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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Lulu's Thai Noodle Shop (Crossroads)

Beef Jantaboon
It's no surprise that I love Asian cuisines of all types, and Thai holds a very special place in my heart.

When I was in Culinary School, I learned about Thai cuisine for the first time. I suppose I never understood it until then, but here's a little excerpt on Thai food from my notes:

Thai Cooking brings in the….Five tastes:


There's also, usually, a crunchy bit or two in there. They also have influences from Portugal and China, which include the stir-fry thing and the sweet egg thing...but that's not what this is about: this is about Lulu's Thai Noodle Shop in the Crossroads, where I ate lunch at yesterda.

I got mango and she got strawberry...and both were delicious!
I completely love this place. I couldn't think of a better place to drag my friend Marietta to on a nice sunny day like yesterday. The atmosphere is really tropical and fun without being kitschy, and the service is always impeccable. They've got a wide selection of cocktails and infusion, as well as Bubble Tea, which I couldn't help myself in getting.

The menu is extensive, but not overwhelming; it has something for everyone. They can easily do vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free. Actually, the noodle dishes are mostly all gluten-free, since rice noodles are...well, gluten-free. You could choose from some appetizer platters, or perhaps just go with a salad or wrap. They have bahn mis there, which are more of a traditional Vietnamese sandwich(from what I understand), but at the same time...who cares, they're delicious? They also have papaya salad, which is a really traditional Thai street food, and just perfect for a light lunch dish. I was hangry, though, so I set my sights on the beef jantabon(seen above), while Witchy opted for the Thai cashew chicken.

I tried getting an action shot.
The beef jantaboon is a stir-fried rice noodle dish with cilantro and a crap-ton of delicious sliced flank steak to go with it. The cashew chicken is, obviously, chicken with cashews and spring onions, served with rice. Both were filling and delicious...we each ate half and wrapped up the other half to go.

I'm actually eating the second half for breakfast, right now. Or, maybe, since it's 11 am...it's brunch? Yeah, I think it's brunch. 

My favorite part about the meal(oddly) was the end, when we got these adorable little fortune cookie! They're not the flavorless vanilla-esque wafers you get with Chinese food, but flavor-packed coconut-y little tubes of awesome. Honestly, they were like those yummy pirhouette cookies you get in the tin cans, but the cookie part was about ten-times thicker. I would have loved it if they were filled with some kind of coconut custard cream, but they had a fortune in them, instead, all rolled up in a tiny scroll. Seriously, I wanted a handful of those cookies.
They are so freaking cute.

I've eaten at Lulu's once before on a date with B. I seem to remember the both of us getting Drunken noodles, and I also remember teaching him how to use chopsticks. I also remember the meal being similarly excellent, as well as the service.

I'm so lucky to live right down the street from this place! You can bet that it comes highly recommended for a date, for lunch, especially with how diverse the menu is, and how consistently good they are. I don't think I'd come here for a business meeting with the whole office, trying to work on paper work or finish a big project, but maybe a business lunch with a client that you're trying to keep casual. (Maybe I don't know the difference?) Two thumbs way up! Happy eating, Kansas City!

Lulu's Thai Noodle Shop & Satay Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Culinary School: Vegan Power Smoothie(breakfast/lunch/dinner)

my view
Greetings, class! Today, we're going to talk about our health and our dietary restrictions(or, perhaps, the dietary restrictions of others).

I have a few vegan friends, and several friends with other dietary restrictions(celiac, certain allergies, whatever). I must admit that I agree with the practice of vegan diets, though I don't often agree with the militant asshole Tumblrinas that come with the territory. I suppose it's just like being in any other creed; the militant ones ruin it for everyone.

I'm lactose intolerant. This means that I don't have the certain enzyme/bacteria to digest the sugar(lactose) in cow's milk. I can drink it all I like, so long as I don't mind getting really farty and bloated. This keeps me from eating too much ice cream, though(which I definitely would, were I not lactose intolerant), so it does have its ups. I can eat cheeses without too much trouble, and I can eat all of the yogurt I want. This is good news, because yogurt = smoothies, and smoothies = excellent breakfast.

If you've been thinking of going vegetarian or vegan, do so in small increments. Introduce little vegan things into your diet, sprinkled in. Have twice as many vegetables with your steak, or just thin out your ground beef hash with some extra-firm tofu to make it last for your large family. We don't need to eat animal proteins as much as we do, and I just eat animal proteins about 4-5 times a week, versus all seven. Sometimes, I'll just eat a big, cheesey baked potato for dinner, or I'll have a cup of yogurt with some granola for breakfast.

Being healthy doesn't mean a huge change in your lifestyle overnight, unless it's recommended by a licensed physician, of course. As the Official Kitchen Witch for Pagan Health and Wellness, I can say this with confidence: eating healthy does not have to be a torture.

