28 July 2009

backlit fun

peachtart01 hmm… what’s this…?

peachtart02 i’ll take a few steps back… is it becoming clearer?

peachtart03ah! a revealing hint. but not from me, this is evidence left behind from my roomie. this summer, there are peach pits and peaches that pop up randomly around the kitchen. one day it will be empty, the next day there will be 15 peaches rolling around on the table. then they’ll be gone, a few days pass, and suddenly, 10 peaches are on the kitchen counter. someone has a peach obsession. it’s okay, i don’t judge.

peachtart04ah-hah! i’ve turned my back to the window so you can see the mystery tart better. a collaboration here. i made the pie crust, and the roomie did everything else.

peachtart05The simplicity of this tart is that it’s just peaches on piecrust with a few random additions. No cream or filling, just nice ripe peaches and a delicious crust. The “recipe” is quite easy. Roll out your pie crust, line the tart pan, slice the peaches, and arrange them nicely on the crust. From here you it can go straight to a 350F oven for about 50 minutes. But he decided to sprinkle some flour on it, pour in a little bit of amaretto liqueur, and brush it with a strawberry jam.

do i love verbs, or what?

Oh, and eating this with vanilla ice cream is amazing…!

27 July 2009

Deutsche gibt mir einen Kopfschmerzen!

coconutmacaroon01Deutsche gibt mir einen Kopfschmerzen = German gives me a headache. I think. I could have translated that wrong. Specifically, it’s word order that drives me nuts. It’s so rigid with so many little rules! Once I get these rules down, i should be good… but there’s just so many of them! I suppose it balances out. French = less rules, lots of variations/exceptions. German = more rules, less variations/exceptions. That is a very very very very general statement which is probably not true, but it’s definitely how i feel right now.

But you know what doesn’t give me a headache?

Coconut macaroons! Yep, a macaroon and not a macaron. (PS, a macaron and macaroon are actually related… they both started out meringue based, then really started going in separate direction in terms of ingredients and forms. You can read more at the trusty Wikipedia.)

A few months ago, I was driving around and saw something that always stops me in my tracks… an ethnic grocery store. I become giddier than a kid on Christmas day because it’s always full of things I don’t know about, but those things always look super good to me. I rarely buy since I wouldn’t know what to do with the stuff sold, but i always, always browse. And at this little Indian grocery store, I saw something for the very first time: unsweetened coconut powder. what? do you  mean there is more than those sweet coconut flakes we find in the baking aisle and in almond joy chocolate bars? so i bought a bag without any idea what to do with it, except that it was too cool.

coconutmacaroon04

Then I found this recipe from David Lebovitz’s website. And what did it call for? That’s right, unsweetened coconut! Perfect perfect perfect.

coconutmacaroon02

Mr. Lebovitz always has superbly written recipes on his website: clear, concise, and easy to follow. But I still like to write them down in my own words so I remember them better. Below is mine, but I would recommend following his recipe since it was the original, and I didn’t really have anything important to add.

Ingredients:

4 egg whites

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbs honey

2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut

1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. No mixing bowl! Just mix your egg whites, sugar, salt, honey, coconut, and flour together in a skillet. That’s right. No hand mixer or spatula needed, just something to stir it all together in your skillet. Which I adored because it meant less cleanup for me!

2. Over low to medium heat, stir your mixture constantly. Make sure to scrape the bottom so you don’t end up with charcoal bits…

3. Keep stirring until you notice that the bottom of the mixture starts to lightly burn – you might notice it darkening in color. Take it off the heat, mix in your vanilla, then transfer it to a bowl and let it cool.

4. Once it’s cool enough, roll out the mixture into little balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Space them evenly, but they don’t really spread so you don’t have to give them too much room.

5. Then bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 20 minutes. Though to be honest, I left them in there too long and they burned on the bottom. But that just increased the chewy to crusty ratio, which is always better in my book.

