Monday, April 26, 2010

A different kind of fruit cake

My friend Janet and I have been wanting to bake for a very long time. The last time we baked was last summer (a delish banana nut bread); the last couple of get togethers consisted of making soup :). This time, we were set on making a pastry of some sort and I found a great recipe from Happy Home Baking . I like this blogger a lot because she has Asian inspired baked goods/dishes that I've wanted to learn for a long time now. There's something about Asian baked goods that American baked goods lack - it's probably the amount of sugar that I can taste that makes a big difference. I usually don't like things that are super sweet and Asian cakes are more fluffy and not so sweet. They also use different kinds of ingredients like red bean paste, green tea powder and fruits (nature's candy as my friend calls it). This cake would be ideal for Mother's Day or Father's Day (both are coming so soon) so get in the kitchen! I'm going to be making two for mother's day - grandma and mom - and make it prettier with more colors like strawberries!

Fruit Pastry Cake from Happy Home Baking

100g butter, soften at room temperature -- about 3/4 of the stick
180g powdered sugar (aka caster)-- about 1 and 2/3 cups
1/2 cup of small plain yogurt
3 eggs, lightly beaten, room temperature (you can make your eggs room temperature by letting them sit in a bath of warm water for 5 minutes)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest (I used lemon)
210g plain flour -- 1 and 7/8 cups
1 teaspoon baking powder
500g fruits tossed with 2 tablespoon sugar (You can use strawberries, blueberries, peaches, bananas, oranges, pears, apples, pineapple, or any other fruits that are not too juicy.)- I used jarred peaches, frozen blueberries and a fresh pear. I didn't toss the fruits in sugar and it was just right.

Directions (modified by me):
- Slice and prepare the fruits on the side.
- Grease (with butter) and flour the side of a 9" round pan or a 8" square pan and line the base with parchment paper. (I used canola oil to grease the pan and it worked just fine. You can trace the base of the pan on parchment paper and then cut it out into a circle shape to fit nicely at the base)
- With an electric mixer, cream the softened butter, sugar and yogurt until it is light and fluffy.
- Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and then slowly pour the egg batter into the cake batter as you mix. (The mixture may appear slightly curdled.)
- Add vanilla extract and zest. Mix to combine.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixer until smooth. (You can use a kitchen towel over the bowl to avoid all the powder flying everywhere)
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top with a spatula.
- Arrange the fruits on top into any decorative manner you want. DON'T PUSH THE FRUIT INTO THE MIX.

- Bake your cake in a pre-heated oven at 180degC (350 deg F) for 45 minutes then cover the top with a foil tent for another 15 mins. This will prevent the top from getting browned. You can check to see if the cake is done by inserting a toothpick.
- Let the cake cake cool for about 5~10 mins. Unmold and transfer to wire rack to let cool completely. Dust the cake with some icing sugar if desired. <-- I did not do this.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Social Responsibility

Daniel and I watched Food, Inc. this weekend and let's just say I have a new perspective on food. It was difficult to watch because I love food - I read about it and think about it almost all the time. The movie made me wonder how often people really THINK about their food. Do you wonder how the grocery store becomes stocked with your favorite items like packaged goods and produce? I shop at Henry's, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods and find myself looking at the back label where the ingredients are listed. It's interesting to see that sometimes I can't even pronounce the ingredient - does this mean I put it back? Not at all. It may give me goosebumps but I move on because I need that ingredient or because I like that particular product. I also put the item in my cart because they come from these particular grocery stores where I feel more confident that they choose products that will sustain our earth and give back to our local farmers with fair wages. But after watching this movie, I'll think twice about what I put in my shopping cart.

In the last year, I would say I'm a little more conscious of what goes into my every day products like my personal hygiene products and food. Daniel and I go to the farmer's market (when possible) and go to Henry's where they promise that a majority of their produce is from local farmers. After watching Food, Inc., you'll realize that farmer's are not earning fair wages from large corporations that offer them contracts. One of these large corporations (that I don't think I'm legally allowed to say because I could be sued) pays the farmer only $18,000 a year; the farmer gives them about 25% of their product line (i.e. chicken tenders, chicken breast meat etc.) While it's easy to think that farmers can cut ties from these large corporations, everything gets difficult when money is added to the equation. Farmers can't cut it on their own, they need these major corporations to make a buck and help them out of the heaping debt that their in. As consumers, we can help them. If you avoid certain products, you can help these farmers. Go to Eat Well Guide to find local farmer's markets and other places where you can find products/produce to demonstrate to the corporations that you don't want their products until they change their ways. Not only do they have to change their relationships with local farmers, they also have to change the way that they treat animals. I'm not a vegetarian but animals have rights too. They should be living freely until they come to your dinner table. For this reason, Daniel and I purchase grass fed beef and free-range chickens. Consider this the next time you purchase your meats and produce.

