Jul 31, 2007

He/She: Just Desserts

She: Besides cheese, we did other foody things in Berkeley for Mark's b-day. We went on the Sharffenberger tour, for starters. (and mark looked oh-so-snazzy in his paper hairnet). We tasted lots of chocolate, learned about cocao, and how they actually build their own chocolate instead of buying it. Meaning, they go straight from the bean.

He: Okay I have a point of clarification about that. They don't build the chocolate...it's not like it's a building that needs to be constructed. Cut into it's simplest terms they make a completely smooth mixture of roasted cacao beans and added cocoa butter in bar form. There's a ton more complexity to it, but heck if I really know what that is.

She: OMG. Thats incredibly picky on word choice. And you build up layers of paint in a painting, you build the complexity of an image, you build flavors in food (I've heard you say that)...I'm right, you doofus. :P

She: we also went to two dessert places. For immediate gratification, we went to Ciao Bella Gelato. I must say, I loved their selection. The colors were like a beautiful pallete. I tried quite a few flavors before succumbing to one scoop of Jasmine Cassis and one of Passionfruit sorbet. Lovely. They were both tangy, and while sweet, filled with lots of fruit flavor. The jasmine stayed on the back of my tongue for hours and is my new favorite flavor.

He: What did I have? Mocha somethingarether and pistachio. They were good...it was nice to have actual gelato(which does seem like an actual treat). Honestly it still doesn't hold a candle to the joint that we used to go to in Atlanta that Alon's owns.
She: Well...I didn't have the gelato, I had sorbet, and THAT was better than any atlanta or other sorbet I've had. But yeah, nothing beats Alon's gelato yet. sniff, sniff...

She: The other dessert place we went to was Love at First Bite. The cupcakes came in interesting flavors like ginger or pistachio chocolate, but alas, the didn't have each every day. We picked up a four-pack for home. The lady at the register was really sweet, but I have to say that if there was anything that was a tad off-putting, it was the chef. She was a tad curt...and I was overflowing with cupcake adoration (but not in a scary stalker way), so it was baffling. At home I tried to lemon pistachio, which while the lemon cake was good, the icing was almost...chalky. I dunno. I didn't dig it too much, but it was a flavor adventure. The one I truely adored was the strawberry. The cake was light and pink, and the icing was sweet and crammed full of tart strawberry flavor. It was amazing.

He: Yeah, you'd think that someone that owns a shop that is dedicated to sweet little cake pastries would be more positive. The woman was cold...distant...and rude(typical cali). The cupcakes were nice, very nicely made...but after looking at their site, and reading their menu I wasn't really all that impressed by any of it. If you're going to specialize in just one foodstuff, be great at it...not just good.

Jul 28, 2007

He: Oh toaster how I shall continue to long for you...

Yeah, I didn't get the Dualit toaster that I'd been asking for over the last couple of months. How much joy would I have really gotten out of the thing? Would it have become the latests kitchen albatross like our yogurt maker? We may never know. What we do know is that Berkeley is a fantastic place that has an incredible love for food. We also know that something as simple as a little disk of bread dough can bring me back to my childhood. More on this last part later...

We went to Berkeley for my birthday, because we really needed to get out of this town(which seems to only excel and being spectacularly mediocre). A wonderful woman that used to work with me over at the coop, Jill, gave us this great little map of all of her favorite spots to go while in Berkeley. Why follow the map of someone that could be completely MAD!?...what the hell...what do we know of this place...besides how bad could it be? She listed this fantastic little Jewish deli that we plan to go and check out next time that we're there...Chez Panisse, and this place called the Cheese Board Collective.

I've never been anywhere that had such an incredible selection of cheese. There's this amazing little bar in Georgetown that has 700 some odd beers, but a place that probably has that many cheeses?! unhead of.....and they let you taste ANYTHING(definitely not a possibility with the beer joint). [By the way the beer place in Georgetown is called The Brickskellar(sp.) if you ever make it over to our nation's capital and need to find the Mecca of beer.] Everything about this place just made me happy..from the board proclaiming all of the cheeses that they had available that day(as you can see from the pic, you almost can't read them all...there's just too damn many), to the breads that were being baked perpetually while we were there....to the incredible pizza shop that they run a couple of doors down. We were in love with this place as soon as we walked by it. Yeah...we were famished by the time we got to Berkeley, thanks to a rediculous traffic jam in Sacramento that stranded us for 4 HOURS....so we went for the pizza first.

I LOVE this little place. They have the concept of what a restaurant should be down pat. Offer just one thing to eat. Yeah...screw the Friday's or Applebees, or whatever concept you want..of offering 85 bazillioin badly made things and just do 1 thing great. The one pizza that they were offering that day was mozzarella, feta, roma tomatoes, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, and cilantro. We ordered a 1/2 pie and ate the whole thing(just barely)...and it was worth every last remaining bite. At just $9 for that half it was also a really good deal. I could continue to wax poetically about this place for at least a couple more paragraphs, but Brandy would kill me for making this post way too long...so I'll stop.

I know that Brandy was just overwhelmed by all of the cheese at the main shop. (When loading the blog Brandy writes in this thought: I looooooove cheeeeeeese). Their selection was very impressive....okay...it was too much for me too (and I know a good bit about cheese...although most of my knowledge is in American atrisanal cheeses, and Italian cheeses....with highlights in just a few of the bigger known ones of the world). They had a huge selection of foreign cheese, with just a little bit from bay area producers(which is a little disappointing. You'd think that with Chez Panisse right across the street from them that they'd be pushing local with a vengeance too???...hmm). I tried to steer things towards cheese that I thought that Brandy might like(my personal tastes and hers are not always the same...I like having the richness of a soft ripened cheese with the sharpness of bacterial bloom in the background, she tends to like things a little less aggressive). (Again, Brandy interjects: I think my tastes are generally MORE aggressive with hard cheeses like sharp, cave aged gruyere's where most of his hard cheeses are...milder. He just goes more tangy with soft cheeses) So I tried to let her pick out all of the cheese...mostly because I was completely enamored with the smile and the gleam in her eyes as she tried each new cheese. The woman that was helping us was very gracious, very friendly, incredibly helpful..and completely unlike what we would have found in Sacramento, very polite. Overall it left such an increbly positive feeling in us for the whole experience. We just can't wait to go back.

Okay, so what was the point about the little dough round that sparked memories of my childhood? Well while we were stuck in traffic..listening to the radio...something in my head thought back to living in Chicago and to this weird little Jewish bread thing that I hadn't had since leaving there. They're called bialys, and they're just little rounds of dough with some ingredients on top of them...kind of bagel-shaped, but without the hole. I can remember living in Chicago and going with the family out somewhere to a shop that just made these things and nothing else. They'd have every topping under the sun on them...but the only ones at that point in my life that I wanted had sauce and cheese, just like a pizza. As I was thinking about these little disks while we sat in traffic...I tried to come up with the word for what they were called(simply so that I could try and look them up on the internet..and maybe make them someday)...and it just hit me. Coincidentally...someone out there remind me to make them and I will do it...and post the results...with troubleshooting tips. it was the very last food that I thought that I'd find 2000 miles away from when I'd had them last. It was the last thing that I'd thought that I'd have 24 years since the last time that I'd had them. it was this stupid little round of dough, topped with roasted onion and poppy seeds that brought me closer to childhood than anything has in recent memory.

Thank god for Berkeley. Thank god for the Cheese Board Collective on Shattuck in Berkeley. Thank god for bialys, and thank god for those great childhood memories of Chicago.

Jul 21, 2007

She: Caaaake

Well, Mark still hasn't gotten off his keister and finished his blogs, so I'm posting this one. Preparations for Mark's b-day were a little harrowing. I went ALL out and got him a whole Star-Wars ensemble for the table, including streamers and all...and forgot wrapping paper. So I got creative with wrapping some presents with grocery bags...
Owls are birthday-ish, right? Well, in between cutting bag parts, I made cakes. Yes, CAKES, plural. I made a lemon cake for Erika (her bday too) and a chocolate almond cake for Mark, upon request. I've given a lemon recipe before, so I'm gunna dive into the chocolate one here, which is a little different, since its a Vegetarian chocolate cake...not because I don't eat dead things, I do (hope I don't offend, shrug), but because Vegan/veggie chocolate cake TASTES better. More chocolate, less sugar. So here we go:
Chocolate Cake Recipe
3 C. flour, 2 C sugar, 6 tbs dark cocoa, 2 tsp b. soda, 1 tsp salt, 2 C water, 3/4 c. veggie oil, 2 tbs vinegar, 2 tsp vanilla. Put into 2 nine inch cake pans, bake for 40 mts at 350F. I actually did one cake pan, and made cupcakes that I cooked for 20 mts with the other half of the batter. That way I could give away some more of the desserts...the icing is the chocolate ganache I previously mentioned in the toffee cupcake recipe, with the vanilla switched for almond extract (not neccisary, but gives a...almondy flavor that was requested) and then sprinkled sliced almonds ontop. You can see the process from un-iced to decorated here. Mark ate his entire cake ALONE. The rest of us had cupcakes.

Jul 17, 2007

She: Adjectives and icecream

Well, first I must say that Mark has about three blogs in the works filled with yummy recipes, but he hasn't finished them for some *lame* reason...But I now have this fabulous tale for you, and a promise that many recipes are in the works...we've been making our own preserves, veggie salads and other creative foodstuffs. So please be patient.

Mark and I are running a tad low on summer funds for fun, so we decided to do something cheap that we've been meaning to for a while: hunt good ice cream in town. You see, we left Atlanta JUST as we'd found the best gelato shop in town (What's the Scoop, right next to Alon's bakery). Now we are completely spoiled, having tasted quality. Sigh. So first, I wanted to get a sandwich so I didn't go completely piggy at the ice cream parlor, so we went to Bernardo's to split a grilled ham and cheese. It used to be that Bernardos served a fabulous grilled ham and cheese on a long slice of bread with warm tomatoes and a side of fries. Hmmmm. So I ordered the same thing I have in the past, but my sandwich comes out...and its not grilled. Infact, besides having ham and cheese on it, its nothing like the old sandwich--this new fiasco is drenched in mayo and stacked with lettuce, with a soft bun replacing the buttery, grilled bread. I look at the waiter and say "I'm sorry, I ordered a grilled ham and cheese?" to which I get an explination that the menu has changed, and that this IS the grilled ham and cheese. I protest. It ISN'T GRILLED. Ah, but the ham is, I'm told. The way this usually reads in the normal world is Grilled (ham and cheese) sandwich. Meaning, grilled sandwich. But no, now at Bernardo's it means ham thrown on a skillet til luke-warm...with some cold cheese, on a bun. UTTER CRAP! Don't use adjectives if you don't know how. As a consumer, I find this misleading and just wrong, considering they have, in the past, actually grilled the sandwich.

Well. After my mis-described sandwich, we move further downtown to Gunther's shop. There are pictures inside to prove it really hasn't changed much in the last 30 years or so, and I almost got one of their fruit freezes--they really do shave the ice right there, and they sandwich two scoops of shaved ice with a bit of vanilla icecream. Yum. But we wanted to see what these guys were made of, so Mark got two scoops: Butter Brickle and Mocha Almond Fudge, and I got Black Raspberry Chip and Chocolate in waffle cones. The cone was good, and didn't drip or get soggy...important when you're downing the sweet stuff. I think Mark preferred the butter brickle, and though the black raspberry was good, it was the old-fashioned chocolate that was amazing. The ice cream didn't have any ice chips in it and was nice and smooth. The service was good, and I kept wanting to go photograph the malts and bannana splits coming out for other people. The food was PRETTY. Its also local, friendly and cheap, so I'll be going back soon.

Jul 6, 2007

She: 4th of July and recipe justifications

This blog needs ceremonial meat, and who doesn't bar-b-que during the fourth? We didn't have a grill, so I got one at lowes. For some reason Mark had been saying a true dome top is better for some reason...don't remember WHY, but did remember he said that. Anyways, I got one for 10 dolla that was small enough to hide away, and it works great. Of course, I made my best buddy Justin put it together (one little grill, sooo many parts). We made burgers with grilled pineapple slices and cheese. MMMMMMM.

Well, as he put together the grill for Mark to slave over later, I was fixing an upside-down pineapple cake. For Mark's b-day Justin got us the Amy Sedaris cookbook, so I cracked it open to find a recipe. Of course, what that recipe called for DIDN'T WORK. You take 4 tb of butter in a skillet and mix in a cup of brown sugar til it dissolves...except IT DOESN'T. I tried this frickin thing twice (no one every said what temp to heat it at, so I tried a few times) but it either doesn't mix or makes candy. It sucks. If you know something I don't then lemme know. I'll also say that the cake ended up a little dry, so I'm changing the heat temp for the cake. Here's my altered version:

The upside down part: Lay 5 pineapple rings in 9 inch cake pan. Mix 1 cup brown sugar with 1/4 cup pineapple juice from can (unsweetened) until it dissolves (hah! take THAT recipe!) then mix with 4 tbs of melted butter in a pan and reduce. Pour it all in the pan with the rings.

The cake part: Mix dry in a bowl: 1 1/2C flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/2C sugar. Get another bowl--Melt 8 tb butter, add in 1/2C milk and 1 egg. Mix wet and dry, then spoon over pineapple stuff in cake pan. Cook for 30-35 mts at 375F.

She: I was dissed

Mark had this five page long post he wanted to add. No photos, and I said "gee honey, we should get some eye-candy to make this more appealing." Not to say that it wasn't interesting, but I've worked as a graphic designer, marketing artist, and magazine assistant editor. I know text. I don't use all that here (too much work) but the basics I still cover...like giving a full frickin five page long essay without a visual break. Well, I got a nasty snap response that the blog shouldn't be just about "cutsey" recipes like I show. So my feelings were hurt. Since Mark doesn't write html/java, I end up posting these blogs. So I just didn't post his, or any of my cutsey recipes. So no coconut cupcake recipe. No lemon tart recipe. No chocolate chip cookie recipe. I'm fine now, but the 10 day absence can be soley contributed to Mark's temporary scorn. Ah, feel the love.