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Archive for July, 2011

Almost There

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.

 

 

Prelim for "Pin the Kiss on the Frog Prince"

Reese's Cups Get Fancy

Prince Naveen is a work in progress

Hershey's gets a Blissful makeover

 

 

 

Before you make a chipwich…

… 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.

It’s been really hot here…

So when a close family friend sent this to us yesterday it pretty much made our week. We thought you’d appreciate it too.

Sometimes you need things like this.

 

 

Guilty Pleasures: The Chipwich goes to Finishing School

 

The other day, over dinner, mom innocently asked Bella and me what our favorite Trashy Junk Food was. On so many levels, that ought to be an easy question for me to spurn: The Omnivores Dilemma is my favorite book, I love the locavore movement, I’m a part-time moral vegetarian, my mom’s a gourmet cooking teacher, and for Heaven’s sake, I write a food blog. On all accounts, I should really be above all that.

 

 

But, you may find it refreshing to know, food bloggers (most of us) are people too. From Pringles to Flavor Blasted Goldfish, Green Sour Patch Kids to Snickers Bars, memories and flavors came rushing back to me. I remembered the time at summer camp when Nora and I each ate 3 bowls of Cocoa Pebbles for breakfast, or the many Halloweens when I would trade Ellie for all her Reese’s Pieces (after we’d eaten Nathans Hot Dogs wrapped in Pillsbury Crescent Rolls for dinner…). Then, of course, some of these foods  just taste much better than any of us want to admit. Cappuccino Jelly Bellies are almost as good as Tiramisù, and McDonalds French Fries could hold their own at any bistro. We find the Ruffles rrrrrrrrridges completely irresistable, and though many of you may have heard me profess that goat cheese is my favorite food in the whole wide world, I’m sorry to say that is a vicious lie.  I’m just too ashamed to admit how much I love Frosted Flakes.

 

 

 

Your list may not be as bad as the one Isabella and I started (57 favorites, and counting) but I *know* you have foods like this too. The problem is, as I’ve already addressed, we are all so (theoretically) above these foods that it’s kind of embarrassing to buy them. Our twinkies are supposed to come from local bakeries, and at the very least we have to pretend that Paul Newman makes milk’s favorite cookie (although to be fair, Trader Joe Joes actually are way better than Oreos). But that brings me to the other issue. A lot of times, when you go back to your favorite junk foods, they don’t taste quite the way you remember. Duncan Hines brownies have yet to disappoint me, but I swear Funfetti is way sweeter than it used to be. So I decided to begin an intermittent series in which we’ll take our favorite junk foods, and we’ll make them ourselves so they’ll taste as good as we remember (maybe better!), and so we can sort of pretend they’re healthier (they’re not). And because the Good Humor Truck has been tempting me at the playground all summer, I thought we’d start with the Chipwich, my all-time Ice Cream Truck favorite.

 

 

 

I didn’t want to change it too much – no Rosewater Ice Cream or Dulce de Leche layers or Almond coatings. Those would be delicious, but superfluous. I trust you (and encourage you) to add them on your own if you want, but my goal was to get the satisfaction of the original, while making up for the few things it lacks. For our version, we adapted the New York Times version of the Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie, which is is the best cookie we’ve ever made or eaten, and to preserve our sanity we filled them with Haagen Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream. I’ll spare you my rant on Haagen Dazs Five, but the little known secret is that Haagen Dazs Vanilla only lists five ingredients anyway, so it’s pretty much like homemade (only way better) but it spares you the stress of the ice cream freezer. And Haagen Dazs is a level of perfection you can’t improve on anyway.

 

 

Bake the cookies, freeze them, fill them, freeze them, roll them in chocolate chips, freeze them… or at any step along the way just eat them. These taste just like the original, but with a creamier filling, a more buttery cookie, more chocolatey chocolate, and top notes of bourbon from the ice cream. And they strike just the right balance of sweet-but-not-too-sweet, because there’s no HFCS! They’re perfect any time you’re yearning for a summer refreshment with an indulgent, nostalgic spirit. Our recipe is not intended as a replacement – the original will always have a place in our hearts. This is simply the chipwich refined, finally reaching its ultimate potential, grown up to be the best it can possibly be.

