Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Restaurant Review: Reposado

Reposado - dinner on December 9, 2014
Happy New Year's Eve! Sneaking this in under the wire for 2014 (I'm still behind on blogging).

For our holiday team dinner earlier this month, my manager took us all out to Reposado, a Mexican restaurant near our office. Our amazing group assistant worked with the restaurant to provide us with a fixed menu which is typically the most optimal way to handle large group dinners. There’s enough of a variety of dishes that everyone should be able to find something to enjoy, the restaurant gets advance notice of what food is needed, and logistically everything runs more smoothly.
Not being a big fan of Mexican food, I hadn’t been to Reposado before but given the choice to his team about where to go, I voted for Reposado on the strength of the dessert offerings alone. There was a “caramel banana upside down cake served warm with caramel sea salt ice cream” on the dessert menu. Let’s face it, they had me at “carammmmm……”
Shrimp Skewer

Reposado isn’t small but it isn’t too large either. The tables are arranged somewhat cozily but we scored a large countertop table that accommodated the more than a dozen of us at the dinner.  We even had our own personalized menu so we could all see what was coming. We started off with appetizers, moved to salads, were delivered our entrees then dessert. I have to say the service was quite superb. The wait staff moved seamlessly between courses and were prompt in clearing out silverware and dishes between courses.
Green Rice (pesto)
The food was good. It’s still not my favorite but there were some highlights for me, including the I-can-tell-this-is-so-fresh salmon. The chicken mole was less of a favorite, more because I don’t like mole than how the restaurant made it. Mole has chocolate and my brain wants to process that if something has chocolate in it, I should be able to taste the chocolate like I would in a chocolate cake or fudge. But I didn’t and usually don’t in mole. And I didn’t this time either. Bummer. Although maybe it’s just as well since chicken and chocolate just isn’t something I’m culturally used to or have developed a taste for.
Filet Medallions (also very good)
Chicken Mole
We did get asked for our choice between the banana cake and tiramisu as that (besides the salad) was something we were individually served rather than sharing family style. I hardly need to say which dessert I chose. But I was a bit disappointed that the banana cake wasn’t served warm as advertised. The taste was good but I wanted warm. Sigh. First world problem.
Salmon Yucatan

Plantain Chips
Overall, I think Reposado did a really nice job with our team dinner and seems to be a good place to go for such events or even with smaller groups. Get the salmon if you go.
Banana Upside Down Cake

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

Cheesecake Swirl Brownies - made December 7, 2014 from Yammie's Noshery
Excuse the anemic lighting in these pictures. I only had time to bake and take pictures of these when it was dark so no natural lighting here. This was like the Cheesecake-Swirl BrownieBites but the much easier version since you bake it as an entire brownie and just cut into bars. No messing with mini muffin tins and whether or not the brownie would pop out of the pan easily.
I think I just made these to use up more of the cream cheese packs I bought from Costco, not that I had any lingering love for a cheesecake-swirl brownie. Plus this was much easier to portion out, wrap up and include in my holiday gifts than the bites were.
My only issue with recipes like this is the cheesecake parts tend to brown before the brownie parts are done. In all the pretty pictures of cheesecake brownies I’ve seen, they always have perfectly pale, no-brown-spots cheesecake swirls. I swear they must have airbrushed those like models with flawless skin because for the life of me, I’ve never been able to have anything cheesecake-involved not have a little bit of browning to them. It doesn’t affect the taste and you know me as the Queen of Underbaking so I know I’m not overbaking the brownies. It’s just the darn cheesecake parts won’t stay uniformly pale while the brownie parts bake to fudgy goodness (not mushy mess).
Anyway, once you get over that, these brownies are pretty good and a nice way to dress up the brownie, even if you’re not a cheesecake lover.
2 sticks of butter, melted
2 1/4 cups of sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups of cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips

8 ounces softened cream cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
  1. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. Melt the butter with the sugar in a pot on the stove over medium heat until bubbly, whisking occasionally. Allow to cool for at least ten minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and flour and mix well to combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the pan.
  3. In a separate bowl combine the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and egg.
  4. Make about one long trench at a time in the brownie batter with the end of a wooden spoon and fill it with the cream cheese mixture. You'll probably need about 5 trenches going across the long side of the pan. 
  5. Take a knife and cut rows all the way through the batter the opposite direction of the trenches to marble-ize.
  6. Bake for about half an hour or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs, not raw batter. Cool completely.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cupcakery Review: Minicakes by Tasha

Minicakes by Tasha - visited November 29, 2014, Saratoga, CA
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t watch that much TV since (nerd alert), I prefer to read a book instead. But I do have a small handful of shows I watch, mostly Masterpiece Mystery (I’m a sucker for those British detectives), a crime show here and there (Person of Interest, NCIS) and, most importantly, I’m a slavish follower of Cupcake Wars. Every episode is extremely formulaic and I can be counted on to watch the same show multiple times and never remember who actually won until it’s announced (again). But that’s okay. I have a low threshold for amusing myself when it comes to anything food related.
One of the things I like about watching the show is finding out who the contestants are, what their bakeries/cupcakeries are and where they’re located. I’m particularly interested in any who are in my area. That’s how I first discovered Sift. And, last year, Minicakes by Tasha. Tasha won her episode (I can’t remember what the theme was) so I was particularly interested in trying her cupcakes. Back then she only had an online bakery and I tried ordering from her website for a Thanksgiving gathering. Unfortunately, she wasn’t open for the day I needed the cupcakes so we never did business.
However, I was looking for businesses to support for Small Business Saturday last month and I recently looked up Minicakes by Tasha again. I was pleasantly surprised to discover she had opened her own retail storefront last August. It was a little farther away than I normally go but I don’t mind going a little out of the way to support a local small business so I headed over there after Thanksgiving. 
The cupcakery was of comparable size to some of Kara’s Cupcakes or Sprinkles bakeries with the front half of the retail space being where you could enjoy your cupcakes and the back half containing the entrance to the kitchen and the display cases of cupcakes. As is typical with most cupcakeries, there are certain flavors available every day and some flavors are only available on certain days of the week. On the Saturday I went, I picked out a red velvet cupcake (available every day) and a Toffee Crunch cupcake that’s only available on Saturdays.
Minicakes by Tasha also offers, appropriately enough, mini cupcakes in the same flavors as the regular size cupcakes. Mini cupcakes are 2 for $4 and regular cupcakes are $3.25. If you’re a frugal, value minded cupcake consumer, you might notice the size of the regular cupcake isn’t that big. It’s actually the size of what a home baker would make, similar in size to Kara’s and smaller than Sprinkles. That’s actually not a bad thing if you don’t want to consume a lot of cupcake calories but some people like bigger sizes for their $3.25. I don’t mind the relatively smaller size of the regular cupcakes as it’s automatic portion control and $3.25 is a standard price for cupcake boutiques.

I thought the packaging was really clever. Tasha herself put the two cupcakes I bought in a clear cellophane bag with a clear plastic cupcake holder inside that would hold both cupcakes nicely in place. A Minicakes by Tasha sticker sealed the bag closed and it was just a nice, clean, simple package that showed off the cupcakes which I appreciated.
I also appreciated the cupcakes once I got home. The red velvet was nice but I have to admit I felt like I could make it myself. It was good but didn’t really stand out as anything different from what a good recipe could offer a home baker

But the Toffee Crunch was divine. It was a chocolate cupcake with “salted caramel swiss meringue frosting, ganache, and chocolate covered toffee pieces”. I know I can make a good chocolate cupcake and I could buy my own Heath Bar milk chocolate-covered toffee bits but the swiss meringue couldn’t be beat and certainly something I’m not likely to make as well. And remember I’m not a frosting person. But yup, I ate the whole thing, frosting and all. Normally I scrape off half the frosting from any cupcake (I did with the red velvet) but not this one. It was delicious.

