April 30, 2008

Las Vegas, Part I: not your typical Vegas

So I was not able to post from the road because I left my computer at home. It's a long story and it took us a looooooong time to get to Las Vegas due to delayed flights, missed connections, incompetence at the airlines, etc. I'm still trying to forget that part of the trip but note to self: never fly United and never fly to LV unless it's direct.

That being said, we had a great time visiting my family for a few days and I am more convinced than ever that the Spring is the best time to go there. Have you ever seen the desert in bloom? It is a sight to behold (see above). All the years I lived there growing up and I had never seen the beautiful colors of orange and yellow, purple and blue that cover the desert floor from April until June. We took a nice hike on our last day there and I have to say it was a highlight of the trip.

Now for what you're really here for --the food. I am going to divide our four days into a few different posts. That way I can manage it all and keep it brief. The trip was not a culinary odyssey by any means, although some of the best chefs in the world have outposts in Vegas and there is plenty of great food to be found. But most of that takes place on the Strip and for the tourists. When I go home, I go directly to my dad's place on the west side of town --15 minutes from Red Rock national park and never set foot on the Strip or downtown unless I absolutely have to.

So, this trip was like most of them in that we ate in a few of our favorite local places, most of them pretty humble and good, and I cooked at home. Except that my brother brought 10 friends from NYC with him to visit the same weekend. They were all great and we all had fun... more on that later too.

Day 1

Straight from the airport --do not stop -- to LOS TACOS.

There is only one, and it is, as they say on their business card "simplemente lo mejor." Simply the best. Our favorite taqueria has been around for a while and the owners have no intention of expanding. They have one location and it is always packed, day or night, weekday or weekend with families, businessmen, construction workers, white people, mexicans, and everyone in between. That's because you won't get a better taco anywhere else in the city. They're messy and big and packed with only the freshest ingredients and mexican meats.

The menu is refreshingly simple: you have your choice of meats and that's it. I always get 'al pastor' (marinated pork) and my dad always, I mean always, gets 'lengua' (tongue). Other options are carnitas (pork), carne asada (beef), chorizo, cabeza (beef head), pollo, and jamon y queso. You order at the counter, you take a number and when they call your number you better know Spanish so you can get up quick and go get those delicious tacos.

You can't stop at one, but more than two will kill you, unless you skip the grilled beef flour quesadilla, which we never do.
You wash it all down with a yummy and traditional 'agua fresca' (just the fruit and water) in your choice of watermelon, strawberry, mango, almond milk or tamarind.

To me, this is Mexican food at its most stripped down and authentically simple. Just the facts. Just Los Tacos. It doesn't get much better than this and I miss it already.

Los Tacos
1710 E. Charleston Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89104

April 24, 2008

fiesta mexicana

Ok, so I'm on a Mexican kick and it's not a coincidence. I am preparing for a trip out to Las Vegas to visit my dad (he lives there and no, not on the Strip). And when I'm in Vegas the only thing I want to eat is Mexican food. Maybe because I grew up eating my grandmother's authentic food at my family's Mexican restaurant, Viva Zapata. Mmmmm... those flavors are a distant memory now, but there are still a LOT of great places to eat Mexican food in L.V. and I can't WAIT to get there, eat in them and then tell you about it. Yep, right here, direct from Sin City, I will be posting once or twice from my dad's house. So stay tuned.

But in the meantime, I had to tide myself over for a couple of days and ready the appetite. It just so happened that I had these ingredients on hand:

And these too...

What would YOU do? Tacos y margaritas. Hombre. (the good kind, with fresh limes, no sugary mixes).

I started by chopping my condiments: radishes, cilantro and arugula (it had to get used), onion and one jalapeno pepper.

I then made a quick salsa verde by sauteeing the onions and peppers, then added one large fresh chopped tomato and a can of old el paso green chiles. Yes, I am Mexican and I wouldn't normally use chiles from a can, but these had been in my pantry a while and I needed them - pronto. I let that cook for a bit and the spicy, sweet aroma filled the house. It would be just the tangy heat needed to flavor the meat.

I did make Daniel run to the store for two organic chicken breasts, more limes, and a bag of chips. The corn tortillas were given to me by my friend and co-worker, Rocio. She's from Veracruz, Mex. and is the cutest, smallest person in the world. And she gave me the pepper too. I asked her where she'd bought them and she said "al mercado chino" (the chinese market). I took that to mean K&S World Market. The tortillas were of a much better quality than the kind I see in my usual yuppy stores.

