Friday, April 29, 2011

Midweek Macarons: Coconut Rose Chocolate Macarons

As a linguist (*ahem*, my day job), I hear this question a lot: "How many languages do you speak?"  It's a common misperception that all we linguists do is learn to speak a lot of languages all day, and allow me to put this to rest right here and now: I am not a polyglot.  Our job as linguists is not to study languages but to study language, which is the first lesson we teach to anyone who takes Linguistics 101, and while many-a-times, this might involve having to learn languages, it most certainly does not require it.  In fact, even if I know something about a language, that doesn't mean that I can speak, write, read, or understand it at all, though I could probably tell you what the language's syllable structure is, or how the language might order words in its sentences--you know, pretty useless little things that wouldn't come much in handy if I actually had to hold down a conversation.

But, all this is not to say that we linguists don't do some really. cool. stuff.  Take, for example, one of the professors in my department, Dan Jurafsky.  Dan works primarily on computational linguistics, but one of his awesome side projects is writing about the language of food.  (which, frankly, is so genius, I'm jealous that I didn't think of it myself!)  Dan's written before on things like the origins of "ketchup" or what defines "dessert," and he has a paper coming out soon about the role of language in potato chip advertisements.  And he teaches what I've heard is an awesome undergraduate seminar on the subject.

So, of course, one day, I approached Dan with THE hot linguistics and food question of the current day: macaron vs. macaroon.  Which one is it!  (and how in the heck are you supposed to pronounce the difference?)  Raise your hand if you've ever pondered this question!  *typing while raising one hand in the air.*

Thankfully, Dan was totally enthused about investigating the origins of the macaron/macaroon, and he's just posted his essay on the subject, after a few months of in-depth research.  Apparently, the macaron/oon is related to a whole slew of desserts and foods of the almond or egg white family--from gnocchi to marzipan--and has traveled, in its various forms, through so much of Europe and the Middle East--from Persia to Italy and France--before making it to the US and becoming the coconut macaroon.  But, even with its long history, the debate is still open as to whether we want to call the Parisian macaron/oon that we're so crazed about these days a macaroon or a macaron, to distinguish it from the once-popular coconut macaroons.  Only time will tell!  Oh, and the best part of Dan's article is that he discovered that the macaron/oon/oni might actually be related to the macarena.  Heeeeeeyyyyyy, macarena, a ya!  (OMG, I can't believe I still remember that dance....!)

Anyways, I thought that all of Dan's research on the macaron/oon/oni/ena should be rewarded with actual macarons.  Since rosewater kept recurring in the history of the macaron, I whipped up some coconut rose chocolate macarons, with lightly flavored almond shells and coconut-rose-flavored dark chocolate ganache inside.  I also couldn't resist breaking out the luster dust, after seeing all of the beautiful watercolor-dyed eggs floating about the internets for Easter.

So, the next time you meet a linguist, I implore you not to ask them how many languages they speak.  Instead, talk to them about macarons.  Or macaroons.  Or macaroni.  Ack.  Never mind.  Just ask them to dance the macarena with you.  ...Or not.  :-)

>>Go read Dan's essay on macarons!<<

Read on for recipe....

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Carrot Scones + Chili-Chocolate Ganache, and Happy Easter!

Happy Easter and Passover and Spring!  (and whatever other holidays happen to fall around this time.)  Here, have a carrot scone with spicy chili-chocolate ganache.  Easter bunnies might not like this recipe because the taste of the carrots is faint, but since I'm not an Easter bunny, I enjoyed these scones quite fine!

My apologies for the not-so-wordiness and anti-eloquence of this post.  I've been feeling very quiet lately.  But these tiny mini carrots: aren't they adorable!  I found them at the local farmers' market last week, and they make a very delicious snack.  Especially when dipped in cilantro chutney, also from the farmers' market.  Yes.  :-)

Read on for recipe....

Monday, April 18, 2011

Oreo Olallieberry Chocolate Layer Cake, or "Oo-- cake!"

I'm working on developing an Easter recipe for y'alls right now, but it isn't quite up to snuff yet, so in the meantime, here's the cake that I made for my roommate's birthday party this past weekend, at which our epic and famous pie made an encore appearance.  Maria has been after me for quite some time now to use up the fat bag of olallieberries I have stashed in the freezer to free up freezer space, so I decided to make her an oreo olallieberry chocolate layer cake for her birthday -- oreos because they're nostalgic, and birthday cakes should be nostalgic; olallieberries because then our freezer space increases and because they're delicious, especially when combined with dark chocolate; and chocolate because... wait, do I really need to explain myself with that one?

