Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Simple Pleasures

I'm not sure if I should call these simple or guilty pleasures. Maybe they are a bit of both. Anyway, I've just had the most delightful of mornings. I got up early, crept quietly out of the bedroom leaving my precious husband sleeping soundly in our bed, closed the door ever-so-gently, and entered my quiet, morning-lit apartment. I knew right away that it felt like a morning for good things!

I have a bit of an illness when it comes to all of my cooking magazines. They arrive in the mail to my utter delight and then I won't open them up until the moment seems just right. This typically involves making sure the house looks nice and is all tidied up, I have to be in good spirits of course, I can't feel yucky from working, I must be showered and presentable, and I have be alone. Basically, the moment has to be enchanting by my standards. I usually indulge in my magazines on a day off or when I need to make the day feel special. Well, this Saturday morning all of those things lined up to create one perfect magazine-viewing extravaganza. To enhance the experience, I let some cheeses come to room temperature and enjoyed them for breakfast while reading along. It was about as good as it gets for me. Last night, I got cheap Chinese and watched Vicky Christina Barcelona. It's been a good couple of days!

One of my all-time favorite things and a true sign of spring, is when you are sitting in a room that is a bit shady or glum, and all of a sudden the sun comes out from behind a cloud and bright rays of light beam aggressively through the windows and curtains and the whole room or parts of it light up joyously? Well, that occurred while I was reading Molly Wizenburg's article in Bon Appétit on rice pudding. The light illuminated the rice pudding and it was as if heaven's gates opened and angels began singing. This of course confirmed the making of the rice pudding.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ooh La Lillet

Now, for the Lillet post I promised. As I said earlier, I was introduced to Lillet this last weekend, which rhymes with fillet if you're not up on your french accent. This bottle is so inviting filled with it's golden, syrupy looking liquid. It smells of honey and flowers and is rather lovely. If you want the real scoop on this French Apéritif Wine, then I highly suggest you check out the official site. It is full of french cheese if you catch my drift... It's quite comical and I got a huge kick out of the site design.

So, a new friend left the remainder of a bottle in my fridge after dinner this last weekend. I took it upon myself to enjoy an episode of Top Chef on the DVR while having a little jarful of Lillet. I served it chilled and in a squatty mason jar with ice, lime, and grapefruit segments. Oh, I just love this stuff! I have to quote some of the lines off the back of the bottle...

Since 1887, Lillet has been made in the village of Podensac, just 20 miles south of the city of Bordeaux. Each bottle contains only the finest, carefully selected wines, which are blended with herbs and fruits, from a secret award winning recipe that has been passed down through generations.

Lillet should be served chilled or on the rocks with an orange peel or slice of lime. It is best presented in a traditional Bordeaux wine glass, to enhance its subtle delicate bouquet.

(here comes my favorite line...)

It can be enjoyed anywhere, on any occasion; however, it is perfect for those special times when day turns to evening and evening turns to night!

Discover the versatility of Lillet as a cocktail base or as a spritzer par excellence with club soda & lime.

Isn't that just dramatic and fantastic?! I think so. I am enjoying this in the winter, and I know for sure that it will be perfect in the lazy afternoons and evenings of summer. I love its easy look in a mason jar as well. What a lovely discovery and another way for me to get closer to the french! I almost feel like a blonde all tangled up in grapevines when I drink it...

Bon Appétit

As you might have read in the last post, the theme for our gourmet group's most recent dinner was French Love. How appropriate, right? To tell you the truth, I couldn't have been more thrilled! You will notice a theme with these three most recent posts, France. I am pretty much just obsessed with France, Paris, and everything in between. No, I haven't been, and it hurts! Someday...

I feel the need to update you about the Gourmet Group. About a month and a half ago, I shared that we had devised a way to out the the last two poor lil misfits. Well of course, it worked. But then we were back to the drawing board looking for more members. After a very direct and blunt Craigslist ad about what we are and aren't looking for, we've gotten some more potential members. We snagged two already and will get together with a few more potential members soon. One of the 'newbies' is the precious Ashley (pastry chef) from over at Artisan Sweets and she is an absolutely divine addition to the group. She is about to unveil a new site and I will be sure to update you of the change when she does. The other addition is Catie who is a sweetheart and fellow cooking enthusiast. I will fill you in on the others when I know more.

