Showing posts with label Plate to Page. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Plate to Page. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Plate to Page Ireland

JUST A DASH OF CREATIVITY

Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation and a pinch of creativity. 
Bo Bennett 


It’s odd how different one group is from another. More or less bloggers, more or less professionals. They come from all over the world, every continent, but it isn’t that. Each group has its own distinct, unique personality, its own needs, its own dynamics. Each group brings something different to the table. Each Plate to Page workshop weekend begins much like a blind date: surreptitious, curious glances, trying not to appear as if staring; dancing around each other’s words, trying to understand the meaning; feeling each other out in an attempt to capture and understand each persona, each sense of humor, each level of shyness. Curiosity tainted with doubt fills the space, excitement mingled with self-consciousness. Like the first day of school. I often feel like a parent or a Scout leader trying to make everyone feel comfortable and at home, wanting this group, like the others, to form one happy, cohesive family.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

FROM PLATE TO PAGE WORKSHOP SOMERSET

ANTICIPATION TO INSPIRATION


I glance nervously, discreetly around the room and to tell you the honest truth it terrifies me. Expectant eyes boring into mine, waiting. Or, worse, blank stares, no expectations at all, or anticipation hidden and buried so deep one must dig down to find it. What are they waiting for? What must I offer them? How to guide and inspire? And is inspiration even achievable? The silence hangs heavy in the air and my doubts rise like a sour taste in my mouth, bubbling up to the surface and spilling over into my confidence.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

GARLIC HERB BRAID: Homebaked Bread for the Holidays

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW!

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

It doesn’t show signs of stopping,
And I’ve bought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned way down low,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
- Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne, 1945


Will it snow this year? I find it extremely difficult to find that old holiday spirit while the rain beats against the windowpanes, as the hail clatters onto the balconies and the clouds hang low and menacing, the sky a steely gray. The lights glitter, diamonds in the shimmering black puddles, in the inky night, the branches crack and sway, the leaves spatter onto the sidewalk below as the wild wind whips the streaming rain cascading down in torrents across the square. Doors creak, we snuggle down deeper under the blankets; we love the coziness, the storms outside are romantic when one is safe inside, yet the approaching festivities call not for rain but snow! We awake to the gray, dismal morning, no sun appears at noon, and we search, alas, in vain, for that old holiday spirit.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

RETURN TO MILAN

ROAD TRIP


Road Trip!” he yelled, fists pumping the air as his foot pressed down on the accelerator and the car hit the open highway. “Road Trip!” they echoed gleefully, thrilled to be on the road and heading back to Italy, their home, their favorite place. Snuggled into their chosen seats, packed in amongst too many suitcases, umbrellas, rubber boots, crumpled, well-worn maps strewn around under seats and crammed down into side pockets and bags overflowing with boxes of cookies, bottles of water and bars of chocolate, they were on a great adventure, just the three of them, father, mother and son.

Friday, November 4, 2011

FROM PLATE TO PAGE TUSCANY

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it,
and the imagination to improvise.
The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
- Sylvia Plath


Squeals of laughter resonate throughout the villa, bouncing off the heavy stone walls, boomeranging down the stairwell. Women clatter from floor to floor, trailing power cords and camera bags in their wake. Sweaters tugged closer to ward off the chill of this Old Grande Dame of a house as we settle in for the second From Plate to Page workshop.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CINNAMON STREUSEL COFFEE CAKE

BAKE TOGETHER FOR FRIENDSHIP


My suitcases lie open on the bedroom floor, socks strewn from one end of the bed to the other; piles of clean laundry grace my creamy carpet, begging for attention, silently crying “Me! Take me!” each time I slide through the room. We scurry around the house in preparation, counting out purchases, checking our lists, dashing to this computer or that to finish a bit of work, answer an e-mail or two. The car has been given the once, twice, thrice over, new tires installed and brakes changed. Boxes of cookies and treats both salty and sweet begin to fill the basket that accompanies us on each road trip. And the second From Plate to Page workshop hovers expectantly on the horizon, luring me with promises of excitement, adventure, learning and friendships old and new.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

ORANGE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES… and a Guest Post

SHARING


Here I am, surrounded by my own brand of mess, desk half straightened yet not quite, baking supplies lined up on the spare space allowed on a kitchen table not yet cleared of breakfast dishes, one too many writing projects awaiting my attention as the documents line up impatiently on my computer desktop. E-mails tap their hypothetical fingers and toes, arms crossed and annoyance glowing almost audibly as one, two, three more ask for my participation in this activity or that challenge, demanding immediate action. I love being solicited, I am fueled by writing projects, I am more than flattered by each request for help, yet how can I possibly take on more and more as disorderly as I am, as chaotic as is my life?

