Sunday, November 9, 2008

Blogging by Mail: Package has arrived

My Blogging by Mail package arrived a couple of days ago, all the way from Australia. It was sent by Silver from Dragon Musings, another mom with three young kids. All three of my kids were quite excited to see what was in the package especially since the box was decorated with Winnie the Pooh.

Inside the box were
-Tim Tam biscuits, an Australian cookie that I had heard about but never tried. These particular ones are pink inside and only are sold in October.
-A large bag of Mixed Berry Brownies. Even though they had traveled for 10 days, they were still very good, brownies definitely travel well.
-A bar of Mixed Berry Chocolate and the recipe for the brownies so that I can make them myself
-A package of Cadbury chocolates with Australian animals on each wrapper for the kids (Gina loved the picture of the Tasmanian Devil, though she keeps calling it a bear)
-A diary for 2009 (this will definitely get a lot of use)
-A recipe magazine. I love cooking magazines and can't wait to read this one.
-A can of Spam. She had read on my blog that I had never tried Spam so now is my chance.

Thanks again to Silver. I really enjoyed getting this package and I'll be checking out your blog whenever I get a chance.

My package was sent to Fran at apple, peaches, pumpkin pie.

A big thank you to Stephanie from Dispensing Happiness for organizing this. It was a lot of work with 117 participants.

Baking GALS: Cookies in the mail

A while back I came across this group called Baking GALS. It is a group of bloggers who organize bakers to send goodies to soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afganistan. Each group sends to one specific soldier who then shares all the treats with his buddies.

This afternoon I made Blondies with Andrew's help. The recipe is from Cooks Illustrated and it is very easy. I had grand plans to make another kind of cookie but that never happened. I did buy lots of other stuff to fill the box and the kids donated their Halloween candy.

In addition to the Blondies pictured below, I also am sending several packs of gum, two bags of peanuts, two packs of dried mango from Trader Joe's, two boxes of granola bars, lots of Halloween candy and today's Sunday edition of the San Jose Mercury News. The box goes in the mail tomorrow.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween cupcakes

I needed to bring some kind of treat for Gina's Halloween carnival at school and originally I was going to bake some kind of cookie. Then I saw these cupcakes on a local blog and changed my mind. They are called Tombstone Cupcakes. In the original posting, the cupcakes are black bottom cupcakes while I opted for the Betty Crocker mix this time. I did make my own chocolate frosting. The original posting also used homemade shortbread cookies. I knew I wouldn't have time for that so I bought Oatmeal cranberry Dunker cookies from Trader Joes. They have white chocolate drizzled on them which created a nice effect. I couldn't find chocolate wafer cookies at the store so I used chocolate bunny graham crackers and crushed them finely for the dirt. I also made a few little marshmallow ghosts.

Chocolate Frosting (from alpineberry blog) - I doubled this
(makes about 1.5 cups frosting which is enough to frost 12 cupcakes)

2 ounces (4 tbsp / half stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (either natural or Dutch-processed is fine)
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2-3 tbsp milk or water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Beat butter and cocoa powder until mixture is soft and well combined. Add the confectioners' sugar, 2 tbsp milk and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Add the last tablespoon of milk if frosting is too stiff.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers - Pizza

Once again I'm late doing this challenge and posting about it. This month's challenge was to make pizza dough and then top it with any toppings. Rosa at Rosa's Yummy Yums hosted the challenge and the recipe comes from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. The kids love pizza so this was a good one to try. I haven't made pizza dough before, but it was really easy. I didn't bother with the big mixer, it was easy to mix by hand and then knead until smooth. I did have to plan a bit ahead since the dough needs to rest overnight in the refrigerator and then come out 2hrs before baking.

In the past I've used a rolling pin to make pizzas but I decided to try tossing the dough. I wasn't able to get pictures but nothing got dropped. Just stretching it out over two fists got the dough pretty thin in the middle but still round. I used Trader Joe's pizza sauce and cooked up some mushrooms and bacon for the toppings. I used to love having bacon pizza as a kid, it was always a real treat. Gina enjoyed helping put her pizza together. It was definitely a crowd pleaser (there were a few grumbles that we were missing olives) though I would like to try out some different pizza dough recipes to see how they compare.

