Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spring has sprung!

Once upon a March, a teeny weeny bunny faced a Daring Bakers challenge. It was the daring Morven's turn to host and she wisely picked a sprightly recipe for us: the Perfect Party Cake by the one and only Dorie Greenspan. Having only salivated at Dorie's books, the bunny was uber excited about the cake, only to despair having no special occasion to bake for.

Though the bunny's birthday is in March, she was away in a foreign land with her beloved sister for the occasion. Fortunately, the Easter holiday came to the rescue! Even though the funny bunny didn't celebrate the holy day, she had plenty of friends who did. The bunny quite liked cake allright, but being pint-sized, the bunny liked all things small and cute. She then decided that instead of baking a large, beautiful cake, she will bake cupcakes because there's really nothing more adorably delicious than cuppy cakes.

But how should the bunny ensure that she follows the challenge rules, for one of the rules is that it has to be a layer cake! Think and think, the bunny did, before she thought, "Eureka! Layer cupcakes!" And layer cupcakes, the bunny made.

She started with the batter, which was easy breezy and a beautiful daffodil yellow, very apt for a springy occasion such as Easter.

To make layer cupcakes, the daring bunny baked the layers separately; she baked half of them in cupcake baking cups and the other half sans paper in the cupcake pan, with only a tablespoon of batter in each.


The mini cupcakes (as if cupcakes weren't mini enough!) rose slightly and were a pretty yellow.

To start the assembly process, the funny bunny laid out the cupcake in a baking cup, which will be the bottom layer.

She then spooned a teaspoonful of luscious strawberry jam and smoothed it over the top...

... before she plopped the paperless cupcake (the top layer) on the jam-frosted cupcake!

And as if this isn't sufficient fabulosity, the bunny decided to be funny and slathered the top with Dorie's decadent vanilla buttercream, only to top it off with a sprinkling of fluffy flaked coconut.

Nothing is more fun than decorating cupcakes, but the bunny couldn't wait to tuck into this darling lemony cake! She split it in half, only to show off that the cupcake crumb is delectable and its layers simply exquisite (if she must say to herself!).

In no time did the greedy bunny polished off the pretty cupcake, leaving only mysterious yellow crumbs and flakes and pink paper on the plate.

Fortunately, the funny bunny managed to hide a bunch more cuppy cakes away from her tummy, so that her friends who celebrate Easter actually had a chance to enjoy them too! Really, she's rather impressed she had this much self-control considering how yummy the cakes were!

Now check out more daring creations of other talented bunnies and chickies that are popping all over the internet here. Please be kind to your computer; prepare some napkins for your mouth in case my friends' pictures are excessively mouth-watering!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Paris in Spring 1- the Mac post

As some of you may already know, I recently spent a long weekend in Paris with my dearest sister. It was a much-needed respite from the usual stresses of work and the daily grind. It was also a just-us-sisters QT getaway that we both wanted to have before real jobs and families get in the way. My sister had been to Paris once but I had never been to the city of lights, so I was uber excited about this spring getaway. And seriously, Paris in spring sounds just positively fabulous, doesn't it?

Overall, it was quite a decadent weekend, what with butter croissants, scrumptious desserts, wonderfully strong coffee and cheesy croques. Despite the calorie overload, I'm rather surprised that I didn't pack on the pounds. I suppose it can be attributed to our extensive walks around the city. Before the trip, I did some research on Robyn's and David's blogs for (what else, but) food recs around Paris. I totally recommend their sites for any Paris restaurants/eateries!

Armed with a list of some twenty restaurants, patissiers and boulangers, my sis and I explored not only Paris' stunning monuments and sights, but also its array of decadent eateries. Can I just add that we were totally gaga over maccarons? We have had maccarons in the US before. As a matter of fact, I tried to make them once but failed miserably. The maccarons in Paris were totally awesome and addictive! French maccarons are not to be mixed up with the American macaroon. American macaroons are basically super dense and super sweet cookies made with flaked coconuts, egg white and tons of sugar. I enjoy these on occasion, but I much prefer the delicate and elegant traditional French ones. French maccarons are basically sandwich cookies, where the cookies are made with ground almonds, egg whites and sugar.

