Saturday, May 31, 2008

Better Than Delivery...

The other night my boyfriend wanted to call up the local pizza parlor and order his favorite pizza (usually some pepperoni concoction with pineapple on it). I quickly stopped him in his tracks and told him that I would make a pizza for him instead. What was I thinking?? I’m not sure what made me say that as I was pretty certain that I had no frozen pizza dough or flat bread (unless you count the freezer-burned pita bread that really needed to be thrown out), and no pepperoni in the house. Well, it was too late to turn back at this point and retract my offer as my boyfriend happily put down the telephone and had a big smile on his face. I hid my panic with my own smile and confidently said, “dinner will be ready in about 45 minutes.” So the challenge began. I opened up my freezer and saw the box of Trader Joe’s puffed pastry that I bought for apple turnovers a few weeks ago. Thankfully, I still had one sheet of pastry left in the box. Woohoo! Next, I looked in the fridge and grabbed the shredded mozzarella cheese, some Chinese sausage, a Tupperware of marinara sauce, and the leftover top round steak that I made for some beef tacos the previous day. Lastly, I checked the pantry and found a can of crushed pineapple. Putting all the ingredients together was a breeze and a lot of fun. I first brushed the puff pastry with a little egg white wash, then spread a nice, thick layer of marinara sauce right over that. My boyfriend loves his pizza on the "saucy" side so I was pretty liberal with the marinara. Next came a few handfuls of part-skimmed mozzarella cheese, and then I sliced up one Chinese sausage and spread this out on one side of the pizza; the other half of the pizza was topped with the sliced top round steak. Finally, I added some of the crushed pineapple here and there because for my boyfriend, a pizza just ain’t a pizza without some pineapple on top! Into the preheated 400 degree F oven it went, and in about 20 minutes, the pizza was done. The end result was, to quote my boyfriend, “one of the best pizza’s I’ve ever tasted”! Can you believe it?
Since I received such accolades with the aforementioned puffed pastry pizza, I decided to make another for tonight’s dinner. This time though I changed up my toppings and used Canadian bacon, black olives, cherry tomatoes, precooked shrimp, and of course pineapple! Once again, the pizza turned out great and we didn't even have to pick up the phone. Saturday night cooking should always be this simple. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers Go To The Opera

I have to admit, I was a little hesitant about completing this month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge. Well, maybe intimidated is more accurate! I mean, could I possibly pull off such a complicated sounding recipe such as this Opera Cake? I had never even heard of such a dessert until a little less than a month ago when our lovely hosts Ivonne, Lis, Fran and Shea announced that this would be our challenge for May. I initially read the recipe over a couple times and each time thought, 'this sounds too hard!’ I didn't pick up the the recipe again until a few days before the long Memorial Holiday weekend and this time, after a few more reads, I actually felt excited about attempting this challenge. This is gonna sound corny but as I was reading the recipe for the third and fourth time I began to think about what being a Daring Baker means and why I joined DB in the first place. I knew one reason I joined was to stretch and challenge myself in the baking arena; another was to learn more from others who shared a passion for baking; and most of all, I joined the DB'ers to have fun! And was this Opera Cake FUN to make! Yes, it did entail many steps, and YES, I did have some frustrating moments especially when the butter cream which turned out so lovely on Saturday night, did not look so hot on Sunday morning. Still though, this recipe allowed me to be a little more creative by choosing the flavorings which was an orange and almond theme. I chose to add some Mandarin oranges in between the layers of the jaconde, added Grand Marnier to the white chocolate ganache, almond extract was used in the syrup, and I topped the finished cake with almond slices and more oranges. Oh my gosh, this cake was delicious! The Opera Cake made its "debut" at a family get together this past Sunday and was a huge hit! The flavors worked well together and despite all the butter, cream and chocolate, there was still a lovely lightness to the cake. Are you up for the Opera Cake challenge? If so, you can find the full

recipe on Ivonne's site if you click here. I'll see you at the Opera!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cookies To Make You Chipper

How do you like your chocolate chip cookies?
a) soft and chewy
b) thin and crispy
c) all of the above
Well, if you answered "c" then I think you will enjoy this cookie recipe by pastry chef Sherry Yard. She calls these her "quintessential chocolate chip cookies" and by the taste of them, the name is quite fitting. The cookies manage to possess crisp, delicate edges and a soft, chewy center. That's the perfect chocolate chip cookie in my book! Yard recommends the use of a high quality bittersweet chocolate that she cuts into 1-inch pieces versus the more traditional chocolate chips. I used a mixture of dark chocolate as well as mint chocolates in my cookies so feel free to experiment with whatever you like. The interesting step in this recipe was shaping the dough into a log and then popping it into the fridge to chill. I'm more used to the usual drop cookie method of making chocolate chip cookies which, by the way, is also an option with this recipe.
So grab a tall glass of milk, or whatever your poison might be and hope you will enjoy these delicious cookies. Bet you can't eat just one either!

