Friday, March 30, 2012

Testing, Testing

Thanks to Jillian Michaels and her promotions with, I've splurged ($2!) on an actual domain name. Check out the new blog!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

No Ordinary Joe

In a (perhaps futile) quest to health things up a bit, I made the drastic decision to give up lazy Sunday brunches, delicious trips to lively restaurants, and the beckoning glow of ice cream shops for the month of March. However, even though I can't eat out for a couple of more weeks, my cravings for certain dishes are still managing to get the best of me.

Having made pasta fagioli to go with my Irish soda bread, I was left with a container of fresh sage begging to be employed in my kitchen. One of our favorite places to eat is Longman & Eagle, a Michelin star restaurant conveniently a ten minute drive from our apartment doorstep. If it's after brunch hours, the significant other has the tendency to order their Wild Boar Sloppy Joe. With the right amount of heat and sweetness, this dish knocks it out of the park. The official description of the dish includes crispy sage and onion and pickled jalapeno.

As is the case with sloppy joes, this recipe involved a lot of "a little of this" and "a little of that." I began by crisping up some leftover pancetta (also from the pasta fagioli) for 10 minutes and using the leftover fat to crisp up some sage which we dipped in a flour mixture to replicate tempura as best we could. Next up was carmelizing some onions, browning some bison and then putting the mean, onions, and a made-up sloppy joe sauce together to simmer. We used ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce with no real rhyme or reason. With some pickled jalapenos added at the last second and crisp sage thrown on the top, we were left with a perfectly suitable substitute of one of L&E's best dishes. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bread and Butter

There are few places that I've traveled to that are more magical than Ireland. My first visit was in 2001 while studying abroad in Cambridge, England. As much as I loved living in the UK, my roommates had to physically drag me onto the plane to leave my beloved Eire.

10 years later, I found myself touching down in Shannon, Ireland again. This time with my parents and the required age (*sigh*) to be able to rent a car and drive through the countryside on narrow, winding roads. The difference between my original visit and my visit last year? Rather than staying in budget hostels, my parents and I spent our chilly evenings among the comfort of bed and breakfasts. Besides the fluffy beds and occasional family pet, the best part of these stays were often the second part of their names... the breakfast.

Thanks to the magic of tripadvisor, we knew the specialties of each house prior to arrival and after having some pretty delicious Irish brown bread at Daly's House in Doolin, it remained to be seen whether our stay at Milestone House in Dingle could compare. Apparently proprietors, Michael and Barbara, know how to churn out some legendary brown bread. As we sipped on our coffee and enjoyed fresh rhubarb chutney, Michael carried out the bread with much pomp and circumstance. After a few bites, we soon devised plans for smuggling the bread out for our mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks later that day. Thank goodness for disposable napkins!

With St. Patrick's Day on the horizon and realizing that almost a full year has passed since my journey to Ireland, I decided that today was the day to test out a soda bread recipe. Although Michael and Barbara did email me their famous recipe and give pointers, my parents had a massive fail with the recipe. Rather than facing frustration, I turned to my trusty Cook's Illustrated cookbook. Because my cupboards are already full of too many one-dimensional ingredients and didn't need wheat germ added this week, I opted to go for white soda bread rather than brown. Who needs health when it's a holiday?

The results? A giant, pillowy buttermilk biscuit in the form of bread. Ah-mazing. Irish eyes must have been smiling.

Classic Irish Soda Bread
From The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted for brushing loaf
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Whisk together all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt together in large bowl.
  3. Add softened butter and use fingers to rub it into flour until incorporated completely.
  4. Make well in center of flour and add 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.
  5. Work buttermilk into flour mixture using fork until dough comes together in large clumps and there is no dry flour in bottom of bowl, adding 1/4 cup more buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all loose flour is just moistened. 
  6. Turn dough onto lightly floured counter and pat together to form 6-inch round; dough will be scrappy and uneven.
  7. Place dough in 12-inch cast-iron skillet (I put on cookie sheet). Score deep cross, about 5 inches long and 3/4 inch deep, on top of loaf and place in oven.
  8. Bake until nicely browned and knife inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. 
  9. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter.
  10. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. 

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Shaking in My Shoes

The last few months have been spent visiting a chiropractor and becoming increasingly lazy thanks to a recurring back injury. After plenty (!) of rest and surviving another Sydney orientation, it's time to find my motivation and challenge myself again. Besides cracking every single vertebrae, my chiropractor gave me some words of advice and the all clear to get back to the gym.

How will I celebrate?

By punishing myself with my first Bar Method experience. Who wouldn't want to go to classes that lead to quotes such as these?
Wow, the Bar Method is intense. It works every major muscle group and you're going to be shakin' so bad that you're going to feel like a total a$$.
The bar method is very expensive torture that you actually convince yourself is FUN! HOWEVER.... it will make any exercise bearable for the rest of your life! 
You know that feeling when you are working out and your muscles start to shake because they are about to fail?  This is about 60 minutes of that.
What can I say? It was January. There was a special on. I enjoy muscle failure.

The good news is that you have to book classes online so I bit the bullet today and scheduled my first classes. I have six weeks to reap the rewards of these classes because after that, I would need to be in a different tax bracket to be able to continue at the studio.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My weekend originally appeared to be a bit of a slower one with a visit to the hometown and then a relaxing Sunday as the significant other was scheduled to be in Montana on a mini-break. However, due to "Acts of God," his flight was cancelled and I found myself back in the city with a very disgruntled non-traveler and the task of salvaging a bit of cheer.

In a moment of brilliance, I recommended a late dinner at Tango Sur, an Argentinian restaurant not far from our house. An incredibly popular place, we found out at 8:30 pm that the wait was still approaching two hours. Refusing to be deterred from the promise of BYOB wine, we hit a few local establishments first and suddenly the evening was on the cusp of capturing the joviality we experience in Paris.

Around 11 pm, we took our seats at one of the best seats in the restaurant with a single candle and high-spirited diners surrounding us. Wine was flowing freely at tables and the food was rich and delicious. It was exactly what made me fall in love with Paris in November.

Our journey was for made for four reasons:
  1. To eat our body weight in foie gras.
  2. To drink our body weight in cocktails and local spirits.
  3. To earn miles for a trip to Argentina in 2012. 
  4. To help me forget my ill-fated trip in 2001 which left a sour taste in my mouth.
Did we succeed? Absolutely! Some of the best three days of my life. Hands down. Viva la France!

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Banana Stand

With the news that "Arrested Development" has been picked up by Netflix for new episodes, I felt inspired by the prospect of more Banana Stand moments to use up some very black and very odd looking pieces of fruit chilling in my freezer.

I love quick breads and have a pumpkin bread recipe that I have made multiple times and can't imagine switching out. But a great banana bread has always alluded me. What is the secret ingredient that turns a ho-hum bread into something worth touting to the world? Yogurt? Nutmeg? Almond extract?

Many months ago I pinned a recipe from I Am Baker and decided to give it a go. I added 1/2 tsp of instant coffee since I firmly believe that this small addition made my Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip muffins (courtesy of Baked) so amazing.

And the verdict?

Disaster. Like my blueberry muffins of last weekend, the bread came out very dense. Also, because it takes so long to get the middle of the bread baked through, the outside gets too dark too quickly and in this case, caramelized. Although the crust is kind of yummy, I don't really like gnawing on my banana bread.

I was kicking myself for whatever mysterious thing I did wrong for about five minutes. I'm very careful not to overstir and my baking soda/baking powders are fresh.What curse has come over my baking these days?

Then I took a moment. And realized that in my haste to jot down the recipe for use in the kitchen, I didn't include the oil. Can I blame a case of the Fridays?

I will definitely be trying this recipe again with the proper ingredients as the taste is definitely there!

The original (with oil) recipe:

Perfect Banana Bread
Adapted from I Am Baker

2 eggs
1/3 cup vanilla yogurt
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup ripe mashed bananas
1 ½ cups white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ¾  cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½  tsp salt
½  tsp instant espresso powder

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and prepare chosen pan.
  2. Blend together the eggs, yogurt, oil, extract and bananas in mixer with low speed.
  3. Add in sugars and fully incorporate.  
  4. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder and mix until just combined. 
  5. Pour into prepared pan and bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Start checking early as each oven is different, but mine took 75 minutes.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

ATK: Blueberry Muffins

DVR has brought me a new obsession. Episodes of America's Test Kitchen occupy my weekend afternoons and fill my head with recipes and ideas. One of the recent shows highlighted brunch items, including some absolutely delicious looking blueberry muffins. Unfortunately, I happen to live with a certain boyfriend who is allergic to berries. It's almost borderline tragic, really.

However, after receiving my Cook's Illustrated cookbook with an obscene amount of recipes (2,000!), I had to make sure that those blueberry muffins were distinguished enough to garner a spot in the cookbook. And there they were. Waiting for me.

With the assurances that a potential allergic reaction was worth it, I set to work. I followed the recipe to the letter but just knew that not using a muffin liner and using the crumb topping was going to end in tears. And I was right. The crumb topping started to get too brown too quickly and the muffin bodies began to get done too soon as well. Also, apparently my chopstick figure 8s weren't worthy of Perfect 10 scores because my blueberry jam didn't make it all the way to the bottom of most muffins.

These were some dense muffins which is exactly what the receipe was not supposed to result in. I am always careful not to overmix to try to control the gluten formation, but somehow these managed to lose their light and fluffy nature.

Edible? Yes. Worth an Epipen? No.