This post is my first entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. Click here to see my contestant profile. Voting begins Monday, September 20, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. I appreciate your support!
My name is Jacob, and this is my kitchen. In my kitchen there’s only one rule: make it beautiful, or don’t make it at all.
Join me as I share my passion for food, photography, and entertaining. I will simplify your cooking, inspire you to be fearless in the kitchen, and show you step by step how to recreate beautiful, delicious, homemade meals that anyone would be proud to serve. This is real food, my way.
Here in my kitchen, I focus on traditional heirloom recipes, flavors that we all already know and love, with the volume turned up: stylish comfort food at its best. Cooking should be easy and enjoyable. Simple, fresh ingredients prepared thoughtfully, elevated to something extraordinary. At the end of the day, I want to make food that is uncomplicated, unpretentious, and undeniably good, served in a way that shows my friends and family exactly how much I care about them.
Growing up, my parents never entertained. We very rarely had friends over, and certainly never hosted what might be described as a dinner party. Because of this, I always romanticized the idea of throwing parties and entertaining guests. I watched countless hours of cooking shows, and fantasized about a life like those television chefs had. I dreamed of silver trays, cocktail parties, and unattainably beautiful food. This left me with a deep sense of longing to invite people into my home, starting at a very early age. I remember even as a six and seven year old, waking up early on special occasions to prepare breakfast. Before serving it, I would sneak into the back yard, gather a few fresh flowers, maybe pick a few berries, and then I would come back inside and make sure that the table was arranged perfectly. While my skill set has certainly grown since then, that same desire to express my care and affection for people through food still remains. From the chargers to the flatware, from the table cloth to the effortless fold in your perfectly pressed napkin, what that beautifully set table is actually saying is, I care about you.
My photography has now become an extension of that beauty: a way of taking food, such a temporal medium, and transforming it into something lasting. People often jokingly refer to my blog as being like “food porn.” But I think that’s exactly what it really is. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I believe that the food images are meant to be erotic. Certainly not. But they are designed to be tantalizing. It is always my goal to capture each dish in such a way as to evoke the desire to both eat the food, and even more importantly, to make it. While I am very new to food photography, photographing the food that I make is slowly becoming an obsession of mine. Luckily, this blog has provided me with the perfect platform to share it all with you.
My favorite recipes in the kitchen are those that seem extremely complicated, but that are, in reality, extremely simple. I like to call these my “fabulous fake outs,” and I can’t think of a better example than crème brûlée: an inexpensive, but perfectly elegant dessert that ranks among the world’s most decadent treats. It feels so luxurious, and seems so complex, but, truth be told, it is almost embarrassingly simple to make. Best of all, it can be prepared days in advance and assembled right before serving, making it perfect for entertaining. You can flavor it in any way that you want: with chocolate, Grand Marnier, lemon, espresso, amaretto, green tea, Irish cream, etc. The possibilities are really endless. Here the addition of honey, lavender, and vanilla makes this custard extra special. The lavender adds a subtle but distinctly floral flavor, much in the same way that bergamot perfumes Earl Grey tea. The sweet honey is a perfect backdrop, echoing the flavors of the lavender, and it is all rounded out beautifully by the soft, sweet, creamy vanilla. Add to that the crunchy, caramelized sugar crust, and this dessert just feels like a vacation. Everyone loves it, and no one has to know how incredibly simple it was to make.
I start by lining up eight individual ramekins in a roasting pan filled with about an inch of very hot tap water. In the bottom of a saucepan set over medium heat, I combine four cups of heavy cream with one vanilla bean (sliced down the middle and scraped of its seeds), one heaping tablespoon of dried culinary lavender, a third of a cup of honey (or to taste), and a large pinch of salt. Once the mixture reaches a boil, I take it off of the heat and allow the flavors to steep for five minutes. I then return the pan to medium heat, and bring it back to just below boiling.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, I whisk together one whole egg, eight egg yolks, and a splash of pure vanilla extract. I strain the hot cream mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the lavender buds and vanilla bean, and, while vigorously whisking, slowly pour the cream into the egg mixture until fully incorporated. I divide the custard between the eight ramekins and bake at 300º for one hour, or until they are just set, but still ever so slightly jiggly in the center. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow them to come to room temperature. Cover and chill for at least two hours but for up to five days.
When you are ready to serve, sprinkle a small spoon full of granulated sugar onto the top of each, making sure it is evenly distributed, and then slowly pass the flame of a kitchen torch over the surface to caramelize the sugar. (Don’t have a kitchen torch? Never fear. Heat your broiler to its highest setting, place the rack approximately six inches from the element/flame, and broil your sugar covered custards for anywhere between thirty seconds and two minutes, watching carefully as not to let them burn.) Let the caramelized custards sit for a minute or so, allowing the sugar crust to harden. Serve it up on its own or garnished with a few fresh berries, then sit back and enjoy the applause.
My posts here on Jacob’s Kitchen are my daily meditation, and I hope daily inspiration to you to invite a little more beauty into your lives, to take more chances in the kitchen, and to give the food that you prepare and the thought that you invest into presenting it the respect that it really deserves. Cooking for our families is a sacred undertaking. What could be more important than doing it well? It’s easy. Follow me, and I’ll show you how.