Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Well then.

That bowl, the one with the zesty tangerine tuile batter oozing from its pitiful cracks, was the middle child in a set I bought a few years ago.  When Berry White and I made the decision to not only become roommates but to buy our first humble home together, we started stocking up on items that we needed for the lovecrib.  The 3-piece Pyrex set was one of our first purchases.

I'm sure many of you can attest to the fact that those plain glass bowls are nothing fancy and easily replaceable.  And certainly not worth blogging about.  Perhaps even a bit too heavy for pulling in and out of cabinets on a daily basis.

But I really loved that damn bowl.

Its shards are securely wrapped in an old Lord & Taylor bag in our trash bin, waiting to be transported to the county landfill for burial.  Meanwhile, its older and younger siblings remain awkwardly stacked away on a shelf, trying not to notice the empty space left behind and between them.

Rest in many pieces, medium Pyrex bowl.

But I hope you don't expect me to tip some of my beer for you.  That's just wasteful.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sugared Cinema Remix: Angry Swan

  I had the craziest dream last night about an angry bird who has turned into a swan, but her prince falls for the wrong bird and she launches herself at a stack of pigs.

He picked me, Mommy!  I'm the new Angry Swan Queen!

 Happy Friday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm going going back back to Philly Philly.

So we meet again, Philly.

This past Sunday, Mike, some friends and I attended the 4th Annual Philadelphia Real Ale Invitational hosted by Yards Brewing Company.  Tickets sold out rather quickly and with good reason:  this ain't your mama's brewfest.

Attendees were free to roam the brewery, help themselves to some delicious food and, the best perk of all, were given a cool commemorative beer mug to hold unlimited (and often heavy-handed) samples of over 20 cask ales from a variety of Mid-Atlantic breweries.

Cask ale (or "real ale" as it's often called) is unfiltered, unpasteurized beer that is conditioned in the same container it is served from (the cask) without any forced carbon dioxide.  It's about as natural as it gets.

We started making our way down the list.  My initial plan was to alternate between low and high ABV beers but eventually, I went for whatever appealed to my tastebuds regardless of alcohol percentage.

Betty's Speakeasy.  Amazing fudge.  Adorable staff, to boot.

A brewery is only as good as its t-shirts.

 A beer t-shirt is only as good as the feisty Ecuadorian who wears it.

<3 Natalya.

Oh that?

That's just a mac and cheese hot dog.  With bacon. 

Funkdafied musical stylings for the event were provided by The Jazz Horses and The Sermon!, a band from West Chester, PA.  After the show, two of The Sermon! guys showed us a vintage tube amp they use during their sets which, up until that moment, I would have guessed was the world's first Lite Brite.  Pretty cool stuff.

And with a final toast, the Philadelphia Real Ale Invitational came to a close.

It was such a great time.  I'm already looking forward to the next one.  A bonus if it's within walking distance by this time next year.

(I've been bitten by the moving bug.  Hard.)

We'll see what happens.  In the meantime, I leave you with my best PW impression.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

License and registration.

We ate.  We drank.  We got pulled over.

Twice.  In the span of 20 minutes.

If this whole baking thing doesn't pan out, there's always undercover photography.

Tomorrow:  cask ales, fisticuffs and the most glorious hot dog ever created.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sugared Cinema: Casual: The Series

All I'm saying is if you really like this girl, don't let her go.  I've just watched you push away so many good things and I'd hate to see you keep doing it.  Sometimes there's shit that's worth it.

What initially started as a show of support for my friend Lauren has turned into a full-blown viewing addiction.  Just when I thought I couldn't possibly afford to add anymore vices to my sugar- and beer-filled existence, this little crack rock of a web series entered my life. 

Casual follows a Girl (Lauren Marini) and a Guy (Brian Thomas Smith) as they feel their way through the sweet aftermath of a one night stand.  There's no denying that these two really dig each other outside of the bedroom yet they remain somewhat guarded, in the event that one of them comes to the realization that their impromptu night of nookie was exactly that...a casual thing.