Monday, June 6, 2011

SWEET FOCACCIA WITH STRAWBERRIES & CHOCOLATE GANACHE

STARTING OVER – Step 1

Like the beat beat beat of the tom-tom
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick tick tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall
Like the drip drip drip of the raindrops
When the summer shower is through
So a voice within me keeps repeating you, you, you

Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me, or far
Its no matter darling where you are
I think of you
- Cole Porter


Life is an adventure,” she said, no trace of cliché on her lips. He scooted down a little lower, snuggling deeper into his corner of the sofa. His eyes searched out her own, slightly pleading, slightly mocking, filled with the desire to believe her once again. She had just returned from Germany and stepped off of the airplane into a new life, one of risk and a daring adventure, one of complete togetherness. They were tossing caution to the wind in their great desire to grab at happiness and contentment, something so rare these days. And from here on out they would be together each and every day, all day and into the night.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

FROM PLATE TO PAGE

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.
- Carl Buechner

Passion is a curious thing. “Great enthusiasm, the object of this; strong emotion,” defines my Oxford American Dictionary. But simply “great enthusiasm” sounds rather bland and everyday, these words carefully chosen and written in black on white in my much thumbed, beloved book belie the exuberance, fail to capture the energy and enthusiasm bespoke in this one word. Passion inspires a rapturous, unadulterated exhilaration, pure pleasure bordering on madness, a willingness to forget all else when once the object of said passion is encountered, even an earnest readiness to bare one’s soul prompted by the hungry craving to indulge in one’s own passion. “Strong emotion” transforms into frenzy, an incredibly intense devotion, Pygmalion’s passionate love for his sculpture.

Photo courtesy of Jenn of Jenn Cuisine

Friday, May 6, 2011

MATCHA CHOCOLATE MARBLE CAKE

INDULGENCE


My father’s marble cakes stand out in my memory, nestled between images of him, dressed in white t-shirt and Bermuda shorts, his body immersed under the hood of a car, tinkering with an engine, or scratching at the sandy Florida dirt with a rusty rake at the side of the house, coaxing up his precious plants which would eventually bear an abundant crop of splotchy tomatoes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

GRAND MARNIER PANNA COTTA


My father wanted a bar. Big, dark chocolate wood top, cool black leather front and faux-Spanish metal finishings. Very late-60’s chic! Dad, ever the true engineer, designed his dream bar and commissioned a local woodworker to build it to his very precise specifications. Yes, this beautiful bar would fit perfectly in the corner of his newly closed-in, decorated and outfitted back room with its floor-to-ceiling dark wooden paneling, wall-to-wall red carpeting, faux-Zebra skin sofa and the grooviest of grape chandeliers dangling from swags of gold chains and spreading a warm, hazy glow across the room. And the day it arrived, with much expectation and even more ado, we excitedly ran outside to watch them unload that beauty and carry it into the house! Except, engineer is as engineer does, and the bar, that monstrosity, would not fit through one door of the house! So, of course, they proceeded to remove the plate glass front window so they could push the bar through and into its new home!

My parents’ own tidy Swinging Sixties lifestyle consisted of weekend cruises to the Bahamas and neighborhood buffet parties, the women dressed in brightly-colored satin party pajamas and shimmering pastel lipstick, the men burgundy banlon polo shirts and sleek knit slacks, hair slicked back with Brylcreem. Photos snapped of smiling couples in cruise ship cabins or up on deck holding fancy glasses of colored cocktails with tiny umbrellas and tissue paper fruit on toothpicks dancing gaily above the rim, bringing home straw dolls and baskets with Nassau scrawled across the front in brightly-colored stitching. Memories of long white gloves and dangly earrings, sugary sweet cocktails or Tom Collins from a mix, their libation of choice, party platters of deli meats or finger foods and games of Twister in that same back room all blend together in bright contrast to mom typing or doing the wash, dad working under the hood of the car or reading Life Magazine while watching the news at 6 o’clock.


My parents weren’t drinkers and, well, that bar was never finished, never covered with faux-leather fabric or edged in metal molding, and years after my father passed away when my mom decided to update the décor of the back room, we decided to part with his beloved bar, its bare plywood front staring at us miserably, accusingly from the corner of the room, no way to hide its nakedness. That old wooden bunker was piled high with gadgets and gifts never opened, memories of other people’s vacations, baskets of birthday cards and bank calendars, now-empty plastic deli party trays and bric à brac that had found no other home. It all ended up being scattered throughout the house, wherever there was space, or thrown into the bin, unopened cellophane cracking with age, the feeble whine of stuffed animals begging for mercy as they headed towards the same sad demise. We crouched down behind in the dark and pulled out all the bottles of whiskey and Kahlua, wine and bourbon that had never been opened, never drunk all those years ago, bottles dusty, labels faded, signs of a lifestyle more played at than lived, and drinks saved for another occasion, forgotten about and left to their musty conclusion.