Chocolate Chip Cookies (by Sherry Yard, Desserts By The Yard)
1 and 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1-inch pieces

directions-(Prepare oven and cookie sheets once the cookie dough has already chilled for a minimum of one hour OR if skipping the chilling process, proceed as normal)
1. Place racks in the middle and lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift together the flour and baking soda and set aside.
3. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), cream the butter on medium speed until lemony yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar, brown sugar, and salt. Continue creaming the mixture on medium speed until it is smooth and free of lumps, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
4. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on low speed for 15 seconds or until the egg is fully incorporated. Do not over beat. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. On low speed, add the sifted flour mixture. Beat slowly until all the flour is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the chocolate chunks and mix in.
6. Remove small handfuls or spoonfuls of one half of the dough from the bowl and center them along the bottom of a sheet of parchment or waxed paper, creating a log of 1 and 1/2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Fold the parchment over, creating a sausage. Twist the ends over and wrap in plastic. Repeat with the remaining dough. Chill for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. You can freeze the dough, well wrapped, for up to 2 weeks). When the dough has chilled, remove it from the paper and using a serrated knife, slice 1/3-inch-thick rounds off the log. Place the cookies 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
**Note: if baking right away, skip step 6 and spoon heaping tablespoons 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets.
7. Bake, rotating the sheets from the top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking, for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment off the baking sheets onto a work surface. Cool the baking sheets between batches and allow the cookies to cool for at least 5 minutes before eating.
Cookies will keep for up to 3 days stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

There's A Banana In My Biscotti!

Please allow me to share with you yet another biscotti recipe, would you? Yes, I sure love my biscotti and I do enjoy baking up these little cookies. Today's recipe for banana biscotti was found on the website Cookie Madness and could not have been discovered at a better time because once again, over-ripened bananas were invading my kitchen counter. If you are looking for ways to use up bananas that are beyond their prime then I hope you'll try this recipe. It's a nice alternative to banana bread and compared to lots of other cookies and treats, relatively low in fat (only 1 tablespoon of oil for the batch). I decided to omit the nuts in mine but feel free to use them here. Whenever I eat biscotti I make sure to have a big mug of either coffee or hot chocolate for dipping. That and the Sunday paper and I'm set for the day. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fruity Blondies

It's been a busy week as my boyfriend's nephew and his girlfriend were visiting us from Chicago. It was lots of fun showing them around the city especially because they had never been to California before. Since they were in town, I did a little baking and decided to bake up a batch of cranberry and raisin blondies, a recipe I've had my eye on for some time now. If you are a blondie fan (and I’m not talking about the 70’s rock band here), I think you will find many things to like about this bar cookie which is filled with not only luscious cranberries, but rum-soaked golden raisins too. You could probably make them even more decadent by adding some butterscotch chips or chocolate chunks, but I decided not to this time. I also left out the nuts because I wanted the focus to be more on the juicy cranberries and raisins. Coming out of the oven, I was worried that the blondies were going to be a little on the dry side. The baking time said anywhere from 35 to 45 minutes but you know how ovens can vary, so I opted for the 35 minute baking time. Still though, I prefer a chewy, gooey blondie and these were just a tad drier than I liked, almost with a tea cake-like texture. So, my recommendation is to keep an eye out on the baking time and check how they’re coming along perhaps at the 28-30 minutes mark. I enjoyed the butterscotch flavor of these blondies very much, and found the cranberries and raisins added quite a tasty and pretty touch.
Fruity Blondies (adapted from Gourmet's Best Desserts)
1 C cranberries, rinsed, picked over and chopped
1 and 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup rum (light or dark will work)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 and 3/4 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Butter/grease an 8X8-inch pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Toss the cranberries with 2 tablespoons brown sugar in a small bowl and let the mixture stand for 15 minutes.
3. Combine the raisins and rum in a small saucepan; bring the liquid to a boil and simmer the raisins, covered, for 5 minutes or until they have absorbed the rum. Let cool.
4. Melt the butter in a saucepan over moderately low heat; add the remaining 1 and 3/4 cups brown sugar, cook the mixture, stirring, until it is just bubbly. Transfer the mixture to a heat-proof bowl and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir the batter until it is combined well. Fold in the cranberry mixture and raisins, and turn the batter into the baking pan, spreading it evenly (batter will be very thick).
5. Bake it in the middle of the oven for 35-45 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. (Check at 30 minute mark so you do not over bake).
6. Allow the pan to cool on a rack and cut into bars.
Yields about 30 small bars

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday Morning Banana Crumb Muffins

Aside from banana bread, which I love, I'm always on the lookout for new and delicious ways to use up those overripe bananas that sit on my kitchen counter or that I have hidden away in my freezer. One recipe that I have made before and loved is for banana crumb muffins which I discovered on Allrecipes. They were a huge hit when I made them the first time for a brunch party and I decided to make them again this weekend. Like most banana bread recipes, everything can be done by hand, no need to use your electric mixer for this one! It's also one of the easiest and quickest recipes to put together, and would make a very nice addition to say, your Mother's Day breakfast table, perhaps? Happy Mother's Day to all you moms! This post is dedicated to my own mother, who was a fabulous cook and who gave me so many beautiful and wonderful memories. She has been my inspiration for this food blog. Thank-you, Mom!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Another Indonesian Treat

This is my second Indonesian dessert that I have posted so far (see black sticky rice), something I found on Arfi's lovely website, HomemadeS. The dish is called Kueh Klepon which translates to sticky rice coconut balls. It is made with sticky rice flour, the stuff that Japanese mochi is made from, and can be filled with either grated palm sugar or even better, if you can find it, dark brown palm sugar. I only had regular palm sugar on hand so I stuck with that. It’s a pretty simple and fun dessert to make and really didn’t take much time at all. My friend T from Chicago was visiting one weekend and we decided to make these together on a Saturday morning. I didn't have any pandan paste so mine did not have the traditional green shade that Arfi's had, but they still tasted good. If you are a fan of mochi, I think you will like these treats. If you have not tried sticky rice desserts yet, give this recipe a try. I used a brand of sticky rice flour called Mochiko which you can find at most Asian grocery stores. I added a pandan leaf to the boiling water to give it a more traditional Indonesian flavor. Pandan leaves may be a little tricky to find at your Asian grocer but the wonderful aroma and flavor that you get with them is worth the effort of seeking them out. You may have to ask around and check in the frozen food section. To see the recipe and to check out Arfi's very pretty Kueh Klepon, click here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Chocolate Toffee Scones

I have another scone recipe to share with you. It comes from the cookbook, Desserts By The Yard by Sherry Yard. I was pretty excited when I first got this book because the author happens to be the executive pastry chef at one of LA’s trendiest and swankiest restaurants, Spago. Yes, call me a little impressionable and star-struck but this really is one beautifully photographed and well written cookbook. It reads like an autobiography of Yard’s life, chronicling her career over the years at the various restaurants she’s worked at including of course, Spago.
These scones were a little different than the kinds I’m used to baking. For one thing, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, I have never used cream of tartar in a scone recipe before. Little did I know that this is a commonly used ingredient if you’re going to make a traditional English scone, which this recipe is. This resulted in a scone that was lighter and flakier than what I'm accustomed to. I also liked the sugar and cream coating that I brushed the scones with before popping them in the oven. This added such a nice crispness and subtle crunch to the scone in addition to giving it a bit of sweetness. The recipe is a very versatile one and you should feel free to add whatever suits your fancy. I was thinking of making chocolate chip scones but ended up chopping up some chocolate and toffee candy and mixed it into the dough. Next time, I think I’ll try some juicy raisins.

Traditional English Scones (from Desserts By The Yard by Sherry Yard)
2 C AP flour
1/4 C sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 oz (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream, or more as needed
1/4 cup milk, or more as needed
1/2 cup chocolate-toffee bits (or chocolate chips, or toasted nuts, or raisins).

1. Place racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two 12x17 inch half sheet pans with parchment paper.

2. Sift together the first 5 ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and orange zest and mix on low speed for 1 minute, until the butter and flour are broken down into pieces the size of walnut meats. Use your thumb and forefinger to flatten the "walnuts". Then take up the mixture and rub briskly between your hands.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, cream, and milk. Add to the flour mixture along with the chocolate toffee bits (or whatever you choose), and blend at low speed just until the dough comes together, about 10 seconds. If it seems dry, add a bit more cream or milk, a tablespoon at a time.

4. Line your work surface with parchment, dust the parchment with flour and scrape out the dough. Shape into an 8-inch square, about 1 inch thick. You can use a rolling pin for this. Cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Flip the scones over and place on the parchment-lined pans. Brush with cream or milk and sprinkle with sugar.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until dark golden brown and puffed.