Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Coconut and a Guest Post

Coconut for a Cake and a Guest Post
While she's away across the pond, my lovely friend Jamie, of Life's a Feast, needed a bit of help with blog maintenance. Being without a computer can be tough going when you're trying to post regularly. So I volunteered to help with "upkeep" by posting a cake (or two) over there. If you don't read Jamie's blog, I suggest you start doing so because she is truly a word-genie. I hope I didn't embarrass myself too much guest-posting for her.
A main ingredient and the crux of the story: coconut. I hope you check it out over here and enjoy it.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's Huff & Puff Time aka Makin' Vol-au-Vent

This post is brought to you in part by the letter Y.
DB Vol-au-Vent
OK so, here's the thing I think I should come clean about: I didn't use the same recipe as everyone else for the DB challenge this time *ducks from the rotten eggs and tomatoes flying her way*. My sincerest apologies to Steph of a whisk and a spoon who is our hostess this month, I am sincerely grateful to you for getting me to finally make puff pastry, and I promise the next batch will be the recipe you chose.
See, I'm kind of obsessed with Michel Roux's book Pastry: Savory & Sweet right now and since I'd never made puff pastry before and have been trying as many recipes as I can -none of which have failed me so far- from his book, I figured if I was going to give puff pastry a go, which in my house means sprinting from the living areas upstairs to my kitchen dungeon when Baby Saffron deigns to grace me with a nap, I wasn't going to suddenly have a brief, puffy fling with Michel Richard when Michel Roux and I had been having a torrid pastry love affair for the last couple of months.

So, I opened Pastry: Savory & Sweet to page 108, circled the table we don't own in this pre-furnished house a number of times before gathering my courage to clear and clean it thoroughly since it happens to be marble (and marble is the ideal surface on which to roll pastry I am repeatedly told) and set about making the detrempe (first dough that will eventually hold the slab of butter) and that was the first thing that didn't go so well, 'cause you know, Michel Roux does it perfectly in the pictures in the book because he's been doing it for oh, I don't know, around 55-60 years now, and this was my first attempt. Let's just say that mixing the way he describes by hand, not so great at it; then I'm pretty sure I overworked the dough to get it to be homogeneous before letting it rest in the fridge, and that is when I called upon Y's expertise. Thus began the saga of the if-left-in-the-fridge-too-long-it-could-become-a-bit-grey dough and off I went, intending to leave it in there until the next day instead of for 2 hours.
DB Vol-au-Vent
Well, needless to say that whole timing thing didn't work according to schedule, because that was a Saturday and Y asked me how they'd come out on Tuesday morning to which I replied that I hadn't gotten around to making the turns yet. As Y had predicted, by the time I actually got around to doing my turns on the following Thursday, it had become a bit gray on the side in the wrapping closest to the oxygen supply. Thankfully, she also let me know that it didn't matter if it was still grey, "it's still good" she said, repeating it to me like a mantra.

Once the turns began, oh the travesty. Michel Roux tells you to make a rectangle that is 16 by 28 inches, which is quite large and possibly in the realm of ludicrous for a complete beginner like me, but try to make a 16 by 28 inch rectangle I did, taking up the whole length of the marble table as I went. I'd be lying if I said I thought my butter was at the perfect consistency because soon after lovingly wrapping the butter in the detrempe and rolling it out for my first turn, ever so tiny tears began to appear in the dough and tiny pieces of soft butter started spilling out of the edges, but I plowed on, determined to see if it could work anyway. I made the huge rectangle, folded it, quarter turned it and rolled it out again, fine tears be damned, oozing (but not liquid) butter be damned. I folded it and threw it back in the fridge figuring that, if nothing else, we could eat some delicious buttery hockey pucks in the end.
DB Vol-au-Vent
I'd consult periodically with Y on twitter, and while waiting for the clock to strike time for another turn, I spoke to some favorite people on twitter amongst which @ColloquialCook who is one of the funniest bilingual people I have ever met. She cheered me on, declaring that as far as she knew, a little spillage and tearing had never entirely killed a puff pastry dough. So on it went, the grey disappearing completely back into a charmed buttery color on the third turn, and by the fourth turn the dough appeared to be behaving itself rather decently. By then I'd given up on making my rectangles 16 by 28 inches and just rolled them out as much as I could before folding them. The cutting and shaping were fairly uneventful, as it were, but the next step in this laugh-a-minute process to go awry was the actual baking.
I attributed what happened to 3/4 of my small and large vol-au-vents (which you are about to see) to be the cause of my masterfully uneven rolling and layering, but it turns out that may not have been the whole story. To sum up: They rose sideways, which I later found out may have been partially caused by my fan-ventilated oven and my not turning them halfway.

