Recipe #26: Strawberry lemon curd tart

You'll never believe what happened with this recipe. As you can see, the tart portion is quite labor-intensive. After I had carefully baked the tart, I...dropped it on the floor! It shattered into pieces, as the tart shell was quite buttery and flaky...and apparently fragile. Giant BOO. It was frustrating, to say the least.

But you know what they say -- when life gives you lemons, make lemon bars. ;) So, I went out and bought some pastry shells, and improvised. Here they are, filled with the lemon curd: 

And here they are, with the strawberries on top:

Overall, it was pretty tasty, but I can only give it 3 ladles because of the following:

A) The lemon curd was overwhelmingly sweet -- as in, mouth-puckering sweet. I would definitely reduce the amount of sugar next time.
B) The lemon flavor wasn't very pronounced. I guess I expected it to taste more like a lemon bar, with a more intense lemon kick.
C) The recipe called for a glaze of strawberry jam. I tried it, but it looked very messy and unappealing over the fresh strawberries. I'd venture to say that when the berries are fresh and ripe, you can forego the extra layer of sugar and just showcase the natural beauty of the berries.


Recipe #25 Pumpkin Nutella Cake

I had you at Nutella, right? Well, growing up, Nutella was our peanut butter -- where we grew up, we had more European influences, so peanut butter wasn't very common. And in Europe, Nutella is omnipresent. There are days when I just want to slather myself with this hazelnut spread -- would that be so wrong?

So when I came across a recipe for pumpkin Nutella cake, I just had to give it a try. I'm going to have to give this 3 ladles, though. Believe it or not, pumpkin and Nutella really don't go together. I know -- far be it from me to forego putting Nutella on something. Moreover, it wasn't easy to get the Nutella swirled in. The only recipe only called for it to be dolloped on top, but I figured it would be more delicious if it was woven in throughout the bread -- hence, double the work.

So here's the first half of the cake:

I then added the rest of the batter and then put some more Nutella on top, and swirled it:

Here's the baked version:

I have to say, that the baked version is quite lovely.

And here's how it appears inside:

Moist? Yes. Flavorful? Not really. And despite my best attempts to distribute the Nutella evenly in the batter, there were still big globs of it throughout -- so in some bites, you wouldn't have any Nutella, while in others, you would get a load of it.

When it first came out of the oven, I actually thought it tasted pretty good. So I brought it over to my friend's house. They seemed to like it, but perhaps they were just being polite. After some time had passed, as I was thinking about writing this post, I realized that I would never make this cake again. And I promise -- this is the last pumpkin recipe for a while. I'm pumpkin-ed out!


Recipe #24: New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie

This recipe is a bit laborious, for a chocolate chip cookie -- it's not for the faint of heart. But I'm perpetually in search of the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, so I was willing to go the distance. I've tried dozens of recipes, but none of them measure up. The perfect cookie, for me, is one that is dense, moist, slightly chewy, and has a balanced sweetness.

This recipe, courtesy of the New York Times, came pretty close. The sea salt really does add a touch of elegance to the humble chocolate chip cookie. My guinea pigs (my dear friends) agreed that it was quite good. I might need to experiment with a few little tweaks in order to make it truly perfect, though (and in all fairness, I only refrigerated the dough for about 4 hours). 4 ladles in the meantime.

And here's a closeup:


What's for lunch

I feel fortunate that I live in an area where I have easy access to such a rich variety of food. Check out these beauties (Vietnamese fried imperial rolls on the left and summer rolls on the right - both vegetarian):

They're stuffed with tofu and all sorts of wonderful veggies (jicama, carrots, etc.). Totally portable, healthy and nutritious (well, minus the little frying part for the imperial rolls). Now this is "fast food" I could have every single day.


Shake, shake, shake!

On our way back to the city from Point Reyes, we stopped into a small restaurant that served blackberry milkshakes made with local, organic ice-cream. Yum!


Day trip to Point Reyes

A very good friend of mine is leaving SF. Boo. She decided that, before she left, she really wanted to see the Point Reyes Lighthouse. So, we grabbed another friend of ours and took a little day trip out there.

It was so beautiful! The hike down is deceivingly steep -- a sign indicated that the steps are the equivalent of a 30-story building. The legs definitely got a work out.

(This shot was taken with my cell phone. Not bad, eh?)

Thank goodness we fueld up beforehand. We stopped by the Cowgirl Creamery, which makes insanely delicious, organic, artisan cheese. 

