Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread Bars

This is my last post on Christmas cookies that I made these past weeks.  Since it's the last, it's also my favorite!  I love anything peppermint this time of year; I've eaten peppermint bark candies and thin mint cookies, drunk peppermint tea and peppermint mocha coffee.  These bars have buttery base, then it's the sweet and peppermint layer, and lastly it's the smooth dark chocolate top.  Ah, so heavenly!  

With this post, I'm sending a Merry Christmas to you all!  I'll be busy tomorrow and Christmas day, enjoying time with my family.

Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread Bars

Makes 30, 2 ½-x-¾"-bars

For shortbread crust:
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

For peppermint and chocolate layers:
3 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 Tablespoons boiling water
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
⅓ cups peppermint candy, such as starlight mints, crushed
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly spray 8 x 8" pan with oil.  Line pan with parchment paper to the top edges of the pan.  With a stand or handheld mixer, cream butter, sugar, and salt until fluffy, approximately 3-4 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom.  Add yolks, one at a time, then vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Add flour all at once and mix at low speed until combined; do not overwork.  Press dough into prepared pan and level the surface.  Prick with a fork in several places and bake 15-18 minutes, until edges are golden brown.  Allow to cool completely before proceeding with next steps.

Make peppermint layer:  Place powdered sugar in a bowl, add boiling water and extract then mix with a rubber spatula until smooth.  Add crushed candy and mix well.  Working quickly, spread over cooled crust and level.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Chop chocolate and place into microwaveable bowl.  Heat 1 minute on 60% power.  Mix with a rubber spatula then heat again 30 seconds, mix, then heat another 30 seconds.  Add oil and blend well.  If there are lumps, heat again 30 seconds, being careful not to scorch.  When smooth, pour over peppermint and quickly spread into an even layer to cover.  Allow chocolate to harden.

Lift parchment paper to remove the pan.  Using a large, sharp knife, slice into bars of desired size and serve.

Note:  be sure to use genuine peppermint extract or oil and good quality bittersweet chocolate.  They make the difference in these bars.

Source:  adapted from Market of Choice website

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rum Raisin Shortbread

Here's another batch baked yesterday.  I chose to make rum raisin shortbreads because we all love rum raisin flavor!  In fact, I'm thinking of making a rum raisin cheesecake sometime, perhaps for New Year's dessert.  Anyway, this is a shortbread dough but it won't be overly crumbly as traditional shortbread that doesn't have any addition--such as nuts or dried fruits.  The raisins here are replaced by currants, which I adore even more, and since they've been soaked in rum, there's no way that the dough can be dry.  But, it doesn't mean that I don't like this, au contraire, I like it very much.  The aroma is heady and they're eaten daily with plenty of tea or coffee--these shortbreads are best eaten as soon as possible :)  If you want to keep it, stack them in layer between wax paper in an airtight container.  Speaking of container, that glass container in the photo is my mom's.  She's had it since I was perhaps in high school.  It's a great container with cute duckies prints, now I can use for my own cookies.

Rum Raisin Shortbread

Makes about 4 dozens

½ cup dark rum
1 cup currants
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup confectioners' sugar
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon coarse salt

Combine rum and currants in an airtight container; let sit at room temperature overnight.  Drain; reserving 2 tablespoons rum

Put butter, confectioners' sugar, and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla and reserved rum.  Beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Reduce speed to low.  Add flour, coconut, and salt, and beat for 3 minutes.  Stir in currants by hand.  Divide dough in half and form each into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter; wrap in parchment, and refrigerate 1 hour (or up to 3 days).

Preheat oven to 325F.  Remove dough from parchment; slice into ¼-inch-thick rounds.  Place on parchment paper--lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart.  Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.  Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 1 week.

Source:  adapted from Martha Stewarts' Cookies

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pumpkin Cake Doughnuts

In a family, each member will have different preference of foods and it's unavoidable.  But in case of doughnut or donut, depending on which spelling is preferred, all of us here love it so much.  My son, especially; he's not one to look for cakes but he'd ask for doughnut every so often.  His favorite is the plain and glazed, my favorite is the Boston creme whereas my husband will go for chocolate glazed.

