A belated 4th


Happy belated 4th of July!

I meant to post this recipe last weekend, but I decided to take a mini "staycation" at my family's home in suburbs for the weekend and didn't have my laptop with me.  Like every 4th of July, it's tradition in our family to make a patriotic dessert.  It's usually a flag cake, but this year I decided to try something a little different.  I was looking through recipes and found one for red white and blue layered jello.  While you can't really go wrong with jello I thought I would make my dessert a bit more interesting, if not refined, and try a patriotic panna cotta instead. I initially wanted these ready to take to my friend Beth's bbq but as usual, I underestimated the amount of time it would take me to execute my great plan.  I served them for dessert the next day at home.  Sorry Beth.

A few things I learned while making this recipe:

Raspberry seeds are difficult to take out of the tiny holes of a strainer.

Pureed blueberries do not make a blue puree.  In fact, they make a lavendar colored one.  Thanks to food coloring this is not a problem.

Gelatin layers don't always solidify in the fridge at the same speed.  Patience should be a required ingredient in this recipe.

Imperfect layers of panna cotta taste just as good as perfectly poured ones.  phew.

When trying a new recipe I should always leave myself a few extra hours, just in case it turns out to be more complicated than expected.  I never remember to do this.  I think a timeline would serve me well in the future.  Write out, step by step, what I need to do and how long I think it will take me.  This recipe was a sort of exception because I did not have an actual set of instructions, I just had a list of ingredients.  I normally use a recipe I've found on a blog or in a cookbook.  This time I used a recipe I got from the pastry chef at work.  I went to her asking for a recipe for panna cotta.  Who better to ask than an Italian pastry chef I thought.

Me - "This is my plan [insert explanation of tri-color panna cotta here] for this weekend. Do you have a recipe I could use?"

Pastry chef - "OK! Yes!" She takes a piece of paper and proceeds to write down a list of ingredients and hands it to me.

Me- "Umm. Thanks, but this is just a list of ingredients, not an actual recipe.  What do I do with these?"

Pastry chef - " Ah! Ok!" [ insert explanation of what to do with said ingredients].

After I repeated these instructions back to her a few times to make sure nothing was lost in translation, I left the pastry station, gelatin sheets and foil cups in hand, full of inspiration and with high hopes for my dessert.

Patriotic Panna Cotta

Ingredient for basic panna cotta:

(makes about 20 foil cups -  restaurant quantities!)

1 quart of heavy cream

160 g sugar

6 sheets of gelatin


Make your fruit purees for the colored layers:

I used 2 little plastic boxes of raspberries and one slightly larger one of blueberries. Not very precise, I realize that.  I think it ends up being a pint of both berries.  You can use strawberries for the red too if you want.  Puree the fruit in a small food processor and set aside.  I did the extra step of straining out the seeds of the raspberries and most of the skin from the blueberries to make the panna cotta smoother.  I don't think it's required but it definitely makes for a smoother, silkier dessert.


To make the panna cotta base:

Pour the heavy cream into a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the sugar.  How much you ask?  160g please.  I meant to measure it out and then convert it into cups for those who don't have a scale but forgot. My apologies.  Not only does the chef work, apparently, purely from memory when it comes to recipes, but she also works in grams.  Ah Europe.  Thankfully my mother gave me an old scale she had.









Heat the cream until the sugar dissolves and reaches a simmer.  While it is heating up, "dissolve" the gelatin sheets, one by one, in a bowl of cold water and add them to the hot cream mixture.  I was instructed, several times, to put the gelatin sheets in the bowl of water one by one.  I didn't ask what would happen if I put them all in at once but it sounded like a bad idea, so I would recommend against it.  I assume the worse that could happen is you end up with one giant ball of gelatin.  While it doesn't sound too ominous we'll steer away from it just to be safe.


A few dry gelatin sheets. They almost look like stain glass windows.


What happens to the gelatin sheet after a couple minutes in a bowl of water.

