Thursday, March 25, 2010

Old Photo Round-up

A Christmas gift from Hubband:

Creamy broccoli soup and multi-grain toast
Beef and bean chili over cornbread
We will return to our regularly scheduled programming very shortly.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Christmas Melody

It's been a busy few months here at Chez Marshmallow, and the next two look incredibly busy as well. Plans almost every weekend for 3 months straight are fun, but boy they tire me out! Lots of things have been churning out of the kitchen here, but at such a volume and pace that most weren't even photographed. I didn't even get pictures of each course of our Christmas dinner!
It consisted of 4 courses:
1: Rigatoni with homemade bacon, shredded brussels sprouts, and seared bay scallops (Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc)
2: Onion tart topped with mixed baby green salad with sherry-shallot vinaigrette and pistachios (Trefethen Viognier)
3: Akaushi NY strip steaks, broiled, served with roasted cauliflower and sweet potato-chard gratin (Del Dotto Cave Blend 2006)
4: Pierre Herme's Melody (Dolce)

We also had my first attempt at truffled brioche, which turned out rather well.

Our fourth course: Pierre Herme's Melody is a rather cryptic statement, so let's throw a little light on the subject. I received a Pierre Herme cookbook for my birthday. Pierre is France's premier pastry chef, and authored this particular book in conjunction with Dorie Greenspan, she of "Baking with Julia" (yes, THAT Julia) fame.
Hubband and I browsed through the book looking for a Christmas dessert and decided on Melody, a multi-layered confection that required days of advance prep. I was ok with that, in fact, it was one of the reasons we picked that dessert. I didn't want to have to assemble something at the last minute.
Melody is composed (Ha, get it?) of a layer of extremely delicate cinnamon pastry, topped with a layer of genoise, a layer of Twenty-Hour Apples, a layer of cinnamon-caramel Bavarian Cream, another layer of genoise, another layer of cinnamon pastry, and finally a decoration of thinly sliced fresh apples brushed with strained apricot preserves.
I began with the genoise, which is a dry cake leavened only by whipped egg whites. It was my first attempt, and came out as only average, but good enough to proceed.
I then worked on the Twenty Hour Apples. Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced, fanned, layered with sugar, butter, and orange zest. Repeat x 8.
Layered, wrapped, and weighted
After baking in an extremely low oven for 10 hours, they come to room temp, and then move into the fridge for at least 10 hours, weighted all the time. They come out as a sort of apple confit, lightly sweet, with a hint of orange. Very nice. The recipe makes about 6 times as much as you need, so we put some of the excess on pancakes, which I highly recommend.
The finished, assembled dessert.

After all the slicing, caramelizing, whipping, chilling, layering, rolling, baking, trimming, and fiddling were done, the dessert was good. It was shockingly light for something with so many components and layers. It was almost refreshing after a long rich meal, but still had enough sweetness to be a good finish.
My true disappointment was with the book itself. Several times during the making of this complex recipe, the instructions failed me, and it was only by experience and MacGyver-ing that it worked out. The directions for making the cinnamon caramel, the first step of the Bavarian cream, were complete and utter hogwash. I tried it his way 3 times, and failed spectacularly each time. I did it my way once, and succeeded. The recommendation for an ice bath to cool the creme anglaise was ridiculous, and caused the gelatin to seize. Furious whipping ensued. Pan sizes were off, thus making it impossible to me to have a truly professional-looking result. Hubband rather enjoyed my complaints, as he felt that being thus challenged was good for me, and interesting for him to watch. I, on the other hand, expected more from a book by Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan. I felt almost as though I was being tested, as if someone had purposely given me a book with incorrect instructions, just to see how I would adapt. I will likely try other things out of the book, and may even make this dessert again, but I will certainly take his instructions with a grain of salt.
How was your Christmas meal?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving Thanks

