Archive for 2011
One of the hardest things, but perhaps the most exciting, about living in an apartment rather than a dorm or at home, is having to deal with all the stuff there is to figure out. Last year, if I wanted cake, I went down to the dining hall and picked some up. At home, if I want cake, I know everything I need to bake one is in the kitchen… somewhere. But here, as well as we try to plan things, there is always the chance that, for example we’ll only having baking powder and we’ll be halfway through a recipe that calls for baking soda.
But, as everyone knows (or ought to) these situations are great for testing our creativity, or else for leading us to super awesome mishaps. Our pantry is now mostly stocked, but two weeks ago, we were very much still trying to find our way. So when Theresa, my extremely talented baker friend, was baking plum cakes soon after we arrived, we did in fact realize that we’d forgotten to buy baking soda. We may live in an extremely safe neighborhood, but we’re still 6 nineteen-year-old girls in a big city, so it’s far too easy to pull the “I’ll get murdered if I leave the house now!” card when we need an ingredient past midnight and we’re just too lazy to leave the house. Anyway, I had just read an article in Fine Cooking about the relationship between baking powder and baking soda, and as far as I could remember, baking powder needed liquid to be activated. Sure there was some sort of volume difference, and the two were definitely not substitutes for each other, but ‘Whatever,’ I thought, ‘there’s liquid in this batter, we’ll make do with what we have.’
Half way through baking, Theresa calls me over, and shows me the most beautiful blobs of misshapen explosiveness I’ve ever seen. And now I am proud to say that between her baking expertise and my utter cluelessness, we have invented Explosive Plum Cakes. October is a great plum month, so now’s the time to make them. They’re light, airy, moist, fruity and fantastic. And they’re not too sweet… but not too healthy either ;) Let us know if yours come out like ours, or if you have even more exciting mishaps.
And as always, sweet dreams!
Earlier this evening, I was sitting in my suite’s dining room, working on an architecture project, and I saw this insanely beautiful sun setting over the water tower. And since sunshine means nothing if you keep it to yourself, I thought it might be a good opportunity to give you a slight idea where your recipes will be coming from for the next nine months or so. So here’s a little mini tour of the apartment! In the next few days, you’ll get homemade Korean food and exploding plum cakes. Get excited.
It’s been three crazy days since my second year of college officially began. My schedule’s still not complete, but my room’s nearly decorated, I have 5 amazing suite-mates, and most importantly of all… I have a gas stove! A lucky lottery number landed the 6 of us in a legitimate apartment (with a hallway and everything!) and while we had literally no water pressure for the first two days, I hardly noticed because we were making Tilapia Tacos with Lime Guacamole on the first night, then Pesto Pasta with Crostini topped with Goat Cheese and Bruschetta on the second. Ding dong, the meal plan’s dead. Peace out tofu meatloaf, I’ll be seeing you never.
So what does this mean for you? It means a year full of budget-friendly, schedule-friendly, super flavorful recipes. Because we’re not going to let our small city kitchen, busy schedules and utter lack of money get us down – we’re going to bring you apartment gourmet at its finest. I didn’t exactly pick my suite-mates for their culinary sensibilities… but that’s probably I’m friends with them in the first place.
Unfortunately, the card reader for my camera got lost in the moving process, so the kitchen escapades will begin as soon as I can get a new one. Meanwhile I’d like to share a recipe we developed in the final days of summer. Mom, Isabella, Francesca and I went to Le Cirque this past July, because we wanted to celebrate (belatedly) Isabella’s middle school graduation, and Francesca’s impending birthday… and because we are not the types to let $25 prix fixe Restaurant Week deals at (arguably) the city’s finest restaurant pass us by. Between the four of us, we ordered all of the desserts… except the ricotta mousse cake, which sounded kind of mediocre. Yet somehow, at the end of the meal, we had Plum Tarts in front of mom and me, Rocky Road Panna Cotta for Isabella, Crème Brûlée for Francesca (I kid you not) and a Ricotta Mousse cake in the middle of the table. Now, I’m not sure how that happened – kitchen mix up, superior charm, or divine intervention – but all I know is I have never tasted such a perfect cloud of wonder in my life. It was smooth, it was creamy, it was light, it was airy, it was pretty much Heaven… only it was a food.
It was only a few days later that Isabella suggested we start a series called “Sweet Dreams,” to share our favorite baked goods. And when she said that, all I could possibly think of was this mousse. Then Vinny, the cheese guy at our local Italian store started bragging about how amazing their ricotta was, and all the pieces fell into place. And so the recipe that you see before you was born. And can I tell you a secret? It’s probably the easiest dessert I’ve ever made. So moral of the story? Your kitchen has the potential to be a five star restaurant. So as you wait on pins and needles to hear more college adventures (you know it’s true) whip up a batch of this ricotta mousse, and impress all your friends. You’ll be glad you did, and so will they. I’ll be back soon. Meanwhile, sweet dreams!
(click on recipe for printable version)
It doesn’t take more than a trip to a carnival (or really an imagination) to know how great fried dough is, but a really great beignet can take one of the world’s best street foods to a whole new level. Last year we went to New Orleans and visited Café du Monde, the French Quarter’s premier beignet shop, but we found it to be a bit over-hyped. Like, no question they were worth every Calorie, but fried dough generally is.
When we began to formulate our version of Tiana’s “man-catching beignets” for Francesca’s birthday party, we knew we had to take it to the next level. Our recipe is inspired by a Buttermilk Beignet recipe we found on epicurious.
This one particularly struck our fancy because buttermilk gives so many Southern treats moisture with just a touch of tanginess. They’re quite easy to make (much much much easier than we expected) so we should warn you: it will take a lot of willpower not to make this sometimes food every day.
Before we begin, I should probably warn you that this is one of our most disgraceful posts yet. It is full of scandalous Barbie cakes…
And about 12 6-year-olds on sugar highs.
It’s just shameful. They’ll probably kick us off the internet. But seriously, when you’re throwing a Mardi Gras birthday party, what else can you expect?
If you haven’t noticed by now, we tend to try a little too hard when it comes to Francesca’s birthday parties And I swear, we promised ourselves we’d be good this year, and we wouldn’t go overboard. But she told us she wanted a Princess and the Frog party a year ago, and since a) we had a year to plan it, b) New Orleans is one of our favorite cities of all time, and c) Princess and the Frog is the most food-centric Disney Princess movie (and, by extension, our absolute favorite), we were really left with no choice.
For those of you who haven’t seen this awesome movie, Tiana is a waitress who dreams of one day opening her own restaurant. Her beignets can only be described as “man-catching,” and she can make gumbo using only the greenery of a swamp. Suffice it to say she could win any episode of Extreme Chef with her hands tied behind her back. Powerful voodoo turns her into a frog and she travels all over New Orleans and the Bayou with her slightly dysfunctional Prince Charming (also frog), all in the span of a single Mardi Gras. It’s a wonderful movie because it displays all the many faces of New Orleans: it begins with her cooking with her daddy in her modest childhood home, then follows her through a fancy party in the Garden District and a journey through the surrounding swamp before culminating on Bourbon Street. We wanted all this to come through at our party.
When the children arrived, they first sat down to make Mardi Gras masks to get everyone in a festive mood. Like all of the activities we prepared, this one is cheap and easy to assemble. All it takes are blank masks (paper ones work much better than plastic, if you can find them) and then sequins, feathers, markers, glitter glue, or whatever else you can think of to add to the mix. And kids around this age tend to get wonderfully creative. That or we just had a group of budding fashion designers. Which I suppose is possible.
While we got the next activity ready, the kids played the one game that truly every party must have – pin-the-[something]-on-the-[something else]. Children have a wonderful way of improving on this game. Who knew pin-the-tail-on-the-easel, or pin-Cinderella’s-slipper-on-the-wall could be so entertaining? In the spirit of the story we set up pin-the-kiss-on-the-frog. We couldn’t turn him back into a prince, but the majority of them got pretty close – and they didn’t even cheat this year! We had Isabella draw our frog, but you don’t need an Isabella to try this at home… any oversized amphibian will do.
Next we brought everyone back to the table to make their own gumbo, just like our favorite chef, Tiana. We simply baked little puff pastry shells, and set out a variety of “ingredients” for the kids to put inside. Some of the ingredients were a bit atypical (for example, hot dogs stood in for traditional andouille), but like any stew, gumbo is flexible, even when kids are not. Before the party we made a gumbo sauce to pour over the top, for any kids who wanted it. The kids felt so grown up “cooking” their own snack, and some even requested seconds!
Mom read a beautiful rendition of The Frog Prince while we set up candy for the Edible Swamps, our final culinary activity. Inspired by those “cups of dirt” that were probably the highlight of everyone’s childhood, we gave each kid a mini tray of pudding, and an assortment of candies ranging from gummy frogs and gators to Cadbury Flake (for logs) and green sprinkles (for algae).
Before the party began, Francesca told us that “nutrients” (healthy things) were against the rules. So naturally we moved straight from chocolate pudding to the Tiana-shaped chocolate fudge cake. We blew out the candles…
Toasted the worlds greatest six-year-old (objectively speaking)…
And cut the cake.
The kids clearly hadn’t had enough sugar, so we sent everyone home with a box full of sweets from the green, gold and purple candy table.
For the grownups we made a Cajun Crab Dip, Andouille Sausage with Apple Compote on Baguette, and of course Buttermilk Beignets… because we can’t have anybody, grownup or child, leaving our house if they’re not over fed (we’re Mediterranean, we can’t help it).
When you have a year to plan a party and you have all of New Orleans to live up to, the expectations are pretty high… at least Francesca’s were. But it’s worth noting that, even a week later, all but two of her presents are still sitting, blissfully wrapped, in the living room, waiting for the day when her satisfaction wears off and she realizes what she’s missing. Mission accomplished? I think so.
Ps- We have, of course, about a million recipes to share with you, which we’ll post over the next week or so. Stay tuned!
We’ve been a little AWOL over the past few days, but don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you! We’ve just been incredibly busy getting ready for Francesca’s Princess and the Frog/New Orleans-themed birthday party! Over the past few days we’ve been perfecting our gumbo and our beignets, so that we have the perfect recipes to share with you come next week, and Isabella has been drawing some unbelievable portraits of the Princess and the Frog characters, while we’ve begun to put together a green, purple and gold candy table. We’ll have plenty of pictures, recipes, party planning tips and other surprises coming soon. Meanwhile, get yourself in the New Orleans mood by taking a look at some of our preview pictures, and checking out this awesome jazz band we found in the French Quarter last March.
… remember to freeze the cookies. And the ice cream. Otherwise you may end up with ice cream-soaked cookies…
… and you may have to feed them to your six-year-old sister…
… and she may just get a sugar high and start running around the house and tumbling over the couches singing “James and the Giant Peach? James and the Giant Peach!”
Although for the record, the song was pretty cute. And the cookies tasted really good. But still. Consider yourself warned.