Monday, January 26, 2009

Bánh mi

I have to say, I LOVE sandwiches. I love the bread, the endless number of fillings, the crunch of fresh veggies, and the condiments and sauces! Bánh mi is a famous Vietnemese sandwich. I think it is technically 'street food' in Vietnam, and as I have read, it can be quite addictive! I have wanted to sink my teeth into one for quite some time now and last week I got my chance. I met my friend Roberta for lunch at the Soy House, a restaurant specializing in Vietnemese fare of course.

Bánh mi is typically made with a warmed soft roll that has a light, crispy crust. It is usually filled with a very flavorful mayonnaise and a spread of pate, seasoned grilled meat, pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cucumbers, cilantro, and jalapenos. The soft roll goes so well with the crunchy vegetables, and the pickling compliments the rich, savory meatiness of the sandwich. They come with a variety of meat options ranging from pork and beef to chicken and vegetarian. I had beef and it was fabulous. Really, really good!

So, if you are ever in Vietnam, it would be an utter sin if you passed up one these from the street vendors! And, if you happen to visit a Vietnamese restaurant that serves these you should definitely try one. I will be trying to make them at home in the near future and will tell you how that goes.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I'm learning a bit about entertaining. In the past, I've always felt like I had to put on the best dinner in the world. And of course that means making everything from scratch. Don't get me wrong, I love that. But, it's a ton of work, and sometimes you just don't feel like you have it in you. Typically, I would just suck it up and move forward, pounding out the gourmet, every bit homemade kind of stuff. Usually, I'm exhausted by the time dinner is served and definitely not in the mood to socialize and truly be the hostess with the mostess.

So, when confronted with this situation recently, I took the easy way out and it felt great. The best part, it was delicious! My family came up for the day a couple of weekends ago, and I hosted a little dinner for everyone. We had spaghetti with chicken sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions and carrots, and a simple and minimal cream sauce (a recipe I recently enjoyed at Mallory's) and then served it with fresh parsley and Parmesan. Salad, bread. Easy. So, usually dessert is my thing. I love thinking up what to make and can't wait to see everyone enjoying it. I had wanted to make a banana cream pie but due to time constraints and a lack of energy, I got on Google, a road that leads to oh-so-many of my wonderful recipe discoveries, and found a special recipe for banana pudding. I knew it would be a major crowd-pleaser from the second I saw that it came from Miss Paula Deen.

This is such a simple and fabulous recipe. I have to confess that I loved instant Jello Pudding as a kid and I have no problem whipping it out from time to time. Of course I know how to make puddings from scratch and generally find them to be much better, but every now and then there is nothing like whisking for two minutes and voila. I always read through several recipes before making my choice, I look for unusual ingredients or techniques that might make a dish new or a little more exciting than what people might expect or have tried. There were two things in this recipe that instantly caught my attention, the use of cream cheese and the Chessman Cookies.

This pudding really 'Ain't Yo Momma's Banana Puddin'. It's really, really good. Too good. My husband and I ate way, way too much of it. After serving seven, there was still half of a casserole dish left over... I couldn't bring myself to buy *Cool Whip so I whipped up quite stiffly and unsweetened, the better part of two pints of cream. I would only use 1 and a half pints next time. I would also make this in advance, if you let it set up overnight it is much easier to cut and will really hold its shape. This recipe is super easy and will definitely make everyone around your table happy. I adore the way it looks. The Pepperidge Farm cookies really dress it up. The picture below is from Food Network.

Not Yo' Momma's Banana Pudding
adapted from Paula Deen

serves 12-14

2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
6- 8 bananas, sliced, tossed in lemon juice
2 C milk
1 (5-ounce) box instant vanilla pudding
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) container *frozen whipped topping thawed, or equal amount *sweetened whipped cream (this is where I used real cream, whipped, and unsweetened, you really don't want the added sugar, the recipe doesn't need it...)

Line the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch dish with 1 bag of cookies and layer bananas on top.
In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cornflaked-Chocolate Chip Cookies

I haven't introduced you to Artisan Sweets yet. Artisan Sweets is a blog from a most-talented pastry chef, Ashley Rodriguez, who lives here in town. I've had the pleasure of meeting her here and there. Ashley trained under chef and author Sherry Yard (Desserts by the Yard) and worked for Wolfgang Puck. She's wildly talented and you should definitely check out her blog if you want to get inspired and craft some sweets of your own! I've been following the blog for about two years now.