Alright, so I hosted this last dinner which took place on Friday night. I had such a fun time decorating the table and trying to make my apartment feel very Valentines-y. I actually love the way all of these photos look. I think they give a true sense of the evening, even if they were taken in low light and that isn't always so desirable. I owe a big thank you to the lovely Mallory for so graciously allowing me to use her pictures for this post. Thanks, lady! I really appreciate it because as I was scurrying around getting things together I didn't have much time to take pictures! Okay, enough of an introduction, let's just get into it already!

I made each of the girls a giant heart sugar cookie. They are sickly sweet and I hope the girls paced themselves! I do love them though!

Here is my cocktail offering which I have named, La Vie en Rose. It was just a simple mix of Prosecco and Rosewater. Though I must say that I was a bit disappointed to find that the rosewater I purchased really didn't taste too rosy after all. I've got to find some rosewater that is much more potent. Still, a fitting little drink to start the night off.

If you guessed that this next little cutie of a bite is croque monsieur, then you would be right! Mallory contributed hors d'oeuvres for the night and brought along this utterly scrumptious appetizer. The bread, she made her own brioche. When she arrived at my place, she was a bit disgusted because apparently earlier in the day her Pug managed to get up on the table and eat the loaf she had perfected and had ready for the dinner! So she had to quickly make a second batch. All the resting... and rising... I'm glad she did it because it was worth it!

I'm guessing it's been awhile since you've seen a composed salad as lovely as this. Ashley R. had first course and brought this beautiful salad with butter lettuces, watercress, shaved fennel, walnuts, dill, and a heavenly bleu cheese from the local fromagerie. The salad was so light and complex with the simple arrangement of quality ingredients. I loved the presentation!

Here's the entree course and the Beef Bourguignon I wrote about earlier today. It is nestled by a mound of my Joël Robuchon potato puree and a spinach and pepper gratin that Catie brought. I think it looks like a pretty elegant plate, if I do say so myself!

Ooh, la, la for Lillet. Ashley R. introduced us to something after the dinner that I will be eternally grateful to her for. I loved it so much that I am going to write about it in a post all to itself after this. It's an enriched wine aperitif from France of course, loaded with sweet flavors and to be served chilled. She served it to us on the rocks with slices of supremed Blood Oranges. A delight indeed.

Ashley S., who's been a member from the start brought dessert and sticking to the french theme made a wonderful creme brulee for us all. A truly lovely way to end the night. Creamy, rich, and with a perfect crispy, brown glass layer to knock through with your spoon. Well done!

This really was an enchanting, french soiree shared with the gourmet gals! I know I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I hope the other mademoiselles did too!

Classic Beef Bourguignon

This was a long process, so this is going to be a long post. Consider yourself warned! From the moment I discovered our gourmet group's last dinner theme was to be french, I knew instantly that I wanted to make Beef Bourguignon. It was my turn to host again and I knew that this dish could be prepared days ahead, I also knew that if I made it it would be one more thing to cross of my mile-long 'Want to Cook or Bake' list. Though I'd never made it before, I was pretty familiar with the dish and what it involved. I've seen Barefoot Contessa make it as well as a couple others. Of course when it came time to find the recipe, any old recipe wouldn't do. I googled and googled until I stumbled across the most authentic, technical, and possibly difficult Beef Bourguignon recipe out there. I was immediately intrigued because the recipe was oh-so-french and some of the steps stood out and promised the best braise ever. You can read the entire article and lead-in to the recipe here.