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from the New York Times

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Generous pinch coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli or equivelent)

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
2. Cream butter and sugars for 5 minutes or so, until very light.
3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until combined before adding the next one.
4. Add vanilla and mix until incorporated.
5. Lower speed, and add dry ingredients and mix until just combined and drop in chocolate chips and mix until incorporated. Alternatively, you could knead in the chocolate chips, which is even better if you don’t mind getting your hands messy ;)
6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-72 hours.
7. Preheat oven to 350°F and cover 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
8. At this point, the original recipe calls for you to scoop 6 3.5 oz balls onto each sheet and bake them like that. But I should warn you that this will make fork-and-knife chipwiches for giants. Which will look beautiful but they’ll be huge. So if you want to adjust that, just make smaller balls (as small as half the size) and just remember that they won’t need to bake for as long (the exact length of time will depend on your oven) so you’ll have to monitor them very carefully.
9. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown, and cool completely on a rack. Or, if you’re just making the cookies, cool for 10 minutes and eat warm.

Chipwiches

1 batch of chocolate chip cookies (see above)
1-2 quarts of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream (depending on the size of your cookies and how much ice cream you like)
1 lb bag of good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips (preferably the same kind you put in the cookies)

1. Freeze cookies for at least 6 hours. Also make sure your ice cream is very cold.
2. Put 1/2 – 1 cup ice cream on a cookie (again, depending on your taste and the size of the cookie).
3. Place another cookie on top to make a sandwich, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for several hours (or they can be eaten at this point if you want). Repeat steps 2 and 3 with remaining cookies.
4. Place chocolate chips in a bowl and remove sandwiches from freezer one at a time.
5. Roll in chocolate chips (or, if they’re not sticking, press them on by hand).
6. Rewrap and refreeze, or eat immediately.

Enjoy!

Fig Solemnly Swears that it’s Up to No Good (or Fig Distillery Presents: Home Brewed Butterbeer)

When I was eight, my family took a road trip to Maine, and forced me, against my will, to bring all four Harry Potter books with me. I was sure I would hate them, because I kind of figured they’d be like video games or pokemon – playground nuisances best left to the boys. As an aspiring fairy princess, even at eight, I wouldn’t touch anything any boy liked, but I was an insufferable bookworm, so I agreed to try them anyway. By the end of the week, the fairy princess plans had fallen by the wayside – being a witch was so much cooler.

 

 

I don’t remember much normal stuff from that trip to Maine, but I can still clearly picture my ever-patient family watching as I made potions from ocean water and wands from old sticks, and listening (they’re such good people) as I divined their futures and read them excerpts, faithfully mispronouncing everybody’s names (most notably Hermoyne and Professor McNoggle). My love for the books was such that, upon finishing the fourth book and realizing there was nowhere else to go, I simply turned back to the first page and began it again. Eight cycles later my family forced me, against my will, to put the Harry Potter books back on the shelves until the midnight release, three years later, of Book 5.

 

 

But of course, nothing has haunted and taunted me so much as the elusive flavor of butterbeer. The moment it made its first appearance in book three, my heart was on a mission to recreate it. It’s a challenge food bloggers and theme parks have taken up again and again but to no significant avail (it’s very hard to measure up to something that doesn’t exist). I’ve encountered cream sodas and creamsicles, butterscotch slushies and an alluring apple cider float.

 

 

But frustratingly, none of these met the basic requirements for a butterbeer. So as I was ordering tickets for the midnight premier (hehe) and trying to figure out the most effective way to channel my freak-out energy, I realized I was going to have to take matters into my own hands. I grabbed Isabella and we made a list of what little information we had to go on. And here’s what we came up with:

- It’s called butterbeer, which is made of the words butter and beer
- It can be served warm or cold (cold is typically bottled)
- JK Rowling said that she imagines it to taste “a little bit like a less sickly butterscotch” (She also said, interestingly and awesomely, that it couldn’t contain corn syrup)
- It contains enough alcohol to intoxicate house elves, but not 13-year-olds
- It’s not a slushie

 

 

We really can’t blame Universal for getting it wrong – they couldn’t use any alcohol, and they didn’t want to leave out the lactose intolerant by putting butter in it. But Isabella is lactose intolerant too and she said it absolutely needed butter (duh). So we decided to make a toffee base, which is pretty much what “less sickly butterscotch” means, and then we added a little vanilla extract to deepen the flavor, and some cream for smoothness. The cream also made the perfect foamy top when we added a bit of seltzer to fizz it up. As for alcohol, vanilla extract is made with bourbon and our miniscule quantities may get a house elf wasted, but us… not so much.

 

 

We warmed up the toffee, mixed in some cream, poured the seltzer on top, took a sip, and knew at once (after four or five tweakings) that we had butterbeer as JK meant it. Our recipe comes in hot and cold varieties – hot is creamy and smooth, cold is fizzy, foamier, and a little less sweet. Of course, cold doesn’t warm you up the same way, but it makes a beautiful crown of foam when you add the seltzer (beautiful accident). We’re probably heretics for saying this, but we both liked that one way better.

