Monday, January 31, 2011

Bakery Visit in NYC...Balthazar!

When I studied abroad during my junior year I had the chance to pop over to Paris for a long weekend with one of my best friends who was studying there at the time.  She dragged me around that whole city traipsing the town in our heels down tiny alleyways and around the grand avenues that crisscross the parks and palaces all in search of the famous patisseries of Parisian baking.   

The memory of this trip is one of pure escape and pleasure.  Spending our days just sampling the most delicate gifts the French had to offer in the form of warm earthy breads and melting milky cheese tarts was simply divine.  Since coming back home I've often gone in search of what bakery I could find that could somehow compare.

Last weekend I decided to take a spur of the moment excursion to New York City…I of course grabbed my "Bucket List of Bakeries" (currently comprised mostly of NY establishments) and my camera, and decided that no matter what other Big Apple temptations transpired during the trip, I had to insist that there would be a chance to visit one of these little pastry shops.  And as I was staying on the Lower East Side this trip, the morning stop became Balthazar!

The little red door of this veritable jewel box of baked goods was overflowing with New Yorkers that Saturday morning eager to pick up delicacies for brunch, dessert and bread for the week.  As I stood across the street photographing away the excitement began to build.  Soon my mouth would be filled with some sort of delicious treat with a recipe straight from the heart of Paris.

I didn’t have time to try the attached restaurant, but the bakery was just enough for me.  It was so small and inviting, so warm on such a cold January morning.  It was as though the walls were reminding all the visitors inside that this was a very special city, somewhere seemingly everyone wanted to be and there just wasn’t room for anything or anyone that wasn’t equally as wonderful.  And if you could squeeze in there then you too belonged as much as any of their little pastries.  When I stepped out again into the biting air I froze my fingers licking the linzer cookie icing sugar off of them, but I didn’t mind.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Ultimate Infamous Brownie does exist.

I'd only heard of this sort of thing in storybooks, children's fantasy fables and dreams of make-believe desserts like sky high cakes and never ending cups of coco.  But though this recipe is just the stuff legends are made of, the tale is true.

A short time ago, in a kitchen far far away (unless you live in Washington DC, in which case, a kitchen right around the corner) I was thinking up ideas for the ultimate indulgent dessert recipe in a foodblog world where sometimes it seems like it's all been done before...  Just when I was about to lose hope I asked my boyfriend if he would help me at least decide between cookies and brownies.  Back and forth we battled it out, and the cookie and the brownie each took their turns to rise to the top, but neither was defeated and still there was no victor between them.  Until, in an old recipe book of mine emerged the peace treaty to settle our woes once and for all..the does exist.  The BF chose this one, he was shocked that it was real and insisted I bake up a batch that very instant.

Baking for someone you love is a wonderful thing, the tastes and smells and warm goodness of it all are the most tactile gift you can give.  And these Brownie-Cookies did not disappoint.  The recipe is also super simple.

PS - I couldn't resist sandwiching ice cream between two of these lovely was irresistible.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Deep Fried Chocolate Covered Strawberries

It was Football Sunday and all through the home,
The guests were bored with the menu, there was a grunt and a groan.

“Less boring, more scoring” they screamed at the TV,
And I listened to their cries from the kitchen, you’ll see.

So I thought, “What did I have that was fresh and fun,
And how could I make it even more delicious and yum?”

Coat it in chocolate! And deep-fry it! I thought,
(Throwing away all the health tips I had been taught.)

The boys were intrigued and so I pushed on,
Grabbing strawberries and pancake mix, I’d have snacks before halftime was gone!

The final finish I was nervous, did not look absolutely gorgeous,
But when my friends tasted these Deep Fried Chocolate Strawberries, they were splendidly rewarded!

So that’s the story…I was first inspired to even attempt this dish by a article but I took their idea off the stick, made a few little adjustments and the final result was amazing (taste wise).  The idea is really unique and final dish is a cross between chocolate pancakes and chocolate covered strawberries, obviously an ideal combination.  The frying process can get a bit tricky, but I really recommend you try this out for a fun weekend morning activity!  And even though I must honestly admit that they aren’t the most gorgeous looking little delicacies, and they can be a bit tricky to make (I know, I know against the premise of my blog....shame on me) but they tasted so incredibly delicious that I just had to post.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Panettone Bread Pudding

I am obsessed with panettone.  OBSESSSSSSSSSSSSED.  My previous food obsessions have ranged from couture dark chocolates to Brussels sprouts, but panettone is an exceptionally obsessive obsession for me at the moment.  And why wouldn’t it be, this perfect hybrid of cake and challah is delicious!  Next to my laptop as I type right now are the sad remains of a hollowed out panettone wrapper that I’ve single handedly been picking at for just over a day.  I only wish I had been this obsessed when I was actually on vacation in Italy where my current maniacal drive towards egg bread could have at least gone to some good use.  Instead, I’m relegated to the aisles of Safeway and Trader Joe’s around Christmastime for my panettone partaking.  Sure I can glimpse at the lux offerings of Dean and Deluca but unfortunately the $40 price tags make my sampling of the delicacies cost prohibitive.  For those of you looking for a recipe for what to do with this bread (which at this point in the year you likely either have left over or can find on major sale) I’ve simplified a good recipe.  I don’t usually do too much with a panetonne besides this bread pudding and I think that’s because what I love so much about this little babke is that it looks and tastes like it was shipped all the way across the ocean especially for me straight from the heart of a warm little kitchen in Italy, and so it's perfect just the way it is.   

Panetonnes are always wrapped in this parchment paper that ensures they stay moist and fresh.  The sweet bread (like challah) is dotted with currents, raisins and other little dried fruits that keep you guessing at what old world marvel of a fruit got itself dried and plopped into your little panettone.  Now if you only bought one of these this season, please, EAT IT JUST AS IS.  And savor every moment.  But if you’re like me and the Christmas season compels you to line your cupboards with the pretty red parcels, then by all means sacrifice one for this Panettone Bread Pudding.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cheesy Chewy Crunchy Yummy (I promise!) Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts…yum.  Why this poor little miniature cabbage is the poster-child for universally hated vegetables is a mystery to me.  I suspect it’s all in the name.  Sprouts for starters are intimidating, and Brussels is obviously foreign.  But though I’ve always really loved these little gems, I will give two caveats to my statement of affection: 1. You must buy them fresh and 2. You must not boil them.  Frozen Brussels sprouts tend to be really mushy no matter how you cook them and the same goes for fresh Brussels sprouts that are boiled.  But if you can avoid these two devastating pitfalls you will have yourself a delicious, nutritious, scrumptious, yumptious side dish.

I found this stalk of Brussels sprouts in the market the other day and was immediately drawn to the medieval weapon looking object.  I actually bought it because it was only $3.69 for like 2 lbs. of fresh vegetables! (An incredible deal out here in the northeast).  And this vegetable aisle splurge was extremely rewarding.  Brussels sprouts are potent anti-oxidants and very filling (aka high impact for low cal).  And I do believe I’ve perfected the art of cooking them into an especially tasty side dish.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Upside-Down Cake: Cranberry Style

There’s something about flipping my dessert upside down that charmed me about this recipe.  The technique is actually very old fashioned, as is the dessert itself…but the element of thrill in the guise of a cake-flip really intrigued me, and I couldn’t resist trying it.  Turns out though that the final flip at the end of the bake wasn’t nearly the most thrilling part of this cake experience; lighting the oven on fire was. 

I’m certain when I first read this recipe it said to use a spring-form pan (where the bottom of the pan isn’t attached to its sides and instead snaps in place around it)…to help get the cake out more easily when it finishes baking.  But actually there was no need for that type of baking equipment at all; with a nicely greased pan and a bit of parchment paper, things would have been just fine…

The basic strategy for this cake is to put the cranberries into the bottom of the pan, cover them in cake batter, and then just bake it, flip it, serve it.  I should have noticed something was a-rye when I lifted up the uncooked cake to put it into the oven and a buttery, sugary residue was all over the counter.  But I am a very messy cook and thought nothing of a little spill. 

The second that poor little cake hit the oven rack and heated up the butter seeped, no scratch that, the butter poured out the sides of the pan and began to splatter and char at the bottom of the oven.  I’m curious what you would have done in such a predicament.  Usually I just sit there and cry but there was no one around to help so I took to action.  I threw another pan into the oven on the bottom shelf to catch the drippings so they wouldn’t stick to the oven itself.  That worked for a total of .5 seconds because the drop and splatter effect was still resulting in a burning smoky situation.  I then put a second pan directly underneath the actual cake and thankfully that worked mildly well enough.  In the end, the cake flipped nicely and tasted delicious, which really made me realize: if this cake could go through all that and still turn out so lovely, then this recipe is perfect to share!  

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