Friday, December 21, 2007

More Christmas Baking

I'm leaving today for Chicago so this will be my last post until after the Christmas holiday. I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and also to recap a few more recipes I made for gift giving this year. I knew right away that I wanted to make this recipe (top picture) for Apple Cranberry Bread because I had an abundance of apples and two bags of fresh cranberries to use up. I found it in the Allrecipes website which I frequent. The bread baked so nicely in the mini loaf pans I used and the apples and cranberries bursted beautifully giving the loaf such a pretty color and the feeling of the holidays. It really was perfect for wrapping up and giving away.

Also on the Allrecipes site was a recipe for cranberry and pistachio biscotti. I think biscotti make a good choice of cookie to give because of its sturdiness, not to mention how good they taste! These were exceptionally yummy with a texture that was a bit softer than the usual rock-hard biscotti I'm a little more familiar with. Perfect for dipping into that mug of hot cocoa.

The other cookies I made come from the Martha Stewart website. They are called mocha slice cookies and incorporate cocoa nibs in the cookie dough. In case you're not too familiar with what these are, gourmetsleuth.com says, "cocoa nibs are perfectly roasted cocoa beans separated from their husks and broken into tiny bits. They are the essence of chocolate." That last statement is certainly true! The nibs added a bit of crunch and a smoky, dark chocolate flavor to the cookie. The addition of espresso powder (or instant coffee powder) gave the cookies such a rich, deep flavor that it felt like I was eating a cup of coffee!
Happy baking (and eating) to everyone out there. Enjoy yourselves!





Monday, December 17, 2007

The Midnight Rum

This year I'm making, and giving away rum balls as part of my Christmas baking repertoire. I actually tried making rum balls once in my life, oh, maybe two years ago but for some reason, I failed. The rum balls turned out rather runny and didn't really stay in a "ball" form at all. More like a rum pancake. And it wasn't just the appearance that didn't quite cut it; I remember giving one to my boyfriend to try and bless his heart, he did take a taste, but after a second or two, made a face that told me, 'better luck next time'. Discouraged with that, I had no interest in giving rum balls another try. That is, until I read about this recipe for Midnight Rum Balls which uses Oreo cookies in place of the traditional vanilla or chocolate wafer cookies that you may typically find. I think the key in keeping a certain degree of "firmness" in your rum ball is in the amount of rum you add. Put a little too much in there, and you just might end up with a pancake instead of a ball. Believe me, I've been there.

Midnight Rum Balls (adapted from a recipe found on Chowhound.com)
ingredients:
Oreo Cookies (or any other type of chocolate sandwich cookie)-about 24 of these
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/3 cup rum (can substitute with whiskey if you'd like)
Extra fine granulated sugar to roll the balls in
Crushed peppermint to roll balls in (optional of course)!

directions:
1. Crush the cookies until they are fine crumbs (best to use a food processor for this)
2. In a medium bowl, combine the cookies with the powdered sugar, walnuts if using, and cocoa powder and mix.
3. Next, add the corn syrup and the rum and stir ingredients until combined.
4. Using wet hands (because the dough is very sticky), make 1 inch balls and then roll into the granulated sugar, and if you'd like, roll them in crushed peppermint sticks for that holiday look.
5. Store the rum balls in a tight-fitting container; remember, rum balls actually taste better and better a day or two after making them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Easy As Apple Pie

Ever since I was a little kid I've had a fondness for caramel apples. Well, who doesn't right? I remember my parents used to shop at a big department store called Fedco years ago which also had a grocery store inside it. There you could find the best caramel apples: humongous sized apples, covered in thick gobs of caramel and smothered with nuts. Every time they shopped there my brother and I would get excited because we knew what treat they'd be bringing home for us. Nowadays, I don't indulge so much in caramel apples but I do enjoy having one every now and then, and so does my boyfriend. Usually, we buy them at the local Ralph's or Von's grocery store, and if we're lucky enough, we might even find them on sale that week. Recently though, I was inspired to make my own caramel apples, especially after finding this recipe called Caramel Apple Pie On A Stick from the Food Network website. It seemed pretty easy and the title of the recipe caught my attention. It also uses cinnamon sticks in place of the wooden stick you typically find on a caramel apple which I thought was pretty cute. I think the hardest part of this recipe was taking the individual caramels out of the wrappers. Boy, that was tough! Otherwise, the second hardest part might be stopping yourself from eating the entire batch of caramel apples. Hope you enjoy.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

An Ode To Carbs...Homemade Pretzels

I am the first to admit that my pretzels really do not look like your traditional soft pretzel. Maybe a pretzel-goldfish is more accurate? Well, what can I say, I'm a little challenged in the pretzel-forming arena! In any case, I was pretty pleased with the way these "pretzels" turned out. Right out of the oven, they were especially soft and slightly chewy, and the sprinkling of coarse sea salt gave these a really nice flavor. I thought about baking these for Christmas gifts but discovered that to truly experience the deliciousness of it all, the lucky recipient really ought to receive the pretzels soon after baking. I'm talking maybe an hour or so after coming out of the oven. If that's not possible though and you'd still like to give someone these homemade pretzels, then just remember to tell them that a quick zap in the microwave ought to do the trick (I discovered this even a couple days after baking--the pretzel actually did become soft and chewy again). I cannot even remember where I found this recipe but I had it in my recipe file and recall making them once before. If you give this a try, let me know what you think and maybe someone out there can give me some tips on pretzel shaping? Enjoy!

