Roasted Vanilla Pears with Espresso Marscapone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Five months. It’s been five months since I moved into my new apartment.

It hardly feels that way.

Only in the past few weeks have I actually begun feeling settled — I guess it’s a result of a summer filled with travels and work and temporary roommates. I’ve learned more about myself as a roommate this summer than I have in the past eight years of living with people who aren’t my parents.

I know I have my quirks. I roller coaster between kitchen nazi and someone who’s so all over the place that I can’t tell left from right. I struggle between pleasing people and being selfish. We all do.

But after a summer of travel in basically every direction that exists, filled with weddings and sailing and rope swings — it’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, and I finally feel settled enough to sit down and write.

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

I just bought a new Apple display screen for my home office, but there’s something comforting about writing my posts from the laptop in bed. It’s how I’ve written almost every sentence for the past eight years. Four of which, as of last Tuesday, have been written in DC. I considered leaving the apartment and being productive when I woke up this morning, but after seeing the forecast and by the time I got to the bottom of my French press, I gave up. I snuggled into bed with a sweater from Bergen and a few episodes of Breaking Bad.

For today, that’s all I need. The weather is cooling down, which makes me just absolutely smitten with this city. And, if you’re on the hunt for a good fall transition food, these pears make an impressive dessert (or breakfast, if you happen to share an apartment with me).

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Roasted Pears with Coffee Marscapone, Serves 3 or 6, depending on how much dessert you want

Roasted pears:
¼ cups light brown sugar
½ vanilla bean
3 Bosc pears, peeled, halved lengthwise and cored (or whatever you can get your hands on)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter
Bourbon or rum to drizzle before serving

Espresso marscapone cream:
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup marsacpone cheese
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Stir espresso powder and water in a large bowl until dissolved. Add cream, mascarpone, and sugar. Beat in a stand mixer until the cream is thick and smooth. Transfer into a jar or serving dish, and store in the freezer while you roast the pears (you can even make this a day or two ahead).

In a small bowl, combine your sugar and vanilla bean seeds — I store my vanilla beans in a jar filled with vodka (vanilla extract at home!) but this makes it extra easy to extract the beans. Just snip off the end of a bean and squeeze out the contents like it’s a stick of honey. Whisk with a fork.

Arrange your pears, core up, in a baking dish (a pie plate would fit them perfectly). Brush the pears with lemon juice, and put a cube of butter in each core. Sprinkle the pears with your sugar, and pour the water into the baking dish.

Serve each pear with a scoop of cream and a drizzle of bourbon or rum.

Cardamom Pound Cake

cardamom pound cake // sweetsonian

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Cardamom is a spice that you don’t come across too much in American cooking. I never really knew what it was until I was 19, wide-eyed and living in Tanzania for the summer — it was the main ingredient in a selection of teas and desserts, occasionally, in one of the rice dishes we had. Thinking back, there are a lot of things I wish I could change about that trip, but mostly myself: how I viewed life, how I acted back then. I’m sure we all have those moments (days, weeks, months).

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Just the taste of cardamom reminds me of how much we can change in just seven years. Back then, I was on a mission to prove my dedication to international development, and to prove to my parents that I didn’t need to listen to every piece of advice they scolded my way.

I deserved the scolding. I was an asshole back then (oh man, I hope-hope-hope I’m not nearly as much of an asshole now).

But no matter how broke I was because of that trip, I wouldn’t take it back for the world.

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I lived with a handful of other volunteer teachers in a house near Bahari Beach, just outside of Dar es Salaam. There were a few women who lived in the house that also cooked for us and taught us bits and pieces of Swahili — which I used to be alright at — but honestly, the memory that sticks with me more than anything is the scent and the taste of the cardamom-infused chai tea that greeted me every morning.

They mixed the tea from scratch, and boiled water in huge vats — water that was used throughout the day for cooking, laundering, and other methods of cleaning. The tea was strained directly into a giant, baby pink thermos, and had enough tea for everyone in the house to have at least a few cups of.

Breakfast usually included a few cups of tea, lesson planning, and toast with a glass of fresh passionfruit juice. Then, I’d hop onto tht dala dala, a bus that was so packed with people that no morning was complete without a stranger sitting on your lap or crouched between the other 20 riders on a 10-person bus. After teaching elementary school in the morning and high school in the afternoon, I usually took the bus back to Bahari beach, and walked to the beach itself — not far from Rold Dahl’s house, and a separate dial-up internet cafe.

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I had a typical Tanzanian school notebook that I used as a journal back then. It shouldn’t surprise you that I was a journal-writer, because, well, I write to you here as often as I can. I will say, it’s nice to have an actual reader for this type of stuff.