This is where the recipe gets a little more complicated.  You now have the sweetened cream with dissolved gelatin sheets, hot, on your stove.  I added a little vanilla, about a teaspoon, to add extra flavor.  You now want to divide the mixture into 3 bowls so that  you can add your fruit puree to two of the bowls to create the different colors.  Pour the fruit purees into their respective bowls, leaving one plain for the white layer.  I added a little bit of red food coloring to the raspberry cream mixture to make it more red than pink and a fair amount of blue food coloring to the blueberry cream mixture.  I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn't turn people's tongues blue.

Interesting note: You'll need to add an extra gelatin sheet to each bowl that has fruit puree.  You are, in fact, adding more "liquid" to the bowl and therefore diluting the amount of gelatin to cream mixture.  You want to keep the consistency of the layers the same so you need to add gelatin.  I added an extra sheet to the raspberry and blueberry bowls.  Depending on how much puree you use, this could change.

Put your foil cups on a baking sheet so you can easily put them in and take them out of the refrigerator.  Pour in your first color about a third of the way up the little foil cup.  For my patriotic theme it happens to be the raspberry aka red.

IMG_1211.jpgRefrigerate the first layer until it solidifies enough that you can pour the second layer on top without it mixing.  This took longer than the 20 or so minutes I thought it would.  Some of my panna cottas were a little marbleized.  (Apparently these colors do run.)  Repeat this step until you have the red, white, and blue cream mixtures layered in the foil cups.

I usually take pictures for almost every step of the recipe.  This time I didn't for a good reason.  My kitchen was a mess.  This recipe pretty much turned my little kitchen into a red white and blue picasso painting, or was it more like a Miro?  I'm not sure.  There was raspberry and blueberry puree pretty much everywhere.  Not very photogenic. Needless to say I couldn't manage keeping the panna cotta, that had taken on a life of it's own, in check and take pictures of the steps at the same time.  I'm sorry!

Based on the feedback from those who tasted it, it was a success!  The raspberry was my favorite layer.  It was incredibly flavorful.  I might make a mango and raspberry one next. I have a feeling the two flavors would work really well together.  Was this time consuming, like most of my recipes tend to be?  Yes.  Was it worth it? Absolutely.  I think I've graduated from making a flag cake out of a box and have discovered a new way to celebrate our independence!  This is not to say that there won't be more flag cakes in my future, but they might have a little company next Fourth of July.

Bon appetit!


Even though this one had a "tie-dyed" look, it was pretty tasty.