I took this picture two weeks ago in Asheville, NC. The leaves are nearly done with their show of colors, and that can mean only one thing: Thanksgiving time. Last year I wrote a post detailing just a few of the things I'm thankful for, and I'd like to make that a tradition. Without further ado, here are just a few of the things that I'm grateful for this year.
For my health, and the health of my loved ones. I had surgery in March, and I'm very thankful to have had no complications and a relatively easy recovery. I'm grateful for all the people who helped out during that time.
For the opportunity to take another amazing trip to California, and to have Mom with us this time. I am grateful to have a Mom who's so fun that you WANT to take her with you on vacation, and a Hubband who's so wonderful that he's glad she's there too.
For the renovations we did on our home. I'm thankful we were able to do them, that they turned out even better than we hoped, and that we don't have a single contractor horror story to share.
And always, never last nor least, I'm so thankful for Hubband. He's my greatest gift and my biggest supporter. He takes care of me, makes me laugh every day, and always inspires me to do and be better.
Happy Thanksgiving to you, and may you have much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I will attempt just about any recipe that you set in front of me, provided of course that it sounds interesting, and I have finally gained enough experience that a new recipe will usually turn out pretty well. I have developed so much confidence in the kitchen that now I've even acquired the disturbing habit of often trying out a new recipe on company.
One area of cooking that I really want to get better at, and really develop a feel for, is bread baking. I've got my standard sandwich loaf all wrapped up, but I also love a good chewy and crusty loaf, and that's what I want to gain the ability to bake.
On a recent evening that company was coming, I decided to combine my bad habit of new recipes with my doughy aspirations for a double-whammy of inexperience and the unknown. Fortunately, even with some small deviations from the recipe (accidental) everything turned out very well, and these were my best loaves yet.

I mean really. Look at that crumb structure! Look at the lovely air pockets! The lightly browned, crusty-chewy crust! I was so proud of it, I called my mom to describe it. I got off the phone quickly as our friends C & B arrived, and we sat down to this bread with creamy European-style butter and butternut squash soup. We chatted for awhile, and then had a second course of baked pork chops stuffed with prosciutto and asiago, and ended it all with caramel cake and coffee. The next day we took the rest of our soup, bread and butter over to mom's for a nice lunch. I'm still proud of that bread, and it's long gone. Not forever though...I'm making more this week to go with a broccoli soup recipe that's been brewing in my mind.

Pugliese bread, from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. I'm not going to post the recipe here, because I did have some accidental variations. I'm going to bake it again the right way, see how much difference that makes, and then post whichever I like better.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Challenge, Part II

Here are a few more photos of things I baked for the guys during our Master Bath renovation:

Nutmeg Doughnut mini-muffins:
Very subtle flavor of nutmeg in a rich, buttery muffin. They are reminiscent of cake doughnuts, and after baking are brushed with butter and tossed in confectioners' sugar. The guys seemed to really like them, but one did mention that the nutmeg flavor may have been TOO subtle.
Carrot Cake mini-cupcakes with cream cheese frosting:
My standard carrot cake and cream cheese frosting recipe. This cake is so moist that it almost doesn't hold together as a cupcake. These disappeared rapidly.
Korova Sables/World Peace Cookies:
Buttery, rich, crumbly, sandy, chocolatey. These cookies are something unto themselves. Too bad they have such a cheesy name. For the recipe, check here.
A recipe by David Leibovitz, which is always a good start. These babies are ooey-gooey, rich and delicious, and the best part is that you make the batter in one pot! One pot, one spoon, one baking dish. Easiest clean-up ever. These are our new go-to brownie recipe, and won't be surpassed any time soon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Challenge, Part 1

Phase one of our recent renovations was our master bathroom. Instead of going with the same contractor who was going to work on our kitchen, we chose a smaller company that we have used in the past for handy-man-type work. We know the guys quite well, and trust them to not only do a thorough job, but to honestly critique new recipes that I spring on them. They expected our bathroom to take about two weeks, and I set myself a challenge: bake something for them every day that they were here. I got to try out a few new recipes, tweak some old ones, and get honest feedback, and they got fresh treats and coffee daily and felt appreciated. It was a win-win situation for all of us.
In no particular order, here are the first four days' efforts:
Peach Pocket Pies
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie & Pastry Bible
Individual hand-held peach pies. Ok, but not great. I think peaches are best eaten fresh. The crust did turn out nicely though, as Rose's always do.
Very subtle flavor. I don't know that I would even go so far as to call it 'butterscotch'. I found that to be misleading, as people were expecting a much bigger flavor once they heard the name. They were tasty, but I think they need something else to bolster them. They'd be great as the base for an ice cream sandwich.
Good old peanut butter cookies, by request.
I did half the batch with milk chocolate kisses, and folded dark chocolate chunks into the other half. I liked the dark chocolate better. The guys were divided: half for classic with kisses, half for dark chocolate.
Raspberry Bars
Adapted from Favorite Brand Name Baking
A shortbread-like base, filled with jam, and topped with crumbles of the same base dough. Simple, delicious, and always a hit.

Strawberry Bars
Adapted from Favorite Brand Name Baking

Varying the temperature of the butter will change the texture of the cookie. Keeping it on the chilly side with give you more of a crisp shortbread, and room temperature will make it more like a slightly crumbly butter cookie. Both are delicious. The quality of the jam you use will directly affect the flavor of the bar, so get one that you really love. I've used almonds in the crust before, and they work very well but have a much milder flavor than the pecans. You can, of course, also use a preserve other than strawberry. I used raspberry in the photo above.

