Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Night at the Opera with the Daring Bakers

When our founders, Lis and Ivonne, announced that this month's challenge was going to be Opera Cake the first thing that went through my mind was a quick flash through of my favorite movie of all time, The Marx Brothers "Night at the Opera" (Check out the trivia section on the IMDB entry and read why you wouldn't want to miss a business meeting with the zany Brothers)

During the movie, Groucho, Harpo, and Chico crash the MET performance of Il Trovatore, my favorite opera of all time.

Another thing about Daring Bakers that reminds me of "A Night at the Opera" is how big we've gotten since I joined. When I joined it there were less than twenty of us and now we are over 1,000 bakers world wide! Sometimes I feel like I'm part of the famous state room scene and all that is missing is two hard boiled eggs!

Anyways, back to the opera at hand...

The Opera Cake is typically made in dark chocolate flavors but this month we've been asked to keep it light in honor of Barb of Winos and Foodies, who hosts A Taste of Yellow, her yearly event to raise awareness of cancer with the LiveSTRONG Foundation. I missed this year's event because of my crazy travel schedule so I was was really happy that I would get a chance to honor Barb with my Raspberry Lemon flavored Opera Cake.

As far as how the challenge went, it was actually pretty darn easy as far as DB Challenges go because over the past year, I've tackled all the individual elements either in other challenges or through the confidence I've gained by baking the DB Challenges.

Apparently all that practice paid off because the office gave rave reviews to the Opera Cake, including the senior partner who actually licked his plate!

To see all the other wonderful arias of my fellow Daring Bakers who are crammed into the state room with me, go check out there creations by visiting their blogs!

To try and get a "Bravo" or a "Brava" of your own, go visit Lis or Ivonne and warm up those vocal chords!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ask Breadchick: Purchasing the Mixer of Your Dreams

It is funny how sometimes I can tell the time of year from the types of questions and requests my readers email me. For example, around fall I start getting requests for recipes one should use to make hearty breads to hold up the soups, stews and crock pot meals that the change from summer to fall always brings. During Christmas, invariably there will be a question about kuchen and stollen. And what does the approach of June bring? Well questions about Kitchen Aid mixers of course!

Did you know that the number one item requested in kitchen wares on the bridal registry at Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonama, and Macy's is the Kitchen Aid stand mixer? Did you also know that one of the most returned items from a wedding is duplicate Kitchen Aid stand mixer? I didn't until I started doing a bit of informal research a few weeks ago when I received a letter from two readers begging me to settle a disagreement that had arisen over their bridal registry in regards to a KA mixer. It seems that the future groom thought they should register for the "Big Boy", the Professional 600 while the future bride was thinking more modestly with the Artisan.

This query got me to thinking about my own decision making process when I adopted Isabelle last December.

How did I arrive to the conclusion that the Pro Five Plus was the right mixer for me? Also, what accessories did I get with Isabelle and why?

The first thing I recommend is really and truly think about your baking habits. Are you someone who is baking every day or do you really only bake once or twice a year during the holidays? Do you only bake from mixes or do you bake from scratch? Do you bake only sweets or do you venture into the realm of yeast breads? Do you bake only for you and your family or do you often find yourself baking large batches of cookies for the kid's school bake sales? Finally ask yourself what type of baker do you aspire to be. Maybe now you only bake with mixes but dream of baking a wedding cake from scratch or finally getting that perfectly crunchy crust on a French baguette.

If you only bake occasionally, and then it is normally cookies or some type of batter for muffins or mixes are really more your style, all you need to own is either the Artisan or even the Classic. Both these mixers would more than meet your needs as they are both powerful enough to mix up batches of cookies and make short work of cake mixes. The Artisan is a bit more powerful at at 325W versus 250W but as America's Test Kitchen proved a few years ago when several high powered mixers failed with bread dough while several lessor powered mixers performed well, it isn't always about the wattage but rather the torque that counts. The Artisan can handle up to 9 cups of flour in it's 5 quart bowl and the Classic can handle 8 cups of flour in it's 4.5 quart bowl. Both are tilt head mixers, meaning the whole head rotates up and away from the bowl. Both mixers come with the paddle, whisk and dough hook. The Classic retails for around $250.00 while the Artisan retails for $350.00. The only thing, other than price, that may tip the hand in favor of the Artisan is it comes in all those nifty colors to match any kitchen decor or baker's personality while the Classic comes only in white.

