Saturday, September 16, 2006

Santa Fe and Ten Thousand Waves - December, 2005

Last year around his birthday, I decided that James could use a little relaxation. After doing some research online, I booked us for a long weekend trip to Santa Fe and the Ten Thousand Waves spa - a Japanese "Onsen" on the outskirts of town. It would be close to the holidays, and I figured Santa Fe would be festive with farolitos and Christmas lights, and the weather would be crisp and cool - a nice change from San Diego, where the temperature barely dips below 60. I was looking forward to the smell of burning pinon wood, some bizcochitos and hot chocolate, and of course - some spa treatments and a dip in a steaming outdoor bath.

The best way to get to Santa Fe is to fly into Albuquerque and rent a car. We had a relatively easy time of this - the flight from San Diego is only a couple of hours (with a brief stop in Phoenix) and the drive was about an hour and a half. It's a straight shot on the freeway with no traffic, and the scenery is quite nice.

New Mexico and I actually have a bit of history. At one time, I considered going to the Air Force Academy for college. My Dad is an alumni and I have no brothers, so the pressure was all on me. I should have known it wasn't my bag - I've always been better with letters than numbers (it's basically an aeronautical engineering school) but the decision was made that I should spend a year at the New Mexico Military Institute - a military prep school in Roswell, to bone up on my calculus and get a jump on the whole "military life" thing. Long story short, it didn't quite work out that way. I wound up at UC Irvine - and this was my first trip back to the State since I had done my time there.

My last trip to Santa Fe was on my way there, and I have fond memories of that trip. I remember going to the Santa Fe Opera (open only in the Summer because it is open-air) to see Die Fliedermaus, and having some excellent coffee and pastries in an outdoor cafe (these are the kinds of things I noticed, even at age 18). I also remembered the boho artsy vibe, and the naturally elegant architecture. Based on these recollections, I described it to James as "Santa Barbara in the Desert."
Our plan was to stay two nights at the spa and enjoy the treatments/baths there - and then move to a hotel in town for the second two nights. I had expected that we would be pretty well occupied with the spa activities for the first two days, and would be ready to explore the town for the second two. What I did not anticipate is that we would have to go to town throughout the trip because there is nothing to eat at or near the spa. We actually bought groceries at Whole Foods and took them back to our little cabin for dinner on the first couple of nights. The first night we had a little feast of bread and cheese with champagne, and on the second night we had sushi. During the day, we ventured down to Tomasita's - a famous traditional New Mexico-style Mexican restaurant down by the train tracks on the far side of town. I had forgotten how incredibly delicious a meal of red chile enchiladas, sopaipillas and margaritas can be at altitude. It seems to make you hungrier and it enhances the effect of the cocktails.

Our spa treatments were in the late afternoon - so after toddling around among the overpriced art and antique shops, we swung by the Whole Foods on our way back up the hill to pick up dinner, and were at the spa by 4 PM. On the first evening, the day we arrived, we had a soak in an outdoor pool in a little enclosed area looking onto the pine covered hillside, and each of us had massages. On the second day we soaked in one of their fancier pools, with an attached sauna and steam room, and I had a Thai Massage, which I had never tried before. It was lovely and relaxing, and we had a terrific time.

Our accommodations at the spa were interesting and quite comfortable. Their rooms consist of a cluster of little buildings scattered across the hill leading up to the Spa at the top. They have three "classes" of accommodation ranging from quite spare to luxurious, and each unit is different. All are decorated with a funky mixture of Japanese and Southwestern architecture and decor. On the first night, we stayed in a large room called Crescent Moon, with a fireplace, kitchen, separate bedroom and bath. The woodburning fireplace was stocked with plenty of pinon wood, and the room was warm and cozy. The only problem was that all through the night some sort of steam valve in a nearby boiler room emitted a hissing screech. It was intermittent until about 4 AM, and then it started up and didn't stop until we crunched across the gravel parking lot to the office at 8 AM and demanded that they move us to a different room. Not exactly the relaxing experience we were looking for (at that time, we didn't know the source of the noise - we kept thinking it was the pipes in our bathroom.) They comped us half of the room rate for that night - but at the time we honestly thought they should have comped us the whole thing. In any event - we moved to another room called High Moon before breakfast. It was sort of an odd experience to move rooms first thing in the morning,but we settled in pretty quickly. This room was a bit smaller but newer, with heated slate floors, an adobe-style fireplace and full kitchen. We also looked at Suigetsu, which was also very cute but smaller. I would recommend either of these if you are thinking of staying there.
The spa itself was heavenly. The waiting area has a large fireplace, so you can sit by the fire before or after your treatment with your little cup of cucumber water. The locker rooms are nice and roomy - which they should be because they get lots of day visitors (I would recommend a visit during the week if possible, because it is so much more crowded on weekends.) We were really taken with the Japanese-style architecture and the beautiful water garden outside the waiting room. When you walk out there's a gorgeous patio area with a waterfall/pond, and Japanese bridge to the area where several of the pools are. Some are also in the main building, and some are off to the far left side. They were also adding new treatment rooms when we were there. Down to the far right is a path leading to some small hut-like buildings where they do massages. The paths are lit by gorgeous Japanese/Craftsman lanterns (that I am dying to get for our yard) and they have a funky giftshop full of cool and artsy items that you are tempted to buy because you are in such a good mood. My husband had to restrain me from buying an orange light-up Buddha head. (I still want one - they also come in pink and red.)

