Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Caramel Apples

Farewell to the dormitories and the cafeteria food! Today was my last day in my dorm, so as a goodbye present I made my roommate and her boyfriend caramel apples, per request. Living on campus was a fun experience, but one that I realized just wasn't important enough for me to spend so much money on. $13,000 a year to live 30 minutes away from my own house is just about as expensive as buying a new car -- so that's what we did, I now have a new car. I've been applying for jobs all around Marin County close to my university to help my mother pay it off.

I'm definitely going to miss my roommate, but I'm sure I'll be back at her room everyday between classes anyhow. To make up for leaving I've already spoiled her with homemade cheesecake, fudge, caramel apples and promised to make cupcakes for her boyfriend's birthday once school gets back in on January 19th (my birthday, actually, his is on the 3rd).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Canneles (adapted from Tartelette)

Makes 18 to 24 depending on your molds

750 milk (2 1/2 cups)
50 gr butter (2 TB)
3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
200 gr granulated sugar (1 cup)
1 Tb vanilla extract
1/4 cup rum
155 gr flour (1 1/4 cups)

In a saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer, add the butter cut into dices. Mix well and let cool to lukewarm. In a bowl, mix the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla and whisk until foamy.

Slowly add the rum and flour. Add the milk slowly and whisk until smooth. Pass it through a sieve if necessary. Let the batter rest in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

When the batter has rested, preheat the oven to 375F and divide it evenly among the canneles molds, generously coated with cooking spray or well oiled if you use copper.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. They will be scortching hot right out of the oven, so let them cool 20 minutes or so before enjoying them.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Pretzels

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Pretzels

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup raisins

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast, brown sugar and salt in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Stir in flour, raisins, and cinnamon and knead dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover, and let rise for one hour.

Combine 2 cups warm water and baking soda in an 8 inch square pan.

After dough has risen, cut into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a 3 foot rope, pencil thin or thinner. Twist into a pretzel shape, and dip into the baking soda solution. Place on parchment covered cookie sheets, and let rise 15 to 20 minutes.

Bake at 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with coarse salt, garlic salt or cinnamon sugar.

Friday, November 14, 2008
Miniature Cinnamon Rolls

I love taking on yeasted bread recipes, there's simply something about the little extra effort that makes the result even more satisfying. This cinnamon roll recipe is no exception, although for the longest time I feared that I'd never be able to try it because I didn't have a fancy-pants bread maker (something I've considered adding to my Christmas wishlist, but definitely not a priority). Luckily for me I found tips on making these cinnamon rolls sans bread machine and this weekend I finally took the time to make them. If you're considering making this recipe, go for it, I promise you'll have no regrets.

Cinnamon Rolls [of course, I halved the recipe and made miniature rolls instead]

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup butter, melted
4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened

1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Place ingredients in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select dough cycle; press Start. [To make without bread machine: Dissolve yeast in warm milk and then add eggs, butter, salt, and sugar. Add flour and mix well. Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands dusted lightly with flour. Put in a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Then pick up with rolling out the dough.]

After the dough has doubled in size turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.

Roll dough into a 16x21 inch rectangle. Spread dough evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Bake rolls in preheated oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. While rolls are baking, beat together cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Spread frosting on warm rolls before serving.

Friday, November 7, 2008
Persimmon Waffles with Cinnamon Honey Butter

Last weekend I finally got that waffle maker I've been literally dreaming about. After confiding to my mother that I actually lost sleep at school one night thinking of waffles. Crazy, I know. I've never had an obsessive craving like that before. She just laughed at me and told me I could pick up a waffle maker at Costco and the next morning I got my long-awaited satisfaction. It was pouring so hard outside that we were all shut inside the house and our family got to have a real breakfast together for the first time in a long while.

This week I wanted to try something new and a little more indulgent than the classic waffles and maple syrup. The idea donned on me as I woke up this morning: Persimmon Waffles! I didn't want to overpower the taste of the persimmon with bold maple syrup, so I decided on making a sweet Cinnamon Honey Butter to compliment the spice-filled waffles.

Tonight my mission is a fried chicken dinner for the family, so since I've got lots of grocery shopping to fill my day I'll keep this post short. I've got a delicious breakfast in my tummy and I'm ready to go!

Persimmon Waffles

2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup persimmon, pureed
1 tablespoon white sugar

1 teaspoon brown sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat waffle iron. Beat eggs in large bowl with hand beater until fluffy. Beat in flour, milk, puree, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla, just until smooth.

Spray preheated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray. Pour mix onto hot waffle iron. Cook until golden brown. Serve hot.

Cinnamon Honey Butter

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a medium bowl, combine butter, confectioners' sugar honey and cinnamon. Beat until light and fluffy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008
Pizza Dough - Part Deux: Chicken Alfredo Pizza

Today's nonstop downpour made it the perfect day to turn on the oven and fill the house with the warmth and essence of a cheesy, melty pizza. In many ways the rain was much welcomed; it brought an end to the drought that's been plaguing California and it forced the family to stay at home on a Saturday, something that hasn't happened for a few months. The day began with homemade waffles from my new toy (a waffle maker I bought yesterday) and ended with fresh chocolate chip cookies...with three chicken alfredo pizzas in between.

I love love love this pizza dough, it's easy and not ingredient-fussy, a perfect way to help deplete the giant bag of flour from Costco.