I pooted.
There are a lot of ways to add vegan items to your diet without changing it completely. With my lactose intolerance, I buy coconut milk to use with cereal and coffee. Actually, there'a really great  Vegan coffee house in Kansas City called Mud Pie Vegan Bakery that will make your mocha with coconut milk, in a biodegradable to-go cup! They also have lots of smoothies and baked goods, as well as vegan dog treats for a mere $0.50 a pop! (This is great, because my dog gets really farty when he has dairy...and soy, for that matter.)

But if you don't want to go out and buy a vegan smoothie every day, just make your own at home for a fraction of the cost. How much does eating vegan cost? Not as much as you think:

The bananas were purchased at a local farmer's market for a dollar per basket...with, like, three big bunches in a basket. The pink stuff you see in there is a rhubarb gelato that I made, but you can just substitute frozen yogurt(which comes in many flavors, and you can buy at ice cream shops by the pint, or at grocery stores. To be honest, though, I just buy the small cups of yogurt for $0.69 and add that in. Not only are the flavors endless, but they're usually low-fat. The coconut milk was around $5, for the sake of rounding up, but you only use about a cup per recipe. In 2 quarts, there are eight cups, so that's $0.62, approximately. I add about a tablespoon of flax seed into the smoothie, too, for that extra dose of fiber to really scrape out your insides, and the price on that stuff varies. A tablespoon of flax seed, though, is crazy-cheap.

Rounding up, this smoothie costs about $1.50 to make at home, versus the $5 to $7 you'll pay at a store. Sound cheap enough?

Here's how to make my banana smoothie:

  • 2 bananas, ripe
  • 1/2 a Danon  yogurt(or whatever yogurt you have lying around), about 3 oz
  • 1 Tbsp flax seed
  • 1 cup coconut milk
Blend. The end.

If you want it colder, you can just freeze the yogurts or add a few ice cubes, but honestly this is just as good. You can use whatever fruit you want/have around. Like berries? Fuck it, add berries. Don't have bananas but have pears? Use pears! Just peel them and add them in, though you might want to blend for a little longer, as bananas are crazy soft. Add frozen blueberries or even pineapple to the bananas. Bananas are really good for you, and flax seed keeps you regular as a diesel. Enjoy this as you blog. 

Happy eating!

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Modern Wiccan Girl

I might throw this post away.

I'm not shy about my religion, but I don't want it to define me. I don't think you should be defined by your religion in the sense of "I am a (X) so this is who I am." That's not all of who you are.

The beautiful thing about humanity is that we are all so different. I have a sugar maple in my front yard. That maple tree is beautiful, and I'll miss it sorely when I eventually move from this house. I watch it seed and bloom and change in the autumn. I love that tree. I haven't named it; I just call it the sugar maple. I have thought of tapping it, but the amount of effort for the minimal amount of syrup would probably be embarrassing for a novice like myself. On top of that, I don't want to harm the tree, especially when it gives me such a peaceful joy when I watch it sway in the summer winds.

As you can see, my cat loves the tree, as well.
If I were to take every single leaf off of that tree and lay them side by side in a long line, I would find that every single one of those leaves is beautiful. Maybe this one is a little fatter, or this one has a shape that looks like a dinosaur footprint, or maybe this one is the exact shade of green as my favorite Spring coat...but all of them are just beautiful. I think that people are the same way, and we so easily forget that. We are creatures of nature, and nature is beautiful.

I've been asked to be the official Kitchen Witch for Witchcraft & Wellness; I take this position with humility. I was raised a Catholic, so I suppose humility and guilt will be forever ingrained in my psyche. I haven't found humility as a theme in Wicca; just 'walk your talk.' Words are powerful things, so always be able to back it up.

I don't know why I'm posting this. I suppose I feel fear for accepting this position, but not because I'm afraid of who I am--I'm more afraid of screwing it up. I take my religion seriously. I know that I'm not the best Wiccan in the world, but I try to be a good one.

The first rule is "Know Thyself," according to Thirteen Rules of the Witch.

The second rule is "Know thy Craft."

The third is "Learn."

I guess I just try to learn everything I can. Life is a giant University that you attend every moment. Everybody has experienced this day differently from you, and that's a beautiful thing. One of the ways we can learn most easily is through food.

I was fortunate enough to find my vocation/career path early in life, and it's a gift. It brings me life, and I get to touch people's lives with what I do. I must admit, however, that the previous sentence has been sitting on my screen for the past 15 minutes and I've been staring blankly at it in hopes that I could remember what the point of all of that was.

I guess the point is that life is precious and the fact that I still feel iffy about being who I am in a sea of bigoted Christianity("What's the Matter with Kansas", Westboro Baptist Church, etc.) is just wrong, especially when I know so many Christian people that are open and loving and happy. Maybe it's people that are wrong, and not the religion they claim to be.

Blessed Be. Gotta go work. Enjoy this picture of my hot chocolate from this morning.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Culinary School: Caramel Corn

Greetings, class!!

