Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Prayers for Anderson Cooper

It all began with Oprah Winfrey. First, however, I must admit to not being a historic fan of her television show, but I am an insomniac and her show re-airs latenights, here where I live, and there has been more than one occasion where I've found myself switching channels and pausing on her show. Recently, I've noticed the show has become more socially responsible, with topics that are actually relevant and considerable. Perhaps the Oprahshow has always been devoted to public service, with myself unaware? In my defense, whenever I had seen the show in times past, episode subjects were generally fashion trends, makeover shows, or celebrity interviews. But again, lately I've notice a trend towards episodes that matter and so, I can no longer absolutely declare myself, 'not a fan' of the show.

With that said, let me start over. It all began with Oprah. And insomnia. It began with another one of my many late nights, incessantly channel switching. On this night, when I switched past Oprah, I quickly switched back to make sure I saw what I thought I had seen: Anderson Cooper. Anderson Cooper on Oprah? Anderson Cooper onOprah! Considering Anderson Cooper is a journalist whom I greatly respect and admire, I was both immediately surprised and extremely pleased. Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival had just been released and Anderson was on the show to discuss the powerful book with Oprah Winfrey. His mother, designer Gloria Vanderbilt, was also on the show to lend support and briefly discuss a terribly tragic family event that is embedded within Anderson's deeply personal story, which underscores the overall theme of the book.

Like so many others, I also identified with Anderson's personal losses. Myself having been on a sort of auto-pilot-course since last spring, when my father died following a brief, unexpected illness, I was only partially coherent during 2005 and for much of this year as well. Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival reminded me of how universally tragic the year 2005 really was and how geographically far reaching suffering and loss really is. Human suffering is global: while there are obvious measures, not a single human has ever, nor will ever escape a personal time of suffering. Pain is ubiquitous.

Having been abruptly reawakened from my adopted routine of mechanical-sleepwalk, my own personal coping defensive, by this powerful book, I, like so many others, felt immense sadness, a certain guilt, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness for those thousands and thousands victims of war, natural disaster, and unfortunate circumstance, as I read page after page of such painful suffering and struggle (the struggle often concluding in vain). I also shared the heavy grief, anger, and urgency that Anderson carried through these pages. And so, I despaired and my despair resulted in an identity crisis of sorts for The Suburban Apron Company.

This identity crisis has resulted in less frequent posts and an unclear sense of direction. While I have no plans to suspend The Suburban Apron Company, I do plan to alter my posts to reflect a more socially responsible blog. However, I am not changing the blog's theme; it will continue as a food blog. I apologize for any seeming alienation of my readers--it is not intentional. I simply need to find a courageous voice to pursue more purposeful writing. I need to make a difference, no matter how insignificant. I also apologize if this seems somewhat narcissistic--again, it is not intentional. After reading Anderson Cooper's sincerely honest memoir, I can no longer personally justify the irrelevance of writing solely about cooking and baking, without meaningful contribution. I can't seem to justify so much writing about savory dishes and comfort food, when war, famine, tsunamis, and hurricanes have destroyed so incredibly many lives. Human destruction, whether manmade or natural disaster, is still life destroyed. I can't seem to defend so much time spent writing about decadent desserts, when there are so incredibly many people dying horrifically slow, tortured deaths due to starvation and disease. I cannot defend a primary activity of leisurely writing about cooking and baking, when so incredibly many people are without basic amenities, including shelter, hot or cold running water, clothes, or in some cases, life itself.

What is going to be the revised, relevant direction of this food blog? I'm not sure. I simply plan to continue cooking, baking, and writing about food, in a manner that will lend some support to readers seeking to nourish body and soul. Perhaps writing about comfort food can be made relevant, by providing brief distraction from the heavy weight of incessant, current news events. Again, I'm not sure.

And so, I will simply cook, bake, volunteer, and pray. Prayers for guidance to be of help and for graceful mercy to be shown toward those in need. And prayers for Anderson Cooper, who has undoubtedly influenced many more than just myself to awaken from their protective, yet vacant, mechanical motion and actively seek ways, however small, to offer help. To simply help.

Until we meet for coffee,

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Healthier Apron Strings

Admittedly, my recent activity on The Suburban Apron Company has been less than frequent. For this, I apologize. I have been extremely busy with several other projects, commanding complete personal commitment. However active in these varied pursuits, I have not forgotten The Suburban Apron Company; on the contrary, I've been giving this site much thought, regarding both its content and readers.

Inspired by my recent interviews with The Hippy Gourmet and Christina Pirello, I have been seriously considering incorporating healthier baking and cooking into recipes featured on this site. While I do not have any intentions of transforming this site into a health-foods forum, I do intend to complement my usual heavy cream and sugar-laden posts with those containing recipes that are more nutritious. I am not abandoning my lovely sweet and savory dishes; I simply plan to include some additional recipes that are rich and delicious, while remaining healthy.

Hopefully, these healthier choices will be as eagerly accepted as all of my previous recipes have been for The Suburban Apron Company.

Until we meet for coffee,

Friday, August 18, 2006

Extraordinary Chocolate Cake for an Ordinary Friday Morning

I must confess to eating chocolate cake for breakfast, again, but in my defense, this cake is so irresistible and rich, it is too good not to eat for breakfast. I didn't take a photo because I didn't have the properly molded specialty pan, so my version of this cake is not nearly as gorgeous as the photo shown with the recipe in Paris Boulangerie Pâtisserie. Since mine still tastes as beautiful as that gorgeous, glossy photo, I have to share the recipe.