Soft Baked Pretzels
1 package dry yeast
1 and 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 cups AP flour (I used unbleached)
1 beaten egg
Coarse sea salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water; add sugar and flour and mix. Dough will be soft but not sticky. Add a little more flour if it is too sticky. Let dough rise for 30 minutes.
2. Cut dough into 12 pieces. Roll pieces of dough into 16-inch ropes. To make pretzels, curve ends of each rope to make a circle; cross ends at top, twist ends once and lay down over bottom of circle (or, be like me and shape them like goldfish)!
3. Spray cookie sheet with baking spray and arrange pretzels on sheet. Brush on egg and sprinkle with coarse salt if you'd like.
4. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden in color.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simple and Satisfying

Apple desserts are some of my favorites to eat and to make, so when I came across a recipe that incorporated both apples and puffed pastry the other day, I wanted to give it a try. Okay, I admit, what really made me want to try it was the fact that the recipe had minimal ingredients and sounded relatively simple to prepare (the key is using prepared puffed pastry). At the same time however, the end result was a dish that looked elegant and delicious, not to mention labor intensive. The lovely food blog Ceres and Bacchus posted this recipe for tarte aux pommes (French apple tarte). I sprinkled some cinnamon over the tarte after it came out of the oven and then dolloped it with whipped cream. Dare I say that this tarte reminded me of a more sophisticated McDonald's apple turnover?? Just to clarify, that's a definite compliment! Trust me, this was good!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I've Got The Blues


Fortunately, I'm only talking about the "blues" as in blueberries here. For breakfast this morning, we had a deliciously rich blueberry buttermilk tart which I made using this recipe from Epicurious. This was my first time baking a tart and I have to say, it wasn't all that hard (even for me)! My sweet brother bought me a tart pan for my birthday last summer so this gave me the opportunity to finally test the pan out. By the way, I foresee more tart making in my future! If you're fortunate enough (like I was), to have some fresh blueberries on hand, then please use them, otherwise, you can always substitute with frozen berries. This dish is reminiscent of cheesecake but quite light and yummy and perfect for breakfast, dessert, or any time of day! Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ho Hum...More Cupcakes!

One of my favorite cupcakes is Hummingbirds. In case you don’t know what these are, hummingbird cupcakes are comprised of mashed bananas and pineapples, pecans or walnuts, and topped with lots of cream cheese frosting. The original Hummingbird Cake recipe supposedly originated from Southern Living magazine, circa 1978, by a Mrs. L.H. Wiggins (according to http://www.foodtimeline.org/). Why this dessert is called a “hummingbird” is still a mystery however as no explanation has been given on its name. In fact, food historians have discovered that this cake has also been known as Cake That Doesn’t Last, Never Ending Cake, and Granny’s Best Cake. If it were up to me though, I’d call these cupcakes Simply Scrumptious. Because they just are.

Hummingbird Cupcakes (from Cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans)
Ingredients:
1 and 1/4 cups unbleached AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 banana)
1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple in its own juice, drained
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
Directions:
(Position a rack in the middle of the oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees F; line 12 muffin tin cups with paper cupcake liners)
1. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium size bowl and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat the egg and yolk and the sugar until thickened and lightened to a cream color, about two minutes (use an electric mixer on medium speed). Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during the mixing.
3. On low speed, mix in the oil and vanilla until blended. Mix in the sour cream until no white streaks remain. Mix in the flour mixture until it is incorporated and the batter is smooth.
4. Add the cinnamon, mashed banana, pineapple, and pecans to the cupcake batter, and mix just to blend them together.
5. Fill each cupcake liner with about 1/3 cup of batter. Bake until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes for 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Then, place the cupcakes on the wire rack to cool completely before frosting with the cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe:
(makes 3 cups)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
In a large bowl using an electric mixer on low speed, beat the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla until smooth and thoroughly blend (about 1 minute). On medium speed, beat the mixture for another 1 minute.




Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Salad Craving

‘Tis the season for lots of baking but how about giving your oven a little break and whipping up a delicious salad this week?
Yes, I know the month of December isn’t a popular month for salads, but in Southern California where the sun shines strong and the temps today peaked at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (really, I’m not bragging), it could just as well be the middle of summer. Which is why eating something cool, refreshing and light makes perfect sense (at least until the predicted rains come later this week)!
I made one of my favorite tofu salads to go with some flounder I prepared for dinner last night. This is a salad that comes from a cool, little Japanese noodle restaurant in Los Angeles called Mishima. Whenever I ventured out to Mishima for a big bowl of udon or soba, I would also treat myself to their signature tofu salad, happily devouring every last tasty bit of it. Seriously, I think I could have eaten that salad every day! Well, I was quite pleased when, about 10 years ago, the Los Angeles Times food section ran the recipe for Mishima’s Tofu Salad. I clipped it, saved it, and made it over and over again. Don't worry if you cannot find all the ingredients listed for the salad. I didn't have everything on hand myself and added a few extra things like sugar snap peas and even a few black olives into my salad. Be creative and have fun with it. Since I think the creamy dressing is what makes this salad so special and delicious, I'd recommend that you follow the directions exactly and not substitute on the components. So now, I share with you something that may not be so holiday-ish but for me, is one thing I could eat any time of the year.

