Monday, December 26, 2011

Manresa (Los Gatos, CA)

To celebrate my brother's 21st birthday (only a month in advance), my family went to dinner at Manresa. Usually we steer away from tasting menus, but my father's colleague strongly recommended it to us. Thus, we embarked on a gastronomical adventure through the Santa Cruz mountains.
The tasting menu consisted of 7 savory courses and 2 desserts, with little extras at the beginning and the end. We did not know ahead of time what each course would be.

The first amuse-bouche was olive madeleines and cubes of red bell pepper paste. The pepper paste was sweet but slightly spicy.
The second little appetizer looked like little donuts, but we were told to eat them in one bite. Each ball was filled with liquid foie gras and chestnut which gushed into the mouth when eaten.
The last of the pre-courses was the Arpège egg, a dish borrowed from the Parisian restaurant L'Arpège. The egg was opened at the top and filled with a light mousse. At the bottom rested the partially cooked yolk with sherry vinegar and spices.
For the first actual course, we were served a cold dish of razor clams, geoduck clams and sprouted lentils covered with jellied chicken broth. The grassy flavor of the sprouted lentils made an interesting contrast with the sweet clams and the savory broth.
Next came the raw scallops with onions, seaweed, avocado, and broccoli tempera. I liked the delicate flavor of this dish. The combination of the sweet scallops and creamy avocado was very good.
The next course was introduced as "A walk through the vegetable garden," and it lived up to its name. On our plates was a salad of colorful and flavorful leaves, flowers, and roots tied together with a savory foam. Hidden beneath the leaves I found various sauces, some citrusy, others vinegary. What was interesting about this dish was that each mouthful tasted different from the last one because the leaves and flowers had their own distinctive flavors.
The "Midwinter Tidepool" was our favorite dish. In our bowls was a warm broth that burst with flavor. It was briny like seawater but was also savory and sweet. In the broth I found clams, sea urchin, enoki mushrooms, seaweed, and even a thin slice of foie gras. It was delicious.
Compared to the previous dish, the partially cooked trout was disappointing. The trout seemed to have been shredded and reconstituted and was served with fresh fennel, caramelized fennel, and honey.
After this dip in quality the flavor came back up. The next dish was goat confit (prepared in the same way as duck confit) with compressed persimmon. The salty-sweet worked very well, and the portion was perfect.
Next came the last savory dish: venison cooked "sous vide" (in a vacuum) with quince purée and a chanterelle mushroom. The venison was tender but appropriately strong tasting. The quince purée was surprisingly starchy rather than sweet.
The first dessert was citrus tapioca with yuzu sherbert and toffee pieces topped with a light citrusy cream. It was light and tasty.
The second dessert was strange but good. We were served mushroom ice cream with maple syrup and chips with cinnamon and a churro. The mushroom ice cream with the maple syrup reminded me of bacon with maple syrup. 
As a link back to the beginning of the meal, the servers brought us chocolate madeleine with strawberry paste.
And finally, because it was my brother's birthday (kinda), we got an extra dessert to share: a lemon cake!
Manresa was all in all, a wonderful experience.

Tobe's Candy-Cane Cookies

In my last post I mentioned my suitemate Tobe's delicious candy cane cookies, and she has kindly agreed to let me post her recipe on this blog. As I wrote earlier, my roommate Sophia and I made 2 batches of these cookies because we could not resist the warm combination of the soft almond cookies and the crunchy-sweet peppermint topping.

Tobe's Candy-Cane Cookies

  • 1 C soft shortening 
  • 1 C powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/2 C flour
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 candycanes, crushed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375F.
  2. Mix the first 5 ingredients together by hand. (I used a whisk)
  3. Add the flour and salt. (I used a spoon at first and then switched to using my fingers)
  4. Divide the dough into as many parts as you want colors and knead in food coloring until the desired color is achieved. 
  5. To make candy cane shape: Roll 1 tsp of each color in to a strip about 4" long.  Place strips together side by side and twist together. Curve tops down for candy cane effect.
  6. To make thumbprint shape (for people who fail at making candy canes like me): take 2 tsp of dough, roll it into a sphere, and press down in the middle with your thumb. (This shape is good for holding a lot of topping)
  7. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 375F for 9 minutes.
  8. Combine the crushed candy-canes and the sugar in a bowl.
  9. Remove cookies from baking sheet while warm, place on paper towels and sprinkle with topping.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Baking!

