Sugar and Spice: Très Sweet

Unlikely pairings between two seemingly different things can result in a disaster or success. Beer and ballet: works in this context. Mini skirts and Uggs: not even close. Applesauce and macaroni: the jury is still out. Sugar and Spice: yes!

But, this fledgling bakery is more nice than naughty (though, the mixed martial arts studio and tattoo parlor give it some street cred). The dainty charm of this corner shop bakery definitely brightens a somewhat desolate area.

Sugar and spice turns out an impressive selection of desserts daily. From “pop tarts” to mini cupcakes that incorporate seasonal fruit, there’s certainly no shortage of options. Your eyes dart back and forth at the bronzed pastries perched on candy-colored pedestals to the rows of other cookies and tarts. It’s as dizzying as an antique store – you’re not sure where to start.

The “pop tarts” are reminiscent of the toaster pastry namesake. But, lacking a decent amount of fruit filling and suffering from a dry pastry encasing, these crumble at the seams.  Plus, the severely sweet coating of icing does little to overcome this imbalance.

The cupcakes – offered in mini and standard sizes – are worth sampling as the flavors change daily. My favorite so far: the Elvis, a peanut butter banana cupcake. Talk about a hunk of burning love. I would have bought every last one that day if I hadn’t been so patient and waited to sample it at home, some 10 miles away. But, what make this bakery stand out among the rest for me are the chocolate filled brioche buns. Mmmm. Mmmmm. Mmmmmmmmm.

I can spend hours describing and daydreaming about the perfect day in Paris. But, I have yet to hop the pond. Somehow, though, the Sugar and Spice chocolate brioche bun is as close to that sun soaked stroll through the cobblestone alleyways and along the patiserrie storefronts that I envision is a day in Paris. One bite, and F and 12th Street is a quiet, sedate corner where the light rail is not charging by you at full speed and the city’s troublemakers have found mischief in another part of town.  And, that’s what decadent, sinful dessert is all about: transcendence.

Forget about stocking every sweet morsel imaginable, Sugar and Spice needs to, in the words of the “Project Runway” judges: edit. Edit the menu to showcase the shop’s signature desserts like the chocolate brioche bun. With limited seating and counter space in general, it’s more suited for café staples like crescents, cookies, and cake loaves. People can eat these goods on the go with their hot coffee or tea while cupcakes, frosted pastries, and delicate tartlets are more suited for consumption at a leisurely pace where food can fall onto a plate and not on your suit’s lapel.

Despite any need for minor tweaking, the sweetest thing of all might just be its owner: Carissa Jones. Despite the mess of pans and flour at her workstation, Ms. Jones never fails to cease working and engage in an attentive conversation with you. She’s always excited to tell you about what’s for sale or what she has planned for an upcoming holiday menu. Whatever direction this bakery takes, it’s all the more satisfying to enjoy the goods of a passionately skilled artisan.


Where the young go to retire – and vacation

With Portland practically a straight shot north of Sacramento on the I-5 freeway, there’s no reason not to hit the road for this woodsy metropolis – especially in the summer when you need a break from the heat.

Last month, my boyfriend and I set out for the City of Roses. Despite a good faith effort to research notable sites and stops before our departure, I madly studied the Moon Portland guide, Design*Sponge’s Portland City Guide, and a Cooking Light article during the ride up. Granted, it is about a 10-hour excursion in the car, so I had more than ample time to plan an itinerary.

Overall, I felt at home in Portland where Subarus seem to breed like rabbits. It’s quite similar to Sacramento as a bike friendly community with an affinity for the outdoors. Yet, they’re much more pet friendly than Sac, and I noticed many doggie daycare establishments, including Virginia Woof which I’m sure provides a well-rounded intellectual experience for its boarding pups.

Then there are the numerous food and shopping options. And, with no sales tax in Oregon, it’s hard to resist whipping out that debit card on a purchase that can quickly turn into a shopping spree.

On a sunny day though, there’s no place like Portland. I can’t wait to go back.

Here are my top picks for shopping, eating, and sight-seeing:

Cacao – I can’t stop raving about this place. I walked in with a simple request for locally sourced chocolate and the clerk wowed me with an insightful tour of their stock. One interesting tidbit from my guide: the whimsically packaged Moonstruck Chocolate is not made from scratch in Portland as the company claims. They simply temper chocolate purchased from a prominent Swiss chocolatier. Cacao only recently started to carry this item in an effort to expose this truth.