Mishima Tofu Salad (LA Times)
Ingredients for the dressing:
2 tablespoons sesame seed paste or creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger root
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 and 1/2 teaspoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 tablespoon water
directions:
Combine all the above ingredients and mix well until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Ingredients for Salad
1 (14 ounce) package medium-firm tofu
2 Japanese cucumbers, sliced thin
2 tomatoes, sliced thin (I used cherry tomatoes)
Radish sprouts (optional)
Dried bonito flakes (optional)
Dried seaweed (nori), minced (optional)
directions:
drain excess water from tofu and cut into 2/4 inch cubes. Divide tofu, cucumber and tomato slices among 6-8 plates; garnish with sprouts and bonito flakes. Chill 20 minutes. Just before serving, pour dressing over salad and sprinkle with dried nori.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

One Potato, Two Potato...



Boy, this was challenging! I wasn't sure how my bread would turn out but as you can see from the photos, I managed to get through the November Daring Baker's Challenge in one piece. Honestly, I was semi-panicking throughout the process because my dough was soooo soft and sticky and hardly manageable that I almost threw in the towel (and threw out the dough!) half-way through. But, like any other Daring Baker would, I trudged along, determined not to quit and actually, my curiosity on how the dough would turn out got the best of me (thank goodness). I decided to make a black olive foccacia and some mini loaves, and to my amazement, the end-products were delicious! I've never baked a potato bread (or tasted one) before so I really did not know what to expect. What I got however was worth all the hard work and perseverance. Thanks Tanna of My Kitchen In Half-Cups, for thinking up this month's Potato Bread challenge! (If you'd like to try your hand at this recipe, click here).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cupcakes For Two?

Yes, I know there's only one cupcake photographed but trust me, I did make enough cupcakes for 2-4 people today. I just didn't take a group shot of them. You see, I finally made something from a cookbook I was given some time last year called Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos. It's perfect for those of us who may have a craving for say, vanilla cupcakes with coconut cream cheese frosting, but don't want to deal with baking a dozen of 'em and having to eat more than one, goodness forbid! This basic vanilla cupcake recipe yielded 4 cupcakes and not only were they a cinch to whip up but they were also just right for me as I'm running awfully low on both sugar and flour these days! Anyways, I added some cream cheese frosting and topped the cupcakes off with some unsweetened, organic coconut flakes that I found at Whole Foods the other day. Be as creative as you'd like, or as non-creative because these actually tasted quite delicious plain too. Happy baking!
Vanilla Cupcakes With Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Small-Batch Baking):
ingredients:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temp)
1/2 cup AP flour, sifted.
1/4 cup buttermilk (at room temp)
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Yolk of 1 large egg (at room temp)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (make sure you have placed a rack in the middle of the oven beforehand). Line a muffin pan with 4 paper liners.
2. Combine the buttermilk and baking soda in a small bowl and stir to mix. Whisk in the egg yolk and vanilla.
3. In a medium-size bowl, place the flour, sugar and salt and whisk to blend well. Add the butter and half of the buttermilk mixture. Using a hand-held mixer on low speed, beat until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is lightened and has slightly increased in volume (about 45 secs). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pour in the remaining buttermilk mixture and beat on medium speed until well blended (about 20 secs). Scrape down the side of the bowl again if necessary.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, dividing batter evenly. Bake about 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cupcake comes out clean. (The tops will just begin to brown).
5. Remove the muffin pan from the oven and place on wire rack for 10min; remove the cupcakes from the pan and place them on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
Using an electric mixer, mix 6 ounces cream cheese with 1/2 cup butter butter (both should be at room temp), until smooth. While still mixing, gradually add 3 cups of powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until well combined. Once the mixture is a smooth consistency and the cupcakes have cooled you can frost the cupcakes. Addition of coconut flakes is optional of course...you can also top it off with chocolate shaving, nuts, or anything else you'd like.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I Am Thankful For...

all of you who have visited my humble food blog and have left me such supportive and sweet comments. Today I'm fortunate enough to be spending the Thanksgiving holiday with the people I love and I hope you will do the same.
Enjoy your day!
P.S. : If you have some free time this weekend (and you're not too stuffed), give this delicious gingerbread cupcake recipe a try. It's from Peabody's website and it totally "tastes like fall!" (a direct quote from my boyfriend after he took a bite). I topped the pumpkin cream cheese frosting with some crystallized ginger. Enjoy! (Click here for the recipe).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pre-holiday Baking: Snickerdoodles

