Archive for January, 2010

Weekly Roundup: Life Gave Me Lemons Edition

Nigella Pound Cake Slices

Lemon pound cake - a possible lemon project.

Actually, technically, Nonna gave me lemons. And not just any lemons – lemons from her father’s lemon tree, which grows in their backyard in San Francisco. I can’t wait to try them out this weekend – lemon curd, lemon frosting, candied lemon peel – so many possibilities.

Of course, there are so many things to do this weekend; sometimes I feel like I spend all week waiting for the weekend, so I can get all my baking and blogging projects done. But I think I’ll manage to fit some lemon confections in there. There’s always time for lemons.

Also, if anyone is looking for Saturday night, Nonna is holding a little get together at the Capital City Brewery downtown. Email me if you’re in need of something to do!

Recipes I want to try, as found during my Internet expeditions this week:

  • Martha at A Measured Memory is back to blogging, with some casatiello (bread studded with cheese and salami). Would that’s make an awesome Superbowl treat? Especially if you served the slices with even more cured meats and nice cheeses.
  • Lemony persimmon muffins, from Mango and Tomato. I think I’ve had a persimmon in restaurants, but I’ve never just picked one up on my own.
  • Pizza, with 00 flour (very fine flour from Italy), from Pete Bakes!

And in other news:

  • Lemmonex’s blog comes to an end. And I am totally sad – like, it reminded me of that epic day when Hissyfit closed the forums (I’m actually really curious if anyone will get this reference, other than my sister). But I’m very happy for her (she has a new job that would make blogging a little difficult).
  • DC must really be coming into its own, because we now have a secret supper club – a secret restaurant run out of a private home. Hush Supper Club serves up vegetarian Indian cuisine at an undisclosed location. Check out their site for details, or follow them on twitter. And check out write-ups from Dining in DC and Metrocurean.
  • Tasting Table – like Daily Candy but for food – just launched in DC. Read about them on their site, or read the write up in Top Shelf.
  • French Twist DC writes up a “cupping” she attending? What’s a “cupping” you ask? Doesn’t that sound kind of dirty? You’ll just have to read about it (hint – it’s akin to a wine tasting).
  • The Arugula Files experiments with black garlic. All I know about black garlic is that it once figured in a Top Chef episode.
  • Samuel Fromartz, the home baker who won Young and Hungry’s baguette contest, had the lucky job of making the bread for Alice Water’s Sunday Night Supper dinner last Sunday – the fundraiser for Martha’s Table. Fromartz writes about his experience in The Atlantic.
  • More details on Meat Week and Wednesday’s pork barrel BBQ extravaganza at Mango Mikes, from Capital Spice.
  • Would you buy a whoopie pie pan? I dislike the whole idea, myself. From The Kitchn.
  • Anyone want to start stalking The Real Housewives of DC with me, in hopes that we’ll get to see some awesome drama? Maybe there’s a way I can get my Real Housewives fix without Bravo! Frozen Tropics reports the Housewives were spotted at Sova Wednesday (although, seriously, like the Real Housewives would ever to go H street in real life? That was so obviously a set up by the producers).
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Where To Take Cake Decorating Classes In The DC Area

Crumb Coat

The crumb coat. No, it still doesn't make my finished cakes look any better.

I’ve been hunting around for cake decorating classes lately, mostly because I’ve become increasingly frustrated with my inability to frost a cake. All I want is a cake with smooth, straight sides, like the cakes I see in bakeries, and yet this simple result eludes me. I’ve tried to do a crumb coat, and that helps a little, and I’ve tried using different types of frosting, but my cakes always look very . . . well, “rustic” is a nice way of saying it.

Class prices range quite a bit – from $20 for a Wilton Class at craft stores out in the ‘burbs, to $95 for a two-hour course at Fancy Cakes By Leslie in Bethesda. And it’s interesting that all the cake decorating classes are out of the District – like, are we too hip and cool to decorate some cakes in DC?

Also, did I miss anything? Any other cake decorating classes that you want to share?

  • Cake Love – Cake Assembly/Decorating
    Description: This class will cover how to put a cake together using the simple, rustic feel we are known for here at CakeLove, no fussy piping bags or fake flowers here. You will learn about buttercream and ganache as well as terminology and basic tools. Best of all you’ll have the opportunity to put your new skills to the test, assembling your own 6 inch cake.
    Two hour participation class
    Cost: $60
    Check the Cake Love calendar for dates, locations, and registration info.
  • Fancy Cakes By Leslie – Beginning Cake Decorating Workshop
    4939 Elm Street, Bethesda, MD, 20814
    (301) 652-9390
    Description: This is a two-hour hands-on class starting with a discussion on which type of cake to use for decoration — box mix cakes/icings vs. scratch cakes/icings. Workshop participants will learn about torting and filling cakes. The workshop will end with a finish icing in buttercream and piped pulled borders. All materials will be provided.
    Two hours, participation class.
    Cost: $95.00
    Check web site for dates and times, and registration info.

