Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Granola Bar is Popping!

There are times that I find myself pretty much out of ideas for what to serve my son for his afternoon snack or lunchtime treat. I have to admit, sometimes this makes me feel like a failure at being a mom. When I was younger I assumed I would be queen of the PTA, that I would always have the coolest dinner/dessert/art ideas just come to me out of nowhere, that my son and his friends would think I am cool...While I am a member of the PTA and help whenever I can, I am far from queen (those ladies can be catty...yikes!). I try to always be creative and fun, but sometimes my ideas do not always go according to plan and my OCD/Quest for Perfection does not appreciate that. And for right now, my son thinks I am cool. There are days that nothing goes the way I had envisioned it and there are days like today...today I was the mom I envisioned myself to be and came up with a creative way to incorporate some of my son's favorite snacks into the ultimate snack bar.

I present to you: Peanut Butter Popcorn Granola Bars
Peanut Butter Popcorn Granola Bars
It is not only great for an on-the-go kid, or mother, but unlike some store bought granola bars, you know exactly what you are feeding them.


(Makes about 9 3-inch bars)
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar (honey can be substituted)
  • 2/3 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1 cup trail mix
  • 3 cups popped popcorn
  1. Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with foil. Spray foil lightly with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Heat agave nectar in a large saucepan until boiling. Stir in peanut butter until well blended.
  3. Remove pan from heat and stir in granola, trail mix and popcorn until coated.
  4. Press mixture evenly into prepared pan using either a greased spatula or another piece of greased foil. Refrigerate until cool; cut into bars to serve.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Manly Meal: Macaroni and Cheese Beer-ger Soup

Two nights a week I find myself rather short on time given that I am taking Cardiovascular Technology classes. On those nights, I need something that either can be put into a slow cooker and forgotten about, or is quick and easy to make. Today, I was busy trying to develop new recipes for fall inspired baked goods; so I needed to make something rather quickly. I also want to make sure that even though the meal was thrown together quickly, it was hearty and filling enough for my boys.

My boys love "manly" meals. What our family considers manly meals are ones that are hearty and full of meat. You know, food that men love. Our son loves being able to bond with his dad over their love for meat and cheese. And I...while I enjoy both meat and cheese, I do not quite share their deep rooted love, but I do love making them meals they love.

That was my inspiration for tonight: Macaroni and Cheese Beer-ger Soup.
Macaroni and Cheese Beer-ger Soup
With just a handful of ingredients you get a flavorful and filling soup that the most manly of men and daintiest of women will both enjoy.


(Makes 6 hearty servings)
  • 1 (16oz) package of macaroni (I like to use rice macaroni)
  • 2 lbs ground sirloin
  • 1/2 cup carrot, diced
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 (12 oz) cans beer
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 12 oz American cheese
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese , shredded
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • hot sauce, optional
  1. Before you start on your soup base, get a big pot of salted water boiling. Once it has come to a rolling boil, add your macaroni. Cook your macaroni until al dente, or slightly chewy in the middle. Drain, rinse, and reserve for a little later on.
  2. Saute carrots, onion, celery and garlic in vegetable oil until tender. Whisk flour into sauteed vegetables and allow to cook for 1 minute while whisking constantly. You do not want your soup tasting of raw flour.
  3. Add beer to vegetable/flour mixture and whisk until all the flour has dissolved into beer. Add water, chicken broth and milk. Bring to a light simmer. Turn down burner and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. While the soup base is simmering, in a separate pan, brown and drain your ground sirloin.
  5. Add sour cream and American cheese. Stir until well incorporated. Also add your macaroni and browned ground sirloin.
  6. Add remaining cheese and stir until all the cheese has melted and been incorporated. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce (if using).
I hope you enjoy your manly meal. Happy cooking!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows...Enough Said.


When I think marshmallows, I think JetPuff. When I think JetPuff, I think of s'mores. When I think s'mores, I remember a time when I was five and decided to roast a bunch of marshmallows at once and put them on the bench beside me, so I would not have to keep stopping in between s'mores to make some more. Needless to say, the idea ended up going horribly awry. I ended up with a butt full of marshmallows, instead of a belly full (I accidentally sat on them). Back to marshmallows, yes marshmallows...I have always had an affinity for those little. white puffs of spongy goodness. There has always been something inexplicably strange, yet satisfying, to put one in your mouth; to feel it melt and squish across your tongue. Although, I was never fond of the powdery feeling you would feel in the inside of your cheeks when you had had too many.

The whole making my own marshmallows came about when, couple of days ago, I tried my hand at making whoopie pies for the first time. I had never had one before, but I wanted to try something different. Something that my kitchen has never seen before, or my family for that matter. Although I love cupcakes and they will always have a special place in my heart, kitchen, and stomach, I felt it was time for a change. Anyways, I know that whoopie pies usually have a marshmallow fluff based frosting, however, my whoopie pies were marshmallow fluff-free. Partially because that is not a usual staple in our pantries and partially because I had decided to make them spur-of-the-moment. I ended up using a "no-cook" version of 7 Minute Frosting (it is really a great, fluffy frosting I will have to put up one day). Everyone in the house loved the whoopie pies and suddenly I was thinking of creating new whoopie pie flavor combinations, which made me start thinking of marshmallows. Although 7 Minute Frosting tastes great sandwiched in a whoopie pie, I wanted a little more substance.

