August 29, 2011

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Truffles and Candies

pate 1

The above photo of strawberry paté de fruits looks entirely normal and would lead you to believe that this challenge went off without a hitch.

This is not the truth.

Much like my first Daring Bakers’ Challenge a year ago today, this challenge was a hot mess.

strawberries pre processed

Before we go into details, let me tell you a little bit about this challenge. The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies. This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy.

August 22, 2011

Salsa de Piña Asada con Habanero: Roasted Pineapple Salsa with Habanero

salsa 2

Salsaholism [sahl-sah-hawl-ism]

- Noun.

1. A condition characterized by the excessive and compulsive consumption of salsa to the point that it interferes with a person’s health and ability to function in day-to-day life. Signs of this disorder include, but are not limited to, disappearance of tortilla chips, cilantro-induced separation anxiety, and unusually ferocious protection of pineapples, mangoes, tomatoes, and the like. Side-effects of salsaholism are generally manifested in one or more of the following conditions: panting; water-gulping; salty, tortilla chip lips; and an unreasonable amounts of happy-dancing. While it is possible to cure salsaholism through intense cognitive behavioral therapy involving a series of whistles, chili peppers, and short track speed skating, most sufferers of salsaholism, or salsaholics, are notoriously resistant to treatment and will regularly refuse to admit that they have a problem. Above all else, salsaholics should be kept away from any combination of the following ingredients:

Roasted pineapple, as the tempting amalgamation of sweet and spicy is simply too much for even non-salsaholics to bear.

pineapple 1

Red onion, due to its festive purple color, which lures potential salsaholics into a false sense of security.

red onions

Habanero peppers, because it is their kryptonite.

habaneros

Cilantro, for its fresh flavor and hypnotizing beauty.

cilantro

salsa mix

When the aforementioned ingredients are mixed together, along with a squirt of fresh lime juice and a pinch of kosher salt, the tasty results are too much for even the most serious salsaholics to withstand. In order to avoid finding the salsaholic crouched in a corner, shoveling chip-fulls of pineapple-habanero glory into their greedy mouths, and fiercely hissing at passers-by, family members and loved ones are advised to keep salsaholics away from this blog post at all costs.

salsa 3

Oh…wait. You’re a salsaholic, aren’t you?

Okay, okay, okaaaay…you are not a salsaholic and you do not have a problem.

I agree, you can stop eating salsa any time you want.

But yeah, you’re totally right. Roasted pineapple salsa with habanero sounds like a great snack.

I’ll grab the bowl, you grab the chips?

chip dip

August 15, 2011

Daring Cooks’ Challenge: Appam and Chicken Kerala

curry 5

Can you believe it?! I’m finally back into the groove with the Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers challenges. After hit-and-miss spring and nonexistent summer attempts, I’ve kicked things back in gear and I’m ready to get cooking.

This month’s challenge was hosted by Mary, a lovely blogger and longtime member of the Daring Kitchen challenges. Mary, who writes the delicious blog, Mary Mary Culinary was our August Daring Cooks’ host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is. She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread.

coconut milk

When I saw that our entire challenge revolved around Indian food, I knew things were going to get fun. Despite my love of almost all foods and all cuisines, I’m especially fanatical about Indian food. Whether it’s the complex mixtures of aromatic spices, the satisfyingly hearty array of flat breads, or the incredible diversity of dishes and cultures spreading across the subcontinent, India and its food have always held a special place in my heart.

With this challenge, the Daring Cooks were assigned to make Appams, a type of South Indian flat bread consisting mostly of rice, yeast, and coconut milk. Along with that, we also had to make any type of South Indian or Sri Lankan dish to serve with the appams. For me, this dish was the delicious Chicken Kerala.

appam spatula

However, before I go off skipping through the fields, singing songs of curry-love, we first need to discuss the process of making appams. As much as I hate to generalize this tasty form of flat bread, I have to say that it actually tastes very similar to hot grits—except in thin, crepe-like form, made with rice instead of cornmeal. What definitely does make appams completely unique is the method of preparation, which proved to be both easy and daunting.