I like to heat my tortillas (always corn) one at a time in a skillet with NO oil. Just to brown them a little and warm them. They can be wrapped in foil and kept warm in a 150 degree oven until you're ready to eat.

I seasoned the chicken breasts and squeezed a lime on them before putting them on the grill. They were done in no time. I let them sit and when I could touch them, I shredded the chicken into small strips. I served everything at the table separately and we made our own tacos, filling them exactly as we wanted them.

I topped mine with homemade creme fraiche. I may use green chiles from a can, but I make my own sour cream. So there.

And lest you think I slacked off on dessert, I made one of my favorite things my granny used to make for a treat: arroz con leche. If you've never made rice pudding I don't know why. It's so easy and so delicious. The recipe for this one is from an old book that I cherish that belonged to my parents. It's from 1967 and it's called The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. Its tattered edges and lack of photography make me love it even more. It has things in there like nopales (cactus) con queso, cochinita pibil (barbecued suckling pig yucantan style) and budin de pina (pineapple pudding). It is a jewel in my collection. And this rice pudding is all you need to know.

arroz con leche

1/2 c raisins
1/4 c sherry
1/2 c rice
lemon rind
pinch of salt
4 c milk
1 c sugar
1 egg yolks, beaten
toasted almonds

Cook the rice in 1 c water with lemon rind and salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cook until water is evaporated. Remove the rind; add the milk, sugar, cinnamon to taste and cook uncovered over low heat until all the milk has been absorbed. When rice is cooked, stir in egg yolks and raisins and cook a few minuted longer. Sprinkle with almonds and serve cold.

April 21, 2008

jalapeno primavera ?

I think I may have accidentally created a new (and improved) version of Pasta Primavera. You know the one that's often served up in poor excuses for Italian restaurants, with all kinds of vegetables, even ones not even close to being in season in Spring?

Well, I had nothing prepared for dinner and no desire to go to the store. It was a lazy Sunday (except that we went on a 35 mile bike ride with really fast boys from eastside cycles) and all I had the energy to do was grab what I saw in the fridge and make something up. So that's what I did.

[By the way, I highly recommend doing this once in a while, not only as a way to clean out your refrigerator, but also to get your creative juices flowing. I am as gulity as anyone of clinging to my cooking magazines, my cookbooks and my tried and true recipes as if without them, I would be nobody. Well, I would at least not know how to cook. But that's not true, I am learning. Sometimes you just have to put down the cookbook and walk away. And then see what happens]...

So I took out some little spring onions, some spinach, a bunch of baby arugula, some snow peas, and a jar half-full of capers. Then I grabbed a lemon and a couple of roma tomatoes (which I usually don't have this time of year but there they were) and a box of linguine. Oh - and a random jalapeno pepper.

I first made a 'gremolata' of capers, arugula (because I didn't have any parsely) and grated lemon zest and mixed it with olive oil, then set it aside.

Then I sauteed the onion and some garlic in olive oil, then added the diced jalapeno pepper. Now here's where it gets wacky. I usually don't mix that kind of thing with my pasta sauces, but for some reason it sounded good. See? This is what I mean by getting the creative juices flowing. Before I started this cooking and blogging thing, I never would have had the confidence to put a jalapano pepper in a pasta dish and there I was--living on the edge.

When they were softened, I added the diced tomatoes to my pepper and onion mixture, boiled my salted water, added the pasta and reserved a cup of the cooking water. After draining the pasta, I added the onions and peppers, then the water and the spinach which wilted from the steam, and a few glugs of olive oil and fresh grated parmesan cheese. It was starting to come together. Although I thought, "This may be weird," I was excited at the prospect of a new Pasta Primavera, invented by moi.

And when I tossed it into a bowl and topped it with the gremolata and another glug of olive oil, it looked downright delicious. And, you know what? It was! We loved it. Here's to mixing things up in the kitchen. Go ahead. Give yourself permission. You might be pleasantly surprised.

April 19, 2008

a yearning for biscuits

Okay. You wake up on a Saturday morning and you find yourself, of all unlikely things, living in the South, with a Southerner in Nashville, Tenn. What happens when you then find yourself craving all kinds of unnatural things for breakfast (since you grew up in a Mexican-Italian household where breakfast was either huevos rancheros or Mom's special thin pancakes?) You make buttermilk biscuits, of course!