Also, noteworthy, fans of salted caramel MUST buy a bag of lusciously creamy candies by Bequet. We left Portland with four bags between the both of us and regret not getting more. Luckily, Cacao will open an online shop soon.

Gilt – A truly well-curated boutique with attentive staff. And, while most of the pieces were out of my price-range, the collection of local jewelry on the second floor was certainly more affordable, and the reason I stopped at Gilt in the first place. In the end, I walked away with oval-shaped sterling silver hoop earrings and a stack of (oxidized?) steel rings, one with a pearl affixed to it, for a reasonable $40.

Redux – This place is just as dangerous as Gilt, but differs in that they sell jewelry and accessories made from reclaimed materials. One such item that caught my eye was a charm bracelet made from discarded cuff links. With an inventory from over 300 artists, there’s an overwhelming array of items to pour through. But, this also means you’re likely to find a treasure. Now, Sacramento could use a place like this.

                                                                                                                          photo from Google

Two Tarts Bakery – More like “Two-Bites Bakery,” this teeny patisserie serves silver dollar sized cookies including an addicting salted chocolate chip cookie as well as a miniature take on the Oreo cookie. Ideally located among the many retail shops on NW 23rd Street in the Nob Hill neighborhood, it’s the perfect place to stop and refuel before powering onto the next store. In fact, I’m tempted to sign up for the cookie club just so I can continue to enjoy their baked goods back in Sacramento.

Kettleman Bagels – For an inexpensive breakfast fix, there’s no place better than Kettleman Bagels. For $9, we each had a bagel with cream cheese and our respective orange juice and Stumptown coffee beverages. After spending around $20 on breakfast the first couple of days, Kettleman Bagels was a welcome relief to the pocket book without sacrificing quality. I could have easily scarfed down a second sun dried tomato bagel.

                                                                                                                          photo from Google

Meat Cheese Bread – As much as I love to have lunch or dinner in a fine dining establishment, it can get expensive to eat that way on vacation. Hence down-to-earth eateries like Meat Cheese Bread hit the spot when you need sustenance without having to leave a tip (at least not the standard 20%). They offer a simple menu of classic sandwiches and salads with a slight twist. My pick: the bacon, lettuce, and beet (BLB) sandwich. I only wish I had tried the coconut milk and mango bread pudding for dessert.


Screen Door – When asked about favorite places to eat in Portland, one local we met named the Screen Door without hesitation. In addition to the recommendation, the number of waiting diners further indicated its popularity. We snagged some seats at the bar where we observed the line cooks prepping chicken for frying and arranging salads to order. I’m not a fried chicken kind of girl, and the pulled pork sandwich caught my attention. It was a little too spicy for my taste, and I probably would have been more content with the three side dishes option (Screen Door Plate) after eating their macaroni and cheese which lulls you into a dreamy food coma. Plus, it’s the best option for sampling some Southern comfort food that would generously serve two people.

Powell’s – Yea, it’s only a bookstore, but it’s one in a million. I know I’m biased as a bibliophile, but the selection is impressive. I bee-lined for the cookbooks to find that they had four to five rows or so of used and new books in the food genre. Swoon. Now, if only Powell’s would open more locations outside of Oregon. That would be paradise.

Multnomah Falls – With a restaurant and gift shop, Multnomah Falls feels more like a tourist attraction than one of nature’s scenic retreats at first. As the second highest year-round waterfall in the U.S., it’s apparent why it beckons millions of visitors each year. But, if you can manage the 1.2-mile uphill climb to the top of the 620-foot waterfall, you’ll find less crowds as well as stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge. Assuming you have a vehicle, Multnomah Falls is a relatively short drive from Portland.

If you’ve been to Portland, what are your favorites?

Mad Hungry

The little things in life make each day memorable. Things like an extra shot of espresso in your latte from that friendly barista. Or, YouTube videos that tug at those heart strings, like this one. And, even announcements from a favorite musician about their upcoming album release date. Most of the time, for me, food are those little things. Things like tacos.

After finishing the Sacramento Bee’s raving review of Chando’s taco stand a few Sundays ago, I suggested, ok more like requested, that Jonathan and I drive over there for lunch.  It’s all I wanted, the only item on my agenda for the day.

