MINI FUNFETTI MILLE CREPE CAKES EN PARIS

12th September 2014

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Last night we went to sleep listening to Old Pierre – at least that’s what we call him – singing some old French tune while he clanked away in the kitchen below us. This morning he will undoubtedly stop me on the stairwell to ask en francais about the day or how pretty the sun is like he has done every day since we arrived here. He hasn’t judged a single syllable of my French and even calls me “ma fille” which is adorable. He is, by far, my favorite part of Paris.

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That typical French accordion music literally plays in the streets here. Is it for my benefit as la touriste americaine or is that really what Parisians like these days? And literally everyone – student, soldier, and solid-waste worker – carries around la baguette sandwich around lunchtime, another stereotype filled (albeit a very tasty one). Now, if only I could find someone to sing me the traditional French birthday song, or is that just another classroom myth told to young impressionable American students of French? I sincerely hope not.

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There’s too much of Paris left to explore – today we are tiptoeing in Julia Child’s footsteps to the famous French kitchen supply stores in the 2eme – but I wanted to share a little recipe I whipped up while back home last week. In preparation for our upcoming trip, I decided to celebrate my birthday a bit earlier with a Mille Crepe Cake (after all most of my dessert quota will be filled by des macarons and other pastries). But not just any Mille Crepe Cake, a miniature Mille Crepe Cake filled to the brim with sprinkles. After all, c’est mon anniversaire and I want sprinkles.

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I have to admit I hadn’t read Molly Yey’s definite and thorough research on DIY funfetti cakes yet, so it took me a couple batches to figure out the best time to add the sprinkles for maximum color and pop. Trust me, funfetti isn’t just adding the sprinkles whenever you very well please. It’s a science, a beautiful birthday wish-made-true unnecessarily colorful science.

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Now I’m off to find more macarons because how many times do you get to eat authentic French macarons on your birthday in Paris? On the other hand, we haven’t had crepes yet, so maybe those too? I’ll see if Old Pierre wants anything before we leave for the day.

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mini funfetti mille crepe cakes
makes about 40 mini crepes

2 eggs

1 cup milk

¼ teaspoon salt

½ tablespoon sugar

1 cup flour

2 tablespoons melted butter

sprinkles

butter for the pan

jam or preserves

whipped cream (optional)

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, sugar, and salt. Continue to whisk while adding the flour, until a thin batter forms. Stir in butter, cover with a tea towel, and let the batter rest for about 15 minutes.

2. Set a medium sized skillet (preferably non-stick) over medium-low heat. Grease the bottom and sides of the pan with melted butter.

3. Using a spoon or a ladle, pour about 1- 2 tablespoons of batter into the middle of the pan. Quickly tilt the pan in a circular motion until the batter coats the pan evenly in a small circle. Top with lots of sprinkles. Cook until the edges of the pancake curl slightly and the bottom is lightly golden, about 20 seconds. Flip and continue to cook on the other side for about 10 – 15 seconds. Transfer to a plate greased with melted butter. Repeat with remaining batter.

4. Assemble the crepe cake: place a crepe in the center of the plate, spread a thin layer of jam or preserves on top, cover with another crepe, and continue with additional layers of crepe and jam until the cake is a few inches tall. Top with a final crepe and a dollop of whipped cream and more sprinkles. Serve and eat immediately.

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EDIBLE ACADEMIA: PINEAPPLE OF MY EYE

8th September 2014

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image via The Hunted Interior

Everything’s coming up pineapples. But not necessarily in the kitchen or on the table where one would expect. These past few months, pineapples have been popping up everywhere from the runway to home redecorations, from Pinterest boards to Anthropologie accessories. Thanks, in part, to a modern day nostalgia for tiki-era cocktails and the retro refashioning and upcycling of 1950s bar carts (another Pinterest DIY trend), the pineapple is having a heyday in both symbolic and savory forms. Once a symbol of conspicuous consumption, the pineapple is now a relatively commonplace fruit and readily affordable in various forms including fresh, juiced, canned, and dried. But is pineapple experiencing yet another fashionable trend, perhaps even a seasonal popularity much like the annual arrival of the pumpkin-spiced everything, or is there something more to the modern symbolism of the iconic tropical fruit?