    Note: Fancy Cakes by Leslie also offers Buttercream Piping Workshops and Beginning Fondant Workshops, which are also two-hour, $95 classes. Check web site for dates and times, and registration info.

  • L’Academie De CuisineCake Decorating 201
    5021 Wilson Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814
    (301) 986-9490
    Description: Fondant icing gives you a beautiful satin covering to cakes and it also makes beautiful roses, ribbons and other decorations. Cake and icing will be provided. Cakes & Icing will be provided for students who have basic cake decorating skills.
    Participation class – 2.5 hours
    Cost: $75
    Check web site for dates, times, and registration info.
  • Sur La Table – Cake Decorating Basics
    Pentagon Row, 1101 South Joyce Street, Suite B-20, Arlington, VA 22202
    (703) 414-3580
    Description: Learn cake decorating from an expert. In this class you’ll learn to turn an ordinary layer cake into a true masterpiece. A beginner’s cake decorating set is included in your class registration fee. (Note: the January class date has already past, and looking at the calendar it looks like another basic class hasn’t been scheduled yet.)
    Cost: $69.00
    Check the web site for dates, times, and registration info.
  • Wilton Cake Decorating Classes
    Wilton, the big cake decorating supplier, holds cake decorating classes at various craft stores around the country.
    Four classes, 2 hours each
    Cost: $20
    To find a class in your area, and for specific dates, times, and pricing, visit the Wilton Class locator.

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1789 Pastry Chef Travis Olson Serves Up Modern Desserts in an Historic Setting

Travis Olson

Travis Olson, Pastry Chef at 1789.

The decor at 1789 is steeped in history – the restaurant is housed in a Federal period house, and inside you’ll find fine china plates, upholstered wooden chairs, detailed woodwork, and walls covered in historical prints. But the desserts coming out of the kitchen under the skilled direction of pastry chef Travis Olson, are anything but old-fashioned. Think fresh, seasonal ingredients, innovative flavors, and modern updates of classic American desserts.

A dedicated student in high school, Olson found his career path after a disillusioning half semester at the University of Virginia. After leaving school, he quickly enrolled in the professional program at L’Academie de Cuisine, and graduated in 2001. After nine-months assisting pastry chef David Guas, Olson started working at Clyde’s Restaurant Group. He did stints at different Group restaurants, including the Clyde’s in Georgetown, Gallery Place and Willow Creek, before moving to his current job as pastry chef at 1789.

Olson’s passion for pastry started early, however, at the age of twelve, when his family moved to England while his mother pursued a PhD at Oxford in ornithology (both of his parents work for the Smithsonian). “I didn’t have any friends,” Olson explained, “so I just started baking. I was ambitious – I made éclairs, Sacher-Torte, profiteroles” and other fancy, European desserts.

Today, Olson’s approach to pastry is distinctly American. “I like making those classic American desserts – pies, cakes, shortbreads,” he says. The desserts at 1789 certainly reflect this. Olson’s favorite dessert on the menu is the pineapple split, which pairs caramelized pineapple with vanilla ice cream, butter cookies, and a sauce made from candied ginger. The caramel banana bread pudding also uses classic American flavors, but updates them with the addition of eggnog ice cream and a medjool date puree. For a coconut dessert he takes an American staple – the pound cake – and makes it into something new and seasonal: buttered pieces of coconut pound cake are heated on a griddle and served with caramel sauce, warm pink grapefruit, and tangerine ice cream.

Travis Olson - Dessert

Deep fried truffles atop a white chocolate semifreddo.

Olson isn’t a big fan of all-chocolate desserts; chocolate is “my least favorite ingredient to work with” he says. He’s not into “the whole concept of death by chocolate” in desserts, preferring to pair chocolate with different flavors to lighten the dish. Case in point – the chocolate dessert on the 1789 menu is a dark chocolate cake topped with caramelized meringue, served with peppermint ice cream and pulled peppermint sugar threads. Yes, there are chocolate truffles on the dessert menu, but they’re breaded, deep-fried, and served with white chocolate semifreddo, fresh citrus, and spun sugar.

