What I learned from baking a loaf of bread in 2013

I baked this

I baked this

For me, the process begins very randomly. On any given day, the sudden urge to create will overwhelm me and I am instantly urged to search the pantries, bookcases, and the refrigerator for  baking opportunities. I have three cats that lay on my cookbooks, against their will, they are pushed away so that I can be in search of my next creation. They hate it.

I have never been a professional baker, but I HAVE dabbled into the bread making realm with many disastrous outcomes.  I try to look beyond the failures….. There will always be another loaf.

Baking demands a very high degree of patience. Without it, a magnificent loaf will instead become a hockey puck. With it, an otherwise plain loaf will radiate with flavor and a hearty texture. Patience, which I begin to notice applies to all things in life, is the very first ingredient needed to make bread.  It helps that I am now the proud mother – ahem – owner of a beautiful sky blue Le Cruset that is probably the best baking vessel that I have ever used for bread. I don’t like to admit that I love some things; My Le Cruset is one of them…..but I digress….

I usually make a starter for my bread. This is a spongy gray-like blob that sits on my counter for at least an entire day and bubbles and ferments. If you know what the fermentation process does to food, then you are probably pretty grossed out at the fact that this gooey blob sits in my Florida kitchen for a precariously long period of time. However, if you know anything about how amazing fermented food begins to taste the longer it sits there, then, like me, you are probably jumping with joy at the anticipation of a delicious loaf of tangy sourdoughy bread.

Time is key when baking bread. Time for the dough to rise, time for the flavor to develop, time to pre heat the oven. Without time, the final product suffers. Then, the greatest lesson to be learned from bread is that having the will to start is just the beginning. Investment in time and a big portion of love are two ingredients that will pay off when the aroma of freshly baked bread emerges from the oven.

In 2014, at the foot of a new year full of unknowns, maybes, ifs, and perhaps, only one thing is for sure; I’ve got to have the will, and invest the time, this I learned from baking bread in 2013.

The food I ate in Montreal

The stop signs in Montreal read, “ARRET”. Really! Of course, it obviously means “STOP” because the bright red octagon is a dead give away. That is the purpose for a universal red octagon as a stop sign. unfortunately, sometimes blonde moments take over ( not to insult any blondes) and in a flash of excitement, you concentrate solely on the words inside that octagon and completely ignore the actual meaning of its red color……..which is to stop. Now! Before you run the stop….too late! And that was my first traffic violation in Quebec.

6 months ago I never even thought I would ever step foot in Canadian territory because quite frankly, I don’t fancy the idea of perpetual blizzard conditions and Paul Bunyan. And yet, as I completed my Internship at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston, rumors about the delicious food scene in Montreal started to make their way to me. Several of the cooks had been to the legendary Aud Pied De Cochon and had come back fascinated by Martin Picard’s monstrous yet delicately prepared meat offerings. With all the talk about the city’s perfectly flaky croissants , artfully prepared charcuterie, and beer, I just had to make my way up there.

The eating adventure actually began with a beer tasting tour through the 2013 Mondial de la bière. This is an annual beer festival which showcases beers from around the world. Craft beers from Brazil, Belgium, France, and the US were available for sampling. We even took part in a beer and cheese pairing class. We signed up for the class in an act of impulse upon hearing the phrase “free cheese”. Never did we imagine that it would be completely in French.


Later that evening we made our way to the hip and sprawling neighborhood of Le Plateau where we found countless cafes with outdoor terrace seating and a vibrant nightlife. But there was only one thing in my mind; Aud Pied de Cochon.

The epic portions here are no joke. We shared a starter of bison tongue in a decadent yet smooth tarragon and mustard sauce sprinkled with finely diced mirepoixe. A melange of craft-fully fabricated house sausage, boudin noir ( blood sausage), and pork belly over a mountain of fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy came in as our second course. Finally, we could not over look the veal liver with bacon sauce. It was explosive in flavor. There was definitely no room for dessert. As we headed out we though we had seen it all, and yet, as we were walking out the door, I saw a server carrying a behemoth of a platter with a lobster INSIDE a roasted pig head. This is certainly an experience in excess and abundance. For me, a once in a lifetime experience that I am lucky to have experienced. Will I come back? Not really. Although Martin Picard is elevating the art of charcuterie to a worldly level, and for the quality of his food he is celebrated internationally, there are many others in this city who offer noteworthy charcuterie. Determined to find other talented chefs we headed over to a food mecca located in the eastern part of the city, the Marche Jean-Talon, a permanent market that supplies the eastern most side of the city with an ever flowing supply of fresh meats, local cheese, and seasonal produce.