6. Optional: you can dip them in chocolate, but I skipped that.

7. Eat away!

coconutmacaroon03

26 July 2009

farmer’s market & figs

fig01

i’m not proud to admit this, but… today (or rather, since it’s 12:55 AM, yesterday) I ate a fig for the first time. In 22 years, I’d never had a real fig. For me, figs were in those nasty fig newton bars that looked like clogged arteries. (i can thank jay leno for that lovely visual reference).

and last year, i had a jam with figues – french for fig. still, it was brown and not so pretty like those strawberry jams so i wasn’t too impressed.

but my favorite thing to do on saturday mornings is to bike to the farmer’s market and just walk around while letting my tummy decide what to buy. 3 weeks ago it was a hibiscus mint tea, 2 weeks ago it was the squash, last week it was a breakfast taco, and this week it was a tiny basket of figs.

boy oh boy, things are going to change. i’ve got a new favorite fruit. don’t get me wrong, i’m still loyal to strawberries. but figs. holy moly. i had no idea about the surprise you get once you slice it open! later on, once i’ve eaten enough, i’ll incorporate figs into something baked. but for right now, they’re so perfect by themselves that to bake with them would be an insult to the fruit.

so please excuse me, i’ve got some serious catching up to do since i’ve obviously been missing out for the past 22 years!

fig02

English: fig

French: une figue

German: die Feige

Chinese: 無花果 / wú huā guǒ

Now I know how to say it in four languages!

23 July 2009

évreux: online impressions

évreux. my new home for a good  7 months. I found out about two weeks ago, and of course I have done as much cyber stalking as possible, trying to learn more about my future home. and so, here are the things google has shown me about évreux!

evreux01close to paris, but not too close! far from paris, but not too far! if i need an escape, paris is right there! yay! and i can also escape the other direction to beaches and waves and saltwater, yes yes yes! (source)

evreux02it definitely is not a tourist stop. which is good, more french practice for me! another sign is that the tripadvisor évreux forum has zero posts. nada. nobody is asking questions or even considering going! except me, of course. (source)

evreux0350,000 sounds like a lot until I compare it to the places I live now. and also UT has 50,000 students. my university is the same size as évreux! i’m so tickled by that idea. (source)

evreux04so i’ve corrected this image. but maybe it still will feel like a little city to me once I get there. big town or little city, i won’t decide until I get there!

evreux05 then I hopped to youtube… first up, a strike. (source)

evreux06 then some riots… (source)

evreux07 a teen steals a moped and hits a child… (source)

okay, so youtube is not a good intro to évreux. moving on!

evreux08 it has lighted walk paths! (source)

evreux09and typing “évreux” in flickr brings up nice things. like this lovely picture.(source)

evreux10 and a bridge. (source)

evreux11 there were a ton of concert shots. (source)

evreux12 puffy clouds, best thing ever. (source)

evreux13 they give us beef, cheese, milk, yogurt… how i love them! (source)

evreux14i’m going to guess that these are streetlamps. (source)

can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait to start this new experience! and i of course can’t wait until I can show pictures that I make, instead  of scouring the internet for them. no more googling for me, i don’t want to “spoil” all the surprises of évreux by finding out and seeing everything beforehand!

19 July 2009

stuffed veggie cups

switcharoo01so complicated looking. but actually so simple. and so, so, delicious. petits légumes farcis aux petits légumes is the title of this deliciousness. vegetables stuffed with vegetables, en anglais. farcir = to stuff. learned a new verb!

 switcharoo03this recipe comes from p. 65 of the june 2008 issue of Saveurs, a french cooking magazine I discovered at half-price books. love love the used bookstore. i also <3 cooking from books/magazines in foreign languages because I always end up learning new vocabulary.

and besides, these are just too adorable – they’re little cups/bowls! how can you resist?

switcharoo04

Gather your ingredients. Here is what the magazine listed:

5 medium tomatoes

5 small round zucchinis (the smallest)

1 small regular zucchini

1 fennel bulb

1 small eggplant

2 onions

1/2 bunch of basil

olive oil

salt, pepper

But here is what I actually ended up using:

A few cherry tomatoes

A few yellow pear tomatoes

1 kabocha squash (i think. please correct me if I’m wrong)

1 large eggplant

1 onion

1/2 bunch of basil

olive oil

salt, pepper

As you can see, it doesn’t really matter what you use! Just use whatever you have on hand that would seem like a good fit.

