Birthday Cake…(one of) my guilty pleasures

Do you ever have a craving that just will not go away? Is there something that you crave and you eat, but after a few days or weeks there is that little voice in the back of your head screaming ever so lightly? For me, its chocolate cake (and chocolate chip cookies but that’s another story).

So a couple of weeks ago my whole family got together to celebrate my sister and mother’s birthdays (they are only born 2 days apart!). I got a text requesting a chocolate cake and my first thoughts were :HELL YEA.

Being a pastry chef I have to admit that most sweets don’t make me super excited, I am the type of person that adds extra salt to my cookie recipes or douse my carrots and cucumbers with soy sauce and lime (don’t judge its delicious).  But there is something about chocolate cake that just makes me crazy. Have you ever seen the movie Matilda? Remember the scene with the chocolate cake? Mouth-watering…..

Anyway, back to the birthday cake that I made, I spent a good amount of time looking through my recipe collections and finally decided on using David Lebovitz’s Devil’s Food Cake recipe. I love this cake; its moist, chocolatey and not too sweet. I gave it my own twist by adding a raspberry ganache (simply fold in about 1/4 to 1/2 raspberry jam into some of the ganache from the recipe) between the two layers. Yum! The result: A beautiful, juicy, heavenly cake…But now that its been a couple weeks, and the craving is slowly starting to return….

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The Silverspoon

For those of us who like to cook, we are always in search of the perfect cookbook. But what makes a perfect cookbook? Can there really be just one?

The reason I love cookbooks is because there are literally thousands of viewpoints on different techniques, cuisines, themes, and so on. Whenever I am traveling, I usually like to buy a cookbook that is written for locals versus something that is made for tourists because it tends to be a lot more authentic and is fascinating to see how different authors around the world communicate to their readers about food and cooking.

One of my favorite books to cook out of is The Silverspoon, which is exactly that. A cookbook for Italians that includes all the dishes that Italians like to eat and prepare. The edition that I own has been adapted for English-speaking readers. According to the book, English language cookbooks usually  have very detailed step by step descriptions for how to prepare the dish. Although its been adapted for English-speaking readers, the authors of The Silverspoon, made a huge effort to maintain the authenticity of the recipes and include some ingredients or methods that may seem unusual to us. For example, the other night I made Bread Soup with Tomato, something I had never had and didn’t know how it should taste. It was interesting because the recipe was quite bland for my palate and I ended up dousing the soup with Sriracha and added way more salt than I think it calls for.

What I think this book was intended to do, was to give its readers a basic understanding of Italian food and cooking, and to encourage cooks to branch out on their own. I have cooked a couple of things out of this book and so far, it has been a great learning experience and, thanks to the support of my husband, I have decided to cook my way through this book in an effort to learn more about Italian cooking and to further my skills as a chef! Coming up….Shrimp Risotto!!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Bread

Is it just me or does it seem like fall just does not want to come to California this year. I know that (and I send my deepest condolences to all those affected by Sandy) many parts of the States are experiencing their own climate changes (yes I said it!), so I really can’t complain that us Angelinos are “suffering” from day after day of 80 degree bright and sunny days. I just want to be able to put on a sweater, curl up by the TV and eat some delicious fall baked goods. There is something so absolutely wonderful about the taste of pumpkin, the crunch of pecan pie, and the  smell of cinnamon emerging from the oven.

One of my favorite things to bake (regardless of the season) is my pumpkin-chocolate chip bread. This weekend I refused to let the heat win and decided to whip up a batch of this glorious bread. It is moist, full of spice and the pumpkin pairs divinely with the chocolate chips. I wanted to use my new chocolate chips (Cacao Berry Mexique) that I had bought at surfas, but they were absolutely disgusting. They were waxy and tasted like dirt, and ended up using Ghiradelli Chips.

This bread also keeps really well and is wonderful toasted with a spoonful of Valencia peanut butter with sea salt. So lets keep hoping that it will finally cool down and I can start making some mulled wine!!

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup (9 ounces) canned pumpkin puree

1/2 c neutral-flavored vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat loaf pan with melted butter or cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger and salt until thoroughly blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Add the sugar and blend well. Add the pumpkin puree, oil, and vanilla extract and blend well.

2. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until blended and smooth. Add the chocolate chips, stirring until evenly distributed. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

3. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the bread is firm to the touch and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely (difficult as this might seem) before removing from pan and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Wrap left overs in plastic and store in refrigerator for 4 days.