So here I present to you, as christened by my father when I described their somewhat familiar horn of plenty shape, Corne-au-Vent or horn-with-the-wind instead of flight-with-the-wind.
The filling in these pictures is caramelized apple sauce topped with muscat grapes, because I like my food sweet and extremely tart thank you. We also had a beef and ale filling in large vol-au-vents for dinner but it was too late and I was too lazy to take pictures of those too.
Corne-au-Vent TM ;)
The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Autumn Solstice, A visit to the Zoo and some Verrines

Tiger at the London Zoo
Today is the autumn solstice, which means a couple of things for me:
1) Since my precious little Baby Saffron was born on the 21st of March and thus the spring solstice, she turned 6 months old today. Where does the time go?
2) I really have to put up some of the "summer" posts I still have in my drafts since they're not really relevant anymore. It's time to start making heavier fare to pat the tummy and the spirit against the cooler weather.
So, you get to see our visit to the zoo (though you wouldn't have known it was summer with the weather we had at the zoo that day) and these mango and passion fruit verrines which come from the leftover ingredients of the mango macarons.
Mango Passion Fruit Verrines
To be perfectly honest, I hate the zoo. I just hate to see these poor animals in captivity. But we didn't go to the zoo for our own pleasure since A. hates the zoo even more than I do, we went because Baby Saffron is simply enthralled with animals right now and does the funniest acrobatics just to try and reach the dogs with her fingertips, so we thought she'd enjoy seeing all these other strange and wonderful-looking animals.
Unfortunately, the day was gray and drab, and while she loves seeing the dogs at close quarters, most of the animals were too far away in their pens to generate much more than mild interest on her part. Plus, there were so many people it was often difficult to get in a position where she could see something in the throng, which prompts me to say that the most obnoxious animals at the zoo were clearly the humans. She was fascinated by the hyenas, but I'm pretty sure that was because they looked like dogs to her.
The London Zoo & Verrines
We spent some time looking at the flamingos and I caught one of them in a ballerina stretch above, so effortlessly graceful. The ocelots were staring at the passage from their lair to their outer pen and we figured it was probably close to meal time. While it is necessary I suppose, particularly given some peoples' foolishness, I did hate taking pictures of the ocelots and the tigers through thick sheets of glass. 
The verrines are composed of a layer of the filling I made for the macarons, a layer of honey mango puree, a layer of whipped cream, and a topping of fresh passion fruit. They were actually even more refreshing than I expected them to be.
Malgache Bird at the London Zoo
While I do hate the zoo, I have to admit that generally speaking, most of the enclosures were much better and larger than at any other zoo I've seen. I still think it's a shame to "cage" the animals in this way and put them in environments that are nothing like their natural ones -I mean, it's London, so all those poor animals that are used to tropical weather must be freezing, I know I am- but as my sister pointed out, in some cases it may be better to be in a pen than staring down the end of a poacher's gun barrel. And it enables us and other parents like us to take their wee ones to see some beautiful animals without taking them on a trek across the globe.