So far I haven't tried making yeast doughnuts at home.  I wanted to try this baked doughnut recipe first because it's easier and slightly healthier--if you can ignore the amount of sugar, oil and eggs.  I bookmarked the recipe from King Arthur Flour website a while ago because it looked yummy.  Now, I know that I've said my family didn't like pumpkin before.  They don't really like it in a pie form but in cakes or doughnuts or muffins form or in anything that doesn't taste truly like pumpkin, they'll tolerate.  I know, I know, what can I do?  They're family :)

So we had these for breakfast today, and you know what, they're not too bad.  They're soft and moist with the right note of spices and pumpkin.  Of course, these won't replace the traditional deep-fried ones but they're easier to make and still come out superb.  I didn't mind eating it with black coffee just like the real doughnuts.

Pumpkin Cake Doughnuts

Yield 12 baked doughnuts

For the doughnuts:
½ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (canned pumpkin)
1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, or ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon plus heaping ¼ teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ¾ cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

For sugar coating:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Lightly grease two standard doughnut pans.

Beat together the oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin, spices, salt, and baking powder until smooth.

Add the flour, stirring just until smooth.

Fill the wells of the doughnut pans about ¾ full; use a scant ¼ cup of batter in each well.

Bake the doughnuts for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean.

Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and after about 5 minutes, loosen their edges, and transfer them to a rack to cool.

While the doughnuts are still warm (but no longer fragile), gently shake them in a bag with the cinnamon sugar mixture.  Cool completely, and store (not wrapped tight) at room temperature for several days.

Source:  King Arthur Flour

Friday, December 12, 2014

Macadamia and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

This cookie is my son's favorite and I'm not afraid to say that this has become my favorite as well.  The texture of the cookie is crispy on the edges but a bit chewy in the inner part. This recipe is taken from Alice Medrich's cookies book and I'm a fan of her recipes and when I make them, I'm seldom disappointed. 

When I bake this, I'll put one in his lunch box so that he can enjoy a treat for his school lunch.  He's getting very good at finishing everything I pack in his lunch box, so it's a joy to know that he's well fed :)

Macadamia and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Makes about 36 cookies

¾ cup rolled oats
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup dry-roasted salted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
6 ounces chopped white chocolate

Pulverize the oats in the processor or blender until fine.  Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and pulse to combine.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the melted butter with the sugars and vanilla.  Whisk in the egg.  Stir in the flour mixture just until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.  Let the mixture cool for a few minutes if it is at all warm.  Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Remove the dough from refrigerator to soften.  Scoop rounded tablespoons of dough and place about 2 inches apart on the ungreased pans.  Bake until the cookies are deep golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes.  Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.  Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.  Cool cookies completely before storing or stacking.  May be kept in an airtight container for several days.

Source:  Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Apple-Pear Praline Pie

Here I am, back after Thanksgiving break.  I had a great holiday with my parents and I hope you, readers, had a great time with your loved ones.  When it's time to go back to work, I wasn't so excited, but my work schedule is actually not a bad one.  In a about 2 weeks time, I'll have a winter break for two weeks!  

My husband and I finally replaced the igniter in our oven today.  I feel so giddy right now, it's like having a new oven!  For a few weeks I couldn't do any baking nor making any menu because I couldn't forecast whether I'd still have my oven or not.  I could end up having to buy a new one, which I wanted to avoid.  Now I can bake cookies!  More pies!  Make that Dutch pancakes for breakfast!  

Taking apart that old igniter was a pain though, because the old screw has lost its grooves which made it hard to unscrew.  We had to use all kinds of tools, and hoping that it wouldn't break the screw because we still had to reuse it to attach the new igniter.  In the end, the new one got installed; what's supposed to be a 15-minute job took about an hour, yeah, it's never that easy.  When I pushed the button to bake and set the temperature, it seemed like an eternity, but lo and behold, it worked right away without me having to use a fire retardant :)

To end my happy dance, I'm going to share the recipe of apple-pear praline pie.  This was the pie that I made for Thanksgiving day; it was a hit with my family, especially since it's eaten with vanilla ice cream.  My family wasn't a big fan of pumpkin pie anyway so making this was a smarter plan.  We had too much to eat, of course, and I was punished by having some extra pounds packed into my belly.  Oh well, I have 3 weeks of dieting before the food galore starts again :D

Apple-Pear Praline Pie

Makes 8 servings

1 recipe Nut Pastry
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups thinly sliced, peeled tart apples
3 cups sliced, peeled pears
2 tablespoons butter, cut up
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk or half-and-half

Preheat oven to 375F.  Prepare Nut Pastry.  On a lightly floured surface use your hands to slightly flatten one pastry ball.  Roll it from center to edges into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.  Wrap pastry circle around the rolling pin.  Unroll pastry into a 9-inch pie plate.  Roll remaining ball into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.