Go to the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see all the other attempts at making pizza.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers - Lavash Crackers

Has a month gone by already? This months challenge contained no butter, eggs, or cream, very unusual. We were challenged this month to make a vegan dish. Natalie from Gluten A Go Go, and co-host Shelly, of Musings From the Fishbowl, chose Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread, plus we were asked to make a vegan dip to go with it. I had thought of doing this challenge this past week when I had a meeting to go to, but made something else. I figured I would get to it sometime this weekend, because it isn't quite the end of the month. I was quite surprised to see post about this challenge when I was browsing a few blogs. Today is the deadline??? I guess I should write the deadline on my calendar next time, because I totally missed that it was supposed to be today.

The recipe for the crackers was very straightforward and easy to put together. Gina helped me measured everything out and mixed up the dough. She had fun kneading it and resented it when I insisted that I get a turn at kneading the dough too. I didn't have bread flour so I used all purpose flour. I'm not sure how that changed the texture since I don't have anything to compare it to.

The dough rolled out very easily. I sprinked it with sea salt, cut it into diamonds and baked it for 15 minutes. The middle part was definitely thinner and browned more quickly. The pieces around the edge were thicker and more bread like. After the crackers cooled a little, I broke them apart. Some were very crispy and thin, others were a little thicker and softer, more like pita bread. They were all yummy though.

I didn't have time to make a dip to go with the crackers, but I picked up some hummus from Trader Joe's to go with them. I think all the crackers were gone in about half an hour. I will definitely make this again.

Here is the recipe:

Lavash Crackers

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.


2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.


4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

The Omnivore's Hundred is an eclectic and entirely subjective list of 100 items that Andrew Wheeler, co-author of the British food blog Very Good Taste, thinks every omnivore should try at least once in his life.

I've seen it on several blogs now and so here is my version.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Red text any items that you would never consider eating.
I added this next one
4) Italicize items that you think you have had, but you're not sure.

So here it is, MY VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile - does alligator count?
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - sounds painful
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chocolate Eclairs from the Daring Bakers

This months Daring Bakers challenge was to make Chocolate Eclairs. It was hosted by Meetak from What's for Lunch Honey and Tony Tahhan. This sounded like a great challenge. I love eclairs for one and the last time I made Pate a choux was when I was about 13 years old. That time I made a ring of dough that puffed up very nicely and then filled it with chocolate mousse. The center of the ring was filled with cut up strawberries. It was delicious!

I had great plans of making the eclairs with a non-chocolate filling and adding in some fresh fruit like bananas, but then the weekend got away from me and I only had time to make the recipe as given.

The dough came together fine. When I got to the point of piping the dough onto baking sheets , I realized the tip that I had was a little on the small side. So I used it and made very petite eclairs. This worked out well since I was planning on taking them to a party that evening. I used a star tip instead of a plain tip and I liked the wavy effect on the finished shells.

I had grand plans of making splitting the pastry cream in half and making one part rum flavored and the other half chocolate, but in the end, I decided the added chocolate gave it a better texture for filling. I still added 2 Tbsp of rum which made it delicious! I had never made pastry cream before, but it turned out very well. Since the recipe uses cornstarch, the filling went from runny to very thick in an instant and I was lucky I didn't over cook it since I was trying to melt the chocolate at the same time (a little step that I had initially overlooked).

For the glaze, I didn't want to deal with the multi-step process that was part of the original recipe since I was running out of time . The original recipe called for making a chocolate sauce that was then incorporated into a glaze with more chocolate. Instead, I made a simple glaze of bittersweet chocolate and cream, heated together to melt the chocolate. It turned out fine and my daughter had fun helping me glaze all the tops while I filled the bottoms with pastry cream. The finished product was wonderful, and was a hit at the party.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rainbow Pizza

After my daughter refused to eat a perfectly good dinner and I completely lost it, I had her look through a new cookbook that I recently bought: The Great Veg Challenge, based on the blog by the same name (The book ended up costing $35 with the lousy exchange rate and shipping). The blog is written by a mom who got her two kids to try a range of vegetable based dishes starting with the letter A and going on through Z. I constantly have aspirations of getting my kids to try different dishes and this seemed like a good place to start.

