Sunday, August 19, 2012

Insider's Guide to Zurich

I was recently contacted by a Canadian company called who had found my blog and were interested in having me write an insider's guide to Zurich for their website.  It seemed like a fun thing to do, so I agreed, and here's the result, a writeup of some of my favorite places around the city:

(You have to click on a country flag on the site it takes you to first, and then copy-paste the link above into the address bar to get to the actual article - sorry!)

If you're in the US or Canada, you can take a look at some of the website's flight offerings to Europe here and here.  

Full discloure: While I was paid to write the article itself by Cheapflights, all of the choices of restaurants and shops in the list are my own and I don't receive any benefits for recommending them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nee Noo Nee Noo... Firetruck On Its Way!

I made this cake for a little boy's second birthday, using chocolate cake layers, vanilla buttercream, a whole lot of homemade marshmallow fondant, white chocolate for the ladder, silver luster dust for the metallic effect, and the interwebz for inspiration.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fresh Fig Ice Cream

It was such a gorgeous and sunny day today that it almost feels appropriate to post an ice cream recipe, despite the fact that we're deep into fall and you are probably thinking more about hot drinks and hearty stews than a scoop of the cold stuff.

Nonetheless, if there was ever an ice cream suited for fall, this one is it.

Figs are, to my mind, an unusual fruit - sweet, but always in a subtle, earthy way. When I found some beautiful Black Missions at a farm stand, I bought a whole bag full - and then thought long and hard about how to best use them. A rustic tart? Roasted with honey and olive oil, over a salad? Served simply with a bit of goat cheese and fresh bread on a platter?

I wanted them to last a little bit longer than one meal, though, which usually means... jam. Or ice cream!  I've said before that The Perfect Scoop is the only ice cream book you'll ever need, and this recipe proved the truth of that once again.  The fruit is first cooked down into a lovely jammy mush, skins and all, then pureed with cream, and finally frozen.  The more purple the skins, the more vibrantly pink your final product will be. I'm not usually a big fan of seeds in ice cream, but in this case they add a pleasant textural note and a little bit of crunch.  And true to the figs themselves, this ice cream is not too sweet and would be perfect alongside a scoop of vanilla, or even topping a rustic apple tart.

Fresh Fig Ice Cream
from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 kg fresh figs
125 ml water
1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
150 gr. sugar
250 ml heavy cream
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Remove the hard stem ends from the figs, then cut each fig into 8 pieces. Put the figs in a medium, nonreactive saucepan with the water, and zest the lemon directly into the saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the figs are tender, 8-10 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the sugar, and continue to cook, stirring frequently until the figs are a jamlike consistency. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, puree the fig paste in a blender or food processor with the cream and lemon juice. Taste, then add more lemon juice if desired.

Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Supper in Zurich, Underground

From the silence around here, you might think that underground is where I have been for the last six months, but it's really only my blogging inspiration that's been MIA. The rest of me has been healthy and well, getting settled into a new job and doing plenty of summer traveling and cooking... and eating!

Eating was definitely in mind when I signed up for a dinner last Saturday with One Night Stand - Zurich's first underground supper club.  Supper clubs began appearing a few years ago in cities like San Francisco and New York, and have since spread around the world.  One Night Stand was started by Mike Goguen, a good friend of mine and the owner and chef at Melt Catering, with the help of his wife Nicolette.  "I wanted to start something spontaneous and creative in Zurich where people could have a chance to meet new people and try different and creative food in an interesting location," Mike explains.

Supper clubs are often run by cooks who work out of their home kitchens and don't have official licenses to sell food to the public - thus the necessity of remaining "underground."  As a trained chef, Mike has all the necessary credentials, but keeping the element of surprise and secrecy is part of the appeal.  The only way to find out about upcoming One Night Stand dinners is to join the Facebook group or by word-of-mouth. The menu is not revealed ahead of time (though you can mention dietary requirements when you reserve), and the location and directions only emailed out a few hours before the dinner begins. 

Mike has made good on the promise of interesting locations and creative food.  Previous events have included an "eclectic Californian" night and a cocktail evening with a professional mixologist, and there is often more to dinner than just dinner.  In April, when One Night Stand was held at artist Michelle Bird's studio, we ate surrounded by easels, brushes, and half-finished paintings. After dessert, Michelle gave a painting demonstration accompanied by her husband Stefan on the hang - a type of steel hand drum invented here in Switzerland. 

At a restaurant, you usually already know who will be at your table, but supper clubs are different - getting to know your 20 or so fellow diners is another part of what makes the evening so much fun.   When Matt and I arrived at Blumen am Stauffacher, a tiny flower store in the heart of Zurich, everyone was already chatting over crab cakes and champagne and exclaiming over the beautiful tables that Petra Faller, the owner, had created for us.

In addition to colorful flowers and candles in the center of the tables, place settings were adorned with their own miniature arrangements, each one unique and special. The many vases of blooms and greenery, and a riotously colorful wall of orchids and butterflies, only added to the elegant atmosphere. Petra explained to us that she loves color and does not sell white flowers, except for one special all-white week in January to "cleanse" the store for the new year.  I love to linger in flower shops - small oases of beauty that leave me feeling refreshed - so it was a real treat to be allowed to spend a whole evening in one.

Swiss/Canadian sommelier Christian poured the first wine of the evening as we took our places - a Laurenz V Singing Grüner Veltliner from Austria that went beautifully with the chilled melon soup starter. By day, Christian is a teacher at Marathon Sprachen, a language school geared towards professionals in Zurich. Off the clock, he puts his great passion for wine into practice by partnering with Mike and organizing other gourmet events in Zurich.

After the melon soup came a spinach salad with fresh figs and crispy pancetta, followed by delicately seared tuna slices with a macadamia-nut crust. The tuna just melted in my mouth and was accompanied by a papaya salsa that was the perfect acidic counterpoint to the silky fish.

In keeping with our surroundings, Mike carried the flower theme through to his menu, decorating each dish with edible flowers or even incorporating them into the food itself. The main course of ricotta and beetroot ravioli was accompanied by stuffed fresh zucchini flowers, while dessert proved to be a heavenly duo of white chocolate-lavender crème brûlée and orange-orange blossom sorbet, with a sweet white port to drink. Mike's cooking style and tastes are right up my alley - there wasn't a single dish the whole evening that I didn't love!

Great food often leads to great conversation, and I had the pleasure of getting to know a number of interesting people at my table. I quickly discovered that Leeanne, a 28-year old Californian who moved to Switzerland a year ago for work, was just as excited to rattle on about cooking and chefs and restaurants as I was. Down the table, Matt chatted with a woman who turned out to be on the board of trustees at our school, and Petra told us all about what it's like to own a flower shop in downtown Zurich. 

As the evening wound down and we finished our last glasses of wine, Petra urged us to take our little table decorations home with us and invited us to come back anytime we needed an especially colorful bouquet or flower arrangement.  On Monday morning, our special dinner location would be back to being the corner flower store, and the next One Night Stand would already be in the works...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daring Bakers in February: Green Tea Panna Cotta and Black Sesame Florentines

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Florentine Cookies.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like to occasionally foray into Asian cooking - particularly dumplings, both sweet and savory.  Part of the fun is sourcing and experimenting with ingredients that are a little bit off the beaten path.  While neither matcha nor black sesame are extremely obscure, they're still not something I'm going to find at my local grocery store, and it's fun to surprise my dinner guests with flavors they aren't expecting.

Matcha, if you aren't familiar with it, is a fragrant and vibrantly colored powder made from the highest-quality green tea leaves.  The price of even a small can reflects this quality and thus, it is a special and precious ingredient.

I recently had the combination of green tea and raspberry at a Japanese restaurant in Christchurch, New Zealand and was struck by how well they worked together.  When I read that this month's challenge was to make panna cotta, I knew immediately what flavors I wanted to use.  Panna cotta literally means "cooked cream" in Italian and is essentially milk and cream, sweetened with sugar, and firmed up with gelatin to a pudding-like consistency.   This base provides an excellent blank slate for really anything you might want to create.  In this case, I cooked the milk with vanilla bean seeds and the scraped-out pod, and then whisked in the green tea powder just before pouring into glasses.

The recipe for the delicate, crisp florentine cookies provided to us was made with oatmeal, but I decided to use an almond-based recipe by Nick Malgieri instead and sprinkled the cookies while they were baking with pinches of black sesame seeds. They lend an earthy quality (and lovely visual contrast) to the sweet cookie that goes very well with the herbal green tea and tart raspberry jelly.


I was very pleased with how this dessert turned out and would definitely make it again. You can find my adapted recipes here (PDF).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Daring Bakers in January: A Late and Leaky Joconde Imprimé

It's been awfully quiet around here lately, I know.  Two reasons.  1. I went on an awesome, amazing, wonderful holiday to New Zealand for nearly a month.  2. I was starting to resent the hours and hours of time that blog posts were sucking up. From the baking to the "submit" button was more often than not taking upwards of four hours, what with the photographing and the editing and the photo-collage-making and the uploading and the writing and the perfectionist tendencies were in overdrive and blogging was starting to feel like a whole lot of work and not a lot of fun, so I decided to take a break.

As life would have it, those tendencies get a nice whack on the head today as I present to you my very late and very imperfect Daring Bakers Challenge for this month.

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

Biscuit joconde imprimé literally means 'printed sponge cake' and involves the technique of baking designs into a thin layer of sponge cake, which is then sliced into strips and used to line the inside of a mold.   This is done by first piping the designs onto a silpat with a thicker design paste, freezing the designs until hard, and then quickly spreading sponge cake batter over the top before baking.  When you peel off the mat after baking, the beautiful patterns have magically baked into your sponge cake!  I loved this technique and would definitely use it again - the creative possibilities are endless and it looks so elegant.

While the biscuit part of the challenge turned out quite nicely and I was pleased with my patterns, the rest of the cake assembly didn't go so well.  The mousse I made as a filling was too runny and as the cake came to room temperature for eating, it all leaked out the side.  I managed to snap a couple awful pictures with my point-and-shoot before it turned into a chocolate mousse and sponge cake puddle.  

See the random papers and plants in the background? I brought the cake to work for a colleague's birthday. Once the Great Chocolate Mousse Flood began I just snapped the pics and threw pretty backgrounds and lighting to the wind!

Ah well. We ended up scooping it into cups and eating the messy mush of mousse, cake, and ganache with a spoon.   Plenty imperfect, but plenty chocolatey and delicious nonetheless.

Happy weekend to you all!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pumpkin Grand Marnier Cheesecake

It's been quite some time since I posted a non-Daring Bakers recipe, but I promise it has been worth the wait.  This cheesecake goes way back in my family.  My mom found the original recipe in a magazine, I believe, but the clipping has been long since lost and the recipe typed and shared and re-typed again.

Some of my fondest memories revolve around slices of this cheesecake, and for good reason: it was the only dessert my sister and I were ever allowed to have for breakfast.  My parents entertained quite a lot, and though I usually chattered everyone's ear off until I was sent away went to bed pretty early, when fall rolled around I didn't mind as much since I knew I would wake up to a slice of leftover cheesecake!  My mom used to rationalize it by talking about all the calcium-containing cream cheese, nourishing eggs, and vitamin-filled pumpkin and orange juice in it. Somehow she forgot all about the brown sugar, cookie crumb crust, and generous splashes of liqueur in both the cake and topping...

...which take it from just a run-of-the-mill cheesecake to something really amazing.   Orange and pumpkin are a wonderful combination anyway, but three kinds of orange (juice, zest, and liqueur) combined with the smooth cream cheese and tangy sour-cream topping make this a very special fall dessert indeed.

The recipe calls for pumpkin puree (I like butternut) - the better quality your squash is, the better your final cheesecake will be.   Likewise, instead of using plain store-bought butter cookies for the crust, I made my own spiced whole-wheat graham crackers and crumbled them up instead - a marked improvement that adds a lot of flavor. Along with the booze, of course.

Pumpkin Grand Marnier Cheesecake
My Mom's Recipe

1 cup sweet biscuit crumbs (preferably homemade, I made Heidi's graham cracker recipe and had plenty of extra crumbs left over for my next cheesecake)
60 gr. butter, melted

500 gr. (1 lb 2 oz) cream cheese
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
5 eggs
2 cups cold pumpkin puree (make your own, it's easy!)
¼ cup Grand Marnier
2 tbsp. orange zest
¼ cup freshly-squeezed and strained orange juice

300 gr. (10.5 oz) sour cream
¼ cup Grand Marnier
¼ cup powdered sugar

Combine biscuit crumbs and butter. Press over base of 23 cm. springform pan; refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 (350) degrees. Beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in pumpkin, Grand Marnier, zest, and juice, scraping down the sides to ensure everything is mixed evenly.

Pour pumpkin mixture through a sieve over the base, pressing lightly to make sure all the liquid is drained through but discarding any chunks left in the sieve. Bake for 50 minutes or until set around the edge. Combine all topping ingredients. Quickly remove cheesecake from oven, spread with topping and continue baking for 10 more minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight. Decorate with whipped cream and cinnamon just before serving.
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