In a large bowl, combine granulated sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and dash of salt.  Add apples and pears; gently toss until coated.  Transfer apple mixture to the pastry-lined pie plate.  Dot with the 2 tablespoons butter.  Fold bottom pastry under and crimp as desired.  Roll second pastry circle; with leaf-shape/acorn-shaped/any shape cookie cutter, cut out shapes from second pastry circle.  Arrange cutouts on top of filling.  

To prevent overbrowning, cover edge of pie with foil.  Place a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below the pie in oven.  Bake for 50 minutes; remove foil.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes more or until filling is bubbly.  Transfer to a wire rack.

In a small saucepan, melt the ¼ cup butter over medium heat.  Gradually stir in brown sugar and milk.  Cook and stir until mixture comes to a boil.  Carefully spoon over baked pie.  Return pie to oven; bake for 2 to 3 minutes more or until topping bubbles.  Cool on wire rack.

Nut Pastry

In a large bowl, stir together 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, ¼ cup ground toasted almonds or pecans, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Using a pastry blender, cut into ¼ cup shortening and ¼ cup unsalted butter, cut up, until pieces are pea size.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice water over part of the flour mixture; toss gently with a fork.  Push moistened pastry to one side of bowl.  Repeat moistening flour mixture, using 1 tablespoon ice water at a time, until all of the flour mixture is moistened (½ to ⅔ cup ice water total). Gather flour mixture into a ball, kneading gently until it holds together.  Divide pastry in half; form halves into balls.

Source:  Holiday Recipes Better Homes and Garden 2013

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Roasted Root Vegetable and Wilted Romaine Salad

Perhaps before you're going to overindulge in two days, remember that this salad will be super to have afterwards.  With roasted root vegetables like carrots, beets, parsnips, and turnips, this is one super healthy, rich in vitamins and surprisingly, very fulfilling salad.  I think roasting vegetables is one of my favorite ways to cook them because it brings out the sweetness with a bit of smokiness.

Now that school's off for a week, I thought I'd have more time to relax at home but unfortunately, such a inspiration is harder to achieve.  My son has been bugging me to play Wii games with him whenever I have a spare time.  Last night, I played some games with him, and frankly, I actually enjoyed it after haven't played for ages.  We had a good laugh over some pixelated characters, and my husband was even amused--since he didn't play with us.

Well, I know that Thanksgiving is two days away (well, who doesn't?) but I'm in a bit of a pickle.  My lower oven of my double ovens has finally gone kaput.  It stopped working about a month ago, but it went back working again.  But after setting it in high temperature a couple of weeks ago, it decided that enough was enough.  No more baking.  Unless I change its igniter.  Which I ordered just tonight.  Sigh.

So I'm without an oven but I still can bake!  How come?  My parents live next door which means I can still bake.  But I don't want to bake too many things because it's still a hassle to transport things back and forth.  I'll bake a pie for sure but no more.  The rest of the dinner story will be told after Thanksgiving :)

Roasted Root Vegetable and Wilted Romaine Salad

Makes 12 servings

2 medium fresh beets (about 12 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
1 ¾ pounds fresh carrots, turnips, and/or parsnips
4 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon snipped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic, minced
8 cups torn romaine
½ cup chopped pecans, toasted
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Wash and peel the beets, cut into 1-inch pieces.  Place in a 2-quart baking dish.  Toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the salt and pepper to taste.  Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  

Meanwhile, peel the carrots, turnips, and/or parsnips.  Cut carrots and turnips into irregular-shape 1-inch pieces.  Cut parsnips into irregular ¾-inch pieces.  Place in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan.  Add shallots.  Toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.  Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper.

Remove foil from dish with beets, stir beets gently.  Increase oven temperature to 425F.  Return beets to oven and place pan with carrot mixture alongside beets.  Roast both pans, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, for dressing, in a screw-top jar combine the 6 tablespoons olive oil, the white wine vinegar, thyme, Dijon-style mustard, honey, garlic, and additional salt and pepper to taste; cover and shake well.

To serve, in a large bowl toss the romaine with the dressing to coat.  Place on a platter.  Top with the hot vegetables.  Sprinkle pecans and parsley over all.  Serve immediately.