Some of these steps are a bit unusual from the more simple recipes we see today, these included things like reducing the red wine before turning it into a marinade in order to eliminate the harsh acidity from the wine. When covering the aromatics, beef, and vegetables to marinate with plastic wrap, punch holes in the top to make sure the sulfur which the onions will release has a place to escape. No tomato paste. This will make the sauce have unwanted acidity. When braising, it's very important to cover the stew with parchment paper and then an inverted aluminum foil lid which goes under the dish lid, this ensures that steam condensation won't drip down into the braise diluting the rich sauce. You see where I am going here? These are not typical in an 'easy' beef bourguignon recipe. But, they seemed simple enough and there was no way I was not going to use this recipe.

Another thing that was a bit daunting about this dish is some of the ingredients. For starters, it calls for 6 POUNDS of beef chuck. Yikes. Pricey. Another thing, it also calls for two ham hocks, I've never worked with these or even knew our local grocer carried them! I've seen them in many recipes but just figured it was something you could only track down in the south. Boy, was I wrong. Then there are the two entire bottles of good red wine. I was in too far by this point. Nothing was going to stop me. All in all, I'm happy to have made this pricey, labor-intensive dish. I don't think I have ever made such a complicated or technical dish. Lots of cutting, sauteing, straining, browning, reducing, deglazing. It was like taking a fancy french cooking class. Now, to accompany this glorious dish, you didn't think I was just going to make a plain old side, did you? No way, Jose.

Potato puree. I also knew that right from the get-go. And, I knew that I was going to try and make the best damn mashed potatoes of my life. This was for the gourmet group, remember? One thing I love about these dinners is how they motivate and inspire one to make or buy things they have always wanted. Ashley S. added to her creme brulee collection, Mallory made homemade brioche and finally used her authentic french caramelizing mechanism. And me, I finally bought a potato ricer. I remember back in cooking school how the chefs always stated that ricers make for the smoothest mashed potatoes. Well, now I've got one and I love it. I've read about Joël Robuchon's legendary potato puree before and now was the time to make it. I will attach the recipe at the bottom of the post. The last thing I will say about these potatoes is that I never ever thought I would willingly force mashed potatoes through a fine-mesh sieve but I did. And they were fabulous. Will I do it again? As Sarah Palin would say, 'you betcha.'

adapted from Madeline Kamman

For marinating the beef:
2 bottles full-bodied red wine
2 shallots, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. roughly chopped parsley stems
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
6 lb. beef blade roast or beef chuck, trimmed of all external fat and cut in 1-1/2-inch cubes
3 Tbs. olive oil

For the braise:
2 ham hocks, fresh or smoked
Coarse salt
3 Tbs. olive oil; more as needed
Stems from 1-1/2 lb. button mushrooms, caps reserved for the garnish
6 to 8 cups veal or turkey leg stock or beef stock)
1 bouquet garni of 10 parsley stems, 1 sprig thyme (or 1/4 tsp. thyme leaves), and 1 bay leaf
2 large cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Prepared parchment and foil lid (See "Master Class: Beef Bourguignon")

For the garnishes:
12 oz. lean, meaty slab bacon, top layer of fat removed and fatty ends trimmed
6 Tbs. unsalted butter
36 small white onions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs. stock or water
Reserved button mushroom caps (or larger mushrooms, quartered)

For thickening the sauce:
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 Tbs. all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For serving:
5 slices (1/3 inch thick) country French boule, cut in half, a crustless triangle cut from each half
About 1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; plus more whole leaves for garnish

To make the marinade:
Empty the wine into a large nonreactive saucepan, add the shallots, and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until reduced to 1 qt., about 20 min. Cool completely.
In a bowl, toss together the onions, carrot, thyme, bay leaf, and parsley stems. Spread half of this mixture on the bottom of a nonreactive baking dish.
Mix the allspice, nutmeg, and cloves in a small dish. Sprinkle the cubes of beef with the spices and then toss with the olive oil. Arrange the meat on top of the aromatics in the baking dish and then cover with the remaining aromatics. Pour the cooled reduced wine over everything, using your fingers to make room between the meat for the wine to enter (don’t toss yet). The wine should just cover the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and punch a few holes in the plastic (so sulfur gas from the onions can escape). Refrigerate and marinate for 3 hours. Toss the contents, cover again with the plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