For more filling (which I made up as I was going along so feel free to try your own version) than you can possibly put in mango macarons and thus end up making Mango-Passion Fruit verrines:

- 1/2 Honey Mango
- 2 egg whites
- 50g granulated sugar
- ~50g double cream
- ~100g fromage frais
- ~40g fresh passion fruit
- Puree the honey mango but you do not need all of it for the filling as it is very watery.
- Put the egg whites with the sugar in a bowl over simmering water (double-boiler) and heat to 100C whipping constantly. Take off the heat and continue whipping until cool (I use my stand mixer bowl for this). You should have a stiff glossy meringue (Swiss).
 - In a separate bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the fromage frais and whip until smooth. Fold in the Swiss meringue. Fold in the passion fruit (save the seeds with a little juice for the top layer of the verrine) and some of the mango puree so that the mixture is not too thin and will stiffen in the fridge.
- Then you simply put some of that mixture on the bottom of your glass.
- Top with a layer of the leftover mango puree.
- Top with a layer of whipped cream (preferably freshly whipped cream and not stuff from the can so that you can sweeten it as you wish and not as the manufacturer wishes).
- Top that with the reserved passion fruit seeds and juice. Cover and refrigerate so that it is cool and refreshing when you wish to enjoy it.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thinking about New Zealand

One of the places I've been that I love best on earth is New Zealand. I was just looking at pictures I took there and this is one of my favorite ones.
Lighthouse at Bluff, New Zealand
What I like most about this picture is that I took it with a Canon Elph circa 2003 -the Powershot S400 to be precise- which I briefly mentioned here. It was a very cold and brisk day on the southermost tip of the South island and the boat in the background just happened to be crossing as I was taking the picture. I miss how clean the air is there, the color of the water, the completely different landscapes for every hour driven. I'll post other pictures from there whenever I feel nostalgic for it, so better brace yourselves.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Waiting for my macro lens...

Busy bee
Oh the things I could do when it gets here...

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's done so have some Chocolate Fleur de Sel Macs

Chocolate Macs for a blog redesign
If you've been here before this is a totally new look since the very beginning of this blog. I mean I know at the beginning of the year I said I was going to do all this stuff and then life got in the way, so I changed the header a little bit and changed the widths and everything and that was that for a little while. But since I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to change the blog entirely and make it less about food and a little more about other things like photography and whatever strikes my fancy, it's been bugging me to change it up completely. So this is what I came up with messing around with the code, making some headers with one of my old scanned photographs, and generally tweaking here and there. I hope you like it. If you don't, that's too bad, unless of course it means you want to offer me your coding and graphic design skills for free to make it more the way you'd like it to be.
Tai Chi Main Beach NY
This is also the inaugural post of every post isn't going to be about food anymore, as I said before, sometimes it's just going to be one picture or just a thought or whatever strikes my fancy, or not. Your guess is as good as mine although I'd like to say I think it will be easier for me to post more frequently that way, which will be nice for both me and you. And just for the pleasure of contradicting myself, particularly the part about how this isn't going to be only about food anymore, have some chocolate macarons on me, half of them have fleur de sel on the shells, the other half are plain. They were made from Aran of Cannelle et Vanille's recipe and they are for the previously mentioned Mac-athon organized by Jamie of Life's a Feast. They're not beautiful like Aran's but they sure do taste good. The filling is a chocolate mousse sort of concoction conjured up from the same batch of Swiss meringue and fromage frais mixture that went into the filling for the mango macs. And with that I leave you my friends.
Chocolate Macs for a blog redesign

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mango-Passion Fruit Macarons for Rachel and the Livestrong Taste of Yellow Event

Mango-Passion Fruit Macarons
I don't think I know anyone that hasn't been touched by the C word in some way, whether it be through a family member, a friend, a lover, an acquaintance even. In my family, my maternal grandmother passed away of breast cancer when I was 6 and my paternal grandfather, one of my most favorite people in the world ever, lived with colon and prostate cancer for 17 years before his body finally gave up on him, even though his mind was still sharp. Parents of dear friends have succumbed to it, others have fought through and are still with us now to my great relief, but most recently my friend Rachel has been touched by it for the second time in her life. I suppose it wouldn't be so incredible if you didn't know that a) she's a little younger than me (I'm 34) and b) she was 15 the first time she had cancer. As if having cancer only once wasn't enough, let alone when you're a teenager trying to become an adult, this time she has an entirely different kind of cancer than the first.

