Category Archives: Cooking

The Very Best Baked Potatoes

Pippi, my family’s little yellow lab, had to go the vet last week, meaning a 45 minute trek to Tokyo’s suburbs. In the corner of the gravel parking lot across the street from the clinic stood a small vegetable stand. We bought some fresh cukes and a bag of baby taters before taking the dog for a turn around the neighborhood. On our walk, we passed a fairly large vegetable patch. Perhaps the origin of our produce? Gotta love fresh food.

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Anyways, the next morning, while hemming and hawing over breakfast possibilities, we remembered our baby potatoes. Why not? We thought.

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After thinly slicing the tots, we tossed them with a bit of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, and stuck ’em in the oven. Crispy and warm, these potatoes made for a delicious, if unconventional day-starter.

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Recipe

Adapted from Donna Hay’s Salads and Vegetables

You’ll need…

  • some of the freshest potatoes you can find
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

2. Thinly slice the potatoes as far down as possible without cutting all the way through.

3. Toss with a small quantity  of oil (gauge by the number of potatoes) and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

4. Bake for roughly 40 min, or until cooked through.

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Three Cookies

 

I find making cookies to be immensely satisfying. Not only is dough doable in 20 minutes, but the the ingredients they call for rarely requires a trip to the supermarket and they’re ready to go after a mere 10 min in the oven! Over the past couple weeks, I’ve taken a few recipes for test drives. Here are my results:

No. 1: Ghirardelli Milk-Chocolate-Chip Cookies

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I rarely cook with any chocolate other than bittersweet. But with a couple bags of milk chocolate chips in the freezer, I thought, why not?

Although the cookies on their own were nothing special, they turned out to be exceptional ice cream vehicles. A chocolate chip cookie eaten on its own must to be jam-packed with chocolate in to be delicious in my book. However, add a little vanilla (or better yet, hokey pokey!) ice cream to mix, and they become otherworldly. These cookies are chewy, but at the same time just stiff enough to hold their own against a sandwiched scoop of melty ice cream.

You can find the recipe here. My only advice: add extra vanilla, chocolate, and pecans, while decreasing the white sugar by at least a quarter cup.

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No. 2: Donna Hay’s (Relatively Healthy) Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Let me be frank. Never, ever, use a chocolate chip cookie recipe that calls for oil instead of butter. In theory, these cookies sound great. No butter, a limited quantity of sugar, some of the flour replaced with oats. In reality, if you’re going to bake cookies, make the real thing, not some sort of facsimile.

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The dough looked great, but even at that stage it seemed like something was off. The taste wasn’t quite right. When the cookies came out, they were cute-looking and bite sized, but lacked that essential cookie chewiness, not to mention that gooey chocolatey, buttery, flavor. I should probably hedge this by conceding that I did not use high quality chocolate for this batch, as it was another attempt to deplete my freezer full of chocolate. Nonetheless, even the dough itself was unsatisfactory. When it comes down to good old chocolate chip cookies, the Joy of Cooking recipe is the way to go.

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No. 3: Peanut Butter Blossoms

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A couple days ago, I was twiddling my thumbs looking for something to bake, when I ran across a bag of mini hershey’s kisses stashed away at the bottom of a drawer. Turning the package over, I found the directions for peanut butter blossoms, one of my all time favorite cookies. Tweaking the recipe to suit my taste (and the contents of my fridge), I baked my third batch of cookies in two weeks. These cookies were sensational. Nutty, sweet, chewy, and of course chocolatey, they were perfect. Here is my take on peanut butter blossoms. Enjoy!

Recipe: Peanut Butter Blossoms

Adapted from Hershey’s

You’ll need…

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup crunchy natural peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup white sugar (plus extra for rolling)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp nonfat milk
  • 1-1/2 cups flour (sifted)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • at least a tbsp of vanilla extract
  • Hershey’s kisses–full sized or mini

1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC (375ºF).

2. Beat together the butter and peanut butter. Add the sugars, followed by the egg, milk, and vanilla. Slowly add in the flour, salt, and baking soda.