Sure, I could just go out and buy some marshmallow fluff, but I do not do store bought. Ok...sometimes I do do store bought, but I try to avoid if I can make it. I have seen many food magazines and blogs try their hand at making marshmallows, but I tried to avoid making them at all costs. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was reading the fact that a candy thermometer is often required, I know how to use one, but I am not a fan. Perhaps it was reading stories about marshmallow making going horribly awry. Either way, I have voiced my avoidance of making my own marshmallows to my husband on several occasions, the most recent being last week. And then this morning I announced to my husband, "Today, I am making marshmallows!"

I smiled and waited for him to respond. And he did.

"What happened to you saying you would NEVER make your own marshmallows because it was too messy and too much trouble?"

To which I responded like I always do when I change my mind, which is quite often. I just smiled my sheepish smile.

And do you know what? I am so unbelievably happy that I changed my mind. The marshmallows were not hard to make and they came out amazing! Everyone who has ever made, or tried a homemade, marshmallow is right, once you have had a REAL marshmallow, you never will go back to store bought marshmallows again.
Homemade Vanilla Marshmallows
JetPuff? JetPuff who? I am already dreaming up new flavors to try...


(Makes about 90 (2 x 2) marshmallows. Recipe halves quite nicely.)
  • 4 tbsp gelatin (equals about 4 packets)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • powdered sugar and rice flour (cornstarch may be substituted)
  1. Line an 11 x 15 baking pan with parchment or wax paper. If you do not have this size baking pan, you could use a 9 x 13 pan and a loaf pan for the excess. Coat the paper with vegetable oil or non-stick spray. At this time, also fit your mixer with the whisk attachment.
  2. Mix the vanilla extract and 3/4 cup of water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over to soften (also called blooming) for about 10 minutes.
  3. Put the sugar, corn syrup, remaining 3/4 cup water and salt in a heavy saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, uncover and continue boiling until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234-240 F). I said before that I do not like using candy thermometers, so soft-ball stage would mean that if you dripped some of the hot sugar into ice cold water, it would form a ball. However, if you were to pick up the ball of sugar from the water it would still be malleable. This is how I tested when my sugar was done. Cooking sugar can be a temperamental process and temperatures can change quickly; so watch your sugar carefully. Also, remember this is hot sugar so please, BE CAREFUL.
  4. With the mixer at medium speed, pour all of the hot syrup slowly down the side of the bowl. Use great care as the mixture is very liquid and hot at this point and some may splash out of the bowl ; use a splash guard if you have one. After the mixture has started to come together, turn up the speed to high and whip until the mixture is very fluffy and stiff (about 8-10 minutes). You will notice at this point your mixture will grow quite a bit. Mine almost came to the top of my KitchenAid mixer's bowl.
  5. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and smooth with an oiled offset spatula so that it is level with the top of the rim (it should not completely fill the pan). Allow the mixture to sit, uncovered at room temperature until set and not that sticky. Most recipes will say 10-12 hours, even overnight. I found mine set in about 4 hours. However, it really depends on how thickly you poured your marshmallow and the weather. If it is really hot, you may find it difficult to make your marshmallow set.
  6. When the marshmallow is set, mix equal parts powdered sugar and rice flour and sift generously over the rested marshmallow slab. A lot of recipes I found use just powedered sugar, I think that it would be far too sweet and deter from the smooth, creamy, light flavor. I had read somewhere that some chefs use rice flour or potato starch since both are flavorless and coat the marshmallows without clumping.
  7. After you have liberally sifted the powder mixture onto the marshmallow slab, turn it out onto a cutting board, or counter, peel off the paper and dust with more powder mixture. Slice with an oiled chef's knife, oiled cookie cutters, or clean, oiled kitchen scissors. Dip all cut edges in powder mixture and shake off excess. Marshmallows will keep about three weeks at room temp in an air-tight container. If they last that long...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cupcakes for Breakfast? You Betcha!

According to my in-laws, desserts are most definitely an acceptable form of breakfast, especially if the main component is chocolate. This fact has always brought our son much delight though he rarely partakes now, even when given the option. When I first met them, I thought that it was rather strange growing up in a household where, though desserts were welcome before dinner, it was not allowed before breakfast. In our house, we prioritize healthy eating and using fresh, quality ingredients. Although there are always some form of baked good in the house, we find that just having them always accessible, should a craving arise, is more than enough. We do not always eat something sweet everyday, but we do have them around. Our son loves sweets, but just knowing they are in the house and that he can have one sweet thing a day is enough for him. Though we do not let him have dessert for breakfast, we do usually let him have his dessert after school so he has time to burn the sugar off at kid's gym while we work out.

