Recipe #6: Roasted tomato bruschetta

This recipe seemed easy enough -- roast plum tomatoes, onions and garlic together, drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Then puree and add parmesan and fresh basil. It was definitely easy enough, and the roasted vegetables had a depth of flavor that was pretty tasty. But something was missing...I can't quite put my finger on it, but I was definitely underwhelmed by this dish. I wonder if it would've been better as a marinara sauce, actually, with grape tomatoes instead of plum tomatoes. The other thing to note is that tomatoes aren't really in season right now, which may have been another reason why this dish wasn't as good as I thought it'd be. It was a good reminder to cook with ingredients that are at their peak in flavor, when they're actually in season. 2 ladles.


Recipe #5: Lemon olive oil cake

I found the cake I want to marry. It's my soul mate.

Seriously, this cake (loaf) is outrageously good. I mean, it's so good it makes you want to cry. It's incredibly moist, fluffy, light and flavorful. I made just a few tweaks to the original recipe: I substituted lemon olive oil for the regular olive oil (from Stonehouse, my favorite olive oil -- I buy their largest size and get them refilled at the Ferry Building when I run out), and didn't sprinkle any extra sugar on top. Otherwise, I followed the recipe and it came out perfectly. I used lemons from my co-worker's backyard (he brought them into the office), and they were so fresh and pungent. The only drawback is that it makes a small loaf, and you're going to cry when the last piece is gone. 5+ ladles!

Oh -- I didn't have a wire rack (even though I bake a lot, it's just one of those things I've never bothered to get...), so I came up with a rather ingenious workaround, if I do say so myself. I have a lot of wooden chopsticks laying around (from all the take-out from the sushi restaurant next door), so I scattered them on the bottom and rested the cake on top. This contraption prevented the loaf from getting soggy on the bottom because it lets the air circulate under it. It also helped when I put the glaze over it (so that the cake wouldn't sit in a puddle of glaze). Some day, I'm going to write a book about the 101 uses for chopsticks. ;)

Here's the picture, in case you don't believe me:

And here it is after the light glaze (just a pretty sheen, nothing too overwhelming):

And here it is after I sliced into it, when it was still warm:

I think this cake is best enjoyed warm (it gets slightly more dense with time, but it's still quite moist). Next time, I might serve it with a berry coulis or even with fresh berries as a very refreshing and light dessert or as an afternoon tea cake.


Henna style wedding cake

I haven't been traveling too much lately. Too busy at work, chained to my desk, and burning the midnight oil. But, I did manage to head down to SoCal for a relative's wedding recently. Here's the cake that they served. I found it to be beautifully simple and quite elegant (and I couldn't help but think: gee, someone probably spent a lot of time piping the henna-like design, cramping their hands!): 

This one had a layer of white sponge cake and a layer of chocolate cake, topped with a buttercream frosting. 
Personally, I'm not a huge fan of wedding cake, both aesthetically and taste-wise, but for those who choose who have one, I think the simpler the better.   

Looks like something out of a wedding magazine, right?


Recipe #4: Saffron rice

My wonderful MIL gets me a new cookbook every Christmas. 2 years ago, she gave me Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home," which is not only gorgeous to look at, but contains a lot of surprisingly approachable dishes (along with some intensely laborious ones). The saffron rice is definitely an easy recipe to make, and doesn't require a lot of ingredients. A few years back, I went to Barcelona and came back with a suitcase full of edible goodies, including paella rice and beautiful threads of saffron. So I actually had all the ingredients on hand, amazingly enough.

It required a bit of babysitting, much like a risotto would, but the end result was delicious - light and fluffy, and ever so delicately flavored with saffron. Note to self: go stock up in Barcelona. Go. I said, go!

Now, the best part of making this dish are the golden morsels found at the bottom of the pan - essentially, the caramelized pieces of rice:

In Korean, they call it "noorungji" and the Spanish call it "socarrat." Chefs say that it's the best part of paella, and that in fact, the mark of a good paella is how good the socarrat is (i.e. not burnt, slightly crispy, and perfectly caramelized). I must say -- I enjoyed eating the socarrat even more than the rest of the rice. 5 ladles!


