Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Best Snickerdoodle Recipes

Snickerdoodles! I've loved snickerdoodles since I was a kid, partly because of their silly name and partly because they satisfied both my sweet tooth and my plain-eating ways. I haven't quested for THE snickerdoodle recipe like I've searched for the ultimately chocolate chip cookie recipe (of which I found 4) but I have compiled some pretty good ones over the years. Here are my favorites:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Restaurant Review: Terun Pizzeria

Terun Pizzeria - dinner on September 11, 2015
In my continuing quest to try out new local restaurants, especially ones that make the Top 10 list for anything, I convinced my friend Jenny to try out Terun for our next dinner get together. Terun had made the list of Top 10 Pizzerias in the South Bay, a list where, between Jenny and me, we had tried out only 4 of them. Time to expand our culinary horizons.
The nice thing about Terun is it’s away from bustling University Ave with its plethora of restaurants but dearth of parking spaces. California Ave isn’t as densely populated with restaurants as University which also means you can actually find parking. When Jenny and I arrived, the restaurant was still fairly empty but was on track to be fully booked. We hadn’t made a reservation but, having arrived at 6 pm on a Friday, were told a table was available if we could wrap up by 7:30. An hour and a half seemed like a reasonable period for dinner and, added bonus, it was probably safe to assume we’d get prompt service since the restaurant had – bad pun intended – table stakes to get us served and whisked out the door on time.

Fried pizza dough appetizer
The menu offered a reasonable variety of Italian fare with its famous pizzas and pasta offerings. Jenny and I split an appetizer of fried pizza dough ($12, I know, I know but it was Friday, c’mon) and decided to share a pizza (that’s what we came for after all) and a pasta so we didn’t have to choose one or the other and could get both in. As with many of my friends, because I’m a picky eater and most of my friends are not, we worked out a reasonable approach on what to order.  We came to mutual agreement on which pizza to get (the Terun, $17)) and, for the pasta, she picked three for me to choose from that she would want to eat and I chose from her 3 options. Win-win. In this case, our waiter overheard our strategy and Jenny’s top 3 choices and of the 3, he recommended the Chittarine ($18) which was spinach spaghetti Bolognese. I’m not a huge fan of spinach spaghetti but what the heck, I decided to try it and ordered that for the pasta.
Terun pizza

Turned out to be the right choice because, much as we came for the pizza and it was good, it turned out I liked the Chitarrine even better. It wasn’t all that “spinach-y” and the sauce was nicely Bolognese-y to this carnivore. It was delicious. The manager (at least I think it was the manager) came over to see how we were enjoying our meal and he told us that used to be one of their specials that they had just made into a regular menu item because it was so popular. I can see why. Freakin’ delicious, I tell you.

Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding
We didn’t finish all of the pizza but I did have the last bite of the spinach spaghetti Bolognese and I have no shame in saying so. I also had very little shame into being talked into getting dessert. We looked over the dessert menu, Jenny narrowed her choices down to the tiramisu and the chocolate chip bread pudding and I went with the bread pudding ($8). Another winning choice, if I may preen and say so. OMG, this thing was amazing. Just the right size for two people to share, served warm in a bowl of chilled vanilla cream (and you know I don’t really like cream but this was good) and just very excellent bread pudding. We did leave some in the bowl as we were both pretty full though. Next time I would skip the appetizer, go with just the pasta and get the bread pudding.

By the time we left Terun, it was overflowing with people. Literally. I’m glad we got there as early as we did; if we’d been any later, I’m not sure we would’ve waited for a table and then we would’ve missed out on an excellent dinner with wonderful service. Props to Terun. Even if it did mean I was so carbo-loaded from that dinner that I ran 5 miles the next morning in under 48 minutes. It was worth it.
P.S. I ended up going back to Terun a week later with another group of friends - had to get the Terun and the Chitarrine again but since we had more people, I also got to see what the lasagna and the San Daniele pizza was like. Lasagna was excellent although a bit on the small side when you split it four ways, ha. I actually didn't get to try the San Daniele as I wanted to save room for the bread pudding dessert again. But it looked good.
San Daniele Pizza

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Nutella-Stuffed Caramelized Bananas

Nutella-Stuffed Caramelized Bananas - made September 7, 2015
I’m going to blame one of my friends on Facebook for this one. Or maybe I should say credit her instead. Because someone posted a video on her wall about how to make Nutella-stuffed bananas and I was so intrigued that I had to try it for myself. 
The video made it look so easy! You slice the curved ends off the banana, poke a straw down the middle of the banana to create a hole, fill that hole with Nutella then plug the ends with bits of the banana that came out in the straw. Then you roast the bananas. Simple, right? Ha, never be fooled by a BuzzFeed video that could make building a shopping mall with 3 Q-tips, 2 toothpicks and some string look easy. 
First of all, bananas are curvy. If you cut out all the curvy parts, you’d be left with a 1-inch log of banana. If you really only do cut off the ends and stick the straw through the main banana, the straight straw will not follow the banana’s curve and you’ll end up with a straight hole in a curved banana. So it might look like the hole is perfectly in the middle at one end of the banana and completely to the left or not even in that part of the banana anymore by the time you get to the other end.