If you are making yeast breads or large amounts of dough or aspire to do either of these things, then you will want to look at a mixer with larger capacity and a bit more power and torque in either the Pro Five Plus or the Pro 600. Both these mixers are bowl lift style, meaning the bowl attaches to an arm lift that then raises the bowl to meet the mixer's head. The Pro Five can handle up to 12 cups of flour in it's 5 quart bowl while the 600 can handle up to 14 in it's 6 quart bowl. Both mixers come with the standard paddle and whisk attachments but have upgraded dough hooks that really duplicate the hand kneading process quite well. Both come in plenty of colors, even if not as many as the Artisan, and both are the same size and weight. The Pro Five Plus retails for around $450.00 while the Pro 600 retails for around $525.00. Kitchen Aid offers a version of the Pro Five Plus that is rated for Commercial use as well, which basically means you won't get in trouble with the health inspector if you run a food business from your home. The Commercial only comes in white and retails for $550.00.

Now that you have figured out which Kitchen Aid mixer to purchase, what accessories should you get?

If you are a frequent baker, on my short list are an extra bowl, an extra paddle and bowl covers. I am so glad I have an extra bowl and paddle because when I'm in the middle of a complex Daring Bakers challenge or have two different loaves of bread going, I don't have to stop and wash my mixer's bowl and paddle. And if you make yeast breads, the bowl cover turns the bowl into the perfect proofing container.

A "nice to have" but not necessary accessory if you bake a lot is the pour shield. I have one but I don't use it as much as thought I would, except when I need to drizzle liquids while the mixer is going. (Note: It appears that Kitchen Aid has discontinued this accessory as I can't find it on their website and no longer see mention of it in the mixer descriptions except for the Artisan and Pro 600, which appear to now come packaged with the pour shield)

After that, you should again consider what you like to cook and how often you would use the attachments in regards to deciding about adding the pasta maker, ice cream maker, sausage stuffer, juicer, grain mill or any of a number of other gadgets you can attach to your stand mixer.

I have the pasta maker and the ice cream maker and neither of them have been out of their packaging yet. Not because I don't plan to use them, mind you, but rather six months into Isabelle's arrival, I have yet to find the time to play with either of them. Rest assured, you will be the first to know when I do!

Finally, comes the question do you purchase brand new or refurbished? This is a matter of personal taste. Obviously, if you are registering for the stand mixer as gift, chances are it will be brand new. But if you are purchasing for yourself and are looking for a bargain, go check out the online Kitchen Aid Outlet, where you will find both close outs and refurbished stand mixers. Most of the refurbished mixers are not mixers that were returned for service and damaged or were completely rebuilt but rather are returns that Kitchen Aid can't sell by law as new or got a ding or scratch during manufacturing. The refurbished mixers come with a full refundable or replacement six month warranty and the same great Kitchen Aid customer service as the new ones. Isabelle is a refurb and she hasn't given me an ounce of trouble and believe me, if she was going to, she would have by now because I use her often and with some pretty stiff doughs.

There you have it in a nut shell, a quick guide to purchasing the Kitchen Aid stand mixer of your dreams.

So which mixer did my two readers end up putting on their bridal registry? They went with the Pro Five Plus in black because both said while now they were happy to bake simple white bread and brownies, they had plans to invest in tiles for their oven and start baking the big country style boules and baguettes they have read about here as soon as they were finished remodeling the house they just purchased. They also registered for an extra bowl, extra paddle, bowl covers and the ice cream maker.

I'm thinking there are some bowl covers from Breadchick in their future...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bread Baking Babes Versus The Baker's Apprentice

This month's adventure in yeast let us put the wellies away and made us drag out the sourdough dictionary to figure out the difference between starter, barm (not used usually in association with sourdough breads), and the difference between wet and firm starters because we took on Peter Reinhart's Poilane Style Miche from his classic cookbook The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.


First, let me tell you that I made this bread three times: once using the recipe that our kitchen of the month, Sher gave us a couple weeks ago that used an almost exclusive rye/wheat flour combination during the barm and firm starter stage; once using the same recipe but using Bob as my starter, and finally exactly as written by Peter in the cookbook.

