Friday, April 27, 2012

TGIF: Taiwan Market Scenes

I've got quite the little backlog of photos building up on my hard drive that I had forgotten until now about this set, from my Taiwan trip back in January. I was there in time for the big Chinese New Years' celebration, so the first few days of my visit were filled with numerous trips to the market to stock up on a Thanksgiving-like meal for the whole family. The lighting was horrific for photographs--overhead florescents galore--and the place was so jam-packed with people at times that I couldn't move my arms from my sides, but I find new marketplaces far too interesting not to share at least a few small glimpses.

I hope everyone has a great coming weekend. If you're around San Francisco on Saturday, make sure to drop by the Bay Area Food Bloggers' Bake Sale, benefiting the cause of ending childhood hunger.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lemon Verbena and Olallieberry Crumble Muffins

Muffins! It's a wee tad unbelievable and insane that I actually have never made muffins (from scratch--plenty of box stuff as a kid) before!

Over the weekend, the talented Julie of always with butter came down from the North-ish East Bay to spend a day doing bloggy and photography-obsessive things, like paint new backgrounds, coo over the most beautiful eggs at the local farmers' market, jump up and down excitedly over the 99-cent organic flavored butters we stumbled upon at the store, and teach me endless things that I didn't know about goats' milk and goats' cheese. (Seriously, this girl makes her own chevre. That's how bad-ass cool she is! Previously, I just thought the coolest thing I could make with goats' milk was cajeta.) Painting new photography backgrounds took up most of our time during the day since we had to wait for paint to dry, so towards the last wee bit hours of sunlight, we decided we still had time for a quick baking session--after all, it would be a shame for two bakers to get together without actually pulling something out of the oven!

Since we were running a tad short on time, we had to (unfortunately) nix our original idea of making cinnamon rolls and were trying to decide on what to make instead when Julie unearthed the shocking truth that I had never before made muffins. It's just one of those things that was always on my list of things to do but never really percolated to the top amidst all of the other things I wanted to bake. As for flavors, I had a few insistences (cause I'm particular like that. :P). First, if I made muffins, they would have to have a crumble topping, cause why wouldn't they! Then, we had to find a way to incorporate my crazy over-producing lemon verbena plant that I just purchased a few weeks ago and is already growing like nobody's business. Finally, I remembered that I still had a bag of frozen olallieberries from last season in my freezer--because I hoard flats of it every year for enjoying year round--that needed to be cleaned out before the next olallieberry season begins. Hence, lemon verbena and olallieberry crumble muffins! :)

The lemon verbena flavor in these are subtle but lend a hint of brightness and lemony scent to the whole muffin, which goes so well with the sweet darkness of the olallieberries. The berries turned out to be a great alternative to the more muffin-classic blueberries, because they're just as sweet as the blueberries (i.e., sweeter than blackberries) and they sort of melt into the muffin batter during baking, creating these amazing pockets of jammy goodness. Julie shared the trick that frozen berries are less likely to sink into the batter, which worked like a dream and produced muffins where the purples and blues of the olallieberries are immediately visible on the top. And the crumble is possibly my favorite part, with the combination of butter, brown sugar, and flour creating rich golden nuggets to top off the entire muffin. Breakfast magic! :)

[click on photo below for a larger image]

In the news sector, the third annual Bay Area Food Bloggers' Bakesale to help end childhood hunger is happening THIS COMING SATURDAY, April 28, from 11 - 4pm at Omnivore Books' in San Francisco! I'll be there with dark chocolate tarts (caramel might be involved! as might passion fruit! *hint hint*) for the bakesale, and there will be excellent treats from bakers all over the Bay Area there--all for a good cause. If that doesn't whet your interest, baker/chocolatier/cookbook author-extraordinaire Alice Medrich will be there from 3 - 4pm signing copies of her latest book.

Also, also! Stay tuned because next week will come the announcement and unveiling and all the gory details about a biiiiig project that I've been working on for almost the entire past year with Anita Chu of dessert first. If you want a sneak preview, you'll just have to come to the Bakesale this weekend! Hope to see many of you there!

P.S. If you're not in the Bay Area, this bakesale is actually part of a national campaign, with bakesales happening all over the States! Check for your city here.