But the giddy feeling of excitement kicking inside of me quickly quieted when I saw the mass of people shrouding the taqueria.

The line in front of Chando's that day.

And, it’s no wonder that the line stretched for half a block. Sac Bee critic Blair Anthony Robertson boldly states, “These days, less than a year in, Chando’s is making what just might be the best tacos, burritos and quesadillas in town – perhaps from here to Tijuana.” That single sentence had me on my feet. When you live in a state teeming with decent Mexican food restaurants, that’s the ultimate compliment.

Plus, the guy eats food for living. It’s hard, for me anyways, not to trust his palate, especially when a week prior his unfavorable review of the popular Tower Café accurately captured my own feelings about the place. (Though, I will say that some of the breakfast entrees are decent.)

The vacant gas station across from Chando's.

The line didn’t scare me off at first, but it hardly budged, and we moved maybe 2 feet in a span of 20 minutes. Chando himself, Lisidro Madrigal, made a brief appearance to thank everyone for their patience. When we made the decision to brave the crowd, we made the mistake of assuming that it would be a short wait. We were fools to think that you would get fast food from a taco stand.  But that’s not to disparage Chando’s, sometimes you have to wait in life.  Unfortunately, our stomachs weren’t as understanding and the continuous chorus of “everyone must of read the article” wore tiresome.  This leads me to say that I disagree with Robertson when he says you should arrive hungry because you probably won’t make it to the window to place your order.

But, he’s onto something by recommending the taco trio, which we ordered the following day with Jonathan’s mom in tow and our new friend Todd who was off to get Greek food for his “honey dew” after the epic wait for his own meal. (The people you meet in lines. Surprisingly, the day before I met another woman named “Keli” in line at the Natomas Michaels craft store.) The thing about bold statements from restaurant critics along with crowds that seem to only swell as a result of stagnant service is that they trigger a sweaty-palm feeling of suspense.  Will the food be that good? Was it worth the 45-minute wait?

I would say yes, yes, and yes. But, do they outdo all other taquerias in California? I’m not so sure I can make that declaration. I’m a fish tacos kind of girl. That’s my go-to dish at any Mexican restaurant if they offer them. The ones at Chando’s are phenomenal, as the fish is moist and freshly flavored with a citrusy marinade and drizzle of crema. And, the other tacos I ordered, the chicken and adobado, were also delicious with tender meat cooked in an agreeably spicy sauce. And for those with finicky thresholds for spicy food, you can’t go wrong with an order of horchata or an orange Fanta if sweetened rice milk isn’t your thing. Chando’s recipes successfully satisfy one’s appetite without ever nearing that state of gluttony often suffered at other Mexican eateries at places like Tres Hermanas or El Torrito (dare I even compare them to chains restaurants).

The chicken taco.

And, just in time to serve the new throngs of patrons, Madrigal will open a second Chando’s this spring in midtown. No word on exactly where yet.

Best taqueria north or the border or not, it’s encouraging to see another fine eatery open in Sacramento. From making Forbes’ list of most miserable cities in the country to losing its only professional franchise team, any little boost to its ego is worth celebrating. And, for about $6 for a tray of tacos and a beverage, I can’t think of any other place that can match that kind of quality meal.

A Sweet Start

I didn’t make any new year resolutions this year which is not like me. And, knowing myself, I would have included something about eating healthy to my list. But, whoever sticks to those resolutions? I didn’t even last a month with all of the cakes and sweets I’ve been baking and consuming lately. I partly blame it on the ingredients with expiration dates and birthdays that require a celebratory dessert.

Take for instance this pear and cranberry cake, an adaptation of a recipe in Ina Garten’s newest cookbook. When it dawned on me that I still had a bag of cranberries sitting in my fridge from Thanksgiving (I assure you they still looked like they had just been packaged after their harvest), it seemed destined that I was to make a version of this absolutely decadent cake. It sounds modest and humble, but it could join the ranks of Tiramisu and Crème Brulee. And, the best part about Ina’s cake is that it requires very little labor other than peeling and dicing some fruit. I substituted a Bosc pear for an apple, but the result was nothing short of spectacular. Next time, since Jonathan, doesn’t lurv cranberries, as people annoyingly say these days, I am going to go with just a pear and apple.

