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Friday, December 31, 2010

Beer and pretzels

Philly favorites: a soft pretzel and a Yeungling Lager.

A soft pretzel is a pretty simple thing: yeast, flour, baking soda, salt. Then why is it that only Philly seems to be able to make pretzels that melt in your mouth? Those Super Pretzels in the frozen section of the grocery store, Auntie Em's or even the Mickey Mouse ears pretzels are nothing compared to an authentic Philly soft pretzel.

When I was growing up, pretzel vendors would pick up their pretzels in either North or South Philly and then sell them from carts around the city. The pretzels are be best when they are still warm, so getting one in the morning was key. They were still tasty as the day wore on, but as they cooled, the salt would melt off them leaving a slightly wet, salty coating.
Now, there is a chain around the PA area called Philly Pretzel Factory where you can get hot pretzels all day long. Not only that, somehow, Philly Pretzel Factory has solved the cooled pretzel/wet salt issue! If you are feeling nostalgic, however, you can still secure a wet salty cold pretzel around 3 pm at the Philly airport....

Naturally, some sort of tasty beverage must accompany a hot soft pretzel and for me, nothing fits the bill better than a Yeungling Lager. Per Yeungling's website, they are the oldest American brewery. I googled this and other websites support this claim as it's either true or it's one very successful marketing campaign! Founded in 1829 by David Yeungling who relocated from Wutterberg, Germany to Pottsville, PA, the company survived the Prohibition years by producing near beer. The Traditional Amber Lager shown in the picture above was reintroduced in 1987 is now their most popular beer. Though similiar in color, not as hoppy Sam Adams Traditional Boston Lager but still a nice simple full flavor with a light carbonation and hint of lemon. Sadly, no Yeungling on the Left coast....

Mexican Wedding Cookies

I had been wanting to make Mexican Wedding cookies since I read about them in The Cookie and Biscuit Bible. I was going to make these for the letter M in my A-Z cookie quest, but at the rate I am going, who knows when I will get to M. I am so easily distracted....

Recipe adapted from The Cookie and Biscuit Bible, p. 146. As stated in a previous post, the original recipe calls for rolling the cookies into balls...I pressed them into the pan and cut them into squares since my dough was pretty dry.

1 cup of butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups of confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 cups flour
dash of salt
1 1/4 cups of pecan chopped

1. Cream butter until light and fluffy.
2. Add in 1 cup of sugar and vanilla (put remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in bowl and set aside).
3. Throw in your dash of salt.
4. Slowly beat in flour, a little at a time. Make sure well will start to form a dough.
5. Finally, add in the chopped peacans and any remaining flour. Knead dough until combined.
6. Press dough into an ungreased cookie or jelly roll pan.
7. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes (cookies should be slightly browned).
8. Remove from oven and gently cut into squares. Allow to cool about 10 minutes on the baking sheet.
9. Remove cookies and drop into a bowl with the remaining confectioner's sugar.

The 2010 Holiday Collection

The above photo shows one of each of the cookies in the 2010 Rush-De Anda holiday package: (clockwise from top) Oatmeal Raisin with chopped walnuts, Almond Crescents, Ginger Shortbread, Chocolate Chip, Vanilla Sugar, Mexican Wedding Cookies.

Everyone says it, but it's so true: there is never enough time to get everything in that you want to do before the holidays. I got in some baking but not all of the types of cookies that I wanted to make. One cookie that didn't make this year's cut was Russian Tea Cookies. Another was the Kringlor which proved very popular last year. The Oatmeal Raisin and Chocolate Chip cookies are pretty much standards that must be included to keep the masses happy. New additions were the Ginger Shortbread and Mexican Wedding Cookies. I had intended to make the Mexican Wedding Cookies round which is their typical presentation, but the batter was too dry and crumbly. Rather than experiment with the wetness, I pressed the mixture into a jelly roll pan and cut them into squares while they were still warm. I considered referring to them as Pecan Shortbread cookies to avoid having to explain my dry batter saga but I think my friends and family are used to the liberties I tend to take by now.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

For the love of cheesecake!

Happy Thanksgiving!

We were invited to Victor's cousin's house for dinner. We are very fortunate that they invited us because our oven is still not fixed! We had volunteered to bring some dessert and since the tabletop convection oven can handle cupcakes, I made some mini cheesecakes. My mom got this recipe from my aunt who made these for many a family gathering. They are always popular not matter what the event...A few things I have learned over the years about this recipe:
  • Do not substitute low fat cream cheese for regular cream cheese. The texture is not the same.
  • Try to use foil cupcake liners if you have them as the cake is really moist and bleeds through the paper liners (but if you only have paper, bake them and then add a second liner before serving).
  • In my opinion, topping with cherry pie filling is the most eye catching and compliments the cakes perfectly.
3- 8 oz packages of cream cheese (1 1/2 cups) softened
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Jelly/Jam or pie filling of your choice

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Line cupcake tin with liners.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese while gradually adding sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth. Pour into the cupcake liners.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

While cakes are cooking, mix together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla for the topping.