First, it’s a question of soaking about 1 1/2 cups of uncooked rice overnight. The next day, that rice gets drained and whirled through a blender or food processor until smooth. To that pureed rice, one adds a mixture of yeast, sugar, and water—giving it all another quick buzz through the blender/food processor/Magic Bullet until smooth. Yet again, this mixture sits overnight at room temperature, allowing the yeast to do its work and allowing the mixture to slightly ferment. The next day, this concoction is combined with coconut milk and salt, then cooked in a pan much in the way you’d cook crepes—pour, swirl, etc. After that, it’s simply a question of how many can you eat with how much Chicken Kerala before you’re too full to move.

appam 3

Now, I can’t gloss over things and avoid telling you about the few mishaps I encountered on my way to appam-licious glory. At first, it was challenge enough to muster the patience to take the 48+ hours to bring this dish to fruition. In my previous skimming of the challenge recipe earlier in the month, I neglected to spot the second overnight resting/rising time for the dough—an unhappy surprise, but one that was overcome.

Also, I think I’ve led you to believe that it’s easy to perfect that whole “pour, swirl, cook” technique for cooking the appams. Truly, it took me almost the whole bowl of batter before I hit my stride with the process. Initially, I would pour a small ladle of batter into the pan and it would immediately solidify and stick, foiling all of my attempts at graceful batter-swirling. Buzzing it with an immersion blender solved that problem quite nicely, helping to further liquefy the rice bits. I also discovered that it worked better for me to cook them over medium-low heat, rather than over medium-high heat. As far as quick cooking goes, I don’t have those kind of reflexes.

curry 2

If the task of making appams now suddenly sounds scary and insurmountable to you, please take heart. Eating a savory and subtly sweet appam with a bowl of spicy chicken and potato curry is more than enough reward. Seriously, this Chicken Kerala, with its familiar blend of ginger, garlic, and chili, along with the creaminess of coconut milk and the bright punch of fresh cilantro, was the perfect accompaniment for this challenge’s appams.

It was also the perfect accompaniment for my lunch, snack, and dinner all in one day.

curry 6

If you’d like to give the appam recipe a try or learn more about the challenge, take a peek at the info packet from the Daring Kitchen website.

If you’d like to make a tasty pot of Chicken Kerala, look no further…


August 12, 2011

Shoes, Glorious Shoes: Part 2

closet 3

Take a look at that.

Yes, I know it’s not a picture of cake like you were hoping, but take a look at that.

That is part of my closet.

Once upon a time—a.k.a. the photo on the left—my shoes looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa caught in a tornado. It wasn’t pretty and I’m not proud of it, but you know how it goes. Your shoe section starts off clean, then after months and years of kicking your shoes on and off things get a little lax. It no longer bothers you not to have all the boxes stacked perfectly or that your beautiful shoe shelves has been pushed to the back of the closet, simply serving as a hidden storage area for the flip-flops you haven’t worn since you were twelve. New boxes of heels are creatively wedged into place, flats are tossed in all directions, and chaos ensues.

A few days ago, I had enough.

Like most of my cleaning sprees, the idea to reorganize and clean out my shoes hit me by surprise. Just one afternoon, while my house was feeling small and I was feeling a unique combination of boredom and claustrophobia, I cast my gaze toward that sinister corner of my blue-carpeted closet. I narrowed my eyes, grabbed the paper towels and cleaning spray, nabbed a couple trash bags, and set about righting this wrong.

As any of you dear readers know, super-duper overhaul cleaning is both a joy and a nightmare, which is why I chose to document the experience and invite you to share in my delight/misery. Plus we get to talk about shoes, and as much as I hate to sound stereotypically girly…I love shoes.

As you can see from the pictures above, it was merely a question of schlepping all the shoes out of my closet, vacuuming away all the errant dust bunnies that had accumulated over the years, cleaning off and repositioning my shoe shelves, weeding out the shoes that haven’t seen daylight since 2002, and putting it all back in place. Easy peasy, right?

shoe layout

While we’re here, I have to unburden myself.

Yes, my bedroom carpet is blue—it used to make sense. When I was somewhere around the age of nine, I got the chance to select my own color scheme for my old childhood bedroom. At first, fuchsia was my thing—thank goodness my parent’s nixed it—but I ended up choosing light blue walls with white, sponge-painted-by-my-mommy clouds. So you see? Ocean, sky, stuff like that. As of 2009, my walls are a refreshing, garden-like medium green, which still works, but I definitely think my blue phase has come to a end.

Phew! It felt good to get that off my chest. On to the shoe cleanout goodies!

Steve Madden floral flats.

floral flats 1

It just doesn’t get better than floral.

floral flats 2

Chunky brown heels.

brown sandals 1

They’re by Dr. Scholl’s, so they are pumped full of gel comfort whatnots.

brown sandals 2

If I may say so—fierce—red platform heels from Target.

red platforms 2

I’m entering into a heels phase at the moment and I thought these would be a teetering, welcome addition.

red platforms 1

Do any of you own GAP ballet flats?

leopard flats

Flexible, truly ballet-style bottoms, come with a cute carrying pouch, and are available in at least a dozen colors. Amazing.

leopard flats 2

No closet cleanout is complete with at least one embarrassing find. To my credit, I never actually wore these.

Let’s avert our eyes and move on…

crocs

Again with the platform-y heels, except in comfortable wedge form by Fergalicious.

fergalicious sandals 2

Gold-toned metallics are my ultimate go-to when it comes to casual shoes. They take away the fear of a mismatched color scheme and simply act like another sparkly accessory.

fergalicious sandals 1

The mini version, by Gianni Bini. Rain, shine, hot, cold—I wear these constantly.

gold sandals

Peep-toes, dontcha love ‘em?

purple peep toes 2

Pops of color are so cute.

purple peep toes

Are you ready to see the finished product? The new-and-improved, organized-to-the-max, pretty-fied closet??

Check it out!

neat shelves 1

A sight like that just makes my geektastic, borderline OCD heart flutter with joy.

neat shelves 4

Bonus—you now know what shoe size I wear.

Those K-Swiss’s are the comfiest shoes I own. Plus they have graduated pink Velcro straps for optimum laziness.

neat shelves 2

Can I just say thank you so much for indulging me in this overtly self-congratulatory post? Really, I appreciate it. Since chores like these are such a pain in the booty, I knew it would be good to share the pain together and make it something fun. When you guys clean out your hundred-year-old shoe collections, I am so ready to hear all about it.

You’re still giggling about my Crocs, aren’t you?

August 7, 2011

Quick Fruit Crostatas

blackberries and peaches

Hmm…what can I tell you about fruit crostatas?

I could go on for days about the perfection of this dessert, how beautifully it suits the multitude of delicious summer fruits that surround us this time of year. I could praise the tasty pastry that envelopes the aforementioned summer fruits, how its sweetness and substantial texture makes you want to bake it up and eat it like cookies. I could gush about the subtle, tangy punch that comes from a small sprinkling of citrus zest, how it wakes up your taste buds and makes you feel all zingy and refreshed. I could tell you about how often I munched portions of these crostatas while wandering around YouTube at two a.m, how its resulting sugar high played with my nonexistent summer sleep schedule.

But I won’t—because these are quick crostatas, not rambling crostatas.

Look at the pictures, take note, and make some for yourself.

sliced peaches

blackberries

lemon zest

lime zest

peaches and zest

sugar sprinkle 1

sugar sprinkle 2

blackberries on dough

lime zest on blackberries

sugar and blackberries

peach crostata 1

blackberry crostata 3

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