3. Roll the dough into 1-in sized balls. (They will expand quite a bit so keeping the size small is key.) Roll each dough ball in white sugar to coat it. Place them on a cookie sheet, leaving plenty of space.

4. Press kisses into the tops of each cookie–one if they’re normal sized, three if they’re mini.

5. Bake for 9-10 min. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for at least 5 min before transferring.

(Note: the photograph above does not display a full batch of cookies. You can expect to make roughly 45 from this recipe.)

 

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Molten Chocolate Cake

Remember Araxi and that insane molten chocolate cake? Well, it was too good to live without.

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With a cakey around the edge and a gooey, chocolatey mess, in the middle it is not to missed and is even better when consumed with a generous dollop of ice cream!

(The recipe is available as part of the google books preview of Araxi’s sensational cookbook.)

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Peanut Butter Nutella Cupcakes

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Smooth, moist peanut butter cupcakes crowned with nutella buttercream. If chocolate and peanut butter are a match made in heaven, then adding hazelnut to the mix makes this a combo forged in outer space.

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The recipe I used comes from here. It’s great on its own, but filling these cakes with something gooey and peanut buttery would only add to the effect. Next time, I’m planning on whipping some peanut butter up with cream cheese and a splash of vanilla (natch!) and piping that into their centers. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

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Sluts and Man-Whores

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What, you didn’t think I was talking about people, did you?

One typical Friday night, a couple friends and I decided to do a little baking. But this wasn’t just any cooking affair. We went all out with Slutty Brownies and Man-Whore Bars–sinful smorgasbords of chocolate confection.

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As evidenced by the above assembly, our only concern was loading up on sugar.

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Slutty brownies first: a chocolate chip cookie layer, topped with oreos, finished off with fudgey brownie.

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Next up, man-whore bars: chocolate chip cookie, followed by chocolate ganache, rice crispy treat, reese’s pieces, oreos, more rice crispy treat, more chocolate ganache, and extra chocolate chip cookie crumbs.

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We bought LOTS of marshmallows for an optimal marshmallow to rice crispy ratio.

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The finished products were delicious, yet a little overwhelming. But, then again, that was the point, wasn’t it?

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The slutty brownies were based on a recipe from one of my all time lifestyle blogs: the Londoner.

You’ll need one batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, one batch of brownie batter (chewy, not cakey, if you please), 16 oreos, and an 8×8 baking pan. I used the classic Joy of Cooking recipes–always a safe bet.

The procedure is simple. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the cookie dough along the base of a greased 8×8 pan. Lay out the oreos in a neat grid, and pour the brownie batter over them evenly. Stick ’em in the oven for half an hour, or a little longer if the brownies still seem raw when tested with a toothpick.

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Man-whore bars are just as straightforward, with a few more bits and pieces.

The recipe is based on this gorgeous blog post.

The procedure is simple.

1. Bake a batch of cookies–the Joy of Cooking formula is the best in my opinion. (However, I recommend decreasing the butter just a touch–it’ll make for a less gooey cookie crust, something to your advantage, in this particular case). Spread a thin layer–about 1/4 in thick along the base of an 8×8 baking tin. Bake the rest of the dough on a cookie sheet–you’ll need it for the top layer of the bars. Bake them until golden, or according to whatever recipe you choose to use.

2. Next up: chocolate ganache. Melt 8 oz dark chocolate, 2 tbsp butter, and 3/4 cups cream in a double boiler. Let it simmer a bit and stir the mixture over the heat until it becomes shiny. Let it cool. After a few minutes, you can stick the bowl in the fridge to speed the process. At this point, spread half of the mixture evenly over your chocolate chip cookie base.

3. For the rice crispy treats, melt 3 tbsp butter in a large saucepan. Then add in 10 oz marshmallows. When those are all liquefied, mix in 4.5 cups of rice crispies.

4. Rice crispy treats solidify quickly so this stage is critical. Spread half of them over the chocolate ganache layer, then hurriedly sprinkle on the reece’s pieces or peanut butter cups. Lay out a grid of oreos on top of that and then cover that with the remaining rice crispy treat mix.