After the cakes are done, let them sit in the cupcake tin until they sink in the center (approx. 5 minutes). Add 1 tsp sour cream mixture and 1 tsp of jelly or pie filling to top.

Bake for 5 minutes more.

After cakes are cool, store in refridgerator until serving time.
Make 24 mini cakes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chocolatey goodness with a coconut center..

This interesting recipe was found on That's My Home. Like the Chocolate Guinness cupcake listed below, this one also had no butter (or eggs for that matter) in the chocolate cake part of the cupcake. The filling was simply cream cheese, egg and coconut. I am sure if you took a phone call or left the house you could accidentally make these cupcakes dry...but it would be pretty hard.

In regards to the baking time: A lot of times, I cut a few minutes off of a recipe's baking time to make sure I don't dry the cake out. For this recipe, the coconut filling seems to take the full 25 minutes to really become set. The middle of the cakes collapsed on any of the ones I took out of the oven before 25 minutes.

I served them with a classic confectioners' sugar frosting (same recipe as the Molasses Buttercream listed with the Chocolate Guinness Cupcake, just without the molasses).

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Filling
8 oz (1 package) of cream cheese softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Chocolate Batter:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup oil (I used Extra Virgin Olive Oil but original recipe called for vegetable oil)
1 tablespoon white vinegar (I used Trader Joe's White Balsamic Vinegar)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tin with liners.

For the filling: Beat together cream cheese and sugar.
When smooth, beat in egg.
Stir in coconut and set aside.

For the chocolate batter: Stir together flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
Add water, oil, white vinegar and vanilla. (I used an electric beater...the recipe didn't specify...)

Fill cupcake liners about 1/3 of the way with chocolate batter. Top with a spoonful of coconut filling (see top photo) and then cover filling with a little more chocolate batter.

Bake 25 minutes or until done.

Makin' lemonade out of lemons

....or cake balls out of cupcakes if you want to be literal.

A few of my chocolate coconut cupcakes were not perfect....shocking, I know. Not one to waste food, I mashed up the imperfect cakes, mixed the cake crumbs with some frosting and threw the concoction in the freezer. About an hour later, I took the mess out and rolled it into 1 inch balls...back into the freezer for about another hour.

I melted/tempered some Scharffen Berger dark chocolate and then dipped the cake balls into the chocolate. Since the balls were in the freezer, the chocolate hardened up almost immediately.

While tasty, these were a little wetter on the inside than I had intended. I think will use a little less frosting in the ball mixture next time....but still a better thing to do with your less than stellar cupcakes than trashing them!

Guinness and Grandma's

Over the course of cupcake experimentation these past few weeks, it become clear that cupcakes made with a butter base have a greater chance of becoming dry in my table top convection oven. In a search for a butter-less cupcake, this recipe popped up on Chow. The author had topped the cupcake with a cream cheese frosting, but I felt a molasses buttercream would be a better pairing.

Be warned: Although Chow states this will make 24 cupcakes, this recipe made over average sized 30 cupcakes for me. The cake itself is not overly sweet, so it's o.k. to be generous with the frosting (which means you may want to make at least 1 1/2 batches of the frosting recipe below).

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes
1 - 12 oz Guinness Stout
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup oil (CHOW listed vegetable oil, but I used extra virgin olive oil)
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Mix and sift the dry ingredients together (cocoa, sugar, flour and baking soda) and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine Guinness, milk, oil, and vanilla.
  • Beat in one egg at a time.
  • Mix in sour cream.
  • Gradually mix dry mixture into the wet mixture.
  • Pour into lined or greased cupcake tin.
  • Bake for 25 minutes (I actually cut the baking time down to 20-22 minutes for my little convection oven) or until cake tester comes out with a few crumbs.
  • Cool on baking rack.
Molasses Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
4 cups (or more if you want a thicker frosting) confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup milk, room temp
1 tablespoon Grandma's Dark Molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla

  • Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes or so.
  • Add 1 cup of sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  • Add 1 more cup of sugar and half the milk. Beat until smooth and creamy.
  • Add 1 more cup of sugar, remaining milk and the molasses. Beat until smooth and creamy.
  • Add 1 more cup of sugar and the vanilla. Beat on high until light and creamy, about 5 minutes.
  • If frosting is too soft, gradually add more sugar until desired consistency is achieved.

Left over frosting can be stored in the fridge typically for up to 2 weeks (or until the expiration date on your milk!!)

That's a whole lotta cake my friend...

