Monday, August 17, 2009

Everything nice.

In case you haven't picked it up by now, I'm kind of lazy. I applaud the return to simplicity but really all that means is that I don't want to put out a ton of effort when I bake or cook. I like things that are easy to make (but tasty), and I'll sacrifice presentation for convenience (unless I'm going to serve it to guests or something). Now that I've been baking and blogging for about 3/4 of a year, I realize that it's because I am so painfully slow when I bake and cook (and maybe even slower when writing my posts?!). When recipes include an estimated time to completion, without fail, I exceed that time period. I'm not even referring to Rachel Ray's recipes, which, as we know, take more than 30 minutes (I'm not docking her, I know few who can make a "real" full meal in under 30 minutes).

I can't really pinpoint what I'm doing inefficiently--although I do try to keep things tidy while I bake because I don't like to make a mess. Prep time (not including baking time) for something like chocolate chip cookies is rarely half an hour, as quoted. If I were to undertake a slightly more elaborate endeavor, say a chocolate cake with frosting, I could easily spend half a day in the kitchen. Making something like frosted cut-out cookies becomes a whole day affair.

For this reason, I love today's recipe (actually, what I mean is, I love the cookies you can make from this recipe). Again, it's "simple" but so appealing. Cinnamon and sugar is always a winning combination in my book (think cinnamon rolls or one of my favorite sugary cereals, Cinnamon Toast Crunch!). Plus I've been reading studies that cinnamon helps lower blood sugar levels, so these cookies can't be that bad for you (don't believe it). The recipe is from Sherry Yard, again, and it has an old-fashioned flair to it because it uses cream of tartar and baking soda, which predates the concept of baking powder. With prep time coming in at under 30 minutes, this will be a recipe I'll come back to in a pinch when I'm craving something sweet.

Adapted from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking
Makes about 2-1/2 dozen cookies

1. Sift together the following in a bowl, then set aside:
- 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1/2 t. cream of tartar

2. Using a mixer on medium, cream until color becomes lighter:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut in 1 inch cubes

3. On medium speed, mix in until smooth:
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1-1/2 t. cinnamon
- 1/8 t. salt
- 1-1/2 t. vanilla

4. Scrape down the side of the mixing bowl, then fully incorporate (but don't over mix):
- 1 large egg

5. Add in the flour mixture from #1, mixing on low, until dough is even. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and arrange the rack to the lower third of the oven. Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper.

7. In a small bowl, mix together by hand:
- 1 T. cinnamon
- 2-1/2 T. sugar

8. Removing the dough from the refrigerator, roll the dough into one-inch balls. Coat each ball with the cinnamon and sugar mixture from #7. Place each ball about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

9. Bake each sheet individually for approximately 13 minutes. Cookies should be dry on the outside.

10. Allow the cookies to cool for about 10 minutes, then serve (or save some to store).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tres bien.

I don't know what it is about the French, but have you noticed that everything in French sounds so much better? For example, Chocolate and Zucchini has wonderful recipes, but it is the French slant (including her periodic lessons on French idioms relating to food), that gives it a certain, well, dare I say, je ne sais quoi. Or think of the word souffle, and one can only respond with a monosyllabic "oooh" in awe. The French have kind of mystified food, and even their most basic dishes can seem humble yet refined at the same time. Movies are made about French food (Ratatouille, Julie and Julia...), with the message that French food is attainable yet underscores just how enlightened their cuisine really is.

This was brought to mind recently when some friends and I had an excursion to the city this past weekend and had dinner at a quaint French place called Cafe Claude. It's tucked away in an alley, and the average passerby would easily pass by it. Once inside, we were transported away from the city bustle, and it wouldn't take too much imagination to think we were in Paris--if it weren't for our entertaining, yet French-accent deprived, waiter. I can't remember what my dish was called, but I remember the taste vividly--the melding of the rare tuna steak with an onion and bacon infused cream sauce, that left me extolling its qualities and completely satisfied. Bacon (and butter) really does make everything better.

In honor of my French food experience, I'm going to share the chocolate souffle a friend and I made (having two people make this the first time really helps to make it less intimidating). With the exception of one or two that were slightly amiss, they came out rather fetching, and tasted the way you would imagine a souffle should--a little dreamy. I've actually been waiting to make this again before posting it here, since some of the souffles did fall and I had only my iPhone with me to take pictures, but I decided to go ahead and post this anyway. I think Julia Child would approve.

Chocolate Souffle
Adapted from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking Makes 6 8-oz. ramekins

Coating the ramekins:

- 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup sugar
Lightly brush the ramekins with the melted butter, and coat completely with sugar. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F, with rack in the middle.

- 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 2 T. corn starch (though Sherry Yard suggests potato flour)
- 8 large egg whites, room temperature
- pinch of cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- powdered sugar

1. Chop the chocolate into 1/4 in. pieces, and place in a medium heatproof bowl.

2. Heat the heavy cream until boiling, and pour over the chocolate. After about 1 minute, stir the chocolate and cream until all of the chocolate is melted. Set aside.