So when I realized that it was time for the annual Livestrong with a taste of yellow event organized by Barbara of Winos and Foodies, herself a cancer survivor, I knew I had to make something for Rachel, and a happy coincidence resulted in my making these macarons for her.
See, when I'm taking care of Baby Saffron I often can't do much with both hands in spite of my awesome baby carrier, so I spend a lot of quality time with my iPhone sometimes, and the easiest way to spend time on the iPhone happens to be on Twitter. There I get to chat with some of my favorite blogging friends and when Jamie of Life's a Feast made macarons for the first time not too long ago, the twitter posse that she, Meeta, Deeba and I form on a regular basis started tweeting like mad about them. Before you knew it, Jamie had organized a mac-athon to get other bloggers who hadn't tried those tricky little devils to attempt making them.

I happen to be the one in the group who has made macarons before and, as luck would have it, the first time I made successful macarons two years ago, Rachel was one of the few to partake and she loved them. Rachel was my first "blog" friend back when I was blogging elsewhere and that blog wasn't a food blog at all. Her friendship made life easier for me through rough times and when she asked me to make her wedding cake she gave me an incredible boost of faith in my baking abilities. She is warm, intelligent, and thoughtful; she sings beautifully even though right now the treatment has made that difficult for her. Throughout it all she has kept her chin up and never whined.

I wasn't able to make macarons for her as wedding favors and right now we're not even in the same city, but I know she will appreciate these when she sees them, and I will be more than delighted to make them *for you again my wonderful friend.*

Mango Passion-Fruit Macarons
I made these macarons using Helen of Tartelette's powdered-strawberry macarons recipe by drying out a honey mango and grinding it to flavor the shells. I also added turmeric for color. The flavor of the shells was very delicate and, on A.'s recommendation, I might try using mango pulp instead next time I make them. Instead of the traditional buttercream I made a filling with swiss meringue, whipped cream, fromage frais, pureed mango and fresh passion fruit. The ratio of white to yellow-orange ingredients being very high, the filling is white which I prefer. You will be able to see the results of the mac-athon on Jamie's blog after the 15th of September.

Powdered Mango Macarons with Mango-Passion Fruit Filling
adapted from Helene Dujardin at Tartelette
Makes about 48 shells so ~2 dozen 3.5cm(1.5") macarons 

For the macarons shells:
- 1 Honey Mango (not too ripe)
- 90gr egg whites (between 2 and 3 Large eggs)
- 30gr granulated sugar
- 200gr confectioner's or icing sugar
- 110gr powdered almonds (I ground & sieved whole almonds)
- Turmeric or powdered yellow food coloring

For the mango powder:
- Peel and cut the mango in half. Slice one half thinly. Set aside the other half.
- Heat oven to 120C (250F). Place the mango slices in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let dry in the oven. This could take anywhere from an hour to two hours to complete. Let cool. Grind until you can no longer make it finer (mangoes can get a bit chewy instead of dry so you may not be able to grind to a powder). Set aside.

For the macarons shells:
- I have a stand mixer but preferred to use a hand mixer instead. For stand mixer instructions go to Helen's website. Using your mixer, whip the egg whites until just foamy, then gradually add the granulated sugar until glossy and just stiff but take care not to overbeat or the macarons will fail.
- Put the confectioner's sugar, powdered almonds, powdered mango and food coloring in a food processor and pulse until well blended. You can sieve this mixture afterward to obtain an even finer texture.
- Add the meringue to the dry mixture in halve or thirds. Then fold (macaronner) the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that makes a thick flowing ribbon. The process of macaronner is defined as folding the batter from back to front with one hand while rotating the bowl in a counter-motion with the other hand. Be careful not to overfold your batter or it will be too liquid and spread and you won't get feet. Test your batter if you are unsure of its readiness. If there are small peaks you need to fold it a bit more, if it flattens out on its own it's ready, and if it spreads out you've overfolded.
- Using a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (8mm for me) pipe the batter in small rounds (~3.5cm or 1.5") onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. I don't draw circles on the parchment because I'm lazy so my macs tend to need to be paired manually when done because they're not all the same size, but if you are not lazy like me, you should draw circles out for perfectly and evenly sized macs. Take care to leave a little space in between them so the air can circulate to help them develop feet.
- Heat the oven to 140C (280F). To make them even more stable in the oven, let the macarons sit out for at least 30 minutes to harden their shells.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes (I usually sneak a peek under the corner one to see if they're done). Let cool a bit before removing them from the parchment.
- Store them in an airtight container until ready to use, but do not leave them more than a couple of days. They freeze well but I'm not familiar with how long they can stay frozen.

