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.

Saturday, September 13, 2008
Carrot Cake

This weekend my mom asked me to bake another bread pudding-yet again. Considering that it would've been my fourth bread pudding within the span of a month, I honestly told her that I would bake anything but. So I listed to her some possibilities and she quickly decided upon a carrot cake. Although I had been hoping to try a pie recipe sometime soon, I was just as content to take my first shot at a layered cake.

I did run into a few minor problems, the cake stuck to the bottom of the pan, bits and pieces of cake remained stuck to the bottom when I forced it out. But on a positive note, that gives me an excuse to buy a new foolproof cake pan next weekend. Hehe.

A few changes I will make next time: 1) Replace the 2 cups of white sugar with 1 cup white sugar and 1 cup brown sugar for a richer cake. 2) My sister suggested that a little cinnamon in the frosting would take the cake to the next level (and after we test-tasted a little cinnamon sprinkled on the frosting leftover on the handmixer, I agreed. haha).

Carrot Cake

4 eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in carrots. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

To Make Frosting: In a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled cake. Sprinkle with additional chopped pecans, if desired.

Friday, September 12, 2008
Soft-Centered Chocolate Puddings

Another leisurely weekend back at home with more opportunities to bake myself up a little fun. Today's aspiration was a Soft-Centered Chocolate Pudding. ONE Soft-Centered Chocolate Pudding. So after selecting a recipe from Design*Sponge, an adorable crafts and DIY website, and throwing the data into a recipe calculator, I crossed my fingers and hoped the reduced "individual-serving" recipe would work just as well. And thank goodness it did, it came out perfect, moist and chocolatey and oh-so-rich in the middle. [I was also very fortunate that I was able to make only one...or else I'm sure I would've devoured all four servings that the original recipe yielded]. I also had to race against time while taking my photos, because as soon as I placed the fresh raspberries on top the delicate ceiling of the pudding slowly began to sink. By the time I was finished all three raspberries had fallen into the warm, gooey center and they tasted heavenly once I fished them out.

Soft-Centered Chocolate Puddings

Makes 4
4 tbs granulated white sugar (60g) + 2/3 cup sugar (160g)
100g butter chopped
200g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
3 eggs
2 tbs self-rising flour (30g)*
Icing sugar (powdered) & thick cream, to serve

*To make your own self-rising flour, for each cup of all-purpose flour (125g), add 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5g) of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (2.5g).

Preheat oven to 200°C/390F. Lightly grease 4 x mud australia Limoges porcelain baby noodle bowls (or similar oven-safe bowls). Sprinkle 1 tbs sugar into each bowl and turn so sugar coats inside of the bowl.

Place the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir with a metal spoon for 5 minutes or until mixture is smooth then remove from the heat.

Using electric hand mixer, beat eggs and remaining sugar on high speed until pale and slightly thickened. Pour warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture. Sift flour over mixture and stir gently to combine. Pour mixture evenly between bowls. Place onto a tray. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until well risen.

Dust with icing sugar and serve with thick cream if desired.

Monday, September 8, 2008
Herbed Focaccia

Since I was a child, I have loved the smell of fresh, warm bread. Unfortunately, that smell was a treat I could find only at restaurants. I have very few complaints about my childhood, but every now and then I envy those who reminisce about the heavenly smells that continued to pour out of their mother's oven day after day, be it baked goods or homemade breads. That is a memory, I am resolute, that my future children will not be deprived of. But for now I'll stop being so melodramatic and will carry on with the more optimistic view.

The fact that my boyfriend is not the devoted sweeth tooth like I am (and often criticizes for my "always leave room for dessert" lifestyle), I am content with the fact that he is, like me, a bread fanatic. So in my recent attempts to master all things domestic (and to put more on the table than sugary, adorable treats) I have decided to progressively advance with baking homemade breads.

This herbed focaccia marks Day One and the warm, earthy smells of oregano, thyme, and basil that bombarded me as I opened the oven door could well have been fireworks celebrating "Day One's" victory.

Herbed Focaccia

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, basil and black pepper. Mix in the vegetable oil and water.

When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Punch dough down; place on greased baking sheet. Pat into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Brush top with olive oil.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Day Two: I begin the conquest of the loaf.