Then, with Jonathan’s 30th birthday on February 2nd, I couldn’t let the day come and go without a big bang in the cake department. So, inspired by Martha’s “Who’s Counting Cake?” featured in the January 2011 issue, I baked and carved two cakes to read 3-0. Oh, and I covered them entirely in M&Ms. Despite what her recipe said, I baked 4 cakes because Martha’s instructions didn’t make sense to me – use a 12×17 rimmed baking sheet? I know what a rimmed baking sheet is, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the thought of pouring batter into one and waiting for an intact cake to emerge from the oven. A recipe for disaster, in my mind. Plus, I didn’t have the time to take that chance, so I went with a 9×13 cake pan and baked four cakes so I could layer them for the full effect. When I finally finished, some 5 hours later over the course of two weeknights, I told myself I would never attempt this cake again. NEVER. I’m pretty sure that the meticulous tiling of those M&Ms side by side caused the soreness in my shoulder the next day.

Yet, the wow factor is impossible to deny, and I like to think that the shortcuts I took – using boxed cake mix and frosting – shaved time off the overall process. I would like to encourage you though to buy one or two colors of M&Ms like Martha does. Taking the easy route, I just bought a couple of 1 pound bags at Target, and created random color patterns.  And, while it turned out nice, I feel like the mosaic of primary colors is more fitting for a 10-year old’s cake. Like black and white would be divine.

But, obviously I have a thing for that color scheme – as does my co-worker, Sharon, whose birthday I baked these black and white cupcakes below for. Told you I’ve been on a baking spree!

I didn’t go with a dual chocolate and vanilla cupcake. Instead I simplified this idea and baked chocolate and vanilla cupcakes and frosted the chocolate with cream cheese icing and the vanilla with dark chocolate. Then, I topped them off with a yin and yang sprinkling of white and black nonpareils (French for hundreds of thousands). I consulted Martha’s site and pulled recipes from there. Both vanilla and chocolate were scrumptiously good, but I don’t recommend melting chocolate in the microwave – FYI.

Once you produce a trio of dessert hits, it’s difficult to hang up the apron for a while. There is the salted caramel shortbread recipe in the newest issue of Readymade and a sort of secret desire to create Bakerella’s cake pops. But, then there are the magazine spreads featuring the latest fashions for summer and the hit-you-in-your-face display of two-piece bathing suits at Target right now that deter me from stocking up on anymore butter and eggs. I believe in moderate indulging, but I think maybe I’ve fudged that rule a tad – a squeaking tad.  However, that resolution is back in effect tomorrow because today I had eight donut holes.

‘Tis the Season to Smear

Grandma Grace doesn’t care for slowpokes. “Andalé,” she commands from behind the kitchen counter, waiting for another cornhusk smeared with a layer of paste-like dough called masa.

“More, more,” she demands with a laugh. Of course she’s kidding but her back does ache, and we’re nearing three hours of steady preparation. (Minus the one-hour break that included a quick trip through Pier One Imports to check out throw pillows.)

I dig into the roasting pan that serves as a basin for the 10 pounds of mixed masa, a corn-based dough, with my spatula and plop a scoop of the stuff onto the next husk. As repetitious as smearing is, I listen, and continue. Deep down, I’m having a blast.

It’s apparent that I love food and appreciate its many forms, especially at Christmas time. But, there’s nothing more magical, and humbling, than learning the technique behind a dish you are a fan of but never dreamed you could ever prepare – or would.

Tamale production resembles an assembly line: the least inexperienced spread the masa across each cornhusk, the more senior cooks get to stuff those husks with meat and fold them into neat rectangular packages that we know as tamales.

After two stints wielding the spatula, I am still as Grandma Grace would say “slow” in my post.  Jonathan smears two husks, maybe three, to my one.  Instinctively, he knows the desired amount of dough to spread on the husk (his family prefers less) and where to leave the husk clean. He’ll probably perfect this part of the process, as he will remain a smearer for many more years to come since Grandma Grace has yet to even pass the torch of filling and folding the tamales down to his mother. It’s a sensitive topic to discuss.

As much fun as I had, I’m not going to attempt a post about how to make tamales. I’ve barely got the smearing part under my belt. Instead, I want to tell you about these mini black-and-white cookies that are also a laborious production but are quite the showstoppers.