Gina looked through the book and settled on Rainbow Pizza, a pizza made with chopped up rainbow chard stems, garlic and lots of cheese. I didn't have high hopes that she would like it, but she was enthusiastic about making it and did help me put it together. I used pizza dough from Trader Joe's. She helped me chop up the chard stems, and then I sauteed them in olive oil and garlic.

The sauteed chard looked pretty in the pan with the little bit of green among the pink and orange stems. The kids helped spread the oil on the dough, sprinkle the parmesan cheese and then the chard. Some slices of mozzarella cheese on top and it was ready for the oven.

The final product wasn't as colorful after baking but I thought it was good. Dylan also ate it and finished off his piece. As for the other two, no go. Andrew wouldn't try it in the end (big surprise) and Gina didn't like the finished product. Back to the book to try something else.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rocket Cake

For A's 4th birthday, he wanted a rocket cake. It was easy to find all different kinds of cakes on the internet, but after going to Michael's I settled on this cake which needed a football shaped pan (so now I am set for all those Super Bowl parties).

I have a great recipe for chocolate cake in my Greystone Bakery Cookbook, one that I used to know by heart, but now I can't remember it exactly or where the cookbook disappeared to. So I tried making a chocolate cake using this recipe from baking Bites. It is a wacky cake which doesn't have eggs or dairy and relies on baking powder and vinegar to make it rise. Well, it didn't rise much and was very dense when it came out of the oven. Maybe my baking powder was too old or the batter needed to spread out more to bake correctly. So back to the drawing board on Saturday morning...

Saturday morning I headed over to Safeway for a box of chocolate cake, which baked up just fine. I split it in two and spread a thin layer of huckleberry jam (from our recent visit to Montana) and then made a layer of whipped chocolate ganache. I just estimated the amounts: a large handful of bittersweet chocolate chips and some cream, warmed on top of the stove to melt the chocolate. I let it cool and then tried to whip it in my mixer. I think it need to be colder since it was getting thicker but not thick enough for a cake. Into the freezer it went. And then I forgot about it for a while. When I took it out, it was definitely frozen. I broke up the chunks a bit and then started whipping. I added more cream to loosen up the chunks and finally it came together with a spreadable consistency.

Now, onto the buttercream. I ended up using an Italian Meringue Buttercream from Martha Stewart. I made the sugar syrup, whipped up the egg whites, and slowly poured in the hot syrup. It made a big fluffy mass of whipped egg whites. Then I added the butter and it deflated into a butter soup. I had waited 5 minutes for the whites to cool down, but maybe it should have been a few minutes longer? Instead of stopping, I kept added the butter and slowly it turned into frosting. At one point, it looked fairly curdled, but from my Daring Bakers experiences with Buttercream, more beating should fix the problem. So more beating and it came together.

I colored most of the frosting with violet food coloring, and left some out for the smoke and fire at the bottom. For the fire at the bottom, I made yellow icing and orange icing and then put them into the decorating bag together without mixing. One idea that I got from some other site was to put Andrew's picture in the window of the rocket. I cut one of his school pictures into a circle and then wrapped it in saran wrap. It ended up looking pretty good and tasted good with the filling.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers: Opera Cake

This month the Daring Baker Challenge was for an Opera Cake, a nutty sponge cake with layers of buttercream and mousse, topped off with a silky glaze. It seemed a little complicated with all the different parts, but we were also given a lot of latitude in the flavoring of the different components.

I made the cake with ground almonds. The recipe called for ground blanched almonds, but Trader Joes almond meal isn't made from blanched almonds so the cake was a little darker than it should have been. It tasted great though, and G really like it too.

