Monthly Archives: February 2013

Cake Pops

DSC_1464

A couple days ago, my mother returned to Tokyo, her suitcases packed with goodies from the States. Among them were a number of new and exciting baking implements, including a cake pop pan! I couldn’t resist. So, last night, I made an inaugural batch of pops.

DSC_1428

Traditionally, cake pops are made by mashing together cake and icing in order to get neat little rotund structures. With a pan, all you need is a nice, dense cake or, alternatively, brownie batter.

DSC_1431

As this was my first attempt, I followed the chocolate cake instructions on the packaging, making just a couple alterations, like adding vanilla – every recipe of this ilk can benefit from a splash.

DSC_1433

When the batter was finished, I spooned it into the pan, put the cover on, and slid it into the oven.

DSC_1438

While we waited, my mother and I completed the New York Times crossword over tea and stolen bites of batter.

DSC_1439

Finally, twenty minutes were up, and out they came.

DSC_1451 DSC_1453

Now, for the assembly.

DSC_1449

For the cake pops’ chocolate coating, I purchased couverture chocolate, high quality chocolate made with extra cocoa butter. This confection melts quickly and hardens beautifully with a lovely, smooth sheen.

DSC_1456

I usually melt chocolate in a double boiler. But as I was a little short on time, pyrex and microwaving, it was. The white chocolate got a little singed on top. Not to worry! Everything always turns out for the best. The little bits of crusted white chocolate ended up tasting like praline, not to mention add a satisfying crunch to the coating.

DSC_1463 DSC_1466 DSC_1470 DSC_1472

Recipe for 24 cake pops (includes extra batter for eating)

You’ll need…

  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup butter (I used a scant half cup since many recipes seem to add too much.)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • a nice dose of vanilla
  • lollipop sticks (I didn’t have any so I tried jumbo toothpicks… They worked but orchestrating decorations and coating was bit tricky.)
  • approx. 400 g couverture chocolate (I used half white, half dark. The choice is up to you!)

1. Heat the oven to 375ºF and grease the pan. Greasing both sides completely is important as it ensures easy pop extrication.

2. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together. Stir until smoothly mixed.

3. Pour the chocolate mixture into a new bowl and add the following gradually, beating as you go: sugar and cocoa powder, then eggs and vanilla, then flour and salt.

4. Generously spoon the batter into the bottom half of the pan, cover it up, and bake for 20-22 min, or until a toothpick comes out almost completely clean.

5. Allow the cake pops to cool for about 5 min before removing them from the pan and let them cool completely before inserting lollipop sticks.

6. Carefully melt the couverture.

7. Insert a lollipop stick into each pop. I didn’t try this, but I’ve heard that dipping it into a bit of melted couverture can help it stay in.

8. Dip each pop into the melted chocolate and delicately spin it to get rid of excess chocolate. Sprinkle on desired decorations and set on a sheet of wax paper.

9. Place your sheet of wax paper (on a plate) into the fridge for 15 min to harden the chocolate coating and you’re done. These treats will not disappoint!

DSC_1465

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Niseko: The Barn

Niseko night number 2. Dinner at The Barn. A meal well worth venturing out in the snow for.

DSC_1414

The Barn’s structure is literally barn-shaped, but so much chicer.

DSC_1359

DSC_1412

Dinner was a set three course affair.

DSC_1363

We split a bottle of wine from the owner’s vineyard in Bourgogne, France. Not bad.

DSC_1367

With Mom out of the country, it was just the three of us, a father-daughters weekend.

DSC_1369

The focaccia had the most amazing crust! With a smear of whipped butter, delish.

DSC_1375

Tasmanian Salmon Confit. This slow-cooked salmon was smooth and flavorful. I’d never tasted anything like it.

DSC_1382

My main: Hokkaido flounder poêlé. The portion was insane, but boy was it good. Underscored by onion sauce and roasted vegetables, this light, flaky fish was sensational.

DSC_1383

Between dinner and dessert, we had a chance to admire the decor. This sculpture (?) won the award for wackiest artifact hands down.

DSC_1390

The interior was airy and elegant, despite skiers-cum-diners like us dressed in fleeces and jeans.