To prepare the braise:
The next morning, cover the ham hocks with cold water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil with a dash of salt and simmer until softened, about 45 min. Meanwhile, drain the marinated meat and aromatics in a colander set over a bowl (reserve the marinade). Remove the beef cubes, dry them thoroughly (I roll them in an old, clean dishtowel, but paper towels are fine), and set aside. Pat dry the aromatic vegetables. When the hocks are soft, drain them and cut or pull off the rinds. Scrape the rinds of all extra fat. Cut the rinds into 1-inch squares; set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high. Salt the pieces of beef lightly and sear them in batches until browned on all sides, 3 to 5 min., adjusting the heat so the meat doesn’t burn. Transfer to a plate.
In the oil left in the skillet, add the drained aromatic vegetables and the mushroom stems. Sauté on medium high, stirring often, until the vegetables cook down and soften, about 10 min. Remove from the heat and transfer the vegetables to a plate. Sop up excess oil in the pan with a wad of paper towels. Add a cup of stock to the skillet and scrape up the caramelized juices. Pour the deglazed juices into the braising pot.
Heat the oven to 325°F. Add the reduced wine marinade to the deglazed skillet (or a saucepan, if the skillet is too small) and bring to a boil, letting the liquid reduce by one-third. Strain the marinade through a fine mesh strainer directly into the braising pot.
Add the reserved pieces of rind to the braising pot, along with the browned meat and vegetables, bouquet garni, garlic, bouillon cubes, and pepper. Pour in enough stock to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Lay the parchment and the foil lid inside, following the photos on p. 28. Cover with the pot lid and bake until the meat is extremely tender and a metal skewer penetrates a piece of meat and comes out without resistance (a meat thermometer should read at least 165°F), 2 to 2-3/4 hours.

To prepare the garnishes:
While the beef is in the oven, cut the bacon into strips 1/3 inch thick, and then cut across the strips to create 1/3-inch thick slices, called lardons. (If you put the bacon in the freezer for 15 to 20 min., it will be easier to cut.) Cover the lardons with cold water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 2 to 3 min. to remove the smoky flavor and some saltiness. Drain well and pat dry. Heat 2 Tbs. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and brown the lardons on all sides until they’re golden but not crisp or brittle, 12 to 15 min. Transfer the lardons to a paper-towel-lined plate. Discard the fat in the pan but leave the caramelized juices.
While the lardons are browning, bring about 1 qt. of water to a boil. Add the onions, simmer for 1 min., and turn off the heat. Remove a few onions. When they’re cool enough to handle, cut off the root end, slip off the skin, and cut a 1/8-inch-deep cross in the root end to prevent the onions from falling apart during cooking. Repeat with the remaining onions.

Add another 2 Tbs. butter to the pan with the caramelized bacon juices and sauté the onions on medium heat until they’re golden brown, about 10 min. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add 2 Tbs. stock or water to the pan, and roll the onions in the forming glaze. Transfer them to the plate with the lardons.

Without cleaning the pan, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter and sauté the reserved mushroom caps (or quarters) on medium-high heat until they begin to brown, about 2 min. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium low, and cook until the mushrooms have given off all their liquid, about 5 min. Turn the heat to medium high, uncover the pan, and cook until the liquid concentrates again and the mushrooms turn shiny, about 5 min. Transfer them to the plate with the onions and lardons.
Set aside the skillet, but don’t clean it (if there are black or burned bits in the pan, remove them).