With Thanksgiving and Christmas (yikes!) just around the corner, I've been thinking more and more about baking cookies and which ones I'd like to make and give away as gifts. So today I tested out a Snickerdoodle recipe. Now I've tasted this cookie before but this was the first time I've ever actually made Snickerdoodles. The recipe, which I found in a cookbook called Simple Joys of Friendship is quite simple and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and bake. The end result is a cookie that is soft, slightly chewy, slightly sweet, and one that goes perfectly with a hot cup of tea. The cinnamon flavor of the cookie made my boyfriend think of Apple Jacks Cereal when he tasted it. Though not the most exciting cookie appearance-wise, the Snickerdoodle is quickly becoming one of my favorite tasting cookies and I'm definitely going to include this one for my holiday baking.
Snickerdoodles (yields 3 dozen cookies)
ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 and 1/2 cup plus 2 T. sugar divided
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
2 and 3/4 cup AP flour
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. baking soda
2 T. cinnamon

directions: (preheat oven to 400 degrees F)
1. Cream together butter, shortening, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar, eggs and vanilla.
2. Blend in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.
3. Shape dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into balls.
4. Mix remaining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
5. Roll balls of dough in sugar/cinnamon mixture and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
6. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
7. Remove immediately from baking sheet to cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Childhood Treat Makeover

I don’t ever recall making Rice Krispies Treats when I was a kid. I think it’s because we preferred Captain Crunch and Count Chocula over the plain, boring rice puffs that snapped, crackled and puffed when you poured milk over them. Nowadays though, my preference to indulge in overly-sweetened cereal has pretty much diminished, and thanks to a recent sale at the supermarket, I found myself with a couple boxes of Kellog’s Rice Krispies in my kitchen. So when I came across this recipe from the New York Times on a revamped RKT, I was curious to give it a whirl. Interestingly, this new recipe upped the butter factor (2 entire sticks versus the 3 tablespoons in the original recipe), as well as increasing the amount of Rice Krispies (one 12 ounce box versus six cups). The new recipe also calls for caramelizing the butter (hence the name of the recipe!), which means you have to keep a close eye while melting the butter, being careful that it does not burn. I’m not the the biggest fan of RKT’s in the first place, but I still thought this version was pretty good. It certainly was easier to handle when placing the mixture into the baking pan and patting it down. The end result is a firmer, crunchier treat that has a nutty kind of flavor. I suppose if you are looking for the familiar, chewy texture that you get with the original recipe, you’ll be a tad disappointed with this one (that’s how my boyfriend felt). On the other hand, I brought some to work to get my co-worker’s opinions and found that most of them liked this version a lot more. Hmmm, go figure. Well, if you do give this recipe a try, I’d love to know your thoughts. For now, I think I’ll just stick to pouring my rice krispies into a bowl, slicing some bananas on top, and dousing it with some cold milk.

Caramelized Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats (The NY Times Oct. 31, 2007)

ingredients:
8 ounces butter (salted or unsalted, plus extra for the pan)
1 10.5 ounce bag marshmallows
1 12 ounce box of Rice Krispies cereal

directions:
1. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper or butter the pan well.
2. In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will metl, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Watch closely and stir often.
3. When butter is evenly browned, stir in marshmallows (if using unsalted butter, stir in 1/8 tsp salt). Melt and cook, stirring often, until mixture turns pale brown, then stir constantly until lightly browned but not dark, about 3-5 minutes).
4. Turn off heat, add cereal, mix well (use a silicone spoon or a spatula); scrape into prepared pan and press down lightly (if necessary, butter hands to press the mixture flat). Let cool, and cut into squares/bars.
Yields 30-50 treats depending on size you cut them

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Slice Of Nostalgia

It's amazing how such a simple recipe can be transformed into a dish that is so deliciously comforting, isn't it? That's what happened when I baked this classic rum cake the other day. You might have seen this recipe or baked it yourself at some time. Or perhaps it was a favorite in your household growing up like it was in mine. My mom baked this cake often and it reminds me so much of her and of my childhood. When I took a bite, all I wanted to do was curl up on my sofa with a big blanket, a glass of milk, and all the wonderful memories I could conjure.
Rum Bundt Cake
1 cup chopped nuts (toasted walnuts work nicely)
1 18 and 1/2 ounce yellow cake mix
1 4-serving size instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold milk (I used non-fat)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup rum (can use either dark or light)
glaze
1 stick butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup rum
Cake directions:
-Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
-Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan; sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan.
-Combine all cake ingredients, beat for 2 minutes w/electric mixer.
-Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour.
-Cool in pan; once cool, invert onto a serving plate and prick the top with a fork.
-Drizzle glaze over top of cake and use a brush or spoon to put extra glaze back on the cake.
Glaze directions:
-Melt butter in saucepan, then stir in water and sugar.
-Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
-Remove from heat and stir in rum (caution: the rum will cause steam--be careful to not burn yourself when adding the rum).
(note: you can make the cake 1-2 days before serving; in fact, it tastes even better the next day)!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More Orange Treats

Maybe it’s because of my fondness for the color orange, but I’ve been baking a string of orange-oriented things lately. First there was the orange chiffon cake in October’s Daring Bakers challenge, then there were the chocolate orange cupcakes I baked for Halloween, and this time around, it’s orange brownies a la Food TV's Paula Deen. I first stumbled across this recipe on Deborah’s site, Taste and Tell. She made the brownies look and sound so delectable that I knew I wanted to make these for a dessert party I was having on Friday night. Of course with Paula Deen's recipes, there’s hardly ever any skimping on the butter, and these orange brownies were no exception. They were a big hit with my guests too--so moist, rich, gooey, sweet, and you guessed it, orangey! The flavor is intense but not overwhelming, and the cream cheese frosting, though not really necessary, makes these little goodies even more decadent. I thought the orange brownies make a wonderful dessert alternative to the traditional chocolate brownies or butterscotch blondies. Happy baking!