I will admit I've tried all kinds of biscuits since living here-- the ones from the Loveless cafe, and the ones from that weird place out in the country with Jesus paraphernalia all over the walls, and I'll even confess to trying the kind from a cardboard cylinrdrical pop-open thing (he made me). And recently, we tried some "all natural" (?) frozen variety from the local health food store. But we all know there's nothing healthy about biscuits, nor should there be. That's why they're not an everyday thing. But, as I quickly learned, when you get a craving, you gotta have some biscuits.

But the best kind of biscuit --even IF you didn't grow up with a Southern grandma in the kitchen-- are the kind you make from scratch, steamy and hot, right out of the oven. There are many, many recipes out there and I'm sure they're all the best according to their author, and I say go with it. Do whatever it takes, but just make yourself some biscuits already.

At work yesterday we made them with AP flour and polenta and TWO LBS of butter! Yep, that's right, two pounds of butter. It made about 30 biscuits and they WERE delicious, but still, that was an industrial sized amount of butter. We egg washed them, scattered herbs on the top and served them with fresh local honey and housemade strawberry-rhubarb jam. They were a hit.

But the ones I made one day in my kitchen were just as good, even without the two pounds of butter. I found the recipe in that issue of Gourmet from January this year which I hope you all have, even if you don't live in the South. It was all on Southern cooking and was a tremendous tribute to this region and its important culinary hertiage. That issue stays with me forever.

Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from Scott Peacock's recipe found in Gourmet, Jan. 2008)

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T plus 1 t baking powder
1 T kosher salt
1/2 cup cold lard ( *if you don't have lard, why not? just use butter or shortening)
1 1/2 c. cold buttermilk (* I make my own using milk and lemon juice)
3 T unsalted butter, melted (for brushing the tops - optional)

Preheat oven to 500 with rack in middle
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl
Add butter or lard, coating with flour, then use fingertips to mix until coarsely blended with some lumps of butter
Make a well in flour mixture, then add buttermilk and mix --but not too much! just until it comes together (it will be soft and sticky)
Turn dough out on floured surface and roll to 1 and a 1/2 in thick; fold dough over itself and roll again.
Using your biscuit round or round cookie cutter, cut out as many as you can, without twisting the cutter.
Bake, almost touching on ungreased sheet until crusty and golden brown, about 12 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter (or just brush with egg wash before baking).
Serve warm with jam and honey, or however you like your bicuits. There won't be any left over, I promise!

April 15, 2008

Some memorable meals

So things have been backing up over here and I've got a lot to blog about.

First, it is clear from all the green in my photos that Spring is in full swing. I am LOVing the beautiful artichokes, asparagus and spinach at the market. And, the first signs of Spring are in my garden too --with the seeds in the ground for peas, radishes, romano and yellow beans, lettuces... and the first little sprouts of arugula are shooting up already. So, while we're not in the clear yet (there was frost on the car just this morning), it does seem to be almost here.

One night, our dinner consisted of just huge globe artichokes dipped in butter and lemon juice, and roasted asparagus with olive oil and salt. Simple and to the point.

On the next night, we needed some protein so I had bought a boneless sirloin steak on a whim (it looked so good) and I cooked an easy recipe for Steak and Olives I had seen somewhere for inspiration. But really, no recipe necessary; just use brined olives, green or black, lots of garlic and chili peppers cooked in olive oil, and then pour that over the sliced pan-fried steak over a bed of baby arugula with lemon. I loved the tangy olives with the bite in the garlic-chili oil which complemeted the flavors of the meat perfectly.

And, for dinner last night I invited my friend and co-worker Betsy and her husband over for dinner. Was I nervous cooking for someone who cooks for a living? Yes. Should I have been? Yes. Well, not really. Betsy is the most unassumingly excellent cook I know. She can do literally everything in the kitchen from pastry to savory to breads and soups, French, Italian, everything. She's also cooked in a number of great places from Austin to New York and Chicago. I am lucky to work with this lady.

So what to do? I kept my Spring theme and settled on an appetizer of crostini with two different spreads (sorry no photo of the finished product, and they were so cute too!) One was a chick pea and garlic puree, and the other was a fresh pea and mint spread. Both turned out great. We sipped Prosecco and nibbled on those in the kitchen while I finished the rest of the meal.