Today we'll be covering something not as healthy as a delicious, fresh-from-the-garden, spinach salad.

I know more than anyone that it's more than natural to have a sweet tooth. We, as animals, have evolved to crave things high in fat and high in sugar, to binge on while in feasting times so we can be okay during famine times....but we're not hunter-gatherers anymore, so there's no famine times. This does not mean you should abstain completely from your natural sweet tooth! Want to be healthy? Do the things yourself: i.e., make your own sweets.

When you make your own sweets, you know what's in it--but more importantly, you know what's not. (i.e. high fructose corn syrup, a ridiculous amount of sodium, red dye #40, etc.) Oddly, making your own caramel corn is simple! And, thanks to Chef Thomas Keller and my copy of Bouchon Bakery, I can show you how to make it.

Caramel Corn

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels(I like yellow organic)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1.5(3 Tbsp) unsalted butter, NOT MARGARINE
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Oil, A/N
You're going to need a neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed for this application. I prefer grapeseed for just about everything cooking-wise, but it's pricey, so canola is just fine for the average home cook. Find a heavy-bottomed saucepot and some aluminum foil, the heavier the better.

Measure out your ingredients ahead of time, as these steps will all go quickly. Measuring and gathering your ingredients before you start cooking is known as mise en place, which is French for "things in place." This is more than just words to many Chefs, but a lifestyle, a mantra. Maybe you should learn it, too? Organize yourself. Get yourself ready. Set yourself up for success. If you're unfamiliar with a recipe, but familiar with mise en place, you're a step ahead.
Before you start heating anything, prepare a sheet pan lined with either parchment or aluminum foil, sprayed generously with pan-spray/vegaline/whatever food-safe lubricant you prefer. You could even butter it, but the spray is easier.

Plop your oil and 1 Tbsp of the butter into the saucepot with your popcorn kernels. Give it a little toss to coat, then seal up your pot with the foil. Cook over medium-high heat, shaking the pot back and forth constantly. You'll begin to hear pops. Don't freak out! Just lower the heat a little bit to medium, then continue to move the pot back and forth, back and forth, until the popping ceases to just one or two every second or so. Then, remove from the heat and let steam for a few. This way, you can let the last few kernels in the bottom pop safely without the risk of burning your popcorn.

Once your popcorn is all popped, move to a big bowl and wipe out your pan. Add in the sugar, corn syrup, and water, then bring to a boil. Let the sugar caramelize. Swirl it around a few times once it starts to turn that pretty golden-brown color, to distribute that evenly.

The key to caramel is having the confidence to really let it go to that gorgeous brown color. The range of temperature that I prefer is between 320 and 350 degrees F. Once it hits that gorgeous golden-brown color, that nice dark amber, turn off the heat, hit it with the butter and stir. 

Note: Use a wooden spoon to work with caramels! This does not conduct heat, and is very durable...plus, it's easy to clean and won't melt.

Once the butter is melted, add in your baking soda. This will cause the caramel to fizz up like crazy, and thus coat your popcorn evenly. Add in your popcorn a few handfuls at a time, and stir. You'll want to coat it evenly, and thinly. Add more and more as needed, but don't add all of it at once, as you might have too much popcorn for your caramel.

Once your popcorn is thinly and evenly coated, pour out onto your prepared sheet pan, and spread as evenly as you can. If you have latex gloves lying around, you can now take this opportunity to butter your gloved hands up and spread the confections evenly. I also like to sprinkle a little bit of sea salt over the caramel corn while it's still hot, so it sticks...and you get that awesome salty-sweet action going on.

Let this stuff cool. Seriously, if caramel gets on your skin while it's hot, it's like NAPALM.

Note: If you get hot caramel on your skin, DO NOT rinse with cold water. Rinse with warm water and let it run over your skin(I know, it's really going to suck) until the sugar has dissolved. DO NOT put a paper towel or anything over it, because IT WILL STICK. If you do burn yourself seriously, and peel off some skin, don't be afraid to see a doctor. 

Look at you, now! You have a wonderful batch of caramel corn at your disposal! Once it's cool, it'll be crunchy and candy-like, without all of those crazy processed sugars and high amounts of sodium and Goddess-knows-what-else in it! You know exactly what went into this confection, and now you can have caramel corn any time you want. And let me tell you this: 

If you throw a party and have homemade caramel corn in little cellophane baggies as party favors, you'll go down in history as a host(ess) with the most(ess)!

Happy cooking and happy eating. Class dismissed!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Petit Fours

Petit Fours are basically just little cakes, meant to be consumed in 2 bites or less. These are a touch big, as they generally shouldn't exceed more than an inch in height, but they're a tiny four-layer cake, and who doesn't like that?

These petit fours were made for a wedding shower I did recently. The surnames of the bride- and groom-to-be both began with an "H", so the hostess of the party thought it might be fun to do "H^2" on each one!

These petit fours are spongecakes. Traditionally, you make them with a very thin, yet durable, joconde spongecake, which is made with almond flour. I didn't want to take any chances with allergies to nuts, so I opted for my go-to spongecake recipe. This can be done in vanilla, chocolate, or pistachio. Here's the vanilla recipe:

Vanilla Sponge

  • 7 eggs, separated
  • 7 whole eggs
  • 5 oz(BY WEIGHT) cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10 oz sugar
  • 2 oz powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla paste (or 1 scraped vanilla bean)
Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Combine the yolks and whole eggs in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whip with the granulated sugar and vanilla paste. Start out on medium speed, for about 2 minutes, then scrape down the sides, and go to medium high for another minute. Finish on high when they're crazy poofy-looking. 

Take 1/3rd of the flour mixture and gently sprinkle it over the top of the egg mixture. Fold in gently using a spatula. Repeat the process until all of the flour is used up. Move to another bowl and then quickly rinse out your standing mixer bowl. Make sure that the whisk and bowl are DRY before going to this next step.

Combine the egg whites and powdered sugar and whip to stiff peaks. This means that the eggs are glossy and smooth and not lumpy and dry. If you overwhip your eggs, don't fear--just add in another egg white and whisk that in. It should bring your whip back to life. 

Fold in 1/3rd of the egg white mixture to the egg yolk-flour mixture to lighten it, then fold in the rest, very gently. You don't want to lose your volume, so it's okay if you see a few little streaks here and there. 

Spread into two sheet pans that have been lined with parchment, as evenly as possible, making sure to get the corners. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cake just pulls away from the sides of the pan. It's very important that this cake is baked well enough so that the bubbles hold up.

Once the cakes are out of the oven and cooling, you can now focus on your fillings. You can use jam, ganache, or even your favorite buttercream. I used raspberry compote, spread thin. I also used simple syrup, which is a basic 1:1 ratio of water to sugar, boiled together. You can make a lot of any flavor you want, and keep it in the fridge for baking cakes, or sweetening cold drinks, such as iced tea. The simple syrup is optional, but recommended. But optional, still.
Mine were a bit large,
but piping isn't my strong-suit
and I had to make it
so that the "H" was legible
When layering, do "Cake, simple syrup, spread. Cake, simple syrup, spread." until you reach the top layer, in which it's just simple syrup. Then, use marzipan, ganache, or a basic sugar glaze to decorate the top. You can also leave the cake "naked" and decorate each piece with individual berries and powdered sugar, if you're looking for a more natural feel. 

When cutting, remember to have a clean knife. Clean your knife between each slice using hot running water and paper towels to ensure clean cuts. And remember that a petit four should be consumed in less than 2 bites. I cut mine 4 * 6, but you can cut yours smaller or in different shapes. You can even use little cookie cutters to get the same effect, but make sure that they're small. If you're doing that, it might be prudent to cut the cake first before layering and filling, if the shapes are a little odd. 

If you're decorating with letters or shapes, you can use icing, or candy melts. I used white Wilton candy melts, and then dyed in that pretty coral color before piping. These are excellent for baby showers, bridal showers, or for when you want to feel fancy while you binge watch "Marie Antoinette", "Amadeus," and "The Affair of the Necklace" in your underwear. I don't judge.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Culinary School - Spinach Salad and A Basis on Vinaigrettes

Welcome to Culinary School, lesson 1!

Today, we'll be talking about your food and where it comes from, specifically vegetables. Even if you don't have a big yard,  you can grow a decent garden using containers. I used an old dresser that was just too bulky for my home use and re-purposed it to be a series of planter boxes. If you only have a balcony, or even just a window space, you can garden.

In the corner closest to us, you can see where the leafy greens are growing, and those lovely little leafy greens just happened to be spinach! (Oh, and the two larger, more silvery ones in the front are broccoli.) The best part about growing spinach is that you can pick it as soon as it's big enough to eat.

Note: When harvesting spinach, only harvest the outer leaves, which will allow the center leaves to continue growing. You can use your hands, if you like, but I use scissors. It's a more precision cut, and I feel like it doesn't hurt the plant as much. If you like schedules, know that most varieties can be harvested within 37 to 45 days of planting, so about a month and a half.

 This is about how big my spinach plants are at the moment. You can wait until yours are bigger, but take note that if it's an especially warm spring, your plants can get bitter if you leave them in the ground for too long.

I went out and just used a pair of scissors from the kitchen to pick only the outer leaves. Spinach is a wonderful, tender green that goes great in salads, pastas, quiches...pretty much anything, now that I think about it. But, today, we'll be making a simple salad with a vinaigrette that anyone can make.

Here are some notes on salad dressings that came straight from my notebooks in culinary school:

Salad Dressing
A sauce for your lettuce
·         Basic vinaigrette
o   Can be as simple as the 3(4):1 ratio - Thinnest
o   Olive oil is nice and strong àred wine
o   Nut oils à champagne/sherry vinegar
o   Canola/Soybean/Veg oils à flavored vinegars(balsamic, raspberry, etc)
·         Emulsified vinaigrette
o   Richness, mouth feel…adds thickness! àEgg, Dijon, shallots, almonds/nuts are a VERY nice emulsifier, ketchup, agar agar…etc.
o   Mid-range thickness
o   Add oil in slow-slow-SLOW steady stream!!!
·         Mayonnaise-based dressings
o   The thickest dimension of…thickness
o   Bleu cheese
o   Ranch
o   Thousand island
o   Creamy Caesar
Basic types of Green Salad
1.       Tossed Salad
a.       Greens àbite-sized pieces
b.       Garnishes àblanched
c.       Dressing àDO NOT OVERDRESS
2.       Composed Salad – artistically arranged
a.       Base àusually lettuce(flat, chopped, whatever)
b.       BodyàMain ingredient(maybe a chicken salad)
c.       DressingàMeant to compliment, NOT overpower
d.       GarnishàCheese, nuts, croutons, tuilles, fruits, veggies, etc.
3.       Bound Salad – Cohesively bound in a mass held together by dressing
a.       Egg, tuna, chicken, potato salads are examples
b.       Can sometimes be the body of the composed salad
4.       Fruit Salad

a.       Maybe use something light with yogurt and honey, maybe some OJ

I made this spinach salad with an Emulsified Vinaigrette, using spicy brown mustard, rice vinegar, brown sugar, salt, dried parsley, and canola oil. You can use white sugar, if that's what you have, as well as Dijon mustard for the spicy brown! You can also try using the Heinz yellow mustard, if that's all you have, but I've never made it like that before, so I couldn't tell you how it turns out.

 Make sure that you wash your greens before you put them in your salad, even if you pick it yourself or if it's in a sealed plastic bag. Pat dry using paper towels; just lay them flat on the towels, and roll them up. That simple! Plus, this saves space while you work.

I'm only making a salad for myself, but I always make a fair amount of dressing, just in case I want to go back for more...or if the dressing is really good and I want to save it! You can save salad dressings for quite some time(at least a month) in your fridge, in a mason jar or tupperware container.

If you're making it for yourself, or for family dinner, choose a wide, round bowl to build your vinaigrette in.  Yes, that's right, you're making it in the serving bowl and saving yourself some dishes!

Spicy Brown Mustard Vinaigrette:

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp spicy brown mustard
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp sugar(brown or white)
  • Scant 1/2 cup canola oil
Combine everything but the oil in your serving dish. Break out a whisk and stir everything together. The tricky part of making this vinaigrette is to add in the oil in a very thin stream, because if you glob it all in, it won't emulsify. 

Whisking with one hand and dripping in the oil with the other hand, you'll begin to see the mixture thicken. Don't go too fast, or the emulsion will break, and it won't be so thick and glossy and sexy anymore. 

Tried to get an action shot, but this was the closest I got...
Note: If your emulsion breaks, fear not! Simply add a few drops of water to a clean bowl and add your broken vinaigrette in a thin stream as you whisk the bejeezus out of it. You can also add a little more mustard, to make it easier, or use an egg yolk. If you have an aversion to using raw egg products in your dressings, just go back to the water trick.

Taste your vinaigrette for seasoning. Is it too tart? Add a little sugar. Too sweet? A little salt or more vinegar will do the trick. The biggest mistake you can make is not tasting your food as you cook it. Honestly, what are you afraid of? That it won't be good if you taste it halfway through? That is the whole reason you taste it halfway through, to make sure it will taste good. Mine was a little too tart, so I added some more sugar.

The cool thing about building salads like this is that you not only save yourself on dishes, but you can add whatever you want at this point. I like my salads to have elements of soft, of crunch, of snap...lots of fun textures! You can add things like nuts or croutons, even crushed potato chips to give it a crunch. Carrots, sliced thin, are great in salads, as are asparagus. Any salad I eat, though, has to have cheese in it. I could have used the brie in the fridge, but that colby-jack looked too darn good to pass up. 

Load your washed greens atop your vinaigrette, and then pile on your toppings, with a pinch of salt. Yes, kids, always season your salads! You can use tomatoes, chopped bacon, pecans...whatever you like. I opted for just a simple spinach salad with a little cheese.

Excellent lunch, if I do say so myself...
Don't have a cheese grater? Simply take a peeler and grate thin sheets onto the top. Toss your salad by stirring it up gently with a pair of forks, which will coat your greens in with a gorgeous sheen. 

Want a fun fact about spinach? 

It represents wealth and prosperity, according to folklore! It makes sense, though, doesn't it? All green and leafy, like a crisp $20 bill... So make a magickal meal by growing your own spinach and envisioning yourself becoming filthy stinking rich as you ingest it, savoring its flavor, feeling it scrape out your insides with its delicious fiber...yum.

Happy Cooking and happy eating! Please comment if you have questions or concerns with this recipe! And make sure to look for any blog posts titled "Culinary School - " to see what's in store for next lesson.

Class dismissed!

Culinary School

My dear friend, Witchy Words, does not cook.

We were at dinner(*) at IHOP the other night and we somehow got on the topic of how she does not cook. I've offered several times to teach her how, but her will is strong, and only wants to learn at her own pace by reading about it. I think that's fair. Everybody learns at their own pace, and if you force yourself to learn something you have a natural aversion to, chances are that you'll make it worse.

We then discussed an idea: BASIC 101 COOKING LESSONS FROM ME.

So, now I'll be tagging my blog entries for Basic 101 Lessons as "Culinary School".

This will cover the absolute basics, just simple stuff on how to boil water, how to cut veggies, et cetera. This will be a free ticket to Culinary School, no tuition required, just follow and share my blog!

We'll start later today. Class dismissed!

Here's a picture of Strawberry Rhubarb cobblers, just because.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Brioche and Apricot Bread Pudding(Also, a guide to making any bread pudding ever)

Complete with Creme Anglaise and all!
 Easter has come and gone, quite early in the year. Catholics rejoice as Lent is over, and I rejoice because it's one more step closer to summer. I am so sick of complaining about how cold it is. I want to be complaining about how hot it is, already.

Can a woman get some bikini weather up in here??? I have got a muscular, powerful body and I am ready to show it off to the haters that say a woman should be skinny.


Bread pudding isn't necessarily a staple of Easter, at least as I've come to know it, but it's delicious. This dessert never really crossed my mind as a viable option for pastries, but it's got two things that I love: bread and custard. Who doesn't like bread???


I do apologize, however, if I seem anti-celiac; I'm not, and gluten intolerance for Celiacs are real medical conditions. If you are just cutting gluten because "OMFG SO MANY CARBS SO BAD FOR YOU " then you can just not. You're making a fad out of a real disease and it's not cute.

Can you read my handwriting?
Of course you can.
I write beautifully.
I have a stand-by bread pudding formula thanks to Alton Brown, which I have written down in my recipe journal, just in case I ever get lost in the woods without internet, find a habitable cabin, rebuild a life with a dairy farm and a chicken coop, then a mill to grind flour and bake bread, and then have the ability to make bread pudding after so many years in said cabin.

In case you can't read this note, however, the basic Bread Pudding Formula is:

  • 10 cups bread, cubed
  • 5 cups half & half
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar(brown or white)
  • 2 oz flavoring/rum/any liquor you like
  • 1 cup dried fruit of your choice
  • Spices, dried or otherwise
The bread in question should be stale, but honestly, who can wait for that? Plus, living in the midwest means that there is a lot of humidity in the air, and humidity often means mold...which is something I've honestly not had that much experience with, as a proud Southwestern girl. In lieu of waiting for bread to stale overnight, may I suggest simply toasting your bread, as if you were making croutons? This will undoubtedly increase your speed on this lengthy endeavor(and it is lengthy), plus give you a new depth of flavor!

With roasting, you can take the opportunity to roast your spices and maybe even some herbs to go with it? Maybe roast some lemon slices to really get the aromas of lemon into the bread? Or roast some rosemary, which is a very common thing in yeasty, German pastries? This is your recipe, now, so use it as you like!

For my recipe, I used Brioche, which is basically butter and eggs that are held together with flour and yeast. (Seriously, there's like a dozen eggs per loaf, or something stupid like that. This shit is scary, but perfect for French toast and bread pudding.)

I had to make a lot of bread pudding for Easter, so I used ten loaves of this tender yeasty love-loaf. I "peeled" off the outer crust using a serrated knife and then cut the loaves into (roughly) 1" cubes. It was a ridiculous amount of bread. It took over my whole table! It was, of course, ultimately worth it once I had everything toasted and ready to go. Once you have your bread toasted, place in a buttered baking dish of your choice, and set it aside for the next step.

Why do we want to toast it or have it stale, you ask? Well, the simple answer is moisture. 

See, we want the bread to soak up the custard and flavors of spices for the pudding. If the bread is already moist, it's just going to get soggy and kind of gross. Think of your bread as the sponge by your kitchen sink. If the sponge is damp, it's not going to really soak up much, but it has its own uses. We want our sponge to be dry, so it can take on the custard in its entirety. This way, the bread can keep the integrity of its shape, as well as the beautiful flavors you'll later on develop.

Seriously! Cinnamon is known as the friend-maker
in the language of spices!
To make the custard, you'll combine your milk/half & half/heavy cream(you can honestly interchange them in a pinch, depending on your availability and/or preference) with your spices and a fat pinch of salt and sugar. I opted for something simple, so cinnamon, the spice of blossoming friendships, was my spice of choice.

For the incredibly large amount of liquid I used, I think I used about twenty-four sticks of cinnamon altogether, with one whole nutmeg. You can just use a few grates of nutmeg, with probably just one large cinnamon stick. You can use dried or fresh spices for this application. For a springy bread pudding, you can use lemon peel and dried(or fresh) lavender buds. For an exotic twist, may I suggest a Chinese 5 spice or perhaps using your cinnamon with cardamom pods and star anise? You could even go Southwestern by using lime peel and jalapeno. I personally have never tried this, but I can't think of a reason why you couldn't. This is your time to have fun and be creative, so go do it!

Take your dried fruit into consideration at this point, too, and make sure that it goes with which ever spices you have chosen to use. My favorite combinations are(in order):

  • Dried mango & chili powder with cinnamon
  • Dried apricots and pistachios & nutmeg and cinnamon
  • Sultanas(golden raisins) & vanilla bean
  • Dried cranberries & lemon peel
  • Dried currants & rosemary (don't ask why, but it works and it's great)
  • Dried apricots and Chinese five spice
I had to take a break from chopping to take this picture.
I think it was about 8 cups total, when all was said and done.
For this particular one, I used dried apricots, mostly because that's what I had the most of. Instead of using them whole, I sliced them into smaller, more manageable pieces, to get even distribution throughout the custard. It's not 100% required to reconstitute your fruit into either booze or hot water or whatever you have lying around, but it is recommended. Dried mangoes soaked in a dark rum will bring you closer to God in a bread pudding, and that is something I know without fail.

Once your milk/cream/whatever mixture has come to a boil, immediately remove from the heat and cover with aluminum foil. Let this stuff steam for at least 30 minutes before you touch it. This will help develop flavors in the milk, and also give you time to gather the rest of your mise en place, if you haven't already done so. Otherwise, catch an episode of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix while you wait. Or maybe take your dog for a walk; he probably needs it. 

"Don't mind me. I'm just waiting for you to put your fucking phone down, over here."

To complete your custard, whisk together the remaining sugar, eggs, egg yolks, flavorings/boozes of choice, in a bowl, and then splash some of your warm liquid into the eggs. This will raise the temperature slightly, so you can add the eggs to your warm/hot custard without fear of it curdling. This process is called tempering, in case you're not aware. Then, add everything back into the pot and bring to a steam over a medium flame, whisking constantly. Do not ACTUALLY boil, though. Just cook until it's sort of thickened, then remove. 

Strain your custard over the bread, which you've had sitting in that buttered baking dish that you absolutely have not forgotten about. Let your custard sit for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to sort of toss the bread evenly. This hot liquid will absorb into your dry bread like crazy, and will also permeate each and every nook and cranny of your mouth when you finally get to eat it! It is at this time that you toss the fruit in with everything else. I like to use half the fruit stirred in, and then the other half sort of sprinkled on top. 

The said "color" will look something like this!
Cover your pan tightly with aluminum foil and pop into a 340 degree oven for half an hour, turning and/or checking at 10 minute intervals. Remember, the lower and slower you cook a custard, the more creamy and silky the results. Once the custard is just about to be set, remove the foil and bake for a remaining 5 minutes, just to sort of cook the top and get a little more color. 

Remove your pudding from the oven and consider your options:

  1. Dive in now and eat like a pig
  2. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with ice cream
  3. Allow to cool to room temperature, wrap, chill, cut, then serve as needed. With ice cream. Or creme anglaise. Or chocolate sauce. Don't be picky. 
I like options 1 and 3. There are a thousand anglaise sauce recipes out there, but honestly my favorite way to eat it is warm with ice cream right on top. Plus, you can just buy ice cream instead of going through the trouble of making an anglaise sauce, especially after you've spent so much time on the bread pudding itself.

You can eat this right out of the pan, right out of the oven, if you like, but I think you should let it chill overnight in the fridge before pulling it out the next morning to have for breakfast...or to let sit on your counter for an hour to temp up for a dinner party you've been planning...or whatever. The benefit of letting it chill, though, is that you'll get super-clean slices when you take it out of the pan, versus just scooping it all out willy-nilly. 
See? Nice and even...

Bread pudding is easy, you guys, and though it might take a long time, it's well worth the effort to make this classic dessert, which you can make from (essentially) leftovers in your cabinet. 

I encourage you to get out there, make some bread puddings, and post the results on your own blogs or Facebook pages or what-have-you, so we can all connect over the yummy dessert known as Bread Pudding.

A big thank you to Alton Brown for this recipe. And a big thank you to the 11th and 12th century cooks that were trying to be frugal and stretch old stale bread into something tasty and palatable so that they didn't die from starvation or the rickets or whatever! Happy cooking and happy eating!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Extra Virgin: AMAZING FOOD, Slower Service

Good Lord, was it gorgeous yesterday!

I joined my boyfriend,  B, on a photographical excursion to Liberty Memorial yesterday afternoon. He took his camera and his wide-angle lens and got quite a few shots of the memorial and of Union Station. I also got a few shots with my fantastic Samsung Galaxy S5! (Say what you will, it's the nicest phone I've ever had and I bought it with my own money.)

Check out some of the shots I got before we scroll down to the money shots of the awesome food at Extra Virgin!

Alright, that's enough of that.

B trusts me, as he should, with the whole "Where should we go to dinner?" question. Ladies, seriously, I hear this stereotype of women never knowing where we want to go...let's get over it. It's amazing to just be like "Let's try Extra Virgin" and he just says "Okay!" You can always get your way if you ask.

Located at 19th and Main, right across the street from Affare(which is FABULOUS, by the way), it sits currently in the middle of all of the trolley/street car construction. The evening was just perfect, so we opted to dine outdoors. I must say, the restaurant was fun. The decor and cool metalwork above the bar was really fun, and I loved the outdoor tables.

B had never really been to a tapas/small plates restaurant before, so he wasn't quite sure as to what to expect. Basically, tapas are just small plates of food meant for sharing, usually with cocktails and/or wine. I had a lemonade and he had a KC Pilsner from Boulevard. He was going to get the tuna ceviche tacos, but he's not a fan of avocado and it's already mixed in(word to the wise). Instead, he opted for the Spanish meatballs(aka albodingas) in sauce, while I got the Hangar steak, medium rare. Prepare for foodporn (#NSFW).

These meatballs were perfect. They were moist, flavorful, seasoned perfectly. I almost licked the pan with that sauce.

*heavy breathing*

I will have dreams about this hangar steak. Don't be offput by the strawberries. This adds a perfect tart note and that could not have been a more perfect dish. I mean, holy sh!t.

The portion sizes were reasonable, quotes B, so you don't feel like you're going to die if you don't finish your meal, and it lets you save room for dessert, which you have to get. Those churros and chocolate brought me closer to the Goddess.

The service was a touch slow, so we didn't get a chance to order these until nightfall.
Crispy. Chocolate. Hot. Unfff....

Extra Virgin on UrbanspoonI will say this, though: service was fine, but slow. I mean, really slow. Our poor server was definitely courteous and knowledgeable, but it took quite a while for us to get our drinks when we initially got in. The food itself arrived quickly after the order was placed, but that's more a stand on the kitchen's timing versus the server's. After the meal was done, we sat there looking at empty plates for quite a long time before she bussed the table, and then we had to wait another 10 to flag her down for a dessert menu. The food was amazing. The service? Slow. Kind of disappointing, to be honest, considering the par of the food. I'm sure it was just an off-night for her. I wouldn't be commenting on it at all if I hadn't seen the other servers run back and forth past us to their own respective tables far more frequently than we did. Then again, it could just be the pace of the restaurant and we are just freaky-fast eaters.

B and I will definitely be back, with a large group, so we can share everything! This place is amazing for date night, and just perfect for big groups. We will be back.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

I've been wanting to post for awhile, now, but I haven't a clue as to what to post about. I suppose that it couldn't count as writer's block, if it's something like this. It's not that I have something to say, but can't; it's just that I don't have much to say.

Work has been great. The dessert buffet for Easter turned out great. I didn't do the fruit carving sculpture that I wanted to, mostly because I just lost motivation. I wanted to concentrate on getting the chocolate fountain to the perfect fluidity...which I did! Here's a picture of my buffet.

The chocolate fountain stayed that gorgeous fluid shape the entire day, which went from 9 am until 4 pm, and that was something that I was extremely proud of. Pictured closest to the camera would be my Brioche bread pudding, which was scented with vanilla bean and cinnamon, and baked with dried apricots. I've been taking lots of pictures of my bread pudding process, which will come in a later post! I'll probably finish it on Tuesday, only because I want a picture of an actual slice of the stuff with the creme anglaise all draped over it, like a lovely blanket of custard and warmth. Look forward to that!

I didn't really have that big of an Easter this year. Usually, I'll spend Easter Sunday with my family, and my dad will have our egg hunting competition. This is where my father(a 40-something white man that wears Ralph Lauren Polo) and I (his Asian 20-something muscular daughter) go around my grandmother's house with pastel Easter baskets trying to find the most eggs. It's hilarious, I'm sure, to the outsider, but we take it very seriously. The only reason we stopped doing it was because it was making my little cousins cry that they could only find 1 egg each and we both had our baskets full.

After the egg hunt, we would make deviled eggs and eat honey-glazed ham with potatoes. I wish I could have been back in Tucson to show off my pretty dyed eggs, done naturally! If you want to do these next year, check out my tutorial here!

I still can't get over how blue the eggs turned using just a few red cabbage leaves...

Anyway, happy Easter to all who celebrate it!