LET THEM EAT CAKE: AND OTHER PASTRIES THAT WILL GET YOU INTO TROUBLE

It is one of the most infamous quotes in history, known even by many whose familiarity with the French Revolution is otherwise negligible, if existent at all. It is supposed that in 1789 when told her subjects had no bread, Marie Antoinette–queen of France and wife of King Louis XVI–muttered, “let them eat cake.” It is with this phrase that the queen became the disdained figure of the opulent and immoral monarchy that spawned the French Revolution. It is this callous phrase that served to catalyze the revolution whereby Marie Antoinette would literally lose her head.

According to historians, however, Marie Antoinette never actually said these enraging words. In reality, Marie Antoinette was a charitable and intelligent woman who, despite her indisputably extravagant lifestyle, donated handsomely and cared deeply for the poor provincials of France. Such an insensitive and heartless response to the poverty the French people faced would have been highly uncharacteristic of the queen. Further evidence against the allegation that the queen responded with such insensitivity lies in the fact that the phrase, “let them eat cake,” and others like it, had been attributed to several queens and princesses before Marie Antoinette even reigned. According to Nancy Barker, an Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, the hateful Marie Antoinette known throughout France during the period of the French Revolution was a mere “myth” designed by the desperately radical revolutionaries, “the perfect scapegoat” who “captured the imagination of the masses, aroused their fury, and united them in a frenzy to act.”

Despite the reality that Marie Antoinette never uttered such words, “cake” got her into trouble and eventually brought her to her untimely date with the guillotine. In honor of the French queen and the life of luxury, here are some recipes for other French pastries that can get you into trouble. Surely, you won’t get beheaded for suggesting your friends eat a croissant. But, if you can manage these royally challenging recipes without going grey, it isentirely possible that you’ll gain some unwanted pounds, and that there is trouble enough.

Palmiers

Flaky pastry cookies with a crystalized sugar crust. They’re so light and beautiful, you’ll feel as elegant as Madame Antoinette herself.

Mille Feuille (Napoleon Cake)

You can’t get more classic with your French pastries than this. Translating to “one thousand leaves,” it is the most difficult, time-consuming of pastries to create. It only makes sense that the arduous decadence of this pastry be named after the tiny-bodied, big-headed military figure. Compensation at its finest, ladies and gents.

Tarte Tatin

This famous upside-down apple tart is both rustic and incredibly indulgent. Its asymmetric flaky crust boasts imperfection and balances the heavenly caramelized apples.

French Macarons

Macarons are light as a feather, but incredibly rich. These sophisticated little sweets are quite challenging to master, but immensely satisfying when you do.

Bon appétit!

RETHINKING OATMEAL: IT’S NOT JUST FOR BREAKFAST

Oatmeal is meant to be sweet, right? That’s how most of us see it, anyway. We have it as our morning breakfast with some brown sugar, milk, and berries. We put it in our cookies alongside chunks of chocolate, warm vanilla, and raisins. And we eat it in our cinnamon-and-honey granola bars. Because most of us associate oatmeal with sweetness, we tend to typecast it as such, and we end up getting bored with it for this reason. But we do not give oatmeal the credit it deserves.

Oatmeal is actually quite versatile. I mean, just think about it. Oats are a starchy grain with little flavor on their own. They are a base to which we can add flavor and texture to our choosing. Much like pasta and rice, oatmeal is a pantry staple because it provides a completely blank slate for all sorts of recipes. So, if we’re getting bored with oatmeal, we can only blame ourselves for making it boring.

I, too, was guilty of underestimating the adaptability of oatmeal. I enjoyed it as a breakfast food from time to time, but I got tired of the same old thing. Sure, I switched it up. Maybe instead of brown sugar and raisins, I’d mix in some agave and fresh berries or bananas. Or perhaps I’d toss in some honey, cinnamon, toasted almonds, and apples. Sometimes, I would get a little creative with spices like cardamom, vanilla, almond extract, and even ginger. But no matter how I’d modify it, I stuck to the same sweet design–oats, some form of sugar, and some sweet mix-ins like fruit and nuts–so my oatmeal was always essentially the same.

It was not until I lived in Thailand that I realized the full potential of oatmeal–and all grains in the breakfast cereal category. One of the most common breakfast dishes in Thailand is savory rice porridge, or jook. They cook the rice down with stock until it’s soft and slightly soupy, and they add herbs, spices, eggs, and meats for a hearty, savory meal. While jook is not technically oatmeal, the savory porridge made me rethink the sweet hot cereal paradigm to which I was so accustomed.

Here are some delectable oatmeal recipes that won’t fit into the traditional box:

Savory Mushroom & Herb Steel Cut Oat Risotto

Savory Oatmeal with Crisp Prosciutto, Skellig Cheddar & Poached Egg

Steel Cut Oats with Balsamic Fig Reduction

Vegan Broccoli Cheddar Oatmeal

Brown Butter, Fried Sage, Ricotta Oatmeal

Cajun-Spiced Oatmeal with Red Pepper & Black Beans

Mexican Corn Oatmeal

Oatmeal can only be as flavorful and unique as you make it, so be resourceful and use your imagination to create something different and delicious!


Originally published at newscult.com on April 17, 2015.

PARTY PLANNING LIKE A PRO: A HOW-TO GUIDE

I grew up in a party house. My mom was always a big entertainer, so if ever there was a reason to celebrate, celebrate we did. Dinner parties, holidays, barbecues, or birthdays–whatever the occasion, food was always the common theme. And props to my mom, and all the wonderful hosts of the world, for making it all look so easy! Because let me tell you something about party planning: it is anything but easy. If there is anything I have learned from her over the years about entertaining, it’s to prepare as much as possible ahead of time.

Throwing a party takes a lot of work. Timing is a critical element to the success of any party and also one of the most challenging skills to master in the kitchen. Preparing your food in advance will ensure you’re not slaving away at the stove or scrambling to get everything to the table at the right moment. Making your dishes well in advance will also serve as damage control. You will have time to make adjustments and solve whatever problems may arise, so you can socialize with your guests and enjoy your own party and spread as much as everyone attending does.

Party Planning Tips

  1. Stick to what you know. Make dishes that you’ve prepared at least once before, so you have time to work out the kinks. If you want to wow your guests with something new, test out the recipe a couple of weeks ahead of time to avoid any last-minute surprises.
  2. Menu for success. Avoid made-to-order dishes that will trap you in the kitchen while your guests enjoy the party without you. Sometimes simplicity is best. Plan your menu strategically, keeping (mostly) clear of items that require tons of last-minute prep, super exotic ingredients, or extensive prep and/or cooking times. Casseroles are great for feeding a crowd. Not only are they an excellent way to extend the value of more expensive ingredients like meat and seafood; as one-dish meals, they are ultra convenient. Plus casseroles can generally be frozen or refrigerated for a period before serving and often improve with time, as the flavors meld. Mind-bogglingly versatile, casseroles are the perfect solution for planning a party or even a hectic weekday dinner.
  3. Hard work comes first. Get as much prep work as possible done as long as you can before the event. Look for recipes with “make ahead” instructions. Chop veggies, mix dips, prepare dishes, set the table and decorate early. If your menu items need to be baked fresh, complete as much of the recipe as you can, leaving the oven-time as the only step left on party day. There are many items you can par-bake, as well, so a simple and short reheating is all that’s required on party day. For example, if you’re making a bunch of bacon for your brunch party, slightly under-cook it in the oven a couple of days before, store it in the fridge, and simply pop it back in for a few minutes just before the event. If you’re baking a dessert, either bake it completely a day or two before the party and store it at room temp in an airtight container (cakes, cupcakes, and bars are perfect for this), or prepare the dough of batter and bake it the day of the party if you want it to be hot or crispy (cobblers, crumbles, cookies, and warm desserts).
  4. Clean up as you go. You will save yourself the pain of having to get through an overwhelming mountain of dirty dishes and kitchen surfaces if you clean as you go. If you have a dishwasher (good for you!), start the party off with it empty, so you can fill it up along the way.
  5. Be flexible. Sometimes plans change. Some guests who RSVP’d might not show, and others might bring a friend you hadn’t planned for. Just be sure to go with the flow if something unexpected happens and give yourself some wiggle room so your plans are not totally annihilated just because there is one more or less guest than you expected. It is also important to remember to take it easy on yourself. If something goes wrong, don’t sweat it. If there’s a red wine spill on your rug, or if you burn the pie, just let it go. The party will be much more enjoyable for everyone if you just take it as it comes than if you fuss over something that’s been done. Problem-solve if possible, but be flexible regardless.

Below are some great make-ahead recipes for your convenience.

Recipes

Appetizers:

Artichoke Dip with Fontina

Gorgonzola-Thyme-Stuffed Olives

Marinated Antipasto Platter

Fresh Tomato Bruschetta

Mushroom Turnovers

Sundried Tomato Polenta Bites

Bacon and Cheese-Stuffed Dates

Entrées:

Enchilada Casserole

Coastal Kale Salad

Baked Ziti

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuits

Classic Lasagna

Vegetarian Quinoa & Squash Casserole

Tex-Mex Lasagna

Roasted Delicata Squash with Quinoa Salad

Deb’s Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberries and Pecans

Desserts:

Life-Changing Brown-Butter & Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

Plum Raspberry Crumble

Lemon Curd Tart

Blackberry-Peach Cobbler with Praline-Pecan Streusel

Cocktails:

Premixing cocktails in big batches will save you a lot of the time you’d spend playing bartender, so you can spend more time drinking with your friends. You can simply pour the beverage or leave it to your guests to pour for themselves.

Philly Fish House Punch

Plum Sangria

Greek White Sangria

Champagne Punch

Sunset Punch

Sweet Tea Bourbon

Ruben’s Cooler No. 2

Next time you’re planning a party apply these tips and tricks. Prepare recipes that you can make ahead to spare yourself stress and please your party-goers and yourself!


Originally published at newscult.com on April 10, 2015.