Anyway, she recently posted about some very interesting chocolate chip cookies. The recipe comes from her Aunt Abe and is one of those treasured vintage, passed-down-through-the generations kind of recipes. You know, the kind that contain funky ingredients and styles we don't see around quite as much today. Recipes that come from old church cookbooks or family albums, often hand-written in that special kind of cursive, you know what I mean about the cursive right? I hope when I reach a certain age I will be able to write like that. I love to see what was popular and trendy several decades ago. I love that women have been in the kitchen since the dawn of time and have been as passionate about it then as we are now. I would kill to get my hands on some of Eve's recipes.

I was intrigued by this recipe because there are some unique things about it. Every now and then you see a cookie recipe calling for oil, not often though. And cornflakes, in chocolate chips cookies? Forget about it, right! If you go over to her site, you can see her photos of the cookies which are really quite lovely and sealed the deal for me. I captured a couple shots but they don't show them off quite so well! If you look closely, you can get a small peek at the latest addition to my bursting-at-the-seams amount of kitchen items, my new toaster oven. I'm in love. Okay, back to the cookies, when I saw them on Artisan Sweets, how they ripple and wrinkle around the edges, I couldn't help but think of those dogs with all of the velvety wrinkles and dense rolls, bulldogs?! Anyway, these are really tasty and I love the body and texture that the oats and cornflakes add. 1 tablespoon of Milk, don't you just love that? Enjoy!

Crunchy Chocolate Cookies
adapted from Artisan Sweets

Bake at 350* for 12 min. Don't over bake!

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Salt
1 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup corn flakes
1 cup quick oats
1 (12 oz) pkg. chocolate chips (I used half bitter/half milk chocolate)
fleur de sel or course kosher salt for sprinkling

Sift the flour, salt and soda onto wax paper. Beat butter and sugars until well creamed, I did this for about ten minutes in my mixer! Combine egg, vanilla, and oil in a small bowl. Alternately, add the oil mixture and the flour mixture to the creamed sugars. Mix until just combined. Stir in the corn flakes, oats and chocolate. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto cookie sheets, 2 inches apart. If desired, sprinkle lightly with course salt. Bake until golden.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Oh lands, I have to get this off my chest. I must confess that I am ALREADY strongly yearning for spring and especially summer. I know, I know. We've really just begin with Winter. It's not that I hate winter. It's just that once Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a good snowfall have come and gone, I'm really ready for it to just merrily move on it's way. I'm ecstatic that Valentine's Day is coming up, but let's be real here, Valentine's is in no way enhanced by cold, dreary weather. We have plenty of opportunities to curl up with our love in the months that precede, so that doesn't count. To put a big coat and scarf over your V-day outfit does not add charm or flare to the event. So, all in all, I just can't wait for spring and summer to get it's butt over here.

When I think of spring one of the first things I think of is green and freshness. Bright, crisp air - full of sun, all yellow and white, ready to do it's magic to sad and hungry little plants and grasses. I also think of Easter and picnics. And I think of brunches, showers, and tea parties! Honestly, what is more springy and joyous than a brunch, shower, or tea party? So, to perk us all up just a bit, I'm going to post some pictures of what's to come. These are from last year. I can't wait to see what kinds of soirees these next wonderful seasons will bring. But for now, let these soothe those winter blues.

Questioning Myself

So, I'm willing to admit that this is kind of lame, but I found a fun questionnaire to answer. I secretly love being asked these kinds of things! Due to a lack of notable action in the kitchen lately, here's a little filler... This is a questionnaire from Cookthink.

Sweet or salty?
That's just unfair. I guess ultimately, I'm a total dessert fan so I'll have to go with sweet. Sorry savory, I love you too.

Which ingredient(s) do you use most?
Hmmm... lots of things. That's also tough. Aside from lots of protein and veggies, red pepper flakes. Onions. My husband says sugar... Dairy. I cook a wide variety of things, so I really use quite a variety of ingredients!

What’s the cooking sound you most love?
That sound when you first throw something to saute into a hot, oiled pan. Kuhchhhsssss. There's nothing like it. I love and notice it every time. And, if it counts, I just adore the whistling sound my teapot makes. It's so very homey.

