Wednesday, December 22, 2010


In 2 days, it'll be Christmas.  Another year has come and gone, and somehow Christmas has snuck up on me again.  As an adult, time goes by so quickly, but as a child, Christmas couldn't come soon enough.  I sometimes think about that eagerness and earnestness and wish for a little while I could return to that innocence when my biggest anxiety was wondering what was waiting for me under the tree.  The world seemed simpler back then--but maybe what's changed is my own awareness of how life moves around me.  And with the bustle of this time of year, there seems to be barely time to savor the season.  Speaking with a friend this evening, she mentioned how someone was talking about spending less time getting presents and spending more time in the presence of friends.  Though there is something to be said for showing love to others tangibly with gifts, quality time with loved ones is priceless.

One of my favorite holiday movies growing up is White Christmas.  There are no special effects, no sophisticated story lines, but the premise is simple: Christmas can be a time to show appreciation to others while expecting nothing in return (and you can sing and dance while you're at it).  This year I won't be dreaming of a white Christmas (I've given that idea up long ago, since it never snows where I live).  But I'll be dreaming of quality (and peaceful) time spent with those I care about.

Attempt #1

My Christmas recipe this year is for ricciarelli, Sienese almond cookies (I might have mentioned them in a prior blog about my trip to Italy, I can't remember).  I loved these in Italy, and I've tried making this three times now, trying to get them to look and taste somewhat similar to what I had in Siena, but I can't seem to get it right.  The first time, they were too wet and spread out too thinly.  The second time, they were almost too dense--perhaps because of the almond flour I used.  The third time, they puffed up like pillows.  They may not have looked like how I remembered them but they all still tasted pretty amazing, and the white dusting of powdered sugar make them perfectly festive for the holiday season.  There may not be snow here but these might do as a substitute.  Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Attempt #3

Makes about 20 cookies

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

1.  Mix together in a bowl:
- 3 cups almond flour
- 1 cup superfine sugar (regular granulated works too)
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 t. baking powder
- grated zest of one medium orange

2.  In a separate bowl, beat until soft peaks:
- 2 egg whites

3.  Stir egg whites into almond flour mixture from #1 using a spoon.  The mixture should be a sticky mass.

4.  Spoon out lumps of dough with a tablespoon and form into oval or diamond shapes approximately 1 cm thick and 2 to 2-1/2 inches long.  Roll in powdered sugar, and place on the cookie sheet 1/2 inch apart.  Sift powdered sugar over cookies.  

5.  Allow cookies to dry for 2 to 3 hours at room temperature before baking.  This is an important step to get the right texture.

6.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 275F degrees.  Bake the cookies for 30 minutes, until the outside is firm.  Cookies should be crunchy and chewy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Cool completely before serving.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I think my mind is still on Italy and I am pretty much drawn to all things Italy.  Sometimes I'll scroll through my photos and relive the sites and sounds (and tastes!).  It's still hard to believe I was actually there, and stood where Michelangelo painted his incredible Sistine Chapel and walked through the halls of the Uffizi.  

And I remember how fashionable everyone dresses over there--love the fashion!  There is nothing like it where I live, and no one here dresses like they do there.  Maybe if I were in, say, New York City, I wouldn't have noticed such a difference, but I'm pretty much in suburbia and work in corporate America, where Banana Republic seems to be more of the norm.  Perhaps being around the product of so much talent in Italy inspired the more creative side of me, and since I've been back, I'm more interested in exploring photography...and wanting to shop even more than I normally would, trying to be a little more adventurous with my sartorial choices.  Both are not inexpensive pastimes.

Though I haven't been baking and cooking as much recently, especially with traveling and then an increased devotion to some other "hobbies", that hasn't fallen away completely.  A girlfriend organized a girls' night this past weekend, and I was designated to bring a dessert.  Hooray, it was an opportunity to get back in the kitchen.  As I scrolled through (my default recipe repository), I came across an "Italian Strawberry Tart".  That was the winner, for sure.  For one, it said Italian--never mind that I didn't recall seeing anything like it while I was there; and for another, it was easy.  Easy is good, especially if it looks impressive and tastes as good as it looks.  The tart generated some oohs and aahs, and the girls loved it.  I like that it looks like there are little hearts blossoming throughout the dessert.  Kind of like how I still feel when I think about Italy...

