Sunday, March 30, 2008

My First Daring Baker Post

The question has often been posed: does bacon make everything better? And actually, I fall in the camp that bacon does make everything better. But it was high time to test out that theory. And since I had a birthday coming up and a Daring Baker Challenge to complete, I thought what better way to test my theory than a bacon themed birthday party with a party cake made with bacon too?

It was during a dinner date with E that a brainstorm of sorts happened. What would the menu of a bacon themed party look like? E thought it was would great to take food typically not made with bacon and re-envision them with bacon as an ingredient. I agreed. She came up with a bacon "maki" with grits as the "rice" wrapped around egg and topped with a slice of bacon. I wanted to serve bacon cheeseburgers, bacon "spring rolls" (which later became salad with homemade buttermilk dressing and bacon) and also the party cake for Daring Bakers. I had thought about tweaking the recipe to include bacon but since it was my first challenge, I didn't want to earn the label of "rebel" this early on.

But I did go home that evening and read the Daring Baker recipe a couple of times and decided that this challenge was in fact flexible enough for me to play around with. And since I loved the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, I thought I'd use that with the bacon as decorative flavor and texture component on the top of the cake. Chocolate, peanut butter and bacon?! Well, it sounds good to me!

The first thing you should know about me is that I love cooking and baking, but the "science" often alludes me. I know to follow baking recipes almost to the letter because most baking requires precision. So it's rare for me to add or sub in anything when it comes to baked goods. But this bacon party inspired me to be a little bit more, well, "daring" (hah).

The set up was rather easy. And I decided I would bake the cake the night before the party and cover the cakes and ice and assemble the day of the party.

I added a cup of hersey's baking cocoa to the dry ingredients and I was sure to use cake flour for this challenage too. I used swan down brand. In the pic below you will also see my late Grandma Howley's trusty hand beater. I love it because it works like a champ and well, every time I use it, I think of my Grandma H.
I also added a bit of instant espresso powder to the dry mix too. I'm a devotee of Ina Gardener and she says that coffee brings out the intensity of chocolate and often combines the two. I used this stuff. I've had this jar for ever and I use it when I make tiramasu too. Anything calling for chocolate means this stuff gets added to the mix as well.
I finished mixing and when I took a look at my final cake batter, it looked, well a lot thicker than most cake batters I've ever worked with.

It was more of a brownie batter and this caused me a bit of concern. I decided I'd just loosen it up a bit with a buttermilk. The batter was still thick but I poured it into the cake pans and baked anyway.

The cakes came out and looked, well, hmm...
cracked. I cooked them for only 31 mins...maybe I should have done even less time. I was a little nervous about the cakes because of the cracks. I hadn't ever baked a cake and have it crack like that. What did it mean exactly? How would it taste? I was also disappointed in the lack of rise. But I read other Daring Bakers' entries and noticed that many of them had trouble getting their cakes to really rise either.

I will say that it smelled divine. But what's better than the smell of chocolate, butter and sugar? Not much, if you ask me! And um, cleaning the cake batter bowl with a spoon was a tasted endeavor. It tasted great in raw form, so I hoped that it wouldn't be much different in cooked form!

I made the frosting by halfing the butter in the cream and subbing in peanut butter instead. I figured the fat content in the peanut butter would make up for the missing butter. I've never been a huge buttercream frosting fan and so never tried my hand at making it. I have to say, I really enjoyed making this recipe. It was much more time consuming than my usual habit of making cream cheese frostings or confectioners sugar with some milk frosting or just plain old whipped cream, but the end result was pretty amazing. The frosting was shiny and quite delicious. The peanut butter flavor was very apparent. Frosting the cake was a breeze and it looked quite nice with it's crumble of bacon on top. This cake also has a layer of cooked crumbled bacon in the middle. Who needs raspberries when you have bacon!

Here is my finished cake. If I wanted to make a real show stopper, I would have made another batch of batter. It wasn't a very tall cake but the bacon on top was quite a conversation starter.

The food was great and a fun time was had by all. E made bacon martinis for all and my friends Harin and Ed took over cooking the burgers. Sure the copious amounts of bacon meant that the smoke detector was set off three times over the course of the evening but whatever.

And as for the cake? Well, it was pretty dense and dry. I was really disappointed and ended up throwing much of it out. If the cake had been a lot moister, it would have been a fantastic cake! The bacon really brought out the nuttiness of the peanut butter and it was smoky and salty. The frosting with the bacon was the best part of the cake.