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The pineapple originally came from the Americas – along with many other historically and agriculturally important foods like corn, beans, potatoes, and peanuts – however this peculiar yellow fruit took a slightly different path into the average consumer’s home. Some of the earliest accounts of pineapple explain that the indigenous peoples considered the fruit a symbol of friendship and regarded the tropical crop with the highest esteem. When visiting – or rather conquering – Europeans observed this use of agricultural symbolism they were able to discern the temperament of a particular indigenous village and later took the custom, along with the fruit itself, back across the globe. The pineapple first spread to Spain, then England, and then – in a most interesting turn of events – back to the Americas with the British colonists.

From its initial European debut, a link was forged between the pineapple and the concept of hospitality and so the fruit was used as a symbol in various non-food related spheres including architecture, design, and interior decor. Throughout the continent, the pineapple adorned everything from bed posts to linens, pretty much anything a visiting host guest might see. Other accounts explain that merchants and sailors would bring back a pineapple and place it by the front door or in window so that neighbors might learn of their safe return after a long journey at sea. When it was on the table, the pineapple always took center stage in the family’s fruit bowl, centerpiece, or floral arrangement.

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image via Wikimedia Commons

The first pineapple grown in England (albeit in a hothouse) was ceremoniously presented to King Charles II in 1675. The scene was even immortalized in a famous painting by Dutch painter Hendrick Danckerts who depicted the king lording over the royal gardener, aptly named John Rose, who can be seen kneeling and handing off the tiniest pineapple known to man. Originally, the pineapple was only available to the monarchy, but later became a novelty fruit that many wealthy estates grew in green houses or <em>pineries</em>, a special service of glass houses designed particularly for growing pineapples.

Captain James Hook is often credited for bringing pineapples as an agricultural crop to the Hawaiian Islands in the late 18th century. Nearly two hundred years later, the Dole family, with their innovative canning equipment, discovered a way to capitalize on an abundant cash crop and America’s obsession with the exotic fruit. Thanks to Dole, pineapple imports from the Hawaiian Islands increased significantly, bringing the fruit in various forms – like chunks, rings, and crushed pieces – to eager American tables. Food historian Gary Y Okihiro argues that the pineapple provided a symbol of modernity. With Dole’s clean, modern canning process and the pineapple’s long established status as a luxury food item, the fruit became an easy way to demonstrate status and a clear symbol of conspicuous consumption. It’s hard to believe that something once considered a luxury item now adorns cheap pizza alongside hunks of salty ham, masks the taste of white rum, and floats alongside peeled peaches and maraschino cherries in syrupy fruit cups. Doesn’t seem very hospitable does it?

video from Tasting Table

But as this spring turned into summer and boots were swapped for bikinis, everyone seemed to be craving a taste of the tropics.  It was only a matter of time until this edible symbol became fashionable once again. In August, the food-centric site Tasting Table posted a video and a short interview entitled “The Art of Carving a Pineapple.” Phillipe Vongerichten, manager of his brother’s high-end French restaurant in NYC, demonstrates the technique while clad in a tailored suit, sipping an espresso, and using a very expensive Japanese chef’s knife. Vongerichten says that he found the recipe in an old Parisian service book from the 1950s and learned the process from detailed illustrations. The resulting dish, ananas au kirsch, is a plating with quite a theatrical presentation.

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clockwise from top left: The Alison Show, society6StylizimoDown That Little Lane 

Recently, pineapples have appeared in many other retro recipes ranging from tiki-inspired cocktails, like the daiquiri and the Mai Tai, to healthier versions of desserts like the Disneyland Dole Whip made with whipped pineapple. A quick Pinterest search for “pineapple” leads to various healthy recipes toting the fruit’s ability to aid in digestion and fat burning, but also numerous pictures of hollowed out or halved pineapples filled with tropical-looking drinks, sorbets, and desserts. Other traditional pineapple recipes – such as pineapple upside-down cake, pineapple chicken kabobs, and various grilled dishes – are trending topics on the social media site as well. But these edible examples of the pineapple trend pale in comparison to the growing use of the fruit as a non-edible symbol.