I really enjoyed playing with this recipe, despite my private griping on our blog and amongst ourselves in email. Probably the number one thing I liked was comparing the differences between the three starters, especially when they reached the firm stage.


I'll give this recipe it's due, this process results in a really nice firm starter. I've always had much better success with more liquid starters than with firm starters but this firm starter was so nice that I kept a wedge from Sher's version to use in future breads.

I really noticed the sour profile of all three starters as quite different as well. Peter's starter was quite sour. Sher's adapted starter was sour but with the overtone of whole grains, and finally Bob had a mild sourness. Of all the three, I liked the bread made with Bob the best, followed by Sher's version of the miche and finally Peter's original version.

When it came to baking, I had the most trouble with the recipe from the Baker's Apprentice as well but I don't think this was the recipe but rather that the day I made the Miche, it was more like November in temperature and humidity than middle May. I had the windows open during the morning and by the time it came for the dough to rise, the temperature in my kitchen was hovering in the upper 50's.

The loaf that was prettiest was Sher's.


I'm not sure why but the loaf baked up perfectly and I do admit, this was the best slashing of a risen loaf I've ever done. The loaf that was the ugliest was the original recipe, again I'm pretty sure this had quite a lot to do with extreme slow rise the bread had over seven hours.


Bob's loaf was nice and had a good rise but my slashing technique was awful.

One thing was constant with all the loaves and that was the crust. We all agreed that the crust was overly tough and hard to cut and chew through.

So, did it taste like Poilane's Miche? It has been a very long time since I've had a loaf from Poilane so I can't say with exactitude but I would say it was close but not completely spot on. The loaf made with Bob was the most mild and based upon the results when I took all three loaves into work: Bob was gone by 11am, Sher's by 1pm, and I ended up tossing 1/3 of the loaf made with the original recipe out to the sea gulls the next morning, Bob's loaf was favored by my work colleagues.

Will I be making this recipe again? Probably not as I wasn't bowled over by any of the breads and I found the crust to be a detriment to the bread. However, I do love the firm starter that resulted from all three "barms". As an aside, we couldn't decide if this was the same as a Mother Starter or a Daughter Starter, I say Barm = Daughter Starter since I consider the seed starter to be the Mother starter but you say potato and I'll say "pahtoto". Regardless of the name, the firm starter is lovely and for that reason alone, I'm glad I gave this bread a whirl, all three times.

(Note about no pictures of Bob's bread, I baked this during the time I was having difficulty with my digital camera and unfortunately the pictures I lost during the reset process where the pictures of Bob's bread)

If you want to have your own starter comparison and be a Bread Baking Budd this month, visit Sher at "What Did You Eat?", our wonderful host kitchen for the recipe she adapted for whole grain or you can visit our founder, Tanna for the recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Finally, if you want to you use your own "Bob", "Dick", or "Sally" or whatever your starter is named, head over to Karen of Bake My Day to see how to use your own wild yeastie! You will have 14 days from yesterday (I'm a day late in my posting) to bake the Poilane style miche and email Sher with your results to have a nice badge to put on your blog!

Also, if you want to make your own starter to do this bread because you want a milder version of the bread, here is a link to the first post in my Sourdough Starter series; where you will find the recipe and process for making your own "Bob". Or, you can sort the posts here at The Sour Dough by the "sourdough" tag. A big bonus if you use this starter is you will have a head start on being a Bread Baking Buddy because Your's Truly here is the host kitchen next month and I can pretty much guarantee we'll be using my starter for the bread (wink-wink)

Oh and one last thing, make sure you check out the lovely ladies who baked the Miche this month: A Fridge Full of Food (Glenna), Bake My Day (Karen), Cookie Baker Lynn (Lynn), I Like to Cook (Sara), Lucullian Delights (Ilva), My Kitchen in Half Cups (Tanna), Grain Doe (Gorel), Notitie van Lien (Lien), and What Did You Eat (Sher)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Cinnabon Gang Rides Again!!

A few months ago, several of us wild and crazy gals got together to have the Great Cinnabon Knock-Off Challenge. We had so much fun chatting and gossiping...ehrm, I mean baking together that we decided when the right recipe came along we would want to do it all over again.

Well, the right recipe has come along in the form of Hot Cheese Bread from the folks at Bakers' Banter, the blog from the test kitchen of my favorite flour, King Arthur's Flour. With a few new additions to the gang, last Saturday we mounted up on our Skype steeds and rode out of town towards cheesy bliss.