DSC_1392

I love having a sister. When it comes to ordering dessert, Eve and I are of one mind. Making the choice between Crème Brûlée with Milk Sorbet and Warm Gâteau au chocolat with Framboise Sorbet would be tough. Luckily, we never had to cross that bridge. In our typical style, we went 50/50 on one of each.

DSC_1399

The chocolate cake was the winner. While the crème brûlée was good, it simply couldn’t match up to warm, gooey, chocolate goodness cut by the tang of a fruity sorbet. The pudding was thick and creamy, but those rare bites sans sorbet and sugar crust felt a little lacking in flavor. Then again, maybe my deep affection for chocolate makes my assessment a little bit suspect…

DSC_1403

Anyways, a cup of camomile tea later, it was time to step back out into the snow drift and get some rest before another day on the slopes.

DSC_1354

Tagged , , ,

Niseko

A long weekend in the middle of February? What better to do than go skiing? For the past few days, I’ve been skiing up at Niseko, a resort in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. Niseko doesn’t have a whole lot of vertical or many scary steep slopes, like North American big-mountain resorts. What it does have, is incredible snow. The powder here is lighter, fluffier, and deeper than anywhere else I’ve ever skied. And it never stops coming! At this point, we’ve been here for almost 4 days and it has snowed on and off the entire time, the ‘off’ segments lasting for ten minutes tops.

DSC_1331

My family has been coming to Niseko for years, seeing as it’s some of the best skiing we’ve done in Japan. While the weather is usually like this, I do have a couple photos from that rare sunny day to give you an idea of what the place really looks like.

IMG_1713

It’s pretty beautiful up here when you can actually see where you’re going, but bad visibility is definitely a worthwhile price to pay for phenomenal snow.

IMG_1715

At Niseko, since the number of difficult slopes is limited, our strategy tends to be find a good run and ski it over and over for an entire half day. My favorite slope here is Strawberry Fields, a powdery pitch that is technically out of bounds but is accessible via gate. It is really multiple runs in one. You can drop into the pitch in any number of places, each one presenting a new line. Dodging trees adds excitement as well as aiding visibility on pea-soup days. Here is the view from the top in the sun. Strawberry Fields Forever.

IMG_1717

In accordance with the conditions, I rented big fat powder skis, or as I like to refer to them, pontoon skis. Although they don’t carve as well as my trusty Atomics, these Volkls were a wonder in deep power.

DSC_1341

The Niseko clientele are largely foreign. The resort is especially popular with Aussies. At Hanazono 308, the best place to eat on the mountain, this is not an uncommon sight.

IMG_2087

The app screenshot-ed below is called Ski Tracks. It tells you how far and how fast you ski. I highly recommend it. Yesterday was a very satisfying day. I went faster than I ever have before. At 81.7 kmph, I’m not far behind my dad’s 84.1. Lindsey Vonn’s 135 kmph is a little further off, but, hey, I’m over halfway there!

IMG_2094

Tagged , , ,

Oatmeal Caramelitas

A couple weeks ago, my mother and I were perusing the chocolate aisle at one of our local supermarkets carrying when we came across something that had long eluded Tokyo stores, or at least our notice, which seems less likely considering our attention to detail when it comes to sweets, let alone those built for baking. What we found were caramel candies. Naturally, we bought two bags on the spot. You never know when you’re going to want 2 lb of caramels.

DSC_1229

Now, I am usually in favor of trying recipes that call for a homemade caramel, but Brown Eyed Baker, one of my go-to baking sites had a couple über appealing recipes requiring pre-made candies. Reading through her formula for Oatmeal Caramelitas, I knew I had to sample them. A layer of crumbly oatmeal crust, topped with chocolate chips, pecans, and caramel sauce, then decked out with an additional layer of crust. What’s not to love?

DSC_1238

This is a very simple recipe and Brown Eyed Baker explains it flawlessly. It calls for a fair amount of butter so I reduced it. Mistake. Don’t. My bars were decadent and delicious, but the crust could have been less dry and a little more cohesive. Follow Brown Eyed Baker’s instructions. She knows what she’s talking about.

I do have two suggestions, however.

