Friday, July 30, 2010

Tamarine - prepare for serious food porn

Tamarine Restaurant in Palo Alto - July 29, 2010

My boss took our team out for a teambuilding dinner at Tamarine last night It's considered "contemporary Vietnamese cuisine" and is one of my favorite restaurants in Palo Alto but I don't go that often because I also think it's a bit overpriced. But I have to admit, the food is pretty good. I mean, really excellent. My coworker, Rhuwena, and I perused the group menus and chose the menu below.

First course: Salt & Pepper Calamari, Banh Mi Roti and Ginger Soy Brochettes

I didn't get a shot of the calamari as it was a tad too far away....and I don't like calamari so I wasn't as interested in capturing it for posterity, lol.

The Roti, however, was just excellent. I made roti in culinary school and I know the layering that goes into it (think of it like a croissant but much flatter) and the need to pelt it flat. This one was delicious, crisp at the edges but chewy elsewhere - good stuff.

The brochettes were also to die for - very fork tender and tasty. I didn't even question the "soy" part.

Second course: Ha Long Bay Soup (crab wontons served in a consumme infused with coriander and coconut milk) and Papaya Salad

The soup was delicious - I generally like wontons and crab but I hadn't expected to like the soup base itself since, while I like coconut, I'm not a big fan of coconut milk. But Tamarine surprised me and the soup was flavorful and delicious without being overwhelmingly coconut milk-y.

The papaya salad - no, I didn't eat this since I don't like papaya. I mean, I had to save room for the later courses, right?

Third course: Tamarine Prawns, Lemongrass Sea Bass, Chili Lime Aubergine, and Coconut Rice

The Tamarine Prawns were another to-die-for dish - I can't even describe how good they were except to say I had two prawns and was probably licking my chops debating on whether to have a third. Only the fact that I knew there were two courses left held me back.

With all good Asian meals, you have to have rice. This course came with coconut rice inside a banana leaf container. Despite the name, there wasn't much coconut to it so it was more like steamed rice. Very good.

I loved the sea bass as well but then again, I'm also a fan of lemongrass. Very tasty.

This course also included eggplant which I didn't get a picture of (three guesses as to why) and this green bean dish. Because we have vegetarians in the group, I think we must've substituted some of the official menu for the veggie dishes. Which helped with my portion control since I literally couldn't eat everything that was served.

Fourth Course: Garlic Fried Rice, Shaking Beef and Hoisin Lamp Chops

I didn't even try the lamp chops. My eyes were on the prize (see next dish).
I knew the Shaking Beef was coming and I knew I had to pace myself and not have everything that was served because I had to save room. This is my favorite dish at Tamarine. The beef is tender and tastes just divine. I don't have enough gastronomical descriptors for it without sounding over-the-top corny about it. But I love this dish. It turned out to be my downfall because while I had prudently paced myself and eaten only a few bites of the other dishes, I "had" to have a (generous) second helping of the Shaking Beef and that's when I hit full. Yes, before the final dessert course. But it was worth it.

By the time we got to the fifth course, billed as "Chef's Seasonal Selection", I was pretty much topped up on fullness. Not sick full but full. Thankfully, dessert was a cup of fruit with creme fraiche(?) and what looked like a beignet but was really a little fried banana. I skipped the fruit bowl and had the warm fried banana, grateful for its relatively small size. Also quite delicious even if I probably would've enjoyed it more if I hadn't had that second helping of Shaking Beef.

So next time you're in downtown Palo Alto, give Tamarine a try - it's further down University Avenue near Middlefield, far enough down that you have a shot at getting a decent parking space even on a busy weeknight. I recommend going a little early (we got there at 6 pm) as the place gets packed. And don't forget to order the Shaking Beef (thanks, boss!)

Not So Sloppy Joes

Not So Sloppy Joes - made July 21, 2010 from Real Simple: Meals Made Easy via my cousin Christine

Oops, I was so focused on catching up on my desserts that I'm out of chronological order in posting this recipe. I should call it "Dinner in a Bag 2" as this is another from my cousin Christine who gave me most of the fixings for this, all packed in a brand new insulated lunch bag - talk about full service :).

This was a very simple recipe, just my speed and style. I substituted ground turkey for the ground beef and it worked just fine. I admit to deviating from the recipe though and left out the bell pepper since I don't eat those and the cheese since it was optional. Those got returned to Christine when we met for dinner at Patxi's (see earlier post on the pizza). This is one of the reasons I'll never be much of a cook. No matter what the recipe says, if there's an ingredient I don't like, I don't add it in, likely altering the recipe from its supposed taste. But that's okay with me as it's better than picking it out of the finished dish.....which I've been known to do. Yes, I'm a picky eater. I'm sure real cooks are as horrified as I would be if people who don't like sugar leave it out of one of my dessert recipes. It's just not the same. Oh well.

Oh and based on Christine's recommendation, I toasted the bun first (which she also provided, lol) before sandwiching it with the sloppy joe - yum. Great taste and contrast with the sloppy joe filling.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef (90% lean)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 hamburger buns, toasted (to prevent bread from becoming mushy)
½ cup (2 ounces) grated Cheddar (optional)
½ cup sour cream (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the beef and cook, crumbling it with a spoon, until no trace of pink remains, about 7 minutes. Spoon off and discard any excess fat.
2. Stir in the tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 12 minutes. Spoon the beef mixture onto the bottom half of each bun with the Cheddar and a dollop of the source cream (if using). Sandwich with the top half of each bun.