Chicken Alfredo Pizza

Basic Pizza Dough Recipe

For the topping:

Alfredo sauce
Italian cheese blend
Gorgonzola cheese
roasted chicken breast, chopped
sliced fresh mushrooms
sliced red onion
garlic, finely chopped
fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Friday, October 31, 2008
Daring Bakers: Dessert Pizza

Finally, another opportunity to participate in the Daring Bakers' Challenge. Homemade pizza dough always seemed like such a labour-intensive and time-consuming task and because of the numerous daunting paragraphs of instruction that detail the making of it, I have always put it off. Once again the DB Challenge offered me that much needed push of encouragement to overcome my hesitancy and with so many others also taking the plunge, the Daring Bakers' seems to serve as a support group and it's easier to go head on into a task with the knowledge that you're not alone.

I was happy to find that only the "time" factor was indeed true about the making of pizza dough. Laborious it was not, although I did have to put in some extra work kneading and working the dough by hand and cleaning the constantly floured counter top due to my lack of stand mixer (I won't fret though, Christmas will arrive soon enough), but the overall experience was fun and fulfilling. Today I used a fraction of the dough to make a small dessert pizza: cream cheese, apricot spread, apples, topped with an almond streusel. Tomorrow I plan on making a savory chicken alfredo pizza, more on that in a following post.

The sweet pizza overall was delightful, the smooth tangy cream cheese, the sweet mix of the apricot and apple, and the added texture of the streusel. The dough came out perfectly, even though I wasn't apple to enjoy the crust due to the sensitivity caused by my braces. Thank you once again to the Daring Bakers for another chance to add something new to my repertoire!

Apricot-Apple Pizza with Cream Cheese and Almond Streusel

Basic Pizza Dough

Adapted from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.
Makes 4-6 pizza crusts

For the dough:
4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) ice cold water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugarSemolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl or stand mixer. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (spoon or paddle attachment) to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth. If it is too wet, add a little flour and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper. Cut the dough into 4-6 equal pieces. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Take 1 piece and lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

Make only one pizza at a time. During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.You can also resort to using a rolling pin.

When the dough has the shape you want, place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes. [My pizza baked at 375 for 15 minutes.]

For the topping:

adapted from

1/3 cup cream cheese or light cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1 large apple, peeled, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 cup blanched almonds, coarsely chopped

Halloween Sugar Cookies

This sudden onset of rain that appeared yesterday may discourage many trick-or-treaters, but that just means more candy for me. I'm never much of a candy person, during the other 365 days of the year I'm quite immune to popular allure of candy bars, they're just not my indulgence of choice. Well, they're not much of an indulgence at all. Typically I figure that if I'm going to put something of questionable nutritional value it might as well be decadent. However, there's something about Halloween that removes the "stigma" I normally attach to mass produced chocolates. In fact, I'll admit that I just opened up the bag of Halloween candy I purchased at Costco today and grabbed an Almond Joy on my way to my laptop to write this post.

Halloween this year has also given me a new appreciation for sugar cookies, which I normally ignore due traumatic experiences with cheap grocery store cookies and frosting. My mother asked me last week to make a batch of sugar cookies and use up the left over sprinkles from my little sister's school project. The cookies are supposed to be for my little cousins when they stop by tonight for trick-or-treating, but my mom's boyfriend has already eaten about two of them. And my mother and I, admittedly, ate up a cookie as well, quickly passing it back and forth bite after bite, in awe of how simply delicious it was, until it was gone.

Sugar Cookies

(makes roughly 60 cookies, I made only 1/4 of this recipe)

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Sugar Cookie Frosting

4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup butter
5 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
food coloring

In a large bowl, cream together the confectioners' sugar and butter until smooth. Gradually mix in the milk and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and stiff, about 5 minutes. Color with food coloring if desired.

Monday, October 27, 2008
Ciao Bella alla Casa

Why do let me stay here?
All by myself
Why don't you come and play here?
I'm just sitting on the shelf
- "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" by She & Him

Last week Mr. Simple happened to mention that his sister bought a new kind of ice cream. I begged him to elaborate.

Mr. S: I dunno. They're in these kinda small cups.

Me: What kind of small cups?

Mr. S:What do you mean?

Me: Are they paper, plastic?

Mr. S: Paper, why do you want to know?

Me: How small are they?

Mr. S: I don't know, small. Why do you keep asking.

Me: Can you save an empty cup for me and bring it next time?

Mr. S: Why?

Me: I just want to see it.

Mr. S: Why?

Me: I just like cute stuff like that.

Mr. S: What are you going to do with it?

Me: I don't know, I'll see if it's right.

Mr. S: Right for what?

Me: ... *embarassed*

Mr. S: You want to see if it's right for what?

Me: ...Right for baking something in...

Mr. S: ...grr.

He finally brought me one of those little ice cream cups, with the ice cream still in it. As soon as he handed it to me something about the little cup caught my attention.

Me: Why didn't you tell me it was "Ciao

Mr. S: I didn't that was that

Me: [tears of lid and savors a spoonfull of creamy gelato]
...Not in the least. ^ ^

Saturday, October 25, 2008
Creamy Chocolate Fudge

Per request I attempted my very first batch of fudge yesterday. Needless to say I was very on edge over the daunting concept of candy making because an edible product is contingent upon no mistakes, a very unforgiving process. The fact that this was also something my mom's boyfriend has been craving for the past week and waited anxiously until the weekend for me to come home and try it did not make the task any less difficult. I panicked midway too when I poured the chocolate into the mixture and each stir seemed to turn the smooth texture into a grainy nightmare. I reluctantly poured it into a mold anyway, spread it as best I could, hid it away in the refrigerator and tried to forgot about it for the next few hours. Part of me hoped that my family would forget about it too and my failure would sit behind the leftovers undiscovered until I could sneak back sometime and throw away the evidence after it was long gone from everyone's mind.

