Brownies and Bouchon!

You can see me in the reflection.

As 2009 draws to a close, blah blah blah. I have nothing inspirational to write or words of wisdom. I’m just glad the year is over. A chapter in my life is done, complete, locked away never to be repeated. One thing I will repeat is a visit to Bouchon. This year I dined at Bouchon FOUR times. Three of those times were in Las Vegas. Yesterday I visited the new Bouchon outlet in Beverly Hills.

Edited to add this picture. I can’t believe I forgot to add it. Why am I the only one wearing color? I realize it’s winter, but we’re at Bouchon!! Oh well, they all look great.

Me, Aaron, Jen, Michelle

The service was outstanding. The waitstaff was very proactive. We had a long leisurely lunch, mostly discussing the chaos  that is my life (I apologize for being a conversation hog: Jen, Michelle, Aaron!). This time  instead of my usual salad and gnocchi, I had the soup du jour (butternut squash) and the croque madame without the HAM.

My friend Michelle wrote a more in-depth description of our experience.  You can read it HERE.

The dark things in the middle are pomegranate seeds

On brioche!

I can't seem to order anything else for dessert!

Even the bathroom is gorgeous.

I went on a baking binge right before Christmas and thanks to  C & H Sugar who sent me a gift card to use  to purchase ingredients, I added a last-minute item of brownie squares to my cookie plate.  I made this recipe, but with out the nuts–because there are some people in my family who do not like nuts. They may be the same people who like HAM.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

2010 is going to be AWESOME!!

my sweet vegan

The day before I left on vacation I was contacted by the publisher of My Sweet Vegan asking if I would like to review the book. I practically squealed my answer. Hannah Kaminsky, the wonderfully gifted blogger, wrote the book and I’m a big fan of her blog–BitterSweet. Of course I would review her cookbook!

Often times when you read a cookbook review on a blog, the blogger has tried a bunch of the recipes and has gorgeous photos to match. I’m more of a real-time blogger–I tend to make something and post it soon after. I don’t have a back log of posts waiting for publication. For one, I’m not that organized and my life is a bit too chaotic. Secondly, I’m not a note-taker and if I don’t write about it right away I will forget about it.  Sometimes I’ll make something and take pictures of it and never write about it. So it goes.  {/paraphrase Vonnegut}

Anyway, starting today and throughout 2010 I will bake from My Sweet Vegan and write about it. Often times when I buy a new cookbook and can’t decide which recipe to make first, I make the very first recipe listed. I’ve made a bunch of first recipes. :P Anyway the first recipe from Hannah’s book is:  Better Banana Nut Muffins.

Do they live up to their name? Heck, yeah! The muffins were a huge hit at work. So much so that someone who very rarely ventures into my office came in to tell me how much he liked them. What makes them better? The banana flavor is intense. It shines, it screams it’s presence. These are not wallflower banana muffins. Where does the flavor come from? In addition to the usual mashed ripe bananas, the recipe calls for dehydrated bananas. Genius! Never in a million years would I have thought of that.

I can’t wait to try some of the other recipes:

  • Graham Flour Fig Scones
  • Butterscotch Blondies
  • Maple Pistachio Crèmes
  • Peanut Butter Bombs
  • Chai “Cheese”cake
  • Root Beer Float Cupcakes
  • Wasabi Chocolate Cupcakes
  • Green Tea Tiramisu
  • Plus a bunch more!

If you haven’t checked out Hannah’s blog, BitterSweet, please do. Not only are the recipes killer and creative, but she has mad photo skillz. Also, buy her book: My Sweet Vegan.

{twd} cheesecake!

I was so excited for Christmas this year. In my family we celebrate Christmas Eve and go our separate ways on Christmas Day. This year was my first time hosting Christmas Eve dinner. Since I was hosting, I got to choose the menu. And since I only cook vegetarian, I chose a vegetarian menu. This was exciting because it was going to be the first 100% vegetarian Christmas Eve.