3. Whisk egg yolks with corn starch in a small bowl, and set aside.

4. Using an electric mixer, whip egg whites until large bubbles form. Add the pinch of cream of tartar. Continue to whip until soft peaks form (egg whites begin to cling to the beater). Slowly add in sugar, while whipping. Stop whipping once the egg whites can stand up (medium peak stage).

5. Stir the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture from #2 using a spatula.

6. Gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the combined mixture from #5, then fold in the rest. Be careful to not deflate the egg whites.

7. Fill each of the ramekins to the rim with the batter. Run a knife around the inside wall of the ramekin to create a pocket of air, which will help the souffle rise straight (we forgot this step!).

8. Place filled ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. The sides should be dry. Gently (and quietly!) remove the souffles from the oven, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

(the sunken souffle!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Something blue.

This post has nothing to do with weddings, but a lot to do with more blueberries! I think this has been a summer of blueberries for me. There must have been a couple of weeks where I was consuming them by the pounds, though I'm tempering that now. I like to think of them as fruits with the best ROI (return on investment). They're plentiful and not too expensive. They go well with other foods like yogurt and cereal, and are high in antioxidants. They're refreshing, and when I use them in desserts, I don't have to worry about peeling, slicing and all that--just wash and go.

So deciding on trying this recipe was a no-brainer. There are several things I love about this recipe. It incorporates two types of blueberry filling: a sort of blueberry jam (made by cooking the blueberries with some other ingredients and squishing them, which is kind of fun--almost like popping bubble wrap), and fresh blueberries with a glaze--it's kind of like eating both a blueberry pie and a fresh blueberry tart at the same time. The crust also includes ground almonds which adds more complexity to the texture and flavor. I did have to improvise a little, and crush the almonds by hand, then mix the crust with a pastry mixer since I don't have a food processor, but the effort was certainly worth it.

Blueberry-Almond Tart
Adapted from
Makes about 8 servings

For the filling:

1. Heat in a medium saucepan over medium heat, coarsely mashing the blueberries, until mixture begins to boil and thickens:
- 3/4 pound of blueberries
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 T. lemon juice

2. Whisk together the following, then add to the mixture from #1 slowly, and continue to cook for another couple of minutes until the mixture boils and thickens more:
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 t. cornstarch

3. Add to the mixture:
- 3 T. unsalted butter
- 1 t. grated lemon peel

4. Remove from heat, cover and chill overnight.

For the crust (without food processor):

1. Lightly butter a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

2. Lightly toast 1/4 sliced almonds, then crush by hand using a mortar and pestel (or any other means available to finely crush the almonds).

3. Transfer to a medium bowl, and mix with the following using a pastry blender until a coarsely combined:
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 T. sugar
- 1/4 t. salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled (which has been cut into cubes, about 1 T. each)

4. Continue mixing in:
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/4 t. almond extract

5. Form the mixture into a ball then flatten into a disk. Press dough into the bottom and sides of the tart pan, and freeze for about half an hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

6. Line the crust with foil, and bake for about 12 minutes. Remove the foil, then bake for another 18 minutes until crust is golden brown. Allow the crust to cool completely.

To assemble:

1. Spread filling into the crust.

2. Spread on top of the crust:
- 3/4 pounds of fresh blueberries

3. Heat and pour over the fresh blueberries:
- 1/2 cup red currant jelly (or other preferred flavor)

4. Garnish tart with more lightly toasted almond slices (optional).

5. Cover with foil and chill for about 2 hours.

6. To serve, push up the bottom of the tart pan to remove the sides and place on a serving platter.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Edible nostalgia.

I stole that title from Williams-Sonoma. Ever since I came across this article in the New York Times about whoopie pies, I have been intrigued and excited to try the recipe out--though for whatever reason it took me a little while to get to it. I don't know what it was about whoopie pies that drew me in, perhaps the idea of going back to something simpler or being reminded of other frosting-filled chocolate cake snacks from childhood (Ding-dongs? Ho Hos?). But these are nice, round mounds of chocolate cake with a marshmallowy filling, and with a history that some say dates back to the Great Depression.

However they came about, they seem to be making a comeback in some circles, and they are a cute and uncomplicated alternative to the ubiquitous cupcake--maybe a little less extravagant (appropriate for these tough times) and certainly just as tasty.

I recently had a friend over for dinner to catch up on what's been going on her life, and she wanted to bake something chocolaty. I took up the opportunity to try out the recipe, and it provided for the perfect bonding experience. Baking with a friend (or even someone who's not yet a friend?) always makes for a great experience to share--there's something about creating something together.

The cakes turned out delicious, though they weren't quite perfect round mounds, and most came out as kind of deformed blobs of chocolate cake (my pictures tend to focus on the prettier ones). Instead of making the traditional marshmallow fluff filling, we made a basic buttercream frosting which was still gratifying. I've tried making it again, in hopes of making them nice and round, but yet again, to no avail--in addition to over-whipping the egg whites for the filling only to have it deflate later. I think I'm resigning myself to imperfection on this one in terms of "looks", but I'd like to think the imperfection adds to its old world charm.