 

So make yourself a nice hot/cool mug of butterbeer as you’re gearing up to go see this movie, getting ready for a long discussion about just how good it was (incredible), or just getting ready to make some mischief. The series may technically be over, but we can rest assured knowing it will always live on in our hearts, our bookshelves and our tastebuds.

Also, just for the record, this has about much cream as a crème brulée, so please drink responsibly.

Toffee Syrup

1 cup dark brown sugar plus 4 tablespoons
2/3 cup water plus 1 tablespoon
1 stick butter
1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Mix 4 tablespoons brown sugar with 1 tablespoon water and microwave for 30 seconds-1 minute until a syrup is formed.
2. In a medium-small saucepan, combine 1 cup dark brown sugar with butter and syrup. Heat over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and the mixture bubbles a bit.
3. Add 2/3 cup water and vanilla extract. Gently boil for about 10 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken and gets syrupy.
4. Remove from heat. This is also awesome on vanilla ice cream, just for the record.

Butterbeer

Toffee syrup
Heavy Cream
Seltzer (the fizzier the better)

Hot Variation
A little sweet for me, but reminiscent of the warming, Book 3 butterbeer

Mix 2-3 tbsp toffee syrup with 6 tbsp heavy cream and microwave for 1 minute. Fill rest of mug with seltzer and enjoy :)

Cold variation
Creamy, cool and delectably foamy, this is the perfect summer dessert drink

Mix 4 tbsp toffee syrup with 6 tbsp cool heavy cream, whisking together with a fork. Pour in the seltzer while still whisking with the fork. Enjoy :)

Wordless Wednesday – Chester Sunday Market

A Hen of the Woods Mushroom from CT's best forager. Don't try this at home ;)

The most delicious flag I ever did eat.

From Holy Cows (I'm so sorry)(I couldn't resist)

We took home a book on barbeque and a book on bread baking... as if we needed more cookbooks ;)

Your guess is as good as mine... don't you kind of want to be this guys friend though?

Baguettes with Sea Salt. The sea salt is now all over our kitchen floor but the bread is in our tummies so it's totally worth it. We just say the salt gives the floor a kind of... rustic crunch ;)

Flowers to brighten up the rainy day

A local musician serenades the crowd and sees us on our way

Watermelon Salad – As Featured at the Wooster Square Farmers Market

One of the things I assumed I would miss most when switching careers from journalist to cooking school owner was meeting interesting characters and walking into scenes you never dreamed you’d find yourself in, like walking up the steps of City Hall and interviewing Mayor Ed Koch during an election bid in 1981 at the ripe old age of 18.

 

 

Look at that hair....

 

But over the last two years, I realized my fears were completely and delightfully unfounded. If you really love to cook you can end up doing the same kind of research and probing as any journalist – you should see my library of cookbooks and magazine clippings!  Now, instead of hunting down subjects for a story, I’m hunting down ingredients and sharing recipes with people, from farmer’s markets to subway platforms. People always have a recipe to share, just like they had great leads to tell me in the past.

 

 

 

Of course you probably wonder how this relates to recipes and cooking, so I’ll step off memory lane and get to the point. Recently we started a new series of cooking classes called Spice Market, where we teach how to blend spices and herbs for exotic cuisines. Our first class took us to India, Morocco and Turkey, and we had to learn about ingredients even we rarely, if ever, used before, like asafoetida, preserved lemons and rosewater. Where do you get such ingredients? Some you can make yourself (come back soon and you’ll see a post on preserved lemons), but others, like rosewater, you may have to hunt for.

 

 

I googled preserved lemons and rosewater and was lucky enough to find a store called Sayad International specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, not far from our house. The store was filled with exotically flavored ingredients, such as pickled wild cucumbers, Moroccan sardines, and dried hibiscus flowers. The store, which smells like Persian tea, dried fruits and spices was cramped and dark but full of discoveries. It’s the kind of place you say,  “I hope I remember this place next time I’m looking for [blank].” I can’t imagine we’d ever need Moroccan sardines, but I was thrilled to know that I wouldn’t have to travel long distances (or pay high shipping charges) if I did.

 

 

We’ve all passed over recipes because we don’t want to deal with finding a weird ingredient or an odd kitchen gizmo. Take these moments as opportunities for adventure. You can always order these things online, but your life will be so much richer if you jump in the car and track them down yourselves.

 

 

In honor of these adventures, I’m going to share a recipe inspired by the research I did for our first Spice Market class. The rosewater and mint really makes the watermelon come alive, and it’s the perfect, refreshing way to end a highly flavorful meal. So bring this tiny adventure into your home, and try to find mini food adventures where you live. You are almost guaranteed to have a great story to tell and maybe even a new recipe when you return.

 Enjoy!

Recipe!