Unfortunately, I really did forget about it and went out that night to a bible study and the thought only returned to me when I got a call from my mom telling me how much he loved it. That was a little hard for me to believe and I couldn't stop myself from being overly apologetic about its every flaw, must especially its texture. She assured me though that the texture was anything but and I came home to happily discover that this was indeed the truth. The fudge was smooth and creamy and melted deliciously once it hit the tongue.

Initial fears dispersed, I can't wait to try other variations. Maybe peppermint for the holidays!

Creamy Chocolate Fudge (

48 servings [this is the original recipe, I halved the recipe however]

1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow creme
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8x8 inch pan with aluminum foil. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallow cream, sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt. Bring to a full boil, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and pour in semisweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, or until firm.

Friday, October 24, 2008
Dulce de Leche Apple Cake

This morning began with a request for a fresh batch of homemade pancakes and soon after the requests began to pile up. My first mission was a coupon treasure hunt at Costco and more miscellaneous grocery shopping at Lucky. Then a request for chocolate fudge sometime this weekend...and a suggestion for sweet potato fudge (still doing some research on that one). Then a bread pudding for my mother's best friend, another batch of pancake batter for my mom to use after I leave on Sunday, maybe some brownies because my mom's boyfriend ran out of box mixes. Not that I had the heart to turn any of these requests down, any excuse to do some baking is enough to catch my attention. But first I had to do what I wanted.

I have been waiting to try this recipe all week. Now they were originally meant to be "Dulce de Leche Apple Bars", but I picked up an adorable circular paper baking mold yesterday at Sur la Table and thought that it would make the perfect size little apple cake. Unfortunately, I must've been into what I was baking that I didn't consider that the batter might overflow. I realized this too late and when I peeked into the oven to see for myself, my susupicious were confirmed. Overflow it had. But I thought it added a certain imperfect charm and it was delicious nonetheless.

My mother and I both agreed that it would do just fine sans the browned butter icing and we would do just fine without all that extra sugar. And being the fruit lovers that we are, we also agreed that next time adding more fruit than the recipe called for wouldn't hurt.

Dulce de leche Apple Cake with Browned Butter Icing

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped, peeled apples
1/2 cup dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9x9-inch square baking pan.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy.

Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture, just until combined. Carefully stir in apples.

Spoon 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Drop dulce de leche by heaping Tablespoons over batter. Drag a butter knife through dulce de leche to swirl through the batter. Drop remaining batter over dulce de leche.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until browned and firm to touch. Let cool completely.

Browned Butter Icing

2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons half and half cream

Prepare icing: In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium until it begins to brown. Remove from heat. Add to a bowl with powdered sugar, vanilla and half/half. Beat on high speed with electric mixer until creamy. Drizzle and spread over bars, and chill until icing is set.

Thursday, October 23, 2008
Peachy-Keen Cobbler

Today I came home to discover a darling pile of peaches displayed on the dining table. Now I know the peaches probably taste great au natural, but being the sugar fiend that I am, I opted for smothering them in sugar and cinnamon and sprinkling them with a crumb topping. In other words, I could have sweet fresh peaches, but I'd really rather have a warm, delicious peach cobbler.

In keeping with my "mini" or "individual" baking style in order to minimize: 1) waste, 2) my sugar intake, 3) my waistline, I used only two of the tiny white peaches to make myself a single serving cobbler. I will however post the full serving recipe here.

The top of the cobbler did unexpectedly caramelize and ended up looking deceivingly similar to a creme brulee, but for the most part the topping remained soft and crumbly. The little white peach slices soaked up the cinnamon and sugar perfectly and every bite was warm with a subtle hint of spice.

Peach Cobbler

8 fresh peaches - peeled, pitted and sliced into thin wedges
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup boiling water

3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

In a large bowl, combine peaches, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Toss to coat evenly, and pour into a 2 quart baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter with your fingertips, or a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in water until just combined.

Remove peaches from oven, and drop spoonfuls of topping over them. Sprinkle entire cobbler with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake until topping is golden, about 30 minutes.

Champage French Bakery Cafe

Today I got my weekend off to an even earlier start. Morning classes were closed today due to the VoteSmart event that came to my university. Unfortunately, the event was so crowded that by the time my friends and I got there no more seats were left except at the live viewing held at the adjacent lecture hall. Disappointed though I was, I didn't lose that opportunity to call my mom up and get picked up early. Well, she had a doctor's appointment so lucky little me got dropped off to frolic in The Village at Corte Madera.

I walked into Sur La Table as soon as they opened their doors and bought myself an adorable little cake stand, the perfect size for all the 6" cakes I make. For the past few weeks every single cake I've made has been in miniature and my regular glass cake stand just overpowers them. Now with the perfect little cake stand to match, there's nothing to steal the spotlight from my darling little creations. My cute new purchase will make its debut on my blog soon enough.

If that wasn't indulgent enough, I couldn't help looking into the Champagne French Bakery Cafe and buying myself a little Carrot Cream Cheese Snack Cake with Vanilla Glaze (for a little over $1 I could hardly help myself) and of course, I couldn't resist trying one of the free samples of the many other treats they offer, an atypical strawberry cheesecake. What a way to kick off my weekend...all before noon!

To get me even more inspired I spent over an hour waiting to get picked up at Barnes & Noble flipping unstoppably through cookbooks and magazines. By the time I finally got back into the car I was more than ready to hit the grocery store and never leave the kitchen until it was Sunday night and time to go back to school.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Yay for National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day!