These are the chick peas I had soaked overnight; then simmered with celery, carrot, garlic, potato and parsley until tender, then mashed, seasoned with dried chili flakes, generous amount of salt and lemon, olive oil.

Then, our first course was a soup that was the epitome of Spring. I found it in the River Cafe Italian Two Easy cookbook that Claudia inspired me to buy recently. It had potatoes and pancetta, asparagus and spinach, pureed and garnished with fried asparagus tips and drizzled with olive oil (again, I did not have my wits about me to take photos of the final dish). But it looked like this as it progressed...

The main course was a roasted chicken (an old standby) with lots of crisp flavor and creamy polenta. Simple and honest. Homey even.

And for dessert, because I know better than anybody that Betsy has a sweet tooth: a delicious blueberry-lemon-olive oil cake (from Jamie O's Italy) served up with a healthy portion of lemon cream (homemade lemon curd and whipped cream). I love anything with lemon cream on the side, but this was a cake that complemented the simple, rustic quality of the meal without too much excess. And it was delicious for breakfast too!

One thing I've learned is that it never helps to get nervous to cook for people. Sure, there is always lots of pouring over cookbooks, planning menus and all that, but in the end if I am organized and my intentions are good (that I just want to give to friends) I always end up making a memorable meal AND enjoying myslef while I'm at it. Just don't expect me to do the dishes.

April 11, 2008

Aperitivo hour

It is nearing that time of year when the days get longer and the weather warmer, and the time between work and dinner seems to stretch out, offering up an array of fun things to do that we don't do in winter. Like hanging out on the porch sipping a cocktail with our neighbors, or just the two of us in the backyard, for our little "aperitivo."

I picked up the habit in Italy about the same time I picked up my coffee addiction. No other culture understands the importance of the 'before dinner hour' quite like the Italians do (except for maybe the French, but since I think Italians do everything better, I am going to be partial here). And for Italians, the 'aperitivo' it is a ritual they will not be denied --as ingrained in their social consciousness as the morning 'cappuccino al bar.' Both rituals involve something inherently social, and something to look forward to each day as if that day was the last one you could enjoy it. But then you get to wake up the next day and have your coffee standing at your favorite bar with your favorite barista, and on the way home from work, stop by another favorite bar for your aperitivo before going home to dinner.

Of course, now that I think of it, it's kind of a male ritual, since someone has to be home preparing dinner between 7-8pm, as all Italians eat their dinner at the same time each day, and we all know who that 'someone' is. But of course that is changing too, as fewer people are living traditional lifestyles with strictly codified gender roles anymore. Most aren't even marrying at all, and Italy has the lowest birthrate in all of Europe. So more and more women are taking up the aperitivo habit and drinking one or two right alongside their male counterparts.

Sometimes the drink of choice is a glass of wine, or a beer, and every city has their own unique 'aperitivo' too, but often they drink these fun little brightly colored, distinctively Italian "bitters" like my personal favorite, Campari. It is bright red and has a spicy flavor with an underlying trace of bitter orange.

As I read in a fantastic little book called simply 'aperitif', by Georgeanne Brennan:

"It is created by macerating herbs in water and alcohol to create an infusion that is then blended with more alcohol and sugar to create the final drink."

Created in Milan in the 1860s by a bartender named Gaspare Campari, it is now sold worldwide and figures in many, many drinks such as the Negroni or the Americano (with gin, vermouth and bitters) but mostly it's served over ice, with a splash of soda and a silce of orange. This is how I like it.

Together with a pre-dinner drink whose purpose is to stimulate the appetite, Italians also would never drink alcohol without nibbling on somthing, so a bar will have little "stuzzichini" set out: little plates of nuts or fried things, olives, cheese or salumi. Just a little something to whet the appetite even more and make the drink go down smoothly.

Everyone who has lived with me or near me has gotten into the 'aperitivo' hour. It's addictive. Even my man, who doesn't even like to drink that much, is hooked on Campari in the summer. In fact, "aperitivo' is one of the only Italian words he knows. And really, it's about the most important one to know anyway. That, and "motorino," my other little fixation.

Campari and soda

3 or 4 ice cubes
2 ounces Campari
2 ounces of soda water, chilled
thin slices of orange or orange peel

Put the ice cubes in a chilled glass and pour the Campari over them. Pour in the soda water and stir. Add the orange garnish if desired. Serve--and enjoy-- at once!