Jay Diaz, the writer and director of Casual, has created a series that is emotionally tangible (even if your sexual or romantical escapades are a thing of the past), sweet and engaging.  The chemistry and dialogue between Girl and Guy comes across as genuine and refreshingly unscripted.  There are also some seriously funny one-liners from the supporting talent (particularly in Casual 2.1) and the soundtrack is pretty money, too.  Broken Bells sealed the deal for me.

Go to www.casualseries.com and start with Episode 1.  While you're at it, "Like" Casual: The Series on Facebook for future show updates.  The next episode will be airing soon and stars Mary Jo Deschanel (you know, Zooey and Emily's mom.)  I'm predicting big things for these guys.

As it turns out, Lauren is also quite the little bakestress on the side.  She was awesome enough to send me some of her personal favorites, including her tried-and-true, classified cream cheese icing recipe (which I will not be giving up because I'm a total jerko) and a clone recipe of Levain Bakery's famously huge (in reputation and in size) chocolate chip cookies from the Vanilla Sugar blog, to name a few.

I had a tough time narrowing it down to one but once she mentioned that her friends almost started dishing out bitch slaps one bite into the chocolate chip cookies, my mind was made up.

  Levain Chocolate Chip Cookie Clone
Recipe by Vanilla Sugar

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted European butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup walnuts

Use a cheese grater to grate the butter into a bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the grated butter and both sugars just until combined.  Add egg and vanilla extra and beat again until just combined.  Don't get too crazy with the beatings.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Mix well.

Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and stir until blended.  Add the chocolate chips and walnuts and give it a good mix.  Since it's a drier dough, Vanilla Sugar suggests using your hands for this step.  It helps A LOT.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for a few hours or, even better, overnight.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll the dough into 12 large 4-ounce balls and place on ungreased baking sheets.

Chill the sheets in the fridge for 20 minutes while your oven is heating up.

Bake for 8 minutes at 375 degrees then reduce the temperature to 325 and bake for another 8 minutes until set and light golden brown.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Make the cookies.  Watch the show.  Start working on that bitch slap.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Orange slice in your beer?

Some things are just better off without a head.

the Headless Horseman
Peking Duck
Maximilien Robespierre
Spencer Pratt

Beer, on the other hand, is not one of them.

Head is important (that's what he said) because it contains so much of the beer's aroma.  By thinning out the head, you're depriving yourself of all of the fragrant loveliness that lies within those bubbles.

Can you guess what can cause the head to dissipate?

Yep.  An orange slice.

The citric acid and the oils from the orange break down the head and can distract (and even overpower) your tastebuds, preventing them from experiencing the full flavor of the beer.  Major thumbs down.

The whole "orange slice in your beer" thing is, more or less, a marketing gimmick made popular by the fifth largest brewing company in the world.  Care for a little back story?

16 years ago, Coors Brewing Company gave birth to a wheat beer that would eventually become one of the most commercially available wheat beers on the market.  In an effort to keep the Coors name from tainting the beer's "craft-brewed" image and credibility, they slapped "Blue Moon Brewing Company" on the box.

And Blue Moon was born. 

A brewer at Molson Coors admitted that the addition of an orange slice to Blue Moon was "mostly for attention-getting" when being served.  Hey man, I get it.  They have a product to sell.  I just won't be buying it for my own fridge, not when there are so many other, tastier offerings from smaller craft breweries.

Next time the bartender reaches for that little box, the one with the plastic cover that houses all the fruit garnishes, I encourage you to smile, put up your hand and say, "Save it for the sangria, honey child."

Then take a sip of your beer.  The one with the head.  The one without the orange.

The moral of the story:

Don't decapitate your beer, kids.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Coughie Break.

To add to my highly unsuccessful Family Guy pitch, I have a new idea (this time, a documentary) that I'm keeping in a safe mental hiding place, in hopes that someday it will be brought to life or YouTube.

The idea:  a documentary that takes you into the homes of people suffering from severe colds or the flu and discovering what kind of ensembles they put together.

Think about it:  when you're achy and whiny and fighting a scorching fever, style is a non-issue.  You bust out the old, tattered guns and get ready for battle.  The fleece emblazoned with the company logo that you won as a door prize from the office party.  The red sweats with a half dollar-sized hole in the crotchetal region and death-grip elastic on the ankles.  The Isotoner skid-free socks.  For the duration of your body's internal war, these pieces become your uniform, your second skin.

I spent a good chunk of the past week in this hot little number.

Christmas in March.  Wheeee.

Thankfully, I'm starting to feel like a normal human being again.  I'm ready to push these threads to the way bottom of the hamper and rejoin society.  Sugared Cinema will return next Friday and I have to admit, I'm a bit partial to next week's installment.  A dear friend not only passed along a spectacular recipe (a clone of a highly drooled-over baked good from a very well-known NYC bakery) but will also be featured in the "cinema" portion of the post.  Big stuff!  I'm super stoked.

Have a great weekend, everyone.  I wanted to leave you with an article linking beer to a healthy immune system but couldn't find such evidence.  Yet.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lonely tart shell seeks easy pastry cream.

By now, that tart shell from yesterday is probably starting to wonder.

What if they had a change of heart?

What if I'm not worthy of a creamy filling?

Who was this character in the hospital?  And why was he trying to kill Nordberg?  And for whom?  Did Ludwig lie to me?  I didn't have any proof, but somehow, I didn't entirely trust him either. Why was the 'I Luv You' not listed in Ludwig's records?  And if it was, did he know about it?  And if he didn't, who did?  And where the hell was I? 

RIP Frank Drebin.  This tart's for you.

I was tempted to add chocolate to this pastry cream but in the end, classic and simple won.  This works wonders in cream puffs or eclairs but today, it's going in our tart shell.

Pastry Cream
Recipe by Ina Garten
Enough to fill one 10-inch tart

3 extra-large egg yolks (I used 4 large)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon Cognac or brandy

Beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high for 3 minutes until pale yellow.

On low, beat in the cornstarch.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil.  Then, with the mixer on low, slowly pour it into the egg mixture.  Once it's well mixed, pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

Cook over medium heat until thick, whisking constantly.

Bring to a boil then cook on low for 2-3 more minutes.  Give it a taste to make sure the cornstarch is cooked thoroughly.  Give it a taste anyway because it's delicious.

Remove from heat and mix in the butter, vanilla, cream and liqueur.  At this point, you can strain it if you see lumps in the cream but I opted not to.  It was already pretty smooth.

Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge until cold.

Spread the pastry cream into the prepared tart shell and top with fresh fruit.

I told you it was easy.

Kicks tart my heart.

Oh yes, Vince Neil.  I went there.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tart Crust: A Perfectionist's Nightmare

Five years ago, I made my first tart from scratch.  It was Thanksgiving.  I had no prior experience to compare it to so I didn't stop to overthink or analyze the hell out of the technique.  I just read the recipe and went with it and was proud of my creation when it was unveiled at the dessert table.  It wasn't until this past weekend that I realized just how much of a nightmare a tart crust can be for someone with occasional perfectionist/OCD tendencies.

It's a lot like riding The Spider at a local carnival.

This is a toy.  The real thing looks much scarier and doesn't have a marching band in front.

As a kid, I was all gung ho about those pack-and-play amusement rides.  At 7 years old, "what if"s are the last thing on your mind when you're surrounded by all sorts of colorful, flying, cotton candied stimuli.  For nostalgia's sake, I decided to ride the Spider at the 4-H Fair last summer and, I'm not exaggerating, it was absolutely terrifying.  I had this bizarre, clown-like grin frozen on my face for the duration of the ride, a futile attempt to convince myself that I was having fun.  In reality, my mind was going through every terrible, apocalyptic scenario imaginable until it eventually settled on the fact that the guys who pieced together this death machine probably didn't tighten the S-bolts or whatever they're called and the little round car that Berry White and I were riding in would be hurtled into neighboring Reston.