Friday, November 9, 2007

One Good Cookie

The first time I ever made these cookies, my boyfriend told me they were “the best” cookies I’ve ever baked for him. Wow. That’s a pretty powerful statement, isn’t it? Well, while I do agree that these World Peace Cookies from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets cookbook are quite high on the delicious- rating-scale, I don’t know if I agree that they are the “best” I’ve baked him. I mean, what about those chocolate chip ones that he raved about, or the oversized oatmeal raisins? Okay, a compliment’s a compliment and I will take them when I can! The bottom line is, these are indeed wonderful cookies. I made the dough early yesterday morning before work and baked up a batch later on that evening.
I hope you’ll like them as much as my boyfriend (and I) do.
Peace. (recipe here).

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Brownie Lesson

I recently acquired a copy of Alice Medrich's Chocolate and The Art of Low Fat Desserts and was eager to try out a recipe this weekend. The cookbook itself is quite lovely with beautifully photographed, mouth-watering creations that simply look, well, not so low fat. I wasn't sure where to begin with this cookbook as everything from the chocolate marble cake to the walnut truffle cookies sounded divine. There's even a few non-chocolate recipes in the book too like lemon bars and a cranberry tea bread (as in Christmas gifts)! So, I started where any good baker would: with the brownies. Alice writes that these brownies are "gooey" yet at the same time have less fat than your run-of-the-mill brownie. There are only 5 tablespoons of butter in the recipe (as opposed to perhaps 2 sticks of butter in the more traditional kind), and instead of using bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, Alice uses Dutch process cocoa powder. I was determined to bake a brownie that looked as delectable as the chewy-gooey brownie she had photographed in her book. Unfortunately, things didn't really turn out as I hoped. For one thing, my brownie was not chewy or gooey. It was more on the cakey side which is not how I like my brownies (I know there are many of you who like a cakey brownie, and that's fine, but not my preference). The brownie was also a bit on the dry side and though quite chocolaty in taste, didn't really have anything special in flavor for me. So what happened? Well, I believe I made a couple mistakes which, after reading more on the "art" of baking in the low fat ilk, makes more sense now. One thing I did was I cut back on the sugar. The recipe called for 1 and 1/4 cups of sugar and thinking I was making a wise decision, I used only 1 cup. Alice writes that sugar "contributes to moistness and moisture retention", and in a recipe where the fat is already lowered, the role of sugar becomes even more prominent. The second mistake I believe I made was to overmix the batter which can contribute to the tough texture of my brownie. Lastly, I think I overbaked the brownies. The baking time for these brownies ranged from 20-25 minutes and even though I baked for twenty minutes, it was still a bit too long for my oven. I have to say though, the brownies were not a complete failure. They are still okay if I don't think of them as a "brownie" but maybe as a chocolate tea cake. Plus, I learned quite a bit from my brownie misadventure. I learned that baking itself, whether low fat or not, truly is an "art" as well as a science, and the next time I attempt one of Alice Medrich's recipes, I better follow it to a tee!
Fudge Brownies (by Alice Medrich)
ingredients:
1 cup AP flour (sifted)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons butter (or stick margarine)
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
1 egg
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules or espresso dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; place oven rack in lower third of the oven. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Using a whisk, stir the first four ingredients together in a large bowl and put aside.
3. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and then stir in the sugar, mixing until combined (will be a grainy consistency). Next, add the egg, egg whites, vanilla, and coffee or espresso. Beat with a wooden spoon (approx. 40 strokes), scraping down the sides of the pan if necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix for another 40 strokes or just until mixed.
4. Pour mixture into the prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for approx. 20 minutes depending on your oven (as I mentioned, even 20 minutes was too long for me so you may want to start checking your brownies at close to 18 minutes--insert a toothpick into the center of the pan and if it comes out a little gooey, it's done).
5. Cool in the pan, on a baking rack. Once cool, grab the parchment or foil and remove the brownies from the pan. Cut into 16 squares.
notes: the brownies can be stored at room temperature, well wrapped for up to 2 days; can freeze them for up to 2 months.
calories per brownie: 134
fat: 4.6 grams

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Surely, You Zest!


Yes, I certainly did zest this evening when I made two versions of an orange cupcake recipe I stumbled across on the Food Network site. This is seriously a very easy recipe...no tricks here! Admittedly, it involves using a boxed chocolate cake mix, lots of citrus (orange, in this case), and a creamy, sugar glaze as well as a chocolate ganache frosting, if you'd like. I sprinkled some orange zest on top of the cupcakes mainly because I thought it looked kind of pretty.
(For the recipe, click here. Just a couple comments: Since I didn't have any limoncello on hand, I used lemon juice instead and instead of the candied orange peel, I used the zest of 1 orange as a substitute. If you'd like to make the chocolate ganache simply melt about 4 oz bittersweet chocolate with 4 oz butter, stirring over low/medium heat; allow to cool slightly before drizzling over the cooled cupcakes).
HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Daring Baker's Challenge For October

What better way to ring in my second Daring Baker's Challenge than by having some neighbors over for some Bostini Cream Pie and board games? That's just what we did over the weekend and had a lot of fun doing it. I have to say that making this challenge was a lot of fun itself. I couldn't believe how many eggs I cracked for this dish, but I also realized how much I was learning and honing some important baking skills. I think this was actually my first time making custard and I'm happy to say, I didn't burn it! The Bostini Cream Pie was a lovely dessert, not to mention rich and delicious. I loved the creamy, vanilla-ness of the custard and the orange tanginess of the light chiffon cake. The chocolate topping made it even more decadent. I think my neighbors enjoyed it too. Thank-you Mary from Alpineberry for selecting a creative and pretty dessert for us this month. (If you'd like to try making a BostiniCream Pie yourself then click here and you'll be on your way)


.

Lazy Day Breakfast

This is my boyfriend’s latest creative, culinary creation—a pita stuffed with leftover corned beef, a fried egg, sprouts, and some Monterey Jack cheese. The end result is a sloppy mess that was simple to put together, tasty, and satisfying. Who said breakfast has to be a bowl of cereal with milk? Just goes to show what you can do with leftovers and some basics. Good job, sweetie.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Pumpkin Treat


I’m a sucker when it comes to pumpkin desserts so when Anna from Cookie Madness posted this recipe for marbled pumpkin cream cheese cupcakes, I was sold! Doesn’t the name of these just make your mouth water? The way they turned out reminded me of a pumpkin version of black bottom cupcakes. The cupcake was moist and not too sweet, and the combination of the cream cheese and the pumpkin flavor was pretty darn good. I added one-half teaspoon of pumpkin spice in place of the allspice and nutmeg that the recipe called for.
I personally think they make the perfect quick breakfast to go with a big mug of coffee (or hot cocoa).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sunday At The Opera

I had the chance to celebrate my birthday all over again this past Sunday thanks to my boyfriend’s mom and dad. You see, they sweetly gifted me with “dinner out” compliments of the two of them even though they live several states away. So, my boyfriend and I chose a restaurant that we’ve wanted to try for some time now, but instead of dinner out, we decided on “brunch out.” Our choice was CaffĂ© Opera in the nearby town of Monrovia. This is an elegant yet seemingly laid back and non-pretentious restaurant that serves brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays. The menu offerings are plenty and include some interesting items like sole and potato pancake with eggs and arugula, or quesadilla with fillet Mignon. I think there was something for everyone’s taste buds. I chose the trout almondine
with mixed greens and my boyfriend went with sea scallops in a creamy brandy sauce with asparagus and roasted cauliflower.

We each also received a lovely complimentary Mimosa to sip on which is included in the brunch menu. My trout was pan fried and cooked perfectly with the right amount of crispness without being overdone. The mixed greens that the fish sat upon were plentiful and refreshing and paired wonderfully with the fish. My boyfriend’s scallop dish was also a winner. There were
probably around 8 jumbo scallops, pan seared and swimming in a light but creamy brandy sauce with bits of raisins, asparagus spears, and roasted cauliflower. I admittedly wanted to lick the plate clean because it was so yummy! Our dishes were also accompanied by some rustic freshly-baked bread and butter, and a plate of fresh fruit and French fried potatoes. Needless to say, we ended our meals with full but happy bellies and thoughts of our next visit to Caffe Opera. I think we’ll take my boyfriend’s folks here the next time they come over to visit us in California. Thank-you for a wonderful birthday treat.

Caffe Opera
402 S. Myrtle Ave.
Monrovia, CA.
626-305-0094



Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Corned Beef Craving

A couple months ago, my boyfriend had an inkling for some corned beef and cabbage. So, we decided to go out for dinner that night to satisfy his craving. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, to our surprise and slight frustration, not to mention tired feet, we discovered that finding a restaurant that serves corned beef and cabbage (or just plain old corned beef), is pretty tough to come by when the month is August and there's no St. Patty's Day celebration to be found. Even our nearby Irish pub/eatery did not serve the dish! Well, a couple days ago, I was the one who had the corned beef craving, (minus the cabbage, however). This time though, I knew better and decided to make my own corned beef in my ever-so-trusty slow cooker. I adapted a recipe I found from my Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, coming up with a fairly straightforward, easy recipe that required minimal ingredients and best of all, minimal time in prepping. Nine hours later, I got my corned beef. Live and learn (and eat)!
Ingredients:
Corned beef brisket (about 3 lbs)
1 large Russet potato (cut up into large chunks)
5 carrots (cut cross-wise)
1 can beef broth (about 1 and 1/2 cup)
1 cup dry white wine
Directions:
Simply place the potatoes and carrots into the slow cooker, and put the corned beef on top ot this. (if beef comes with a seasoning packet then sprinkle this over the meat). Pour the broth and white wine over the corned beef, turn slow cooker on low and cook for 9 hours.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My Granola Bar Challenge


It is not every day that my sweet boyfriend becomes enamored with the taste of a granola bar. I mean, granola bars are not exactly his food of choice or anything, but when some friends shared a few of their "sweet and salty" cashew bars by Nature Valley during a recent hiking excursion, my boyfriend could not stop raving about them. I decided then that I would make him some home-made granola bars similar to this store-bought kind he was munching on. After doing a little online search for a recipe, I found one that appeared to fit the bill. This recipe was actually posted by another fan of the sweet and salty cashew bar who was also trying to recreate the bar. The ingredient list reminded me of a rice krispie treat except that 3 cups of oats are mixed in, and there are no marshmallows anywhere to be found. The granola bars are pretty simple to make and only take a few minutes. In addition to the cashews, I also added some toasted macadamia nuts. The hardest part was probably cutting the bars after leaving them in the fridge overnight to set. I must have cut about 3 bars before my hand became tired and my boyfriend took over and cut the rest! So you may be wondering how close these tasted to the "real thing"? Well, according to my BF, they were pretty similar but maybe a little "too sweet" for him; and texture-wise, my bars resembled peanut-brittle more than a traditional granola bar. Hmmm. Makes me want to go back to the granola-bar-drawing-board and try it again. I think next time I'll cut back on the amount of butterscotch chips and maybe even cut down on the brown sugar since the condensed milk already is pretty sweet. If that doesn't work, I also bought him a box of the Nature Valley cashew bars (just in case)!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Joy of Coffee Cake



I was determined to make something with the tub of sour cream I had sitting in my fridge so when I came across this recipe for Quick Sour Cream Coffee Cake, I knew I found what I was looking for. Not only did it have sour cream as its main ingredient, but the title of the recipe also said "quick." Now that's my kind of recipe! This one comes from a 1964 paperback edition of the Joy of Cooking, a book I picked up from a local thrift store and one that I, admittedly, have never cooked from. The coffee cake was really a breeze to make--just a few ingredients to throw together and you don't even need to take out your mixer. Though the baking time in the book states 20 minutes, I had to bake my cake for 30 minutes so do keep an eye out on the progress of your cake since you don't want to over bake this. I actually didn't get a taste of the finished product yet because I want to bring it into work tomorrow morning (and it's getting close to my bedtime), but looking at the photo, it does look pretty yummy, doesn't it?

Quick Sour Cream Coffee Cake--The Joy of Cooking 1964 edition
(preheat oven to 350 degrees F)
dry ingredients:
1 and 1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
wet ingredients:
1 cup sour cream (I used light sour cream)
2 eggs

Streusel topping:
2 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons butter, 5 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts--combine these in a bowl until crumbly.

1. In a medium size bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and mix well.
2. In a large bowl, combing the sour cream and the eggs together, and mix well.
3. Add the dry ingredients to the sour cream mixture and stir until smooth.
4. Pour into a buttered 9X9 inch cake pan and pour the streusel mixture over the top of the batter.
5. Bake for approximately 30 minutes (baking times may vary so watch the cake after 20 minutes).

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Fish Sticks For Grown-Ups

I picked up a package of fresh catfish nuggets the other day and thought about making some "fish sticks" after reading about Joe's baked fish sticks on his site, Culinary In The Desert. I didn't use his exact recipe for this but I did like the idea of using Panko, something I always have on hand in my kitchen cupboard. I came across a recipe from an old Sunset Magazine that used crushed cashews and flour and thought of using the Panko in place of the flour. Here's my adaptation of the recipe which was really quite quick and easy:
Simply grind up about 1 cup of raw cashews in your food processor, mix this into a shallow bowl with 1 cup of Panko (I used honey flavored Panko), add some salt and pepper and other dried herbs of your choice (I threw in a bit of oregano), and mix well. In another bowl, beat 1 large egg with a few tablespoons of water. Dip each catfish nugget into the egg mixture, roll into the Panko mix, and lay the nuggets on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake the nuggets in a preheated 400 degree F oven for about 20 minutes (watch the fish closely after 15 minutes so as not to burn the fish, but you do want them crispy). Once you're happy with the crispiness of the fish, take it out of the oven and serve and eat hot. I liked this dish a lot. Growing up, I loved fish sticks and ate my fair share of them, so to revisit a "healthier" version of this childhood favorite was a special treat.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Key Is In The Lime


