Thursday, 15 September 2016

We Cooked Seafood By the Seashore – Sicilian Mussels and Rolled Sardines in Sicily

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When we were planning our epic European summer trip, my boyfriend and I chose to stay mostly in apartments – we did this partly because it was cheaper than staying in hotels and more private than staying in hostels (which we did in Naples, and that was a weird flashback to my twenties), but only partly.  The other reason we chose apartment living was, as ever, food-related: we wanted to be able to cook, ideally making use of local ingredients we wouldn't have access to at home.

So, given that information, you might be surprised to learn that we didn't cook in our own place once for the entire trip – not in Berlin, or Bologna (where we did cook in someone else's home), or Rome, or any of the other cities where we had access to our own kitchen.  Oh, sure, we made coffee, and ate cheeses and meats which we bought at markets and grocery stores, and drank wine...but we didn't actually cook a meal.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

My Bologna Has a First Name – Learning to Make Pasta the Bolognese Way with Taste of Italy

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Holy crap – it’s been a YEAR since I posted here.  I am so ashamed.  To be fair, the past year has been the busiest of my life so far: I started teaching middle school, jumping right in at the deep end with no previous full-time experience, and I was (as you’d probably have guessed) completely consumed.  Any time I had to myself was spent grading, answering parent and student emails, lesson planning, or maybe, if I got really lucky, zoning out in front of a crappy TV show with a bottle of wine and my concerned boyfriend.  Needless to say, I didn’t cook much, let alone photograph it.  Which is too bad, really, since my apartment was super cute and photogenic, and living off Goldfish all year left me unhealthy and heavier than usual by June…  

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Anyway, excuses aside, I come back now to share just a smidgen of the bounty from my much-needed summer vacation!  My boyfriend and I saved up a few thousand dollars, freed ourselves from our responsibilities, and set off for Europe the week after school let out – we went to Berlin for a week, then took trains through Austria and all down through Italy, ending in Sicily, and then we hopped over to France for a few weeks to help a friend with her new baby.  It was a pretty epic 7.5-week journey (all of which is documented on my Instagram feed), and while we didn’t cook often, what we did cook was as epic as the trip itself.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Cocktails or Cake – Why Not Both? Limoncello Birthday Cake with Campari Frosting

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Baking with KayMoWino in Napa

Remember when I made that adorable ha-cake for my friend's half birthday?  Well, luckily for me, despite generally preferring savory to sweet, K does love a good celebration cake, so when her full birthday rolled around this year she requested a cake that incorporated one of her favorite things: booze.  Specifically, Campari, which she fell in love with during a trip to Italy a couple years ago and which has been so well-loved as to have spawned its own hashtag.

Even better than suggesting (I won't go so far as to say demanding) a specific cake for her birthday, K suggested we bake it together, at my parents' house in the Napa Valley.  K is a food blogger too, although she focuses more on savory dishes and wine pairings, and while we've cooked together (we lived together for a while and we made some delicious dinners) we've never baked.  Plus, since she moved to Napa last year we get far too little bonding time, and this sounded like an excellent way to get some 'us' time (plus our assistant, but he's good at respecting our girl time).

Baking with KayMoWino in Napa

So without further ado, to the cake-baking!  Of course, we started with booze: Negronis (a classic Campari drink), natch, mixed by our handsome assistant (to whom also goes credit for all the photos herein and on Flickr).

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Another Win for Laziness: Chocolate Chip (Etc) Cookie Bars

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Chocolate chip cookie bars with Nutella

The first time, I made them because I needed something easy and transportable for a graduation party and I knew I wouldn't have time to wait for the butter in my freezer to soften, or to make multiple batches of drop cookies.  I googled 'melted butter cookie bars' and voila!  Bloggers to the rescue, as usual.

The recipe was super simple and I had all the ingredients, plus some pecans I thought would enhance the flavor of half the bars (we have a friend with a nut allergy so I wanted to leave half plain), and nobody was expecting cookies so the pressure was off.  I gave it a go and an hour later my companion and I were burning our fingers trying to 'test' the batch.

Once we were able to try a bite, we agreed: these things are good.  So good that I ate three that night, which is unusual for me – often when I bake something, no matter how tasty it is, I tire of it quickly and am obliged to convince someone else to eat the rest.  It's no coincidence that I favor tall boyfriends with hollow legs ;)

In this case, though, not only did I eat a bunch of the baked good in question but I also started thinking about making them again almost immediately upon leaving the party (I nearly brought home a couple bars but I stopped just short of embarrassing myself that much).  So when I was gifted two glass jars of Nutella from Italy and was antsy to use one as a wine glass, I knew exactly how to put the Nutella inside to good use.

Chocolate chip cookie bars with Nutella

The point is this: these bars are infinitely adaptable.  They were delicious with pecans, indulgent with Nutella, and likely would be even more toothsomely tasty with oats – that's my plan for next time!  In other words, make these.  As soon as humanly possible.

You're welcome.


Chocolate Chip (Etc) Cookie Bars
    Adapted for pecans/Nutella from Em's Bytes  
    (I doubled the recipe the first time and used an 8x13 pan – ain't nothin' wrong with twice the amount of this goodness)

Preheat oven to 350F/175C and grease an 8" pan, square or cake, whatever you have.
 

Mix together in a large bowl:
     1/2c (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
     1/4c sugar
     1/2c brown sugar


Beat in: 
     1 egg
     1 tsp vanilla

 
Add and stir until combined:
     1 c flour
     1 tsp baking powder
     1/4 tsp salt


Stir in:
     1c semi-sweet chocolate chips

     1c chopped pecans (optional – you can also place them on top of the dough once it's in the pan, if you fancy the look or want to limit their reach) 

Spread into prepared pan, pausing to top with blobs of Nutella if desired, and bake 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. (Side note: mine never got as golden as I'd like, but I'm glad I pulled the first batch out when I did anyway, as they were getting close to dry.  I suggest using the cake tester method if in doubt, and remembering that gooey cookies are always better than dry.)

Friday, 17 April 2015

Lazy Bear: A Revelation for a Cranky Old SF Cynic

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I had the excellent luck last month to: A) meet a couple of awesome new friends at a shared table at brunch, B) become part of a dinner-going group with them and my friend A, with whom I went to Rome in December and who has brilliant connections and a serious take-charge attitude, leading to the four of us C) going to Lazy Bear for one of the most remarkable dining experiences I've ever had in my relatively charmed life.

I was extremely skeptical at first – Lazy Bear is a sort of private dinner club-turned restaurant that is super expensive and notoriously difficult to get tickets for, a combination that heightens my hype-dar immediately.  But I didn't want to be a party pooper and I had a little extra cash cushion so I agreed to go.  On the day of the dinner, a gorgeous sunny Saturday, I was loathe to get dressed up and go to what I was sure would be an overproduced and underdelivering San Francisco wankfest (pardon my French but I really was feeling very wary).  But almost from the minute I walked in the door, the first to arrive, my expectations were proven wrong.  

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Friday, 27 March 2015

Monkeying Around with Birthday Cakes

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When my sister told me that her daughter, who turned three last week, had requested three cakes for her birthday party, I immediately volunteered to bake one of them.  I adore my niece and nephew and have had a blast getting to know them better since moving back from London, but I still see them rarely enough that any opportunity to impress them is worth jumping on.  It only got better when my sister told me the only other request my niece had made: that the party be 'a monkey party'.

I remembered a cake I'd seen on Smitten Kitchen, years back, a monkey face that looked surprisingly easy to put together.  A quick google confirmed my suspicions that this was something I could definitely handle, and I spent the rest of the day at work printing recipes, doubling and tripling ingredient lists, and blocking off the day before the party in my phone calendar.  I was going to go all out this time.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Ruminations on Perfectionism and Lemon Cream Pie

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One of my favorite things anyone has ever said to me about writing was a Voltaire quote one of my wonderful teachers passed on to us in the early months of my MA: "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good".  After years of angsting about writing rather than doing it, my bookshelf littered with beautiful, empty journals too pretty to write mediocre things in, that sentiment resonated hard in my heart.  I determined to give myself credit simply for doing, even just for trying, or simply for remembering an idea – anything to encourage myself to build up momentum instead of stopping in despair.  And it worked, most of the time.  Okay, the beautiful journals still sit empty on the shelf, but now I buy myself unimpressive, blandly designed journals and write in them without concern for perfection.  And when I was in Italy, my amazing friend and writing coach Magda held me to a deadline of 5,000 words a week, and I gave myself the space to write about anything I felt inspired to write – of course, what this means is that I now have somewhere around 40,000 words to sift through and fill holes in, and the majority of what I have is off-plot-line or too heavily biased toward subject matter that was less excruciating to write about, but it's a start.  And that was good enough, at least for the moment.  

My attitude toward baking is similar: as long as people can eat it and enjoy it, I'm happy.  My baked goods rarely come out looking beautiful or professional, and they're almost never consistent in size/texture/bake, which is the main reason I never even considered doing GBBO.  Still, my laid back attitude sometimes leads to legitimate failure in the kitchen (two weeks ago I made some very dense 'muffins', 70% of which I threw out).  And it doesn't always hold up in the face of potential let-downs.  I have definitely had my baking meltdowns, as well as plenty of cases of simple 'that wasn't good enough' melancholy.  For example, the lemon cream pie I made last weekend hit a few too many snags and had me feeling pretty crappy for a while, and now that I want to post about it and I'm looking at these photos in the light of day, after spending all evening editing them with f.lux on, then turning it off and trying to undo the damage, all I can say is 'I'm sorry'.  I'd like to re-do all of it – the pies, the photo editing, even my hair in the photos – but I'd rather get this post up and keep the small amount of momentum I'm beginning to rebuild here in this, my little bakery corner of the internet.

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So in the spirit of doing rather than perfecting, let's get cracking on this post about lemon cream pie!  (Sorry I'm not sorry about that pun.)