Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ratios & Refrigerators, Oh My!

I just got a new cookbook that I'm super-psyched about called Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman!

This book has been answering all my burning baking & cooking questions! In theory, you can take the basic ratios given in this book and create just about anything your little hearts desire without ever relying on another cookbook again! I have yet to put this to the test but you can bet I'm going to be doing some serious baking in the near future! In the name of Science, of course!

For those who don't know the origins of Pound Cake, it got it's name because the recipe calls for equal parts (about 1 pound each) of butter, sugar, egg, & flour. (Hint: how you mix your cake can make all the difference.) What I'm really curious about though, is the taste. A professional cook, and friend of mine, once tested this traditional little recipe and said that the result was not as tasty as some of the more fine-tuned versions we have today. Of course, adding a few extra flavors like vanilla, salt, lemon zest & lime zest will greatly improve this and I guess that's really the point of having these handy ratios! With a little imagination, I can make an endless variety of Pound Cakes!

So be sure to stay tuned for my latest cooking experiments! Tonight I plan to make homemade pasta for the first time (and without a rolling pin or pasta roller! Yikes!)! Necessity is the mother of invention and that means it's time to get creative!

Speaking of creative inventions, check out this article about a nifty project by Jihyun Ryou on how to Reverse Engineer the Refrigerator!

Ryou researched old-school, 'oral knowledge' about how to preserve your food without using a refrigerator!
Some of these tricks I knew, like keeping potatoes in the dark or throwing a few grains of rice in your salt shaker to absorb extra moisture, but some were completely new to me and absolutely fascinating! I can't wait to have a system like this set up in my own kitchen one day! People rely so much on technology these days that we forget how to really observe the world around us and work with it instead of against it. Way to think outside the box!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cafe Grumpy Coffee Shop Review

Hi All!

I have been promising a coffee shop review for a while now and I FINALLY did it!

This is a special review in many ways, one because it is my first on my new blog, Defiant Designs, and second because I had my boyfriend's little sister (11) with me to help!

This weekend I reviewed Cafe Grumpy! We went to the Lower East Side location on Saturday, around 2pm. I know, a little late for coffee, but we were having a lazy day. The original Cafe Grumpy location is in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but I chose the Lower East Side because it has the Cafe Grumpy Bakery next door! As a lover of baked goods everywhere, I thought it would be a perfect idea to get them straight from the source! Also, there's a cool playground for kids across the street!

The weather when we arrived was brisk and cloudy, which could account for the lack of people, but I was still surprised to see that no one else was there! Usually when I go to a coffee shop, it's packed! The interior was small and cozy with a deep window seat to sit and chat. There was lots of tile and exposed brick, and a neon sign with their signature 'Grumpy' face. The two baristas were very nice and helpful and there was a small glass case of baked goods on the counter. Also proudly displayed was a wooden stand with two metal, pour-over cones nestled inside so you can watch as they brew your single cup of drip coffee right in front of you! (I wish I had taken more pictures of the interior but I was feeling a little conspicuous being that we were the only people in the shop!) I know my inner geek is showing but I also liked that their register was an IPad on a swivel stand! They had their own roasted blends of coffee proudly displayed and I purchased one and had them grind it up (Espresso grind) for me (review of this to follow). I also thought it was cute how they had a wooden beaker stand set up with little glass beakers filled with different blends of teas! Such an awesome presentation!

The Bakery- right next door!!

Now, on to the good stuff!

I ordered a latte (only one size) and an apple turnover. My co-conspirator ordered a hot chocolate, a brownie, and a croissant. My bf's li'l-sis thought the brownie and croissant were fab! But she was not impressed with the hot chocolate and actually ended up throwing it away because of the taste! At first she said it was too 'thick'. I explained that this is actually a desirable affect for coffee shops to have a thick, rich foam, but she insisted it tasted 'funny'. So I took a sip myself and I had to admit it did taste pretty 'funny'. I'm not quite able to put my finger on it, but it was something foul. First the chocolate was separated on the bottom of the cup and I'm not sure if they used a powder or a syrup but it was not blended well, second I think they may have burnt the milk as they were foaming it, or, the milk had gone bad. Even my own latte started to have a strange taste to it when I was half-way through! Although we were both impressed with their latte art: a heart for my little guest and a fern for me. On first sip, I thought my latte was lovely! The foam was thick and it had this interesting nutty flavor to it that I thought was unique. But as I got further down (and it began to cool), I noticed the same strange flavor that I had tasted in the hot chocolate. I ended up throwing mine away too (and I hate to waste coffee!).

I was also not impressed with their baked goods. The croissant was so-so, the brownie didn't have much depth to to the flavor, it seemed too sweet and had an almost powdery texture. I know everyone has their own brownie preference though and I tend to prefer mine rich and chewy with a thin crust on top, so maybe that's just a 'me' thing. Also, I was very disappointed with the apple turnover. The filling was nice and I could tell it was homemade with none of the usual gooey syrupy fillers. It was rich and spicy and had a nice depth to the flavor, but the crust was old, stale, and chewy. Very difficult to eat. I would expect that having the bakery right next door, they would be more on top of the freshness factor, but maybe that's what I get for being a late riser!

Croissant- Beautiful Color!

I don't like to give a place a bad review based on one visit, especially since it seems to have such great reviews from other people, so I will simply chalk it up to bad luck and give it another shot some other day. Perhaps I will have better luck at one of their other three locations!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Low-Fat Granola Bars & Poached Pears!

Here we are again!

Sadly I did not get around to doing the coffee shop review like I had planned this weekend. Instead I made granola bars and poached pears!

The granola bars were because my boyfriend and I seem to go through about 2 boxes of these a week and I'm looking for a healthy (and cheap!) alternative!

This recipe was taken from the Cookin' Canuck and her pics are awesome! I apologize for the 'ruggedness' of my pics but I kind of forgot I was planning to blog all this until I was almost finished!

My only complaint about these granola bars is that the texture came out kind of gummy, and I'm wondering if I did something wrong! Maybe I didn't bake them long enough? Or I should have toasted the granola longer? Does anyone have any recommendations to fix this??

The taste is also not very sweet, since it has no added sugar. All the sweetness comes from the banana, cranberries and the sugar-free apple sauce. I shouldn't really be surprised since I was looking for a healthy recipe, but the Cookn' Canuck recommends adding a couple tablespoons of maple syrup or honey, and I think this might be a good idea. I also substituted walnuts for the pecans, as that's what I had on hand. As it is, it kind of has the taste and consistency of bread. Not horrible, but kind of straaaange for a granola bar.
(*Note- these taste better the more I eat them! Maybe they're like one of those cakes that has to sit so that all the flavors meld into each other... definitely tastes better after a day. Also, my boyfriend likes them and he's very picky. And DON'T add to yogurt, tastes way better on their own.)

Low Fat Granola Bars with Bananas, Cranberries & Pecans
Yield: Makes approximately 24 bars.
From the kitchen of Cookin Canuck.

  • 3 1/2 cup oats
  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 3 large, ripe bananas
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seed (or flax meal)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking sheet with parchment paper, with about 1 inch of parchment paper overlapping the sides.
  3. Spread out the oats and chopped pecans on a baking sheet. Place in the oven until they are lightly toasted, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl, mash the bananas with the back of a fork. Stir in applesauce until combined.
  5. Transfer the oats and pecans to a large bowl and stir in dried cranberries, ground flax seed (flax meal), cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
  6. Stir the banana mixture into the oat mixture until well combined and starting to clump together. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and press down evenly.
  7. Bake until the bars are golden brown and starting to separate from sides of the pan, about 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
  8. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan. Let cool to room temperature, then cut into bars.
  9. Before I put it in the oven!

  10. Serve or store in an airtight container.
After I put it in the oven!

As for the Poached Pears, I made this for a movie night with my friends and it was a smash! This is a combination of two poached pear recipes I got from working as a pastry cook! It's very easy and relatively painless to do! After making the pears, I served them warm with a couple scoops of vanilla ice-cream and some caramel sauce! A-Maz-Ing! I have also tried this with Basil Ice-cream and Cardamom Ice cream and it's verrry lovely! The caramel really pulls everything together and if you want you could also add some crumbled Sandies (or Sable as we called them in the kitchen), graham crackers, or nuts for some added texture!

Poached Pears:

-4 Cinnamon Sticks
-4 Bay Leaves
-4-5 Boshc Pears (Anjou will also work)
-Equal parts sweet, white wine & water (I used Moscatto as that's what I had on hand, but I highly recommend Riesling!) I ended up using 3 cups of each, totalling 6 cups of liquid, but it should be enough liquid to cover your pears!
-3/4 cup of honey
-1/2 tsp of Vanilla or 1 Vanilla Bean
-Zest of 1 Lime
-Zest of 1 Lemon

-Peel the pears and put everything in a large pot.
-Bring to a boil and then bring down to a simmer.
-Simmer until the pears are slightly translucent and a knife will go easily into the pear.
-When the pears are done (about 45mins), scoop out the pears and let them cool. They will continue to cook slightly due to residual heat in the pears so be sure to remove them from the liquid or the cooking process will continue even after you have turned off the heat!
-Strain out the spices and zest and continue to boil the liquid in a clean pot. Simmer this down until it resembles an amber, sticky syrup.
-After the pears have cooled you can split the pears down the center using a paring knife and scoop out the seeds with a spoon or melon-baller. I also like to carve out the stem, using a knife in a small 'V' incision.
-Store the pairs in the syrup and serve warm.

Alternate recipe for syrup:
-After you have made the syrup, you could also mix this into 2 pints of heavy cream.
-Put the Cream/Syrup mixture into the fridge to cool and once it has chilled whip the cream for soft, pear flavored whipped cream (aka Chantilly Cream)
-Serve chilled whipped cream with warm pears on a bed of crumbled Sable cookies.

Simmering Pears! Oh My!
Remove Pears & Let Cool.
Reduced Syrup and Pears
Pears with Seeds & Stems Removed.
Pears in Syrup- YUM!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Chinese New Year!

Yesterday, my office/day job had a Chinese New Years party! (Year of the Dragon- wootwoot!) Somehow I only found out about this the day before the party so I was scrambling to figure out a dessert to make that night! I finally settled on making a Thai dessert one of my old roommates introduced me to (sorry- I know it's not Chinese, but so easy and yummy!) called Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango. I was originally planning to make it all pretty by molding it into balls that I put into cupcake wrappers and then lay two tiny matchsticks of mango on top, buuuut I didn't have the time/energy to do all this, so I ended up serving it potluck style in a big bowl. I think people were afraid to try it because it looks like a savory dish but it's actually a dessert. I shudda stuck with my original plan and made it pretty... presentation is everything! Sigh. Personally, I think it's as addictive as crack! If you're brave enough to step outside your comfort zone and try this, I think you'll agree with me, but don't be fooled by it's wholesome and simple ingredients, this is practically diabetes on a spoon! So good, yet so bad! Just the way I like it!

I got the recipe from, by Sass Smith:


-First, I quadrupled the recipe and I used Jasmine Rice instead of the more traditional Sticky Rice, but the recipe below should make about 3 servings. Follow the link above for all the nutritional info.
-Also, I think I undercooked the rice slightly, I recommend adding water if the rice dries out too soon.
-If you're wondering, it kind of tastes like rice pudding times AWESOME!!

  • 1/2 cup basmati rice or 1/2 cup jasmine rice or 1/2 cup other sweet Asian rice
  • 1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk (you can use the light kind if you want, it just makes it a little less rich)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 mango , sliced


  1. 1
    Rice: Cook rice according to package directions, but substitute coconut milk for half of the water, and add half the sugar.
  2. 2
    It should be fairly dry when you finish cooking it, without any liquid visible in the pot.
  3. 3
    Sauce: In a medium saucepan, boil the rest of the coconut milk with the second half of the sugar.
  4. 4
    Keep this at a full boil until the rice is cooked, or until it reaches a thick, syrupy consistency.
  5. 5
    Presentation: Arrange the cooked coconut rice in a bowl or plate with the mango slices in some kind of pretty formation and dribble a bit of the sauce over the whole thing

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Review of Failure

Well, I've been feeling a little blegh lately. I think I've got a case of the Winter Blues. Not to mention, feeling a little discouraged by my lack of sales... is it the season, as so many of my friends suggest, just a slow time for retail everywhere? Is it my costs are too high or my lack of selling history? Is it my designs?? Part of me is afraid to fail (of course) but part of me is also afraid to succeed! I have to admit that there are things I could be doing to help my sales, but I just can't seem to make myself DO them! I have that restless feeling where I know I have things to do, but I have no desire to do them. Partly because I'm afraid of what would happen if it works... it would mean that my business will go from dream to reality (not usually a bad thing), but it also means added responsibilities, being held accountable to others, and  stepping into the unknown. I'm feeling a bit like a failure right now, disappointed in myself, and completely unmotivated.