It took me awhile to figure out the menu–looking through magazines and my cookbooks. I knew I would have dessert in the bag–I can always count on Dorie Greenspan and Tuesdays with Dorie for a great pick. I finally found my menu in Sunset Magazine‘s Best of 2009 Holiday Issue.

Well, guess what?? My parents showed up with a HAM. Yes, a ham. They came in with a dome-shaped thing covered in foil and I asked suspiciously, “What is that??!”. Can you believe it?

At least I had plenty of dessert and Veuve Cliquot to console me.

the offending ham

Thank you to Margaret of Tea and Scones for hosting this week. The cheesecake was delicious, baked beautitully, and was a hit with the family. I topped my cheesecake with crushed candy cane to make it a bit festive. If you would like the recipe, please visit Margaret’s blog or buy the book!

{twd} mini-pecan pies

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet because I’m busy busy busy just like everyone else this time of year.  My Favorite Pecan Pie from Baking…From My Home to Yours was this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie selection. I made minis for easier sharing.  I liked this pie. Pecan pie is usually too sweet, but this one wasn’t which is why it is Dorie Greenspan’s favorite pecan pie recipe.

Thank you to Beth of Someone’s in the Kitchen with Brina for picking a winner. If you would like the recipe, visit her blog or buy the book.

Tahitian Vanilla Bean Star Cookies and Eggnog Ice Cream

You probably all don’t know this, but I just got back from vacation. :P And on this vacation I bought vanilla beans. A lot of vanilla beans. Although most of the beans I bought came from Taha’a, French Polynesia, I also bought some in Vava’u, Tonga.

The quality of the Tongan beans doesn’t compare to the Tahitian ones and my Polynesian friends scoffed when I showed them my purchase. Visually  I knew the quality wasn’t there, but they smelled like vanilla and the price was right–10 beans for $5. I figured I could use them when vanilla isn’t the star of a recipe or maybe to make vanilla sugar.

Last Saturday, I invited my intrepid pastry sous-chef Diego over to help me get back into the post-vacation baking swing of things. When I asked him what he wanted to bake, he told me ice cream. Okay, not really baking–but I heart ice cream so all is good. We flipped through The Perfect Scoop looking for a recipe I hadn’t made and had all the ingredients. We came upon Eggnog Ice Cream. Not only did it meet my criteria, it was also seasonally appropriate. Score!

{I realize Diego is holding a duster and not a whisk in the above picture, but he also likes to clean in addition to baking.}

The original  recipe calls for vanilla extract, but I decided to test out my Tongan beans and used two of them instead. The ice cream is wonderful. Not only is it perfectly creamy, it packs a punch of flavor with the perfect combination of vanilla, nutmeg, and booze. Oh, yes–not only do I heart ice cream, I heart boozy ice cream most of all {see: Guinness-Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Tiramisù Ice Cream, Prune-Armagnac Ice Cream}.

You can find the recipe for Eggnog Ice Cream HERE. Note: To sub the vanilla beans, I scraped the seeds into the sugar and rubbed them with my fingers until the sugar was moist and fragnant. I then added the milk and 1/2 the cream into a medium saucepan with the sugar and vanilla seeds and pods. Once heated, I let it seep for 30 minutes and then proceeded with recipe as written.

I paired the ice cream with a cookie in which vanilla beans are the star (ha ha) of the show: Tahitian Vanilla Bean Star Cookies. The recipe comes from the Sunset Magazine 2009 Holiday Cookbook special issue and doesn’t specify what type of bean, so use what ever type you have on hand.

The cookies are simple butter cookies with the ingenious addition of a vanilla bean. No need to refrigerate before rolling and cutting, so if you are a speedy baker you can have cookies in less than an hour. {I am not a speedy baker}. I may change the name of these cookies to Tahitian Vanilla Bean Bliss Bites. These are now my go to roll and cut sugar/butter cookies. YUM.

You can find the recipe for Vanilla-bean Cookies HERE. {Note: I also used the scrape seeds directly into sugar and rub method here. I find this a better method for mixing the seeds into the sugar.}