Monday, December 14, 2009

The Pear and Almond Tart

For those of you who read this blog, I promise, this is not turning in to an exclusive baking blog. I just can't seem to help it! It's all I've been doing lately that would warrant a photo as it's been quite cold outside. So bear with me please and I will try to take some non-foodie photos in the near future.

My parents were hosting a large Christmas party at their home this past weekend and with all the other dishes my mom was making she had no time for dessert, so she asked me to make a Pear tart to "go with" the pork loin she was fix'n. I went in to deep research mode and found a recipe for a pear and almond tart through, you guessed it, Cook's Illustrated. It was quite the process and I learned quite a bit about what to do and not do when making tarts. Yes, this tart required an entire bottle of white wine to poach the pears.

Add in a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, lemon rind and peppercorns and you have a delicious juice soaking in to the pears. I was sad I had to throw it away and it seemed like a waste. I think you should be able to add some gelatin to the wine and use it as a glaze at the least.

Here's the what the tart looks like when the shortbread dough is being par-baked. It's kind of like catching someone with rollers in their hair and face cream on, right?!

The frangipane is made up of pureed almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. And it tastes awesome.

After the pears had soaked in the juice, you take 'em out pat their little bottoms dry and slice them up.

Here it is - and all I can see when I look at it is the HUGE space between the pears since I miscalculated the spacing when setting this pears in to the frangipane. And freinds, let me tell you, there is no going back once those pears have been placed. Believe me, I tried. From all reports, though, everyone enjoyed the tart! ya!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Evil has a Cousin

So, we have very intrepid squirrels as you can see in this post. You'd think they would jump off a window ledge featuring two very large and very agitated cats, but no, they stay and swish their tails at danger.

Apple Pie Pie Pie

For Thanksgiving dinner I volunteered to bake an apple pie. I thought it was time to try my hand at a lattice top as I had bought a lovely pie crimper the week before at Cornucopia. I took the above photo as a thank you to my friend Katie - who gave me this wonderful cook book stand for my birthday.

I love visiting Penzeys Spices - a local spice shop in downtown Maplewood. When I was there last time, I saw this small container of freeze dried lemon peel. After talking to the store folks, these lemon peels just need about 15 minutes soaking in water in order to be resconstituted and used in baking. I thought I would give this a try and it worked beautifully.

It took me a while to get used to pie dough that didn't really look like dough. When it looks like sand, that's when you know that you're on the right track.
Gala apples did the trick and stayed tender without being mushy. I think I over did it on the cinnamon this's just so hard to believe that there can ever be "too much" cinnamon. Right?!

I tell you. Parchment paper is my best friend, and it makes rolling out the dough so much easier.

I was so happy that the pie crust didn't end up charred and inedible! I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Farmer's Market

We had beautiful weather in St. Louis last Saturday. So, to the Farmer's Market in Kirkwood I went. It was the frist day of their transition to an outdoor Christmas Market so I was eager to see what goodies they had on display and met up with my mother and younger sister, Leanne.

It was mostly kitschy stuff like this wooden fellow below.

While the decorations were a bit of a disapointment, the small covered market was not! I was just full of yummy treats. Like the crushed peppermint candies that would be perfect for my holiday cookies.

My sister, Leanne (home from college for the week!), had quite the time choosing between all of the homemade jams.

After lunch, my mom led me to the promised land...also known as Cornucopia. It was full of specialty baking and cooking supplies. Hello. I love you, adorable square tart pan.

Hello, ridiculously expensive cast iron enamelware - want to come home with me?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jury Duty

So, a couple of months ago, I received a letter in the mail from the St. Louis City Courts letting me know that I had been selected for jury duty and that I was to report to the court house on Nov. 18th in order to serve. I was super excited! I just think that the opportunity to serve on a jury would be the neatest thing! The night before, I had packed a bag of fun things in order to keep myself entertained - that would include the lastest issue of House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart's Cooking School and my current fiction book. Perfect!

My excitement quickly turned to dismay that morning when I discovered that I was lost downtown and couldn't seem to find the building I was supposed to report to. Thankfully, I happened to run in to my new Jury Duty Best Friend as I was getting out of my car. She was just as lost as I was and between the two of use we were able to figure out that we were to report to the Court building (picture above). I thought it looks a bit like the Ghostbusters building, right?!

After about 5 minutes, Hannah and I discovered that we had several friends in common and bonded over family blogs. We both passed the first stage of the jury selection for a huge class-action lawsuit and will be hanging out again on Nov. 30th for further interviews of potential jury members. So, overall, it was a long, boring, different, wierd day. And it was so much more fun to spend it with a new friend!

Monday, November 9, 2009

What Say You?

So, I was posting a comment on Just a Plane Ride Away (the always fabulous expat blog) about how I was considering the purchase of a new set of dishes and that I was looking at "Friendly Village" which is a set of everyday plates from Wedgewood. This whole set is on sale for $99! I know that I would have found these dishes completely atrocious just a few years why have I bookmarked the site to look at the photo? WHY? I think I love it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I hope your Halloween was a happy one! Our family decided to visit Aili and Mike's house for dinner and taking the kids out for trick or treating.

My sister is a great cook - we enjoyed some seriously fantastic chili (perfect for a cold autum night) and totally cutie pumpkin cookies!

Joseph decided that he wanted to be Cyborg, a DC comics superhero in Teen Titans. I thought he was dressed up like a character from the movie Tron! If you look closely, Mara is bundled up on the couch in the background. A few hours before we arrived she started feeling sick, so she missed out on trick or treating this year.

Miss Baby Elena, however, came to the rescue in her pink super girl outfit to save the day and get some candy for her sick older sister!!

People, I am telling you, I almost melted in to a puddle of love this little girl is so sweet, and brave and spunky and funny and just awesome. It was her first Halloween and it was great to be there for it! After the kids went to bed we enjoyed a marginally scary movie. All in all a great Halloween! Thanks Aili for a great dinner!!

Monday, October 26, 2009


So, I've been getting a hard time for my sporadic posting from family members. I had a lovely weekend but left my camera in its perch and have nothing new to offer. The photo above, I took at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The exhibition at the time was on all things female and the piece in the photo is an orthroscopic voyage through the female reproductive system. Interesting and slightly repellant, no?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Comfy Friday

Having spent the prior weekend in Chicago and it being horribly wet and cold outside, I elected to spend last Friday night at home. Caroline was out for the night and I planned on some much needed downtime. I get home around 6 in the evenings on most weeknights, add in working out, shower, errands etc., and it's usually 7:45 pm or so before I can eat dinner. Needless to say, weekeday dinners are slapdash and rarely homecooked. This Friday would be different, so first and foremost, my plan revolved around baking some fresh bread (above), and I must say, the almost no-knead bread is very flexible!

I cleaned the house, since a clean home always makes me feel peaceful and then enjoyed reading my current book while the bread was baking.

I'm not sure why exactly, but the Charlie Brown Christmas album always makes me feel so cozy!

45 minutes later I had my fresh and delicious loaf on a cooling rack while I set to work on the shredded chicken. Darcy (below) decided that he needed to supervise said kitchen activities...

Once the meal was served, both Archer and Darcy began circling my chair like a pair of meowing sharks.

Darcy, being slightly more canny than poor, obvious Archer, took the "peak over the adjoining chair" tactic. Knowing, of course, that he looks ridiculously cute as he tries to be surreptitious. He's got eyes only for that chicken.

Below, is the compromise we worked out. As long as he wasn't actually on the table, he could sit politely and watch me eat the chicken alfredo. Below is his imploring "feed me some o' that chicken please" look.

After dinner it was time to relax and enjoy a good movie. And yes, those juvenile socks are mine...and they are super comfy I tell ya!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chicago Bound

So we (my friends and I) have been collectively throwing around the idea of a girl's weekend trip to Chicago since last year. This September we started rumbling again about how nice it would be to get out of town again and it just so happened that our friend Leah was going to Chicago for a Saturday Shakespear workshop on the 3rd of October. Our weekend getaway was born...

We left St. Louis at 4 o'clock on the nose and arrived in Chicago around 9:30 ish pm. Not wanting to waste precious Chicago time we changed out of our travel clothes and tried to fix ourselves into something decent. Oh, and did I mention that it was about 45 degrees outside? Yes it was, so our adventuring around Chicago that evening went as far as the bar next door. They served a mean cheesecake!

The next morning Caroline, Elena and I had a leisurely breaksfast at a nice little hole-in-the-wall on our way to the Art Institute of Chicago (Leah was attending the teacher's workshop, so unfortunately, could not be with us that morning).

Elena resurrected that old battle-axe the "slash proof" purse, our reliable friend over this summer's Paris trip. We also enjoyed seeing this replica (below) of Winged Victory - the original we saw in the Louvre.

The forecast called for rain most of the day, so we decided to take advantage of the sun and strolled around Grant Park (which was hosting a Country Music Festival).

On our way to see the Buckingham Fountain, we passed the Congress Hotel. We were very close to booking a room here, as they were priced well and its location was fantastic - until I looked it up on TripAdvisor and found out it was the MOST HAUNTED HOTEL in all of Chicago. I thought it would spooky fun to stay at a haunted hotel, but Caroline protested and Leah and I found a perfectly regular business hotel to stay in instead. Anyways, it DOES look haunted doesn't it?!

The girls (all of whom had visited Chicago before) were eager for me to see Lake Michigan. It was beautiful! Buckingham fountain was also very impressive. It's best to stay out of the way of the prevailing winds, though, as my misted glasses could testify to.

After walking the shorefront, we made our way back to the Art Institute and enjoyed their impressive collection of impressionist art!! Elena, as usual, was in heaven and enjoyed the collection of Monet Haystacks on one of the walls, while Caroline and I explored a bit more.

It was really great to see this world-famous Seurat.

And I love, love, love Renoir and his amazing use of color.

The painting (above) was one of our favorites. It's called The Song of the Lark and was pianted by Jules-Adolph Breton in 1884. We had never heard of this artist before, but everyone kind of gasped when we saw this painting on the wall. I thought it was wonderful.

After visiting the art museum, we made our way to Millenium park, full of fun and funky outdoor art. Like the "bean". Apparently it is quite the tradition to get your photo taken in its reflection and we were no different. I was surprised (below) at how little our reflections were distorted.

One of the things I really appreciated about Chicago as we were walking around, was the extent of their public art. It was just everywhere! You can tell that this is a city that values its artists and their contribution to public spaces.

After visiting the parks, we started making our way north on Michigan Avenue in order to meet Leah for a late afternoon lunch. On our way we crossed the river and also saw what little evidence remained of Chicago's hopes to be an Olympic host city (below).

After meeting up with Leah, we had a delicious Spanish lunch, stopped at a Chicago bakery for pain au chocolat (my favorite) and coffee. We spent the rest of the afternoon and in to the evening strolling Michigan Avenue and going shopping. It began raining in earnest at this time, so I have no photos as I didn't want to get my camera wet.

After trudging home the 2 miles sopping wet and exhausted, we decided to take a two hour break before getting back out in the city. Elena and I had originally planned on taking an evening river/lake cruise of Chicago and then watching the fireworks from the boat as well. Sadly, it was (1) too cold and (2) too wet to make this feasible and so we had to come up with another idea. Elena (home to all good ideas) suggested that we go see Second City. Once we agreed on that, the rest of the evening just fell in to place.
We made our way through the still soggy streets to have what many consider to be the quintessential Chicago meal...

Giordano's "stuffed" pizza. The wait to get in to one of these joints is usually a couple of hours, but we must have visited during the witching hour, because we got seated immediately.

Which gave us all the more time to enjoy the most delicious, decadent, over-the-top pizza I have ever had. I am not kidding, you could scoop up the melted mozzarella with a fork. It was heaven.

Which didn't keep us away, however, from making our next engagement - Second City etc!

Second City is an improv/comedy group and is considered the proving grounds for many Saturday Night Live actors (Tina Fey, John Candy, Chris Farly, Bill Murray, etc). Illustrious claims notwithstanding, I was mildly concerned since I am not a huge fan of stand up comedy and imagined strained, awkward jokes falling flat and me being embarrassed for the performers. Thankfully this was not the case. Second City "Stud Turkel's Not Working" was the absolute highlight of our trip! The show started at 11 o'clock and we didn't get out until 1:30 in the morning. And it was worth every bit of lost sleep!

The next morning, perhaps not so birght eyed and bushy tailed, we made our way to the Shedd Aquarium.

On our way to the aquariam we walked the shore of Lake Michigan. The scenery was lovely, or at least those part of the walk that wasn't covered in duck grossness.

The Shedd Aquarium was truly amazing. It was just so cool to see all of these rare animals!
Like this guy from the amazon!

The biggest treat by far, was being able to see the beluga whales! They were just so majestic. We were able to watch a training session for the whales, and below, one of the belugas is rising out of the water to give his trainer a high-five.

I promise that I will not go overboard with the photos I took at the aquarium....but look at those jellyfish! And that crazy sea horse (below)!

We left the aquarium after a few hours and then got back in the car to head home. It was a whirlwind trip to Chicago and the next time I go I would definitely want at least 4-5 days to really get to see this city, but it was a blast nontheless. Shout out to Leah for driving, and the rest of the girls for a wonderful weekend!!