April 8, 2008

Poached salmon with herb and caper vinaigrette

I've never been much for cooking fish, except I do make a mean paella. I love shellfish, though, and salmon for me has always been just ok, but I never LOVE it. Until I tried poaching it.

I bought some salmon just because it looked good in the case but with no plans in mind. Then, serendipitously, my new issue of Cook's Illustrated arrived with a recipe for "Flavorful Poached Salmon." I'll spare you all the science and exacting details of the author's research but suffice it to say, they were right again. The salmon was perfectly cooked and full of flavor, not dry or flaky as it sometimes is when grilled or sautéed.

The technique, called a "shallow poach," essentially recreates a fish poacher in your sautée pan. Maybe you own a fish poacher, but I don't do it enough to warrant owning one. Laying the fish on top of lemon slices and parsley stems keeps the bottoms of the fish from overcooking while small amounts of liquid (water and white wine) allow the salmon to cook at a lower temperature, preserving the flavor. Marvelous idea. I highly recommend it.

Poached salmon with herb and caper vinaigrette (excerpted from Cook's Illustrated May/June 2008)

2 lemons (one sliced into 1/4 in slices, the other reserved for serving)
2 T chopped fresh parsley leaves, stems reserved
2 T chopped fresh tarragon leaves (I used what I had which was thyme)
2 small shallots (about 4 T) minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
2 skinless salmon fillets
2 T capers
1 T honey
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Place lemon slices in pan, then parsely stems and 2 T shallots over them and lay the fish skin side down on top of that. Add wine and water.

Set pan over high heat and bring liquid to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover; cook until it looks done (opaque, about 12 minutes). You could insert a thermometer and if it reads 125, it's done.

Cover fish on a plate with tented foil and return pan to heat. Reduce liquid to about half, 4 to 5 minutes. Combine remaining 2 T shallots, chopped herbs, capers, honey and olive oil in bowl. Strain cooking liquid into bowl and whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I served the salmon over brown basmati rice and poured the sauce over it with meyer lemon wedges on the side. We drank (and I cooked with) my new Spring favorite-goes-with-anything white wine, a Wachau Grüner Veltliner ($12 at Woodland Wine).

Give this a try. It'll turn you into a poacher, in a good way.

April 6, 2008

Seasonal dinner #3

I wrote previously on the seasonal cooking club that I started this year with some friends interested in learning about what is in season when. We then look around do see what we can find here, prepare our parts of the meal, and get together for a dinner party based on seasonal ingredients. It can be hard sometimes to figure out what produce is in season locally, though eating locally and seasonally are two different things.

For example, right now in some of the cooking magazines I read they have recently started including a section on seasonal ingredients (see bon appetit's new "at the market" section), a general indication of what's in season generally and some recipes on how to prepare those things. Early Spring brings us asparagus, artichokes, carrots, peas and lettuces. Whether they are grown here in Tennessee is another story. This is where the difference between buying seasonal or local comes in.

I, like most people I know, was so eager to see the first signs of Spring at the grocery store in the form of lovely green asparagus and artichokes! They were practically falling off the stands at Whole Foods, abundant in all their glory. But come to find out, they're not local at all--these came from California (the asparagus) and some varieties came all the way from Peru! But I learned that they're on their way here in our gardens too, for those of you who have the patience to grow them--it takes 3 years before you even see the first crop!

I learned that last bit at an organic gardening workshop I attended at Eaton's Creek Organics on Saturday. We talked about composting and worm castings, beneficial bugs and how to till the soil with manual tools (all really cool stuff), but the best part about it was seeing what was actully growing right now, which wasn't much. But the first few asparagus stalks were starting to come up like triumphant symbols of Spring and fortitude. Tana, the farmer, went around and pulled a few out of the ground and handed them to us to eat. I have never tasted anything so good and so fresh in my whole life! It was literally like a bite of Spring.

When I got home to prepare my dish for the party with the asparagus I'd bought at W.F., the taste test yielded a predictable result: there was no comparison between the flavor of the one picked in Calif. --who knows how many weeks ago-- and trucked across the country, and the one I had eaten right out of the ground yesterday. I realize this might seem obvious, but experiencing it first-hand instead of just reading or hearing about it was very enlightening.