Olson also doesn’t like to deconstruct desserts, which is a trendy offering on dessert menus these days. “When you deconstruct things, it takes away,” he says. “My desserts don’t feature those little components. I like to make desserts that are fulfilling – not too prissy or architectural.” Instead, Olson tries to make desserts that work together as a whole, where the flavors and concept are “inherent to the ingredients, not imposed upon the ingredients.”

This approach may be why Olson was nominated for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s Pastry Chef of the Year award in 2009, less than a year after starting at 1789. Olson also thinks that his mentors, most of which have been chefs, have given him a different approach to pastry. “I’m less constrained by recipes,” he says. “My approach to ingredients and how to combine them, I was taught by chefs.”

Winter is a difficult time for Olson to design a menu, since most fruit is out of season. “What inspires me the most is fresh fruit,” he says, and the restaurant has relationships with local farmers and orchards to supply their produce. But he’s not thinking about the summer menu yet. “I always want to look ahead and have a plan, and then the fruit starts coming in and it all changes,” he explains.

Well, at least this gives DC pastry fans something to look forward to this summer.

1789 - Dining Room

One of the dining rooms at 1789.

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What’s Your Favorite Romantic Dessert?

Strawberry Panna Cotta 2

Strawberry panna cotta. Yes, it's pink, but is it really romantic?

Valentine’s Day, as I’m sure I’ve said before, is a silly holiday. No one I know actually knows its origin (I think it has something to do with St. Valentine . . . . and also letters . . . and maybe something about him being in jail. And that’s all I know without the aid of Google), and it’s difficult to see it as anything but a commercial opportunity created by greeting card companies (and, um,  possibly food bloggers).

But it’s certainly made me think a lot about food and romance lately, and what makes a good romantic meal. This weekend I did some research on “aphrodisiac” foods, to see if I couldn’t come up with some kind of Valentine’s-day themed dessert menu, but all my ideas seemed inauthentic and unforgivably cheesy. After all, why should I suggest that you make something with chocolate and figs, both of which are supposedly “aphrodisiac” foods, if neither ingredients mean anything to you?

Romance is so particular to each couple and their history, inside jokes, and personal tastes, that a “romantic” meal will be different for everyone. If you met the love of your life in a Krispy Kremes, a “romantic” dessert might be homemade doughnuts served with different dipping sauces. If you both love chocolate, then maybe you should make that chocolate cake from the cover of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. Or if you’re both wine lovers, maybe the way you want to end your romantic meal is with a nice glass of champagne (although Lemmonex’s champagne pear cupcakes might be a nice way to end a meal too).

So, I’m curious – do you and your partner have a “romantic” dessert? And what’s the story that makes it romantic to you?

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For Valentine’s Day – Chocolate Sugar Cookie Hearts with Blood Orange Curd

Chocolate and blood orange sandwich cookies

Blood oranges, chocolate - doesn't that just sound like Valentine's Day to you? Maybe with a slight Vampire overtone?

It’s annoying that in the depth of winter, when all I want to do is have the oven on, all the great fruit is out of season. This is finally the time of year when I want to spend the time making a puff pastry crust, and yet what I really want to do it fill it with pastry cream and top it with fresh strawberries. And those strawberries you get at the Safeway in the dead of winter are . . . it’s like they’re not even strawberries. They’re some kind of mass-produced strawberry replica, as distinct from the berries you buy at the Farmer’s market as a Mona Lisa key chain is from the original.

Citrus is one of the few saving graces of winter. In the height of the winter months, citrus fruits are at their peak, making them a bright spot in an otherwise dreary January.

I was inspired by some blood oranges that I saw in Whole Foods the other week and decided to make something sweet and citrusy. Because of the deep red color of the blood oranges, I wondered if I couldn’t make something appropriate for Valentine’s Day. After all, the aisles of CVS are full of red and pink schlock, which is the universal sign that V-Day is right around the corner.

I decided to make an orange curd from the blood oranges and sandwich it between heart-shaped chocolate shortbread cookies (and yes, because I’m sure you’re thinking it, these did serve as the inspiration for the heart-shaped almond and citrus cookies I’m selling for Valentines’ day). Orange and chocolate is a classic pairing, and I liked the way the sweet tart filling balanced the rich chocolate flavors of the sugar cookie. Next time I might try this with a chocolate and orange ganache filling, or pair the orange curd with a lemon or vanilla sugar cookie.