For the mango-passion fruit filling (I made this up as I was going so feel free to try your own version):
- 1/2 Honey Mango
- 2 egg whites
- 50g granulated sugar
- ~50g double cream
- ~100g fromage frais
- ~40g fresh passion fruit
- Puree the honey mango but you do not need all of it for the filling as it is very watery.
- Put the egg whites with the sugar in a bowl over simmering water (double-boiler) and heat to 100C whipping constantly. Take off the heat and continue whipping until cool (I use my stand mixer bowl for this). You should have a stiff glossy meringue (Swiss).
 - In a separate bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the fromage frais and whip until smooth. Fold in the Swiss meringue. Fold in the passion fruit and some of the mango puree so that the mixture is not too thin and will stiffen in the fridge.

When ready, assemble the macarons by piping about a tablespoon worth of filling onto one shell and pressing another shell on top. They are best eaten the day after they are assembled to allow the flavors to develop but if you're like me you may not be able to wait that long...

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Visit to the Borough Market

So the obvious question might be: Why would I include a picture of sweet limes below, as the first picture in this post, if I didn't get sweet limes at the Borough Market? Well, there's no real logic to it, these limes are yellow, which is unusual as you know because it means they were allowed to ripen, and they came straight from Pakistan to London in someone's suitcase as a token of affection from the people who work on our farm there.
Sweet lime and Jasmine trees were planted all over the backyard of our house in Lahore by A.'s grandfather and give off the most intoxicating mingling aroma when they are both in bloom in the summer. A. likes to bite into them when they are ripe and suck out the sweet juice but we haven't been there in a while, so someone was kind enough to think of him and bring some back.
I still find yellow limes unusual to look at, so you get to see a picture of them.

Limes no really

But on to the meat of the matter, so to speak: The Borough Market in the heart of London, very close to the Tower and London Bridge. It's huge, both indoor and outdoor, and chock full of most anything you can eat. We don't get there often enough I'm sad to say, and unfortunately we most often remember to go on Saturdays, which are by far the worst day to go, but when it's open only between Thursday to Saturday, there isn't much latitude for our addled parents-of-an-infant brains.
There you can find smoked shrimp pita sandwiches which I had never had before and which are quite good, I must say, though I was skeptic at first.
Smoked shrimp pita

Various vegetable and fruit-sellers have more or less exciting wares, though my favorite stand has to be the one selling the dried fruits and nuts in the top left-hand picture below. We tasted some freshly-pressed juice combinations, some of which worked, others less so. We got lost in some corners and back-tracked through alleys leading us out when we were trying to go in. I exchanged amused glances with other camera-laden visitors, clearly food-bloggers. The best part was watching Baby Saffron take great interest in all the hubbub and products. Her ceaseless curiosity was only increased by the array of colors, the smells and the sounds before her.
At the Borough Market

The most fascinating part of the outing came when A. took her into one of the better fishmonger's stall where he spotted some beautiful razor clams. A. loves nothing if not good seafood and it was fun to not only watch him explain everything to her and see the wonder in her eyes as she surveyed all these odd-looking shapes below, but to see the delight the fishmonger took at her ready smile and undivided attention toward the fish. It doesn't hurt that she's pretty cute too...

Teaching Baby about fish

I love farmers' markets, especially when they are large like this one, as you are always bound to discover something else you'd forgotten was in season or perhaps had never seen or tasted before. And one of my favorite things is the always-present stall with an unholy quantity of eggs, enough for you to bake every egg-containing recipe you might have at your disposal or perhaps make an omelet for a regiment. I don't know about anyone else, but that many eggs always makes me want to take a whole flat of them home and bake all day long (and I've done exactly that before in France).
At the Borough Market
And I haven't even mentioned such landmarks as Neal's Yard Dairy there, but just the fruits and vegetables will keep you occupied for quite a while. If you love food, you must definitely stop there while you are in London, provided it's between a Thursday and a Saturday of course (interesting market-visiting babies sold separately).

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