4 servings

Caprial's Chocolate Brownies

Caprial's Chocolate Brownies - last made July 26, 2010 from Caprial's Desserts by Caprial Pence

Making Ina Garten's brownies earlier reminded me of another brownie recipe that was similar in texture - this one by Caprial Pence. It has the same lightness and similar directions because of whipping the butter and sugar so much. I first tried this recipe in 2008 and my notes at the time referred to the texture as being light and almost truffle-like. It's not cakey but soft. I made these again earlier this week for a lunch with my coworkers and my friend John referred to them as having a chocolate-mousse texture. Chocolate mousse or chocolate truffle, that's pretty descriptive of what this texture is like. The ones pictured were my first attempt and I had included Snickers in them. But the texture is so soft that it's actually better without add-ins to mar the texture. These are just a tad delicate so they don't really ship or freeze that well but if you needed to whip up a simple batch, they'll do in a pinch. And, like with all good brownies, these have a deep chocolate flavor so not for the faint of chocolate heart.

5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup cold unsalted butter, diced
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup flour
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a well-greased 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper; set aside.
2. Place the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. When the chocolate has melted about halfway, remove the pan from the heat (leaving the bowl on the pan) and let the chocolate sit until completely melted; stir until smooth. Set aside.
3. Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whip attachment, and whip on high speed until the eggs are very light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and mix on medium speed until well blended. Add the flour, nuts, and salt, and mix on low speed until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and mix just until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a knife inserted in the brownies comes out covered with moist crumbs, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool about 20 minutes, then cut the brownies into 16 wedges and serve.

Heath Bits Peanut Butter Cookies

Heath Bits Peanut Butter Cookies - made July 25, 2010

One of my online fitness buddies, Tanya, posted this recipe and coincidentally I found it on the back of the Heath Bits package I had in my baking drawer that I needed to use up. Tanya is a self-admitted peanut butter and chocolate fiend and has been posting a lot of food porn in her journal lately. I, a self-admitted baking addict, seize on any opportunity to try new recipes recommended by people who can appreciate sweets, desserts and good baking.

In case you've never seen toffee bits before, here's what's generally available at the grocery store. There are two kinds - one that's milk chocolate toffee bits and are essentially Heath Bars chopped into pieces (pictured below). The other is just toffee bits without the milk chocolate. The latter is harder to find, at least in my local grocery stores. I've been able to find them when I visit my sister in Southern California so I admit to stocking up on them in the infrequent times I go down for a visit.

This recipe made for a good dough to work with, meaning it wasn't too soft or sticky. I portioned the cookie dough into dough balls using my ice cream scoop which has gotten more use with cookie dough than with actual ice cream, placed them in a plastic lid that was originally supposed to be a cover for a pie pan, and put them in the freezer to firm up before I put them in a ziploc freezer bag marked with their name, oven temp and baking time.

These turned out pretty well. I'm not as into peanut butter as Tanya is so I can't rhapsodize over them but if you like peanut butter, chocolate and toffee, this makes for a nice variation from the usual chocolate chip cookies. I substituted butter for the shortening for better taste and preferred texture - these didn't spread too much and were nice and chewy when properly (under)baked. I baked them off Sunday night to bring into a couple of work meetings on Monday. If you have to go to work on Monday and you have to be in meetings, let there be cookies.

½ cup shortening
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
1 ¼ cups packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups (8 ounces) Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits, divided

1. Heat oven to 375˚F.
2. Beat shortening, peanut butter, brown sugar, milk and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Add egg; beat just until blended. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually bet into peanut butter mixture. Stir in 1 cup toffee bits; reserve remainder for topping.
3. Drop by heaping teaspoons about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet; top each with reserved toffee bits. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until set. Do not overbake. Cool 2 minutes. Remove to wire rack. Cool completely.

About 3 dozen cookies

New Krung Thai - pad thai

Pad Thai - dinner with my friend Cindy on July 23, 2010 at New Krung Thai

One of my favorite Thai restaurants near where I live is New Krung Thai Not to be confused with the other Krung Thai further down the same street. I haven't tried that Krung Thai as I keep falling back to the first one I had ever gone to. Almost without fail I get their pad thai (no bean sprouts - I don't see the point of bean sprouts). They're close to my current house (walking distance) and when I call for a takeout order, they already have me programmed into their computer. Eek. When my nieces come for a visit and spend the night, our usual ritual is to get a hefty takeout from Krung Thai and watch chick flicks while we consume our (double) order of pad thai, soup, pad see ew, fried rice and ribs. No, we can't finish it all in one sitting (although we've come close a few times) and yes, they like having the leftovers for breakfast the following day. Since I don't cook, it makes for a perfect solution.