This recipe is pretty simple and straight forward. It is a two day process with a starter developed the night before

and then the dough and the cheese bread the next day. The total time spent, excluding the starter development and if you aren't chatting and giggling like fiends on Skype, is about 6 hours with only about 45 minutes of actual working time. Meaning, you can start the dough mid-morning, go out and run a bunch of errands and still have ooey-gooey cheese love for dinner.

Once you have your starter ready, you combine the starter and the rest of ingredients in a large bowl and combine them together. I used Isabelle to do most of the heavy work

and the resulting dough was super soft and sticky (Helen and I decided this was one of the loveliest and most sensual feeling soft doughs we had ever worked with). After a few minutes of hand kneading to get the feel for the gluten development and the structure of the dough, I gathered it into a ball

and set aside to rise until double.

This only took my dough about an hour (I have a super proofing environment between all the yeast roaming about and my oven after setting it to the lowest temp for 5 minutes and turning it off) but some folks had slower risers and it took almost 2 hours. Some of this difference in rising time was due to the climates we were all working in, S. Carolina to California; the temperature differences, low 50's to middle 80's; and some of it was our proofing environments, covered bowls on counters to containers in ovens set to proofing. (Kelly, I love you but I covet your oven!)

Next, after punching down the dough, we pressed it into a large rectangle and sprinkled thickly the grated cheese of our choice.

The recipe calls for Gruyere but I used a combination of Gruyere and little left-over chunks of various white cheese I had been saving exactly this recipe (Asiago to Monterey Jack). Then, starting on the long side, you roll it up into a long log and let the log rise.

At this stage of the recipe our conversation on Skype started to get well...let's say this is a family rated blog and leave it at that shall we!

After the um..log rises, we divided the log into either four or two pieces and flipped the cut pieces onto prepared baking sheets cheese side up and opened up the rolled mini log to expose the cheese to the heat of the oven (more unprintable adult talk ensued on Skype, including Helen coming up with an unmentionable name for the bread that had Kelly's mom blushing)

a spritz of water and into a hot 425 degree oven our cheese love loaves went. About 25 minutes later, out popped this!

Now if that doesn't look like a 6" x 4" piece of heaven I don't know what does!!!

Even better was when you pulled the warm bread apart to expose melty cheesy goodness inside.

I think the consensus on Skype was this was as sinful tasting as it was looking during the last rise and pre-baking. And, adult comments aside, I know this bread is going into my rotation of loaves to pull out when I want to impress and surprise my friends during dinner.

Now, after wiping the drool off your computer you should go check out how the rest of my Cheese Breadheads did. We are posting today and tomorrow so get ready because Lisa, Helen, Sara, Ivonne, Kelly, Stephanie, and Laura Rebecca's blogs all promise to put a certain smile on your face and you may even want an after stare cigarette!

If you want to put a little cheesy love on your table, you can find the recipe here on the King Arthur website.

Now, I wonder when our little gang of yeast outlaws will strike next and with what...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Playing Catch Up on Saturday Morning

I love those mornings that come after a day or two of gloomy days filled with downpours and wind; making my back porch the perfect place to sit and catch up on a few posts that have been knocking around my brain the past few weeks.

Especially since the sun is out, the birds are chirping away in the oak tree that is (hopefully) done dropping its helicopter pods all over my deck

and my recently transplanted herb garden is getting some much needed sun.

As you can see, I have pictures again. I didn't buy a new camera yet but rather turned to the internet to find help with resetting my Fuji F470 camera. Luckily, most of the pictures I had taken were stored on my 2Gig memory card so I was able to save them. This little camera crisis however has led me to start seriously looking for a new digital camera. Not because I don't like my Fuji, I have never had any issues with any of the Finepix I've owned but because as W gently informed me, it is time to step up to the big boy cameras because my pictures are much better than when I started and I'm going to start wanting some real macro capabilities. He's probably right so the new camera search has started. I've looked at a Nikon D40 last week and liked it but didn't like the push sales person, so I didn't want to give him my custom. I'd like to hear from you phototogs out there what you are using and what you think would be a good entry level digital SLR for me so drop me a note or leave a comment.

