Monday, January 26, 2015

Sweet Treats #3

SkyMall has gone bankrupt! Get these before its too late!

Valentine’s Day is coming up, check out this slideshow of romantic art picks

Carol Vogel retires as writer of New York Times’ Inside Art column

Busted! (these Picasso, Matisse and Miró forgers were)

Author Daniel Silva reveals the source behind his extensive art-related knowledge: well-known restorer David Bull

Opening this week:
·      Outsider Art Fair in New York, on January 29th

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hunt of the Red Velvet Cake

January has been cold so far. Thankfully New York City apartments have come a long way since medieval European castles. I say this because although none of us have any square footage, most of these old brownstone apartments have old heating pipes with little temperature control. Mine seems to usually be more on the stifling side.  500 years ago, wealthy medieval folk used to insulate their dark, dank castles with tapestries, which though beautiful, are also impractical in today’s day and age.

Even so, tapestries were very important during the middle ages, and were incredibly impressive to own. Seen as a luxury item, these large woven scenes could take up to years of multiple people working at once to complete. 

The Unicorn in Captivity, tapestry from the Hunt of the Unicorn series, Franco-Flemish, made in Brussels, c. 1495-1500
Luckily for New Yorkers, we are super close to a spectacular tapestry series—The Hunt of the Unicorn, c. 1495-1500, on display at the Cloisters. I have talked about the Cloisters before—it is an amazing museum, and so worth the long trek all the way up the west side. The Hunt of the Unicorn is a series of seven tapestries, together depicting the hunt, capture and murder of the unicorn. It can be interpreted in two ways: in a religious context it compares the unicorn and his eventual death to that of Christ. Alternatively, the unicorn can be seen to stand for the bridge groom, who has gone through hardships to gain the love of his lady. The last tapestry in the series, The Unicorn in Captivity, shows the unicorn trapped in a pen; this can be seen as Christ resurrected in the heavenly garden, or as the married groom, who has now been domesticated (aka trapped in a pen!) by his bride. As a future married lady, I really hope this is not the general consensus…

Despite the multiple interpretations, you can’t argue that these beautiful tapestries aren’t incredible. On first glance, these woven works of art made me think of a luscious red velvet cake—rich and eye catching. After more research, I was a bit sad to learn that medieval tapestries were actually made of wool rather than velvet. Nevertheless, I still made a red velvet cake, because to be honest, red wool cake sounds pretty disgusting.

Red Velvet Cake
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown

·      5 ½ oz. flour
·      4 oz. cake flour
·      ½ oz. cocoa
·      1 t. baking soda
·      pinch of salt
·      1 c. buttermilk
·      heavy squeeze of red food coloring
·      1 T. white vinegar
·      1 t. vanilla extract
·      10 ½ oz. brown sugar
·      4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
·      2 eggs, room temperature

Cream Cheese Frosting
·      13 ½ oz. powdered sugar (so much sugar!)
·      12 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
·      3 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
·      2 t. vanilla extract
·      pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Spray two 9 inch cake rounds with cooking spray and set aside. In small bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda and cocoa. In another small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, vinegar, good coloring and vanilla. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar for about 2 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Now, add the wet and dry mixtures, alternating between: dry, wet, dry, wet, dry. Mix only until fully combined—do not over mix! Split evenly between the two cake pans, using a kitchen scale to ensure that two cakes are truly equal in weight. Bake cakes for about 30-32 minutes, on the middle rack of your oven, rotating half way through the baking time.

Let the cakes cool completely, and mix together the frosting while that is happening:

Cream the cream cheese and the butter together in a stand mixer on medium speed. Scrape down the sides, and add in the salt and vanilla. Slowly add the powdered sugar, beating until the frosting reaches your desired consistency. Let refrigerate for at least 10 minutes while the cake finishes cooling.

To assemble:

Using an offset spatula, ice one layer of the cake; place the other layer on top, and ice. You can either stop now or ice the sides as well. Enjoy! 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Sweet Treats #2

Sweet Treats #2 that’s how they did it! (famous selfies)

New York’s new Cat Café is booked through this month, but maybe there is a chance of a reservation in February?