Italian strawberry tart
Adapted from
Serves approximately 8

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

1.  In a bowl, mix together:
- 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. sea salt
- 1 t. ground cinnamon

2.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream together until the color turns light:
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar

3.  Continue to mix into the bowl from #2:
- 2 large eggs
- 2 T. milk (whole or 2% lowfat)

4.  Slowly pour the flour mixture from #1 into the mixture from #3 and mix until just combined.

5.  Transfer the batter to a round 9" spring form pan.  The batter will be sticky.  Press into the batter in concentric circles:
- 2 to 3 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled and halved (save any extras for garnish).

6.  Bake the tart for approximately 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.  Serve with whipped cream and fresh strawberries (optional).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

When in Rome (and Venice and Florence and Siena).

For almost as long as I can remember, I've had a yearning to go to Italy.  Thanks to my dedicated teacher in elementary school who first introduced me to art (yes, in elementary school!) and movies like Roman Holiday, A Room With a View, even Ben Hur, Italy took on something of a mystique--with the sprawling countryside, ancient ruins and the beginning of the RenaissanceIn my mind, Italy was a magical land of beauty and culture, rich in history and creativity.  It was a dream, and I almost wanted to save my first trip to Italy for something really special, maybe even something like a honeymoon.  But this year, this was going to be the year for me to finally make the trip I've always wanted to make--and it had nothing to do with Eat Pray Love (which I've never read nor have I seen the movie).  Going to Italy in and of itself is pretty special, and really, what was I waiting for?

Three of my girlfriends and I embarked on our own Italian adventure.  Given work schedules and time restraints, we had seven days to tackle four cities: Venice, Florence, Siena and Rome.  We plotted out each day in advance to maximize our limited time, visiting churches, museums, historical sites--all the while making sure we also ate the best Italy had to offer.  And we were able to get in some valuable shopping time.

Our time in Venice was cloudy and cold, which was a little unexpected for the time of year, but it didn't detract from the beauty of the city and its old-world charm.  Making our way through the winding alleyways and taking the vaporetto, I could almost envision Venetians going about their daily lives, transporting their goods on gondolas.  I don't think they were always used to serenade tourists.  Going to the fish market early in the morning, a Venetian merchant befriended us and gave us each a kiss (on the cheek).

I remembered the picturesque cinematography of A Room With a View and how Sandra Bullock's character in While You Were Sleeping longed to get her passport stamped with "Florence", which made me anxious for what was in store for us when we reached the city.  This was the city of the David, after all.  Seeing the Duomo for the first time literally knocked the wind out of me.  I was in complete awe of the detailed work, size and beauty of the structure.  Visiting the Duomo Museum, Academia and Uffizi made me acutely aware that I was in the company of incomparable brilliance.

Our one day jaunt to Siena proved to be an escape into yet another bygone time and era.  Upon entering the streets of Siena, with the high castle-like walls and medieval flags, I could picture myself wearing a corseted gown, perhaps walking among knights?  Yet the streets were dotted with modern, anachronistic boutiques like Max Mara and Benetton.  We chanced upon a hidden bakery that had incredible ricciarelli (almond cookies, a local favorite, that I'm hoping to replicate some day), and had lunch at a quaint restaurant that still hand-wrote their menus.  Admittedly, though, we spent some of the afternoon helping the Siena economy by paying a visit to the (anachronistic) shops.

Energetic and vast, Rome encapsulated thousands of years of civilizations.  We could catch the masses of tourists by the iconic Trevi Fountain or walk along excavations of ruins surrounding the imposing Colosseum, and a few blocks away, visit the galleria with the latest Italian fashion.  Vatican City (especially St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel), the Roman Forum, the Villa Borghese, and so many other sights were awe-inspiring, but discovering Trastavere became a welcome reprieve to the bustling activity and sensory overload of Ancient Rome.

Did I come away from my Italian adventure with any revelations or epiphanies (a la Eat Pray Love)?  With all the sightseeing, I wasn't left with much time to ponder my existence or the meaning of life--and maybe that was a good thing, because this life isn't just about me, and maybe I needed to simply soak in centuries of history and the legacy they've left behind.  Returning from a trip like this is always something of a let-down, going back to the everyday routine of work and errands, where the most exciting thing in the neighborhood might be the opening of a Pinkberry in a nearby mini-mall.  I didn't mention much about the food (which could be a whole other post on its own)--I miss all the pasta, paninis, pizza, gelato already.  But this is the life I'm given, which has plenty that I am grateful for.  Every so often, escaping to any foreign land is a good idea, if anything to remind us that there is a world beyond our own existence and to inspire our imagination.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In defense of the cupcake.

Today I saw an article on announcing that cupcakes were one of seven food fads that are going out of style.  Are cupcakes really losing their cool?  Reading that immediately prompted me to write an entry here to make the point that cupcakes could not possibly be going by the wayside.  While people are always looking for the latest and greatest, does that--should that--apply to food, especially dessert, as well?  Food is one of those things that we would find completely disappointing if it were to change or go away.  When I go to a restaurant, and I am treated to an amazing dish, I go back precisely to have the same experience again.  And so with the cupcake.  With that, I have my top five reasons for why cupcakes should not be cast aside:

1.  Cupcakes have built-in portion control.  At a time when dietary intake is a primary concern, cupcakes make it easier to restrict yourself to one serving.
2.  Cupcakes are green.  Since they can be hand-held, no extra plastic forks or paper plates are required.
3.  Cupcakes help the economy.  At easily $3+ dollars a pop, the local mom and pop bakeries can stay afloat.
4.  Cupcakes make even an average baker look spectacular.  Cupcakes can look cute and charming and delectable with less effort than many other desserts, even cake.
5.  Cupcakes remind you of your childhood.  And how can anyone resist returning to that innocence and those days of being carefree?  (Actually, cupcakes remind me of NYC, where I had my first cupcake fad experience--and I *love* NYC).

Okay, I'm being a little silly.  I do still love cupcakes, though, for the reasons above--especially the last two.  It is a funny thing to me that food, like fashion, can be faddish.  I wonder why we, as people, can't be completely satisfied by the same things that once satisfied us before.  I suppose that's a deeper question for another time...  Maybe you can tell me whether you still love cupcakes for what they are--cute, delicious baked goods--or if you're beginning to abandon them as a past trendy craze (don't worry, I won't take it personally). 

Banana Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart.
Makes about a dozen cupcakes.

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1-1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3)
2 large eggs
1/2 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F degrees and line cupcake pan.

In a bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  Mix butter, bananas, eggs and vanilla into flour mixture.  Divide batter into cupcake wells.  Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, approximately 25-30 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from pan and cool on a rack.

Cream Cheese Whipped Cream Frosting

8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
2 cups heavy cream

Using an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and almond extract.  Using the whisk attachment, whip in the heavy cream, until stiff peaks form. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Loafing around.

I've been feeling like muffins for about a week now.  Sort of an odd craving, I guess, but most mornings lately, I've been wishing I had something sweet to start my day--or any time of the day.  Since the craving started taking over any after-work fatigue, I finally got around to doing a little baking tonight.  I got started a little late in the evening, so I kept it easy--which also meant substituting a few ingredients because I didn't want to run out to the store to pick anything up.  And, of course, I wanted to keep it healthy, so I modified more than a few things.  The result was better than satisfactory (taking into account all the substitutes I made), though my major regret was not adding chocolate chips--which doesn't really help with the healthy factor but always makes things taste better.

It's already well past 11PM now, so this will be short and sweet.  Without further ado, here cranberry pecan loaf!  (Okay, so it's not muffins, but close enough).

Cranberry Pecan Loaf
Adapted from The New Best Recipe's "Cranberry-Nut Bread"
Makes one 9"x5" loaf 

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees, and grease a 9"x5" loaf pan. 

1.  Mix together in a bowl:
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 t. salt
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. baking soda

2.  Stir together in a separate bowl:
- 1 large egg
- 2/3 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
- 1/3 cup apple sauce
- 3 T. vegetable oil

3.  Pour the liquid mixture from #2 into the bowl with the dry mixture from #1, and stir together until just combined.

4.  Add to the bowl and mix together:
- 2/3 cup chopped pecans (lightly toasted, optional)
- 1-1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
(add chocolate chips if you want, too)

5.  Pour the batter into the greased pan.  Bake at 375F degrees for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350F and bake an additional 40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on a rack completely before slicing (which I almost never do but should because cooling completely makes cutting easier).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pretty in pink

The forecast for today said chance of rain with a high of 57 degrees and a low of 44.  Yesterday, Easter Sunday (one of my favorite days of the year not only because it marks the arrival of Spring but even more so because of all it really means), the weather was cold and rainy.  Could someone remind me what time of the year this is?  I've always loved rain and colder weather--during the right season--but now I'm itching for Spring to come full bloom so I can let my (pasty) legs see some sun finally.  I've even prepared my wardrobe for Spring with floral prints, but instead I am wrapped up in turtle necks and wool coats.   

