Monday, October 31, 2011


This Halloween, Noah wanted to be the Big Bad Wolf, not the one from Red Riding Hood but the wolf that huffed and puffed in The Three Little Pigs, he was very specific. I made him the wolf costume he's wearing - pointy ears, sharp claws, furry tail, and all. It was all a big hit with him, especially the face painting part.

Little pig, little pig, let me come in.
No, no, not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.
Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in.


Pumpkin Pie Pops
Follow this recipe for Lollipop Pies, then swap out the filling for the pumpkin one below. One 9-inch double crust dough makes approximately 18 pies pops. 1 (2 roll) package of pre-made pie crust works perfectly in a pinch. It's easier to cut out the jack-o-lantern faces on half the cut out rounds before assembling the pie pops but you can also using a sharp paring knife afterwards to gingerly cut out the eyes and mouth before baking.

pumpkin filling:
1 14-oz can pure pumpkin
1 12-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp salt

Saturday, October 29, 2011


When you're craving something sweet but there's nothing in the pantry but a jar of jam, fruit preserve, or marmalade, then the following recipe is for you. This Easy Jam Tart is from David Lebovitz.

Easy Jam Tart
9 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg, separated
1/8 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal or polenta
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cups apricot, raspberry or other jam
2 tbsp coarse sugar
  1. Beat together butter and sugar until well-combined. Mix in the egg, egg yolk and almond extract.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Gradually add the dry ingredients, just until the mixture just comes together.
  3. Divide 2/3 of the dough, pat into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and chill for 30 minutes. Take the remaining dough and roll it into a log about 2-inches in diameter, wrap it in plastic, and also chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to room temperature slightly. With the heal of your hand, press the dough evenly into the bottom of a buttered 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, or springform pan. If using a tart pan, press the dough up the sides to the rim, but if using a springform pan, press dough about 3/4-inch up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate the dough-lined pan until firm, approximately 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375º F. Spread the jam evenly over the dough.
  6. Cut the chilled dough log into thin discs with a sharp knife. Arrange them slightly overlapped in concentric circles over the jam to form a top crust. Whisk the remaining egg white from the separated egg, and brush lightly over the top and sprinkle generously with about 2 tablespoons of coarse sugar.
  7. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, approximately 20-25 minutes. Let cool before serving.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Just because sometimes we need a little instruction on how to let our imaginations fly...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I've been obsessed with vintage jeans for ages. For me they represent a treasure trove of memories, not just of my own adolescence, but also of the decade, the styles that came out of them, and the subsequent vintage ad campaigns. In the 1980's, designer jeans were the style craze. The once utilitarian clothing instantly evolved into high fashion when famous designers started making their own style of jeans and stamped them with their labels. Sales of jeans skyrocketed and everyone wanted a pair, no matter the price tag.

My own love affair with designer jeans started in 1982 with a girl named Amber and CHIC Jeans. We all remember that one girl in middle school who we all aspired to be, the girl who despite being our age always looked older, more stylish, and infinitely glamorous. The first one to wear makeup, the first to own a pair of designer jeans, and the girl all the boys crushed on. Amber in her CHIC jeans spurred my own interest in fashion. I also remember Gloria Vanderbilt were my mother's first foray into designer jeans. I was obsessed with them and often "borrowed" the jeans, even though they were much too big for me. But my own first pair were Calvin Kleins, and nothing came between me and my Calvin's. Here are a list of the most popular designer jeans of the 1980's.

In 1976 Gloria Vanderbilt launched her own line of designer jeans carrying her name embossed in script on the back pocket, along with her swan logo. Her jeans were more tightly fitted than the other jeans of the that time.

Jordache launched an aggressive ad campaign in 1979 to set their brand apart, starting with a television commercial starring a topless woman in tight Jordache jeans riding a horse through the surf. Even though the ad was rejected by all the major networks, independent New York stations aired it, and the label surged to popularity.