Speaking of new art-related restaurants, art dealer Larry Gagosian opened an extremely expensive sushi restaurant on the upper east side (in the basement of one of his galleries), which the New York Times reviewed very poorly

Closing this week:
·      Takashi Murakami: In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow closes on January 17th (Gagosian)
·      Rembrandt: the Late Works closes on January 18th (National Gallery,  London—and heads to the Rijksmuseum!)
·      Egon Schiele: Portraits closes on January 19th (Neue Galerie)

Have a great long weekend! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Completely Satisfying Walnut Pie

Now that we are 2 weeks into 2015, I think it’s time we all take a break from our new year’s resolutions. If this cake didn’t steer you clear of your brand-new diet, perhaps this totally satisfying pie will.

This pie is awesome because it reminds me of the perfectly caramelized nuts in pecan pie, but with a walnut-y spin. I know what you are thinking—this is pretty decadent, and it’s true! But so far 2015 is off to a great start, so why not reward yourself a bit? This pie will satisfy your taste buds while you indulge in walnuts, which are rich in omega-3 fats and minerals. Could be a lot worse! 

Eugene Delacroix, Cleopatra and the Peasant, oil on canvas, 1838

While eating a slice of this pie keeps me nourished and satisfied, these depictions of Cleopatra are anything but. At first glance, Eugene Delacroix's Cleopatra looks downright bored as she looks past her servant, staring somewhat blankly into the distance. Further research reveals her as the devastated queen in Shakespeare's Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, moments after discovering that her lover Marc Antony is dead. Dressed in rich colors and opulent jewels, Delacroix's heroine may have been caught at a moment of shock, but could also pass for someone dying of boredom.

John William Waterhouse, R.A., Cleopatra, oil on canvas, commissioned 1887

Years later John William Waterhouse painted the same subject for Graphic Magazine, as a part of a feature on Shakespeare’s heroines. Here Cleopatra is shown as a classicized femme fatale, draped in white and gold and reclining seductively. While the style has certainly changed since Delacroix’s rendering, Cleopatra still looks like she may or may not be drifting off to sleep. She obviously hasn’t had any of this pie. 

This woman on the other hand, she definitely opted for a few pieces; look how satisfied she looks:

Frank Cadogan Cowper, Vanity, oil on panel, 1907

Walnut Pie
Slightly adapted from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds Cookbook

Cornmeal Pie Crust:
·      1 c. all-purpose flour
·      ¼ c. cornmeal
·      pinch of salt
·      1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
·      1 c. ice water
·      2 T. apple cider vinegar

Make the crust the night before: sift together the dry ingredients and add to the bowl of a food processor. Add in the cold butter pieces and pulse until combined. Mix the apple cider vinegar and ice water, and add 2 T. at a time to the dough mixture, until the dough is easy to handle (I added 4 T.). Roll the dough out and shape in a 9-inch spring form pan. Wrap completely in plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

Walnut Pie
·      1 c. walnuts
·      1 c. sugar
·      6 T. unsalted butter
·      2 T. water
·      ½ c. apple cider vinegar
·      pinch of salt
·      ½ t. ground cinnamon
·      ½ t. ground ginger
·      2 T. cornmeal
·      3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. When the oven is ready, unwrap the plastic from the chilled pie crust, replace with a layer of aluminum foil, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Let cool completely and unwrap.

As the crust cools, toast the walnuts until a bit darker and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Pour the nuts into a glass bowl and set the baking sheet aside—you will bake the pie on the baking sheet later. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, sugar and water over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Turn the heat off when the caramel mixture is frothy and a candy thermometer reads 225˚F. Whisk in the apple cider and apple cider vinegar and transfer to a bowl to cool. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add about half of the warm cider caramel into the eggs, and whisk for about a minute. Pour the remaining egg into the mixture, and stir in the walnuts. Pour the filling into the pie shell, and carefully lift into the baking sheet. Put everything in the hot oven, and bake for approximately 25 minutes. Be sure to let this pie cool completely—at least 2 hours! Then slice up and go to town!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sweet Treats #1

This year, I’m starting a new series to highlight fun art and food related news. I hope you enjoy!