Chocolate-Sunflower Shortbread Cookies

Ok, so now that I have had my come-to Jesus moment with home baking, I am ready to start having some fun! This week I helped out a family friend with a Seed Freedom Awareness Lecture,I was asked to bring some baked treats for the working group meeting and decided what better to bring than something with seeds! I had some sunflower seeds lying around and decided to make some chocolate shortbread cookies with the toasted seeds.

I discovered the wonders of shortbread about 2 years ago when my chef at the time asked me to make her a batch of pistachio shortbread. I’ve had shortbread before, but never any that was worth writing home about. The recipe she gave me though, was so incredibly mouth-watering that I became a devout shortbread fan. What I love about shortbread is that you can really play around with flavors and textures. You can add nuts, fruits, seeds, chocolate, the list goes on. It also doesn’t contain any eggs, so the dough has a pretty long shelf life and actually freezes quite beautifully. I adapted her recipe for the cookies that I brought on Monday, by omitting the pistachio paste and nuts, and instead added  Valrhona Cocoa Powder, and of course the toasted sunflower seeds. Feel free to play around with this dough by adding whatever you are in the mood for!

Chocolate-Sunflower Shortbread Cookies:

210 grams flour

40 grams good quality cocoa powder

240  grams butter, very soft

4 grams sea salt

60 grams toasted sunflower seeds

75 grams powdered sugar

-In a standing mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar until just combined. Add flour, cocoa powder, salt, and seeds. Mix until just combined.

-Remove from mixer, cut 2 large squares of parchment paper. Using your hands divide the dough into two equal parts. Roll the dough into 2  uniform logs. Place the logs onto the parchment paper and carefully, but tightly, roll up the dough into the parchment. Refrigerate for twenty minutes. Preheat oven to 330 degrees farenheit.

-Remove dough from refrigerator. Cut uniform discs, and place onto baking tray. Bake for about 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Chocolate dough can be tricky so this is a good way to practice telling doneness by touch and sight! Make sure your oven is accurate and you keep a close eye on the cookies.

Summer Bounty

One of the reasons I love summer is all of the beautiful and delicious produce that is available. Watermelons, peaches, tomatoes, plums, etc. There is so much flavor and color that brings food alive that makes cooking fun and enjoyable.

Tonight we decided to make a lovely watermelon and Farro salad, heirloom tomato and mozzarella caprese, and to finish it off fresh strawberry juice. Even though I am not vegetarian by any means, Korean BBQ is one of my all time favorites, I enjoy a good healthy, veggie friendly meal every once in a while.

Farro is perfect for a hearty vegetarian salad because it has tons of protein, a pleasant  nutty flavor and pairs wonderfully with fruits and vegetables. I decided to try it with fresh watermelon, summer peas, cilantro, chives from the garden and parmesan cheese. The result: a delectable and satisfying salad that I would definitely try again.

The caprese is easy to make and is great with heirloom tomatoes. Top it off with a nice grassy olive oil, a sweet balsamic, a little sea salt and pepper and voila! You have a luscious salad that pairs nicely with a glass of grenache rose.

Lastly to make the strawberry juice, cook about 1 pound of strawberries with a cup of sugar on low heat for a couple of hours until the juice starts to separate from the fruit. Strain the juice and serve chilled (or with a shot of tequilla to make strawberry margaritas). Tomorrow I am tackling the final phase of the croissants, I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Farro Salad:

1 cup watermelon cubed

1 cup cooked Farro

1/4 c cilantro finely diced

1 c cooked summer peas

1 tbsp chives

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

juice from 1 lime

1/4 parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl, serve and enjoy.

 

Caprese Salad:

1 pound heirloom tomatoes, sliced

1 large ball mozzarella, sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 tbs basil, fine chiffonade

1 tsp chives, very finely cut

Place tomatoes and mozzarella evenly onto plate. Pour oil and balsamic over them. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle basil and chives.

 

Alegrias

This week I have been on a little baking spree. After I made the brownies I was inspired and motivated to start baking again for fun. I wanted to do something that I have never done before so that I could challenge myself and learn something new.

I have tons and tons of baking books and hundreds of recipes, but there is one that has been calling at me for a while, it’s called “My Sweet Mexico” by Fany Gerson. What I like about this book is that it has really authentic recipes for all of my favorite childhood treats. It has beautiful pictures and very detailed instructions. It also gives you lots of information about the different ingredients and where to find them.