No, my parents were never drinkers and neither was I, watching and learning, having little interest in getting drunk on cheap beer behind the high school football bleachers or Champagne on New Year’s Eve. From high school to college, I watched, and experimented, but never understood the attraction to keg parties and great goblets of that golden, grainy beverage, the magical nectar of students everywhere. Going to State U, where, when beer wasn’t being guzzled, parties whirled around huge bowls of punch spiked with who knew what, whatever was on hand and could be purchased on the cheap, and flavored with the sweetest of fruit cocktails, the easier to swallow great quantities of the stuff. The ever-present scent of coconut oil, visions of gaudy flowered shirts and the comfort of flip-flops dressed up those years in the Sunshine State, between golf courses and studying outside by the swimming pool. Key West-themed parties, blenders whirring, strawberry daiquiris sipped through straws, piña coladas and margaritas drunk to Jimmy Buffet and Tom Petty, fingers licking off barbecue sauce and spicy dip. Sweet hints of the islands, surfboards tucked under arms, was the tipple of choice, the exotic flavors of coconut, lime and berries, heady with tequila and rum.


Then I moved north to my Ivy League school, where Hawaiian shirts were replaced by button downs and polos, shorts and baggies with chinos, flip flops for loafers and searing heat and bright sunshine with a snowy, gray winter. Odd college chants for the team filled the crisp, chilly Autumn air, “Ha ha hoo hoo we’ve got more Nobels than you!” in the centuries-old stadium, straw hats and likenesses of our own favorite Quaker, Ben Franklin, became the norm, heavily endowed buildings in red brick standing majestically around a stately green and dinner parties, elegant and worldly, tomes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking pulled from shelves and studied as seriously as any economics handbook. Beer, yes, that old college standby, was never very far, but now corks were pulled from innumerable bottles of red and white to accompany platters of duck and asparagus and chocolate tortes. Sips of candy sweet raspberry, orange or chocolate-flavored liqueurs, oh so sophisticated, or so we thought, followed these meals or punctuated an evening with the girls or a date.

My move to Europe and marriage to a Frenchman amid the popping of corks and the ppffffssss of Champagne, bubbles tickling my nose and making me giddy, has me seeing the world through wine colored glasses: a glass or two of Muscadet, Quincy, Bordeaux or Anjou with every meal is the norm, traditions infused with the intoxicating juice of the vine. And meals are followed by strong, burning gulps of grappa or eau de vie, invigorating whiffs of prune, poire, raisin, Mirabelle. Or splashes of Amaretto, Sambuco or Cognac, just a hint, in a demitasse of café, just enough to infuse it with an earthy heat, a bite of heavenly bliss, an eye-opening kick of the devil’s tipple. No drinker, I tend to smile sweetly and shake my head no at anything that strong as I tap the rim of my wine glass indicating that a drop or two more of that wouldn’t be looked at askance. Yes, I’ve learned to savor and taste, understand and appreciate this ambrosia of the gods, the fruit of the vine, Bacchus’ delectable nectar. As for the stronger stuff, well, I prefer to bake.


Limoncello, Amaretto, rum or Grand Marnier, whatever the liquor I am more often than not to be found measuring it out and drizzling it in batter or cream, ganache or filling than drinking it out of a tiny crystal glass. I’ve added it to mascarpone filling, brownies, cake and even bread, and now I’ve stirred it into delicate, ethereal, silky Panna Cotta, adding a rich, vibrant orange flavor, not quite as sweet as fresh juice, a luxuriously sophisticated version of this gorgeous dessert.


It is with great pleasure that I announce 2011 Food and Wine Blogger Indaba, the South African Food and Wine Bloggers’ Conference to be held on February 20 in Cape Town, and that I will be leading a workshop on food writing with my friend and talented writer Jeanne of CookSister! Don’t miss it, book now!


The Plate to Page team is thrilled to let you know that we now have a stunning venue for our second Plate to Page workshop in Tuscany, Italy the weekend of October 28 – 30, 2011 and we are offering you a sneak peek at Il Salicone! And don’t miss the latest guest poster on the Plate to Page blog, my lovely friend and very talented writer Lael Hazan, who shares her story of how she found her voice to write. Read her touching story in A Writer’s Journey.


Looking for a sweet little something with which to woo the chocolate lover in your life for Valentine’s Day ? Try my Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte, my Valentine’s Day recipe on Huffington Post Food.

Last but not least, Life’s a Feast has been nominated for a Blogger’s Choice Award 2011 in the category Best Food Blog and I am absolutely thrilled and honored! Please take just a few minutes to hop over to the Life’s a Feast page on their site and vote for Life’s a Feast! Thank you so very much!

GRAND MARNIER PANNA COTTA

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
2 Tbs + ½ tsp (35 g) sugar
2 – 3 Tbs Grand Marnier *
1 ¼ tsps (6 g) unsweetened powdered gelatin
Finely grated zest of one orange, preferably pesticide free, optional

* 2 Tbs will give you a lovely subtle taste of Grand Marnier, 3 Tbs the flavor will be more pronounced but still delicious.

Place the heavy cream, the sugar and the Grand Marnier in a medium saucepan. Stir in the grated orange zest if adding. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the top and gently stir it in with a fork or whisk. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. At the end of the five minutes the gelatin will look like tiny yellow translucent splotches on the surface.

