Out in the Desert

Way back in February, when I got an interview request for an internship I’d applied for, something clicked, and I decided to start baking. When I told a friend of mine that I had gone from writing a response e-mail saying, “I’d love to come in for an interview!” to “I’m going to start baking!” she asked what the connection was. There wasn’t one, and I still can’t explain how or why that interview request e-mail served as motivation to start something new. (Actually, I had only read the e-mail, not yet responded to it, when my mind went, “Baking!” It was really was like that metaphorical light bulb going on in my head.)

In a way, I saw my decision to start baking and cooking more as a bit of a “reinvention” of myself, and I decided to continue the trend. I headed straight to the bookstore and browsed the cookbook section, determined to keep fighting the good fight (baking the good bake?). Overwhelmed by the cookbook selection, I turned around to food/travel section, where I picked up pastry chef and blogger David Lebovitz‘s The Sweet Life in Paris. While I like to travel, eat, and bake, I don’t see myself making that my profession or writing a book about it, but I was hoping I’d get some inspiration from someone who did. In the end, I found some delicious-looking recipes and got to (sort of) transport myself to Paris. But like Top Chef, it can be rather annoying reading about, or seeing, all these chocolates and cheeses and meals and not being able to taste them. Descriptions only go so far. Aah, if only Paris were just a free trip around the corner. The book is an enjoyable read, regardless of whether or not it did inspire me, and there are some very funny chapters. And, as I said, some must-try recipes.

I also thought I’d once again try “finding my inner artist” by taking a watercolor class. I took the same class last year while we were here (oh, hey, I’m in Arizona for the week!), and I ended up painting the same desert sunset scene. But I think I improved ever so slightly. During the session last year, I declared to myself that I wanted to buy a watercolor set when I got home and do some casual painting in my free time. That never happened, and here I am, one year later, out of college and figuring out what I want to do*, once again declaring that I want to buy a watercolor set when I get home. It’s both calming and a little stressful (I have to get those cactus arms just right!), but I do enjoy it, and I think it could be good for me.

Maybe I should just move to Arizona and paint this sunset every evening.

I doubt it would pay the bills, but at least it would be different! We don’t exactly get sunsets like these in New York.

All photos taken by Taking of Toast.

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A Toast to Macarons

Over the past few years, I have developed a love of macarons (unfortunately, I can’t remember when or where I first tried them). I’m not yet at that stage where I seek them out wherever I go (“We must find some macarons on this trip!”), but if I come across them, I find them hard to resist. The colors and flavors! The mixture of light and crunchy! Now, I don’t claim to be a macaron expert — I can’t tell you why this macaron is better than that macaron. But I have had some excellent ones in the past few months. I’m particularly fond of the ones from La Maison du Chocolat, even if they’re a bit on the pricey side. Actually, let’s just recognize that macarons are always a bit on the pricey side. When I was in London, one of my flatmates was kind enough to give me a small box of (delicious!) macarons from Pierre Hermé for my birthday. Hermé, widely considered to be an expert in the macaron field (just see this article from The Guardian), doesn’t just make your average pistachio or chocolate macaron. Some of his flavors include the éden (peach, apricot, and saffron) and the dépaysé (made from matcha green tea, azuki red bean, lime, and ginger). Pretty fancy, huh? If you happen to be in Paris, Tokyo*, or London, be sure to seek out some of these French delights. I wouldn’t mind the chance to go to Paris just to try some from Ladurée (who originally created the macaron as we know it today).

I would, at some point, like to make macarons myself, or at least attempt to make them. All the recipes I’ve read note that they are not easy to make, and it’s the exception, rather than the rule, that you succeed on your first go. I think I need to become a little more comfortable in the kitchen before I attempt them, but I’ve had these grapefruit and white chocolate ones from Desserts for Breakfast saved for a few weeks now, just in case I do decide to make them one day. I should probably start out with a more basic recipe, though, as beautiful as the grapefruit ones are. If any of you have good tried-and-true macaron recipes, I’d love to hear about them.

Until I gather up the courage to make macarons myself or Pierre Hermé opens a shop here, I’ll gladly settle for Macaron Café.

Colorful macarons from Macaron Café

Are they the best macarons I’ve had? No, not really. But they definitely do the trick, as does their vegetarian sandwich. I’ve been there twice with a friend, and I’ve gotten the same sandwich both times. With so many macaron flavors to choose from, though, surely, I’ll have to return. Try a new macaron, try a new sandwich. Be sure to check out the gallery of all the café’s different macarons! So creative.

*Speaking of Tokyo: Via Liberty London Girl, I found out about the fundraising event Cakes for Japan, which took place in London last week. I know the event a) was abroad and b) has passed, but it struck me as such a nice way to raise money for the recovery efforts. A more mature bake sale, if you will. I know that I definitely would have made an attempt to go were I not across the pond. Japan holds a special place in my heart, and it’s really something how people have come up with so many different ways to support the relief efforts.

All photos taken by Taking of Toast.

