Friday, June 29, 2012

Italian Pastries

© Ellen Blonder
I was going through my Italy trip notebook from 2004, and came across this page of sketches of pastries we ate in Rome, Sorrento and Capri. Ah, to have any of those now. Just in case you can't read my scribbles, they include eclairs, a pine nut tart, chocolate cruller, big sugar doughnut, buttery anise rings, chocolate biscotti, cornetto, light custart cruller, ricotta tartlet, cherry tart, dense fruit and nut cookie, budin di riso (rice pudding in a tart shell), apricot tart, dark chocolate with hazelnuts, (more) eclairs (chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, caffe), light coffee eclair, lemon cake, chocolate eclair, pine nut tart (again), brutti-buoni (ugly-good), strawberry mousse tart, and sfogliatelle (a multi-layered, custard-filled bit of heaven).

Yes, we ate them all.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chinese Almond Cookies

© Ellen Blonder, illustration from 
Every Grain of Rice: A Taste of Our Chinese Childhood in America

I spoke at the Mill Valley Public Library last night about my cookbook Every Grain of Rice, and followed up with a pile of almond cookies from a recipe in the book. The recipe, from my father's sister, was originally made with lard, which few people used anymore. For the book, we listed vegetable shortening--Crisco, really. I was thinking about how recipes evolve. This batch was made with organic, non-hydrogenated shortening from Whole Foods Market, which certainly was not available way back when.
Here's the recipe. Please attribute it to the book if you copy it. Enjoy!:
1 cup vegetable shortening (or lard)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
36 blanched almonds
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
With an electric beater, cream together the shortening and sugar until fluffy. Crack the egg into a small bowl, beat it well with a fork, and reserve 1 tablespoonful. Beat the rest of the egg and the vanilla and almond extracts into the sugar mixture until well combined.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda onta a piece of wax paper. Add to the creamed mixture and stur until just blended. The dough will be crumbly but should hold together when squeezed in a ball.
Form the dough into 32 to 36 balls, each about 1 inch in diameter. Place them 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Press a blanched almond into the center of each ball. The edges of thedough will crack slightly. With your fingertips or a small pastry brush, brush the tops of the cookies lightly with the reserved beaten egg.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown. With a spatula, remove the cookies to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spider Lily-Finally Done

© Ellen Blonder
I've made the background tone brighter, added the center details to the flowers, and can finally say I'm done. This painting took way longer than I anticipated because of other things going on.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Spider Lily-Back to Work

© Ellen Blonder
 After a long break, I'm finally getting back to painting. It's hard to get back the feeling for this, but it does feel good to be painting again. Changes are subtle, but I've been refining the leaves and flowers.