Place the saucepan over low heat and slowly and gently whisking, allow the mixture to heat up just to the boiling point. Watch carefully as this only takes a few minutes. Once it starts to boil (it may just foam around the edges), remove from the heat and, whisking, make sure that the yellow spots have disappeared completely: this means that the gelatin has completely dissolved.

Very carefully pour the hot liquid into 4 serving glasses (I use a soup ladle or I pour it into a pyrex measuring cup with a spout). Cover the glasses or bowls with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator – ideally over night – to firm up.


I poured a Pomegranate jelly over two of the Panna Cotte and although it was tasty, the Panna Cotta was definitely better without it, simply on its own. If you like, serve this with some fresh raspberries or sliced fresh strawberries.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

JUST A LITTLE NEWS


Since my big Cake-a-thon with Meeta and Jeanne, I’ve been extremely busy here in Life’s a Feastville-sur-Loire (thanks, Jeanne). Busy as a little bee, une petite abeille, buzz buzz buzzing from word document to word document, from e-mail to twitter and back again, writing, organizing, answering, researching. As much as I want to think of myself as the Queen Bee, I often just feel like a drone or a simple worker bee all dressed in chic black and yellow… zipping blindly from one flower to the next, one activity to the next, trying to carry back the nectar to the hive where I pray that it will be magically transformed into golden, sweet honey cakes.

Ah, a day in the life of... how does she stay looking so good?

The coming week will find me mixing, stirring, concocting, creating in the kitchen. Thoughts of pomegranates and Grand Marnier, chocolate and espresso float lazily through the apartment and pull me into a warm, aromatic embrace. Creamy mascarpone promises elegant luxury like thick fur stoles and deep feather pillows, showers of snowy powdered sugar, deep, earthy puffs of cocoa and ground almonds splashed with rum smelling of the South Pacific draw me into the kitchen with promises of distant lands. The days leading up to my birthday will be overflowing with sweet things, sweets for the sweet, but this past week has been rather barren. And hectic. We did finish the last of the Chocolate Orange Cake, enjoyed by all, and my Pinolata, the luscious Italian Pine Nut Tart, disappeared with a rapidity that made my head spin. Now the counter and tabletops are bare, eagerly awaiting the next round of homey goodness.

I decided to write one of those “I’ve been busy doing…” posts to fill in the gap and fill you in on all the latest news in my little world, the new adventures that I’ve embarked upon and the changes I’ve been going through. It has been, as I’ve said, a hectic week but good hectic, busy getting things done and I feel that it has certainly been a week very well spent. It’s as if I have offered myself a few new beginnings as a birthday gift, new challenges and exciting, interesting projects. We continue, Meeta, Ilva, Jeanne and I, to work passionately and methodically on From Plate to Page, excited that the waiting list continues to grow as we now organize not only the first workshop in Weimar in May but the second workshop in Italy planned for October as well. I still so love writing for the Huffington Post, I stand up just a little straighter, shoulders back, chest out, chin up every time I see my name splashed across the Food page, see myself smiling out of the Featured Blog Post space, and ogle in wonder and pride that it is really me. I so enjoy finding the words to say, the subjects to share with my newfound readership, food for thought, the discussions each one may inspire and sharing my favorite recipes with a larger audience.

Ooooh, exciting!

My first big news is, well, take a look around and tell me what you see! My lovely, generous sister Meeta spent a day with me behind the scenes adding share buttons at the end of each and every post, making it now easy for you to share your favorite Life’s a Feast stories and recipes with your friends via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, Stumble Upon and so many more. Just know that each time you click one of those buttons and share something that you love, something that interested you and made you think, I appreciate it more than you can imagine and I thank you very much! She also added follow buttons in my side bar just below my About Me blurb, and you now have the choice to get e-mail alerts whenever I post delivered right into your mailbox or via Feedburner. Go ahead, don’t just sit there, no need to hesitate and before you forget… while we are on the subject and talking about it just lean over and click on one or the other of the green icons to your right… and you will never miss a Life’s a Feast post again! You can also, if you don’t already, follow me on Twitter or Facebook in one easy click as well!

Are you following me yet?

Thank you so very much, Meeta, for taking care of me! You know how grateful I am!


My latest writing adventure comes in the form of The Rambling Epicure, an all-new, on-line food site, a daily international food chronicle written by expats and Europeans. I was invited to join an amazing team of food writers, photographers, chefs and wine experts and given the awesome, delightful assignment of writing about… dessert! At Destination Dessert, my monthly (or so) column, I will share my dessert adventures, all new recipes (not found on my blog), both the traditional and the innovative, the homey and the elegantly sophisticated, while regaling you with stories about each sweet treat. This is truly a stimulating writing challenge for me and I hope that you will all join me on this sweet voyage, following me to each destination. I only ask that you join me for the pleasure of the ride, eat with thoughtful moderation and all of your senses. And that is where you must fly to in order to enjoy my wonderful Italian Pine Nut Tart, Le Pinolata! You'll find a new article and the recipe for this simple yet luscious dessert.