A New Year’s worth of ugly Renaissance babies…consider this my holiday present to you all:

Looks like Tracey might not have ever slept in her infamous bed, which is probably for the best: , for more Tracey love, check out my post here

Instead of punching a real one, please try this instead:

Have a good cassoulet recipe? There is a Cassoulet Cookoff  in New York on January 11th

Just when you thought it was safe to expect real art when visiting an art museum:

Did you get everything on your Christmas wish-list? Here’s what top collectors included on theirs:

Closing this week:
·      Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry—closes on Sunday, January 11th (Met)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Peanut Butter and Jelly Reinvented (as cake)

Happy 2015! How are those New Year’s resolutions going? Not so well? Who else spent the weekend lying on the couch (in between push-ups of course…)? No judgment here, but while you’re sitting there…why don’t we ring in the new year with an amazing cake, one with a few familiar flavors?

I am a pretty big fan of peanut butter and jelly. Most of my peers abandoned these delicious flavors after middle school, but I have kept the pb&j train rolllin’, so to speak. I even went so far as to post a ransom note in my office’s kitchen after one of my colleagues cruelly swiped half of my raspberry-y and peanut buttery lunch…but that’s another story. 

Change is a constant theme every January 1st, and this year is no different. With this cake, I am changing up my beloved classic sandwich…and adding plenty of buttercream! I was inspired by the beautiful and creepy Lamentation over the Dead Christ, painted by Andrea Mantegna around 1489, which is hanging in the Brera museum in Milan. In this eerie picture, Mantegna takes a pretty common subject, the Lamentation of Christ, and makes it extraordinary with his violent use of foreshortening. Here, we see Christ’s dead body, laid out on a marble slab for his mother and Saint John to mourn. Mantegna was a master at perspective, but in this case, he went a bit too far, compressing Christ’s body too much, and reducing the size of his feet, which almost touch the viewer. The intense mourning of Mary and John only intensify this scene, as does Christ’s gruesome dead face and creepy (yet thankfully unrealistic) holes in his hands and feet. 

Andrea Mantegna, The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, tempera on canvas, c. 1489

This past fall, the Brera decided to change the placement of this picture up a bit—moving it from a prominent wall to behind a partition, which is hung with a painting by Mantegna’s brother in law, Giovanni Bellini. Behind the dark partition, Mantegna’s picture is now hung unframed, around waist level, behind heavy glass. Many critics have been vocal with their dissatisfaction regarding this new placement, but others have suggested that now perhaps the strange perspective makes sense. When viewed from this new angle, the compression is not so harsh, and Christ’s body looks somewhat normal, I mean, for a dead man lying on a stone slab. So with the simple act of moving a painting lower on the wall by a couple of feet, the museum has successfully engaged viewers in the task of reinterpreting a well-known painting, this time making it a bit easier to comprehend. Brava, Brera!

model of the new configuration at the Brera; Bellini is in the foreground, Mantegna's Lamentation is behind; image via Goppion

With this cake, I attempted to do this too, but obviously on a much smaller scale. While we normally grab the sandwich bread when we think of peanut butter and jelly, why not rethink as a statement-making cake? I’m all for change in the New Year, and think that the ease of making this cake is just the right start!

I have a feeling that 2015 is going to be a pretty good year. I’m starting a new job today, planning a wedding to my best friend, and I started my day off with a slice of this decadent peanut butter and jelly cake for breakfast…what’s not to love?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cake
Hint: Since this cake involves baking 4 cake layers, and then making the buttercream, I recommend baking the cake layers the night before you plan to use them, letting them cool completely after baking, and then wrapping carefully in plastic wrap. Chill the layers overnight, which will make splitting the layers much easier in the morning!

White layer Cake (makes 2 8-inch layers)
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Golden Layer Cake, in How toCook Everything
·      1 ¼ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
·      2 c. all purpose flour
·      1 ¼ c. sugar
·      4 eggs, room temperature
·      1 t. vanilla extract
·      1 t. almond extract
·      2 ½ t. baking powder
·      pinch of salt
·      ¾ c. milk

Preheat oven to 350˚F, and prepare two 8 inch cake pans by spraying them thoroughly with cooking spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter for a couple minutes, until smooth, and then add in your sugar. Continue to beat until light and fluffy, a few more minutes. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then add in the vanilla and almond extracts, mixing completely after each addition. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the batter, alternating with the milk, and mix only until just combined (you don’t want to overmix!). Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and bake side by side on the middle rack of your oven for about 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely.

While these cool, make the peanut butter cake:

Peanut Butter Cake (makes 2 8-inch layers; one of which will be extra)
Adapted from the woks of life
·      1 1/3 c. all purpose flour
·      1 c. whole wheat flour
·      2 t. baking powder
·      1 t. baking soda
·      pinch of salt
·      ½ c. oil (I used canola)
·      ½ c. creamy peanut butter (not natural)
·      ¾ c. sugar
·      3 eggs, room temperature
·      1 t. vanilla extract
·      1 c. buttermilk

The oven should still be at 350˚F, and you will need those 8-inch cake pans again, greased and ready to go! Just like with the white cake layers, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt) in a medium sized bowl and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the oil, peanut butter and sugar for a couple of minutes, until fluffy and smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then add in the vanilla extract. Add in the dry mixture, alternating with the milk once again, and mix only until combined. Divide evenly between your two cake pans, and bake for about 25 minutes. Let cool completely.
Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted from Sprinkles Cupcakes
·      12 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
·      1-2 c. confectioner’s sugar to taste
·      pinch of salt
·      1 c. creamy peanut butter (not natural)
·      1 t. vanilla extract
·      1 c. full-fat milk

For assembly:
·      1 jar grape jelly (I used about ¾ of a jar of Bonne Maman Muscat grape jelly)

In the morning (or after the cake layers have cooled and chilled for a few of hours), mix together your frosting. Beat the butter and peanut butter together for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract, and salt, and then add in the sugar and milk, alternating each until fully combined. Feel free to use as much sugar as you like—adding more to suit your sweetness preference. I tend to like sugary frosting, so I used a full 2 cups, but if you do not, use closer to one cup! Let the frosting chill for about 10-15 minutes before using. 

While the frosting chills, level each cake layer using a sharp bread knife, and then divide each layer in two, so that you have 4 white layers and 4 peanut butter layers. You will only need 2 of the peanut butter layers and 3 of the white layers, so discard (or sample!) the extras. When you are ready to assemble, carefully place a white cake layer on a cake stand or flat plate, and cover top with a layer of jelly. Your next layer will be peanut butter, but instead of adding the buttercream directly to the jelly, frost the layer separately, then flip over, and lay on top of the jelly layer. Add jelly to the top of that layer, and then repeat the process, alternating white and peanut butter cakes. When you get to the top layer (white), do not add jelly to the top—instead add a very thin layer of buttercream to the top and sides—this will be your crumb coat. Chill the cake for about 5 minutes, and then add your final layer of buttercream, filling any holes or gaps, and creating an even surface. I tend to use an off-set spatula for this part, which makes the buttercream application both easier and smoother.

Now, let sit for a bit, and then dig in! Happy 2015!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

J.M.W. Turn(overs)

Hello again! It has been far too long since I last posted, and for that I am sincerely sorry. But here I am again—baking, writing and art-partaking. Will you join me for more fun sweets in the New Year? I hope so!

But before we get to 2015’s sweet treats, let’s end 2014 on a bang, shall we? These apple turnovers are perfect for this time of year, and you can easily substitute any fruit in season—I look forward to trying these with pears next, and peaches and berries in the spring and summer. 