When I bought a two pound bag of key limes for only ninety-nine cents the other day, baking a key lime pie was definitely on my mind. I actually never baked one before but I certainly have tasted key lime pie at least once in my life. I remember this took place oh, maybe some 15 years ago, while eating at a California Pizza Kitchen restaurant. Even after all these years I still recall the delicious, tangy, creamy filling and the buttery, graham cracker crust. I wonder if CPK still has that pie on their menu. This version was definitely a cinch to make and if you don't want to spend too much extra time, be like me and use a pre-made graham cracker crust. As you can tell from my pictures, I really could not stop at just one bite and I happily devoured my slice. Yes, it was tangy, sweet, creamy, and it was so good!
Key Lime Pie (adapted from GourmetSleuth):
ingredients-
4 large egg yolks
1 14 ounce can of lowfat sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice (I used about 20 key limes for this)
1 pre-made graham cracker pie crust
directions-
1. beat the egg yolks until they are thick and turn a light yellow.
2. add the condensed milk, mix in half the key lime juice and stir to incorporate.
3. add the other half of the juice, continue to mix until blended.
4. pour the mixture into the pie shell, bake at 350 degrees F for 12 minutes.
5. place on a rack to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge for at least 3 hours to chill.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Cheesy Store


The Frog’s Breath Cheese Store is, well, like a breath of fresh air in Old Town Orange. Its modest exterior hides a sleek, spacious, brightly-lit space, painted a cheery cheddar-yellow, chock full of many things cheese, and more. There is also an impressive selection of wine, olive oils, mustards, chocolates, table linens, and accessories.
Wine tasting takes place from Thursday through Sunday, and the wine selections vary weekly. If wine tasting is not your thing however, you can always purchase your favorite bottle, order a cheese plate, have a seat in the dining area, and have everything served to you. This is just what we ended up doing on a recent Saturday afternoon.
Our cheese plate consisted of 4 different types, accompanied by several slices of French bread, and the most deliciously seasoned, addictive almonds I've ever tasted. It’s a fun way to introduce yourself to different cheeses from all over the world (yes, there is more to life than American cheese slices and mozarella)!
For those of you who aren’t too familiar with Old Town Orange, it’s a charming part of Orange, California where antique stores, cafes, and all sorts of quaint retails shops abound.
If you’re ever in the area doing your antiquing, do make a point of stopping by the Frog’s Breath for a little pick-me-up, to browse, or even to talk to the knowledgeable staff about throwing your next wine and cheese party.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Look At These Pretty Buns




I have never made cinnamon or sticky buns before, and I have never been a Daring Baker before. Put the two together and what do you get? My first ever Daring Baker challenge for the month of September, of course! I was pleased, honored, and excited when I became a member of the Daring Bakers for I knew that I would be joining a rather talented bunch of people who month after month have been creating many mouth-watering, tantalizing treats that I admired. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous and a lot excited when I found out that this month's recipe was for cinnamon and/or sticky buns. I love to eat both of these sweet treats (who doesn't like Cinnabon, right), and I decided that I wanted to try my hand at baking both. This month's challenge was hosted by Marce of Pip In The City. Looking at the recipe, I found it to be pretty easy to read and follow, and I even had most of the ingredients on hand already. As expected for yeast-bread recipes, this one takes a long time because of the two fermentation processes (the first one being about 2 hours and the second one close to 90 minutes). Otherwise, the actual dough-making, the dough-rolling, and the prepping of the caramel for the sticky buns and fondant glaze for the cinnamon buns was not very time consuming at all. I think I worried a little when it looked like my dough was not doubling up in size during the two hour rising process. I wondered if maybe my house was a little too cool on this particular evening? By the time the two hours rolled around however, the dough had risen but still not sure if it was actually "double" like the recipe stated. I kept my fingers crossed and proceeded on anyways, hoping that everything would work out in the end. And pretty much it did! The baking time for the sticky buns may have been a little too long for my oven (I baked them for 33 minutes), because the raisins looked a little burnt but otherwise, the buns looked and tasted great. My boyfriend was partial to the cinnamon buns and my brother liked the sticky buns. Me? Well, I liked both and am quite relieved I made it through my first challenge!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Breakfast In The Reyn


Step inside the Reyn Coffee Shop and you might feel like you've stepped into a coffee shop time warp. The Reyn has the look and feel of something right out of the 1970's, complete with its powder blue-vinyl booths, large drop-down shaded lamps, and linoleum flooring. Interior decorating aside however, the Reyn offers up some good, basic, homey food, and an excellent cup of Joe. We stopped by one Sunday morning to try out their breakfast offerings and were not disappointed with what we found. Though the restaurant has quite a selection of both pancakes and French toast, we were more in the mood for eggs on this particular day.
My order of two perfectly cooked poached eggs and bacon came with some of the crispiest hash browns that I've had in a long time. I was surprised at how non-greasy these were, and boy, were they good! My order also came with a delicious, slightly toasted slice of homemade banana bread. My boyfriend decided on the Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs, and fruit (unlike me, he doesn't like hash browns). The four generous pieces of Canadian bacon were thick and full of flavor, and proved to be more than enough for my BF to finish, even with me stealing one of the pieces!
As we enjoyed our meal, I couldn't help but feel like I was eating in a good friend's house. That's just the feeling you get while eating at the Reyn Coffee Shop, and I'm already looking forward to my next visit there. Maybe I'll get the pancakes next time.
The Reyn Coffee Shop
635 N. Lake Ave.
Pasadena, CA. 91101
626-449-5768