Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Duchamp-y Coconut Lemongrass Chess Pie

Chess! Now, I know what you are thinking; when did this blog get so nerdy? Don’t worry, I still have no idea how to play the game, and this post is not going to teach you (us).

Instead I want to bring to your attention that the late, great Marcel Duchamp would have been 128 years old yesterday, and not only that, but the dude loved chess. How much did he love chess, you ask? Marcel Duchamp basically retired from making art in 1923 to devote his time to perfecting his game and playing in professional tournaments. In fact, he was such a skilled player that he participated in the Chess Olympiads (nerd alert!) a few times, as a member of the French National Team.

Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray playing chess together (image from here)

Duchamp’s love of chess lead him to design two chess boards, the first, in 1920, was a more traditional board, and the second, designed in the early 1940s, which was designed to be a more portable, pocket-set. 

Marcel Duchamp, Pocket Chess Set in Leather Wallet, 1943 (image from here)

Chess was also a subject that Duchamp brought up in his art (pre-retirement), and can be seen as a central and fairly obvious subject in The Chess Game (painted in 1910) and Portrait of Chess Players (painted in 1911). What a difference a year made in his style; while The Chess Game is brightly colored and energetic, Portrait of Chess Players shows the influence of Cubism in his work. The color palette is limited and muted in earth tones, and the figures are fragmented and angular. Despite this, Duchamp wasn’t fully committed to Cubism – his figures are in constant motion, actively engaging with each other as they hunch close together over a chessboard. 

Marcel Duchamp, Portrait of Chess Players, oil on canvas, 1911

Much like Duchamp’s unexpected obsession with chess, this pie has a surprise flavor addition: lemongrass. Adding lemongrass to the coconut takes this pie to another level – I’m thrilled with how it turned out! The coconut milk and eggs provide the richness we expect from this traditional Southern pie, yet I can’t help but think that the lemongrass adds a certain lightness to each bite, which makes me feel a tiny bit better about indulging in it 2 ½ weeks before my wedding!

Speaking of running down the aisle (for those of you reading along this spring/summer as I’ve worked towards my goal of logging 200 miles before my wedding) I am currently at 173 miles with 27 more miles to go before August 15th. Wish me luck! :) 

Coconut Lemongrass Chess Pie
Inspired by A Beautiful Mess and Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Butter Crust (for a single-crust pie):
·      1 c. all-purpose flour
·      ¼ c. whole wheat flour
·      pinch of salt
·      2 t. sugar
·      1 stick of unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
·      small bowl of ice water + a healthy swig of apple cider vinegar

Inspired by A Beautiful Mess
·      4 eggs, room temperature
·      3 T. coconut milk
·      1 t. vanilla extract
·      6 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
·      1 ¾ c. sugar
·      1 stalk lemongrass
·      pinch of salt
·      2 T. cornmeal
·      1 T. all-purpose flour
·      1 T. white vinegar
·      ½ c. unsweetened coconut, toasted

Make the crust the night before:
Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl of a large food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is made up of pea-sized pieces of butter. Add 2 T. of the ice water mixture at a time (I needed 3 total), continuing to pulse with the food processor until incorporated. Stop only once the mixture resembles a dough you can work with. If you add too much water, don’t panic, just add another T. or two of flour.

Flatten the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

The next day, lightly flour your work surface as well as your rolling pin, and slowly roll the dough out, starting from the center, until you have a 12-13 inch circle. Carefully transfer the crust to your pie plate, gently pressing into place, and leaving about an inch of overhang. Trim and shape your crust, and then poke a few holes throughout with a fork. Let chill while you get your filling ready.

To make the filling:
Remove the tough outer layer of the lemongrass stalk, and finely chop the bottom 4 inches. Place in the bowl of your food processor with the sugar, and pulse until combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, vanilla extract and melted butter. Add in the lemongrass sugar, cornmeal, flour and vinegar. Slowly pour the filling into your chilled crust. Top with toasted coconut and bake at 350°F for 50 minutes, or until the pie filling has set and the top is golden brown. Let cool for at least an hour and then dig in!

Monday, July 13, 2015

8 Questions with…Christopher Boffoli + Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

Today I’m excited to bring you a new series where I chat with living, breathing artists (as opposed to most of these) about their work, process and of course, food! I am thrilled to start off with a few questions with the super-talented Christopher Boffoli, the photographer behind Big Appetites. Christopher’s work is bright, humorous and fun. In his series Big Appetites, which he has been working on since 2003, Boffoli creates tiny diorama-like scenes with food and miniature figurines. The resulting photographs are witty and interesting; even if you’ve never tasted a pastel-hued French macaron, seeing a tiny group of chefs shoveling buttercream filling will probably make you smile, and it may even bring you back to your childhood or a particular food memory. 