The State of Things

Sorry for the lack of updates after a (self-described “impressive”) string of them! I’m just figuring out what I want to post about next, and it’s taking some time! In the meantime, I think I’ll resolve to drink more tea and listen to more Alex Winston. I recommend you consider doing the same. I think they may just be the perfect combination.

Muffin March

In this digital age we all live in (whether we like it or not), it was only a matter of time before cookbooks became available in electronic format. From the Kindle to the iPhone, the iPod Touch to Android phones, there are many recipe programs/apps available. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent many a night curled up in bed reading through a few recipe apps available for the iPod Touch (gosh, App Store, if only purchasing apps from you weren’t so easy!). I’ve already made mental notes of a few recipes I’d like to try out from Jamie Oliver’s apps and carried out two recipes from The Photo Cookbook — Baking: cranberry and pine nut biscotti and the muffins below. (I also tried out my first “adapted” recipe and made another batch of biscotti, this time doubling the recipe, adding orange zest, and using chocolate chips rather than pine nuts. Word of advice: Not all ingredients double the same way! If you’re doubling a recipe that originally called for half a cup of pine nuts, it may not be a good idea to assume you should use a cup of chocolate chips. The biscotti were good, but they were very — almost too — chocolatey. But now I know for next time!)

These muffins were not particularly difficult, nor time-consuming, and they work quite well as breakfast if you’re in a rush. The recipe suggests eating them warm, and I agree. Popping them in the microwave for 20 seconds (assuming they’re not still warm from the oven) did the trick. I’m sure they’d also be quite good with some marmalade or the jam of your choosing.

Apricot, Macadamia, and White Chocolate Chunk Muffins
Recipe from The Photo Cookbook — Baking (iTunes)

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
(generous) 1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup chopped, plumped, dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
2 oz/55 g white chocolate, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
(scant) 1 cup buttermilk
(scant) 1/2 cup sunflower oil

Note: We were unable to find sunflower oil, so we used safflower oil instead.

1. Preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C). Place 12 muffin liners in a muffin pan or on a baking sheet.

2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, and stir in the sugar, apricots, nuts, and chocolate.

3. Beat together the eggs, buttermilk, and oil, then add to the bowl and stir to mix evenly.

4. Spoon the mixture into the muffin liners and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until well risen.

Serve the muffins warm, preferably on the day of making. Note: Don’t forget to let the muffins cool for at least five minutes in their pan.

As the picture shows, these muffins really rise! If I remember correctly, they took about 30 minutes, but it turns out that our oven isn’t calibrated correctly, so be sure to test them within the suggested baking time.

I wish I knew more about ingredients and how they work with each other. If I wanted to add some orange zest to these and take out the macadamia nuts, what would I have to do differently, if anything? I guess these are the types of questions the answers to which come with experience. I’m just getting started, but I hope that I’ll eventually feel comfortable enough in the kitchen to make my own recipes, or at least deviate from other recipes by more than a pinch here or there.

All photos taken by Taking of Toast.

Covered

With all the baking and cooking I’ve been doing lately, I figured it was time to invest in an apron. But finding one is not such an easy task! There are a lot of aprons out there. I’d like one with pockets, to store a towel or some other miscellaneous item I just have to have on my person rather than the counter mere inches away from me. (I was once on a co-op shift at college where we had to crack at least four dozen eggs for a frittata, and the towel I had hung over my apron’s waist string came in handy, big time.) Then I have to ask myself just how fancy I want my apron to be: Do I want the standard white apron? Maybe. Do I want one with lots of ruffles and embroidery and embellishments and a loud pattern? Probably not. I’m not entertaining anyone or having people over for dinner parties, so I really don’t need my apron to work as a kitchen outfit. But if there are so many fun options available, maybe I should take advantage of the selection? I’ve bookmarked a few that I could see myself wearing and thought I’d share them. Unfortunately, aprons can get kind of expensive, but halfway through my search, I decided to ignore the price and just find ones I liked. But what that means is that the apron I end up buying most likely won’t be one from the selection below.

Clockwise from top left: Jessie Steele Navy French Toile Chef Apron, $33.95; Toast Teatowel Check Apron, £42; Target Dwell Sevilla Kitchen Apron, $16.99; John Caswell “Apron Guide” Apron, £15 (also available at Amazon, $34.99); Anthropologie Tea-and-Crumpets Apron, $32; Anthropologie Rosey Prim Apron, $38

I think my favorite is the one from Toast — even the name is calling out to me (or this blog), it seems! — but that one is more of a wish list item. Maybe I’m better off making my own, using some dish towels or the fabric of my choosing.

Garden Living (and Eating)

What better way to celebrate the release of Lykke Li’s new album Wounded Rhymes (available on Amazon or iTunes) than to talk Sweden? When perusing {frolic!} — a new discovery, to me — I was reminded of a lovely little find I discovered in Stockholm a couple years ago, thanks to some friends. We were taking advantage of a particularly beautiful April day, weather-wise, by wandering around Djurgården (which roughly translates to “game park”), and we ended up at Rosendals Trädgård (Rosendal’s Garden). We bought some drinks and treats at the café and spent at least an hour just sitting around and taking in the surroundings, which included a lot of young Swedish children. We didn’t actually spend much time exploring the garden itself, but I made a mental note that day that I had to return to Rosendals if ever I went back to Stockholm.

