Monday, November 29, 2010

An Orchid Wedding

So I hinted in my last post that I had a special project that I rushed back from Thanksgiving for: this is it!  A wedding cake!  And quite possibly my favorite one that I've done to date.

Normally, I don't take wedding cake orders in the middle of the school year, much less on the weekend *right* after Thanksgiving (yes--try to cook a Thanksgiving dinner and make a wedding cake in one weekend...!) and *right* before finals/papers season.  But, when J approached me about making her wedding cake and told me that her wedding was an Asian theme, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity, especially since I'd been itching to make sugar orchids for ages now.  J was gracious enough to give me plenty of free reign in designing the cake, which I love, (her one request being that it be TALL) and when I finally sat down with her to show her my sketches, she picked out the one design that I'd sort of sketched as an improbable "fun" drawing, never meaning to make it.  But that's the one she wanted!

And I have to say, I love how it turned out!  The orchid flowers, buds, and leaves were all handmade out of sugar paste and painted with colored flower dust.  I was a bit worried for a while about how I would support the sugar orchids on a tall stem, but a trip to Home Depot totally solved that problem quickly (thanks to Anita of Dessert First and her husband, Mike, for pointing me in that direction), and the drama that the tall orchid stem added to the cake was fantastic.  People kept thinking they were real orchids on the cake, too!--even the bride, who was well-aware that I'd planned to make sugar flowers!

The cake itself was a dense dark chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache studded with crystallized ginger slices, mango and fresh ginger curd, and mango and vanilla buttercreams.  J and S really wanted a mango and chocolate cake, and I added the touches of fresh and crystallized ginger to tie into the Chinese theme of the wedding.  The vertical buttercream stripes on the cake were meant to provide an illusion in the height of the cake.  And I particularly liked the white sugar pearls that I added at the last moment for even more texture and detail and to reflect the sparkles in J's wedding dress.

One of the best parts of the whole day was how incredibly well the cake matched the rest of the wedding.  The rooms were all decked out in a ravishing array of beautiful orchids of every type and shape and color imaginable, with tiny orchid plants on every table as party favors for the guests to large orchids scattered about the doors and entry tables.  The orchids on the cake even matched the orchid in J's hair perfectly, though we hadn't planned it that way at all.

Congratulations to J & S for their absolutely gorgeous wedding!  Thank you so much for letting me be a special part of it!

[For dessert and cake order inquires, please write to s {at} dessertsforbreakfast {dot} com.]

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Whirl in the City of Angels: Thanksgiving 2010

Every year, it's tradition for me to hop in the car or on a plane down to Los Angeles and spend Thanksgiving with one of my best childhood friends, who's currently working down south. This year's trip was a particular whirlwind, since (1) I was so busy in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving that I had zero time to even think about going away, and (2) I had to rush back immediately after Thanksgiving for another event (more on that later on in the week). So here's the chronicle of this year's Thanksgiving trip.

Driving south with fellow Stanford-ites.

The view over Pacheco Pass.

--Scenes from Los Angeles--

I got in late Tuesday night after a long drive down Highway 5.  On Wednesday morning, we hit up the wonderful Santa Monica Farmers' Market (was too busy shopping for food to take any photos) and then planned our Thanksgiving menu over delicious bowls of pho.

That's Jessi, whom I've known since fifth grade! ^

Then, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner in under five hours.  I'm quite proud of that fact, especially since I had no clue what I would make before going to the farmers' market that morning.  Granted, I had numerous helping hands, without which I could never have pulled this one off!  (We had Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday, since people usually have other plans on Thursday.)

--Scenes from the Thanksgiving kitchen--

Thanksgiving Menu 2010

Jerusalem artichoke citrus mint salad
Jalapeño cornbread with garlic chive goat cheese spread

Lemon rosemary pepper trout
Garlic and herb-ed chicken legs

Roasted crabapples wrapped in prosciutto and thyme
Haricot verts with fresh cranberries
Caramelized rainbow carrots
English peas with mint
Garlic mashed potatoes
Pomegranate-ginger cranberry sauce
Roasted delicata squash with sage, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil

Roasted figs with fresh ginger honey syrup and salted pistachios, over vanilla ice cream
Dark chocolate "thing" with pumpkin mascarpone cheese, vanilla whipped cream, and caramel

Suffice it to say that the food all went over terrifically, and we ended our night with delicious roasted ginger figs, chocolate pumpkin dessert, and hilarious moments of Apples to Apples.