The Event
Victor and I took part in Cupcake Camp LA yesterday. It was held at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in LA. There were 56 different bakers, some professional, some amateur (I fell into the amateur category). Attendees were given 5 tickets for their admission price which they traded for cupcakes. To avoid lines and overcrowding, the event was broken up into 2 tastings (noon to 2 pm and 3 pm to 5 pm). Proceeds from the event benefited three different charities:
It was a really great event. So many great flavors and displays, so much culinary creativity under one roof...and finally, so many wonderful people.

  • We were fortunate enough to have our table next to Sugar Babies who won honors in both the first and second tastings. They had an amazing, eye catching display and provided a "swag" bag to everyone who came to their table. Check out their website and look for their cupcake truck in the LA area.
  • We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Amy Jurist at the event. I had read about her famous underground dinners in LA Magazine and was excited to see that she was going to be a baker as well. It was great chatting with her about some of the unusual dinners she has done and we are looking forward to attending one in the near future.
  • There was a wonderful Harry Potter themed table....not sure the name of the baker(s) but I will post as soon as I find out.
  • Half Baked had a great spicy pumpkin cupcake, Shweet had an amazing strawberry cupcake, Jackie Brubabaker had a Jack Daniels cupcake...check out Cupcake Camp LA for a complete list of the bakers with their respective websites.
The Backstory
Victor had read about this event on Digital LA. I thought he was suggesting it just as an event to attend, but then he mentioned that maybe I participate as a baker. An intriguing suggestion indeed! I signed up and started experimenting with recipes. Our oven promptly died about 3 days later. Just when I was getting caught up in the excitement of selecting and experimenting with flavors, a roadblock of such magnitude! To say I was bummed is an understatement... I started thinking, maybe this happened to up the stakes? Maybe making 100 cupcakes in a regular oven is too easy for me...

After doing to some research, I found out in some countries many folks don't have ovens (Korea for example) and make cakes by steaming them. I also found some online forums where people were discussing baking in a table top convection/toaster oven which was probably a more realistic alternative...steaming 100 mini cakes might a bigger challenge than I could handle. That night we went out and got a Black and Decker model at Target which fit my 12 cup cupcake pan. Perfect....

It took a few more baking experiments to get a feel for how long to leave the cakes in the oven without drying them out, but basically I was back on track. This actually felt appropriate, like I was returning to my Easy Bake Oven roots...except I wasn't cooking with beer when I was a kid.

The Cakes
My cakes, starting from lower left and headed clockwise: Chocolate Guinness with a Molasses Buttercream, Chocolate Cake with a Cream cheese and coconut filling and vanilla buttercream, Chocolate Coconut Cake Balls made with Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolate.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cupcake tweaking..

I have signed up to be part of Cupcake Camp LA on Nov 20th at the Henry Fonda Music Box. As an amateur baker, I am only obligated to bring 100 cupcakes. I am going to try to make 200....maybe. Bakers have to be at the venue at 10 am on Saturday morning, which means I am going to have to do all my baking and decorating after work on Friday night...pretty ambitious given that I typically fall asleep around 10 pm on Fridays.

Chocolate coconut is the flavor I selected, so I have been trying out some recipes. I made 2 different versions which I frosted with a confectioners sugar frosting and various toppings:
  • toasted coconut: not bad but apparently coconut toasts very quickly. I sent the timer for 10 minutes but it started to burn after 5!
  • cocoa covered coconut: eh..just ok. On it's own, it was underwhelming but tasted ok with the sweet icing.
  • fresh coconut: tasted ok...
  • chopped up Mounds bar: too sweet combined with the icing.
It's safe to say the winning combination has not yet been experimentation continues!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Baby, It's You

We recently celebrated our anniversary at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. It is a beautiful and relaxing place. They have a champagne breakfast every Sunday as well as a daily Afternoon High Tea. There is also a spa and tennis courts on the grounds.

We had drinks and appetizers in the Tap Room which boasts "an upscale twist on traditional bar favorites". Our Lobster Corn Dogs, pictured above, arrived sticking out of salt block. Just like the name implies, they were pieces of lobster rolled in a slightly sweet corn batter and gently fried to perfection. They were served not with ketchup but rather a zesty mango chutney.

My wonderful husband arranged to have this lovely plate of chocolate covered strawberries waiting for us in the room when we got back after our night out. You can see the upper left corner is missing from the Happy Anniversary chocolate card. That's because I had to break a piece off while exclaiming, "Is it all chocolate!!?!!?" (it was) before we took the picture. The strawberries were dipped in a generous, thick layer of semi-sweet chocolate and then rolled in rice krispie-like balls or finely crushed peanuts. We ate it all....the strawberries, the chocolate card and even the piece of chocolate affixed to the plate to prop up the card...simply divine!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Fall to Pieces

I recently entered these cookies in a bake-off contest on LA Times online. Below is my entry...I should mention, I did discuss with my mom prior to posting. My mom is a wonderful cook and taught me everything I in no way am I mocking her skills. Anyone that cooks and bakes, even the pros, knows that mistakes are made....sometimes to very positive results! Thanks Mom! Love You!