Sunday, September 7, 2008
Stuffed Pasta Shells

I realized after all the baking that while all the baking I had been doing lately was all very delicious and fun it wasn't exactly practical. I mean, sure I can bake, but when I'm older and have a family I can't exactly serve baked goods and treats every night for dinner, now can I? So this weekend I was forced to realize that I ought to be spending more of my time learning how to cook, especially because my boyfriend doesn't exactly share the sweet tooth that I have and is often indifferent to my exciting baking accomplishments. Although I, for the most part, have the domestic skill of baking in the bag...there's no denying that the main course comes before dessert for a reason. [sigh]

So tonight I decided to take on a childhood favorite of mine. Stuffed pasta shells had always been one of my favorite orders, along with a simple capellini pomodoro, but I noticed as I grew older that it slowly started to disappear from many menus until I realized that, although I still considered it a favorite, I had not had it for many years. Therefore, I decided that I was now a big girl who could take matters into my own hands, and, if restaurants would refuse to provide me what I craved, I now had the power create it myself. So create I did and yes, it was oh so satisfying.

On another note: Unfortunately as much as I enjoyed this dish, I sadly observed that my boyfriend (although he asked for serving after serving) did not jump up and down for it like he is known to do over a dish he particularly loves. I suppose the more intricate the recipe I make to please myself, the more it loses its appeal to his simple tastes. I've seen him much more thankful when I whip up a batch of garlic rice and chicken.

Oh well. This was for me. Hehe.

Stuffed Pasta Shells

1 (16 ounce) package jumbo pasta shells
4 cups large curd cottage cheese
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 pinch garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 (26 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook shells according to package directions. Place in cold water to stop cooking. Drain.

Mix together cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, eggs, and garlic powder. Rub the dried herbs in the palms of your hands to pulverize them, and stir into the cheese mixture. Stuff mixture into the shells.

Spread 1/3 of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 15 x 10 inch pan. Place shells open side up, and close together in pan. Spread remaining sauce over top, and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 35 minutes, or until bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, September 6, 2008
Chocolate Eclairs

For my first endeavour into what I assumed to be a more ambitious baking project, I was surprised to find that eclairs aren't exactly as overwhelming as one might fear. The process itself is actually quite manageable and the end result was perfect eclairs that received rave reviews from my family and friends. I can truly say that it was worth it to take the challenge and try my hand at a Daring Bakers' Challenge, because this pleasant experience has definitely encouraged me to take on more intricate recipes.

I am, however, hesitant to official join the Daring Bakers' Blogroll because I'm unsure of how committed I can be to the monthly challenges. I fear that in a few weeks my schedule at school will prevent me from having as much free to time to frolic in the kitchen as I have the privilege of doing at the present. Regardless, when I see an idea that I think I could manage, I am now eager to try it for myself.

Now that I realize how simple eclairs really are, I'm looking forward to experimenting more with flavors and colors and possibly try to concoct a "cuter" pastry.

Chocolate Eclairs

Cream puff dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.

Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.

Notes: The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs: [This is where I deviated a little from Pierre Hermé’s original recipe, because instead of chocolate pastry cream, I made vanilla and I also used a simplified version of a chocolate glaze that didn't require making a chocolate sauce first. If you wanted the entirely original recipe you can check it out here.]

Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

Dip the tops of the éclairs in the chocolate glaze and allow them to set. In the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream. Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottom of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to set them.

Notes: The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Cream Puff Dough

(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

½ cup (125g) whole milk
½ cup (125g) water
1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature

In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.

Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.

You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

Notes: Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately. [You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.]

Creme Patissiere

1 cup granulated sugar
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup all purpose flour (scooped and leveled)
2 cups boiling milk
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

In a 3 quart mixing bowl, gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks with a wire whisk or an electric beater. Continue beating until the mixture is pale yellow and forms a ribbon.

Beat in the flour.

Beating the egg yolk mixture, gradually pour in the boiling milk in a thin stream of droplets.

Pour into a clean, heavy bottomed 2.5 quart saucepan and set over moderately high heat. Stir with a wire whisk, reaching all over the bottom of the pan. As the sauce comes to a boil it will get lumpy, but will smooth out as soon as you beat it. When boil is reached, beat over moderately low heat for 2 to 3 minutes to cook the flour. Be careful the custard does not scorch in the bottom of the pan.

Remove from the heat and beat in the butter, then the vanilla. If the custard is not used immediately, clean it off the sides of the pan, and dot the top of the custard with softened butter to prevent a skin from forming over the surface (alternatively, cover with plastic wrap making sure the plastic is sitting right on the surface of the custard).

The creme patissiere will keep for a week in the refrigerator, or may be frozen.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Hard Chocolate Glaze

1/4 cup unsalted butter
5 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Combine chocolate with butter in the top of a double boiler, over simmering water. Stir frequently until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

Friday, September 5, 2008
Miniature Cinnamon Sugar Crepes

On my first morning back home from school I found myself all alone with nothing to do and nothing to eat for breakfast. Having been away from a kitchen all week I couldn't convince myself not to back and just relax. My biggest fear was preparing a big batch of delicious something that I would feel obligated to finish all by myself.