Source:  Better Homes and Garden, Holiday Recipes 2013

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spiced Eggnog Pound Cake with Toasted Walnuts

Friday is my favorite day of the week because it's the start of my resting period and also, when baking time begins.  Actually, baking time can be anytime between Friday and Sunday, I welcome it because it's such a stress reliever for me.  I do like to get my hands dirty with flour and butter and I let my mind wanders when I'm baking.  But, often times I don't get that time when my schedule is full.  That's when I start to long for it and am looking forward to saying no to anything that comes in my way so I can plan a leisurely baking day.

I finally had a chance to do some baking a couple of weeks ago.  I've been browsing recipes to see what kind of dessert I would bake, and this pound cake recipe caught my eyes.  I've always loved buttery and tender texture of pound cake even if it's as simple as this one.  With holiday season approaching, the eggnog flavor with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg is a welcoming scent to the house.  The thought of a warm and comforting slice of cake to be enjoyed on a blustery day was my idea of staying home for the whole weekend. 

Spiced Eggnog Pound Cake with Toasted Walnuts

Yields: 16 servings

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups sifted cake flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup refrigerated eggnog
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon whipping cream

Generously grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan; set aside.  Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer about 2 minutes or until creamy.  Gradually add granulated sugar, beating 5 to 7 minutes.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add to butter mixture alternately with 1 cup eggnog, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition.  Stir in vanilla and, if desired, brandy.  Stir toasted walnuts evenly in the batter.

Pour half of batter into prepared pan.  Stir cinnamon and next 3 ingredients into remaining batter.  Spoon spice batter over plain batter.  Swirl batters together, using a knife.

Bake at 350F for 50 to 55 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes.  Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

Place cake on a cake plate.  Combine powdered sugar and whipping cream, stirring until smooth.  Drizzle glaze over cake.

Source:  Christmas with Southern Living, June 2005

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nutella-Banana Pudding Parfait

I don't think any lengthy story about pudding, it's relatively simple to make and it goes with any season.  It's a comfort food in our house and we love creamy pudding of any flavor but I think Nutella-flavored pudding ranks high in taste and popularity.  I paired it with banana pudding, which has all-natural flavor and none of the yellow coloring.  These two puddings go well with crumbled graham crackers for added crunch.  Alternately layer the puddings in a serving dish, voila, you have a parfait.

Banana Pudding

Makes 4 cups

2 small ripe bananas, about 12 ounces
⅓ cup sugar
2 ½ cups whole milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup cream
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a 3-quart saucepan, thoroughly mash together the bananas and sugar.  Pour in the milk.  Warm over medium heat almost to boiling (the surface of the milk should quiver and vibrate).  Turn off the heat.

Puree the banana-milk mixture in a food processor or blender.  Pour it back into the pan and warm it for 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat, until bubbles for around the edges and the center of the milk is vibrating.  Turn off the heat.

Put the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.  Slowly whisk in the cream, making sure there are no lumps. Whisk in the egg yolks.  It is important that this mixture be as smooth as you can make it.  (To be really sure, reach into the bowl and gently rub out any lumps.)

Pour a ladleful of the hot milk into the bowl with the slurry.  Whisk vigorously to combine.  The mixture should come together smoothly, with no lumps.  If you see any, add a little more liquid and whisk them out.  Pour this mixture back into the pan slowly, counting to 10 as you do and whisking constantly and vigorously.

Turn the heat back on to medium.  Work all the angles of the pan, and scrape the bottom.  It will take 2 to 5 minutes to bring the custard to a boil, with large bubbles that slowly pop up to the surface.  Boil, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Immediately pour the custard into a shallow container.  Place plastic wrap or buttered wax paper directly on the surface to cover it, and refrigerate for 2 hours, or until fully chilled.  

Nutella Pudding

Makes 4 cups

3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup cream
2 egg yolks 
2 cups whole milk
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup Nutella
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.  Slowly whisk in the cream, making sure there are no lumps. Whisk in the egg yolks.  It is important that this mixture be as smooth as you can make it.  (To be really sure, reach into the bowl and gently rub out any lumps.)

Whisk the milk and sugar over medium heat in a 3-quart saucepan until bubbles form around the edge of the milk and the entire surface begins to quiver.  Turn off the heat.

Pour 1 cup of the hot milk into the bowl with the slurry and whisk vigorously to combine.  They should come together smoothly, with no lumps.  If you see any, add a little more liquid and whisk them out.  Pour the tempered slurry back into the pan slowly, counting to 10 as you do and whisking vigorously.