To thicken the sauce and finish the braise:
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pieces of meat from the braising pot to a bowl. Strain the sauce that remains through a fine strainer into a bowl, pressing on the solids. Let stand until the fat has completely surfaced. Remove the fat using a gravy separator, a basting tube, or a spoon. Wipe the braising pot dry.
Set the reserved garnish-cooking skillet over medium heat. Deglaze the pan by pouring in some of the defatted sauce and scraping up the caramelized juices. Add this deglazing liquid to the defatted sauce.
Return the sauce to the braising pot, passing it through a fine strainer, and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, knead together the butter and flour to a paste, called a beurre manié. Using a whisk, rapidly blend small amounts of the beurre manié into the simmering sauce until it is the consistency you like. You may not need all the beurre manié. Simmer the sauce for about 5 min. to cook off the raw flour taste.
Return the meat and garnishes to the pot with the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Shake the pan back and forth on medium low to blend the elements. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 to 20 min., leaving the lid askew so steam can evaporate (trapping the steam would dilute the sauce). Correct the final seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, or, if you’re serving wine, fine-tune the sauce as instructed in the wine sidebar below.

To serve the braise:
Heat the oven to 275°F. Set the bread triangles on a baking sheet and top them with a cake rack to prevent buckling. Bake until dry, turning once, about 8 min.
As close as possible to serving time, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan until it starts shimmering. Fry the bread, a few pieces at a time, until golden, turning once. Drain on a thick layer of paper towels.
Transfer the finished braise (well reheated, if necessary) into a deep country dish or platter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and arrange the croutons alternated with parsley leaves all around the dish.

Joël Rubouchon's Potato Puree
Serves 6 - 8

Ever homey, ever elegant, ever irresistible, this is the dish that helped make chef Robuchon’s reputation. Clever man that he is, he realized early on that if you give people potatoes, potatoes, and more potatoes, they’ll be eternally grateful, forever fulfilled.” From “Simply French, Patricia Wells presents the cuisine of Joël Robuchon 1991, William Morrow and Company, Inc.

2 pounds baking potatoes, such as Idaho Russets
3/4 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 cup, unsalted butter, chilled, cut into pieces
Sea salt to taste

Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel them. Place the potatoes in a large pot, add salted water, 1 tablespoon salt per quart of water, to cover by at least 1 inch. Simmer, uncovered, over moderate heat until a knife inserted into a potato comes away easily, 20 to 30 minutes.Drain the potatoes as soon as they are cooked. If they are allowed to cool in the water, the potatoes will end up tasting reheated.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring the milk just to a boil over high heat. Set aside.
As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them. Pass the potatoes through the finest grid of a food mill into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan set over low heat. With a wooden spatula, stir the potatoes vigorously to dry them, 4 to 5 minutes. Now begin adding about 12 tablespoons of the butter, little by little, stirring vigorously until each batch of butter is thoroughly incorporated; the mixture should be fluffy and light. Then slowly add about three fourths of the hot milk in a thin stream, stirring vigorously until the milk is thoroughly incorporated.
Pass the mixture through a flat fine mesh, drum, sieve, into another heavy bottomed saucepan. Stir vigorously, and if the puree seems a bit heavy and stiff, add additional butter and milk, stirring all the while. Note: few of us have a real French flat bottomed screen for scraping potato puree. Simply use any mesh sieve you have in the kitchen and press down on the potato puree as you push it through the sieve. This second step of pureeing is the true secret behind Chef Robuchon’s recipe.
Taste for seasoning. The puree may be made up to 1 hour in advance. Place in the top of a double boiler, uncovered, over simmering water. Stir occasionally to keep smooth.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Sappy Saturday

I really do think the trend of using the word 'heart' is getting a bit old, but I do have to say, I heart heart day. I do. I absolutely LOVE VALENTINE'S DAY. Dare I say, I even love it more than Christmas and Thanksgiving. There is no holiday sweeter. Even before I met the love of my life and spent so many V-Days alone, there was always the fantasy of love on Valentine's. I didn't become a cynic. I always hearted heart day. Well, now there is nothing lovelier than spending the romantic, cheerful day with the hubby. And so that's what I did. And, don't we just love that it was on a Saturday this year? My favorite day of the week and my favorite holiday all in one, such a lucky girl...