For the buttercream filling and syrup for brushing on the cake, I decided to do lemon. I added 2 Tbsp lemon juice to the syrup and 2 Tbsp juice and grated zest to the buttercream. The buttercream came together really well, I've learned to really wait for the eggs/sugar mix to cool down before adding the butter. I really liked the flavor and texture of the buttercream too, I may have to make this one again.

For the mousse layer on top, I wanted strawberry flavor. I melted the white chocolate with some cream first. It ended up separating but a little bit more cream made it smooth. I sliced up 1 cup of strawberries and then mashed them a bit with a potato masher so there would still be pieces of strawberries. I stirred this into the white chocolate. Now, white chocolate is not white, it is more yellow in color and after stirring the strawberries in, it wasn't a very pretty color. But, I went ahead and whipped up the cream and then folded it into the white chocolate/strawberry mix. The color definitely improved and it tasted good too. I think next time I would use less white chocolate though, it is very sweet.

Assembling the cake was fairly straight forward. One layer of cake, then buttercream, another layer of cake, then the rest of the buttercream. At this point I came up with the idea of adding blueberries to this layer. This seemed like a good idea, but the buttercream wasn't very thick so the blueberries stuck up and the two layers didn't hold together as they should. Next time I would add some sweetened whipped cream or mousse to this layer. On the very top I put the strawberry mousse. For the glaze on top I melted less white chocolate that what was in the recipe but as it cooled, it got really thick. I was hoping for a thin layer of glaze but I ended up with a thick, not very smooth layer. Next time I would add more cream to thin it out a bit.

I took the cake to a small get together and everyone said that it tasted good. I wished it looked a little better, next time I will trim the side and cut it into smaller pieces.

Opera Cake Recipe:

For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

  • 2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans[1]
  • a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
  • parchment paper
  • a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
  • two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar

2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds[2]

2 cups icing sugar, sifted

6 large eggs

½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour

3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  1. Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.
  1. Preheat the oven to 425F. (220C).
  1. Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.
  1. If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.
  1. Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).
  1. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.
  1. Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.
  1. Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.
  1. Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

  • a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water

⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar

1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)

1. Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream[3]

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:

  • a small saucepan
  • a candy or instant-read thermometer
  • a stand mixer or handheld mixer
  • a bowl and a whisk attachment
  • rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar (Used to say 2 cups but should be 1 cup)

¼ cup (60 grams) water (Used to say ½ cup but should say ¼ cup)

seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract[5]

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature (Used to say 1¾ cups of butter but it should be 1¾ sticks).

flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

  1. Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.
  1. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225F (107C)[6] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.
  1. While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.
  1. When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!
  1. Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).
  1. While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.
  1. With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.
  1. At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.
  1. Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the white chocolate ganache/mousse (this step is optional – please see Elements of an Opéra Cake)
(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

  • a small saucepan
  • a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate

1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)

1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

  1. Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
  2. Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
  4. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
  5. If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
  6. If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

  • a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped[7]
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

  1. Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
  2. Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake.[8] Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
  3. Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Step A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Step B (if making the ganache/mousse):
Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Quick Strawberry Ice Cream

I don't remember how I came up with this recipe. I call it ice cream, though it is more like soft serve frozen yogurt and sometimes more like a smoothie. It is a great way to use up strawberries if you end up with a flat and don't use them all right away. I originally made this with just strawberries but it seemed like it needed a little more sweetness, so I started adding pineapple as well. You can also add a small amount of sugar or honey if you don't want to use pineapple. The first few times I made it it was just frozen strawberries and heavy cream, but I like the addition of yogurt. The kids really like this for dessert.

The measurements are all approximations:
1/2 cup diced pineapple (fresh or canned)
2 cups sliced frozen strawberries
1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt
1/4 - 1/2 cup half and half

In a food processor, mix pineapple and frozen strawberries until combined. Add Greek yoghurt and process for 30 sec or so. Then with the food processor running, slowly pour in half and half until the mixture looks smooth but still very thick. If you add too much half and half, it ends up more like a smoothie, but still good. Serve right away as it melts quickly.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Daring Bakers - Cheesecake Pops

This month I've waited to the last minute to start the Daring Bakers recipe. I had been thinking of it all month but couldn't quite get started on it. After returning from a weekend get away, I finally got the ingredients to start making the Cheesecake Pops. The recipe comes from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor and the recipe can be found at Taste and Tell and Feeding my Enthusiasms.