My conclusion? Bacon does indeed make everything better!

Thanks Daring Bakers for letting me join. I had a blast with this challenge and can't wait until next month's!

Daring Baker Post for the Daring Baker Blog

Added: (Please note: this isn't my original Daring Baker post)

I tried to post this to the Daring Baker website b/c I wanted to get a little feedback as to thoughts on why the dryness of the cake occur and how to remedy such an issue early on. But the google server is a hack!! Ugh, so I'm posting it here in hopes that at a later time, I can post on Daring Bakers and get some constructive feedback.

I completed my first challenge and was semi pleased with the results. Perhaps most importantly to me, I'm delighted and honored to have joined this group and I'm looking forward to the challenges to come!

Since I was hosting a "bacon makes everything better" party and this month's challenge had so much flexibility (I read the challenge rules a few times just to make sure I was playing nicely), I decided to modify it to fit with the theme...chocolate cake with peanut butter buttercream frosting and crumbled bacon in the middle layer and on top.

It worked out, okay. The cake was a bit dry (was the thickness of the batter a sign? or were the cracks in the cake after baking a give away?) but I feel that that was more do to user based error than recipe error. The icing was fantastic and it was a lot of fun for me to try my hand at making buttercream. And the bacon? It actually worked great with the cake!

Thanks so much for having me here. I'm excited to be a part of such a kick-butt group of bakers.
I Came to Eat!

Saturday, March 29, 2008


I guess it goes without saying that food is really important to me. I can't imagine being friends or dating people who don't enjoy food. In college, I once knew a girl who said she liked food that didn't taste like anything and so foods such as iceberg lettuce and cottage cheese fit the bill for her. I'd often see her in the college dining hall having a hearty dinner of iceberg and cottage cheese. Perhaps it goes without saying that we never become friends. And I shudder a bit at the idea of iceberg and cottage cheese as a filling and tasty dinner.

Food is a big priority for me, actually it might be my number 1 priority. Alright sure I own a couple of clothing shops now but when I'm working at the shops during the day, I do spend a good portion of my day looking at chowhound or visiting various food blogs I enjoy. I think a good amount about what I want to eat for lunch, for dinner. And you know it's crazy busy in the shop or I've a whee bit stressed if I haven't even bothered to stop and thinking about feeding myself.

Food is joy. I tried to train myself into thinking that all food was about was fuel for one's body but I can't shake years of upbringing. Birthday cakes and holiday cookies. These things speak to me of love but also of fond memories of my family and friends gathered around enjoying something so universal and connecting. Food is love in my world. Food is everything.

So a few days ago, E asked if I had any plans for dinner after work. I said no and she asked if I wanted to get together for a meal. Sure, I said, but where? She seemed to have a hankering for steak. Cool, we could go to KO Prime. I made a reservation. While I was happy to go to dinner, especially to a place where I knew the chef, I was a little hesitant when I called to make the reservation and asked if Ken or Jamie would be working, only to be told that it wasn't clear if either of them would be that evening. Um, that's an odd answer. I was made even more hesitant when I saw the prices and read the reviews on chowhound. Hmm, seemed like an average experience at best and since E and I had already had a very average to bad experience at #9, I wasn't interested in recreating that. E really had a craving for steak and so she offered to cook instead. Awesome, I was in!

Since all I have near me for provisions is my ghetto Shaws, we agreed to meet at the Butcher Shop in the South End. I didn't know one could just buy steak from them. I arrived a bit early and went to the back of the restaurant to gave longingly at all the meat options in the glass cases. It was around 8ish on a Wednesday evening so the restaurant was filled with diners. A lovely man in a button down shirt and a tie covered by a full length apron asked if I needed any help. I told him I was waiting for a friend and we were making dinner. He asked how many and I said I really didn't know. E likes to invite her peeps to many things she does and making dinner was so exception but I didn't know who had agreed, last minute, to come for dinner. He pointed out some nice cuts and informed me that if I wanted anything on the bone that I might want to let them know b/c they were closing up shop soon. Being a shop owner myself, I understood. I told him to go ahead and shut down. My friend and I would make due with whatever was offered off the bone. He was a very pleasant guy and clearly liked his job very much. He took the time to tell me some information about the meat selections. He was very knowledgeable. So I had to ask him about'll see why when I post an entry I'm need to wait until tomorrow to share.