This year, I stayed away from your typical sugar or gingerbread cookie for something more elegant. The black-and-white (they drop the “cookie”) is New York City’s signature cookie, and there isn’t a bakery or convenience store there that doesn’t carry it. Heck, it’s even made an appearance on “Seinfeld.” (“Look to the cookie,” Jerry famously advises.)

Aesthetically, it’s striking with its black and white contrast, resembling the yin and yang symbol. But, it’s not overwhelmingly sweet, especially when it’s reduced to a miniature size, which is what I did. I’m no New Yorker but was inspired by their sophisticated simplicity as an admirer of classic beauty as well as my trip earlier this year to the big city. I love NYC and can’t wait to go back.

I used Gourmet’s recipe for these drop cakes (they’re not really a cookie, just look like one). I would go to it again, but as some of the comments left by others recommend, I might pipe them onto the cookie sheet as the dough is quite sticky and difficult to make smooth. Also, I’m not sure if there is a need to butter your baking sheet because they are usually a tad greasy from previous use.

Others gripe that it’s a lot of work, which it is for a first attempt. But, I can’t tell you how many people enjoyed them – even my picky boyfriend who only has eyes for chocolate chip cookies. They vanished before lunchtime. To please such a large range of people is a true testament of what a great recipe this is. Of course, you can try this one or even this one.

And, if you’re feeling doubly ambitious, you can craft handmade gift tags for your treat bags using this toadstool/mushroom template from Design*Sponge. Designed for wrapping paper, I used pieces of brown paper grocery bags and glued them to index cards, which I later cut in half to create two tags per card. I promise that unlike tamales and black-and-white cookies, these are a breeze to make but will touch recipients all the same. Promise.

Feliz Navidad! God Jul!




Over the Top

No ta-tas or midriffs hanging out here. Just a bowl full of Kit Kat bars, a pup in her pink bandana, and a couple of glowing jack-o-lanterns. Oh, and some Sylvester Stallone as a truck driving, arm wrestling dad.

A Halloween to remember. Though, not unlike last year, I am blindsided by how fast Halloween arrives. Bam. One minute you’re sweating your socks off, and the next you’re scooping pulp out of a pumpkin. Or, pacing the aisles of Target the day before Halloween looking for something other than a bag of Mounds or Almond Joy. Can’t say I ever enjoyed those as a kid, and while I may be too old for trick or treating these days, I’m confident that shredded coconut and almonds don’t fly with today’s youth either.

The line to get in.

This year I managed to carve a couple of pumpkins. One was inspired by a recent trip to Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C. as well as an affinity for baking. The other bears a mustache, a nod to facial hair. Kind of inspired by my boyfriend on that one (and maybe a certain San Francisco Giants pitcher – go Giants!), who, by the way, puts away an entire snack-sized bag of M&Ms at once. I, on the other hand, like to savor my M&Ms one by one. An interesting contrast of candy consumption behavior which I am sure studies examining this exist.

The DC cupcakes.

I am sure I am not alone though when it comes to roasting pumpkin seeds after gutting your gourd. As a kid, my mom would sprinkle some salt over them. They were ok. I could  live without them but would always eat them anyways – ’tis the season I suppose. But, there’s no reason to toss the seeds when you’ve got some butter and other seasonings around. This year, I tried a recipe from Relish magazine for sweet and salty roasted pumpkin seeds. What are otherwise bland, chewy kernels become an addictive snack with a little sugar and salt. These seasoned seeds will have you hulling more stringy, sticky goop just for another batch. These guys manage to disappear in mere seconds.

Still, I have to save some room for a tray of Red Vines. But, at least now there will be a balance of protein and high fructose corn syrup – tricks and treats for the waistline.

Sweet and Salty Pumpkin Seeds 

From Relish, October 2010

Dried pumpkin seeds from 1-2 pumpkins

2 tbsp. melted butter

3 tbsp. brown sugar (dark or light)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium to large container with a lid, mix seeds with other seasonings and butter. Secure lid and shake container to coat seeds evenly. Spread seeds across baking sheet and roast for 15 – 25 minutes. Test seeds after 15 minutes for crispness. Return seeds to the oven if desired.


I need to get something off of my chest: “I hate custards!”

Do I feel better now? No, not really since I still don’t understand them. They might as well have facial hair and the inability to read a woman’s mind.