During a brief moment of unproductive boredom in between classes I was searching online through the countless random food holidays that take place on every single day of the year unbeknownst to most people. That's when I learned that today was National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day, who would've guessed? And lucky for me, I just had a delicious mini pumpkin cheesecake from Viva Cocolat in Petaluma on Sunday and was actually waiting until I had some free time to make a quick post about it. Well, I think today would be the perfect day to do so.

I was also bored enough to write down almost every food celebrated (at least the ones that interested me) on every day for the rest of the year. Just in case I needed any inspiration, or excuse, to bake something. October is actually National Caramel Month.

Well there you go, some eye candy to help you celebrate National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day. I can't wait until next year's National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day! Haha. No, not at all, there are definitely plenty of food holidays to keep me occupied for the next 365 days of the year.

Saturday, October 18, 2008
Chocolate Layer Cake

I'm just not a big fan of chocolate cake...there I said it. It's not that I won't eat it, I like it and I'll have it every now and then, but only as a "last resort" when I'm craving something sweet. I'm more easily tempted by other flavors, like vanilla, or something unique, or something fruity. I can't resist a fresh, warm, ooey-gooey brownie however, but chocolate cake just always seemed to me rather...ordinary.

My prejudice has prevented me from ever really considering the challenge of taking on a chocolate cake. It was only after my friend made a request for two little chocolate cakes that I actually looked into the possibility. The idea was exciting, the prospect of making a cake other than carrot (I made eight last weekend and another one by my mother's request this weekend) was too irresistible.

While I was in the process of making my friend's cakes, my mother's boyfriend walked by the kitchen and was disappointed to find that what I was preparing was not meant for the family. By his request I whipped up another quick chocolate cake, which is the one shown in the picture with a chocolate fudge frosting and coating of chocolate ganache. The two for my friend were frosted with a chocolate buttercream icing and unfortunately, I was in such a rush to get them to her on friday night that I forgot to snap a picture of them.

I can't say that this cake completely changed my perspective on chocolate cake, but I did have more than one slice and it was delicious with a refreshing glass of milk. The downfall of a chocolate cake for me is its temperature. I'll go gaga for a warm brownie or a molten chocolate cake or gooey chocolate souffle, but since I can't throw a slice of chocolate layer cake in the microwave without ending up with soupy chocolate frosting it just doesn't make it on my top list. But I would never turn down a chance to make it again for a friend, any excuse to bake. Although now I can't wait for something new!

Chocolate Cake

2 cups white sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water (plus 1 tsp of instant coffee)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two nine inch round pans.

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 teasp salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup evaporated milk or half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

In a heavy medium saucepan combine the sugar,cocoa and salt. Mix everything together.

Add the butter and place over a medium heat stirring to melt the butterand mix everything together into a smooth brown sauce.Add the milk,stir well and bring to a lively boil stirring often.Adjust the heat to maintain an active but gentle boil and cook for five minutes stirring often.

When the frosting begins to thicken remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla and set it aside to cool for twenty minutes.Beat the frosting until it thickens and looks shiny then spread it over the cake or the layers you want to ice.

Friday, October 17, 2008
Another Cupcake Excursion

I took my sister out today to Berkeley to photograph a couple of pieces from her clothing line whoabot:vestures you can click here to check out her Etsy store. My photographic services today were free and I promised to follow her anywhere no matter how far or strange as long as she sustained me. So all our food today was on her...for once.

Before Berekeley we couldn't help but stop at Emeryville's Teacake Bakeshop and were set on getting the Coconut Cupcakes and Chocolate with Dulce de Leche Buttercream that we had yet to try when our plans were ruined by a sign announcing the arrival of the new seasonal autumn flavors: Pumpkin and Apple Crumb. Well, we couldn't really justify getting the pumpkin cupcake, seeing as I just made pumpkin bread the day before. So I got the apple crumb and my sister got...a pumpkin cookie. I guess I couldn't really stop her if she wanted pumpkin that bad, but at least it was in a different form than was offered at home.

Both were delicious, of course. My cupcake was flecked with juicy little bits of cinnamony-apple and I adored the crumb topping, crumb toppings are one of my favorite parts of certain desserts. The coconut and chocolate ducle de leche cupcakes can wait, for a second day in a row I have chosen to honor the coming of autumn.

Thursday, October 16, 2008
Maine Pumpkin Bread

I finally gave into my craving for the taste of autumn. Putting summer behind me and embracing the spicy warmth of fall flavors. It wasn't until the breads were in the oven for a good while and started to perfume the house with a deep spicy aroma that I realized that I love cold season cuisine the best. Albeit, I am a winter baby, but for some reason the hearty dishes that characterize the season seem to resound within me more than the light crisp flavors of spring and summer. Now don't get me wrong, I love lemonade and berry-based desserts as much as the next. However, lately my head is filled with anticipation for the taste of spiced apple cider, pumpkin and applie pies, egg nog-all very spice dominated foods. There's something about the deep complexity of fall foods that strikes me more than the innocent simplicity of spring and summer. Plus, I've been waiting all year to enjoy a much needed hot chocolate again. I can't wait to recreate the rich Spanish hot chocolate and churros that I ate almost every day on my trip to Spain last winter (my last dinner in Spain consisted of just hot chocolate and churros, hehe).

So as fall and winter step in I can't help but get excited at the prospect of all the yummy things that will be filling my house (and my tummy) over the next few months. Uh oh...I reckon that also ushers in the entrance of those inevitable holiday season pounds.

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread (from

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Sunday, October 5, 2008
Hi, I'll have a tall...Red Velvet Cupcake??