Almond Crescents (aka "The Crumbly Cookies")

For as long as I can remember, my mom has made “The Crumbly Cookies” every Christmas. She got the recipe from a friend. The cookies were delicious, but extremely delicate. They would fall apart in your hands when you pulled them out of the cookie tin she stored them in. The cookies melted in your mouth and tasted like almonds.

It wasn’t until I turned 10 years old that my sister and I discovered “The Crumbly Cookies” (our nickname for them) were really Almond Crescents. Why were they so crumbly? This mystery went unsolved until the year 2000!

It seems since everyone loved the cookies so much, my mom would double the recipe so we would have more to go around...or at least she thought she was doubling the recipe. For years, she was only doubling the butter! Even though my mom has corrected her mistake, we still call them “The Crumbly Cookies.” Her handwritten recipe now has all of the doubling instructions in parentheses, which is what I have included here. Make a double batch and enjoy!

* Directions for doubling the batch are in parentheses

7/8 cups of butter (3 1/2 sticks)

1/3 cup sugar (2/3 cup)

1/2 cup ground almonds (1 cup)

1 3/4 cup flour (3 1/2 cup)

2 tsp vanilla (4 tsp)

Be sure to set aside some extra granulated sugar to roll the cookies in after baking.

Directions: Cream butter and sugar. Add ground almonds, vanilla and flour. Store in refrigerator for 1 hour. Break off and roll small pieces of dough about the size of your little finger, bending slightly for crescent shape. Place rolled dough pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on edges. Remove from baking sheet and roll in granulated sugar to coat thoroughly.

Spicy bites

My sister sent me a special request for some ginger cookies. She had sent me a link to a recipe for Triple Ginger Cookies on 101 Cookbooks last year which sounded intriguing. Twice I purchased fresh ginger in hopes of making these...but after reading the recipe, it seemed so involved that I never followed through. Finally, I pulled myself together and made these a few weeks ago. Between chopping the crystallized ginger to melting some of the ingredients on the stove, they are a bit of work....the original recipe also called for star anise, finely ground. I found star anise at Bristol Farms, but decided to substitute in Chinese Five spice rather than grounding the spice myself.

The end product was very tasty...

Triple Ginger Cookies (adapted slightly from 101 Cookbooks)

1/2 cup large grain sugar (turbinado)
2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
4 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup butter (one stick)
1/4 cup molasses
2/3 fine grain natural cane sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup crystallized ginger, finely minced
2 lemons, zest only

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place large grain sugar in a bowl for coating.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, Chinese Five spice, ground ginger and salt.

Heat butter in a skillet until just barely melted. Stir in the molasses, natural cane sugar and fresh ginger. The mixture should be warm but not hot. Whisk in the egg. Now pour this mixture over the flour mixture, add crystallized ginger and lemon zest. Stir until just combined.

Roll about 1/2 teaspoon of dough into ball shape and then drop into the large grain sugar to coat. Place balls on prepared baking sheet a few inches apart. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until cookies puff up and crack.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Endless Love

This year marked 50 years of marriage for my parents. To celebrate the occasion, we threw a great party at Chadwick's Restaurant and Bar in Audubon, PA. Of course, some tasty cake was in order to top off the day. We ordered two sheet cakes from The Night Kitchen in Chesnut Hill. The first one, pictured directly above was a chocolate with rasberry filling. The second, top and middle pictures, was a vanilla cake with lemon curd. Both cakes were finished off with a tasty light buttercream. The vanilla with the lemon curd was the more popular of the two cakes, but both were delicious.

Homemade granola

I've mentioned my love of the breakfast foods before...I remember the first time I had granola as a kid. It was amazing! Nutty, crunchy, sweet....then I realized that one serving was only like a 1/3 cup. Portion control has always been an issue with me. I was used to eating puffy cereals like Honey Smacks, Super Sugar Crisps and Pops! where one serving was a huge I was sad to learn that this great tasting creation called granola, while technically better for me than my puffy sugary cereals, was as caloric as it was addictive.

Sadly, the calorie count of granola has not changed in the interim years. However, I like to think I have learned some self restraint. A few short years ago, I could not have ice cream in the house without finishing it within 3, it might be in the freezer for 2 weeks without me even thinking about it! Why? Self restraint. Anyway, back to the granola.....In the June 2010 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, there was a recipe for homemade granola. While it did not cluster up like some store bought granolas (not a problem, just not what I expected), it had a wonderful fresh taste....and to keep my portions on par, I kept my handy 1/3 cup measuring cup nearby....

