Thursday, August 30, 2007

Eating On Catalina Island

Ahhhh, Avalon. Just an hour's boat ride from downtown Long Beach, and there you are, in one of Southern California's gem's, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island. Catalina, as it's commonly called, is one of Southern Cal's Channel Islands and the one that is closest to the mainland. We found ourselves here on a recent long weekend for some sun, kayaking, relaxation, and of course, eating! We discovered some good, basic, home-style Italian cooking at Antonio's Pizzeria and Cabaret, an oceanfront restaurant that boasts a large menu of what I would say is Italian comfort food. Known for their pizzas primarily, Antonio's has a bit of that throwback, hippy feel to it. We treated ourselves to an early dinner there, sitting out in their rustic patio overlooking the water. My boyfriend and I decided to share the spinach and Italian sausage calzone and a minestrone soup. Service was friendly and fast. The calzone was baked nicely with a bit of crispiness on the outside of the dough. Inside, the spinach, sausage, and cheese melded deliciously and the bread
was warm and soft. I especially liked slopping up the calzone with the tomato meat sauce that was served on the side. The minestrone soup, though a little bland, was hearty and full of good things like potatoes, pasta, and veggies. I think it could have used a bit more seasoning to it but
nevertheless, it
seemed to hit the spot. We liked Antonio's for their homey food, great service, and especially, the gorgeous seaside views. (For the best views, try to snag an outside table).
Antonio's Pizzeria and Cabaret
230 Crescent Ave.
Avalon, CA. 90704

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Flat As A Blueberry Pancake!

I made these pancakes using a recipe I've been wanting to check out for some time now. It comes from the Cook's Illustrated folks who tested out several different blueberry pancake recipes before publishing one they really liked. The description of these pancakes said things like, "fluffy", "tender", and "flavorful." I'd have to agree with them on the flavorful part, but my pancake certainly was not "fluffy" or "tender". Instead, they came out rather thin and more crepe-like but still quite light. I liked the taste of the pancake though and the fact that they were not dense or heavy was a big plus for me. And as the article states, the blueberries did not break or bleed into the pancake upon cooking, another plus. I'm still willing to give this recipe another try the next time I have blueberries on hand however. If you're inspired to give this one a try yourself, let me know if your pancakes turn out the same way the Cook's Illustrated testers did. I'd love to hear back!
Blueberry Pancakes (makes about sixteen 4-inch pancakes, serves 4-6)
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
2 cups milk (I used nonfat)
2 cups unbleached AP flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 cup fresh blueberries (you can use frozen but make sure to rinse them under cool water in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear, then spread them on a paper towel-lined plate to dry-this will prevent them from bleeding).
1. Whisk lemon juice and milk in a medium bowl or large measuring cup; set aside to thicken while preparing other ingredients. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to combine.
2. Whisk egg and melted butter into milk until combined. Make well in center of dry ingredients in bowl; pour in milk mixture and whisk very gently until just combined (a few lumps should remain). Do not over mix.
3. Heat your pancake griddle or a 12-inch skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes; add 1 teaspoon oil and brush to coat griddle or pan bottom evenly. Pour 1/4 cup batter and sprinkle 1 tablespoon blueberries over pancake. Cook pancakes until large bubbles begin to appear, about 1 and 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook until golden brown on second side, another 1-1 and 1/2 minutes. Serve immediately with your favorite toppings.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Vanilla Cupcakes Take Over The World!

Just a quick post today because I'm going to visit my friend to bring her these Golden Vanilla Cupcakes. Once again, the recipe comes from the cupcake cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, which has been one of my favorite go-to books for cupcake recipes lately. These cupcakes were light and airy and reminded me a lot of spongecake. The frosting I used was buttercream which added a bit of richness and lusciousness to the already yummy cupcake. It also gave me a chance to use my new pastry bag and practice making fancy schmancy swirls. What do you think?