2 C all-purpose flour
1 C granulated sugar
1 C butter, softened or still slightly cold
Heavy pinch of salt
3/4 C pecans (or almonds) coarsely chopped
1 egg
10 oz strawberry preserves (or flavor of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8" or 9" square pan with butter or cooking spray.
Combine the flour, sugar, butter, salt, nuts, and egg in a large bowl and mix until combined. If you use colder butter the mixture will be crumbly, which is fine. Scoop 1 cup of this dough out of the bowl and set it aside for the topping. Pour the remaining dough into the prepared square pan and use your fingers to press it evenly into the bottom of the pan. Spread the preserves on top, keeping a 1/2" border around the edge free of preserves, if possible. (Preserves at the edge bake onto the pan, making the bars harder to remove.) Crumble (or dollop) the reserved 1 cup of dough over the top of the preserves and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into bars.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Before and After

I've mentioned renovations quite a few times here on MLM, but I'm not sure I've ever really given an idea of just how much we did. It was a three-phase operation: Phase 1 was our master bathroom, Phase 2 was our floors, and Phase 3 (most relevant to this forum) was the kitchen.

Phase 1 went very well. There were a few very minor bumps in the road, each easily solved and none of which put us more than a day or two behind schedule. We took the bathroom down to studs and slab and started over, everything new except the toilet. It turned out fabulously, with a larger shower, deeper soaking tub, feature wall of stone, more cabinetry, and small layout changes that made a world of difference.

Phase 2 involved more work, both on our part and the part of the workers. Hubband and I packed all of our things, and moved every piece of furniture out of the first floor. The garage was full of our furniture, the bedrooms upstairs were stuffed with boxes; there was even a bookcase on the front porch. He and I moved into a guest bedroom at Mom's for about a week and a half (Thanks Mom!) while the workers came in and chiseled up the wood floor. (Yes, chiseled. It was glued down.) They had the old floor up in 3 days, and laid the new floor in just 2 days. We spent the next few days cleaning the house with the help of some wonderful neighbors and setting things to rights again before we could move back in.

Phase 3, the kitchen. The phase that involved the most planning and the most thought. The phase with the most bumps in the road! There was some confusion over cabinetry pieces, a few minor things that were fairly easily fixed. The biggest issue was the range. To make a long story short, after much research and thought, we settled on a very particular model, which we were assured was in stock. The night before we were scheduled to take delivery, we received a call telling us that there had been a mistake, the range was not in stock. It was, in fact, back-ordered. It would be two more weeks before we got it. Then, a few days before that delivery, Hubband called to double-check. Oops, the company rep said two weeks? He meant four. Hubband demanded that we be provided with a loaner range in the meantime, which eventually we were. They ended up pulling something close to what we ordered out of their showroom. It was very disappointing, but I've found myself curiously at peace with it. I spent a lot of time cooking with my Mom, and I've gotten to challenge myself by figuring out ways to make meals with a wall oven, a microwave, and a single gas burner that's outside, attached to the grill. Now that we have the loaner stove, I'm playing with that a bit, and discovering that there is definitely going to be a learning curve. Before we get into that, though, how about a before and after photo?

Note the nice color, but plain style of cabinets, backsplash made of various shades of tan porcelain tile, and icky shades of beige countertop.

All new cabinetry (the old was recycled, given to a friend to redo their kitchen. Countertops were recycled as well.) including a large hearth/mantel style hidden hood. The backsplash is a continuation of the countertop, natural stone. We moved the refrigerator, placing it next to the existing full-size wine refrigerator and placing a microwave, wall oven, and hidden warming drawer where the fridge used to be. The range has increased in size from 30" to 36", from four burners to six. We installed an LP tank and gas line. In the 'Before' photo you can see the extent of the island; it ended at the pillar on the left. In the new kitchen, we've added more cabinetry there and extended that end to create an integrated eating area, as well as a very large workspace. I love that now when we entertain, guests will be able to sit at that eating area and talk to me while I cook, but not have to worry that they are in my way. I think we've added a lot of character to what was a very bland and standard kitchen. I love it.

The first thing that I made with the loaner stove had to be pasta, because I was finally capable of boiling a whole pot of water in a reasonable amount of time! Bacon, caramelized onions, butternut squash, with a splash of white wine, fresh thyme, some chicken stock, and a pinch of cayenne.