Still, I love to daintily dip my spoon into one but can’t seem to reproduce its delicate consistency in my own kitchen. The latest failure resulted in soupy homemade ice-cream. And, while I can handle disappointments in the kitchen (I treat the yellow cake episode as an anomaly), I need to know why my dish crashed and burned so it doesn’t happen again.

In the case of my attempt at vanilla ice cream, I primarily blame the recipe and how my ingredients, stirred and heated, did not ultimately resemble custard. For 30 minutes, I hovered over my pot, whisking and waiting for the creamy liquid to reach the state where ice-cream expert David Lebovitz says it will “coat the back of the spoon.” At this point of the process I was rather unsure what his words meant. Were we talking a standstill coat or a sagging-off-of-the-spoon coat? I decided it was the latter and hoped it might set up in the fridge over night.

The next afternoon, my heart just about sank when I pulled the “custard” from its resting place to find it hadn’t coagulated into its signature gelatinous state. Bummer. I threw it in the ice-cream maker anyway – I am a glass half full kind of gal. Plus, I had baked a sheet of orange sugar cookie to pair it with for an ice-cream sandwich reminiscent of those 50-50 popsicles you bought at the snack bar behind the cafeteria at Gilbert Elementary or elsewhere.

I had just purchased a Cuisinart Classic Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker in Crush (I would argue that it’s more of a blueberry) at Sur La Table and thoroughly studied its instruction manual.  By the flimsy feel of the pamphlet, it’s clear that making ice-cream is not rocket science. The only crucial ingredient for that perfect pint is a completely frozen tumbler when ready to churn. After letting mine sit in the freezer for a day and a half, some liquid could still be heard sloshing around in its core.  I deduced that most of the container was frozen so it would probably be fine. Ha. I flipped on the switch, poured in my vanilla soup, and ate a cupcake while it spun for the prescribed 20-30 minutes.

Cupcakes from Ginger Elizabeth.

I kept a close eye on its progress and quickly concluded that it wasn’t going to swell with air. The cream just never iced. It got really really cold, and I suppose I could have slurped it up like a milkshake (it was still deliciously frothy cream!), but I had it in my head that I wanted an ice-cream sandwich.  I wanted it to turn out, dammit!

A few weeks later, my friend Rosa visited me in my new place, and we talked ice-cream while sizing up the kitchen.  We concluded, after comparing our own failures, that if there’s anything you need to get right, it’s ensuring that the machine’s container is frozen solid. No slushing allowed! And, wa’la, the second time I tried to turn out ice-cream, I got what I wanted.

But, I avoided the custard and went with a healthier frozen treat since lately I’ve been diverting time spent exercising to study for the LSAT. (That’s also why I haven’t written much here lately. But, I assure you I will be back!)

The recipe I tried and will share with you comes from Relish, which I get every first Wednesday of the month with my newspaper’s food section. It kind of reminds me of the Parade news weekly in that it is tabloid size and printed on newsprint as fragile as tissue paper, but it’s entirely devoted to food.

In one of the more recent issues, they offered some frozen yogurt recipes, including one for a mocha frozen yogurt. It really reduces ice-cream making to something that is a cinch, but that’s the beauty of it. If you are impatient, want to pretend you’re the Rachael Ray of desserts or if you’re on the outs with custards, then this is quite frankly, just an awesome recipe. You should have most of the ingredients in your cupboard already and a quick entrance and exit through your supermarket’s express lane for some vanilla yogurt and chocolate milk is all this requires.

It’s not the Haagen-Dazs of frozen yogurts, but pretty darn close if you ask my taste buds. They thought it was similar to its coffee flavored frozen yogurt. Maybe a tad more bitter than I would prefer, but that’s something you can tweak over time by experimenting with different types of instant espresso or coffee. I’m sure the Starbucks Via brand will produce something luxurious.

At any rate, I feel redeemed and can’t wait to try something more exotic once custards and I are on speaking terms again.

Café Mocha Frozen Yogurt

Adapted from Relish

The success of your frozen yogurt will greatly depend on the ice-cream maker you use. If you own a Cusinart like the one I recently purchased, I highly recommend cutting this recipe in half and making two batches. After 30 minutes, you’ll find that the mixture at the top will be soft serve and will turn to liquid as soon as you serve it into a bowl. The stuff toward the bottom is more like ice cream. Plus, depending on who you’re making this for, you or may not want 6 cups of mocha frozen yogurt. Finally, be prepared for the delicate consistency of homemade ice cream, it’s not like the stuff in your grocer’s freezer.