Whoopie Pies
Adapted from the New York Times
Makes about 6 pies

For the cakes:

Preheat the oven to 350F degress and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

1. Cream together in a mixing bowl:
- 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) of butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup brown sugar

2. Add to the butter mixture, mixing on medium:
- 1 large egg
- 1 t. vanilla extract

3. Whisk together in another bowl:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 1-1/4 t. baking soda
- 1 t. sea salt

4. Add to the butter mixture, alternating in 3 parts, combining well:
- flour mixture from #2
- 1 cup buttermilk

5. Create 12 mounds of batter on the baking sheets, each about 1/4 cup of batter, using a spoon or ice cream scoop. Each mound should be about 4 to 5 inches apart.

6. Bake on the middle rack for about 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

For the filling:

1. Temper the following by filling a saucepan with about 2 inches of water brought to a simmer, and whisking the following in a bowl of a stand mixer (or metal mixing bowl) over the the simmering water until the sugar is dissolved (or temperature reaches 180 degrees)--the mixing bowl should not touch the water:
- 3 large egg whites
- 3/4 cup sugar

2. Remove the mixing bowl from the simmering water, and whisk the egg white mixture on high until it increase in volume and becomes thick and glossy.

3. Reduce mixing speed to medium and add the following:
- 2 sticks butter, at room temperature; adding 1 T. at a time
- 3/4 t. vanilla
- 1/4 t. sea salt

4. Continue mixing until smooth, then increase mixing speed to high for one minute.

To assemble the pies, spread about 1/4 cup of filling on the flat side of one cake mound and place another mound on top, flat side down.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hidden treasures.

Even though I really enjoy looking at other people's blogs and seeing their creativity, I am terrible at following them consistently. For that reason, it makes me really appreciate when people leave comments or tell me they love reading my blog--I know that it takes time to do something like that. And it's knowing that people read this that helps keep me going. So for today, I'd like to spotlight one of my readers, who has played a part in helping me keep my endeavor up. I'll refer to her as "Bikegal", the alias she uses in her comments, and I've asked her to be a guest blogger on this site to share a recipe that she discovered recently. I hope you enjoy it! Thanks so much Bikegal--they look yummy!

Cookies are a mystery to me. You can do everything right from the perfect dough to the ideal convection oven, it can still come out flat as a pancake. Just as I had nearly given up my search for the perfect cookie recipe, life presented me with an opportunity to redeem myself; road trip and the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies! That's right, a road trip means many hours in a car which means a need to snack. The Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies that has gotten lost in my kitchen cabinet has over 475 recipes so the odds are definitely in my favor. I wanted cocoa for its health values and almond butter because I like the taste. BHG didn't let me down and I was able to find this cookie recipe which turned out to be a real jewel!

The original recipe is peanut butter filled chocolate cookie but since I loved almond butter, I simply switched the main ingredient. I was a little nervous how this would alter the consistency and taste but it didn't seem to be an issue.

Almond Butter-Filled Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies recipe

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup almond butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar (I skipped the sifting)
1/2 cup almond butter

1. In a medium bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat butter, the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and the 1/4 cup almond butter with an electric mixer until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk, and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture with a wooden spoon. Shape dough into 1 1/4 inch balls (should have 32) set aside. I ended up with 24 since I made bigger cookies.

2. For almond butter filling, in a medium bowl stir together powdered sugar and the 1/2 cup almond butter until smooth. Shape mixture into 1/4 inch balls. (should have 32). * I didn't bother to shape it into a balls but just generally mixed it together and it was just in a large clump.

3. On a work surface, or in your hands, slightly flatten each chocolate dough ball and top with an almond butter ball. * I just peeled off a small clump from the bigger clump. Roll dough into balls.

4. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

5. Bake in a 350 degree about 8 minutes or until just set and surface is slightly cracked. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. * In a convection oven, the cookie sheet placed closed to top of oven was done in 8 minutes but sheets on the lower shelf took an extra 5 minutes.

A bite into the almond butter inside the cookie was like finding the hidden treasure that is the ultimate flat proof cookie recipe!

Friday, June 26, 2009

(Coco)nutty for coconut.

Graduation season has just passed and the kids are all on summer vacation. I'm long out of that period of my life where I would be looking forward to graduating from an educational institution, but this time of the year does make me look back with some nostalgia. There was always so much excitement and anticipation, a world to discover, and I was in some ways eager to grow up, which would be marked by graduating from elementary school, junior high, and so on. Now I kind of wish I savored those days more.

About two weeks ago I went to my cousin's graduation party. He was graduating from junior high, and when I saw him, he was cool with hair like Adam Lambert and designer frames. When I was his age, I was geeky with braces, teased bangs and large round glasses that were more functional than stylish. Sometimes thinking about it makes me cringe, all the awkwardness of growing up and "finding yourself". (Although...I think I still haven't outgrown my awkwardness.) But despite that youthful blundering, the earnestness and hope seem to dissipate with age, often replaced by cynicism, and I wish I could recapture some of that innocence.

