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The Audrey Project

Confessions of the curious mind

For the love of the bake

I love to bake. And I approach baking the way I approach most things in life — with at polar spectrums. I love carrot cakes because it’s fuss-free (except for shredding carrots; yes, I’m fully aware that I can buy pre-shredded carrots but where’s the fun in that?) and likelihood of failure is super low. I also love macarons — the French ones mind you — which are beautiful little bites that are notoriously finicky and take a ton of patience.

Even when work was stressful or boring, the smell of freshly baked flour, sugar & eggs always gave me a sense of joy. Now that I’m taking some time off work to find my center and figure stuff out, I find myself gravitating even more to the art of baking. If I had an endless expense account and a waistline that never expanded, I would bake everyday. Since I can’t afford pastry school right now, next best thing? Learn the old school way — Youtube videos! Just kidding. I love my books and there’s nothing like touching, smelling and reading a heavy cookbook around the kitchen. Here are my top picks — I’m on the waitlist for some of these at my local Oakland library and since I’m watching my spending, I have Pierre Hermé Macaron sitting in my Amazon cart.

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From top, L-R:

Pierre Hermé Macaron: The Ultimate Recipes from the Master Patissier

I have to confess — when I was in Paris, I preferred Laduree’s macarons to Pierre Hermé. But thinking about it, it wasn’t a fair comparison because I had Laduree’s at the store, immediately after we ordered it; while I had Pierre Hermé after it had been in my bag for a few hours and it was a little squishy. I’m really annoyed that there are no Pierre Hermé boutiques in the U.S. while there are a ton in Asia — 14 in Japan (mind-blowing!), two in Hong Kong, one in Macau and one in Bangkok! What’s interesting is that reading a few blogs about the book, it sounds like it uses the Italian meringue method instead of the French and I’ve only tried the French method. This calls for some experimenting this week! Also, the reason why I didn’t include Ladurée Macarons even though the book looks gorgeous is because the reviews on the book aren’t great.

The Art of French Pastry

I generally try to avoid cookbooks that are text-heavy or ones that focus too much on photos and not much on illustrations of technique. Flipped through this book on Amazon and liked how it gives a home baker like me some good foundational skills and tips but not going overboard into the professional pâtissier realm. The book is by Jacquy Pfeiffer, cofounder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, can’t go wrong there.

Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere

Dorie Greenspan kept coming up in my search for baking and pastry cookbooks and that’s no surprise because she’s co-authored cookbooks with the likes of Pierre Hermé, Daniel Boulud and Julia Child, so it’s no surprise that Dorie’s books on the must-have list of most chefs.  I chose this book instead of “Baking: From My Home To Yours” (November 2006) because it was newer (published October 2014) and well, the cake on the cover won me over. Mmm, chocolate.

Bouchon Bakery

This one’s on my list because The French Laundry is on my list of restaurants that I have to try, even though some friends have commented that the four to five hour experience is a little overpriced and stuffy.

Baking Illustrated and The Baking Bible

I’ve had success and rave reviews with every recipe that I’ve tried from America’s Test Kitchen’s Cooks Illustrated magazines. While I wasn’t a fan of their “Cooking Fresh” compilation, our copy of “Guide to Grilling and Barbecue” gets thumbed through everytime summer comes around. If you love reading about the science of food and handy tips, this one’s for you.

The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum is another book that appeared on a lot of must-have lists recommended by chefs. And I can’t say no to a book that with that cover! You can almost smell the butter in between each flaky layer.

 

The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry and Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft

These are my “something to aspire to” books. Not surprising considering one of the books is from The Culinary Institute of America. A ton of theory, a ton of detail and not for the fainthearted home baker. It’s heavy reading for sure and something that I will attempt one day, just not today.

 

Best Lasagna Ever

lasagna

Love this recipe from Cooks Illustrated. Hands down, one of the best lasagna recipe ever. Tried & true and tastes great, even with all the random adjustments I’ve made along the way. Below is the original recipe from America Test Kitchen and here is a PDF of the magazine pages, as it includes step-by-step photos illustrating how to the goodness all comes together — lasagna ingredients assemble!

Several adjustments I’ve made to make it my own:

  • Replace heavy cream with whole milk
  • Used fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes
  • Added diced carrots to add more veggie to my meals

COOKS ILLUSTRATED Simple Lasagna with Hearty Tomato Meat Sauce

Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS

Tomato-Meat Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 pound meatloaf mix or 1/3 pound each ground beef chuck, ground veal, and ground pork (see note*)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes , drained

*Note: If you can’t find meatloaf mixture for the sauce, or if you choose not to eat veal, substitute 1/2 pound ground beef and 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, for the meatloaf mixture.

Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Pasta Layers

  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese (whole milk or part skim) (1 3/4 cups)
  • 2 1/2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 large egg , lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles from one 8- or 9-ounce package
  • 16 ounces whole milk mozzarella, shredded (4 cups)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Heat oil in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add ground meats, salt, and pepper; cook, breaking meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until meat loses its raw color but has not browned, about 4 minutes. Add cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and only fat remains, about 4 minutes. Add pureed and drained diced tomatoes and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low and simmer slowly until flavors are blended, about 3 minutes; set sauce aside. (Sauce can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days; reheat before assembling lasagna.)
  3. Mix ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, basil, egg, salt, and pepper in medium bowl with fork until well-combined and creamy; set aside.
  4. Assemble first lasagna layer according to illustrations below. Repeat layering of noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, and sauce two more times. Place 3 remaining noodles on top of sauce, spread remaining sauce over noodles, sprinkle with remaining cup mozzarella, then with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Lightly spray a large sheet of foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover lasagna. Bake 15 minutes, then remove foil. Return lasagna to oven and continue to bake until cheese is spotty brown and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes longer. Cool lasagna about 10 minutes; cut into pieces and serve.