On the third day, we moved down to the Inn of the Anasazi in town. By this time, we were getting a little itchy with the town of Santa Fe. We were a bit put off by the overpriced chi-chi art galleries, antique shops and jewelry stores in town - and their fur-coat-clad clientele. Ready to get out of Santa Fe, went for a drive out to Los Alamos - just to see what we could see. I had no idea that the lab was so gigantic. It dominates a huge piece of the landscape out there, and the secrecy that shrouds it is palpable. James was interested in this part of New Mexico because his grandfather actually worked on the Manhattan Project at one time - he literally was a rocket scientist - and his family had lived in New Mexico for a while. We stopped by the Visitor's Center out there, and the staff there recommended that we go out to the Bandolier National Monument, not far outside of town - to see the cliff dwellings and the scenery. We did, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. The weather was clear and gorgeous, and we went on a short hike to see the dwellings. We climbed up a couple of ladders to peek in, and saw several deer along the trail. We learned a bit about the history of the people who lived there at one time. They believe there were about 700 people there in its' heyday.
Back in town, we had a dinner reservation that night at Geronimo - one of the best restaurants in town. Santa Fe has a hot fine dining scene, with several expensive and elegant restaurants serving innovative cuisine. There are also many good cafes, diners and casual restaurants serving traditional New Mexican specialties such as green chile stew, enchiladas, and burgers. We walked to Geronimo from our hotel, along Canyon Road, peeking in the windows ot the galleries along the way. When we arrived we immediately felt enveloped in the convivial feel of the place. It's a small restaurant but it strikes a nice balance between formal and casual - with excellent well prepared food that is not stiff or fussy, and attentive but friendly service. Everything was perfectly prepared and the dishes were innovative but not too far out. We were particularly thrilled with the foie gras strudel dish, and the spicy prawn main dish. I also liked the decor, which is homey and quirky but elegant. I debated between this restaurant, and the Compound (just a few blocks closer to town on the same road) and SantaCafe - but after looking at their menus, I chose Geronimo because it looked more interesting.
In looking at the Compound's website, it appears they have updated and revamped their menu and have a new chef now - so it may be back to its former glory. The dessert menu looks positively divine. Santacafe is a bit more casual - and serves more traditional hearty food with a Santa Fe twist. Another place, called Bistro 315, is the current top rated restaurant in Santa Fe according to TripAdvisor. Looks like it serves quite a standard Bistro menu - undoubtedly good - but maybe not what you are looking for when traveling to sample the best of the region's cuisine.

The Inn of the Anasazi was a nice small hotel right off the square in the heart of Santa Fe. It's decorated in the traditional Southwest style, and they supposedly have a very good restaurant, though we didn't get to try it. (For their photo gallery, click here). They put out ginger cookies and cider at the front desk, which was a nice touch, and had hot chocolate in their library down the hall from the main lobby. We had a small but cute room with a push button fireplace and high four poster bed. This would be a particularly nice place for people with children - as it's comfortable and convenient to town, and it seemed that they would go out of their way for you.

The next morning, we had breakfast at Cafe Pasqual's, a highly recommended and highly rated cafe on the opposite side of the square. It was good, but I think it's a bit overhyped. I may have ordered poorly - I had pancakes, and they were dry and oversized, as restaurant pancakes often are. I guess we are somewhat spoiled, with an array of fantastic breakfast places in California (apparently going out for a big weekend breakfast is a California thing - I didn't know that until recently) and we just didn't see the big deal. I wouldn't wait the hour or so for a table if I had it to do over again.