In the late 70's and early 80's Sasson popularized their jeans with an ad campaign that featured the catch phrase, "Oooh, la la, Sasson!"

In 1980 Calvin Klein featured a 15 year old Brook Shields in an ad campaign wearing a pair of his jeans with the strap line, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Every woman has wished for glamorous, perfectly-lined eyes. I always wondered how girls managed to line their lids with one steady stroke of liquid black eyeliner. All my attempts came out sloppy, whether too thick, uneven, or lopsided. I watched with envy as Julianne Moore's character in A Single Man effortlessly created flawless retro cat eyes with a few strokes of her eyeliner brush, and thought, "What style!"

Recently, bored with my usual make-up routine, I started playing with black liquid liner again. I have small, almond-shaped eyes, which means I have to be extra careful when lining my eyes. Otherwise, it smears every time I blink, the curse of barely-there eyelids. These days the process is made much easier by the types of liners available to choose from, as well as the many brand on the market. I prefer pointy felt-tipped liquid liners because you can nail the thickness of your strokes perfectly, just make sure it's a stay-put brand. Others may prefer to work with pencils, or powdered varieties that require brushes.

You are not limited to just one eyeliner look either, so experiment with a few of the following:

Winged - You can either go classic retro or try a modern version of the winged eyeliner. The line should start out thin as possible and grow thicker as it angles out toward the outer corner of your eye. How far your wings extend and whether it ends in a sharp point or a blunt line, is up to you.

Egyptian or double-lined - This is a double-winged look that extends straight beyond the top and bottom lashlines.

Theatrical - This is usually a deviation from the traditional eyeliner designs. Experiment, play, and go crazy. With the right amount of confidence and attitude you can pull off just about anything. Just keep it appropriate for the time and place.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


My friends' 3 year-old son, Noah, has been asking me to bake him a lemon tart. So today, I made it my priority to do just that. I wanted to try a new recipe so I went to smitten kitchen where I can always find something not only delicious, but also kitchen-tested. Her Whole Lemon Tart recipe is loosely inspired from the Parisian pastry shop, Rollet-Pradier. I finished my evening with a slice and the balance of flavors was perrrrfect... creamy smooth with just the right amount of sweet and sour. And the tart shell recipe is one of the best I've ever come across. It kept its shape and tasted great!

Whole Lemon Tart (via smitten kitchen)
1 parbaked 9-inch tart shell (see recipe below)
1 average-sized lemon (4.5 ounces), rinsed and dried
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 large eggs
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven 350ºF.
  2. Slice the lemon into thin wheels, remove any seeds, and toss the rounds (flesh and peel) into a food processor with the sugar and butter chunks. Process until the lemon is thoroughly pureed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt and pulse until the batter is smooth.
  3. Pour into prepared tart shell. There may be excess batter, do not pour it past the top of your crust. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet to catch any spills.
  4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the filling is set. There should be a slight jiggle, may brown lightly on top.
  5. Let cool on rack, remove from mold, and serve. Dust with confectioner's sugar. You may prefer this tart chilled.
Sweet Tart Shell (9-inch tart crust)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg
  1. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in.
  2. Stir egg to break the yolk. Add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - 10 seconds each - until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work space with and with little handling as possible form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for about 2 hours before rolling.
  3. Roll chilled dough into a 12-inch round, and place in tart pan with a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork.
  4. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes or longer, before baking.
  5. For a parbaked crust, preheat the oven 375ºF.
  6. Butter shiny side of aluminum foil and fit, butter side down, tightly against the crust. Since the crust is frozen there is no need to add pie weights. Put the tart pan on a a baking sheet and bake on center rack for 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press down on it gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust another 10 minutes, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool crust to room temperature, and proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The trend these days is definitely fairy tales, as evidenced by all the recent books, films and TV series loosely based on classic fairy tale stories. Take for instance the new ABC series, Once Upon a Time, set in present day but with a cast of fairy tale characters that can't remember their true identities or anything about their former lives. Other shows include Grimm and a series based on Beauty and The Beast. Another updated version of the same story is the film Beastly based on Alex Finn's book of the same name. The number of Young Adult fiction based on fables are endless. Recently, I read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, which is a modern twist on Little Red Riding Hood about two sisters whose mission in life is to rid the world of werewolves. There are also dozens of upcoming films in development, including Sleeping Beauty, Neverland, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and several versions on the stories Snow White, Cinderella, and Peter Pan.

Here are some stills shot by fashion photographer Eugenio Recuenco for a photo spread he did called Fairy Tales.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Fall has arrived and to celebrate I made pumpkin pie. This will definitely be the first of many, especially with Thanksgiving around the corner. Like so many other pie varieties there are dozens of pumpkin pie recipes to choose from. I wanted something quick and easy so I modified the recipe on the label of my can of Polar Pumpkin. I thought using sweetened condensed milk instead of heavy cream, half-n-half, or milk might make my pie too sweet but in fact it came out just right with an interesting balance of flavors.

Pumpkin Pie
1 9-inch pre-baked single pie crust (see below)
1 can (15 oz) Polar 100% pure pumpkin
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 425º degrees.
  2. Whisk together sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla extract, spices and salt in a large bowl. Add pumpkin to the mixture. Continue to whisk until smooth. Pour filling into warm pre-baked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 15 minutes.
  3. Lower heat to 350º degrees and continue to bake pie for an additional 30-35 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2-3 hours. (The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure the filling sets, cool pie at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.)
  4. Served with fresh whipped cream.

9-inch single pie crust
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tbsp chilled water
  1. Preheat oven to 400º degrees.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt in large bowl; cut in 2 tablespoons of the butter until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; cut in until biggest pieces look like large peas.
  3. Dribble in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it is ropey with some dry patches. If too dry, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten onto a 4-inch thick disk; refrigerate. After a minimum of 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it's malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 12-inch circle and 1/8-inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.
  4. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang all around pie plate. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Trim overhang to 1/2-inch beyond lip of the pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil and fill with pie weights. Baked on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate. Bake 5 to 10 minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove and let cool while preparing filling.

Friday, October 7, 2011


When baking a pie or tart there are a number of pastry recipes you can choose from. How do you know which pastry works best with a recipe? Is it just trial and error or is there an exact science to figuring it out? Maybe a little of both. There are 3 basic ingredients for pastry crust - fat, flour, and liquid. You can come up with numerous variations by changing your basic ingredients and their ratios. Typically, American pies have crusts that are both light and flaky. Whereas, tarts tend to have crusts that are richer, smoother, and crumbier.

The secret to a tender and flaky crust is make sure you only coat the fat with flour, not blend them. This is easier if your fat is cold. When adding liquid (whether it's water, milk, egg, lemon juice, vinegar, or even vodka) you don't want to mix in, but collect all the flour-coated fat particles together and make them stick to one another. That's why less is better than more, and cold is better than warm.

Flour: For the tenderest crust, choose a low protein flour. Pastry flour works great but cake flour might have too little protein, making it difficult to work with. All-purpose flour is generally my go-to flour for pastry crusts. Make sure all the dry ingredients are sifted together, which lightens the mixture.

Fat: Your choice of fat will affect the flavor and flakiness of your crust, while the amount affects its tenderness. Flakiness comes from bits of unmelted fat layered between layers of flour melting away while baking. When it comes to fat, you can use butter, shortening, lard, duck fat, vegetable or nut oils, or a combination of any of those. Butter makes a tasty dough, whereas shortening makes the flakiest dough.

all butter - flavorful but less flaky
all shortening - easier to work with, holds shape, flaky but less rich in flavor
lard - flakiest crust but chemical aftertaste
combo butter/shortening - flavor and flakiness
melted butter or oil - mealier dough but fine-textured and crispier crust