Jean Talon Market is one of 4 major permanent market spaces in Montreal and a goldmine of cultural experience for us. The first thing we procured here was the coveted Canadian Maple syrup. No trip to Canada will ever be complete without indulging in its rich buttery taste and aroma. We also tasted several honey samples. Buckwheat and wild flower honey were the winners. As we made our way through stalls upon stalls of fresh Quebec strawberries and wild mushrooms, we got inspired to create a DIY lunch picnic. Our epic picnic experience began with a visit to a humble stand with an old refrigerated display case. In it were succulent rows of cured meats, sausages, pates, and terrines. The guys at les cochons tout ronds made wonderful recommendations and we bought provisions of Figatelli sausage and pork Rillete. Next, we headed out in looking for the obvious accompaniment to our charcuterie; cheese. Not just any cheese, but one that embodied the unique cheese making traditions and flavors of Quebec. We did not know precisely what it was that we were searching for, but when we spotted an old black board with the words Tomme du Marechal playfully written in fancy cursive, how much cuter can the situation get……When it comes to cheese, I am daring, adventurous, and adopting of the never-a-dull-moment philosophy. I want my cheese to leave an everlasting impression in my memory. We didn’t know what Tomme Du Marechal was all about, until the “fromagier” ( I learned some French) shoved a wedge into our anxious little fingers in an effort to make us stop asking questions in English. All we had to do was nod our heads in eager excitement and hand him some bills and soon enough we were in possession of the greatest culinary treasure i’ve held in a while. To this day, how this cheese is made eludes me, yet all that I know and matters is that the nutty, hay-like taste was perfectly creamy and went down well with some walnut bread which we later found in a random bakery next to the market.


Other farm market findings:





The picnic was a delightful success. The fresh Canadian breeze swayed the trees back and forth as we laid on the grass, full bellied and all, gazing up at the blue sky……not a care in the world…..

Eating Boston: exotic spices

Boston’s diverse cultural fabric becomes evident from the moment one steps foot inside any subway station. The hustle and bustle that is found throughout its intertwined sidewalks continues underneath the earth as hundreds of commuters make their way to and from home. Deep within the entrails of the city, one can hear a cacophony of intermingling voices spitting out words in all accents and languages imaginable. There’s an unmistakable Russian accent on the phone next to me. And when I look to my right to catch a brief glimpse of the Boston skyline as the red line travels across the Charles river, I see a group of Asian teenagers speaking in their native language. This experience is new to me. I decide that the best way to soak up all of the cultural diversity of a big city such as Boston is to start eating Boston.

Because food nourishes the body and soul, the best way to remember a far away home is by preparing the meals that will bring back all of those moments of nostalgia. They will rekindle images of kind, wrinkly grandmas placing firewood in the stove as they get the fire ready for the next meal. Moments later, I step out onto the sunlit Central square district. Sources have told me this is a mecca for diversity, and that becomes very clear from the restaurants surrounding the station. I can see Indian food, several Thai restaurants, and a couple of Mexican taquerias. What I am looking for is an urban cafe that boasts vegetarian, organic, and healthy cuisine. Life Alive calls itself an Urban Oasis/Urban Cafe, and I want to sample this emerging trend of food that is a healthy vegetarian fusion that borrows from all cultures. Unfortunately, it seems myself, as well as half of Boston decided to eat here today, and so I turn away from the 40 minute line and resolve to come back another day.

At this point, I am hungry, and so I make the best decision that has been made in a while, to go to Sofra. Ana Sortun has made quite a name for herself in the Boston culinary scene. She is the executive chef at Oleana and Sofra Bakery and Cafe. Both have been recommended to me on multiple occasions and judging from the crowds of patrons that packed the small, exotically decorated space that is Sofra, it may very well be a fantastic brunch experience worthy of the long 40 minute walk to get there. Inside, I feel a warm welcome as I look around and notice the bustle of the kitchen, the simple menu, and the artsy pastries that decorate the ordering counter. The embellished decorative pillows on the seating area lining the walls only serve to make me feel like a princess inside her middle eastern golden palace. Little do I know then that 20 minutes later, as I take my first bite of Borek, the special for the day, I will be upgraded to queen. Or at least it will sure feel like it.