Turn the heat back on to medium.  Work all the angles of the pan, and scrape the bottom.  It will take 2 to 5 minutes to bring the custard to a boil, with large bubbles that slowly pop up to the surface.  Boil, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Put the Nutella in a bowl and ladle in about 1 cup of the hot pudding.  Whisk until smooth, then add the Nutella mixture back to the pan.  Whisk until thoroughly combined, add the vanilla, and stir.

Immediately pour the custard into a shallow container.  Place plastic wrap or buttered wax paper directly on the surface to cover it, and refrigerate.  This pudding is firm enough to be eaten warm after 30 minutes or so in the refrigerator.  

Source:  Bakeless Sweets byt Faith Durand

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Boston Cream Pie

October is the birthday month for my son, the time when rain comes more frequently, leaves are changing color, and the air is chillier.  This year he's turning 13 years old and yes, life would never be the same again in our household! :)  He's actually a good kid, a tender-hearted boy with a penchant for math, Dominion and Minecraft games, along with the usual occasional forgetfulness and silliness.  I'm just hoping that my husband will survive this whole development age without going batty. 

When I asked him what kind of birthday cake would he want, his answer was donuts.  That's like his number one answer for a birthday cake; why did I even bother to ask? :)  But I coaxed him to agree to have a Boston cream pie instead.  My persuasion was that this cake was like a vanilla-custard filled donut with chocolate frosting; yeah, you'd like it, I begged.  It didn't take long for him to agree to have this instead; it's not that hard to decide anyway, he likes almost anything I make for him.  I digress.

Anyway, this is my kind of cake as well.  I like the custard filling in the middle to be creamy and with just enough sweetness, the cake tender, and the chocolate glaze, a bit bitter in contrast to the filling. I think everyone agreed with my choice since this cake was gone in two days.  

This recipe is from my favorite cake book, The Cake Book by Tish Boyle.  I've always get good results from it and I like the flavors presented in the recipes throughout the book.  

Boston Cream Pie

Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 10

Vanilla Custard Filling:
3 egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream

Hot Milk Sponge Cake, recipe follows
Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze, recipe follows

Make the filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a gentle boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and whisk about ⅓ cup of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.  Return the entire mixture to the saucepan, place over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil, whisking constantly.  Continue to boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.  Remove the pan from the heat, scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the butter until melted.

Immediately strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl.  Whisk in the vanilla extract.  Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap, and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 2 hours, or until well chilled.

Assemble the cake:
Using a long serrated knife, cut the cake horizontally in half to make 2 layers.

Transfer the custard filling to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the ¼ cup heavy cream and, using the whisk attachment, beat the mixture at high speed until it is light and forms sot peaks, about 1 minutes.

Save the smooth bottom layer for the top of the cake, and place the remaining cake layer cut side up on a serving plate.  Scrape the filling onto the layer and, using a small offset metal spatula, spread it into an even layer. Top with the other cake layer, cut side down.

Glaze the cake:
Pour the warm glaze over the top of the cake, allowing some of it to drizzle down the sides.  Serve the cake immediately, or refrigerate.

Hot Milk Sponge Cake

Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 8

1 ½ cups, sifted cake flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan.  Dust the pan with flour.

Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt two times.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk and butter and heat over medium heat just until the butter is melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs at high speed until blended, about 1 minute.  Gradually add the sugar and vanilla extract and beat until pale and tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.

Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula.  Repeat with the remaining flour mixture in two more additions.

Reheat the milk mixture to just under a boil.  Add it all at once to the egg mixture and gently fold it in.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake fro 20 to 25 minutes, until it springs back when lightly touched and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Run a paring knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto the wire rack.  Reinvert the cake, so that it is right side up, and cool completely.

Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

Makes ⅔ cup

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the chocolate in the bowl of a food processor and process just until finely ground.  (Leave the chocolate in the processor.)

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate to the pan.  Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the glaze is smooth.  Stir in the vanilla extract. Leave to cool for a minute or two, it will be ready for glazing the cake.

Source:  The Cake Book by Tish Boyle

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Apple Strata

A breakfast dish that I like to make is strata.  It is a good way to use up day-old bread with some things from the pantry or fridge and perhaps produce.  Everything is assembled the night before and baking it in the morning would take about an hour before it is ready to be consumed.  I don't know why, but I like custardy dish for breakfast; it gives me warm and fuzzy feeling.  And especially with a cooler weather forecast for the rest of the week, one needs to make this quite often.