I miss my other passions in life, mainly cooking and coffee. And I reaaaally miss Summer! I briefly had another blog once upon a time that was dedicated to adventures, getting out of debt, and reviewing NY coffee shops. But I have since abandoned it and I miss that too. Is it possible to have too many passions in life? At one point I was upset at having gained 20 pounds in 2 years! (I blame my boyfriend) and I was determined to loose it. I actually managed to loose about 19 before the holidays hit but I've gained 7 back! I've been trying to loose it again, but so far it's been a half-hearted effort where I see-saw between loosing and gaining the same 2 pounds. Just plain old UN-MOTIVATED!

The good news is I've been spending more time with my friends and I've started reading again! I've also started cooking again (not good for my weight loss lemme tell ya!). I feel like I've been doing good things for my soul. So why do I feel like such a failure?!

Well, they say it's not the failures that define you, but how you deal with them. Just pick yourself back up and keep going! And that's what I plan to do. With a few minor changes...

I've decided to incorporate my coffee shop reviews into the Defiant Designs blog and whatever else tickles my fancy! Stay tuned for a new review and in the meantime I've got some basil ice-cream at home begging to be spun! Look out world!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Perfect Day

I have recently been given the task of describing my perfect day in every detail, in the hopes that it might one day come true... This is my happy place:

This is a photo by Petrina Tenslay that I took from one of my all time favoritist blogs, Desire to Inspire!

I live someplace where it's almost always warm and sunny. Someplace close to the beach, where I can see and feel patches of sand between the grass as soon as I step out my front door and huge trees spread their shade. I wake up early enough to see the sun rise and I bike down to the beach where I can have a morning run or swim. I own a midsize cafe/lounge on the boardwalk with the main eating area is outside with big wooden picnic tables in the sand for family style dining, a sheer silk tent blocks the worst of the wind & sun, and shoes are optional. I am the owner and the pastry chef. The cafe has a huge, shiny espresso machine and overalls are the standard uniform for myself and the employees. I serve down-south bar-b-que pulled pork sandwiches, super sweet iced-tea, and boutique pastries and ice cream. In front there's a do-it-yourself cotton candy machine with more custom flavors like champagne grapefruit, rose raspberry, and mint strawberry. There are no standard flavors, everything is unique and the milkshakes are to die for. Music plays full blast throughout the cafe. Inside there are books and games everywhere for people to enjoy. The walls are mostly windows which are usually open to the breeze and filled with boxes of herbs, tomatoes grow up the walls outside the building. There's an outside shower for people to rinse off sand from the beech and a water spigot for rinsing off feet or getting water for your dog. After spending the day baking and cooking, strings of tiny lights are hung up outside and turned on for people to use. The building is made from stucco but has a tin roof and wooden floors with huge Oriental rugs lie everywhere and big wicker fans slowly spinning on the ceiling. The outside will be painted bright blue, purple, green or whatever color happens to fit my mood at the time, but it will always be bright and outstanding. The inside of the cafe will open directly out to the beach and the outside dining area. There's also a huge fireplace for winter marshmallow roasting. Students come in to study, couples on dates, and families come in from the beach for a cool drink. My friends drop in throughout the day for a bite to eat or a chat. We have local live musicians or live poetry readings most nights and after enjoying a glass of wine and a board-game with my boyfriend, we walk my bike home and enjoy the stars. My customers are my friends, my staff is my family, and everyone knows each other. My children will grow up in this cafe. Learning the satisfaction that comes from making something with their hands. There may even be weekly classes on anything from painting, cooking, guitar, or how to make a play-list. Art from local artists will hang on the walls and I will have pumpkin carving contests and open mic nights.

This is my Cloud9...