Second, there’s no earthly way to neatly get the banana that was hollowed out by the straw. That part of the banana is inside the straw and it’s staying there. I end up plugging the holes with parts of the banana ends I had cut off the banana. It wasn’t a perfect fit but really, does it matter? I didn’t think so either.
The Nutella was easy enough to fill the banana with. I spooned some in a plastic baggie, cut off a corner and squeezed that baby into the banana. My only point of dissatisfaction was the straw didn’t make a big enough hole to put very much Nutella into the banana. Next time I’m using an apple corer. Ha.
Lastly, I made up my own caramelization step – melted a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of brown sugar and let the bananas bask in their caramelized glory. The only thing I would caution is that you need to caramelize the bananas under low heat and keep a careful eye on it. You’d be surprised how quickly a nice brown sugar caramel goes from nice to burnt. *I* would no longer be surprised by it but the element of surprise tends to be removed once you learn something the hard way.
In any case, this was fantabulously yummy. Yes, I just made up a word and no, I don’t care. It’s caramelized bananas. With Nutella inside. Glory, people, just glory.
1 large banana, firm-ripe but not overly ripe
nutella, fitted into a plastic ziploc bag, corner cut off
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
  1. Peel banana and cut off ends. Puncture middle of banana through with a straw or other cylindrical object that will hollow out the inside of the banana.
  2. Squeeze the nutella into the hollow left by the straw until it fills through the other end. Plug both ends with bits of banana.
  3. Melt butter and brown sugar over low heat in a small frying pan and place nutella-filled banana into mixture, rolling gently until it has caramelized. Be careful not to burn the mixture.
  4. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Psycho Donuts

Psycho Donuts - visited August 22, 2015
Besides having a burger at Brown Chicken Brown Cow and ice cream afterwards at Campbell Creamery, I also stopped off at nearby Psycho Donuts before I went home. I know, you’d think by now if I had cut myself, pure granulated sugar would come pouring out of my veins. But actually, I only bought a couple and brought both home to share with my nieces.
Before cupcakes and macarons, there was a doughnut craze. Do you remember all the hype about Krispy Kreme and getting hot, fresh doughnuts? The big fuss about Dunkin’ Donuts and lamentation on the West Coast that we didn’t have them here like they did on the East Coast? Not being a doughnut person, it’s safe to say the doughnut hype came and went without me paying much attention to it. If doughnut shops did spring up from that craze, I don’t know how many have lasted. And since I’ve discovered Stan’s Donuts, I will likely never eat another Krispy Kreme again. Even then, I think I’ve only gone to Stan’s twice since I found them – yep, just not a doughnut person.
However, as a Bay Area local, even *I* have heard of Psycho Donuts. At work, there would sometimes be free offerings of Psycho Donuts and you know, because of the name, I had to go look. As near as I can tell, Psycho Donuts prides itself on a plethora of wild flavors, add-ins and toppings to make every kind of doughnut imaginable. And I have a pretty good imagination. But even I could not have imagined Psycho Donuts’ very creative flavor combinations and names.

To list a few:
Nutella the Hun: Nutella and sprinkles covering a chocolate cake donut
Cereal Killer (get it??): a donut covered in colored cereals
Dirty Turtle: doughnut filled with cheesecake and topped with "Oreo dust" and caramel
It's a Rocky Road: chocolate cake donut, chocolate icing, peanuts and marshmallows
I’ve had the German Chocolate one when it was put out at work – I thought that was good and the only thing that made it a doughnut was the round shape. Otherwise it was a chocolate cake with coconut pecan filling on top of it. The other doughnuts on offer really looked a bit psychotic in that a bunch of “stuff” was thrown on top of a doughnut, like graham crackers and marshmallows for the s’mores doughnut or chopped up Oreos on top of a vanilla-frosted doughnut for a cookies ‘n crème theme.