5. The the finishing touch, spread out the remaining chocolate ganache and press the cookie crumbs on top.

Et c’est tout! Bon appétit!

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Butternut Squash Soup

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You may recall that a couple weeks ago I was in Canada, eating an exquisite meal at Araxi, pouring over the cookbook longingly. Days later, that dinner was still fresh in my mind – that dark molten chocolate cake interior, those pickled beets, the texture of that incredible butternut squash soup. By Saturday, I could wait no longer.

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Recipe:

Adapted from Araxi: Seasonal Recipes from the Celebrated Whistler Restaurant

You’ll need…

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 sliced shallots
  • 5 lb butternut squash
  • 7 cups vegetable stock
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup whipped cream
  • 2 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
  • salt and white pepper

1. Heat the butter in a large saucepan (you’ll have to add in all of the squash later on) and sauté the shallots until they’ve become slightly browned.

2. Add in the squash and some salt and white pepper for seasoning, cover the pot, and cook for 20 minutes over low heat, or until the squash is soft.

3. Pour the stock in and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes or so.

4. Stir in 1/2 cup of parmesan and then remove the soup from the heat after a couple minutes.

5. Pureé the soup thoroughly and pour it through a mesh sieve.

6. Stir in the whipped cream and add more seasoning as necessary.

7. Serve out portions, topping each portion with a bit of parmesan, a few pumpkin seeds, and a pinch of chopped chives.

Bon Appetit!

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Wasted on Chocolate

I know I haven’t posted in a little while… But now I’m back! And trust me, this cake well and truly makes up for my online absence.

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Dubbed Chocolate Wasted Cake, this sugary tour de force is deliciously decadent.

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I found this recipe while trolling around on what is perhaps one of my favorite buzzfeed lists ever: 71 Reasons Candy Hearts are Stupid, a string of 71 images of mouthwatering chocolate creations cleverly set to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”

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Chocolate Wasted Cake is constructed as follows. Two layers of chocolate cake, each soaked with a bit of liqueur, are glued together and coated with chocolate icing. Next, the sides of the cake are tiled with chocolate chips, the top with candy pieces. The final touch is a drizzle of chocolate ganache. Are you drooling yet?

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As I made minimal changes to the original recipe, I’ll leave you to refer directly to those directions.

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You’ll need LOTS of these.

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For the top of your masterpiece, the candy selection is up to you. The original recipe suggest kit kats, twix bars, and kisses. But butterfingers, snickers, and malted milk balls also make for a pretty heavenly combo.

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Hazelnuts and chocolate must be one of the best duos of all time. Frangelico is a liqueur that literally tastes like nutella. Why soak your cake with anything else?

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One slice of this baby and you’ll be wasted on chocolate goodness in no time.

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An Oversized Oreo

This cake looks just like an oreo an tastes like one, too. Two layers of not-too-sweet chocolate cake with a thick, creamy layer of vanilla buttercream between them. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

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Along with the cake pop pan, my mother brought back another kitchenware impulse buy: a set of cookie-shaped cake pans.

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I originally made this cake for a friend’s half birthday (I missed her real one!) but when she was home sick, I had no choice but to find another audience. Luckily we honor choir singers had a 90 minute bus ride in store. The perfect time to enjoy a slice of chocolate cookie-cake. It was a hit, so I have promised to replicate this cake for the birthday girl!

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This recipe was adapted from the one on the cake pan box. While having these items makes for a cool looking cake, I’m sure it’ll be equally delicious made in any other accoutrement.

For the cake, you’ll need…

  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 220 g bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups (scant) sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • a generous 2 tbsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and grease the pans. If you are using pans with flat bottoms, I recommend lining the bases with circles of wax paper.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler over gentle heat, stirring until blended smoothly

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

4. In another bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Then the chocolate mixture, and finally the dry mixture.

5. Divide and spread the batter evenly into the two pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of center with a few crumbs on it.