I like cheesecake well enough, though I haven't made one in a very long time. The cheesecake for this recipe was actually very straightforward and easy to assemble with the help of the KitchenAide mixer. I halved the recipe to try it out and I baked it in a 9x9 square pan for 40 minutes since a number of baker reported longer baking times for the full recipe. The cheesecake was set and just starting to brown at 40 minutes.

I set it in the refrigerator overnight and then rolled some into balls and cut some into squares. After putting in the lollipop stick, they went into the freezer.

Then it was chocolate time. The kids enjoyed watching me dip the cheesecake into the melted chocolate and then they dipped a few into sprinkles. I didn't have a good way to set the pops down once they were dipped in chocolate so they looked a little lopsided. I also tried putting white chocolate on first and then drizzled bittersweet chocolate over that. Those looked the best.

Verdict from my cheesecake loving husband? A little too much. The cheesecake part was good but didn't need the extra chocolate. I thought they were very good (of course, I love the chocolate part). They would be fun to make for a party.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meatballs - Two ways

Last weekend I was going through various food blogs and came across this recipe for meatballs. They come from a well known chef, Rocco DiSpririto (though I hadn't heard the name before) and apparently he has made quite a business of selling meatballs made from his mother's recipe. You can order them online or make them yourself from the recipe. Meatballs are not a dish I have made very often though when I described them to G, she said, "I'll try them". With that endorsement, I decided to give them a try. The recipe calls for beef, pork and veal but I ended up using two parts extra lean beef and one part ground dark turkey. The meatball mix seemed a little wet; maybe I should have added more breadcrumbs. They cooked up fine, though it was hard to keep them round.

During the prep time, I talked with V who wasn't too keen on the tomato sauce part. He has made meatballs numerous times, but he never serves them with a tomato sauce. So once all the meatballs were browned, I cooked half of them in Trader Joe's marinara sauce and the other half in Campbells cream of chicken soup with 2/3 cup chicken stock added. I simmered both for about an hour. The meatballs simmered in marinara were great; I served them over penne pasta. Of course once served, G wouldn't try them but baby D thought they were wonderful and polished off his bowl. V enjoyed his meatballs sans tomato sauce. I didn't get a pretty picture, but there are some great pictures at Under the High Chair.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Daring Bakers - Party Cake

This month's Daring Baker challenge was to make a lovely white Party Cake. It would have been perfect for Easter brunch dessert, but... I just couldn't fit it in this month. Oh well, there is always next month's challenge. You can still check out all the other wonderful cakes here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Butterscotch Pudding

I got to test out a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for Butterscotch Pudding. I hadn't made this kind of pudding before, but it seemed interesting. Butter and sugar are cooked into a caramel, then cream and milk are added. I was a little intimidated by the caramel, but I followed the directions for stirring and cooking to 295F, and it turned out fine. The hot caramel and milk is then added to cornstarch and eggs and cooked until very thick. The pudding is then flavored with vanilla and rum.

After several hours in the refrigerator, we had pudding! It was thick and rich and creamy. It tasted wonderful, with just a hint of the rum. Since this is a test recipe that hasn't been published, I can't print the recipe here, but if you see it in a future Cooks magazine, give it a try.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Strawberrry Spring Thaw

For Easter Brunch I made a frozen strawberry dessert called Strawberry Spring Thaw. My grandmother had cut it out of some newspaper ages ago (probably around 20) and I inherited her recipe box and binder when she died. She used to make this for Easter too. It is really easy and it tastes like spring.

A few notes: I used a bowl instead of mixing it in the jelly roll pan. Also, I was out of white flour and used King Arthur's white whole wheat flour with fine results. Walnuts, pecans, and almonds all work well.

Strawberry Spring Thaw

1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Stir melted butter and sugar together in a jelly roll pan. With a fork, mix in flour and nuts. . Distribute the mixture over the bottom of the pan and bake it at 400 F for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (watch carefully or the nuts will start to burn). Set the crumb mixture aside to cool.