Sure, he had bacon. Some he had just cured himself and made that day. I had to have some. I asked for a half a lb and the center cut beef steak that was calling my name. E still hadn't arrived and I figured if worse came to worse and she didn't want it for dinner, I'd make it and eat it all by myself at some point. My bill set me back $51.00. That's a lot for me to spend on meat, but the meat looked so wonderful and fresh, well it seemed like it might be worth the price.

E finally arrived and we went to Foodies to get other stuff so she could make a salad and french fries (!!). On our way home, we talked about homemade french fries. I had never had them before. My mom made us burgers and fries at home but the fries were the crinkling cut from Or Ida. We had burgers and fries maybe once a week as kids. It was a fairly simple and crowd pleasing meal for a small family such as mine. And later Mom discovered their frozen tater tots and well, all bets were off! The tater tots rocked! So we had those with our burgers instead.

E also loved tater tots so as she cooked, I went over to the ghetto Shaws and got us some to deep fry.

Dinner was all prepared by E. She had also stopped off at Frommagio for cheese, wine and bread. The salad, the tater tots (and amazing home made french fries that I had for dinner the next night) and the steak. Holy cow, that steak was amazing. At my request, she cooked it rare. The steak was tender and almost buttery in texture. It was such a rich meal that both of us ate ourself silly and felt a little sick after it. We watched a bit of TV but we were both shot for the rest of the night. Definitely, can't imagine eating that much protein and fat on a regular basis. But if the occasion calls for steak, consider splurging and getting it from the Butcher Shop.

The steak we couldn't finish made for a lovely lunch time steak salad for the next two days for me!

Thanks for a lovely meal E. I love you and I love your food too!

Friday, March 21, 2008

My Past Week

I've been busy with the store and life and stuff and so I haven't had a chance to really update lately. I have still been eating and while I've had some fairly disappointing (#9 Park) meals and some not really worth mentioning because they were so average and blah (Casa Romero), I've also had some great meals worthy of discussion.

Okay so I had a bunch of asparagus left in my fridge and I pondered what to do with it. I thought about making cream of asparagus soup, but I wanted something that would take better advantage of the fresh green flavor of the asparagus. I had two egg yolks in my fridge leftover from some other recipe and so I decided I'd steam the asparagus a bit and make a basil aioli. I grated a clove of garlic and whisked olive oil into the eggs until they were the consistency I wanted. I added the garlic, some dried basil (didn't have fresh), salt and pepper.

This picture does my aioli no justice! It looks like raw eggs waiting to get scrambled. But the mixture was very glossy and had a thick and lovely consistency. The aioli was a bright, almost florescent yellow (oh, forget to mention I added a couple threads of saffron too). It was lovely to look at. And dipping my steamed asparagus spears thru the sauce was such a treat. Yum!

Besides cooking and eating out, I also love (and kinda live for) eating at friend's houses. My friend Jenn invited me over for homemade Korean food and Wii last Friday. It was a lovely offer all around and one I would have to be dumb to refuse. Behold the table ladened with yummy stuff!

We had bibimbap, kalbe beef and really nice homemade condiments, all courtesy of Jenn. The food was comforting and filling.

I love bibimbap! It's something I really should learn to make on my own. I can't imagine it's hard to make. It all comes down to the chili pepper paste for me. I love that stuff and maybe it's b/c I'm Korean but I always end up adding more than my fair share of the stuff. I love it so!

Dessert came courtesy of our friend Harin. It was a concoction of his own. It was like a fruit tart pizza.
Topping a pastry crust we have chocolate spread, kiwi fruit and whipped cream. Simple and yet very very tasty! Plus a cool dessert wine that Harin brough as well:
After dinner we played Wii and I learned I lack any sort of coordination to do well at DDR. Oh well, friends, dinner and Wii is always the best combination ever!

Monday was my birthday. I went to dinner with my friend Walter. I actually wrote a review about this meal and posted it on yelp. You can also find my review of #9 there as well. I don't really feel like talking any more about the #9 experience. But the Oleana experience was really wonderful and I will repost my review here for posterity's sake. And I apologize for the really crappy pictures. It was dim in the dining room and I only had my trusty camera phone.