And return I did, in June of last year. I brought my parents and proudly “showed off” the garden. For some reason, even though a) I didn’t happen upon it myself and b) it’s well known, it always felt like a secret to me. If I lived full-time in Stockholm, I would bring all my friends along so that they could discover it, too. I’ve only been to Rosendals twice, but it became one of my favorite Stockholm places before our first time there had even come to an end. For lack of a better description, there’s just something about it.

In addition to flowers, vegetables, herbs, and other various plants, Rosendals boasts a lovely little café, where all the ingredients used are organically grown. (As the website says, you can also purchase much of what Rosendals grows at the Plant and Garden Shops located on the grounds.) The café itself is pricey (even for Stockholm standards), but it’s well worth a browse anyway. From the traditional Swedish kannelbulle (cinnamon bun) and mjuk kaka med kardemumma (soft cake with cardamom) to various soppor (soups) and smörgåsar (sandwiches), it’s hard to go wrong.

Clockwise from top left: the Plant Shop; various treats on display at the café; chocolate cake with whipped cream; soft cake with cardamom

I guess I should note that you probably can’t go wrong. There were, of course, so many options, but since there were only three of us, we had to pick and choose. I can’t remember what I had (can you believe it?!), but I can verify that the morotskaka (carrot cake) was, in addition to being beautifully decorated, quite yummy. And that’s coming from someone who isn’t all that crazy about carrot cake. We decided that the red pepper heart that came with my mom’s salad (see below) was an homage to the wedding of Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria to (Prince) Daniel Westling, which was happening that very day. Then again, it’s also possible that Rosendals just likes to put a smile on people’s faces.

Rosendals Trädgård is part of what makes Stockholm such a great city. It’s tucked away on one of the city’s many islands, and I get the feeling that, even if I were to go back ten more times, it would still feel special each time. I guess the Brooklyn Botanic Garden would come closest as New York’s answer to Rosendals. I haven’t been there in ages, though, so I either don’t know what I’m talking about or just gave myself an excuse to go there — for research, of course (not that an excuse is needed)!

Do you have any suggestions about stateside answers to Rosendals?

P.S. “Sadness is a Blessing” is my favorite Lykke Li song off her new album.

All photos taken by Taking of Toast in June 2010.

A blood-red orange, sets again.

Was I the only one who didn’t know that winter is the season for blood oranges? It’s possible, given that I couldn’t really tell you anything about the seasonality of fruits and vegetables. But according to this excellent seasonal food chart from The Guardian (courtesy of Leon: Ingredients and Recipes by Allegra McEvedy), blood oranges are the fruit of winter. That may explain why two of the recipes I found — and made! — on Design*Sponge and Smitten Kitchen in the past couple of weeks were blood orange-based. Just look at all the recipes using blood oranges on TasteSpotting!

I think what blood oranges have going for them, other than being good, is their color. They are really beautiful fruits! I don’t know too much about them, but it does appear as if they can range from a light (as the ones I bought and used were) to a very dark blood red. This post on TasteFood shows just how different blood oranges can look from one to the next. As the post says,

“Native to Sicily, these orange gems have found their way around the world to eager consumers. In the US they grow from December to May, and now is the time to indulge in these citrus wonders. Tart and sweet with a hint of raspberry, their unique flavor complements sweet and savory dishes.”

“Tart and sweet with a hint of raspberry” — now, that’s a description. I think they are actually gem-like in color, too. As I mentioned above, I found two great-looking recipes using blood oranges the other week and decided to put them to good use. If I may say so myself, I think they both turned out pretty well (and both managed to be quite different from each other, despite the fruit they had in common).

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake with Blood Orange Honey Compote (top); Almond Yogurt Cake with Blood Orange Curd and Whipped Cream Filling (bottom)

The first blood orange recipe I tackled was a blood orange olive oil cake with blood orange honey compote, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. It was a fairly easy recipe, and one that I would highly recommend. The blood orange zest and the compote really add to what is a relatively simple cake. The only part I really had trouble with was when I had to supreme the oranges, and in my defense, I’d never done so before.

I then came across a recipe on Design*Sponge for almond yogurt cake with a blood orange curd and whipped cream filling, courtesy of Rachel Manley. (In addition to being a great website for all things design, Design*Sponge posts great recipes from various contributors. I’ve tried a couple and have plans to try a few more soon enough.) Let me tell you: Sifting powdered sugar on a cake is fun (and messy)!

Now, I’m off to bake muffins! (In case you’re wondering what we’re doing with all these treats, I have been trying to give away the muffins and biscotti I’ve been making. Pieces of cake are harder to give away, but I just keep repeating to myself that “practice makes perfect.” Right?)

The title of this post comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Winter-Time,” which can be found here. All photos taken by Taking of Toast.