The oddest thing about breakfast for me is not even that it sometimes comes in the form of cake; it is the fact that I rarely eat it. For a matriarch who is always on her son and husband to make sure they have a good breakfast, I can go most of the day before realizing I am famished and have yet to have eaten anything, much to my husband's chagrin. I am not proud of that fact, as I know I should be eating much more given the amount of physical activities I do. I try to eat more, when I remember. The one thing I always remember and have room for: cupcakes. So I got to thinking...why not put my love for cupcakes and the importance of breakfast together? So I created a breakfast cupcake.

Now I know you are probably asking yourself, "Why not just have a muffin in the morning?" Good question. I will answer that in two parts 1) sometimes muffins have far more sugar and unhealthy stuff than cupcakes 2) Why not just have a cupcake in the morning?

And this baby was born: Strawberry-Banana Breakfast Bonanza Cupcakes.
Strawberry Banana Breakfast Bonanza
A moist strawberry-banana cupcake topped with a lightly sweetened, strawberry studded Greek yogurt* "frosting."

Do you see how this would be a great breakfast? The greatest thing about this cupcake is not that it is just a cupcake for breakfast. It is all about texture and taste. This cupcake it is not quite as rich and dense as a normal cupcake, or muffin. It is also not quite as sweet. It is a perfect balance of fluffy cakiness (yes, this is a word), fruitiness, and creaminess. It utilizes fresh fruit and yogurt. A cupcake foundation based upon those two ingredients cannot be bad for breakfast right? Why not make a batch and let me know...



(Makes about 18 cupcakes)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (sour cream could be substituted, though I recommend the yogurt)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (usually equates to 2 bananas, leave it a little chunky)
  • 1 cup finely diced strawberries (lightly crush with a fork, try to keep it chunky)
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
  1. In a small bowl mix the flour and baking soda together.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl mix together: oil, sugar, Greek yogurt, eggs, and extracts. Mix well.
  3. Fill each of your cupcake liners about 3/4 full.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes.

I used Greek yogurt because it is thicker than regular yogurt. This means that it will not drip off the tops of the cupcake that much. Just do not leave this "frosting" in the sun or refrigerate the frosting, or your cupcakes until you are ready to eat them.
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup finely diced strawberries (lightly crush with a fork, try to keep it chunky)
  • 4-5 tbsp of agave nectar (you can substitute honey)
Mix all of the ingredients together. Try not to mash up the strawberries too much, or you will have a very thin frosting. Place it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to ensure that it has set up enough to be dolloped on.

*NOTE* Greek yogurt can now be found at some grocery stores. You can also most likely find it at health food markets or specialty stores. I like the Fage brand because it is extra thick and creamy. It is an excellent source of protein and low in fat.

Enjoy a cupcake for breakfast once in a while...Happy Baking!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ni Hao Char Siu Bao!

Two days ago I spoke of my love for Chinese BBQ pork, also known as char siu. Today I will speak of my number one love from my childhood: Char Siu Bao. When I was little, I would prioritize eating char siu bao above all else when we would go out to have dim sum. My grandparents used to tell me if I only ate char siu bao, I would end up looking like a char siu bao. That never stopped me from stuffing my face with them and asking for another order to take home.

I had mentioned in the last post that char siu simply meant "fork roasted." Bao means "bun." It is more formally a type of bun, or bread-like item (meaning it uses yeast), that is either steamed or baked and filled with either a sweet or savory filling. Char Siu Bao is a bun filled with char siu. There are two types of Char Siu Bao that are commonly found in Asian restaurants, especially at dim sum. They are either snow white, fluffy buns filled with char siu or they are baked buns with a slightly golden brown, sticky sweet glaze filled with char siu.

I chose to make the later. Not because I prefer one over the other, for there is more than enough room in my heart for both. The main driving force for my choice was the fact that, in our current house, we do not have a steamer large enough to accommodate a whole batch, or even a half batch for that matter, of char siu bao. Sure, I could have bought a bigger steamer. We do have access to quite a few Asian markets, but I wanted instant gratification. Although, the gratification was not too instant. It takes some time to make char siu bao, but believe me friends, it is well worth it.


(Makes 16 buns)