That's what tart crusts are like. 

This recipe is from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.  It's a simple recipe and makes for a pleasantly sweet, sugar cookie-like crust.

Tart Crust
Recipe by Ina Garten
Makes one 10-inch round tart

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the butter and sugar just until combined.  Add the vanilla and mix again.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt and add to the butter-sugar mixture.

Mix on low speed until all of the ingredients are combined.  The dough will be crumbly, like this:

At this point, you can pour the mixture into the tart pan or pour it out onto a work surface and slowly add it to the tart pan, a handful at a time.  Start pressing the dough into the bottom of the pan and work your way up the sides.

And this is where the OCD kicks in.

No joke, I must have worked my fingers around the pan at least 10-15 times, trying to make every single fluted edge uniform.  If I pushed down just a little too much in one area, I had to make sure the others were pushed down evenly as well.  You know what happens when you cut your own bangs, right?

Once the tart crust has been formed to your liking (45 minutes later in my case), chill it until firm.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place a piece of buttered aluminum foil on the crust, buttered side down.  Fill it with dried beans or rice to weigh it down.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the foil and beans/rice, prick the crust all over with a fork then bake for another 20-25 minutes until lightly browned.

(I forgot to set the timer so my crust is wee bit browner than I like.  Oops.)

Let the crust cool before filling.

Oh right!  We need to fill this shell with some sort of deliciousness.  More on that tomorrow.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sugared Cinema: Can't Hardly Wait (1998)

Things I couldn't hardly wait for in 1998:

High school graduation.

Going to get my first (and only) facial piercing after feeling inspired by Jonathan Davis' eyebrow in Korn's Got the Life video (shut up!)

Heading off to college in Philadelphia, only to come to the (very, very wrong) realization that I wanted to stay local to be with my (then) boyfriend.  Had I known then that parting would have, in actuality, been the sweetest un-sorrow ever, I would have packed my bags and jumped on the first train to the City of Brotherly Love.

Ahh well.  You live, you learn, you get a full-time job at Esprit before going back to school.

Can't Hardly Wait came out when I was the same age as the characters in the film so naturally, I felt like I could really relate to them.  Really feel what they were going through.

Well, maybe not Amanda Beckett so much.  But definitely Denise.  And possibly even William.

You see the salt on this pretzel?  Look at the stars.  Some people, they say the stars are billions and billions of tons of hot gas.  But I think maybe, maybe it's just God's salt.  And God's just waiting to eat us.

The truth is out there.  And William is going to uncover it.

Today's recipe is from Christa Rose over at Le Petit Brioche.  If you haven't checked out her blog, you've been missing out, not only on her wit, humor and gorgeous pictures but these pretzels, too.  Her pretzel recipe has received over 1,000 reviews on Allrecipes.com and was featured in the Allrecipes cookbook, Dinner Tonight.  Being a former Auntie Anne's junkie myself, I was left with no choice but to make them.
Buttery Soft Pretzels
Recipe by Christa Rose at Le Petit Brioche

4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
kosher salt, for topping

In a small bowl, mix the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in the warm water.  Let it stand for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup sugar and salt.  Make a well in the center and pour in the oil and yeast mixture.  Mix until it forms a dough (if it's too dry, add 1 or 2 Tablespoons of water.)

Knead the for 7-8 minutes.  

Lightly oil a large bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour.)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the hot water.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces.  Roll out each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel.  Dip each pretzel into the baking soda mixture and set on the greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle kosher salt over the pretzels.

Bake for 8 minutes or until golden brown.

So good!  These pretzels are soft, perfectly chewy (none of that overly doughy yeastiness) and taste best when eaten straight out of the oven.  You can eat them plain or brush them lightly with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

That mall aunt doesn't stand a chance.  Thanks Christa Rose!

Happy Friday, ya'll.  Time to find me a house party.