Golden Vanilla Cupcakes (yields 12 cupcakes)
1 cup soy milk ( I used non-fat, no sugar added soy milk)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 and 1/4 cups AP flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (increase salt to 1/2 teaspoon if you're using oil instead of margarine)
1/3 cup canola oil (I used oil)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2. Whisk the soy mik and vinegar in a measuring cup, set aside a few minutes to get good and curdled.
3. Beat together the the soy mik mixture, oil, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts in a large bowl. Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until no large lumps remain.
4. Fill cupcake liners two-third full and bake for 20-22 minutes until done.
5. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.
Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine (I used Earth Balance)
3 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain soy milk
Beat the shortening and margarind together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes. Add the vanilla and soy milk, beat for another 5-7 minutes until fluffy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Another August Birthday, More Cupcakes, and Restaurant 561

I made these for my boyfriend who celebrates his birthday this week. They're the same red velvet ones I made for myself just a couple weeks ago. Happy Birthday!
To celebrate, we went out for dinner to Restaurant 561. This is an establishment operated entirely by the student chefs from the California School of Culinary Arts who are completing their Le Cordon Bleu curriculum. It's a French inspired restaurant with a bit of a Southern California twist. The menu seemed creative with a fair balance of both meat and seafood, and our experience there was quite pleasurable. I really liked the cozy, warm feeling of the restaurant with its big picture windows overlooking Green Street, and its open kitchen. The students who were running the restaurant on this particular night were attentive and professional without being overbearing or awkward. Service was definitely an A+. Now onto the food: the bread basket was pretty divine--there were 4 different breads, my favorite being the

raisin and nut bread. There was also an interesting green olive sourdough, a plain sourdough (a little dull), and a parmesan flat bread cracker which was pretty tasty too. The breads are all made on the premesis by the students. Accompanying the bread was a plate of creamy, luscious butter and a tapenade spread which was a little tangy but a nice touch. We were give a complimentary amuse bouche which was prepared by one of the students there that evening. It

was a pretty little thing comprised of beets, goat cheese, pesto and pine nuts. Yum! We also ordered a buffalo carpaccio as an appetizer. I personally like the taste of buffalo and this was quite exceptional. The thinly sliced buffalo with shaved parmesan cheese was a melt-in-your-mouth delight and a perfect way to start our meal. I wanted to have fish this evening and ordered the Grilled Ono with Thai Black Sticky Rice. This was accompanied by a lovely grilled pineapple brochette which surprisingly went well with the rather meaty fish. The fish itself did not have a lot of flavor but when I dipped it into the hibiscus and five spice glaze, it

really packed a nice, sweet punch. My boyfriend ordered the New York Strip which came with seasonal veggies. It was cooked just the way he likes it, medium rare. I took a bite of the steak and have to say that it was indeed deliciously juicy and flavorful. All in all, we enjoyed the dining experience at Restaurant 561: good food, wonderful service, and a comfortable atmosphere.
Restaurant 561
561 East Green Street
Tel: 626-405-1561 Pasadena, CA 91101

Monday, August 20, 2007

Waffles Al Fresco

We decided to have a small get together to break-in my new Belgian waffle maker. My dear brother and his wife gifted me with a Waring Pro Professional Belgian Waffle iron for my birthday and I have been happily making waffles ever since. Now I've owned a waffle iron before but I don't recall it producing this quality of waffles. Think thick, crisp-on-the-outside, warm and soft on the inside waffles, and
you'll know what I'm talking about. We made the waffles poolside on a sunny, bright, Southern California morning. I used a buttermilk recipe from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything cookbook which only took minutes to prepare. As you can tell from the picture, I dressed my waffle up with some fresh berries, whipped cream and powdered sugar. You can be as creative as you 'd like when it comes to topping off waffles. How about some mascarpone cheese with applesauce, or candied pecans and vanilla ice cream? Or, if you're like me, a waffle sandwich with a few slices of crispy bacon, melted cheese, whipped cream, and strawberry sauce in between. Okay, I'll save that one for next weekend!
Buttermilk Waffles by Mark Bittman (How To Cook Everything):
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda1
3/4 cup buttermilk or 1 1/2 cups sour cream or plain yogurt thinned with 1/4 cup milk (I used a combination of buttermilk and sourcream)
2 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter melted and cooled
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
canola or neutral oil for brushing on waffle iron (I used an olive oil spray)
1. Combine dry ingredients. Mix together the buttermilk and egg yolks. Stir in the butter and vanilla (if using).
2. Brush waffle iron lightly with oil and preheat. Stir the wet into the dry ingredients. Beat egg whites with the whisk or electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Stir them gently into the batter.
3. Spread a ladleful or so of batter onto the waffle iron and bake until waffle was done (usually 3-5 minutes). Serve immediately, or keep warm in low oven.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Make A Wish