STEP-BY-STEP Assembling Lasagna

  1. Smear entire bottom of 9- by 13-inch baking dish with 1/4 cup meat sauce. Place 3 noodles on top of sauce.
  2. Drop 3 tablespoons ricotta mixture down center of each noodle. Level by pressing flat with back of measuring spoon.
  3. Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup shredded mozzarella.
  4. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce evenly over cheese.

 

A busy schedule gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Kismet

Rules to live by

Learning to breathe again

Baby steps. It’s not easy restarting yoga and I have a million excuses to stay in bed. But I can also come up with a million times when I’ve been unhappy and not content, questioning if this is truly how I want to live my life. Is this all there is to my story? Starting is step one. Keeping it up is another battle that I have to try to win.

For the dreamers

I never knew Oscar Wilde was Irish.   

In 2015…

POST WRITTEN ON JANUARY 9.

It’s January 9, 2016 — my last day as a 33-year-old before I turn 34. It’s a little insane how time flies. This is also around the time where I moan and groan about how little I’ve achieved and how I’ve basically wasted my year, and that I’m growing older but no where near wiser. It’s times like these where you put pen to paper and start making well-intentioned new year resolutions, only to have them conveniently forgotten in a few weeks. But that’s another story.

This year, I’ve decided that instead of complaining about how little I’ve accomplished in 2015, I’m going to celebrate the little things and share some of the fun stuff Zhuang, Steve and I did in the past 365 days. PS: I made a physical scrapbook of our year in review, putting together photos of stuff we did every month in 2015; and that exercise made me appreciate the simple moments in life way more than a damn Facebook timeline.

In 2015 …

There were many firsts:

  • We bought our first home. Only to realize our yard was way bigger than what we needed. But totally loving the gourmet kitchen and fresh tomatoes, peppers, rosemary and mint from our backyard garden!
  • Went wedding dress shopping with the beautiful then bride-to-be Liz.
  • Put up Halloween decorations and put candy out for the neighborhood kids – the things you do when you have a home! Steve is not a fan of hyperactive, candy-fueled kids in costumes and continuously ringing of our doorbell.

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I upped my nyonya dessert game:

  • Baked pineapple jam tarts from scratch, including making my own jam for Chinese New Year.
  • Perfected slow-cooker bubur pulut hitam / bee koh moey.
  • Finally found an easy recipe for kaya that didn’t require me standing over a hot stove for hours.
  • Made kuih kosui, somewhat successfully. Tad too much alkaline water.IMG_6189

We traveled and ate a lot. In this family, food and travel always go together..

  • Visited Portland-ia! Ate a ton of thai food at Pok Pok and Senyai; tried our first communal brunch, and bemoaned how much cheaper Portland real estate was compared to the Bay Area.
  • Over-ate our way through New York City, from late night blood sausage bites in Koreatown, introduced Zhuang to Momofuku’s cereal milk, authentic Sichuan lamb noodles down dark alleys in Flushing to having one of the best wagyu at Anthony Bourdain’s favorite Japanese restaurant Takashi. Also had lunch with the queen! Sat next to Helen Mirren at a Malaysian restaurant in Manhattan. She ordered laksa.
  • Nothing like a last minute weekend getaway in Carmel to get re-energized.
  • Visited New England (Boston, Bar Harbor, Plymouth, Bangor) with Joan; and dropped in on Jeff & family. Had the best clam chowder ever in Rockland.
  • Made the trip to Cuba! Havana had the familiarity of Georgetown, Penang and Varadero reeked of tourists.  Never knew rice and beans could taste so good.IMG_6145

And had my fair share of random but memorable moments:

  • Spent my birthday in Lake Tahoe with friends and stuffed my face with my favorite chocolate cake from Arizmendi. Still no idea how Zhuang hid the cake from me.
  • We thoroughly enjoyed an in-conversation with director Guillermo del Toro before the screening of The Devil’s Backbone, and a preview of a new Crimson Peak trailer.
  • We celebrated Stevie’s second birthday with a homemade carrot pupcake and party hat! Yes, we’re bad parents coz we didn’t celebrate his first birthday.
  • I hiked to the top of the temple of doom (affectionately known as Vernal Falls to fitter folks) in Yosemite. And survived.
  • I learned Spanish using Duolingo and Lonely Planet Fast Talk App. Barely but enough to read a menu, order food and get around Cancun.
  • Tried vegemite Cadbury chocolate. First bite was awful, but a few minutes later tasted like salted caramel with a strange vegemite smell.
  • Went in search of a dive bar in Chinatown with Ying for a kick-you-in-your-face Chinese mai tai
  • Finally tried State Bird Provisions. Loved the food but not sure if I would wait in line for another 2 hours for it.
  • We put together an earthquake preparedness kit. If it was up to me, it would be full of Nutella. I’ve never bought that many cans of food in my life.

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There you have it! Now I have another 365 days to get my life in some kind of order before I turn 35 next year!

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