I was so busy scurrying around the house and buying last minute goodies that my picture-taking kind of got squeezed in here and there. Hence some not so great photos. Anyway, Ethan had kind of requested Eggs Benedict for V-day Brunch. And, I kind of decided not to make them. Is that a terrible wife of me? It wasn't like he requested it and then I just dropped the ball only to leave him very dissapointed! We discussed it a bit and decided that maybe it was better to go for simple this time. I promised him I would deliver next year. Pastries and eggs. Perfect. At Avenue Bread, I scored some fresh pastries- berry danish, puff-pastry cinnamon roll, and chocolate croissant. While I made the best scrambled eggs in town, I popped the pastries in a warm oven and that was it. I've been making awesome scrambled eggs people, I finally got it down to a science. I've always been too impatient to really take the time to cook them gently, but now I know its so worth it. I whisk them almost violently, heat some butter in a non-stick over low, butter mildly bubbles , take pan off heat, pour in eggs, and stir almost constantly over low heat, add two to three big pinches of salt, eggs finally gather into a pile, and voila. This method ensures rich, creamy, and flavorful eggs. Wet but just cooked throughout. I have to pace myself, I could eat them every morning. So, that was our delightfully easy brunch. Later that night, we went out to our favorite streakhouse here in town (hold on to your seats lobster lovers) and I learned that I don't like lobster. I know! Pretty crazy, right? But, I didn't. I don't know if it wasn't lobster from Maine? Whatever the case and where ever it came from, I definitely didn't get what makes it so special. I didn't think the flavor was great and I hated the texture. So, that's one thing I can cross off the culinary to-do list. I guess I'm just a crab sort of girl?

Aren't Moms the best? Well, my sweet mother sent us a Valentine's Day package! Every now and then as kids, my mom would surprise my sister and I with a bunch of goodies on Valentine's Day morning. These goodies were usually placed at the breakfast table in our respective usual spots and were served ala french toast. We were recently reminiscing about this together with my mom, not looking for a gift at all mind you. We really weren't! And of course, two weeks later we got a surprise package!

There's nothing better that packages from loved ones. Especially, unexpected ones! In the box, she had stuffed pink dish sponges, candy, a Starbucks card for Ethan, and this precious tote for moi. She knows me too well! I love it! And, as cheesy as it is, and especially because I received this on Valentine's Day, I will think of those two little birds on the front as Ethan and I! Oh, and just a week earlier, my dear friend Tina sent me a little package, in it was that card pictured below and an adorable little floral apron! Thanks again, Tina! Thanks, Mom...

Here are a few specimens of the enormous batch of sugar cookies I had to make for work last week. The order was for a hundred and I opted to decorate them in a very simple, elementary way. So, tasty. Unfortunately, the picture isn't!

Okay, I have to get to work now. I hope you or you and yours had a most lovely Valentine's Day. I know I did. In fact, I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Have Salad

Green leaf lettuce. Gorgonzola. Sauteed pears. Candied walnuts. That's all I need to say.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Meringue Moments with Martha

Okay, here's a little warning. I've decided to play the Martha card once or twice a month. This might be a major blogging faux pas, using someone else's genius to create a personal post... is it? I don't know, I will give credit to whom it is due of course! The thing is, I never said this blog would be filled with fabulous things entirely crafted or photographed by me. I'm just here to pass these 'fabulousities' on to you! These photos and the italicized text below are all from an article titled Light as Air in the January 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

(Light as Air article)

I've had a love affair with the dessert spreads in Martha's magazine for years now. We go way back. Side note: isn't it funny that all I have to write is simply Martha and we all know exactly who I'm referring to. Right? It's like God, or Oprah... One name is all it takes. Anyway, as I was saying, Martha's team knows how to style some mighty gorgeous food shots. I'm a dessert lover and crafter and few sources inspire me as much as these monthly articles in Martha Stewart Living. I'm sure many of you see her magazine on a monthly basis, but for those of you who happen to miss it, I feel obligated to bring this to you and make it a part of my blog. I have a feeling they will become the post you most look forward to seeing. Sure, I could make some of these recipes and take pictures of my results, but they would never look as perfect as this. And since I'm such a perfectionist, I can't resist just using these.