Finals are over! And it turns that finals week was the week where I had the most free time. What did I do with this frightening abundance of free time? I baked cookies! I think I baked 8 times in 8 days. Not only cookies though.
Saturday afternoon, my friend Nicole wanted to make shortbread cookies for her professors, so I volunteered to help out. We used this joy of baking recipe and shaped some of the cookies as stars and hearts and other cookies shaped as hippos and elephants. The fizzix professors have a slight obsession with rhinos, so we figured hippos would be close enough. Unfortunately the hippos ran away before I could photograph them.
I tried filling shortbread cookie dough with nuts and brown sugar! Pecans, almonds, and cashews all worked well.

That same day, my dorm was having a potluck, so my roommate, Sophia, and I made Sophia's favorite apple crumble recipe. The apples were simply sprinkled with sugar and lemon juice. The topping was a combination of butter, oatmeal, brown sugar, and flour. Usually she uses pecans, but almonds were cheaper.
We brought the crumble to the potluck, but it turned out that only 2 people had brought savory foods, so we had a lot of desserts: crumble, apple pie, sesame balls, cookies...

The next day I helped Sophia make the biscotti she makes every year for Christmas. These are delicious almond-anis-raisin biscotti (I liked them even though I usually don't really like anis or raisins.)

 The last batch of cookies we made was Tobe's (our suitemate) Candy Cane cookies. Sophia and I agree that these are the best cookies we have ever had. The dough is flavored with almond extract and the cookies are sprinkled with crushed candy canes and sugar. Tobe's instructions said to color some of the dough red and twirl the different colors together to make candy canes, but neither of s was able to do it. Instead, we made trees and mushrooms and flowers, but we discovered that the simple thumbprint cookie was the best at holding large quantities of the candy cane sugar.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Some Crust Cupcakes at the Library!

Raspberry-Lemon Cupcake
In Claremont there is a bakery called "Some Crust." It makes killer egg sliders with rosemary bread, a fried egg, and your choice of cheese, vegetable, and sauce. I had one with provolone, bell pepper, and pesto, and it was simply delicious. I also bought a loaf of bread from the bakery ("Rosemary French,") that had good flavor but a disappointingly (and ironically) tough crust.

But, as the title of this post implies, Some Crust also makes cupcakes. Beautiful cupcakes. And these cupcakes are even more beautiful because, as I discovered on Saturday, they are sold in the library, where I can use my "flex" dollars instead of actual cash.

Chocolate cupcake
These cupcakes delicious because instead of reserving the frosting for the top, Some Crust also swirls frosting into the cake base!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner

I am back at school from a very nice Thanksgiving break. Food at home is so much better than food in college. For thanksgiving dinner my family had a turkey (prepared by my dad)
but it looks tastier cooked.
We rubbed the turkey with herb butter and stuffed it with chestnut stuffing that my mom and I made.
We based the stuffing off of this recipe from Epicurious, but we also sautéed the turkey's liver and heart and added it to the stuffing along with some chicken broth. And, like every year, we decided to cook the turkey with stuffing in it because in my family's opinion, it makes the stuffing taste so much better.

To compliment this, I made Brussels sprouts with bacon and my brother made cranberry sauce.
To prepare, the Brussels spourts, I first steamed the halved sprouts in a pressure cooker for 7 minutes and fried some cubes of thick bacon. Then I added the sprouts to the bacon and let them caramelize for a bit.
My brother's cranberry sauce was actually Cook's Illustrated's Cranberry Chutney with Appple and Crystallized Ginger. It had all of those ingredients as well as cider vinegar and brown sugar.

Since we don't have much family in the US, we celebrate thanksgiving with another French family. Our guests brought more delicious foods including corn bread, green beans sautéed in garlic, delicious apple tart.

