Wine Tasting Weekend & Oh Chocolatey Brownies

May 9, 2011 § 20 Comments

This past weekend was exactly what I needed. Eric and I went wine tasting – one of our favorite things in the world to do. We went to Paso Robles, which happens to only be a few hours north of Los Angeles but always transports me to another world whenever I visit. The photo above was snapped on one of the small side roads – how beautiful, yes? It’s just acre after acre of beautiful scenery connecting the tasting rooms and I never tire of taking it all in. I have this lofty goal of visiting every single tasting room and with new wineries opening seemingly every day this will probably never happen but it’s still a fun goal to have. This weekend we visited Donaldi, Changala, Kaleidos, Denner, Chateau Margene, and lastly Thacher… I’d say we put a good dent in the list of tasting rooms.

 

 

The impetus for this visit was Thacher’s spring pick-up party. Being members of their wine club, we receive regular half-case shipments of their wines. In the spring though, they have a pick-up party for their members. This was our third consecutive year attending and each year it has gotten more fun. The past couple years they’ve scheduled their parties to fall on Kentucky Derby day and thrown a Derby themed party, complete with a hat and costume contest. As always, we had a blast – the food kept coming and the wine never stopped pouring. I think I might have even won the best outfit contest (my dress had graphics of awards, trophies, and horses) but was in the tasting room – natch – when they were collecting the ticket stub votes.

If you’re ever up in the Paso area I would definitely recommend a stop into the Thacher tasting room, especially if you enjoy the smaller mom and pop type places. We actually opened a bottle of one of their Zinfandels last week and noticed that only 72 cases of this blend had been produced. It doesn’t get much more special than that.

I’d also like to share some brownies with you. These were amazingly delicious! I love a good brownie. I’ve made several brownie recipes in the past but this was the first one I’ve made that used actual chocolate rather than cocoa powder. It was SO GOOD. One thing I like about this recipe is that the brownies baked perfectly without the edges over-hardening when cooled. I was able to cut them the next day without a problem.

Recipe after the jump « Read the rest of this entry »

Hello and Welcome

May 3, 2011 § 30 Comments

Hello, and Welcome! It’s definitely Spring now – a time for cleansing and renewal. In that spirit I’ve migrated here from my old site, Kitchen Meditation.  Thank you for making the move over here with me. I still plan on writing about my journey in the kitchen, but with a little bit more about my life in general. My door is always open and I do hope you are a regular visitor here.

Lately, my kitchen has revolved a bit around macarons. The stubborn Leo in me has emerged, insisting on perfecting these French sandwich cookies. I made this  batch over the weekend and I think that they are my best batch yet. I’m looking forward to experimenting with other flavors and decorations! And soon, I will write a step-by-step post on how to make macarons.

>Fourth Time’s the Charm Macarons

April 24, 2011 § 29 Comments

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Sometimes, I can be a little stubborn. With each batch of macarons coming out a little less perfect I knew I was doing something wrong. This made me even more determined to master the technique, so I regrouped and spent an afternoon reading up on macarons. I read through several detailed step-by-step processes, tips on making the perfect macaron, and common errors in making macarons. Armed with the research and my copy of Mad About Macarons, I went into my fourth attempt ready to tackle them once and for good.

I measured, whipped, folded, and mixed. Piping out the batter I knew that this time was different. The batter held its shape and didn’t spread out like it had on my previous attempts. I had a good, but apprehensive, feeling. After popping the baking sheets into the oven, I sat by the oven and stared in, watching and waiting for the feet to appear. At about four minutes they began to peek out and say hello, and the domed tops stood up tall and proud.

Finally, I had done it – I had made some progress in making macarons. With a bit of hollowness in the shells and a little chewiness still on the table I know I still have some learning to do – but I’m definitely getting there and am happy with my fourth attempt. I have more eggs in the fridge with plans to make another batch tomorrow… keep your fingers crossed for me! Maybe this will be the perfect batch. Like most things in life, practice makes perfect and I’m up for the challenge.

>Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

April 20, 2011 § 18 Comments

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I have a friend who is so near to my heart that even though I don’t see her that often anymore, it’s like no time has even passed when I do. I met her during my first week in college, remaining friends through the dorm years and living together our junior and senior years… and knowing that I’m likely not even through a third of my life I can easily say that those were two of the hardest years. Through it all she stood by my side and carried me through it. When I think back to it, I’m so grateful that she was there for me and lucky to still have her in my life.

We recently connected again and as it so happens, her birthday was coming up and her boyfriend was planning his proposal. He gathered her closest friends to meet at the bar they had their second date to surprise her with some celebratory drinks. Naturally, I had to make some cupcakes for the special occasion. I thumbed through Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, my current go-to source for cupcakes, and picked out mint chocolate. They were amazing! A few people even went back for seconds. I can’t wait for the next special occasion so I can use another recipe from this book.
The happy couple right after she said yes!
Here’s a photo taken right after the proposal. He took her on stage at the Hollywood Bowl and serenaded her. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? I can’t wait for the wedding.

>Macaron Madness

April 16, 2011 § 22 Comments

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Macarons, second attempt

Several months ago I tried my hand at making macarons. They didn’t turn out perfect but since it was my first try I was wildly happy with the results. Since then, they’ve been hovering over my head and in the back of my mind I wondered if it was just luck and coincidence that they turned out, or if I truly did get the technique right. I kept putting off another attempt though, because just the thought of all the work that goes into them made me tired.

Last week my girlfriend hosted her monthly potluck, with this month’s theme being eggs in honor of Easter. I figured now would be as good of a time as any to give macarons another go. I filled them with the leftover choco-almond frosting from the cupcakes I made over the weekend and while they still didn’t turn out perfect, they were just as delicious as could be. I think my friend, who ate one after another, agrees with me!

Third attempt
Now, I’m determined to master the macaron. I made a third batch over the weekend and sadly, this was the worst batch of all. I did get the ‘feet’, but you can see from the photo how they extend past the dome (which by the way, is barely even a dome at all!). I spent a good amount of time over the weekend reading up on macarons and think I know where I went wrong. I have more eggs aging at home right now and hope to make perfect macarons with the fourth batch.

>Wordless Wednesday 4.13. 11

April 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

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>Matcha Cupcakes with Coco-Almond Frosting

April 10, 2011 § 18 Comments

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Happy birthday, Tak!

Every time I see you fools I realize how awesome my friends are.My friend sent me this text last night and I wholeheartedly with him. My friends are pretty awesome but as a group we don’t get together as often as we should – the last time was for Christmas almost four months ago! Yesterday though, we celebrated our friend’s birthday. It started off with linner (late lunch, early dinner) and somehow it went straight through the evening and night with spontaneous stops at a couple more watering holes. I didn’t get home until well past my bedtime at midnight. Good times were had and it was a celebration indeed… Friends, food, laughter – what a great start to the week.

Naked Cupcakes!

For my friend’s birthday I wanted to make him some cupcakes. I poked around a bit and found out that he loves green tea so naturally I had to make cupcakes with my favorite ingredient, matcha. I looked up a few matcha cupcake recipes but something just didn’t feel right about them so I adapted a recipe for white cake to suit this flavor. It turned out perfect – the green tea flavor really shined through without being bitter and the sugar was the right amount without being overly sweet. I paired it with a coco-almond frosting that I found to complement the matcha flavor really well. And for once I didn’t over-frost the cupcakes. Personally I love a huge mountain of frosting but I’ve noticed that people will eat around the frosting when I pile it on so I’ve learned to scale it back.



Matcha Cupcakes (Makes 12 cupcakes):
(Adapted from Allrecipes)
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp matcha powder
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup almond milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl sift together the flour, matcha powder, and baking powder. In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, cream together the caster sugar and butter. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla extract. Slowly add the flour/matcha/baking powder mixture and continue to mix. Lastly, add in the milk and continue to mix until the batter is smooth. Pour into a muffin tin lined with cupcake liners, filling each one 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake springs back to the touch.

Coco-Almond Buttercream Frosting (Makes a large amount. Half the recipe unless you want to use the leftovers for something else):
(Adapted from Vegan Cucpakes Take Over the World)
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated margarine
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup almond milk

Beat the margarine and shortening together until combined. In another bowl, sift together the cocoa powder and powdered sugar. Slowly add to the margarine and sugar, and beat for three minutes. Add the almond extract and almond milk and continue to beat for another five minutes until light and fluffy. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

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