So what does coconut have to do with graduating and growing up? Not a whole lot except that one of the guests brought the most amazing coconut layer cake I had ever tasted. She said she got the recipe from Martha Stewart's (there she is again!) website--the Ultimate Coconut Cake, and it really did live up to its name. She (the guest, not Martha) told me she spent two days making it, which was a bit discouraging.

However, craving something coconutty, I settled with making coconut cupcakes, also from Martha Stewart. But I made the cardinal mistake that every baker should know not to make, and that was: I didn't read the recipe beforehand. This resulted in an extra half stick of butter mixed into the batter, which made it taste like a pound cake--not too bad, certainly denser. I made one or two other (intentional) variations, like adding almond extract instead of vanilla to complement the coconut, and it did well to satisfy my craving to have another piece of the cake. Definitely not the same, but close enough.

Coconut Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe
Makes about a dozen cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and line cupcake tin with liners.

1. Sift together in a bowl:
- 1-1/2 cups cake flour
- 1/2 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. sea salt

2. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, cream together until light in color and fluffy:
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar

3. Continue beating in the following, one at a time:
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 t. almond extract

4. On low speed, mix in the flour mixture from #1, then add in:
- 1/2 cup coconut milk

5. Distribute batter evenly among the cupcake wells, and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a rack.

To make the frosting:

Cream together the following:
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 1/2 stick of unsalted butter
- 1-1/2 cup powdered sugar

After frosting the cupcakes, sprinkle shaved or shredded coconut on top.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Not Martha.

The nice thing about blogging is that the reader will never really know how something tastes. Pictures may look fabulous but for all we know, it could be like taking a bite out of a styrofoam cake--you know, the kind that's decorated so intricately and beautifully for bakery windows. I sometimes sort of take comfort in knowing that when I take pictures of my food, no one will ever know that the reward of sinking your teeth into it is nowhere close to what it looks like. Readers will just have to take my word for it. But when it comes down to it, I'm a terrible liar, and I could not with a clear conscious proclaim to you how wonderful something I've made is when it's nothing like that at all. So, yet again, such was the case for my latest attempt.

I recently received the June issue of Martha Stewart's Living and the magazine just exuded summer. A refreshing photo of blueberries resting on top of an ice cream and sorbet sundae graced the cover...mmm.... And of course, one of the headlines declared "20 Sensational Desserts"! I'm all over this one. Martha knows how to draw me in.

Flipping through the magazine, she's got all the usual crafty features--cool ideas that I could probably never replicate--and 10 variations on the classic pound cake! The basic recipe called for only 6 ingredients, and variations were simply add-ins. This looked like something that would not be too laborious, especially since I was making this on a weeknight after work. I halved the recipe (as best I could, since the original proportions did not divide perfectly) to make one loaf instead of two, and after baking it up and cutting a slice, I knew it was not going to be like Martha's at all. It did not have the same height that Martha's achieved, and it was dry and dense instead of "airy and rich". Martha does say that the recipe is "finicky" and to follow the instructions carefully, which I could very well have not done. I'll try to rewrite the recipe here with the original proportions (I didn't see this recipe on her website and the recipe there is different from what was in the magazine), and if you try it out, I hope you have better results than I did. At least the pictures don't look too bad.

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
Makes 2 5in. x 9in. cakes

Preheat the oven to 325F degrees, with the rack in the center. Butter or grease the loaf pans.

1. Mix together by hand using a wire whisk:
- 3-1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 T. salt (I used kosher)

2. In a separate bowl, cream together on high for about 8 minutes:
- 2 cups (or 4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 cups sugar

3. Add in the following and mix in on medium:
- 1 t. vanilla extract

4. Beat separately then add into the butter mixture in 4 additions:
- 9 large eggs, room temperature

5. On low, add in the flour mixture in 4 additions, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. Fold in:
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

6. Pour the batter evenly into the pans, baking for about 65 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 30 minutes, then invert the pans to remove the cakes, and cool on the wire rack completely.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Yes I've been terrible at keeping up with my posts again. I've always got some excuse. But this time, I have a pretty good one. A couple of months ago, I think I must have been going through one of those mild premature mid-life crises where I was wondering where my life was headed, wondering what more to life there was, and maybe wanted to break from the routine. Don't get me wrong, I actually think I have it pretty good and am so blessed in so many ways, but every so often there is an itch for a little change.

A former roommate who now lives in Vienna, and who has always invited me to stay in her extra room, posted some photos of the city. After seeing them, I thought that was exactly what I needed. I booked a flight to Vienna, and a little more than a month later, I found myself walking through the Hofburg Palace grounds almost in disbelief that I was actually there. Everything was grand and beautiful, and the food... Preparing for the trip, I was looking forward to all the sweets--the strudels, the tortes, the gelato, the chocolate, and on and on. I made it a point to try different pastry shops and cafes to compare apfelstrudels and Sacher Tortes (the verdict: Oberlaa for apfelstrudel, Hotel Sacher for the Sacher Torte), and went to a market where maybe 20% the store was devoted solely to chocolate products (heavenly!). But though I've always thought Viennese food to consist of mainly meat and potatoes I found their food to be quite good.