And so we had a belly-happifying Thanksgiving meal!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poached Pears with Vanilla and Ginger

Well, I just finished my chemistry final, and I wasn't doing any productive (unless playing with mini magnets counts as productive) so I figured I should blog. I was on fall break this weekend so I went home and my dad and I made some poached pears for a dessert at our friends' house. Neither of us had ever made poached pears before but I decided that we should not poach the pears in red wine because in my opinion that would make them untasty. If I am making a dessert, I want to like my dessert. So we settled on a vanilla-ginger syrup with real vanilla beans and fresh ginger.

When we went to the grocery store we discovered that the price of vanilla beansis inversely correlated to the quantity you buy: A bottle with 1 vanilla bean cost $10, 2 vanilla beans cost $8, and 3 beans cost $7. I can only imagine how cheap 20 vanilla beans would be.

Anyways, my dad cut the pears into quarters while I heated 1.25L of water with 250g sugar, 2 tblsp chopped ginger, and half a vanilla bean.

To extract maximum flavor from the vanilla bean I sliced it lengthwise and used a knife to scrape out all the black seeds where the flavor is stored. I put the seeds into the water and I stuck the pods in for good measure.

The seeds are on the tip of the knife
So, I am sure that you are all wondering: What makes vanilla taste like vanilla? Well, the vanilla pod is the fruit of a genus of orchid (a genus being a group of species) that must be either hand pollinated or pollinated by one specific species of Mexican bee. The main flavor compound in vanilla is the vanillin molecule:

and artificial vanilla flavor is basically just vanillin dissolved in water and alcohol. McCormick's "Premium Imitation Vanilla" contains: "WATER, ALCOHOL (26%), NATURAL FLAVORINGS (INCLUDING EXTRACTIVES OF COCOA
So what makes natural vanilla different? Well, vanilla beans also contain lots of other compounds that add more dimension to the vanilla flavor. Natural vanilla extract is made by macerating vanilla beans in ethanol (alcohol) to extract the flavors.

Anyways, back to poached pears. After heating the water with the sugar, ginger, and vanilla, we added the pears to the liquid and let them simmer for 20 minutes, until the were soft. Then we took the pears out:

and boiled down the remaining liquid to form a syrup:

which we then poured back onto the pears (first removing the vanilla pods):

The pears went very well with a Basque butter cake our hosts served up for dessert because the cake soaked up the pear syrup on our plates.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Backpacking food

I am now officially in College (with a capital C). Classes started a couple weeks ago and I am already quite whelmed by homework (but not yet overwhelmed). But before classes started and before orientation started, I went on a Pre-Orientation Hike offered by my school that consisted of a 40mile / 5 day backpacking trip in Yosemite.

Of course, what else would I do on a five day trip but take pictures of all the food! But this ain't no five star restaurant, ok? Be prepared; all this food must be able to be cooked with just a titatium pot, water, and a burner. But after hiking 6-9 miles with a pack, it sure tasted like a 5 star meal.

For breakfast we would generally boil water in our pot and pour it in a bag of instant oatmeal, but on the last day we had granola with dried milk powder and water so we could start hiking earlier.

Doesn't that look delicious?

For lunch we would alternate between cheese, sausage, and crackers or nutella, jelly, tortillas, and flatbread. 
That kraft yellow cheddar and this white rustic cheddar were the best tasting cheeses I had ever had. I can't even imagine how delicious actually good cheese would have been.

As for the nutella and tortillas, well, nutella makes everything delicious! 

(and yes, I am using my knee as a plate. I was too lazy to get my bowl out for lunch)

Dinner was where we had the more interesting meals because we could actually cook stuff. Unfortunately, titanium does not conduct heat well, so attempts at cooking generally turned out somehow both burnt and undercooked. The night after the first full day we used the leftover orange cheese from lunch to make burnt and undercooked cheesy rice. Yum!

We also had Chicken and Orzo  made with weird packaged chicken

But the best meal was the one that required the least cooking: Couscous! Our last dinner was a box of coucous with a curry spice packet, and it was actually legitly delicious. Especially with Sundried tomatoes and pine nuts in it.