What’s your favorite cooking smell?
onions caramelizing

What are the qualities you most admire in a dish?
comforting, utterly delicious, makes you want to make it again soon, gourmet twists, pretty, classic

What is your most treasured possession in the kitchen?
My charming butter-yellow Kitchen Aid mixer

What is a dirty word in your kitchen?
High-fructose corn syrup. Cilantro.

What are you afraid to do in the kitchen?
Smoke things. I bought this really cool stove-top smoker and I just haven't mustered up the desire/courage to try it out.

What won’t you eat?
Cilantro. Raw onions- I love them! But they make my stomach respond very poorly. IHOP.

Have you ever lost your appetite for a food you once loved?
Let's see. Taco Bell. I used to love it quite a long time ago. Whenever I have had it recently, I just think it's terrible. I don't know if it's possible but the quality seems to have gone even further downward? The Bean Burritos have about three teaspoons of beans in them, right? I never loved oysters, but I didn't hate them either. But during the summer, I went to see Sex and the City movie and arranged quite a little lovely time for myself. Before the movie, I went to Happy Hour at Nimbus and had the most disgusting thing ever to enter my mouth. I spit it out before I could even process it, and I was actually so overtaken with repulsion that I couldn't help make quite audible sounds like, 'aggh. uuggh. eeewww. eghh.' I've never eaten large portions of poop, but I can now say that I have. I bit into the soft and velvety flesh of a raw oyster shooter to immediately experience about two tablespoons of waste dramatically squirting out into every nook and cranny of my mouth. It was hands down the worst thing I've ever tasted and will ever likely ever taste. I'm a bit scarred now! I've been waiting to publicly get that rant off my chest!

Have you ever had a change of heart involving a food you once disliked?
Totally! Bleu Cheese. I grew up in a house that didn't eat the stuff. I had a few rounds of it, not literally, out in NYC while in culinary school and really couldn't stand it. I even had sampled some at the James Beard House and it was said to be this AMAZING stuff and of course I didn't have a palette yet for it and wasn't able to enjoy it. Looking back, I'm sure it was out of this world. Stilton is one of my favorite cheeses.

If you could choose one historical or living cook to make you a meal right now, who and what would it be?
I'm tempted to say someone like Thomas Keller or Eric Ripert because I know it would be the best meal of my life. But, I must stay true to my heart and say Ina Garten. For many reasons which I won't get into, it'd have to be her. She's a major inspiration for me and pretty much lines right up with my culinary personality and approach. I'd love to own a store similar to the one she had and spending any amount of time around her would be a total delight. She could make me just about anything. I'd love to try her Lobster Chowder, signature Roast Chicken, and the chocolate cake she made for an old business partner last season.

Who are your favorite cookbook authors/food writers?
There are so many! I love James Beard, Molly Wizenburg, Tessa Kiros, Rebecca Rather, Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson, anything by Gourmet Magazine, Lora Zarubin, and I love Martha Stewart's food styling.

What is your favorite food-related word?

What is your favorite food-related scene from literature or the movies?
I loved the movie Mostly Martha. I highly recommend everyone watch it. I loved the scene where the main male character makes dinner for Martha and her niece. I love the kitchen and also love how they eat dinner so casually with their hands and on the living room floor.

What’s your favorite food-shopping errand or journey?
I love getting on my husband's shiny, red scooter in the glorious summer weather and zipping down to the farmer's market or food co-op to pick up a little bag of treasures. It makes me feel like a citizen of a quaint little Italian village!

To which country would you move for the food?
Italy or France.

What’s your poison?
Unfortunately, a number of things having to do with flour, butter, and sugar.

What’s your standard outfit in the kitchen?
Whatever I happen to be wearing when the need or desire to cook/bake strikes.

You wish to die with what in your stomach?
A perfect medium-rare steak well-charred, salty, and peppery. With silky, rich potato puree and again, perfect Asparagus or green beans on the side. And then a heavenly piece of Coconut Layer Cake!

If heaven exists, what do you hope they have on the menu?
Meat, cheese, seafood, real lemonade, and cake. It's a given that there will be loads of 'heavenly' organic produce but those others might be questionable.

