I'm Jess, a grad student and food photographer obsessed with chocolate. I love things made of sugar, lasers strapped to helicopters, and silly hats.
Come visit on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for stories about food, bakeries in Seattle, and my most definitely being up to no good.
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Monthly Archives: October 2012
I can’t eat plain eggs or tomatoes. This drives me nuts, as I’m not allergic to either of them. I’ll gladly eat eggy custards or tomato-laden chilis, but I get nauseated just trying to bite into their purest forms.
And I try. There have been beefsteak tomatoes at the Pantry at Delancey, fresh cherry tomatoes from a co-worker’s garden, bland GMO types on cold cuts, and fancy heirloom varieties Chris picks up from the farmer’s market. They all fail, often with me trying to find a polite way to spit it out or not be ill afterwards.
Eggs are even worse – I usually can’t get past the smell of them. One time in college, I was eating breakfast in the main dining hall, and a classmate wanted to sit with me. He was eating an egg biscuit sandwich, and after about a minute I had to attempt to flee so I wouldn’t vomit. When I tried to politely explain that it wasn’t him, but his food, he gasped “Are — are you vegan?” I wanted to laugh, but then that distinct aroma wafted back in my direction and I fled like I was late to class.
It’s even a running gag to see how long I can even be in the room when the guys are making scrambled eggs. I generally last a minute.
Like with tomatoes, I try. This dish was gorgeous. There were scrambled duck eggs topped with a quail egg, fried egg whites, and tobiko/flying fish roe for good measure. The plating looked very delicate in person, like someone prodded at them with love to get the jenga setup just so. I took one bite and felt queasy. (This is in no way the fault of the chef, and I did not look badly on this dish. I was just sad that I couldn’t eat it when I try to not waste food.) The radishes were tasty, though.
I love food, and I love exploring new foods. I just wish I could figure out some way to cure my egg-phobia. I’m thinking I’ll make eggy french toasts, and slowly wean myself off the sugar and cream until they’re scrambled eggs. But even if I can never manage to eat a poached egg, that’s okay. I just want to keep on moving forward, as it’s a chance to figure out what I can eat, and not feel limited by what I can’t. And if all else fails, I can at least find ways to get better ventilation in my kitchen for when the guys want eggs on toast.
Chris is still in recovery from dental surgery, so I’ve been making tons of puddings. But I’m also dealing with a flu/virus mess, so errors have been occurring. Tasty errors.
It started with my wanting to clear the fridge. I defrosted and baked some puff pastry I made ages ago and decided that I needed fillings. Vanilla custard and chocolate pudding made the most sense – some could go in the pastry and then I’d layer the rest in huge terrines for Chris. Well, more like mugs, but you get the point. The custard, from Smitten Kitchen, came out wonderfully. It’s fragrant with vanilla thanks to two sources, a full bean and vanilla sugar made from the last batch of custard. Chris wants me to add four whole beans next time and see if it’s too powerful. (I’m just hoping there’s a law of absolute vanilla flavor so it tastes only slightly more vanilla as opposed to artificially so.)
The chocolate pudding, from The Dessert Bible, is also one I’ve made before. It’s a fairly simple recipe – heat half and half with sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt, add vanilla and chocolate. Somehow I forgot to include the cornstarch, even though I had pulled the jar out for mise en place, and it never solidified. With heavy cream, vanilla sugar, and 66% dark chocolate, it became one lovely dessert sauce.
I decided I would turn the pair into a soup. I wish I had made meringue disks for crunch, but I was pretty tired when I finished. (That and Chris burned my last set of meringue by not checking the oven before preheating it to 400 degrees.)
Still, this is a fairly versatile soup. I used two quenelles of the custard and dusted it with cocoa powder, but I’d love to try it with fresh berries and whipped cream, or cacao nibs. Maybe some fresh ginger and cinnamon next time as well, or even peaches. It would also be killer for dunking chocolate chip cookies into.
Since the soup is basically hot chocolate mix, I heated it up after taking these photos, and it is mighty tasty on its own. I’d add a chunk of chocolate or more cocoa powder before warming it next time; it’s thick, but not as intense as what you can get at Fran’s. It’s for trying to teach your friends who think there’s nothing wrong with Swiss Miss that better things are out there for minimal effort. (This could work great for hot chocolate mix, especially with a few chunks of chocolate at the bottom of a cup.)
If you want to make the custard, go to Smitten Kitchen. To make the sauce, read on.
Hot Chocolate/Dessert Sauce
Heavily adapted from The Dessert Bible
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, natural (The original recipe specifies Dutch-process; I’d avoid it)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vanilla sugar (see note)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 ounce 66% chocolate, finely chopped (I think it could handle 70% or darker, but be cautious)
2 cups half and half
Sift the first three ingredients into a medium saucepan. Whisk to blend. Chop the chocolate and have ready before you begin the next steps.
Whisk half and half into pan, place onto range, and turn the heat to medium. Whisk for two minutes, then switch to a silicone or wooden spoon and continue stirring constantly for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce starts to bubble.
Add vanilla and chocolate, then stir gently for another minute or until the chocolate has melted. Take the sauce off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. At this point you can serve immediately as hot chocolate, or allow to cool, covered, in the fridge. In theory it’ll last a few days, but it only survived a few hours here. There will be a thin skin, but it can be blended back into the sauce.
Note: I make my own vanilla sugar by taking leftover vanilla beans and massaging them into some sugar, then shaking the jar every so often to break up clumps. I like it heavy on the vanilla (1 bean per 1-2 cups), but it’s definitely to taste and way cheaper than buying it at a store.
So I’ve written a couple times now about Foodportunity being scary for newcomers, or that I had a tough time. That’s not fair – it’s really fun. So, for my final post for the contest, have a quick strategy guide.
- Dress for success. Pants with expandable waistlines are your friend. So are flats or sneakers. Yes, some people will dress nicely, but that’s not my plan.
- Come hungry. This is Foodportunity. Unless you’re allergic to everything not prepped in your own kitchen, there should be something there for you to try. (If you’re not sure, email Keren, but I usually see vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options at a few booths. Yay!)
- Come prepared. It can get loud, especially once the raffles start. I invested in earplugs a while back, and love them for surviving crowds. Also, extra business cards are a great idea. Just get them. (Blank business cards where you fill it all in on the spot could be fun, but then you’re stuck writing a lot while trying to eat a croissant. Choose carefully.)
- If you’re a wallflower, that’s great! So you’re bad at dealing with crowds. So are a lot of us in the room. I’m pretty much one myself for all the talking I do. But all those people already in conversations are curious about you, because they’re here to meet new people as well. And you’re in a room filled with icebreakers: just ask what they thought of the wine or ice cream.
- If you’re not a wallflower, that’s great! Just start a conversation. Jackie, Terri Ann, Denise, and I are usually all too glad to talk bacon. (I do not speak for Jackie, Terri Ann, and Denise. I just know we have bacon chats on twitter. Often.)
- Come with a plan. Nothing fancy, just “I will talk to three people” or “I will have fun.” I think it helps when you’re suddenly hit with how crowded the room is. And “I will have fun” is a good plan, period.
- Come ready to learn. Foodportunity isn’t necessarily the greatest place to pitch your new idea, unless you’re running a booth with a robot noodle maker and your prototype is your display. (Which sounds ridiculously awesome and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.) But you don’t know who you’re going to meet or talk about. Be ready to listen as much as you’re going to talk about yourself.
- Have fun. Yes, we’re all professionals, and this is a networking event, but this is a room full of people who nerd out like crazy over food. If you aren’t enjoying yourself or you’re feeling really stressed out, go grab a bite and some wine and hang out with the interns in the back. They’re awesome.
- Just attend. Here – one last link to the event.
Foodportunity. So my first visit wasn’t quite a flop, but I didn’t leave my shell – I was very much an observer. My second attempt went great, but I was firmly entrenched in being a scientist.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being a scientist; I’m just trying to figure out how to express my growing love for food while still being an ecology nerd. That has become my delicate balancing act. As a researcher in something that isn’t remotely related to food – except that nutria can eat a ton – the second I switch gears from food to science, it’s like I’m a completely different person. I’ve been likened to listening to The Discovery Channel, without the explosions. There’s linear regression and GIS and all these cool things that I have yet to put into a food context. And I will get there.
(The day I make a chart in ArcGIS for doughnut distribution types will be followed by a Foodportunity where Nazila probably will sigh very loudly in my general direction before saying hello.)
And life really has changed in a lot of ways – I mean, Foodportunity truly helped get me to where I am now. After I went to my first one, I started following Jackie Baisa on twitter. (I also blame our shared love of The Bloggess.) She retweeted Cassandra’s all-call for bloggers, and I joined Crave Local for the Seattle team. And I started that long, chocolate-filled path away from research.
That’s how I found myself this July in New Orleans outside our cottage’s front door, thinking about plates and how in the hell I was going to survive doing a 10 am outdoor styling of ice cream. All I could say was, “This is not what I thought I would be doing in grad school.”
I’ve already discussed how I feel about Foodportunities past – it’s time to think about the future. And I really want to spent this Foodportunity creating opportunities for others. I can think up plenty of opportunities for myself – I mean, I need to redo the Tom Douglas Mega-Tour. But if I really want to immerse myself in food culture, I need to use my ideas from the last few days. I need to listen.
Seattle’s food scene is a ridiculously tight knit group, and I don’t think that really gets driven home until you experience this event. It is probably scary for every new person that walks in the door. (I know it scared me.) And that’s okay, because Foodportunity isn’t a standard social event – it’s a launching point. While I’m not as established as some of the people in the food scene, I’d really like to start giving back. I want to be able to continue to share my love for Seattle’s food culture with all the amazing people that inhabit this slice of the internet, and give them each a hug in person.
And really, I feel like I can never get enough from this event. I have all these cards from wonderful people I need to talk to, and I need a week just to meet with everyone. (Keren, can I help you make this happen? I totally think you have the audience for it.) I see the same people talking on twitter the next day and wish I could take them all out for tea. Everyone is fantastic and supportive, from generating ideas to simply being interested in hanging out at events. I’m furiously happy to be part of it all, even if I’m still totally the scientist in the corner.
So you have to join me on the 22nd at Foodportunity. We’ll take over Palace Ballroom for three hours, and it’s a chance to learn and grow in the Seattle food community. You get to fall in love with our crazy, happy world just a bit more, and if you get nervous you can have ice cream. And even if I’m up to my usual antics and balancing a cake on my head, say hi – I’d love to hear your story.
I tried to think of one recipe that really encapsulates what I think of as a Foodportunity, and nothing really stood out. When I was a kid, I didn’t bake much at all – that whole being half-jokingly banned from the kitchen really screwed with my motivation. But I loved to make rice crispy treats. I never made them prettily in a pan; that would have involved extra work. Instead I would pour out the whole mass onto a parchment-lined plate, creating this goopy marshmallow mountain. I loved doing this, and basically made them as often as I could get away with. (It’s a miracle I have all my teeth.)
Much later, I found Smitten Kitchen and the glory that was the brown butter sea salt rice crispy treat. And the blue boxes of cereal took over my kitchen yet again until I could find an organic version at Whole Foods.
They’re both fun to make, but I don’t see either as a recipe that changed my life much. They mainly gave me more excuses to go to SugarPill. (That place is dangerous for my budget.)
I can, however, point to one cookbook as a turning point – Baking From My Home To Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. I won an autographed copy of the book in college, right before I moved into the apartment dorms and finally had my own kitchen. It wasn’t much, but with our wobbly table and Christy’s hand mixer, I could bake. So I made a ton of cookies, and experimented cautiously in sugar.
And from this cookbook, there is one recipe that is my favorite: the chewy, chunky blondies. I’ve made them time and time again, and it’s probably my most requested recipe. I made a batch for a friend’s birthday and watched him eat two-thirds of it in one sitting. (He had forgotten to eat all day. Typical PhD candidate.) It’s the recipe that comes out whenever I want a baked good but don’t want to think. It has endured potlucks, weddings, birthdays, and my general laziness. It has even produced passable goodies when I’m trying to teach my roommate how to bake, something that deserves its own accolades.
Yes, this book also includes the infamous World Peace Cookies. These get requested far, far more often.
From blondies, I got intrigued by dessert cookbooks in general, slowly building a library. I now have a bookshelf that is 75% dessert-themed and stuffed beyond capacity. Ask me to give them up and I’ll look at you like you grew a third head.
But these bar cookies really are what started me down this road, so making a batch felt appropriate. They’re only slightly different from how I made them in college. I made my own brown sugar, as I’m less likely to let it dry out that way. We also rarely have chocolate chips in the house, so a few handfuls of feves were tossed in instead. There’s a bit more chocolate per bite, but that’s what these blondies are meant for.
Chewy Chunky Blondies
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
Note: You can make brown sugar in a food processor, stand mixer, or with a whisk. (I prefer the food processor.) Take 1-2 cups white sugar, then add 1-2 tablespoons unsulphured blackstrap molasses. Stir/blend until combined. If it’s too light or too dark, add more molasses or sugar to taste. This keeps in the fridge, covered, for weeks.
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks/8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar (see note)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5-9 ounces Valrhona Caramelia feves, to taste
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan, set aside.
Whisk the first four ingredients together in a medium bowl. (This is almost optional, but it does make for a slightly fluffier blondie. If you choose to skip, I’d recommend stirring them together a bit in the bowl when you add the dry ingredients in.)
Cream the butter in a stand mixer or large bowl until light and fluffy, about two minutes in the stand mixer. Add both sugars and blend – it should look like amazing tan frosting. Add eggs one at a time, mixing each for 1 minute, then mix in vanilla until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients on low speed, or mix just until they disappear into the batter. Pull the bowl off the machine and stir in the chocolate by hand, being careful to not overblend. I usually fold it like I’m working with a meringue. Scrape the batter into the pan; try to get it even, but don’t feel bad if it’s slightly craggy.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for about 15 minutes. I usually bring the whole blondies tray with me to events, but most don’t go far from the pan to my mouth.