  1. Use high quality chocolate. It’s one of the main ingredients. If you use hershey’s, trust me, you’ll taste it.
  2. Ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, these bars are delectable. But sweet. VERY sweet. (As you can imagine, give all of that chocolate and caramel.) A nice not-to-sugary vanilla will cut that flavor just enough, not to mention taste delicious with warm, melty bars right out of the oven.

DSC_1236

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Cicada Sisters’ Date

Cicada is one of the few restaurants that comes to mind where every course is sensational: the appetizers, the mains, and, of course, the desserts. Located in Omotesando, it serves exceptional mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

DSC_1060

Cicada used to be a fairly regular weekend haunt for my family, but since it relocated a few months, we had had difficultly getting a reservation. A couple weekends ago, we finally got a table. Nothing had changed. The food was absolutely perfect and just as we had remembered it. The same night, my sister and I reserved a table for the dinner the next week.

DSC_1062

Every time we go to Cicada, we order exactly the same thing. Why? It’s so extraordinary that we couldn’t possibly forfeit a chance to taste it.

DSC_1064

To start, we ordered Cicada Sangrias, delicious concoctions of red wine, orange juice, and ginger ale. I rarely opt for any cocktail other than a kir royale, but this one is to die for.

DSC_1210 DSC_1066

As for appetizers, there is only one way to go. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, by this point you’ve probably realized that I am a major hummus enthusiast. Well, Cicada’s recipe may be the best I’ve ever tried. It’s a strong statement, I know. But trust me, the combination of flavors, the slight sourness of the lemon, the nuttiness of the chickpeas and tahini, and the perfectly smooth consistency is unmatched.

DSC_1215

A carefully crafted bite of crispy pita, a kalamata olive, and a spoonful of hummus is utterly heavenly.

DSC_1084

Here, you have our main dish: snapper with rosemary, potatoes, and black olives. There are no words.

DSC_1207

In preparation for dessert, my sister and I shared one appetizer and one main. Our waitress kept asking us if we were hungry and if we wanted more food. She was clearly oblivious to our meticulously designed eating strategy.

As we poured over the menu, just to be sure that our regular choices were the right ones, we came very close to stepping outside the box. We toyed with the idea of Torta della Nonna with Pistachio Gelato and debated the pros and cons of Rice Pudding with Glazed Apples. But, in the end, our old favorites prevailed. We were far from disappointed.

DSC_1219

Pistachio Crème Brûlée. This pudding is wonderfully nutty and is served in a thin layer so that every bite has a touch of burnt sugary goodness.

DSC_1222

Super Rich Warm Valrhona 70% Cacao Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ice Cream. The melding of textures, temperatures, and tastes is sensational. No further comment necessary.

DSC_1227

Like every meal I’ve had here, this one was memorable. Good food, great company.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Macaron Party

Macaron Party

Macarons have always been on my radar screen. Recently, they have been a recurring topic of conversation and food lust. Naturally, I found an excuse to experiment with crafting these mouthwatering French cookies. A couple nights ago, a good part of the debate team came over to cook and consume macarons, and dinner, too, of course.

The first order of business was basic vanilla macaron batter in pink and white, followed by chocolate.

DSC_1268

With these treats safely in the oven, we started on the filling: bittersweet chocolate, caramel, and raspberry.

DSC_1284_2

Here is the caramel sauce. Unfortunately, the chocolate and raspberry disappeared so quickly that the following record is all that’s left.

DSC_1307 DSC_1308

But dessert wasn’t the only memorable culinary experience of the evening.

DSC_1262

My signature sun-dried tomato hummus got rave reviews.

DSC_1281

The truffle risotto was rich, flavorful, and oh so decadent.

DSC_1289

Finally, we assembled the macarons.

DSC_1286

The consensus was that the caramel was the best. That being said, the plates were empty within minutes.

DSC_1287

As if we hadn’t eat enough already, a second dessert course followed the macarons: red velvet cupcakes kindly provided by a friend.