I've experimented by trying pad thai at other Thai restaurants - Amarin Thai, King of Krung Siam and Shana Thai in Mountain View in the recent past but none of them compare to New Krung Thai's pad thai. When I move, I think this is one of the places I'll miss the most. Although that just means I'll have to drive instead of walk to pick up some pad thai.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Easy Fudgy Loaf Cake

Easy, Fudgy Loaf Cake - made July 23, 2010 from Chocolate by Nick Malgieri

This is one of those recipes I'd been meaning to try for awhile but never seem to get to. I finally got to it because I had some milk I bought for another recipe so I thought I'd leverage ingredients while I could. This was very easy to throw together which is what I did while Ina Garten's Brownies were baking in the oven. I'd already packed my regular size loaf pans so I ended up making this in 2 mini loaf pans and 2 round ramekins. You only see 1 mini loaf in the picture because the other broke when I turned it out of the pan. That was baker error - I upended it out of the pan while it was too warm and it broke apart. Needless to say, that was the taste test loaf.

While it was still warm, this was a great cake - soft texture, not too overwhelmingly chocolatey and just a nice crumb. Once it cooled to room temperature though, it was a little crumbly and I didn't think it was anything special. It didn't slice that neatly and had an almost dry mouthfeel. Not sure I'd make again or if I did, I'd warm it up before eating. Unfortunately I'd only tried it warm and didn't try it at room temp until after I'd given the rest away. Oops.

2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 large egg
¾ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

One 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ¾ inch loaf pan, buttered and the bottom lined with parchment or wax paper

1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325˚F.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.
3. Use an electric mixer set at medium speed to beat the butter and sugars together until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in the chocolate and continue beating until smooth. Scrape bowl and beater(s) and beat in the egg. Continue beating until creamy and smooth, another minute or two.
4. By hand, using a rubber spatula, stir in half the flour mixture, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl well. Stir in the milk and vanilla, then the remaining flour mixture.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about an hour, or until well risen and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then unmold, remove paper and finish cooling on a rack.

Storage: Keep the cake wrapped in plastic at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap and freeze.

Ina Garten's Brownies

Ina Garten's Brownies - made July 23, 2010 from

Someone recommended this recipe as THE best brownies they'd ever made. In baking-speak, to me that's the equivalent of madly waving a red flag at a charging bull. Gets my attention, you know? So I had to try the recipe and see if they'd come up to snuff.

Hmmm. First of all, bear in mind that I've made literally hundreds of different brownie recipes many more hundreds of times. So the bar is quite high for me to put one brownie recipe above all. Second, we all have different tastes and preferences. That's my somewhat gentle lead-in to say I wouldn't quite say these were the best brownies I'd ever made. They were good, no doubt about it. But they don't make my top 5 favorite brownie recipes, mostly due to texture. My favorite kind of brownie is fudgy, rich and dense. These weren't cakey but they did have a light, soft texture, mainly due to creaming the butter and sugar for 5 minutes which incorporates a lot of air into the batter. This recipe also has a relatively large amount of baking powder so that accounts for the lightness as well. I'm also not a big fan of having melted chocolate chips make up the chocolate in the batter. I don't have high-end chocolate chips to use like I do with regular bittersweet bar chocolate that I use for baking. I compromised and use part Nestle chocolate chips and part Guittard chocolate.

I also cut this recipe in half and baked it in an 8 x 8-inch pan. It made for a thicker brownie than The Barefoot Contessa might've intended but nothing wrong with thick brownies. You just have to bake them longer. That said, these were pretty easy to make. I woke up unnaturally early Friday morning and had these baked off and out of the oven before I logged into work by 8 am. Oh, yeah, I also added M&M baking bits on top in lieu of nuts. Some of them sank since the batter wasn't very thick and they gravitated towards the middle. I think these brownies have too soft a texture to take add-ins very well.

1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. Butter and flour a 12 x 18 x 1-inch baking sheet
3. Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
4. In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with ¼ cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the baking sheet.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake. Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate and cut into 20 large squares.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Patxi's Pizza

When I was an undergrad at Berkeley, one of my favorite pizza places was Zachary's Pizza in Oakland, by the Rockridge BART station. Zach's was always crowded and always good. I think that was one of the first times I'd actually had pizza as a real pizza "pie". Many years out of undergrad later and not getting up to Berkeley or Oakland hardly ever, I was delighted to discover Patxi's (pronounced "pah-cheese") Pizza in Palo Alto thanks to my friend Karen (

Patxi's is the closest I've come to Zachary's pizza on the peninsula. Their deep-dish Chicago-style pizza has a buttery crust and is laden with cheese. Yeah, don't go there if you're dieting or counting calories. The pies take anywhere from 30-40 minutes to bake so I've discovered the best thing to do is call ahead about 45 minutes before you expect to arrive (and account for having to hunt for parking around Palo Alto's busy University Ave) and order for dine-in. Then it's just a matter of arriving on time and they serve your pizza within a few minutes. If anyone in your party is late, they can also hold the pizza for you in their warmer. The call ahead option is a boon, especially when you're meeting cousins with young kids who probably wouldn't appreciate waiting more than half an hour for pizza :).

Oh, and once again if you're not on a diet and not watching what you eat (although you, I mean, "I", should) and have partners in crime who also like a little dessert, there is also conveniently a gelato place located next door to Patxi's so, despite being full, if you wanted a little something for your sweet tooth, you could also stop there on your way out to your car. I can personally recommend the mocha almond fudge. Just sayin'.....

