Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Daring Bakers & Happy 40th Birthday Chez Panisse!


I am back but still so tired, it took me a week to get over the jet lag so I felt a little overwhelmed to post anything.  Two months of absence took a toll at my house and garden so I am slowly getting back to a routine and it feels good to be back.  Having missed two past daring baker challenges while in Venice, I had planned to participate to the daring bakers' August challenge which was to make candy, both chocolate and not.  I even purchased strawberries to make some patĂ© de fruit, but after reading the recipe I realized i needed liquid pectin so I decided to give up.  I still wanted to make something with chocolate and since last weekend the restaurant Chez Panisse celebrated its 40th year in business, I made these little chocolate candy I learned to make when I was doing an internship in their pastry department.  They are called nut jobs (don't you love the name?).

The daring bakers were challenged to temper chocolate among other things.  I thought I knew how to temper chocolate, but after following the instruction to the letter, I learned that I was always heating it too much (note to self: always use a thermometer when tempering chocolate), so this time the chocolate turned out perfect and it didn't bloom at all.  Can you see the shine on the chocolate?

Excuse the random pictures, this was taken at dawn, from my bedroom window.
 
I learned an incredible amount while working at Chez Panisse.  The recipes there are simple but amazing, and they are so generous and willing to share them.  The techniques they use are impeccable, and I came home with lots of tricks and knowledge.  One fundamental thing I learned is how to handle fruit.  I was there in the spring and part of summer so I had the pleasure to work with berries and stone fruit.  Now when I pick a peach to check it for ripeness I always think of Mia Ponce, whose knowledge and patience were invaluable.  Read more about this amazing restaurant from one of its past chefs, David Lebovitz, here and here.

Same place, the clouds reflection in the water

Nut Jobs
adapted from Chez Panisse

3.5 oz sliced almonds, toasted
1 oz other nuts, toasted ( I used pistachios)
6 oz bittersweet chocolate
6 oz semisweet chocolate

Melt and temper the chocolate (see the daring baker instructions).  Add the nuts and spread onto a 1/4 sheet pan lined with plastic wrap (spread to 3/4 of the pan, otherwise they will be too thin).  Let set in the refrigerator before cutting it into pieces.  Store in an airtight container.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Breathtaking

I have been blessed with the most amazing sunsets this summer, very lucky indeed, this last one I was able to document with only few photos. I realize that since these photos were taken without a tripod they are not very sharp, but I virtually had one minute before boarding the public boat to snatch them, by the time I tried to change the camera settings, the boat had turned and people were in the way.   Still, I hope you enjoy them, what a magnificent sunset. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Austria-A Cleaner Reality


I am not cooking much these days, although I have few things I want to make before I leave Italy.  I have been pampered by my mom's cooking and baking in her kitchen in the heat of summer is not ideal.  I haven't stopped taking pictures though, so I leave you with some photos I snapped during a wonderful trip to Austria I took last week with few "old" friends.

What a different world Austria is, clean, orderly, organized.  I wish Italy would learn from this neighboring country.   It is not just a question of size and population density, there is pride in keeping cities clean and blooming with flowers.  The country side is absolutely stunning, with fields of corn, wheat, and soy.  Many fields are used to cut grass for the animals and they are a great source of wild flowers.

The woods are also kept clean and are blooming with Digitalis, a stunning plant.

Digitalis purpurea, how can such a beautiful plant be so deadly?


As we were walking in the woods foraging for mushrooms, we run into the biggest blanket of blueberry bushes I have ever seen.   We started eating them like crazy and then decided to bring some back to our home to cook with them, filling few water bottles.  I made a blueberry cake with a streusel topping that I didn't get to photograph since I got sick with the stomach flu.


We also drove to the Czech Republic, and visited Cesky Krumlov, a beautiful town, with one of the most beautiful castles in Europe.   

Until next time!

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