caulilini with bagna cauda fig bread pudding elk chorizo chile rellenos pork chops with chanterelle wine and cream sauce


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archive for confections

small victories

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Recipe: chocolate almond macarons (sucre cuit method)

It looks to be another warm November here in the Colorado Rockies. Sure we have gotten some snow, but mostly we’re getting sun and warm – which are the nemeses of snow. I’ve resigned myself to riding my bike on the indoor trainer and getting my balance muscles back in shape on my skate skis in the living room. Even the local trails are slicked over with ice (thanks, sun and warm…). I suppose it’s just as well since my parents are in Colorado for a few weeks. Lack of snow made the logistics of prepping a belated birthday party for my dad much easier.


silly, happy neva

shopping with the parents at costco

dad’s birthday cake (one of three desserts)

toasting with friends and bubbles



Our dinner parties typically offer multiple desserts at the end of the meal, but it isn’t because I set out to make all of these desserts. On any given week, I’m always recipe testing or shooting some dessert, which means these gatherings are the perfect time to move the results of my research. We have had a string of dinners at our house lately (I am hoping we are done until next year) and most of them have involved some version of chocolate macarons. I’ve been recipe testing these suckers for over a month. My friend, Dan, held one in his hand and examined it asking, “What are they?” I said they were sandwich cookies, like Oreos. He took a bite and laughed, “These are nothing like Oreos!” He was right. I hadn’t ever been asked to describe a French macaron, I just gave them to people and figured they would eat them. French macs are almond meringue cookies that sandwich a filling – it could be ganache, fruit curd, buttercream frosting, jam, dulce de leche, or even foie gras in special savory instances.

so simple and yet not



When I have made French macarons in the past, I followed the method of whipping a French meringue and folding it into the almond-sugar base. They looked great, but the cookies were always hollow or as I coined it, had “attic space”. I chalk a lot of that up to baking at my altitude of 8,500 feet. Macs are finicky little guys, but at my elevation, they are a pain in the ass. I stepped away from baking macs for several years with the intention of getting back at it – except I didn’t return to it until now. And I think I’ve got it. What follows is a lengthy discussion of the technique that works for me. It’s more for my own reference, but hopefully it will help someone else out there, too. I’ve tried to detail what I can in the recipe itself and go into greater detail here in the post.

powdered sugar, egg whites and egg whites, almond flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, water



Even during my hiatus from baking macarons, they were always on my mind as they gained in popularity and have pretty much jumped the shark (you can now buy them in bulk from Whole Foods and Costco). I spoke with several professional bakers in high altitude mountain towns about issues and tricks regarding these treats. Everyone has their own tweaks and methods that they’ve worked out. I knew that I wanted to try the sucre cuit (cooked sugar) method, which makes an Italian meringue with hot sugar and is supposed to be more stable than the French method.

First things first. I highly recommend using a kitchen scale to make the macarons. I know some people balk at that – some have even gone so far as to tell me that “Here in AMERICA, we use cups…”, but if you 1) want your macarons to work and 2) want to be able to produce consistent results, then you should use a kitchen scale to remove some of the variability. If you choose not to weigh your ingredients and your macarons flop and you complain to me, I’m going to reach through my computer and dope slap you.

You will need at least two baking sheets and some parchment paper or silpat mat to line the top sheet. The reason is that you will double stack the baking sheets (so make sure they are the nesting kind) for a more even bake and rise from the bottom. I bake one sheet of macarons at a time in my oven (because my oven sucks). If I had two trays of macarons in the oven, I know the bottom ones will rise too quickly and the top ones will rise lopsidedly. Also, I don’t know how the macs behave in a convection oven.

It helps that I have quarts of egg whites in my freezer – the result of making too much ice cream and homemade egg pasta. I saved those whites knowing that some day, SOME DAY, I would burn through them in a frenzy of recipe testing macarons. Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature before you start. Another push in the right direction was being able to get superfine almond flour in bulk from Costco. Sure, I can grind my own blanched almonds into almond flour, but I can never get mine to be this fine. Also, for some reason it’s much easier to go back to the drawing board after yet another failed batch of macarons when you simply spoon the almond flour out instead of grinding the almonds yourself. Hey, I’m just trying to reduce as many mental hangups in this process as possible. Because the almond flour I use is superfine, I don’t bother processing it together with the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. If you are starting with blanched almonds (whole, pieces, whatever), you will absolutely need to run those through the food processor with the powdered sugar and cocoa powder (the powdered ingredients help to keep the almonds from turning into almond butter, too).