Read on for recipe....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sugared Coconut Raspberries and Rhubarb Polenta Cake

The single most important thing in this post: sugared coconut raspberries are like crack. It's sort of a long and rambling story to get to the sugared coconut raspberries, though.... (You might want to make a quick plate of them and eat it while you read.)

Anita taking a romp through the muddy raspberry tunnels.

Last weekend, the wonderful folks at Driscoll's Berries hosted a ROAD TRIP! for a bunch of us blogger types to visit one of their berry farms near Monterey and then to attend the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival. I'm usually a bit wary about these things, but I just can't say "no" to a berry farm--it's been too many months since the last time I was in one. And, it actually turned out to be a super fun day, talking to one of the scientists who heads up strawberry breeding (yay, science! I asked statistics questions--cause I'm a geek like that), hearing from one of the Driscoll's growers, and spending the day with some of my favorite Bay Area people: Anita, Shauna, Sabrina, and Irvin. As a huge, huge bonus, Kamran flew in from New York for the event and was an honorary Bay Area blogger for the weekend, making me wish for the millionth time that New York and San Francisco weren't so many miles apart.

I discovered this weekend also that when Kamran visits, he comes bearing awesome gifts, like a copy of the brand new, hot off the presses Ripe by Nigel Slater. The morning after I received the book (thanks, Kamran!), I cracked it open and within seconds wanted to do nothing but devour the entire book from cover to cover (which is a wee tad impossible in one sitting, given how monstrous it is!). It is such an utterly beautiful book in every way--the photographs, the typography, the recipes, and the writing. The recipes are incredibly simple and appealed immediately to my Berkeley/Chez Panisse-grown sensibilities of doing as little to good ingredients as possible. And they aren't dry recipes to read, either: studded inside the instructions are small colloquial comments from Slater--like how mixing the dough by hand instead of via a food processor is a rewarding and relaxing experience if you have the time. It's personable and human in a way that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling as you read while most recipe writing these days focuses solely on the mechanical and reads like technical manuals (my own included!).

Anyways, so there I am, entranced by Ripe when I come across a rhubarb chapter and this rhubarb polenta cake. First off, I'm a sucker for any cake that has crunchy turbinado sugar sprinkled on top. I'm also a sucker for any corn-related cake/bread (I sometimes swear I should have grown up in the South). Then, I got really excited because I still had rhubarb leftover from last week to use up, so heck yes I can make this cake! :D Then, thinking about rhubarb got me to thinking about a rhubarb dessert that Chef Johnny Iuzzini had served at Pebble Beach that had adorable tiny coconut meringues on top that went really well with the acidity of the rhubarb, and then thinking about Pebble Beach made me remember how much I craved raspberries after spending time in the Driscoll's berry fields that day.... which finally gets us to the origin of sugared coconut raspberries! (I told you it was sort of a roundabout story, but that's kind of how my brain bizarrely works.)

[click on photo for a larger image]

So these raspberries: between the natural raspberry sweetness and a little extra from a bit of sugar and then the pop of flavor from the coconut, they are pretty hands-down addictive. I started snacking on a few of them and then suddenly, the whole plate was gone! and I had to make more to serve with the cake--oops! I also threw in some toasted coconut chips for a bit of crunch against the raspberries. The cake itself had a bit of crunch, too, mostly from the coarse polenta, which is perfect against the soft center of the baked rhubarb inside. It's a cake that's really nice and moist on its own, too, and didn't need any of the extra rhubarb poaching juices that Slater suggested as a serving accompaniment. Plus--sugared coconut raspberries trump rhubarb poaching juices any day (sorry, rhubarb). :)

Read on for recipe....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rhubarb tarts with orange-honey fromage blanc

It's been insanely busy here in the studio working non-stop on a big upcoming project that I promise I'll divulge more about soooooooon, so personal desserts that I've been whipping up just for me have taken a turn for the ultra-simple and fast. But of course that doesn't mean they aren't still finger-lickingly good!

I've been waiting so, so patiently for rhubarb to finally hit the markets in my area, so when I at long last saw them at the grocer a few days ago, I pounced. (My apologies to the poor innocent bystanders that I must have trampled in my race to the rhubarb!) Given the mad success of rhubarb in pie form last season, I really wanted to make a rhubarb tart of some sort this year and settled on something super simple and yet surprisingly good: rhubarb puff pastry tarts with orange honey fromage blanc. I love how in the oven, the rhubarb stalks create this bubbling tart filling all on their own, melting into the puff pastry below. There isn't anything else in the tart itself except a dash of vanilla bean and some turbinado and brown sugars to add a bit of rustic sweetness. I served these with dollops of orange and honey-scented fromage blanc on top and a few more drizzles of honey--the tart sourness in the fromage blanc is a really fun alternative to plain old whipped cream, and the orange and honey softens the kick from the cheese. I love simple desserts like this that demonstrate how mixing just a few really good ingredients can make something absolutely divine.

Speaking of news, in all of the Italy excitement, I forgot to say that I'll be at BlogHer Food again this year (in Seattle! Yay!) talking (again) about food photography with Anita Chu of Dessert First. I hope I'll be seeing at least some of you there!

Read on for recipe....

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chocolate Jam Sandwich Cookies, and more Rome

I really hope you all aren't Italy-out-ed yet--I promise that I'm coming to the end of my Italy trip photos! It just seemed that breaking them up into individual 'stories' made for the best approach so as not to overload a single blog post. And I really like the process of coming up with cohesive visual stories/essays and accompanying recipes to present. It's the academic in me. :)

Here was the first portrait of Rome from a few weeks ago, a story of alleyways and the reds, pinks, and oranges of the external face of the city. Today, this portrait of Rome is about its internal treasures, the blues and golds and the history that seeps from the corners and shadows.

[inside Ancient Rome]

Literally outside our door in Travestere, we discovered an ah-mazing pastry shop -- Biscottificio Innocenti -- that we became obsessed with. And by "obsessed," I seriously mean obsessed. All of the pastries are sold by weight there, and over the course of the week between the three of us traveling together, we polished off a neat 4.5 POUNDS (that's 2 kilos!) of cookies. Yes, we were obsessed. (Thank goodness for all the walking we did in Rome--we needed it between the cookies and the constant gelato!) Note also that this does not include the crostata slices that we kept getting, too!

There were so, so many different types of cookies at Biscottificio Innocenti. Many were based around a basic shortbread and then either slathered in jam, studded with cherries, sprinkled with sugars, or dipped in a soft, yielding chocolate ganache. My favorite one, I quickly discovered, were these small sandwich cookies that had it all: apricot-apple marmalade in between the buttery shortbread cookies, half-dipped into chocolate. Marmalade! Cookie! Chocolate! All in one satisfying bite--what more really do you want?

(Also! The proprietress's name is Stefania! What are the odds of that?! Because she loaded us up with so many buttery and sugary treats, she quickly became one of our favorite people in all of Rome.)

[inside Il Vaticano. Top to bottom: the Egyptian exhibit; a room based on the Pantheon; the ridiculously gaudy ceiling of the map room; the Sistine Chapel; the famous Vatican staircase. Last two photos: inside Santa Maria church in Trastevere; the Tiber]

After the insane number of cookies we ended up consuming, we all felt a bit of withdrawal suddenly getting cut off from our source when we came home from Italy, so I set out trying to concoct my own version of chocolate-dipped jam sandwich cookies. The Italian kind from Innocenti were good because the cookies themselves weren't too sweet, which allowed for a sweeter but very thin layer of jam inside. For my version, I used a sweet apricot-orange jam from my favorite local jam company (yay, Blue Chair!), and dipped the shortbread into a dark chocolate ganache. The ganache firms up just enough after an hour or two so that you can safely eat the cookies without dripping chocolate everywhere, but because it's a ganache, the chocolate gives as soon as you bite into it, almost like it's melting into the buttery shortbread inside. Mmmmmm... a piece of Italy in my own kitchen. :)

[click on photo for a larger image]

If you missed any of my previous Italy trip posts, I encourage you to go back and catch up:

P.S. If anyone happens to know what these cookies are called in Italian, I would love to know! I managed to learn the names of a few types of cookies, but the name of these still eludes me.

Read on for recipe....