Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014 - get the leftover candy ready

Happy Halloween! I've paid almost no attention to Halloween fast approaching (and now here) this year. It's not really my holiday and I've been busy so October 31 just crept up on me. I don't get many kids trick or treating in my neighborhood so I didn't even really stock up on candy this year. In prior years, I would buy a few bags and end up using them to bake with. Typical Halloween candy has no appeal for me and doesn't tempt me to eat as is. That would be my inner candy snob rearing its haughty head. But I don't mind if they're baked in something. So I thought I would curate some past recipes in case you wake up tomorrow with leftover candy or you want to raid your kids' Halloween haul, especially if you have an overabundance of Snickers, peanut butter cups, Midnight Milky Ways, M&Ms, Rolos, etc.

If you want to stick to your own recipes, it's still easy to use up Halloween candy. Chocolate bars can be easy add-ins to brownies and some cookies. If you have peanut butter cups, cut them up and stick them on top of peanut butter cookies. Almond Joys and Mounds can be cut up and added to Magic Cookie bar recipes. Sugar cookie dough wraps easily around Rolos. Snickers, Milky Ways, 3 Musketeers and the like are easily folded into brownie batters and/or sprinkled on top during the last few minutes of baking. Get creative and bake away.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Double Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

Double Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies - made dough October 20, 2014 from Living Better Together
If you notice I've been making a lot of cookie recipes lately, that trend is likely to continue. I'm still trying to keep on a baking and blogging schedule even though I can rarely bake during the week and I write up my blog posts like mad on the weekends for doled out blog posts during the week. Cookie doughs are the easiest to make when I have time then I can freeze the cookies and bake them off just when I need them. Plus when I'm making up goodie bags for social occasions, it's nice to be able to provide several different kinds of cookies, all of which I have as dough reposing in my freezer until it's time for them to leap into the oven for their transformation from raw dough to cookie.
I'm also trying to make my way through my cookie board on pinterest and this one was an easy recipe to cross off my list. Time these since it's hard to tell when chocolate cookies are done just by appearance and you never want to overbake cookies. The nice thing about these cookies is they stay almost as chubby as how you make them. If you want puffy, rounded cookies, scoop them with an ice cream or cookie scooper, freeze then bake from frozen dough. They won't spread much and will retain that chubby cherubic appearance.

Taste-wise they're not super chocolaty since the chocolate flavor comes mostly from the pudding mix and the rest from the chocolate chips. If you're a die-hard chocoholic, you might have to eat several before your chocolate tooth is satisfied. But it's a nice little cookie, soft and moist. If you want to increase the chocolate punch, try subbing out a little of the flour (no more than 1/4 cup) with dark unsweetened cocoa powder.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 - 3.4 oz package instant chocolate pudding mix
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup 60% chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips
  1. Cream butter and sugars together until smooth. Add pudding, eggs, additional egg yolk and vanilla. Beat for about one minute on medium speed.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a 1/2 cup at a time and mix until combined.
  4. Fold in chocolate chips. Portion into golf-ball-sized dough balls, cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours or else place in freezer bag and freeze for at least 2-3 hours.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Space dough balls evenly on baking sheet and bake for 10-13 minutes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Restaurant Review: Thai Noodle, Berkeley, CA

Thai Noodle - dinner on October 18, 2014
After my family and I went to see the Cal vs UCLA game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, we all went out to dinner after the game. There were surprisingly a ton of Bruin fans at the game and milling around after so my UCLA niece didn't feel like such an outlier. Except when she sat in the Bears student section with my other niece during the game, of course. Ha.
We went to dinner early enough that we thought we'd beat the post-game crowds but the Thai restaurant my Bear niece took us to was still full when we got there. Not surprising given it was rather small and didn't have that many tables.
Fried Tofu appetizer
Still, we lucked out that a larger group was on the verge of leaving so we didn't have to wait longer than 5 minutes or so for a table to free up.
Fried chicken over fried rice
The menu was rather varied and like, most popular restaurants in many college towns, the price points were reasonable (around $10 more or less) and the portions were generous. I bypassed my usual pad thai when trying out a new Thai restaurant and went with fried chicken over fried rice. Despite my love of pad thai, I have to say the fried rice at almost every Thai restaurant I've gone to has always been delicious. Usually moist without being greasy and always tasty. This was no exception. I don't usually eat a lot of rice but I could eat Thai fried rice more than is good for me.
Duck Fried Rice
My Bear niece got the Duck Fried Rice and that had a fair amount of roast duck in it so that was a good choice.
Some kind of veggie noodle dish