And for the icing…

  • 4 1/2 cups (560 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 185 g unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 tbsp skim milk (you may or may not need to add a little more to adjust the texture)
  • vanilla!
  • a pinch of salt

Sift the sugar and mix all of the ingredients. If the icing feels too stiff, simply add a touch more milk. This buttercream is divine! The sugar-butter ratio works beautifully and makes for a smooth and sweet interlude to crumbly chocolate cake.

Assembly: Wait about 10-15 minutes before taking the cakes out of their pans. Put one layer down, smooth all of the buttercream frosting out evenly across the top, and lay down the second cake. Voila!

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French Chocolate Pudding

Yesterday was another dull day of school. Then, into my inbox popped a link from mom. A recipe for french-style chocolate pudding from 1960s French children’s cookbook. A chocolate dessert? That takes less than 10 minutes to whip up? I was so there.

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This confection is rich and deliciously chocolaty. It’s sort of a cross between a pudding and a mousse.It has the aerated texture of a mousse, but is something much denser, defined by the full-bodied flavor of very dark chocolate.

Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s recipe rendition, the steps are simple. And, I kid you not, it takes 10 minutes from start to finish (plus some refrigeration time).

You’ll need…

  • 2 eggs at room temperature (disclaimer: this pudding uses raw egg, so buy high quality ones and be aware of the risk, however minor)
  • 170 g of the highest quality dark chocolate you can find (I used 75% Cacao Lindt chocolate and my puddings came out beautifully)
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • a splash of vanilla extract, naturally

1. Separate the egg yolks and whites. Beat the whites until stiff and set the yolks aside temporarily.

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2. Put the chocolate, butter, sugar, water, and salt on the stove in a double boiler and heat until just melted, stirring until you have a smoothly, well blended brew.

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3. Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla.

4. Gently fold in the egg whites, about half at a time.

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5. Fold until the texture is fairly uniform, but be patient. Keeping the mixture aerated by whipped egg whites is key.

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6. Pour the mixture into your chosen containers. I used little ceramic cups intended to be used for soba noodle dipping but ramekins, glass jars, or any other appropriately sized vessel would work. I made 5 one-person-sized servings from this recipe.

7. Refrigerate. Heidi says to do so for at least a couple hours. I think that if you can be that patient, it probably tastes better. As for my family, waiting was not an option. We ate our puddings after about 45 minutes, the centers still thick and runny. Because there were just four of us, one lone pudding sat in the fridge over night. Unfortunately, by the time I got home tonight, it had already disappeared. My mother and sister say it was delicious, well worth the wait. While they contemplated saving me a bite, that sadly did not happen so we’ll have to trust their word on this. After all, they’re pretty reliable when it comes to chocolate assessment.

Topped with a dab of fresh, mildly sweetened whipped cream, the pudding was delicious, runny or no.

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Hors D’Oeuvres

A couple nights ago was debate dinner 2.0. With a few of us really into cooking, there was no shortage of food. An elaborate, massive meal, our dinner began with a few hor d’oeuvres: caramelized walnuts and olive tapenade, accompanied by fresh bufala mozzarella and crackers.

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The caramelized walnuts were the perfect combination of sweet and salty, with a little pique of pepper. The tapenade complemented it with its robust kalamata flavor.

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Recipes

Caramelized Walnuts–

Adapted from this recipe

  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • a scant 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • roughly 1/2 tsp salt
  • a generous pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp olive oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat.

2. Stir occasionally to spread the seasoning evenly and avoid any burning.

3. Keeping cooking until the sugar is melted and has coated the walnuts.

4. Transfer the nuts to a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and let cool.
Tapenade–

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan‘s recipe in Around My French Table

  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives (Dorie uses black ones which I’m sure are also delicious.)
  • a pinch of fresh rosemary
  • a slightly bigger pinch of fresh thyme
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp high quality olive oil

Toss it all into a food processor and pulse until it reaches the perfect consistency. Coarse or smooth? Your call.

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A perfect bite.

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