Monday, June 30, 2008


Spent the better part of the day making a cassoulet from America's Test Kitchen. While it turned out well, it was pretty radically underseasoned. If I make this again (which I might), I'd definitely have to check the seasoning once the beans are done. We had the cassoulet with some broiled asparagus, grilled eggplant, and portobello mushrooms.

Earlier in the weekend, Seth made us some pineapple/pork skewers, which we had with some homemade guacamole and sour cream taco-style. Delicious! Saturday night, we had grilled kielbasa and some artichokes. I really love artichokes. Mmm.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Another picture of the cupcakes

Just because...


Sunday, June 08, 2008


So. Friday, we made cupcakes. More accurately, Friday, Ei-Nyung, Lindsi and I made 144 cupcakes for a pair of friends' wedding. That's a picture of the finished result at the wedding. I can't say much about the cakes themselves - Ei-Nyung's been making cupcakes semi-regularly over and over again over the last year. This batch was the best she's ever made, fittingly enough.

For me, I ended up doing the frosting. There were two kinds - a vanilla cream cheese frosting and a chocolate ganache. The vanilla was really simple - 2 sticks of butter, a package o' cream cheese (both whipped 'till fluffy), a quarter vanilla bean, 2 tsp vanilla extract, and 4 cups sifted confectioners sugar. No cooking required, goes together quick, easy as pie. I could probably have used a touch more sugar, and the frosting could have stood to be a little stiffer (made piping out something that looked nice difficult), but the flavor was awesome and complemented the cupcakes perfectly.

I'd 'stolen' the recipe from, which has so many delicious recipes for cupcakes it boggles the mind, but even more recently, from Jess, who brought over some vanilla cupcakes with the very same frosting.

The second frosting was chocolate - the original request was for chocolate/chocolate, so I looked around for a bit and independently of the first recipe, ended up at the same blog again (before having tried Jess' cupcakes, this was the recipe I'd found that I'd wanted to try for the choco frosting). Still, since H wasn't into the dairy thing, I wanted to try something dairy-free/minimal if possible. One recipe I'd seen was from David Lebovitz, who wrote a *spectacular* ice cream book called The Perfect Scoop. This one, strangely, had you melt the chocolate *in* water, then add a little butter and some sugar. It turned... interesting. You could make a really nice smeared-on-with-a-knife frosting with the stuff, but piping it was, far as I could tell, impossible. Impossible for me, anyway.

One weird side-effect of that frosting was that if you put it into a canvas piping bag and squeezed, you would separate the fat from the water, and the fat would ooze out the pores in the bag. Gross, and the resulting frosting was... not great. REALLY chocolatey when you smeared it on a cake, but unusable for what we were doing.

So, the end result was that I went with the Cupcake Bakeshop recipe - 4oz bittersweet, 5oz semisweet, 2 tbsp butter, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cup cream, 2 cups sifted sugar. Heat the cream 'till bubbles form around the side, pour over the chopped chocolate. Wait a minute, stir to combine. Add vanilla, butter, mix till (at least mostly) combined. Wait 10 minutes (this is actually really, really, really, really, really important). Slap into stand mixer with whisk head, whisk in sugar, mix at high speed until thick enough to ribbon. By the time you get it into the pastry bag, it'll have set up enough to pipe.

I originally tried a triple recipe (at the beginning of the evening), but because when you triple a recipe any time-to-temperature sorts of conversions fall apart, it didn't turn out right. Those 10 minutes are there so that the icing cools down. If you mix it up to hot, it never sets up. I spent a couple hours trying to see if I could salvage that batch, then eventually gave up and made three single batches in series. Mix up frosting, pipe 20 cupcakes, wash (literally), rinse (literally), repeat.

All in all, it took way longer than it should have, though about an hour less than I'd mentally budgeted for the task. My piping technique got better as the night went on, but some of the early cupcakes were *ugly*.

We ended up topping the cupcakes with some little vanilla meringues we got from Trader Joes on a whim the evening before. Ended up being a real lifesaver. We'd tried making little fondant decorations - some little flower cutouts, but they looked a bit too cutesy. We then tried something more "realistic," which was a white calla lily thingamabob with a pair of pink and blue spheres contained within, but being novices with fondant, they were a bit more elegant in concept than execution. We ended up topping four of the cupcakes (the tops of the "trees") with the best of those. Part of the problem is that vanilla meringues are delicious, fondant really isn't. So, not really a problem - it all turned out for the best.

All in all, despite the lack of visual flair, the cupcakes ended up delicious, H&M were happy, the other guests seemed to enjoy them, and the wedding was a blast. Awesome.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


So, for the last couple weeks, the cupcake thing has been stressing me out in the back of my head - I'd agreed to do the frosting half of the equation, but I'd never been able to get it quite right. This weekend, I'd tried a recipe by David Leibovitz, which was a really bizarre ganache made by melting chocolate in water. It tasted great - *intensely* chocolatey, but the texture wasn't appropriate at all.

This morning at like, 4am, I woke up and a good portion of the reason was that I was freaking out that this was still an "unknown." Obviously, people *have* iced cupcakes well - there must be information out there. So, I spent a couple hours reading about frosting techniques, and 1.) figured out what I was doing wrong and 2.) found a recipe I thought would work.

This evening, I tried out the recipe (a relatively standard but not-overly-sweet chocolate buttercream) from the Cupcake Bake Shop blog. I'd picked up a "real" pastry bag at East Bay Restaurant Supply this morning. Tried a handful of different piping tips, but settled on the now-popular "no tip" method, which Jess had pulled off on some DELICIOUS vanilla cupcakes she brought over last time she was here.

The frosting was easy to manage, tasty, and looked alright (chocolate frosting on chocolate cupcakes... it's hard to make it not look turd-like...).

So, no worries. It'll work out. One batch of frosting looks like it's good for about 10-15 cupcakes, so I'm gonna need to make a LOT of the stuff, but fortunately, it goes together pretty quick.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Game Plan for Wedding Cupcakes

This is my cupcake baking schedule. Seppo is spearheading the frosting, so he'll have his own schedule. He is still figuring out if he should frost the night before or the morning of, or on location. We'll test with our cake boxes to see what rattling them around in the car will do.

Sometime before wedding:
- Get ice cream scoop w/ that swiveling thingy to portion out perfectly uniform amount of batter
- Borrow U&C's Kitchenaid? May not be necessary from what I've seen, but could be helpful.

Weekend before wedding:
- Buy all staples (flour, sugar, etc.). Get Dutched cocoa from Peet's.
- Weigh out 6 double recipe amounts of flour and portion into separate baggies. Do same with sugar.
- Chop/shave 6 double recipe amounts of chocolate and portion into separate baggies with dutched cocoa.

Wednesday night before wedding:
- Make sure kitchen is super-sparkling clean and ready to go.
- Triple check all ingredients and hardware to make sure we have everything.
- Make sure we have leftovers or take-out/delivery plans for Friday.

Thursday night before wedding:
- Make 1 double batch of cupcakes. Should take less than 2 hours for prep to out-of-oven according to my trials.
- Put together cupcake-tranport boxes and lay them out on the dining room table.

Friday (take day off):
- Make 4 double batches. This should take 7-9 hours & I should assume some major mishap will happen, so start as early in the morning as possible.
- Make another double batch if there are a number of duds.

Friday night:
- Box up all the cupcakes
- Pack up car with cupcake stands (easier to transport in their boxes)

Saturday morning:
- Get to venue at the earliest allowable time
- Set up cupcake stands (and make sure the cupcake holding part will reliably hold cupcakes)

Frosting will happen in parallel sometime Friday or Saturday morning.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Since this last post, our entire kitchen has been completely gutted and renovated. It's much, much better in every respect, without reservations. But the question is, does having a nicer kitchen help you make better food?

Yes and no.

Does it make our food better? Not really. Yeah, the oven gets hotter faster, and yeah, there's a ton more prep space which makes things easier to organize, but no, the food itself isn't all that different. But because the kitchen is much, much better organized, it's easier to find stuff, so we end up finding random things and getting inspired to cook them. Because the prep space is so much larger, it's easier to manage multiple items. Tonight, for instance, we made a whole lot of Korean dishes without any space problems at all.

In the end, I think we cook more because the kitchen is a more pleasant place to be, it's easier, because of the space and organization, it's better lit, and just a lot more casual. Good stuff.

In the linked post, it discusses our new "buddy" system, where I help Ei-Nyung learn how to cook Korean food, and she helps me with some indie game development stuff. This means we'll be doing a lot more Korean cooking - I'm pretty psyched, cause there's some stuff that I'd really like to learn to do well.

Sahn Maru makes a great ginger/cinnamon drink which I tried replicating from a cookbook recipe tonight. It got most of the right flavors, but holy moly the balance of it all was bonkers. Sahn Maru clearly uses less ginger (or steeps it for a shorter time), more cinnamon, and MUCH MUCH MUCH less sugar. I used only half what the recipe called for and it was still much too much. Between the intensely powerful ginger and excess sugar, the drink was pretty... hardcore. Watered down, it's mostly right, but then loses the cinnamon hum that it should have.

Well, it's not like I can't try again.

Also made some Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream from The Perfect Scoop, a book the Team gave me for my birthday. I'd made the French-style vanilla when I borrowed the book from them a while back, and it was awesome. The Philly-style may be even better, simply because the French-style custard is exceedingly rich. Well, I like the French version, too - I guess they each have their uses. Just different. But the Philly-style was definitely right for tonight, 'cause it's getting warmer, and the ice cream feels lighter (it's not *actually* lighter, I think - it's just a textural issue).

Yeah. Sorry this post is getting a bit scatterbrained. Lessee - anything else we've made recently that was good? Hmmm. Nothing comes to mind - but more Korean food in our future! woot.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fish Tacos & Guacamole

So, about a month or so ago, Ei-Nyung and I went to Tulum, Mexico with some friends, where we had an insanely good time marked by some extraordinary food. One of the best things we ate was also one of the simplest. Los Arrecifes, the place we stayed, had a small restaurant (what looked like one or two guys, tops) that had fish tacos.

Now, fish tacos aren't exactly complex, and they're certainly not new. Even in Oakland, there are more places than you can count that serve fish tacos. But I'd never had them before. If I had, it'd have been "Baja-style" fish tacos, where the fish is breaded and fried. These were different - simple.

The fish was pan-fried with some lime. The tacos consisted of two corn (and one time, flour) tortillas, a small pile of iceberg lettuce, a generous smattering of fish, some thin slices of tomato, and a thin slice of avocado. Pretty much exactly as it looks in the picture.

Whether these were the best tacos I've ever had on their own, or whether it was a combination of the absolutely gorgeous place, the perfect vacation, and the tacos I'll probably never know. But that said, after getting back from Tulum, we went out in search of fish tacos in Oakland.

Cactus, Baja Taqueria and Los Cantaros all have fish tacos, but they're Baja-style. Sonoma Taco Shop in San Rafael has non-breaded fish tacos, but they have beans, which throws the whole balance of flavors off. One night, Ei-Nyung made fish tacos using some cod she bought at whole foods, and they were delicious. A couple nights ago, I gave it a shot, also using cod, but that wasn't because it was the perfect fish (though it's close), it's because it was cheap at Safeway, and the only white fish they had.

Bascially, the process involved pan-frying the fish in some oil, squeezing some lime juice (in this case, half a lime) over the fish as it cooked, and seasoning it with some salt and pepper. I steamed some corn tortillas for about 30 seconds in the microwave, hacked up some iceberg lettuce, sliced up some heirloom tomatoes (the only even marginally ripe tomatoes the Safeway had), and chopping up some onions and a little cilantro.

In lieu of the thin slice of avocado, I went with a recipe for guacamole I've been making. I started with America's Test Kitchen's recipe for guacamole, then incorporated some of Rick Bayless' recipe. It's basically two medium-sized avocados, spooned out of the husk and mashed with a fork then mixed with the juice of half a lime, along with about two diced tablespoons of onion, a diced jalapeno (seeds and internal ribs removed), some chopped cilantro, a dash of ground cumin, pepper, salt, and a roughly diced tomato with the seeds and juice removed.

The cod is a pretty good fish for fish tacos. I have no idea whether it's specifically what they used in Tulum, but it has a nice, flakey, meaty consistency that's pleasant, and a flavor that's distinctly fish, without being overbearing. The guacamole's great with chips, but perhaps a little much for the delicate fish flavor in the tacos - still, I can't say I minded all that much. A dash of hot sauce, and you're off to the races.

For me, it's a meal that will forever be flavored with a great deal of affection and nostalgia. The week we spent in Tulum was one of the best times I've ever had, and this is one of those meals that will really be associated with a very happy time.