But after a drink or dinner at the beach cafe, I’d come back to the volunteer house and hang out with the girls and the other volunteers. I’d cross my fingers the entire walk back, hoping that there would be some tea left.

But then again, there was always beer, too.

Baking this cake filled my apartment with the scent of cardamom, which only made me drift back even further into these memories. I bought a massive box of Chai Bora before I left Tanzania — but I went through the tea ever so quickly, back in my UCSB days of daily, chilly morning Arabic classes.

They say scents spark the strongest memories, and when they do, years might have passed between the last time you even remembered the details your mind pairs with those scents.

It felt like years had passed since I smelled cardamom. The scent is comforting.

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Recipe after the jump.  Continue reading “Cardamom Pound Cake”

Vanilla Souffles

Sometime in the past few months, I realized that I have been living in Washington for more than three years. I actually had the day marked in my head: September 17th, your three-year anniversary of moving to DC. But the day came and went and I had completely forgotten about that day’s significance for at least a few days.

I’m generally pretty bad at remembering important dates — even though I spent a decent amount of time thinking about my three-year mark in the days and weeks leading up to it.

I often find myself thinking about the moment when I knew I had to do something about my life. It was absurdly iconic, looking back. Rachel had given me a gracious tour of the National Mall, which, up until that day, I had thought was a shopping mall (this new knowledge brought new meaning to my favorite Decemberists song). After a good deal of walking, admiring handsome passers by, and talking about the possibilities that we had ahead of us, I realized that I was ready to do something with my life.

With our feet in the fountain amidst the National Sculpture Garden, under the National Archives, I told her that I wanted to move here. And before she could even roll her eyes, I retracted the statement, and declared that I would most definitely move there.

Three weeks later, I packed a new suitcase that, to this day, has only been used three times. Because there is only so much you can do with a suitcase so large that you could smuggle yourself in — and that is to pack your life in it and take it someplace new.

My friends will back me when I say that I’m a light packer — even the slightest of hangovers will keep me from packing an actual suitcase to go anywhere. And all I really need is that brown, corduroy Jansport backpack that has been serving its purpose since my high school days, back in the Chaminade parking lot. Back then, it hauled student newspaper mock ups and AP study guides. These days, it’s usually stuffed with my running clothes and the latest samurai sudoku.

My first winter, ever, was here in DC. Before I left California, when I told my family how excited I was to experience something different, something I had never really felt before (winter). My stepmom’s immediate reaction was “I don’t know how you are going to survive out there.”

And so goes the California mindset.

The funny (maybe not so funny… perhaps, just factual) thing is that most of the country actually lives in a place that experiences some sorts of seasons. And most of them are just fine.

On a regular basis, I’m reminded by both Californians and non-West-Coasters of how wonderful that place really is.

I’ve had my December trip to California on my mind — a few nights of salsa dancing, a day trip to Santa Barbara, and having coffee on my patio with my parents, brothers, and Cody, our yellow labrador. Can’t wait.

Vanilla Souffles

Makes 4

Ingredients
Butter, at room temperature, to coat 4 ramekins
3/4 cup skim milk
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Icing sugar, to dust

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a pastry brush, coat four ramekins with a layer of butter. Set aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine your milk and cream, and heat on medium for a few minutes. Once the solution starts to bubble, remove from heat.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk your egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar until evenly mixed. Add cornstarch to the mixture and continue whisking — the batter should thicken.

Like we’ve done with ice cream, we’re going to temper the egg mixture with a few tablespoons of the hot milk and cream. Spoonful by spoonful, add the cream mixture to the eggs, whisking vigorously to ensure that the eggs do not cook. As you add the cream mixture, you can add a larger amount with each batch. Once the eggs are liquidy, you can go ahead and combine the whole thing. Continue whisking, and then transfer back to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, and the custard should thicken to a pudding-like consistency.

Beat your egg whites in a stand mixer on high speed. After one minute, gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, and beat the eggs until stiff peaks form. Transfer the custard base to a large mixing bowl, and combine half of the egg whites into that bowl, incorporating with a whisk. Then, gently fold in the remaining egg whites with a rubber spatula.

Fill each of the ramekins with the soufflé batter, and gently tap each ramekin on the counter to make sure there aren’t any air bubbles. Place the ramekins in a cake pan, and fill the pan about 1/3 full with water.

Bake the soufflés for about 30 minutes, or until the tops rise and are a golden color. Turn the oven off when the timer goes off, and let the soufflés rest for 5 minutes before opening the oven door. Remove soufflés from the oven, dust with powdered sugar, and serve immediately.

