Friday, September 30, 2011

Butter Seared Scallops with Quinoa and Fresh Vegetables

Now, if you haven’t already noticed, I tend to bake. A LOT. I am a neurotic, sporadic, obsessive baker, one that will try the same recipe three times in one day until I’m satisfied (or too exhausted to try again) with the results. Because of this, sweet pastries and cakes have taken over the majority of my blog, and I find that only a desperate few, shall we say real food recipes have been able to debut on my blog. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking, but my heart will always be in baking.

Every once in a while, though, I find a non-dessert food recipe that catches my eye. I’m not sure what it is, whether the bright colors or beautiful blog pictures, but it causes me to feel as if it would be a crime not to try. I stumbled upon the site: Pip and Ebby, and was immediately taken by Ebby’s striking photography and mouthwatering recipes. One in particular drew me in, her Grilled Scallops with Quinoa and Fresh Veggies.
I’ve never had much experience with quinoa, in my ignorance assuming nothing could compare to Asian rice (I’m half Japanese; rice is basically in my blood), and was a bit skeptical in trying to cook it. However, the flavor and texture worked wonderfully, and I especially (and rather embarrassingly) enjoyed the “fluffing up” of the quinoa after it had absorbed the water.

After starting to cook, I realized that the vegetables in the recipe were raw. I was slightly surprised, assuming that everyone cooked their vegetables prior to adding them into a main course, however, the burst of freshness from each bite added flavors and textures that would have been non-existent if cooked.

Butter Seared Scallops with Quinoa and Fresh Vegetables
Slightly Modified from Pip and Ebby

8-10 fresh sea scallops
2 tbsp butter
2 large tomatoes, roughly diced
1 red bell pepper (green/yellow), roughly diced
1 large cucumber, skin peeled off and roughly diced
1 1/2 cup corn kernels
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lime
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
red pepper flakes, to to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Butter Seared Scallops with Quinoa and Fresh Vegetables
Soak the sea scallops in 2 tbsp melted butter for 20-30 minutes.

While soaking, prepare the quinoa according to package and, when finished, enjoy fluffing it to its full potential with a fork.

In a medium-large bowl, add the tomatoes, red bell pepper, cucumber, corn, garlic, juice from the lime, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. (This will be delicious by itself! Try to practice self control and refrain from eating half of it. That would be absurd...)

Season the scallops with salt and pepper lightly on both sides and pan fry until cooked. 

Layer first the quinoa, then the vegetable mixture, and lastly the seared scallops in a large serving bowl.

Enjoy :).

The final product is absolutely delicious, not to mention healthy, and makes an excellent main course. I definitely will keep this recipe saved and to try more of Ebby’s delectable eats! 

Royal Icing Covered Sugar Cookies

I’ve wanted to try my hand out at sugar cookie decorating for a while now, especially after seeing some of the truly amazing art done by various bloggers. These ladies are really masters at their craft, and should get some sort of award. Since I had recently gotten some new piping bags and squeeze bottles, I decided to give it a try.
At first I was slightly intimidated by the fact that I would have to make my own frosting. For some reason, I have never been able to get my usual butter cream icing right. Ever. I have a favorite recipe for a walnut-pecan espresso cake that I make a frosting for, and though it’s delicious, my frosting always chooses to remain a jerk and have a slightly grainy look. While it tastes great, and I’m probably the only one to notice the graininess, I always feel overwhelmingly frustrated by my constant failure as a frosting chef, even while following a recipe exactly. However, I found that I have much different luck with royal icing, and that my first attempt came out perfectly.
The decorating is great fun, once all the icing and cookies are laid out, and even my sister joined in to help me decorate a couple!
Have I mentioned I have a slight obsession with giraffes?
Though, I have to admit, cleaning out the piping bags (I hate to waste even the disposable ones) is a pain in the butt. I think if I ever won the lottery, the first thing I would do would be to hire a personal piping-bag washer, or ten, to clean off all that sticky icing. Life would be good.

While my first ones didn’t turn out that well, it was a start, and I’m excited to keep on decorating in the future. J

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Devil’s Food Cake with Espresso Buttercream Frosting and Chocolate Meringue Logs

Wasn't that a mouthful of a title to say? Well, believe me, this cake deserves every letter.
If I could, I would date it. It's perfect.
When you first make it, you're sure to get a bunch of compliments, because it finishes beautifully. And, let me tell you, when you bite into this cake, you will not be disappointed. It's mouthwatering-ly rich and chocolate-y, and the espresso buttercream accompanies the sweetness perfectly. The meringue logs give a burst of chocolate flavor and come out slightly chewy, yet half dissolve in your mouth.

Please try it. I know your waistline might protest, but trust me, it's worth it!


