Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Grotesquely Satisfying Desserts" (GSD's)

Grotesquely Satisfying Desserts (GSD's) was a phrase coined on a recent trip to Japan. I went with two dear friends from college to explore some of the famous cities and sites of Japan. Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo boasted many interesting people, places and foods. I wasn't too surprised by the Japanese love of cutesy sweets. I was surprised, however, by the sheer amount of lovely little places serving gigantic, over the top desserts. Because we walked many miles a day, we required such "snacks" often. I believe my friend Rhonda came up with "GSD" as an accurate description of the "more means more" scale of these treats.

My friend Erica, a first generation Japanese American was quick to note that these desserts/dessert parlors are a very feminine, girlie thing, and men are not so quick to eat sweets in this way. So, of course this idea of "girlie" sparked my curiosity even more. We also observed that there was a particular penchant for anything French in Japan, so there were even lots of creperies that served crepes with fillings such as fruit, ice cream - and naturally- fillings like whole pieces of cheesecake!
Since I am a type 1 Diabetic (the autoimmune kind), my love of baking, and preoccupation with the look and idea of wonderful desserts seems oh, so incredibly ironic. Although, we CAN eat sugar, it can be painfully complicated as to when, how much, and which desserts can be enjoyed. I was lucky to be able to partake in many GSD's because we walked a ridiculous amount and I found my average blood sugar to be about 60 during this trip!! So GSD's it was...afterall I needed them to survive..right?!

I also noticed that some of the desserts were not quite as sweet as some of the stuff you might find in, say...the American Midwest. Many Japanese treats were subtly sweet and made of unconventional ingredients, like a cold, sweet pea soup with rice balls. I loved getting giant pieces of "cake" at convenience stores that were half the sugar of many American treats. Then again, some of the Japanese desserts were pretty much a hi-test conglomeration of simple sugars. Look at the ice cream sundae under the title, yes people, that is a piece of cake ON TOP of a sundae... pure genius (and there were cornflakes at the bottom of the glass -- Rhonda's favorite).

I think my favorite, although it was hard to choose, was a treat in a fancy dessert parlour in the Ginza section of Tokyo (think Upper East Side, NY). It was made with green tea ice cream, shaved ice with green tea syrup, green tea rice balls, and sweet red beans. Those of you who know me realize that I do not miss a chance to have green tea flavored things. The awesome part of this dessert was that it came with a little drink that was made of hot water and a cherry blossom...It actually tasted like cherries. This drink was one of the most subtle and delicious things I have ever had, I really felt like royalty. I will be sure to post more on Japan.

Flowers and Bumble Bees

Consistent with my love of pretty things is my love of flowers. I never miss an opportunity to arrange and display flowers. Vintage jars and milk bottles are favorite vase choices. My husband recently brought me flowers and I decided to immortalize the occasion by taking pictures :) I hope to post a lot more of my past and present flower arrangements soon.

I also decided to make more cookies to welcome spring. Myself and my husband brought them to friends and colleagues who were delighted. This was one of my favorite batches of decorated cookies to date. It included flowers, butterflies and bumble bees. The bee hives were especially good and were iced with a honey glaze made of pure honey, powdered sugar and softened butter.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easter Celebration

As promised, back to garlands. The garland thing came about when I was shopping in a store called the "the Paper Source" - it is one of my favorite stores. It was fall and I knew that we were hosting Thanksgiving again this year. I wanted to decorate the apartment in a festive way and so I bought some pre-cut paper fall leaves. I decided to drape the leaves across the room in a garland - thus the garland was born. At Christmas it held Christmas cards, and well, you saw the Valentine's garland. So, naturally an Easter garland should follow. The bunny and egg shapes I bought pre-cut and I just covered them with pretty paper!

Back to some of the food that was prepared on Easter, beyond the traditional roast and veggies, we had a great quiche that I made up on the spot. We were running late and had a vegetarian and kids to feed so I wanted to make a quiche that wouldn't take too long and wouldn't have complex flavoring. Broccoli Cheddar it was. It was so easy and tasty that I made another one that night for breakfast/lunch the next week (of course the whole thing was gone in 5 minutes at Easter brunch). It is even slightly lower fat than usual with the cholesterol free egg substitute. I am planning to try it with half and half or milk soon, but the cooking time will probably be longer.