Thanksgiving morning = post food coma food coma
chili cheese homefries and whipped cream waffles

Thanksgiving day dinner: Doing the "Asian" Thanksgiving
kimchee, banchan, and rice in K-Town

Then, on a plane, homeward bound....


Just because I had a whirlwind of a Thanksgiving doesn't mean that I didn't have time to seriously reflect on what I'm truly thankful for this year: the incredible and unbelievable support that I receive from the wonderful people in my life.  If there's anything I've learned from this past year, it's how unspeakably lucky and fortunate I am to have the support, faith, and encouragement that I do, how I have people to fall back and rely on when things get particularly rough and life starts throwing massive amounts of s*** your way.  The amount of gratitude that I feel for these people who stand by me can hardly be properly or fully expressed in words, and I'm deathly afraid that I'm not really doing them any justice in this clunky "thank you" paragraph...!


Anyways, I hope that you all had a great, relaxing, and yummy Thanksgiving!  Now, onto the holiday season!  Tinsel!  Christmas lights!  Hot chocolate!  --Here. I. Come.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Persimmon Oat Crumble with Coconut Cinnamon Sorbet

Alright, here's a little confession: I don't care much for persimmons.  But wait!  Hear me out.

You see, I haven't touched a persimmon for a very long time, mainly because I overdosed on them when I was a kid.  Each winter for as long as I can remember when I was growing up, my dad would order a huge (and I mean huge) box of persimmons from a grower that he knew (somehow--how, I never found out!).  He would store them inside our brick chimney (we never used the fireplace, so this was a convenient cool and dark location in which to store fruit), and we'd eat persimmons day in and day out for what seemed like months on end.  

So, as much as I liked the sweet, bright orange fruit, after a few years of this, I eventually couldn't stand persimmons anymore.  And so I steered clear away from them since.  Until now.

Suddenly, one day, I was struck by the overwhelming desire to bake with persimmons.  Don't ask me why or where I get these funny notions, but once it got stuck in my brain, I just couldn't let the idea go (damnit, Inception).  In particular, I knew exactly what I wanted to make: persimmon oat crumbles with coconut cinnamon sorbet.

[A short tangent: when I went to the farmers market in search of ripe Hachiya persimmons to use, I came upon this stand run by an old grandmother, who was so excited about my baking with persimmons that she immediately pressed a list of recipes into my hand and started picking out the ripest persimmons for me from the crate.  She handed me a bag of four and said, "This should be enough," and it took me a while to explain, "no, no, I really want more than four persimmons because I'm not making persimmon cookies or persimmon cake," and I really wanted more so that I could photograph them too....  Oh, I love the characters you meet at farmers markets!]

 I really liked the persimmon-coconut-cinnamon-oat combination as a play on the traditional fall flavors of spicy cinnamon, nutty oats, and sweet persimmons with the untraditional tropical twist from the coconut.  Despite being a "sorbet," the coconut milk is plenty creamy, especially when it melts into the crunchy oat crumb topping and melds with the soft, warm flesh of the persimmon underneath.  After this dessert, I really need to re-evaluate my stance on persimmons, but then again, everything tastes so much better with butter, sugar, and ice cream on top!  :-)

If you're still looking for a Thanksgiving dessert, these crumbles would be a wonderful way to round off the meal.  They are super easy to make, and you can make all of the components ahead of time and just pop the persimmons into the oven while you're eating turkey!  They're also super easy to serve, since each persimmon half is basically its own self-contained dessert, so no serving utensils are required beyond an ice cream scoop.  Lastly, it's nut free and gluten free and the sorbet is vegan (and the crumble can easily be veganized, I'm sure, by using Earth Balance instead of butter)--so a perfect dessert for all!

Anyways, I wish you all a happy, happy Thanksgiving filled with delicious food and--more importantly--excellent and engaging company.  I still have no idea what I'll be making for Thanksgiving, but I'll definitely be trying to sneak some persimmon, cinnamon, and oats onto the menu!

On that note: now taking suggestions and inspiration for my Thanksgiving menu-- What's on your Thanksgiving menu?  What dishes (savory and sweet) do you recommend?  Tell me in the comments!

Read on for recipes....

Friday, November 19, 2010

Midnight Cocoa Brownies, and Q&A, Part 1

Come on in. Have a seat. Grab a midnight cocoa brownie. Today I'm answering the first part of your questions, so settle in. Here, you might want some milk, too.