On my one and only visit (so far), I went with a more sedate coconut doughnut and, for a walk on the (somewhat) wild side, a "Sticky Monkey" which seemed to be the bananas foster doughnut equivalent to an apple fritter. In fact, it's billed as "Bananas Foster in donut form". With salted caramel.

In accompanying its theme, the counter person dressed as a nurse in a psych ward offered me a piece of bubble wrap as I was making my purchase. Because it’s said that psychotics in the ward would find popping bubble wrap soothing to their frayed nerves. Okay, then. It’s kitschy, it’s cute and if you like doughnuts, Psycho Donuts is a must-visit. The Desserted Island doughnut was pretty basic (yeast doughnut covered in coconut and cinnamon) which is what I wanted since I’m not the most adventurous doughnut taster – it was good but doughnut for doughnut, I would say Stan’s Donuts is better.

Sticky Monkey
But the Sticky Monkey was good. Really good. Like “I know this is a thousand calories but that’s okay with me” kind of good. 
Sticky Monkey
Desserted Island

German Chocolate Cake Donut

Monday, September 21, 2015

Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars

Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars - made September 19, 2015 from Land O Lakes Cookies
I’m supposed to be cutting back on the baking but we had a potluck at church yesterday plus I could also bring some to work today so it seemed like a good time to bake. I had pecans in the freezer and a bag of caramels and a Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips in the pantry so I talked myself into trying out this recipe. Even if it did mean I had to go out and buy butter. And milk.
This was a basic recipe from one of my baking books that I’m trying to convince myself to thin off of my bookshelves since I’m cutting back on baking and I shouldn’t need all these cookbooks, right? My problem is, one of the ways I’m trying to thin out my cookbooks is to go through them and make sure there aren’t any recipes in there that I want to try before I give it away. Well, you can imagine how (un)successful that approach is turning out to be. In flipping through the cookbooks, rather than putting them in the donation pile, I end up earmarking the recipes I want to try before I give the book away. Or before I put it back on my bookshelf.
This was one such recipe because it was quick and easy to do – make the crust, reserve a handful for sprinkling on top, melt some caramels and milk, toast the pecans, parbake the crust, sprinkle with toasted pecans and chocolate chips and scatter handfuls of the reserved crust mixture over the top before baking again. It sounds harder than it is because it wasn’t hard at all. I did reserve a larger portion of the crust than the recipe called for because I wanted to make sure I had enough to cover most of the caramel. Caramel, when baked at high heat then cooled, tends to become more chewy than I care for so I didn’t want it fully exposed in the second baking. Also, when scattering the reserved crumb mixture, squeeze handfuls to clump together before sprinkling chunks over the top of the caramel, pecans and chocolate chips. You don’t really want a streusel crumb topping with a lot of loose crumbs. Instead, clumping the crumbs together makes for a more crisp top which is a nice contrast to the caramel.

Don’t skip toasting the pecans! That brings out the flavor and also adds a nice crunch. This was a good bar cookie (got compliments on it at work and at the church potluck) although I hate to admit – after cutting back so much on sugar, this did seem a trifle too sweet for me. If you want to counter the sweetness, try cutting back on the caramel and adding more toasted pecans. I left off the topping that was in the original recipe which called for melting more chocolate chips, covering the top of the bars with the melted chocolate and sprinkling with more pecans. This is the plainer version but still good.
Crumb Mixture
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¾ cup unsalted butter
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Caramel Mixture
1 14-ounce package caramels, unwrapped
½ cup milk

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pecans, toasted
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9 x 13” baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large mixer bowl, combine all crumb ingredients. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until mixture is crumbly, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 1 cup crumb mixture; set aside. Press remaining mixture on bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a 2-quart pan, combine milk and caramels. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until completely melted.
  4. Sprinkle hot, partially baked crust with 1 cup chocolate chips and ½ cup chopped pecans. Pour caramel mixture evenly over chocolate chips and pecans. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture; pat lightly. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until caramel is bubbly around the edges.  Cool completely; cut into bars.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Campbell Creamery

Campbell Creamery - visited August 22, 2015
Just a quick blog post and it's more of a shout out for a local business than anything else. When I went to meet my friends for burgers at Brown Chicken Brown Cow, I walked right by Campbell Creamery and had to pause.
First it was ice cream. Second, it proudly proclaimed to be locally owned. Good enough for me.
I can't claim to be a particular gourmand when it comes to ice cream. I can tell the difference between really high end premium ice cream and really sucky low-end ice cream. For the spectrum in between, I'm not sure my taste buds are all that discerning.
But I do know this was good ice cream. I went for a small and paid a few bucks, which is on par with normal ice cream parlor prices. And, as always, I like supporting my local small businesses.