I’d never heard of Borek before today when i learned that it is a thin and flaky phyllo dough that is filled with cheese and meat. It is then baked and served, as is the case in Sofra, with a tangy tomato curry sauce. It is topped with a dollop of labne. Labne is a thick, rich style of greek yogurt. The meat inside of the phyllo dough was a braised, then shredded lamb. The flavors created a delicious harmony in my mouth. The lamb had an earthy flavor that was appeased by the tangy greek yogurt. The tomato curry sauce served as a supporting role for the entire dish, making sure everyone got along together. The first bite was heavenly and delicious, unlike anything Ive had before. And so, with the simple act of eating the food created by another chef, I was able to distinguish and understand Sortun’s interpretation of the experiences that she had during her time studying in Turkey. Most importantly however, was that her food brought Turkey to me, and for that meal, I was a queen.

Below are a couple of pictures taken inside Sofra Bakery and Cafe.



Eating Boston: St. Paddy’s Day

The waves of people walking up and down Broadway Ave. this morning grew increasingly larger, greener, and drunker, as the annual Boston St. Patrick’s day parade got ready to march on down South Boston, or as I soon learned from all the locals, Southie. Surprisingly, Bostonians not only celebrate Irish-American heritage on March 17th every year, but they also celebrate what is know as “Evacuation Day”. Evacuation day commemorates the day during the Revolutionary War in which George Washington forced the British to evacuate Dorchester, which is now a neighborhood adjacent to Southie. That day was March 17, 1776.

I trekked alongside the parade route, dodging droves of happy drunk people and often kicking many Sam Adams beer cans out of my path in search for a famous corned beef on rye sandwich. After about at hour of searching and still no sandwich in hand, i decided it was too cold to continue. I turned back around to my starting point, got in 20 minute line for hot coffee and headed back, defeated. On my way back to the train station, I witnessed the extravagant attempts of those who wanted to be the most “Irish”, which was such a fun experience. A girl was covered in green makeup, a green wig, and bright green glittery tights. Others were simply trying to get the most green beer into their system to proven their Irish-ness. But I leaped with joy as I saw the ubiquitous green man (from the series “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia” ) make an appearance in his clover green body suit and complete Irish attire. Capturing him in photo was enough to make my trip to Southie worthwhile.

Just as I had lost all hope of tasting the famous corned beef on rye, I wandered into a small cafe next to the train station and saw, to my delight, their special board. On it read: Corned beef on rye. Joy!

I sat on a sunny corner inside the quaint cafe to enjoy every bite of the salty, fatty layers of beef tucked inside two loafs of fresh rye bread. There was drunken chaos outside as gusts of frigid wind drove the the drunk hoards away and to their homes. Yet, I remained in a state of bliss as I observed the unrest around me and peacefully ate my sandwich.
Later, I learned that corned beef is primarily an Irish-American dish which probably originated when the Irish in America decidedly substituted the pork for beef. In any case, St. Patrick’s day is also a celebration that is observed mainly in America, and so in the spirit of America and its diverse cultural heritage, I had a famous corned beef sandwich in South Boston on St. Paddy’s day. I am living the life.



Eating Boston: Food notes of a temporary Bostonian

Flour bakery + cafe holds the coveted title and prestige of being one of Boston’s best bakery. In fact, pastry chef/owner, Joanne Chang, is herself an iconic presence in the world of female entrepreneurs. A trained mathematician from one of the most prestigious schools in the country, Harvard, Chang is to be truly admired for following her dreams of baking professionally and pursuing a career that does not guarantee financial security at all times. Then again, what is secure in this life? Nothing is a guarantee and one must work very hard to become an accomplished person. In Flour’s case, Chang demonstrated that she had what it took to build an iconic culinary empire that exemplifies dedication and excellence.

During a trip to the original Flour on Washington st. in the South End, I basked in the glory of the egg breakfast sandwich. Something as common as an egg sandwich remained imprinted in my tastebud’s memory because the dijonnaise spread mingled so harmoniously with the crispy bacon in my mouth. The spread, with its pungent and assertive mustardy nature was subdued by a bite of fatty bacon. The creamy egg patty between the two created a canvas with a mellow eggy flavor that married all of the ingredients together. The sandwich was held together by two slices of freshly baked ciabatta bread with wonderful flavor and a rustic aroma. I washed everything down with the perfect cup of coffee and cream and a small bite size tart. While not overwhelmingly sweet, it served its sweet ending purpose.
Everyone who comes to Boston should definitely stop by and grab something to eat. I know I will definitely come back for Chang’s famous sticky buns, I just need someone to share with!