Now I have to plot on how I can go back on a Wednesday for the Sweet Potato Cupcake, on a Thursday for the Salted Caramel Mocha, Friday for the Snickerdoodle, and Sunday for the Lemon Vanilla Bean. She’s closed on Mondays. If you live in the area, you might want to stop by Minicakes by Tasha and enjoy the calories before those new year's diet resolutions kick in. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Caramel Almond Fudge

Caramel Almond Fudge - made December 13, 2014, adapted from Crazy for Crust
Christmas is over but I'm still catching up on posts for desserts I made over the holiday season. Fudge is another one of those once-a-year things I make this time of year. Partly because of my spotty history with fudge (failure, failure, success, failure) and partly because a little fudge goes a long way so I only need to make 1 recipe and it goes into more than half a dozen baked gift packs with some leftovers for work. Which makes it perfect for baked gifts to add variety with relatively little time sink.
I’d had a recipe for 100 Grand Fudge from Crazy for Crust pinned to my pinterest board for months now. It called for fudge swirled with caramel and dotted with rice krispies like the 100 Grand candy bars of my childhood (that my parents never bought me and I could only long for but….we won’t go there).  Anyway, I tried out Dorothy’s recipe with high, high hopes. Surely my fudge curse was broken with last year’s successful Almond Nutella Fudge. Er, maybe.
The fudge itself was easy to make, the caramel was flowy and promising and of course I love the Rice Krispies crunch which is what makes my Nutella Crunch topping in brownies such a favorite. But erk, something went wrong. Unlike with the Nutella crunch topping, the rice krispies softened up in the fudge mixture. I don’t know if it’s because the sweetened condensed milk had far more moisture than the melted chocolate chips and Nutella of the Nutella crunch topping but snap, crackle and pop they did not. Instead, I was left with chewy rather than crunchy rice krispies that had the texture of something that had been left to stale for too long then got rained on. Sigh. Once again the fudge gods laughed cruelly at my expense.
Not to be deterred, however, I tried it again and this time left out the rice krispies entirely and substituted whole toasted almonds instead. I know, that defeats the “100 Grand” candy notion but it was that or stale Rice Krispies with no crunch – you decide. This version turned out decently well but this is cheater’s fudge. Meaning sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips melted together to form fudge is a pretty basic form of fudge. It had the requisite sweetness but I noticed once it had cooled completely, it had pretty much lost its gloss. It wasn’t dry but I can’t say it was visually appealing either. I did like the fudge, caramel and almond combination though so I think I would substitute in my friend Jez’soriginal fudge recipe that I had modified last year and just add the caramel. Because, you know, fudge needs way more calories than it already has.
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
¾ cup whole toasted almonds
1 cup Caramel Bits (from an 11 ounce package)
3 tablespoons whole milk
  1. Line a loaf pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Add caramel bits and heavy cream to a small, microwaveable bowl. Heat for 1 1/2 minutes on HIGH, stirring every 30 seconds until melted and smooth. (It may take up to 2 minutes.)
  3. While caramel is melting, add chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk to a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring until melted together. Add vanilla and almonds and stir to combine.
  4. Add half the chocolate fudge mixture to the loaf pan (and then return the rest to the stovetop). Spread the mixture in the loaf pan and spread the melted caramel on the top. Give the fudge mixture that’s left in the pan a quick stir, then pour and spread over the top of the caramel. 
  5. Let sit for a few minutes on the counter; then transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely before cutting.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Cookies - Day 12: Nutella & Caramel Stuffed Double Chocolate Cookies

