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!

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!  😀

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.

This month is bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Happy November, folks!

Another month, another day, and another set of holidays just around the corner!  You know what that means?  Food, food, food!!!

Halloween has come and gone.  Leaving us a huge pile of candy and fruit snacks.  Sadly, we had a total of ZERO kids the other night.  ZERO!  Crazy, huh?  Where were all the kids of San Francisco trick-or-treating???

In any case, the holidays lead to a LOT of eating and a LOT of deliciousness… and unfortunately, a lot of wasted food.

Wasting food is probably one of my biggest pet peeves.  I hate throwing things out of the fridge.  I am always trying to buy just enough to not lead to too many left-overs or try to find ways to utilize it in another way.

Bananas, baby!  Bananas!

My friend once described bananas as the perfect fruit.  They’re packed in their own compostable casing.  They’re easy to peel.  And if you are suffering from leg cramps, then you’re probably not getting enough potatssium and should go gobble up some bananas!

THEY ARE TRULY WONDERFUL!

BUT… these yellow beauties can turn quite quickly.  Suddenly your beautiful, ripe, and yellow banana have turned into this…

Not so pretty.

But remember what your folks said about not judging a book by the cover… these ripening babies may be turning a lovely shade of black, but are also getting sweeter and softer by the minute.  What does that mean?

BANANA BREAD!

My mother in-law, my friend, and my sister’s sister-in-law make mean banana breads.  Delicious.  Moist.  Sometimes chock full of nutty goodness.  Therefore, being surrounded by delicious banana bread makers has left me without a good banana bread recipe for a long time.  That and being very intimidated to make banana bread.

Unfortunately (and fortunately), I cannot keep forcing myself and Kelson to eat bananas once they start going brown… so it’s time to bust out the recipes and find an easy go-to banana bread recipe.

Easy and Brilliantly Awesome Banana Bread Recipe

*This recipe is adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 very ripe bananas
  • 3/4 stick salted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

3.  In a medium bowl, mash the bananas.  (Bust out the potato masher if you got one!  If not, a whisk works just fine.)

4.  Then mix in the melted butter, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla together.

5.  Gently fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture with a spatula.  If you are adding nuts, then fold those in as well.  DO NOT OVERMIX!

6. Time to bust out the PAM or whatever you’d like to use to grease the bundt pan.  I love bundt pans.  I also love the word “bundt”.  Bundt.

7.  Scrape the batter into the bundt pan.  Smooth the top.  Bake for about 55 minutes.  Rotate the pan halfway through to make sure it cooks evenly.  If you’re not sure the banana bread is ready, do the toothpick test.  Stick a toothpick in the middle and pull it out.  If it comes out clean, then you’re good to go.  If you still see some batter stuck on, then bake it a little longer.

8.  Let the banana bread cool for about 10 minutes.  If you have greased your bundt pan well, the bread should pop right out.

Folks, you can now be that mother-in-law or friend or sister’s sister-in-law who makes the awesome banana bread.  All the while, preventing your rotting bananas from ending up in the trash.  Enjoy!

Ice Cream + Beer = Deliciousness

It’s Friday and you’re watching the clock tick.  Waiting.  Hoping.  Waiting until that clock ticks to the end of the day and your weekend can begin..  And what better way to start your weekend than to have some deliciousness in your life!

[This deliciousness happens to be for those of you who are 21 and over.]

This deliciousness is called a beer shake.

What is a beer shake?

Unlike the “What is bad kimchi?” question that was posed, this is a much easier answer to explain.  A beer shake is exactly what it sounds like, but took me about 25 years of life to finally discover.  It is beer and ice cream blended together to make an alcoholic, wonderfully flavored, best-friends-forever concoction of milkshake goodness.  Yes folks, it is DEE-LISH!

Where was this beautiful discovery made?

Who knows?  If you do a search on the internet, you will actually find some recipes.  If you happen to peruse the random menu of a pub or small restaurant in your neighborhood, you may be surprised to find it pop up on their menu.  But Kelson and I would like to credit our first beer shake in Portland, Oregon.  It was during our visit that our friends introduced us to our first beer shake.  And I’m sure most of you reacted like we did with, “Wow!  Why didn’t I think of this???”

Now “beer shake” is a very broad term.  In essence, the term itself implies any type of beer put with any type of ice cream.  The combinations are endless.  I am not about to experiment and make some crazy combinations (although that sounds AMAZING, but that’ll have to be another time).  Instead, I would like to create a simple, delicious “standard” beer shake.

Beer Shake Time!

Serving: 2 conservative glasses of goodness

Ingredients

  • Guinness.  1 bottle.  Dark, stouty beer is the way to go for this one.
  • 4 scoops of French vanilla ice cream
  • Optional: Whip cream and chocolate syrup
  1. Take your ice cream out of the freezer and let it sit out for 5 minutes (soften up a bit).
  2. Time to whip out the blender!  (Did you know some blenders have a “milkshake” setting?  Love it!)
  3. Scoop out 4 scoops of ice cream and put into the blender.
  4. Pour about half a bottle of Guinness (6 oz.).  Add less if you want a thicker milkshake or if you’re not sure.  Remember: It’s always best to add less.  You can’t subtract once it’s in!  (Same goes for salt!).
  5. Pop the top onto the blender and mix!  It only needs a few seconds to get nice and frothy.
  6. Pour two glasses.  Top it off with some whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a straw and you’ve got yourself a beautiful beer shake!

 

If you’re more into pale ales, I would suggest a beer float instead.  You still get that creamy texture, but more of the beer flavor comes through (you’ll find it a bit mild in the shake).