Devil’s Food Cake:
Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
4 ½ tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 ¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ¾ cup sugar
5 large egg
1 ¼ cup buttermilk

Chocolate Meringue Logs:
Baking by James Peterson
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
6 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
½ cup sugar

Espresso Buttercream
2 cups sugar
8 egg yolks
2/3 cup water
1 1/4 pounds cold butter, cut into cubes
10 tsp espresso, or more to taste

Devil’s Food Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray two 9-inch round pans with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl. In a bowl in a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each one. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix fully. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 batches, starting and finishing with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter into the two cake pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out cleanly. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Chocolate Meringue Logs
To make the meringue logs, reduce the temperature of the oven to 300 degrees F.

Whisk together the cocoa powder and powdered sugar.

In another bowl connected to a stand mixer, beat together the egg white and cream of tartar on medium-high until stiff peaks form. Add in the granulated sugar and beat for another minute. Sift and fold the powdered sugar mixture over the egg whites.

Fill a piping bag with the meringue and pipe long strips on a baking pan covered with parchment paper.

Bake for one hour or until dry to the touch.

Espresso Buttercream
To make the espresso buttercream, bring the sugar and water to a simmer over medium heat. While the syrup cooks, beat the egg yolks in an electric mixer on high speed for 8 minutes, or until the eggs have quadrupled in size. Check to see if the sugar mixture is ready by taking a bowl of ice water and ladling a little of the sugar water in. Once in, roll the sugar between your fingers. If it forms a soft ball, it’s ready. If it forms thin thread, keep the mixture simmering.

Once ready, turn the mixer to high and slowly beat in the sugar water into the beaten yolks, taking care to not allow the sugar water to touch the mixer’s whisk. Continue beating until the frosting reaches room temperature.

Turn the speed down to medium and add in the butter a little at a time. Beat for 10 more minutes, or until light and fluffy.

Add in the espresso and beat until incorporated.

When the cake has cooled, take one layer and cover the top with frosting, sandwiching it with the other layer. Frost lightly with a crumb coat and refrigerate until the frosting has set.

When set, use ½ of the remaining frosting to frost the sides and top of the cake.

Cut the meringue logs to reach a little over the height of the cake, and press into the frosting. Take a piping bag and fill it with the remaining frosting. Use a 1M tip to make rose rosettes to cover the top of the cake.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lemon Curd Fruit Tarts

With the summer ending, I find myself in a mad panic to make use of the seasonal fresh fruit that will soon be lost with the warm weather. However, I can't help to think that this change in seasons and availability of ingredients might as well be a good thing. Looking back at my previous baking ventures in the past couple of months, I notice a heavily reoccurring theme; fruit. I've gotten myself stuck in a fruit rut, which, while not necessarily bad, does lend itself to be a bit dull after the 75393450 rendition of a tropical dessert.
So these tarts, a (hopefully) last nudge at my fruit-related-dessert obsession, represent a tentative pledge to steer clear from creating more sweets of a similar design and move towards learning new baking techniques involving different ingredients.
Although, I must admit, they were quite delicious :).

Lemon Curd Fruit Tarts
Adapted from Baking by James Peterson
Makes about 12 tarts


Lemon Curd:
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1/3 cup lemon juice
4 tbsp butter, cubed

Cream Filling:
2/3 cup heavy cream
5 tsp sugar

1 mango
red/green grapes
2 kiwis
apricot jam

Unbaked Pie Crust
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

To make the lemon curd, heat the eggs, sugar, zest, and lemon juice in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir frequently with whisk. When the mixture begins to warm, add in the cubed butter, stirring constantly to combine and prevent the eggs from cooking and curdling. Keep mixing until the curd fully thickens. Let cool to room temperature.

While the lemon curd cools, grease the tartlet molds with a thin layer of butter. Unroll the pie dough and cut out rough circles about 1 ½ inches thicker than your tart pan. Place over your pan and mold the dough into the corners, covering completely. Take a rolling pin and roll the top of the fluted pan, trimming away any excess dough. Cover the tartlets with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with dried beans to blind bake them. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Make sure to watch the tartlet shells carefully to prevent burning.

When the curd reaches room temperature, use a mixer to whip up the heavy cream and sugar until it forms stiff peaks. Fold the curd into the whipped cream carefully with a rubber spatula.

When the tart shells have baked and cooled completely, take out the aluminum or parchment paper and beans. Spread a generous amount of the cream into each shell. Decorate with cut fruit and brush the fruit with apricot jam.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Simple Garlic Roasted Vegetables

What is it about the simplicity of some dishes that make them more appealing than those of the finest restaurant? Humble ingredients come together in the minimalist of fashions, to produce stunning plates of wholesome food.

Roasted vegetables have become a favorite on my family’s table, and, no matter how much we make, always disappear by the end of the meal. 