First...the BUN RECIPE:
Bao Dough
  • 1 package of dry active yeast
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (about 110-115F degrees, not too hot or it will kill the yeast)
  • 1 cup warm milk, same temperature as the water
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus extra if needed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 16 squares of parchment paper (approximately 4-in x 4-in)
  1. In a bowl, stir together the yeast, 1 tbsp of the sugar and the warm water. Let stand until the yeast bubbles, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the warm milk, oil and egg; set aside.
  3. You could do this by hand, but I suggest a mixer with a dough hook. In the mixing bowl combine the flour, salt and the remaining 2 tbsp sugar.
  4. With the motor running, slowly pour in the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough forms a rough ball and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about 15 seconds, if using a mixer.
  5. If it seems like your dough is a little too sticky, sprinkle in a tablespoon or two of flour and mix for about 30 seconds longer.
  6. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and spongy but resilient, 3-5 minutes. Or turn up the speed on your mixer with dough hook attachment to knead further.
  7. Form into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator).
While the dough is proofing let us move on to the...CHAR SIU FILLING RECIPE:
Char Siu Filling
  • 1 pound char siu, diced (you can either make your own or buy it)
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  1. In a small bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, water, cornstarch and sugar until smooth; set aside.
  2. Preheat a wok, or saute pan, over medium heat and add the vegetable oil.
  3. When the pan and oil are hot, add the onion. Cook until the onion is softened, but not browned, about 1 minute.
  4. Increase the heat to high, add the char siu. Stir the onions and char siu together quickly.
  5. Stir the sauce mixture that you had set aside quickly and add to the char siu and onion mix.
  6. Bring to a boil and stirring until thickened, about 30 seconds. Then stir in the sesame oil.
  7. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until well chilled. It will thicken slightly more as it cools.
  1. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle with the 2 tsp of baking powder and knead until incorporated, about 3 minutes.
  2. Cut the dough in half and roll each half into a rope about 8-in long. Then, cut each rope into 8 pieces. Be sure to cover unused pieces with a damp kitchen towel, otherwise they will dry out.
  3. Roll each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin, flatten each ball into around 5-in diameter. To fill each bun, place 2 tablespoons filling in the center of a round.
  4. Pull the edges so that they come together and then pinch them together securely to enclose the filling. Shape into a smooth domed bun and place, pinched side down, on a parchment square. Set on a baking sheet.
  5. Make the remaining buns the same way and place 2-in apart on the sheet. Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat an oven to 350F degrees. To make the glaze, in a bowl, stir together 2 tbsp honey and 1 beaten egg. Just before baking, brush the buns with the glaze. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Here you have it...Char Siu Bao.
Homemade Char Siu Bao
I might have been a little overzealous in filling my buns, I like a lot of filling. That would most likely explain the thin tops on mine. Either way, they were delicious. They make a great on-the-go meal. My son had one for breakfast this morning on the way to school.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mmmm-mmm Char Siu Barbecue

I love barbecue. Who does not? I think virtually everyone on this planet does. From the days when cavemen first learned that they could prepare their food over an open fire to the present where we have food competitions steeped in tradition to show which state holds claim to the best barbecue; we are all bound by the open flame. I believe one of the reasons so many people enjoy barbecue is because no matter where you are in the world, every national cuisine has some version of classic barbecue.

Char Siu is originally from southeastern China, but is now a favorite all over Asia; as well as here in the USA. The name translates as "fork-roasted." It describes the original method of cooking which involved hanging strips of marinated meat on forked skewers and roasting them in an oven or over an open fire. Char Siu is a common Chinese staple whether it is a banquet or at dim sum nestled in snowy white steam bread (that is for another post). Be you a lover of Chinese food, or a complete novice to this cuisine, most people love this crimson hued barbecued meat. As a child, I loved it so much that I named my Cabbage Patch doll Lani Char Siu Lee. I hope that this recipe wins your heart and stomach as well.

Homemade Char Siu


(Makes enough marinade/sauce for about 2 lbs of pork)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 lb pork butt (get it sliced up into medallions, about 1-inch thick)
  • 1 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup sherry (rice wine can also be substituted)
  • 6 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp red food coloring (you can use less, or omit, but I love the deep red)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  1. Mix all the ingredients, except for the pork, well so it is just a slightly thick reddish-brown sauce.
  2. In a gallon-size freezer bag add the pork butt pieces and marinate with 2/3 of the char siu sauce for 6-8 hours, preferably overnight is best. It really allows the flavors and color to infuse the meat.
  3. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil into the remaining char siu sauce. Keep this in the fridge for after the pork is done cooking.
  4. After the pork has marinated heat the oven up to about 425F degrees.
  5. Here comes the slightly tricky part: get a wire rack and place it on top of a baking pan that is slightly smaller than the wire rack. Fill the bottom of the pan up with enough water that it will not dry out, but does not touch the wire rack. Place this whole set up in the oven, without the pork.
  6. Leave the wire rack/baking pan set up in the oven for about 10 minutes, then open up the oven door (Be careful of the steam!) and place the pork onto the rack. Turn down the oven to 325F and cook for 30 minutes, flipping the pork over and basting every 10 minutes with a little of the reserved marinade*. With 5 minutes to go, stop basting with marinade. And after 30 minutes I transfer the pork to a heated grill (either indoor or outdoor) to finish off the cooking process and get the smoky flavor. Grill the meat for 4-5 minutes on each side.
  7. Heat the reserved marinade until barely simmering. Slice the pork and pour the sauce over it. Serve with some steamed rice. Enjoy!
*NOTE* If you do not have a grill, or do not want to go through the extra work, you could just cook the char siu in the oven the entire time. Cook the pork in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the juices run clear.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sesame Cupcakes and Honey Tea Ice Cream: A Match Made in Heaven

Things have been on high speed recently, with my son's science themed 8th birthday party this weekend, attending night school, and taking care of the day-to-days of the household. Yet through it all I have been trying to keep up with my blogging (a promise to myself to be more consistent), but yesterday I dropped the ball. I could blame it on the fact that the results of our first Cardiovascular Technology exam were revealed last night. I got an A, in case any of my readers were interested.