One of my dear friends shares my birthday so we get together every year to celebrate our births. This year we chose Oleana. I had already been with my parents last year and while we all enjoyed the meal, it wasn't quite magical. But last night was fantastic. I ordered the two specials for the evening. A different take on greek salad and a stew with meatballs.

The spicing and flavors had me going "oh wow, oh wow" all evening. The food was divine. If I could have licked my plates clean, I might have done so. My friend and I love dessert and ordered three for the two of us to share.

A lovely baked Alaska,
bread pudding,

and a cold meyers lemon souffle.
The bread pudding was my friend's favorite and I loved the textures and flavors in the baked Alaska. Yes, the service was really nothing special and sure the busyboy did knock a full glass of water over so I ended up with a wet white shirt and wet jeans (ick) but no biggie. Stuff happens and at least it wasn't wine. They were sweet about it and gave us one of the many desserts we ordered on the house to make up for it. This is meal was probably one of the best I've had in Boston so far and I can't wait to get back in the summer and see what's new on the menu.

Overall, a great food week for me! And this Sunday is my bacon party, stay tuned!!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spring, Where the #!@%$!! have you been?

Last night when I got home from the gym (a killer spin class and some squats and kettlebell swings), all I wanted was a bath and food. Something quick and yummy. Something protein ladden and kinda good for me.

I remembered I have purchased a couple of bunches of asparagus and remembered how we had it as kids. My mom would saute it with butter flavored with garlic salt and sprinkle the finished dish with toasted pecans. It was simple but so delicious that somehow it felt gourmet.

I didn't have any pecans but I did have some pine nuts, and even thought garlic salt was a regular pantry staple growing up, I never use it. I'd rather use fresh garlic. So I got out the asparagus and as I was pulling it out, I saw this 1/4 of a yellow onion I had to use up and took it out as well. I quickly toasted the pine nuts in a dry skillet; a task I find really satisfying...I have no clue why. I melted a good sized slab of butter in my skillet and tossed big chunks of the onion into the pan too. If I wasn't being lazy, I would have chopped them more finely, but eh, it was only me eating. When the onions were soft, in when the garlic, a good two pinches of salt, a quick sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and the rinsed and prepped asparagus.

I put a lid on the entire lot and wait until the asparagus was just tender enough. I like my asparagus kinda crunchy. I slid the entire mess on a plate with 1/2 a cold roasted chicken I had in my fridge from my banh mi dinner. I sprinkled the pine nuts over the asparagus and covered the entire plate with more salt and more pepper (I'm a total salt fiend) and sat myself down to eat.

It was all delicious. The asparagus tasted like spring to me and made me extremely happy. It reminded me that season change is bound to happen (even in Boston) any day now. The chicken was flavorful and didn't need anything more than the salt/pepper but if it did, I would have shared my recipe for wassabi honey mustard.

Yay for spring!

Sushi Again!

Hurray for Oishii!!!

It's all been penguin approved too!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'm Swearing Off Diet Anything!!!

I've long been a fan of diet soda and diet drinks with crystal light and diet coke often toping my list. I even start my day with sweet and low in my coffee. But after seeing this website, I've decided it's time to swear off the fake sweeteners.

Scary!! Scary enough for me to throw out the sweet and low box!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Perks

Being a "grown-up" means I get to decide what to eat on my own. If I feel like pasta, bam, pasta it is. In my twenties (okay and maybe into my thirties, alright so last week as well) this meant mint chip ice cream for breakfast. I've taken advantage of this perk of being an adult.

So I've been craving two things this week: Banh Mi sandwiches and coconut macaroons. And so guess what I had for dinner tonight?

The banh mi came from a recipe off epicurious. I had to further bastardize it due to the constraints of my ghetto Shaws in Fenway. They didn't have liverwurst and so I subbed in canned deviled ham. I've never eaten deviled ham so I wasn't sure what to expect when I popped the can. It was the perfect consistency for the sandwich and had a nice, slightly smoked (a little tin-y) flavor.

I also added cucumber and radish, plus I opted to marinate the onions, radishes, cucs in with the carrots. I assembled it all according to the recipe on epicurious. And was sure to include a good sized squirt of sriracha sauce.

Behold, dinner!

It wasn't anything like the banh mi I have in Chinatown but it was a pretty good sandwich and did satisfy my banh mi craving enough that I know I will be having the same for dinner tomorrow. The crunchy sweet, sour veggies were a great contrast to the smoothness of the deviled ham. It was made even better by the addition of a Tabasco dill pickle! Omg, why has noone come up with this pickle sooner?

