They Say It’s Your Birthday! It’s Her Birthday Too!

How did we go from August to April???

I feel like ever since I turned 30, life just keeps moving faster and faster.  The weekdays drag on.  The weekends fly by.  Next thing I know, I’m in April celebrating two good friends’ birthdays with my lovely book club!  Check out the fancy spread courtesy of my lovely buddy, Karin.

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Doesn’t that just make you want to read, eat, and hang out with awesome women?  Yes, yes it does!

Two of my favorite gals, Jenn and Sandy, happen to be April babies.  I thought it’d be a nice surprise to make a cake for book club as well as make a successful attempt at a two layer cake.

The first time I made a layer cake was for Kelson’s birthday.  EPIC FAIL.  Isn’t it always when you’re trying to cook or bake something new and special that it somehow turns into a hot mess?  Let’s just say my grand plans for making a beautiful chocolate cake with chocolate ganache looked like a big pile of hot… well, you catch my drift.

First lesson: When working with ganache, you are not supposed to just start icing immediately off the stove.  You would think this is totally logical, but when you’re a happy fiancee dancing around thinking you’re Martha Stewart who is about to surprise her pal, Snoop Dogg with an awesome cake… well, let’s just say it’s important to take your time and READ CAREFULLY.  Especially when it’s your first time.

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Fast forward a few years later and many cupcakes, it was time to try again and do it right.  Did I mention it’s TWO of my dear friends that are celebrating a joint birthday month AND they’re a part of my book club.  Tis’ a sign to try again and make an awesome cake that I highly recommend to you all first time cake layer bakers.

Moist Chocolate Cake with Nutella Frosting (Serves:  Plenty!  10-12)

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Ingredients (for the cake):

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbl Dutch cocoa powder
  • 12 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbl white vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups water
  • Pam spray

 

Ingredients (for the frosting and decorating):

  • 3/4 cup Nutella
  • 4 Tbl room temperature butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 Tbl heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds

*I only have one square and one round cake pan.  If you’re like me just make two batches.

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Add into a medium bowl; 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of cake flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, and 6 Tbl cocoa powder.

3.  Sift the contents of the medium bowl into a large bowl.  Mix it up.

4.  Make three holes with your finger and then pour 4 tbsp vegetable oil in each hole.

5.  Pour 2 Tbl white vinegar, 2 tsp vanilla extract, and 2 cups of water.  Whisk everything together until smooth.

6.  Spray the cake pans with Pam and divide the mixture evenly between the two pans.  Bake the cakes for 35 minutes.

7.  When cake is ready, let it cool in the pan for half an hour before letting the cakes pop out.  If you try to pop them out too early, the moist cake will break apart.  *If you’re planning to frost, then put the cakes in the fridge for 15 minutes.

8.  Frosting time!  Whip out that KitchenAid mixer or use a hand beater to whip the 3/4 cup nutella and 4 Tbl. butter.

9.  Add the 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, and 8 Tbl heavy cream.  Add the cream Tbl by Tbl until you get the right consistency.  I start on a lower speed and slowly work my way to the highest setting.  Once it’s whipped up, get ready to frost!

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Frosting is hard.  My cake was pretty moist and I felt like my delicious Nutella frosting was just tearing into my beautiful cake.  I vote to dump globs of it and spread it out.  Start from the center and work your way to the edges.  Remember, you can always decorate it with slivered almonds.  Adds some texture and design.  Plus, throwing in a few marshmallow chicks and a cute little banner helps.  Enjoy!

The Simple Joys of Life

 

Sometimes you have to remember to stop, smell the roses, and count your blessings.  It’s so easy to get caught up with the day to day.

A few things I’m thankful for today…

  1. The hubby.
  2. The family.
  3. Awesome friends.
  4. Having a job.
  5. Having a roof over my head.
  6. My iPhone.
  7. Coke Zero.
  8. Christopher Nolan- I LOVE that man’s ability to direct!