Apple Strata

Serves 4 to 6

6 slices day-old sourdough bread, cubed, divided
4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
1 apple, peeled and chopped
½ cup raisins 
6 large eggs
1 ¼ cups whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Dash of ground nutmeg
Confectioners' sugar or maple syrup for topping

Place half the bread cubes in a lightly sprayed or oiled 8-by-11 ½-inch baking dish.  Distribute cream cheese cubes over bread cubes.  Top with apples and raisins, and cover with remaining bread cubes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.  Pour over bread mixture in dish.  Be sure bread is completely covered.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375F.  Bring strata to room temperature before baking.  Bake, uncovered, until set, 50 to 55 minutes.  Let stand for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, or pass maple syrup at the table.  Cut into squares and serve.

Source:  The Big Book of Breakfast by Maryana Vollstedt

Monday, September 22, 2014

Red Velvet Macarons

I made macaron once before, it failed, and I've never tried making it again until recently.  It's not that I don't like it because once in a while I still buy from a store and enjoy it immensely.  Then, I found my interest in making it once more.  This time armed with a good recipe, a very dry day, and a bag of ground hazelnut, I promised myself that it'd work out.  

Red Velvet Macarons

Makes about 40 (1-inch) macarons

1 packed cup (145 grams) hazelnut flour
⅔ packed cup (145 grams) confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 ½ teaspoons (17.5 grams) cocoa powder
Pinch fine sea salt
1 tablespoon (5 grams) powdered egg white
¾ cup (150 grams granulated sugar
½ cup (115 grams) aged egg whites (from 4 eggs)
½ teaspoon (3 grams) cream of tartar
5 drops red liquid food coloring

Place hazelnut flour, confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 4 times to combine them.  Sift with a fine-mesh strainer onto a sheet of waxed paper.  

With a hand whisk, whisk together the powdered egg whites and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Whisk in the egg whites and cream of tartar until the mixture is homogenous.

Set the bowl and whisk attachment on the mixer and whisk on medium speed until the meringue is glossy and forms a stiff peak, about 11 minutes.

Once the meringue reaches stiff peaks and resembles marshmallow fluff, stop the mixer.  With a spatula, quickly fold the sifted dry ingredients into the meringue.  When the batter appears to be 90 percent incorporated, scraped the sides of the bowl, and fold in the food coloring.

Cover the batter with plastic wrap placed directly over it, to prevent a skin from forming, and let the batter sit 1 hour at room temperature.  It will be thick, but loosen somewhat in the hour.

Preheat the oven to 200F.  

Spoon the batter in a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch round tip.  Fill the bag halfway, leaving the rest of the meringue in the bowl while piping; cover it with plastic wrap while a batch is in the oven.  Twist the top of the bag to close.  Pipe the meringue on the silicone mat or parchment-lined baking sheet into quarter-sized mounds, 1 ½ inches apart from one another.  Firmly slam the baking sheets down to remove excess air.

Bake meringue shells at 200F for 15 minutes.  Increase the oven temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 11 minutes, until the foot and edge of the shells feel firm.  Remove the shells from the oven.  Slide the silicone mat or parchment onto a cooling rack and let the shells cool completely, for 1 hour.

Cream Cheese Filling

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ stick unsalted butter, softened
½ packed cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch fine sea salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter on low speed until the mixture is fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and salt.  Beat until smooth, about 5 minute, scraping regularly with a spatula to ensure that everything is well combined.  The fluff can be kept covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.  Spoon into a piping bag when ready to fill.

Pipe a small amount of the cream cheese filling in a circular shape about ½-inch thick, not going all the way to the edge, on the flat sides of 40 of the shells.  Top with another shell, twisting slightly to secure the fillings.

Source:  Les Petits Macarons byt Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Soy-Ginger Pot Roast

Leaves are falling fast in my backyard and we basically have two choices, one is to rake them into piles; the other one is to let them sit for a while and pray that somehow they'll turn to compost magically.  The joy of leaving next to a park is that we always have lots of trees to shade us from the heat of summer, but, comes fall, we complain miserably about the leaves those trees dump on the yard.  Sigh.  

I know what will cheer up my family after a hard weekend chore is this soy-ginger pot roast.  It's a hearty dish with tons of flavor like ginger, soy sauce, onion, garlic, and mushrooms.  I like to buy a good quality of chuck roast for a dish like this because the beef stays moist and fork-tender.  Now, we don't have a tradition like Sunday roast supper, but this surely qualifies it for when the weather starts to get cooler.

