June 19, 2013
When life gives you rhubarb, you make rhubarb-ade?
Pretty sure that's not the expression, but sure, let's go with it. Do you remember when the spring started and I bought my first batch of rhubarb for these rhubarb shortcakes? What a big milestone that was for me! Up until that recipe, I've always been intimidated by the fruit (or is it vegetable? I get confused), with its beautiful pink colors and alien-like stalks:
But oh, how time quickly changes things! The shortcake recipe taught me that rhubarb could easily be roasted like my favorite vegetables. Just throw in the pieces with vanilla, sugar, and water and boom! Deliciousness, complete with a pretty pink syrup to boot.
Before long, I was obsessed with the stuff. I loved the tart flavor they brought to desserts. After the shortcakes came these wonderful rhubarb marshmallows, followed by this beautiful rhubarb and pistachio pavlova.
But now rhubarb season's coming to a close, and there's only one thing left to do:
I'm always surprised to discover how short of a time things actually stay in season. I walked into the farmer's market last weekend expecting to get a flat of strawberries, only to find that the strawberries had been replaced with cherries. Although I took advantage of strawberry season, I was a little bit to sad to see the season end.
Rhubarb is a little bit more forgiving — in Portland, the stalks have been around since late May, but are starting to become scarcer and scarcer in the farmer's market. I bought a bunch of stalks, fully intending to make sure I had rhubarb flavor accessible to me year round. If you've ever wondered how to make your favorite seasonal fruits last all year long, the solution is simple: you can turn them into a fruit syrup. A simple syrup.
Named because all you really need to do is boil the rhubarb together with a cup of water and a cup of sugar. After 20 minutes, you've got a beautiful batch of bright pink syrup:
So what can you use the rhubarb syrup for? Well, personally, I've been eyeing this Food52 recipe for rhubarb and rose ramos gin fizz for a few months now. Also this rhubarb bellini from the New York Times.Other things besides cocktails? Drizzle over ice cream and pancakes, flavor cakes and frostings... the possibilities are endless.
Check back in a few weeks for some drink and dessert recipes involving rhubarb syrup! But for now, I'll leave you with this recipe.
June 16, 2013
Guys, it's my 26th birthday today.
I've never been a big birthday person. I think the last birthday party I threw for myself was in eight grade and it was such a stressful affair — water park, sleepover, movie — that I never threw another party again. I generally hate being the center of attention, and often times shy away from the spotlight. These days, if I'm feeling wild, I'll spend my birthday getting dinner at a restaurant or going to a quiet bar with some friends. But admittedly, it's getting more and more anti-climatic each year — I have nothing planned for today, for instance. Oh well. As long as no tears are shed (like last year's birthday, but that's another story), I'll consider it a successful day.
My, my, what a high bar I set for myself.
Presents are another way I like to suck the fun out of birthdays. I believe, sincerely, that birthdays are a way of getting what you want without having to pay for it. This is something that my boyfriend Erlend and I have argued about repeatedly over the years. While he's all about the surprise and the thought behind the process, I absolutely hate surprises and not knowing what I'm going to get. This is why I keep ordered Amazon wish lists to I send to him and family members year after year. That way, there's no disappointment when I open up any packages.
So yep. I'm like the grinch. Who hates birthdays. I'm Birthday Grinch.
Aware of my somewhat pessimistic outlook on birthdays, I decided it was time to establish some sort of celebratory tradition in honor of my birthday. Last year, I made this Funfetti Birthday Layer Cake from Momofuku Milk Bar's cookbook. It was probably the highlight of my birthday last year. I figured why not make another fully-stacked, gloriously layered, and unapologetically unfrosted cake from one of New York City's most famous bakeries?
So, behold this chocolate chip cake:
According to the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook, head pastry chef (and James Beard Award winner) Christina Tosi decided to keep her cakes unfrosted because she had spent so much time thinking about the different components, layers, and textures of the cake. Why hide it behind some frosting?