9.  Mochi.  I really love my cat. 

I don’t care if I sound like some crazy cat lady.  I love my cat.

For those of you who have never owned a cat, they are not the evil nemesis of dogs.  They are not plotting to kill you.  And if they could speak, they would not have bad grammar.  Well, maybe some of them would….

 

They are amazing.  They are loyal.  They are loving.  They are clean.  They are smart.  They are the best.

I mean, have you see Maru the Cat?  If not, please go on YouTube now…

*Kelson wants me to preface that I’ve never owned a dog before.  I don’t think that makes any of these statements less valid.

 

10.  Quinoa

I love the weird spelling.  I love saying “keen-WAH!”  I love the nuttiness.  I love that it’s protein filled.  I love the texture and the fact they’re little balls.  I love quinoa!

And to make room for you to just relax, enjoy end ends of summer, and count your blessings… I bring you a quick quinoa vegetarian meal to enjoy.

Quinoa Summer Salad (serving 6-8 people)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dry quinoa
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 chopped orange bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
  • 5 minced garlic cloves
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

1.  Follow the instructions on the quinoa packaging and cook up the quinoa.  *My instructions ask me to rinse the quinoa in a mesh strainer until water runs clear.  Then cook in 4 cups of water and bring to boil.  Turn heat to low and simmer until water is absorbed and you’re left with a pot of lovely quinoa- approximately 25 minutes.

2.  Get a large bowl and throw in the quinoa.  Mix in the dried cranberries and golden raisins.  Mix in the bell peppers and cilantro.

3.  Dressing!  Get a small bowl and mix in the extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, mustard, garlic, and salt to taste.  Mix well.

4.  Pour the dressing onto the quinoa mix and toss lightly.  Get ready for some light, fresh, deliciousness for dinner!  Enjoy!

Don’t Overthink It…

When Kelson and I first lived together in our tiny one-bedroom L.A. apartment, I wanted to make him a delicious dinner.  One of the things I had mastered from my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook was Spanish rice.

I threw in my ingredients.  I barely looked at the cookbook, because I was confident!  I was cooking for my man!  Threw everything together.  Stopped.  Re-read the sections.  Looked at my pot of goodies.  Suddenly, felt less confident.  Re-read the sections.  Looked again at my pot.  Breathed.  Trusted my gut… but then double checked that I read the recipe correctly.  Cover the pot and wait.

Do you smell burning?

::SOB::

Between swearing and crying, I was horrified… sad… and ashamed.

Kelson was a cook.  His idea of making dinner for his girlfriend (a.k.a. me) was a shrimp risotto with roasted red bell peppers and white wine.  Say what?!?  I couldn’t even cook without a recipe!  Even with a recipe, it wasn’t guaranteed it would turn out right or edible.  So what was I doing wrong?

This leads to our gap in blogging.  I started to wonder what exactly I had to say about cooking.  What did we have to say about cooking?  Or food?  Or anything.

I have the bad habit of over-thinking things.

Don’t overthink it…

Food nourishes us and sustains us.  Food was always a part of growing up… whether it was trying to stick chopsticks at fresh clams in a bowl to see if they take hold… or whether it was remembering Kelson’s grandmother making moonshine in the bathroom (true story).  Food takes us to places that are physical as well as our childhood memories.  Food brings us another sensory experience in life.  Food ties us to our identity whether it is our ethnicity, our homes, our families, our friends, and our memories.

Food is the deliciousness of life.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Kitchen lessons…

1.  Trust your gut and know that everything can be fixed… or you can always go out to eat.  :)

2.  Trust your taste buds… TASTE YOUR FOOD!  Never serve a meal you have not tasted yourself!

3.  Eating and cooking go hand in hand.  Broadening your palate helps your cooking and your sense of what you think is “good”.