Recipe #3: Whole wheat pitas

I love the idea of baking bread, but I have to admit that I'm more in love with the idea than with the execution. Bread making (not the kind you do in a bread machine) takes a great deal of patience, time, some manhandling, and a pinch of luck. I found a recipe for whole wheat pita (aha! I kept the recipe source this time) that looked so simple and so divine.

Now, you see how fluffy and light those pitas look? Beautiful. Like soft, pillows of wheat goodness.

Now check out mine:

Yes, I followed the same recipe. Stop laughing. No, really - stop it.

Mine look like flat, brown hockey pucks. And they tasted like cardboard. 

Epic fail. Zero ladles.


Brownie cookies too cute to eat (*almost*)

My friend J. is amazing: smart, gorgeous, kind, and sweet -- and a wicked baker at that. All the cookies and cakes she makes look like they're straight out of a magazine. She usually packages them up in delicate little boxes, and gives them away to friends. I happen to be one of the lucky friends, and for some reason, crumbs are perpetually hanging off my chin when I hang around her -- likely having gorged one of her masterful creations.

Recently, J. made these decadent brownie cookies. I don't actually know if they're called brownie cookies, but that's what I named them when I bit into them. That's because the consistency is moist and chewy, just like a brownie.

Ok, so how cute are these cookies?! Look how perfectly she arranged the pink, red, and while M&Ms. Now that takes effort (she told me that the best way to keep the chocolates in tact is to press them into the cookie about 3/4 of the way through baking them -- that way, they don't crack or melt)!

Valentine's Day is right around the corner, and these would make a lovely gift, no?


Recipe #2: Blood orange and avocado salad

I thought I should clarify my experiment for the year, as a friend recently asked me rather incredulously if I was going to test a new recipe every day (as in, cook every day). Um...that's a negative, Ghost Rider. Or in the words of an infamously cracked out has-been diva, "Hell to the no." I still hold to the rather ambitious goal of testing 365 new recipes this year, though. Yeah...let's circle back on December 31st, shall we? ;)

This weekend, I definitely made up for lost time by testing a number of different recipes. The latest and greatest site for epicurean inspiration for me has been foodgawker.com. It's food porn, no doubt about it. It makes me realize a) food is so beautiful b) there are so many bloggers out there who put so much thought and effort into their food blogs -- it definitely puts my measly one to shame. But then again, they're out there to attract audiences, and I'm just out to entertain my family and friends.

Anyways, my recent get together with some great friends gave me the perfect excuse to try out a simple yet elegant blood orange and avocado salad. It was incredibly tasty - definitely worth a 5 ladle rating. The ingredients were so simple: blood oranges (I didn't have any blood oranges, so I substituted two different kinds of oranges - one that resembled the pink flesh of a grapefruit), avocado, and a super light dressing made simply with vinegar, olive oil, a little agave nectar, lime juice and zest. Incredibly refreshing and so simple.

Now, I have this bad habit of cutting and pasting recipes and forgetting where they came from...alas, I've already misplaced the original recipe source. Drats. At least I have the recipe...

5 ladles


Christmas in January

Christmas is long gone, but at the moment I sorta feel like a giddy child gleefully sitting on top of a mound of presents. Ok, so maybe not *that* excited, but still...today, I received a basket of fruits and veggies that I had ordered from a local company. The Fruit Guys deliver (mostly) locally grown, fresh organic fruits and veggies. It's essentially a CSA (community supported agriculture). I've always wanted to do it, but never felt I could eat or cook all the ingredients in the weekly box before things spoil. Plus, a weekly box felt like such a heavy commitment. Well, the Fruit Guys gives you a commitment-free option; just place the order a few days in advance, whenever you want a box, and they'll deliver it. Moreover, they delivered it directly to my office, which is a huge plus since most CSAs deliver to the home (when I'm working) or at a central location (meeting point away from the office). Anyways, here are the lovely little gems I received in my box today:

  • Arkansas Black Apple
  • D'Anjou Pear
  • Satsuma
  • Fuji Apple
  • Kiwi
  • Curly Green kale
  • Red Onion
  • Shiitake Mushroom
  • Ginger
  • Butternut Squash
  • Specialty Tea Bags 

And it all comes in this cute little "suitcase" box. So freaking cute, it's killing me a tiny bit.

