Tuesday, March 30, 2010

April Chocolates

April 1 Bonbons 03

What better way to greet the new season than with a chocolate? 

April 1 Bonbons 02

Okay, I’ll admit chocolate might not be the first thing to come to mind in early spring, when rhubarb is showing up, rosy and eager, in yards and at markets.  On the other hand, Easter is right around the corner, so chocolate is on many people’s minds.

April Fools 04 April Fools 06 April Fools 07

All that said, the real season we’re marking here is the season of joking.  That’s right, April Fools!

April Fools Bonbons 02

These might look about the size of chocolate-dipped marshmallows, and they feel about the right weight.  When you bite into them, they even initially give way like marshmallows.  But  then they start to feel a little cottony in your mouth.  Like chocolate covered cotton balls.

April 1 Bonbons 01

For years my children took these chocolates to their teachers on April Fools’ Day.  I don’t think they ever quite fell for it—what teacher, parent, or any other sentient being wouldn’t be suspicious of children bearing gifts on April 1?

But a few let their love of chocolate get the best of them, and took a bite.  Or maybe they just had good senses of humor.

Chocolate-Covered Cotton Balls

To make these, simply melt some chocolate, and then dip cotton balls, coating them completely.  Decorate with silver dragees, or  allow the chocolate to swirl attractively on top.  Allow to set on a wax paper covered cookie sheet. 

For the most successful joke, do put the chocolates in candy cups, and pack in a candy box.  

About the chocolate: Use something cheap (bulk chocolate chips, a couple of Hershey bars)—this is not the time for exquisite chocolate!  I would also suggest you not bother tempering the chocolate.  Because, in the end, this batch of chocolates will end up in the garbage.

But not before you have a laugh.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Eating Eggs

Eggs and Daffodil
I’ve been enjoying eggs, for a number of reasons.  Well, the first reason is the most obvious—they’re just so good!  But like a solid crime, you need to examine means, motive, and opportunity to explain my recent egg binge.

Marilyn the Chicken Traci's Chicken
Means: The ability to cook eggs
My means have been greatly improved with spring break.  While I didn’t get to go away on vacation, my neighbors did.  And they graciously left their chickens at home.  And asked me to tend them.  Which means gathering their eggs: three eggs with plump, orange yolks every day.
Sylvester with Chickens
Sylvester the cat would like to help gather eggs
Motive: The reason I had to make eggs
I realize I should accept responsibility for my actions, but there were others—three of them—who (sorry) egged me on.  One was a twitter conversation yesterday, initiated by Francis Lam of Salon Food (and 2010 James Beard Award Nominee) with this simple tweet: ‘Egg salad. Discuss.’  I must not have been wearing my glasses, because I read it as ‘Egg salad. Make it. Now. And eat it.’
Egg Salad with Arugula and Anchovies 01
Egg Salad with Arugula and Anchovies

Also yesterday, I finished reading What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin (her painter husband).  It’s a charming book, full of people’s confessions of their solo-dining adventures, wonderful illustrations, and recipes.  Of course, reading a book like this makes you consider what you eat when you eat alone.  Me?  Eggs.

Finally, in the evening I caught up on some blog reading.  Eleanora, on Aglio, Olio, and Peperoncino wrote that yesterday was Zuppa Pavese day—a little historical background, and then a picture of the soup, consisting of nothing more than (or should it be no less than?) chicken broth, bread, egg, Parmesan, butter, and olive oil.  What more could a person want?  I’m just sorry I missed the day—I’ll put Zuppa Pavese’s half birthday on my calendar. 

Sylvester Egg Salad Anchovies
Sylvester thinks he should at least get some anchovies for all his help
Opportunity was easy.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Soft Cooked Egg

And the binge? It’s really not so much, just one or two a day.  Soft cooked in the morning, with buttered toast.  Over easy with barely wilted spinach on the side for lunch.  Egg salad, open faced with arugula and anchovies.

If you think about it, not much is more perfect than an egg.  If you combine it with the most perfect bread, butter, salt, and greens you really can’t lose.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Irish Coffee Macarons

Three Macarons 

Irish Coffee Macarons
Last week I was in Seattle for two workshops with Helen Dujardin (of My Tartelette), organized by Viv of Seattle Bon Vivant (Thanks, Viv and Helen!). 

The first was a food photography class where I learned what I expected to learn: that I have a lot to learn.  But it was interesting, and great fun watching and learning from Helen and the others attending.  I’m looking forward to a day of cupcakes soon (that is, a day of photographing cupcakes).
The second workshop was a macarons-making workshop, fitting, since apparently we’re in the midst of a new macaron age—their trendiness rivaling that of cupcakes. 

Irish Coffee macarons

It was a first for me—first time making macarons, first time taking a cooking class.  Helen was a wonderful teacher, full of hands-on advice, plenty of humor, and the occasional sarcastic remark (that always makes me feel at home).  I felt as if I came away with a lot: a basic understanding of macaron science, a new French word (macaronnage, the perfect folding of the sugar and almond flour into the egg whites), a new pastry tip and a little jar of powdered pink coloring.

piped macarons  
Piped macarons drying before baking
A question—I see this word spelled two ways: macaronnage and macaronage.  French scholars, here’s your chance--help me out!  I just hope my high school French teachers don’t see this.  (Last time I saw them the whole department was lunching at Chez Panisse—I immediately broke into a cold sweat, and hoped they wouldn’t quiz me on the subjunctive).

What I didn’t come away with was any macarons.  We had worked in groups of two (or three), and, sadly, I had to leave to catch my train back to Portland before the macarons came out of the oven.

baked macarons 
What do you think? Feet, or cunning little pencil skirts?
But I did see pictures, thanks to Paula Thomas’ post, Sweet Tartelette Workshops (which includes a lot of photos from both workshops).  Other photos can be found at Jackie Writes (make that other wonderful photos—I have a lot to work towards!).

open faced macaron Open-faced macaron

Normally I let classes settle before trying out my new skill.  Not so much to let things percolate, but rather because I’m kind of lazy that way.  This time I was shamed, er, inspired, by another classmate, Nurit at Family Friendly Food.  Apparently she went straight home and started baking. 

Her macarons, filled with plum jam and whipped cream, nodded towards the famous meringue dessert called Pavlova.  Maybe her macarons deserve a new name: Pavlovarons?

elegant macarons

So I decided to be productive as well.  Following Helen’s basic macaron recipe, I separated my eggs a day ahead, letting the whites age for 24 hours (and, indeed, 4 grams of moisture did evaporate).  I decided to make my macarons for St. Patrick’s Day.  Since I didn’t have green powder coloring (our local supplier was out—go figure!), I decided to make Irish Coffee macarons. 

Only they’re really Irish Mocha macarons.  I added two teaspoons of ground coffee to the powdered sugar and almond flour.  The filling is a simple ganache, with a couple of tablespoons of Bushmills added, for Irish oomph.

Irish coffee macarons 

All in all, I’m pretty happy with these first macarons.  I think I see macaron feet there.  Or, if they’re skirts, they’re pencil skirts, no huge flounces.  I’ve tucked the macarons away to cure for a day.  Curing allows the moisture of the filling to invade the macaron, making it shatter-proof when you bite it.  By the time we’ve eaten our corned beef and cabbage, and had a Guinness or two, the macarons will be ready and waiting.

Irish Coffee Macaron

Now I just need to decide what kind to make next.  I have a glut of Meyer lemons, and Easter is coming…

And, finally, a video from the workshop, from Luuvu:

Irish Whiskey Ganache Recipe

open faced macaron

This recipe makes enough ganache to sandwich two dozen macarons.  As a bonus, you should have enough leftover to heat slightly and pour over vanilla ice cream for four people.

5 ounces heavy cream
5 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon Bushmills Irish Whiskey

  • Bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan and remove from heat. 
  • Add chopped chocolate, making sure it's submerged.  Let stand for 3 minutes, then whisk to smooth.
  • Stir in Bushmills.
  • Chill ganache in refrigerator until it reaches a spreading consistency.

Notes: I used Guittard Akoma extra semi-sweet chips, because a partially filled bag was kicking around in the pantry.

As you can see, the recipe is simply equal parts chocolate and cream.  If you don’t have a scale, a cup of cream is 8 ounces.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Birthday Pork and Earthquake in Chile

The Birthday
Well that was a crazy weekend.

Pavel, Emma (our niece), and I got into the car Friday morning for a ten-hour drive to Laytonville, a small California town about halfway between Eureka and Santa Rosa.  A whirlwind trip—we were going to surprise my brother on his 50th birthday, but would return on Saturday. Yep. The next day.

Crazy.  But we managed.  We got down, surprised my brother, and enjoyed an afternoon and evening of serious meat eating.  They’d butchered a Duroc pig the day before.  While it roasted in a ‘Cajun microwave’ Friday morning, they slaughtered a lamb.  Four wild turkeys made the mistake of wandering by.  A woman at the party, with a thick Louisiana accent, told us how she’d called to her husband: “Baby, go get me a turkey!”  He ran to their upstairs balcony and shot one for her.  When she told her mother the story, her mother wondered why he’d only got one.
The Chilean Earthquake
The next morning we woke up in our motel in Willits, to an email saying our son was fine.  Since I stupidly don’t speak Spanish, I had to go online to translate the rest of the message.  Only then did I see news of the Chile earthquake.  Simon and Caro (his girlfriend) had just arrived in Santiago the day before.   Just in time for the 3-minute long earthquake, measuring 8.8 on the Moment Magnitude scale. [3 minutes according to Wikipedia--I've seen it listed as anywhere from 90 seconds to 3 minutes; it's all too long]

We are extremely lucky.  Neither was hurt.  No one in Caro’s family was hurt.  And how lucky to find out about the earthquake by learning they were okay.  We were spared the hours of waiting and wondering.  We’re so grateful.

It was a surreal morning, spent emailing our daughter, Grace, in the Netherlands (she speaks Spanish), having her email Caro’s parents in Punta Arenas (in Patagonian Chile), and then relay the information back to us in Willits.  At the same time, we were all trying to contact our other daughter, Francesca, in Caserta, Italy.

We headed north again Saturday afternoon.  By then everyone in the family knew Simon was okay.  Facebook proved to be incredibly useful: we could post updates, relatives could check in.  I'm glad most of my family uses it.  While we were stretching our legs in Eureka, Simon finally got a call through to us.   What a relief it was to talk to him. 
Ways to Help Chile
CNN has a helpful site, Impact Your World, with links to organizations accepting donations for aid to Chile as well as to Haiti, which, of course, is also still in dire need of help. 
It’s time to check our earthquake supplies here in the Pacific Northwest.
Read More on the Chilean Earthquake
Eric Asimov's column, The Pour, discusses the damage suffered by the Chilean wine industry ( Maule, one Chilean region hit hard in the quake,  produces half of the wine exported).  Also, here's a New York Time's Op-Ed piece, 'In Chile, Life Between the Tremors', by Alberto Fuguet, which gives a sense of what it's like in Santiago in these first post-quake days.
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