Also, the orange curd presented a bit of a challenge. Unlike lemons, which are high in acidity, oranges are quite sweet, and their higher sugar content means that orange curd doesn’t thicken the way that lemon curd does. If you’re just spreading the curd on some toast or pouring it over pound cake, the consistency doesn’t really matter, but if you need it stiff enough to stand up as a sandwich cookie filling then you need to stiffen it up. I ended up thickening my curd with gelatin, but I added far too much, and once it set the curd was a tad, shall we say, rubbery.

So I want to warn you about this recipe – I’m suggesting that you add half as much gelatin as I did, but I’m honestly not sure if that’s exactly right. I know, I know, Julia Child would kill me. I feel like I’m kind of falling down on the food blogger job, but what can I say – it’s been a busy couple of weeks. If the curd doesn’t thicken properly, spread it on toast. Dip the cookies in it. Trust me – the stuff is like liquid sunshine. You won’t be disappointed.

Chocolate and blood orange sandwich cookies 2

You could also just eat the orange curd with a spoon. Not that I've done that.

Recipe: Chocolate Shortbread Heart-Shaped Sandwich Cookies With Orange Curd

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Weekly Roundup: Sleep Deprived Edition

Againn_Lights

Light fixtures from Againn. God, I'm so tired.

I had a hard time thinking of what to write for my little weekly roundup intro this week. Usually these just roll off the tips of my fingers, but today – nothing.

And I think I actually know why. It’s because I’ve stopped sleeping. Why sleep when you do things like figure out a schedule for baking all your Valentine’s Day cookie plates, price out ingredients for cupcakes, and talk over details of WordPress software with your much more tech savvy friends. Also, there were some parties this weekend. Just a few. There is no need for sleep when there are so many exciting things on hand. But it does make this writing thing a little . . . difficult.

Recipes I want to try, as found on my late-night Internet searches:

  • Moro bread, from The Tipsy Baker. It’s like no-knead bread, but without having to plan a day in advance. In other words, it’s a recipe made for me.
  • Bittersweet chocolate cake, scented with orange, and topped with a candied blood orange compote, from The Bitten Word. Actually, I think this is a great flavor combination for a cupcake – or a brownie. Or a molten chocolate cake. Something small and individually sized.
  • A baked egg, with a bread crumb and cheese topping. Brilliant! From Pete Bakes!
  • A leek and onion galette, from the Arugula Files. Man, it’s been a long time since I made a pastry crust – this really put me in the mood to roll out some dough.

And in other foodie news:

  • Anyone want to buy a $3000 ham? Because now you can. Instead of buying a $3000 ham, could I just live the life of the pig that becomes the $3000 ham? I’d like to ” roam freely in the fields of western Spain.” Via NPR.
  • Why the Cadbury’s chocolate you buy in the United States suck. Via The Atlantic.
  • The Dirty Radish is growing something new – she’s pregnant! And the “sprout” is due July 8.
  • Gradually Greener is trying a gluten-free diet for a week – complete with some gluten-free cupcakes.
  • Woah. The last week in January is “Meat Week.” How did I not know this? Young and Hungry has a roundup of events and an interview with Capital Spice, who is leading the Meat Week charge. I think I’ll celebrate this in my own way. Like, by making a pizza and topping it with panchetta. Or making empanadas.
  • Metrocurean rounds up all the local restaurants doing Haiti fundraisers.
  • Thank GOD another restaurant is opening up near my office – we need something more than Guapos. Pete’s Apizza is opening a new location in the Tenlytown/Friendship Heights area. Via Best Bites.

Happy Friday!

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Save the Date – Next Food Blogger Happy Hour Feb. 3, 2010 at Againn

Out of the laptop and into the bar.

Were you drooling over pastry chef Genevieve So’s sticky toffee pudding? Well you’ll have a chance to try it – and her other delicious creations – at the next Food Blogger Happy Hour on Wednesday, February 3 at Againn.

The happy hour menu at Againn, DC’s newest gastropub, looks pretty awesome – they have $5 drink and food specials until 7:00 pm. The “coup d’etat” martini, with pineau des cherentes, cava, lemon, and cinnamon is calling my name, as is the house-made pretzel with sea salt and mustard. Come to meet, mingle and share recipe tips with your fellow food bloggers. This is a lovely and welcoming group of people – if you haven’t come to one before then please stop by. We’re very nice.

RSVP over at DC Thrifty Cook, who took the lead on putting this event together.

And thanks to the rest of planning committee, Arugula Files (who deserves special thanks for making the flyer), Beer Spotter, Biscuits and Such, Capital Cooking, Capital Spice, Common Man Eats, Dining in DC, Gradually Greener, and We Love DC.

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