Sunday, November 23, 2014

Restaurant Review: Blue Line Pizza

Blue Line Pizza - dinner on November 14, 2014
I met some friends for dinner and we wanted to try out a new pizza place on Castro St in Mountain View. My friend, Queen of Cheap Eats, and I discovered it when we met for dinner at Asian Box beforehand. Since then, we've decided to meet with a couple of other friends once a month to try out new restaurants up and down Castro. Given the plethora of choices (think of Castro St in Mountain View as like an outdoor shopping mall but instead of stores, both sides of the street are lined with restaurants one after the other), it would take us a year just to cover one block.
This time around, we went with Blue Line Pizza as yelp reviews claimed their deep dish pizza was like Zachary's in Berkeley or Patxi's (pronounced "pah-cheese") in Palo Alto. That's enough to get any of us to try it. Turns out they don't take reservations and initially there was going to be a 20-minute wait for a table but some people left when I got there and fortunately, we were able to get seated within a couple of minutes.
The inside of Blue Line is a bit small and shaped like a rectangle. It's the typical real estate of most of the restaurants on Castro. There's also outdoor seating but it was starting to get chilly enough that we opted for an indoor table.
Half "Classic" and half Canadian bacon and pineapple
It can sometimes be a bit tricky to share pizza with friends who might have different tastes. There are only a few toppings I like on my pizza so I've gotten used to picking off unwanted toppings on my piece(s) rather than limiting what others want. But fortunately, Blue Line allows you to order half and half on their pizza. So we got a half Classic (sausage, mushrooms, onions and green bells) and half Canadian bacon and pineapple. I know some people don't like the Canadian bacon and pineapple combo but I love it. If I can't have meat lovers or sausage and pepperoni, my go-to are Canadian bacon and pineapple.
Deep dish always take a bit longer to bake than thin crust; I think ours came out after 20-25 minutes. I love pizza but I have to vehemently disagree with whoever thinks Blue Line Pizza is like Zachary's or Patxi's. No. Way. It wasn't awful but I guess my expectations were too high because I didn't think it was that great. The "deep dish" wasn't very deep at all and it wasn't like it was overflowing with toppings either, at least not on the Canadian bacon and pineapple side. They also overbaked it because the crust was dry and, unlike Patxi's, not very buttery. Bummer.
Caramel Apple Bread Pudding
Fortunately, we ordered dessert in the form of Caramel Apple Bread Pudding. There were only 2 dessert choices on the menu plus a special for the night. The other dessert and the special were some form of cheesecake, the one dessert I won't eat ever so the bread pudding was the optimal choice for all of us. At first we were leery because our waitperson described the bread pudding as being made from the same bread that the pizza crust is made of. Uh, the dry, overbaked pizza crust we just ate, you mean? But we were risk takers and decided to chance it. Luckily, the gamble paid off as the bread pudding was excellent. Maybe because being soaked in custard and doused with caramel sauce prevents it from being dry (seriously, you'd have to completely defy the baking gods to make a dry bread pudding). The taste was good and so ended the dinner on a high note.

Afterwards, I wondered if our dry pizza was just a fluke. Some other friends went another night and had the meatball sub deep dish. They said theirs was fine. Huh.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sugar Cookie Lemon Tarts