Regardless of the weather condition, Spring always says "girly" to me.  It anticipates freshness, flowing flowery dresses and pink tulips.  For a bridal shower I helped throw recently, we pulled out all the stops and celebrated all the girlishness that is appropriate (and possibly bearable) for a bridal shower in the Spring.  The theme was *pink*, and we showed little restraint in how we used the color: pink table cloths, pink plates, pink cups, pink napkins, shower games on pink paper, pink desserts, all a la Martha Stewart.  Only after the shower was over did I check with the bride-to-be on whether she even liked the color pink, which to my relief, she said she did.  Or maybe she was being nice.

My contribution to the shower consisted of yellow cupcakes with pink buttercream and pink sprinkles and pink frosted heart-shaped sugar cookies for the guests to bring home--tied up with a pretty pink bow, of course.  The recipe I used is my favorite sugar cookie recipe which consistently yields what I think is the perfect texture (a little soft but very buttery).  Someone even said it was better than the sugar cookies from a well-known bakery in the area.  I don't think I'm someone who needs many compliments, but hearing stuff like that makes me all giddy inside. 

Sugar cookies with royal icing
Adapted from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking
Makes about 18 4" heart-shaped cookies

1.  Cream the following with an electric mixer on low to medium until light:
- 12 T. (1-1/2 sticks) of unsalted butter

2.  Add the following and continue creaming on medium:
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1/4 t. of salt
- 1 t. vanilla extract

3.  Mix in the following, one at a time, each until combined and scraping down the bowl in between:
- 1 large egg
- 1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

4.  Once the dough is evenly combined, wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F degrees with the rack positioned to the lower third of the oven.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll out the dough to about 1/3" thickness and cut into your shape of choice using cookie cutters.  Place on the baking sheet about 1" apart.  It's helpful to refrigerate the cut-out cookie dough about 15 minutes before baking to prevent the cookies from losing their shape when they bake.

5.  Place one baking sheet in the oven and bake for approximately 13 minutes or until firm and very lightly brown on the edges.  Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

6.  To make the royal icing, combine the following in mixing bowl with an electric mixer on low:
- 1 large egg white (I sometimes use powdered egg whites since I can be a little paranoid about salmonella poisoning)
- 1 t. of lemon juice or vanilla
- 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
Once the mixture is smooth, the consistency should be ideal for piping.  To spread, add 1 t. of water at a time and continue mixing until the frosting thins out but is still thick enough to spread on the cookies.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pure gold.

As I'm typing this, I'm planted on my sofa in front of the TV. I am an Olympics junky. There is something about the triumphs and spills of competition at the Olympics, and getting caught up in the stories behind the athletes who train for years for a singular moment that determines their place in the world. It never ceases to amaze me all the sacrifices these athletes make and the injuries and adversity some of them overcome to get to this point, all to have the chance to be crowned number one in their sport. It reminds me just how resilient the human spirit can be, that come what may, people have the ability to grow from hardship and not only survive but also excel.

Sadly, watching the Olympics can also make me wonder what I'm doing with my own life and consider what I have "accomplished" so far.

But at the same time, I do wonder what person I would become if I were "great" at something the way these athletes are. Would I be able to maintain any sort of humility and remember that all my abilities are really not my own but a gift? Knowing myself, there is a pretty good chance that I would forget all that and revel in my achievements. (I already forget and I don't even think I've accomplished that much.) Maybe what's truly admirable are those who stay humble when they have done so much.

NBC is showing the half pipe competition, and I'm waiting to see Shaun White *throw it down*
(as the announcer would say) for the finals in the hopes of back to back gold medals. As you can imagine, with all this time in front of the TV, there isn't a whole lot of time to be baking (or doing much else), so I have no new recipe today. Instead I'm posting photos of cupcakes I made for a recent dinner, using the same recipe from my very first post, which has always proven to be a winner. (I really think it's the ganache that does it). I think I'll go back to enjoying watching the games now and just appreciating the amazing things these athletes can do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

No fumbling.

Sorry about my cheesy title--I simply could not think of what to title this post. This may come as a surprise to some, but I love football. I know very little about the rules and strategy and all that (pretty sure I got touchdowns and field goals down), but I love the enthusiasm it creates in players and fans rooting for their team, and I love the white noise in the background as I fall asleep on the sofa when a game is on. I do really enjoy watching football games (especially teams that I care about), but sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon, the crowd noise, crunching sounds from the tackles and the refs' whistle just lulls me to sleep. It's a pretty close-to-perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon. Someone once said they should come up with an iPhone app with "football game white noise"--maybe there's already one that has it. That said, I am looking forward to watching the upcoming Super Bowl (and not napping through it), especially since I like the Mannings.