We wound up cutting our trip a day short and returning to San Diego that afternoon -on Saturday rather than Sunday. We felt we'd seen what we came to see, and we liked the idea of having a day at home to recover and prepare for the coming week. I'm not sure we'll go again anytime soon, with so many other places on our list, but I highly recommend a visit for a change of scenery. The spa was fantastic, hiking at the cliff dwellings was invigorating, and the food, both at the high and low end, was utterly delicious.

Where we went:

Ten Thousand Waves Resort and Spa - On the plus side - relaxing atmosphere, accommodations vary with the price range, convenient to the spa. On the negative -the rates are quite steep for the nicer rooms.

Inn of the Anasazi - On the plus side - lovely little boutique hotel with excellent service, very convenient. Minuses - high rates and small rooms.

500 S Guadalupe St, Santa Fe, NM
Tel: (505) 983-5721
Order the red chile enchiladas (ours weren't that hot, but the sauce varies with the chiles) some margaritas, and save room for the sopaipillas. In a word, mmmm.... If you can, go at an off time to avoid the crowds - or wander around the shops nearby with your beeper while you wait.

Whole Foods - Pretty much the same as everywhere else. Good takeout sushi, cheeses and sandwiches.

Geronimo - fantastic fine dining with a quirky Santa Fe twist. Highly highly recommend.

Cafe Pasqual's - They use top quality ingredients, and the food is good - but I'm not sure it's worth the hour plus wait.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Boulevard Cookbook (with a Side of Hot Fudge)

Ever since I lived in the Bay Area I've had a soft spot for Boulevard. Some may say it's a bit overplayed - but I love the atmosphere, the slightly whimsical menu, and the shameless indulgence of it all. The location, the decor, the food - it always hits the spot for me.

My first trip was on a date, back in 1998. On that visit, I had a dessert called "Chocolate Boom Boom Cake" - essentially a chocolate version of baked alaska, with a round chocolate cake, topped with espresso ice cream (I think) and chocolate meringue. I fell in love with the restaurant (but not the date) and though I left the Bay Area later that year, I've been back to Boulevard many times.

When I saw that they had published a cookbook in 2005 I just had to have it, so I asked James to buy it for me for our anniversary last month. The recipes are not for everyday cooking. The yields are all eight servings or more - most are 10 or 12. Most require multiple steps and multiple processes. They do acknowledge that some are a bit over the top, and encourage you to take it slow - make parts of things and simply be inspired by their combinations. I've taken that approach several times, all the while drooling over the pictures and fantasizing about serving the elaborate compositions to guests.

Our dinner party last Saturday was my first real chance to try it out. I started with two relatively simple recipes (comparatively speaking) the Fresh Corn Soup, and Chocolate Cherry Shortcakes. My first problem with the book surfaced right away. The full page photos are beautiful, but the artful layout interferes with utility in this case - with the ingredient list and the steps of the recipe on different pages - you wind up flipping back and forth endlessly between the steps and quantities of ingredients in the recipe. Next time, I think I'll jot down the quantities and tape them to the cabinet or something, so I can just leave it open to the actual recipe process while cooking. Once I put the book on my cookbook stand, I'd prefer not to have to touch it with my grubby hands.

This is also not a book for beginners. I had to make a couple of corrections to the recipes that I used. For example, ten corn cobs in a gallon of water simmered for 45 minutes is not going to make a corn stock. It took about an hour and a half of simmering to get the corn flavor into the stock - and I used additional corn cobs because mine were small (Chino's corn is tiny this year but they give you extra to compensate). The fact is that most chefs cook by taste, touch, smell and sound, and it's really hard to put that on paper, especially when you're making something complicated. You just have to be prepared for that when cooking from this book.

All that aside, the book is food porn of the highest order and makes for some fun reading, with it's excellent photos and yummy sounding combinations - like "Buttermilk Brined Fried Little Chickens with Cream Biscuits" nestled into Mashed Potatoes and doused with gravy, and a triple vanilla dessert called, what else? "Vanilla Vanilla Vanilla." But my favorite part, and where the book really earns its keep, is the "Boulevard Basics" section in the back. This is the treasure trove of their formulas for building blocks like duck confit, light and dark chicken stock, beef stock, gigande beans, melted garlic, oven roasted tomatoes, pasta dough, porcini-pork sausage, creamed spinach, crab salad, preserved lemons, and my new favorite hot fudge sauce.