switcharoo05With the round squash/tomato, cut off the top and hollow out in the inside. With the eggplant, cut off the ends to a reasonable “cup” size, then dice the middle area. Essentially, just use some common sense when deciding how to cut your veggies into the best bowl shape you can :)

Then, dice everything. The onions, tomatoes, eggplant, hollowed out portions, basil, etc. Chop chop chop! (I wasn’t sure if one usually eats the seeds and stuff from the kabocha sqush, so I just tossed it. Everything else I kept.)

switcharoo06Preheat your oven to 350F. In a skillet, over medium heat, add 1 tbs of olive oil and your onions. Let them soften up, then add the zucchini and eggplant along with 1 more tbs of olive oil. Don’t forget to salt and pepper it to taste. Cook them until they are all nice and soft, and five minutes before they are done, add the basil and tomato plus one last tbs of olive oil. Stir it all together.

switcharoo07Set it aside in a bowl to cool. Then, brush the inside of your veggie cups with olive oil and stuff them with the mixture you just made. Bake in the preheated 350F oven for 40-50 minutes.

switcharoo08

Take it out of the oven, let it cool for a bit, and then eat!

17 July 2009

pain brié normande - normandy beaten bread, p. 88

normandybeatenbread01oh yeah. still on my bread baking kick. this time, from p. 88 of The Breads of France by Bernard Clayton, Jr. his story behind this bread is marvelous, it gives you a real sense of how a boulangerie in France operates, including explosions and blackouts. apparently this bread is also pictured in a tapestry that features the conquest of England by the Duke of Normandy in 1066.

normandybeatenbread02this bread was work. as in 18 minutes of kneading and 10 minutes of beating type of work. i collaborated with my roommate to make this bread, and he insisted on kneading and beating for the proper times.

normandybeatenbread03i’m lucky our downstairs neighbors moved out, because for a good 10 minutes all you could hear was WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK as we took turns slamming a rolling pin on the bread over and over.

normandybeatenbread04 but all that work was worth it. a super crisp crust with a “tight crumb.”

Starter:

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cups warm water

1 tsp dry yeast

The night before, make the starter by putting the flour in a bowl and create a well for the water. After filling it with the water, sprinkle the yeast and begin stirring it together. It’ll be sticky, but keep on working it until you it’s all nicely mixed, and then knead for about 2-3 minutes. Grease the bowl, then place the lump of dough in it, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit overnight.

Dough:

All of the starter

3/4 cup warm water

1 tbs salt

2.5 cups all-purpose flour

The next day, uncover the dough and punch it down. Then roll it into a ball and place it back in the bowl. Add the water and the salt and begin mixing it. The starter will start to dissolve, so add 1 cup of flour. Continue mixing. Add the rest of the flour, and use your hands to keep mixing it. Although it’s a lot of flour, just keep working it and the dough will eventually accept it all.

Once basically mixed, start kneading! For a fun 18 minutes. Emphasis on fun.

After you’re all sore from kneading…. time for the beating! No less than 10 minutes. Use a rolling pun and start hitting your dough from side to side. Eventually the dough will become “velvety” – you’ll notice the change in texture.

After that, divide the dough into two round balls and place them on your baking sheet. Cover it with parchment paper, and let it rise for about 1 hour. After it’s finished rising, make about 6-7 deep slashes on the surface.

Bake the loaves in a preheated 400F oven for 50-60 minutes. Halfway through, rotate the sheet. You can tell the bread is finished when you knock on the bottom of the loaf and hear a hollow response.

Slice and dig in! The crust is very crispy, and since right now the apartment I’m living in doesn’t have a large serrated knife, I had a fun time trying to slice it.

Oh… I forgot to mention. We added sesame seeds because we have a ton. They aren’t originally part of the bread.

