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white and fluffy

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

Recipe: huckleberry meringues

The Front Range got the goods this past Wednesday – 8 inches of snow to replenish our dwindling reserves in the mountains. Since then, our region has been hammered with several unseasonably warm and sunny days. Hey East Coast, I think we should arrange for a trade! Of course, you make due with what you get. I don’t wait for perfect conditions because I’d only get 3 ski days a year around here. I just pick the type of skiing that is best suited for the weather and snow conditions, and get myself outside. It’s all about exercise, the mountains, and fresh air. I do the same in summer, except without the skis.


powder in the glades

putting skins away

skinning up the side of the drainage



It almost felt like summer on Sunday. We skinned up into the backcountry through snow that was fast disintegrating into mashed potatoes, peeling off layers of clothes as the sun rose higher into the sky. Jeremy and I unzipped the side vents in our ski pants and I kept my long-sleeve top on for sun protection rather than for warmth. And this is early February. In the mountains. Above 10,000 feet. I chose this route because Erin was sick over the weekend and told us to ski tour without her. It’s a “No Dogs” trail, which means I would never ask Erin to ski it since No Dogs translates into No Banjo – and Banjo is my puppy buddy.

“It’s just as well,” I muttered to myself as I watched Jeremy make his way up the steepening valley headwall in front of me. The snow was crappy for ski touring and I had already taken Erin on a crappy ski tour the weekend prior (where there wasn’t enough snow). Since I convinced her to pick up skiing and sold her my old gear, I feel obligated to show her how awesome it can be on our local trails. Sadly, the conditions have been less than awesome. Like way less than awesome. But I need to give Erin more credit than that. She’s thrilled to get outside with Banjo to explore our lovely mountains by ski, no matter the lack of snow or overabundance of wind. Aside from Jeremy, Erin is the only person with whom I regularly hike and ski.

On the car ride home from last week’s ski tour, Erin told me she wanted to attempt making meringues. She had heard that our high altitude can cause problems. Was this true? I waved the question away. No, altitude hasn’t posed any problems for me. Meringues are easy. But I told her that I’ve been researching and obsessing over one kind of meringue – all based on a photograph – and I was going to experiment soon. I promised I would report back on my findings. You may or may not have seen the gorgeous giant billowy meringues made famous by Ottolenghi. I’ve actually been oblivious to them until I recently purchased Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Flipping through, looking for savory vegetable recipes, an image of those signature meringues piled high on a cake plate grabbed my attention. What? How? I need to – they’re so beautiful!


frozen huckleberries, lemon, superfine sugar, more superfine sugar, eggs

egg whites, lemon juice, sugar, sugar, huckleberries



Ottolenghi’s raspberry meringues resemble giant dark pink and white variegated roses. I wanted to create those large cloud-like confections, but there were a few issues to address. First off, my meringues always wind up beige instead of white. Second, how does he apply the berry splatter without turning the meringues soggy? Eventually, with the guidance of this article based on Ottolenghi’s technique and some kitchen testing, I managed to create this obsession I’ve had for the past few months. For the sauce, I used frozen huckleberries (foraged from this past summer), but you can easily substitute fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, strawberries… pick your berry.

Use superfine sugar, because it will incorporate and dissolve into the egg whites faster than larger granules of sugar. Spread the sugar out on a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. You’re going to heat this up in a hot oven until it just starts to melt at the edges. When this happens, start whipping the egg whites in a stand mixer on high speed. You really want to use a stand mixer because these need to be whipped for 10 minutes. My arm hurts just thinking about whipping that by hand. You’ll need to move quickly (and carefully) and take the baking sheet out of the oven, lift the parchment (with the sugar) off the pan using oven mitts, and slowly pour the sugar into the whipping egg whites. The directions say not to let the sugar brown in the oven, but mine did a little bit (hey – photographing this stuff makes timing tough). It’s okay, but not ideal. I think if the sugar is liquid (hot), you can pour it into the egg whites, but if you have shards of hardened sugar, don’t add them to the mixer because they won’t dissolve. Also, pour the sugar in on the side of the bowl to avoid any unnecessary excitement. If you pour it directly onto the whisk attachment while it is running, you will have hot sugar flying all over your kitchen.


spread the superfine sugar on a parchment-lined baking sheet

start whipping the egg whites when the sugar begins to melt at the edges

a little too melty, but you get the point

pour the sugar into the egg whites



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no need to fear

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Recipe: chinese fermented sweet rice (jiu niang)

We are two weeks away from the Lunar New Year, which I’ve always known as Chinese New Year. If you are wondering what to make for a party or for your own celebratory dinner, I refer you to my Chinese New Year recipe round up from last year to help give you a few ideas.

I consider myself a very lucky girl. I’ve always been pretty happy (except in graduate school – sheesh) and a little silly and very much loved by my family. It’s that love which anchored me from an early age. Wherever I went and whatever I did as a kid, I had a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. I know now that much of that warm fuzzy was because of Grandma, who was always there for me. We had our routine: a daily walk around the neighborhood, making her bed together every morning (good habits!), putting my hair into cute little pigtails, emptying the sand from my saddle shoes when I got home from school, folding laundry together while watching cartoons. This kind and gentle matriarch would create special Chinese treats from scratch in our 1970s southern Virginia kitchen while I sat on the counter next to her, pretending to be the neighbor’s dog. These memories are so vivid in my mind. I told my friend over the weekend that Grandma has been gone for almost four years and yet I still feel her presence in my heart. She is just that much a part of me.

Last November, when my parents were in Boulder, Mom told me she was going to make jiu niang or Chinese fermented sweet rice. This was one of Grandma’s specialties that I used to sneak spoonfuls of from the refrigerator – that sweet rice porridge floating in rice wine with the slight fizzy tang of fermentation. She would turn it into a hot sweet soup for celebrations or to help kick a cold, flu, or tummy ache. I loved it so much. You can buy it pre-made in Asian grocery stores, but it’s expensive for a pretty small quantity. “Come down and learn how to make it,” Mom commanded. She had been trying for a few years to reproduce Grandma’s recipe, but with mixed results. Now, Mom had finally mastered it with consistency and it meant a lot to her because she too loved, cherished, and missed her mother. It wasn’t something I could put off. Mom and Dad were flying back to Virginia in a few days and as I get older I know not to take time for granted. “Okay, Mom. How about Saturday?”


start with good quality sweet rice

and chinese rice wine yeast



It’s just two ingredients, but you need to get the right two ingredients. You can’t use sushi rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, wild rice, long grain rice, medium grain rice, black rice, whatever rice that isn’t sweet rice – you must use sweet rice. Sweet rice is also known as glutinous rice, which contains no gluten, it’s just really sticky. I’ve shopped around for sweet rice and have seen some bagged varieties with grains that look longish, almost like medium grains. My advice is to get the good stuff. Premium sweet rice resembles short, fat, pearly, oblong grains. As for the Chinese rice wine yeast – it’s jiu qu (see Wikipedia) – a fermentation starter. This one can be tough to find even if you know what you are looking for. It always seems to be tucked away in some random little bin or corner of Asian grocery stores. Luckily for me, Mom had already found them at Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield, so she told me where to look (by the refrigerated canned drinks at the front near the cashiers). If you can’t find it or if the employees in the store act like your Chinese is just THAT BAD, you can order it from Amazon – but you have to order a dozen and they’re four times as much as what I paid (I paid $.79 for two balls).

2.5 pounds of sweet rice (uncooked) and a ball of chinese rice wine yeast

crush the yeast ball with a mortar and pestle

turn it into a powder



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my bloody (orange) valentine

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Recipe: blood orange pâte de fruit

In this final week of January, I’ve watched the snow in my neighborhood practically get up and walk away. Actually, it just melted really, really fast under bright sun and in unseasonably warm 60°F temperatures. For skiers and riders and snow enthusiasts, this is Mother Nature giving us the bird. I did my part though. I got my car washed on Monday and we received a little – just a very little – bit of snow today on the mountain. My hope is for a snowier February because January was a stinker for snowfall. But even without heaps of snow, there are always things to look forward to. For one, Chinese New Year will be February 19th and that means you have to eat ALL OF THE LUCKY FOODS starting on the 18th. I’ll talk more about that next week. And I think some big sports ball event will take place this weekend which will hopefully keep folks off the ski slopes. Then there is Valentine’s Day, which I typically revolt against on principle alone. For a good many years I detested Valentine’s Day for the greed, the guilt, the implications, the sexism, the exclusion. These days, my attitude has shifted. Valentine’s Day, like any other day, is reason to just be nice to people. Be nice. Don’t be a douchebag. Such a good set of rules for life.

One thing that never fails to put a smile on most people’s faces is to hand them a little bag of homemade sweets. I like trying new recipes for desserts, baked goods, and confections. It’s dealing with the aftermath that I dread – like having 63 blood orange pâte de fruits (fruit jellies) on my kitchen counter. Having tasted the first one, I didn’t really need to taste more and certainly not 63 more, which is why I love to bag them up and distribute to friends and family.


sugar, a pat of butter, liquid pectin, blood oranges

juicing the blood oranges

boil one whole orange for 10 seconds



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