However, to make amends for mentioning all the yummy things I have been baking the past couple days on Twitter and on FoodBuzz; I am giving you two recipes tonight. Yes, you read correctly, two recipes. They are for the newest cupcake to grace my kitchen and the ice cream I created to accompany it.

I love sesame seeds. Asian desserts use these little, nutty bits of heaven to make sweet dessert-type drinks and as filling for glutinous rice balls that are served with a palm sugar sauce, which I love. My husband, though openminded, is not really a fan of such treats. Neither is our son. I decided to try making a cupcake, something our whole family loves, using black and white sesame seeds. Both are based upon recipes in Alice Medrich’s book Pure Desserts. They went over well in our household. So well in fact, that my husband says he is having some for dessert tonight.

Open Says Me Cupcake and homemade Honey Tea Ice Cream


(Makes 12-14 cupcakes.)
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/8 cup toasted black sesame seeds
  • 1/8 cup toasted white sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
  1. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Beat the eggs together in a bowl with a whisk. Add the sesame oil and vanilla and thoroughly combine.
  3. Add the vegetable oil, then the sugar and beat for several more minutes until it is light-colored and well blended.
  4. Pour in a third of the flour mixture, and beat just until combined. Scrape down the sides as necessary.
  5. Add half the buttermilk and beat until combined.
  6. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, the rest of the buttermilk, and finally the rest of the flour mixture with the sesame seeds*. With each addition, beat it only until it is just incorporated.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 20-22 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
*NOTE* You could just add the toasted sesame seeds whole, or like me, mix the two types of sesame seeds together and grind half of that mixture. It distributes the nutty sesame flavor more thoroughly throughout the cupcake.


(Makes about 4 servings, 1 cup each)
  • 3/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 cups cream
  • 2 black tea bags
  1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it just barely simmers around the edges. Pour into a bowl and steep the tea bags in the milk for about 10 minutes. Allow the tea milk to cool completely.
  2. Whisk in the honey and pinch of salt until they are dissolved. You have to make sure the milk is fully cooled or the mixture could curdle. Mix the honey in slowly and carefully at first.
  3. Whisk in the cream.
  4. Pour it in the ice cream machine, or do what I did, follow David Lebowitz's directions to make ice cream without a machine. It is a little more work, but very gratifying.
I hope your family enjoys these sweet, toasty cupcakes and delicious ice cream as well.
Happy Baking!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Soup That Saved Last Night's Dinner

I am, by no means, a classically trained chef; or classically trained anything for that matter. However, I have always carried a certain sense of pride for the fact that in all the times I have spent in the kitchen in my twenty-seven years of life I have had very few failures. Sure...I have had a cake overflow and had my hair get caught in a mixer (I was five!), but I have had very few things deemed virtually inedible. Perhaps, not any...until last night. Enter my Chicken and Barley Bake...
Chicken and Barley Bake
Sure...it does not look half bad. But, as they say, looks can be deceiving. For hidden within the ochre glow of this harmless looking chicken and barley bake hides what must have been a bucket of salt and napalm.

I am actually glad that I had my Cardiovascular Technology exam last night because if I could have seen the faces that went along with the description of how it tasted I might have been done for. On my way back home from class I text my husband to ask how dinner had gone, as I was sure it would have been good, given that the kitchen had smelled quite delicious before I had left. My husband responded that it had been good, but a little "too spicy." Too spicy? My family loves spicy. It had been just a little "too spicy" that our son barely finished half of his serving. My son loves my cooking. I could already feel the sense of dread for my serving when I got home. As I entered the kitchen upon my return it smelled just as good as when I had left. I helped myself to a plate, took one bite, and nearly died.

What had gone so wrong that it tasted of nothing but salt and absolute atomic heat? It could not have been the dash of chili flakes. My family loves the spiciness that those little red flecks give, so much so that I usually double it whenever a recipe calls for it. Was it the sprinkling of curry? Hmmm...the curry. That must have been the culprit for all the other ingredients I use on a daily basis and they have never caused my throat to literally bleed. I am highly exaggerating, but you get the drift. It was not up to my usual standard of culinary artistry.

I felt horrible. Not only for the fact I had left my boys with something like that to satiate their hunger, but also for the fact I still had a lot of the atomic barley left over. My family loves all whole grains, nuts, and legumes so I had made extra in anticipation for requests to be packed for snack/lunch. We try to waste as little as possible in our house, have to set a good example for the next generation. So there I stood hovering the still half-full dish of barley over the garbage wondering what I could do to salvage it when it came to me...soup! I thought that perhaps if I diluted it with enough water, and a little chicken stock, added some vegetables, and a little protein it could be saved. That perhaps this sad barley had not been cooked in vain.

Tonight, I turned last night's dinner disaster into a dinner worth asking for seconds. I added some more carrots, a couple stalks of celery, an onion, some garlic, and two chopped, grilled New York strip steaks. And out of the fiery chicken and barley ashes this phoenix was born...Steak and Barley Soup.
Homemade Steak and Barley Soup
My good standing in the kitchen has been restored.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Marinating Makes the World an Easier Place:Tangy Mustard Pork Chops

So since I had been MIA for slightly over a week, I did not get to post the pork chop recipe I came up with (entirely of my own creation might I add) for dinner last Tuesday.

For us, making time for a family dinner can be difficult during the work week. Our schedules are pretty full: each morning we run before breakfast and then go to the gym in the afternoon. My husband is a computer test engineer at a super computer company and awaiting his delayed entry into the Navy. Our son is now a third grader at a new school where he just joined the running club. And although I am currently a stay-at-home mom; I do take Cardiovascular Technology classes three nights a week (soon to be two nights, thank goodness). We are busy people.

However, I do not skimp on quality in our house because I know that a good meal is integral to a happy, and healthy, family. I can, and often do, spend all day preparing dinner for my family. I usually try to make it something where it can be prepared during the day and thrown into the oven before our gym workouts if I want to enjoy it with them before class. Which is one reason I say that marinating makes the world an easier place.

I love marinades. They often can be created with virtually anything you have in stock, including just plain Italian dressing, though I personally have never taken that route. The best part: they are quick and easy, which we love. They also infuse so much flavor without a lot of work. You just set it and forget it.

There was recently a great deal going on at our local Vons for pork chops, and not just thin little ones. No. These ones were slightly over an inch thick. We bought a package of six and surprisingly, since we are Vons Club members, the total came up to just under $9. Amazing, no? This marinade was thrown together at the beginning of the morning, they marinaded all day, I threw them in the oven before our workout and when we got home I they were done.


(Serves 6)
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 5 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced (I used 1 tbsp + 1tsp of prepared chopped garlic, saves my fingers)
  • 6 pork chops, at least 1-inch thick
1. Mix the first eight ingredients together well.
Ingredients for Tangy Mustard Pork Chop marinade
2. Add the pork chops to the mixture. I like to do this in a tupperware container, as ziplock bags can sometimes have small holes and cause a mess in your fridge.
Pork Chops in Tangy Mustard marinade
3. Marinate the pork chops for at least two(2) hours, or overnight.
4. When you are ready to bake the pork chops, preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
5. Bake for between 45-60 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pork chops.

I served our pork chops with sauteed green beans and buttered curly noodles. This is sure to please your family as well.
Plated Tangy Mustard Pork Chops
Happy Baking!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies and Pure Decadence

Yesterday my darling friend Izzy, had our family, along with a few other friends, over to her house for a barbecue. And of course, besides bringing a side dish, I had to make something sweet to end the meal.

I found this the perfect opportunity to make Smitten Kitchen's absolutely drool-worthy Cheesecake-Marbled Brownies that she most recently blogged about. If there is something that my family really loves, it is chocolate. And, if there is something that my husband and son really love, it is brownies. I quite enjoy cheesecake, but the boys in my house (ie: the hubby and little monkey) are not really fans. So having cheesecake is rather a rare occurrence. However, when I showed my husband the amazing pictures of the brownies, he agreed that they definitely looked to be worth trying.

That was all the indication I needed to make them. Enough said.

As I went into the kitchen, laptop in tow, to start preparing the brownies; I noticed that the recipe was only meant to yield an 8 x 8 pan worth. Normally, I would just double to recipe to accommodate our larger crowd. Unfortunately for me, I only had enough unsweetened chocolate and cream cheese on hand for one batch; a result of a busy week of baking experiments. I also did not have enough time to go to the store to restock, bake, and cool the brownies before the event. So I started thinking about what could be paired with the brownies to extend this recipe to fit in a 9 x 13 pan. After some thinking, I figured chocolate chip cookies would be a great accompaniment to these decadent looking brownies. Specifically, a brown sugar chocolate chip cookie dough (since, once again, this week's baking had left me extremely low on granulated white sugar). The recipe is at the end of this blog.

And behold, these chewy, chocolaty, rich bits of heaven were born.
Cheesecake Swirl Brownie Cookie Bars

Everyone raved about these cheesecake-marbled brownie chocolate chip cookies bars (I might have to come up with a shorter name) last night. And the left over brown sugar chocolate chip cookie dough makes lovely cakey, crispy on the edges, cookies. A perfect Sunday afternoon: some brown sugar chocolate chip cookies and an ice cold glass of milk. Decadence!

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies


(Makes about 3-4 dozen. Recipe adapted from Baking Blonde.)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (I used shortening, it yields a cakier cookie)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt (I used 1/2 tsp regular salt)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used semisweet mini chips)
  • 2 tbsp water (omit this if using butter)
Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
  1. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl; set aside.
  2. Beat the butter and brown sugar until thoroughly blended.
  3. Add eggs, and vanilla and mix well.
  4. Then add dry ingredients and mix just until all the flour is blended.
  5. Gently fold in your chocolate pieces.
  6. Scoop desired size of dough onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  7. Bake 10-12 minutes (depending on the size of your cookies and your oven) or until cookies are just turning golden brown.
  8. Cool cookies on cookie sheets for 5 minutes. Then transfer to cooling rack until cooled completly. Serve or store in airtight container.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cupcake Hero: Banana Pandan-monium!!!!