Nutella & Caramel Stuffed Double Chocolate Cookies - made dough on December 13, 2014 from Jacquelyn Clark
Merry Christmas Eve! To cap off the series of Christmas cookies, in case you were wondering, you can stuff Nutella, chocolate and caramel inside a chocolate cookie. Yup, I looked into it for you. Merry Christmas :).
In other words, here’s the recipe for you if that’s something you find interesting. I personally found it fascinating. The chocolate and caramel portions of the combo are achieved by cheating with Rolos or cut up Milky Way caramels. Make the cookie dough, chill briefly if it’s too soft and sticky, portion out the chilled dough into dough balls, flatten a dough ball in the palm of your hand, drop a dollop of Nutella in the center (having 3 hands help but if you have to make do with two, just go slow), place a Rolo or chunk of Milky Way caramel over the Nutella then draw up the sides of the cookie dough to pinch the seams closed and form a ball that fully encloses the Nutella and the candy.
If you don’t want to cheat, you could drop dollops of Nutella and melted caramel in the center then put a handful of chocolate chips over them but be warned it’s potentially harder to keep this neat and fully enclosed. Take my advice and cheat. It’s okay. Time these cookies because you don’t want to overbake them and these don’t give off the normal “I’m done” signals in terms of how they look. They won’t look dry or crack or puff up. Just time them and take them out at the 9-10 minute mark.
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks
flaky salt (fleur de sel or maldon), for sprinkling
nutella (for stuffing)
16 caramel-filled chocolates (I used Rolos and cut up Milky Way Caramels)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in sugar & eggs. 
  3. Add the cocoa, salt and baking powder and stir until combined.
  4. Add the flour and stir well until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  5. Using your hands or a cookie scoop, form 2" balls of dough. Make a hole in the center of each and stuff a rolo within the hole. Spoon approximately 1/2 a teaspoon of nutella into the hole, and seal everything within. Sprinkle with the flaky sea salt (if desired) and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Cookies - Day 11: Orange Sandwich Cookies

Orange Sandwich Cookies from Shugary Sweets
Orange cookies may not seem like an obvious choice for a cookie to be included in a Christmas line up but I like mixing up flavors in my holiday baked gifts and because I do plenty of chocolate desserts, I also throw in some flavor contrasts. This is especially good during winter because it's a refreshing taste amidst all the rich chocolate I tend to do this month.

Bonus that the dough is quick and easy to make as is the filling. Although the original directions say otherwise, you can also chill or freeze this dough so it's easy to make ahead of time. I like to make each cookie a bit small and flatten into discs rather than rounded dough balls to make sure the finished cookies will be more dainty than behemoth; remember you're eating 2 cookies in one.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract (I substituted another 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract)
1 egg
1 generous tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
pinch of salt
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cream Filling
1/2 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons orange juice (less or more depending on your preference for the consistency of the filling)
  1. For the cookies, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and orange extracts and egg. Beat about 2 minutes. Beat in zest of two oranges (about 1 heaping tablespoon) and 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice. Scrape sides of bowl and add in dry ingredients.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop by (flattened) tablespoon and bake in a 350 degree oven for 9-11 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
  3. For the filling, beat butter with powdered sugar.  Add enough orange juice to achieve desired consistency/ Spread filling between two cookies of like size. Store in airtight container.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake-Swirled Brownie Bites