Big Appetites by Christopher Boffoli, Macaron Team. Copyright (c) by the artist and used with permission

Big Appetites by Christopher Boffoli, Caramel Salt Harvesters. Copyright (c) by the artist and used with permission
I’m a huge admirer of Boffoli’s work, and I’m not alone. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Lucky Peach and Fast Company, as well as ads for MasterCard and Citibank. If you are not following this guy’s work, start now!

I paired Boffoli’s Peanut Butter Cup Repair with my own homemade peanut butter cups. These decadent treats are so much better than Reese’s and super easy to make. In fact, they are no-bake – that’s right, no need to turn on your oven in this summer heat and melt. Just assemble, chill and enjoy! 

Big Appetites by Christopher Boffoli, Peanut Butter Cup Repair Technicians. Copyright (c) by the artist and used with permission

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
Makes about 3 dozen mini peanut butter cups

·      1 c. creamy peanut butter (not natural)
·      ¼ c. unsalted butter
·      ¼ c. brown sugar
·      1 ¼ c. powdered sugar
·      4 c. dark chocolate chips (2 11.5 oz. bags)
·      ¼ c. canola oil

Line a mini-muffin pan with paper liners, and set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the peanut butter, butter and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring frequently. Cook until the mixture is completely melted together. Remove from heat, and stir in the powdered sugar. Set the mixture aside, and let cool.

As that cools, melt the chocolate chips and oil together in the microwave. Stir together completely, and using a small spoon, spoon a little melted chocolate into the bottom of each paper liner – you want the chocolate to completely cover the bottom of the liner. Next, spoon a teaspoon-sized amount of the peanut butter mixture, roll it in a ball, gently flatten into a disc, and place on top of the melted chocolate in the muffin tin. Repeat for each liner, and then fill the rest of the cup with melted chocolate. 

Chill the peanut butter cups in the freezer for about 30 minutes to really set, and then you are ready to enjoy! 

8 Questions with…Christopher Boffoli

1.    I love your food dioramas! What has been your favorite food to work with?
Thanks.  I don’t know that I really have any foods that I like to work with more than others. The important thing is that the food has the suitable color, texture, geometry, etc. that fits what I need on the given day that I’m shooting it.  It is also essential that what I’m photographing is fresh and in season as when you shoot food with macro lenses it tends to accentuate any imperfections.  With that said, certain foods are easier than others.  My figures aren’t really designed to stand on their own so shooting with something like buttercream frosting obviously makes my life a lot easier.

2.    Do you find yourself constantly hungry, considering your work?
No, not really. One tends to take a more clinical approach to the subject matter when it is a matter of craft as opposed to nourishment. I’m not looking at the food for its flavor but for the way it looks and the way it will serve the image I’m creating.  I tend to be more preoccupied with the challenges at hand:  composition, lighting, finding the context between the figures and the food.   Likewise, I doubt fashion photographers are constantly thinking of sex. As a professional what you’re doing is work not play.

3.    How do you work? What is your creative process like?
The process can vary.  Sometimes I’ll get an idea and will make a sketch for a specific design.  It can be built around a certain food or a particular context (how the figures will be interacting with a type of food).  At other times I approach the food without an idea and work through it in the studio, trying various angles and different figures and contexts.  The food gets selected, cleaned, cut and styled, arrangements are laid out over paper backdrops of complimentary colors, and then figures are carefully applied.  Sometimes the idea doesn’t work out and I’ll try different figures or a different angle on the food.  After I’m happy with what I have I’ll take the images back to the computer and will work for hours digitally painting out imperfections.  We tend to have an idea of the way food is supposed to look that’s fairly different from the way it actually renders under the scrutiny of macro lenses.

4.    Where do you go for inspiration?
Inspiration is really everywhere. Sometimes just walking through a farmer’s market does the trick. But I don’t ever really feel the need to “go” anywhere (either on the internet or in the real world) as inspiration usually comes to me. It is just a matter of being open, perceptive and ready for it.  If ever there is a particular idea I am trying to work out, or a caption that I’m trying to write (all of my images are paired with written captions that are designed to expand on the image) I’ll jump in the shower.  Escaping digital distractions and calming oneself with hot water is actually a really great place to distill creative ideas.

5.    How did you get into photography?
I was given a camera as a gift when I was about 15 years old.  I always saw myself as more of a writer and photography was just another manifestation of my creativity.   I never really had any formal training early on.  It was more the school of taking so many bad pictures that you eventually start to get it right.  I shot pictures as a college journalist and ending up starting my own commercial photography company while I was still an undergraduate (doing event photography for the fraternities and sororities at my college).  From there photography was almost always just an avocation and I never thought I’d make a living as a visual artist. But then in 2011 an editor discovered my Big Appetites photographs – which I began shooting in 2003.  The photographs were syndicated in Europe and much to my surprise they led to a full time career as a fine art, commercial and editorial photographer.

6.    What is your dream project?
I’m in a very fortunate position to be on the receiving end of a steady stream of really great offers from a range of potential collaborators.  Some of them are more challenging than others and some I ultimately have to pass on just because they aren’t a good fit or the timing isn’t right. But overall Big Appetites HAS been a dream project in that I’m doing something that I love, I have complete freedom to travel or take time off whenever it suits me, and I’m making a good living in a creative field.

7.    What artist(s) do you most admire?
There are far too many to list here. Though if pressed to pick one I’d say Martha Graham.  She invented a new language of movement that changed indelibly everything that came after her. I’ve read about and studied her life extensively and she was the most incredible artist and innovator. I have a print of Barbara Morgan’s iconic 1940 photograph of Ms. Graham in her dance “Letter to the World” and it is a constant source of inspiration.

8.    Describe your perfect meal.
Is it even possible that there is a perfect meal?  One of the reasons I chose food as a subject of my work is that it offered an endless variety so I knew I would never run out of things to shoot.  There is just so much, how could I possibly commit to one choice?  Some of the themes of Big Appetites have to do with portion size and excess.  I’ve overheard people at exhibitions look at my photographs and say, for instance, “I wish I were the woman in that image, standing next to a towering piece of chocolate cake so I could just tunnel through it.”  But in truth, even our most favorite foods would be repulsive to us if we had to eat a huge quantity of it or were forced to eat it too frequently.  Anyway, I’d like to think there is no such thing as a perfect meal. Food is an art form that is temporary, that is consumed and then is gone.

Thank you so much, Christopher!
For more on fun, food-based scenes, check out his book: Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food  :)

Big Appetites by Christopher Boffoli, Cookie Climbers. Copyright (c) by the artist and used with permission

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ionic Elephant Ear Cookies


Hello! I’m back to the blog after surrendering my life to wedding planning, which essentially just means addressing and stamping what seems like millions of envelopes, trying out lots of beauty treatments and pushing myself to run run run...I'm up to 140 miles!  This weekend was a fun one to live in the city: the whole world has been celebrating the super exciting Supreme Court victory that happened last Friday, making this weekend’s Gay Pride events even better.

Because of all this, it seems like my social media is (even more so than usual) joyous, rainbow-hued and celebratory, and there are even more pictures of government buildings than usual (which is never). I mean, I would say that for every four Facebook profile pictures that have gotten the Facebook pride-treatment (or data/behavior studied), there is another shot of the Supreme Court, or the White House lit up in rainbow colors. This is totally perfect, because it brings up classical architecture in government buildings, which goes PERFECTLY with the cookies I made recently that look like ionic columns, which are not things that usually come to mind (or brought up in blog post) organically. 
So really, thank you Supreme Court—not only for making same-sex marriage legal (but mostly for this!), but for also making it easier for me to write a post on ionic column-shaped cookies. THANK YOU!!!!

These cookies, called palmiers or elephant cookies are buttery, soft and just so happen to look like one of Greek architectural orders. Ionic columns were named for the Greek Ionian Islands in the 6th century B.C. and characterized by the delicate scrolls or volutes on is capital, the top of the column. Ionic columns can be seen on historic buildings everywhere: the Vienna Parliament, Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike at the Acropolis, the White House and many frat houses all have them!

Parthenon, image via Flickr

Mini Elephant Ear Cookies

·      2 c. all-purpose flour
·      ¼ c. whole wheat flour
·      pinch of salt
·      ½ t. baking powder
·      1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
·      ¾ c. sour cream
·      ½ c. sugar

These cookies take a little bit of planning ahead—they can be made in a little over 2 ½ hours, or you can make the dough the night before, and chill overnight.