Indeed, as you can see in the picture above, this cake is particularly stunning: a layer of chocolate chip-butter milk cake soaked with passionfruit puree, topped off with a layer of passionfruit curd, topped with some chocolate crumbs, before finally finishing with some coffee buttercream frosting... only to repeat the whole thing again. All in all, the different parts make 11 different layers for one cake. Epic right?
A word on the cake: coffee-passionfruit-chocolate? Doesn't that seem a little out there? But it turns out that coffee-passionfruit-chocolate is a common pastry school combination, and one that's slowly becoming mainstream. In Portland, I've seen several bakeries offer up passionfruit-cocoa nib donuts in the last few months. Think of it like chocolate-orange, or chocolate-raspberry even. A tart, citrusy fruit flavor paired with some bold chocolate. My coworkers absolutely loved it. They finished off half the cake before lunchtime.
But I won't lie to you — this cake was a feat. Not only does it require you to find some pretty obscure ingredients and equipment, but it requires you to make four different parts using completely different recipes (cake, curd, crumbs, frosting) before finally even putting it together. The cookbook doesn't do a great job providing pictures of the assembly process either. You can use my process guide from last year's birthday cake post with step-by-step pictures to help you out. Before you start baking, read my baker's notes AND the recipe carefully. That's all I can tell you.
Should you decide to take the red pill and make this cake, brace yourself.
But believe me, it's worth it.
June 12, 2013
Okay, summer came early here in Portland. We're talking bright blue, cloudless skies and 80-degree weather. Since it rained EVERY DAY last June, I ain't complainin'. Well, okay, maybe a little bit.
Because here's the deal: I live in a teeny, tiny 1-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend Erlend. And by teeny, tiny, I mean it: our apartment is in an old Victorian-style house that's been converted into 6 different apartments. We have half of the top floor, which used to be the house's attic. Being an attic, the insulation is not exactly stellar. And by that I mean, it's actually absolutely terrible. We freeze in the winter, and we burn in the summer. To top it off, we have one inconvenient heater in the living room, and absolutely no air-conditioning.
So now let's throw that pesky little baking habit of mine in the mix. Turning the oven on in the summertime means that, whatever's baking or roasting in the oven, we're roasting along with it. The oven heats up the entire apartment, and no matter how many fans we turn on or windows we open, our apartment firmly remains as hot as the oven. And considering it's June and we've already had a couple of 80-degree days? I have no idea how I'm going to be able to turn my oven on in July and August.
So enter Cristina Suarez Krumsick's no-bake cookbook, No Bake Makery:
A few weeks ago, a publishing company reached out to me and asked if I was interested in a couple copies of No Bake Makery. And with summer coming up and my fear of roasting alive in my apartment becoming more realistic every day, I figured why not? I was already starting my search for recipes that avoided using my oven at all.
Thankfully, No Bake Makery eliminated all the work I needed to do — the cookbook contains 80+ different recipes for bite-sized bake treats, none of which require an oven. It's got quite a repertoire of recipes, ranging from truffles, bark, pies, cake, pudding, candy, and cookies... all without ever having to turn on the oven.
Looking through the recipes, I knew I definitely wanted to try the no-bake tiramisu since tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts:
No Bake Makery's tiramisu recipe did NOT disappoint. It was really more like a tiramisu parfait, layering ladyfinger crumbs with a mascarpone, coffee, and sugar cream. The mascarpone cream was absolutely addicting. I couldn't stop eating spoonfuls of the stuff. It had the consistency and flavor of sweetened condensed milk (one of my favorite ingredients), but spiked with espresso and vanilla. Indeed, according to the cookbook, author Cristina upped the amount of espresso traditionally found in tiramisu for the recipe. No wonder I was bouncing around for the rest of the afternoon. In any case, I'm definitely looking to trying more recipes from the cookbook.
And if No Bake Makery sounds like something up your alley, be sure to join my giveaway! I'm giving away a FREE copy to one of my readers. A couple of notes:
- The giveaway is only open for 1 week and closes on June 19, 2013 (next Wednesday) at 11:59 PM PDT. At that point, a winner will be chosen at random and notified by email shortly afterwards.
- I sincerely apologize for this one, but the giveaway is for US residents only. I cannot ship abroad/overseas.
- You can enter as many times as you want. So the more times you enter, the more likely you'll win!
- I promise you that your contact info will never, EVER be shared or given to anybody else. You will only receive an email from me if you've been chosen as the winner.
Also, feel free to share this giveaway with your friends!
As for those who came for the tiramisu recipe, don't fret. I've got it for you below:
June 8, 2013
When it comes to dessert, my boyfriend Erlend and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m a big fan of classic sweets like cakes and cookies, but he prefers desserts of more exotic fare. Things like Asian sticky rice desserts, or esoteric desserts like pavlova.
When Erlend recently requested that I make a pavlova, I was a little bit confused — I’d never heard of the dessert before. So what is it, exactly?
I like to think of it as a giant meringue, but softer. That is, although a pavlova shares the meringue’s hard shell, its inside are fluffy and soft like a marshmallow. According to my research (ehem, Wikipedia), pavlova is actually pretty common in Australia and New Zealand; you just don’t often see it in the US. The dessert was named and created for the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova (known for her beautiful dancing), which I found unsurprising. The dessert is delicate, light, and airy — just as I imagine a ballet dancer would be.
In Australia and New Zealand, pavlovas are often served in the summertime with whipped cream and fruit. To stay true to this tradition, I chose a recipe that topped off the pavlova with a healthy serving of roasted rhubarb, whipped cream, and pistachios:
The result was a dream. The rhubarb and pistachio pavlova was a beautiful balance of differing contrasts: the pavlova’s delicate, crisp exterior versus its soft, cloud-like interior. The rhubarb’s soft, tart texture versus the crunchy pistachios.
When I was little, I always imagined that clouds in the sky were edible. In my head, I had pegged their texture and flavor as similar to cotton candy. But with this recipe, I found out that, nope, I was wrong this entire time. If you could touch and taste a cloud, they’d taste like pavlovas. Most likely.
June 5, 2013
Man, I had a tough week last week.
It was a combination of things. First things first, my family was in town. While I love my family, it's always a little bit stressful hosting them as they require a lot of hand-holding in terms of entertainment, figuring out what to do, etc. In addition to taking care of all the planning and activities, I basically played chauffeur all week. If you know me in real life, you know what a foul mood driving around will make me since I tend to avoid it at all costs (I bike to work everyday, rain or shine). Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted when we said our goodbyes.
My family's visit to Portland also happened to coincide with Saveur Magazine's Best Food Blog Awards Ceremony. A few months ago, I was absolutely thrilled to find out that my blog was a finalist for the ceremony's Best Desserts & Baking Blog category. As a finalist, I was invited to attend a ceremony recognizing all the winners and finalists hosted by Saveur in Las Vegas's famous Bellagio hotel. The invitation promised two days of amazing food tours, as well as the chance to be in the company of some of the world's best bloggers and important people in the food industry in general.
After several weeks of hemming, hawing, and discussion with both friends and family, I decided to forgo the invitation to the ceremony and instead spend the time with my family. For several reasons: 1) my parents were coming from abroad (by way of a 13 hour+ flight) to visit, 2) it was my dad and brother's first time in Portland, and 3) I hadn't seen any of them since Christmas (or in the case of my brother, since 2009). Family is more important, right?
And although I know that I made the right choice, it still sucked looking at Saveur Magazine's and other invited bloggers' instagram pictures, tweets, and posts of the extravagant event. I know I should have blocked my instagram feed or something, but the masochist in me just kept monitoring the event hashtag and staring at the pictures of awesome meals, incredible views of Vegas, and most importantly, bloggers I admired all together, looking like they were having the time of their lives. And to spend just two days being treated like a star, especially considering how much time and effort I've put into this blog? It would have been the experience of a lifetime — most likely a once in a lifetime opportunity. One that I passed up.