An Adventure Begins

Today a new adventure begins. An adventure which will transform me into a completely different person. An adventure that has been my whole life in the making, and will now both challenge me and shape my future self alike.

With two hours of sleep and a lot of caffein in my system, I managed to get out of bed on Saturday morning, kiss my husband goodbye for the next three months, and fly 1,200 miles north to brave the cold while I pursue my latest adventure. The anxiety would not let me sleep, after all, Boston, Ma. is a city that I certainly cannot afford. And yet, I had to push away my fears. However, those stubborn negative thoughts that managed to linger despite my best efforts….well those were tackled one at a time; is my landlady crazy?, is my coat warm enough (5 years in Florida erased any knowledge I might have had about cold weather attire), and the list of nagging questions continues, way too long to recount and yet, very very real.

I arrived to Boston and discovered my landlady does not own a coffee grinder ( a fear that briefly crossed my mind) for the pound and a half of coffee beans that I lugged all the way from Florida. My world seems to fall apart in the mornings before I get my much needed caffeine shot. Thus, until i find away around the fact that i refuse to pay $35 for a top of the line grinder because I’m too frugal, I’ll have to deal with my bitchy, snappy self all on my own, or hit up Goodwill. Im sure my husband is ecstatic about the fact that there are one thousand plus miles between a moody me and himself…. But I digress….

I’ve come to Boston to participate in an internship with America’s Test Kitchen, an internship which will diversify my skills and make me a better chef. I am excited because I can see my food philosophy evolving in just a few short years of culinary practice. Because America’s food philosophy is evolving as well, we are beginning to notice that people no longer want fast, greasy food. We want real food from local farms. Food that will nourish us and make us a healthier nation. Because this demand for fresh, local, healthy food has only started to emerge on a mass scale in the past few years, chefs around the country have realized that they play a pivotal role in this movement. Myself included. This is why I am passionate to work in a food magazine that teaches its subscribers how to cook real food. As a chef, I want to use my platform as a food professional to guide this nation into a healthier, more sustainable future. One where obesity and its many health related problems are obsolete and food is THE medicine of choice. One where food is cherished for its nutritional content. Most importantly, one where the entire food system is respected and sustained.

Thus I find myself in Boston, unsure of what tomorrow will bring. The only thing that is certain is that I will keep an open mind and try to absorb everything that this beautiful ( and expen$ive ) city has to offer me. I am making a great sacrifice, but I know it will make me a greater person.

Chocolate = Love

Yes, chocolate = love. No matter how you put it this will always be true; an absolute fact of life. This is why its not too late to impress the one you love with chocolate!  Here is a simple chocolate truffle recipe that you can make in less than an hour.  Now go impress anyone with some mad candy making skills!

chocolate truffles


Chocolate truffle recipe

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 16 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
  • Vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • cocoa powder (about 1/2 cup)

Step one: Making the ganache.

Bring a cup of heavy cream to a simmer. Be careful not to burn the bottom.  While the cream comes to a simmer, place chips in a bowl. Once cream is hot and simmering, pour over chocolate chips and start to slowly incorporate until a lustrous and silky chocolate sauce is formed. At first, the mixture will seem grainy and it might even look broken, but keep on whisking and the desired consistency will be reached once all the chocolate has melted completely.  Pour the chocolate sauce into a container and allow it to set in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Step two: Rolling ganache into balls

The fun part is here! Once the ganache is set, its going to have a texture similar to Playdoh. Set aside a bowl of cocoa powder and a line a sheet pan. Dip your hands into ice water for a couple of seconds to lower their temperature so as not to melt the ganache.  With a small tablespoon scoop out some chocolate and roll it into a ball. Imagine you are rolling meatballs. Once you’ve formed several balls of chocolate ganache, place in the freezer for several minutes. Bring them out and toss them in the cocoa powder.

Step Three: Spreading the love.

These truffles are quick and perfect for a pot luck, or a small cute gift. Now you can box them up, wrap them up or do whatever you want to spread the love on Valentine’s Day!