I chose to make what are called Alegrias, which are Amaranth “Happiness” Candies (although I would classify them more as a cookie). I remember being young in Mexico and eating these straight from the markets in Downtown Mexico City. They are wonderfully sweet, full of nuts and dried fruit, and have a nice crunchy yet chewy texture.

They are also really easy to make. They only hard part is puffing the amaranth, which is an ancient seed from the Pre-Hispanic times. Make sure you use a hot skillet and do not put oil in the pan, I made this mistake and it was disastrous. Use a wooden spoon to move the seeds around in the skillet and allow them to pop like pop corn. Be careful not to burn your eyes! Also do them in small batches because they tend to burn quite easily.

I adapted the recipe by changing the types of nuts and dried fruit. I would also suggest adding chocolate chips for a nice flavor combination. I used cranberries, roasted almonds that are roasted with Bragg liquid amino, toasted pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts. It had a nice sweet and savory combination that went really well with the sweetened amaranth. Here is the recipe:

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts

1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup roasted almonds

1/2 cup cranberries

8 ounces brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

1/2 tsp lemon juice

4 ounces puffed amaranth seeds.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the nuts and fruit onto the prepared pan. Cook the brown sugar, honey and lemon juice in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves and the mixture has thickened a bit. Take off the heat and add the puffed amaranth seeds. Stir well to make sure that everything is evenly mixed. Pour over the nuts and fruits and using your hands (I suggest using gloves) press firmly down to spread evenly. Make sure that the amaranth mixture is very well compacted. You can moisten your hands if it is getting too sticky. Allow to cool completely, at least 40 minutes, and invert onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife cut into desired shapes and sizes. Wrap whatever you are not going to eat in a tightly sealed container.

My Obssession with Ceviche

Besides sushi, ceviche is one of my all time favorite foods; I have a strange affinity for very acidic food and a true love for all things seafood.  My weakness for ceviche probably comes from my years spent in the coast of Mexico; Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, where I was able to sample some of the best of the best, with the freshest fish and the perfect balance of lime juice, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes . It wasn’t until a few years ago where I had the opportunity to sample Peruvian ceviche, which to my understanding is where it originated from, at one of Portland’s best restaurants, Andina. Peruvian ceviche differs from Mexican ceviche in that they usually add potatoes to balance out the heat as well as some kind of lettuce, usually butter lettuce.

After I had tried this version, I was instantly hooked and on a mission to find something like that here in LA. Thanks to a random night of being driven by a Peruvian cab driver, we were sent to Mario‘s Peruvian. It is a very unassuming place that really has no sense of style whatsoever but that’s not why you go, you go because the food is incredible and extremely satisfying. After waiting about an hour for a table, totally worth it, we sat down and started stuffing our faces with the fluffy and warm white bread that you smother with a tangy green sauce called huacatay, made with; aji, huacatay (a Peruvian plant), oil, rocoto perper and salt. Truly addicting. We decided to order the ceviche mixto, which came with fish, shrimp, squid, and octopus. It is cooked in the lemon juice with onions and spices and served with boiled potatoes. The spices brought me straight to a little village in Peru, I just couldn’t get enough. It was absolutely balanced with just the right amount of acidity that was complemented with the sweetness of the seafood. The seafood had a nice soft texture, not chewy like in other ceviches I have tried. I didn’t feel that it was too spicy for my personal taste, but I can see why the potatoes might be necessary for those who can’t handle heat.

Once we got home I was determined to make my own version of ceviche to see how it could even begin to compare to Mario’s. I added a little twist by adding some fresh peach that we had just gotten from our vegetable box of the week. Considering we finished the whole thing in one sitting, I think it was pretty damn good! Here is the recipe:

1 pound Shrimp, peeled,  cut into small pieces

Juice of 8 limes (more or less depending on how acidic you want it)

1 tomato, cut into small cubes

1/4 c cilantro, finely cut

1/2 onion, cut into small cubes

2 tsp salt

1tsp pepper

1 peach, not ripe, cut into small cubes

2 tsp jalapeno, cut into very small pieces

Place all ingredients into a large bowl, mix well (make sure you wash your hands after or else the jalapeno will most likely get in your eye) and let sit for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.If you have time, give it a good stir everyone in a while to make sure the flavors are distributed evenly Serve with your favorite chips and a margarita or two!

   This is a Mexican ceviche from another great place called Picante. I told you I am obssessed!