The roasting process brings out the natural sugars in the veggies, giving them a sweet flavor that would turn any closed-mouth (haha), self-proclaimed green hater into an instant lover.
Simple Garlic Roasted Vegetables

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and cut any and all desired vegetables, adding them in a large baking pan. Coat evenly with extra virgin olive oil, seasoning with garlic salt, pepper, and crushed garlic, using your hand to mix the veggies together. Broil for 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are thoroughly cooked. Serve hot, and watch them get gobbled up!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Light Choux Pastry with Sweet Custard Filling and Strawberries

My family shares a common love for food, we just love to eat. So much so, that the entirety of our family events gyrate around great tasting meals. Simple lunches turn into a melting pot of delectable eats, not focusing on a meal with synchronized flavors, but rather a clash of different foods from around the world. Somehow, though, this eclectic mix comes together, just like our extended family, and in its offbeat tempo, finds a harmonious rhythm.
 One of my favorite regulars at our get-togethers would have to be these delectable cream puffs that my Auntie and Uncle bring from a local bakery near their house. Now, let me tell you, these aren’t your run of the mill cream puffs. These little fellows are a croissant-cream puff hybrid, making them light and airy, while upholding a dense, moist middle. I realize that I completely contradicted myself, but these cream puffs are magic. For reals, people, the creators of these little bites of heaven have preformed a miracle second only to the rising of Jesus. Okay, that statement might be a slight exaggeration, but they would at least be third or fourth. Actually, Jesus is probably in the kitchen helping to make them. That makes much more sense.
Alrighty, continuing.

I tried to reproduce them, and came out with results that we’re deliciously tasty, but not quite up to Jesus-cream puff par. These would have to be the second best cream puffs I have ever eaten, which is either saying a lot, or very little considering I have only ever eaten these and my Aunt’s. I focused on using a custard base for the filling, rather than a whipped cream one, to help balance the fluffiness of the pastry itself. And, following Jesus-cream puff suit, added fresh organic strawberries from my local farmer’s market, which brought to the table (literally) a whole new dimension of flavor. 

I also had the benefit to learn how to make choux pastry, which has a very different method of preparing. Those silly Frenchies.

Light Choux Pastry with Sweet Custard Filling and Strawberries

½ cup butter
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs

1/8 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 ¼ cup milk
3 teaspoons vanilla extract (or more to taste)
3 egg yolks
1/2 -3/4 cup sugar (to taste)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine the water and butter in a large pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Add in the flour and salt, stirring until the mix takes on the shape of a ball. Move the dough ball into a bowl, and rapidly beat in the eggs, taking care to mix quickly as to not cook the eggs. Use two spoon to roughly mold and transfer the dough to an ungreased baking sheet. Be sure not to use an ice cream scooper, because it will cause your pastries to be too dense and take on a doughnut-whole texture. Bake the pastries for 20-25 minutes until puffy and golden. While still in the oven, use a toothpick or chopstick to poke a whole in each of the pastries. This will allow the hot air to escape, and keep the cream puff from collapsing. Allow to cool completely.

To make the egg yolk custard, combine the flour and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside. On medium heat, combine the milk, vanilla, and butter, allowing it to simmer, but stirring constantly to keep from burning the milk and creating lumps. Beat the eggs and sugar together until frothy. Stir in the mixture, whisking constantly. When combined, add in the flour and cornstarch. Stir constantly until thickened. Add more sugar and vanilla to taste, you want the custard to be sweet.

Allow the custard to cool completely. When cool, cut the pastry almost in half. Use a piping bag to pipe the desired amount of custard into the pastry. Add in cut strawberry halves, then pipe just a little more custard to the top to hold the pastry together. Garnish by drizzling bakers chocolate over the top with a fork and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Best served slightly chilled!

Fruit Infused Lemon Cheesecake

Adapted from

The inspiration to bake hits me hard. For some reason, almost all of my recipes are made on the fly, on the spur of the moment. I have a bookmarked folder of hundreds of recipes I found and want to try, but I always end up finding a new recipe, then bolting to the store five minutes later to procure the needed ingredients. 
Take this lemon cheesecake for example. Born from passion (baking that is), and raised in the oven, I had a great time decorating it.
Hey gorgeous, yeah, you, flawless. ;)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vanilla Rainbow Cupcakes with Whipped Buttercream Frosting

Adapted from Wee Kitchen

The other day, I had the pleasure of baking with two of my very good gal pals from school, N- and C-. We were trying out recipes for an upcoming bake sale (SQUEEEE!) that would benefit orphans in Korea. We didn’t want to do anything too fancy or time consuming (cost-benefit analysis), but did try our hand at these rainbow cupcakes, along with some cake pops. 

Now, let me tell you, these were TONS of fun to make, and even more fun to eat. C- and I literally squealed (and yes, I mean squealed) with excitement after biting into one from our first batch. The pictures I took don’t nearly do the final product justice, because they look even better in person.