We spoke together at Food Blogger Connect in London in 2009 and again in 2010, we’ll be heading the writing sessions at our own From Plate to Page workshop and now we’re taking it on the road! I am proud to announce that I will be sharing the stage once more with Jeanne, this time at Indaba 2011, the South African Food & Wine Bloggers Conference held this February in Cape Town, organized by the fabulous Colleen, our own Brownie Girl! We will once again be speaking and leading a workshop on food writing & finding your own style and voice. And I am so looking forward to this enriching, exciting adventure alongside my Spice Sister!


And last but soooo not least, Life’s a Feast has been nominated once again for a Blogger’s Choice Award 2011 in the category Best Food Blog! If you enjoy my blog, my writing, my stories, the recipes, then I hope you will be so kind as to take 2 minutes of your time and link over to the Life’s a Feast page on the Blogger’s Choice Awards 2011 site and vote for my blog! Just click on the little Vote icon under the number of votes behind the little man and you’ll be asked to log in (if you voted last year) or register. It is simple and painless and fast! They’ll e-mail you a confirmation with your User Name and Password, which allows you then to go back, click once again on Vote and voilà the number should jump up one as it counts your vote! Know that I really do appreciate the time taken and every single vote! I thank you very much!


Yes, you are free to go over and do that now….

So, have it all down? Share buttons? Follow me via e-mail updates or Feedburner? Destination Dessert on The Rambling Epicure? The Blogger’s Choice Awards?


To thank each of you, I will be sharing slices of Pinolata….


Next post: a very special dessert treat, a birthday and back to our regularly scheduled blog posting….

Monday, January 3, 2011

PORTUGUESE CREAM TARTLETS

HAPPY NEW YEAR!


You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene
-Johnny Mercer


30 days hath September, April, June and November… and jolly old December has 31 and here we find ourselves not only at the end of another month but standing at the end of another year, on the cusp of a new one, looking out over the sill into darkness slowly fading into light. We each of us tend to get just a little too sentimental, a tad too nostalgic when stirring up the Ghosts of the Year Past, and I promised myself stoutly that I would not. I would rather look back at 2010, revisit my accomplishments and mishaps, marvel at the opportunities grabbed at with success and ponder over those opportunities boggled, and generally discuss my foibles with a sense of humor and a good laugh rather than shedding a wistful tear. Truth be told, 2010 was rather an amazing year for me both personally and as a blogger and writer, so as I look back over the past twelve months I smile and clap my hands as I revel in the positive, focusing on the good while attempting to shrug my shoulders and laugh off the mistakes or the chances I let slip by. As the old song goes “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative….


The snow still alludes me and the days are gray and cold, something eerie hangs over the world hidden by the mist and shrouded under steely skies, but the briskness in the air as we step outside revivifies me, the iciness that fills my lungs and nips at my cheeks startles me awake after the drowsy warmness inside has lulled me into a dreamy stupor, and suddenly I feel alive again as, arm entwined in arm, we walk down the street and wander through the abandoned town, abandoned to ski chalets and blazing fires or simply the chance to huddle together inside amongst their loved ones as the vacation days and the old year wind down, happier to be quietly at peace after the rambunctious, noisy holidays. JP shivers and laughs at how cold it has become as I tug harder on his arm and drag him along, thrilled to be out, satisfied to be happily alone with him surrounded by the silence of the empty streets. We still, after all these years, so enjoy each other’s company and have the power to make each other laugh out loud, on and on, over and over again, wondering if our silliness is normal for such a pair of staid, respectable, old people such as we. Together we step over the threshold and into the new year, boldly pushing our way in on winged feet, hoping, nay insisting upon taking the bull by the horns and making 2011 our year, a year of success and dreams, adventure and excitement! Like the baker lining up plain old white flour, grainy sugar, mud-colored vanilla and dark bitter chocolate, measuring precisely, stirring and blending gently yet with firmness and vigor and creating a masterpiece, a confection sweet, luscious and beautiful, have we decided to take all that we have experienced and learned along the way, the contacts that have stepped into our paths, the skills we have honed, the confidence built up throughout the year and combine them all, tenderly, carefully folding them together, stirring, shaping, simmering, spicing them with the friendships made, the love and encouragement, flavoring it with the advice gratefully accepted and the sweet opportunities offered and create something exciting, a delicious concoction, a delightful 2011. Like the icy cold weather, it invigorates me, excites every brain cell, every inch of my body and stirs me into action, pushing me along a wind-blown, sometimes blustery and obscure, sometimes bright and clear path into the future.