If you came back as a fruit or a vegetable, which one would it be?
Honeydew, a perfect crisp, flavourful, and sweet one. Those are hard to come by.

What are you craving right now?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Culinary Adventure

I had the pleasure of enjoying another lovely dinner party last night. It's always such a culinary adventure when you sit down to a collaborated table of fellow 'foodie' folks. Thankfully, most of last nights dinner was a wild success. I have chosen to spare you from two very horrific dishes that basically sent a couple people packing! I know that just sounds terrible, but, desperate situations do call for desperate measures. We are in the process of recreating our little gourmet group to mostly ensure that the new and current members are all on the same page...

The theme of last night's dinner was quite creative. A few weeks ago, we decided to try something that Top Chef did one season. Into little bowls, we put pieces of paper with words having to do with courses, ingredients, colors, and emotions or traits. Then we all proceeded to draw four times and ended up with a drawing board for the dishes we had to come up with. For example, I drew: appetizer, yellow, domineering, and peppers. For my second dish, I drew: amuse bouche, maroon, amorous, and citrus. Sounds like fun, right? It was a bit challenging to hammer out all the details, but in the end I was mostly pleased with what I came up with.

Now for the dishes...

This is my appetizer. I decided to do a Seasoned Crostini with Broiled Fresh Mozzarella, Roasted Yellow Peppers, Balsamic Reduction, and Fleur De Sel.

For the amuse bouche, I did a Petite Beet Napoleon. In between the slices of roasted beet, I piped a whipped goat cheese filling. The sauces around the outside are beet oil, balsamic vinegar, and a orange reduction. I found some micro-greens that resembled little hearts so that covered amorous.

The wonderful founder of our group, Mallory, fell in love with this little split and woody root top. It is pretty darn cute.

Here is a darling little bowl of Cajun Rock Shrimp Pasta contributed by Mallory. It was ferociously spicy and I loved it. The sauce was very silky and coated each spaghetti almost like a carbonara. Oh, here's something that might surprise you: the sauce had some unusual ingredients, one being honey. Interesting, right? It added a lovely complexity.

Onto the main course, Ashley, our lovely host, made a Roasted Salmon Fillet with a Blueberry-Balsamic Sauce. I loved the concept of this dish. I recently made salmon with a blackberry-brandy sauce so it was fun to revisit the idea and compare. The tiny blueberries were so precious and dainty, I first wondered if they were huckleberries. Very tasty and gorgeous, right?

To accompany Ashley's salmon, she made a most-heavenly Twice-Baked Potato with Caramelized Shallots and Havarti. It was oozing with cheese and cooked to perfection. Don't you just want to dive into the screen and taste it? It was a white potato with pillowy insides and the skin was oiled and tanned... it was wonderful!

Alright, this little baby doesn't really even need words. Are you not crippled with awe as you look at this dessert? I was! It is colorful, dreamy, and BEAUTIFUL. Mallory drew dessert and am I ever glad she did, if you look through her blog you will see why. I just adore the presentation of this dish with the textures of pistachios, rose petal, and gold dust. The contrast of colors between the peachy salmon petal and magenta sauce is just visually stunning. It was almost too pretty to eat. After this long introduction, I will tell you what it actually was. It was a Pistachio-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Hand-picked Raspberry Sauce. I'm inspired, are you?

Perfect Grilled Cheese

Where the perfect grilled cheese sandwich is, the successful party is also.
-"The Grilled Cheese Sandwich: An Elusive Essential to Social Success" by Christine Scanlon

Well, it seems that I become inspired to spend time with my blog very, very late at night! The trouble is that I've really become a 'morning person'. I rarely sleep past eight these days. So, the fact that I've been becoming more nocturnal yet still waking up early like a rooster is a bit troubling! Anyway, I've just come from a most entertaining dinner party and am feeling quite stimulated, so here I am. On my way in, I discovered a new issue of Saveur sitting in my mailbox. Isn't getting fresh new magazines the best? Thumbing threw it, I pleasantly stumbled across a recipe for the Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Sign me up! I haven't tried this method per se, but having made a grilled cheese or two, I can tell that this must be the way to go. You can substitute Comté with Gruyere, Fontina, or Emmentaler cheeses. This time of year, hardly anything sounds better for supper than a grilled cheese sandwich and a piping hot bowl of tomato soup. Oh yes, the quote above also came from the magazine along with the recipe, word for word. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Saveur Magazine
serves 2

The secret to making a perfect grilled cheese sandwich is cooking it over low heat, which brings out the subtle flavors of a cheese, and slathering the bread with butter, which crisps it in the pan. Comté, with its semi firm texture and nutty taste, is great for grilling.