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clockwise from top left: Studio DIY, The Healthy Foodie , Studio DIY, and Studio DIY

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image via Handimania

From accessories to clothes, home décor to kitchen baubles, the pineapple is the new it print. Pineapple themed parties have also become a trend with various phrases, such as “I pine for you,” “party like a pineapple,” and “you’re the pineapple of my eye,” serving as the thematic catch phrase. Even more interesting is fruit’s role in DIY and craft circles, where other foods – such as emptied walnut shells, egg shells, and small pumpkins – are painted, shaped, and adorned to look like pineapple. While these crafts serve little to no useful purpose aside from décor, some DIYs demonstrate how to form a cheese ball into the shape of a pineapple using pecan halves. Another set of instructions shows how to decorate a bottle of champagne with fancily wrapped chocolates (the expensive gold foil kind) to resemble the exterior of a pineapple. How crafty and conspicuous!

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image via Rifle Paper Co. 

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clockwise from top left: Anthropologie, Jenny Cookies, Sugar and CharmTanga

As someone who loves food – especially pineapple – I’m a fan of this trend, but as a food scholar, I wonder whether we should, at least, consider the cultural and historical background for our symbolic food choices. More importantly, what will the next big food symbol be? Donuts were last year and macarons the year before that. And then there was bacon. In hindsight, none of these really represented anything historical or even, big word here, transculturally meaningful like the “hospitable pineapple” does. To be honest, I’m ready for a few of our Southern symbols – like lucky black eyed peas and gratitude pecan pies, to make it to the popular table. Until then, I’ll just put a pineapple on it.

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clockwise from top left: The Wonder Forest, Juicy Couturefieldtrip, Pixie Market

A few references:

The Pineapple: King of Fruits, Fran Beauman, Chatto & Windus: London, 2005.

Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones, Gary Y. Okihiro, University of California Press: LA, California, 2009.

The Food Timeline, curated and edited by Lynne Olver

ZIP TOP BAG ICE CREAM W/ COCONUT + TAZA CACAO NIBS

4th September 2014

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Growing up, I knew I had the coolest dad because I was the only one in my class who knew how to make ice cream from scratch. Not sure why this was the barometer of paternal popularity, but I’m not one to argue. Come field day, my own popularity would increase ten-fold when my Dad would come to my school to teach our class about culinary chemistry through the tasty, tasty science of homemade ice cream. Feeling like a frozen dessert MacGyver, I got to help my Dad, handing out old crusty coffee cans or zip-top bags and portioning out cups of cream and sugar. I. Was. The. Coolest.

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This simple science experiment is simultaneously one of the easiest and perhaps most useless kitchen hacks. Basic ingredients – dairy, sugar, and vanilla – are combined and “churned” for longer than you probably care to know. The coffee can set-up requires a partner, making it the perfect activity for rowdy school kids and bored campers, and you roll the can back and forth between each other. The zip-top bag method only needs one person, but you and your arms will definitely earn that ice cream. But here is the one perk that will change your ice cream preferences forever: this ice cream is completely customizable. Sugar free, extra chocolate, made with almond milk, weird ingredients like popcorn or sriracha, this ice cream can take it. An unexpected perk, this DIY ice cream method only makes so much – much like the popular single-serving microwave mug cake – so you don’t have to exercise any self-control. All grown up now, my ice cream should reflect my oh so mature tastes, but I still want to load it up with sprinkles and it best be served in a cone.

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A few weeks ago I toured the Taza Chocolate factory in Somerville, MA, and the entire time I couldn’t help but think: this chocolate seriously needs some ice cream. Having been a fan of their Oaxacan style chocolate for several years now, I didn’t think it could get much better, but then I put it in this ice cream. The tour – complete with lunch lady hair nets and ample tasting breaks – gave a thorough look at Taza’s process and how cacao beans go from plant to candy to ice cream mixin’.

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The tour starts with a short lesson on chocolate history and how the cacao tree grows and stops at several production stations like roasting, mixing, and packaging along the way. I don’t want to spoil anymore of the tour, but the best part is that you will smell like chocolate for the rest of the day. While I’ve sampled plenty of Taza’s chocolate offerings, and I do mean plenty, their chocolate covered cocoa nibs are my absolute favorite. The raw nibs are broken into small pieces and coated in the same dark, slightly gritty chocolate Taza uses for many of its bars and discs. It’s pretty much a chocolate punch in the face.

