Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Butter is your friend

Ah, desserts. They require precision and well as creativity and great taste. And, what's more...people really LOVE desserts, so you don't want to mess them up!

Dessert can be everything from delicate to deeply comforting. Some of my latest faves are strawberry rhubarb pie, chocolate cream pie and of course, (crack cocaine) salted caramel brownies! I've made those brownies so many times now for cooking clients to friends, neighbors and colleagues - everyone flips out. I have a client who has a standing order once a month. One friend even sent me an expletive-filled text proclaiming her love. That was pretty funny.

Now when I bake, I use eggs from my own backyard hens - I think that Edie, Millie and Dottie add a little something special.

Do you have a dessert that your family and friends ask for over and over? Or maybe you have some creations you're testing at home but haven't shared yet? Either way, you should enter the Chris Ford Dessert Contest! Chris is the incredibly talented rock star pastry chef at Wit & Wisdom at the oh-so-schwank Four Seasons in Baltimore - and he wants your desserts! Enter and you could win a Four Seasons stay and cooking lesson with Chris. That would be so much fun! (Check out his blog, too - it's fab.)

Not a master baker? Then, you can vote instead.

(Full disclosure: On a whim, I entered my Salted Caramel Brownies into the contest - I've never entered a contest in my life, so I figured why not, hon?)

Recipe submission deadline is May 2. Voting deadline is May 9.

Butter is your friend. Julia says so.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I scream, You scream...

Remember the hilariously inappropriate Eddie Murphy stand-up about the ice cream man? Wow, remember when Eddie Murphy was know, before he started making God awful movies? Anyway...when I was a kid in the 70s, as many communities did, we had an ice cream truck. Not a lot happened in my hometown, so it was very exciting when you heard the ice cream man's music on the next street over. You'd literally hear kids yelling, "ICE CREAM MAN!" 

Remember Bomb Pops!?

My hood even has an ice cream truck, but much like Hampden, it's a little um...different. Note that it's dark out when he comes by...

I do love good ice cream. So, before a recent visit San Francisco, my friend told me that I absolutely needed to visit a foodie mecca, Humphrey Slocumbe. It's this amazing ice cream joint in the Mission District serving creative, unique flavors like honey lavender, cinnamon brittle and Boccalone prosciutto. It was a little out my way, but my friend said it was not to be, there I go...a total tourist in a $25 cab ride for a $3 ice cream. But holy peanut butter curry, it was worth it. If you go to the Bay Area...hit 'em up (but take BART.)

Charm City has some mighty good ice cream, too. The choices are not quite as extensive as what I found in San Fran, but very, very tasty stuff. For of my very fave restaurants in town, b, makes their own ice cream and I make a point to get it when I go there. Once I had a trio of delicate scoops of cardamom, beet and malt ice creams. Happiness. (Don't think you'd like those flavors? Try it, then judge.)

I also get Uncle Wiggly's ice cream (you may remember them as Taharka Brothers or Sylvan Beach) at their shop in Mt. Washington. OH so many great flavors like salty caramel, candied fennel and key lime pie. Scary good. Next time you're visiting Whole Foods, check it out.

At the Waverly Market, you can get both Broom's Bloom and South Mountain Creamery ice creams. My absolute favorite is Broom's Bloom's "Dirt" ice cream. But then...South Mountain also offers home delivery, along with their milk, veggies and other good stuff. Talk about trouble...

Since I'd been bitten by the 'better than the grocery store brand ice cream' bug, I wanted to try my hand at making ice cream. I researched lots of ways to make it without a machine (I love you, David Lebovitz but no) and quickly realized my time was better spent making other stuff. Sorta like when I made my own goat cheese...neat project, not doing it again anytime soon.

So, I borrowed my friend's ice cream and sorbet maker and got to work. Since I had gorgeous local strawberries on hand, strawberry ice cream was first up. Wow - it was super delicious and I even got a comment from one of my favorite little kids, Eliza, as she ate a scoop. It was a simple, "You're great." That made my day.

Then, I made cardamom ice cream. Big thanks to my friend Elaine for the recipe and cardamom pods. It turned out so well...the flavor was incredible. I'm actually glad I only made a small amount! Also made Ina's espresso ice cream. Ridiculous.
                                         Left to right: cardamom, strawberry and espresso coffee. Yum.

I also made paletas (delicious Mexican popsicles) and that was a lot of fun. A friend recommended this cookbook and the flavors are simple, but really spectacular together. They are very easy to make and I'm planning on doing lots more this summer...maybe even some boozy ones!

Get ready, hon. Summer's comin!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pin it!

Geez, Louise...there's Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumbler, Yelp, Four Square, Linked In, Ning, Tumbler and so many more. Now, there's Pinterest. It's the newest thing your friends are inviting you to join and it's one of the fastest growing websites. Ever. may be thinking what I was thinking a few months ago - Should I join? Is this yet another way I will waste time online instead of doing laundry? Yes, and yes.

Pinterest is simple. It's basically an online bulletin board that allows you to "pin" things onto categorized boards like cooking, sports, home decor, DIY projects, kids stuff...whatever you like. Often, the pin has a web link associated with it, so you can go to the website to get the recipe or whatever the pin is about. I'm a very visual person, so if I'm searching for something, I'd much rather look at a pin board up on my screen vs a list of web links in my favorites. I can easily find that easy bread recipe or the instructions on making your own raised garden beds just by scanning the pins on one of my pin boards. For me, it's easier to remember what something looks like vs what it was called.

So, how do you get started? Think about things you like and create boards for those things...for me, I created five boards - nourish (cooking), nest (house stuff), flock (chickens), grow (gardening) and inspire (travel, gorgeous settings, etc.) Once you create boards and start looking at pins on Pinterest, you then begin to see people on the site who seem to like similar things to you...and you "follow" them and "repin" their pins onto your boards. You don't have to follow all of that person's boards, which is great. Someone whose vintage fashion pin boards you like might also post to boards on things in which you absolutely have no interest. I started following someone the other day who posted fabulous interiors and then I realized that she has 67 boards. I just looked at all of them and thought, "Woah, Nellie. Slow it down there, lady." That is a lot of pinning time. Pace yourself...a few boards are usually plenty. Here are some of my favorite pins:

When I started using Pinterest, it seemed to me that it was really just for women, but now more and more guys I know are using it for stuff like house projects (everything from types of kitchen sinks to deck building plans) and others are simply pinning cars they'd like to drive, things they collect or golf courses they want to visit. So, for anyone really, it can be utilitarian or simply fun.

Some of the best recipes I've used lately have come from Pinterest. And like so many other Pinterest users, I've pinned images of kitchen after kitchen that I will most likely never have and gardening projects I know I will never get's fun and definitely inspiring.

A communications professor describes Pinterest like this, which I thought was pretty dead on: "It reminds me of my girlfriends in high school who'd cut stuff out of magazines and pin it up on a wall," he says. "This is the web-based, digital equivalent of that behavior." Yes, I did that in high school and college. It was the 80s.

Access to Pinterest is currently by invitation only, so if you want to join you either request an invite from the company or ask a friend already on it for one. You may certainly comment below with your email if you want me to send you an invite - it seems to work well that way. Like anything else, at first, you'll be really into it (and feel like you should be doing something more productive...blah, blah, blah...) but then you'll calm right on down.

Here are a few good articles on ways people are using Pinterest and how to get started.

Everything you need to know about the internet's newest darling
What the heck is Pinterest and why you should care
27 gorgeous pin boards you need to follow
Why Pinterest is so addictive