One of the posts that pained me most to not be able to get out on time was the post for the Julia Child Onion Soup round-up that my buddy Mike over Mel's Diner hosted. Mike had so much fun with us gals in Cookbook Thingy #1 that he invited some of us to do Cookbook Thingy Part Deux along with a few new friends. We will be cooking a few recipes we've always been afraid of trying from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking through the summer and first up was that bistro classic: Soup a l'Oignon Gratinee.

This recipe wasn't difficult but I would definitely recommend using the best beef stock you can buy (I like Emeril's) or better yet, make it yourself. Making it yourself isn't hard, just time consuming and requires that you find a good butcher who can get you marrow bones (which has the added bonus of getting to have roasted marrow on toast!). Between the homemade beef stock and the caramelized onions and the splash of cognac at the end, this soup will satisfy even the most snobbish of French Onion Soup fans.

I also want to thank Mike for giving the opportunity to pull out the culinary torch for a bit of pyro fun...

One of the other things I've made the past few weeks was a version of the famous Kentucky Derby pie for a Kentucky Derby party I attended two weeks ago.

Seems odd that today being the Preakness Stakes, that post about the Kentucky Derby pie. But the pie was so good, I didn't want the opportunity to pass; especially considering all the bitter sweetness of this years Triple Crown series when a horse that reminds me of the great Secretariat in looks has a chance to be the first Triple Crown winner since the Affirmed. Please forgive me if I take a moment to talk sports, something really unusual here at The Sour Dough.

I have friends in thoroughbred racing and the tragic event with Eight Belles at the Derby has put a sad cloud over this year's Triple Crown as well as very much needed scrutiny over the business side of racing. My friends own a small stable of five horses and board ten others for various small trainers in Southwestern Michigan. My friends will be the first to tell you that today's horses that are on the big circuit aren't as sound as they should be and that the breeding for profit business needs to be addressed before the sport is killed by greed. I like to think that my friend's stable is the norm, where they treat their horses at all stages of their careers with dignity and care and where a horse that isn't destined for the track is found a useful and happy life with owners who care as much about the horse as my friends who bred and cared for it as a foal. They've donated horses to the riding programs in the area that help disabled and underprivileged children have the opportunity to ride and care for horses and they have bought back horses when they have thought the current owner may not have the same interests in giving a horse whose track career has ended retirement in dignity. It is people like them who make up the majority of racing and who will save racing but only if we the public don't go 'cuckoo bananas'.

OK, back to pie. Kentucky Derby Pie is sinfully simple to make and equally sinfully delicious. I whole heartedly suggest you serve it anytime of the year! It is like eating a pie filled gooey chocolate chip and nut cookie dough and is really good served warm with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. So much so, that I just ordered the ice cream attachment for Isabelle so I can make this pie again and serve it over the 4th of July on my back deck.

Well, would you look at the time?! I've spent a couple hours out here typing away with a few stare off at the Day Lilly and squirrels trying to master the new bird feeder moments. I have to run. I'm off to the Met tonight to see Verdi's Macbeth and have a few errands to take care of and a bread dough rising on the counter that needs to be turned and then put in the fridge for a nice slow retard before I start "primping" and head into The City.

Have a great Saturday and get into the kitchen to play!

Kentucky Chocolate Nut Pie aka Kentucky Derby Pie

1 deep 9" blind baked pie crust
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup AP flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1/2 cup English walnuts
1/2 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 Tbsp Kentucky bourbon

Mix flour and sugar. Add the eggs and mix until combined. Stir in the butter, nuts, chocolate chips, vanilla and bourbon. Pour mixture in pie crust and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until center of filling is firm. A toothpick inserted will come out with what appears to be chocolate chip cookie dough but not be runny.

Let cool about 20 minutes before serving.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blog Party #34: The Scooby Gang Hangs

One of the things I love about Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness Blog Parties are the inventive themes. This month is no different with the theme for the 34th installment, The Buffy Bash where we are invited to celebrate all things Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy Blog Party

I came late to Buffy, mostly because I don't watch a lot of TV. But, last year at this time, I was spending all that time in my rented room in Fairfield and I discovered Buffy mostly owing to the episodes being available online. While not necessarily high art, the series was highly entertaining and I admit I did get sucked into the Buffyverse.

I also admit that unlike most of the themes for the Stephanie's other Blog Parties, I had a hard time trying to decide what I was going to bring. First, I thought I would make a knock-off version of Jaffa Cakes, Giles favourite snack but I ran out of time to get into the kitchen to play with the few ideas I had to replicate these jammie delicacies. Finally, last night inspiration struck in the form of a slice of Kraft Cheese.

I was in the Market Basket, my little neighborhood grocery, picking up some yogurt and a couple of limes for the drink I was making to bring to the Blog Party, when the grocer and I got off on a tangent about Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. We were comparing notes on our favorite places to get them when we visit Philly when he said sometimes he gets a craving for one but can't get down to Philly to have one so he makes them at home by frying up very thin sliced steak and dropping three slices of Kraft Singles on top and then puts it all on a Martin's Potato Roll. While he was waving around a package of Kraft Singles, I had visions of The Cheeseman chanting "I wear the cheese; the cheese does not wear me" from Restless, the last episode of Season 4.

Deciding to put his homemade recipe to the test for The Buffy Bash, I had him shave me some steak, picked up a package of Martin's Potato Long Roll and Kraft Singles and trotted home to put all the ingredients together. While it wasn't quite a Philly Cheese Steak, it was darn good and so I bring to the party to share, The Cheeseman Stake Sandwich.


To wash down that sandwich, I'm bringing a shaker full of a martini style drink named after the actor who played more monsters than any other in all of movie history, Boris Karloff.


While not completely Buffy related, I like to think that if one of Boris' monsters showed up on a TV show, he would have shown up in Sunnydale...

The Boris Karloff

1 part gin (I used Bombay Sapphire)
1 part tonic
1 part cranberry juice
dash vermouth
squeeze of lime juice
thin slice of lime

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice combine all the ingredients and shake well. With a slice of lime, rim a well chilled martini glass and pour contents of shaker into glass. Garnish with slice of lime.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday's Leftover Thoughts

The crazy work hours are finally settling down a bit meaning I might actually get into the kitchen this upcoming week before I head off for my next round of business travel. In fact, this week I only worked 45 hours down from the average of 60+ the past few weeks.

I've had some technical difficulties this week with my digital camera. Last week while I was trying to upload some pictures I had taken for a certain post (yet to be posted because the pictures are vital to the post), my camera just quit. I thought it was the cable but I've since gotten the new cable and the thing is still not working. I had been wanting a new digital camera for a bit so now it looks like I've been forced into the market for one. Visiting a Best Buy over the weekend will be tops on my list, along with a stop at a gardening center or two.

My landlord has given me permission to use the containers he has in the barn to make a garden on my deck so I've been busy planning what I'm going to plant all spring. Of course, since I've been working like I have, I haven't been able to plant anything yet. Which is too bad because the spring first greens season is just about over. Hopefully the monsoons we are currently having will be gone by tomorrow so I can get a little time on Sunday playing in the dirt.

All this leisure time this week hasn't gone wasted in regards to my kitchen either. Besides actually fixing myself something besides cold cereal or a stop at Subway for a 6" turkey on whole wheat on the way home (I know, I know...but a girl's got to eat!), I made a delicious crab dip for the first "Girls with G&Ts" evening of the season on Wednesday night that was a hit with the ladies. I even managed to get my first mosquito bite of the season sitting by the lovely stream as dusk set in!

Tuesday night I served a strawberry rhubarb tart I made from the last of the frozen rhubarb in my freezer at a new neighbor's open house. I got to use my new French tart pan I received as a special present from a friend and make another batch of my go to all purpose pie/tart crust, Alice Water's simple tart crust. I know I've sung the virtues of this crust here before but let me hit the high notes about it again. I have never had better success with a pie crust than with this one. The recipe makes enough for two 10" tarts and after pressing the dough into the pan and then trimming off the edges I had enough scraps to make a little strawberry emblem for the center.

Last night it was a fun filled night of caviar dreams and champagne wishes because I attended a champagne tasting courtesy of the gentleman I've begun to see as they say in polite Connecticut horse country, "socially". The purpose of the tasting, hosted by a very well known champagne house, was to show that champagne can be paired with even the most pedestrian of foods. There were mini hamburgers, buffalo wings, grilled cheese sandwiches, and even Chicago and NYC style hotdogs at the party. What surprised me the most was how good the pink champagne was with a grilled braut! I always think of pink champagne as a dessert drink or as part of my favorite cocktails to order when I'm feeling like Deborah Kerr in a 1950's high society barn burner. OK, I've also been known to buy a bottle of $4.99 Cook's and clean house while drinking it straight from the bottle with a straw but that is another story. After last night, I'm pretty sure that when I have my friends over for the first grilling of the season, there will be a bottle or two of champagne in the cooler right next to the beer. I'm just going to make sure it isn't a school night because after all that champagne last night I had a bit of a champagne headache this morning!

Wednesday night was also the first night I've watched "Top Chef" real time in weeks. I'm pretty sure I saw my Tivo having the DTs while I was watching the Wedding Wars episode. I have to say of all the seasons this season is kind of like watching a lead balloon try to gain altitude. First, I think we need to change the name of the season to "Top Whiner" or "Top Set Dresser with Hefty Products". Am I the only one who thinks all the gratuitous shots of Glad Ware, Anheuser Bush products in the "stew room" (yes, that "high quality" wine and beer they are drinking back there are all brands owned by AB), and the wonderful prizes offered by the sponsors versus the opportunities to cook with the guest judges has taken away from the idea that this concept was suppose to be a launching pad for yet unknown talent? The only reason I kept my cable subscription this spring was to watch the end of Project Runway and Top Chef. If this season is any indication of what Season 5 has in store for us and with Project Runway moving to Lifetime Television and LA (hmm, I'm seeing lots more soap opera and lots less fashion in PR's future. What will Tim Gunn wake up and realize it was all a dream?), I'm going to cancel cable and increase my Netflix subscription.

While we are still on Top Chef, if anyone who is producing over there at Bravo happens to read this, since you are in the process of casting this week for Season 5, how about we have a few less catering challenges and few more real cooking challenges. Oh, and one more idea for you, how about instead of introducing us to the already selected chefs the first episode, how about you show us a "whittle down to 16" relay race ala this past episode's Quickfire Challenge for the first episode. I love the relay race (remember Hung's lightening fast chicken dismemberment last season and Step sure whipped that mayo this season) not to mention Tom Colicchio's facial expressions as he watches the tasks over the shoulders of the contestants are hysterical.

Finally, when I woke up this morning, the only dinner plans I had for tonight was some home made Wonton Soup I've been drooling over since I saw them over at Sher's What Did You Eat yesterday, a bottle of wine and a good long chat with my soulmate in Kamloops to dish about food, our lives and get snarky about a thing or two. Unfortunately, Sara has been roped into some type of work thing that had already altered our plans for a blabfest by 24 hours. Which is probably a good thing considering about an hour ago my cellphone rang and Mr. Thirty-Two Foot Sailboat informed me his dinner plans with two business partners also fell through.

Looks like this Cinderella needs to go get out of her cleaning rags and put that ball gown on because she has seats to stare at Patrick Stewart for a few hours and listen to some of the scariest words ever spoken backstage (you know it's bad luck to say Macbeth backstage right?) followed by after theater drinks and dinner somewhere he isn't telling me. All I've been told is bring my dancing shoes.

I hope he doesn't mean my disco shoes...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sorta Food Related...It's Paris After All!

So, I'm off to Paris again!

Effiel Tower

I found out yesterday that a project I'm working on is going to "require" (he-he) me to be in Paris from June 9 - 12; meaning I'll be spending my 41st birthday in Paris this year. To celebrate, I've decided I'm flying over on Friday June 7th and spending the weekend on my own. You ask, what could be wrong with any of this? Well, I started booking my travel this morning and found that my hotel where I always stay when I'm in Paris has no rooms.

Here is my dilemma: Do I book another hotel in the area like my second choice, where I've had pleasant stays before or do I explore a new neighborhood? (An apartment is out of the question as part of my stay will be a business expense picked up by my client.)

The cons to exploring a new neighborhood are:

  • The 15th is "my" neighbourhood when I am in Paris. It is where I know the green grocers, the bakeries, where to buy my cheese and wine and where to go get a late night bowl of onion soup. I love this part of Paris and the thought of being in Paris and not staying in the area pains me.

  • Hotels in Paris can be a nightmare. Luckily, I have only had one or two bad experiences in Paris before I found my little gem of a hotel on the border of the 15th and 6th arrondisments. But, I really don't want to spend my special birthday weekend hassling with an awful hotel.

  • See #1

The pros to exploring a new neighbourhood are

  • Paris is a city of hidden gems. I am always afraid that because I am so comfortable on the Left Bank (I'm a Rive Gauche Girl) that I am missing all the special places the Right has to offer. Yes, I've explored the neighborhoods of the other side but you really don't get to know a neighborhood in Paris until you spend your nights and early mornings there. Once the sun goes down and the shops close or before the shops open, a neighborhood has such a different feel. I love walking down to a small store at 8pm to pick up one last bottle of wine to go with the half a baguette and hunk of cheese I bought earlier in the evening. I like to explore local shops and sit in the local bistro for a late supper. Perhaps I'd find that I like the 4th just as well as I like the 6th if I booked a hotel there. Maybe the 16th is every bit as friendly as the 15th. I don't know because I've never been in either of those neighborhoods except to sight see and maybe have dinner with friends.

  • A few people in my life know I am working to retire to Paris for at least part of the year. Not that I'm retiring any time soon but if it all goes according to plan, I will be retiring in about ten years. Everything I've read about retiring to Paris says to try a long term stay in as many of the neighborhoods as possible to find the one that fits you best. I could consider the week I'm going to be there trying on a new neighborhood to see if I like it any better than the 15th (which is where I was planning on living).

So, what do you think: book a hotel in my usual neighborhood or strike out and test the waters in a different part of Paris?

Where do you stay when you are in Paris? Tell me why I should try your neighborhood!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Blogging By Mail: Little Things That Equal a Huge Pick-Me-Up

I have been remiss of much of late but mostly I have been remiss in writing here. I wish I could tell you that has been because I've been off traveling to some exotic local where I ate wonderful meals and mingled with the most interesting of people but, unfortunately, the truth is rather boring... I'm still working stupid, crazy hours at work (averaging 60+ hours for the past three weeks) and when I'm not working, I've had a few personal things that have kept me from The Sour Dough and the kitchen. But, with a little luck and a few more days of these hours, it looks like I may have weathered the worse of the storm.

There have been a few bright spots the past few weeks however and one of the brightest was in the form a little box that traveled all the way from Down Under and arrived on a day when I most needed a pick me up!

Blogging By Mail Package

Even the very neglected LB enjoyed receiving the package and helped me rip open the brown paper covered box.

LB Never Met  a Box He Didn't Love

My surprise package was sent on its journey to me by Tara of Should You Eat That, a funny food blogger and fellow Daring Baker. Tara was my partner for this turn of Blogging By Mail, the popular package swap event hosted by Stephanie, who writes at Dispensing Happiness. This pass of BBM carried the theme of "Little Things" and we were suppose to send to our paired blogger a few of our favourite little things (I was paired with a nice girl from Germany, Lena who while not having a blog does have a Flickr page showing all the swaps she participates in, including some snap shots of the package I sent her).

Like last time when I received J's fabulous package, it appears that Tara and I have much in common when it comes to little things. I am amazed at all the little things Tara was able to pack into such a small box! Starting with a lovely red tea towel

Tea Towel From Australia

and ending with all manner of much appreciated food stuffs, including a tube of Vegemite and one of my all time favourite Aussie treats, Tim Tams!

Blogging By Mail Package Contents

Tara must have read about my love of little spoons, because she included just the cutest spoon with strawberries on top that now resides in my jam jar; currently filled with the last of my summer strawberry preserves.

She also included an egg separator, sure to come in handy with all the baking I have coming up very soon (and something I had on my kitchen gadget wish list). A few of the many other things in my box of joy were Cadbury chocolate bars, tea and cocoa mix, springy flower magnets for my fridge, tiny post-it notes (Tara, who did you KNOW of my post-it obsession??!), mini tubes of M&M's, Skittles, and Nerds, some spices including something called Bush Spices which I've been sprinkling liberally on salads, in scrambled eggs, and roasted potatoes, teeny tiny muffin papers, a cake tester, and another item that has long been on my kitchen wish list, a honey pot. Tara was also so thoughtful to include a few recipes that she is famous for, M&M Chocolate Chip cookies and some most incredible brownies that are currently baking in my oven, Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies.

Thanks to Tara for all the lovely gifts. I promise I will enjoy each and every one of them (including the Vegemite!) and thanks to Stephanie for all the hard work she puts in to pairing all of us who sign up for Blogging By Mail.