Since I didn't have fresh cherries for the cherries jubilee called for in the shortcake recipe, when I made this for my dinner party on Saturday, I improvised with this fudge sauce and a cherry syrup made by simmering cherry juice and brandy with a bit of sugar over a low flame. (I actually tried mixing a bit of the two to make a dark chocolate cherry sauce, but the taste was strangely metallic for some reason - they were much better kept separate.)

This makes a gloriously dark, fudgy and deep syrup that keeps its gloss even when it cools. I suspect that is becasue of the corn syrup - an ingredient I usually eschew, but here it serves a useful purpose. This is also fantastically easy and quick to make. It's even good straight from the fridge... as you can see!

"Boulevard" Hot Fudge Sauce
adapted from the Boulevard Cookbook
makes about 2 cups

1 stick unsalted butter cut into pieces
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup Dutch Processed Cocoa (I used Valrhona)
4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate (Whole Foods sells cut bars of Valrhona for baking that are about 8 oz, I used half of one since I don't have a scale yet to measure it precisely)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium heavy saucepan over medium/low heat, heat the butter with the water, corn syrup and sugar. When the butter has melted, stir in the cocoa powder with a wooden spoon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl and pour in the hot butter-cocoa mixture. Add the vanilla and salt, and whisk to combine. If it tastes too bitter (mine did - I think it depends on the chocolate you use and I might have used too much) add a bit more corn syrup to taste. Pour into a heatproof glass storage container or bowl. Chill until ready to use. Can be kept - covered and refrigerated, for up to two weeks.

Monday, September 11, 2006

End of Summer Supper Party

I am happy to report that the supper party on Saturday was a smashing success!

Except for the minor mishap that literally smashed one of our light fixtures...

Last week, as some of you may recall, we had a heat wave with temperatures in the high nineties for a couple of days. Silly me, I chilled the fancy Pinot that James bought to save it from the heat, but didn't think to put the sparkling wine in the fridge. Let's just say they put those cages over the corks for good reason. On the first bottle, the cork shot harmlessly into the ceiling. Unfortunately, James opened the second one directly under the light fixture hanging over the ice bucket and snacks. Glass everywhere. Fortunately not in the food though. I tried to replace it but no such luck - they were clearanced three weeks ago at Lowes. I opened the third bottle outside, and I've never seen anything like it - once the cage was removed, the cork just launched itself like a rocket. If anyone had been standing in the way, it definitely would have left a mark. I am assuming it had something to do with the heat - we've never had something like that happen before. Luckily the wine was fine though. We had three couples over, our friends Brandon and Ally, Marc and Susan, and new friends Mendy and Mike. Mendy and James went to high school together many moons ago, and reconnected on MySpace, of all places. They have been corresponding for a while, and we decided it was high time we all met.

For our pre-dinner cocktail nibbles, we had Picholine olives, Pepadew goat cheese with flatbread crackers, and toasted almonds. The olives came from Whole Foods and the rest from Trader Joes. Pepadew goat cheese is fresh goat cheese blended with sweet pickled red peppers. The Mediterranean flavors went well with the Gloria Ferrer Brut - or what was left of it anyway!

The first course was a corn soup I made using a recipe in the Boulevard cookbook. I bought the corn on Friday at Chino's in Rancho Santa Fe. The produce there was amazing as always. I also bought herbs and more tomatoes. They had corn with Huitlacoche growing on it beautiful berries, eggplants, peppers, etc. I put together this centerpiece with some of it and some from our Be Wise box this week.
The soup was good, but for the amount of trouble I'm honestly not sure it was worth it. It was a two day process involving quite a lot of manual labor - shucking the corn, cutting the kernels off the cobs, making a stock out of the cobs - then straining that, and boiling that stock over another set of cobs before going on to finish the soup. Mercifully, it cooks quickly from that point forward.

I also had a few problems with the recipe (and the cookbook in general - but we'll talk about that another time). It called for straining the soup through a fine mesh sieve, but that would leave only broth. I ended up pureeing the heck out of it, straining it, and putting about half of the pureed corn back in for body. Otherwise, it would have been far too thin. The recipe also specified a much shorter cooking time for the stock than seemed appropriate. 45 minutes was not nearly enough time. I wound up cooking the stock the first time around for about an hour, and the second time around for another hour. The suggested times were 45 minutes the first time, and only 30 the second (after bringing it to a simmer).