4.  Cook with love and for those you love… it really comes through in your food.

5.  Keep it simple, stupid.  This can be applied to more than just cooking.

Quick and Simple Baked Camembert *

*there’s no returning to cold cheese!

Ingredients

  • 1x 8 oz. Camembert cheese (brie works as well)
  • 6 Garlic cloves
  • 2 TBL Rosemary (fresh or dried)
  • 2 TBL Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lay out some parchment paper on a baking sheet and place the camembert in the center.
  3. Use a knife to slice some holes in the camembert.
  4. Slice up some lovely, fresh garlic cloves and place them in the holes you made.
  5. Sprinkle some fresh or dried rosemary.
  6. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil.
  7. Bake that lovely deliciousness in the oven for 25 minutes.
  8. Take it out and let it cool.
  9. Plate it with some apple slices or some fresh croutons… enjoy!

Let it cool for a bit when it’s done.  I know it’s hard to resist, but piping hot cheese is not a good idea to put into your mouth.  BURNING.  But once it’s cooled, you’ll enjoy one of the most delicious cheese appetizers ever!  You’ll wonder why you ever ate cold cheese!

Easy Soy Chorizo Enchiladas = AH-MAZING!

Sandra Lee and soy chorizo enchiladas.  These are the things that came to mind as I’m writing this entry.

First, do you know who Sandra Lee is?

When I first heard her name, I thought that Sandra Lee was an Asian-American female Food Network star.  I’m thinking, “Yes!  Yes!  Yes!”  Granted, I love me some Food Network and PBS cooking show stars.  I love Julia Child.  I thought Tyler Florence and Ming Tsai were hot.  I want to give Jamie Oliver a big hug.  I was all about appreciating my food stars, but I was waiting for an Asian-American Food Network female star to identify with.  I thought Sandra Lee was it.

So you can imagine my surprise (and slight disappointment) when I tuned in and discovered Sandra Lee was not Asian.  Granted, this did not stop me from watching the rest of her show.

Now, I know she’s notorious for “home-made” recipes that involve pre-packaged goods.  My response?  There is nothing wrong with that!  Sandra Lee helped the average person see that cooking is not that scary.  You do not have to own fancy knives, know what foie gras or amuse-bouche is, or have all the time in the world to cook from scratch.  She helped make cooking less intimidating.  Good for her!

And how does this relate to soy chorizo enchiladas?

I love enchiladas, but I find making “real” enchiladas labor intensive.  There are a lot of steps, people!  The results of “real” enchiladas?  Let’s just say it got the boyfriend to become the husband.

So the other night, the hubby was craving enchiladas.  We had a lot of crazy work days that left me wanting take-out or variations of pasta.  Enchiladas were out of the question.

Then I discovered soy chorizo.  Oh my goodness, I LOVE CHORIZO.

Chorizo, like bacon, is not exactly the best thing to have all the time.  Sad face.  So what’s a good substitute?  Shockingly, soy chorizo from Trader Joe’s is AH-MAZING.

There are few vegetarian or vegan versions of food that I think actually taste like the real deal.  Granted, it’s not really fair for me to assess fake bacon when I’m still eating real bacon.  Nothing can substitute real bacon, people!  Soy chorizo on the other hand is AMAZING!  It’s just as flavorful as it’s pork friend and has the right texture.  Perfect substitute if you’re cutting back on the meat or the fat.

Easy After Work Soy Chorizo Enchiladas

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • Whole wheat flour tortillas
  • 1 can unsweetened corn (rinsed)
  • 1 can black beans (rinsed)
  • 1 bunch of cilantro- chopped
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar or Mexican blend)
  • Trader Joe’s soy chorizo
  • Minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Tapatio or hot sauce (optional)
  • Las Palmas green chile enchilada sauce (when I first learned to make enchiladas, my friend SWORE by this brand.  I find it at Safeway and ethnic markets.  I aways load up when I see it.  The red sauce is NOT the same.  Trust me, this is delish if you’re not doing it from scratch.)