Everyday Granola from the June 2010 issues of Bon Appetite (by Molly Wizenberg, Orangette)

3 cups of old fashioned oats
1 cup coarsly chopped pecans
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I used sweetened since that was all I had on hand and it was fine)
3 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt (I used sea salt)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 cup of assorted dried fruits (I used Trader Joe's Golden Berry Blend which has golden raisins, cherries, cranberries and blueberries)

Pre-heat over to 300 degrees F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl.

Stir honey and oil in saucepan over medium-low heat until smooth. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture; toss. Spread on prepared sheet. Bake until golden, stirring every 10 minutes, about 40 minutes. Place sheet on rack. Stir granola; cool. Mix in fruit.

Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight.

Note, don't put the dried fruit in the oven....mix it in afterwards. If you put the fruit in the oven, it will become very hard and may break your teeth.

Thanks to Molly for such a wonderful recipe. Please check out Orangette if you have some time. Beautiful photos and interesting writing.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Victor and I held a benefit show at the end of August to help raise money for a friend undergoing cancer treatment. We were able to successfully raise about $3000 which was great and everyone had a great time coming together for the cause.

About two weeks before the benefit, we started to solicit food donations. At that time, we had also been watching a lot of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network. Inspired by the bakers would could turn out 1,000 cupcakes in 2 hours on the show, I volunteered to make 100 cupcakes. I actually made 120 cupcakes, but I had to trash 20 of them due to the concept just not quite coming together.....Here's what I made:
  • Red velvet cakes with cream cheese icing
  • Devil's food cake with peanut butter cream cheese icing
  • White cake with vanilla buttercream icing and coconut
  • French vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles
  • Chocolate cakes with marshmallow filling
The chocolate cakes with marshmallow filling were the ones that we ended up having to throw away. I got the recipe off of Martha Stewart's website but something just wasn't right with the marshmallow was way too runny and wet. It was getting absorbed into the cake and then running out the sides...marshmallow disaster! Luckily, I still had 100 good cupcakes left. We sold them at $1 a piece and ended up selling 93 of I felt pretty successful. That was the first time I had ever sold any of my baking! The pictures above were all of the cupcakes boxed up right before we left for the event.

Nobody likes Mayo

I bought this tee shirt at the Los Angeles Renegade Fair. It reminded me of my sister. Growing up, she was not a fan of mayo (now give her some Lebanon bologna with mustard and she was in heaven...). Despite her disdain for the white stuff, she loved cole slaw...yes, I know that most cole slaws are made with mayonnaise but kids don't really take the time to breakdown the ingredients mentally at a BBQ. Now that she is older, she appreciates that mayo can add some flair in specific dishes but....still not a big fan.

Me on the other of my favorite childhood sandwiches was ham and cheese with mayo. I love potato salad, mac salad, cole slaw....however, I do not like mayo on a burger. I feel it adds nothing and just makes my burger slide around. Don't even get me started on the dipping of french fries into mayo. I am definitely not a supporter of that practice.

I suppose most of us have mixed feelings on mayo. I guess what I am saying is: Don't shun mayo; it's good condiment when used correctly.

Oro blanco

My farmer's market obsession this summer was the Oro Blanco! It is a sweet white seedless grapefruit with a thick white skin. Did I mention it was sweet? I like all grapefruit even the tart ones...but some folks can't handle the tart. For them....Oro Blanco!! I have placed my favorite grapefruit of 2010 next to an egg so you can get sense of the size. Once you peel it, it is pretty much the same size as a regular grapefruit. It just looks huge due to the thick skin around it. Click here for more information about the Oro Blanco!!

Fried food mecca: The OC Fair

It's impossible to describe for the uninitiated the endless options of junk food at the OC Fair. In a part of the country known for beaches and bikinis, the fair shows that at least once a year, people relax and let it all hang out. From 2 foot long corn on the cob to chocolate covered bacon, there is truly something for everyone. While I am known to enjoy a Krispy Kreme donut here and there, I can't bring myself to order a chicken sandwich where the "bread" is 2 Krispy Kremes (see sign in upper left of the picture).

We went to the fair twice this summer, both times to see concerts (The B-52s were AMAZING). You can't walk through the fair on the way to amphitheater without being tempted by some dangerous delectable. The first trip, I really wanted a soft serve cone but tried to be good and have something nutritious first. I bought a gigantic chicken kabob, spent the rest of the night in gastro-distress and never got my ice cream cone...apparently, too much of a semi-healthy thing (grilled chicken, onions and green peppers) is still going to put your stomach into overdrive. The second time, I followed my gut (pun intended) and went straight of the soft serve vanilla/chocolate swirl cone dipped in sprinkles ("jimmies" for you east coasters). I felt much better this time...Lesson learned: if you want soft serve, just go straight for the soft serve and get your nutrition another day!