The other half of the first course were little gougere "blt" sandwiches - made with a recipe from the Zuni Cafe cookbook. This recipe didn't let me down ingredient-wise, but I was glad I had read some other recipes before I started so I knew that I could beat the eggs into the dough with my Kitchen Aid instead of trying to do it by hand. Gougere are made with Pate a Choux, a pastry dough made by bringing butter, water and salt to a simmer, beating in flour - and then beating in eggs one at a time. This same dough is used to make cream puffs and beignets (when fried). The eggs don't really want to blend into the buttery dough - so stirring them in is very difficult. The paddle attachment on the Kitchen Aid totally saved me. I beat in some cheese and chives and a pinch of cayenne and piped them onto the baking tray (practicing what I learned in school) in an oblong shape (I would do them more round if I had it to do over - they looked a bit too much like little hot dog buns!) I split them and stuffed them with bacon, tomatoes and a leaf of lettuce, piled them into a basket and passed them with the soup. They looked cute, but given the amount of labor that went into making the dough from scratch, frying multiple batches of bacon and putting them together, they just really weren't worth the trouble. I also think my gougere were a little "eggy" - when they got cold they were a bit rubbery. The bang for the buck factor was a bit low for my money. Sorry no pictures, I was too busy dishing up the food to photograph it in the process.

The next course was the Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, also from the Zuni cookbook. This was one of the highlights of the evening and something I will definitely make again. The Zuni cookbook includes detailed instructions on how to do this - but they can all be boiled down to a fairly simple formula. I will post more on this later, because frankly this dish deserves its own post. Very easy, very good - and even better left over.

For dessert, I went back to the Boulevard cookbook. Chocolate Cherry Shortcakes with vanilla ice cream. The only change I made to the menu was to use homemade fudge sauce and a warm cherry syrup instead of the cherries jubilee. I just couldn't find fresh cherries. I suppose I could have used frozen, but that seemed like it would defeat the purpose. I was actually kicking myself for not buying the gorgeous berries they had at Chino's and using them instead of cherries.
The shortcake recipe also presented me with some problems though. The dough was much too soft and spread more than it should have. This may have been my fault - because I didn't buy self-rising flour as called for, but substituted by stirring in baking powder and salt. I used a whole 3 teaspoons baking powder though, so really I think it should have worked. I wasn't able to split the shortcakes as pictured in the lovely photos, but I did top them with the vanilla ice cream (using their recipe but subbing half and half for cream) and my own cherry syrup and some spectacular hot fudge sauce made from a recipe in the back of the book. The sauce was very easy and delicious.

After dessert, we had some little mignardises and espresso. I bought some Parisian macaroons from the only source in San Diego that I know of - Opera Patisserie, and served them with the brownies I made the other day - cut into tiny bite sized chunks, and some homemade almond crunch. I was going for an almond croquant but wound up with something more like toffee. It was easy and good though. These three items also went into the little favor boxes that everyone took home.
The wine pairings worked out well. We had Frog Hollow "Eye of the Toad" Pinot Rose with the soup, and Sanford Pinot with the main course. For dessert we had a bottle of "Rosie Rabbit" from Rosenbloom, a late harvest Zinfandel.

We put away quite a bit of the vino too, I must say. Between eight people, we downed four bottles of sparkling wine, one bottle of Riesling, two bottles of Rose, three bottles of Pinot, and two bottles of dessert wine. One of the bottles of sparkling wine was thoughtfully supplied by Mendy - who also brought the Riesling and a bottle of blueberry wine (labeled "semi sweet table wine") - which we made a dent in, despite everyone's laughing about it. There is an important lesson here. Always buy at least one more bottle of wine than you think you will need.

I think everyone had a good time, and all of the food came out more or less the way it was supposed to, which is really all you can ask. I was pleased and had a lot of fun doing it. I will post the recipes that bear repeating this week so please check back... you really must try that Zuni chicken!

Update: The recipe for Zuni chicken has been posted here, and the recipe for the Hot Fudge Sauce is here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

20 Things to Do Now That Summer is Ending

  1. Plant cactus garden and build a dry streambed Done!
  2. Make ice cream a couple more times.(One down!)
  3. Gorge on corn, heirloom tomatoes, and berries.
  4. Look forward to the HBO fall schedule.
  5. Go to Great News and buy supplies for pastry class (I need a scale).
  6. Get a cool new lunch box or bag to take to work. Done - more on this later.
  7. Start thumbing through the fall recipes in Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
  8. Go antiquing in OB and on India Street.
  9. Start making jewelry again.
  10. Go to the beach and go snorkeling before the water gets too cold.
  11. Clean out the kitchen cabinets and reorganize the pantry.
  12. Get ready for our upcoming trip to the Baja wine country and Laja.
  13. Start planning the box garden for planting next spring.
  14. Cancel Be Wise Membership when it expires and start grocery shopping at People's and the Farmers Mkt (more on this later)
  15. Start buying red wine again.
  16. Try for reservation at El Bulli next fall.
  17. Throw the first annual "End of Summer" Supper this Saturday (the Saturday after Labor Day Weekend.)
  18. Start baking again (practice for class!)
  19. Stock up on wood for the fireplace.
  20. Start a new book (finished Heat - now on A Movable Feast by Hemingway)
  21. Start planning our trip to San Francisco in October November or December.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