Grilled chicken over Thai fried rice

Veggie spring rolls

Pad Thai with Shrimp
My sister ordered the pad thai and I tried a bit of that. She got hers with bean sprouts though and I dislike bean sprouts intensely since their non-taste, crunchy texture ruin a good noodle dish so I can't say I could evaluate the pad thai with any justice.
Beef and eggplant
I didn't try everything since I was involved with my own order but everyone appeared to enjoy their dishes so I'd call this a good choice. It's pretty casual dining but the food was delicious and when in Berkeley - or anywhere else - that's what matters.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies

White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies - made dough October 15, 2014, recipe modified from Julie's Eats and Treats
This is a nice version of a white chocolate macadamia cookie. I did my usual routine when it comes to cookie baking: toasted the macadamia nuts and let them cool completely before adding them to the dough, portioned the dough into golf-ball-sized balls, chilled them briefly to be sure they'll hold their shape then placed them in a freezer bag to freeze them until I was ready to bake them (freeze at least overnight).
When I was ready to bake, I lined the baking sheets with parchment paper and baked the cookie dough balls directly from the freezer. No need to let the dough thaw or come to room temperature or you'll negate the whole freezing process you did in the first place.
The true test of successful cookie baking though is the baking itself. Or the underbaking if you're me. I like to bake cookies only until the edges are golden brown and the middles no longer look like raw dough. Do not let the middles get puffy and cracked or you'll have overbaked them. See how it looks moist in the middle in the pictures above? That's what you want. The edges and outer ring are more fully baked but the middles should still look moist and underbaked. When the cookies are completely cooled, they'll be moist and chewy.
3 cups flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
    1. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl and set aside. 
    2. Mix butter with sugars in a different bowl. Add vanilla and eggs and mix until smooth and fluffy.
    3. Add flour mixture and combine. Then add chips and nuts.
    4. Portion into golf-ball-sized dough balls and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
    5. When ready to bake, preheat oven 350 degrees F.
    6. Space evenly on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. The tops might still look doughy but they will cook as they sit on the cookie sheet. Let sit on cookie sheets for 5 minutes then remove to wire rack and let cool.

    Saturday, October 25, 2014

    Chocolate Chip Cookies - chill overnight vs freeze immediately

    Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough October 11, 2014, adapted from Number 2 Pencil
    Left: chilled overnight; Right: Froze immediately
    I've made dozens if not hundreds of different chocolate chip cookies over the years. My taste buds are pretty jaded but I can tell you even the most average recipe for chocolate chip cookies will seem like manna from heaven if you eat said cookie 10 minutes out of the oven. And even the best recipe will seem mediocre if you eat the cookie several days after baking.
    Chilled overnight before baking
    I've heard about the merits of letting chocolate chip cookie dough chill for 24 hours before baking. That's supposed to develop the flavor. I usually make the cookie dough, portion it out into dough balls and freeze the dough immediately then bake it off at least a day later. No time to let those flavors deepen before freezing them. I decided to run a mini experiment with this recipe. Half the dough I left to chill overnight in my refrigerator and the other half got the freeze-immediately treatment. I was curious to see if they looked or tasted any different with the two methods.
    Froze immediately then baked the next day
    As you can see from their appearance, the chill overnight cookie looks more craggy while the freeze immediately cookie wins the beauty matchup in terms of looking smooth and a little more - well - professional. Both cookies are from the exact same batch of cookie dough.
    Chilled overnight then baked
    Taste-wise, while still lukewarm, the chill overnight cookie wins the taste round as it did have a more pronounced buttery and brown sugar flavor. The freeze immediately cookie was still good and if I hadn't eaten a bite from each one after the other, I wouldn't have thought the freeze immediately cookie was inferior as it was still delicious. So it was an interesting baking experiment. Although I'm reminded why I rarely conduct these kinds of experiments as I had to eat both cookies to test them out. I normally only eat one cookie for a taste test and to not be a pig. I compromised by eating half a cookie from each one day and saving the other halves for the next day. The next day, the flavor differences between the two weren't that pronounced. Or else to my jaded taste buds, cookies older than an hour out of the oven just don't cut it, no matter how they're made.
    Froze immediately and overnight then baked
    2 cups of all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
    13 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled
    1/2 cup of granulated white sugar
    3/4 cup of firmly packed golden brown sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    1 large egg
    1 large egg yolk
    1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
    1 cup milk chocolate chips
    1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda.
    2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine melted and cooled butter, both sugars, vanilla and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes.
    3. Add egg and egg yolk, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.
    4. Add in flour mixture and continue mixing until incorporated.
    5. Add in chocolate chips and give a final stir.
    6. Portion dough into golf-ball-size balls, line in a single layer on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
    7. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
    8. Place cookie dough balls on baking sheet. Bake about 9 minutes, just until edges are a light golden brown.

    Thursday, October 23, 2014

    Banana Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

    Banana Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting - made October 11, 2014 from Lil Luna
    I was still so enamored of my new large star decorating tip and what it looks like when you pipe frosting with it that I made another cupcake recipe. Serendipitously, I also had bananas (over)ripening on the counter that were at the near-perfect stage of being used in baked goods. I'd like to tell you I planned that far ahead but in reality, I had bought a bunch one weekend then forgot them on the counter.
    But I remembered them in time to use in this recipe. It's a fairly straightforward, standard cupcake recipe. It wasn't as soft and fluffy as I had hoped but I wonder if that's because I baked them a little too long or a bit too short. Cupcakes are not my realm of expertise so I regularly miss the mark. If you don't bake them long enough, they can be dense. If you bake them too long, they're dry. These weren't quite dry but they weren't Sprinkles-moist as I had wanted.
    The taste was good though and I like the pairing with the cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Since I'm not a super fan of cream cheese, the cinnamon not only adds more flavor but mutes the tang of the cream cheese. And really, I just wanted to play with piping frosting with the decorating tip.
    4 large eggs
    1/2 cup butter, softened
    1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (from 3-4 mashed bananas)
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    1 1/2 cups cake flour (all-purpose flour can also be substituted)
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon cinnamon

    6 tablespoons butter, softened
    4 ounces of cream cheese, softened
    2 cups powdered sugar (more as needed)
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
    1. Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare two muffin tins by lining with paper liners.
    2. Separate the eggs and beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then set aside.
    3. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the mashed bananas, egg yolks, and vanilla, and mix until smooth. Gently fold in 1/3 of the egg white mixture.
    4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Gently fold in remaining egg whites.
    5. Fill paper baking cups half full and bake 11-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove and let cool completely.
    6. To make the frosting, beat together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar slowly and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and cinnamon.
    7. If necessary, add more powdered sugar until the frosting is firm enough to hold its shape but still light and fluffy. Frost the cooled cupcakes.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2014

    Pumpkin n Cream Pound Cake with Brown Butter Glaze

    Pumpkin n Cream Pound Cake with Brown Butter Glaze - made October 12, 2014, recipe modified from The Baker Chick
    Okay, I'm back with the pumpkin again. Still no rain at the time I made this but we're supposed to get some soon. I hope. So I must keep up with the baking rain dance and bake with fall flavors. Plus I needed an easy Bundt cake to make for work last week.
    I adapted this from The Baker Chick; I made her pumpkin Bundt cake but I added my own element with the pastry cream as a "tunnel" in the middle. I'd like to tell you it was because I love to experiment and make up my own recipes but unfortunately, while that's sometimes true, I just don't have that kind of time these days. Instead, I needed milk for another recipe, ended up having to buy a quart instead of a pint like I normally do because all that was available was a quart. So I had too much milk. When I have too much milk on hand, I either make pancakes, bread pudding or pastry cream. I didn't feel like pancakes and I didn't have any challah in the house so pastry cream it was. I love pastry cream, too much so. Or at least I love the recipe I make of it which was one of my best takeaways from culinary school. I could spoon up pastry cream like pudding. Then regret it later when my pants and skirts didn't fit anymore. So I rarely make pastry cream.
    But since I "had" to make it this time, I decided to stuff it inside this pumpkin bundt cake. That turned out to be a good call as the vanilla pastry cream paired very well with the pumpkin flavor, the texture of the cake and the brown butter glaze. The glaze turned out thicker and more like a frosting than a glaze but if you want it thinner, simply add more milk. Either way, it was delicious. I even ate a normal-sized piece instead of a taste test sliver because it was so good. Even if it still didn't bring on the rain.
    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon ginger
    1/4 teaspoon cloves
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
    3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
    3/4 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
    3 large eggs