Frustrations and Tea Cakes

I really wanted to call this post frustrations and fruitcakes because it sounded better,
but it would have been false advertising, plus fruitcake are both unpopular and out of season.
While reading my friend's blog this morning I realized that bad days are universal.  No matter what you do for a living, you are bound to have one of those days that just levels you.  You get to work ready to take on whatever you are supposed to face that day and then you are steered into one too many wrong directions and you realize that you would have been better off sleeping through till the next day.  Monday was one of those days for me.  One aggravating situation after another turned the day into my own personal version of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. By 6:00 PM I was out the door, looking forward to a run to blow off some steam.  I was exhausted but figured that my day would probably benefit more from a run than an evening on my couch with my TV and Campari and soda, so off I went.  The weather was perfect and my run took me on a short tour around the monuments.
I am lucky live in a city where a short run means being able to take see such fabulous views.
As I turned onto P street I slowed down and did something I swore I would never do.  I walked into Whole Foods covered in a post run sweat.  I can't tell you how many times I've been waiting in line at Whole Foods and someone has stood behind me to check out smelling like the workout they just had.  This is probably because there is an absurd number of yoga studios and gyms within a 2 block radius of the store, but still.  Do you really not have time to shower before you shop for your dinner?  Embarrassed that I used to judge the person I had just become, I walked into the store to find something to cook.
A friend who tasted my mango sorbet suggested I try to make a pina colada version.  I picked up some pineapple and coconut milk and decided to give it a try.  After looking up a few recipes I decided to combine one from Holy Cannoli and one from a random Google search.  While the recipe mash up wasn't a great success, the work frustration that the run didn't get rid of was quickly squashed by chopping and pureeing an entire pineapple.  While the mixture that was to become a sorbet failure was chilling in the refrigerator, I decided to bake a cake.
Like I said, I had a really bad day and had to work it off.
A while ago I had the idea of making a poundcake and infusing it with Earl Grey tea scented simple syrup.  What better time than that night to try it?
Early Grey Pound Cake
Adapted from a recipe found on Piece of Cake
3 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled ( I used regular flour)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup sour cream (I used 2% milk because that's all I had in the fridge)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.  In a mixer blend the butter and sugar until completely incorporated.  Slowly add the eggs, one at a time.  Add the milk and vanilla to the mixer until completely blended.  Add half the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until well mixed in, and then add the other half. Pour into 2 buttered and floured loaf pans and bake for about 90 minutes.
It's a pretty standard pound cake recipe. What makes this cake a little different and a lot tastier is the early grey simple syrup.
I love tea.  I drink a lot of it during the winter.  Less so once it warms up.  My sister introduced me to a tea shop in Pike Place Market in Seattle where she lives and I bought a few different kinds just to try.  My friend gave me some pretty intense Earl Grey tea not long ago so I used it for this recipe.  Along with tea, I also bought little bags at Market Spice to make my own tea bags.  They are perfect if you have loose tea and just want to make a little bit of tea.
1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tbs of earl grey tea leaves.
Put the sugar and water in a sauce pan and stir over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Place the earl grey teabag in the syrup and let it steep over low heat for as long as you feel necessary.
I left mine in for a good half hour because I wanted it to be as flavorful as possible.  I ended up adding a little water because the syrup became too thick.
It should turn brown, like tea does.
This is where experimenting doesn't always work.  I poured my early grey syrup onto the two cakes right after they were removed from the oven.
I poked a few holes in the cakes and then poured it right on.  Looking back I would have waited about 20 minutes for the cakes to cool, removed them from the pans and then poured the syrup on them.  The syrup make the cakes stick to the bottom and the sides a bit which made it harder to remove them from the pans.  Live and learn.  If you aren't too concerned about esthetics, the cakes were great.
The syrup seeped into the cake and livened up the otherwise banal pound cake with the unmistakable floral tones of Earl Grey tea.  The sweet glaze finish wasn't bad either.



De Retour with Mango Sorbet


Where did the last five months go? I can't believe the last time I sat down to write was back in January when I was in Seattle visiting my sister, brother in law and new baby niece!  She is now five months old and winter has turned into summer (almost).  I feel as if years of events and experiences have been squeezed into these past few months.  Distractions have kept me from doing what I like doing the most - cooking.  Maybe it was the stress of long days at work, or personal distractions that ended up being just that, nothing but distractions.  My desire to cook had all but disappeared for a while.  I used to cook to relieve stress.  I used to put aside the things that were bothering me that day and concentrate on chopping, stirring, grating, and reducing.  For some reason none of those things appealed to me for a while.  I'm not completely sure why I took a break from the kitchen, but I'm glad I'm back.

I don't know a lot about tropical fruit and when they are in season as you can find most of them year round in the grocery store.  I was craving mango salsa and shrimp for dinner this week (post to come about that soon) so I walked to Whole Foods and found small little yellow mangos that were so ripe to the touch they were impossible to resist.  These champagne mangos are much smaller than the ones with the red-ish yellow skin you are used to seeing.  After a successful mango and shrimp feast I was hooked on my new super sweet mango discovery and I went back for more this weekend.  But what to do with 6 small mangos?  Make sorbet!


I've tried to make sorbet before and have been disappointed with the outcome.  I've made some pretty tasty icecream but I have yet to make sorbet I am proud of.  The black currant sorbet I made was a bit grainy and the prosecco sorbet I made didn't freeze correctly (too much prosecco... can you blame me?)  A while back I was "tasting" the lemon sorbet we were serving for one of my events at work and chatting with the pastry chef. I asked her what made this sorbet so much creamier than what I have made in the past.  It almost tasted like sherbet.  She assured me there was no dairy in it, just egg whites!  Raw egg whites in fact.  While the fruit puree is freezing in the ice cream maker, you add the whites of one egg.  This gives the sorbet a much smoother, creamier consistency.  Who knew?  Once you get over your fears of salmonella, it makes sense.  I decided to put the tip to the test.