We stocked up on some Mt. Tam cheese (triple-cream, cow milk), as well as some Tome de Chalosse (semi-soft, cow milk), a loaf of freshly baked bread, some orzo salad, and salt/pepper uncured sausage (which I actually was not a big fan of). Here's our lovely spread: 

A gorgeous day, and a great way to celebrate friends.


Pizza for you, pizza for me

Guess which side of the pizza is R.'s, and which side is mine. ;) Frankly, I don't know that I've ever seen him have any other topping other than pepperoni!


Breakfast to die for at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

A few weeks ago, we opted for a little "staycation" at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission and Spa. It was a lovely stay. But dare I say (and those who know me, wouldn't be surprised by this admission) that the best part was breakfast at Big 3, one of the restaurants on the property. The previous day when we checked in, a staff member claimed that the lemon ricotta pancakes were "out of this world", so of course I was intrigued. She wasn't kidding - they were outrageously good. Fluffy, light, with just the right amount of lemon flavor. It was served with a piece of preserved lemon and a dollop of creme fraiche. Holy moly was it good:

R. had the sourdough french toast, which he claimed was the "best french toast" he had ever had. It was good, but I don't know that I'd agree with him (I once had carrot cake french toast with cream cheese frosting in Austin, as well as banana bread french toast in SF that were far better), but it was definitely tasty.

The lemon pancakes were so good, that I wouldn't hesitate to drive an hour from SF just to eat them, even if I weren't staying at the hotel. Yes, they were *that* good. I'll have to see if I can replicate it sometime...


Dubai Part 3

And here's the final post about Dubai. This was a great meal at a very popular Lebanese restaurant. It's got a very eclectic and broad-ranging menu, but I recommend avoiding the non-traditional dishes and sticking to the good stuff. Here's a gorgeous spread of hummus, pickles and olives, and salad with haloumi cheese.

We shared a seafood platter (which I didn't include a picture of). Dessert was particularly noteworthy. This is kunafa and warbat. Kunafa is a classic Arabic dessert - filled with a stringy cheese similar to mozzarella. It also usually has some rosewater in it, giving it a lightly floral taste. Warbat is also a delectable cheese dessert - pretty much a baklava that's filled with cheese instead of nuts. They were both warmed up, so the cheese just oozed out, while the phyllo was crusty and crispy.    

I also took my family to a great brunch at the InterContinental Festival City. Brunch is a big deal in Dubai - and it was also the case when we were living in Saudi Arabia. The spread is just phenomenal - so many choices! Let's see - there's an Italian station (pasta made to your liking), an Indian station (with a huge tandoori oven baking fresh naan)...oh, a huge seafood bar and a grill as well - you can ask them to prepare any kind of seafood, any way you please! Here's a grilled lobster my family enjoyed:

Of course, I was mostly interested in the desserts. Here's a small sampling of some of the options we gathered from the dessert section (trust me, I wanted to get one of each. I also wanted to dunk my face into the caramel, fudge and white chocolate fountains...):

Isn't this "strawberry cheesecake" trifle so gorgeous? 

I really wish I had taken more pictures - but you can see much more extensive pictures on their Facebook page. Quite a gluttonous experience! 

But here's the sad, sad kicker - I actually got mild food poisoning the night before, so...I sat and watched as my family ate to their heart's content (they felt terribly guilty). I didn't get to taste anything (just the thought of eating made me nauseous). The only consolation was seeing their happy faces and knowing they enjoyed themselves immensely. 


Recipe #23: Pumpkin bread

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've got a lot of canned pumpkin laying around. So...I tried a new recipe for pumpkin bread. I've made many pumpkin breads in the past, but I have to say that this recipe is by far the easiest and tastiest. It's incredibly moist, flavorful, and very easy/quick to make. Plus, I love recipes where you practically dump things into a bowl (I didn't even read the directions - I just mixed the wet and dry ingredients separately, then gave it a quick mix before pouring it into the pan). I'm not exaggerating when I say this recipe took about 4 minutes to pull together: http://www.food.com/recipe/pumpkin-loaf-139988

However, the one caveat I have is that I think the recipe needs some serious tweaks. Whenever a sweet recipe doesn't call for at least a pinch of salt (or a splash of vanilla extract), I usually add it anyway. In this case, I used both, although the recipe didn't call for either one.

I also made the following changes:

- used 3 eggs, not 4 (only because that's how many I had on hand)
- used 1 cup white sugar and 1 cup dark brown sugar (for extra depth and moisture)
- added 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- dumped the entire mix into a bundt pan and only baked for 40-ish minutes

The result was incredible, and it'll definitely serve as my go-to pumpkin bread recipe from now on. 5 ladles.