Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lemon Zucchini Cupcakes

Lemon Zucchini Cupcake w/Cream Cheese Frosting

This will be a quick post, as the recipe I used was adapted from one already listed online. Thanks, Martha!

I made these for a friend's birthday, and just changed things up a bit to suit my taste, and make them more festive. (Side vent: M complained that these were not 'cupcakes,' but more like sweet bread with frosting. That boy is so spoiled nowadays when it comes to sweet treats. Puh!)

I'm too lazy to transcribe the recipe, but if you look at the link, I just nixed the spices in favor of the zest of one lemon (I don't know why, but it seems I need to add lemon zest to everything lately), used light brown sugar instead of dark brown sugar, and added my own adorable decorative flair atop the cream cheese frosting. (Also, if I were to make the frosting again, I would decrease the sugar by about 1/3, and maybe add some yogurt to temper the sugariness.)

En masse

Cute, right? I shaved some extra dark chocolate over the frosting to cut the sweetness a little. I also had some leftover zucchini, and while in the shower and waiting for the cupcakes to cool, I got the brilliant idea to make little zucchini tuiles.

Here's how it goes:

Zucchini Tuiles:
Lemon juice
10x (confectioner's) sugar
Nonstick cooking spray
Mandoline (or a very sharp knife and some patience)

Preheat the oven to 300 F.
Slice the zucchini as paper thin as possible, without it falling apart. Soak slices in a shallow dish of lemon juice for about 5 minutes. Remove and lay them out on a paper towel to dry, dabbing the tops.
Spray silpat with nonstick spray, and wipe off gently with paper towel.
Lay zucchini out on silpat.
Dust a thick layer of confectioner's sugar through a strainer over zucchini, until they look white.
Flip and repeat.
Cook in oven until the sugar is caramelized (lower oven to 250 or 275 if the zucchini looks like it's cooking too much).
Remove from oven, and let cool for a few seconds.
Very carefully (hot!) remove and fold in half twice to make a flower shape, one by one. If they start to become hard, flash them in the oven for 3 minutes or so to re-soften them. (This step might be too uncomfortable for people whose hands have not already lost all sensitivity to temperature due to working in a kitchen. If that is the case, the tuiles are quite pretty even lying flat, and taste like delicious little lemon candy, with a slight vegetal note.)

[Note: the more discerning viewer might notice that my cupcakes are a little unconventional in form, and lacking cupcake liners. That's 'cause I don't own a cupcake pan, and so made these in my popover pan, sans papers. Resourceful!]

Friday, July 1, 2011

Brunch Rehearsal: Oeufs Cocotte w/Garlic Bread, Blueberry Baked French Toast w/Lemon Basil Creme Anglaise

My past few posts seem to have been sort of...complain-y, so here is something nice and not so complain-y, more feel good-y.

My sister is getting married this August, and I--for reasons unknown to myself--have agreed to 'cater' a post-wedding brunch to be served the following day, when most likely I and everyone else in attendance will be nursing hangovers of varying degrees. I guess a big reason is because she's my sister, and it seemed like a nice gesture, but really the bigger reason is that I am perpetually broke, and will probably be getting her something worse and cheaper than a toaster as a wedding gift, so this is a compensational catering, of sorts.
To add a fun Top Chef-esque twist, I will be preparing this brunch (for roughly 30 people) in a foreign kitchen, in a rented mountain house in Utah, which I have never before seen and will not see until the evening before the wedding.
So! Here we go.

I came up with a menu comprised of dishes that can be made beforehand, and then reheated before serving, as well as ones that can be prepared and served family style--AKA Casserole Brunch Bonanza! I invited K over to be my tasting guinea pig for my first run of the two main casseroles, which will be:

Oeufs Cocotte w/Garlic Bread, Ricotta, Grape Tomatoes, and Basil

[Do not click to enlarge]

For the wedding, though, it will be made family style, i.e. A Giant Egg Casserole.
It was a test, actually, to see if I could pull off cooking the eggs without a water bath, and having the whites set while the yolks are still runny. It took a couple times of throwing them back in the oven, but was an eventual success!

And on the sweet side,

Blueberry Baked French Toast w/Lemon Basil Creme Anglaise
[Not Pictured]

It was pretty tasty, but let's just say that I definitely need to work on its aesthetic appeal.

The oeufs cocotte (I don't know if you can properly call them that) turned out to be incredibly delicious, and stupid easy--always a winning combination. If you ever want to impress a couple of friends by making brunch, get yourself a good, crusty baguette, use 1/4 for the recipe, and serve the rest alongside. Champagne is optional. (Just kidding, it's not. Unless opting for beer, or an appropriate wine or cocktail. Brunch without booze is just a fatty meal at an awkward time of day. You needs the champagne.)

Lazy Oeufs Cocotte (Baked Eggs):
4 small ramekins - sprayed with nonstick spray
4 large eggs
1 cup fresh ricotta
5-6 grape tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Maldon salt (or kosher salt)
Fresh black pepper
1 sprig (4 or 5 leaves) fresh basil
Pecorino (or parmesan, or any tasty, salty cheese)
Small piece of crusty bread (can be day old), enough to amount to about 1 cup cubed
1 garlic clove

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Cut garlic in half and rub all over your bread. Cut bread into cubes, toss in a generous drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toast on a sheet pan until edges start to brown. Set aside. (Garlic bread cubes can be made up to a day in advance.)
Spray ramekins.
Plop in 2 or 3 small spoonfuls of ricotta into each ramekin. Sprinkle with small pinch of salt, and few turns of pepper.
Add garlic bread cubes.
Crack 1 egg into each.
Slice tomatoes in half and place into ramekin in aesthetically pleasing position. Sprinkle more salt and pepper. Top with a generous pinch of pecorino (or cheese of your choice) and small drizzle of olive oil.
Bake in oven until whites have mostly set, but yolk still jiggles (this is where it got tricky, and I don't actually have an accurate time...15-20 minutes? Sorry.)
When ready, remove from oven and let cool a bit on rack. Chiffonade basil, sprinkle small amount on each. Finish with Maldon (and more cheese if you like). Enjoy!
[For bigger ramekins, pretty much just double everything.]

The french toast is still a work in progress, and so I won't be posting a recipe for now. Hopefully if all goes well, I'll have one later. I can say that the lemon basil creme anglaise I made was quite delicious, and could easily complement a number of dishes. For now, perhaps someone can fiddle with that:

Lemon Basil Creme Anglaise:
1 bunch fresh basil
Zest of 1 lemon
500 ml (17 oz) milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or vanilla extract (optional)
5 egg yolks
100 g (3 1/2 oz) sugar

Put milk, basil, lemon zest, and vanilla in a pot, bring to a boil. Remove from heat, strain and let cool about 1 minute.
Meanwhile, separate the eggs, whisk the yolks and sugar together until it turns pale yellow.
Add hot milk to eggs slowly, while whisking to temper.
Return mixture to pot, cook over medium heat stirring constantly (zig-zag formation is beset, scraping the bottom and corners) with a rubber or wooden spatula, until it thickens slightly.* (Keep stirring, and be wary of curdling! Don't let it get too hot, or you'll cook your eggs--take the pot off the heat once in a while if it seems like it's getting too hot.)
Strain through a fine chinois into a bowl set over ice and stir until it stops steaming.
Use for whatever you like!

*If using for baked french toast, you don't need to cook it all the way (to nappant), because it will be cooked again, anyway. If you want to use it as a sauce, cook until nappant (coats the back of a spoon, or rubber spatula)--if you have an instant read thermometer, about 175 degrees F. Do not let it reach 180, or your eggs will curdle!

This post has been brought to you by M's dear mother, who very sweetly--and inexplicably--brought us three 18-pc cartons of eggs (that is 54 eggs, for 2 people who are not prone to eating at home, nor having guests over) that she brought back from Amish country. So far I have made the things above, as well as cupcakes, popovers, soft-boiled eggs, blueberry bread, strawberry bread, and most recently flan, and still have quite a good number of eggs at my disposal. Maybe tomorrow I will make some handmade pasta. (Not likely.)

Up next: More photogenic post, in the form of cupcakes! Soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter! (Booze and Bragging)

I did not grow up in a religious household (my mom is Buddhist, my dad is atheist, and both in fact objected to my trying out Christianity/churchgoing as a youth), and so Easter to me meant mostly just colored eggs, bunnies, candy, and stomach aches. In that context, this makes sort of sense as an Easter post.

Part one: Booze

A delicious cocktail I enjoyed recently, which I thought would be a perfect Easter cocktail. I don't know how many people have cocktails on Easter, but I find that cocktails make most holidays more enjoyable/tolerable.

The 'Eh, What's Up Doc?' at Vandaag

Carrot & chickweed infused aquavit, Velvet Falernum, lemon, celery bitters, egg white (and almost-too-precious baby carrot garnish)

Sounds like an embarrassingly corny name an odd collection of components, but it's delicious--on Easter, on Good Friday, on Random Tuesday, whenever you like. This was my fourth visit to Vandaag, and while the food is good but not astounding, the cocktails always blow me away. Although I have heard that they can and will make most any cocktail you request, I highly recommend selecting from their menu, which includes a wide selection of curiousity-piquing concoctions, categorized by aquavit (akvavit), genever (AKA Dutch gin), wine, or beer -based. Others I have tried are Turf War, Chinaski (extra points for the Bukowski homage, if intentional), Rolling Orange, and the non-alcoholic Nopaloma. Just like the space in which they were served, all were stylishly clever, clearly meticulously well thought out, yet still charming and comforting. Every single one was exceptionally well-balanced in flavor. Really, really outstanding. A perfect coalescence of art and science.*
While I do hope this place succeeds, one of my favorite things about it--aside from the sleek, well-designed, airy space--is that it's never been crowded when I've been there. But I'd be willing to share the space if it means the place will do well and stay open.

*Speaking of coalescing of art and science...

Part two: Bragging


is what my heart said when I opened the box.

M surprised me with this the other night, as my reward for electing not to drink on my night off (not really--he ordered it months ago, I think more to celebrate my awesome new job, and somehow managed to keep it a secret, the bugger). I bought the Haribo soon after opening the box, simply to ice the cake, gild the lily, put a cherry on top of my pure and utter bliss, as I realized that the only thing better than perusing those books at that moment would be to do it while eating Haribo gummies. (I ate the last 'U' before I got the brilliant idea to compose this surely-obnoxious-to-anyone-but-me photo.) I am a lucky, lucky girl. I recognize and appreciate that.

Happy Easter!!

103 2nd Ave (at 6th St)
NY, NY 10003

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sandwich Revisited

Speaking of revelatory experiences, I just recently rediscovered 'the Chicago' from Franklin Corner Deli in Greenpoint, and it is every bit as magical as ever. Somehow it never gets old. It's like new every time. I just had it for lunch for the second third time this week.

It's by no means a 'destination' sandwich, but it's damn satisfying--for the money and the neighborhood, it's about as good as it gets. A perfect symphony of textures and flavors.

Just felt it was worth reiterating.

Dinner for one is awesome: Franny's - Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

I was in a funk yesterday. I don't know if it's because I haven't been smoking (I quit on New Year's, with just a small handfull of backsliding drags), or because I was also trying to not drink (because I am a glutton for punishment...for gluttony, and also the aforementioned backsliding), or because it was a full moon, or because of hormones. There are a million possible reasons.
In any case, I had planned to cook a lovely, optimistic "Goodbye Winter"-themed dinner for a few friends, something comforting, warm, stew-ish perhaps.
But then I got into a funk--maybe my body was shocked by the sudden leap in climate temperature--and had to go for a walk. And then I had to drink way too much coffee, not only because I have recently become addicted to drinking "black eye"s (coffee with 2 shots of espresso), but also as a preemptive move against the inevitable desire for alcohol that would come later while dining with friends, as well as to amp me up for cooking the wonderful feast (that was never to be). Big mistake. Somewhere, somehow hours got lost in meandering purposelessly around my neighborhood listening to Iron Maiden, and then in the chapter on herbs of the mint family in On Food and Cooking, and a directionless sort of panic set in. Panic to make the most of my day off, to make use of the beautiful day, make use of all of this synthetic energy? Who knows.

I canceled all my plans. I decided that I was in no condition to be amongst people in a social situation, and that I should just give into my craziness, surrender all my good intentions to the greater cause of sheer selfish gratification. And a terrific decision that turned out to be.

Because that is how I ended up at Franny's, with this gorgeous thing before me:

Pork Cheek and Beef Tongue Terrine

All for me, none to share. That is only half of the portion given, as I originally had not intended to photograph/blog it. The meal was supposed to be an entirely selfish endeavor, in every way. But this was too beautiful not to. Pork cheek AND beef tongue, pressed into one sinful orgy of arguably the world's finest meat parts, presented as a shimmering slice (two slices, actually) of heaven. With fresh horseradish shaved on top, and a sidekick of delicious crusty bread drizzled with olive oil. I don't think I even need to go into details, but I will. The tongue was so tender that the best way to describe it is "fluffy" (wishing for a more appetizing and meat-appropriate adjective here), while the cheek meat all but melted at the slightest poke of my fork, and all of it somehow still seeming light as a cloud as it wept (yes, wept) succulent rendered pork and beef fat--it was incredible. And if that sounds borderline erotic, well, I am happy to have provided a faithful and accurate depiction of my experience.
This, along with a hot, comforting bowl of cicerchie bean and kale soup, and a glass of Lambrusco, made for one of the most revelatory meals I've had in recent memory. For a lot of reasons.

1. I learned what cicerchie beans are [kind of] and that they are delicious.
2. The guy who walked in before me and inquired about the wait for a party of 2 was told, "at least an hour," whereas I--party of 1--was immediately offered a seat at the bar.
3. Without the need to be polite and try to carry on a conversation, or eat with a modicum of decorum (though I always do), I was able to devote 100% of my attention to the task of consuming, enjoying, and relishing--and none to the grating voice of the woman beside me, repeatedly jabbing her elbow into my left side, carrying on about her intense excitement about completing her acupuncture license training, or her (misguided) opinions of the same Lambrusco that I was enjoying at the moment. Once I started eating, it was like I was in the eye of a storm. All environmental intrusions vanished. Just me and the food. Until...
4. As I slowly, with some wistfulness, shoved the last porky-beefy-fat-smothered morsel of bread into my mouth, the vacuum surrounding me was punctured by the unmistakable and bracingly exhilirating intro to possibly the best feel-good song ever, and one of my favorite songs in the whole wide world:

Too perfect. I walked out of there feeling like I was actually glowing.

And with absolutely zero desire or need for a cigarette.

Lesson: if you want to eat a nice meal, at prime dining time on a weekend night when most good places are sure to be a shitshow nightmare, dining solo is a great way to do it anyway you want it.

(Sorry, had to.)

Friday, February 18, 2011


...for the moment.

Since work occupies [much, much] more of my time than eating or drinking out lately, I figure I might as well post about what's going on there, which is somewhat relevant to this rather arbitrary dumping ground for food-related material I've created here. Do I or do I not dictate what is relevant in my arbitrary dumping ground? I do!*

*I do have photos for eating-out posts lined up, but those are not what I am most interested in right now.

So for the sake of keeping this [questionably] creative outlet alive, I present to you my first two 'blackboard' dessert specials:

1. Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding w/Brandied Pears, Candied Walnuts | Bailey's Ice Cream

[Apologies for the disorienting angle.]

2. Lavender Apple Upside Down Cake, Apricot Compote | Greek Yogurt Sorbet

Please forgive the terribleness of the pictures, taken with my cell phone[s]. As you can tell, I upgraded my cell phone between the first and the second. I had originally only taken these pictures for posterity, and to send to my dad. But now I proffer them to you, the ostensible viewing public, for lack of better/actual content. Enjoy!

I am quite happy with how both of them turned out. The plating of the first was not of my conception, and is not really my style, but I had no idea what I was doing, and my dessert itself--while delicious--pretty much visually amounted to a lumpy brown pile, and it needed to look nicer if we were going to sell it.
The second is currently on our menu, and will remain for the rest of the week. I love this cake, and have a new found love for lavender, towards which I had had some ambivalence before deciding to experiment with it here. And greek yogurt sorbet [we made ours in-house] is farking delicious, and should be sold by the gallon at bodegas everywhere.

I have to say, I am really thrilled about having the opportunity to dream up my own specials and actually have them sold to the public. It's really an awesome feeling, actualizing and executing a vision, and sharing it with people. I missed this feeling from art school, and it's very exciting to be able to experience it again, at my job no less! (Especially after having only been a pastry cook for just under 3 months now.)

And now, much like while I was in art school, I cannot sleep for all of the ideas buzzing and bouncing around in my skull. I've found that my most fruitful and imaginitive mental moments are those just between sleeping and wakefulness, in both directions. I predict more restive nights and cottony-eyed sunrises in my future. It's kind of nice.

More to come.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pause II: Lady M, UES

[Note: Pause II actually took place before Pause I.]

One nice thing about a work day that starts at 3PM...


Me making the best of a doctor's appointment that was scheduled for too early, and shorter than expected.

Since I was in the neighborhood, and had a good two hours before I needed to be at work, I decided to check out Lady M Cake Boutique for a nice ($$$) cup of coffee, and uh, professional research.

Meet the Mille Crepe, Lady M's signature cake, for good reason.

Not the worst way to start a day.

Twenty layers of lacy crepe, cushioned by light-as-air vanilla custard. There are no words. Too many words.

My only criticism is that the bruleed top--while providing that lovely toasted sugar flavor--didn't give way to my all-too-eager fork as easily as it could have, as you can see from the last photo.
But...seriously. No, seriously.
I am not complaining. That is like a gun-to-my-head forced critique. Because I am, after all, a professional.