Friday, July 30, 2010

Freelance Styling

Whaaat? I haven't mentioned I occasionally freelance as a stylist? I guess I thought it went without saying, this being L.A. and all. As luck would have it, I'm friends with some wicked talented photographers. (I have no idea why they're friends with me, other than I'm the world's worst photographer and therefore pose no threat, and I keep them hopped up on sugar.) Sometimes, they let me style sets and wardrobe on their shoots. 

I also happen to be friends with a really senior (in title, not age) producer on the Real Housewives shows and Bethenny Getting Married? (I know, right!? I'm seeing her -- my friend, not Bethenny -- on Sunday so I'll see if I can get any dirt, although she's contractually obligated to stay mum. Rats.) Anyway, she once hired me to style Andy Cohen for a Real Housewives reunion special. Love! Not only did I get to throw down some budget on Ralph Lauren Purple Label, but that guy is even more nice and smart and funny and charming in person. Now if I could only work an angle with Top Chef...

Below are some images from one of my favorite shoots with photographer Dani Brubaker. The clothes are from designers I won't mention because we didn't tell them frosting would be involved. I picked up the tableware, aprons and linens at Anthropologie, and made the sweets myself. (Brag much?) While we were shooting, the kids were dying -- dying -- to dig in to the cupcakes. What went down when we let them loose? As Andy Cohen would say, watch what happens...

[All images © 2008 Dani Brubaker. Used with permission.]

Don't you just want to eat those kids with a spoon?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gesine's Long Run Cake

Moved by Gesine Bullock-Prado's beautiful post about why she runs and what she's running against, yesterday I went for a long run and made her Long Run Cake. Skipping my personal feelings about how sh*tty it is that anyone has to lose a parent to cancer (or any other disease), let's talk about the cake. These little cakes, baked in muffin tins, are delicious, have no added fat, are gluten-free* and, as Gesine points out, are a great vehicle for using up your CSA zucchini. So please read Gesine's post, donate to her cause if you can, and make her Long Run Cake. Because sometimes it's all you can do. Yet somehow, it's more than that.

Adapted very slightly, and only because I like to do things in a certain order and apparently can't leave well enough alone. Makes about 18 little cakes.

1 1/2 cups oat flour*
1/2 cup flax meal (not in Gesine's recipe)
3/4 cup cocoa powder**
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 medium or 4 small zucchini, cut into large chunks
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs
3/4 cup Muscovado sugar (I used raw sugar because I didn't have Muscovado on hand)
1/4 cup raw honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (Nielsen-Massey is gluten-free)***

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin tins with baking papers (about 18).

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oat flour, flax meal, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a food processor, puree the zucchini chunks to the consistency of baby food. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and add the applesauce, eggs, sugar, honey, and vanilla. Mix on low speed to combine. (Note: don't put the mixer on medium speed and splash yourself with the mixture. Not that I did that or anything.)

4. Stop the mixer and add the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until just combined. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin cups till they're nearly full, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (This took exactly 26 minutes in my case.)

*To ensure this recipe is gluten-free (assuming you or your loved ones can tolerate gluten-free oats if celiac is an issue), use certified gluten-free oats or oat flour. I didn't have the latter on hand, so I made my own by whirring about 2 cups of whole Bob's Red Mill oats in my food processor until they resembled oat bran. I measured 1 1/2 cups of the "flour" for this recipe and reserved the rest for another use.

**I use non-alkalized Hershey's cocoa for my Double Chocolate Buzz Buzz cookies, only because it reacts well with the leavening agents in that recipe. However, I noted Gesine's use of Callebaut Extra Brute cocoa in her recipe, so I dipped into my stash of Valrhona cocoa for these cakes. Valrhona cocoa is alkalized and super-rich, making it ideal for truffles, fine cakes and of course this recipe.

***Gesine's recipe calls for 1 teaspoon vanilla, which I'm sure is perfect, but I can never get enough vanilla, so there you have it.

Finally, I leave you with a photo of the zucchini and applesauce base, because it's gorgeous and reminds me of the Green Monsters I see on so many blogs.

Not a Green Monster

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Cherry Pie

As evidenced by my recent posts, I went on a baking bender this weekend. I blame it mostly on the weather, which was cold, dreary and drizzly. When it's gloomy out, nothing makes me feel more cozy than a good session with my KitchenAid, especially when Tour de France and World Cup are on TV. I also happened to have three pounds of gorgeous organic cherries from the Farmers Market, and some new toys: a cherry pitter and a heart-shaped pocket pie mold that I got on sale for $4.99.

The cherry pitter is brilliant. It's one of those gadgets that seems unnecessary and indulgent until you have one, and then you wonder how you lived without it for so long. It helped me to turn a colander of cherries into pie filling in minutes.

The pocket pie mold, however, was a bust. (I returned it to the store yesterday.) It's a cutter/mold combo: it cuts heart shapes out of your crust, which you place in the mold, fill, and crimp shut. Williams-Sonoma makes it look easy breezy beautiful.