First, dice the butter, and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes. When ready, combine the dry ingredients (but not sugar) in the bowl of a food processor and add in the frozen butter pieces. Pulse until the mixture resembles small uniform pebbles. Add in the sour cream and pulse until just combined. Dump the dough onto a counter and roll in a ball. Divide in half, and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour (or overnight).

Sprinkle your workspace with the sugar, and remove one piece of dough from the fridge at a time. Roll the dough out into an approximately 12 x 10 inch strip. Sprinkle another layer of sugar on the dough, and slowly start curling one of the long sides into itself like a scroll, stop in the middle, and do the same on the other half.  Repeat process with the second ball o f dough. Press the ends of each scroll together, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for an hour. 

Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Take one of the scrolls from the fridge and cut into ½ c. slices, placing them on the baking sheet about 1 ½ inches apart from each other.  Bake for 13-15 minutes total, turning halfway through and watching carefully. Allow to cool completely before digging in. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sweet Treats #7

The Gluten Free Diet is everywhere, including some of your favorite art

Frieze Art Fair is starts this week! There will be great art and great food—check out the health ratings for the food vendors planning to work the fair

According to this state food map, my favorite foods should probably be lattice-top peach pies (born in GA), pulled-pork BBQ sandwiches (raised in NC) with a little bit of buckeyes (OH), fish tacos (CA) and buffalo wings (NY) thrown in…how accurate are yours?

Can you tell the difference between a real or fake Old Master painting?

The most depressing cookbooks ever ("I Can't Chew Cookbook")

Monday, May 4, 2015

Soul-Saving, Heavenly Maple, Chocolate Chip & Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

I’m finding myself in a precarious position. With my wedding only 15 short weeks away (eek!!) I should be doing everything in my power to look my best for my big day. While this is totally true, I still can’t help myself from wanting to bake delicious things all the time. When I’m happy, I bake, and obviously this is a happy time, but it’s also the time I really shouldn’t be baking (and tasting) quite as often. So since I am having a hard time slowing down on the baking, I’m upping my exercise a bit to make up for it. In addition to my normal gym routine, I’ve also set a goal to run 200 miles before the wedding… which is a pretty insane goal, even if I started it at the end of March. Currently I’m at 82 miles—let’s see how I do!

These cookies are partially to blame for my need to log some miles. They are completely decadent but also a little surprising. The mix of chocolate chips and cocoa nibs and the walnuts are the base for a stellar cookie, but the addition of maple takes these to the next level. They remind me of the Romanesque sculptures that decorated European cathedrals during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. These intricate and expressive stone sculptures decorated much of the façade of these churches, as a means of extravagantly depicting various biblical scenes and principles of Christianity for the churchgoers to see. The scene of the Last Judgment was especially popular in the decorated archway (or tympanum) above the church doorways, showing Christ’s power to separate those destined for heaven and hell. 

detail, Cathedral of Saint Lazare, Autun, image via here

detail, Cathedral of Saint Lazare, Autun, image via here

A version of this that is still in remarkably good shape (given that it’s 900 years old) was completed between 1120-1135 at the Cathedral of Saint Lazare at Autun, France. From afar, this version looks like these cookies—sandy colored, textured and totally intriguing. Upon closer inspection, we see an enormous Christ judging the souls that surround him. To our left (his right) we see angels and saved souls. To our right (his left) are the damned souls, which are chaotic and terrifying. One bite of these maple-y cookies, and you might as well cue the trumpets and doves—they are heavenly! 

My favorite part about this artist’s work at Autun is that he signed his work: Gislebertus hoc fecit” meaning “Gislebertus made this”, which was totally awesome and against the norm for that time in history. Here Gislebertus demands recognition for his work and forcefully separates himself from the anonymous craftspeople. With his pushing of boundaries and exploration of his identity as an artist, Gislebertus is a forefather for any artist today who signs their work. On a tastier scale, these cookies demand attention and put it all out there. Basically I just can’t get enough. I think you’ll feel the same! 

Maple, Chocolate Chip and Walnut Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from joy the baker

·      1 c. all-purpose flour
·      ½ c. whole wheat flour
·      pinch of salt
·      1 t. baking soda
·      1 ½ t. ground cinnamon
·      1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
·      1 c. brown sugar
·      1/3 c. sugar
·      2 eggs
·      2 t. vanilla extract
·      ½ c. pure maple syrup
·      2 c. old fashioned rolled oats
·      ½ c. walnuts
·      ¾ c. chocolate chips
·      ¼ c. cocoa nibs

Preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugars for a couple of minutes. Once the mixture is light and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, beating completely between additions. Add the vanilla and the maple syrup, and then add the flour mixture over a few additions. Stir in the oats, walnuts, chocolate chips and cocoa nibs.

Using a large spoon or a heaping-tablespoon sized cookie scoop, divide the dough into portions on the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 10-12 minutes, and let cool completely before devouring the whole batch!  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Totally Spring-like Carrot Cake with Cardamom

Spring has finally sprung, and I am psyched! Every year I am amazed at just how much the weather affects my mood.  Winter is fine for a while, but I got so tired of wearing my duck boots every. single. day and dealing with tons of snow, slush and ice. This past weekend I went running outside in shorts, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I did that!

This cake screams spring. It also screams spice! And excitement! And a moist crumb! I love that it has all of the best parts of carrot cake: the freshness of the shredded carrots, lightness of the cream cheese frosting and just that wholesome feeling you get when you are eating a dessert made out of veggies, ya know?

Adding cardamom to this cake is life changing—it adds a whole new dimension to this tasty cake, and I can’t picture going back to any other plain ol’ carrot cake. 

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Spring, oil on canvas, 1573

With spring outside and in my kitchen, I can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite artists, Arcimboldo, and more specifically, his work Spring. Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a 16th century Mannerist painter, who is best remembered for his anthropomorphic portraits, using flowers, plants, fruits, vegetables and other inanimate objects to create the faces. Arcimboldo grew up in Milan when naturalism was really in style, which no doubt influenced his later work, though there is no question that he took it a step further than his contemporaries! When he was in his 30s, he left Milan and went to Vienna to work as a court painter, decorator and costume designer for the Habsburg court. It was here that Arcimboldo really flourished. Under the patronage of Emperor Maximilian II and Rudolf II, Arcimboldo was encouraged to study botany, and his works truly began to fuse art and science.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Vertumnus, oil on panel, 1950-1
In the 1570s, Arcimboldo started his “The Seasons” series to celebrate the reign of his patrons, by personifying Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. The series was so popular that he created many reproductions and alternate versions (one version of Spring is hanging in the Louvre, and I saw it last month while I was in Paris!). In 1590, Arcimboldo created one of his most famous portraits, Vertumnus, which portrays Maximilian II’s son, Rudolf II as the god of seasons. In choosing this subject matter, Arcimboldo reinforced Rudolf II’s extreme power—he was Holy Roman Emperor, and ruled as king over Bohemia, Germany, Hungary and Croatia.

Now I realize that most of us don’t currently deal with the rule of monarchs (but some of us do, thank you faithful readers in London and Thailand!!), but with the changing seasons, this cardamom carrot cake is sure to make everyone feel a little bit like royalty! Now get to baking—hurry, before it gets too hot outside to comfortably turn on our ovens!!

Carrot Cake with Cardamom
Adapted from Food52

·      ¾ c. sugar
·      ¾ c. brown sugar
·      2 t. vanilla extract
·      4 eggs, room temperature
·      4 cups shredded heirloom carrots
·      2 c. flour (1/2 of this can be whole wheat)
·      1 c. self-rising flour
·      2 t. baking powder
·      1 t. cardamom
·      ½ t. cinnamon
·      pinch of salt
·      dash of citrus extract (I used this)
·      ¾ c. grapeseed oil
·      ¾ c. plain yogurt

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Martha Stewart

·      8 oz. cream cheese
·      1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
·      2 t. vanilla extract
·      1-2 c. powdered sugar

First bake the cake: preheat the oven to 325°F and grease two 9 inch cake pans. Lightly flour both pans and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until yellow and then add in the vanilla and citrus extract. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the carrots and stir until all combined. Pour half of the carrot and flour mixture into the stand mixer along with half of the oil and yogurt. Mix and then repeat.

Pour the batter evenly into the two pans and bake for about 55 minutes, alternating halfway through. Let cool completely, no ifs ands or buts, I’m talking at least an hour before you frost! Or you can wait to frost the next day, but I doubt you will be able to wait that long!

For the frosting: cream together the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer for a couple of minutes. Add in the vanilla, followed by a cup of powdered sugar. Taste, and add more sugar until the frosting reaches your desired level of sweetness. Yum!

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