Seven Layer Bars

Seven Layer Bars - made July 21, 2010 from (submitted by Patty Tindall)

My friend Hildy mentioned Seven Layer Bars in a facebook post and my Pavlovian response was to hunt up a recipe and bake some, especially since I had all seven ingredients on hand and they were part of the "must use up" list. Seven layer bars are more like seven-ingredient bars. The basic recipe is normally a graham cracker crust "layered" with chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, nuts, coconut and sweetened condensed milk. This is a pretty basic recipe for them and like any tried and true recipe, it turned out well although nothing really spectacular. They're good but, as you've probably guessed by now, I'm super picky about baked goods so I wouldn't call these "great". But for magic cookie bars, they're decent. My favorite Seven Layer Bars would be from Dean & Deluca in St Helena, CA. They cut the pieces big, the graham cracker crust is thick and they really layered on the chips, nuts and coconut.

The only thing I did differently in this recipe is I combined the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs in a bowl rather than melting in the pan. This way I could control the mixing of the crust and I let the mixture sit for a few minutes so the graham cracker crumbs could absorb the butter better. Otherwise, it'd seem more greasy when baked because the butter would separate. I also patted the crust firmly into the bottom of the pan so it stays intact as a crust. For the nuts I used toasted almonds. Can't remember exactly how long I baked these since I didn't time them but I went more by how brown the coconut got rather than the edges. I baked until some of the coconut in the middle was also brown, not just the edges.

½ cup unsalted butter
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. Place butter in 9 x 13-inch pan and melt in oven. Swirl to coat bottom and sides with butter.
3. Spread crumbs evenly over bottom of pan. Layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and nuts over crumbs. Pour condensed milk over nuts. Sprinkle coconut over condensed milk.
4. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gooey Butter Cake

Gooey Butter Cake - made July 20, 2010 from (submitted by V. Monte)

I've been dealing with some personal issues recently so I've also been hitting the baking therapy hard for the past few days as a coping mechanism. Sunday I made Kahlua Cake ( and Baby Brownies ( Monday night I made the Triple-Threat Chocolate Chip Cookies. Tonight I made Gooey Butter Cake.

When you think of butter and cream cheese, do you think of Paula Deen? Me too. Which is appropriate as I had only heard of Gooey Butter Cake from my friends from the South. With a title like that and consistent endorsement from several people, I had to try it. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to make. I got this recipe from but it's almost identical to Paula Deen's recipe on

The base of the crust layer is yellow cake mix. Always sift cake mix before you use it or you'll end up with lumpy batter. I have a big-ass sifter from my culinary school days and it sifts flour, cake mix, you name it very quickly since there's so much surface area to use for sifting right into the bowl.

Once you have the crust mixed up, pat into an even layer in a 9 x 13-inch pan. Note that I always line my pans with foil regardless of whether the recipe calls for it or not. It not only is easier to lift the baked good out of the pan intact to cut properly on a cutting board but it also preserves your pan. I use my baking pans a lot and yet they're still in good shape because I take care of them with the foil method.

Mixing up the filling was pretty easy - I beat the cream cheese first just so the other ingredients would blend better with it when added. The batter was pretty liquid and very smooth.

Pour over the cake mix crust and make sure you get them into the corners as well.

I baked this for just under 45 minutes as the top looked brown. It smelled good pretty much from the get-go. I tried a piece while it was still warm and it's delicious. Bear in mind I don't even like cream cheese that much and this had 8 ounces in it. But I figure the 4 cups of confectioners' sugar killed the usual taste of the cream cheese and made it just nice, sweet and gooey. Those Southerners know how to make good gooey cake.

½ cup butter
1 18.25-ounce package yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
½ teaspoon almond extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease one 9 x 13-inch cake pan.
2. Melt the butter. Stir melted butter along with 1 egg into the cake mix. Press into prepared pan.
3. In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, almond extract, confectioners’ sugar and the remaining 2 eggs. Beat for 3 minutes with an electric mixer set on medium high speed. Spread over top of cake mixture.
4. Bake at 350˚F for 45 to 50 minutes and until browned on top. Allow cake to cool before cutting.

ETA: I had the taste test piece while this was still warm and it was delicious, almost like eating a pudding. I had a second piece today at room temperature and I have to admit, this is a little too sweet for me. I can really taste that yellow cake mix in the base and the pound of confectioners' sugar in the topping. Of course my coworkers just rolled their eyes at me as they swooped down on it so they seemed to like it. But still....if I make this again, I'd search for something a little less cloyingly sweet and more buttery like the basque cake.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Triple Threat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Triple-Threat Chocolate Chip Cookies - made July 19, 2010 from The Pastry Queen

If you don't like chocolate or are indifferent to it, move along, there's nothing to see here. But, if you're like me and think chocolate is the greatest invention of mankind and would inject it directly into your veins if you could, then this is the cookie for you. I think of it almost as baked fudge. It's rich, it's moist, it's just good. But two caveats - first, this isn't for the faint of chocolate heart. This cookie does pack a (chocolate) punch. Second, you must use high quality chocolate. There's a high proportion of chocolate in relation to the other ingredients and if you use inferior chocolate, you'll get an inferior cookie. For the bittersweet chocolate, I used Lindt Excellence 70%.