2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup heavy cream

In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks while gradually adding sugar. Add sliced strawberries, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat at high speed until stiff peaks are formed. (The beaters will crush the sliced strawberries.

Whip heavy cream and fold into the strawberry and egg white mixture. Spread 1/2 of crumbs on the bottom of 9 inch springform pan. Top with strawberry mixture, and then sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Freeze. To serve, remove ring from pan and transfer to serving platter. Cut into wedges.

Serves 12.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Korean-style Pork Tenderloin

I found this recipe over at Batter-Splattered and it is a great recipe for a week night meal. The pork tenderloin is marinated overnight in a soy sauce, ginger, garlic and a little red pepper. Then the pork is cooked on the stove top for 6 minutes and followed by the oven for 15 minutes. While the pork cooks, the marinade is cooked down into a sauce. I served this dish over brown rice and it was delicious. It was a hit with all three kids plus my husband. I was the only one who tried the pork with the sauce and it was sweet with a little bit of spice. The pork was tender and had a very nice flavor. I had some more today cold in a sandwich, also very good. I will definitely have to make this again.

Korean-Style Pork Tenderloin

Serves six

1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; add pork. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 8 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Remove pork from bag, reserving marinade. Add pork to pan; cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides.

Place pan in oven; bake at 425° for 15 minutes or until meat thermometer registers 160° (medium) or until desired degree of doneness. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.

Bring reserved marinade to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.

Cut pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices; serve with sauce.

Friday, February 29, 2008

French Bread

This months Daring Baker's Challenge was to make French Bread a la Julia Child. This month's challenge was hosted by Mary from Breadchick and Sara from I like To Cook. The recipe with instructions was 18 pages long, a bit intimidating and it takes all day to make. I wasn't sure if I would have the time this month to do the challenge but got it together last weekend. Of course every time I had to do something with the dough kids were complaining, or fighting or needing my attention in some way. But the bread got made despite all that.
The ingredient list is very simple: yeast, salt, flour and water. I decreased the salt by a little since a number of other bakers had commented that their bread had seemed quite salty. After mixing everything together I turned out on the board and realized the dough seemed very wet. Quick check of the recipe, I was 1/2 cup short on flour. So back into the bowl with an extra cup of flour. The dough still seemed a little wet but I was able to knead it, adding a bit more flour along the way.

Then back into the bowl for a three hour rise. A bit more kneading and then another rise. I ended up splitting the dough into three pieces and then formed them into batards. They actually looked really nice at this point and puffed up nicely. The hard part ended up being transferring the loaves to the cookie sheet for baking. They didn't look quite as nice after being moved but once in the oven, they baked up just fine.

The end result was delicious. I couldn't wait a full two hours for the bread to cool, we cut into it after about 1 hour. The crust was crispy and the inside was soft and still warm.

This was definitely fun to make and a nice challenge working with the dough. If I have a long day with no plans I just might try to make it again.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bran Muffins with Blackberries

I recently made some bran muffins from the Farmgirl Fare blog. These muffins are very easy to make and they contain a LOT of bran: two cups of wheat bran and one cup of oat bran with a little bit of wheat flour to round it out. The recipe calls for half molasses and half honey as the sweetener though I used just honey. The bran is then held together with oil and yoghurt (I used low fat Greek yoghurt). I also added two large handfuls of frozen blackberries from Trader Joes.
Despite all the bran, these muffins are very moist and have a good flavor. They held up well over several days, though the second time I made them I think they were gone after two days. The recipe with the added blackberries made 12 large muffins and were great for a quick on the go breakfast.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

The other night I got home from work with the three kids and wasn't quite sure what to have for dinner. V decided to work late. I had printed out this recipe for lemon ricotta pancakes a few days before and I had bought ricotta cheese so it seemed like a great opportunity to make these pancakes. G had fun zesting the lemon and the G and A took turns stirring in the different ingredients.