These apple beauties are inspired by one of the most celebrated artists of Britain, John Mallord William Turner, sometimes referred to as the “painter of light.” Born in London, Turner was very accomplished in drawing, painting and watercolor, and his significant skills earned him admission to the Royal Academy of the Arts at the age of 14. Living up to his nickname, Turner was a master at depicting light in natural settings, and was especially proficient in his portrayals of the many “moods” of Mother Nature: whether it be severe sea storms, dramatic lighting or calm, beautiful landscapes. 

Take for example his early work of 1812: Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps—here, Turner connects the contemporary events of the Napoleonic Wars to the Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome (264-146 BC), and focuses on Carthaginian general Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps with his army (certainly no small feat, says the girl who thinks running a 5k once a year is a huge accomplishment). Though the historical background of the picture is important, the painting itself is largely a landscape, with a main focus on man’s (here, Hannibal and his army) vulnerability at the mercy of nature. In fact, we can barely even see Hannibal (on elephant)—the viewer is instead invited to focus on the dramatic avalanche, with sunlight peaking through the composition-demanding storm.
J.M.W. Turner, Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, oil on canvas, 1812

Years later, Turner painted a much calmer scene, with his 1838 work The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up. Here, we see the Temeraire, a real-life ship used in the Battle of Trafalgar (another nod to the Napoleonic Wars), being towed to be broken up for scrap wood. The scene is quiet, peaceful and balanced, with the old warship to the left, and a beautiful sunset to the right—the end of a boat’s era naturally coinciding with the end of a day. Turner's skilled rendering of the sunset and reflection on the water almost overshadows the events taking place.

J.M.W. Turner, The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, oil on canvas, 1838

In both of these prolific works, Turner successfully displays the importance and overwhelming aspect of nature, and emphasizes man’s small role within it. Which brings me back to these turnovers—the emphasis here is the fruit, and the pastry (and sugar) just adds a little “oomph!” Feel free to tweak the recipe to your taste; the best thing about these is that they are so simple, that no matter what you change, the sweetness of the apple (or pear, peach or berries) will still shine through—you can’t compete with nature.

Apple Turnovers
Recipe adapted from Crepes of Wrath
Serves 2-4, depending on whether or not you have any self-control

For the Apples:
·      1 apple of your choice (I used gala), peeled, cored, and sliced very thin
·      1 T. unsalted butter
·      1 t. ground cinnamon
·      1 T. brown sugar

For the Biscuits:
·      2 c. flour (I used ½ white + ½ whole wheat)
·      1 t. baking powder
·      1 t. baking soda
·      5 T. cold butter, cubed
·      ¾ c. plain yogurt of your choice (can be Greek!)
·      pinch of salt

For topping:
·      1 egg, beaten
·      1 T. sugar
·      ½ t. ground cinnamon
·      pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 425˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Make your apples first: In a small saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, apples and salt over low heat until the butter is completely melted. Stir occasionally for 2 minutes more, then remove from heat and let cool.
For the biscuits: mix together the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and then add the butter. Pulse until the butter is incorporated pretty evenly, with some small pebble-sized pieces throughout. Add the yogurt and salt, and mix just until combined.

Pour the dough out onto a flour-covered surface, and smooth into a ball. Roll out completely, and then fold in half twice. Roll out and repeat. Roll the dough out once more, this time until the dough is about ¼ inch thick, around 8 x 12 inches in size. Spoon the apple mixture onto one long half of the dough, and then fold the bare dough onto the filled dough. Pinch the sides all the way around, and then using a sharp knife, slice the dough into approximately 2 inch slices. 

Arrange the slices on the baking sheet, a couple of inches apart from each other, and prepare the topping. Brush beaten egg over each pastry and then sprinkle on a mixture of the sugar, cinnamon and salt.
Bake for about 12-13 minutes, and then let cool. Enjoy!

If you are as intrigued by the eccentric J.M.W. Turner as I am, be sure to check out the new movie out on him now, Mr. Turner:

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