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake-Swirled Brownie Bites - made December 7, 2014 from Domesticate Me
I chose this recipe to try out because I had every intention of adding red food coloring to the brownie batter and making these red velvet cheesecake brownie bites. Wouldn’t that have been pretty as a holiday sweet treat? Alas, I was so intent on making them and moving on to the next thing that I mixed them up as is and forgot to add the food coloring. So instead, these became (or stayed) regular brownie cheesecake bites.
I had someone ask me once why I make “cheesecake stuff” when I don’t like cheesecake. I tried to explain I actually don’t mind if the cheesecake part is swirled into a brownie or something else equally dominating and the cheesecake only has a supporting role. Plus, for reasons unknown to me, I buy the Costco pack of cream cheese every so often and I need to do something with them that doesn’t involve making an actual cheesecake. They just looked baffled. Yes, apparently I am inexplicable.
In any case, these looked pretty in the picture from the blog I got the recipe from. My own brownie cheesecake bites did not turn out so well. You don’t know how many pictures I took at various angles trying to find a halfway decent shot. The problem was I didn’t line the mini muffin tins with any liners so the bites were hard to take out of the tins without causing them to become misshapen. If I took them out too soon, the cheesecake swirls were too delicate and the bites broke apart. If I let them cool for too long, the brownie part stuck to the sides of the muffin tin cavities. There was just no winning.
Fortunately, as deformed as some of them ended up being, they actually tasted pretty good. The brownie part was moist and I only took a taste test of the one that had the least amount of cheesecake swirl. Ha. The dark chocolate richness of the brownie was complemented by the sweet tang of the cheesecake part. Baking them as minis was also a good call. I think if you tried to bake these as regular size “cupcakes”, they’d be a bit too large of a portion. Remember, you want to exit the holiday season with your clothes still fitting reasonably well.
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1¼ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the Cheesecake Swirl
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a mini-muffin tin (or 2 tins, depending on the size) with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the granulated sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add the warm melted butter to the dry ingredients, add the vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. (I know this is tiring for those of you with very little upper body strength, but you can do it!) When the batter looks thick and shiny, add the flour and mix until it’s well incorporated. Fold the chocolate chips into the brownie batter and briefly set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the cheesecake swirl.
  5. Spoon about a tablespoon of brownie batter into the well sof the prepared mini-muffin tin(s). Add a dollop (about ½ tablespoon) of the cheesecake swirl batter to each well. Use a knife to swirl the cheesecake into the brownie batter.
  6. Transfer your brownie bites to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (I baked these at a very high altitude and they took about 20 minutes, but I recommend checking yours after 15 for safety’s sake.)
  7. Allow your brownie bites to cool completely before removing them from the muffin-tin.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Cookies - Day 10: Diamond-Edged, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies

Diamond-Edged, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies - from Bakewise by Shirley Corriher
Is it weird that the more I love something, the less often I tend to make it? There’s a reason for that. Yup, you guessed it. It’s because I would eat it. And before you scratch your head over that, remember that the only reason I don’t weigh 300 pounds is because I exercise (literally and figuratively) portion control. Everything you see on my blog, I’ve often only had a bite of: 1 cookie, a sliver of brownie, a half slice of cake. Unless I confess otherwise. I’m usually honest about my portion control transgressions and will ‘fess up when I’ve eaten five of something because it was just that good.

This falls into the 5-cookies-consumed category. At least I’m pretty sure I ate five when I first tried out this recipe awhile back. This year, so far I’ve baked off most of it and given them away but I haven’t tried this batch yet. But I’m pretty sure they tasted fine since I followed the same recipe and they looked good. 
The only thing I did differently was to roll the cookie logs into red and green sanding sugars so I could get the Christmas look for my care packages and goodie bags. I really liked how they ended up looking and it’s just as easy to roll the cookie dough logs in colored sugars as well as plain sparkle sugar.
If you want to make for Hanukkah, blue sanding sugar and silver sanding sugar works just as well as red and green for Christmas celebrants. I love the versatility of this dough. It’s easy to make, you can make it ahead of time and keep it in your freezer until you need it (thaw for 10-15 minutes beforehand just for ease of slicing but don’t let the dough get warm) and they’re delicious slices of butter goodness. Just try to stop after 5.
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 2-tablespoon pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pure almond extract (I used vanilla extract)
2 large egg yolks
2 ¼ cups (9.9 ounces) bleached all-purpose flour
½ cup coarse or crystal sugar
1 large egg, beaten

1.   In a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, salt and almond extract until light and creamy.  Add the yolks, one at a time, and beat with each addition, just to blend in thoroughly.
2.   On low speed, beat in the flour, scraping down the bowl twice.  Divide the dough into 4 pieces.  Roll each into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter.
3.   Sprinkle coarse sugar evenly on wax paper, the length of the rolls and about 4 inches wide.  Brush a roll lightly with beaten egg, then roll in sugar to coat well.  Repeat with each roll.  Wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
4.   About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, place a shelf in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375⁰F.
5.   Cover a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Slice cookies into 3/8-inch slices and arrange about 1 inch apart on the sheet.
6.   Place the baking sheet on the arranged shelf.  Bake one sheet at a time until the edges just begin to brown, about 14 minutes.  Allow to cool on the sheet for 2 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack.