Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce

Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce - made June 18, 2014, modified from The Girl Who Ate Everything
Doesn't this look so nice and colorful with the sundried tomatoes and the basil? Such a nice summertime dish. Too bad I screwed it up. I like to think it wasn't my fault but of course it was. For one thing, I skipped the whole breading and frying of the chicken breasts. Instead, I repurposed a couple of chicken breasts from the Crockpot Beer Chicken. Since the sauce from that recipe was virtually tasteless, I decided to make a different sauce for the remaining chicken. Hey, they were organic, free range, pampered chickens; I wasn't going to let them go to waste. There was no point in frying breaded chicken for it so instead I just made the sauce and poured it over the already cooked chicken.
But something went wrong. The most likely culprit is I didn't have heavy cream. Technically I did but it had expired the day before. For a brief (mad) moment, I considered using it because, really, didn't they allow some kind of grace period with those use-by dates? What was a day? But in the end, sanity and fear of harming myself with dairy-gone-bad prevailed. So I substituted whole milk instead of using the heavy cream. That might've been a mistake. For some reason, instead of thickening, the sauce began to both clump and go runny. Oops. I can't explain why and I don't know enough about cooking to offer a plausible reason. I've got to think it takes some kind of talent to make a sauce that was both clumpy and runny - for you real cooks, bet you can't do that! I still ate it since it was already made and the flavor was there, just not the consistency of the sauce I would've liked. So if you want to make this, I'd suggest being a little more faithful to the recipe than I was. And hopefully it'll turn out for you. Add another one to my laughable forays into cooking.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup dried Italian bread crumbs
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin with a meat mallet
3 tablespoons butter 
1 clove garlic (1/2 teaspoon minced)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Place milk and bread crumbs in separate, shallow bowls. 
  2. In skillet, heat butter to medium heat. Dip chicken in milk, then coat with crumbs. Cook chicken in butter, on both sides, until juices run clear (about 10 minutes). Remove and keep warm.
  3. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for 30 seconds over medium heat. Add the chicken broth to the skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and stir to loosen browned bits from pan. Stir in cream and sun-dried tomatoes; boil and stir for 1 minute. Reduce heat.
  4. Add Parmesan cheese, basil and pepper. Stir sauce and cook until heated through. Remember that for a thicker sauce all you have to do is cook it longer. 
  5. Serve chicken with sauce poured over the top.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Last day at work, last week of treats

My last day of work was this past Thursday. For my last week, instead of bringing in a dessert on my usual Monday, I decided I would bring in something every day as one last hurrah for my coworkers. I told them they could get skinny after I leave. Until then, I was baking. They didn't seem to mind and, like squirrels stuffing away nuts for winter, the baked goods started to disappear faster than usual each day.

I was so busy and working longer hours than usual during my last two weeks that I was caught off guard in keeping my pantry and refrigerator stocked with baking staples. I didn't have time to make a Costco run but I did manage to eke out what I needed to just enough, running down to 1/2 stick of butter, 2 eggs and half a canister of flour by Wednesday night. Do you know how close to the edge that is for me???

Since I didn't want any baking failures for my last week - had to end on a good note, after all - I did a combination of "safe" new recipes to try and previously tested recipes. I'll post the new recipes later as I still have a backlog of other posts to put up.

On Wednesday, the day before my last day, my coworkers also threw a dessert party for me. How appropos was that? I didn't know ahead of time what they were planning (what dessert do you bring a baker?) but shortly beforehand, I discovered we were having ice cream sandwiches from Cream. Cream! First, I didn't even know Cream was mobile and could come to you. Second, I was fascinated by how they did it because, just like at any Cream store, the cookies were warm and they made the sandwich in your choice of cookies and ice cream flavors right in front of you when you ordered it.

The very nice crew from Cream
This mobile Cream crew brought a freezer container of ice cream, a warming oven with fresh cookies and all the accoutrements they needed to crank out their ice cream sandwiches. Best of all, no 30-45 minute wait as you typically experience at any of their store locations. What an awesome idea and a thoughtful one by my coworkers.
Mango Mousse Cake

Artfully decorated fruit tart
My summer intern also brought me a mango mousse cake from Moos Bakery while another coworker brought a fruit tart from a bakery in Oakland (she didn't mention which one). It was a really nice gathering and made it that much harder to leave the next day, knowing I was leaving behind a really good crew of people, many of whom had become my friends as well as my coworkers.
I also have to give props to the goodbye "card" our design team made for me. It was actually poster size and people wrote their greetings on it, wishing me well. Awwwww. And if my cup didn't already run over, a few of my coworker friends surprised me with some very thoughtful gifts throughout the week that were very "me".

Although I'm looking forward to my new job, new company and new challenges, all of this made it harder to leave than I expected. And maybe that's a good thing because it certainly validates that the last 3+ years were well spent and I have no regrets. Which is all I could ever ask for.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bakery Review: Nothing Bundt Cakes

Nothing Bundt Cakes - multiple visits
I first heard of Nothing Bundt Cakes several years ago. One of my coworkers had a cousin who owned a franchise and our department admin ordered bundt cakes from there for an office party. I clearly remember she ordered a carrot cake and a red velvet cake. They came appropriately decorated (it was for a birthday celebration) and, being me, I had to try a slice of each. For research purposes, you understand.
I tried the carrot first and wasn't impressed. While it was everything I believed a carrot cake should be, meaning just carrots, no nuts, raisins or pineapple, it was a bit dry. Let me tell you, it's hard to make a dry carrot cake because it's typically an oil-based cake and those suckers are moist almost by definition. For an oil-based cake to become dry, you've either overbaked it or it's been refrigerated for too long. So my taste buds went, "Meh."
Then I tried a piece of the red velvet. Ahhhh. I take it back - now I'm impressed. It was moist, it was delicious and the texture was a perfect Bundt cake texture, fluffy yet dense enough to be a good Bundt cake but not too dense. All goodness. Bear in mind I make bundt cakes from scratch and, modesty aside, I think some of them have been pretty good. But I still also like the ones from Nothing Bundt Cakes. I've since had other flavors and other cakes from there, at first mostly from other birthday parties or get togethers although I've been known to indulge and get a bundtlette for my own personal consumption.
The red velvet has been a consistent favorite. The marble is good but more standard. Surprisingly I don't like the chocolate chocolate chip one as much. The texture is just as good as the red velvet but the one (or two) I've tried have tasted just ordinary without a good chocolate punch and it wasn't spectacular. As I always maintain, if I'm going to have empty calories, they should be spectacular empty calories. Otherwise I'm running on the treadmill and doing weightlifting for nothing. I still remain a non-fan of the carrot cake. Thinking I'd just tried one that was out of the norm, I gave it another chance at a later date and I still didn't think it was as moist as it should've been.

Slices of the full-size Red Velvet Bundt Cake
We're throwing my dad a birthday party later this year and for his birthday cake, I've been bringing my parents samples of different cakes from local bakeries for them to try and see which he likes best. I've brought a slice of red velvet and a slice of coconut pineapple from Susie Cakes and he enjoyed those but then I bought a couple of bundtlettes from Nothing Bundt Cakes for him to try. We tested out the red velvet and the lemon one week and the pecan praline and the marble the following week. Fortunately they sell those flavors in bundtlette size for more individual portions.
Red Velvet Bundtlette $3.99
They were all good but I ended up liking the lemon bundtlette the most for the best flavor and texture. Almost as much as I like the banana cake from Icing on the Cake. Uh-oh, I sense another Holy Grail search for a copycat recipe in an attempt to duplicate the lemon bundt cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Or I can just keep going back and buying myself a bundtlette when the mood strikes.
Lemon Bundtlette
While bundt cakes have that homey connotation as something you can make for yourself, I like certain flavors from Nothing Bundt Cake enough to definitely buy it rather than try to make it. I don't say that often about many baked goods but they're a great exception. If you're buying the full sizes for a party, they can be a bit expensive but are in line with mid to higher end bakeries. Oh, for the full-size Bundts, they tend to go a bit heavy handed (in my opinion) on the frosting but you can ask for less frosting when you order ahead of time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Apple Pie Cake

Apple Pie Cake - made June 13, 2014 from Martha Stewart
I think it's a misnomer to call this a "cake". The picture of it from Martha Stewart's website also seems misleading because that one really does look like a cake. Or I'm just lame and didn't channel my inner Martha well enough to make this more cake-looking. Because I swear, this was an apple cobbler rather than a cake.
If you go by the literal directions, it has you making a crumb crust. As in "pea-size pieces" which means you're not making a batter or a dough; it's flour-and-sugar-covered butter bits. Which is what I did and what I lined the bottom and sides of my baking dish with.
Okay, it probably didn't help that I made this in a real pie dish so it really did look like a pie but still, that shouldn't have mattered if this was truly supposed to be a cake. Unbaked, the apples mounded pretty high into a nice dome that I covered with the remaining crumb mixture.
Once it baked, however, the apples definitely cooked down and made a nice caramel-like syrup. The dome flattened, the crumb topping browned and the apples softened. I didn't time this (of course) but I took it out once the topping had browned and a toothpick poked into the center went fairly easily into the apples. If your toothpick meets with too much resistance, that means the apples are still firm and you want to bake it longer. If your crumb topping is browning too much before the apples have cooked enough, loosely cover with a piece of aluminum foil then take the foil off about 5-10 minutes before you take the pie/faux cake out of the oven.
You can also tell the apples aren't cooked enough if the pie seems dry. If the apples haven't baked long enough, they're still retaining their moisture and haven't cooked long enough to release their juices and caramelize.
As cobblers (not cakes) go, this was good. You want to bake this long enough for the topping to brown and have a little crunch. If you like nuts, I recommend adding chopped toasted pecans to the crumb topping. I think that would have provided more texture contrast to the softness of the apples. You can also add some oatmeal to the crumb topping for more texture.
As with most baked apple desserts, I used Granny Smith apples since they were tart and offset the sweetness of the crumb topping. They also soften more in baking but don't get too mushy. This seems like more of a fall dessert. I still want to know how this was supposed to be a cake. Clearly, I'm no Martha Stewart because I just made an apple cobbler instead of an apple pie cake. Back to the drawing board.
2 cups flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
5 pounds (about 12) tart apples such as Granny Smith
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Using an electric mixer or pastry cutter, cut in butter until the mixture forms pea-size pieces. Press 2/3 of the mixture onto bottom and 1 inch up the side of a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel apples, cut into thin slices and place in a bowl. Pour off any accumulated liquid. Toss apple slices with remaining teaspoon cinnamon and lemon juice, and put them in the prepared pan, pressing down gently as you pack them in (they will mound above the edge of the pan). Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture on top.
  3. Put the pan on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until golden brown on top. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and let the cake cool in the pan to set. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chocolate Caramel Tarts

Chocolate Caramel Tarts - made June 17, 2014 from My Baking Addiction
I doubled up on a baking day so I could bring these tarts into work along with the Coconut Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Actually, I had made the dough the night before and shaped them into the tart pans, planning to bake and fill them when I got home from work the next day but I woke up insanely early that morning so I decided I had time to bake them then, let them cool, then fill them. Especially since I didn't actually make my own caramel (I never do), although I did leave it in the original recipe below.

Instead, I went with several different fillings. The tart dough recipe stretched to 4 individual-sized tarts plus 2 mini tart pans. I filled one shell with chocolate peanut butter, another with nutella, the third with salted caramel and the fourth with salted caramel topped with nutella. To signal which filling was which, I topped the chocolate peanut butter one with chopped up Reese's peanut butter cups, the plain nutella with chocolate chips and sprinkles of fleur de sel, and both salted caramels with toffee bits.
The tart dough was easy to make and easy to work with to shape into the tart pans. Don't let your butter get too soft or the dough will be more moist and sticky than it should be. Time how long you bake these since it's harder to tell by looks when a chocolate shell is done and you don't want to overbake these or they'll be dry.
I like making tart shells and filling them with my own filling because you can essentially present different desserts just by changing up the filling. The nutella and the chocolate peanut butter worked really well because they had the perfect consistency for filling. If you fill them when the tart shells are still warm (not too hot), they'll melt a little into the shell, just enough to be gooey and easy to smooth but not enough to turn liquid. The salted caramel was harder to work with. I used the one from a jar from Trader Joe's and it was just a bit too liquid. Once you cut the tart, the filling flows out more than it should. I recommend chilling the caramel first and filling the shell when it's lukewarm, not hot.
The individual-size tart pans I used were a trifle too big to consider single serving. If you have the time and patience, I'd make these as mini tarts. Then they would be the perfect size for individual desserts and you can really vary the fillings and toppings. I hadn't woken up that early to make all of the dough as mini tarts so I made do.
1 1⁄2 cups flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
2 egg yolks, room temperatue
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Prepare the crust: in a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in yolks and vanilla.
  3. Add in dry ingredients.
  4. Divide dough into 6 equal portions and evenly press each portion into the bottoms and sides of 6 3.5" tartlet pans with removeable bottoms. Refrigerate tartlet shells for 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prick the tart shells all over with a fork and bake until cooked through, about 13-15 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool.
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Prepare the Caramel: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 6 tbsp. water and bring to a boil. 
  2. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer inserted into the syrup reads 340°. 
  3. Remove pan from heat and whisk in butter, cream, sour cream and vanilla (the mixture will bubble up) until smooth. Pour caramel into cooled tartlet shells and let cool slightly; refrigerate until firm, about 3-4 hours.
Ganache (if desired, I skipped it)
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
fleur de sel for ganish, optional
  1. Prepare the Ganache: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil. 
  2. Put chocolate into a medium bowl and pour in hot cream; let sit for 1 minute, then stir slowly with a rubber spatula until smooth. 
  3. Spoon ganache evenly over tartlets and refrigerate until set, 3-4 hours. If desired, sprinkle tart with sea salt and slice. Serve cold.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Coconut Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Coconut Pineapple Upside Down Cake - made June 17, 2014 from American Baking Competition
Ever since I watched the American Baking Competition last year, I've been wanting to make this recipe. I found it from the show's blog and it's from my favorite baker in the competition, Elaine. Unfortunately, Elaine wasn't the ultimate winner but I still liked her down-to-earth ways and her recipes.From a quick glance at my pictures and the ones on the original blog (recipe title link), um, you can tell mine didn't come out the way it was supposed to. I never intended to put a raspberry in the middle of each pineapple ring anyway which was just as well because you can see the cake batter baked right over most of the pineapple rings so it doesn't have that traditional pineapple upside down cake where you can actually see the pineapple. Oops.
I don't usually make pineapple upside down cakes as most of the ones I've tried (made by other people) were always a bit too sweet. Plus I have that prejudice-against-most-fruits-in-desserts going on. This has coconut in it though so it was a little bit different than the standard pineapple upside down cake so I wanted to try it. A couple of things I didn't expect: first, this doesn't make much cake batter. I was glad I baked the cake in an 8" round pan instead of a 9" or it would've been even thinner. Second, I thought the melted brown sugar/butter would produce more caramel syrup which would then bubble and pour out as a syrupy glaze over the cake when you turned it upside down. Instead, most of it baked into the cake so while it kept the top moist, there wasn't a lava flow of caramel at all. Which worked out fine because if it would have done the lava flow, I think it would've been too sweet.
As it is, I liked this cake. The chewiness of the coconut was a nice texture addition and the sweet tartness of the pineapple kept the brown sugar/butter part of the topping from making the cake too sweet. I think it could've used a little more cake but this makes for a nice little summer dessert nonetheless. I don't know how to solve the problem of making the pineapple not get buried into the cake as it bakes though. Because the batter is so thin, it seeps right under the pineapple when you first pour it into the cake pan and hence bakes right over it. That might've been avoided had I actually used the pineapple bits called for in the original recipe to lay down a good base on pineapple but I don't like pineapple bits (waste of chewing effort) so I left them out.
¾ c butter, room temperature, separated
¼ c light brown sugar, packed
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple, reserve juice 
2  - 8 oz cans sliced pineapple, drain, reserve juice and pat dry (I omitted these since I don't like pineapple bits)
½ c sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 ¼  teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup granulated sugar
½  cup milk
1 extra large egg
3 tablespoons reserved pineapple juice
¼ teaspoon salt
Fresh Raspberries (optional, I left it out)
Apricot Preserves, slightly heated (optional, I left it out)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix ¼ c butter and brown sugar in 9" cake pan.  Heat in oven until sugar and butter begin to turn dark but not burnt. Add crushed pineapple and coconut. Mix and spread evenly in pan.  Place pineapple slices around edge of pan and one slice in center. 
  2. Combine remaining ingredients together and mix at low speed to blend.  Mix at medium speed until well blended.  Pour over pineapple in pan.  Bake 40 minutes or until cake test done.  Invert onto serving platter and garnish with raspberries in center of each slice.  Glaze each berry with syrup from preserves, if desired.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Restaurant Review: Market Broiler