So...ok, I have not updated this blog in slightly over a week, things at my household have been rather crazy. Our son just started the third grade at a new school, my husband had a Navy meeting (he is on delayed entry...ugh!), and I have been in a quasi-baking-related funk.

No worries though, I am back with a renewed vigor and ready to take on the baking world once again.

If any of you have not heard, Cupcake Hero is back. It is now being hosted by the lovely iheartcuppycakes And this month's theme is: bananas. My family and I love bananas, unfortunately Mrs. iheartcuppycakes is not a fan. Now although I know she is not the only person deciding the winner, I felt it my mission to not only come up with something eye catching and unique, but also something that I think she would enjoy.

Over the past couple weeks I had been pouring over ideas and discussing them with my husband, to which he always just seemed to nod and agree, he trusts my judgement on all things baking-related. Finally, I thought I had "the cupcake": a red velvet cupcake with some sort of banana infused frosting. However, after trying it, it was not different enough. You know me, safe is never enough. Tried and true is never enough. I wanted more.

Enter my cupcake, "THE CUPCAKE": Banana Pandan-monium...a pandan coconut cupcake topped with a banana cream cheese frosting mixed with chopped pecans (for a textural crunch) along with a light sprinkling of desiccated coconut and a slice of banana.
Picture 210
The first thing you probably notice is...it is green. Not just green. It is green green. The coloring comes compliments of an Asian staple called pandan*. While some people will say it has an "herbal or floral" type flavor, I would say it is more of an earthy, somewhat nutty flavor which lends itself well to being paired with coconut, as I did in my recipe. Now I bet you are saying, "That is all fine and dandy, but I thought that the theme was bananas." You would be correct. And while I said that pandan lends itself well to the flavoring of coconut, it also goes exceptionally well with banana. So since pandan goes so well with both flavors; I used both in the cupcake. Also, what is great about this cupcake is that it is a one-bowl mix and does not require any eggs. I hope you enjoy this tropical and optically pleasing cupcake.


"The Pandan-monium Part"

(Makes about 12 cupcakes. Recipe adapted by ToHappyVegans.)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup + 1tbsp oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (I used coconut cream for a more pronounced coconut flavor)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp ( I used 2 tsp of pandan paste because I wanted a strong color and I love the taste)
  • 1/4 cup desiccated coconut
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

This recipe does not really require any numbered steps. Simply place all the ingredients into a bowl and mix until all the flour is combined. Place in souffle cups, or paper liners, and bake for (15-17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean). Cool thoroughly on rack before frosting.

"The Banana Part (ie:Banana Cream Cheese Frosting)"
  • 1lb cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1/3 cup pecans, chopped
  • desiccated coconut and banana slices, for garnish
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and extracts together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy. Fold in the pecans.

Frost completely cooled cupcakes. Top with a sprinkling of desiccated coconut and a banana slice.

*NOTE* Pandan paste can most often be found in any local Asian food market. It usually is in the baking isle and looks like this.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Quest for Chinese Sponge Cake...

On Sunday night my parents invited my family over for homemade pizza (we make everything from scratch for pizza in our family) and, like usual, I made dessert.

Now that Bride and Groom 1.0's hot air balloon wedding has passed (they loved their cake by the way, so much so that Bride 1.0 kept one of the birds as a memento) and my son's 8th birthday party fast approaching, along with my Cupcake Hero entry, I decided that Sunday would be a great day to make a dessert just for my family and I. A dessert that had no ulterior motives, no weddings, no birthdays... Perhaps just to end the week on a sweet note. A week of immense heat, humidity, and second degree sugar burns. After Saturday night's Asian dinner success, I have been itching to try more Asian recipes. During Saturday night's dinner my father had mentioned that since I love baking so much, I should try and learn how to make Chinese Sponge Cake also known as Gai Don Go. Otherwise known as "Chinese Birthday Cake."

Chinese Sponge Cake is nothing more than a light, but slightly eggy, sponge cake with layers of whipped cream and fruit. It is light. It is sweet in the most understated manner. It is simple.
Chinese Sponge Cake aka "Chinese Birthday Cake"
It is delicious.

It apparently is also very difficult to find a recipe for. I cannot tell you how many searches, forums, and websites I had to go through even to find something that looked to be promising. One of the main problems is because most Chinese Sponge Cakes, or anything of the sponge or cake nature, in Chinese cooking tends to be steamed. This cake, however, is baked which made the search all the more difficult. Fear not though, for I have hope for all of you out there in search of the Holy Grail of Chinese cooking, for I have found one that is so close to the Chinese bakery style cake that my own Chinese father kept the half of the cake, and all the cupcakes, that I had brought over to end our meal. If that does not tell you it is great, I do not know what will. This recipe is Chinese father approved.

Cute China Doll
(Recipe adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini. Makes 36 cupcakes. Or 1-9x13 cake. Or like I did: 18 cupcakes and 1-9in cake. )

  • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp cake flour (if you do not have cake flour around, take a 1-cup measuring cup and put 2 tbsp of corn starch in the bottom, then fill the rest of the way with all purpose flour. It makes a good substitute)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 6 eggs, separated (room temperature)
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (I added it to further stabilize the egg whites)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (She asks for a pinch, what is a pinch really?)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup oil
Preheat oven to 340F degrees.

  1. Prepare souffle cups, if making cupcakes, or ungreased aluminum cake pans. DO NOT use nonstick cake pans. However, if you only have nonstick cake pans, line the edges, just the edges, with aluminum foil. It will give the cake something to grip to which will help with the rising of the cakes. The rise of this cake is quite crucial.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder together 3 times, or combine the flour and baking powder in a freezer bag, zip it shut with lots of air inside so it will form a balloon of sorts, and shake the bag vigorously to make the flour fluffy. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract, and 6 tablespoons of the sugar (reserve the rest for later). Whisk for several minutes, until the mixture turns pale yellow and thick ribbons fall from the whisk.
  4. Stir in the water and the oil, and whisk well between each addition. Fold in the flour mixture and whisk until well blended, but don't overmix.
  5. In another large, clean bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and reserved sugar, and beat with a clean whisk until stiff. You may use an electric whisk or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment; make sure neither the bowl nor the whisk have any trace of fat, or the eggs will not rise and cake will be of flat variety and not of sponge decent.
  6. Fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the batter and mix gently until blended. Fold in the rest of the egg whites, gently lifting the batter up and over the egg whites with a rubber spatula until just blended.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared cups, or pans, to about 3/5 of their capacity. Bake until set and golden brown (about 20 minutes for cupcakes and 35-40 minutes for cakes).
  8. Invert the cups onto a cooling rack so the cakes will not collapse, and let cool completely.
  9. To unmold, run the blade of a knife around the inside of the cup to loosen, and shake gently until the cake falls out.
Once your cake is cooled, feel free to eat as is, which is absolutely yummy. Or do as I did and decorate with fruit and freshly whipped, slightly sweetened whipped cream. Just use whatever type fruit, or filling, you like. Be creative. Have fun with it.
Chinese Sponge Cake aka "Chinese Birthday Cake"
Happy Baking!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Easy Cake Mix Cookies and Ice Cream Sandwiches

The last couple days have been very busy, even more so than the normal rigors of our everyday life. Not too busy that I have not been able to bake or cook a single thing. Yeah right! Would never happen in my house.

No...these past couple days have been filled with the recipe hunt for, and creation, of my first Chinese Sponge Cake, making a surprise Alien birthday cake for my son, Kyle, who turned 8-years-old today, and the creation and execution of a pork chop dish (all of which will be in blogs to come).

However, today's blog will be about something completely different. Actually, it will not even be about something I baked. Today, in honor of my son, Kyle, turning 8-years-old today, he is the star of this blog. He has been watching me chronicle my kitchen adventures and wanted to be a part of it. So yesterday, while we were purchasing some last minute things for his birthday cake, he asked if he could make a treat for his father, and if I would put it in my blog. How could I deny such a fun and innocent request? So without further adieu...here is Kyle's captioned photo blog...

The finished ice cream sandwiches

(Makes 22 cake mix cookies and 11 ice cream sandwiches)
  • 1 box of cake mix (we used Pilsbury's Moist Deluxe Chocolate Cake)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pint ice cream, softened
  • sprinkles, chopped nuts, jimmies
Super simple ingredients

First you pour the cake mix into a bowl.
Pour the mix

Then you whack the two eggs into the bowl.
Crack the eggs

Make sure you wash your hands after you touch the eggs or you could get sick.
Washing hands after touching raw eggs

Then put the oil in.
Add the oil

Then you mix it all up and if it gets too hard to stir, give it to mom.
Stir really good

And then show off like you stirred it.
This is the batter

Scoop spoonfuls of batter (about a well-rounded tablespoon) and roll them into balls. This is my favorite part!
Roll the dough

Smash them, not too hard, just kind of flat on a (ungreased) cookie pan (wax paper was put on because I let him use old cookie sheets). And after they're all done, you can lick the spoon. My other favorite part!
Now you can lick the spoon

Put them in the oven and bake them (7-9 minutes, or until puffed and only slightly depressed when lightly touched). You should probably let your mom do this. When they're done, let her take them out. You can swim while they cool down.


Take a spoon of kinda melted (softened) ice cream onto one cookie.
Spread on softened ice cream

Put another cookie on top and kind of smash them together. Not too hard or the ice cream comes out!
Lightly squeeze together

Then you roll them in sprinkles. I picked out Turtle Crunch for these.
Roll in topping of your choice

Then...ta-da...it's done!
The finished product

You can stick them in the freezer. Or...eat them right away, like me!
Now you can eat!

You should make some today...my dad loved them!
Dad eating one of his ice cream sandwiches