Another thing you can do is write a letter or an email to your local market to see if they are willing to change their ways too. I recently wrote a letter to my local Trader Joe's store to see if they can change the way that they package their produce. If you've been to Trader Joe's before, you'll notice that most of their fruits/vegetables are packaged in cellophane wrappers. They use recyclable material for the base but not for the top. I'll keep you posted on what their response is.

My last rant - I read a recent article on a group of college students who wanted to track the miles that went into making one taco. You'll find it quite surprising.

*Disclaimer - I'm all for trying to help the local farmers but please understand that sometimes it is difficult especially if you don't have a budget to purchase the more expensive local products. Specifically, for me, this means baking items. I like to bake a lot and buying gourmet chocolate chips, flour, and sugar that are produced locally make cost me more. I'm going to try and find ways to make this happen without breaking the bank or supporting large corporations.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Latin Inspired Food Night

Two nights ago, I went to my friend's house for a delicious south of the border inspired dinner. Her dining table turned into a mini taco bar where you can build your own taco/burrito with her amazing beef, chicken, guacamole, cheese and all the toppings. I felt like this was the opportunity for me to make salsa from my Food Network magazine :). I decided to try the roasted tomatillo salsa recipe (aka Chile Verde). It's not spicy - it's tangy. I didn't really know what to expect when I bought the tomatillos. I've always seen them but never touched it or held it. It has this husk on the outside that is a bit sticky but sheds off just easily to expose a beautifully plump green tomato. I was discovering a new vegetable! Here's the very easy to do recipe from Food Network:

10 tomatillos
1/2 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 chipotle in adobo sauce (I didn't use this)

- Peel the tomatillos and wash. I plucked the stem from the top and threw it away.
- Slice the onion and leave the garlic still in its shell.
- Lay out the tomatillos, onion and garlic on a baking sheet and broil them in the oven for about 15 minutes.
- Remove all the items from your oven. Peel the garlic and chop it into tiny pieces.
- Put the garlic, tomatillos, onion, 1 chipotle in adobo sauce (I didn't use this), cilantro as you please and a dash of sugar (I omitted this) and salt into a blender and puree.

Voila! You're done. After I finished making it, I realized how not spicy it was so I just went ahead and chopped some jalapenos into it. Great addition :).

Now on to the drinks! Ole!

I tried two different horchata recipes but was not able to take a picture of either one of them before they were consumed a couple nights ago. I remade one of the recipes and took a picture at home today because I wanted my boyfriend and my friend who will be visiting shortly to try it. I chose to make this one again because it tastes like almond milk tea. If you like almond extract, you'll like this one more than the other recipe I used.

Horchata by Ingrid Hoffman (Food Network)

1 cup uncooked long grain white rice
1 quart warm water
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
Whole cinnamon sticks, optional, for serving (I omitted this because it was really expensive and unnecessary)

In a blender, combine the rice and warm water. Blend for 1 to 2 minutes until the rice breaks up but does not form a powder. Let the rice mixture stand in the refrigerator for 6 hours or up to overnight.

Strain the rice mixture into a container through a fine-mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth to remove the rice solids. I used coffee filters since I didn't have any of these items at home.

Pour the rice water into a blender and add the milk, vanilla and almond extracts, cinnamon, and sugar. Blend for 1 minute until well combined and smooth. Serve the horchata over ice with cinnamon sticks as stirrers (see - totally unnecessary).

I need a nice camera to take better pictures. This picture (from my camera phone) just doesn't do it any justice. If you're interested in the other horchata recipe I used (which tastes more like horchata and doesn't have any lactose), click here.

Goals in the coming weeks:

- Make two soups. I made one over the weekend but it's not worthy of putting up because it was bland and boring.
- Make an Asian inspired sponge cake with two awesome friends.
- Attend Taste of Hillcrest which features over 60 restaurants and their best menu samplers.
- Try to make Coq au Vin - chicken in red wine sauce that is usually featured in French restaurants.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Strawberry Season is Here!

Spring time is here so that means plenty of strawberries! This last weekend I went with my boyfriend to Carlsbad where there is a large field of strawberries where you can pay and pick. It was such a beautiful sight! The sweetest thing is when you see a little child go and pick a strawberry and quickly put it in their mouth; it's also cute when you see the traces of strawberry all over their chubby cheeks :). It was such a nice day for everyone to be outside in the sun picking one of the best fruits (or flowers if you want to get technical) of the season. We bought a small bucket that would usually fit about 15-20 large strawberries. It really wasn't big at all (think medium popcorn bucket). Of course we couldn't go home with just 15 strawberries for $8.00, that's just ridiculous. So we copied other people's techniques which meant pulling strawberries with the entire vine and hanging it on the outside of the bucket. I'll definitely post a picture of that soon. With this technique, we were able to get almost 4 pounds of strawberries!!! Now that I look back, that was one too many for my own good. I can't even look at them in the grocery store anymore. So what to do with all these strawberries? Immediately I began to think about what I could bake with these strawberries. I am a big fan of strawberry rhubarb pie so I thought about making pie but that just required more time than I really had. I decided I'd made the same kind of pie filling but a different topping - a crispy crumble topping!

45 minutes later, I was enjoying a baked strawberry rhubarb crumble.

Here is a great filling recipe from Smitten Kitchen:

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces (it looks like a pink celery stalk)
1 quart strawberries plus a few extras, hulled, quartered (this means about 4 cups)
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt

After making this filling, I spooned the mixture into small ramkins instead of large baking dish such as the one on Smitten Kitchen's website.

I went on to use another recipe from All You magazine for the crumble on top.

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

You might need to make more of the crumble to cover all of the strawberry rhubarb filling. I ended up cutting the strawberry rhubarb recipe in half and used only half of the crumble recipe too. I was a little short on crumble.

Pop the ramkins into the oven at 350 degrees for about 12-15 minutes and voila!

I really liked the tartness of the rhubarb and sweetness of the strawberries combined. I hope you enjoy it too!


Another recipe I tried that evening after strawberry picking was strawberry jam. I wanted to avoid pectin when making the jam but you really need it. Without it, your jam won't solidify and instead become a runny mess. I'm going to use it top pancakes now instead of using it on toast.


This is quite the blog post this week. My friend came to visit me last night for a late night bake session and it was so much fun. I got to try a recipe that she used from Martha Stewart called Lime Meltaways. If you enjoy citrus flavors and shortbread cookies, this is for you.

Ingredients (to make 10 dozen):
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar (split into 1/3 and 2/3)
Grated zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt


With an electric mixer, cream butter and 1/3 cup sugar until fluffy. Add lime zest, juice, and vanilla; beat until fluffy.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add to butter mixture, and beat on low speed until combined.
With parchment paper, roll the dough into two 1 1/4-inch-diameter logs. Chill at least 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Remove parchment from logs; slice dough into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets, spaced 1 inch apart.
Bake cookies until barely golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. While still warm, place cookies in the 2/3 cup sugar-filled bag and toss to coat. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store them in an airtight container.

Refreshing, cool and light. Three words that describe what my taste buds were surely feeling :).

PS If you like lemons, you can substitute the lime juice/zest with that of a lemon.
PSS I need better images...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Yummy Cupcakes

While in Chicago, my friend and I tried to go to as many cupcake shops as possible but were really only able to make it to two: Sugar Bliss and Molly's Cupcakes. Because of my class schedule, we also weren't able to make it to the Iron Cupcake Challenge. The Iron Cupcake Challenge invites all bakers to bring their baking skills and try to use the secret ingredient (this time spicy peppers) in their baked goods. Observers - like me - would get to try them :). Next time! Anyway, Sugar Bliss cupcakes had a cupcake base that tasted like a regular Hostess ding dong and mediocre frosting. I definitely enjoyed Molly's Cupcakes more not only because of the taste but because of the setting (swings hanging from the ceiling!), the beautifully decorated cupcakes and great taste.

Visit Molly's in North Chicago near Lincoln Park if you ever get the chance!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

2 Days at Epcot - 10 different snacks/meals

Epcot Center is a must see if you ever go to Disney World. Not only are there innovative rides that you can't find anywhere else, you can go around the world in a few hours! Countries that are feature in the Epcot theme park are Canada, America, China, Germany, France, Mexico, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Norway and the United Kingdom. Each country features the country's special dishes, drinks and desserts. You can't go hungry while you're there. The most unique dishes that my sister and I tried came from Morocco, Germany and France.

Some of the dishes we had were:
- Three stuffed pitas at Morocco with hummus and tzatiki sauce. The pitas were stuffed with chicken, gyros and falafels.
- I had a glass of wine in France. It was a half merlot and cabernet savignon. Very good! If you want to try wines from three different countries, you can by a flight card and try 2 ounces in France, Italy and Germany (although you should try the beer there.)
- A cheese plate and chocolate cake in France. The three cheeses we tried (with baguette) were brie, soft cheddar and a cheese that I cannot identify. It was very firm, white and sweet. I wasn't a big fan of that one but it was interesting.
- In Japan we had beef sukiyaki rolls which were really yummy. I've never seen anything like it here in California. It would be a great alternative to California rolls (which is the only roll I really eat since I don't eat raw fish).
- We shopped inside the Japanese candy/snack/sake store and found many of the items that we can buy at Mitsuwa or any local Japanese market. We ended up buying this

because it's one of our favorite childhood candies.
- For dinner one night, my sister and I wanted to eat two different things. She wanted to try a German bratwurst and I wanted a turkey leg (what's Disney without a turkey leg?). She came back with the bratwurst and sauerkraut (bleh...) and German cherry crumble pie. It was so good! Very moist with a nice and crunchy crumble top. The bratwurst was also very different from what I usually buy in the local markets here. I think I prefer the American version of the bratwurst. My turkey leg was mediocre. Salty as usual and too big to eat. It was funny while I was standing in line hearing the adults talking about "America's Pavilion". All America had to offer was turkey leg, popcorn, funnel cake and beer. The main attraction wasn't even that exciting! It was a video about the presidents (I love history but I'm at a theme park- not a museum!).
- We had a handful of chocolates from France which had different flavors. Some were hard candy and others were 70% cacao chocolates.
- We had tea in the UK from Twinings (one of the largest tea manufacturers). I love tea so it was nice to see all the different tea pots and tea flavors in the store.

Not only was the food great, but the people were really nice too. When you visit each country, you will see workers who are natives of those countries. They kind of create a feeling that you are visiting somewhere outside of the US.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Venetian Rolled Pizza

Before leaving on my trip to Florida, I got a chance to see my friend Diana who came home to lovely So Cal during her spring break. What better way to hang out than to make food and chat it up :). Before we started cooking, we ventured out to the mall and saw some cute puppies at Moondoggies and checked out awesome cookware at William Sonoma and Crate and Barrel. *Sigh* I wish I had a budget just for these two amazing stores (including Sur La Table). I would probably walk out with random kitchen gadgets such as a cherry pitter, avocado slicer and other unnecessary items you could replace with a knife. I still want it!

After browsing all the cool stuff, we went to Borders and found a book by Giada De Laurentiis that had a recipe we definitely wanted to try. We are both fans of Food Network and what better way to find a recipe than by looking into one of their star's books. Diana likes Alton Brown b/c of the cool science and food integration; I really like Barefoot Contessa and Nigela Lawson. We both agree that Paula Dean puts way too much butter into everything (doesn't everyone think that?) and Sandra Lee isn't really cooking... Anyway, on to the recipe:

Total time to prep and bake: 35 minutes

Venetian Rolled Pizza
Recipe courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis


* Flour, for dusting
* 1 pound pizza dough (Trader Joe's has it for $1.39!)
* 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese (only $2.99)
* 7 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced (probably the most expensive piece of the recipe)
* 1 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) torn baby spinach
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* Kosher salt, for seasoning (no need for this because the prosciutto is really really salty)


Position an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pizza dough to a 12 to 14-inch diameter circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle 1/2 of the mozzarella over the dough. Arrange the prosciutto over the cheese in a single layer. Sprinkle with the spinach. Top with the remaining cheese. Take 1 end of the circle and roll the dough up into a thin cylinder, gently folding in the ends. Brush the dough with the olive oil and season with the salt (or use pepper instead). Place the dough, seam side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden brown. Allow the pizza to cool for 10 minutes. Cut the pizza into 3/4-inch pieces and serve.

WARNING - SALT OVERLOAD!!! We had too much prosciutto left over that we started another layer on top of the first layer. Bad idea. You should put more spinach instead of the ham because it helps get rid of the saltiness. We both had to stuff our pieces with extra spinach (uncooked) to make it less salty and more like a regular pizza. Another thing you could add is marinara sauce, raw tomatoes or mushrooms to add more veggies to the dish.

I'm back!

I haven't posted in a long time because I've been on vacation in the Sunny State of Florida for the last week! I will eventually blog about my adventure with my sister in 4 Disney parks over the course of 4 days. For now, I need some inspiration to cook this weekend since I haven't cooked in about three weeks. Any suggestions? Want me to try something that you haven't yet tried? Send some ideas my way :)

My boyfriend came back from Chicago and while there he visited Milwaukee, WI. One of their main attractions (even posted on their visitors bureau) is cheese. I love cheese!!! I came home to find a GIANT 3 pound wheel of cheddar cheese from Wisconsin waiting for me. It's salty and so flavorful. My boyfriend had it with a glass of red wine last night and said it complimented the wine very well. Yummy!