Le Pleyel

6 ounces/180 grams best-quality semisweet
or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons/150 grams
unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons/65 grams
sliced blanched almonds
1 1/4 cups/175 grams confectioners' sugar
4 large eggs, separated
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons/80 grams
all-purpose flour

Butter and flour an 8 x 4-inch/20 x 10-cm loaf pan; set aside. Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C.

Place the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a metal bowl placed just over a pan of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until melted and smooth. Meanwhile, grind the almonds with 1/2 cup/70 grams of the confectioners' sugar in a food processor. Whisk the egg yolks into the chocolate mixture. Then whisk the remaining 3/4 cup/105 grams confectioners' sugar, then the ground almond mixture. Remove this mixture from the heat and set aside.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until foamy. Add the granulated sugar and vanilla and beat until quite stiff but not dry. With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until not quite blended. Sift the flour over the mixture and fold together gently just until blended, no longer.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes (the top may crack slightly). Lower the heat to 375°F/190°C and bake until the cake has set but is still slightly wobbly, about 25 minutes longer. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out slightly damp. Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes.

Carefully run a knife blade around the edges of the pan and gently unmold the cake onto a wire rack. Cool to room temperature, then wrap in plastic and chill. Remove from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before cutting into slices. The Pleyel can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Serves 8 to 10.

Until we meet for coffee,


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Week in France

As I have previously written, there is certain comfort and solace to be found in the kitchen. Baking is solitary therapy. And there are few things more therapeutic than delicious French pastries. Paris Boulangerie Pâtisserieis a special cookbook featuring recipes from thirteen Parisian bakeries, and like all of Linda Dannenberg's books, it is filled with gorgeous color photographs and simple, but decadent recipes. Her books transport readers to beautiful locales, while introducing them to the true elegance and simplicity of classic French cuisine.

Last week, I took a brief break from The Suburban Apron Company, not to vacation or escape, but to catch up on several other projects that had recently lacked proper personal attention. Having somewhat caught up, there seems some time for brief escape. So, I've been traveling, via the written word, to Paris with Ms. Dannenberg, and oh, the places we've seen! And after much turn-page tourism, I decided to settle in today at Ladurée.

Financiers from Ladurée today, perhaps some chocolate desserts from La Maison du Chocolat by midweek, with even more sweet treats from Mulot at week's end...mmm...

"Small Almond Cakes"
(recipe courtesy Paris Boulangerie Pâtisserie)

5 tablespoons/75 g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
5 tablespoons sliced or slivered blanched almonds
1/3 cup/35 g confectioners' sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon/35 g all-purpose flour
3 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Pour the butter into a medium bowl, leaving behind any sediment in the pan.
Grind the almonds, sugar, and flour in a food processor until powdery. Add the egg whites and vanilla and mix briefly until smooth. Add the browned butter, mixing until blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the batter overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Stir the mixture briefly to deflate it. Generously butter 10 financier molds (small trapezoid shapes), or use 1 1/2 dozen small (1 3/4 inch/4-cm) muffin tins. Spoon the batter into the molds, dividing it evenly. Bake until golden, about 13 to 15 minutes for small muffin shapes, 15 to 20 minutes for larger financiers. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 5 minutes; then unmold and cool completely. Store airtight. Makes 10 financiers (or 16 to 18 small rounds).

As usual, I generously dusted mine with confectioners' sugar. Delicious.

Until we meet for coffee,

Friday, August 11, 2006

Five Questions for Christina Pirello

(photo courtesy

Chef Christina Pirello recently took time out from her very busy schedule to answer five questions for Paper Palate. To read my questions, along with her answers, and to find out what's new with cooking with whole foods and Chef Pirello, you can read the article, in its entirety, at Paper Palate on the Well Fed Network.

Until we meet for coffee,

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

A (Very) Brief Mini Break

I apologize for my less than frequent updates recently. I have been extremely busy with personal commitments and responsibilities. I will update again very soon--in a few days. Until then, spend some time at one of my longtime favorite online places...

Until we meet for coffee,

Friday, August 4, 2006

Five Questions for Mark Tafoya

Chef Mark Tafoya recently took time out from his extremely busy schedule to answer five questions for Paper Palate. To read my questions, along with his answers, and to find out what's new with Chef Tafoya, you can read the article, in its entirety, at Paper Palate on the Well Fed Network.

Until we meet for coffee,

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Inside the Oven: A 19th Century (mini) Coffee Souffle

Charles Elmé Francatelli was born in England of Italian parents and studied cookery in France. While his work history included employment from various English nobleman, his most prestigious employment was that of chief cook for Queen Victoria. Having written numerous cooking books, many of which have been routinely reprinted and remain currently available.

My friend, Janet, who maintains The Old Foodie and the Companion to the Old Foodie, recently added a very intriguing collection of historic coffee recipes to her already large collection of historic recipes. While many of these coffee recipes may be primitive in method, none of them seemed impossible to attempt in the 21st century kitchen. And myself being quite the coffee fanatic, I decided that my first trip back into Janet's magical culinary history tour, would be an attempt of the recipe for Coffee Souffle, c.1867, from Charles Elmé Francatelli.

Until we meet for coffee,