Can you guess what my favorite order is? Caramel Macchiato? Cafe Au Lait? Cinnamon Dolce Frappuccino Blended Coffee? Actually I never drink coffee, if I ever go to Starbucks I'll normally pick up an Iced Green Tea or a Chai Tea. Although I am excited to try the new signature hot chocolates, Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, Hazelnut Hot Chocolate, and their Signature Hot Chocolate. A childhood favorite refined! However, none of these drinks was inside the tall Starbucks logo cup that my mom brought me home today.
Inside was actually a tiny red velvet cupcake!! I don't know which location she found it at but it was the nicest little surprise. The frosting on top wasn't the cream cheese frosting common to most red velvet cupcakes, but it was nice (if not as wonderful) nonetheless. There was even a little surprise inside of my surprise...a rich chocolate ganache center, a wonderful discovery I made after two or three bites.

I also baked another carrot cake this weekend, an adorable miniature 6 inch double layer cake. I increased the ratio of the carrots, used half brown sugar and half white, and added a touch of cinnamon to cream cheese frosting. My family definitely appreciated the slight changes and unfortunately, so much so, that I was unable to take even one photograph before my tiny creation was cut into and almost half devoured. However, one blessing that did arise from this was my mother's suggestion that I sell, what she has dubbed, my "perfected" carrot cake as well as my other delicious quick breads to the women at the church to help raise funds for my college, seeing as I've been unable to acquire an on-campus job as of yet. I told her I'd look into the possibility and the notion has got me very excited for such a legitimate excuse to bake every weekend. More updates as that on going project progresses.

Sunday, September 28, 2008
Tea Time

Right after I left the orthodontist, I knew I needed a pick-me-upper, so I hopped into my car and without even going back home I headed to the grocery store. A few people were surprised that I wouldn't rather lay down but what I knew that the dull pain I felt would become almost unbearable in a few hours, making any such leisure impossible. I used the sorry state I was in to my advantage, making it an excuse for an impulsive trip to Costco to buy the vanilla beans I had eyed for weeks. But when you think about it it wasn't so irresponsible an action, 10 vanilla beans for $11 versus the 2 vanilla beans $13 can buy at a supermarket? It was a smart impulse. Then I headed to Ranch 99 to buy some adorable tea cups that I had seen the day before but had guilted myself out of getting. For $1 I bought two porcelain teacups and spoons, again, a not so destructive impulse.

While sitting in silently endured pain at the orthodontist I had made the decision that I would allow myself a small luxury to reward myself for being such a patient and quiet victim, I would finally make that green tea and vanilla panna cotta that I had seen on
Nordljus and had been drooling over all week. I did however restrain myself to some extent by halving the recipe to only make enough to fill the two teacups that I had just purchased.

My sister was surprised to come home from school to see me up and about in the kitchen instead of moping in bed like everyone had assumed I would be. But her nagging concern was short lived when I presented to her my second panna cotta to eat for herself and we sat down together at the table to taste my attempts. The combination of the dark chocolate sauce and the green tea was truly wonderful. My biggest excitement was the flecks of vanilla seeds that permeated through the cream, because I always felt that real vanilla seeds made such a difference and could never approve of a restaurant that didn't utilize them in their creme brulee or panna cotta. Now I finally had pods of my own, and a lot of them, so I can finally try the many recipes that I've had to put on hold because of my stubborn prudence in not buying the overpriced vanilla pods for myself. The panna cotta was worth all the teasing from my sister as she watched me carefully maneuver the spoon into my sore, metal-filled mouth and I'm glad I made it because now, several hours later, I can tell by the pain that I won't be able to eat anything interesting for awhile.

Green Tea and Vanilla Panna Cotta with Chocolate Sauce

Makes 4

100ml milk
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds removed
3 green tea bags or 2 heaped tablespoons of green tea
350ml double cream
1 1/4 leaves of gelatine, soaked in water
70g icing sugar
30g caster sugar
150ml water
1 level tablespoon cocoa powder
100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

Put the milk, vanilla pod and seeds, tea bags or tea and half the cream in a small pan and slowly simmer for about 10 minutes until reduced by a third. Remove from the heat and extract the tea bags (put the mixture through a sieve if you’ve used loose tea or you tea bags have burst). Squeeze out the gelatine, discarding the soaking water, then stir the gelatine into the tea mixture and leave to dissolve. Allow to cool a little, then place in the fridge, stirring occasionally until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove the vanilla pod.

Whip together the icing sugar and the remaining cream. Mix the two cream mixtures together. Divide into four metal moulds (small glasses or cappuccino cups also work well). Cover and chill for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, place the caster sugar, the water and the cocoa in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and stir in the broken chocolate. Stir until dissolved and warm briefly before serving.

To serve, sometimes I dip the mould or cup into some simmering water to loosen the panna cotta, then turn it out on to a plate and spoon the chocolate around it, or – especially if you feel the mixture is a bit wet – you can simply serve the dessert in its cup with chocolate sauce poured over the top.

Friday, September 26, 2008
Filipino Empanadas

Today brought about some big changes, but more on that later. Before all that I was given one objective, to take on the empanada. Now I've never been very fond of empanadas, it's not that I don't like them, I began to look at them as so commonplace that it just became a habit to overlook them whenever they were offered amongst other more enticing dishes. The poor little empanada is always overshadowed by the ever popular lumpia. So when my mom asked me to make a large batch of empanada to sell at church I was excited to get to know it better.

I didn't have to make the filling, my mother made that on her own, it consisted simply of ground beef, peas, and carrots, but the variations of filling are endless. It was my task to make the dough and assemble the empanadas, which didn't seem so daunting until I saw that the large container of filling waiting for me in the refrigerator.