Instructions

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Heat a pan with extra virgin olive oil on medium.  Once hot, throw 4 cloves of minced garlic.  Squeeze the soy chorizo out of the casing and into the pan.

2.  Break up the chorizo into smaller pieces and toss around the pan.  Heat for a few minutes to get the essence of the garlic mixed in.  Once fragrant, throw in the can of rinsed corn and rinsed black beans.  Mix it up.  Once the mixture is hot, throw in some chopped cilantro.

3.  Once the mixture is hot, turn off the stove.  Spray a baking dish with Pam or put some olive oil in to coat the dish.

4.  Time to assemble the enchiladas (the ones we made were more like fat, wet burritos).  Take a tortilla and lay it on your cutting board.  Take a large spoon and put some filling onto the tortilla.  Add about two spoonfuls of the enchilada sauce.

5.  Wrap it up as tight and long as you can.  Or if you were hungry like us, we wrapped little fat burritos.  Place them into the baking dish next to each other until you fill the dish.  Once full, pour the enchilada sauce over them.

6.  Once the sauce has covered the enchiladas, add the shredded cheese.

7.  Cover it with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.  Take them out of the oven, add some cilantro and tapatio, and enjoy!

The hubby was quite the happy camper after this.  What’s great is that it didn’t take very long to put together.  You can also prepare this ahead of time and put it in the fridge to bake during the week.  Leftovers made for a very yummy lunch the next day.

Also, if you’re in the mood for a breakfast burrito, I highly recommend using soy chorizo.  Toss that with some scrambled eggs and tapatio and you’ve got yourself a breakfast full of delciousness!  Enjoy!

A Little Bit of Summer Pie in Winter…

It’s February in SF and I am cold.

I know there are people out there who are living in climates that are dealing with real winters.  Real winters that involve shoveling snow.  Real winters involving snow chains and parkas and negative degrees.

It’s about 55 degrees in San Francisco and I’m cold.  I sit in my house and rock my animal knit hat.  Not ashamed, just cold.  (Thanks Jason H. for my KnitWit!)

On the other hand, the hubby LOVES this weather.  He rocks the SF uniform that involves jeans, a t-shirt, and Northface fleece.  He can still sleep in a t-shirt, while I opt to rock the Northface fleece IN BED… because I’m that cold.  Yes, I am a wuss.  A wuss in a knitted giraffe hat.  Again, not ashamed.

A Little Bit of Summer in Winter

When I think of summer, I think of lemons.  I think it’s because lemons are in a lovely, happy shade of yellow.  They’re… er, round like the sun?  No?  Sweet or tart like summer?  No?  Okay, well anyway lemons make me think of summer.

So… why not add a bit of summer in the midst of the cold?  Why not make some lemon ice box pie?  Just typing pie makes me happy and warm.  Even though I did just write “ice box” and that doesn’t really lead one to think of warmth.

There’s a bunch of recipes out there that are variations of this, but this has been my tried and true.  I credit Ms. Lynne R., a former co-worker and lovely friend, for sharing this recipe with me.

Lemon Ice Box Pie (with Vanilla Wafer Crust!)

WARNING:  You will be making crust AND meringue!  I swear, this is easy!

Make sure you have time… the crust needs to be refrigerated overnight.  Also, after the pie is baked (15 min.), it’s another 5 hours to chill.  It’s easy, but will definitely take some time!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup real lemon juice (4-5 lemons)
  • 1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 eggs, separated (toss out 1 yolk)
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 6 Tbl of white sugar
  • 3/4 box of Nabisco Vanilla Wafers (*if you don’t have time to make the crust, feel free to use a pre-made graham cracker crust)

Instructions

1.  THE CRUST:  Put the wafers in a zip-lock bag and start crushing them with a rolling pin.  We usually do a few wafers at a time.  Roll them out or use the back of the roller.  Crush them well!