Remember as much as ice cream and beer is pretty amazing on the deliciousness scale, it’s not for everyone.  Our cat, Mochi, does not seem impressed…Again, we’re only recommending this for those 21 and over and for those who enjoy the flavor of beer.  If not, sub the beer out with milk and just join in with the creamy goodness of a good milkshake!

Hi-Five for a great way to start a weekend!!!

 

 

Comforting college cookies…

The four “C”s are usually thought of in terms of diamonds (clarity, cut, color, and carat).  In my mind, the four “C”s of the moment are Christine’s comforting college cookies.

Nothing beats a fresh, out-of-the-oven, warm chocolate chip cookie.

Except maybe a college cookie.

What is a college cookie?  A college cookie are those baked goods that were located on campus that you found yourself drawn to in the middle of mid-terms, finals, dating crises, and roommate battles.  This cookie was your friend and would be there in your time of need.  (They happen to go very well with cheap coffee.)

My college cookie happened to be of the “everything but the kitchen sink” variety.  It was an oatmeal cookie with chocolate chips, coconut, and Rice Krispies.  Oh my goodness, that was one helluva cookie!

So when I found myself near my alma matter, I knew we had to make a pit stop to find my comforting college cookie for old times.  And what did I find in place of my hole-in-the-wall, student-run bake shop?

NOTHING.

My little bake/coffee shop had closed and turned into a kiosk.  They now served cappuccinos, non-fat lattes, frappes, smoothies, etc.  And granted I love my coffee, so this change wasn’t so dire.  It was the baked goods section that left me depressed.  They had very sad looking lemon bars, muffins, and some mis-shapened chocolate cookies… but no sight of my college cookie.

What the fuzzy.

As I’ve mentioned before, the memory in your taste buds is a very powerful tool, because I went home determined to make my cookie.  Not just for me.  Not just for the sure principle that that cookie existed and rocked my world.  BUT the fact that Kelson had never got to try this mythical cookie.

And it tasted just as good as I remembered.

Now, it it hard to find a PERFECT cookie recipe, but the one I’m about to share is the ultimate in the oatmeal cookie family.  Please note the recipe bellow is for my college cookie, but photographed is a white chocolate and dried cranberry oatmeal cookie (Kelson’s favorite and what happened to be in my kitchen cabinets tonight).

The College Cookie Recipe

*Adapted from Julesong.

Serving: Makes 2 dozen good-looking cookies.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick) softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 6 oz. mini-chocolate chips (half the bag)
  • 1 cup Rice Krispies
  • 1 cup coconut (Kelson doesn’t like coconut… so alas, this is optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Time to bust out the KitchenAid (or a large bowl and whisk/chopsticks will do just fine).  Mix white sugar, brown sugar, and butter.
  3. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and cinnamon.
  4. Mix in the baking soda, salt, and flour.
  5. Mix in the oatmeal, chocolate chips, and Rice Krispies.
  6. I like big cookies, so I put about 6 per tray.  Also, if you’re big into cookie making then I highly advise buying a silpat.  These things are amazing!!!
  7. Bake for 12 minutes.
  8. Cool them down on a baking rack (or plate) and get ready to chow down on comfort in a cookie form!
This is a great oatmeal cookie recipe that I like to use as a base.  Feel free to substitute any of the other ingredients to make your own “kitchen sink”/college cookie.  Pecans and dark chocolate.  White chocolate and dried mangoes.
But again, nothing beats the deliciousness of a warm cookie.  Enjoy!

An Ode to Panna Cotta…

It’s Friday!  Signifying the end to another work week and the beginning of a weekend… so we thought it’d be nice to switch gears from our pickled and starchy friends to a quick and tasty dessert.

And this dessert goes by the name Panna Cotta…

Jello.  Yay.  Orange Jello.  Double Yay.  Flan.  Triple Yay.

Panna Cotta… pass.

Panna Cotta is gelatinous and creamy like it’s Spanish cousin, flan, but has just never turned my head the same way.  Kelson thought it was “meh”, while I was convinced it was sort of a mushy cream mess.  Boy, were we wrong!

Within the last month, we have experienced delicious panna cotta.  Creamy.  Flavorful.  Delicate, yet so complicated.  Always with that strong flavor of heavy cream and vanilla… sometimes with a hint of mint, drizzled with fruit-based syrup, touched with grilled peaches, or capturing an essence of lemon.

Panna cotta is good.

Panna Cotta Recipe

*Original recipe can be found from David Lebowitz’s wonderful blog (adapted from “Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen” by Judy Witts).

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp of vanilla extract or paste
  • 2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 tsp)
  • 6 tbl cold water
  1. Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and mix in the vanilla extract.
  2. LIGHTLY oil the bundt pan.  I would advise using an oil that does not have a taste (example: if you use olive oil, then you’re going to taste the olive oil.
  3. Put the cold water in a bowl.  Mix in the gelatin mixture and let is sit for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the saucepan mixture into the gelatin mixture.  Stir until the gelatin has dissolved.
  5. Pour the panna cotta mixture into the bundt pan.  Refrigerate for 3 hours.

If you do end up using the mini-bundt pan, you’ll find that vanilla paste tends to settle and you won’t get that beautiful stark white/cream look.  I found heavy cream to give me more of the texture and flavor I was seeking.  Half and half was very light and a bit lacking in flavor, but probably better for the waistline.  But hey, you’re eating a dessert made from cream and sugar!  You might as well make it right and enjoy!