Pie Squared

Ever since the macarons, which sort of represent an excess of streamline and precision, I’ve felt a need to kind of make up for it with something you might actually want to make. I mean, let’s be honest: it’s summer time, the living is easy, why should our sweets be so hard? Besides, last week, my sisters and I ate a half gallon of blueberries that were so good that Francesca has sworn off sweets for the rest of the summer. And they weren’t even from the farmers market.

 

In wax paper, served with Yumberry Punch in an old milk jar. Seriously, why even bother otherwise? (Just kidding).

 

When even Costco’s blueberries take on a sort of magical flavor, you know the time has come to leave delicate pastries and (dare I say) even chocolate behind us, and let summer’s bounty speak (mostly) for itself. And so, when I was flipping through this month’s Bon Appétit and saw a recipe for portable, hand-held “pies,” I was inspired. The only thing in the whole world I like better than pie, is food I can eat with my hands. For as long as I can remember, my vacations have been filled with forkless indulgences – pizza from Pepe’s, burgers with crispy cheese from the Shady Glen Diner, and black cherry vanilla ice cream cones from Pralines. Summer is a time to relax and have fun, not a time to wrestle with those super pesky knives and forks (I mean seriously, you have to wash them and everything…). So not only is a hand pie the ultimate food, it’s about as seasonal as you can possibly get.

 

 

 

These days, pie is my favorite dessert, but for a long time there was only one pie in the world I would eat, and that was my mother’s blueberry-lime pie, known affectionately in our house as The Best Blueberry Pie Ever. She found the recipe years ago in an old newspaper clipping, which itself cited another newspaper clipping. It’s simplicity perfected – graham cracker crust, mounds of homemade whipped cream, and blueberry-lime filling on top. She’d make it after our  trips to Lyman Orchards, and back in the days when I shunned apple, peach, pecan, key lime and strawberry rhubarb, there was always a place in my heart (and my stomach) for an extra piece of this pie.  I still do shun all other blueberry pies, because nothing compares to this.

 


 

 

And so I took the hand pie, and filled it with my best childhood memories. These are ridiculously simple to make. You simply prepare the filling, and roll out store-bought puff pastry while it cools. Cut the puff pastry into nine pieces, place filling on each, and fold them over. Cut designs on each of them (extra points for creativity)…

 

 

 

Sprinkle them with raw sugar…

 

Yes I swiped this from starbucks. I fully expect you to do the same ;)

 

Chill, and bake. That’s it! And unlike some recipes we know, these need no explanation other than the recipe below. Also, with all these Independence Day picnics coming up, I hope you do realize that these are blue on the inside, and that they are positively heavenly with whipped cream and strawberries. Just saying.

 

Happy 4th of July! And as always, Happy Baking.

 

Blueberry Lime Hand Pies
Adapted from Bon Appétit, July, 2011 and an old, long lost newspaper clipping

filling
1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
grated peel of one lime
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4-1/2 cup water
2 pints (1 quart) fresh blueberries, rinsed

pies
1 14-17 oz package of puff pastry (preferably Pepperidge Farms), thawed in refrigerator
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1.5 teaspoons (or about 2-3 packets) raw sugar

1. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, lime peel, lime juice, and 1/4 cup water.
2. Add 2 cups of blueberries and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, and blueberries are softened, about four minutes. If mixture is thick before it turns dark purple, add the other 1/4 cup of water. Your kitchen should be smelling like my childhood right about now.
3. Remove from heat and stir in remaining blueberries. Let chill for 15 minutes.
4. Flour a baking surface, and roll out puff pastry into a 15 x 18 in rectangle. Pepperidge Farm comes in two sheets, so be sure to lay them down next to each other and roll them into one sheet. You’ll create a small seem, but that doesn’t matter because you’re going to fold it over there anyway.
5. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut rectangle into 3 columns and 3 rows, creating 9 5×6 in rectangles.
6. Combine egg white with 1 tablespoon water together, and, working with one at a time, brush the edges (approx. .75-1 inch wide) of  a rectangle with the egg wash. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of blueberry filling on one end, and fold over the other side, so edges meet. Seal edges by crimping with a fork, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat for the rest of the rectangles. If you have leftover blueberries after this, just eat them with whipped cream or ice cream, or waffles, or whatever you want.
7. Make a few cuts on the top of the pies, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375°F (or 350°F on convection).
8. Brush with remaining egg wash, and sprinkle with raw sugar.
9. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown.
10. Cool on sheet for 10 minutes, and then on baking rack.
11. Serve with whipped cream, strawberries, or nothing at all. Enjoy!

 

*Note – I had mentioned in an earlier post that the Jack Daniels Fudge Pies were the only pies in the whole world worth making. You may make an exception or two until September 21st.

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