Zen through Zucchini

I could have sworn my mom's Zucchini Bread recipe had a chocolate base? Maybe that is Chocolate Zucchini Cake...which incidently I will be making in a few weeks. Anyway, with fall in our sights, I started to have visions of zucchini bread. The zucchini adds a wonderful moisture to your average quick bread recipe. I found a 3-5 lb zucchini at the Torrance Farmer's Market and lovingly assembled my mom's recipe. Note that the actual recipe said 3 "medium" size zucchini....the size is irrelvant as long as you can get 2 cups of grated and drained zucchini out of it. The recipe makes 2 nice sized loaves.

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 cup oil (as usual, I used apple sauce)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups grated and drained zucchini
2 ts[ vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 cup raisins and 1 cup chopped walnuts

Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in oil, zucchini and vanilla. Sift flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt onto wax paper. Stir in egg mixture until blended. Stir in raisins and nuts.

Bake in well greased (I sprayed with olive oil spray) loaf pans at 375 degrees for 1 hr. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Peppers and Eggs Stuffed Bread

In the Manayunk neighborhood of Philly, there is a little Italian bakery called Marchiano's. They make these amazing stuffed breads. My family typically gets the Pepperoni and Cheese, Cheese Steak and Broccoli and Cheese breads. In LA, I know of no equivalent to this stuffed bread and therefore I make my own. The whole cheesesteak thing seems a bit involved, so I have never made that one, but I have made ham and cheese bread (capicola and provolone to be specific) and garlic, tomatoes and cheese bread. Both turned out pretty good although the ham and cheese was a bigger hit with my party guests. Recently, I got a hankering for peppers and eggs and decided to throw that in the middle of the bread. Here's how my homemade version is done (I wouldn't even pretend to know how to replicate Marchiano's magic!)....

1 loaf of frozen Rich's Frozen Bread Dough, thawed and risen
4-5 eggs scrambled with green and/or red peppers, onions and whatever other spices you want to use (I used italian seasoning, garlic and black pepper)
About 3 or so slices of Velvetta (I had a block leftover from some cheesy rice I made)

Roll out the dough so it's about 12-14 inches long and 4-5 inches wide.
Place the cooked scrambled eggs/pepper mixture down the middle leaving about an inch around the sides (see above picture).
Place the cheese on top of the eggs.
Bring the left side of the dough in on top of the eggs and over towards the right as close as possible to the right side of the eggs without ripping a hole in the dough...bring the right side up so that it generously overlaps the left side. Gently roll the log over so that the seam is down and then pinch the top and bottom close.
Transfer to baking sheet (I sprayed with non-stick olive oil spray first) and bake at 425 degrees for about 15 -20 minutes or until the top of the bread is browned.

After taking it out of the oven, let it sit for about 5 minutes before slicing to give the cheese a chance to cool a little. Slice into about 1/2 inch to 1 inch slices and enjoy!

You can just about put anything you want in the middle of the bread...meatballs, sausage, spinach and cheese, etc. Just make sure whatever you are putting in the middle of the bread is already cooked...the bread dough cooks pretty the bread is not in the oven long enough to cook meat especially thoroughly.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The joy of the summer sandwich!

Some of my best summer culinary memories growing up involve sandwiches. Since I was about 7 or 8 years old, my mom has planted a vegatable garden. The exact vegatables varied from year to year except for tomatoes. Every year, we were blessed with a plethora of tomatoes...especially late August, early September. Since my mom is on the east coast and I am on the west, I no longer get to share in her annual tomato harvest. However, living in LA, I have the good fortunate of an abundance of farmer's markets. I found some great summer tomatoes and was inspired to have sandwiches for dinner. I whipped up this chicken salad recipe. It was tasty but could have used a little more heat. I would probably add some hot peppers or more cayenne pepper next time.

Spicy Chicken Salad

1/2 medium onion

3/4 cup of chopped celery

1 carrot chopped

Between 1 and 2 cups of diced (leftover) cooked chicken

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1/2 cup light mayo

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Mix it all up and chill for at least an hour. We had it on toasted whole grain bread with lettuce and sliced tomatoes.

Baby, You're a Star!

My grandmother and sister getting silly...

My grandmother just turned 90 years old which is amazing. She and my grandfather lived a few blocks from us when I was growing up so I have many culinary memories of her over the years. When I was young and thought of my grandmom's house, I thought of grilled cheese. Her sandwiches were just a little better than my mom's (sorry mom)...and she made them often. My grandfather was old school Catholic and would not eat meat on Friday, even when it wasn't Lent. Grandmom made him a grilled cheese many a Friday afternoon. Her secret, of course, was the cheese. While my mom used American cheese, Grandmom used Cooper Sharp cheese, which is divine. My mom eventually switched over to Cooper Sharp as well...probably after getting tired of hearing how great Grandmom's sandwiches were!