Back to my dish. After much deliberation and changing my mind at least six times, I decided to try a recipe from the april issue of bon appetit. It was an asparagus-ricotta tart with comté cheese.

It called for one sheet of frozen puff pastry. You may think it's strange that I use that store-bought stuff, being a pastry geek and all, but that is one thing of the frozen variety that we use from time to time even at the restaurant because it is so very difficult and time consuming to replicate all those flaky layers of thin pastry. And, I'm told it isn't any better than the frozen stuff. So I bought a box with two square sheets in it and used them both to make two tarts, one with the soppressata the recipe calls for, and one without for the vegetarians at the party.

Both were equally yummy and easy to make and I will definitely make this again. I may even try it with fruit or other veggies and different cheeses. The comté (a french gruyere) was perfect on it, and the skinny little asparagus looked pretty. The soppressata was a bit too oily though, and next time I would use a dry salami.

The main dish at the party was a braised chicken with artichokes and mushrooms made by Amanda and a first course of parsnip soup with garam masala made by Catherine; and dessert was a gingerbread with vanilla ice cream and rum sauce made by Laura. We drank our share of good wines--mostly whites from Austria (Grüner Veltliner was the winner as it goes really well with green vegetables).

So I stocked up on artichokes, asparagus and big, beautiful radishes in anticipation of some Spring cooking. More on what I'll do with them soon!

April 2, 2008

all in a day's work

I was feeling bad about not having anything to write/blog about tonight because dinner was just a salad with tuna and last night's was so not memorable I can't even remember.

But then it occured to me that part of this blog's original purpose was to chronicle not just my home cooking adventures, but also the ones I am encountering every day at work, in a *real* kitchen. How silly of me to not include more of that here, where it belongs. After all, it is still my cooking, even though I do it in a restaurant. While I don't consider myself a professional chef, not even by a long shot, and not even a professional cook, or pastry cook, still I sometimes have to remind myself that someone is paying me to cook, to bake, to learn and to create and these stories need to be told!

So I am vowing to myself that before this pastry gig is up (because, really, who knows when that could be? It could be tomorrow or it could be next year; I started it with uncertainty about my future and my future seems more uncertain than ever...) But before it is over and just a memory, I want to report some of it here.

So here it goes... some funny and/or interesting or educational or disappointing things that happened at work lately:

I made my first batch of cinnamon sticky buns --improvised because I had no directions and just knew they had to be done by 10am for an order. I forgot to (or didn't know to) put the buns face down in the sticky pecan stuff *before* putting them in the oven, and instead baked them --naked-- and then had to warm the sticky stuff in the oven, then put the buns in pan upside-down and turn the whole thing (with about 16 buns inside) over in one move. Whoa. But it worked!! And, after several minutes, the sticky stuff did harden like it's supposed to and it stayed on and they were delicious! Disaster narrowly averted. In fact, my boss commented on how great they looked the next day, and so did the customer. Oh, and here's the best part: I had extra and sent two of them out to my favorite regular who will remain nameless and his wife and they ate every single crumb. Probably even licked their famous fingers. His name rhymes with Black Night. The end.

Oh and yesterday I made AND decorated my first whole cake: a strawberry-rhubarb mascarpone cream cake.** This is big because so far (the cakes are new on the menu) I have only been baking the cake layers and the big boss does the decorating. But I got to do it from start to finish because it was his day off and I think it came out great--three layers of sponge cake, brushed with rhubarb compote then layered with mascarpone and strawberries, and then covered in smoothed whipped cream with piped swooshes and fresh strawberries on top. My first professional-looking fancy pants cake. I was proud of myself.

And what else? I made a beautiful half-sheet pan of raspberry pecan cheesecake bars today --for the first time-- that came out really well with swirls of raspberry and cream and pecans sprinkled on top, baked until golden brown on the edges. My timing is getting better and I know when things are done now. I don't have to rely only on the timer, but instead use all of the senses: sight, touch, smell...well, not taste. Except when I sneak a lick from the bowl before putting it in the dishwasher. But then I always go right to the hand sink and wash my hands, I promise.

And, lest you think my days are filled with successes and accomplishments, I also burned two trays of meringue cookies and two loaves of brioche this week because I was distracted by a hectic breakfast rush. It's all in a day's work.

**ps: that's not my cake up there, but close.