The cake itself is fluffy black chocolate cake layered with cocoa-olallieberry Italian meringue buttercream, studded with oreo cookie chunks, and covered in drippy dark chocolate ganache. Between the tartness of the berries and the dark cocoa, the cake is only moderately sweet, just the way I like it: dark, not cloyingly saccharine, with a moody attitude.  Oh, and gold flecks on top just for a bit of diva power.  What the heck, right?--I was making a layer cake already.  Might as well go all out!

With the bit of buttercream and cake that I had left over after I finished making the actual cake itself, here's what I did: cake shots!  Layers of cake and buttercream, topped off with sprinkles, in a convenient shot glass.  The perfect amount of single-serving, I'm-craving-cake-in-the-middle-of-the-night delicious-ness.  Forget cake pops, which require painstaking shaping, freezing, and dipping.  I'll take a cake shot (or two, or three), please!  :-)

Now back to the kitchen to work out this Easter recipe!

Read on for recipe....

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Exciting Food-Bloggery News

I owe a lot of people in this world cookies (or baked goods).  It's just sort of a fact of life that you live with when you're a baker.  It's how you say "thank you" to people for being their awesome selves, and I know a lot of awesome people, so that inevitably adds up to a lot of cookies to be baked.

This week, I lived up to my word to bring my friend Reiko cookies to thank her for (1) helping me out at my visiting institution during the times I can't be there (i.e., making sure to set up Skype logistics so that I can conference-call into meetings, or grabbing handouts for me when I can't make talks) and (2) her general awesomeness.  Not knowing what cookies exactly she likes, I opted for the trifecta of cookie-age: oatmeal walnut chocolate chip cookies--everything good and nostalgic you could ever want in a cookie, and hold the raisins, please.  This recipe comes from the Tartine bakery book, and they are wonderfully thin--almost like florentines, even--and chewy from the oatmeal, and nutty and chocolate-ty from the walnuts and chocolate chips.  I opted for bittersweet chocolate chips instead of the shaved chocolate that the original recipe calls for (because who has time to shave and freeze their chocolate when you're making cookies on the fly?!), and they still worked more than beautifully.

So on to the exciting food-bloggery news that I alluded to last week.  I'm really pleased to announce that I'll be speaking on a food photography panel at BlogHer Food '11 in Atlanta with Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille and Tami Hardeman of Running with Tweezers!  This is a panel that Tami is putting together on "Finding Your Visual Voice" in food photography, and I'm so flattered to be a part of it, especially with these two uber-talented food photographers/stylists.  At first, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make it, which is why I held off on sharing the news, but now that it's set, I'll hopefully be seeing and meeting many of you there in Atlanta!  Trust me-- "excited" doesn't even begin to describe my... er... excitement. :-D

Tell me, will you be at BlogHer Food '11?

Read on for recipe....

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Scenes: Dog Days

...because sometimes I like pointing my camera at something non-edible.

May I suggest this song as the soundtrack to this post?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Salt-kissed Buttermilk Olallieberry Cake

One thing I'm thankful for is when friends manage to dig me out of my cave and take me on new adventures.  Academia and food-writing/blogging/baking can both sometimes be quite solitary endeavours, so time out of the house to see and do new things is always appreciated.

A week or so ago, my friend Nadeen asked me to go with her to Heidi Swanson's (of 101 cookbooks blog fame) new book signing party at the ever-wonderful Omnivore Books in SF.  I must confess that I don't really follow Swanson's blog, but I have cooked from it before via random Google searches; for example, the apple butter recipe that I used here was from 101 cookbooks, and it was fantastic.  Then, in the week leading up to the book signing, I've started seeing reviews and covers of Swanson's book and recipes exploding onto the blogosphere with very favorable reviews, so I was excited to see what it was all about.

Of course, to best understand someone's idea/philosophy of food, you cook from their recipes, so I scoured through 101 cookbook's recipe index looking for a dessert to try.  The first thing that I realized was that Heidi Swanson is a far more healthy human being than I am.  For one, I don't think you'd ever find anything like this on her blog.  Sure, she doesn't really run away from butter or cream, but she uses far less of it in ten recipes combined than I probably do in a single post here. *makes innocent eyes*  The second thing that I discovered is that Swanson has what I (and Nadeen) would deem a very unhealthy obsession with quinoa.  I mean, quinoa's okay and all, but seriously? it's not the yummiest (healthy) grain out there.  I considered for a moment trying to take quinoa and make the most unhealthy, cream- butter- and sugar- (and bacon-) laden dessert I could think of with it, but Nadeen and I decided we might get expelled from the book signing for bastardizing quinoa in such a manner.