Never one to toot my own horn, I prefer not to list my brilliant accomplishments or ogle in wonderment at all that has come my way in 2011 as bloggers, and I, are wont to do at the end of a year. Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows all that I have done in the year past, my achievements and my projects, all of which I am extremely proud, and can peruse my Published Articles page as they wish, a bit at a time. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few of the wonderful people that have done so much for me, have supported and encouraged me, given me opportunities, presented me with exciting challenges, worked on projects with me, believed in me and inspired me to work ever harder, bolstered my confidence, advised, corrected, shared and always kept me laughing. And with whom I enter this New Year full of hope and pleasure, full of endeavors, projects and plans for grand adventures. And because of whom I am truly a better person:

Deeba, my twin sistah and inspiration in all things baking, together with whom I have kept the MacTweet fires burning, offering a warm space and an inviting, laughter-filled virtual kitchen for everyone who wishes to bake French Macarons together. Meeta, Jeanne, Ilva, three amazingly talented, smart and rip-roaringly funny women, and the extraordinarily tight-knit group we have formed in order to create From Plate to Page (along with other interesting projects), the workshop borne of a common vision, our passion for what we do and the desire to share both with other food bloggers. All three are my inspiration, my support system, my creative and personal sounding board, and truly family. The great folks at Huffington Post Food, Arianna, Colin and the team, who have offered me an incredible opportunity and an exciting challenge, who support me and give me the freedom to express myself on that amazing platform. Lael for introducing my blog to Saveur.com and since becoming a great friend and forming our own “buddy system” on this great adventure we call writing. There were also a few others who, by mentioning me in interviews as a favorite blogger, by featuring my blog on their website or by simply adding me to their impressive blogroll, have really boosted my confidence and motivated me to keep writing, keep working, keep reaching for the stars. My sincere and boundless gratitude to each and every one of you.

On a more personal note, JP and I had a fabulous, romantic, gastronomic week together this Spring in the mountains outside of Clermont Ferrand, Lyon and Annecy. We also spent a month in Florida, joined at my mom’s by Clem & Simon, both of whom have become fine young men. My Spice Sisters and I succeeded in meeting up in London this past year not once but twice, the second time a fabulous all-girl weekend which also involved meeting up with a roomful of friends and bloggers! Together we created an evening Skype Cinema event, the first of many evenings spent with great friends, drinking wine, eating pizza and watching a film even though we are spread out over several countries and time zones! And I have truly made some amazing friends this year, some with whom I am in contact every single day and their tweets, private messages and e-mails make me smile, laugh, forge ahead into the unknown and often scary world, their confidence in me making me shine! Ah, the magic of the internet!


JP took off a few days this week, a time to resource and a time to spend together, tête à tête, in the coziness of our own home. He cooked and I baked, each to our hearts’ content, we ate out as we pleased, we watched crazy, silly movies just to end the year with a good, hearty laugh, and we discussed the year past and the year to come. We toasted each other and the dreams we have for 2011 and feel that maybe we are actually on our way. As this post sees in the new year, a new decade, I wanted to wish my dear readers a truly magnificent 2011 filled with happiness and good health and I would like to begin this new year with something truly sweet and very special: Portuguese Cream Tartlets, my way. Tiny cinnamony puff pastry cups cradling a rich, silky, elegant cream caressed with a touch of vanilla and a hint of nutmeg and dusted with pale silvers of almonds. Although a tad underbaked, these tartlets were the perfect, creamy, voluptuous, sumptuous, delicious dessert.


New Year is always a time of partying and celebration with friends and family. But on a personal and professional level it is also a time of reflection and evaluation; of planning and regrouping; of refreshment and renewed inspiration. And it is in this reflective spirit that we have decided to ask each one of the four From Plate to Page workshop presenters to look back at 2010 to tell us what they feel they have achieved; as well as forward at 2011 to share with us some of their goals for the coming year. The series kicks off with Ilva, the talented photographer behind Lucullian Delights and Ilva Beretta Photography.


PORTUGUESE CREAM TARTLETS
Although a combination of several recipes, the cream filling was based on one found in the December 2010 issue of delicious, so I would like to share this with Ivonne of Creams Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays.

2 x 13 oz (375 g) packages of frozen puff pastry or the equivalent quantity of homemade (I believe I had closer to 22 oz (650 g) homemade, the recipe can be found here.)
2 – 4 Tbs cinnamon sugar (1/2 - 1 tsp ground cinnamon for every 2 Tbs sugar)

3 large egg yolks*
¼ cup + 2 Tbs (75 g) sugar
2 Tbs cornstarch or corn flour
1 cup (250 ml) milk (I used 2% low fat)
¾ cup (200 ml) heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 – 2 Tbs slivered blanched almonds
Powdered/confectioner’s sugar for dusting

* Reserve the whites in a clean jar for Macarons!

Butter a 12-cup muffin tin.

If using frozen or packaged puff pastry:
Thaw the puff pastry if frozen. Halve each sheet in half lengthways and then place one half of each sheet on top of the other so you have two stacks. Press and roll together and, if need be, roll each double sheet to the size of a sheet of notebook A4 paper.

If using homemade puff pastry:
Slice the dough in half, placing one half on top of the other and roll the dough out to the size of two pieces of notebook A4 paper placed side by side. Slice the rectangle in half so you have two pieces, each the size of one piece of notebook A4 paper.

Dust each sheet of thinly rolled out dough with cinnamon sugar, as generously as you like and place with the long side facing you (the wider sides are going from left to right, perpendicular to your body). Roll each sheet up tightly to form a two logs and neatly slice off each messy end. Slice each log into 6 even pieces, about 1 ¼-inch (3 cm) each. Pile the leftover pieces on top of each other, press together into a stack, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for another use.