Maccarons are sold everywhere in Paris; and I mean EVERYWHERE, whether it's just a chain bakery or artisan patissiers. The maccaron's status is almost like that of the baguette in France (though not quite, yet). We mostly made our maccaron pilgrimage to the legendary shops we've heard or read of online. The first maccaronerie we visited (or really, stumbled upon) was Ladurée on Rue Royale, the very first Ladurée shop. The bakery was founded by Louis-Ernest Ladurée in 1862 and this is the shop that invented the French maccaron. There was a 5-minute long line when we got there consisting mainly of women clamoring for their legendary baked goodies. Besides maccarons (they're on the top three racks in this picture), Ladurée also sells breads and cakes.

Trying to pace ourselves, we bought merely four mini macs (from leftmost, going clockwise): rose, cassis (blackcurrant), pistachio and caramel. Aren't they just pretty?

Unable to secure a table at Ladurée (they only allow lunch patrons at the time), my sis and I trekked to a nearby cafe and ordered some wonderfully strong French coffee as accompaniment for our macs. As a sidenote, although I don't normally drink coffee, when I do, I love super strong coffee. The French are pretty damn good at making strong cappucinos; its aromatic bitterness is the perfect contrast to the very sweet maccarons.

The Ladurée maccarons were yummy. My favorite was the nutty pistachio and I think I found out that I don't like blackcurrant. I find their cassis maccaron bitter and sweet, though not in a good way. Another maccaronerie we also stumbled upon is Toraya, a Japanese confectioner that has a Salon de Thé in the heart of Paris. Toraya specializes in the Japanese sweets, known as wagashi; but in their Paris branch, they also have maccarons. Unlike other maccaroneries, Toraya's macs have a Japanese twist. Toraya's maccaron offerings include distinctly Japanese flavors such as matcha (green tea), azuki (red bean), kinako (toasted soybean flour), shiro-goma (white sesame) and kuro-goma (black sesame). We tried all five and agreed that we liked all of them. The flavors were strong but not overpowering; the cookies were perfectly crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle; the cookie-to-filling ratio was just nice. Unfortunately, my hands were slower than my mouth because I didn't get to take a picture of these wonderful macs. But if you're in Paris, this is hands-down one of the maccarons to try!

Kitty corner from Toraya was another dessert bar/Salon de Thé, Jean-Paul Hevin that a friend recommended. The shop was inconspicuous and we almost missed it if we hadn't been looking so hard. There were so signs on the front door or window, just a little white piece of wood jutting out the wall of the shop. Upon entering the shop, I thought we got it wrong. It felt very much like an exclusive haute couture boutique or something like that! The counter was full of pretty dessert creations, lined up neatly like little soldiers. Shelves carried the signature truffles in beautiful blue tin cans and cookies in elegant boxes. Again, I tried out some maccaron; I think it was green apple and praline that I tried. Both were chocolatey and I couldn't taste the actual flavors they claimed to be. I guess it's to be expected as JP Hevin is really famous for his chocolate creations. My sister chose one of his meringue chocolate creations that was reminiscent of a giant, fluffy Ferrero Rocher. It was a chewy meringue surrounded with a crisp layer of cookie (I think), that's then chocolate-drizzled and sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts.
I must say that although the macs weren't my favorite, I regret not getting some of his legendary chocolates! Well, there's always next time...

Ok, now, for the maccaron highlight of my life (so far, I hope), I present to you Fetish! Please rid yourself of any naughty thoughts now, I'm not that kind of girl! If you're a French pastry enthusiast, you probably know what I'm talking about. It is a theme that was launched by the legendary pattisier, Pierre Herme in 2006, to celebrate his "favorite tastes, sensations and epicurean delights". Now doesn't that sound simply pleasurable? And lucky me happened to be in Paris for his first Fetish of the year, and the theme is "Ispahan" this time around.

Ispahan is PH's most famous creation thus far. I've heard about and seen pictures of it all over the blogosphere, only to despair at not being able to taste this mythic pastry ... until now, that is! Ispahan is actually a clear pink, half-open Damask rose originating in the Middle East. Its name is derived from Isfahan, a city in Iran. In the pastry world, Ispahan is basically a novel combination of the flavors of rose syrup, lychee and raspberry that was created by who else, but Pierre Herme himself. We almost didn't make it to his shop because we left it until the last day (I can't believe I actually did this! We should've gone there on our first day!), but fortunately, we had some spare time on our last day to make our pilgrimage to his shop in St. Germain.