Sugar Cookie Lemon Tarts - made November 15, 2014 from Inquiring Chef
I'm still experimenting on what desserts I want to make for Thanksgiving this year. Instead of my usual Lemon Bars that my extended family likes, I thought I'd try out these lemon cookie cups or tarts as its stand-in.
The sugar cookie shell is a basic sugar cookie dough, easy to make and easy to work with. I chilled it for 15 minutes but it was still a bit sticky when I was forming the cookie cups so I recommend not cheating like I did and chill it for at least the full 30 minutes called for in the recipe. The filling made for more tarts than I had dough for, meaning I ended up with 20 tarts but extra filling even after I had filled the 20 as much as I dared.
The recipe calls for baking these for only 10-12 minutes. At 10 minutes, they looked pasty pale and the filling was still a bit jiggly so I ended up baking these for at least 15 minutes. They were still pale and the cookie shells had hardly any color so I did wonder briefly if I had taken them out too soon.
Turns out that I should've remembered that these were sugar cookies and good sugar cookies are always pale. You actually don't want them to get brown or they'll be overbaked and dry. Once the cookie cups had cooled, the filling formed a crack in some of the tarts, signaling that I had baked them a few minutes too long. The finished tarts look like the egg custards you can get at dim sum restaurants but they're really lemon. I ended up liking these and found them worthy of a Thanksgiving table. The only thing I would tweak when it's game time is I would add lemon zest to the filling to make it more lemony. These weren't quite tart enough. Because the shell is a sugar cookie, a more tart filling would provide a better contrast. Oh, and I would recommend not sprinkling the confectioners' sugar over it until right before you serve or else the sugar will just get absorbed into the filling.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt

Lemon Filling
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
juice from 1 large lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Confectioners' sugar for dusting over each tart
  1. Crust: Beat butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on high. Add the egg and mix on medium until fully incorporated. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix on medium just until combined; do not overmix. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin with cooking spray. 
  3. Make the lemon filling: whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, heavy cream, lemon juice and granulated sugar until smooth.
  4. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Divide the dough into quarters and divide each quarter into six even balls of dough. Press each ball of dough into a cavity of the muffin tin. Shape into a cup inside the tin, using your hands or a tart tamper. Pour the lemon filling into the center of each cookie cup, stopping just below the top of the crust.
  5. Bake until the filling is set and the crust begins to turn golden, 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake; pull the tarts out just when you see any golden color on the crusts. Allow to cool completely. 
  6. Dust with confectioners' sugar right before serving.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Coconut Cream-Filled Chocolate Bundt Cake

Coconut Cream-Filled Chocolate Bundt Cake - made November 8, 2014 from Food Babbles
Do you like chocolate and coconut together? How about pastry cream, coconut and chocolate? If so, get the mixing bowl ready.
I posted the original recipe below but for this cake, I actually made a half recipe of my usual pastry cream, added some coconut to it and used that for the filling. I also made up my own glaze with a couple of cups of confectioners' sugar, enough whole milk to make the consistency I want, vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste. And I skipped the Almond Joys because I hadn't bought Halloween candy this year and didn't have any on hand.

Still, this came out really well. I did follow the chocolate cake directions in the original recipe so no modifications there. The only tricky part to this recipe is it's hard to tell when it's done using the toothpick taste. If you poke the toothpick into the center, you run straight into the filling so it comes out gooey. But when I poked the outer ring of the cake and the part closest to the inner tube of the pan, the toothpick came out clean. And of course I had my usual amnesia and forgot to time the cake in the oven. So those are my excuses as to why this was underbaked just a bit. You can tell when you look closely at the center. The chocolate cake was still a bit closer to batter than cake around the filling. Oops. Still, this is good cake. Next time, I'm just going to have to time it.

1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 egg white
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup shredded coconut
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
3 Almond Joy bars, cut in half (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-cup bundt pan with nonstick baking spray containing flour. Set aside.
  2. Make cake batter: In a small saucepan, add butter, cocoa powder, salt and water. Place over medium heat and stir until ingredients are combined and butter has fully melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and baking soda. Add half the cocoa mixture and whisk, just until combined. Add the remaining cocoa mixture and again, whisk just until combined. Next, add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until incorporated. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract. Whisk again until combined. Set aside.
  4. Make Filling: In a clean, dry glass bowl whip the egg white until soft peaks form. Sprinkle sugar gradually into egg white and continue whipping egg white until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the coconut, flour and vanilla extract.
  5. Add half the chocolate cake batter to the prepared bundt pan and spread evenly. Dollop coconut filling over batter being sure to keep the coconut in the center and not letting it touch the sides of the pan.
  6. Spread the remaining cake batter into the bundt pan over the coconut and smooth top evenly.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, until a tester inserted comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  8. Make glaze: In a small bowl, stir together heavy cream and confectioners' sugar starting with 2 tablespoons cream and adding more to achieve desired consistency. Stir in vanilla bean paste.
  9. Drizzle cake with glaze and top with Almond Joy bar halves, if desired.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Biscoff Blondie Brownies

