15 March, 2010

Rouxbe Cooking School

To all of my foodie friends and fellow bloggers out there, I just found a fabulous web site through Keren Brown/Foodportunity (aka. The Frantic Foodie) and I'm absolutely in love with it already. It's in partnership with the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. It's a free site (but you can also upgrade for more goodness) where you can learn all kinds of kitchen techniques through really well-done video tutorials.

I clicked on the first one "How to Cook Pasta" and thought it would be ridiculous because cooking pasta is simple, right? But I found out I'd been doing it all wrong! I learned so much in a two-minute video. They have all kinds of other useful tutorials that I will be checking out when I have a little bit more time. I'm very excited.

And did I mention that it's FREE?!


12 March, 2010

Mon Macaron

I had the distinct pleasure of photographing the wonderful macaron workshop held by Seattle's BonVivant, and taught by famed food blogger and photographer/stylist, Helene Dujardin (perhaps better known as Tartelette).

Now, I've got to come clean here. I broke my 45-day sugar fast for this class. One small macaron during class, and another one a day later. Helene is right; the macarons taste best after they've cured a day or two. In fact, it was so much better the second day, it was almost a totally different cookie.

I've always wanted to see someone else make macarons, as the little meringue cookies are on most foodies "Top Ten Hardest Things to Make" lists. They are very hard to master, as the ingredients are incredibly fickle. So, in addition to photographing private events and meeting up with really wonderful local foodies (things I love doing), I also got to observe one of my all-time favorite food photographers teach a macaron class. Score!

Here are some highlights from the class, held at Viv's home. Thanks again to her for hosting this fantastic event. Many thanks, also, to Jeanne Sauvage, for her great assistance with the class!

Tools and ingredients for macaron

Sugar goes in slllowly and egg whites are stiff-peaked
Helene shows the proper way to hold a pastry bag
The proper thickness of the macaron batter
Pipe small circles onto thick parchment paper or Silpat

Measure ingredients by weight, not by volume

The perfect macaron mounds need to sit for 30+ minutes
before going into the oven to develop a "skin" on top

Pans need to be slapped onto a hard surface to get
rid of any air bubble trapped in the batter
Assembling the macarons with chocolate ganache filling

VoilĂ ! Not the perfect macaron, as it has a skirt instead of
feet, but it is good for a first try. Everybody did so well!

I also wanted to post a link (by permission) to Luuvu Hoang's video that he made from the class. It's so fun!

Vive le macaron!

04 March, 2010

On Blogging and Writing About Food

I love writing. Always have. I used to (and sometimes still do) prefer the written word over face-to-face communication. When writing out one's thoughts, it's easy to edit yourself and take a moment to filter things. In a face-to-face setting, we don't have those luxuries. Sometimes I might hesitate to say something important because I can't find the right words at that time, or I do elect to say something that I would like to immediately retract.

Not to say that people aren't often misunderstood in written form, as well. Missing are the eyebrow raises and hand gestures, and the beloved tone of voice that helps us interpret the oft misunderstood multiple meanings behind words.

If anyone finds a perfect way of communication, please let me know! In the meantime, I'll do my best between spoken and written words, and hope (and pray) that somewhere along the line, the message and meanings are interpreted correctly more often than not. That would be a success!

While I love traditional prose, and plan to really write here, I also love recipes, photos of food, ideas behind food, the culture around food, and just about everything food related. So, this has somehow quickly turned into a food blog, despite my best efforts to keep it neutral. How I came to conceive this passion for writing about food has been a rather long journey, one that started in Germany, traversed through Belgium, and has landed here in Seattle.

I have been fascinated with all things culinary since working and studying in Europe in the early 90s. I’d always enjoyed good food and drink, but my job as a nanny had me actually cooking for an entire family. When I cook (versus just simply eating someone else’s cooking), I experience an appreciation for the food that goes beyond just enjoyment. I feel like I am helping sustain myself and others. I also feel like a creative chemist; I just created a meal from a bunch of scattered ingredients, and made it taste good.

I have read many cookbooks, from cover to cover, much like my mother reads novels. I truly enjoy good food writing, by both gourmands and the common cook, and with or without recipes. Cookbooks are my weakness, and I will spend hours reading recipes and dog-earing the pages of the best-sounding recipes for later use. Like most people, I suppose, I really enjoy cookbooks with good photos. Food photography, if done well, turns the page into more than just a good read. It adds that third dimension to the dish. And, for some of us, a beautiful dish is just as wonderful on the eyes as it is on the tongue. As the Germans like to say “You also eat with your eyes.”

Beyond just recipes, though, I love to contemplate the science of flavor, the chemistry of cooking, and the psychological and physiological effects that foods have on our minds and bodies. Food is, at its simplest form, sustenance. In a more complex form, it can be art. Or an addiction. Or a social stimulant. Foods and ingredients can be both the root of disease, as well as its cure.

We actually have a complex relationship with the things that we ingest, both in solid or liquid form. Since a great many of us drink and eat regularly, an average drink or a meal for us does not pack the same punch as it would for someone who has been fasting or someone who has not had access to standard nutrition in some time. For those people, eating is much more conscious, and the lack of nutrition is much more obvious than for those of us who eat all day long and never stop to ponder the alternative.

Simply put, we would not be able to survive without food. But, as with all things, moderation is the key. It would benefit us to develop a strong sense of balance in our meals, an affinity for the nutritional elements which graze our plates, and a real appreciation for the beauty of cuisine. My friend, Charity Burggraaf, has a new blog "The Sustainable Plate" where she is tracking the miles and locations of the food that comes to her plate. What if we were all that conscious of where food comes from and how it gets to us?

I announced this past week that I plan to write a cookbook. I have been wanting to write this since my second year in Germany, which was 1992. I knew there was so much to know about European dishes and culinary culture, that I began studying it. I studied it close up, with local cooks, travel, restaurant trips, and bought every book I could get my hands on, both in English and German (and even some Italian magazines).

Since learning to cook in Europe, I have developed a love of gastronomy that rivals my other passions: Europe, writing, and photography. So why not combine those passions and do food photography and writing…together? Thus, the idea of working on a cookbook was born. And now, this blog. Honestly, what better project for me than to combine my passion for European culture, cooking, photography, and writing? It's the perfect way for me to utilize my talents and get enjoyment out of it at the same time.

I'm still deciding on the organization of the book. There are many ways to organize a technical manual (and a cookbook is indeed a book of instructions). The book could be a completely different book, if organized a different way, so I'm still fleshing out the details of the best way to present the recipes, the history, the culture, and the passion I have for bourgeois Old World cooking. I love haute cuisine, but I'd much rather sit at a scuffed wooden table than a linen-and silver-covered two-top. I love everything from farmhouse cooking to gourmand offerings, but I prefer being elbow-deep in kitchen twine and dumpling dough.

I'll blog my journey with my own cookbook, as well as continue to cook from others'. There is nothing more inspiring to me, when working on my own project, than to see so many others who have created great works before me. Maybe that might be daunting to some people. To me, it is inspirational. I think we all have our own unique talent, in whatever it is we do. We just have to own it and make it ours.