Another specialty of grandmom's was her potato salad. Man oh man....this was better than the grilled cheese! She always said the secret was to drink a beer while making it. Not sure how that helps but in the spirit of following directions, I do this as well. She always used red potatoes, a generous amount of finely diced onions, a few hard boiled eggs and Miracle Whip. As is the case with many family recipes, I am not aware of a written version of her potato salad recipe, but I will ty to replicate it in a few weeks and share it here. It tasted amazing along side some ham and fresh home grown tomatoes from my mom's garden.

Rounding out Grandmom's trifecta was her cooked dressing. She made this for all sit down special dinners like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's got bacon, vinegar, onions, a little bit of cook it on the stove, let it cool and then pour it over some chopped up iceberg lettuce. Hmmm...

She made other dishes like vegetable soup and fried eggplant, to name a few. But the grilled cheese, potato salad and cooked dressing are the things that remind me the most of Grandmom...well, that and some of her famous sayings (me: "grandmom, what's for dinner?" Her: "Bees knees, grasshoppers and a little bit of bug juice").

For her birthday, I wanted to send her something nice. Since she lives in Philly and I live in LA, making her some potato salad as tribute was a little out of the question; cookies are easier to ship. I found this recipe called Twin Stars in the Best of Sunset Cookies magazine. They were a bit labor intensive (I feel like I have been saying that alot lately...) but turned out well. The original recipe called for stacking two cookies on top of each other but I opted to leave them unstacked. I used the food processor to make the dough. This is the first time I have done this and it worked out really well.

Twin Stars

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter at room temp cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

1 teaspoon lemon juice

3/4 cup strawberry jam

1 cup plus 2 teaspoons sifted powdered sugar

2 teaspoon lightly beaten egg white

1. In food processor or bowl, whirl or stir flour, sugar and salt to blend. Add butter; whirl or cut in with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal.

2. In another bowl, whisk egg, vanilla, lemon peel, and lemon juice to blend. Add flour to the mixture in food processor or bowl; whirl or stir until dough forms a ball.

3. Divide dough into thirds. Roll each portion, between sheets of wax paper or parchment into a round 1/8 inch thick. Stack and freeze rounds until firm about 30 minutes (or chill for 2 hours).

4. Cut out shapes with a floured 2 inch 5 point star cutter. Space cookies 1/2 inch apart on buttered or parchment lined 12x15 inch baking sheets.

5. Bake cookies in a 325 degree oven until pale golden at tips, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool. Reduce oven tempeture to 150 degrees.

6. In a 1 quart pan over medium heat, stir jam until melted. Push through a fine strainer (I skipped this part because I had no strainer), discard residue, and return liquid to pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes to thicken, stirring occassionally. Let cool until just warm to touch, 7 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir 1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons powdered sugar and 4 teaspoons water until smooth.

7. Brush cookie with jam, then place slightly apart on baking sheets. With a clean pastry brush, paint a thin film of powdered sugar glaze over each cookie to completely cover the jam (beginning with the cookies coated earliest with jam).

8. Bake cookies until glaze is set and dry, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool.

9. In a small bowl, stir remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the egg white until smooth. To assemble cookies spoon a dot (1/8 teaspoon) of powdered sugar mixture in center of one cookie, then gently press another cookie on top with the star points offset. (I skipped this step as well since I didn't stack my cookies).

10. Let cookies stand until icing is set, about 1 hr.

71 calories, 2.9 grams of fat (this represents a stacked version of the cookie).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lemon meringue cookies

In my A to Z cookie quest, I am up to the letter L. Just L you say? Yeah, well, we cannot eat a steady diet of cookies, so I have to space them out. I found this recipe for Lemon Meringue Cookies on Kaboose. In theory, they sound refreshing...but they were a little dry. Maybe they are not always dry, maybe it's just the way I made them. I am known to screw things up here and there. Without further adeui...

Lemon Merginue Cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 large egg, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I believe I used lemon extract to give it extra lemon umph!)
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white

In large bowl beat butter with electric mixer on medium until smooth. Add 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat until combined, scrapping down sides when necessary. Add lemon peel. Beat until combined. Beat in egg yolk, and vanilla extract until combined. Reserve the egg white.

Add flour and salt. Beat until combined, scrapping down sides when necessary.

Form each tablespoon of dough into 1 3/4 discs on ungreased cookie sheet.

With electric mixer, beat egg white and reserved egg white until soft peaks form. With beater on, slowly add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Transfer whites to piping bag fitted with small star tip. Swirl egg whites on top of each cookie.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake cookies 13-15 minutes or until edges and topping are light golden. Let cool on cookie sheet 5 minutes then removed to cooling rack to cool completely.