1 pint (2 cups) chocolate milk

2 cups low-fat vanilla yogurt

2 tsp cocoa powder

1 tbsp instant espresso powder or instant coffee

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl, followed by the milk and yogurt. Churn frozen yogurt following manufacturers instructions. Serve immediately or transfer to a freezer container (I put mine in Tupperware and sealed it with plastic wrap to prevent any moisture from seeping in) and store in freezer.

No boeuf bourguignon in this tasty memoir

Blogger’s Note: When I’m not cooking, I’m typically reading about food (and fashion). So in addition to my entries on the food I make, I wanted to expand my blog’s focus to include reviews of books with a culinary angle.

Just when you thought you’ve read it all – unhappy career woman embarks on path as chef or unlucky single girl finds romance in the kitchen – there’s Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris. In this memoir/part cookbook, a young woman turns to food as a means of chronicling the milestones of an intercultural romance and new life that sidelines her from her path to success. From recipes for seduction to dishes to substitute for central heating, Bard endearingly reflects on those life events that shape her very happy yet tumultuous twenties.

Initially, it’s an enviable plot. Bard is an American girl who meets an intelligent French man (“Gwen-DAL”) at an academic convention. He sweeps her off of her feet with improvised, but elegant, meals and swiftly lures her permanently to one of the world’s most romantic cities in the world – Paris. Her reality is every girl’s fantasy.

But, Bard is not every girl. Ivy League educated and driven, Bard struggles with the fact that Paris isn’t part of the plan. She’s of a breed of ambitious college graduates who decide that in order to live in the lap of luxury in their thirties, they must slave away at work in their twenties. Unemployed with no clear direction, Bard’s days primarily revolve around the farmer’s market and that night’s dinner. She finds challenges in culinary feats such as gutting and pan-frying a pair of mackerel.

When she’s inevitably presented with a marriage proposal, Bard waffles and tells Gwendal she needs time to decide as her stagnant writing career drives a wedge between her head and heart. With the ring idling in its plush box, Bard puts on a pot of rice pudding as she weighs what matters most to her in a man. Did she want a life of wealth, status, and security with one of the New England Wasps she used to date? Or, could she endure more cultural compromises and personal dissatisfaction and forge a new life with her true love? It’s a relatable turning point in her evolving adult relationship.

Of the foodie chick lit books circulating today, Bard’s story cements a spot in this genre as something more than just fluffy romantic fare. She shares with us the sweet and heartwarming moments of her Parisian love affair, but it’s not all fancy food and leisurely strolls on cobblestone walkways. There’s a Yankee who can’t wrap her head around the French reinforcement of mediocrity, their fierce resistance to any sort of substantial leap between social ranks, and their disdain for macaroni and cheese out of a box. And, other than her name on the gas bill, Bard struggles to get her own career off of the ground, let alone even decide what she’s out to accomplish. Friends even attempt an intervention over coffee and carrot muffins.

My first attempt at Parisian macarons.

Yes, the constant focus on her lack of direction does get annoying, but that’s what gives Bard credibility on the whole matter. There’s never been another time in history where young adults are lost and frustrated by the haunting “what do I do with my life” question. For some, it inflicts more internal agony than for others.

Of course Bard’s story ends on a hopeful note and obviously she finds success as a writer with the publication of this book (and, she’s got a blog that’s worth a view). Overall, it’s a delightful read with the kind of depth that makes it a worthy piece that’s almost like a comforting compote or strawberry rhubarb crumble for those younger readers stumbling through their twenties, trying to make of sense of everything that they didn’t anticipate – maybe even a lunch date in Paris.