Liquids: Ice water, fruit juices, vinegar, vodka, eggs, sour cream, buttermilk, milk or cream add different flavors and textures to your pastry crusts. You also only want just enough liquid to moisten the flour, not drench it. The liquid must be ice cold and added gradually for best results. Use the pinch test to see if your dough has the correct amount of liquid. Pick up a small clump and gently squeeze between your fingers. When the dough just sticks together with small dry cracks, your dough is perfect. Chilling the dough before baking also promotes tenderness. This allows the gluten to relax, the fat to re-solidify, and helps prevent shrinkage while baking.

fruit juices - acid: tenderizer, flakiness
lemon juice & vinegar - dough conditioners: tenderizer, prevents oxidizing, relaxes the gluten
vodka - texture:moistness and suppleness, stops the formation of gluten
buttermilk, milk or cream - protein, fat and sugar: texture, richness, browns crust
whole egg - structure: stronger dough, less shrinkage
egg white - protein: crispness and stability
egg yolk - additional fat, richness in color and flavor, smoother dough that's easier to work with

To egg or not to egg - that is the question. Whether used whole, or separated into yolks and whites, eggs perform a number of functions that affect hydration, structure, texture, leavening, flavor, and color. The proteins found in whole eggs coagulate during the baking process and create structure. Dough made with whole eggs create a crust that doesn't fall down the sides, or shrink into the mold while baking. Yolks adds richness in color as well as flavor, while its natural emulsifiers generate a better distribution of liquids and fats that help to make a smoother dough that's easer to roll out and work with. This isn't always desirable if you want a more tender, crumblier texture. Dough using only the yolk sometimes falls down the sides of the mold. Using only egg whites gives you a stronger dough from the coagulation of the protein. They also add crispness and stability to baked dough.

I rarely use eggs - whole, whites or yolks - in my pie crust recipes. However, I will use eggs if I want a richer, smoother crust - usually for a tart recipe. I threw in an egg for the following tart recipe. I found it easier than usual to roll out the dough, but the texture was much 'chewier' than my normal eggless pastry recipe.


Fig Frangipane Tart
pastry for a 9-inch tart or pie pan
1/2 lb blanched & peeled almonds
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp lemon zest
3/4 lbs figs
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp water
  1. Heat oven to 375º degrees. Roll out the pastry dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and fit into a 9-inch tart pan. Trim, and discard excess. Pop it into the freezer for 10 minutes.
  2. In a food processor, grind the almonds, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, butter and lemon zest to make a smooth, slightly flowing paste. Set aside.
  3. Remove the stems from the figs and cut the fruit into lengthwise quarters. Set aside.
  4. Pre-bake the tart shell: Prick the shell with a fork. Lay a sheet of foil or parchment paper in the shell and fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake until the rim is dried and lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and remove the beans and foil.
  5. Spread the almond mixture in the base of the tart, using the back of a spoon to spread evenly. Arrange the cut-up figs as you like on top of the almond mixture, pushing them in a bit.
  6. Place the filled shell on a baking sheet and bake until the almond mixture is puffed and golden, 40 to 45 minutes.
  7. When the tart is almost done baking, warm the honey and water in a small saucepan until fluid. When the tart is done, lightly brush the tops of figs with a little honey mixture. Serve at room temperature.
Tart Shell
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 egg
1 - 2 tbsp ice water
  1. Place the sugar, salt and flour into a food processor. Pulse a few times to incorporate.
  2. Add chilled butter. Pulsing a couple of times, just until combined.
  3. Add egg and pulse once or twice.
  4. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing between additions, just until the dough starts to gather together and pull away from the bowl.
  5. Pat the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
  6. Place the dough on a floured work surface and rub all sides with flour. Roll out the dough from the center until 1/4-inch thick and approximately 12-inch diameter.
  7. Lift the dough onto the rolling pin and center it over the pan. Place it in the pan, pressing gently against the sides and bottom.
  8. Trim any excess dough that extends more than an inch over the sides of the pan. Place in refrigerator or freezer for at least 20 minutes to re-solidify the butter.