Each day was full of new discoveries and experiences. Learning to navigate the tram, subway and train systems (within the city and getting out of the city--I visited Salzburg and did a day trip to Prague as well!), sharing a table for two with a complete stranger at an outdoor cafe (a very sweet elderly woman from Germany visiting her daughter and granddaughter in Vienna sat down at my table), forcing myself to remember to relax and enjoy the moment when it would take 30 minutes for my order to arrive (which I learned is typical--the service, I mean, maybe remembering to relax, too), seeing what amazing things we humans are capable of creating as demonstrated by the edifices and artwork (not me personally, but some other humans), and being reminded that there are those who are needy everywhere even in beautiful cities like Vienna (the homeless sleep in the subway stations at night but they seem to disappear during the day).

I'm back home now, and recovering from jet lag. It's beginning to feel as though it'll take the same amount of time as my trip to get readjusted again. I've been looking through all the photos I had taken and it all feels surreal. It felt surreal while I was there, it feels surreal looking at the pictures now. While I loved it there, and while the stark contrast of the concrete and freeways here made me want to get back on that plane and fly back over there, and while going back to work and staring at the walls of my cube made yearn for that freedom of exploration again--in spite of all that, I am also glad to be back. Sometimes, though these experiences are wonderful and exciting, in some ways, they remind me that I have much at home too. There aren't any palaces where I can make-believe I'm a princess, no lovely public gardens where I can idly sit in the shade and watch the water trickle in a fountain, but here, there is comfort in the familiar, and here, there are the people I care about.

So I have no recipe for you today. Snapshots of Vienna will have to suffice. I'm sure I'll be looking for another adventure in the not so distant future, but in the meantime, being here isn't so bad either.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Milkshake redux.

There are a couple of telltale signs that summer is coming--being invited to barbecues, blockbuster movie releases (e.g. Star Trek!), TV show season finales, and this sudden urge to buy clothes to keep (and look, of course) cool. I went to a barbecue yesterday to celebrate a birthday, I watched Star Trek last weekend when it opened, I'm wondering if Holly will return next season on The Office, and I just bought a summer dress on Friday (omitting a few prior recent purchases). I think summer is well under way and it's not even Memorial Day yet.

The temperature high for today was probably well above 90 degrees, and just thinking of firing up the oven was enough for me to feel sweat beads forming on my forehead and nose. Baking was not going to be in the cards for today.

Growing up, one of my favorite after school treats was a banana milkshake. I would walk home from the bus stop (being bused to school), and that walk which included going over hills (it probably wasn't even really hilly, though, as a kid, I sure remember thinking it was hilly) on sweltering days felt never-ending. The prospect of the sweet, refreshing milkshake often helped make the oh-so-long one mile trek just a little bearable. Being outside today felt pretty close to unbearable. I thought of those banana milkshakes that I used to have in my youth and thought today would be a good day to revive them.

There's nothing fancy to them, it doesn't even require ice cream. And I made some modifications to it such as using honey instead of sugar and adding blueberries, now that I'm an adult, but it still brings me back to those after-school afternoons.

Banana-Blueberry Milkshake
Serves one

- 1 cup milk
- 1 medium banana
- 1/3 cup blueberries
- 1/4 cup honey

Add all ingredients in a blender, give it a whirl, pour into a tall glass, and drink with a straw.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A new believer?

I think I am back on my oatmeal kick. Yes, again. I can't seem to help it. Every time I make cookies, I just want to add oatmeal to it. There's something about the texture I can't get enough of. And lately, I've been in a sort of cookie mood which gets me back into the oatmeal mood. For a while I was eating brownies and a lot of chocolate anything, but maybe I needed a little break from the decadence. I know, impossible, right? Who ever needs a break from chocolate?

My coworkers organized a potluck for today, which meant an opportunity to try another cookie recipe. This is how much I needed a break from chocolate--I made oatmeal cookies with white chocolate. I have never really understood the appeal of white chocolate. White chocolate is real chocolate stripped of everything that makes it irresistible, the lesser distant relative to the granddaddy of all confection, the wannabe in the cocoa butter get the picture. In my past experience with white chocolate desserts (and by that, I just mean eating desserts with white chocolate), I always thought its sweetness outweighed and overshadowed any real flavor--there was no real flavor to white chocolate except sweet.

I adapted a recipe from that called for dried peaches. Dried apricots are easier to find, and with this new element to the oatmeal cookie repertoire, I thought white chocolate really could be the better complement in something like this combination. After trying out one of the cookies, it was the right creamy texture and sweetness to bring out the oatmeal, walnuts and dried apricots. I may be a new believer in white chocolate just yet, and there really can be a use for white chocolate--at least when it comes to cookies. I think I may even elevate it to first cousin or something like that to real chocolate.