Note: I haven’t prepared any of the recipes from any of the 22 Chapters and Epilogue yet, but here are some that have me salivating:

– Potato and Celery Root Mash (this would be wonderful with some meatloaf)

–  “Student” Charlotte (semi-homemade version of the real deal)

–  Lentils with White Wine, Herbs, and Tomatoes (I’m on a lentil kick right now, and this sounds rich yet figure friendly)

– Omelet with Goat Cheese and Artichoke Hearts (Simple but appropriate dish for spring)

– Gwendal’s Quick and Dirty Chocolate Soufflé Cake (Chocolate in one of its more sinful forms)

NYC’s other “Mast-erpieces”

Sailing to South America for cocoa beans. Hand-sorting each and every seed. Separating the nibs from their husks in a specially designed contraption that could double as a ventilator. Letting the ground beans rest for periods of up to 2 weeks. Then lovingly wrapping those glossy chocolate bars in paper pretty enough for fancy soaps. The Mast brothers, Rick and Michael, take pride in personally hand crafting each chocolate bar that leaves their store. Based in Brooklyn this familial duo is New York City’s only bean to chocolate maker of its kind.

Even though this video has been posted on various blogs, I wanted to show it here as I count down the days until my trip to New York City on the 15th, and hopefully, a trip to one of the stores in Manhattan that carries Mast Brothers Chocolate. One day at the MOMA, the next in Dean & Deluca’s confection aisle.

Happy “Belated” Syttende Mai

May 17 (“Syttende Mai”) is Norwegian Independence Day. Until I searched the Internet for its significance, growing up, I had no idea what the story was behind this celebratory day. My Mor Mor (or “Momo” as I know her) adorned the formal dining table with her mother’s embroidered tablecloth, stumpy red candles, and the miniature replicas of the Norwegian flag. She’d serve her Norwegian meatballs with potatoes and dessert might have been some Sandbakkels or a cream cake topped with, what else, whipped cream and fresh berries. Before digging in, we’d merrily cheer “Skål!” (“Cheers” in English.)

But, back to why the Nordes observe this day. After the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte’s European empire, Sweden gained control of Norway in the treaty of Kiel. In response, Norwegians peacefully held elections to further liberate their nation, and on May 17, 1814 the Constitution of Norway was signed. Much like our own Fourth of July holiday, Norway continues to proudly celebrate this momentous occasion.

I’ve missed many Syttende Mai dinners with my family since moving away from Southern California 7 years ago. But, I wanted to relive the tradition by preparing a Norwegian/Scandinavian favorite. Initially, I had planned on baking the distinctly Norwegian potato flatbread “lefse” (forget lutefisk – dried cod soaked in lye), but this past weekend’s festivities of unlimited pinball and the conclusion of the Amgen Tour of California’s Stage 1 through downtown Sacramento left me with little time to spend in the kitchen.

But, I’ve got something special up my sleeve, something so simple to assemble. In fact, I get giddy thinking about it because it means that there is one less jar of Ikea lingonberry preserves on my cupboard shelf.  It’s a tart with a lingonberry filling on top of a short bread-esque crust. Almond extract and lemon zest gets mixed in along with a couple of tablespoons of strawberry preserves to help cut through some of the lingonberry and lemon’s tartness. It’s a sliver of Scandinavian scrumptiousness.  It might only be improved and made more authentic by adding ground almonds to the crust – akin to many Norwegian sweets such as the tiered almond ring cake Kransekake.

What crumbs are left on my plate will be graciously complimented with the one of the few Norwegian phrases I know – Tak ver maten, Amen.

(Thank you for the food, Amen.)


Lingonberry Preserve Tart

Adapted from Bon Appetit

The original version instructs that extra dough is used for an additional layer of pastry arranged in a lattice pattern on top of the tart. I think this is too much crust given the meager thickness of the jam filling, so I save the leftovers for other baking projects.

2 cups all purpose flour

4 ½ tbsp. sugar

¾ tsp. salt

14 tbsp. (1 ¾ sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 tbsp. or more cold water

1 ½ cups (about 14 ounces) Swedish lingonberry preserves from Ikea Food

2 tbsp. strawberry preserves

1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel

¼ tsp. almond extract

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in food processor 5 seconds or whisk in large bowl if using pastry blender. Add butter, and blend until coarse meal forms. Add egg, egg yolk, and water. Blend until moist pea-sized clumps form, adding teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball, divide into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Wrap and chill at least 1 hour and up to a day.

Roll out larger dough onto floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Fold in overhang and press, forming double-thick sides.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir preserves, lemon peel, and almond extract in small bowl to blend. Spoon filling into crust in pan. Bake tart for 55 minutes or until crust is golden and filling bubbles thickly. Cool tart in pan and store at room temperature.