You should time this recipe as it's sometimes hard to tell when they're done baking. I go mostly by appearance - the cookie is done when it isn't as glossy and fine dry cracks appear slightly. But I say time it because you don't want to overbake it. I bake it for 10 minutes, take them out of the oven and let them sit on the hot cookie sheet a few minutes more to keep baking. Once they're cool and the chocolate sets, they're perfect.

Note that the dough is very soft, almost like a batter, and doesn't really harden. For that reason I don't give this my usual cookie dough treatment of portioning into dough balls and freezing first. It's actually unnecessary because the cookies don't really spread since they have such a high proportion of chocolate relative to butter. Do let it rest for 20 minutes as the directions call for as you don't want the batter to be too liquid before you bake the cookies. Oh, and it goes without saying I left out the nuts and only added milk chocolate chips. This is pure chocolate.

1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups semisweet or milk chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Arrange the pecans and walnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic. Cool the nuts completely.
2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, or grease generously with butter or cooking spray.
3. Melt the butter, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan set over low heat. Stir occasionally, watching carefully to make sure the chocolate does not burn. Remove the pan from the heat to cool.
4. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl on medium speed about 3 minutes, until fluffy. Add the vanilla and melted chocolate. Beat on medium speed about 2 minutes, until the dough is thick and glossy. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the chocolate mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, which makes it easier to scoop.
5. Use a 1 ¾” diameter scoop to drop spoonfuls of dough on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 1 ½” apart. Wet your fingertips lightly with water and gently flatten the cookie dough (no need to press hard; just press out the hump). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tops begin to crack and look glossy. Cool the cookies for 10 minutes before removing them from the baking sheets.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rok Bistro

Today for lunch, a few of my fabulous coworkers (the good ones, haha) took me out to lunch for my birthday at Rok Bistro on Murphy St in Sunnyvale

Evelyn, me and Rhuwena

Rhuwena, me and Jenny

If you've never been there, their claim to fame is, depending on your order, they serve it to you on a volcanic rock heated to 700 degrees so you can cook your entree. Rhuwena and Evelyn got the steak.

They serve it in thick chunks but you're armed with a sharp knife so you can cut it into strips or pieces and cook it more quickly. Be warned though - 700 degrees is nothing to mess with and it'll cook your steak pretty fast and with a lot of splatter. Meaning, best not to go there with dry clean only clothes or if you have an important meeting in the afternoon. Unless you want to go back to work in grease-spattered clothes smelling like cooking meat :). Copious covering with the cloth napkins they provide is highly recommended.

Jenny's order

I got the Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich (hold the red onions). The chicken was partially cooked and served with the ham on a hot volcanic rock as well so I could finish cooking it. The alfredo sauce and cheese were to the side along with a little cup of fresh fruit. It was the first time I'd tried the sandwich and it was pretty good. I only ate half though to save room for dessert....

My sandwich entree - Chicken Cordon Bleu

Because, let's face it, the real reason to go to Rok Bistro is for the chocolate fondue. During lunchtime, fondue is $9 per person with a 2-person minimum for each type of chocolate fondue. Evelyn is a dark chocolate fan but she was outnumbered by 3 milk chocolate lovers so we ordered my favorite, the milk chocolate hazelnut which is essentially milk, Callebaut milk chocolate and nutella.

The fondue is set on the table which has a flat-top burner in the center and heated atop a pot of water until it's nice, melted, free-flowing chocolate, ready for dipping.

Because you can't have fondue without something to dip into it - their standard platter includes oreo-covered marshmallows, pound cake (Sara Lee), pretzels, rice krispie treats, cream puffs, bananas, pineapple, strawberries and apples. My favorite combination is the banana and chocolate followed by the rice krispie treats, strawberries and pound cake. Never could get into the pineapple dipped in chocolate.

Our server overheard us mentioning my birthday so she surprised us with a scoop of vanilla ice cream sitting atop a volcanic rock - this one frozen so the ice cream didn't melt easily. I thought that was really nice of her! Not to mention she gave each of us a $10 coupon for our next visit. More chocolate fondue! As soon as I workout like a fiend to burn all the calories I consumed....

As always after a fun lunch, thanks, ladies! It was a great start to my birthday weekend!

Chocolate Chip Macadamia Bars with Shortbread Crust

Chocolate Chip Macadamia Bars with Shortbread Crust - made July 15, 2010 from

I have both macadamia nuts and miniature semisweet chocolate chips to use up so this seemed like a good recipe to try since it contained both. I downloaded this from long ago and have held onto the recipe for months, if not years. I go through periods when I’m hunting for good recipes and just gather them all up. Then they gather dust until I’m inspired to try one of them.

The recipe calls for a food processor to make the crust and I have one but I’ve already packed it in preparation for my move. But it’s not a big deal to manually cut the butter into the sugar and flour – I do it all the time with lemon bars so I’m used to it. Just make sure your butter is chilled and you use two sharp knives or a pastry blender. I confess I’ve never gotten used to a pastry blender as it seems to drill the butter into the flour/sugar rather than actually cutting the butter. It’s all a matter of what you’re used to and I guess I’m old school. Plus, I don’t need another baking gadget like a pastry blender when two knives will do. Just make sure your butter is cold as that makes cutting it into the dry ingredients easier – you don’t want the butter so soft that it actually makes a paste with the flour and sugar. There should be little bits of butter coated with the flour/sugar mixture but not actually blended into it.