Before I start, though, a word about these brownies.  It's common that I see a recipe on a food blog that I bookmark to make for later, but it's rare for me to see a recipe that makes me drop everything and run to the kitchen.  But here's one, posted yesterday by Hannah of honey & jam.  I saw these brownies pop up on the top of my reader feed while working late at the office last night, and immediately after getting home, I whipped out the cocoa and butter.  Everything about these brownies screams midnight lux and indulgence: that I made these at midnight; that I used black cocoa powder, making them ultra-dark; that they aren't sweet at all, especially with the sprinkle of coarse salt thrown in; that they are super moist and fudgey, like eating baked extra dark chocolate in a pseudo-cake form.  These brownies are like that sultry and rich DJ voice playing slow Marvin Gaye on the radio at 2 a.m.  In comparison, regular brownies are like listening to brainless happy-go-lucky pop in the bright daylight sun.  Hence, midnight cocoa brownies.  Go make them and eat them in the dark at midnight in your flannel PJs by the fire.  Trust me--you'll know exactly what I mean then.

Alright, now that you're settled in with brownie and milk in hand, on to the questions!  You all had such fun ones for me and so many, too, that I'll be splitting them up through posts over the next few weeks.  There were also several requests and questions about photography and photography tips, so I'm thinking seriously about doing a food photography-dedicated post.  Sound good?

Okay, here goes, in no particular order....

Q:  Have you ever made doughnuts?

No!  I've never made doughnuts.  In fact, it's worse: I've never deep-fried anything before.  But, it's on my to-do list, and I even know what flavor of doughnuts I want to make first.

Q:  If you could only eat one flavor of ice cream for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Green tea.

Q:  Can you make an awesome vegan dessert for me?  Chocolate preferred, but not required.

One of my good friends who's vegan is coming home to visit for the holidays soon, so we'll try to put our heads together for an awesome chocolate vegan dessert.  In the meantime, I do have two I've posted about already: chocolate pumpkin cupcakes and ooey gooey caramel apple blackout cake.

Q:  Why linguistics?  How did you end up majoring in that?

Majoring in linguistics in college was actually quite a serendipitous thing for me and the result of a long string of seemingly unrelated events that sort of all came together in the end.  For the longest time, from seventh grade through the end of my time in high school, I wanted to be a screenplay writer.  I had my whole life mapped out accordingly.  Then, because I had a very hurried early graduation from high school, I didn't have time to research or apply to many colleges and ended up at pretty much the only one I applied to, which, though an excellent school, didn't have a good film program.  So I bounced around from major to major during my freshman year and even tried to transfer out to a music conservatory.  However, one thing led to another, and at the end of the year, I decided to stay at Berkeley.

Lo and behold, almost immediately after the decision to stay, on the first day of my sophomore year, I walked into a "Literature and Linguistics" class for my English major (I'd always planned to be an English major because I'd been fascinated by Shakespeare since sixth grade drama class) and fell in love with it.  I had absolutely no idea what linguistics was, but the professor was talking all about the parallels between music and language, which made complete sense to my inner musician--and in a formal way, which appealed to my scientific side that often found English literature study far too subjective, -- and so something just clicked.  Linguistics, it turned out, was the perfect intersection for me of all of my interests in life that I'd never thought could be reconciled: music, science, literature, language.  And that's how I ended up in linguistics!

Q:  What's on your shirt right now?

"Berkeley"  <-- it's Big Game Week.  Hence, blue and gold paraphernalia all week!  Go Bears!

Q:  Which dessert do your family and friends request the most from you?

Something chocolate-y.  Besides that, they trust my judgement.  :-)  Oh, I also get lots of requests for ice cream from my parents.  We're a big ice cream family.

Q:  What is your favorite cookbook?

I don't really have a particular favorite!  All of my cookbooks serve a different purpose.  For chocolate, I always turn first to the Scharffenberger Essence of Chocolate book, which has yet to lead me wrong on any chocolate recipe.  For ice cream, hands down David Lebovitz.  For big cakes, Beranbaum's Cake Bible is my first stop.  For inspiration, I'll crack open any one of the Chez Panisse or David Tanis cookbooks (I have all of them, except for the pizza and calzone one), even though I almost never actually use any of the recipes from them.

I'd actually love to hear any cookbook recommendations you have for me!

Q:  If you had a cookbook, would you name it Desserts for Breakfast?

We'll just have to wait and see, now, won't we?  ;-)

Q:  What is on your menu for Thanksgiving?