Maybe if I cook something like this every weekend, my family would not be so grumpy of doing yard work for hours :)

Soy-Ginger Pot Roast

Serves 4

3 pounds beef chuck pot roast
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
16 ounces button mushrooms
1 (14-½ ounce) can reduced sodium beef broth
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup snipped fresh cilantro
2 red sweet peppers, cut into 2-inch pieces
Snipped fresh cilantro
Hot cooked egg noodles

Preheat oven to 325F.  Trim fat from meat; season with salt and pepper.  In a large Dutch oven, brown roast on all sides in hot oil over medium-high heat.  Transfer to a plate.

Add onion, garlic and ginger to Dutch oven.  Cook and stir for 5 minutes, or until onion is softened.  Add mushrooms, broth, soy sauce, and the ¼ cup of cilantro.  Return roast to Dutch oven.  Bring to boil, cover, transfer to oven.  Bake for 2 hours.  Add sweet peppers.  Cover; bake for 30 minutes more or until meat and vegetables are tender.

Transfer meat and vegetables to a platter; cover to keep warm.  Bring liquid in Dutch oven to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until slightly thickened.  Serve sauce with meat and vegetables.  Sprinkle with additional cilantro and cooked noodles.

Source:  Better Homes and Gardens

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mu-Shu Chicken and Shrimp

Mu-shu dish is one of my son's favorite dishes to order in a Chinese restaurant.  The idea of eating a spoonful of stir-fried morsels of meat, egg, and veggies and drizzled with hoisin sauce wrapped in mandarin pancakes, really delights his taste bud.  It's a tasty dish, no doubt about it, and there's some variations on how to include in the dish.

In a more traditional way, the dish is most often comprised of pork, dried daylily flowers or golden needles, and wood ear mushrooms, along with eggs, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice wine and scallions.  The less authentic way would be to omit the dried daylily flowers and wood ear mushrooms but to add some vegetables, for example, cabbage, bell pepper, celery, or snow peas.  

Rice is the traditional way to serve the dish, but here in America, mandarin pancake is served as the medium to eat the dish.  And let's not forget about hoisin sauce which is used to drizzle the dish as it goes in the pancake.

The way I cook it is by combining the best of the two ways.  I grew up eating daylily flowers and wood ear mushrooms, so those two ingredients would be present in the dish.  My family prefers chicken and/or shrimp instead of pork and I'm happy to substitute that.  As with adding vegetables in it, my philosophy is that there's nothing wrong of eating more vegetables in a dish :)  I use whatever is available, in this case, I used green cabbage.

No matter what your preferred protein/vegetable choice to include in the dish, just remember that if you cook it the right way, it'll come out delicious anyway!

Mu-Shu Chicken and Shrimp

Serves 6

½ ounce wood ear mushrooms, reconstituted
1 ounce dried daylily flowers or golden needles, reconstituted
10 to 12 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast
6 ounces raw peeled, deveined, medium-sized shrimp
4 eggs
8 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon sugar
3 to 4 large scallions, sliced diagonally, white and green parts separated
1 tablespoon Shaohsing wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil

For the marinade:
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon soy sauce
Pinch of white pepper
1 teaspoon Shaohsing wine
1 teaspoon potato flour--can substitute with cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon canola oil

Mandarin pancakes 
Hoisin sauce

To reconstitute wood ear and daylily flowers, soak each thing in a separate bowl with boiling water, enough to cover it, for 20 to 30 minutes.  Drain and squeeze excess water but leave damp.  Split daylily flowers one lengthwise and if it's quite long, cut in half.

Slice the chicken into thin, even-sized rectangular pieces.  Put it into a bowl with the shrimp.

Add the salt, sugar, soy sauce, pepper, wine, potato flour or cornstarch, and water to chicken and shrimp.  Let marinate for 20 minutes.  Stir in the oil.

Beat the eggs lightly with 1 tablespoon of the oil and ¼ teaspoon of the salt.

Heat a wok over high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and swirl it around.  Add wood ear mushrooms and stir for about 30 seconds, lowering the heat if necessary.  Add daylily flowers and continue to stir and turn until very hot.  Season with ¼ teaspoon of salt, the soy sauce and the sugar.  Transfer to a warm dish and set aside.