And if you aren’t interested in making your macaron cookies chocolate, omit the cocoa powder, but replace the omitted weight of cocoa powder with the equivalent weight in powdered sugar. So if you left out 20 grams of cocoa powder, add 20 grams of powdered sugar.


mix the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and almond flour together (or process in a food processor)

sift the dry mixture to remove any large pieces



When the dry ingredients are sifted (yes, please do this step), pour in 75 grams of egg whites and mix it until combined. Egg whites don’t incorporate the way most liquids do. They take a little time for the dry ingredients to absorb. It will look like there isn’t enough liquid for everything to come together, but keep working at it – it will eventually become a thick, uniform, wet paste. It’s a mini workout for your wrist and arm.

add half of the egg whites to the dry mix

a uniform wet paste



**Jump for more butter**

and now, chocolate

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

Recipe: huckleberry pistachio chocolate bar

When the weather cools down for the season, we tend to witness strings of amazing sunrises and sunsets. It means I can take Neva for a fetch session and she doesn’t get too hot in the autumn air. Autumn’s atmospheric volatility is also accompanied by winds, which can make getting outside a little dangerous (tree fall is real, folks) or miserable at best when dirt and small rocks fly at your face and get in your teeth and ears and eyes. But when the winds die down, it’s important to take advantage and maybe hike into the woods for some target practice.


one of many impressive sunsets last week

my happy little girl, ready to go home after playing fetch

jeremy practicing with his air rifle

packed up and ready to hike out



I’m not sure I’ll get much in the way of a grouse season this year because there were matsutake mushrooms to be found, huckleberries to pick, things got busy, and I was late getting my air rifle and learning to use it. But I’m okay with that. I think foraging and living in the mountains has taught me long-term planning and patience. Stuff doesn’t necessarily happen when you want it to – especially if you are waiting on something that may or may not grow from year to year.

precious precious huckleberries



I began toying with the idea of dried huckleberries a few years ago, but had to wait until I had a season good enough to spare a quart or so of berries to dry. That (amazing) season happened this year. After Erin and Jay were done dehydrating their gigantic haul of matsutake mushrooms, they kindly dehydrated a few cups of my fresh huckleberries for me (120°F for 60 hours!). I knew exactly what I was going to do with those dried huckleberries. I had known for over a year.

Cooler weather around the house means chocolate emerges from its summer hiatus in my kitchen. This is the time I start to bake and ship cookies to friends around the country – when I can be mostly certain that the chocolate won’t melt in transit. This is also when I start to play with ideas for holiday gifts – like chocolate bars. Except I was going to make the ultimate chocolate bar using my dried huckleberries.


pistachios, dried huckleberries, flake sea salt, dark chocolate



Our fresh huckleberries are small to begin with, but dried, they are like dried currants… small ones. Pop one in your mouth and the flavor is subtle at first, until you get to the chewy center and the concentrated berry essence grows into something wonderful. Huckleberries pair exceptionally well with chocolate. While I enjoy working with chocolate, I am not a fan of eating chocolate – except when huckleberries are involved.

teeny tiny delicious dried huckleberries



Making a chocolate bar is quite straightforward. Melt or temper your chocolate: dark, milk, or white, but really – dark chocolate is the best; mix in your goodies like nuts, dried fruit, crisped rice, candy, etc.; pour into molds and let set. That’s it. But for anyone who has been reading my blog, you know and I know that tempering chocolate is the right way to do this. And please use a good quality chocolate, especially if you are going to honor the great and mighty huckleberry.

melt the chocolate over a water bath

seed the melted chocolate



**Jump for more butter**

a little love

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Recipe: huckleberry pate de fruit

I’m glad the week is over. In addition to prepping our Chinese New Year foods and cleaning the house (because of superstitions), I managed to simultaneously come down with an infection which has left me feeling less than 100%. Next year, I just may allow myself greater leeway when it comes to purchasing rather than making all of the food from scratch.


photo courtesy of jimmy gekas

single digits at devil’s thumb ranch nordic center



But the Lunar New Year and my infection aside, it was politics that made for a pretty craptastic week. It takes an enormous amount of energy to filter out the garbage (both on the left and the right) in order to focus on facts and prioritize actions. I don’t get political in this space because politics are very personal for me, just like I don’t talk about religion here because that, too, is very personal. I discuss these issues with people I respect and care about – reasonable, level-headed, critical thinkers. I have had a handful of people ask me to elaborate on my plan of action. That’s hard to spell out as we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of upheaval, not to mention we all have different pressing local matters. However, at the national level, I feel these organizations are effective in supporting the issues and causes of importance to me:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Common Cause
Nature Conservancy
Planned Parenthood
ProPublica
Southern Poverty Law Center
The Trust for Public Land (TPL)
Union of Concerned Scientists (USA)

I also found this guide to be helpful on how to concentrate my energies when communicating with my elected representatives: Indivisible Guide: Former congressional staffers reveal best practices for making Congress listen.


chinese new year’s eve dinner

chinese new year’s breakfast: potstickers, scallion pancakes, azuki sweet rice cake, satsuma mandarin oranges

a brilliant sunset



Now on to a happier topic… like huckleberries. Despite the fact that we are merely a month into winter, it already feels like spring to me with the ever-so-slightly longer days. Of course, spring in our mountains amounts to generous helpings of snow and that signature Colorado sunshine. I won’t be replenishing my huckleberry stash until late summer (if I’m lucky!), but it’s time to stop hoarding the precious berries in the freezer and start using some in recipes. I’ve made blueberry-pear pâte de fruit in the past, but always had the intention to try a huckleberry pâte de fruit. You can use fresh or frozen huckleberries here, and if you don’t have huckleberries, you can swap in blueberries. If you want to order frozen hucks, google around, there are a number of suppliers who sell them online from the Pacific Northwest. If you forage your own hucks, then you and I are kindred spirits.

sugar, huckleberries, applesauce, lemon, liquid pectin

add two tablespoons lemon juice to the berries

boil for 5 minutes



**Jump for more butter**