I'm sharing the box with a co-worker, which is great because he can take the things I don't like -- i.e. mushrooms. :) My mind is already spinning with the things I could make this weekend. Oh -- and the little insert they put in the box includes a recipe for crystallized ginger (as well as for brandied mushrooms, which the co-worker is taking with him, obviously).  

What a treat - and so convenient! Not sure yet if the price is worth it, but it sure is fun to have all these lovely fruits and veggies delivered right to my office.


Recipe #1: Sauerkraut & Pork

Although I haven't read (or watched)  Julie & Julia, I like the concept of cooking one's way through a single cookbook -- especially a cookbook by the legendary Julia Child. I could think of a few cookbooks I'd love to try that experiment with, but when it comes down to it, I have neither time nor desire to embark on such an insane journey.

But this year, I want to conduct mini experiments/testings of recipes, and document them -- so that the next time I come across the recipe (forgetting, in my moments of amnesia, that I had already tried it), I can remember how tasty or foul it was.

So here's the first new recipe of the year: Sauerkraut and Pork. I don't know what inspired me to try this recipe, other than the fact that it seemed astoundingly easy, with very few ingredients, and looked very hearty (perfect for a chilly, fog-laden day).

Conclusion: It was just that: astounding easy, with very few ingredients, and hearty. Beyond that, I don't really have too much to say about this recipe. I give it -- in my new rating system I just came up with -- 2 ladles; in other words, meh. It lacked any real flavor other than pork and sauerkraut (guess the recipe title should've given that away, huh?). And it was just too...white. White applesauce, white sauerkraut, white meat = white. Maybe I would've felt more inspired had I donned on a dirndl and downed a stein of good German brew with it. Maybe not.


Leftover coffee

As I was flipping through a magazine on a flight recently, I came across this handy tip: whenever you have leftover coffee, dump it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. And the next time you make iced coffee, use those cubes instead of regular water cubes. Brilliant, no? Now I don't have to feel guilty about wasting coffee brewed with high quality beans.


Wasting food

Lidia Bastianich is a chef and entrepreneur whom I really admire. I love her unfussy cooking, as well as her informative exploration of Italian history and culture (plus, you gotta love a grandma who sports a Panerai -- pretty bad ass, in my book). Anyways, one of her newsletters popped into my inbox recently, and it definitely caught my attention (beyond the quick perusal of her latest recipes). In this post, she writes about how much food we waste. Here's what I found to be the most poignant excerpt:

"The world produces 120% of the food it needs, and yet there are people still hungry. We are all concerned about being 'green,' but according to some of the latest statistics, one third of the world’s gas omissions are produced by wasted food. The actual waste of the food, coupled with all the energy, labor and materials used in producing this food, are all contributing to this serious problem."

This year, I resolve to do my part to try to eliminate as much food waste as possible, and to continue to contribute with both time and resources to charitable organizations that feed people, like Project Open Hand & Share Our Strength.


Homemade hummus

Oy, this past holiday season was definitely full of indulgences! Of course, with the new year comes a boat load of resolutions. I won't bore you with all of mine, but one of them is to try to cook more and eat more "clean" food (i.e. not processed, locally grown or at least organic, natural), despite being tired or short on time. It's not that I don't eat "clean" now -- it's just that I tend to fall off the wagon in the name of convenience or indulgence.

So I started off with one of my favorite go-to items, hummus. It's unbelievably easy and fits the "clean" bill. It takes all of 5 ingredients (chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice + salt/pepper to taste), and the best part is that you can literally dump everything into a food processor and let it do all the work. I actually added a few chili pepper flakes for some kick. With something this easy and quick, there's no point in buying hummus (that often comes with additives or preservatives or excess salt). The possibilities are endless, too: you can add everything from roasted red peppers, artichokes, sundried tomatoes, etc.). Voila!