Monday, December 13, 2010

The Market

Howdy, and sorry for the hiatus! I came back from a trip to Vietnam and Hong Kong last week, and wanted to share photos of the Dong Xuan market in Hanoi. I took a Vietnamese cooking class with the chef of the Blue Butterfly restaurant, and the class started with a trip to the market, a feast of produce, some of which I'd never seen before.

 The large orange-red fruit in the front of the photo above, I were told, is called dog fruit (it has a bright red flesh interior with huge edible seeds) though, after I got home to research dog fruit, I must've heard the name wrong, because I can't find anything about it...

Our chef/teacher, Viet, bought rice paper rolls and green papaya at the market.
The class was fun - my hubby and I were the only students. We made green papaya salad w/ shredded dried beef (basically like spicy jerky, only more delicious), fried pork spring rolls, and stir-fried chicken w/ veggies.

Chef Viet, demonstrating mad knife skills

I also learned how to carve fancy vegetable garnishes, like a flower carrot (fairly easy) and a tomato rose (much more challenging and I mauled two poor tomotoes). I managed to not slice a finger off, so that was a bonus.

And the finished products - my fave was the green papaya salad, which I'd love to make as part of Christmas dinner this year, with the hope that I can find green papaya somewhere (it's simply unripe papaya).

Green papaya salad

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Crazy Caramel Apples

At this year's Postcard Show at The Lab  - they are also organizing a Mini Market, showcasing small snacks and goodies by local bakers and cooks. They invited me to participate, soI've been trying to think of something seasonal, small, and also keeps well without refrigeration, since the event runs for two days. I did want to do small pies, but they just don't keep too well - especially ones w/ custard, like my pecan buttermilk pie. So - after coming across some recipes on for Marzipan Caramel Apples w/ Sesame and Almonds  - I decided that
baby caramel apples would do nicely!

Their recipe calls for cutting out the apple core and filling it w/ caramel - a pretty genius idea!
I'm not sure if I will do that for my apples, but we will see...since, I think that I've made caramel apples maybe once in my life.  The Chocolate Caramel Apple with Pretzels also looks might good:

I think I need to do a test run of these babies this weekend - with some different combo of nuts and definitely some chocolate.  Stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wild Food

Ok, so this post isn't *exactly* on baking, but it is food related. Last weekend, I went on a wild food walk, organized by ForageSF, a cool organization that teaches people about what’s edible in their local landscape.
This particular 2 hour walk took place in a San Francisco park, and our instructor taught us about many of the nutritious edibles growing right under our urban noses. We sampled some tasty elderberries  (which would make a totally delicious pie!)


I especially liked the wild radish, below - the leaves, buds, and purple flowers taste, well, as you guessed, like radish! They are the wild cousin of the cultivated radish. And, if the flowers are  yellow - it will taste like mustard!

Wild radish

 I learned about a plant that I'd never head of before - yarrow - which is edible, though used mainly as an herbal remedy. It is used as a cold/flu remedy and encourages blood clotting (hence the plant's nickname, nosebleed plant).


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pie Pie Pie

I finally got around to uploading the pics from Pie or Die  - and no, I didn't win, but it was good fun and people seemed to enjoy my pie. Everyone was super nice, and all the ticket proceeds went to the SF Food Bank. The event was located at the Stable Cafe's courtyard in San Francisco - the 200 tickets sold out within 5 minutes, and the crowds were hungry!

Thanks to my teammate, Michael for all of this help!

Pecan buttermilk w/ chocolate in a ginger cookie crumb crust, garnished w/ pecan brittle (in case you don't get enough sugar in the pie).

We were team #8, The Sugar Lumps, and thanks to my kewpie doll for acting as our signholder. 

Group picture of our neighboring teams #7, #9 and #10 (who ended up winning the overall competition - congrats!)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brittle, Baby!!

I wanted some kind of garnish for the pie, and initially thought perhaps a praline pecan and/or whipped cream. Then, my friend Greg had a very excellent idea of a  pecan brittle garnish. I've made brittle a couple times before, and thankfully it is quite easy and the most time consuming part is just waiting for the sugar mixture to get up to hard crack stage. I used the brittle recipe from Tartine's cookbook, and substituted the peanuts for chopped, toasty pecans. (The cookbook is excellent, by the way - and bonus points because they also include weight measurements for all their recipes!)

Yeah, the photo above doesn't look super appetizing - but it's sugar, nuts, & a touch of butter - so you know how it must taste!
I did notice that when I used my Le Creuset pan to make the praline, it heated up much faster than when I used a more lightweight pan for the second batch. Makes sense since cast iron retains heat very well.  4 more days till the showdown..eek!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Test Pies #2

For this second round of testing, I tried a blend of 2/3 ginger cat cookies and 1/3 regular cat cookies - and also blind baked the crusts for a tad longer, to increase the crunchiness factor.
And of course, I had to throw another factor into the mix to make things even MORE complicated - I tested a this crust with a thin layer of melted chocolate on the bottom. I've done this in the past with custard pies, and found that it seals out the moisture from the custard, and keeps the crust nice and crunchy - which is especially important if you are making the pies ahead of time. 

I used 8 chocolate chips for each mini pie, and used a little paintbrush to evenly coat the bottom of each crust. 

I tasted the two pies last night - and the chocolate definitely kept the crust crunchier which is a definite bonus. The chocolate wasn't very obvious but I think adds a nice textural element.
Michael took some pies to work for more testing today, and looks like most folks preferred the chocolate as well. Woot!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Test Pies #1

For the Super Fierce Pecan Buttermilk pie that I'm entering in SF Food Wars - I am in the process of deciding which type of cookie crumb crust to use. While I feel like the pecan custard filling is good to go, I've used different cookie crumbs with the crust in the past. I've used both types of Trader Joe's cat cookies - regular and ginger - as well as graham crackers. I've found the cat cookies to make the best cookie crusts - they're basically animal crackers, low in fat with a nice crunch.

My hubby Michael suggested baking cookies from scratch, to see how they compare to store bought. So, I selected Alton Brown's vanilla wafer recipe (thanks to the hubby for baking them :)) I also had not baked a pie in recent memory with vanilla wafer cookie crumbs, so I thought it was a good choice. Though looking at the butter content in the wafer recipe, I had a hunch the cookies would be too fatty for an ideal crust, but went ahead.


I baked mini pies with the 3 different crusts: ginger cat cookies, regular cat cookies, and homemade vanilla wafers. 

The verdict? 5 out of 8 tasters preferred the ginger cookies - and the other 3 preferred the regular cat cookies. One taster did like the flavor of the wafer crust the best, but not the texture (which was quite soft). I personally liked the ginger the best - thought they complemented the custard filling nicely, without being too overpowering. Tasters did mention that the regular cat cookies allowed the flavor of the custard to stand out more. My friend Julia suggested trying a blend of mostly ginger cookies, with some regular cookies mixed in - so that will be the basis of pie test #2! I also felt that the crust could be crunchier - so I'll have to bake the next crusts a bit longer to see how they fare. Stay tuned!!!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Whole Grains Keep You Regular

Well, not just that, but they can taste great in cookies, pies and other sweet goodies. While most folks associate whole grains with bread and cereal - I've discovered a whole new world of baking with them. I recently bought Kim Boyce's awesome whole grain baking cookbook - Good to the Grain - which is my current bible. I think this may be the first cookbook out there to focus on baking desserts with whole grains- and not just whole wheat, but a plethora of lesser known flours like spelt, amaranth, barley, and graham. They add interesting flavors and textures, and you don't even notice that you're eating just a little bit healthier! I encourage any baker out there to grab this book immediately.

Pie or Die!

Welcome to the inaugural post of my baking blog! On my original blog for Red Cake Gallery, I was noticing that I was including quite a few baking related posts as opposed to focusing on art and design-y stuff - so, I decided to branch off to create this venue for one of my other obsessions, baking!
I just found out that I will be competing in the upcoming SF Food Wars
competition! I will be one of twenty competitors baking pies for this super fun event. My entry is Super Fierce Pecan Buttermilk Pie - one of the pies I baked for my wedding reception. I baked half of the pies at my wedding, and bought the other half from Lois the Pie Queen in Emeryville. But I digress. Back to the competition...the tickets went on sale yesterday at noon, and were sold at by 12:03pm, yikes! You can also check out the NY Times article about the event.
In the coming weeks, I'll write about my preparations for the event along with any random baking banter. And, I will be making some improvements to the look of the site too. Bake on!!!