DSC_1290

Recipes:

Basic Macaron Cookies

Adapted from Macarons: 30 Recettes Faciles by Daniel Patzelt

  • 125 g almond powder
  • 205 g icing sugar
  • 100 g egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 65 g white sugar
  • a splash of vanilla extract
  • a few drops of food coloring
  1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF).
  2. Mix the almond powder and icing sugar. Pulse through a food processor to remove clumps and refine the mixture.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. When they are about halfway done, gradually add half the granulated sugar. When they are done, add the rest of the sugar and the vanilla.
  4. Gently fold the dry mixture, one third to one half at a time, and food coloring of choice into the beaten egg whites. (The French verb for folding in this context is actually macaronner. It’s sort of perfect!) The mixture is done when it is “lisse et brillante” or smooth and shiny.
  5. Cover two cookie sheets with oven paper and using a pastry bag, or a zip lock bag with one corner cut off, in my case, pipe out small rounds, separating them by a few centimeters.
  6. Leave the cookie sheets alone for 30 minutes before putting them into the oven and allowing them to cook for 12-15 minutes. The cookies are done if they feel hard when tapped in the center and can be peeled off the paper easily.

For the chocolate macarons and ganache, I used David Leibovitz’s recipe. His instructions are always clear, his ratios well-vetted. Here are the recipes for the Caramel Fleur de Sel and Raspberry Fillings. We lessened the amount of butter in the caramel by about 1/2 to 2/3, as 140 g seemed a little excessive. For the raspberry, we started with all of the amounts given but had to add a little extra cornstarch to bring it to the proper consistency. All of the fillings should be chilled before assembly. Trust me, this makes life so much easier.

DSC_1259

Truffle Risotto to serve 4

Inspired by Bevan Smith’s recipe for Broad Bean Risotto
From Riverstone Kitchen: Recipes from a Chef’s Garden,
(A book acquired in New Zealand with lots of delicious, albeit rich, recipes)

  • 1/2 small red onion
  • 1 stick celery
  • 15 g unsalted butter
  • 30 mL olive oil
  • 300 g (a scant cup and a half) carnaroli risotto rice
  • 120 mL Noilly Prat dry vermouth
  • 700 mL vegetable stock (I used hot water and vegan bouillon cubes.)
  • roughly 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • juice of half a lemon
  • another 15 g unsalted butter
  • 40 g grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • however many truffles you want, finely chopped
  1. Finely chop the onion and celery. No big chunks, please. Think about what would taste good in a bit of smooth, creamy risotto.
  2. Sauté the mushrooms with a touch of extra butter until soft. Set aside.
  3. Sweat the onion and celery with the olive oil and first dose of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat.
  4. Add the rice and continue to sweat for another 2 minutes, or so.
  5. Add the vermouth and reduce the mixture until there is almost no liquid left. Then, begin to add the stock, stirring constantly and pouring in a little bit at a time. You may need more than 700 mL to cook the rice properly. Taste it when you think it’s getting close and add more water if it’s still too al dente.
  6. When the rice is cooked, add the mushrooms, then the cheese, extra butter, lemon juice, and parsley. Next toss in your truffles, salt, and pepper.

DSC_1283

DSC_1314  DSC_1317

DSC_1315

They may not look quite as good as the real deal, but I’d say not bad for a first attempt.

DSC_1311

DSC_1297

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Valentine’s Day

In my mind, Valentine’s Day is essentially a pink and red incarnation of Halloween, minus the costumes. There is food – especially chocolate – everywhere! Here a couple highlights:

IMG_2084

This morning, upon arriving at school, I was greeted by a friend bearing Ladurée macarons. Ladurée is the place to get macarons. A combination of delicate and rich, textured and smooth, sweet and, well, sweet, they are absolute perfection. I sampled the caramel fleur de sel number in the center as well as one of the white ones with green filling. Geranium? Whatever it was, it was exceptionally tasty. Tomorrow I plan to experiment with macaron-making. Hopefully mine will look, or at least taste, something like these sensational sweets.

Now for edible highlight no. 2.

DSC_1244

At dinner, I found this cute little bag sitting at my place.

DSC_1247

Inside were two petit packages.

DSC_1249

Mini-chocolate boxes from mom! I ate the creamy, delectable belgian chocolate on the spot. The Ferrero Rochers will have to wait until tomorrow.