Everything about the shop was beautiful. As I went in, I felt like I was entering a box of precious jewels. The walls were a dark, deep chocolate, providing contrast to the bright pastries on the counter and the boxes of cookies and chocolates on the shelves. The store had gone Ispahan-crazy and so did I. There were many Ispahan creations, including cakes, nougats and tea. The PH packaging was also very simple and clean. Guess what I have in my box?

Okay, if you're not jealous yet, check out the loot I had in it!

Now, what about this angle? *winks*

There are really no apt words to describe this genius creation. It was delicious and the flavor combination was definitely more than the sum of its parts. It just simply, magically works! Of course, it helps that the cookies were baked to perfection and it was just so darn pretty! I also like the symbolism of the Ispahan; it combines flavors and ideas across multiple cultures: the maccaron (French), rose (Middle-Eastern), lychee (Asian) and raspberry (Western). I haven't tasted a better pastry ... yet, I hope. If there is a perfect dessert taste-wise and ideologically, the Ispahan is IT! You may think I'm crazy for waxing poetic about a pastry like this, but the Ispahan has inspired me to re-try making macs at home again soon :)

Of course, one maccaron from PH isn't sufficient to judge his genius, right? Here's our other set of loot (from top to bottom, left to right): olive oil, apricot, 2 Ispahans, vanilla and jasmine. They were all very delicious and beautiful. The apricot and Ispahan macs had a shiny, silvery sheen on the cookies. The idea of the olive oil mac was a bit weird but the flavor was very nice. I could definitely taste the olive oil but it wasn't icky or savory at all. I love jasmine tea and I wasn't at all disappointed by the jasmine mac. Its aroma was pleasant and the jasmine flavor was delicate.

It's quite unfortunate that maccarons are so fragile and delicate. I suppose that's part of its appeal too. If they weren't so delicate, I would've bought boxes of them, enough to sustain me for a few months. After being so spoiled for choice for a few days in Paris, I was yearning for some mac action back here in Chicago. Upon my return, while I was grocery shopping, I remembered that a French-style bakery in the same shopping complex had maccarons. I had one of their pistachio creations and was rather disappointed. It was nicely chewy but it didn't have a nice crisp layer at all. The creamy filling wasn't flavorful enough and the whole mac was ever-so-slightly soggy. You probably think that I've probably snobbed up, having had the best macs in the world. Maybe so, maybe not. I suppose I'll always have Paris...

Ladurée Royale
16, rue Royale, 75008 Paris

10, Rue Saint-Florentin, 75001 PARIS

Jean-Paul Hévin
231, rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris

Pierre Hermé
72, rue Bonaparte Paris 75006

Friday, March 21, 2008


I just returned from a whirlwind weekend trip with my sister and although I enjoyed it thoroughly, I am glad to be back. "What?!?" you say, "Another trip?"

Yes, I know, I know. I also just recently returned from a two-week-long homecoming to Asia for Chinese New Year and I shouldn't be taking time off again so soon! But anyway, my sister and I have planned it for some time and we get so little time to spend together, just the two of us, that we just did it! So, watch out for that post soon.

But anyway, my dear fellow Hyde Park blogger Coco, was so very sweet to give me this prize. I feel so undeserving but am so very honored *blush*


Like Coco, I'd like to pass on this prize to fellow food bloggers I admire and respect. It's a tough one because there are so many great food bloggers out there, but here goes...

First, I'd like to recognize Christina of She Runs, She Eats, a fellow Midwestern foodie and runner. It's quite fun to find foodie bloggers out there who are also training for races.

Then there's Sylvie, an absolutely adorable German lady living across the pond popularly known as the Atlantic Ocean, who makes a lot of awesome British-style food. Like her, I think there's nothing that a freshly-brewed pot of tea can't solve *winks*

Jess is a wonderful SAHM and fellow knitter who recently started her blog.

So, those are just a few of the deserving bloggers of this prize! Yippee!

Anyway, I recently encountered an absolutely rad music video during my travels. The music is super funky, by Martin Solveig, a French electronica musician. I found the dancers in this video quite "sick" (in a good way) and uber cool. It's also quite appropriate for Easter as it features a rather large egg prominently. Check it out and towards the end, an adorable little prize emerges out of the egg! Happy Easter to one and all!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Top chef madness

March has come around and unlike many others who experience March basketball madness, my madness is over the new season of Top Chef. The inaugural 4th season episode premiered last night and it didn't disappoint. Contestants were thrown into the kitchen for a quick-fire challenge barely hours after they scoped out their rivals. And to honor the host city's food tradition, the first challenge involves making their own signature deep dish pizza, which they just enjoyed for lunch.

As usual, the show moved at breakneck speed and the chefs tried both true-and-tried classics (like sausage, onion and mushroom combo) and the seemingly absurd (think vegemite and peaches on a pizza?). This might seem out of the point, but I really like soundtrack of the show; a little bit electronica, kind of jazzy and very upbeat. Next time you're watching, listen in.

Anyway, Chicago chef Stephanie Izard won the first challenge (yay!), but for me, the highlight of last night's episode was the oh-so-dreamy guest judge, Rocco DiSpirito. I mean, really, he's so scrumptious!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Survey time :)

Hi folks!

My friend and I have been super busy with and excited about our business idea lately. We are going to join a business competition with it and currently, besides working on starting it up, we would like to learn more about our market. The idea is food-based (of course!) and is basically about letting you customize nutrition bars according to you own taste and nutritional needs. We would love to listen to the customers' taste and needs, so this is where you come in! We would like you to fill a short online survey that can be found here.

Unfortunately, being struggling graduate students, we cannot pay you for your invalueable opinions, but we can offer you our eternal gratitude for your kindness. Please feel free to spread the survey around to friends and family who might be interested. Thank you again and have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Devilled egg: simple party food with staple ingredients

A friend graciously invited a bunch of us for the Project Runway finale viewing at her place. Our Molecular Nutrition graduate program is famous (or is it notorious?) for loving our food. I mean, seriously, Nutrition program equals food, right? :)

Well, anyway, it was a potluck and I decided to bring something salty instead of my usual forays into the land of desserts. This is not my first time making these devilled eggs. I first made these for another friend's wine party earlier this year. Devilled eggs are no-fuss to make and are so delicious and nutritious; they belong in every party tray. Here's how I made mine...

Start with some nice-looking eggs.

Place the eggs in a pot and cover with room temperature water.

Next, bring water to a roiling boil and let the eggs boil for 5 minutes. Then, put the pot lid on and leave for 10 minutes.

Pour hot water out of pan and to make it cool faster, add tap water into the pot and leave for 5 minutes.

Next, peel the eggs. This is probably the most time-consuming part of the recipe, but I figured out a simple way to do it. Tap the egg on a hard surface lightly until it is cracked all over (and I mean ALL OVER). Now, start peeling from a spot. I was able to peel the egg easily, by pulling out the membrane layer underneath the shell. For one egg, I peeled off the shell in one piece ;)

Cut each egg lengthwise.

Scoop out the yolk into a medium-sized bowl and place the "hollowed" egg white shell on a platter with "hollowed" face up.

Once you've cut and scooped out all the eggs, mash the yolks. Add salt, pepper, paprika and Dijon mustard to your taste. You can add some mayo if you'd like it to be smoother. If you're piping out the mashed yolk mixture, it's recommended that you add the mayo for easier piping.

Scoop about a teaspoon of mashed yolk mixture on the hollowed egg white. If you want to be fancy schmancy, you can pipe the yolk mixture on.

At the end, garnish with a dash of paprika, sprig of dill or a sliver of chive. For a more substantial bite, you can top each with a teeny weeny slice of smoked salmon.

Now, isn't that a fierce?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What a difference a day (or two) makes...

It's Tuesday in Chicago and winter has returned. Not that it went away for that long. This past Sunday was gloriously beautiful! Think mid-50ish Fahrentheit weather, little wind, partly sunny (or partly cloudy, depending on how you look at it). Even though I had to trek in to work for a few hours, I made sure I came home early enough so there's a few hours of daylight left. I surprised myself by hauling my lazy butt out of the apartment for a 3+ mile run along the lake, something that I sorely needed. The fresh, brisk air felt so good on my face and I miss having a hard ground underneath me to run on.

But come Monday, old man winter's back. How cruel of him to tease us with a taste of spring, only to return howling down on us the next day! Well, at least it's sunny ... sort of.

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