Easy BBQ chicken for the grill-less crowd

This great Spicy Cilantro BBQ chicken (on the stovetop) is based on a recipe I found for grilled pork on the Kraft Foods website. We don't have a grill, I didn't have any Kraft BBQ sauce, pork chops or jalapeno peppers BUT I did have a pan, chicken, Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ sauce (good stuff by the way), and a serrano pepper. To be honest, this is how most of the dinners I make get started: I start thinking about a particular dish, look for a recipe and then alter it to work with what I already have in the house. We live in LA, so a "quick trip to the store" to pick up ingredients is typically out of the question...we make do with what we have.

Anyway, so given the big summer kick off of Memorial Day, I made this Spicy Cilantro BBQ Chicken which was quite tasty.

1/2 cup spicy BBQ sauce
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 serrano pepper, seeded, finely chopped
2 Tbsp orange juice
2 large chicken breast chopped into strips or bite sized pieces

Mix first 4 ingredients in bowl. Cook chicken thoroughly in skillet. When chicken is fully cooked, add sauce mixture. Cook over low heat for a few minutes until the sauce is hot and desired thickness is achieved.

I served with baked potatoes and corn on the cobb.

Wedding cake traditions and other folklore

There are so many traditions and superstitions associated to weddings. One of the more popular post wedding traditions is the saving of the top layer of cake for the first anniversary. Since we already had some leftover sliced cake the day after the wedding, I had no problem showing incredible restraint and not eating the top layer. I double wrapped the cake in heavy duty foil and then popped it in a Ziplock Freezer bag. To protect the icing, I popped some toothpicks in the top to tent the foil...the takeaway container the venue put the cake in was already away from the sides. We threw the cake in the freezer and jumped on a plane back to LA. That was November 2009. Fast forward to April 2010 when we are back in Philly to visit my parents. All I can think about is eating that cake: Would it still taste good? What if we are not back in Philly November 2010 and then wait too long to eat it? I hate wasting food....So, we decided to break it out and eat it with the promise that I will make a cake replica on our actual 1st anniverary. It was just as good as I remembered....if it had been in my freezer in LA, there is no way it would have lasted even until April!

What's with this 1st Anniversary tradition anyway? I did some research on the web and did not find too much information just a lot of personal experiences. Some folks said their cake tasted terrible after a year, others said the cake was fine. Guess it depends on your wrapping skills! The most important thing I discovered in my research? No where did it say that it was BAD luck to eat the cake before the 1st anniversary.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Prune cookies: careful how many you eat!

Fathers Day 2010! My dad is a pretty adventureous cookie eater. Whatever cookies I send to my family, my dad likes them even if the rest of the family is only lukewarm about them. He could be just trying to spare my feelings but I am not sure. When we were kids, if my mom burned the first batch of cookies, my dad would always act excited and say he preferred burnt cookies. Was it true or was he trying to make my mom feel better? We may never know the full truth....If he wasn't being honest, he deserves an Oscar because he really sold it!

He also loves cereal, oatmeal, prunes, grapefruit...most people do...but when you suggest an oatmeal prune cookie as a sweet treat, many would pass. As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it was the perfect father's day cookie for him.

This is from the Sunset Magazine Best Cookies Ever December 2008.

Crisp Oatmeal-Fruit Strips
1 cup butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 large egg
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 cups regular rolled oats
2 cups chopped pitted prunes (could use dates or raisins also)

In a bowl, with electric mixer on medium, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg.

In another bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and oats. Stir or beat into butter mixture until well blended. Stir in chopped prunes.

Divide dough into seven equal portions. Pinch each portion into a 12 inch long rope and evenly space two or three ropes across parchment lined 12x15 inch baking sheets. Flatten the ropes to make 2 inch wide strips.

Bake in oven at 350 degrees until strips are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. If baking more than one pan at a time, switch pan positions halfway through baking.

Let strips cool on sheets for about 2 minutes, then cut diagonally into 1 inch wide pieces. Let cool completely on sheets.

77 calories, 3 grams of fat

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stars Wars themed treats at Dodger's Stadium

Victor and I went to the Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back night at Dodger's Stadium on May 23rd: Dodgers vs Detroit Tigers. Chewbacca threw out the first pitch and various folks were in was pretty cool. Our tickets were for the Our Town section which included all you can eat and a special commemorative tee shirt. As evident in the menu above, the theme was even worked in with the food. Naturally, we went for the Clone Burgers and IG-88 Kettle Chips rather than normal old Dodger Dogs....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Curry Tuna Salad

I found this recipe on All Recipes and tweaked it a bit. My mom's approach to tuna salad has always included sweet pickle relish, chopped hard boiled eggs, Miracle Whip and salt and pepper. I thought this recipe was similar and would add a little kick to an already tasty lunch treat. It was good but next time I think I am going to increase the curry a bit to jazz it up a bit.

1 -12 oz can of chunk light tuna, drained
4-6 tablespoons mayo or Miracle Whip (I used Kraft Light Mayo)
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1/2 cup diced sweet onion
1/4 heaping teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

In medium bowl, mix everything together. We especially like it on whole wheat toast...