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I want to send a note back to my 6th grade self: Find cacao nibs. Put them in the ice cream. Trust me. P.S. Don’t wear that black lipstick in your school photos. You will regret it. Until they figure out time-travel, I’ll make up for lost time with these cocao nibs by making batch after batch of this DIY Zip-Top Bag Ice Cream.

Zip Top Bag Ice Cream w/ Coconut + Taza Cacao Nibs
makes about 2 servings

1 gallon zip-top bag
1 quart zip-top bag
large crystal salt like rock salt or coarse sea salt
ice
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup of cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
unsweetened coconut flakes
Taza chocolate covered cacao nibs

1. Fill the large zip-top bag halfway with ice. Sprinkle about 5 tablespoons salt over the ice.
2. In the small zip-top bag, combine the milk, cream, vanilla, sugar, and pinch of salt. Firmly seal and shake to mix the ingredients.
3. Carefully nestle the small bag into the ice in the large bag. Firmly seal the large bag and vigorously shake for 5 to 10 minutes or until the contents of the small bag have begun to solidify. Wrap the bags in a kitchen towel or don two oven mitts to keep your hands from freezing.
4. Carefully remove the small bag from the large bag and wipe the seal with a damp paper towel to remove any salt water. To the bag add a handful of coconut flakes and a couple tablespoons of cacao nibs and stir to combine. Spoon contents into a bowl or a cone or eat straight from the bag.

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Note: This is not a sponsored post. I just wanted to share a product that I really enjoy and hope you will too.

EARL GREY GIN & TONICS

26th August 2014

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Meanwhile in Texas…

The past few mornings have been a sultry mix of heat, humidity, and hungry mosquitos. Evidently, the handful of years living in New England has robbed me of my ability to function in these normal Texas conditions, so I sit inside bemoaning the heat and slathering on the insect repellent. I spend my afternoons attempting to channel my inner southern lady, reading vintage cookbooks from my family collection and sipping tall glasses of iced tea. But what I really want is a sip of something a bit more potent. Enter the Earl Grey Gin and Tonic.

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1960s/1970s Gordon’s Gin advertisements

Blame it on the heat, but I’ve had khaki coated pith helmets on the mind. Making the trip through the mosquito infested stretch between the front door and the car requires a particular agility and appropriate attire. And though the threat of malaria is not imminent, I feel better taking the extra precautions and the extra swig of tonic.

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Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, British explorers traveling through India – some of whom belonged to the infamous British East India Company – found themselves with similar unfortunate environmental issues and needed a way to deal with the symptoms of malaria. A special tonic water (later known throughout Great Britain as Indian Tonic) was made with various herbs, bitters, and copious amounts of malaria quelling quinine taken from the bark of the cinchona tree. Long voyages over land or sea required the additional lifesaving application of citrus – usually in the form of lime juice – to prevent scurvy. But nobody, including British gentleman, wants to take their medicine, so a bit of persuasion and a little liquid courage, in the form of dry English gin, was necessary. And that’s how the Gin and Tonic was born.

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via Military-History.org

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Gin has long since been a favorite of the English. Several local distillers improved upon the original Dutch process and brands like Gordon’s Dry Gin soon became staples on well-stocked English bar carts. In the 1950s and 60s, Gordon’s launched a multi-part ad campaign referencing the historic role of the beverage in British Imperialism and exploration. Capitalizing on the idea of “the Other” and of the masculine nature of the cocktail, the brand enlisted Commander Edward Whitehead, a retired officer in the British Royal Navy and the general manager of the company, as the face of their brand. With his refined yet rugged good looks and his placement in sophisticated yet adventurous locals and activities, Commander Whitehead’s association with gin reinforced the spirit’s reputation with class and gentility. Despite these clear cultural connections to India and the popular era of the British Raj, the Gin and Tonic is rarely considered in its original historic context today.

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1950s/1960s Schweppes advertisements

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To bring things back to their Imperial English origins, I’ve decided to throw in another flavor of British colonization in the form of Earl Grey tea. It’s a fitting addition, you see, since these British explorers often replaced their cups of afternoon tea with glass after glass of medicinal gin and tonic. I say, why not combine them all?

