saw the pears was... "Oh my god, those would make the most amazing Asian pear frozen yogurt."

So being the slightly deranged me, I chopped up those gorgeous pears in a food processor, adding a healthy kick of ginger (which seems to be becoming a definite trend, given my previous posts here and here), and folded them into thick and yummy Greek yogurt.  The end result was delicious, so I suppose I can't complain too much about my insanity.  What made the yogurt even more delicious was the addition of lemon ginger macaron shells.

These macarons are super gingery with a little kick of lemon zest to them, and they are the perfect complement to the Asian pear frozen yogurt.  Together, the froyo and macaron shells make for a terrifically snappy, spicy, and refreshing dessert, perfect for the super warm (70+ degrees F) afternoons that we've been having in the Bay Area lately.  Summer's coming way to fast, but it's okay.  I'm armed with a tub of pear and ginger frozen yogurt, so bring it on.

(P.S.  "Froyo" = frozen yogurt, which is an awesome example of something linguists call "Aggressive Reduplication," discussed at length in a terrific paper by Kie Zuraw, a linguist at UCLA.  At Stanford, there is this incredible culture of super-aggressive aggressive reduplication.  Those Stanford kids do the craziest things, and I don't think I've even learned all of them yet:

"Coho" = Coffee house
"FloMo" = Florence Moore dorm
"FroSoCo" = Freshman Sophomore College

At Berkeley, we were far more practical about our aggressive reduplicating.  We really only had two that were commonly used, both of which pertained to frozen yogurt: "Froyo," which you know already, and "YoPo," referring to Yogurt Park, a famous froyo shop a block from campus that is particularly enjoyed and frequented by Berkeley female athletes and jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, amongst others.)

Read on for recipe...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Basil and Macadamia Nut Double Feature! or, Dinner AND Dessert

Today's post has been a long time in coming.  A year ago last week, I was in Berlin, Germany, on a stop of my first Grand Tour of Europe (I spent last St. Patrick's Day in Athens, Greece!).  My roommate was at the time studying in Berlin, so we hatched this awesome plan in which I would stop by through my traversing of the Old World and say hi.

Nollendorfplatz, our stop in Berlin

It was wonderful (and cold), and, while she was dragging me from one end of the city to the other, we managed to walk by this random Australian restaurant, where she had once eaten macadamia nut pesto.  We made plans to return to the restaurant to try this fascinating pesto creation, but my time in Berlin was just too short and we ended up getting side-tracked by this amazing thing called pesto gouda.  (P.S. If you're in Germany or the Netherlands and would like to mail me some pesto gouda, I will be forever in your debt! *hint hint*)  Anyways, at last, a few weeks ago, I got down to replicating macadamia nut pesto, and, the results, I have to say (and according to my roommate), were fantastic:

Because of the macadamia nuts, this is seriously the richest, smoothest, most buttery pesto that I have ever tasted.  Creamy.  That's the word for this pesto.  It was awesome.  My roommate and I slathered it on all sorts of pastas--gnocchi, spaghetti, penne--and gobbled it all down.  We might even try it with pizza at some point.  That could potentially be epic.

The pesto is actually quite different from the basil pesto that I normally make, which has more basil than pine nuts.  This pesto, as I was instructed by my roommate, has more macadamia nuts than basil, so you get just a hint of the light freshness of basil coming out over the rich creaminess of the macadamia nuts.  Add some really good parmegiano reggiano cheese, garlic, freshly ground black pepper, and salt, and voila! an excellent (and exceptionally fast) dinner.

Of course, being me and this being a dessert blog, I couldn't really stop there.  As I was gathering the ingredients for the macadamia nut pesto, it struck me: chocolate would also be amazingly good with the same combination of flavors.  Plus, I needed to do *something* to use up the big boxes of organic basil that I bought.  (The sales girl did ask me quizzically what I was doing with all that basil.)  So, I present to you, the Basil and Macadamia Nut Double Feature:

That's right.  I took the same ingredients from dinner (save the tomatoes) and ported them over to a dessert, a basil-macadamia nut dark chocolate tart, to be exact.  There's even olive oil and generous flecks of sea salt in that tart:

The combination of basil, macadamia nut, olive oil, sea salt, and dark chocolate came out beautifully.  The crust is made of macadamia nuts and home-dried basil--buttery, flaky, and fragrant.  I whisked olive oil into the dark chocolate ganache, giving it this incredible sheen and subtle fruitiness.  Topping it all off with liberal amounts of sea salt really made the chocolate pop when you took a bite.

The overall result is a delectable dessert that's rich yet light at the same time and not at all overly sweet or saccharine, making it a perfect post-dinner treat that doesn't leave you completely, belt-bustingly full.  One person who tried it couldn't stop congratulating me on it for a few days.  And, the slight green color of the crust adds an air of mystery to the tart (yet, it doesn't look unappetizingly like kryptonite).  I took the finished product to a department dinner, and it was a great conversation starter: "What is that?  Mint?  Avocado?  Apple? Leprechaun?"

So, what started out as a long-awaited fulfillment of a promise in Berlin turned into a wonderful experiment of using the same ingredients in both dinner and dessert and ended up with an awesomely delicious chocolate tart recipe!  But, that's not to say that I wouldn't want to go back to Berlin to try the actual restaurant... or for more pesto gouda, which is, incidentally, startlingly kermit-the-frog green.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, all!

Read on for both savory and sweet recipes...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ginger White Chocolate Strawberry Trifles, and (not) paying attention in class

I space out in class.  There! I said it.  It's actually quite a problem, because when I get spacey, I start thinking about things that I happen to have lying about the refrigerator and the kitchen, like leftover white chocolate creme anglaise or beautiful chunks of crystallized ginger or egg yolks.

And then, I start thinking, "Oh, what a shame it would be if all these things went to waste!"  And then--here's where it gets dangerous, I start thinking about what I could do with all of these ingredients.  At this point, I'm sure my professors are utterly and completely fed up with me because I really should be paying attention to the diachronic origins of morphological ergativity in Indo-Aryan languages and dialects (which actually is interesting, I promise).  Anyways, here's what I came up with:

Ginger, white chocolate, and strawberry trifles.  Oh boy!  I sure to wish all of my daydreams turned out so well, with layers of ginger genoise cake, white chocolate creme anglaise whipped cream, and fresh strawberries.

The genoise cake recipe that I used here is an all egg-yolk genoise, from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible.  It's one of my favorite genoise recipes because, with all of the egg yolks, it's much more moist than your average whole egg variety--and, it's a great, yummy way to use up leftover egg yolks.  To adapt Beranbaum's recipe to a ginger genoise, I added ground ginger to the batter and also huge, rough chunks of crystallized ginger.  When it came out, the cake was magnificently studded with all of this sweet and spicy crystallized ginger and then I brushed it with some homemade ginger syrup that I had sitting in the fridge (that stuff also makes great homemade ginger ale).

To use up my white chocolate creme anglaise, I folded it into whipped cream.  It was actually quite a discovery when I found out that the white chocolate creme anglaise sets up nicely in the fridge, to almost the consistency of a light pudding!  With the creme anglaise folded in, the resulting cream is thick and luscious, packing just the right amount of sweetness and an incredible vanilla taste.

Combining the cake and whipped cream with fresh strawberries and more crystallized ginger made for the perfect antedote to mid-winter blues.  These were so good that I (accidentally!) inhaled two of them myself, despite the fact that I kept trying to save them for others to try.  Oops...

So, let's see... what is the moral of this story?  Daydreaming in class won't get you anywhere in terms of grades, but it will result in something utterly delicious to eat.  (Wait, is this really going to help me graduate?)

Read on for the recipe....

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pi Day is Coming, or, a round-up of 3.1415926535...

Are you ready for Pi Day???

Well, I was.  I was going to be SUPER ready.  I was going to celebrate Pi Day in EPIC fashion, with not one, not two, but three pies.  All baked in one night.  Yeah, this is yet another lesson of Stephanie-doesn't-know-how-to-gauge-how-much-she-can-really-do.

But, I think it would have all really worked out.  Until I decided to try two pies that I've never made.  Including these cute little cupcake pies with the numbers of pi cut out on top!  I mean, they would be super cute, wouldn't they?  But here's the hitch and a confession: I've never made a covered pie before.  EVER.  In all of my years of pie baking, I have always managed somehow to avoid making a covered pie.  'Til now.  So, how would I know that the insides would boil out through the numbers if I covered the pies with foil too early on to avoid burning the crust?  Yes, lesson learned.

The other pie that I wanted to try turned out looking beautiful.  Here they are browning up nicely in the oven:

Aren't they gorgeous?  Well, they would have been a huge success had I not been trying out a new (not lemon) curd recipe at the same time, which, as I found out thirty minutes after taking these beauties out of the oven, didn't keep set when it reached 350 degrees F.  Blurg.

Okay, so there you have it.  Bad Pie Karma: 2, Stephanie: 1.  At least one of my pies did come out nicely, and I'll post about that one sometime soon.  Not to say that the mush from these failed pies didn't taste AWESOME, but it's going to take a few more tries of tweaking these recipes to get them completely right.  When they do turn out, though, I think they'll be really, really yummy.  :-)

So, since I don't have little cupcake pi pies to present to you for the celebration of Pi Day, here's a quick round up of a few of my favorite pies and tarts that I've posted about thus far.

First, we have these mini key-lime heart-lettes that I made for a wedding last summer.  They were one of the first things to disappear on the dessert table!

Next, there's this orange-almond-pomegranate chocolate tart that I posted about a few weeks ago.  This was truly a great invention, borne of random ingredients that I happened to have lying about my kitchen table.  The pomegranate seeds were especially delicious as little bursts of juicy flavor next to the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  Mmm...mm!

Lastly, this drunken pear frangipane tart is probably one of my favorite recipes from this past year.  Frangipane pear tarts are already really good, but if you poach the pears in red wine beforehand...  Yes, you know what I'm talkin' about.  :-P  It was so good that I even made it for Thanksgiving dessert, along with the holiday staples of apple pie and pumpkin pie.

Anyways, this is a fair warning that my pie and tart spree as of late is not over yet!  I have a few exciting tarts up my sleeve, and I'm definitely going to revisit and perfect these two pie recipes.  But, until then, Happy Pi Day!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Chocolate + Lemon Mascarpone Cupcakes, or When People Give You Lemons...

This post is brought to you by one Anne E., a person whom I have actually never met.  But, she did supply me with this modest huge bag of gorgeous lemons, with which I proceeded to whip up a batch of chocolate cupcakes with lemon mascarpone frosting.  Hence, when people-you've-never-met give you lemons, make...

...cupcakes.  Okay, okay.  So random people don't just come up on the street and hand me bags of lemons (but that could be kind of awesome--or disturbing, I haven't quite decided which).  Rather, Anne is someone in my roommate's department at school, and that's my lemon connection.  The deal being, of course, that I supply yummy lemon desserts back.  But I can do that!

Anyways, Anne's lemons came at the *perfect* time, because there I was, sitting in class, fantasizing about lemon mascarpone frosting over chocolate cupcakes.  (Yeah, I do that a lot.)  Call it premonition or a sixth sense or what you will, but the minute I got out of class, there was an email waiting for me in my inbox from my roommate, announcing the arrival of lemons.  Sometimes, life just really works out that way, no?

Now, I'm not quite sure why I was dreaming of lemon mascarpone chocolate cupcakes.  The mind truly works in the weirdest ways.  Maybe it's because we've had these awesomely fluffy clouds floating around lately, between all of those rainstorms:

Fluffy, fluffy white clouds.  I say this because these cupcakes are like eating clouds.  I'm serious.  (I've had reports that these are better than eating clouds.)  The chocolate cupcake itself is incredibly moist and soft, and then the lemon mascarpone frosting on top, which is basically just mascarpone cheese and cream whipped to a frenzy, is lighter-than-air.  Together, you sort of feel like you're sinking your teeth into a fleeting moment of puffy, fluffy, airy deliciousness.

The subtle crispness of the lemon zest that comes through at the very end is just the perfect light complement to the extreme fluffy cloud-ness of these cupcakes.  For toppers, I used lemon and dark chocolate wafers to give a robust "preview" of the flavors to come in the cupcake.  And, of course, I had to whip up a few little ones, too, because what's better than bite-size chocolate and lemon mascarpone clouds?

Well, Anne, thank you so much for the lemons, and I hope you thoroughly enjoyed your cupcakes!

P.S. You, too, are invited to supply this baker with fruit, for which, in return, you, too, shall receive sweet deliciousness.  :-)

Read on for the recipe...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

PotW: Apple-Ginger Pancakes with Warmed Blackberries

[last Pancakes of the Week: Banana macadamia nut pancakes with white chocolate creme anglaise]

I am writing this blog post from my office computer on campus at 10pm at night because, as we speak, my computer is stuck with the Engineer-in-My-Life, R, and is getting two OS-es updated (Snow Leopard + Win7).  So, I trekked all the way out here to work to blog about pancakes.  Yes, because it's *that* important to me.

Today, I have for you: Apple-Ginger Pancakes with Warmed Blackberries.  mmmmm.  This year actually hasn't been such an apple heavy year for me.  Sure, I made my customary apple pies around Thanksgiving and Christmas and even whipped up an apple pie version of pancakes.  But other than that, I haven't really been eating many apples this year, and I have no idea why!  But, when I went grocery shopping the other day, I walked right by a display of apples and *whiff!* it hit me-- the glorious, fresh, crisp scent of a perfectly snappy, juicy-yet-slightly-tart apple.

And so these pancakes were born!  Lightly ginger-y, incredibly fluffy buttermilk pancakes studded with huge pieces of freshly sliced apples and crystallized ginger chunks.  Accompanied by lightly warmed and sweetened blackberries, tossed in a pan with a dash of sugar just until they begin to release their flavorful juices.

Together, the apples and blackberries create the perfect medley of sweet, fresh, and tangy fruit, united by the spiciness of ginger and cinnamon in the pancakes.  Helloooo, Sunday morning.

Anyways, here's hoping that my computer will be usable soon enough!  Excited about having updated OS-es and hoping that they greatly improve the stability of my system.  :-D  Have a great week, all!

Read on for recipe...