Market Broiler - lunch on June 8, 2014
There's a restaurant in my parents' hometown called Market Broiler. We used to go there occasionally when I was younger but then the restaurant changed locations and moved further south. It was farther away so we stopped going. Truthfully, when they left their old location, I thought they had closed permanently. I found out later they had just relocated. Looking back, I realized they've actually been open for years. I remember taking my nieces there when they could barely walk and even then the restaurant wasn't new so they had to have been opened for at least a couple of decades. No easy feat in the restaurant industry. They're a small chain of 6 restaurants, concentrated mostly in Southern California with the one outlier in the Bay Area which is the one we've been going to for years.
When you walk into Market Broiler, almost one of the first things you see is the display of fresh fish. While it's easy to assume that's what the kitchen dips into for the orders that come in, it's actually a "Fresh Fish Market" for people to shop from just like at any grocery store, Asian grocery store, farmers' market, etc. Yes, you can walk into this restaurant just to buy raw seafood. I've never actually ever seen anyone purchase from the Fresh Fish Market but it's always there so they must have customers for it. The only drawback of course if you do get that raw fishy smell when you walk in and walk past the display case. It's not overwhelming but for those delicate of nose, you may not care for it.
When we first started coming to Market Broiler, one of the big selling points was the loaf of crusty sourdough bread served warm. Similar to the bread basket at Cheesecake Factory or Outback, it's free, they serve it before you order and you can ask for as much as you want. I try to limit myself to one piece so as not to fill up before my entree arrives but it's good bread and the carb lover in me usually twitches for a second piece. I manage to restrain myself....most of the time.
My parents ordered the Shrimp Tempura Sushi appetizer. They said it was really good. My parents hardly ever get appetizers since they don't eat much and often don't even finish their entrees (they bring home a lot of doggie bags) but they finished off this appetizer in one go so it must've been delicious. I didn't partake since I'm not a sushi eater. Plus I'd take bread and pasta over rice any day (please don't revoke my Asian membership). I'd already had a piece of the crusty warm sourdough bread and I was planning on ordering a pasta dish so that seemed like enough carbs for one meal.
Shrimp Tempura Sushi appetizer
Linguini and Clams
The menu at Market Broiler offers good variety. Plenty of seafood of course but they also offer non-seafood entrees like steak, ribs and chicken. We're seafood lovers so we all got some sort of seafood.  My dad got the Rainbow Trout (I think that's what it was) and my mom opted for the Linguini and Clams while I got "Harvest of the Sea" which was essentially a fettucine alfredo with shrimp, scallops and lobster. Like anything with a cream sauce, it was completely rich and decadent. I only ate a small portion and saved the rest for a future meal. But I don't really deserve props for portion control because you know I only did it to save room for dessert.
Harvest of the Sea Pasta
The only jarring note in both my mom's and my order was the garlic cheese bread our entrees came with was terrible. The bread was oversaturated with butter, to the point that although the bread was toasted, so much butter had soaked into it that it was tough and too chewy. The butter also ran into the pasta sauce and looked like oil. So maybe it wasn't butter but...something else. Either way I only managed a couple of bites before I gave up. I normally am very forgiving about bread but this wasn't edible or worth the calories.
Rainbow Trout....I think
Fortunately we ended on a good note with dessert in the form of a brownie "sundae". Although this breaks my cardinal rule of not having nuts inside of desserts, the brownie was served warm with chocolate and caramel sauces, was nicely chocolaty and paired well with the vanilla ice cream so I was forgiving. I'm lenient like that. This is something I could easily make at home so my parents always wonder why I "need" to get dessert but we were there, I was treating them out to lunch and I don't feel like it's a restaurant review if I don't have dessert and commentary about it. So there you go.
Brownie Sundae