The process overall was quite laborious, if only because of the sheer volume of the batch. But afterwards I was rewarded with my first taste of my hard work. There's definitely something different about fresh baked goods, especially when you had a part in it. I'm not sure if it was because I stubbornly searched for a dough recipe that used butter instead of the traditional shortening, but the crust was unlike any empanada crust I've tasted before. Sometimes a small change from the traditional can make a world of difference and I think that butter crust does just that. The filling by nature is simple, which truly lets the crust take center stage, but hey, maybe I'm being biased, I've always been a devoted crust-lover.

Unfortunately, I could only savor one of my creations before speedily brushing my teeth and hopping into my car to drive to my orthodontist, where...I got my braces put on. I suppose this marks an inevitable downward slope for my eating adventures, at least for the time being. The range of foods I can eat is significantly narrowed and the cravings and hunger pangs are only dulled by the aching toothaches. Alas, I won't allow this to deter me and for now I will simply take this as a challenge to explore other textures in hopes of finding flavor beyond the bland instant oatmeal that I've been having nightmares about.

Thursday, September 25, 2008
Sinigang: A Lesson In Comfort Food With My Mother

One thought that has kept me going all week is a promise my mother made before I left for school on Sunday night, that she would teach me how to cook Sinigang, a filipino sour soup. The opportunity excited me so much because I've always been worried that I'd never learn that element of my culture. I already lament the loss of my native tongue, but what concerned me most was that when I'm finally living on my own my cravings for the comfort foods of my childhood will have to be satisfied with a trip to a restaurant not the kitchen. The memories and the smells of my childhood are something I want to be able to give to my future family as well.

I learned a lot more than just a recipe, well, in fact, I didn't learn a recipe at all and that in itself was the lesson. I've always found myself to be more of a baker than a cook, I don't feel confident improvising or eyeing things. Exact measurements and instructions help me feel structured and calm my worries that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. My training began in the grocery store, as I pushed the shopping cart, watching my mom grab ingredients left and right, no detailed list in her hand like the ones I've come to rely on. The hardest part came when we entered the kitchen and I began to ask too many questions. How much water should I put in the pot? How hot does the stove need to be? When do I know when to add what next or when it's done? How long should it cook? The answer to all these questions was similar, It doesn't matter, Just eye it, Touch it, Taste it, You'll know. It was an out of body experience, I was forced to literally abandon my dependencies on instructions and had to get to know the food for myself.

I felt more proud of my finished product than I did for any of my more elaborate endeavours. The simple, giddy excitement of making an adorable treat for myself gave way to feeling that felt much deeper. I felt fulfilled, I had created something with a purpose much more significant than simply pleasing my fleeting fancies, I had begun to learn a craft that has nourished and comforted families for generations and now it was no longer beyond my reach.

I won't be posting a recipe, as there was none given to me and it seems to defy the nature of filipino home cooking. Ihave to force myself to learn it by heart so that each time I make it for my future family that's exactly where it will be coming from, my heart, with it all my memories of what my parents also shared with me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Sol Food and a Long Awaited Father-Daughter Moment

Finally my weekly exoneration from dorm food! My father took me out for lunch again today-when went out for Indian food last Monday. Today we decided to try Sol Food, restaurant down on 4th Street offering authentic Puerto Rican Cuisine. The green painted interior is a quaint recreation of a busy island kitchen, crowded with plants and eclectic furniture and decor. A large shelf by the cashier displays a collection of beverages from Agua de Coco to Fizzy Lizzy's in eight different flavors. Below the shelf were two troughs of ice filled with chilled beverages, my father selected a Fizzy Lizzy, but I had my heart set on trying the homemade limeade in a jar advertised on the door.

He ordered the Ensalada de Pollo, organic greens, tomato, avocado, baked (free-range) chicken, pickled pink onions, and lemon-garlic dressing. I had the Combinacion Vegetariano, black beans served over rice, organic greens, fresh avocado, tostone, and maduro. And of course, having the sweet tooth that I do, I ordered the Tembleque, a creamy coconut pudding with mango sauce. After ordering we took a seat at one of the heavy wood tables and played catch up, discussing my school, his business, my little brothers, music, religion. I love to hear my father talk, impart wisdom, ponder, and share with me his goals in life.

The food was good and I ate slower than I am accustomed to, savoring the flavors, the moments spent with my father free of conflict, devoid of the complications of the divorce. Turning eighteen at the beginning of this year marked the end of his "legal obligations" towards me and I was afraid that that would end any hope of us having the close relationship that we have always tried to attain but that he always managed to put off, prioritizing work. But sitting there, I realized that my fears were unfounded. Turning eighteen, being in college, allowed him the comfortable freedom of being able to visit me as often as he had always wanted to.

I offered him a taste of the coconut pudding. He took a bite and quickly put down the spoon, dubbing it a "triple shot of sugar." He was right, the syrup was heavy and sugary, and I apologized, remembering his diabetes. The fact that the risk of diabetes runs on both sides of my family and the fact that it really was a bit too sweet should've made me put down my spoon right then as well, but I have a terrible habit of always finishing dessert.

We had a moment in the car, sitting in front of my dorm saying goodbye. It took almost ten minutes to say goodbye. He couldn't stop looking at me and he kept telling me how much he missed me. He wiggled my nose as if I were a child, like a desperate attempt to reclaim the years that he had lost. He told me he loved me and wiped his eyes. And he promised to do his best to take me out to lunch almost every week. No matter how many promises he's broken in the past, no matter how much my mother and stepdad and sister and boyfriend pity me each time I get my hopes up about my father...I believe him. I want and I need to believe him.

I thank God for food and the things it does to people.

Monday, September 22, 2008
Banana Bread

When I first began my fascinating endeavour into all things cooking and baking-really only a few months or so ago-my mind was filled with big and ambitious desires and projects. It honestly still is. However, as of late, many factors are forcing me to humble my culinary aspirations. The first of which is finances, lately the two culprits of our rather high electrical bill have been our dryer and oven. There is also the matter of the rising price in our groceries, as my projects become more elaborate and the ingredients, consequently, more specialized. Therefore, per my mother's entreaties, I will be taking a turn into the more practical and less frivolous.

The second factor is my boyfriend, who will from now on be addressed in this blog as "Mr. Simple," a very appropriate pseudonym as you will gradually learn from my mentions of him. The concept of good food, in my mind, consists of dishes made from high quality ingredients, unique and intriguing combinations of flavor, presentation, an opportunity for artistic expression. These are the characteristics in my head when I first set out to hone my kitchen skills. Mr. Simple is quite the opposite. To him, practicality is everything, all that really matters is taste and portion. If it's a minuscule serving that won't fill him up, no matter how lovely the presentation or how decadent the ingredients or how laborious the cooking process, he will not hesitate to criticize it. I am very often teased for my "foodie behvior," my love for food that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but of the best quality, and the wide-eyed stares and giggles, the typical "kid-in-a-candy-shop" syndrome, that come over me when I enter a real life candy shop. I learned the hard way that any recipe with less ingredients and less steps will win his heart over more easily than a labour-intensive recipe. The faster the food gets to him the better.

These past few weeks have forced me to learn how to compromise. Any particularly extravagant or money-hungry recipes will only be tried if it is possible to scale them down or if there is a particular occassion that calls for such extravagance. And I can't say that I'm too particularly upset about this either. I do admit that the one thing that I lack most in life is practicality and having someone there to keep me in check-while still allowing me to dream-is just what I need.

In the past few months, food has definitely changed its role in my life. Thoughts of food, whether it be planning a recipe, images, inspirations, projects, have recently replaced my once very fashion-centered thinking. Notebooks that were once filled with doodles of the latest runway inspirations and lists of things to buy are now occupied by lists of recipes to try, supplies to purchase. Not that fashion is no longer prevalent in my life, I still find it a primary outlet of my expression. However, food just seems to be a more practical way to express myself aesthetically and creatively, and it definitely has more advantages. Cooking can not only be admired by others, but it can also be shared, a thing that one can't really say about fashion-a very self-gratifying interest.

This is the kind of mindset I have begun to instill myself with over the past few weeks. Not only as a means of comforting myself as I put many of my culinary "projects" on hold, but also as a transition into a different chapter of my life, a departure from the very egocentric teenager stage, when one improves themselves in order to satisfy their own desires. Now I'm beginning to improve myself in order to better serve others, my family, a serious boyfriend, and eventually a home of my own.

So, by my boyfriend's request...

Banana Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Sunday, September 21, 2008
Miette Patisserie

A few posts ago I lamented leaving Sur La Table empty handed, however, I was not able to stop myself from indulging in a little instant gratification at the adorable Miette Patisserie also housed in San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace. The owners of Miette have maximized the very few square feet it occupies for ultimate adorablility. Gorgeous glass jars are filled to the brim with various macarons, caramels, meringues, and candies. A table displaying a multi-tiered cakestand is laden with towers of homemade graham crackers, shortbreads, sables and cookies. Their glass case showcases their many gourmet cakes, including the decadent Princess as well as the irresistible Tomboy. Also on display are petite pots de creme, opera cakes, brownies, scones, and cupcake versions of their signature cakes.

Because a visit to Miette was what drove me to request a trip to the Ferry Building in the first place, I knew I couldn't leave without taking advantage of the treats it had to offer. I purchased one of their pots de creme baked into a miniature jar (which could be bought back for a dollar-but the jar was the whole reason I chose it anyway, so there's no way they're getting it back, hehe). I also selected a miniature cupcake version of their most popular Gingerbread Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Frosting as well as miniature version of their Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake with Boiled Icing. While the cashier was ringing me up I did the best that I could to ignore the macarons that were displayed right at eye level, but I inevitably gave in and asked her to add one vanilla macaron to my purchase and I nibbled on it happily as we strolled through the rest of the vendors.

Saturday, September 20, 2008
Emergency Cheesecake Makeover

As soon as I came back home on Thursday I knew exactly what dish I wanted to tackle. Cheesecake has been on my mind all week-during lectures, before bed, while studying-and I've even had the particular recipe I wanted to attempt bookmarked for months. So after my roommate requested a cheesecake my mind was set. So when I left school on Thursday afternoon I bought my first spring-form pan and a ton of cream cheese and got to work.

Unfortunately, things did not go as easily as I had imagined and for some reason my graham cracker crust just didn't look stable enough as I pressed it into the bottom of the pan-could it have been the low-fat graham crackers? And then it seemed that my bargain spring-form pan-at under $10-was also working against me and when I opened the oven after an hour my cheesecake was browned on the edges, domed in the center and cracked. I closed the oven door dejectedly, disillusioned by my less than picture-perfect cheesecake.

I gave myself a few hours to get over it as the object of my disappointment set in the oven for a few hours. I woke up the next morning ready and determined to get the better of this cheesecake. Before even having breakfast, I faced the cheesecake once again-this time with the dome thankfully sunken and level, albeit cracked. Knife in hand I began to carve away the browned top and sides, nibbling the shavings as I went-still tasty, just not aesthetically pleasing enough for me.

