Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chocolates in Spring

The weather has taken a turn. Finally! Apart from the weekend (which just had to rain when our house had visitors over), sunshine has reigned again and warmth is all over the slopes! I started running outdoors last week - something I was longing to do since Jack Frost decided to visit five months back. I almost forgot how beautiful Ithaca is without that thick quilt of snow blinding everything in sight.

We had another weekend cookout last Saturday - a Tuscan-inspired seafood pasta special (I ♥ angel hair!) and some sesame-honeyed spinach greens tossed with cranberries, roasted almonds and clementines - a wonderful meal to usher in the long-awaited springtime. And seeing that I have had one gourmandizing episode after another for the past couple of weekends, I decided to cut back on the sweet treats and go for something savory instead. Cheese is always a favorite.

We decided to roast some red and bartlett pears with walnuts, fresh gorgonzola and brie. I just love those candied walnuts, roasted and gleaming in its glossy cloak of clover honey and vanilla. The pears were a little underdone, I must admit. A little longer in the oven would have made those voluptuous pears perfectly soft - but a watched pot never boils, so we all settled for something a little crunchier.

And the cheese... mmm... 
Simply satisfying, nonetheless!

I had a HSI networking session two Tuesdays ago, and I know I promised some Nanaimo chocolate bars for the event. Nanaimo bars - for those unsure - are no-bake chocolate bars that originated from Canada. They're basically layered with a waffle crunch bottom, a white custardy middle layer, and a dark top coating of milk chocolate.

So I intended to swap the base for a brownie batter, then top it off with a layer of milk chocolate (I don't fancy white cocoa that much), then finish it off with a blanket of deep, dark cocoa spread. However, the middle layer didn't harden as quick as I thought it would, so I ended up with a chocolate truffle swirl - which I actually preferred just because the textured surface makes this sweet confection so pretty.

They're really rich, so one-inch cubes would be ideal bite-sized portions at a party. Don't you just adore those pastel-colored paper cups? It makes everything look so floral and feminine. It's like a springtime chocolate bouquet - what could be more perfect than that?

Spring break is just two days away! I can almost smell the salty ocean breeze and feel my toes wriggling through the moist sandy beaches, all framed beautifully under the sublime Caribbean sunshine.

I'll definitely keep my promise of sharing postcards from the Caribbean when I get there! XOXO!

Friday, March 5, 2010

I Wish...

I look forward to breaks in-between classes.

Not because I can hang out with my friends (though I won't deny that being an enjoyable activity).

Not because I can catch up on my sleep school work.

And most definitely not because I dislike school. In fact, I love my classes. Well, most of them at least. I'm having some personal issues with my financial management class, but let's leave that for another story.

I treasure my breaks. They're my peace and quiet. I grab a coffee - my all-time favourite Vanilla-infused Americano - grab a laptop, and tuck myself in the comfy corner that I always sneak to before the next class...

...and just sink blissfully into my own world of sugar, spice and everything nice. Reading entries from my favorite food writers, looking at creative recipes and imagining how wonderful the dish will be, and just being Inspired.

Sometimes, I wish my breaks were longer.

And I wish I could write my own cookbook too. Just like her, and her.

And I wish for a SLR camera to take more pretty pictures.

And I wish for an ice-cream maker because I'm craving for some homemade chocolate sorbet.


...It's time for class.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Week I Was Spoiled With Food (Part 2)

Blog Post Interruption: An Emergency Alert Message

Welcome to Ithaca's unimaginable snow storm!
Slushies are refreshingly delicious in a cup, but a complete (inedible) slippery pain when I'm late for class...
...And I wonder why school wasn't closed on Thursday.
Alright, regular blog entry resumed.

Last night, after yet another stay-in (i.e. let-us-shun-the-snowstorm) weekend feast - which I am about to share in a moment's time - I was flipping through the last blog entry I had written the day before flying back to school for the Spring term, and it was me sharing about some delicious miniature raisin-studded cream scones and homemade blueberry jam I had made for Aunt Rosalind's birthday...

...And I can't believe almost half the semester has gone by already! I remember dreading that departure day so badly thinking that it was going to be "the same crap, different semester." I was dreadfully homesick the first week of school, living in the absence of my family, my highly entertaining cable TV, the warm tropical sunshine, Singapore's fantastic fare of local food, and of course, baking.

But as much as I whine, sulk and moan the whole way through the departure terminal, I eventually find myself always having the wildest and most enjoyable time - and it just keeps getting better and bolder every semester. This final one, however, seems to be a tad bit more extraordinary than the previous three. And in all honesty, I would have to attribute that to baking. Despite living amidst the unearthly snow storms and arduous college workload, spending some alone time in the kitchen creating sweet treats is somehow my form of escapism. In some unexplainable way, I find it immensely soothing just completely immersing myself in the activity at hand, be it simply swirling a bowl of stunningly sweet cake batter, melting a pool of buttery dark chocolate, or watching plush cupcakes swell into beautiful airy mounds... Mmmm, definitely easy on the eyes...

I think the $6 whisk I bought at Wegmans last week was hands down the most satisfying purchase I made thus far. The first dessert I used it to prepare was a delightful tray of cheesecake-marbled brownies for the Sangria & Asian Tapas house party we threw on Friday night. I had a sudden urge to bake the night before during the witching hour, and while my housemates were fast asleep, I was floating around the kitchen turing ordinary cocoa batter into an intense chocolatey glory.
I swirled some cream cheese filling in and around the thick cocoa-laden liquid, and dotted it with some semisweet chocolate morsels I had remaining since I last made a batch of those banana cranberry cupcakes. Tossed the tray into the oven...
...Viola! A gorgeous batch of fudgy and creamy marbled squares that did turn out to be a hit with the party crowd. Not one was spared for weekend leftovers.
Gourmet Magazine, June 2007
The Ingredients:
For brownie batter-
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
For cheesecake batter-
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, well softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
The Directions:

Make brownie batter-
  1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
  2. Heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, whisking occasionally, just until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined and spread in baking pan.
Make cheesecake batter and bake brownies-
  1. Whisk together cheesecake batter ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Dollop over brownie batter, then swirl in with a knife or spatula.
  2. Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 35 minutes.
  3. Serve warm or at room temperature.
So Friday went and Saturday came, and Ananth had prepared a Southern Indian feast for the six of us (my housemates, Ming and Yong Kai). The menu comprised of homemade naan, raita, murgh makhani, masala masoor, and basmati rice. I have to admit that it was a rather lip-smacking meal indeed. We paired dinner with a couple of bottles of Vinho Verde and Riesling - an almost perfect match. I decided to whip up a simple dessert to put a sweet ending to the weekend feast, and since Ananth made a special request not to have anything too heavy or chocolatey, I decided that my Peach-Pineapple Upside Down Cake (a la mode) would do the magic.
And boy was it magical. The baked fruit came out perfectly caramelized - sweet, toasty and tangy all in a single bite - and the cake was fluffy and light, and yet so moist... It was hard controlling ourselves from wiping out the entire plate.
Alas! We all gave into temptation - and that includes Shihao, who firmly insisted initially that he wouldn't be able to eat the whole thing. (Tsk, he finished it faster than I did.)

So that's all folks, to this yum-mazing weekend that I was spoiled with food. This definitely calls for a run at the gym.

What's Bakin' Next? Nanaimo Brownie Bars for my HSI finale event, Hotelies Sharing Information, March 2nd at 4:30pm, SR445. And of course, you're certainly invited!