I’m glad we did a few trial runs before our big bake day, because we sure did learn from our mistakes. Initially, we over proportioned our cupcake batter and made SUPER cupcakes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I mean, who doesn’t love humongous cupcakes? Especially rainbow cupcakes. We also ran into some trouble with keeping our layers completely separate. In the end, our monster cupcakes ended up looking slightly radioactive at the top, as the red, orange, yellow, and green ascended into a mosaic of colors in the oven. We weren’t to worried, and had not just a few laughs as we watched our cupcakes grow bigger and bigger, while looking more than a little bizarre at the top. 

In the end, there was nothing a little frosting couldn’t fix, and we considered our cupcakes a great success.
I honestly don't think these could be any easier to make. Just grab your favorite box or homemade vanilla cake recipe, and divide it into 7 bowls. Add in the corresponding rainbow color with food coloring, and use a small spoon to ladle in just a little, layer after layer (I started with the purple on the bottom). Cook for however long your cake mix takes to fully bake, and enjoy!

These would be great to bring in on St. Patty’s day, along with any children’s birthday parties. Now that I think of it, don’t leave the adults out. Who wouldn’t enjoy one? (or six).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Strawberry Pie

What is it about farmer's markets that hold such an appeal to me?
Every Sunday, like clockwork, I'm pulled in to explore the fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, lined up in rows of cheerful colors. 

And, every Sunday, I end up coming home with a 3-pack of gorgeously ripe, red strawberries. 

I know I'll never be able to eat them all by myself, but I just can't resist. 

I usually spend the next couple of days in a strawberry funk, scrambling to turn up a recipe worthy for these red gems. 
And I think I've found that recipe! 

A simple strawberry-sugar sauce, thickened with a small amount of cornstarch and then left to reduce, provide just the right amount of sweetness to compliment the already ripe berries. Layered on my remaining strawberries, then chilled and allowed to set, made this dessert the perfect summer treat.

Why yes, I would like another slice.

White Bread Dinner Rolls

I have to admit, baking with yeast always seemed such a daunting task to me. Something about the whole process; not over mixing, procuring the right temperature for the active yeast, and, not to mention, the patience involved in waiting for a first, then second rise, a virtue I've never had much luck with.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I started making the dough. Man, did it smell GOOD!
I think I must have eaten about half of the bread batter, and you know what?
I regret nothing.

I would never have guessed that unbaked bread could taste so good! The consistency was so foreign to me, not the sticky, light batter that I've become so used to in my sweet usuals. Instead, I was greeted with a much more dense, doughy texture.

 While the process was rather tedious, it wasn't in the least as challenging as I thought it would be. And the outcome? Delicious!

Now, I'm usually not much of a bread person, but the marriage of the freshly baked, browned, slightly-crusted exterior to the warm, moist interior was a carb epiphany.

What light through yonder oven break? 

To make it even better, I decided to pour a little olive oil. That is when I was inspired to add those little black dots of garnish always added in at restaurants. You know which ones I'm talking about? Of course you do.
Black dots!
Only, in cook-talk, those black dots are known as balsamic vinegar. A few words of wisdom, I'd refer to those "black dots" as balsamic vinegar, to avoid the light teasing and laughs from older and wiser relatives. ♡
You learn something new everyday.

This was an undemanding recipe, not including any fancy herbs or add-ins, but the homey, wafting aroma, was rewarding enough in its simplicity. I felt a sudden connection to my late bestemor, or grandma in Norwegian, whilst kneading the dough. Somewhere, in a mess of old photographs and memories, I see her standing next to my young mother, holding two beautiful loaves of freshly baked white bread. The photo does not have a fancy lens, the angle not the best, and the final product not at all up to modern standards, and yet the snapshot holds its own. She passed away when I was very young, and yet, I still can feel her gentleness, benevolence, and kindheartedness radiating in this one brief murmur of time. And now, kneading the thick batter, glancing down at my meandering fingers, I imagine them as her own, preforming the same, repeating motions, and the world seems at peace.
To be making bread from scratch, constructing the dough from ingredients familiar to her, is a humbling experience. 

White Bread Dinner Rolls
 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

3 ¼- 3 ¾ cup all purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup milk (nonfat is fine)
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1 beaten egg
¾ teaspoon salt

Stir together 1 ¼ cup flour and yeast in an electric mixer. In a saucepan, heat and stir milk, sugar, butter, and salt until just warm. Add to the mixture to the flour and yeast and stir in on medium speed. Slowly stir in the remaining flour. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in more flour to make the dough elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, allowing it to rise in a warm place for about an hour. Punch the dough down and place on a floured surface. Divide the dough in half and let rest covered for 10 minutes. Shape the dough and let rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 12-18 minutes depending on size on a greased pan or parchment paper.