Left with a naked, white cheesecake I sliced the entire cake and proceeded with the embellishments. I cut up strips of parchment paper and pressed them into borders on each individual slice. I made whipped cream dams on the shortest side of each slice and began to spoon blueberries into several of the slices, while the paper borders helped to keep the topping, well, on the top. Other slices were topped with raspberry white chocolate glaze that I concocted by reducing fresh raspberries with sugar, water and corn syrup and mixing it with melted white chocolate, while other slices were topped with the smooth dulce de leche I made the day before while the cheesecake was in the oven.

Afterwards I put all the individual slices into the freezer to set. My new and improved cheesecake made its debut at the bible study held at my boyfriend's house later that night and received rave reviews. No leftovers made it back home with me that night, good thing I kept a couple of the slices hidden in my freezer to keep.

My ability to rummage a success out of a self-proclaimed baking failure saved me from never attempting a cheesecake again. However, it will be a while before I try it again, mostly because I'm eager to try new and exciting recipes and also because cheesecake for two weeks in a row might kill me.

New York Cheesecake

15 graham crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons butter, melted

4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch springform pan.
In a medium bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs with melted butter. Press onto bottom of springform pan.

In a large bowl, mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Blend in milk, and then mix in the eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to incorporate. Mix in sour cream, vanilla and flour until smooth. Pour filling into prepared crust.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, and let cake cool in oven with the door closed for 5 to 6 hours; this prevents cracking. Chill in refrigerator until serving.

Friday, September 19, 2008
La Provence

Another Friday home with a stomach and mouth eager for flavor after a torturous week of dorm food. Today I sought satisfaction in the city. My first stop was San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace. Where I ogled the goodies from Miette Patisserie, Recchuiti Confections, and Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker. I also spent a good half hour running wide-eyed through Sur La Table, adding to my infinite mental wishlist and sadly leaving empty handed, yet inspired.

My destination for lunch was very spontaneous. La Provence was chosen solely by name from a search on local restaurants from my mother's GPS. I know they say never to judge a book by it's cover, but on this occassion (and many others) I have to plead guilty. I often pick a book because of an interesting cover, a restaurant because of an intriguing name, and a recipe because of a drool-inducing picture. My method doesn't fail me often, so I have yet to reform my ways.

This choice proved to be no exception and I was very happy with my decision making skills after lunch. La Provence serves organic, natural, and free-range dishes inspired by Southern France, as well as locally grown fruits and vegetables. I started off with the Salade Olivier (goat cheese toast, tapenade, bacon, frisse, honey cilantro dressing), that I unfortunately consumed happily before realizing half way through that I hadn't yet taken a picture of it. My main course, the Tartine Provencal, pictured above, was a delightful combination of anchovies, pesto, bell pepper, and parmesan on a wheat toasted tartine. My dessert choice was spontaneous, the Tarte Tropezienne, brioche filled with citrus infused pastry cream served with a side of marmalade, a very new experience for me since I hardly ever order anything citrusy. No regrets whatsoever, the brioche wasn't too heavy, the cream was flavorful and light, and the marmalade was refreshing and cool.

After lunch I was overcome with a desire to visit the South of France myself to confirm the authenticity of my delicious meal. Until that time, however, they will definitely be seeing more of me over at La Provence.

Sunday, September 14, 2008
Vanilla and Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

I used to abhore cupcakes. Ever since elementary school. A classmates mother would bring in a giant box of generic supermarket cupcakes and all the kids would jump up and down. I was indifferent. I hated the frosting the most. The thick, tasteless blob that I would wipe off with a napkin and offer to my eager friends. I would never go out of my way for a cupcake.

Then I had a life changing experience. A few years ago the Teacake Bakeshop opened up the shopping center of Bay Street Emeryville. The bakery was adorable, with it's pink candy-striped interior to it's glass case of delicious cookies. My first few visits I ordered a cookie, I never paid much attention to the cupcakes. Then one day while standing in a ridiculously long line for a few sugary treats I gazed over at the variety of cupcakes displayed on dainty glass cake stands. The array of pastel frosting, tiny pearl decorations, and fondant daisies enchanted me and after years of trauma I voluntarily tried a cupcake.

I started simple, a Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Buttercream. One bite and I was sold. The moist cake was delicious and the once-feared frosting quickly became my new favorite part. Light and creamy and flavorful. This was the beginning of a beautiful romance and I haven't ordered a cookie from there since.

What started out as a simple taste-experimentation of a gourmet vanilla cupcake quickly advanced into a quest for more mouth-watering flavors: Pink Velvet Cupcakes, daily specials like Coconut and Carrot Cake, and seasonal flavors like Pumpkin with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting.

Soon one bakeshop wasn't enough and I eagerly sought out new potentials. From the Fleur de Sel and Passion Fruit filled cupcakes at Kara's Cupcakes in San Francisco's Ghiradelli Square to the Matcha Green Tea and Pretty In Pink strawberry cupcakes at the Love At First Bite Bakery tucked away in secluded corner of Berkeley.

I have yet to bother baking my own batch and really am just waiting for an occasion to do so. It would be safest for me to have them, say, consumed by friends at a birthday party, rather than sitting enticingly in my glass cake stand in plain sight from the living room couch, with myself as their only captive audience.

Maybe I will attempt a scaled-down recipe that could yield only six cupcakes without sacrificing flavor or texture due to the reductions. But then again I wouldn't even know where to start. Which flavor? Paired with which frosting?

For now, cupcakes will remain the one thing I am contented to seek out at a bakery before my own kitchen. For now.