(Pineapple Dacquoise with Layers of Silken Buttercream, Caramelized Pineapple, and Crisp Praline)

I became a little more acquainted with meringue last summer when I began playing around with pavlovas. I'd always thought that I hated meringue for some reason unbeknownst to me consequently have always stayed away from recipes containing these innocent whites and refined sugar. But now, oh now, I'm way into meringue. How could I not have been for so long? Meringue is quite possibly the most angelic of all confections. It is light as air and so pure in it's beauty. I love that you can transform it into quite a number of lovely poses. I know that you are going to swoon over all of this the way I have. My hope is that you are inspired to try some of these at home. The Floating Islands are first on my list.

(Floating Islands with Ricotta Cream and Apricots poached in Vanilla-Bean Syrup)

A true wonder of the culinary world, meringue is essentially just egg whites and sugar, ingredients that undergo a miraculous transformation when infused with air.
The result is a floating, billowing affair that tops lemon meringue pies, insulates the chilly interiors of baked Alaskas, makes buttercreams and macaroons possible, and serves as muse for countless other lofty creations.

(French Macaroons)

Although the basic recipe has changed little in the 400 years or so since these humble components first came together, it has been refined in three slightly different ways to create French, Swiss, and Italian interpretations. Meringue's many incarnations, however, have evolved considerably, occupying an array of contrasts and forms. They can be meltingly soft, airy, and nonconformist, or precise and architectural with interiors ranging from surprisingly crisp to seductively chewy.

(Chocolate Pavlova cradling Dark-Chocolate Cream, Gently Whipped Cream, and Chocolate Shavings)

Multitiered dacquoise holds its own at the most elegant black-tie event, and rustic pavlovas feel at home with weeknight suppers. A fancifully frosted cake embodies structured formality; floating islands embrace a loosey-goosey, devil-may-care quality. Souffles are hot; baked Alaskas are cold. Some meringues are towering; others diminutive. There are the snow white and the colored, the plain and the flavored. They are all delicious.

(Swiss Meringue Buttercream in a Spectrum of Pastel Hues)

(Baked Alaskas concealing Classic Neapolitan Flavors)

Mastering the skills for making meringue may take the finessing that comes only with experience -- facilitated by the foolproof methods illustrated on these pages. The truly difficult part lies in deciding which possibility to pursue. But then, practice makes perfect.

(Lemon Meringue Semifreddi with Toasty Spiral Tops)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Butter Love

I have been so darn materialistic lately! When it comes to my kitchen and dining room, I fear there is no end to the amount of things I want to keep buying! It feels like an illness! Not really, but it can become a bit of an issue! So, right after Christmas, Ethan and I were traveling back through Seattle and happened to stop into Anthropologie for a quick walk-through. Naturally, my eyes set sight on dozens of things I could have just scooped up, but there were two things that I was unable to forget after a few weeks time. One of them was a pair of long light chocolate-colored gloves and had this metallic gold trim, they were so lovely! I didn't get those, but I did manage to find a way to get the other item. You know when you fall in love with something like that, you leave it, and then remember it in your mind as the most amazing thing ever? Then when you see it again or get it, it isn't actually quite as amazing as you had remembered? Well, that kind of happened with this, but, I still do love it.

It's a butter dish. I kind of have a thing for butter dishes. I already have a blue Le Creuset one, but this one just had to join family. The dish never ended up being available from Anthropologie's website so I called down to Seattle to find out if they had any left and wondered if my Mom could pick one up for me on her way up here to visit. They had one left and it seemed meant to be, not to mention that it was on sale from 60 dollars down to 20! Well, when my mom went to pick it up (which was so sweet of her!) she got it out to the car and took a look at it and it was broken! So she took it back in and they told her they would send me one at no charge from the other location in Seattle. Of course, they entered my info wrong and UPS couldn't deliver it, but thankfully I was able to just go pick it up myself... So, now you know the quite boring story behind this sweet little butter dish!