The macaroon recipe came courtesy of my girl, Ina Garten. It's from her Family Style cookbook, a thoughtful gift from a good friend of mine. I love Ina. She makes some of the tastiest food! She's never one to skimp on butter, sugar or salt. A lady after my own heart. I've only made one other dessert from this cookbook and it took a little tweaking to get it alright (a word to the wise: if you make the tiramisu be sure and not use all the rum called for, otherwise when you open the fridge it will reek of alcohol. Ina certainly doesn't skimp on the booze either!).

Ina's macaroon recipe called for sweetened condensed milk, coconut (of course) and vanilla. What can taste bad with those three items? They were very simple to put together and once out of the oven smelled heavenly.

I poured myself a glass of milk and tried some. Sweet and chewy, they were exactly what I was craving. Although, the look of the macaroon wasn't so fantastic. They looked like they had spread out a bit and the bottoms cooked a bit faster than they should have. Actually I think this is an overall issue with my oven. I don't think the heat circulates very well and so the bottoms of cookies and cakes cook too fast and the middle and tops stay blonde. Bummer, so much for a fancy new stove in a new condo!

But yay for being a grown-up!

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Good Dose of Penicillin

I started to feel not so hot yesterday afternoon. I was sneezy all day and my nose started to run too. Oh no, I thought. I can't get sick!!! Dammit.

So after taking a good long nap, I crawled out of bed and to the grocery store. I needed some medicine and it could only happen in the form of quick chicken soup. I once dated someone who adored food as much as me. And when he felt himself getting sick, he'd make himself homemade chicken soup. Chicken soup was always something I thought of as time consuming to make. My mom would make it but it was always a big production and a big deal. Homemade chicken soup?! But this ex of mine would make make it super fast - put a chicken in a pot with water, throw in dill/parsley, toss in chunks of carrots and celery and it's pretty much done. Easy!

I did the same for myself and added in some garlic, onion, dried oregano, cumin and a couple of good hits of cayenne pepper. At the last minute of cooking, I put in some orzo and the rind of a piece of parm I had in the fridge.

Finally, I settled down to watch some L-word, read a bit and eat my soup. It was great. Rich and spicy, it was exactly what I needed to make myself feel better. Oye, a good dose of penicillin, indeed!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Girl's Gotta Eat

Alright, I'll admit it. I like to think of myself as a cool, young single girl about town. Kinda like Sex and the City. But the city is Boston and well, I'm not exactly Sarah Jessica Parker. My Mr. Big would need to be a Ms. Big and that's only for starters. But I do love me some fashion and I do sometimes have to be the public eye.

Yesterday I read a kinda negative review in Boston Magazine about the new store. The small article, much like everything else this writer has done before, was horribly written. She was clearly not an English major of any sort. And the piece references other stores that the readership of Boston Magazine most likely hasn't a clue what she's talking about. She basically says the new store has no "direction" and isn't in a good place b/c Fenway is 15 mins away from Newbury Street. Last I checked, just about every 'hood is 15 mins away from Newbury street and would shouldn't Fenway have it's own clothing store too? And how does carrying candles, books and things other than clothing make us less focused? Narrow minded twit. Plus, I let Boston Magazine borrow jeans from Jean Therapy for a good solid week for this supposed photospread and the jeans were not only nowhere to be seen but certainly not sighted or sourced. Basically we weren't mentioned at all.

March 2008 Boston Magazine really soured the already kinda bad day I was having. However lucky for me I had dinner plans. Sometimes a good meal is all it takes to make me forget my woes. Luckily, there was enough for a lunch bag to be made up for me. Lookie!!!:

It's leftover lamb and chorizo chili from last night. The lemon iced cookies (on the left) were not from last night, so don't mind them. No beans at all in that chili, and it's been topped with guac, some cheese, chili peppers, corn bread (yum!) and this really awesome pear salsa . I was very skeptical about something called pear salsa but it was great. Who knew that I could/would want to scoop up barlet pear bits with cilantro, pepper on a tortilla chip?

This chili is very flavorful and very meaty! I think I watched my friend put a couple of smoked ancho chiles into cooking pot before she loaded up the lamb and sausage. I know a few people who complain about chilis that seem to be mostly beans. This would be a nice dish for those peeps who don't do beans.

So a good meal for me last night and today, so yay!