And it was with those gloomy thoughts in mind that I found myself baking a batch of brownies:
When times get tough, I do what I always do: I bake brownies. Sure, I love desserts of all kind, but nothing can cheer me up like a brownie and a tall glass of milk.
These brownies, recommended by my coworker Alanna (who knows the best recipes), are the best recipe I've ever made: Nick's Supernatural Brownies. Intensely, unapologetically chocolatey. Almost pure unadulterated fudge, yet topped off with the papery, flaky top that is the signature of the best brownies. Supernatural brownies, indeed. I found myself eating almost the entire pan on Thursday night. And it helped a lot. Eating your feelings away always does, right?
Especially when you eat them away with brownies.
A few baker's notes:
- I've never seen brownies that have brown sugar in the recipe, and this recipe uses the brown sugar to great effect. The brown sugar adds a subtle caramel flavor and texture that gives these brownies their unique taste and fudgy texture.
- Under any circumstances, DO NOT OVERMIX THE BROWNIE BATTER. Doing so will result in tough, hard brownies that will make me cry for you. Simply fold together the ingredients until they are just incorporated. Ideally, you should still have one or two small flour streaks left in the batter when you transfer the batter to the baking pan.
- Word on the internets is that these brownies improve over time; you're supposed to let them sit overnight before consuming so that the flavors really soak in and you're left with an ultra, caramelly, chocolatey brownie. But good luck holding off a whole night with these babies.
June 2, 2013
Okay, okay. So I've gone a little strawberry crazy this month. I am fully aware that the last four out of the five recipes I've posted on this blog have used strawberries in some way. BUT I CAN'T HELP IT, OKAY?! I have a problem! I admit it! I'm addicted to strawberries!
I decided to try making ice cream sandwiches after perusing through the other finalists for Saveur Magazine's Best Baking & Desserts Blog and falling in love with Dessert for Breakfast's Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream Sandwiches. Not only do they sound tasty, but they're absolutely beautiful. Stunning, even. I don't know how Stephanie did it — as you can see in my pictures, my cookies turned out misshapen and my ice cream... well, wrinkly. Don't even get me started on what a nightmare it was to shoot the damn things. Let's just say I ended up with a sticky countertop, camera, hands, pants... yeahhh.
Oh well. At least they tasted good. Because cornmeal in baked goods is always a winner, and when combined with strawberries? The perfect marriage.
But then again, of course I'd say that, right? Because my name is Michelle Lopez, and I am addicted to strawberries.
Alright, time to stop talking before I end up with my foot in my mouth. Without further ado, the recipe:
May 31, 2013
Last weekend, my friend and I went to Olympic Provisions for brunch. Olympic Provisions is a highly-lauded charcuterie and restaurant that cures their own meats right here in Portland. Oregon. They've got two restaurants in the city (one on the east side and on the west). Prior to this brunch, I'd only been to the westside Olympic Provisions once before on a lunch with my coworkers, where we'd spotted famed chef Tyler Florence grabbing lunch. But truth be told, I was less interested in the celebrity chef sighting and more interested in the hot dog I was eating. I was also busy side-eyeing my coworkers' charcuterie plate, which had looked so incredibly tasty that I still regretted not getting my own several weeks later. So let me tell you — I was extremely excited to finally make it to the east side Olympic Provisions to finally get that damn charcuterie plate for myself.
When we walked in, we were greeted by their famous, light-up "MEAT" sign:
In addition to the charcuterie plate, my friend and I decided to an asparagus and egg sandwich. I know a vegetarian sandwich seems like an odd choice to get at a restaurant famous for its, you know, MEAT, but we figured it might be nice to throw some vegetables in our meal. Though I'm not sure it counted, because it was slathered in garlic cream sauce, sitting up top a butter-slathered loaf of ciabatta bread:
And it was absolutely delicious.