    1/2 recipe of Pastry Cream

    Brown Butter Glaze
    1 stick of butter, browned
    2 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    2-4 tablespoons milk
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 10 inch bundt cake pan  with nonstick cooking spray and dust with flour, set aside.
    2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
    3. In another bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla.
    4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until well combined.
    5. Alternate adding the flour and pumpkin mixtures, mixing on low speed, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Don't overmix.
    6. Spoon 2/3 of the batter into prepared pan then add the pastry cream in a ring on top of it. Cover with remaining batter and smooth top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Try to avoid testing the middle where the pastry cream is. Instead, insert the toothpick along the sides as well as close to the inner tube opening.) Invert and cool for at least 30 minutes on a wire rack before icing.
    For the glaze:
    1. Pour the browned butter into a bowl and whisk in the 2 cups sifted powdered sugar and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Add the milk, a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is achieved.
    2. Drizzle over the cake and serve warm, at room temperature or even cold from the fridge. 

    Monday, October 20, 2014

    Food Trucks: Off the Grid

    Off the Grid - dinner on October 8, 2014
    I mentioned in a previous post that I am not a regular patron of food trucks, mostly because they don't really cross my path when I'm contemplating places to go for dinner. I decided to change that when I heard about Off the Grid which comes every Wednesday night to the Menlo Park Caltrain station. Since it was near enough to work to enable me to get there in half an hour (thanks, commute traffic) and my friend Jenny could catch Caltrain on her way home from work and just take a detour in Menlo Park, we decided to meet up one Wednesday to check it out.
    There was a fleet of about a dozen or so food trucks when I arrived. One area was set aside for tables and chairs where people could sit and there was even someone singing to entertain people while they dined. There were a ton of kids so I assume this was a popular weekly eating spot for families.
    It was fun to poke around and check out the offerings of the different food trucks. I had a heck of a time deciding between the lobster roll from the Lobsta truck, chicken tikka masala open-faced on garlic naan from the Indian food truck, lemongrass pork with garlic noodles from the Vietnamese truck, or chicken and waffles from the Waffle Amore truck. Talk about your first world problems, right?

    The BBQ Brisket truck Jenny got her dinner from
    In the end, I went with the lemongrass grilled pork and garlic noodles from the Vietnamese food truck. Most of the offerings from all of the food trucks were in the $10-$12 price points, some a little more, some a little less. Mine came to $11 which I thought was reasonable for a dinner I had to eat perched on a parking lot curb. Hey, it's all an adventure. If I was more budget conscious, I could've gotten away with a $5-6 dinner and gone all protein or all carbs with one or the other instead of both.
    The dish was tasty but I have to admit, a bit too salty for me. I do have bland taste buds though so others might find it better than I did. The portions were pretty generous so I couldn't finish the whole thing, especially because of the salt factor.
    Lemongrass Pork and Garlic Noodles
    To counter the salt, of course, I had to get some sugar. Since I skipped the chicken and waffles from Waffle Amore in favor of the pork and garlic noodles, I had an excuse to go back to the waffle truck and try out one of their waffles for dessert. In a stroke of luck, we approached the waffle truck at 7:30 which turned out to be when they start making their liege waffles available for ordering. Liege waffles have a caramelized outside and they're just plain delicious. The Sweet Tooth Fairy was looking out for me in getting me in front of that waffle truck at the right time. Each waffle was $5 and comes with 1 free topping. Additional toppings are $1 each. I lived high and went with the nutella and banana atop a liege waffle.
    At first Jenny and I were going to split a waffle because we were both full from our respective dinners but after seeing a person ahead of us get their order, we decided the waffles weren't that big so we each got our own. Hence why Jenny and I are good friends. She went with a Woman's Best Friend waffle (truly, that was the name of the waffle) that had fresh strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate sauce drizzled on top.
    Liege waffle topped with nutella and banana
    My waffle was delicious and you can't go wrong with a banana-nutella combo. If I were making this at home, the only thing I would do differently would be to caramelize the bananas first in brown sugar and butter but my taste buds are decadent like that. Having fresh bananas on top of the liege waffle almost made me feel virtuous but even I can't lie to myself that much. The portion was the right size if you're not too full from dinner. I was but I'm conveniently ignoring that since I ate my entire waffle.
    "Woman's Best Friend" waffle - with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate sauce
    It was a fun experience and Jenny and I both agreed we'd go back again to try the other food trucks. Some of them had long lines at the time we went which made us want to try them even more next time so we could see what made them so popular. I wouldn't call any of it gourmet food but still, it's a nice casual way to dine and support some local small businesses at the same time.