I've actually been so busy this November that I, uncharacteristically, haven't even given Thanksgiving a single thought!  I'm a big fan of traditional Thanksgiving fixings--mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes-- as well as my own personal Thanksgiving "traditions": baked salmon, corn soup, peas'n'carrots, pomegranate cranberry sauce.  Most likely, I'll wait to see what I find at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving to decide what to make!

For ideas, check out last year's Thanksgiving menu and more recent fall menus.  For dessert, might I recommend pumpkin cheesecake ice cream or a drunken pear frangipane tart or cognac-caramel, pecan, and pear pudding cakes?  And don't forget breakfast the day after: pumpkin-sage blackberry pancakes, meyer lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes, spiced banana pancakes, and apple-ginger blackberry pancakes.

Q:  How do you set up a reader feed?

On Blogger, try this, which I found via Googling "how to set up feedburner for blogger."  It's been a while since I've set mine up, so I don't exactly remember.

Q:  What about desserts for dinner?  What types of sweets could you transform into dinner?

Because I eat so many desserts at other times in the day, I actually really like for my dinner to just be dinner.  But, that doesn't mean that I don't try to incorporate dessert-y elements into my dinner--case in point: candy salad.

Q:  Do you come from a family that likes baking/cooking?

I think the people in my family like to cook, but no one's quite fanatical about it the way I am.  I definitely didn't grow up in a family of foodies.  My dad, though I love him to death, still drinks orange juice from that frozen concentrated can.  My mom did once upon a time take cake decorating classes, but then she stopped when she got tired of how many dishes she had to wash making all of those fancy cakes!  My late grandfather was probably the person who enjoyed cooking the most, I think.  But, like all Chinese families, everyone in mine loves *eating* a good meal.

Alright, I think that's enough for one post.  Stay tuned for more next week!

And really... you want to try these brownies.  Really.

Read on for recipe...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Basil, Hazelnut, and Chocolate Cakelettes, and Meet My Blog-doptees!

I'm back!  Ha, has November been a crazy month or what?!  Thank you all for your questions on the "Ask Away" post last week--I'll start answering them coming up later this week, so you still have a little bit more time to submit your questions.

But this post isn't about me.  Nope.  This post is about something far more awesome: my Adopt-A-Blogger mentees: Ari and Anita from Braised Anatomy.  It's exciting for me to have officially "graduated" into mentorshiphood, though I have to say, it took a bit of a push out of the nest (so to speak) from my own mentor, Kristen of Dine and Dish and founder of the Adopt-a-Blogger program.  One day, shortly after meeting Kristen at BlogHerFood, she twittered (tweeted? twat? twhat?) me saying that she had the perfect blog adoptees for me, and after seeing Braised Anatomy, there was no way I could say "no."  Ari and Anita are med students (like, studying to be proper doctors who can actually save lives, unlike my pretty useless little Ph.D.!), and their blog is just so downright hilarious.  They have such a great sense of humor in their writings and musings about food that their posts always bring a huge smile to my face when I see them pop up in my reader feed.

My first memory of their blog was this post on basil syrup and homemade basil soda that happened to be on the front page the first time I visited their site.  I'm such a huge fan of herbs in sweets that the idea of sweet basil has been stuck in my head ever since.  So, I decided to make a dessert to accompany their basil soda--something that I'd serve Ari and Anita if we weren't on opposite sides of the country, something that we could sink our forks into while sipping bottles of basil soda through striped green straws, sitting on the porch, laughing over nerdy jokes and commiserating about student life.  That something: hazelnut and chocolate cakelettes with basil buttercream.

These cakelettes feature a thick layer of dense, flourless dark chocolate cake topped with a layer of hazelnut and dark chocolate meringue, baked right on top of the cake.  The roughly-chopped chocolate folded into the meringue develops into these veins of dark chocolate running through the cracks of the hazelnut and meringue.  But really, the unifying element to these cakelettes is the basil buttercream.  The fragrant sweetness of the basil balances out the darkness of the chocolate beautifully, and the herbal earthiness blends with the nutty hazelnut flavor seemlessly.  (It's like dessert pesto!)  The basil is a surprising and pleasantly unexpected flavor, and, unlike your traditional mint, it actually doesn't overpower and completely take over the dessert.

So before the recipe, make sure you go and check out Braised Anatomy, Ari and Anita's blog, and support my adoptees by saying "hello!"

Read on for recipe...