If you look online for a sorbet recipe you will find a variation of the same recipe over and over again.  Take fruit, puree it, add water, sugar and a little bit of alcohol (so it doesn't freeze into a fruit brick when you put it in the freezer) and that's you're done.  I decided to go with a David Lebovitz recipe and put my own twist on it.  His recipes are pretty fail proof.

Mango Sorbet

adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz

2 large, ripe mangos (I used 6 champagne mangos) 2/3 cup sugar ( I used a 1/4 cup agave syrup instead) 2/3 cup water 4 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice ( I used a half a lime) 1 tablespoon dark rum, plus more to taste (I used homemade limoncello I made a few years ago) pinch of salt ( I forgot this.  Oops! It tasted just fine though)

1 egg white


Take the meat off the mangos by slicing down each side, following the pit with your knife.  Squeeze the rest of the meat off the pit with your fingers to make sure not to waste anything.  Puree the fruit in a blender along with the water, sugar/agave syrup, lime juice and limoncello.  I used limoncello just because I thought the citrus would go well with the mango and I'm not a huge fan of rum.  I completely forgot about the pinch of salt.  I'm sure it gives that final sweet/salty balance that all cooking/baking needs.  I think the sorbet tastes just fine without it but I will include it next time.

Once all your ingredients are pureed together, chill it for about an hour (I chilled mine overnight) and then freeze it in your ice cream maker for about 20 minutes or until it looks like a slushy.  Add the whites of one egg at the very end of the freezing process.  It gives the puree a silky taste and a pretty sheen.  A great addition to the recipe!

Don't you love my old food processor?  It makes about as much noise as a margarita machine.  My neighbors must have thought I was having one heck of a party yesterday.





After it is finished freezing in the machine, put the mixture in a container and let it finish freezing in the freezer.  I had to steal a taste before it was finished.


Delicious, creamy, fruity and cold.  I wouldn't call it perfection but it's pretty good!  I had some leftover papaya so I tried the same process with it too. Instead of limoncello I used some of my homemade lemon verbena vodka.  The papaya had less flavor than the mango did but the lemon verbena vodka added a delicious herbal dimension to the cool treat.



Having been back in the kitchen and experienced what I used to enjoy so much, I know I will be back again soon.

A bientot.







A twist on the classic oatmeal chocolate chip cookie

- " Where is the monkfish lady?" the fishmonger yelled out into the crowd.  I braved the over the top personalities of the guys who sell fish at the Pike Place Market, held up my hand so they could see me, and went up to get my fish.


A mandatory part of my visits to Seattle is a trip to the Market. My sister and I usually just walk around and people watch but this time I actually needed to make a few purchases.  I get a little intimidated by the larger than life personalities of the men in orange suits and flying fish but I needed fish for a provencal stew recipe I wanted to make so I went up and asked them if they had any.  Success!


For me, trips to Seattle always reinforce the idea of "you are what you eat".  There is a prominent culture of eating locally, organically and wisely in this northwest state.  From restaurants that boast about the farms that supply their vegetables to the local cheese shop, I've found that Seattlites are very proud of what they eat.  On this recent trip to I went to a lecture by Michael Pollan.  Ever since I read The Omnivore's Dilemma about 6 years ago I have been his number one fan (along with all the others, I assume, who were as inspired and motivated by the book as me).  This time, he spoke about the importance of remembering to eat food, as opposed to eating " edible food like substances".  One should eat balanced, real, unprocessed food.  Once you have abandoned the packed and processed food look alikes, stop obsessing about the fat content of the individually packaged yogurt you just bought.  Eat the whole fat one!  That "light and fluffy" yogurt isn't as good for you as you might think. Trying to remove potentially harmful items (fat) and replacing them with equally unhealthy products (sugar) seems silly.

On that note, adding something healthy to a food can never hurt. The other day, I saw my brother in law go to the kitchen and start to take out flour and other ingredients.  I never knew he baked so I went over to check out what he was making.  Cookies!  Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies actually.  I looked at the recipe and it was a little more complex than I expected.  These had flaxseed meal and brewer's yeast in them.  Curious, I googled both ingredients. While I'm still a bit unsure what the brewer's yeast does, the flaxseed meal is a great nutritious addition to the standby recipe.  Flaxseeds are  high in B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese and very rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.  I knew some of this, but what I did not know is that flaxseeds need to be ground down to a powder in order for these nutrients to be absorbed.  If you eat the seeds whole, the nutrients leave your body the same way the seeds do!  The cookies came out of the oven proved that healthy is... tasty!  They tasted like great oatmeal chocolate cookies with slightly more depth of flavor.   If I can eat an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and help fight against cancer, inflammation and diabetes then OK!  I am not sure where he found the recipe so I will call them Andy's healthier oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Andy's Healthier Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Source unknown. Try finding it on epicurious.com


1 cup of butter (unsalted and at room temperature)


1 cup of brown sugar - packed

1 cup of sugar

2 tbs of flaxseed meal

4 tbs of water

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups of flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 cups thick cut oats

1 cup chocolate chips ( I was later told by my bother in law and his cousin that one should always double the amount of chocolate chips in a recipe.  Clearly)

2 Tbs Brewers Yeast



Preheat your coven to 375.  Mix the flaxseed meal and the water and let it stand for a 3-5 minutes.  The meal will become almost gelatinous when all the water has soaked in. Cream the butter and sugar and then add the eggs.


Stir the flaxseed meal into the butter mixture and add the vanilla.  Beat until well blended.  Sift the dry ingredients together, except the oats and chocolate chips.  


The recipe calls for adding the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  This goes against everything I've been taught about baking, so I added the dry ingredients to the wet ones.  Stir in the oats and then the chocolate chips.  Cover the cookie sheet with parchment paper and drop dough about the size of a tablespoon onto the paper. Bake for about 8-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown.  These cookies were great when my brother in law made them, and were yummy when I made them.  Twice in a row can't be wrong!  Give them a try!  You'll feel less guilty about eating a cookie now that you know they are good for you.




(Extra points for the person who can tell me what these cookies are actually good for.  They have a "special" side effect )


No-Knead Bread. The Project


Baking bread is in my blood, or at least it is in my family. My earliest memories of my Grandfather were coming down the steps in his house in Montreal to the smell of yeast.  The house would be warm due to the oven that had been on keeping the rising dough warm and the yeast in it happy.  My grandfather and sister, the early risers in the family, would have been already up for hours, making the sponge, adding flour to make it into dough, and then putting it in a bowl, on top of the oven to let it rise.  My grandfather would put the bowl under a paper bag, to create a warm, yeast friend microclimate.  They must have felt right at home it because his bread turned out every time.  Rye bread, whole wheat loafs, baguettes, you name it, he could probably make it.  While my youthful palate didn't quite appreciate the flavor of rye bread, I did love the days he would make baguette.

After recently reconnecting with an old friend who has taken up bread making, I decided to give the whole experience another try.  If you recall, I tried to make bread last winter, during the blizzard that hit D.C.  While it tasted just fine I was disappointed with how it came out.  I didn't think it rose enough and it was a little dense for my taste.  I was discouraged after devoting so much time to one recipe that I put my professional baking aspirations aside.  There is something to be said about being able to make your own bread-  a certain connection to your past that you can to reconnect with.  I suppose going to the store and buying bread is more convenient now.  Practice makes perfect so I am refueling my mission to make good, moist bread, if anything but to carry on a family tradition.  Thoroughly impressed that my friend had mastered the technique must have stirred my competitive spirit and I decided I would give his recipe a try.  Turns out it is a recipe for no-knead bread.  No muscles needed for this kind. Time, and lots of it, you do need though.