One at a time, place the pastry pieces cut side up in between two squares of parchment paper having first lightly dusted the paper as well as the top of the pastry piece (so each side is dusted). With the palm of your hand, gently press the piece almost flat before placing the second piece of parchment on top. Roll out the pastry into thin 4-inch (10 cm) rounds then carefully press into each cup in the muffin tin. The edges do not have to be even; these look better as a more rustic dessert. When all the pastry pieces are rolled out and fitted into the muffin tin, place a piece of plastic wrap over the whole tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling (the 30 minutes allows the dough to rest and is a necessary part of the puff pastry process).

A lovely swirl of cinnamon sugar!

Prepare the cream filling:
Gently whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornstarch and the milk in a medium-sized saucepan until blended and smooth. Cook gently over very low heat, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes until thick like custard. Remove from the heat, quickly stir in the cream, the vanilla and the nutmeg. Transfer the cream to a bowl or glass/Pyrex measuring cup, cover with plastic, pushing the plastic down to touch the surface, and allow to come to room temperature as you wait for the puff pastry’s 30 minutes rest period to be up.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Remove the muffin tin from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap (of course!) and evenly divide the cream filling between the pastry shells. The filling should almost come up to the top of the shells. Sprinkle the slivered almonds around the outside edges of the cream filling, making sure they stick to the filling.


Bake in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes until the pastry shell is golden (my husband would have preferred that I had left mine in until the shells were a deep golden color) and the cream filling is set but slightly wobbly (again, my husband asked me the next time to allow the surface to form more of a skin and color a bit, but that is personal preference). Remove from the oven and allow the tartlets to cool in the muffin tin for 5 – 10 minutes before removing them carefully from the tin to a wire rack to cool completely.


The Portuguese Cream Tartlets can be eaten at room temperature or chilled. Dusted with powdered sugar, of course.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

BEETROOT MACARONS both Savory & Sweet

IF TRUTH BE TOLD


We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.
- Iris Murdoch

Life is an illusion and there are times we create that illusion ourselves. And how much is it worth? We cover up the flaws with a well-chosen outfit, a dash of makeup, draw attention away from this and that with a color and a new haircut. We plump up our resumé just a teeny tiny bit or stretch a truth just enough to impress. Or maybe we wash away the crazy episodes of yelling and stomping of feet, fold up and put away the dirty laundry and present a kind, gentle, almost perfect persona to the outside world.


Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Now why would anyone want to do this? And why would I be discussing illusion anyway?

I spend my time telling stories, weaving romantic tales or heartrending anecdotes. I paint sentimental pictures and offer up pretty memories tied up in ribbon, yet I create no illusions. I have never been a believer in deception, I am totally incapable of lying, I have little power to bewitch and understand that all of those illusions, no matter how simple, are as transparent as glass. And anyone who has met me in “real life” after knowing me through my blog understands that I am pretty much what I appear to be in glorious black and white. Yet….yet, when I mentioned in my last post that I was a pathetic hostess, that organizing even a casual lunch for friends has me frazzled and panicking, that I tend to select dishes I have never made before and several foods that all have to be prepared at the last minute so I end up absolutely freaking out, cursing for all the world to hear, throwing things at the walls in the kitchen and, in the end, serve mostly overcooked and badly managed food, well no one seemed to believe me. Dear readers, I kid you not.


For it is a land of illusion, a place in the mind, a shimmering mirage of riches and mystery and death. These illusions have distorted its landscape and contorted its history.
- Richard Lingenfelter

Have I given anyone the idea that I am the hostess with the mostess? That all runs smoothly chez nous, that I am an always-fabulous cook, that I have, as someone suggested, nerves of steel? I create no illusions, I beg for no compliments. I am not the kind of girl who sweetly bats her eyelashes in the hopes of being called out on her humble avowal, her modesty painting a pretty picture to attract hugs and warm fuzzy outpourings. Nah! My words may be poetic but the truth, my truths, are as bare as my soul. I am a lousy hostess. At any outside event, whether public or private, I am as cool and collected as the most cosmopolitan Holly Golightly while my husband, strong, smart, talented businessman crumples up into an embarrassed, bumbling, sidekick. At home, the roles are reversed. My meals are a disaster, I spill the wine and trip over the edge of the carpet, I always think I am misunderstanding the French rattling on around me and my mind goes utterly blank as I scramble for clever things to say, interesting topics to dazzle my guests. And husband’s smooth, suave man-about-town kicks in… he takes over the dinner table conversation, discusses and pours the wine like the best sommelier, expertly slides trays of nibblies and aperitifs onto the coffee table and then ties on an apron and takes over the kitchen. Opposites not only attract but they make for the perfect social couple.


