Thursday, March 10, 2011

I've Moved!

Please visit me at my new website:

Thank you!

Friday, May 21, 2010

How to Make French Macarons

During a visit to Pierre Hermé's patisserie in Paris last year, I discovered the greatness that is a French macaron and my life changed forever. Dorothy Greenspan recently wrote a fantastic article for the LA Times about macarons and what makes them so special and unique. One taste of a well made macaron and you too will be hooked forever! Since going to Paris every time I craved macarons is obviously not a practical or affordable option, I sent away for Pierre Hermés macaron cookbook and taught myself how to make these little goodies at home. The following recipe is based on his method. Syrup and Tang's website was also really helpful in learning how to avoid common rookie mistakes.

The basic ingredients in macarons not including the filling are sugar, almonds, eggs & flavorings. How precisely you measure your ingredients and how you whip the egg whites will determine the difference between success and defeat. There are two types of meringue that are used to make macarons - French meringue or Italian meringue. The former is egg whites whipped with granulated sugar and and the latter is whipped egg whites cooked with a boiled sugar syrup. Since the Italian meringue is what Pierre Hermé suggests, that is what I go with. I've never tried the French meringue method but I have a hunch it might be less stable and therefore more likely to collapse which can result in a flat or cracked shell.

You will need a few key pieces of equipment: an electronic scale, thermometer, standing mixer, food processor, sifter, pastry bag with a circular tip & heavy duty baking sheets covered in wax paper or a silpat. The electronic scale is a must and I don't know how to make this recipe without it.

Recipe (makes about 50 shells for 25 macarons)

Preheat oven to 180 Celsius (approximately 358 degrees F)

150g Powdered Sugar
150g Peeled Whole Almonds
110 g Room Temperature Egg Whites (older egg whites work better, you can "age" them in your refrigerator for up to 2 days. This reduces the water content in the whites).
150g Sugar
38g Water
2-3 drops of food coloring gel. I used green.

Measure 150 grams each of whole almonds and powdered sugar (some recipes call for ground almonds but I find that whole almonds tend to be fresher and yield a finer texture to the macaron). Pulse in a food processor until very fine and sift mixture to remove any large particles.

Split 110 grams of egg whites into 2 portions of 55 grams each. Place one portion in a standing mixture and add the other half to sifted almond/powdered sugar/food coloring mixture but do not mix.

Measure 150 grams granulated sugar and place in a heavy bottom pan with 38 grams of water and heat until mixture reaches 118 Celsius then remove from heat and cool until temperature reaches 115 Celsius.

While the sugar syrup cools, start the mixer and beat egg whites to soft peaks. Keep the mixer running and when the syrup cools to 115C slowly pour it down the side of the mixer and keep mixing until the meringue cools to 50C. It is important to not over mix the meringue or make it too stiff otherwise the macaron shells will have peaks when you pipe them on to the sheet.

Fold meringue in three additions and mix gently until it flows like lava. A meringue that is too stiff will not flow, another reason to not over whip.

Place macaron mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip and pipe out circles approx 1.5 inch in diameter onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. You can use a small glass or button to trace a circle as well but remember to flip the paper around before piping otherwise the pencil marks will transfer to your shells. It is recommended that you use a heavy duty baking sheet or two stacked sheets. Tap the sheet to remove any air bubbles and allow the shells to dry for 30 minutes. This step gives the shells a firm skin.

Bake shells for 12 minutes. Open and close oven door quickly at the 8 and 5 minute mark. This helps regulate the temperature. The shells should rise a little and develop a crispy ring or feet around the edges.

Allow the shells to cool before removing from the sheet. Sometimes they can stick but don't force them otherwise you will damage the shell. An offset spatula is especially handy here. Using a pastry bag, sandwich the shells together with a little filling. I used white chocolate ganache for this recipe, plain chocolate ganache or flavored buttercream are also popular choices.

As you can see here, the shells are slightly crunchy on the outside but once you take a bite the texture gives way to the soft undercoating and creamy filling, pure heaven.

These macarons are indeed a lot of work to make but they take me to my happy place, standing outside Pierre Hermé's pastry temple in Paris. It's worth the trip.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Glunz de la Costa Sangria


Normally I'm really skeptical when it comes to bottled beverages such as margaritas, mojitos and sangrias since you lose a lot of flavor and quality with these drinks if you don't use fresh fruits. Plus, it's not exactly rocket science to make them from scratch. I was recently given sample bottles of Glunz de la Costa red and white sangria and much to my surprise, I really liked both of them. They offer distinct fruit flavors of mandarin oranges, lemon zest and just the right amount of sweetness. I still prefer homemade sangria but if you don't want to go through the trouble of making you're own sangria, they are really good shortcut options. Pour into a glass, garnish with fresh fruit and soda and you're all set.

I've seen Glunz de la Costa Sangria at Whole Foods near the produce section but now Glunz bottles the sangria for them under a Whole Foods private label. A one liter bottle sells for around $10.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Electronic Food Scale


This gadget will change your life! I originally bought it to weigh out ingredients for baking since I wanted to be precise with my measurements. It made a world of difference in how my pastries turned out. When you scoop out things like flour or brown sugar, it's hard to get the right density - light and airy or packed and full. The food scale eliminates the guess work and all you have to do is pour the ingredients into a container until you hit the right number. I conducted various experiments and discovered that the difference between weighing vs. using measuring cups can be as much as 30%! This can really throw off your recipe. I now look for cookbooks that list recipes in grams or ounces and convert cup measurements as well. The best part is you don't have to rinse your measuring cups between various tasks. This tool is a must have in the kitchen.

I also use the scale to weigh out proper portions of meat, fish, pasta, grains, cereals or whatever I feel like measuring to make sure I don't go overboard on the serving size. This has really helped in the weight loss department as you can keep your portion sizes in check. For example, the proper serving of peanut butter is 2 tablespoons which looks like a decent amount but if you weigh the 34 grams serving size, it's about 50% less. You think you're eating 200 calories but in fact, you're really getting a lot more than you bargained for.

There are different types of scales on the market but look for one that is easy to use and more importantly, easy to clean. Most of them measure in ounces and grams but check to see if the scale can do both, otherwise you'll spend uneccessary time converting. A high weight capacity is also really helpful in order to weigh heavier items like potatoes or squash or use larger bowls. I use an 11lb capacity OXO scale at home that I purchased for $50 and it works like charm.

As for a progress update, I've lost a total of 6 pounds since starting my new eating plan on Feb 15th. This morning, I felt a huge difference in my energy level as I jumped out of bed at 6:30, which is really early for me. Normally, I'm in a deep slumber until at least 8:30. I have also been hitting the gym five days a week and alternate between strength training, cardio and spinning classes. Classes work best for me as I'm challenged by the peer pressure and my competive nature maks me work harder. Spending an hour on the treadmill or Precor machine is pure torture for me and I give up well before I should.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Skinny Parsnip Soup

I love parsnips, especially this time of year when they are super sweet. Parsnips look like an albino carrot and the flavors are somewhat similar except parsnips are spicier. It seems that the most common preparation for parsnips is to mash or puree them with copious amounts of butter and cream sort of like potatoes. There's certainly nothing wrong with this but we're trying to be healthy here. Plus I find that if you add too much butter and cream, you can't really taste the parsnips.

Last night, I reached for the bag of parsnips that were sitting in my refrigerator and decided to turn them into something soothing and comforting for dinner but without all the fat and calories. I had such good luck with Martha's Cauliflower Soup so I figured why not apply the same technique to the parsnips and make a soup. I cut the parsnips into a fine dice so they would cook quickly and sauteed them with onions along with a tiny amount of olive oil in a nonstick pan. After the parsnips were soft, I added chicken stock and adjusted the seasonings with salt and pepper. I covered the pot and let the mixture cook on medium heat until the parsnips were uber soft (about 15 minutes). This mixture was then transferred to a deep bowl to be pureed with an immersion blender. I prefer a thicker soup but you can always add more chicken stock if you prefer a more soupy texture.

As with the cauliflower soup, I added brown rice to the soup and ended up something that resembled a creamy risotto. Roasted chicken breast was my protein but grilled salmon or even pork would be delicious here too.

If you were to do the full throttle preparation of parsnips with cream and butter, I would recommend a rich, buttery, oaky Chardonnay. The butter and cream rounds out the soup but without these fats we have a dish that is much sweeter and calls for a wine with good, clean fruit. We can stay with Chardonnay but I would recommend a non-oaked style. Many non-oaked Chards can be hollow and tart but the Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay ($26) is perfect. Fermented in stainless steel, the wine features tons of tropical fruit notes and the finish is fresh and clean. Even if you don't like Chardonnay and prefer the clean zip of Sauvignon Blanc or dry Rieslings, my guess is you'll probably enjoy this wine.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Martha Stewart's Creamless Cauliflower Soup


Martha Stewart had an entire show devoted to making soups earlier this week. She included her recipe for Cauliflower soup which caught my eye because it seemed fairly easy to make and low in fat and calories. I tried it out last night and it was delicious! There is no cream in the soup but it tastes really rich and satisfying. I also added some brown rice and roasted chicken breast to turn it into a substantial meal.

And speaking of brown rice, there's a commercial for microwaveable brown rice playing on TV right now. It features a group of office coworkers enjoying lunch together and talking about how long it takes to cook brown rice - at least 45 minutes! Brown rice does take a long time to cook but I use a rice cooker and make 2 cups at a time. It's fairly sturdy so it lasts several days in my refrigerator and I can portion out what I need a little at a time.

But back to the soup. Here is the recipe for it. I reduced the oil to 2 tablespoons and skipped the croutons and fried parsley garnish. I also used regular onions instead of shallots because I didn't have any on hand. I also didn't bother with the straining part and the texture came out fine.

At Everest, Chef Joho worked with cauliflower quite often so I'm used to pairing it with wine. Cauliflower features a sweet earthy component that I find melds beautifully with the tropical fruit and earth notes of Alsace Pinot Gris, but nothing too over the top sweet.

Something along the lines of Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris ($24) would do.

A riper Oregon Pinot Gris such as A to Z would also be nice ($14)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time to Get Healthy!


mmm...delicious smoked salmon from Jerry's Famous deli in South Beach

I have always been fascinated by my sense of taste and according to my mother, my love affair with food goes back to even before I was born. She claims she never ate so much as when she was pregnant with me. As an infant, I would voraciously consume bottle after bottle of milk. At age two, I would climb on top of the kitchen counter in order to steal the bowl of sugar. This was also around the time I got into a fist fight with my cousin over a bunch of grapes. When I was three, I was mesmerized by the cookies featured on a TV commercial and I became angry after I couldn't get them out of the TV console. During family gatherings, I was the first to line up at the buffet to get served. When most children watched cartoons, I watched cooking shows on PBS. Instead of playing house, I would pretend to have my own restaurant. If I needed to be bribed or compensated for doing a good job in school, my parents would take me out to dinner. When I was sixteen, I didn't speak to my brother for one month after I found out he ate my slice of carrot cake. When my mother asked me what I wanted for my 21st birthday, I requested a spice rack. Even today, my husband knows that perfume and accessories don't cut it with me - the magic password is All Clad. It's really no surprise that I ended up with a career in food and wine. I was born to this job.

I was put on my first diet when I was ten. My mother would concoct all sorts of weird food schematics for me to stick to. When I 12, there was the grapefruit juice diet which inadvertantly led to the first time I became intoxicated. It was at a religious function where drinking was not allowed but that didn't stop my aunt from spiking the carton of grapefruit juice she found in the refrigerator with vodka. Little did she know that her secret stash belonged to me. I drank a good portion of the carton and since grapefruit juice already tasted bitter to me I couldn't tell that it had been altered. My family couldn't figure out why I kept crying but they finally realized that is was because my juice had been contaminated and I was drunk. My mother would go on to other diet plans with shakes, powders and what not. She even enlisted the help of outside sources, Ms. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Herbalife. I would lose a few pounds but then the siren of good things to eat would call me back. This cycle would repeat itself in various reincarnations well into my adulthood.

Despite all of this, I have been fairly content and comfortable in my skin. It's a little frustrating when you pick out things to try on at a clothing store and they don't fit the way you imagined in your head but you work with it. And sometimes you get those unflattering photos of yourself but everyone has those. I was ready to make peace with my physique until I heard the news that my beloved Uncle had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. This would make him the fourth person in my immediate family who would now have to live with this awful disease. I remember my grandmother having to prick her finger to test her blood for sugar and even though she said it didn't hurt, it was really painful to watch some you love go through that.

Hearing about my Uncle is enough of an incentive for me to get healthier. With the help of my doctor, I'm focused on getting in shape, eating better and working on dropping some pounds. Of course, I still want to enjoy good food and you can certainly do so by getting creative in the kitchen.

Over the next few months, I will let you know how I'm doing and post any recipes that I find to be extremely tasty along with wine pairings. Being surrounded by food and wine all day makes this challenge an uphill battle but the payoff will be a healthier me.