The basic concept is the following. Take flour, a little bit of yeast, water and salt, mix it together and let it do what it would do naturally.  Rise.  The bread requires less yeast because it will multiply for hours and hours (12-18 hours to be exact) instead of just 2-3. Once dough is bubbly, place it on a towel and let it rise a little bit more.  Put it in the oven and it's done.  It sounded almost too easy so I had to try.  Twice.  My first attempt was in my Dupont Circle apartment.  The bread tasted fine but I thought I should try again.  The second try was in my sister's Capitol Hill apartment in Seattle.  Outcome: tasty!

My friend sent me the original recipe that he found in the New York Times in 2006 by Jim Lahey.

Jim Lahey's No -Knead Bread

as published in the New York Times on November 8, 2006

and as found in My Bread -The Revolutionary no-wor, no-knead method by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting ¼ teaspoon instant yeast 1¼ teaspoons salt Cornmeal ( I used semolina flour)

1 5/8 cups water

(NOTE: Who calls for 5/8 cups of water? I think it would be less confusing to the mathematically challenged to say 1/2 cup and then more if needed)


In a large bowl combine the flour, yeast, salt and water.  Stir it well until it is all incorporated.  Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place for 12-18 hours.  You'll know the dough is ready (when the yeast has played around, flirted, and reproduced).  The dough will be bubbly and darker.


First try- Dupont Circle


Second try - Seattle

When the dough looks right, or you have gone to sleep, woken up, ran a few errands and finally have come back to check on your dough, lay out a clean dish towel and sprinkle the cornmeal (white flour, whole wheat flour, semolina flour) on the towel.  Gently take the dough out of the bowl and shape it into a ball.  The dough will be surprisingly sticky.  It's loose and sticky and I found was very hard to actually shape into a ball.  I passed it from hand to hand, each time extracting the free hand as if it had been covered in Nickelodeon slime.  After deciding if you can ever get this blob was to resemble a ball, put it seam down onto the floured cloth.


Sprinkle it with more semolina flour and cover it with a second clean towel.  Let it rise for about another 2 hours until it doubles in size.  My dough never doubled.  I was counting the squares on the tea towel and it only increased about 2 more squares.


30 minutes before the bread is done, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Put a heavy cast iron pot in your oven.  Le Creuset pots are perfect for this I have found.  When you are done waiting around for your dough to rise and want to get on with your day (yes, that's right), carefully take the now very hot pot out of the open, take the lid off and carefully "plop" the dough into the pot, seam side up.  This seam will create a beautifully delicious crack on the top crust of your bread.  Put the lid back on and put it back in the oven for 30 minutes.  When the time is up, take the lid off the pot and put it back in the oven for 15-30 minutes.  I found that you definitely need the full 30 minutes.


When it's done, take it out of the pot with a spatula.  Be sure not to crack or break the crust because the bread is still baking with steam inside.  Let it cool for about an hour before you can eat it.




First try - Dupont Circle

IMG_0774.JPGIMG_0775.JPGIMG_0777.JPGSecond try - Seattle

The second try was definitely more of a success than the first.  I think this is partly because I turned the heat in my apartment way down in DC.  I can't sleep with heat blowing in my face all night and since the dough rose overnight in my 62 degree kitchen for the first attempt, I don't think the yeast was quite as happy as it could have been.  The second attempt was in a baby-friendly apartment, that was kept quite a bit warmer than mine was.  The bubbles in the bread were larger.  Note to self- overheat at night for the sake of your bread.  The crust the second time around was also a lot better.  The inside was light and fluffy and almost had a tangy taste to it.  The crust was deliciously crunchy.  The bottom was nice and dark and almost stuck to my teeth when I bit down into it.  I love this kind of bread.  I have the best memories of sitting in various cafes, eating moist bread that has crust that sticks to your molars.

I consider this bread a success!  It tastes a lot better than anything I can buy at my local Safeway and is a lot cheaper than anything I can find at Whole Foods, if you don't count man hours.  I will continue this bread project, hoping to perfect the recipe above and tweaking it slightly.

...and who doesn't like a "tartine" on homemade bread in the morning?