C is for Cake (Decorating) - Lesson One

This week was our first practical "lab" in my pastry class at Grossmont College (taught by Chef Foran, the pastry chef at Arterra). The first lesson was on piping chocolate and frosting out of a bag for decorating. I have always had problems with this, but it's amazing what a little direction can do to improve your skills. I had this same experience with knife skills - just one two hour class at Great News made a huge difference.

The piping was a lot of fun. Working with the gooey icing and chocolate reminded me of a favorite sketch from Sesame Street that I used to love - the one where the poor hapless baker would make the cake with the number on it? Somehow it would always get destroyed accidentally. I actually went looking for a clip to post it on here, but I couldn't find one. I did find this animated segment though, which is pretty cute too. I got caught up for a while watching the vintage Sesame Street clips on You Tube. It's amazing how cool this show was back in the day!

First, we made paper cones out of parchment triangles for piping chocolate. We were given a paper with designs on it and some parchment for tracing. (They use parchment that comes in sheets - MUCH easier to work with than the stuff that comes rolled.) The secret is to trail the chocolate, instead of trying to push it like you would a pen. The easiest designs are the freehand ones with swirls and curliques. Precise symmetrical ones are harder because you have to guide the chocolate more carefully. This is the kind of technique you use to create little chocolate garnishes for desserts (like those little filigree things you see on banquet desserts) or to pipe borders or write names on cakes or on plates - like Happy Birthday, etc. I thought this was fun.

Chef Foran uses Callebaut chocolate which we melted over a double boiler - in a metal bowl set over simmering water. He buys the gigantic blocks that are about 11 pounds - they are stacked up in the pantry of the classroom. It was quite a thrill to see that much chocolate in one place. Next week I will have to take my camera and take some pictures.

For the pastry bag piping, we used shortening mixed with powdered sugar and whipped to a frosting consistency - it tasted just like Costco cake frosting. We started with a star tip, and did rosettes and "shells." I couldn't get the hang of the shells - the little wavy borders you see on bakery cakes. I wound up with large snails that kept falling over - but I guess practice makes perfect.

The secret to piping with the pastry bag is to twist the top so it looks like a carrot, then squeeze down with your palm on the fat part of the bulge. To adjust the tension, you keep twisting and squeezing. It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it, but the frosting is kind of gooey and hard to control. I plan to go get some buttercream frosting mix and whip up a batch to practice with. I am also planning to make gougeres later in the week with pate a choux and will use the pastry bag to pipe the dough onto the cookie sheets.

I am excited to learn all of this stuff and make cakes for birthdays, etc, but I suspect that after a while a good bakery cake will start to look like a decent bargain - given the amount of time that goes into them and the cost of the ingredients!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Latest Obsessions - End of August.06

  1. Rockstar and Weeds.
  2. Parisian macarons - did I say that last time?? I'm still obsessed.
  3. Going up to the Bay Area (it's been ages!) and eating my way through San Francisco and Berkeley/Oakland.
  4. Cheese for dinner, with bread and salad (and wine!)
  5. Learning to pipe out of a pastry bag (the first thing they will teach us in pastry class, woo hoo! I always wind up with stuff squirting out the top and running down my arm.)
  6. Eating all the fresh berries, tomatoes and corn I can get my hands on before summer is over.
  7. Picking the right surfacing and materials for our outdoor patio and walkways - and selecting the plants for our yard. Concrete or stone? Stamped or textured? Pavers or flagstones? Aggggghhh! Definitely drought resistant plants. Definitely.
  8. Learning how to garden so I won't kill everything when I get my box garden built and planted next year.
  9. Getting my jewelry materials together so I can get Alice Q. Jewelry up and running in time for the holidays!
  10. Getting ready for my dinner party next week! I am making Zuni roast chicken for the main dish - and I've never even been to the restaurant, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out!!
photo credit: Laduree website