Wipe the wok and reheat until hot.  Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and swirl it around.  Pour in the egg, and sliding the wok spatula to the bottom of the wok, fold and turn until the egg forms into lumps.  Transfer to a warm plate and set aside.  Wash and dry the wok.

Reheat the wok over high heat.  Add the remaining oil and swirl it around.  Add the white parts of scallions, stir and let them sizzle for a few seconds.  Add the chicken and shrimp and turn and toss quickly for about 1 minute or until partially cooked and turning opaque.  Splash in the wine around the side of the wok, continuing to stir and turn as it sizzles.  Return all the ingredients to the wok.  Stir and mix for another minute, so that the chicken it thoroughly cooked, the egg firmer and all the ingredients piping hot.  Add the green parts of scallions.  Transfer to a serving dish.  Sprinkle with sesame oil and serve with the pancakes and hoisin sauce.

Source:  adapted from Yan-Kit's Classic Chinese Cookbook

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Baked French Toast with Nutella

Every Sunday I try to make special breakfast for my family because Sunday morning tends to be the most relaxed morning of all mornings.  Usually there's nothing going on that we have to wake up so early, making it the perfect day to have a more elaborate breakfast dish.  Our favorites are pancakes (blueberry, banana, chocolate chip flavors are on the top list), waffles, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, crepes, omelet, well, the list can go on.  I actually enjoy making these type of breakfast items, it seems to set the day in a good mood.  

Even though my son likes most of my breakfast dishes, he is still reluctant to eat French toast.  His reasoning is that it's weird to eat bread with syrup.  Syrup is for pancakes and waffles according to his taste.  But he likes this baked French toast (yay!).  Powdered sugar is a good enough topping for him.  I didn't use store bought white bread because I happen to have made homemade bread earlier in the week.  My bread is usually quite sturdy and didn't fall apart when the filling was spread.   It's not a fancy breakfast and I just have to serve this alongside a cold glass of chocolate milk and everyone is happy with a full tummy.

A variation of this French toast is to use jam instead of Nutella with the cream cheese.  I haven't tried it yet, but will do since Sunday is coming soon! :)

Baked French Toast with Nutella 

Makes 4 to 8 servings

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons Nutella, at room temperature
8 slices white bread

4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Powdered sugar
Maple syrup

To make sandwich:  Mix cream cheese and Nutella until combined.  Spoon mixture on 4 bread slices and spread all the way to outside edges, then top with remaining slices to make sandwiches.  Place in resealable plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to bake.

To make custard:  In flat container with an airtight lid large enough to hold a bread slice, beat together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble:  Preheat oven to 350F.  Mist a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with sides with nonstick cooking spray.  Dip sandwiches into custard, turning once, for 2 minutes on first side and 1 on the second to soak up as much of the custard as possible.  Lay drained slices on pan and bake for 15 minutes, then turn them over and bake for 20 minutes more, or until toast is golden brown on both sides.  Sprinkle lightly with sifted powdered sugar and serve with syrup.  Recipe can easily be doubled.

Source:  FoodDay The Oregonian

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Blueberry-Coconut Crumb Bars

Here's another post about blueberries but don't look away because these bars are so good that you'll want to make it now, especially when the blueberries season will end soon.  

I sneaked in some coconut in the bar because I wanted to have extra texture in the crumb, and also because I had leftover coconut in the fridge.  I think I made the best decision to include coconut in the recipe.  The bars have a hint of coconut, sweet and lemony blueberry taste with buttery crunch top and bottom.  They are good warm, straight after baking, but also delicious cold.  Make sure to store bars in the refrigerator to keep the texture crisp.  They will keep for a few days.  

Blueberry-Coconut Crumb Bars

Makes 24

3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
½ cup sweetened grated coconut
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks, plus more for pan
1 large egg

¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 cups fresh blueberries (about 12 ounces)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375.  Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper, overhanging edges to serve as handles.  Lightly butter foil.

For bars:  In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and coconut until combined.  Add butter pieces and egg; pulse until dough resembles crumbly wet sand.  Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

For filling:  In a medium bowl, stir together sugar and cornstarch.  Gently fold in berries and lemon juice.  Spread blueberry mixture evenly over crust, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges.  Crumble remaining dough over berries.

Bake for 40 minutes, until top is golden brown and crust is firm.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Use foil handles to lift bars from pan.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Cover and store in refrigerator.

Source:  adapted from Debbie Macomber's Christmas Cookbook