Now that I've set this all up, I have to tell you that my recipe for today probably wouldn't be considered tailgating-worthy by any means. While every foodie is putting together their Super Bowl party menus and food sites are channeling Super Bowl party tips with the big game just days away, today I am posting something completely irrelevant and a little...boring. I don't think people eat muffins while watching the Super Bowl, but I don't have any baking tailgating recipes. There also isn't anything particularly fancy about these muffins, but I like them because the recipe is fool-proof and easy to build upon depending on what you like (e.g. you can use wheat flour if you're more health conscious, add raisins, apple chunks, chocolate chips, different spices). You could probably use this for your next tea party or brunch. But if you're looking for a Super Bowl recipe, I'm pretty sure if you go to, she'll have you covered.

Applesauce Spice Muffins
Adapted from
Makes about a dozen regular-sized muffins

Grease or line muffin pan. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.

1. Stir together in a bowl:
- 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour (or substitute 1/2 or 1 cup with whole wheat flour)
- 1-1/2 t. baking powder
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1/2 t. cinnamon
- 1/2 t. ground allspice
- 1/4 t. grated nutmeg
- 1/4 t. salt

2. Using and electric mixer on low or by hand, whisk in a separate bowl until combined:
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup brown sugar

3. Add to the mixture in #2, one at a time:
- 1 stick + 3 T. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce

4. Fold into the apple sauce mixture, one at a time:
- flour mixture from #1
- 1 cup pecans or other chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds)

5. Divide batter evenly among the muffin wells. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Cool for a couple of minutes in the pan, then cool muffins completely on a rack.

(Epicurious includes a topping, which I forgot to use when I made this. It consisted of sugar, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Some reviewers of the recipe suggested using granola, which you can sprinkle on the top of each muffin before baking.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


It's hard to believe that after about five months from my last post, I'm finally back here. I've probably lost all my readers by now, so anything I write now could be going into some void or jumbled with all the other distractions the internet has to offer. Just a collection of random thoughts (pretending I can write) and experiments with baking, and hoping that there would be others out there who could find a little amusement in my deliberations and pretty pictures (if anyone bothers to read more than the recipe).

At some point, I lost any inspiration and motivation to continue, and started to think about what this was really for, especially since I didn't have too many readers. There were a few somewhat significant events (some really cool, some not as much) that diverted my attention, but I think I fell off the wagon on a few things, not just this blog. For example, I used to be a little bit of a runner, and ran a 10K last year--I might've written about it (I can't remember, it feels so long ago). And then the latter part of last year, one week off turned into two weeks, then a month, and then it was the holidays--and no running or working out ever occurs during that time of the year. But it appears last week was my week to get back on it. There was no particular reason, it was just a choice--kind of like when you feel unhappy, but if you make yourself smile even when you don't feel like it (though that can be very hard), you might feel a little happier after all. I baked up some cookies, started running again, even felt a little bit of renewed vigor at work, and knew it was time to channel some creative energy back into this site.

So here I am, back in the saddle at the beginning of a new year--hopefully for a while. I'm not much of a New Year's resolution type of a person, but I do have a few thoughts for the upcoming year that I hope to live by: (1) give more--Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times that helping others really ends up helping ourselves (and I wouldn't mind a little help); (2) pray more--prayer in and of itself may not solve problems, but prayer to a God who loves us infinitely can give us the strength to endure; and (3) no regrets--I'd like to be able to say that I did everything I could in any given situation or circumstance. I'm sure I won't live up to these, but there is a goal to work towards. Oh, and what is this blog really for? I guess I decided it was enough to blog for no real reason at all.

On that note, here's a recipe for what is now my favorite oatmeal cookie EVER. Hope you try it because it's pretty awesome.

Chocolate [Chip] Oatmeal Coconut Cookies
Adapted from
Makes about 36 2-1/2" cookies

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

1. Cream together with an electric mixer:
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1-1/4 cup brown sugar

2. Mix in the following, one at a time, on medium-low speed:
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1/2 t. vanilla
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3. Stir in by hand:
- 2-1/4 cups oats
- 1-1/2 cups shredded coconut (unsweetened)
- 12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup chopped pecans

4. Roll balls of cookie dough around 1-1/2" in diameter and arrange on the baking sheet about 2" apart. Press down on each lightly to about 1/2" thickness. Bake for about 11 minutes, until lightly brown. Cool cookies on the sheet for about a minute, then transfer to racks.