12 July 2009

texas eatin’ – specifically, houston

a few weeks ago, I went to houston with a few friends to check out the marlene dumas show at the menil. 

as always, when i travel, i can’t help but take pictures of food. anyway, here are some texas/houston treats!

houston01If you drive between any major city in Texas, you’ll probably need to fill up on gas and take a break. I don’t know my Texas history too well, but I am going to fathom that many years ago, Czech immigrants settled in Texas. And all their descendents remained. But they brought one of the most important things from their culture into Texas: the kolache. These little bread rolls can be sweet and topped with a sweet cherry, prune, peach, or even poppy seed filling. The savory ones are often referred to as kolaches as well, but I think their official name is pig-in-a-blanket. Those are often stuffed with sausage, sauerkraut, cheese and jalapenos…  However, people understand immediately if you say “savory kolache” or “sweet kolache.”

houston03Kolaches always make the drive worth it. From top left, going clockwise: 1. vegeterian kolache with mushrooms, spinach, & feta cheese. 2. cream cheese kolache. 3. sausage and cheese kolache. 3. sausage and sauerkraut kolache.

So when you see massive amounts of cars exiting the highway, you’ll know why: they’re all pulling over to get some kolache lovin’!

houston02They’ve got more than kolaches though. They are also a convenience store, a gas station, and sell other misc. things. Like these mini pecan pies. Pecan pie is a very texan thing because our state nut just happens to be the pecan. Although to tell the truth I haven’t had pecan pie in years…

The above goodies were from Hruska’s in Ellinger, TX, on HWY71 between austin and houston. However delicious they are, I’m partial to Czech Stop in West, TX on I35 between Austin and Dallas because i’m loyal to the highway that takes me home.

Kolaches aren’t easily found in the actual cities (and definitely don’t taste as good), so make sure to pull over whenever you see the billboard warning that they are ahead!

houston04once to houston, we hopped to the Menil. this is their front lawn. love it. It’s an installation by Michael Heizer.

houston05then we needed a quick break, so off to a coffee shop named Brasil. And although they served food and coffee, I always make a bee-line for the pastries. No sweets are ever safe from my eyes. Don’t those chocolate strawberry blackberry mousses look delicious? and those scones? And that fresh fruit tart? I didn’t eat any of it, but I definitely looked!

houston06 Then time for dinner. Sushi is always a good choice, no? Off to Oishii Japanese Restaurant!

houston07While waiting for our food, I took a peek at my friend’s K’s mini sketchbook. She’d been drawing a flower we found at the Menil.

houston08 sushi on a boat. yes. mmmm. but not for me.

houston09then we went to half-price books. but we were distracted by The Chocolate Bar – a huge, huge chocolate shop. Usually chocolate shops are boutique sized and cramped, but not this place. You walk in, and you feel as if you are in willy wonka land. Chocolate everywhere. Chocolate truffles, chocolate chess sets, chocolate cowboys, chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate… it doesn’t end!

Sadly, it isn’t for me because I’m currently crazy for chocolate by chocolate makers – from the bean to the bar. I’m pretty sure this place makes stuff from chocolate, but not the actual chocolate. Which isn’t a problem, because it doesn’t make it any less delicious.

houston10Got a special request? with a ton of molds, they can mold you chocolate in in shape and way you desire.

houston11rocky road CAKE or rocky road ICE CREAM? too bad stomachs can only handle a little bit of such richness.

(and on a side note, i’m glad this came up because i’m pretty sure rocky road is an american thing. which means i’ll be sharing it with my future french students!)

houston12 but here’s my favorite. it’s a chocolate pizza. that’s right. and what’s it topped with?

houston13chocolate cows, horseshoes, and chickens! I love texas and our texan pride. <3

houston14houston is either #1 or #2 to the vietnamese population in america. which means… lots of good vietnamese food. lots. and this is where bánh mi comes into play. Although the French didn’t stick around in Vietnam, their bread did. How could it not? And the Vietnamese have their own twist on the sandwich by adding their delicious meats and ingredients such as pickled carrots, cilantro, cucumber, jalapenos, and fish sauce. This particular bánh mi came from Les Givral’s Kahve. It’s nice to go with friends who are from Houston, because they already know all the tasty spots!

extra tip: according to my roommate M and his best friend V, no good bánh mi exists in Austin. You have to go to Houston. Apparently, the places in austin use cold cuts and never toast the bread, which is a big no-no for them. However, it’s the opposite for pho. According to them, good pho exists only in Austin, and not Houston. I’m no expert, but I trust their judgment.

more than likely, this will be the direction of my journal in the fall: exploring places, learning about them, and then sharing them here. can’t wait!