2.  Once crushed, poor the contents into a bowl.  Keep crushing until they’re fine, but not turned to dust!

3.  Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat.  Once melted, add the butter to the wafers.  Stir until the wafers are well coated.  Pour into a pie pan.  Shape it into a crust and then refrigerate overnight.  Bye-bye pie, see you tomorrow!

The next day… Start by setting your oven to 325 degrees.

4.  THE FILLING:  Separate your eggs.  Keep the egg whites in a bowl.  Beat the egg yolks in another bowl and set aside.

5.  Pour the condensed milk into a bowl.  Stir in the lemon juice gradually.  Add beaten egg yolks and stir well until blended.

6.  Take the crust out of the fridge and add the filling.  Set aside.

7.  THE MERINGUE:  A Kitchen Aid mixer is not required, but will be EXTREMELY helpful.  You can also whisk like a mad person by hand.  For the meringue, pour the egg whites into the mixer.

8.  Add the sugar.

9.  Start the mixer on the lowest setting and work your way to the highest.  Continue to mix until you see firm peaks.

10.  Once the meringue is “peaky”, carefully place the meringue on top of the filling with large spoonfuls or use a cake knife to shape peaks.  Meringue is a finicky friend.  Some days you’ll have great peaks… today was not a peaky day…

11.  Bake the pie for approximately 15 minutes (or until the meringue has browned). Cool the pie before refridgerating.  Chill for 5 hours before serving.

Get ready to gobble this baby up!  I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to have a second helping on this pie, because it disappears so fast.

It’s easy.  It’s lemony.  It’s a little bit of summer during your winter.

Enjoy!

P.S. Don’t forget Pi(e) Approximation Day (March 17th) is coming… Great time to try a new pie recipe!  :D

An Ode to Pinterest (and Green Onions)…

HI FOLKS!!!

Sorry, we’ve been missing in action.  You can tell even Mochi, our beloved cat, has missed our documentation in the deliciousness of life.  Doesn’t she look sad?

Sorry, we’ve disappeared.  We blame Pinterest.  Scratch that.  We blame Pinterest.  I blame Pinterest.  While Kelson has been busy cleaning our backyard, I started falling in love with… Pinterest.

For all of you who don’t know what Pinterest is or why people like me are glued to it, it’s an online pinboard that let’s you get a visual of all that you love online.  You can create “boards” for your recipes you want to try, for ideas you have for your home, for places you want to travel, etc.

I. LOVE. PINTEREST.

I swear this is the last thing I’m going to say about it.

….

Did I mention I love Pinterest?  Do you need an invite?  :)

One of the things I love about it is that it has gotten us to cook more and work on neat little projects.  One of the simple things we learned and loved was how to grow green onions in a cup.  A cup!  No dirt needed.  No backyard.  All you need is sunlight, a cup, some water, some green onion leavings, and a little bit of love.

Trust me.  The little bit of love goes a long way.

An Ode to Green Onions

Green onions are wonderful!  They are cheap.  They go into everything I love to eat… green onion pancakes, dumplings, chap chae, salads, etc.  Green onions are great!  Recently, I noticed that my parents had green onions growing in their kitchen.  They have a windowsill full of beautiful plants and flourishing flowers, so I sort of figured my sad little bay window could just do some orchids and call it a day.

Then I came across a pin on Pinterest that changed everything.

How to grow green onions… Re-growth (courtesy of Homemade Serenity)

As I mentioned before, green onions have been grown indoors by folks like my family and others for awhile.  It is time the word is spread!  How many times have you just needed a few green onions to add some freshness to your food?  How many times have you had to toss out the green onions that were going bad or wondered what you could do with the ends?

Well, now you don’t have to chunk them into the compost or buy a huge bunch just for the few you need.

Instructions

1.  Take the ends of the green onions and put them in a cup of water.  A clear glass will give you the most sun exposure, but a mug will do with direct sunlight. Since we had so few roots to work with, I opted to use my favorite little mug.

2.  Fill the cup or mug with water (enough to cover the roots).

3.  Set the cup near a window that gets lots of sun exposure and wait a few days.  I kid you not that you will start seeing it sprout in a few days.  Again, that little bit of love goes a long way…

Ta-dah!  Check out the green onions you grew!  I’m sure all those that are not a fan of bugs and dirt are sitting pretty right now.

My parents eventually planted their green onions in a clay pot with dirt.  We’ve had friends who have done the same due to complaints of a smell from the water.  The smell is usually a sign that there’s too much water that may have caused some root rot.  Clear it out and change the water once a week.

Enjoy!

Red, red wine… and chocolate!

Okay, so it’s the new year and you’ve talked about a new you… working out more, eating better, and trying to treat people better than how you want to be treated.  What better way to reward yourself and treat those friends you’re being extra nice to than to make one of the best chocolate cake recipes we have come across?

Nothing.

Well, except that you may have to work out just a little bit harder afterwards… BUT we’ll be making little bundts, which is easier to share with a lot more friends.

The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe

There are a few things that bring me that feeling of appreciation in the simple joys in life (related to the kitchen that is).

1.  Using the kitchen aid.  Hello blue!

2.  Using the mini-bundt pan.  Just writing “mini-bundt pan” makes me smile.  Mini-bundt pan.  :)

3.  Using the leftovers. I hate leftovers, but I also hate wasting the leftovers.  Quite the conundrum.  But when we find ways to make just the right amount for the party at hand or turn the leftovers into something fresh and new.  Well, this is a simple kitchen joy that tickles my fancy.

This, my friends, leads to leftover red wine.  Sometimes Kelson and I cannot polish the bottle off.  Shocking, I know.  Sometimes you just want a glass or two and sometimes you’re left with just a smidget.  A smidget too much to polish off and too much to pour down the sink without feeling a bit wasteful.  So, what can you make with leftover red wine that is absolutely fabulous?

Say hello to an amazing red wine chocolate cake recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.  Please note that as she mentions in the recipe, the red wine does not get baked away… so as much as I truly believe this is one of the best chocolate cake recipes I have ever had, this is probably not the best cake to pass on to the little ones.  Although I’m pretty sure I may have delivered a few bundts to my neighbors with the kid this past Christmas.  Ooops….

Ingredients

  • 6 Tbl unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup firming packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup red wine

 

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup and 1 Tbl all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • powdered sugar

 

*Photographed is double the recipe.  I also opted to make mini chocolate bundts rather than a cake round from the original recipe.

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Bring out the kitchen aid and cream the butter until smooth.  Add the sugars and beat until fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add the egg and yolk and beat well.

2.  Add the red wine and then the vanilla.

3.  Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together.

*Do you like my makeshift sifting action?  It’s always nice to use what you have at home for another purpose.  Although Kelson makes a good point that we do enough baking to justify getting a proper flour sifter.

4.  Mix until 3/4 combined and then fold the rest with a spatula.

5.  Spray the bundt pan with oil.  Pam is wonderful for this purpose.  Then spoon the mixture into the pan.  Do not fill it to the top.  You want to give it some room to grow.  Bake them for approximately 15 minutes.  Use the toothpick test.  Stick a toothpick in the middle and make sure it comes out clean.  No need to undercook either, since this cake is quite nice and fudgey.

6.  Put the cooling rack against the bundt pan and flip it over.  Wait about 10 minutes before lifting off the bundt pan and… TA-DAH!  Beautiful and moist chocolate bundts with a lovely touch of red wine.

Dust these lovely little guys with some powdered sugar and you have some very yummy (and very sharable) chocolate cakes!  Enjoy some red wine and chocolate deliciousness!  Totally worth the heavy workout to balance out eating one too many of them.