Honey Vanilla Affogato

Believe it or not, I was my father’s daughter.  Still am.

My earliest memories are of waking up early to eat cereal with my dad as he read the newspaper.  I had no idea what the stocks were, but nothing gave me more joy than crumpling up the corner of the page that, to this day, I don’t really understand.

He and I are cut from the same cloth.  We are both practical, temperate, and sincere.  We value honesty, good grammar, and thinking things through.  We explore all of our options before making a decision, but we’re both generally quick to do so.

We know what we want.

Then, there are the moments where I am more like my mother.  Like whenever my decisions are more emotional than practical.  Like the time I booked an impromptu trip to Mexico before knowing what my grad school schedule was (whoops).

And then, there are the things about me that are somewhere in between the two, or the things about me that come completely out of right field (that’s the side of the field where no one hits, right? My baseball knowledge is limited).  I love planning.  I value little luxuries, sometimes more than I should.  I’m stubborn.  Sometimes mercurial, but not very often.  That’s a trait that comes from my mother.

What I’ve learned from my father over the past twenty-five years is naturally infinite: he taught me how to type, how to write, how to draw, and how to photograph.  He helped me learn to be independent, which is something I had to learn earlier than most people my age.  And most importantly, he taught me how to want to live the most fulfilling life that I could.  To take opportunities to make your life better when they come, and to take the opportunities to help others as much as possible, when possible, and affordable.

Some girls think they have the best dad in the world.

Whatever the ranking is, they’re missing out, because they don’t have mine.

Writing Father’s Day cards is something I enjoy slightly more than any other type of card, because I can be completely sincere with my father.  I am who I am mostly because of what I’ve learned from him.  He wasn’t exactly happy with my decision to study Arabic, or move east, but he’s the one who taught me to be independent, and make something of myself… so here I am.  My father’s daughter.

I like to introduce the Gerritys to a new dish or dessert whenever I see them.  Croquembouche was first, then there was banh mi, and then coq au vin.

They’re coming to Washington in a couple of weeks for a whirlwind of a Fourth of July – the best Fourth of July celebration they’ll ever have.  My dad asked about beer bats, and I told him about the flabongo.  I’m sure he’s ready. And he’s excited to see all my UCLA friends on the East Coast, so there will probably be an eight-clap.

There will also be affogato.  My step mom, the coffee and espresso afficionado, will truly appreciate this delicate dish.  After a predictably smoldering July day in DC spent on a bike, in the sun, with the monuments, we’ll all need a little cool-down with a pick-me-up.

Affogato literally means “drowned” in Italian, and is basically a scoop of vanilla gelato, drowned in a shot of espresso. It’s a fat girl’s latte (my name is all over it). I’ve been hitting the gym solely to counter my discovery of this dessert.

I should really double those efforts, because I’ll be riding my bike on a Mexican beach in a few weeks.

Affogato: Honey Vanilla Ice Cream with Espresso

For the Honey Vanilla Ice Cream:
2 cups milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
5 eggs
3/4 cup honey
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon salt

To dress:
1 shot espresso per scoop of ice cream
Zest of orange or lemon, to garnish

Instructions:

If you don’t have access to an ice cream maker, well, that’s a problem. But there are ways to make ice cream without one.  Some people use a blender or a food processor.

In a medium-sized sauce pan, combine the milk, cream, salt, and honey.  Heat over medium- to high-heat, constantly stirring, until the liquid starts to boil.  Once it boils, take it off the heat.

Slice your vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the vanilla beans from the inside.  Whisk them into the  ice cream solution.  Toss in the bean itself as well, cover the saucepan, and let the vanilla steep for at least 30 minutes.  But let’s be honest – the longer, the better.  After it’s done steeping, heat the saucepan again, just until it boils.  Then, remove from heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks.  Take a smaller measuring cup, and pour about 1/4 a cup of the hot milk solution into your egg yolks.  Whisk furiously.  We do this little by little so that the eggs do not scramble.  Once the first 1/4 cup is mixed evenly, add another, and repeat.  When the yolk mixture feels more liquidy than eggy, you can pour the egg solution into the saucepan to combine completely.  At this point, we’re completely done with the stove.

Pour your custard through a fine sieve to remove any lumps, and let the mixture chill completely.

Run the mixture through an ice cream machine, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Once frozen, serve one or two scoops per serving, and douse in a fresh shot of espresso (or very strong black coffee).  Garnish with a dusting of orange or lemon zest.