Problem is, the crust hearts should be at least 1/2-inch larger than the mold, which is concave. So when you add the fillilng, the crusts sink into the mold and don't crimp together. Sure, I could have cut larger hearts using the mold as a guide, but doesn't that defeat the purpose of the gadget? And the pie-crust-to-filling ratio was completely off. I could barely fit two tablespoons of filling into each pie, and a cherry would inevitably pop through the little heart cutout like an angry, bloodied olive.


So I did the only reasonable thing: I ditched the useless gadget and baked a full-size pie. Below is the recipe for the filling, adapted from here and there, but mostly from Cook's Illustrated's The Perfect Recipe


Summer Cherry Pie
Makes one 9-inch double-crust pie

3 pounds (about 6 cups) fresh cherries, stemmed, pitted and halved
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
Two 14-inch round pie crusts
1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon milk or water (optional)
Sugar for sanding (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and position a rack in the middle. Line a pie plate with one of the crusts, fitting it to the corners and sides of the plate without stretching. (You will want a 1-inch overhang when trimmed.)

2. In a large bowl, combine the cherries, sugar, salt, starch, and flavorings, toss to combine thoroughly, and pour into the prepared pie plate.

3. Carefully top with the remaining pie crust, pressing the top and bottom crusts together. Using kitchen shears or a knife, trim the crusts to hang 1 inch beyond the rim of the pie plate. Tuck into the rim of the pie plate and crimp with a fork or your fingers to seal. Brush with the egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and cut vents to allow the steam to escape. (You could get creative with the top crust, such as making a lattice or cutting shapes with mini-cookie cutters. I cut stars in mine, and glued them around the cutouts with the egg wash.)

4. Place the prepared pie in the freezer for 10 minutes (or in the refrigerator for 20 minutes) to firm up the crust. (This will ensure a flaky result.)

5. Remove the pie from the freezer or refrigerator, place on a baking sheet, and bake on the center rack of the oven at 425 degrees F for about 25 minutes, or until crust is lightly brown. Reduce heat to 400 degrees F and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is browned and cooked through. (Rotate the pie if it's browning unevenly, and tent with foil if it's over-browning at the edges.) Remove to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup Lunch: Bison Steak and Mushroom Pies

Today I made a big batch of Bison Steak and Mushroom Pies for my husband, who has been asking me to make Steak and Kidney Pies ever since we returned from South Africa in April. Since today was the World Cup final and closing ceremonies, and we were missing our family in South Africa terribly, I figured the pies would make a fitting lunch.
This was my maiden voyage into Steak and Kidney Pie territory, so I consulted my go-to cookbook for all things English: Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. The filling from her Steak and Kidney Pudding recipe fit the bill, with some modifications -- most notably, substituting bison steaks for beef chuck, and making hand pies instead of steamed puddings.

The recipe had to be further altered when I went to the market to buy the kidneys and found they were out. So I increased the quantities of steak and mushrooms to compensate.

Bison Steak and Mushroom Pies
Makes 12 small hand pies
Note: This recipe is not complicated, but it is a lengthy endeavor, as the filling must simmer for at least 1 1/2 hours. I made my filling the day before assembling and baking the pies, which is recommended as it improves the flavors. The filling is insanely delicious, and would be good in a variety of dishes or as a stew on its own.

For the filling:
3 tablespoons all-purpose wheat or gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon English dry mustard (e.g., Coleman's)
Salt & freshly-ground pepper
24 ounces bison steak (such as filets mignons), cut into 1/2 inch pieces (or meat of your choice, such as beef chuck, lamb, etc.)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
8 ounces crimini (baby portobello) mushrooms, halved (or quartered, if large)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons beef stock
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons stout or dark ale (such as Guinness)
2 teaspoons natural oyster sauce
1 teaspoon corn starch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water (if needed to thicken the filling)
For the pastry:
4 sheets puff pastry or 1 recipe of your favorite pie dough (enough for a large double-crust pie)
For the egg wash (optional):
1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon milk or water

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Combine the flour, mustard, salt and pepper (to taste) in a gallon Ziploc bag. Add the steak and shake to coat with flour.

2. In a dutch oven or heavy, lidded pot set over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Brown the steak in batches, removing each to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Be sure to scrape the floury bits from the bottom of the pan and add more oil as needed. Set aside.

3. Saute the onion in the pan until it starts to turn translucent, adding more oil if needed. Add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to soften.

4. Return the meat to the pan with the onions and mushrooms, and add the beef stock, stout and oyster sauce. Bring to a boil, scraping any browned bits from the bottom. Cover and transfer to the preheated oven to cook for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Note: My filling was still quite watery after 1 1/2 hours, so I removed the lid, increased the oven temp to 350 degrees, and cooked the filling for another 1/2 hour. If the filling needs to be thickened further yet, transfer the pan to the stove top, slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture while bringing to a boil, and stir until thickened. Set aside to cool. At this point, you may refrigerate or freeze all or half the filling for later use.

5. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. On a well-floured surface, roll out the puff pastry or pie dough to an approximately 10x10-inch square, then cut into quarters. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the filling into the center of each square, then fold in half diagonally as if making a turnover. Press the dough together around the filling, trimming to a half-circle and crimping the edges with a flour-dipped fork to seal. Transfer each pie to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate so as to prevent the dough from becoming gooey. (Depending on your number of baking sheets and the size of your oven, you may have to assemble and bake the pies in batches. I ended up with four pies on each of my four baking sheets, which I then baked two at a time.)

6. If desired, brush each pie with the egg wash. Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned, then reduce heat to 400 degrees, rotate the pans top to bottom and front to back, and cook for about another 15 minutes or until well-browned and bubbling. Serve immediately or cool completely, wrap tightly, and refrigerate or freeze for later.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vegan and/or Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Buzz Buzz Cookies

Today I made my first-ever batch of vegan, gluten-free Double Chocolate Buzz Buzz cookies. I was a bit nervous about the endeavor, but I needn't have been -- it was simply a matter of making some substitutions and adjustments, and baking the cookies at a higher temperature. I still have some work to do before the modified cookies could pass for the originals -- the flavor is virtually identical but the texture is not -- but I think I can share the recipe in good conscience. Speaking of which, these are not healthy cookies by any means, nor are the originals!

Vegan, Gluten-Free Variation
Follow the original recipe, with these modifications:
- Increase baking temperature to 350 degrees F.
- Make sure your sugar and chocolate are vegan. (I use vegan brands anyway.)
- Substitute 1-1/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour or baking mix for the wheat flour. (Note: If using baking mix, omit the baking powder and baking soda in the original recipe, as the baking mix should already contain leavening agents.)
- Substitute 1/3 cup coconut oil or vegan butter (e.g., Earth Balance) for the dairy butter. (I used coconut oil, which was a too greasy for my liking.)
- Substitute 2 chia "eggs" for the 2 chicken eggs: stir together 2 tablespoons chia seeds and 6 tablespoons water in a small bowl, and let the mixture sit until it becomes gelatinous.
- Reduce white sugar to 1/4 cup.
- Flatten the cookies slightly before baking.
Note: The chia "eggs" are quite crunchy, and the coconut oil quite greasy, so I'm going to experment with applesauce and flax meal.

Gluten-Free Variation
Follow the original recipe, increasing the oven temp to 350 degrees F and:
- Substitute 1-1/2 cups gluten-free flour or baking mix for the wheat flour. (See note, above.)
- Reduce white sugar to 1/4 cup.
- As instructed above, flatten the cookies slightly before baking.

Special thanks to Katie at Sweet Tater for the chia eggs recipe.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Double Chocolate Buzz Buzz Cookies

Last night I made a batch of my Double Chocolate Buzz Buzz cookies to give to a friend as a thank-you gift. Brag alert: these are my signature cookies -- the ones that landed me on The Food Network and on which I founded my bakery business. (Why are they called Buzz Buzz cookies? Because of the espresso and rum.) Bakers and chefs are often reluctant to share their signature recipes, and while I can understand this, I personally have no problem sharing this recipe. (Besides, a version of it can be found on

Note: This dough is more like brownie batter, so don't fret when your dough is ooey gooey. And try not to eat it all before it reaches the oven...

Double Chocolate Buzz Buzz Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (recommended: King Arthur Organic)
1/2 cup natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder (recommended: Hershey's)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (omit if you want a chewier, less cake-y cookie)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 12-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (recommended: Nielsen-Massey)
1 teaspoon dark rum (optional) (recommended: Myers's)
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (or to taste; optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats and/or parchment paper (I use both).

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan set over the lowest possible heat, melt the butter and half the chocolate, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs, sugars, vanilla, rum and instant espresso. Add the butter-chocolate mixture and beat to combine.

5. With the mixer turned off, add the flour mixture and remaining chocolate all at once. Beat on low speed until just combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula, folding the dough gently to ensure the liquids and flour are incorporated.

6. Using a cookie scoop or spoon, form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place on prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until cookies have spread and the tops are puffy and crackled, rotating baking sheets top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes. Remove the baking sheets to cooling racks for 2-3 minutes, then gently transfer the cookies to cool directly on the racks. (This is aided by baking the cookies on parchment, which can be slid off the baking sheets and onto the cooling racks without disturbing the cookies.)

Variations and ideas:
- Sprinkle the cookies with flaked sea salt after the first 7 minutes of baking.
- Add nuts and/or dried fruit, white or milk chocolate chips, caramel pieces, mint candies...whatever strikes your fancy. Just don't substitute white or milk chocolate for the melted chocolate.
- Instead of rum, use a flavored liquor such as Chambord or Grand Marnier.

Baking tips:
- Avoid dark nonstick baking sheets, which absorb too much heat and cause the cookies to spread and brown on the bottoms to an undesirable degree.
- Don't let the dough sit while you fuss around doing other things. The melted chocolate will cool, causing the dough to become crumbly and the cookies to lose their smooth sheen when baked.
- ALWAYS use fresh baking powder and soda, both of which generally keep for 6 months when stored in a cool, dry place.

For vegan and gluten-free variations, click here.