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).

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.

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)!
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
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):
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
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.