Tomorrow I will be turning a milestone age, and to celebrate the occasion, I baked some red velvet cupcakes. I decided on red velvet because the name itself conjures up images of pure decadence, don't you think? And I believe that decadence is something a girl ought to indulge in every once in awhile, especially on her birthday. Well, these cupcakes were not only decadent, they were also quite fun to make. The best part, aside from eating them, was adding the red food coloring and watching the batter turn a bright shade of crimson right before my eyes.

Red Velvet Cupcakes (makes 16 standard size cupcakes):
recipe adapted from Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook, by Sylvia Woods and Family
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 and 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 ounces red food coloring
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened ( I used neufchatel cheese)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1 pound box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 12 cup cupcake pan. In a medium bowl or on a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in eggs one at a time. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk. Beat in food coloring and vinegar, then add vanilla. Fill cupcake pan with the batter until about 2/3 cup full. Bake for about 15-18 minutes (start watching cupcakes carefully at about 15 minutes), or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack.
For the frosting: In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter. Beat in powdered sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Once cupcakes have completely cooled, frost them, and eat!

The Good, The Bad, and The Curry

Okay, curry is not supposed to be pretty, is it? This shrimp and snow pea curry dish I made for dinner didn't look as photogenic as I would have liked for my post, but what the heck. It sure tasted good! This was perhaps one of the simplest and fastest meals I've made all summer and it got rave reviews from my shrimp-loving boyfriend. To make the job even more convenient, I used frozen jumbo shrimp that I bought at Trader Joe's. Simply serve this over some steamed white rice and you and your tummy will be happy.
Snow Pea and Shrimp Curry (adapted from Eating Well Magazine, June 2007)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon mustard seeds (optional)
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound snow peas
1 cup "lite" coconut milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add the mustard seeds if using until they start to pop. Then add the curry (if not using the mustard seeds then add the curry once the oil is heated). Cook and stir the curry until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add the shrimp and peas, and continue to stir until the shrimp are almost cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in coconut milk, lemon juice and salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the shrimp have cooked through, about 2 minutes more.
Serves 4

Saturday, August 4, 2007

August Baking: Cherry Clafoutis

When I was around six years old, I remember going cherry picking with my parents and older brother. I can still recall how excited I was to pick my own fruit and how, at the end of the day, I was so proud of my big bagful of cherries. Never mind that it was sweltering hot or that there were bees swarming all round me. All I could do was joyfully pick cherry after cherry until both my bag and my tummy were stuffed. These days, I haven't been practicing my cherry-picking skills much. My local farmer's market and grocery store are where I mostly pick up my fruit now. Nevertheless, I was still able to find some luscious summer cherries which I thought would be perfect for this cherry clafoutis recipe. According to, a clafoutis (pronounced klah-foo-tee), is French for a tart made of fruit, baked in a thick, sweet batter. The fruit is traditionally cherries but really, almost any fruit can be used. I loved the ease of this recipe and the fact that it's actually a bit lower in fat was a big plus too. I found it in The Eating Well Dessert Cookbook and it takes very little time to put together. The clafoutis reminds me of a cross between a light bread pudding and a custard. Oh, and it's traditional to leave the pits in the cherries when you bake this, which is exactly what I did. Give it a try and enjoy!

Cherry Clafoutis
1 pound cherries (leave pits in if you desire)
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup evaporated skim milk
Powdered sugar for dusting
1. Place rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a shallow baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the cherries and 1/3 cup sugar in the dish. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cherries are tender and very juicy (this took about 30 minutes in my oven).
2. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, flour, vanilla and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until smooth. Whisk in the evaporated milk.
3. Drain the juices from the cherries into a small bowl, holding back the fruit with a metal spatula (or use a strainer). Reserve the juices. Redistribute the cherries over the bottom of the dish and pour in the egg mixture. Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and set. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with the cherry juices spooned over the top.
Yields 4 generous servings