Tagged , , , , ,

Varsity Breakfast

Varsity Breakfast

I have been on the debate team for the past three years. Last Friday was the varsity debate tournament. My last debate. As per tradition, the varsity nine skipped school in the morning for a pre-debate potluck breakfast. We had everything from deviled eggs to decadent nutella cake. With tomato-goat cheese and spinach-feta quiche, gobs of fruit, cinnamon roll pancakes and cream cheese frosting, and homemade croissants to boot, I think it’s safe to say no one went hungry. It was a great way to start an even better day, seeing as we won the tournament for the first time in my three years as a varsity debater. We seniors went out with a bang!

DSC_1105 DSC_1107 DSC_1109 DSC_1111 DSC_1113 DSC_1118

Tagged , , , , ,

Cookie Bowls

This weekend, I was trolling around the internet looking for desert ideas for a nice home-cooked meal when I ran across some luscious looking cookie bowls. I read through a few recipes, but most seemed to be either sugar-cookie bowls or chocolate chip ones made with margarine. Ich. I wanted something chocolate, without compromising flavor. So, I opted for my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe of all the time: the classic Joy of Cooking model.

Cookie Bowls

First, I made the batter just as I would have for normal cookies, decreasing the butter a little to make the dough a little stiffer and thus more likely to hold a bowl-like shape.

DSC_0912

I did not, however, lessen the amount of chocolate. A full cup went into this dough.

DSC_0916

Next, I rolled my dough, that is, what was left of it, into a log and set in the freezer to toughen up a bit. Cookies are good, but dough is better. With my sister and mother circling the bowl like vultures, a good chunk of it definitely disappeared during transfer.

Ok… maybe I had something to do with that too…

DSC_0923

A few hours later, out came the log. It was time to experiment. As dictated by some of the recipes I found online, I took out a cupcake tray, turned it upside down, and covered a few of the molds with tin foil. I then molded cookie dough over these mound… and promptly consumed the remaining morsels.

DSC_0926 DSC_0927

When the bowls came out, the results were, shall we say, interesting.

DSC_0940

Oozing over the baking sheet, they almost looked alive.

DSC_0941 DSC_0943

Some of them were not as bowl-ish as I would have hoped.

DSC_0964

Others actually came out pretty well, although I have to admit that taking the foil off them was a real effort.

DSC_0966 DSC_0970 DSC_0972

Recipe:

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2/3 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • vanilla!

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

2. Mix the flour and baking soda.

3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add both sugars.

4. Next, beat in the egg, salt, and vanilla, followed by the flour mixture and chocolate chips. (For the record, lessening the chocolate chips might make the cookie bowls hold up better – not a compromise I was willing to make.)

5. Turn a muffin tin upside down on a cookie sheet and cover 5 or 6 of the metal mounds with tin foil.

6. Mold cookie dough onto the mounds.

7. Cook. Start with 12 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through. I generally undercook cookies because I like them doughier and chewier. In this case, however, cooking them for longer will yield more bowl-like cookies. Cook them until golden brown.

8. Let the bowls cool completely before peeling off the foil.

9. Invert, add ice cream, and enjoy this over-the-top dessert!

DSC_0973

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Quinoa Granola

Quinoa Granola

Quinoa is basically a miracle food. It’s super healthy, not to mention delicious in every way, shape, and form. I’d tried a plethora of different savory concoctions, but this was my first foray into the realm of the sweet. Quinoa granola does not disappoint. Its texture is crunchier than the oaty variety, its flavor nuttier. Delish!

Recipe:

Adapted from Donna Hay’s Fresh and Light

You’ll need…

  • 1 1/2 cups white quinoa
  • 1 1/2 rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • and last but not least, a splash of vanilla

DSC_0821

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF).

2. Throw all the ingredients into a big bowl and mix well.

3. Spread out on to two baking sheets lined with oven paper.

4. Bake until golden. (Donna says 15 minutes, but it took mine at least 25 minutes. I’d start with 15 minutes and then check it periodically for color.)

5. Allow the granola to cool before transferring.

DSC_0829

Topped with thick yogurt and apricot jam, it was to die for!

DSC_0898

DSC_0901

Tagged , ,
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: