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, 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
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)!

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 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)
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
(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
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)
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.