Finally, I stumbled upon this recipe: salt-kissed buttermilk cake.  (Even the name is pretty!)  This is where Swanson and I finally agree on something: that salt has the ability to make dessert even tastier.  Swanson makes her version on the site with raspberries, and the version in her book is with plums, but I dug out my treasured olallieberries (that I hid away last summer) from the depths of my freezer as a special treat.  The olallieberries were perfect against this cake, which is moist and wheaty but not too sweet, with a crunchy sugar and lightly salty crust top.  Swanson even seems to throw me a bone in this recipe--serve with a "floppy dollop of sweet, freshly whipped cream on the side," she says-- so of course, you don't have to tell me twice to use cream.  And it's delicious.  The cake and cream together, I mean!

The book signing was crowded but interesting, very different from the more literary book signings/readings/talks that I, as a former English major and on-going academic, am used to.  Swanson's book is an absolutely beautiful piece of work, with artfully done close-ups of many of her recipes but also gorgeously-toned landscape shots from around the Bay Area, which I really liked seeing.  I didn't actually get to meet Swanson--there were just too many people--but it was definitely a new and fun experience.  I even came across another cookbook at Omnivore that was entirely about quinoa--who knew!

Read on for recipe....

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Osmanthus Panna Cotta with Kumquats in Vanilla Bean Syrup

The first time that I discovered kumquats was around the third grade, I think (come to think of it more, that was probably around the same time I went through my zucchini phase, but that's a whole 'nother story).  I remember very clearly learning that these small, little orange-like things were actually sweet on the outside and sour inside and being absolutely fascinated by this opposite order of things--'cause it's universal Truth to a smart third grader who knows not to eat glue that you don't eat orange peels either, right?!  Upon finding this out, I was truly a kid obsessed, scarfing down every single kumquat that I could come across.  They weren't very common back then, even in the California-based Chinese communities around where I grew up, so it wasn't soon after they went out of season (post-Chinese New Year's) that I quickly forgot about them and moved on to the next great third-grade obsession.  (Which was probably that zucchini phase.)

dried osmanthus flowers
Fast-forward until now and all of a sudden, I'm seeing these tiny, little, magical oranges of my third grade days pop up everywhere, even when it's not Chinese New Year's!  Like on food blogs! and in Trader Joe's!  (You know you've made it when you're sold at TJ's.)  and so, when I saw the kumquats at the store, sitting there in miniature relief between the lemons and real, normal-sized oranges, I couldn't resist grabbing a box of them and taking them home to re-live the fascination of my youth.  I am nothing if not hugely food-nostalgic.

Thinking about food-induced nostalgia also got me thinking about osmanthus flowers, which are these incredibly sweet and amazing-smelling flowers (second photo above).  My grandma used to have an osmanthus tree outside her home in Taiwan, and she'd make this amazing rice wine and tang yuan dessert soup flavored with osmanthus flowers.  I've always loved the sweet, summery smell and subtle taste of the flowers, but ones in edible form have eluded me for years here in the States.  (As for osmanthus in their non-edible form, I'm often willing to take the long bike path home from school just to ride down a street lined with osmanthus trees.)  Until, one day, as if by more food magic, my friend Amy (who was one of my food tour-guides in NYC) shows up with dried osmanthus flowers!  Magic!  --or not: apparently you can find the dried buds in Asian grocery stores or tea shops, and I just hadn't been looking in the right aisles. :-)

Anyways, here they are: two flavors that heavily remind me of my childhood, united in one sweet and simple dessert: osmanthus-scented panna cotta with candied kumquats in vanilla bean syrup.  I have to say that the osmanthus flavor is incredibly faint, but since it was my first time working with it, I didn't want to end up with a dessert that was way too flowery.  Other than that, the combination of sweet, candied, ever-so-slightly-toothy kumquats and vanilla bean-kumquat syrup over a delicate, jiggly, creamy, and lightly-flavored panna cotta is just wonderful.  It's the perfect grown-up dessert encapsulation of the nostalgic flavors of my yesteryear memories.  :-)

Back in the present, here's what's been going on during the recent blog-silence and slowed twitter-stream: finishing up my dissertation proposal and having my dissertation proposal defense meeting with my entire committee in one room for the first time (< they call it a "meeting" instead of a "defense" so that we don't freak out too much, but, given that I'm always overly dramatic, the euphemism didn't really discourage me from doing so).  It went better than I could have ever hoped, and while I have a few more final touches to go from the meeting comments, now starts the actual dissertation work.  Woot(?)!  So, thank you for all y'all's virtual and IRL support and encouragement over the past few weeks!  There might also be some exciting food-bloggery news coming over the next few weeks if plans currently set in motion continue the way they should, so stay tuned!

Read on for recipe...