Earl Grey Gin and Tonics
Makes one drink
For the Earl Grey Orange Syrup:
2 heaping tablespoons Earl Grey tea
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoons sugar
Peeled rind from half an orange

Combine all the ingredients in a small glass bowl and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the drink:
1 ½ oz gin
2 oz tonic
1 ½ teaspoons Earl Grey Orange syrup
Ice
Orange peel for garnish

Fill a short glass with ice. To the glass, add the Earl Grey Orange syrup, then the gin, then the tonic water. Garnish with a twist of orange rind. Drink immediately.

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Stay cool, y’all.

PINING FOR SCHOOL & STRAWBERRY S’MORES TARTS

18th August 2014

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This is my first Fall in 19 years that won’t be marked by a first day of school. It’s a little peculiar stepping outside the academic calendar, thinking of time in months rather than semesters. Not needing to buy school supplies, not even pens or paper. And I don’t like it one bit. Which is why, perhaps, I have a disturbingly thick copy of a GRE prep book on my desk and a long list of PhD application to-dos that seems to keep growing. This year’s application deadlines have long since passed, which makes the absence of school – and the smell of freshly sharpened number two pencils – seem that much stronger.

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Other signs of the school year have started, too, signs of fall and the changing seasons. This kind of crisp weather always reminds me of early morning band practices – at least a kind of romanticized version of them anyways – complete with sweatshirts, cups of coffee, hot Shipley’s donut holes, a few falling leaves crunching underfoot, and the sound of grackles and crows signaling the dawn. This time of the year is when my clock resets and I start fresh: I get up earlier, my running improves, I feel more inspired, think more clearly, and I swear I have more good hair days between the months of August and November than the rest of the year combined. This is simply my season.

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With this in mind, I decided it was time for a little change around here. Semi-officially done with school and semi-officially part of the mature real-world, I felt that my site deserved a mature make-over as well with a proper theme and buttons that worked. It’s still a little under construction and you might notice some additional changes over the next few weeks, but I feel refreshed with these cleaner lines, new layout, and hints of color. I dare say that The Young Austinian can now be considered The Young Professional Austinian. But only time – and the application of self-control around all the sugary leftovers from this recipe – will tell.

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Excited for these changes, but still clinging to summer, I’m a mix of wanting a plate full of fresh tomatoes and a cup of apple cider. Torn between the barefoot days of summer but oh so ready to wear a scarf. My favorite thing of all is how the smoky scent in the air changes from backyard grill sessions to logs being thrown on the fireplace. My mind immediately goes to crisp, cold evenings, campfires, and toasted marshmallows. It’s kind of fire that seems appropriate all year long and a sweet that perfectly bridges summertime to early autumn. So naturally, marshmallows leads us to s’mores, which, in turn, leads us to s’mores tarts. S’mores tarts that you can make inside when it gets a little too chilly out. But since we are trying to squeeze every little bit out of summer – and before everything is pumpkin spiced again – that favorite warm weather berry, the strawberry, features alongside the traditional flavors of chocolate and toasted marshmallow.

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Strawberry S’mores Tarts

baked tart shells (use your favorite pie dough)
dark chocolate, melted
strawberries, thinly sliced
large marshmallows

1. Brush the bottoms of the tart shells with a thin layer of melted chocolate. Place the shells on baking sheet or other flat surface and place in the freezer until the chocolate has hardened.

2. Remove the shells from the freezer. Fill each shell with a layer or two of sliced strawberries.

3. In a glass bowl, place a handful of marshmallows (about 3 to 4 per tart) and microwave for 15 to 20 seconds. Alternatively, you can melt these in a small saucepan over low heat. The marshmallows will puff up and melt, creating a fluffy spread. Working quickly, use a silicone spatula to spread a dollop of fluff on top of each tart.

4. Toast the marshmallow topping:

In the broiler: Set broiler to high and place the baking sheet with the tarts as close to the flame as possible. Keep the oven door open and adjust the sheet every few seconds to evenly toast – but not burn – the marshmallow topping.

With a blow torch: Start the torch and toast the marshmallow topping to the desired toastedness.

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