Ready to take a risk, I set out to bake myself an "individual" batch of crepes. I was really worried that scaling down a recipe might change the consistency of the crepes themself, but to my relief they came out just as I had hoped. Light and ever-so delicious.

To keep it light I simply spread a light layer of butter on the inside of the crepe and sprinkled it with a little powdered sugar and cinnamon. After folding it into quarters I lightly dusted the crepe with a little more sugar and cinnamon for a little extra flavor and added cuteness. It's hard to tell from the picture but these crepes really were tiny, maybe 4 inches in diameter. The added vanilla filled the kitchen with such a heavenly aroma as soon as the batter hit the skillet.

Here's the full serving recipe:

Basic Crepes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine eggs, milk, butter, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. Sift together flour and sugar and beat into egg mixture until smooth.

Heat a lightly greased skillet and about 3 tablespoons of batter. Tilt skillet so that the batter spreads to almost cover the bottom of the skillet. Cook until lightly browned; turn and brown the other side. Repeat process with remaining batter, grease skillet as needed.

Yields approximately 6 servings.

I choose to have my crepes with cinnamon and sugar, but the combinations are endless. Fresh fruit with whipped cream or Nutella, lemon juice with a light sprinkling of sugar, or a light layer of your favorite jam would make an equally delicious crepe. Omit the sugar and vanilla for light and fluffy, savory crepes.

Thursday, September 4, 2008
Home Sweet Home

As I promised, here are pictures of my dormitory: Meadowlands Hall. The beautiful building is the oldest residence hall and the only original estate home remaining on campus. Meadowlands Hall was built in 1888 and served as the summer home of Michael de Young and his family. The de Young's are the founders of the San Francisco Chronicle and the de Young Museum, also in San Francisco. In 1918, the Dominican Sisters purchased the stately parcel. The hall features fine leaded glass windows, the mural-clad Hunt Room, the Meadowlands Assembly Hall, and a sweeping front porch facing the sprawling Meadowlands lawn and a view of Mt. Tamalpais.

Haha. I admit, I copied that right off of my university's website. However, the photos are all mine and there are so many beautiful corners of the campus that I've only been able to cover a few places on foot with my camera in hand. There's a breathtaking array of flowers on campus and even an international botanical garden. I love being surrounded by so much green, the impeccably trimmed lawns and the hundreds of trees add to the romantic feel of the environment and make the walk to class a literal stroll in the park. Another feature I love is that my dormitory is not far off from the building of the Music Department and my walks are often accompanied by decorative piano, violin, or the occassional clarinet.

As much as I adore my campus, I have to admit that it feels so good to be home again for the weekend. The manicured scenery and the organic salad bar filled with local produce could only charm me for so long. The confortability of home has a way of sneaking up behind me and forcing me out the healthy habits I have clung to for the whole week and within minutes of hitting the couch I began to crave salty, sweet, flavorful-all at once. So...

...this is what happened. [Baked] Sweet Potato Fries sprinkled with Thyme. Mmm...everything I craved without the guilt and glutton of traditional fries. Do I regret it? Not at all. Sometimes a pat on the back for a studious week at school can be found in the form of a little healthy self-indulgence.

Haha, well I've been asked for the recipe for these sweet potato fries and I'm afraid that I can't really give an official one. They were really sort of a product of boredom and curiousity. Simply put, preheat oven to 350F, peel and slice a few sweet potatoes (some people like to slice their fries in wedges, but I find that thinner sliced fries never get as soggy) and drizzle with olive oil. In a separate bowl mix an appropriate amount of flour with a teaspoon of thyme or seasoning of your choice. Lightly coat the fries in the flour and herb mixture, lay out onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or so.

*NOTE: Although these are originally "baked" sweet potato fries, I later realized that tossing them in a skillet after baking until their browned ensures that the fries have a nice crispy texture. That's just a personal observation, because I tend to prefer my fries a bit browned.

Hopefully more culinary adventures to come while I'm home for the next few days.

Monday, September 1, 2008
Comfort Food

My last day home before I return to my dorm on the Dominican campus. It's really only been a week of school but I've become so accustomed to the on-campus pace that it feels like it's already been a semester. I miss my boyfriend and my sister most, but I didn't realize until after this weekend that there was something else I missed almost as much: filipino food.

I might have been thrilled about the organic local produce available in my cafeteria and though I still haven't tired of having a fresh salad and fruit everyday, my gung ho healthy habits didn't stand a chance against a table stocked with trays of hot filipino dishes that greeted me at a party last Friday.

So this morning, to get me through a week of classic gourmet options my mom made me a big pot of hot noodles, a filipino dish called Sotanghon. Even if it will hit the upper 80's today this dish really hit the spot and I'll be looking forward to my welcome home meal on Friday and my farewell meal next Sunday night before I go back.