Our two recent dinner parties went down like the best whiskey, warm and toasty, earthy and smooth. Days before the first lunch, JP took me aside, sat me down and planned the entire menu from aperatif through coffee and dessert. His brilliant plan of creating a dessert that could be made a day or even two ahead, pre-marinating chicken so it would only need to be slid into the hot oven just as the guests knocked on the front door and purchasing everything else ready-made at the market that morning was a plan made in heaven. Like clockwork…. So as the second lunch, this one with two couples rather than just one, approached, I waited patiently; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday strolled by and I said not one word. My heartbeat stayed normal and I went about my daily business with no worries standing in my way trying to trip me up. I had already decided that my Decadent Chocolate Spice Cake would be the spectacular finish to our meal, but the rest, well, I was waiting for Da Man!

And Saturday morning rolled around and as we snuggled up in bed with the covers pulled up tightly around us, we started thinking. I suggested his amazing Beef and Carrot Daube. No. My Goulash with Biscuits? Nope. Hmmmm. A one-pot meal is always so easy. I hopped out of bed and ran to the bookshelves and grabbed an armful of cookbooks and about twenty cooking magazines. And then he had it! We would start with grilled Boudin Blanc, white sausage, served on a bed of sautéed apples and pears and simply glide into a Choucroute de la Mer, Alsatian Choucroute topped with monkfish and smoked haddock, plump mussels and crayfish with a rich, tangy Beurre Blanc sauce. Perfect. And so was the dinner party. He cooked, he organized, he entertained and it was fabulous.

So, the moral of the story? Trust your better half. Stay calm, cool and collected. Let someone else do the cooking. And never lie about your faults, weaknesses or foibles for it will surely, one day, catch up with you.

We must select the illusion which appeals to our temperament and embrace it with passion, if we want to be happy.
- Cyril Connolly


And I made macarons. On my recent trip to London, I bought a small container of powdered beetroot, a deep luxurious pink-red color, a natural sweetener, and just knew it was destined for macarons. This month’s Mac Attack challenge was Savory-Sweet Macs, creating the perfect macaron blending the sweet and the savory, something to be served with a glass of Champagne. So Mathilde and I, yes, Mathilde is back! made beautiful pink macs and filled half with a simple cream cheese whipped creamy and smooth with a dash of dill layered with a slice of smoked salmon, and half with chocolate-orange ganache. Sweet or savory, the beetroot macs are delicately flavored, seeming almost to temper the normal sweetness and nuttiness of the shells, which made for the perfect backdrop to both fillings. Serve them to expectant guests both before and at the end of the meal and no matter how the rest of the day went, they will surely go home smiling.


From Plate to Page is highlighting Food Photographer William Brinson this week. William has very kindly shared with us some of his stunning photography as well as a few words about himself, his photography and his profession. Don't miss this, our first in a series of Star Food Stylists, Food Photographers and Food Writers, each one tempting us with their images and words, giving us a taste of their talent and a hint of the wonderful things behind From Plate to Page.


BEETROOT MACARONS
Either savory or sweet

7.2 oz (200 g) confectioner’s or powdered sugar
4 oz (110 g) finely ground almonds
2 Tbs (1 oz/30 g) granulated sugar
3 large egg whites (about 4 oz/112 g)
1 tsp beetroot powder
dot red or pink gel, paste or powdered food coloring or a bit of each

Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 ½ inch-diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Set aside. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809).

Sift the powdered sugar, the ground almonds and the beetroot powder together into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you are whipping the whites until you obtain a glossy, stiff meringue.

Gently but firmly fold about 1/3 of the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds. Add the rest of the whipped whites/meringue with the food coloring and fold, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients completely. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds and test again.

You can also fold the powdered mixture into the meringue if it is easier for you.

Fill your pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. When you have piped all of your batter out into even rounds, you can sprinkle half of the shells with decorative sugar sprinkle or dried crushed herbs. These will be the top half of each “sandwich”. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!

Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).

Allow the macarons to sit out for 30 minutes to an hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched and shouldn’t stick to your finger). Bake the shells for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute.) I turn the trays back to front halfway through the baking.

Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop. Allow to cool before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.


Dark Chocolate Ganache Filling for the sweet


½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
¾ cup (about 100 g) chopped dark chocolate (I used Lindt Excellence 70% and sometimes one with flavor such as mint or orange)

Place the chopped chocolate into a medium-sized mixing or other heatproof bowl. Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Slowly heat the cream until it comes just to the boiling point. Pour the cream immediately over the chopped chocolate and stir until it is smooth and creamy.

Allow the ganache filling to cool, stirring every so often. If need be (I do this) place the bowl in the refrigerator, pulling it out every 5 or 10 minutes and giving a good, hearty stir. When the ganache is ready to use to fill the macarons, it should be thick and creamy, not runny. You want to be able to pipe the filling onto the shells and have it stay there not run all over the place.

Prepare your pastry bag with a plain tip that will pipe teaspoon-sized dots of filling onto the macaron shells. Pair up the shells so you have sets that match (same size and shape). Pipe the ganache filling onto one shell of each pair. Sandwich with the second shell. Allow the filling to set.


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