Biscoff Blondie Brownies - made November 8, 2014 from Yummy Crumble
It's been over a week since I've uttered the words "cookie butter" on my blog. Allow me to rectify that dry spell. Biscoff, Speculoos, cookie butter - a rose by any other name has the same amount of calories and is equally addicting. "Little jar of crack" as one of my friends called it. Very observant of her.
I drooled over the pics of these on Yummy Crumble's blog which is usually my signal that I need to make the recipe myself. And they are quite drool-worthy even though I don't usually like to pair cookie butter with chocolate. They complement each other well enough but I like recipes where the cookie butter is the diva and not part of an ensemble cast; chocolate does not yield the spotlight easily, the little attention-getter. Still, these are nothing to sneeze at. They're wonderfully moist and have good flavor(s).
The only thing I would change for next time is I wouldn't use all Pernigotti cocoa for the brownie. A cup of high quality dark cocoa in a brownie makes for a very dark chocolate brownie. I should have "cut" the Pernigotti with the blandness of Hershey's so it's less of a dark chocolate and more of a semisweet. Then the cookie butter would've paired better with it.
One note: if you freeze these after baking like I did, the cookie butter drizzled on top will turn a lighter funny color like it's got freezer burn. Don't worry; if you let it come to room temperature before you serve it or give it away, it'll regain its normal color and be just fine. The taste won't be affected either way. It's still cookie butter in all its glory.
Brownie layer
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour

Blondie layer
3 tablespoons coconut oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Biscoff spread or Speculoos cookie butter
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate, melted, for drizzling
1/4 cup Biscoff or Speculoos, melted, for drizzling
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8" baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. For the brownie batter cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Mix in cocoa powder and salt. Mix in eggs and vanilla until incorporated. Mix in flour until fully incorporated. The batter will be very thick. Spread on bottom of pan.
  3. For the blondie batter: in a small saucepan over medium-high heat melt the coconut oil, brown sugar and biscoff and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. 
  4. In a small mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour biscoff mixture in another bowl and mix in egg and vanilla extract until just blended. Add dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Batter will be very thick. Spread on top of brownie batter.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
  6. Once baked and cooled, drizzle melted chocolate then melted biscoff on top.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Restaurant Review: La Bodeguita del Medio

La Bodeguita del Medio - dinner on November 7, 2014
My friend Lisa and I met for dinner at a new-to-us Cuban restaurant near where I work. She gets a dinner out without her husband and kids and I have an excuse not to work late on a Friday night - win-win for both of us. Plus neither of us had ever been to La Bodeguita del Medio before and it's always fun to try a new place.
The restaurant was filling up quickly but fortunately we had reservations and were seated as soon as we arrived. It probably helped we were both a little late *cough*. Blame traffic.
In any case, we opted to try out two dishes and share them: Arroz Con Pollo and Tierra y Mar (or surf 'n turf if you want the English translation).  Tierra y Mar was marinated skirt steak, coconut-crusted shrimp , sofrito mashed potatoes and asparagus with avocado-cilantro pesto. Yes, it was as good as it sounded. The only drawback is the price point was a bit high at $26. The restaurant isn't really all that swanky, the serving wasn't super huge and there were only 3 shrimp on it. Still, it was tasty.
Tierra y Mar
The Arroz con Pollo was good as well: Cuban-style braised chicken, platanos maduros (plantains) and yellow rice. It was all under a sauce so you couldn't tell what was chicken and what was plantain until you sliced into it. At $18.50, it was cheaper than the Tierra y Mar and had a more generous serving although taste-wise, I think I liked the skirt steak and shrimp a tad bit better.
Arroz con Pollo
Lisa and I have been friends since junior high and one of the keys to maintaining a multiple-decades-long friendship is having a meeting of the minds when it comes to dessert. Meaning since there were two of us, of course we needed to order two desserts that we would both share. Is that friendship or what?
Bread Pudding with chocolate chips and sultanas in rum sauce
The special of the night that our server told us about was a bread pudding with chocolate chips and sultanas topped with vanilla bean gelato and accompanied by a rum sauce. I don't care for rum but we figured it would be okay in a bread pudding. Gads, were we wrong. The rum sauce was so strong it might as well have been straight rum. We didn't want the candle to be too close to it in case it went up in flames and we ended up with flambeed bread pudding. So we just ate the gelato and parts of the top half of the bread pudding, being careful not to touch the rum sauce at the bottom - neither one of us wanted to get drunk off the sauce (seriously, it was that strong).
Havana Bananas
Fortunately, our second dessert of caramelized bananas turned out much, much better and we polished that off with no problem. See, that's why it's good to order two desserts; one must always have a backup. When our server came to clear our table and asked about our meal, Lisa casually mentioned the rum in the bread pudding was really strong. It wasn't a complaint, just feedback for the kitchen. But our kindly server told us when he later brought our bill that he had taken the bread pudding off. We were taken aback as we hadn't expected that but thanked him. I don't believe in complaining about food or service to try and get something for free, no matter how bad it was but when it does happen, I end up increasing the tip to cover the price of the freebie. Even though technically we got it for free, at least we put the price of the bread pudding into the pocket of our server as a tip. Another win-win. And it was really nice of our server and the restaurant to make that kind of gesture. That alone would bring me back.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pumpkin Praline Bread Pudding

Pumpkin Praline Bread Pudding - made November 15, 2014 from Flavor Mosaic
Still experimenting with what to make for Thanksgiving this year. I'm blogging this out of order and leapfrogging it ahead of the other things I made earlier in case anyone else wants to try it for their own Thanksgiving celebration.
I hesitate to make bread pudding as part of a big holiday meal. It's rather substantial and heavy as a dessert and when you add it to a buffet-style offering, it's almost guaranteed to have your guests undo a notch in their belts. Still, Thanksgiving only comes once a year and is a time to express gratitude for bounty. Plus, there's always stretchy pants.
I went with a pumpkin version of bread pudding as a stand-in for pumpkin pie. No one in my immediate family likes pumpkin pie, including me, so we either skip a pumpkin dessert or I come up with an alternative. Pumpkin Praline Bread Pudding is this year's alternative. The custard is rather thick and doesn't absorb into the bread easily so I would suggest planning ahead so that you give the bread time to soak up the custard, at least an hour or two. The nice thing about bread pudding is you can make it the day before and serve it room temperature or warmed up slightly. This helps with time management in the rush of Thanksgiving cooking on the big day itself.
This is a very good bread pudding. The pumpkin flavor is present but not overwhelmingly so and pairs well with caramel. The caramel and pecans is what gives this a little extra, worth-pigging-out factor and why I changed my mind (as of now) about having it as part of our Thanksgiving spread. It's really, really good with the homemade caramel or praline sauce. Make the sauce at the last minute though as the butter separates when the caramel cools. I would suggest having the warm caramel next to the bread pudding and letting your guests pour it over their portion themselves. Chopped toasted pecans next to the caramel would let them add the finishing touches themselves. And since bread pudding is so heavy, you might want to cut these into small pieces.
1 (1-pound) loaf of day-old bread, torn into small pieces (French, Italian or Challah)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

Praline Sauce
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans toasted
  1. Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray and place torn pieces of bread in the dish.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, half and half, pumpkin, sugar, melted butter, eggs, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice.
  3. Slowly pour the batter over the bread pieces in the baking dish, covering them completely. Let stand for at least 1-2 hours.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for approximately 1 hour and let cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
  5. Right before serving, make the praline sauce: in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the butter, heavy cream and brown sugar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and stir pecans into the cream mixture. (Alternatively, you can leave the pecans out of the sauce and serve it separately to maintain their crunch.) Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes; pour over bread pudding to serve.