Broccoli and Cheddar Brunch Quiche

1 1/2 cups good quality frozen broccoli
3/4 cup non-flavored cholesterol free egg substitute
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dried thyme
a pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

1 pie shell

First heat the broccoli in the microwave until cooked through, chop into medium pieces, leaving some of the smaller florets intact, and drain as much of the liquid as possible. Let the broccoli cool. Add the egg substitute, cheese and cream to a bowl and combine. Add the herbs and spices and combine. Pour the egg mixture into a pie shell - if you don't make your own, be sure to use one without sugar. I prefer "Trader Joe's" brand because it is all natural, no sugar and it comes in a sheet, so that I can use my own pie dish. Once the egg mixture is poured into the shell disperse the cooled broccoli into the mixture. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then at 350 for about 30 minutes until set. Just tap the center and make sure it is firm, but not too hard. That's it!!

Eastertime Treats

Through the ages, Hot Cross Buns have become a traditional Good Friday food. I have never made these before, but since we had some family coming in from Holy Thursday night to Easter Sunday, I thought I would take the opportunity to prepare these. I used a recipe from one of my favorite books "Whole Grain Baking" by King Arthur Flour. These buns were made with all natural ingredients and whole wheat flour. I added a mixture of raisins, dried cherries and dried blueberries and used Grand Marnier instead of Rum to soak the fruit in. They were outstandingly delicious!! Some of us may have eaten 2-3 at a time. The texture came out quite well, especially for my first shot at a yeast roll. Can't wait to make these again.

The observance of Easter did not end there. Easter Sunday brought a variety of sweet and savory goodies including a broccoli cheddar quiche, traditional pork roast and trimmings as well as cupcakes and...cookies!! My nephews helped to make and decorate some of the cookies. The cupcakes were a big hit as well, frosted with homemade vanilla buttercream.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Irish Cows are Smiling??

Irish cows smiling and a green cow cookies may have you confused. Random, yes, well...maybe. You see, my mind sometimes connects things in a "unique" way. The genesis of the Irish cow cookie starts with a couple we are friends with who happen to have a St. Paddy's Day wedding anniversary. They also happen to have Anniversary/St. Paddy's Day parties. We also recently went on a trip with this couple to Lancaster, PA to savor the kitsch and charm of Amish farm country. So, when the St. Paddy's party came around this year --naturally-- I thought Irish cow cookies!! I mean, I love using the cow cutter, so any chance to use it is exciting...I have made traditional cows, pink and brown cows and psychedelic cows to date.

Check out some of the other cookies too. They include a wheel barrow with shamrocks inside...of course I was very excited about that one, but people didn't so much understand what it was. I think one of the comments was..."is that an Irish rocket ship?" Oh well, they can't ALL be Irish cow cookies.

Valentine's Day Fun

The past two years we have had Valentine's Day parties for our friends in the area. We really go all out- this year, I made a heart garland...(not to worry, garlands will be revisited in the Easter entry). Please excuse the cottage cheese ceiling - it is not our fault...apartment living.

Needless to say there were baked goods...scratch Devil's Food cupcakes, with homemade fresh raspberry buttercream, to be exact. Notice the 1940's tablecloth in the cupcake pic.

Another awe-inspiring accomplishment was smoked pulled pork that my husband was able to rustle up on the stove top. He will be posting a guest blog at some point about his adventures in indoor meat-smoking.

I included some pics from last year as well because the pics of the table this year did not do it justice. Pink Depression Glass, pink ramekins, pink dessert, pink flowers in vintage jars and milk bottles. Yes, there is a lot of pink in my life. God Bless my husband.

An American Classic

Hello again! It has been a while since being stuck in the apartment with all of the snow! It's a bit harder to find time to blog since the snow melted - but have no fear...I have a back log of food and fun stay tuned!

I decided that my return post would be about a vintage inspired classic. I have been thinking a lot about America lately, as many of us have and I wanted to share this mountain of 1950's Americana-deliciousness with you all.

I made this for my husband's 33rd birthday due to his many subtle "pistachio" pudding references that I logged in my brain throughout our relationship. Let's face it folks, it is instant pistachio pudding mixed with "whipped topping", poured into a pie plate lined with vanilla wafers. I think this basic recipe is on the back of pudding mixes everywhere. Food snobs beware, this humble, unnatural treat was unrivaled in crowd satisfaction! One of the greatest joys of making this was seeing the instant pudding set before my eyes!! Ohhh modern technology!