I baked the crust for a little longer than 15 minutes, probably closer to 20. My experience says the best part of a shortbread crust is when it’s – well – crusty. If you underbake it, it’ll be too soft and won’t provide enough of a texture contrast to the filling. Don’t overbake it either as you don’t want it too hard and remember it’ll bake some more once the crust is added. I toasted the macadamia nuts first and let them cool before I added them to the filling. Try to add the nuts last and right before you pour it over the crust – they should soften less by spending less time in a liquid batter before it’s baked. As I’ve said ad naseum, I’m not fond of nuts within a baked good although I’m fine with them on top. It’s a texture thing – nuts will steam and soften when baked so they lose the more crisp or hard texture which is what I like about nuts. I’m actually a little more forgiving of macadamia nuts since they don’t soften as much as nuts like walnuts or pecans.

I only had a small smidge of this since by the time it cooled last night, it was late and I don’t like eating right before going to bed. It was pretty good. The shortbread crust had the right “snap” to it and when I ate this, the filling was still just the tiniest bit warm so it was soft. I didn’t overbake it as I had feared since I left it in the oven longer than the prescribed 50 minutes. I recommend actually timing this one (this from me, the infamous “I never time anything” baker) because the crust on the filling forms pretty early on in the baking so sticking a toothpick into it keeps breaking the filling crust while just underneath, everything’s still too gooey to be done. I only had a vague sense of when I put this in the oven so I had to keep checking and could only go by how brown the crust was and what the toothpick test was showing me.

For crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces

For filling:
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts (about 7 ounces)

1. Make crust: Preheat oven to 350˚F. Blend flour and sugar in processor. Add butter; process using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to 8-inch square glass baking dish. Press mixture onto bottom and ¾ inch up sides of dish. Bake until crust is golden brown on edges, about 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Whisk sugar, flour, eggs, butter and vanilla extract to blend in large bowl. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.
3. Pour filling into warm crust, smooth surface. Bake until filling is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 50 minutes. Transfer dish to rack; cool completely. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.) Cut into 16 squares.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Nothing Bundt Cakes - red velvet cake

Red Velvet Bundt Cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes - July 12, 2010

With my sweet tooth, it should come as no surprise that I like trying out different bakeries. I've already admitted I've done a foodie trip to New York City for exactly that purpose. I also try out local places, of course. Today's experiment was Nothing Bundt Cakes in Los Gatos. One of my coworkers, Rhuwena, ordered the red velvet cake for my birthday to serve in our boss' staff meeting this afternoon. It's no secret that I HATE being the center of birthday attention. It's just not my thing. I'm more of a quiet introvert and I celebrate my birthday pretty low key. I'm not a "HEY! It's my birthday!!!" kind of person. So I was half-mortified when they all broke into song at the beginning of staff today. Thankfully, I control the staff agenda so I got us moving right along to the scheduled topic, lol.

I also cut and passed out slices of this cake. One bite and I was hooked. OMG, this is an awesome red velvet cake. Perfect texture, moist without being gummy, flavorful with the perfect addition of the chocolate chips. I told Rhuwena I forgave her as soon as I took a bite of this cake. The picture above is all that's left of the cake today. Saving one piece for lunch tomorrow and chowing down on the other piece for dessert tonight. - I will have to visit them in person in Los Gatos and see what else to try :).

One of our VPs had a birthday celebration last week and trusty Rhuwena ordered a couple of cakes for his birthday (thankfully my cake celebration was way more low key than his, ha), also from Nothing Bundt Cakes - carrot cake and chocolate chocolate chip. I tried the carrot cake first and it was good. Then I had a piece of the chocolate chocolate chip and it was great. While I'm fond of carrot cake, the chocolate chocolate chip won hands down. It was moist and had a good chocolate flavor without being in your face or overwhelming about it. Seriously, I really must go visit this place before too long. After another slew of workouts to offset the calories, of course.

Here's a pic of the two cakes - the carrot cake is on top and the chocolate is on the bottom:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chicken Parmesan aka Dinner in a Bag

Chicken Parmesan - made July 11, 2010 from Food Network and Giada DeLaurentis via my cousin Christine

I met my cousin Christine and her son for dinner last Friday and Christine's parting gift to me was "Dinner in a Bag" - or maybe even a purse since it looks like one but is actually an insulated bag. Christine knows my penchant for non-cooking and is determined to get me to cook successfully. So she had the inspired idea of prepping a simple recipe for me to make. Simple because she already did the leg work of making the marinara sauce and all I had to do was put it together. Should be simple, right?? Ha! You don't know me :). Although I do have to crack up that she thought of it and my mom had a good laugh when I told her about it. She knows my non-cooking skills well and has been trying to get me to cook for years. Christine included the frozen ziploc of marinara sauce, the package of chicken breasts, the herbs needed (which I never have since I don't cook) and the recipe.

True to her word, the recipe was pretty simple. I pounded the chicken breasts a bit first since I do have actual experience that that works to make the chicken tender. I chopped up the herbs and combined with the olive oil which thankfully I did have from past cooking attempts. Fried the chicken (note to self: really need a splatter screen if I intend to keep cooking in the future) after brushing it with the herb-oil mixture. I don't have a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven so I simply fried the chicken until the outside was brown then laid them in a Le Creuset rectangular baking dish, covered with the marinara sauce and sprinkled the Parmesan cheese on top. The recipe calls for mozarella as well and I thought I had some in the freezer but it turns out I only had the Parmesan. Oops. But I'm sure it'll still taste good! Here's the pre-bake shot:

At first I covered the dish with foil so the cheese wouldn't burn since it's going into a 500 degree oven. I never bake at 500 degrees so I didn't even know until today that my oven does go to 500. I forget how long I had this in the oven but it was until at least the cheese had somewhat melted. I took the foil cover off and let it sit in the oven for longer after I turned it off. Here's the post-bake shot:

Then, because my cooking skills do extend to boiling water, I boiled some whole wheat fettuccine noodles to make a bed for the chicken parmesan. I actually haven't tasted this yet as I'm writing this because the funny thing about me is when I cook, I cook for the next day or days. I've never actually gotten into the habit of cooking then eating (I know, I know, I'm strange). I ate dinner (leftovers from a Pho lunch with my parents after church) then cooked this. So it's too late and I'm too full to eat it now but this is lunch tomorrow - thanks Christine! I'm sure it's delicious.

Miss Milton's Lovely Fudge Pie

Miss Milton's Lovely Fudge Pie - made July 10, 2010 from Sweet Serendipity by Stephen Bruce

Back in 2007, I went to New York City with a friend on a foodie trip. She went for the restaurants and I went for the bakeries and desserts. I was delighted to go visit bakeries I'd only heard about and drooled over. It wasn't my first trip to Manhattan and it won't be my last even though my staying power in the Big Apple is usually 3 days (tops). It was on that trip that I sampled Magnolia Bakery (brownies to die for), Buttercup Bake Shop (red velvet cake!), Bruce's Bakery (meh, no standouts), Billy's (banana cake with cream cheese frosting - YUM), Dylan's Candy Store (I was actually indifferent to candy), the Shake Shack (best burgers ever), and a few other places I can't remember at the moment. But I do remember having lunch at Serendipity and having their frrrrrozen hot chocolate (also yummy). Part of the fun of the trip is I either already had or later bought the cookbooks from the places I went to. The Sweet Serendipity cookbook was one of them.

No, I don't have the wrong picture up there even though the title is for a fudge pie and those look like brownies. That's because I had already packed my pie tins and they're somewhere in one of the multiple boxes in my garage labeled "Baking Pans". I don't know which one. So I used a 8" square baking pan instead. Once the "pie" had cooled, I just cut them into squares. So technically I guess this isn't a pie but more like a soft brownie. It has a very nice chocolate flavor and definitely a soft texture without being too mushy or gooey - as long as you don't overbake it. The original recipe calls for serving it with raspberry coulis but I didn't have any raspberries and I didn't bake this to serve it at a dinner but rather to try the recipe and kill time because I woke up too early on a Saturday and needed something to do. It's very easy to put together and bake so it wasn't a bad way to kill some time.

Note: although I usually try to dry up a plain chocolate recipe with some kind of add-ins like caramel or chopped up candy, the batter for this is pretty liquidy and I didn't think any add-ins would hold up well, i.e. they'd just sink to the bottom and be too jarring in the pie. So I left it plain and was glad I did. You can use this as a base for ice cream - works well with a warm pie and cold ice cream.

Unsalted butter for the pan
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
4 ounces (4 squares) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup sour cream
Confectioners’ sugar, to garnish

For the coulis:
1 pound fresh or frozen raspberries (if frozen, thaw completely)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar

1. To make the pie: preheat your oven to 325˚F. Butter an 8-inch round pie pan and line with parchment paper.
2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. In a double boiler over hot water, carefully melt the butter and chocolate, stirring to mix. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla and sour cream together. Add the melted chocolate and mix completely. Fold in the flour mixture and stir only until the batter is uniformly brown.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, just until the batter is set and no longer jiggles when touched. Do not overbake; it should be moist and slightly gooey.
4. While the pie bakes, make the coulis: puree the berries and pass through a sieve. (If you are using fresh berries, you may wish to reserve a few to use as a garnish when serving.) Mix the cornstarch with a little cold water until smooth. Place the berry puree, the cornstarch, and the sugar in a saucepan and heat to simmer. Cool 1 minute, then cool. Chill before using.
5. After removing the piece from oven, allow it to cool completely in the pan. Carefully turn it out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or room temperature with raspberry coulis.

Mom's Peanut Butter Cookies

Mom's Peanut Butter Cookies - made July 8, 2010 from Caprial's Desserts by Caprial Pence

Need to catch up my blog - between work and deliberately being out of the house while it's up for sale, I haven't been able to do a lot of baking. When I am home, it seems like people still come and go to look at the place and of course, you have to let them have at it even though it's clearly beyond the posted hours on the listing (have to suck it up since the important thing is to sell the place).

The "Mom" referred to in this recipe isn't my mom. I assume it's Caprial Pence's mom since this is from her cookbook. I still have a couple of bags of peanut butter chips to use up and some peanut butter hence why I seem to be making the same things. I have multiple recipes for peanut butter cookies and now seems like a good time to try a few of them. This is your standard peanut butter cookie, the butter version, which will make it taste like a peanut butter version of a chocolate chip cookie. The traditional peanut butter cookie has shortening in it and will be drier and more crisp in terms of texture. I prefer the chewy so I go with recipes with butter in them. This was a good cookie, pretty standard in terms of peanut butter cookies. It wasn't a total standout but my taste buds are pretty jaded. If you want a fast, easy recipe for peanut butter cookies, you probably can't go wrong with this one.

1 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup good-quality peanut butter
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease a sheet pan well and set aside.
2. Place the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a mixer and beat on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs and vanilla extract, then add the peanut butter and mix well. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and mix just until the dough is smooth.
3. Using a tablespoon or a small ice cream scoop, form the dough in ½” balls and place on the prepared pan. Flatten them with a fork. Bake just until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool for about 5 minutes on the pan, then transfer to a rack or paper towels and let cool completely.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Butter Toffee Crunch Shortbread

Butter Toffee Crunch Shortbread - first made March 11, 2002 from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley

If you like butter, butterscotch and toffee, this is the shortbread for you. And even if you don't, try this anyway - you won't be sorry. Sometimes a good shortbread is hard to make. If you underbake it, it's too chewy and doesn't have the "snap" in the texture. If you overbake it, it's too hard or crisp and the butter can taste burnt. Follow the instructions exactly, even if it "looks" done. Trust me. The times I've not done this shortbread correctly is when I've taken it out too soon. With my oven, I tend to take this out at 55-65 minutes, depending on how it looks and whether it's brown all over.

I chop the butterscotch chips into smaller pieces, sometimes in halves, sometimes in thirds, as much as I'm able to with that little chip. It's a pain and somewhat time consuming but I like to have the chips roughly the same size as the toffee bits. For the toffee bits, I use the Heath Bar toffee bits that come in a bag, sans the chocolate covering. For shortbread, I like the pure butter and toffee taste without the chocolate. The rich taste of the butter stands on its own. Make sure your butter is fresh. Also, as the recipe says, cut into pieces while it's still warm. Otherwise it won't cut cleanly when it's cool and will break unevenly instead.

Nothing smells as good as this shortbread in the oven. If you ever want to perfume your house before company comes over, time this recipe to bake an hour or so before your guests arrive. Even once they're baked, they're very fragrant and mouth-watering. I discovered this recipe years ago and don't make it often enough because I could eat more than I should of it. I'm planning to make it this week, barring any late nights at work, as I seem to have a plethora of butterscotch chips I need to use up.

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup rice flour or substitute cornstarch if rice flour is unavailable
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups (¾lb) fresh unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons fruit sugar or superfine sugar
6 tablespoons tightly packed light brown sugar
¾ cup miniature butterscotch chips
¾ cup English toffee pieces (available in the baking sections of most supermarkets)

Additional unsalted butter for greasing the pan

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch metal baking pan. Line the bottom and up the two long sides with a piece of parchment paper. Leave about a 1-inch overhang over the sides to make removing the cooled shortbread easier. Sift the all-purpose flour and rice flours together with the salt and set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, beat the butter until very smooth. Gradually add the sugars and cream the mixture until it is very light and fluffy. If using a mixer, transfer the creamed butter-sugar mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the flour mixture, about ½ cup at a time, fully incorporating each addition before adding the next. Use your fingers to knead the final portion of dry ingredients into the dough, keeping your palms off the dough as much as possible, so the warmth doesn’t turn the butter oily. When the last of the flour is fully blended, add the butterscotch and toffee bits and knead them into the dough until they are evenly distributed.
3. Press the dough firmly into the prepared pan and use the back of a metal spoon to smooth the surface. Prick the dough all over with a fork and set the pan in the center of the oven. Bake the shortbread for about 45 minutes, then prick the dough again to release any trapped air. Return the pan to the oven for another 15 or 30 minutes, or until the edges are light golden brown, and the center feels just firm to the touch.
4. The shortbread will set to a very firm biscuit as it cools, so it must be cut while it is still warm. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 7 or 8 minutes, then run a sharp paring knife around the outside of the dough to loosen the edges. Make two long cuts in the shortbread, dividing it evenly into three rectangles, each cut beginning and ending at a short side of the pan. Cutting from long side to long side, cut the rectangles into about ¾-inch wide fingers, wiping the knife on a clean towel between each cut, as it gets sticky and can pull and tear the cooling shortbread.
5. Leave the fingers to cool completely in the pan, then re-cut and transfer them to airtight tins. This shortbread can be frozen before or after it is baked. Freeze the dough pressed into the prepared pan, well wrapped with plastic and aluminum foil. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, without disturbing the wrapping, and bake directly from the refrigerator. The baking time may have to be increased by a few minutes to compensate for the chilled dough. Freeze the cooled fingers in airtight bags or containers, layering between sheets of waxed or parchment paper and wrapping the whole tin or container with aluminum foil. Thaw the entire package, without removing the wrapping, at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours.