Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Make a Fancy-Schmancy E-Menu

It's 9:00 pm, and I'm writing this blog post with extremely sore feet.  I spent today and yesterday shopping and cooking in 90+ degree heat, and I feel like my pores are clogged with either sweat, flour, or grease.  Aside from purchasing all of my ingredients from Costco, Whole Foods (which refuses to stop raping my wallet), and Albertsons, my kitchen has already toiled away making:
-homemade lemon ricotta cheese
-almond tuiles
-homemade candied apple ice cream
-vanilla buttermilk cake
-world peace cookie dough
-2 pounds of fresh tagliatelle pasta (rolled out by hand, mind you)
-poached apples

Tomorrow, the day before the dinner I'll be...
-baking off the world peace cookies
-shelling and deveining shrimp
-marinating said shrimp
-prepping veggies and the pork loin
 -making the brandy apple caramel sauce
-making orange vinaigrette
-cooking 2 pounds of bacon
-practicing how to properly shape a quenelle
-grilling corn and bell peppers for the crostini

Needless to say I don't have the willpower or strength within me to write an exhaustive post about food, so instead I'll be showing you how to impress some frivolous friends with a dinner party e-vite such as this one!  

Okay first off go to Photoshop (if you don't have or want to pay for Photoshop, I'm quite certain GIMP, which is a free program can do the exact same thing; however this tutorial will be tailored for Photoshop users).  We're going to be opening up a new blank canvas on which we will create our masterpiece.

I like to do a 50 by 50 inch canvas- don't worry, the final piece isn't going to be that big (we'll be cropping it down to size), but it's better to be safe and start off with a huge canvas.  


Now a word about the picture you use- you want one that is a direct overhead view of your food/subject, with a plain neutral background.  This will give you an easier time, and if you don't have any good pictures in your library, I'm sure there's a stock photo floating around the internet that will do.

Open your picture in photoshop...

And simply drag and drop it onto your new canvas. 

Now our next task is to expand the background of your image so you have a place to write your text.  I will note that there are literally dozens (if not hundreds) of ways to perform a task in Photoshop and GIMP due to the staggering amount of tools and features they offer, so I'm only going to show you the method I personally know how to use.

Click on the clone stamp tool.  Like its name suggests, the clone tool takes one part of image, and copies it (or clones it) to another spot.  In this case, we're going to be cloning the cloth background.

Now in order to replicate the cloth as seamlessly as possible (versus blotchy and obvious), make sure you set the hardness to 0%.


Now here's the part that will take some practicing.  Spot an area that you wish to clone.  Alt+click on that area.  Now move your mouse to the area where you want this area to be cloned.  Click and drag your mouse around and that voila!  You've just used the clone stamp tool!

Now just keep on going...
Until you've got this!
Now time to start adding text- click on the text tool...

And click wherever you want some text and start typing.  You'll notice that every time you create a new group of text it appears as a new layer.  If you want to edit pre-existing text, make sure that layer is selected in the layer menu (on the right side) first, click on the text tool, and then click on the text you want to edit.
If you want to change the size or placement, click on the layer corresponding to that text in the layer menu, and press Command + T.  It will box the text and give you anchors to adjust the size and will allow you to move it around.  When you're finished, press Enter to exit the transformation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 which I plan my most daring meal yet

Lately I've been frustrated by the kind of food I've been making lately.  I love you family, but cooking for 25+ is a pain in the ass, and I'm always limited by what I can make due to the need for feeding the masses.  I've always dreamed of going all out on a very special dinner for once, with multiple courses- a meal I can say I am extremely proud to have cooked.  That is why for my final dinner before leaving for school I'm going all out for a small group.  This is my excuse to cook for 3-4 days straight with reckless abandon, and lose myself in a craft I have been practicing for the majority of my life.  Evidently, it's also a reason for me to start using excessively flowery language in my blog posts.

Now on to the menu...

I think menu planning is the bane of my amateur culinary existence.  This took me three (3!) days to plan, damnit.  It's trying to find a way to venture into the daunting universe of incorporating fine dining into my cooking, when I'm so used to beef and chicken.  In the 10 or so years that I have been seriously cooking, this will be my very first time roasting a loin of pork (though that in itself isn't really a fine dining accomplishment)

poorly drawn venn diagram

While California affords the luxury of almost year-round produce, I actually decided to do what I should have done a long time ago and plan a seasonal menu.  Since we are almost at the cusp of fall (well, actually it's a month away, but august --> september is a big step to me)  I came up with the idea of a transitional menu.  Starting off with in season summer produce as the appetizer/first course, and ending with fall's best offerings for dessert.  After making sure I had the dictionary definition down pat, I named the menu Equinox, in honor of the theme.  By this point I was giving myself multiple back pats to make me feel better about the fact that this is what I do on a summer night. 

Since each course gradually moved towards fall ingredients, I renamed the appetizers as August, the entree as September, and dessert as October.  As I typed that up at 1:15 a.m. I was stupidly giddy and bouncing in my chair in excitement.  I felt like I was about to run a real restaurant, which as I think back is an emotional accomplishment of sheer delusion.  While I finally feel I'm creeping out of my comfort zone onto more adventurous culinary waters, it could also just be that the copious amounts of adjectives on the menu I typed up is very well feeding my ego. 

I wanted to include produce that only tastes legitimately good in summer- in this case sugary, juicy, cherry tomatoes, bright yellow corn, and vibrantly red bell peppers.  Since there's a half gallon of whole milk in the fridge (and I can only stomach skim), some house made ricotta will be in order for the crostini.  That paired with a light salad with roasted shrimp should be pretty good as far as first courses go.

This was a bit on the tougher side to come up with... What entree makes you immediately think of autumn?  Roast duck legs? A bit too rich.  Beef or chicken?  Too common.  Pork Loin?  Perfect, but a bit foreign to me.  I'll be playing it safe by just roasting it with some vegetables and herbs, and making an apple cider reduction. 

I also desperately wanted to use some mushrooms, and after a bit of foodgawking, I saw an awesome idea for a simple roasted mushroom pasta with wilted spinach.  While in my heart I knew fresh pasta would be the bee's knees, I couldn't even stomach all of the time intensive sweatiness I would have to go through, since pasta dough for me has always been like trying to roll out a rubber band.  However, after doing some research, I realized that I have been using a crappy pasta recipe all along, and after a test run today, I am recklessly doing hand made tagliatelle for the side dish.

When I think of fall fruit I think pears, apples, and cranberries.  Problem is, the only think I could remotely come up with to do with them was a fruit crisp, or crumble... that's a bit of a cop out after all of the dishes preceding it.  Just a simple crisp, when my main goal is to go outside my boundaries.  Sure, it'll probably be tasty, but it's disappointing after all the effort I went through for all the other courses. 

I then remembered the trials and tribulations of Carole's experience in the French Laundry at Home, in which she makes Keller's Candied Apple.  I surely knew I might stick my head into the oven if I tried to pull that off in its entirety, so I'm doing a slight mockery semi-tribute to it.  Buttermilk cake, with a poached apple on top, some cinnamon gelato, and an almond tuile on top.  Somehow if I find the time and resources I may spring for homemade apple ice cream instead of making a pit stop at the gelateria. 

UPDATE: I'm springing for homemade candied apple ice cream.

You probably know the korova cookies better as Dorie Greenspan's infamous, and utterly addictive World Peace cookies.  To tie in to the autumn theme, I'm incorporating cranberries and a hint of cinnamon. 

So there we have it... A full menu where the only thing I'm not making is a baguette for the crostini...

Saturday, September 1st, 10 people, 7:00 pm.  It's on.

Oh and by the way, here are some of my favorite standbys for a dinner soundtrack

Beyond the Sea by Robbie Williams
Bella Luna by Jason Mraz
Don't Know Why by Norah Jones
Quando, Quando, Quando by Michael Buble (or anything Buble)
The Ratatouille Soundtrack by Michael Giacchino

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Brûléed French Toast

Brunch-a-tize Me 

Every year I hold two big brunches: one during summer, and the other during winter when I'm home on break from school.  It's a massive undertaking, one person cooking for sometimes thirty-five to forty people, but in the end, I'm left with an excuse to eat copious amounts of bagels and belgian waffles.  Plus, there's nothing more relaxing (or repulsive, you be the judge) than napping off a food coma in an air-conditioned house at 1:00 PM on a Sunday.  

el menu

You'll notice that usually the menu doesn't change at all whenever I make brunch, because

1)  I need to justify the purchase of a waffle maker, and
2)  I don't mess with something that isn't broken.

 (Recipes for Belgian Waffles, Oeufs en Cocotte, and Vegetable Cream Cheese)

And here was my approximate schedule for those who ask how I pulled this off...

   Go shopping for the big stuff at Costco; sausages, nice plates, berries, butter, heavy cream, eggs;
   place an order for mini croissants at the best bakery ever (Au Couer de Paris)
   Family vacation in SLO
Saturday Afternoon:
   Go to the Asian Market, Albertsons, and Party City for everything else I need
Saturday Evening:
   Cousin's birthday celebration at Cham Sut Gol (all you can eat korean bbq)
Saturday Night (9:00PM~1:00AM)
   Make waffle batter, saute leeks and bacon for eggs, make fruit smoothies, cut fruit and assemble
   platter, make vegetable cream cheese, make spice muffins, macerate berries for waffles, whip the        the cream, clean the kitchen, and conk out       
Sunday Morning:
  6:15 AM: groggily wake up and realize that I didn't take out my contacts last night hence my eyes
                   being glued shut.  Profusely moisturize with eye drops before brushing teeth and getting
  6:30 AM: assemble all 50 individuals oeufs en coccote; empty the dishwasher
  7:15 AM: go pick up the croissants, buy smoked salmon from whole foods, and pick up bagels
  8:00 AM: realize the spice muffins are bland, so make a quick cinnamon butter; assemble smoked
                   salmon platter; continuously wash dishes so the kitchen stays clean
  9:00 AM: set up the buffet and all the tables outside; bar with champagne, juice, and plastic flutes
                   are arranged
  9:30 AM: sear and slice the sausages and tent under foil; put the breads, jams, spreads on the table
 10:00 AM: realize I have nothing left to do so watch tv for 45 minutes; realize that the Pioneer
                   Woman is a terrible show
 10:45 AM: Put the oeufs en cocotte in the oven
 11:00 AM: Start making waffles; guests start to arrive; take the eggs out; put the waffles in to warm
                   and crisp up slightly; heat up the sausages as well.
 11:15 AM: Eat, and then clean
 1:00 PM:   Food coma nap

See...  it's easy!

While I absolutely adore a plate of waffles, french toast is just as delicious in my book.  I remember my mom used to make it using wonder bread as a kid with lots of cinnamon, and over time it evolved from skinny slices of eggy goodness to fat little bricks. 

I usually don't go out of my way to measure the ingredients I use in cooking, which becomes a fault on my part when it comes times to post them on the blog.  Usually I use whatever just looks right, so I apologize for any frustrations in advance.

 no syrup necessary

Torching these babies does wonders- it adds an important textural contrast to the soft, eggy toast, while that burnt caramelized top adds an edge to the sweetness of the syrup.  I was also a big fan of the orange and almond combo.

okay, maybe a little

or a lot

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Raspberry & Dark Chocolate Frangipane Tart

How Will You Measure Your Life?

One of the more interesting books I've read this summer for the leadership course I will be helping to teach next year is Clayton Christensen's How Will You Measure Your Life.  It's geared towards an older demographic, but I have to say one of the most relevant pieces of information I found was this following tidbit:

We choose a profession based off of two factors:
  1. Hygiene factors: things that make us not dissatisfied with our job- believe it or not, this includes salary in addition to job security, work conditions, and elements such as an effective management
  2. Motivating factors: the things that really cause us to love our jobs- challenges, recognition,   responsibility, growth, and genuine interest.  While to an extent some hygiene factors or necessary, we will find a truly fulfilling profession based off of motivating factors.
As I was reading this section, I couldn't help but think back to the overly long blog post on my quarter life crisis...  Food and photography gives me genuine interest, but they give little in the way of hygiene factors, and let's face it- there's not a terrible amount of growth and recognition in the food and photography word.  Yet, at the same time, a genuine interest in something can carry you a long way....

Southern California has finally been experiencing a heat wave, and being the idiot I am I picked today to go teach conceptual photography to a friend.  So in ninety degree heat, the two of us hiked up a mountain (for a scenic setting), with me in a long sleeve button up (to look presentable in a photograph), wearing sandals (I wanted to be barefoot in the photos).  By the time we got to the top we were both winded, I was sweating profusely in all the wrong areas, and my feet looked like I had been dancing in a pit of razor blades.

But then I began teaching her how to properly do the Brenizer method, and walked her through a conceptual photography piece- a swarm of paper butterflies emerging from a tattered book into the sunset.  All of that pain we endured going up the mountain became a distant memory.  Three hours later we wrapped the day with a couple of simple portraits, and the last thing I remember doing was taking out my memory card to let her use my camera, and supposedly stashing that little sucker in my pocket. 

When I got home however that memory card was nowhere to be found, and needless to say I was crushed.  I checked the car a good 4 or 5 times, thinking that it would magically appear the next time I opened the door.  I groped the insides of my pockets with the tenacity of a registered sex offender, hoping I would find it there.  After the umpteenth attempt at looking for the damn card, I gave up and eventually faced the truth that the photos I was so looking forward to editing are long lost, along with the pictures for 3 recipes I had shot for this blog that had not been transferred to my computer yet.  I honestly cannot remember the last time I have been so disappointed.

Yet, at the same time I can't help but look at the glass half full.  The fact is, I was able to teach someone something new, and walk her through the steps of something she didn't know how to do before.  As devastated bummed as I am that a memory card full of food pictures and 4 unedited conceptual photography pieces are probably laying somewhere in the bastardly hills of Irvine, I can't deny how satisfied I felt being a teacher.  I'll admit it truly made me happy.

It also doesn't matter that the battle scars on my feet will be causing some discomfort for quite a while, or that my legs are still sore from hiking in sandals that barely have any tread left.  Once I got to the top of the mountain and started photographing, I started doing something that felt fulfilling.  Those motivating factors were doing there thing.

After this ordeal, I did a little thinking- maybe I've been taught that I have to be measuring my life through hygiene factors rather than motivating factors (instead of the other way around).  After all, I went to a school that had a parking lot resembling a luxury car dealership.  I've grown up thinking that money --> happy career --> happy family --> happy life.  In fact, the importance of hygiene factors has become so ingrained into my mind that I genuinely think it is foolish to follow a dream career if it leaves you living paycheck to paycheck and without any time to spend with your family.  Sometimes I wonder to myself why can't I just get the same excitement I get with food and photography out of medicine or computer science... I think life would be a heck of a lot easier :p.

It's no secret that I'm obsessed with frangipane tarts.  I've already made nectarine and black cherry ones in the past, and they always turn out to be winners in my book.  What can I say, almonds make me a happy camper!

Since my food processor broke ages ago and making pie crust by hand can be an annoying clusterf*ck, my trusty KitchenAid came to the rescue, and I have to say, did a pretty damn good job.  The best part is, it's hard to over process butter in a stand mixer compared to a food processor.

I decided to make a double batch of frangipane since I had enough crust for two tarts.  I tried experimenting by baking the second one in a spring form pan so I would get high sides and a tart that resembled an elegant cake.  However, the excess crust collapsed without any filling holding it up, so I ended up with something a bit more... rustic.  It was still delicious and more like an almond-tastic cake rather than a tart, which I liked, but trimming the excess crust will be a duly noted step next time. 

I don't know what it is about raspberry frangipane tarts that make them turn out so ethereal in photographs-  they just kept shimmering in a way that made all my pictures look like a fine painting (not that I'm complaining of course).  I guess that means I'm going to have to make more tarts so I can experiment with different fruit to see if they turn out just as shiny hehe!

And that's the great thing about my love of food and photos- I could wake up and practice them every single day and never get tired or burned out.  Yet here I am complaining to you about how they could never be a feasible career, because I simply measure my life by the wrong standards.  So as you read this post, ask yourself the very same question I've been pondering this past week-

How will you measure your life?

tarte aux framboises et au chocolat (thanks google translate!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dirty Carbonara

I've been frantically, cooking as much as I can the past couple weeks in order to crank out as many posts I can before I leave for school in a month.   A scheduled work day at the library turned into a marathon crepe making session in 90 degree heat... the things I do for you guys ;).

A couple things went wrong when I was making this- I didn't have the patience to roll out each noodle individually, so I made the sheet of pasta as thin as I could and cut out some fettuccine, which wasn't thin enough.  Also, aside from the doughy and thick noodles this was a pretty heavy dish, even by my standards.  Eat with caution.

I don't know what makes a dish qualify as being "dirty", but all I know is that I had a bunch of browned crud stuck to the bottom of my pan.  After a quick deglaze with pasta water, what was supposed to be a normally pale carbonara turned into something more brown and darkly rich. 

after the deglazing

carbs + bacon + eggs + cheese = <3 + (<3 attack)