These pancakes were SO SO good. They were very fluffy and had a subtle lemon flavor. The kids had them with berries on the side and a little maple syrup. I had them just plain which was fine, though I think next time I will try to have them with berries and some plain greek yogurt. I also had added a 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed to give them a little nutrient boost and this didn't change the flavor or texture. All three kids had seconds and thirds.

The recipe made a lot of pancakes; I ended up with about 9 leftover pancakes. They were still good the next day, reheated in the microwave. They were a little more dense the next day but the flavor was still good. I forgot to take pictures this time, but the pictures on Under the Highchair blog are lovely.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lemon Soup Meringue Pie

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was to make Lemon Meringue Pie. I was excited to try this recipe since it was my favorite dessert when I was growing up. I think I have made one or two in the past but it has been a LONG time.

It is definitely lemon season around here. I have a basket full of lemons from our lemon tree and several bags of Meyer lemons that friends have given me. I love using Meyer lemons; they are a little sweeter and very juicy.

The challenge was set by Jen at The Canadian Baker. You can find the recipe on her site. The recipe seemed pretty straightforward though a number of bakers reported having problems with the filling. I had waited to the last day to make the pie but it seemed like I would have plenty of time. The dough for the pie crust came together fine and it was easy to roll out. The kids had fun helping me roll out the dough and then they played with the extra dough. I didn't have pie weights so I raided the kid's piggy bank and used about $5 in change in the foiled lined crust. After baking the crust had shrunk a bit and didn't look as pretty but it was a nice golden brown.

Since I had to let it cool for the filling, I went to the grocery store though that took a whole lot longer than I expected. Once I got home, it was close to dinner time so I assembled the rest of the pie while heating up soup and boiling noodles. The filling involves cooking cornstarch and sugar in water until thick, adding it to egg yolks and cooking a bit more and then adding butter and lemon juice plus zest. The cornstarch and sugar got very thick, after adding the egg yolks and cooking a bit more, it was still very thick. But after adding the butter and lemon juice, it was more like soup. I thought it might thicken up more as it cooled but after adding the meringue on top, baking it for 20 more minutes, and then letting it cool, it was definitely not set.

Even though it wasn't pretty, the pie still tasted good. It was more like buttery crust and meringue with lemon sauce on top but it was still good. The lemon filling was tart but went well with the sweet meringue. I definitely want to try this again and get it right.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Carmel Chicken

I have two recipes for Carmel Chicken, one from a newspaper food section and the other from a cookbook The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking by Mai Pham (called Gooey Ginger Chicken). I like both of them and they are very similar. Recently though, I found another recipe for Carmel Chicken in a food blog, Anne's Food posted on Jan 16, 2008. This recipe calls for less sugar and no ginger but with the added ingredients of cider vinegar and worcestershire sauce. While the combination of sugar and vinegar with chicken did not promise to be a favorite with V, I thought the worcestershire sauce might give it a slightly different flavor that he might like. I decided to give it a try. Plus it let me try out my new julienne tool that I got for Christmas to julienne some carrots.

It was a very easy recipe to make and it only took about 30 minutes to prepare, a definite plus. I love the sweet and slightly sour taste of the sauce and the combination of sliced sweet onions and bits of carrot. My mom was visiting and she thought it was good too. G tried it, said she liked it, but then didn't eat any more. When V got home, he ate it but didn't give it rave reviews. I guess I will have to save this for when I'm cooking for just myself.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Green Smoothie

When A was 2 yr old, he would eat broccoli all the time. Sometimes, it would be the only thing he would eat for dinner. At some point though he gradually started refusing to eat broccoli and then anything that resembled a vegetable, except for raw carrots. He even refuses to try dishes that contain a few bits of parsley.

Recently, A has been requesting the Odwalla Superfood Smoothie which is recognizable by its lovely shade of green, instead of chocolate milk when we have gone to Starbucks. The first few times I talked him into something else, but then I decided to let him try it. And he liked it. Looking at the ingredients, it's not surprising as the first two ingredients are apple and mango. The green color comes from wheatgrass.

We were shopping at Whole Foods yesterday and A found the 1/2 gallon container of Superfood Smoothie. I did not want to spend $7 for juice so I promised him that I would make a green smoothie at home. So tonight for dinner I mixed in a blender a very ripe frozen banana, a handful of frozen mango chunks, partially thawed, two spoonfuls of lowfat Greek yogurt, some orange juice and 1/4 cup chopped spinach (Trader Joes frozen chopped spinach, microwaved for 1 minute). I mixed everything in the blender for about 2 minutes to make sure it was well blended. It was definitely green though lighter in color than the Superfood Smoothie.

The verdict? A thought it was great and wanted more. G decided she had to try it as well. She also really liked it and took a few guesses at the secret green ingredient. I guess this is one way to get the kids to eat more veggies.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Orange Cranberry Bread

The kids were interested in making something this afternoon and we had an excess of oranges so I decided to try making Orange Cranberry Bread. I had just seen a recipe for Orange Raspberry Pecan Bread at Baking Bites but we had cranberries rather than raspberries and G doesn't like pieces of nuts.

G and A loved juicing the oranges. I have a hand press juicer that works well. G also enjoyed zesting the orange with the microplane zester and she did a good job. Then they took turns measuring flour, sugar, baking powder and soda. G stirred and A added the wet ingredients to the bowl.

Once in the oven, the kids checked on the baking bread every few minutes and then were eager to try it once out of the oven. G liked it but A decided not to try it. Oh well, more for us. It was good with a subtle orange flavor and I liked the contrast with the cranberries. V thought the cranberries were a little tart so maybe next time I will try it with raspberries.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Texas Chili

Today I made my favorite chili recipe, lots of meat and red sauce, and more importantly NO BEANS. I cut it out of the Williams Sonoma catalog years ago (I couldn't find any reference to it on their website). It is also a fairly simple recipe of meat, chili powder, garlic, oregano and cumin. Commercial chili powder is usually a mix of chili powder mixed with oregano and cumin (Cooks Illustrated recommends Spice Islands), but today all I had was pure ground New Mexico red chili powder so I went with that. It is fairly mild so the only heat came from the cumin. I ended up with only about 2.5 lb of meat instead of 5lb so I cut everything in half. That was fine except the chili tended to cook down faster over the 1.5 hr of simmering so I added more water at the end.

This recipe is a little unusual it uses olive oil to cook the flour. The spices are cooked in the oil for a short time before added to the simmering meat. The oil sizzles as it is added to the pot and the mixture looks very red at the beginning. After 1.5 hr of simmering, the chili is a darker shade, looking more like rich chocolate.

I usually serve this chili over rice with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top.

Texas Chili (from William Sonoma catalog)

5lb lean beef, cubed
3 Tbsp sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp salt
1 quart water

3/4 cup olive oil
5 Tbsp flour
5 cloves garlic, minced
6-8 Tbsp ground chili
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin

Combine beef, sugar, salt and water. Bring to a boil, skim and reduce heat immediately to a simmer.

Heat oil in skillet, add flour and cook for 2 min without browning. Add garlic, chili powder, pepper, oregano, and cumin to oil, cook briefly and add to meat. Simmer chili for about 1 1/2 hr until tender.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Easiest, Most Delicious Dinner

For Christmas Eve, we had the best but easiest dinner in the world (my favorite anyway): fresh, Dungeness crab. Apparently everyone else at Whole Foods thought it was a good idea too. I went to the store in the late morning and the customers were three deep at the fish counter (the only counter without a number system). Everyone was ordering 3-4 crabs a piece and they had extra people in the back working hard to clean and crack all the crabs. I ordered 3 crabs for dinner which seemed like a lot since it would only be me and V doing most of the eating. G also likes crab but A wouldn't touch it. I think he had applesauce instead.

Dinner was very simple. Cracked crab in a huge bowl on the table, lots of melted butter as well as mayonnaise mixed with Dijon mustard (one of the few times I will eat mayonnaise) to dip the crab in, garlic bread, and some steamed broccoli mixed with some leftover garlic butter. Amazingly, all the crab was devoured. I had hoped for a little leftover to add to scrambled eggs Christmas morning, but oh well.