4 Tb. Unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2"- thick slices sourdough bread
1 8-oz. piece Comte cheese, grated

1. Spread butter evenly over on both sides of each slice of bread. Put half the cheese on one slice and half on the other. Top each remaining bread slices. Heat a 12'' cast-iron skillet over medium low heat.

2. Add sandwiches to skillet and cook, flipping once with a metal spatula until golden brown and crusty on both sides, 18-20 minutes. Transfer sandwiches to a cutting board and slice in half. Serve warm.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Gourmet Gifts

For Christmas gifts this year, I decided to go economical and gourmet. It's no surprise that my first inspiration came from Miss Molly of Orangette. She recently wrote about an absolutely gorgeous Peppermint Bark that was featured in old issue of Bon Appetit. From the minute my eyes laid sight on her photos I knew I would be making it soon. So, my list included peppermint bark, salted caramels, my favorite granola, and of course, my famous sugar cookies.

Let's begin with the salted caramels. I've wanted to make these for a LONG time. I used a recipe from Gourmet. Gourmet's site, Epicurious, is probably my biggest go-to site for recipe searching. If you haven't acquainted yourself with it I recommend that you do. It's an amazing resource with most of the recipes Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines have ever issued.

About these caramels, they are really quite basic as I'm sure most of you are aware. During the course of my first batch, I quickly realized that my candy thermometer is not accurate and ended up with a rather crispy block of caramel. I just 'eyed' the next two batches until they seemed ready to come off the heat. These are really, really tasty. I was snowed in and didn't have access to the local spice shoppe that sells Fleur de Sel so I just used course Kosher salt.

Now about this Peppermint Bark, it's really quite lovely don't you think? You should go check out Molly's post about it also. I fell in love with it from the moment I saw it, as I said. It's pretty, you know it's going to be delicious, and it's just fancy enough to be a great holiday gift. Like with the caramels, I've wanted to make bark for some time as well. I can't really say much more about this recipe except for that it's just really, really pretty and really, really scrumptious. It's elegant and colorful and everyone I made it for raved about it.

If you ever make this bark, here are my suggestions. When buying chocolate get the best you can find, I just used Trader Joe's Bitter Dark bar for the ganache though. As for the white, you really don't want to use the regular white chips you find at the super market. I'm lucky to have a co-op here that sells big plastic-wrapped chunks of Guittard chocolate, so that's what I used for the white chocolate portion. Also, when finishing the bark and applying the last layer of white chocolate there are two things you should be sure to do. One, make sure the ganache is really, really cold and hardened. Also, wait about fifteen minutes possibly to spread the white chocolate. It will still be warm enough to spread but not so warm as to melt some of the ganache. And second, after you spread the white chocolate be sure to sprinkle the candies on really quickly because the white will harden pretty quickly over the freezing cold ganache. That happened to me and I had to melt more white chocolate so my candies would actually stick. Other than that, it's really quite simple. Melt, spread, cool, melt, spread, cool, and one more time. You get the idea. Here's the recipe over at Orangette's... Three-Layer Peppermint Bark.

Okay, did you skip right over all of that writing up there to catch another peek at my snowflake cookie? If so, I completely understand. The holiday just wouldn't have been complete without a batch or two of my sugar cookies. There are so many things that make me love these so. For one, my mom used to make these when I was little and bring them to my school for birthdays. They had lots and lots of buttercream piped on with star tips and for some reason they just stuck vividly in my memory. I love them because they are so pretty and fun to decorate. It's quite cathartic! And most importantly, they are sinfully delicious. I have found a really wonderful recipe that for some reason I just don't want to share. I haven't told you yet, but I dream of opening a gourmet shoppe and these cookies would be a staple. Sugar cookies aren't rocket science and I know you probably have a wonderful recipe already and could care less about mine! You just want a cookie batter that is easy to work with, buttery and tender, and with the perfect balance of softness and crispiness. I'm sure I will be making them on Valentine's Day, we can talk more about them then.