Apricots and Cream Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Sunny Anderson's recipe on
Makes about 1-1/2 dozen 3" cookies

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

1. Whisk together in a bowl with a wire whisk:
- 3/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1/4 t. salt

2. Cream together in another bowl with an electric mixer:
- 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white sugar

3. Gradually mix in to the the butter mixture from #2, each of the following in order:
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 t. vanilla
- flour mixture from #1
- 1-1/2 cups rolled oats
- 3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 3/4 cup white chocolate chips

4. Form the cookie dough into approximately 18 balls, spacing each one about 3 inches apart on the baking sheet. Press each ball down with your fingers or palm to about 1/2 inch thick disks.

5. Bake for about 12 minutes or until the tops turn golden. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Good company.

About two weeks ago I hosted my first dinner at my not-so-new apartment for a group of friends. It was the first time I formally had people over, so this was pretty exciting! I saw something in the New York Times about making your own pizza dough from scratch, which inspired me to make this dinner get-together more interactive than just sitting around a table. It was a pizza-making party--I would prepare the dough ahead of time, provide basic toppings, and everyone else would bring their favorite toppings to create their own pizzas.

I don't know why I do this, but I tend to get inspired to make something I've never done before and invite people over to eat an untested recipe because I always think it'll turn out the way it's supposed to. This time, using a recipe from The New Best Recipe and never having made pizza dough ever before, I prepared the pizza dough, and I must have messed up something along the way because the dough did not rise the way it was supposed to. Actually, I don't think it rose at all. The recipe requires mixing the yeast with water of a certain temperature, and since I couldn't tell what temperature the water was, there was probably a good chance I killed the yeast altogether (can you kill yeast?). Regardless, even though the crust baked up flat, and it was certainly no New York-style pizza crust, the taste was good, and all our creations with the different toppings my friends brought were delicious.

Perhaps a take-away from that meal was that sometimes, regardless of how the food turns out, with good company, any meal can be memorable. In all the activity of making the pizzas with my friends, I forgot to take pictures so I could show you! But I did manage to remember to take pictures before dinner of the chocolate zucchini bundt cake I served for dessert, so I'll share that recipe today instead. Maybe when I perfect my pizza dough and get it to rise another time, I'll post that recipe.

(I did want to mention that I know I've been slow in posting and visiting some of your sites lately. My internet has been spotty for most of last week (again!) and has not been working continuously long enough for me to finish a post until tonight--very frustrating. Thank you for still following along!)

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Adapted from Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking
Serves about 12

This is a lower guilt (but not guilt-free) recipe because it has zucchini! Marcy's original recipe includes orange zest, which I omitted only because I didn't have any oranges, but if you have some, adding it would make for a nice touch, I think.

Preheat the oven to 350F, and grease a 12 cup bundt pan.

1. Cream together the following in a bowl using a mixer:
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups of sugar

2. Add each of the following ingredients, mixing on low to medium:
- 4 large eggs, one at a time
- 3 ounces of semisweet chocolate, melted
- 2 t. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup milk

3. Stir in:
- 2 cups shredded zucchini

4. Mix on low (or fold in) the following, until completely combined (but don't over mix):
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 t. baking powder
- 1 t. baking soda
- 1/4 t. salt
- 1 t. cinnamon

5. Pour into the bundt pan and bake for about an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes then invert it onto a serving platter or dish.

6. For the glaze, heat over low heat:
- 3 oz. semisweet chocolate
- 1 T. unsalted butter
Once combined and smooth, spoon glaze over the cooled cake.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beat the heat.

For a Spring day in April, it's been hot hot hot. And on days like these, it makes me think of only one thing: air conditioning. I just want to somehow get away from the heat and be where it's nice and cool--even if artificially, and yes, I am somewhat of a comfort creature with not much tolerance for extreme temperatures. I do sometimes also have other refreshing thoughts, like imagining myself sitting by a pool or on a beach on some far off tropical island, listening to splashing water or waves hitting the sand, with a cool drink in my hand. And the drink will have to have one of those little umbrellas and a piece of tropical fruit as garnish.

You might already know where I'm going with this. With the weather warming up, visions of pineapples, mangoes, and papayas dance in my head. Okay, not quite--I don't really like papayas honestly, but they all kind of go together. Pineapples and mangoes (mangoes especially), on the other hand, were staple fruits in my family while I was growing up and I cannot imagine a summer without them (and it's certainly feeling like summer today).

When a (new!) friend suggested showing me how to make a mango fruit tart about a week ago, I could not refuse. We met recently through a mutual friend, and I learned that she had a passion, perhaps an obsession?, for fruit tarts. I had never made one before, and with my penchant for baking, we knew this meeting was destiny. Her recipe is surprisingly easy, no fuss, with impressive results. The only touch I added at the end was an apricot glaze, which I've seen in some other recipes. Thinking about it now, this wouldn't be such a bad substitute for relaxing on the beach if you can't get to one on a hot day like today.

Mango Fruit Tart
Adapted from a fellow dessert-lover-baker
Serves about 8

Preheat the oven to 375F; you'll also need a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom

For the crust:
1. Combine the following using a pastry blender (or food processor if you have one):
- 1-1/3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour, fluffed
- 1 stick (or 1/2 cup) + 1 T. butter

2. Combine flour mixture with:
- 1 egg yolk

3. When the dough holds together, press it into the tart pan with your fingers.

4. Bake the crust for about 30 minutes or until edges turn light brown.

For the topping:
Peel and slice two medium-sized mangoes lengthwise (or you can slice any other fruit you'd like to use)

For the filling:
Using an electric mixer, mix together:
- 4 oz. cream cheese
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 T. vanilla
(you can play with these proportions to achieve the taste you prefer)

For the glaze:
Over medium heat, stir together until syrupy:
- 2 T. apricot preserves
- 2 T. water

To assemble:
1. Prepare, bake and cool the crust after baking; remove from pan.
2. Spread the cream cheese filling evenly over the crust.
3. Assemble the sliced mango or other fruit in concentric circles.
4. Using a pastry brush or spoon, gently spread the glaze over the fruit.
5. Chill for about 2 hours before serving.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I've been trying to get this post out but I've been at the mercy of my fickle internet service, which is back up again this morning (yay!). It's Saturday now but it's been feeling like one long Monday, and not because I couldn't get on line (though that probably didn't help). A long, long, looong Monday, that, now that I think of it, started somewhere last week, actually. It's one of those times when life just, well, sucks the life out of you. And Spring seems to have taken its own vacation around here and the clouds have rolled in again--perhaps somewhat appropriately. I really did have grand plans for this post, like cute little stories from my childhood and reflections on the joy of youth--you know, something terribly profound and thought-provoking, but I've lost the inspiration even before I've begun so maybe another time will do but not today.

The highlight in my long "Monday", though, was that I managed to do one of my favorite things on a Saturday morning this last weekend, and that was to go to the local farmers' market. Farmers' markets are really the place to be for a weekend morning, to leisurely stroll along the vendor stands and watch people with baby strollers and reusable shopping bags, as they mull around the organic produce laid out in crates and boxes. Gone is any affectation, replaced by a little more sincerity. I usually go not really with a shopping list in mind, but just to see what's in season and what looks enticing and to people watch or spend quality time with a friend, but this time, I had purpose: I was going to buy a plant for my new apartment. I have never bought a plant, never had any inclinations toward cultivating a green thumb, but decided I needed one just to brighten up my place and make it more homey and welcoming. But I didn't know what to get ("a wise bowl of sage"? maybe too clever...only at a farmers' market), so instead I saw a table of lovely, fresh strawberries beckoning, and I could not resist. Instead of a plant, I came home with the lovely strawberries, which then later turned into some not-nearly-as-lovely-but-they'll-do strawberry cupcakes (I found the recipe at; I didn't get enough air into the butter so they baked up a little heavy and my frosting didn't come out so smooth, but the taste, it was what you would think a fresh Spring day would taste like if you could put it into a cupcake...mmm).

And my mission to get a plant? I got daffodils from Trader Joe's that were so cute when I first picked them up it was enough to dispel any blues momentarily, but they have only since wilted considerably, in just a matter of days.
What could I have done wrong? I watered it faithfully, put it by the window for light, and all I can think of that was that maybe, just maybe, I didn't talk to it enough--or at all. My very first plant ever and I have already almost killed it in record time. Another thing to chalk up to the blues. But tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and that is always a marker of hope.

Strawberry cupcakes
Adapted from the recipe at (thank you Picky Cook!)
Makes about a dozen

For the cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 350F and line the cupcake tin.

1. Puree in a food processor or blender:
- 1 cup of fresh or frozen strawberries (hulled) (there will be extra for the frosting)

2. Whisk together with a wire whisk:
- 1-1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. kosher salt

3. In a cup, combine:
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup strawberry puree from #1

4. Cream together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy:
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup of sugar

5. Add to the mixing bowl and mix to combine:
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 large egg whites, at room temperature

6. Mix into the
butter and egg mixture from #5 on low: the flour mixture from #2 and the milk and strawberry puree from #3, alternating between each but beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

7. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then cool on a rack completely.

For the frosting:

1. In a mixing bowl, using the paddle attachment, cream:
- 2 sticks (or 1 cup) of butter

2. Mix in, until smooth:
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1 t. vanilla
- 1/3 cup strawberry puree

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Morning glory.

I am a slow riser. There are people who get up, make themselves a cup of coffee, read the morning paper, watch the morning news, maybe even go for a jog or walk their dog, and then get ready for their day. I am not one of those people. I have perfected my morning routine to take less than 15 minutes to get ready for work so I can stay in bed for as long as absolutely possible. Of course, I sacrifice a few things in doing so--such as never changing my hairdo or uncoordinated handbags and shoes, but what is that in comparison to an extra 5 minutes of sleep?

On Sunday, I ran a 10K with some friends in the city (I'm referring to San Francisco--somehow it's just become known as "The City" to those who reside in Northern California, as though there really aren't any other cities in comparison) which started at 8AM. 8AM! Not to mention the drive to get there. This was going to be a challenge. Maybe it was the race jitters or fear (most likely fear because I didn't feel that ready for it), but I was up extra early, and running 6+ miles at 8AM in the morning turned out to be a pretty awesome and awe-inspiring experience.

The route included running across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was something I've always wanted to do, and the morning was simply glorious with the clear blue skies, glassy ocean, lush hills, and bright shining sun. It was as though just for that day, San Francisco's fog lifted and let the sun shine to lead me to the finish line (okay, a bit over-dramatic). There are times when I see something and wish I could reproduce that image I have in mind in a photograph--this is one of those times, just so I could show you how breathtaking it was.

I won't try to convince you that my breakfast cookies I baked last night were just like that, inspiring and glorious. They're full of whole wheat, oats, nuts, that wholesome stuff. They're not bad at all, actually, but they do make me feel good when I start the day with one (translation = healthy--remember, I'm a health nut!), and I like that they're called "cookies" instead of something like "bars", because it tricks me into thinking it's a really special bad-for-you kind of treat or reward. I used dried cranberries and pecans, but you can use any fruit and nut combination, or even chocolate chips! It won't be a jog across the Golden Gate Bridge on a bright, beautiful morning, but it might be enough to get me out of bed a little earlier than usual--just a little.

Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from Ellie Krieger on
Makes about a dozen

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

1. Whisk together the following ingredients in a bowl with a wire whisk:
- 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1 t. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 t. salt

2. In another bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the following on medium to high speed until combined:
- 2 T. unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1/2 cup brown sugar or honey

3. Add the following to the mixture from #2 and mix until combined:
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup apple sauce (or strained carrot baby food, according to the original recipe)
- 1 t. vanilla extract

4. Combine the flour mixture from #1 into the mixture from #3.

5. Fold in the following:
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/3 cup roasted, chopped pecans

6. Shape the dough into balls about 2-1/2" and flatten to about 1/4" thickness on the baking sheet. Be sure to leave about 3" in between each cookie. Bake for 14 minutes, and cool on rack.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I feel like it's been so long that I don't know how to write anymore. But it's only been two weeks, and it's good to back--I've missed you all. I'm settling in to my new place fairly well--thank you to all of you for your support in my move! The move went well, nothing broken and no injuries in the process, which is always a good thing. For a couple of days I felt lost because my internet and cable were not set up (it's amazing how dependent I am on the internet and TV) and I didn't know what to do with myself except, well, unpack, which I guess is productive--but not appealing given all the packing I had just done prior to the move. My internet is up and running now (hooray!) but my little TV is still sitting in a dark corner of my living room, unplugged, lifeless and lonely.

I think while I was busy with my move, Spring must have crept up on me. Because I am suddenly surrounded by blooming flowers and bright green trees. There are some cherry trees nearby, and they're full of cherry blossoms, which make me want to stroll among them and breathe in their sweet scent. As much as I loved the rainy cold weather, I think I am now ready for Spring to arrive, when I don't have to leave the house with four layers of clothing and when I can get out of work and still be able to see the sun.

So in honor of Spring's arrival, when all things are new again, and to celebrate being back here again with you (!), I thought I'd try out my new oven (which is actually a little risky because an oven can be unpredictable at first and it can take a few tries to see what works) and my new bundt cake pan (which a friend gave to me fairly recently and I've never made a bundt cake before!) to make a blueberry bundt cake--although I cheated and used frozen blueberries, but only because I was told to use them so they wouldn't sink!

Prior to making my first very own bundt cake, my memories of bundt cakes have been from potlucks or church social gatherings. (Bundt cakes also remind me of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", when the parents meet for the first time, and the Greek mother could not understand what a bundt cake was!) I've always liked how they looked, pretty just on its own and round with the soft ridges and the hole in the middle--kind of like a really fancy giant donut though not really. My friend who bought me the pan summed up bundt cakes in two (well, three) words: "moist and delicious" (and didn't I say I'd come back with something delicious?).

Blueberry Bundt Cake
Adapted from
Serves about 12

Preheat the ovent to 350F and grease and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.

1. Using a wire whisk, mix together in a bowl:
- 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 T. baking powder
- 1 t. salt

2. In a separate bowl, cream together on low to medium until light and fluffy:
- 1-1/2 sticks (or 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
- 1-2/3 cups sugar

3. Once the butter and sugar have been creamed, add in, one at a time, until just mixed:
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature

- 2 t. vanilla extract

4. Continue mixing on on low, adding the following and alternating between each, beginning and ending with the flour mixture:
- Flour mixture from #1
- 1 cup buttermilk

5. Fold in by hand:
- 2 cups frozen blueberries

6. Bake for about 60 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan, then allow to cool completely on a rack. Transfer the cake to a plate and dust with powdered sugar (which I forgot to do because I a little eager to try the cake!).